Monday, December 29, 2014

In Praise of Immigrants

I am an immigrant. A documented one, from a Northern European country. I am an immigrant through and through and proud of what I have become because of it. I began my immigrant career at the age of four, when my family moved to France from Hungary, right before the Iron Curtain closed off many of the countries of Eastern Europe and made them satellite states of the Soviet Union.

A child of a mixed marriage between a Jew and a Gentile, born amongst the rubble of World War II, I became a political refugee and grew up in Paris and Amsterdam. You couldn't ask for a better apprenticeship if you are an aspiring immigrant.

I consider myself lucky to have had the privilege of living my life where several cultures meet. Maybe because of my gypsy roots, I have always felt a sense of adventure by moving about and living in new places. There was a childish excitement brewing in me, especially when I came to America. It was huge, wild and seemed to fit my disorderly and chaotic nature. Read more...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Interview: Funny and Audacious, or in Bad Taste?

 We saw “The Interview” the first night it was out. It was a full house. We had to use Fandango, which until then I thought was the most useless company in the world...

My purpose today is not to summarize the movie for you, but to discuss the REACTION to it.

I liked the film a lot. I found it extremely funny and politically relevant. So sue me for bad taste.

By now most people know what it’s about: two American tabloid-TV show hosts are hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korea’s baby-faced supreme leader Kim Jong-un. The two men - played by James Franco and Seth Rogen - are bumbling buffoons. I already knew that Rogen is funny, but I was surprised by how funny James Franco can be. Read more...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Texas vs. California: Who's Got the Bragging Rights?

Red states are conservative, Republican, and they are in the South or in the middle of the country. Blue states are progressive, Democratic, and they are in the North or on the coasts. Texas epitomizes the red states, California the blue ones.

There is a mythology that Texas is  immensely successful and that  California is a  screw-up. Texas governor Rick Perry tried to exploit this when he came to California to steal jobs.

The reality is that Texas ranks number one in the country in one respect above all: bragging. This has always been so.

It is true that Texas is somewhat large. But if surface size were the most important criterion, Alaska should brag even more than Texas. Another advantage Texas has had, for a century or so, is oil. This brought some economic benefits, for example, no need for a state income tax. Read more...

Friday, December 19, 2014

You Americans Have no Idea Just how Good you Have it with Obama

My friend Amir Jabery just sent me this brief article by a Canadian journalist.
It’s priceless; it’s an A+.
I HAD to share it with you all, dear blog readers.
I transcribed the article, so as to make it more readable:

Many of us Canadians are confused by the U.S. midterm elections. Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country’s adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Read more...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Dutch Obsession with Diminutives

The Dutch are statistically the tallest people on earth. Not only are they tall, but every time I travel to Holland, they seem to have grown taller. Whatever feeling of confidence and superiority my above-average height might give me in the US, it evaporates the moment I arrive at Schiphol airport, and start to navigate my way through a sea of giants. It's hard to get used to feeling 'short', even if it's just for a week or so.

You would expect this propensity for height to spill over in the way the Dutch speak, with bombastic, aggrandizing words and phrases. But it's just the opposite. The Dutch are extremely fond of diminutives. They add the suffix '-je' or '-tje' to practically any part of speech. When I visit my friend Edith in Baarn, we often go for a 'fiets tochtje', a little bike ride (even though they might take up to three hours). We'll stop on the way for a 'kopje coffee met een gebakje', a little cup of coffee with a little desert. On our way back, we'll go into town and buy a 'jurkje', a little dress or hunt for a 'koopje', a little bargain. It's all little this and little that in Holland. Read more...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Obsessive-Compulsive Hillary Hatred Disorder

On October 26, I posted an article titled Obsessive-Compulsive Obama Hatred Disorder Today’s article is a parallel piece:

I am prompted to do this by Alex Seitz-Wald’s recent article Where is Hillary on Torture? which appeared on the Left/progressive site Reader Supported News.

The article (correctly) complains that Hillary Clinton has not spoken out (enough) about the use of torture on terrorism-related detainees. But what I want to focus on are the comments which follow the article: They unanimously express strong hatred for Ms. Clinton. For example:

● Billy Bob and dquandle: “(Killary) also showed interest in invading Syria and Iran...and starting WWIII in Ukraine while obliterating Libya.”

● Ritawalpoleague: “Hill the Shill will say anything to up her chances of grabbing the nomination...” Read more...

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hand to Mouth: Poverty in America

In her recent book 'Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America', author Linda Tirado discusses what it's like to work 3 low wage jobs and still not be able to make ends meet. She openly and unabashedly shares the daily realities of her life as a low-wage worker and demonstrates "that poverty is not a ‘culture’ or a character defect; it is a shortage of money.”

Tirado's book tries to destroy one of the most tenacious myths about poverty - that poor people are where they are because they are 'different'. Contrary to the European view, that being poor has more to do with an accident of birth or just bad luck, Americans tend to blame poverty on a lack of work ethic or laziness.

But, as Tirado explains: 'working hard does not mean that you will get ahead. Wages are often too low to live on, and employers steal income from employees. This is why so many people can work, even at multiple jobs, and still be poor. Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, author of 'Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America', went 'undercover' as a low wage worker and found that 'the work required incredible feats of stamina, focus, memory, quick thinking, and fast learning.'

This book should be required reading for politicians like Paul Ryan who are trying to gut our safety net and who insist, against all evidence, that if you are poor in America 'it is because of your own failure to be sufficiently diligent, chaste, sober, or thrifty.'(See: 'Just How Much Does Paul Ryan Want The Government To Plan Poor People's Lives?')

Although the poverty rate started to go down throughout the 1960s (thanks to Johnson's War on Poverty when he signed the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964), it began to rise again in 1980. Now, about 50 million Americans live below the poverty line, which the federal government defines as an annual income of $23,550 for a family of four.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Do we need more “Freedom,” Like the People in 'Mockingjay"?

The prevailing trend today is to favor “freedom,” and to hate the government, particularly the big, distant, central government. “Local” and “grassroots” are seen as good things, going hand in hand with “freedom.”

Popular culture is also on that side, of course, as I was recently reminded by the wildly popular Mockingjay, the third Hunger Games movie. It’s not my intent to dignify this mediocre picture with a review or a serious political analysis, as it is essentially a money-making piece of entertainment, which is fine. But it shows precisely the ideological confusion which I want to talk about:

The main theme of the entire Hunger Games series is that of an evil central government (Capitol) that oppresses the local districts, which then start a revolution. It is a story about the quest for freedom at the grassroots level vs. the tyranny of the central government. As banal as could be. The story of every revolution in history - the American, the French, the Russian, you name it. Read more...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Attack of Neo-Conservatism and my Recovery

A few decades ago, I made a mistake. I went temporarily insane, politically speaking. I became a neo-conservative. I supported Ronald Reagan. I subscribed to and wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

As a professor of sociology, I had reached the point of nausea with academia’s group think and political correctness, most virulent in the social sciences. I was a liberal, of course, like everyone else. While hardly anyone in the academe is a conservative, neither were most of my colleagues anarchists, Trotskyites, Stalinists, Soviet apologists, anti-Semites or extremists in other ways. However, there were some, and they were intimidating. They were rarely challenged. Most of my colleagues settled into a lazy group think and dialogue ceased. THAT is what began to bother me.

My background:
I grew up as a member of a respectable left-liberal European family. My grandfather was a (Jewish) social-democratic history professor in Budapest. My mother was briefly in prison at age sixteen when she participated in Communist demonstrations against Hungary’s fascist regime. My father was a hero in the Hungarian resistance during World War Two. Read more...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ferguson and Michael Brown are Not the Central Issue

Okay, so the case against Officer Darren Wilson is a whitewash. Prosecutor Robert McCulloch achieved what hardly any grand jury hearing ever produces: No indictment. This was to be expected. The cards were stacked. McCulloch was not impartial. Only in name was he a “prosecutor.” A majority of (local) public opinion was stacked. The jury’s composition was suspect.

Then, too, the FACTS were ambiguous. A video showing huge Michael Brown manhandling a small storekeeper went viral and demonstrated that Brown was no saint. Above all, there is a strong possibility of a scuffle inside Officer Wilson’s car, in which Brown was trying to grab Wilson’s gun...

Anyway, this is not to rehash my incomplete knowledge of the case, but to make the following point: Read more...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Obama's Immigration Reform

On November 20 President Obama made his important immigration speech. To their shame, the major networks refused to broadcast it - a mere 15-minute long address to the nation about a very important matter! A decade or so ago, when President George W. Bush gave a similar speech on the same topic, every major network carried it directly and it was viewed by 40 million Americans. And people still dare to say that the media have a liberal bias? My foot. It’s the opposite. The so-called “mainstream” media are fully participating in the non-stop sniping at this beleaguered president, inflicting a thousand cuts so as to bring him down.

The double standard applied to this president is gross: Reagan, Bush Senior and Bush Junior all proposed similar executive actions for illegal immigrants. But when THIS president does the same thing, all hell breaks loose. Read more...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What is Important?

We are drowning in politics, in elections, in agendas. The public is incessantly  being told what we should worry about. The powerful (and often corrupt) power structure is supported by the media, it brainwashes  the populace, tells us what the most important problems are, and  how we should devote our energy and our resources. Over the past century or so, Americans have by and large been told to be AFRAID;  to protect themselves against, and to fear,  the following things:

Communism in the past, Muslim terrorism now.
Crime, always.
Alcohol in the past, drugs now.
Various countries: Russia in the past,  China, Iran and Arab countries  now.
Nuclear Armageddon.
Foreigners and immigrants.
Racial miscegenation.
Epidemics: AIDS in the past,  Ebola now.
The government.
Government surveillance (NSA, CIA, FBI, etc.).
Wall Street.
Global Warming.

Monday, November 17, 2014



I am looking out on my snow-covered back yard, the sun slowly sinking into the horizon, painting the sky a deep purple. The leafless trees, black and motionless are frozen in silence. Nature itself is paralyzed. No birds dare venture to our overflowing birdfeeders. No squirrels peek out of the tunnels they so laboriously dug under the snow. Life has slowed down to a bare subsistence level. Winter is master in this little corner of the world.

Inside the house, the fireplace is ablaze, overflowing with ashes. The cat is purring in his sleep, dreaming of warmer days and outdoor adventures. The smell of firewood and pea soup fills the air. The furnace is humming its reassuring song, keeping the frozen world at bay.

Night has fallen and the weather has turned nasty. Suddenly, a large animal appears out of nowhere in front of the large bay window and through the glass, I see a black and white husky look at me with his beautiful sky-blue eyes. He is magnificent looking, high on his legs, his thick fur making him oblivious to the cold. He seems to be asking if he can come in. Read more...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Greatest Movies of all Times

I have been a movie buff all my life. The thousands of movies I have seen include many of the world’s best. Lately I have been playing with some databases, looking at movie rankings, directors, nationalities, etc.

Perhaps the most popular movie database is IMBd - the Internet Movie Database. It is a trove of over three million titles. Unfortunately, its most popular feature is an unsatisfactory ranking of the top 250 movies, as voted by IMDb users. In other words, a popularity contest.

So I went to another website instead: TSPDT (They Shoot Pictures Don’t They). This is an excellent source, which ranks the 1,000 best movies ever made, as well as the 250 best directors, based on the votes of three and a half thousand critics, film makers and other experts. A caveat is the sample of voters: The vast majority are Americans, with a sprinkling of Frenchmen and other foreigners. Nevertheless, I want to share some of the things I discovered: Read more...

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Cornivore's Dilemma

In his 1951 post-apocalyptic novel 'The Day of the Triffids', John Wyndham writes about a plague of blindness that befalls the whole world, allowing the rise of an aggressive species of plants. Bioengineered by the USSR, Triffids are carnivorous super plants that can walk and talk and are trying to take over the world.

We have a similar situation happening in real life, where the invasion of the giant tropical grass known as 'corn' is invading our farms, our food supply and our bodies. You might say: 'Well, what's wrong with that? I like corn, it's healthy and it tastes good.' But the corn that we produce in such abundance is not grown for direct consumption; it is grown to feed cattle, to produce ethanol for our cars and as additives to processed foods.

In his book 'The Omnivore's Dilemma', Michael Pollan explains how this real life Triffid has been able to take over our food supply. Modern corn, already having a natural advantage because of its efficiency at using sunlight to grow, has made itself doubly attractive by tolerating many climates. 'The plant gratifies human needs, in exchange for which humans expand the plant’s habitat, moving its genes all over the world and remaking the land, clearing trees, plowing the ground, protecting it from its enemies, so it might thrive.' (from: When Corn Becomes King). Read more...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mandate, My Foot

Is America becoming  the stupid country? The easy-to-brainwash country? A country of lemmings? Other countries have lost their way in the past - Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Argentina, Mexico - is it America’s turn now?
Millennials and other young people made up  13% of all the votes on November 4.  Oh sure, it’s not worth voting, you say, because you are terribly busy, and the system is rigged anyway...Those are some of the excuses. Well, good luck with that! If you keep letting old men decide who is going to rule, you will continue to get screwed by the plutocracy  for the rest of your lives. Better learn to live with that. You make your bed and you’ll have to lie in it.

Reactionary Behavior: Obama saved us out of the Great Recession, the worst thing in eighty years, and Americans are practically ready to lynch him. What is that? Read more...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Obsessive-Compulsive Obama Hatred Disorder

Krauthammer is at it again. This right-wing reactionary can’t help himself. For years, his syndicated columns and his rants on Fox News are about one thing: Bashing Obama. It’s an addiction and a disorder, and he should know it, as he is a psychiatrist. On July 25 he wrote a column titled - “Obama’s Cool Detachment is Calculated - and Very Dangerous.” On October 24, he wrote “Obama a Bewildered Bystander to his Own Government.” And it goes on and on. There is no problem on the planet that is not Obama’s fault - Syria, Ukraine, Gaza, ISIS, Ebola, secret service missteps at the White House, in Amsterdam and in South America, Benghazi, unemployment, crime. Krauthammer might as well blame the President for Hurricane Fausto, the Vietnam War, World War Two and his hemorrhoids. One wonders what he’ll write about after Obama is gone. Read more...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Some Notes on Religion

 1. Is Religion Good or Bad?
This is the most basic question about religion. Atheists and other skeptics feel that religion is bad, and there is a good case to be made for that. For starters, nothing has caused more war and bloodshed than religion, and it continues today.

On the other hand, the vast majority of humanity feels that religion is good. In the first place, people feel this way because they believe in God. Furthermore, even an agnostic would agree that religion provides moral guidelines, and that it is palliative. It soothes suffering. So even if you are not sure that God exists, religion can be accepted on these pragmatic grounds. As Voltaire said: “if God didn’t exist, man would have to invent him.”

There is, at least in educated and progressive circles, AMBIVALENCE about religion. I was listening to National Public Radio. They had a marvelous section about the Harlem Renaissance. In the 1930s, Harlem had this fantastic black musical revival, and it was largely rooted in Negro spirituals and gospel singing. In other words, it was very Christian stuff. Read more...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Wheel Lock Nightmare

Leaf peeping is a favorite pastime during our famous Indian Summer. For a few short weeks, the forests around New England are ablaze with the most radiant shades of red, yellow and orange, and there is a mad dash by city dwellers to get a peek at all this beauty before the trees turn into mere skeletons and prepare themselves for a cold harsh winter.

I had practically dragged my husband out of bed that morning to get an early start, since we were just going leaf peeping for the day. A quick stop at Starbucks and we were on our way to the Berkshire mountains. The sun was shining, the trees were waiting, everything was perfect.

After an hour or so of uneventful driving, our car started to make a strange and ominous sound, so we drove off the highway, just in time to reach a shell gas station. Sure enough, the right back tire was flat as a pancake. Our hopes that we would find a mechanic on duty evaporated when we only saw gas pumps. Read more...

European Travel: It's an Omelette Thing (part four)

 This is the last installment of our recent European trip:

...And then there are the airline problems: On this occasion, they included a strike by Air France pilots. Europeans like to strike. There was also a strike by Roman bus and metro employees. Our Toulouse-Rome flight happened to be Air France. Luckily, our flight was not one of the 58% of all flights that were canceled.

As to our return to the U.S., innumerable things went wrong: While we had Delta tickets, the flight was operated by Alitalia. This confused everyone, including the taxi driver who took us out to Fumicino Airport. He assured us that ALL US-bound international fights and ALL Delta flights depart from terminal One, and that’s where he dropped us off. But he was wrong. We had to rush to the Alitalia terminal, number Five. There was little time, so we paid a cab another $20 to drive us half a mile to the correct terminal. Read more...

Friday, October 17, 2014

European Travel: It's an Omelette Thing (part three)

This is the third installment of our recent European trip:

What makes European travel complicated is that there are so many countries and so many different time schedules, regulations and customs. For example, when are various shops open, and where do you buy various items?

In France, Italy and some other countries, you buy postage stamps and bus tickets at the tobacco shop. How on earth are American visitors supposed to know this? Anita and I joke that perhaps you buy toilet paper at the shoemaker, or books and newspapers at the bakery or the butcher shop? And speaking of butchers, France has three kinds: the charcuterie, where you buy processed meats such as salami and paté, the boucherie, where you buy your raw meat, such as cuts of beef or veal or hamburger, and then the boucherie chevaline, where you buy horse meat. The latter is always recognizable by a statue of a horse head in front of the store. Read more...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

European Travel: It's an Omelette Thing (part two)

 This is the second installment of our recent European trip:

As I said, travel is marvelous. However, the transitions can often be exhausting and traumatic, especially as one gets older. Anita and I have some standing jokes about this. We often wish that we could be beamed to our destinations, as in “Beam me up, Scotty.” Also, do you remember Greyhound Bus’ old slogan “Getting there is half the fun”? What a crock! Anita says that getting there is often none of the fun. I agree.

Next, we had to go to Paris’ Gare Montparnasse to take the Toulouse TGV. Montparnasse is one of those gigantic Paris railroad stations with dozens of platforms crowded with thousands of passengers running in dozens of directions. Read more...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

European Travel: It's an Omelette Thing (part one)

This is the first installment of the account of our recent European trip - I hope you enjoy this travelogue:

International travel is marvelous. You have many exciting experiences, you see many beautiful things that are very different from the drudgery of everyday life. Also, many things are frustrating, incomprehensible, unreasonable, don’t work.

Recently, my wife Anita and I spent over a month in Europe. I first flew to Amsterdam, because my 101-year old mother lives in Holland, and I go there as often as I can to help her and be with her.
Then, Anita joins me and we tack on some tourism to my filial responsibilities. We usually go South for a few weeks, to France, Italy and so forth. Paris is often on our itinerary, because I grew up there, I still know people there, and a return to the City of Lights is always difficult to resist. Read more...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Two Pandemics: Ebola and Mass Insanity

The spread of Ebola scares me. We now have the first  US case - Thomas Eric Duncan, who recently returned to Dallas from Liberia.

My friend  Carol Anita Ryan explains on  Facebook what R∘ means: It is the number of people that one sick person will infect (on average). For example, Measles has an R∘ of 18 (very contagious), whereas Ebola’s R∘ is only 2.  Even so, this means that the disease doubles in a  given period of time. An Ebola victim  has about 100 contacts  before he is isolated. 2 out of these contacts become sick and  98 don’t. Let’s say it takes one week  for the number of infected people to double. Now consider an  exponential curve that doubles every week: 2,4,8,16,32,64,128, etc. If it starts with 2 cases at the beginning of October  and doubles every week, it  reaches 536,870,912  - 2 to the 29th power -   by early April. By next April, everyone in North America is  dead, and the entire world a month after that. Read more...

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Golden Storks Forever

Alkmaar, Tuesday September 30, 2014

The sun is playing hide and seek with the clouds today. I am looking up at a big old church, looming like a benevolent guardian over the numerous cafes lining the square in this typical Dutch town in North Holland. A snow-white pigeon is strutting back and forth between the tables, as if he just stepped out of a beauty parlor. Every quarter hour the church bells fill the air with their carillon, making sure we don't forget about the passing of time. This majestic building must feel humiliated; having harbored millions of souls in distress over the centuries, it is now reduced to the status of a common museum; its soul is gone, but its façade hasn't changed. On one of the high ledges, golden stork statues stare out onto the world, immobilized for eternity. They must envy the seagulls as they fly by with their shrill cawing: 'Come fly with us, come to the beautiful North Sea and fill your golden bellies with fish. Nothing will come of it, if you stay here, on this old church that has lost its glory.'

A lost balloon is rolling by my table, carried by the breeze. A black pigeon is watching it with detached curiosity, his head retracted but his beady eyes in constant motion, waiting for some crumbs. Read more...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The #Gaza Generation

After the latest Pro-Gaza demonstrations in Paris, the French left-wing newspaper 'Le Monde' published an article with the dramatic title 'A new generation #Gaza is born in the streets of France'. It is accompanied by a photo of an attractive female wrapped in a keffieh carefully draped around her head according to the latest fashion. There is no mention of the ugliness that surfaced in the form of numerous anti-semitic slogans, only a meticulous description of what the female demonstrators were wearing. In fact, this new fad, were it not so worrisome, is good for business; Palestinian, even ISIS flags are in great demand in Paris these days and shops have backorders of Arafat headscarves.

The young, clueless but not so innocent demonstrators, are not entirely responsible for their fanatic, one-sided view of the conflict. It is boosted by an anti-Israel bias in the French press so thick, you can cut it with a knife.** Read more...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Growing Number of Americans Killed by the Police

The media are finally onto an issue about which I have been fretting for several years: the growing number of Americans killed by cops. Have I been ahead of the curve, aware of an emerging social problem which others are only now beginning to recognize?

This is a sensitive subject. I want to tread carefully and present a nuanced perspective. I hope that you read on before you jump to the conclusion that I am a knee-jerk, left-wing cop hater.

No doubt the high-profile killing of Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO has much to do with increasing public awareness of this problem.

Of course, there are several intertwined issues here: bad race relations, economic injustice, the ever greater number of weapons in circulation, the public’s rightward move and its growing repressive tendencies (for example,  more  twice as many people favor capital punishment now as  than two generations ago). But today, I want to focus on just one aspect of this complicated problem: the growing number of Americans killed by law enforcement. Read more...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Are Our Political Beliefs Hardwired into Us?

The terms 'left-right' in politics originated during the French Revolution when members of the National Assembly who were loyal to religion and the king stood to the right of president's chair, so as to avoid the shouts and insults that came from the opposite side, where the more revolutionary members took their seat.

There is nothing more guaranteed to create conflict than opposing political views, but as John Stuart Mills said: 'Having a party of order and stability and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.'

But what makes someone a 'leftist' or a 'rightist'? Is it something that you learn from your parents, like potty training? Do we acquire our political beliefs on our own? Or do we acquire them at birth, like the color of our hair? Is it the environment or the genes?

In "Differences in negativity bias underlie variations in political ideology," John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska argues that what makes conservatives conservative, is their heightened sensitivity to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in the environment. We all react to negative stimuli, which is a good thing, or we wouldn't have been able to survive as a species. Our ancestors didn't approach a saber-toothed tiger cooing 'nice kitty', but wisely followed their negative bias instinct and ran for their lives instead. Read more...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Story Connection: Dr. Tom Kando


Hi folks:

This is a You Tube video of an interview I had recently on Sacramento’s Access TV (Channel 17). The interview was part of the program “What’s Your Story.” The topic was  my autobiography.
Click on the title of this article.

Here are some of the things that were said:

“I was born in Budapest, Hungary,   at the beginning of World War saga  is extraordinarily eventful and interesting. Sometimes I joke that my life conforms to the ancient Chinese curse that wishes you an interesting life...

...I have lived in four separate countries,  almost a decade in each, and traveled to another thirty. I speak four languages fluently and dabble in another couple. I have had an exceptionally international upbringing and background.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Racism, Again

On August 9, officer Darren Wilson  killed an unarmed  black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, MO. Since then, there have been daily confrontations  in that community between angry black crowds and the police - “race riots” if you will. The verdict is not in as to what happened exactly. I am not  going to delve into who  did what. The situation is still unfolding.  What I DO want to do, is share with you what I experienced when I clicked on the following article: “Police Identify Officer, Allege Teen Robbed Store” By David A. Lieb and Alan Scher Zagier; AP; (Yahoo News Home Page).

Within a few hours of this publication there were over 45,000 comments. I scrolled down the first hundred or so. It was shocking. 99.9% of them were unmitigated white racist rage. Unfathomable hatred of blacks. I won’t speculate about the representativeness of this sample. But here are  thousands upon thousands of vicious anonymous  racist comments in just ONE article on ONE website. There must be dozens of millions more such opinions elsewhere. It seems to me that white America is turning into a catastrophe. I hope that I am wrong. Read more...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Decimal and Metric

by Tom Kando

On August 5, National Public Radio had a skit on the fact that the US remains one of three countries in the world which don’t use the metric/decimal system (the other two are Liberia and Myanmar).

Maybe so. Of course, metric and decimal are not synonymous. This country IS decimal in many ways - starting with the dollar and our entire monetary system, thanks to Thomas Jefferson who at least pushed that through.

And by now, much of American science, medicine and commerce takes place decimally. Your meds are all measured in grams and milligrams, your primary care physician might record your weight in kilos, etc. But we are not metric. Nor are we decimal in our measurement of weight and temperature.

But I don’t want to nitpick how accurate or inaccurate the statement is that “the US is one of only three countries that remain non-metric/non-decimal.” Instead, I want to share with you some interesting thoughts about this subject: Read more...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Killing the Innocent with Ignorance

In July, the Massachusetts Senate passed the Environmental Bond Bill which will help protect the State's natural resources, which is a good thing. The bad news is, that the bill also includes a provision to authorize deer culling (a euphemism for killing), large amounts of deer.

In Section 43 of the bill it states that 'the department shall identify areas in which deer overpopulation is negatively impacting forestation, water resources or plant growth on department-owned land. The department shall also consult with the department of public health regarding the prevalence of tick-borne illnesses as a result of deer overpopulation.'

Deer, however, while they are big animals, cannot browse on anything much above six feet, so they cannot prosper in deep mature woods with a dense canopy and no understory. Therefore deer can not 'negatively impact forestation', let alone water resources. How much can deer drink, really?'

As far as 'the prevalence of tick-borne illnesses as a result of deer overpopulation,' the members of the Senate responsible for drafting Section 43 of the bill should have done their homework before sneaking it in. Read more...

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Gestapo of Political Correctness

I met the Gestapo yesterday. I barely had time to sit down at the table in our usual meeting place, ready to share a short essay with my writing group, when, without a word of warning, my hands were cuffed tight to my chair and the Gestapo of Political Correctness came out and started to drill me.

I was drilled for hours. When one member of the crew got tired, another one took over. I started to sweat and my heart was racing. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was being accused of because my essay was about elves and Christmas. Should I have referred to the elves in my story as ‘vertically challenged individuals?’ or called Christmas ‘the winter solstice holiday, practiced with respect for the religious persuasion of others?’

But the Gestapo let those two pecadilloes slide. It was a lot worse, one of the interrogators told me, as he pushed his face into mine. With an accusatory finger he pointed to the third paragraph, where, I confess, I did mention Zwarte Piet, in the context of the Dutch celebration of Sinterklaas.

If you are not familiar with the Sinterklaas tradition, let me explain. Every year, on December 5th, a bishop by the name of Sinterklaas arrives on the beautiful shores of Holland from Spain. He sits on a white horse, a large mitre on his head and a bishop's staff in his white gloved hand, to give out candy to the enthusiastically waving Dutch children. This bishop also has a helper by the name of Zwarte Piet who holds the bulging bag full of candy. Piet is also instructed to clairvoyantly seek out those children who have been naughty and work them over with a birch twig. If they are really really bad, he stuffs the unfortunate ones in a canvas bag that gets shipped back to Spain. Read more...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Israel vs. Palestine, Redux

Again and again. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is forever. It has raged since before I was born, and it will not be solved by the time my grandchildren are gone. To paraphrase Dennis Quaid when he played the president of the United States in American Dreamz, the Israel-Palestine problem will NEVER be solved.

The latest war, which pits Israel against the Hamas wing of the Palestinians, was triggered by the murder of three Jewish kids, which led to the reprisal murder of a Palestinian kid, followed by a great increase in Hamas rockets raining down on Israel, and thereupon Israel’s bombing campaign and invasion of Gaza.

Here is a list of some of the issues about which people have been taking sides forever, ad nauseam. A similar article was written by Ali Rizvi on the Huffington Post recently, titled “7 Things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East Conflict.”

The case against Israel:

1. The “asymmetrical” number of deaths: Over 1300 Palestinians so far, of whom 75% are women, children and other innocent civilians. About 60 Israelis, of whom 2 or 3 are civilians.

2. Israel practices Apartheid. Palestinians within Israel are second-class citizens, and many of those outside its borders have been living in subhuman conditions for over 60 years. Read more...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

From Paris to Lodi

On Sunday July 27, I watched the final stage of the Tour de France. The race’s arrival in Paris, where they ride eight laps up and down the Champs-Elysées, around the Arch of Triumph, across the Place de la Concorde, down the Rue de Rivoli, by the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens. Fabulous!

It’s a scientific fact: Paris is the world’s most beautiful city. When I lived there, my high school teacher Madame Louvain said so. At that time, I thought, “Oh sure, that’s what teachers tell their students in Omaha, in Shanghai and in  Saint Louis also. But now I realize that Madame Louvain was right. The matter  is not debatable.

My life’s trajectory has been as follows: From Paris, I moved to Amsterdam, then on to Minneapolis, and finally to Sacramento. A straight-line descent, no doubt about it. Will my next stop be Lodi - the town immortalized by Creedence Clearwater Revival?

I was fourteen  when my family and I  left the City of Lights. It was my parents’ decision to move. I cried. I spent my next ten years in Amsterdam, which is nothing to sneeze at either. It’s a fine, groovy town. Amsterdam really swings, but it ain’t  Paris. Read more...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


by Moris Hoch

Maidentrip is a documentary film that follows Laura Dekker, a 15 year-old Dutch girl on her journey to sail the globe solo and become the youngest sailer ever to do so. We follow her story growing up in Holland, getting her sailing know-how from an early age, and everything else, including overcoming attempts by the government's "Children Protection" to put her in custodial care. What I found moving about this story is the depth of understanding that she expresses, speaking to the camera, during the trip while sharing her thoughts about herself, sailing, nature, and life.

In today's current affairs, on the daily TV or radio, we find non-stop reporting on violent conflicts in Ukraine, Nigeria, Israel-Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. There is no "most brutal and cruelest"; any one of these conflicts fits that description. Yet, to some extent, we accept it as necessary, albeit undesirable. The status quo remains thus forever, conflict without end; as if, for Ms. Dekker's trip, she would sail forever with no goal or destination or map. Read more...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17: Different Reactions

The downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 upset me a lot since I come from Holland, and 192 of the 298 dead were Dutch. I have been e-mailing with people who knew several of the victims. The Netherlands is a small country. Proportionally, this death toll exceeds the 3000 Americans who died on 9/11. What a tragedy! Holland deserves our tears and our support. It is one of the most wonderful, progressive, talented, cultured, generous, tolerant and peace-loving countries on earth. I have often said that if the world were more like the Netherlands, it would be a much better place.

On this side of the Atlantic, there seems to be agreement as to who the bad guys are. They are the Russian-supported rebels who want to separate from Ukraine, along with Russia itself and Vladimir Putin. It seems that way, from most of what one reads in the MSM (mainstream media). It’s not just the Fox News warmongers, always salivating at the prospect of renewing the Cold War. I tend to trust most of what is written in the New York Times, so when I read about the circumstantial but pretty convincing evidence that the plane was shot down by the rebels using a Russian SAM (a “Buk”), assisted by Russians, I tend to accept this. Read more...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Do NO longer give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses

The recent flow of unaccompanied children entering the United States illegally has caused a strong reaction, in particular amongst conservatives. The fact that many of these children are fleeing some of the most violent countries on earth, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, countries where gang members infiltrate public schools and threaten kids to either join their ranks or be killed or raped, doesn't seem to rank high in the discussion.

Many of these children have family here, but they can not come legally, since those family members are undocumented themselves. About 60,000 children are now crossing the border, waiting to be sent to their relatives, or worse, waiting to be deported back to their country of origin.

There are two factors that people forget when they talk about this issue, the first being that children are not adults and they should not fall under the same legal rules. Unlike the United States, EU Member States, have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which establishes the best interests of the child as governing all major policies regarding the treatment of minors. Although the best-interests principle is part of US domestic family law, the concept is absent from U.S. immigration and refugee law. Read more...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The 2014 Janitors' Awards

This is a parody on The Crunchies, an industry award given out since 2008 to the Silicon Valley companies and their investors. Why and industry that already has everything, would want to lavish itself with such a ceremony, prompted me to write this spoof.

I just returned from the 2014 Janitors' Awards ceremony, held at the modest looking local 87 on Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco. With record attendance, the event started off with a request for a one minute silence in memory of the late Thomas Crapper, leading manufacturer of flush toilets, which greatly contributed to the growth of the profession.

Representatives of the major janitorial categories were present, including Ms. Maria Gonzalez Ramirez, last year's winner of 'best kept restrooms' category.

The highlight of the evening was a video demonstration by Mr. Sanchez Rodrigo, whose video 'self-cleaning toilet defeat' has gone viral and has saved thousands of janitorial jobs, showing that the Swedish made self-cleaning toilet does not live up to its marketed standards. Mr. Sanchez did not make it to the finalists but received a $10,000 gift certificate as appreciation for his job saving efforts. You can watch the video here. Read more...