Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Metamorphosis

By Madeleine Kando

The winter is finally over in this little corner of the world I call home.

As May turns into June, I look out on a deep green backyard. The traffic to our birdfeeders is so dense, that the cacophony of bird calls sounds like an orchestra warming up before a concert. Actually, birds are quite civilized about birdfeeder etiquette - as long as they are from different species. But a warbler’s nephew will have to fight his uncle beak and claw, while a complete stranger will be allowed to feed right next to him.

At the crack of dawn, I put on my garden boots, and walk through the French doors into the morning dew. A small red squirrel hops out from under the hydrangea bush. He is making a run for the bird feeder. He stops, grabs a seed and rapidly turns it around in his paws, spits out the hull and stuffs the rest in his mouth. With jerky, quick movements, he buries more nuts, but in the course of the day, he forgets where he put them and will frantically search for the lost treasure.

Two tom turkeys appear, tails fanned out, the iridescent color of their feathers reminiscent of knights in shining armor. They puff themselves up to the point of bursting, vying for a female’s attention. She is busy picking seeds out of the ground, indifferent to their extravagant display.

A red tailed hawk, so still, until he swoops down to catch a pigeon in mid-flight. He stomps on its prey with its powerful claws, feathers flying, blood gushing, He waits patiently, until slowly, the convulsions begin to subside and the pigeon is finally motionless. Then, his beak still dripping blood, he opens his enormous wings and soars up in the sky with a piece of dead flesh dangling from his claws.

In my raised beds the beans and peas have grown tentacles that are trying to reach to the sky. The tomato plants crowd each other out, competing for sunshine. As I slowly walk by them, like a captain reviewing the troops, I pick off the suckers, caress the cucumber leaves to encourage them to grow. Read more...

Sunday, May 23, 2021

On Differences and Inequalities between People



Human beings differ from one another. Groups differ, social classes and cultures differ, and individuals differ. 

The question I want to bring up today is that of different OUTCOMES for different individuals. I.o.w.: different degrees of “success” in some field or other. 

The number of areas in which individual outcomes differ is practically infinite. Maybe most prominently, since today’s world culture is so materialistic, are different degrees of WEALTH. 

We have individuals such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Their net worths are, respectively, $151 billion and $177 billion. At the other end of the spectrum are starving people. The world’s adult median net worth is about $7,000, That of Africans is $1,200. (List of Countries by Wealth)
So the differences are as follows: Jeff Bezos = 25 million times the world’s median wealth, and 150 million times that of the median African wealth. 
The behavioral sciences have long been studying “differences.” Anthropology documents the world’s cultural diversity. Psychology helps us understand individual differences. Explaining the causes of differentiation in wealth, success and power has long been the province of such social sciences as economics and political science. My own discipline, Sociology, practically owns the field of “Social Stratification,” at least since Karl Marx.  Read more...

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Refugees after World War Two, but Fine in the End



 This post is a reminder that immigrants are a positive force in the world. This is a small part of my story and that of my immigrant family. At first, we lived in misery, but we overcame the challenges. In the end we succeeded both for ourselves, and for the good of the countries that received us. This is not a sob story, but a success story. 

We fled from Hungary to France in 1947, two years after the end of World War Two. 

Both countries were still war-torn, but Hungary was in far worse shape than France. It was occupied by the Soviet Army, and in the process of turning Communist. Budapest looked the same as Dresden - a devastated, flattened, pulverized graveyard with over one hundred thousand dead, including some of my relatives. In comparison, Paris was more livable. My parents somehow found the means to take the train to Paris. In late 1947, they and I made the move. It took us five days to get there. I was nearly seven years old.

Our official status in France was “apatride,” meaning “stateless.” I remember my main identity paper: It was a card with the United Nations logo.  Read more...

Monday, May 17, 2021

The God Particle

By Madeleine Kando

In the Middle Ages people weren’t very interested in things that didn’t affect their daily lives. If religion didn’t have an explanation for something, it meant that it wasn’t important. End of story.

Today, people are interested in things that don’t directly affect their daily life, but up to a point. How many of us are truly interested in finding out about quantum mechanics, dark matter, the uncertainty principle and other esoteric concepts that only a fraction of humanity truly understands? Even famous physicist Richard Feinman said: ‘If you think you understand quantum mechanics, then you don’t understand quantum mechanics’.

I belong to the category of humans that suffers from what is called “The Dunning-Kruger Effect”, which means that the stupider you are, the smarter you think you are, (and vice versa). I think I understand something only because I am too stupid to realize that I don’t understand it.

Do particle physicists tackle the problems of world hunger or poverty? Do they make the world a better place? Or is it all a gigantic waste of human capital and resources? Why should we care if a sub-atomic particle has a half spin or a whole spin, why it decays in a billionth of a second? Whether it is a Fermion, a Gluon or a Boson?

Well, I’ll tell you why. Because without quantum mechanics, we wouldn’t have smart phones, x-ray machines or laser surgery, just to name a few. Without particle physics, we wouldn’t have discovered the Higgs field and without the Higgs field, an energy field that permeates all of space, I wouldn’t be sitting here, trying to write about something that is way beyond my pay grade.

Once you embark on the road to the infinetisimally small, you enter a realm that borders on the incomprehensible and in my case, it has turned into an addiction. How can it not, when you read headlines like ‘Science discovers the God Particle’, or ‘the Particle at the End of the Universe’. Read more...

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Stupidity



I’m thinking about vaccine resistance. 

There are millions of people who don’t want to get the Covid vaccine. The friendly way to refer to many of these people is to say that they suffer from “ vaccine hesitancy.” However, many of them are not just hesitant; they are adamant Covid deniers and vaccine resisters. There are vicious anti-vaxxers. According to recent polls reported by CNN, 26% of all Americans and 41% of Republicans said that they plan NOT to get the vaccine. 

I grew up in a sane world. When I was in primary school and in high school in France, we all got our diphtheria, measles, tetanus, polio, rubella and a few other vaccines. Mandatory, period. Prevents contagion and epidemics, saves lives. 
But now that we are going through the deadliest pandemic in a century, there is a “debate” as to whether the Covid vaccine represents an unacceptable infringement of human rights. Nuts. 
Keep in mind that America remains by far the top country in the world in terms of its number of Covid infections, both in absolute and in per capita terms. There is half a dozen micro-countries such as Andorra, Gibraltar and Luxembourg that have higher rates of Covid infection than we do, but not a single “regular sized” country exceeds our rate. There are still seven times more people per million infected with Covid in America than in India. Check it out. 
Also, the anti-vaxxer movement is mixed with right-wing extremist movements such as QAnon and fascist white supremacists such as the Proud Boys. For example, there is a group in California, and expanding into other states, called “Freedom Angels” (See Sacramento Bee, May 2, 2021). It is a heavily armed, largely female survivalist militia. It shares its agenda with other right-wing extremist and conspiracy groups. They all see vaccines as a common enemy.  Read more...