Sunday, April 22, 2018



            Once in a while, I take a look at the University of Shanghai’s Annual Ranking of the World's 800 Major Universities.
            You  may find this an empty exercise. However, I enjoy lists, and I have spent my life in  academe. The Shanghai rankings have good credibility. The criteria are the usual ones - the quality of education, research output, Nobel laureates, etc There is of course always room for improvement. For now, I present to you some of the interesting factoids I came across. I hope you enjoy perusing these. I’ll focus on the top 100, then 200, and (briefly) 500 universities listed.

            Countries and Regions:
            Of the top 200 universities, 77 are located in North America. That is almost 39%.   Actually, North American preponderance is even more notable among the top 100 universities, of which over half of  are in the US and Canada.
The United States has 70, or 35%,  of the top 200 universities, and 48 of the top one hundred.
            In sharp contrast, the entirety of Latin America has one university in this category - the University of Sao Paulo. Vast regions such as Africa and  India have zero. Altogether, the five “Anglo” countries of the world - the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and  Ireland have  109 of the world’s top 200 universities,  = 54.5%. Yup. Cultural preponderance (call it domination, if you wish). Table One shows these facts.

                                            Table 1. Top 200 Universities of the world, by Continent/Region.

Top 100
Top 200
% of top 200
North America
Middle East
Latin America
Anglo countries

            However, when we compare the number of universities in each country and take population into account, the ranking that emerges is quite different. For this, I have included the world’s top 500 universities, as shown in table 2.
                                                Table 2. World’s Top 500 Universities and Population Ratio
People per University
1. Iceland (1 university)
2. Sweden (1 university)
3-7. Finland, Switzerland, Estonia, Denmark, Australia (5,8,1,5,23 universities)
1 million         
8-9. New Zealand, Canada (4,17 universities)
1.2 million      
10-14. Holland, Israel, Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany 12,6,7, 38, 47 universities)
1.4 - 1.8 million
15-19. Slovenia, Austria, Portugal, Ireland, Norway (1,4,5,3,3 universities)
2 million
20. USA (135 universities)
2.5 million
21-22. France, Taiwan (20, 7 universities)
3.3 - 3.4 million
23-24. Italy, Greece (16, 3 universities)
3.9 - 4  million
25-26. Spain, South Korea (11, 12 universities)
4.3 - 4.5 million
27-29. Singapore, Serbia, Japan (2,1, 17 universities)
6 - 7.5 million
30-33. Saudi Arabia, Chile, South Africa, Czech Republic (4, 2, 5, 1 universities)
8-11  million
34-35. Malaysia, Poland (2 universities each)
16-19  million
36. China, incl. Hong Kong ((50 universities)
27 million                   
37. Brazil (6 universities)                                                                               
37 million
38-40. Iran, Argentina, Russia (2,1 3  universities)
40-48  million
41. Thailand (1 university)
69 million
42-43. Turkey, Egypt (1 university each)
80-96  million
44. Mexico (1 university)
128 million
45. India (1 university)
1,324 million

            Thus, while in absolute numbers no country approaches the United States, which has  135 of the world’s top 500 universities, relative to population the US ranks only  #20.
            The countries that do “best” in this ranking are: all of Scandinavia, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, the Benelux, the United Kingdom, Germany and Austria, Israel.            
            And if you look at Table 1 again, you’ll see that  the “density” of top universities in(Western) Europe and in Australia is at least equal to, or exceeds that of the United States.
            Now for Some Individual Universities:
            Having cautioned the (American) reader not to gloat too much as a result of the very large ABSOLUTE number of top universities located in the US, I now return to an examination of the United States:
            Of the world’s top 12 universities,   10 are in the US and the remaining 2 are  in the United Kingdom. They are  the usual suspects:
            1. Harvard
            2. Stanford
            3. Cambridge
            4. MIT
            5. UC Berkeley
            6. Princeton
            7. Oxford
            8. Columbia
            9. Cal Tech
            10. Univ. of Chicago
            11. Yale
            12. UCLA
            Of the world’s top 20, sixteen  are in the US, three  in the UK and one in Switzerland.
            Consider the US Ivy League.  It consists of 8 universities,  6 of which are among the  world’s top 21:

                                                                        University:                                          World ranking:
                                                                            Harvard                                                            1
                                                                            Princeton                                                          6
                                                                            Columbia                                                          8
                                                                            Yale                                                                 11
                                                                            Cornell                                                            14
                                                                            Univ. of Penn.                                                 17
                                                                            Brown                                                  #101-150
                                                                            Dartmouth                                            #200-300

            Look now at the University of California: It has10 campuses, 4 of them among the world’s top 21, eight among  the world’s top 100:
                                                                              Campus:                                              World ranking:
                                                                               Berkeley                                                             5
                                                                               UCLA                                                               12
                                                                               San Diego                                                        15
                                                                               San Francisco                                                  21
                                                                               Santa Barbara                                                  45
                                                                               Irvine                                                                64
                                                                               Davis                                                                85
                                                                               Santa Cruz                                                       98
                                                                               Riverside                                              #150-200
                                                                               Merced (new campus)                          #700-800

            California and the  Ivy League ( plus a few  independents such as  NYU)  account for more than one third of the world’s top 50 universities.                      
            Let me add a special commendation for the University of California and especially  UC Berkeley: Despite the relentless bloodletting of the  state’s financial  support in recent decades, UC Berkeley remains THE number one PUBLIC university in the world. Of all the UC campuses, only Riverside and the brand-new Merced campus fail to make the world’s top 100. It is no coincidence that Silicon Valley - Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter and  Amazon - as well as other avant-garde companies such as Uber and Tesla are  Californian.

            Some other Universities of personal interest to me:  
            Here are some of the institutions with which I have been affiliated, either as a student or as a professor (in chronological order): Union College, the University of Amsterdam, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, Boston University, Cal State Sacramento, Cal State East Bay, UC Riverside, Penn State, Chapman College, and a few more.
            Here are these institutions’ world rankings:

                                                            Union College                         not listed
                                                            University of Amsterdam       #101-150
                                                            University of Minnesota:        #34
                                                            University of Wisconsin:        #28
                                                            Boston University:                  #80
                                                            Cal State, Sacramento:            not listed
                                                            Cal State East Bay                  not listed
                                                            UC Riverside:                         #150-200
                                                            Penn State:                              #85                             
                                                            Chapman College:                   not listed

            Of course,  the California State University  is a teaching-oriented   institution with little research going on.  Among its 23 campuses, only one is ranked by the Shanghai survey - San Diego State, ranked among #501-#600.
            Here are a few other universities of personal interest to me:
            University of Indiana: ranked among #101-150
            Michigan State: #101-150: Some of my colleagues got their PhD at these universities.
            Nebraska: #151-200: My wife spent part of her childhood in that state.
            Alabama, main campus: among #601-700: So much for football. National football champion, and a mediocre university!
I am puzzled by the low ranking given to Paris’  Sorbonne University: Among #701-800. What happened?
            It is said that Italy’s Padua University is the oldest one in the world. It is currently ranked among #151-#200. And so is Italy’s best university, that of Rome, also ranked among #151-#200.

            Eastern Europe: Only 1 among the top 100: The University of  Moscow, ranked #93.
            Hungary’s  best: Eotvos Lorand (University of Budapest): ranked among  #500-#600. Then, Hungary has 3 more universities ranked among #500-#800.

            Among the  top 500:
            India: 1, namely the Indian Institute of Science, ranked among  #300-#400. Then, India has another 6 universities ranked  among #600-800.
            Mexico: 1, namely the National Autonomous University of Mexico, ranked among #200-300. Then, Mexico has  1 more university ranked among  #500-600
            You may have gotten huffy about this piece. As if it was about bragging, or US/Anglo chauvinism, or whatever. Nothing could be further from my intention. I am documenting a current reality. All of this has to do with two things: (1) socio-economics and (2) cultural preponderance.  Today, English is the world language, as was French (the Lingua Franca)  a few hundred years ago, and Latin before that. Call it cultural domination if you prefer. Nothing is forever. The knowledge industry  still takes place  preponderantly in that part of the world which can most afford it. Simple.

            And one more thing: these rankings and this brief article don’t  even begin to address the growing inequity embedded in the whole US and international university system: By and large, the world’s top universities are for the rich, and the privileged. They represent the elite, and the trend is getting worse. But this subject is for another day.

© Tom Kando 2018;All Rights Reserved

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Saturday, April 7, 2018

An Ode to Margit Beke Görög

by Madeleine Kando

A new person has appeared in my life. She is no stranger to me, but like the cashier at the supermarket or the bus driver that you greet every day but never really pay attention to, she was there, but not there. Now, suddenly, she has appeared on my doorstep and revealed herself to be so fascinating, that I can hardly contain myself.

I am talking about my maternal grandmother, Margit Beke. How, you may ask can someone who has been dead for 30 years, suddenly appear in someone’s life? This requires some explanation.

Margit and her husband Imre Görög lived in Budapest, Hungary, where I was born. After the end of the Second World War, my parents left with us, their 3 children, to go back to Paris, where they had worked and lived when the war broke out.

I remember my grandmother, not from memories of before we left, but from the few times that she and my grandfather managed to visit us in the West, which was not often since getting a tourist visa during the Communist regime, was difficult and rare.

They were 2 interesting older folk that a young child too busy discovering life, does not spend much time paying attention to, although details about their physical presence remain etched in my mind to this day. The immediate and palpable was what made an impression in my young life and my grandmother’s habit of frequently shrugging her right shoulder as if to adjust her bra-strap is as real today as all these years ago. I remember my grandfather’s gentle, intelligent eyes and his huge mustache, making me wonder about the shape of his invisible mouth. Above all, I remember the way they spoke French to us, with a singsong intonation typical of the Hungarian language. They were both mysterious, friendly strangers that came and then disappeared again. Not staying long enough for us to get attached to, but leaving behind a sense of unsatisfied curiosity. Read more...

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Truth About First Twins

by Madeleine Kando

My twin sister was born 15 minutes after I entered this valley of tears. As we sprinted for the exit, she almost passed the finish line before me, but due to a last-minute trip up, she fell back and I came out first. It was a close call, though, and had it not been for the tight squeeze, it would have been a tie, branding us the first twins ever to be born at the exact same time.

I actually did all the leg work and my sister just went along for the ride, twiddling her little baby thumbs while sitting on her hiney, doing nothing.

This happened a long long time ago, a period in history when parents of twins were popping them out like rabbit turds, blissfully unaware of the extremely hazardous consequences of being a twin. Here you are, trying to take your first breath, exhausted, hungry, covered with slime, expecting all the attention to be focused on you, and then your twin comes along, stealing all the limelight. You get wrapped in a blanket and placed in a container, while everybody is turning their backs on you giving attention to this other thing. Read more...

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Why do American Policemen Kill so Many People?

My home town of Sacramento just made the national (and international) news again. Sacramento has  enjoyed a good run lately: First, the   movie Lady Bird was one of the Oscar finalists. Both the movie and the director were hometown products. Something to be proud of. Then another recent  movie, The 5:17 to Paris, depicts three young men from Sacramento  who thwart an attempted terrorist attack on a European train. Two of them were in fact students at my university, and I met one of them.

And now, the trifecta is complete, except that  Sacramento’s third appearance on the world stage within a year is a tragic event: The utterly unnecessary killing of a young black man, Stephon Clark,  by two members of the SACPD.

So once again, I have to write about this  shameful feature of American society: For some reason, this country sticks out head and shoulders above other comparable countries in the number of homicides committed by cops. (I have written about this several times before. See Americans Killed by the Police and Violence, Racism and Law Enforcement.).

Here are some random comparative international statistics:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

In the Future

by Madeleine Kando

In the future there won’t be any poverty. All the poor people will have left, replaced by the economically challenged. There won’t be any more short people, fat people, ugly people or stupid people either. There will be a lot more vertically challenged, horizontally challenged, esthetically challenged and mentally challenged individuals, though.

In the future, there will be many more fast food restaurants, where the food will be so fast, that people won’t have time to chew. All cars will be equipped with puke bags, just in case you gag on the fast food you didn’t have time to chew. That’s ok though, cars will be self-driving, so you will be able to puke your heart out.

There will still be a few slow-food restaurants, but forget about the service. If you go to one of those archaic places and you hear someone say: ‘I’ll have THE chicken’, it’s going to be a mad-dash to the kitchen, trying to grab that one chicken before someone else does. Vegetarian dishes on the menu will be half-price, since vegetables don’t have legs to run with. Read more...

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Enlightenment Now: A Book Review

By Madeleine Kando

Every morning I get the New York Times’ ‘morning briefing’ in my inbox, waiting there patiently, until I have had my first cup of coffee and am as ready as I can be, to brace the calamities of the day’s news.

Some of today’s headlines read: Trump imposes tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. Hope Hicks resigns after testifying for 8 hours before the House Intelligence Committee. Nepotism rampant in the White House. Freezing temperatures caused by a weakening polar vortex are battering Europe. Putin is threatening Western nations with a new generation of nuclear weapons.

And those are just the main points. It doesn’t say how many people were shot, how many children didn’t have enough to eat, how long Medicare will survive or whether access to birth control will be made more difficult.

The only thing that gives me hope, is that we, the people can still disagree, gripe, bitch, whine and kick up a fuss about how we are governed. but does that make an iota of difference? Does it decrease poverty, crime and corruption? Does it make us progress?

In ‘Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress’, psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker, shows that we are, indeed, making progress, regardless of what the New York Times tells us.

Pinker's clear intention is to take the wind out of every imaginable argument against the case for human progress. To me, reading this book felt like a breath of fresh air. Is he too optimistic? Many people think so, including social philosopher John Gray, whom Pinker calls a progressophobe. Read more...

Friday, March 2, 2018

The 2018 Winter Olympics: Rankings

93 countries participated in the  recent Winter Games in Pyongchang. 30 of them won 1 or more medals. 63 did not.

I gave each country 3 points for a gold medal, 2 for silver and 1 for bronze.  I then ranked all the countries by total points. For example, Norway had 13 gold medals, 14 silver and 11 bronze, for a total of 82 points. The US had (9 x 3) + (8 x 2) + (6 x 1) = 49, and so forth.

I then calculated each country’s PER CAPITA score. The table below ranks the 30 medal-winning countries by per capita points earned: