Thursday, December 7, 2017

Canoeing in the Adirondacks

by Madeleine Kando

Horseshoe Pond, New York

The weather today is a lot better than yesterday: sunny, no wind, blue sky with cute little white puffy clouds floating by. We wake up to the sound of loons calling each other over the misty pond. Loons are more like submarines than aquatic birds –only their dark black heads and striped necks stick out of the water, like periscopes. As soon as you think you can spy on them through your binoculars, swoosh! They have disappeared. Eons later they pop up somewhere else, playing a ‘catch me if you can’ game.

After a morning coffee (which we drip through our dishtowel since the outfitters forgot to pack us coffee filters), and after my husband Hans takes a dip in the probably freezing cold water, we go on a short canoe trip around 'our' pond.

Canoeing is like meditation: the sound of the water sloshing against the boat as the sun burns your shoulders and back and the reflection of the sun in the water, creating jewels on the rippling waves. The rhythmic motion of your arms on the oar.. You get the feeling that you could go on forever.

The next day

We wake up to the sound of loons again. Hans is making the coffee this time. As I look over the foggy pond, one lonely loon glides by. His nose in the air, he is inspecting his kingdom – glancing right and left, totally ignoring us as he majestically makes his way across the water.

That evening we take another short trip along the shores of Horseshoe pond. There is silence and peacefulness all around us. Not even our oars make a sound as they slide in and out of the water, making miniature whirlpools with each dip. The shores are strewn with beautiful dead trees, white and ghostlike, often creating strange and wonderful shapes due to their reflection in the water. Huge logs have become the home for new growth of blueberry bushes, extending far out into the pond. A rustle makes us look up the embankment and we stare right into the eyes of a deer with large ears and a puzzled look in his eyes.

As we row back to 'our' island we see another boat approach it from the other side. I am hoping that they are on their way to some other campsite, but they plop themselves right down onto 'our' turf, far enough so we don't see them from our tent. Even so, I am disappointed. The code of conduct is being violated. Don't they know you are supposed to ask the occupants of a site if you can set up your tent? And you only do that after you have canoed around for endless hours and cannot find any place to camp, when you are exhausted, ready to die a horrible death by drowning. Only THEN do you beg on your wet and dirty knees if you can please let them share your site.

That night, as I am falling asleep, I fantasize that a large wasp nest is hanging over the intruders' tent and that by remote control I can command the wasps to attack the noisy, insensitive strangers and make them flee to another campsite. Pack up your beer cans and fishing gear and loud voices and let US sensitive and nature-starved city folk enjoy our solitude.

We are getting ready for our journey back. I write and Hans is busy packing our gear. I love the canoeing experience, but I could do without the portages (or 'carries'). We do have a huge amount of stuff. Food, sleeping bags, tent, mattresses, clothes, pots and pans and whiskey up the wazoo, although we managed to finish most of it.

Whiskey is important when you go camping. When we arrived, we were tired, wet, totally inexperienced. We had three monstrously large bags, a cooler, oars and a canoe to carry and by the time we got to the campsite we weren't sure if this was a sane way to spend our vacation. That rainy night, as we were trying to figure out which rope goes through which loop, we felt we deserved a nightcap and slowly the camping experience acquired a more and more positive tint. Who cares if the tent is all crooked? Why worry about having all these matches and no way to ignite them, since the outfitters didn't pack us a matchbox? Yes, whisky keeps you warm and bears don't like it. I even made us dinner!! We filtered lake water and boiled it and I skillfully prepared our freeze-dried turkey with gravy dinner pouches. We had a great time.

We were sure that hungry bears would visit us, having been told not to keep any food in our tent, not even a stick of chewing gum. We hoisted our food bag high in a tree, inspected our pockets for candy wrappers and crawled into our complicated sleeping arrangement. Of course, it took me twenty minutes to prepare myself for the night: long johns, earplugs, pillow, socks, sweater.. And we waited for the bears. Nothing.. Only the cries of the loons calling each other. I finally fell asleep only to wake up in the middle of the night sweating like a pig. It took me another twenty minutes to take off everything I had on so I wouldn't fry to death.

And now, as we are paddling back to base camp, tanned, dirty, I feel ten years younger than three days ago. As we hop out of the canoe at the first carry, bare feet and all, we pass some fellow sixty-year olds who have paddled out for the day, to gather mushrooms. We walk passed them, Hans invisible under the canoe on his shoulders, me with one of the oversized bags on mine. I am so full of myself that I don't watch where I am going and stub my toe on a piece of wood. So that's why everybody wears those ugly looking waterproof sandals.

This is another beautiful sunny day. The lakes are full of canoes and kayaks. It is Labor Day weekend and it seems that the whole state of New York has come to enjoy the lakes. And the closer we get to base camp the more canoes there are. Sometimes it is hard to avoid crashes, since these poor day-trippers of course don't have our experience at steering their boat.

The last stretch to base camp and civilization is in sight now. I don't want to go home. I want to stay here forever. Amongst the loons and the dead trees, and the sun and the water... But then again, a good glass of red wine and a hot shower don't sound so bad either. leave comment here Read more...

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Tax Bill

by Madeleine Kando

I am not an expert on taxes, other than knowing that taxes, if structured right, come back to benefit the tax payer. Taxes pay for everything that is essential in a well-run society: roads, bridges, police, firefighters, schools and so on. If you lower taxes too much, you jeopardize these services and a society becomes dysfunctional. A few bananas at the top that have and control everything, and everybody else be damned.

We do not pay a lot of taxes compared to most OECD countries. Taxes accounts for about 26 percent of the United States’ GDP, placing the U.S. 31st out of 35 countries studied (See: General Government Revenue). In countries with the highest percentages, (Denmark, France, Belgium, Finland, Austria, Italy and Sweden), taxation accounts for more than 42 percent of GDP. The countries continue to improve their quality of life, because they pay more taxes. Their roads are better, their health care is better and cheaper, their educational system is better and cheaper. Among OECD countries, only Korea, Chile, Mexico, and Ireland collect less taxes than the United States as a percentage of GDP.

Here, we already have an anemic social safety net that leaves too many Americans without the basic needs to live a decent life. Our health care system is one of the worst of the OECD countries. Our infrastructure is appalling, our schools are underfunded and higher education is so expensive that many young people cannot afford it. Read more...

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sleuths: European and American



We just saw the movie “Murder on the Orient Express.” I found it quite entertaining. The cast included Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer and other luminaries. It received curiously mediocre reviews, both by the audience (IMDb) and by “experts” So be it. To me, it was lovely. Maybe I am prejudiced because I remember fondly taking the Orient Express as a child.

So then, I began to think about the whole genre - crime-fiction, the whodunit, and its central character, the sleuth, the detective, the private eye, the guy who solves crimes and chases down criminals.

I grew up devouring detective novels in Europe. One of my favorites was Commissaire Maigret. He was the quintessentially European detective, created by Belgian author Georges Simenon, who published over one hundred novels featuring this character. Maigret was with the Paris Sureté, the French national police. Read more...

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Me and my Computer: Inseparable Forever



Yesterday, like every other morning, I turn on my desktop PC to start my daily routines - some requiring logging in, some not. For example, I have some bills to pay, and for that, I need to log in to “Pay Online.” Also, I have to write a short piece for a local magazine, so for that I need to open “Word.” So first, I click on “Pay Online.”

However, surprise: This morning, my computer reacts differently: Instead of opening “Pay Online,” I get a pop-up message saying: “You don’t have permission to access this folder.”

What’s going on? I’m not sure how to proceed, but since I also have an article to write, I decide to switch tasks. I’ll try online payments again later. Must be some glitch. So next, I click on “Word.” Same result, only worse: I get another pop-up message. It now says: “I just told you! You don’t have permission to access this folder!” Read more...

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Insanity of the Republican Party and the Individual Mandate

by Madeleine Kando

Republican lawmakers are now adding a ‘repeal of the individual mandate’ clause to their proposed tax bill. For those of you who don’t know what that is, the individual mandate says that every American taxpayer is required to have health insurance. Just like everyone has to have car insurance. If you don’t have health insurance you get a fine.

It is one of the legs of the so-called ‘three legged stool’ of Obamacare. It is ‘unpopular’ because healthy people are forced to spend money on insurance they think they don’t need.

By including the repeal clause in their tax bill, the republicans tell us that it can reduce the deficit by $318 billion. How can NOT paying a tax penalty reduce the deficit? Because if people are not mandated to buy insurance, less of them will apply for subsidies and special government funded programs. 13 million people will be without insurance, a big saving for the government. Read more...

Friday, November 10, 2017

Hurrah for Barbarians!

by
A fictional interview with James C. Scott, author of 'Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States' *

Madeleine Kando: Your book Against the Grain: a Deep History of the Earliest States’ contradicts everything that we take for granted about the ‘progress’ humankind has made, by moving from our ‘barbaric’ past as bands of  ‘hunters and gatherers’ to an agrarian society, which in turn resulted in the birth of ‘the State’.

James C. Scott: Yes, for most of our species’ history, we lived as hunter-gatherers. There were no farms, no fields to plow, no cows to milk or sheep to sheer, only small groups of humans that went out to hunt for the occasional boar or antelope and mostly gather berries and edible plants. Around 200,000 years ago, Homo sapiens appeared on the planet and only 5,000 years ago did farming communities develop. Think about it: if you lived to be a hundred years old, only the last 3 months of your life would be spent as an ‘agriculturalist’. The rest of your long long life, you would have spent in a loincloth, holding a bow and arrow, living with your extended relatives in a small village.** Read more...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Should we Worry about Terrorism?



It’s happening weekly: On October 31, a terrorist killed eight people in New York. He used a truck to mow down his victims. Five days later, another one killed twenty-six innocents in a Texas church.

Having taught the Violence and Terrorism course at the university for many years, I feel compelled to write about this subject. Hopefully this article will be useful.

20th and 21st century man has become inured to news of violence because such news has become so frequent. Only a month earlier, Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured 546 in Las Vegas. Throughout this year, as in previous years, there have been attacks in various cities of the world - half a dozen in London and other British cities, several in Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, and so forth. Attacks on the Western World are covered most prominently, because we live in the West. We are most concerned about attacks against our world. This is selfish and totally natural. Read more...

Friday, October 27, 2017

What is Time, Anyway?

by Madeleine Kando

My mother died a few weeks ago, 2 days shy of her 104th birthday. She fell and broke her leg, which in itself would not have caused her death, but it sure made her decision not to stick around, very clear, both medically and personally.

Since then, I have thought a lot about the passing of time. Where is my mother now, I wonder? My mother Ata will live forever in the past, in my past, my memories. But since she no longer lives in the present and the present constantly morphs into the past, those ‘Ata pages’ are now blank and since the future is constantly collapsing into the present, her pages no longer materialize in the present. Ata’s time has stopped.

But why do I think of time as ‘passing’? Is it like a train that passes me by? A river whose water flows as I stand on its shore? And why does time flow only in one direction? According to experts, the reason for the arrow of time is the second law of thermodynamics (the law of entropy). There was only one way Ata existed and putting Ata back together again would violate the second law of thermodynamics. That’s why Ata no longer exists as Ata. Read more...

America, here is a Mirror. Is this You?



By now, most informed people have heard about this: The flap over a botched condolence phone call made by Trump to the widow of La David Johnson, one of four US soldiers recently killed in Niger.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who happened to be present when Trump called, proceeded to accuse the president of insensitivity. Thereupon, White House chief of staff John Kelly attacked the black congresswoman viciously, fabricating accusations which were promptly shown to be lies. Wilson then demanded an apology from Kelly for character assassination. The following day, lynching threats against her began to appear on the internet.

The facts are clearly on congresswoman Wilson’s side: Fact #1: She was NOT eavesdropping on Trump’s phone call. The call was picked up on Bluetooth in the car in which she and the Johnson family - close friends for many years - were driving together. Fact #2: General Kelly spewed all sorts of lies about Wilson. One of his fabrications was that she had been angling - inappropriately - for some government handout back in a 2015 speech, when in fact she did no such thing, but instead expressed deep patriotism and support for the military and the FBI. Fact #3: Kelly also took a swipe at President Obama, accusing him of NOT calling him after his son had died in combat, conveniently omitting that the former president (later) had him over for dinner at the White House. Kelly’s entire performance was a sharply biased defense of his boss. It was Trump and Kelley who politicized the death of La David Johnson, not Wilson. Fact #4: Wilson is a 74-year old black woman, and she wears a colorful cowboy hat. Her appearance is “unconventional.” Read more...

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Are you a Liberal, Conservative or Modereate?



Here are 18 statements. Check whether you agree or disagree with each of them.
Try not to look at the bottom of this post until you are done.
After you are done, compare your True and False  choices with those which are right according to me, listed at the bottom.

Statement
True
False
1. The more guns people purchase, the safer they are


2. Hillary Clinton committed crimes in re Benghazi          


3. There would be less war and violence  if women had more power


4. The US Government is more corrupt and inefficient than the private sector    


5. There is no such thing as Reverse Discrimination


6.Terrorism is the most serious problem we face


7. Donald Trump has no business being President


8. The high-speed bullet trains are  a boondoggle, a waste of money


9. Hillary Clinton would have been the most competent, honest and  graceful president


10. The more people you lock up, the safer society is


11. The Republican Party should be abolished


12. Capitalism and free-market economics  make society prosperous and equal


13. It’s not the people who vote that count, it’s who count the votes


14. It should be illegal to sit or kneel during the national anthem                                                      


15. Gays can be cured of their illness


16. Americans’ taxes are too high


17 American leadership has benefitted the world


18. Climate change is real and it is man-made



Right choices, according to me:
False: 1,2,4,6,8,10, 12, 14, 15, 16      
True: 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 17, 18

A perfect left-wing score  is 18.
The higher your score is, the more left-leaning you are.
The lower your score is, the more conservative you are. An avid Trumpite would score 2. He would miss every right answer except statements #13 and #17.
A score of 10  or thereabouts  indicates that you are a moderate. leave comment here

© Tom Kando 2017;All Rights Reserved Read more...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Well Done!

by Anita Kando
September 17, 2017

We arrived a few days ago to celebrate Ata's 104th birthday, only to get the shocking news of her fall and likely demise. At first, my natural reaction was that lifesaving measures should begin immediately – after all, a person does not die from a broken leg, right? We wanted to make sure Ata was not in any pain, that she was hydrated, etc, Dr. Laarhoven gently explained that Ata's wishes were being honored, they had already begun pain relief, and that she would remain at home as she had wished. It took only a moment to realize that this was as it should be, as Ata wished, and it was indeed the best course of treatment.

The health care team of doctors and nurses began their daily visits of every few hours. They were supporting Ata's wishes with their gentle care, and they were also supporting her adult children's needs at the same time. Read more...

The Broken leg - Life is a Whore

Juliette Kando,  September 2017

Libère toi maman
de cette vie méchante, 
injuste, horrible et dégoutante 
qui nous séduit par sa beauté 
Comme une PUTAIN! 
Cette putain de vie 
que je déteste aujoud'hui 
Jusqu'au moment 
Ou, de nouveau, 
Elle me séduira par sa beauté 
Une fois libérée tu sera encore avec nous 
Tu brillera dans chaque diamant qui etincelle 
 au couché d'soleil à la plage 
Sous chaque pleine lune 
je te verrai sourire 
Et puis bientot, quand ca sera 
mon temps pour ma putain de vie 
de s'expirer, je te joindrai 
parmi l’eternité de nos ames. 

English Translation: ( Doesn't sound as nice as the French version but you'll get the gist.):

Liberate yourself Mother
of this wicked life, Read more...

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

ATA



Thank you Madeleine, for your beautiful piece about Ata’s departure.

I will now add my own eulogy.

Just in case, here is a brief explanation: Our mother died in the Netherlands about four weeks ago. The weeks that followed were enormously hectic. There was a funeral to organize, obituaries, real estate transactions, dealings with banks, packing, dispatching, all of this in a land six thousand miles away from my home and my office. I have now finally returned home, exhausted. The flight to Los Angeles alone took over thirteen hours, before connecting to Sacramento. Writing and posting a brief eulogy for my mother for the blog was something I simply couldn’t get to until now.

This essay is basically a description of what happened, along with some musings about families and life.

But first, a brief comment about my “feelings:” Since Ata’s death on September 15, just two days shy of her 104th birthday, I have felt curiously numb rather than devastated. This is possibly due to how very busy I have been ever since. Read more...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Ata is gone

by 

I usually skyped with Ata on Tuesday mornings. My 103 year old mother and I established this routine, since she lived in the Netherlands and I live on the other side of the ocean, in Boston, Massachusetts.

During what turned out to be the last skype conversation we had, we talked for quite a while about her upcoming 104th birthday and about more ‘philosophical’ subjects. She always had ‘big’ questions, whether the universe is infinite and how bees know how to find their way back to the hive. As she got older, Ata’s curiosity about the world had only increased. Her eyesight had deteriorated and she could only see blobs, but her photographer’s eye amply filled the blanks. A black blob in the sky turned into a beautiful phoenix, the clouds were angels floating by. A flock of birds were there to carry a message to her mother, who died at age 98.

The less she could see, the stronger her imagination became. She could no longer read about science or world events, but kept asking herself those big questions, marveling at the world as if she was just discovering it. She had turned her mind into a kind of perpetual mobile, which did not require outside sources for input, since she could no longer rely on them, other than talk to us and her numerous friends.

Both my brother Tom and my twin sister Juliette were going to fly over to celebrate her birthday. In fact, Tom was already sitting in an airplane. I had just returned from another trip a week before and felt I could wait till November to visit. We liked to ‘stagger’ our visits, so Ata would have more time with her three children. Read more...

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Kauai

by

It’s not easy to be on vacation in Kauai, especially when you are used to a wintery life in Boston, Massachusetts. It is one of those experiences that makes your dulled senses wake up with a jolt. The minute my husband and I step out of the airport in Lihue after a 14-hour journey, we are bombarded with the dizzying scent of tropical vegetation and the sounds and colors of a world that for us, only exists on postcards.

We pick up our rental car, a Jeep of course, so we can take off the roof and fry in the sun as we cruise over the island. It takes us another hour to get to the North Shore, where we will be staying in a rented condo in a resort-type area called Princeville. On the way there, we drive through a grove where the scent of rain, jungle and guava makes our head spin - we never knew anything could smell so good.

We fumble in the dark, as we key in the door code and after several tries manage to enter the apartment. We open the sliding doors to the balcony and step out onto what feels like the bow of a ship. Surrounded by the sound of the surf under a star studded sky, we try to absorb our new surroundings in a jetlagged stupor. A few geckos scurry away under the furniture as we turn on the light. Read more...

Friday, August 25, 2017

Game of Thrones:Metaphor for America Anno 2017



 By now, I am no longer the only one who sees a parallel between the Game of Thrones’ White Walkers and Donald Trump’s “base.” But the analogy occurred to me quite some time ago, so I still claim originality.

The epiphany hit me several weeks ago. The analogy fits. I suddenly realized that Game of Thrones is about the titanic struggle between the resurgent forces of neo-fascism in America, and the rest of us.

In this show, the greatest threat of all are the White Walkers. I suddenly realized that these represent the Trump base!

Think about it: On August 12, we saw the Trump base in action again. A group of white supremacist-KKK-David Duke-following-confederate-flag-waving neo-Nazis held a violent demonstration, murdering an innocent young woman and hurting many others. Read more...

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Overseas Travel: Fun, with some Pain



 My wife Anita and I go to Italy a lot, usually by way of Holland and France. My mother (now 104 years old) lives in Holland, so each year we first spend a couple of weeks with her and then we travel South. We feel that pound for pound, Italy has more to offer tourists than any other country, closely followed by France.

Intercontinental travel gets harder with age. But we haven’t thrown in the towel yet by just going on cruises and organized tours. We still run around Europe independently by car, by train and by airplane. This usually leads to some unsettling experiences.

The last time we flew to Rome from Holland, we had our first “interesting” experience immediately upon landing at Fumicino airport late in the evening:

After deplaning, we both hit the first toilet we could find, a fairly common practice. Then, we proceeded towards baggage claim. Only AFTER we were outside the security area did we realize that Anita - who is diabetic - had inadvertently left her insulin pack in the bathroom which she had just visited. Read more...

Friday, August 18, 2017

American Fascism, Donald Trump and the Slippery Slope



 No day goes by without one more outlandish behavior by our non-President. Howard Dean said it well the other day: Currently, America does not have a functioning president. There is guy who got elected to the White House by accident. No rational person seriously views him as a real President. He is something else - a celebrity, an actor, an oddity, something else. We and the rest of the world have to live with this for the foreseeable future, but this country is now essentially without a functioning president.

A good illustration of this is the flap about Charlottesville: A group of racist Nazi white-supremacist KKK fascists held a rally, they were confronted by a group that opposes racism, violence ensued, the fascists murdered a young woman.

Then, Trump argued in front of the entire planet that both “sides” were equally at fault. Read more...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

North Korea



We just returned from a three-week Hawaiian vacation and I am happy to resume blogging.

When starting up again, the first question is, what shall I write about? The choice is always between something fun, like a travel story, or something grisly, like Trump or North Korea.

Unfortunately, I have to select the latter, since our blog is primarily about current affairs. So right now, I am going to talk about the most important issue in the world today. Next time I’ll tell you about some of our funny experiences on our recent trips. The most important thing in the world today is the face-off between two lunatics - Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un.

Now don’t misunderstand me: I am not engaging in moral equivalency between the US and North Korea, or between the two countries’ regimes. The US, despite its unhinged President, remains a functioning democracy. North Korea is an indescribably totalitarian, militarized insane asylum. Read more...

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Democracy in Chains: A True Horror Story

by

Preliminary Note: My knowledge of politics and economy is not adequate to give this book its full credit, but I felt it was important enough to write about. It describes the Far Right’s vision of a ‘good’ society, one that safeguards liberty for the few at the expense of elementary fairness and freedom for the many. Knowing that the majority of Americans do not share this vision, the billionaires backed Far Right has been working toward their goal by stealth. If you do not have time to read this 240-page masterpiece, just read the last chapter, the conclusion. It is horrifying.

‘Democracy in Chains: the Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America’ is so disturbing, that it takes a while to realize its full significance. Nancy MacLean, a professor of history and public policy at Duke University, suggests that James McGill Buchanan, a libertarian economist and Nobel laureate who taught at George Mason University and died in 2013, inspired the billionaire Charles Koch’s campaign to “save capitalism from democracy — permanently.”

Almost 70 years ago, Buchanan was already promoting the ideas that define libertarianism: Individual freedom, unfettered capitalism and minimal government intervention. In his view, the majority cannot dictate what the individual should do, especially when that individual is rich. He was against everything that a progressive society values: public education, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and of course progressive taxation, i.e. everything that is essential to making a society more fair and just. Read more...

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Restorative or Retributive Justice: Which is better?

by

One of the most entertaining ways of getting a grip on the difference between ‘retributive justice’ and ‘restorative justice’, is by watching the TV series ‘Lilyhammer’, starring Steven Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen’s lead guitarist. It is about a former New York gangster named Frank "The Fixer" Tagliano, who is placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program and sent to Norway to start a new life.

Frank becomes a respected (read ‘feared’) local citizen, mostly due to bribes and intimidation. His ‘American’ method of doling out justice soon finds fertile ground in this over-civilized, rules-bound society. Norwegians ‘talk’ to work through conflict, but Giovanni’s Maffia style methods often get faster and more effective results. Lilyhammer makes fun of Norway’s soft approach to crime and oddly enough the show is incredibly popular in Norway. It must give Norwegians an opportunity to satisfy their thwarted sense of ‘retributive justice’. We all seem to have a desire to take revenge on the ones that have wronged us, whether we live in Norway or somewhere else.

What is Justice?

One of the earliest versions of justice can be found in the Egyptian goddess named Maat. She has an ostrich feather in her hair and a lioness by her side. Cosmic harmony was achieved by correct public and ritual life. Maat weighed the heart of a dead person on a scale against her ostrich feather. If the heart was lighter than the feather, it passed the test and was granted eternal life. If If it was heavy with the weight of wrongdoings, the lioness by her side devoured it and the soul was set adrift into chaos.

But since Plato and Aristotle, there has been a constant battle amongst philosophers on what justice really is: is it God’s Devine Command? Is it something that has been agreed upon between members of society? Or is it a Natural Law, like the law of gravity? If justice is what is commanded by God, is it morally good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is morally good? In other words, does justice exist on a higher order than God, who just follows the rules of justice, or did God create justice, like pulling a rabbit out of magician’s hat? Read more...

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Gathering Storm



I’m reading a marvellous book - Sean Carroll’s Brave Genius. It’s about the French Resistance movement during World War Two.

I’m not going to review this entire book. I just mention it because its first chapter evoked a frightening parallel in my mind: That first chapter is about the so-called “Phony War” which took place in Europe from September 1939 to May 1040, when the shooting war actually began:

Officially, World War Two began on September 1, 1039, when Hitler invaded Poland and the allies (France and Britain) declared war on Germany. However, what followed was what the French came to call the “Drole de Guerre,” or the “Phony War.” For over eight months, there was practically no fighting between the Germans and the allies. The major shoot-out began on May 10, 1040, when Hitler invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France. This phase lasted barely five weeks and ended with the defeat of France. Read more...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is Trump's America Increasingly isolated, and are Americans Exceptionally Stupid?



A Dutch friend just sent me an article by Mars van Grunsven in De Groene Amsterdammer (Make America Exceptional Again).

Its main thesis is that America is increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, and that Trump is speeding up this process. It also discusses, as so many have done in the past, the presumptuous belief of many Americans in “American exceptionalism.”

My comments:

1. Isolation? The assertion that America is increasingly isolated implies a dichotomous view of the world: America vs. the rest of the world. But this is nonsense. America is just one out of a couple of hundred countries, some friendly, some hostile, some indifferent. America may enter into new sorts of alliances, with nefarious dictators such as the Philippines’ president Duterte. It is best to see America as a primus inter pares, in the near future maybe secundus or even tertius...just one of the world’s relatively large countries, also a flawed country, as many other countries are. So, not all that exceptional.

2. The Future? If a small country like North Korea can insulate itself and persist in its insane ways for many decades, surely a huge place like America will be able to continue its idiosyncratic culture indefinitely (its attitudes towards guns, sex, race, the economy, science, religion, the environment and everything else). Read more...

Monday, June 19, 2017

With Trump’s Budget Cuts, Americans Should Worry About Their Health and Safety

By Morgan Statt **

We can spend all day taking a look at the way Trump behaves. The media loves to analyze his every move, so much so that it’s hard to forget when he essentially shoved the leader of Montenegro out of the way or that time he tweeted out “covfefe.” By the way, did you know an Illinois lawmaker is looking to turn into federal law a ‘COVFEFE’ bill focused on documenting Presidential activity?

There’s an understandable reason why the media wants to highlight his behavior. It enables us to find a bit of comical relief in the caricature of Trump as we cope with the realization that he’s actually our President. But, there comes a point when we need to remember that Trump isn’t just a dramatized photo we can marvel at. He’s our President, and the scope of changes he’s hoping to bring about could have a very damaging effect on our health and safety. For starters, his 2018 fiscal budget proposal should cause a high level of concern for American consumers. Read more...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

How Jared Kushner gets Rich off of the Backs of the Poor



You probably never heard of the ‘EB-5 Visa Investor Program’, but it is a favorite of real estate developers who are looking to fund their projects with low cost capital. The Program was created in 1990 and provides a method for Immigrant Investors (the majority are Chinese) to obtain to obtain United States visas as a path to permanent residence. By investing upwards of 1million dollars into a commercial enterprise, wealthy foreigners and their families are granted green cards, so long as the investor can prove that 10 U.S. jobs have been created as a result of his or her investment.

Originally intended to benefit poor and rural communities, called a Targeted Employment Area (TEA), where the jobless rate is 150% of the national average, it is now being used and abused by wealthy urban developers like Jared Kushner, the President’s son in law, as a way to finance real estate projects at a below market price. This is exactly how ‘Trump Bay Street’, on the Jersey City waterfront was financed at below market rates, through EB-5 investments. Kushner secured $50 million in funding from about 100 investors from China, South Korea and Vietnam.

That would already be cause for ethical concern, considering how Trump and hence his chief advisor, Jared Kushner, are railing against the Chinese takeover of our economy, but Kushner wanted to sweeten the deal. His investors, he announced, would only have to pay half of that million dollar to get a path to citizenship. Read more...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How Big is the Universe and How many Stars and Planets are there?


With assistance from Dr. Gene Barnes


1. So far, the most distant body we know of in the universe is GN-z11, a galaxy about 13.4 billion light years away. In other words, what we see of GN-z11 today left that body 13.4 billion years ago, which is not long after the birth of the universe, which occurred 13.8 billion years ago (see: The Most Distant Objects; The Farthest Reaches; The Age of the Universe).

 2. Time: If the universe were 1 year old today, the sun and earth would have formed about three months ago; life on earth would have begun about two months ago; dinosaurs would have roamed around the world for about one hour yesterday, then disappeared; the first hominoids would have appeared an hour ago, Cro Magnon man one minute ago; Columbus would have crossed the Atlantic a second ago.

3. Distances: One light year is about 9.5 trillion kilometers. So GN-z11 is located at 13.4 billion x 9.5 trillion kilometers from us. This is 127,300,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilometers = One hundred and twenty-seven sextillion kilometers (1,273 x 10 to the twentieth power).
Read more...

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump

 With Additional Research by
The title of this article is borrowed from a Dutch film which documents or alleges a worldwide web of criminal activities, with ties to the Trump organization. See The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump. These activities involve many men from the former Soviet Union (several said to be tied to or part of the “Russian Mob”). A helpful article is the Sacramento Bee, May 30, 2017; McClatchy Washington Bureau, Other sources include Mafia-linked Figures, Felix Sater, Forbes Billionaires, Trump and the Oligarch ‘Trio’ and The Diplomat.

What emerges is an incredibly colorful and complex worldwide net of criminal activities by shady characters from Kazakhstan, Russia, Israel, the Netherlands, the United States and elsewhere. These transactions involve billions of dollars in dozens of countries all over the globe.

The story reminds me of the Tintin capers I enjoyed so much as a boy, or intrigue a la James Bond and Jason Bourne, with a tinge of Don Corleone thrown in. I suppose this topic should be taken very seriously. But for now, just enjoy:

According to the McClatchy Washington Bureau, two fugitive oligarchs are accused of laundering Kazakh money in US real estate, some of it owned by Donald Trump. Read more...

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Let's Raise Taxes Already!



The Trump disaster is upon us. More specifically, the Trumponomics disaster is upon us. That is, the President and his Republican goons are going to try to pass a massive tax cut to benefit the super rich.

You don’t have to be an economist to see why this is a disaster. And I am not even talking about the immorality and  the injustice of making the rich even richer and the poor even poorer. No, what I am talking about is what this is going to do to the federal budget and the national economy.

One of America’s most obstinate problems is that its government is increasingly broke. It is broke  the same way that you would be broke if you kept increasing your debt year after year, and kept spending more and more of your income to finance your debt,  i.e. on  interest payments.  Each year you would have less  money left over to buy things. This is a vicious circle. Currently, Uncle Sam spends each year nearly  half a trillion (!) dollars  more than it collects  in taxes. Read more...

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Stories Cemetery



I went to the stories cemetery today. I had wrapped my latest story due for burial in a plastic cover, taking care that it would not wrinkle. I gave it a last gentle stroke with the palm of my hand before I carefully placed it in my bag.

It was one of those rainy, gloomy days, a perfect fit for my long overdue homage to all the stories that died a premature death. I walked down the unkempt lanes, weeds growing abundantly, partially covering some of the epitaphs. Some had been carved with great care, betraying the author’s ambivalence at having to let go. An ornamental gravestone read: ‘In loving memory of ‘the Crooked Warrior’. Died prematurely, due to lack of good diction.’ Another one, this one barely legible: ‘Here lies ‘the Missing Slippers ’. Died due to a lack of stamina’. ‘Died due to a bad plot’. ‘Died due to too many words’, etc. It was all so depressing, so I stopped reading.

I found our family plot, and looked for a good spot to lay my latest story to rest. The epitaph I had prepared read: ‘On this spot lies ‘the Weathervane’. Died prematurely at the tender age of 3 weeks, due to lack of inspiration.’ It took me a while to finish digging; my glasses began to fog up because of my tears, but I finally placed the plastic bag carefully in the grave and began to cover it with dirt.

I was about to pat down the earth, when I felt a small stirring under my hands. Did I bury a little creature together with my story by accident? I must have imagined it. So I kept going. Now, there was a distinct movement that I couldn’t ignore. The soil heaved and heaved, until I saw a small piece of plastic appear. Read more...

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Dream of the Godfather's Hyman Roth has come True



“Michael, if I could only live to see it, to be there with you. What I wouldn't give for twenty more years! Here we are, protected, free to make our profits without... the goddamn Justice Department and the F.B.I. ninety miles away, in partnership with a friendly government. Ninety miles! It's nothing! Just one small step, looking for a man who wants to be President of the United States, and having the cash to make it possible. Michael, we're bigger than U.S. Steel.”
 (Hyman Roth, The Godfather II)

 After having written dozens of articles about Trump, Hillary Clinton and the presidential campaign during the year leading up to the election, I was hoping to get away from that tedious topic. And I have.

However, the media have not. The problem remains, and it is the media’s responsibility to keep reminding us daily that we live in an unacceptable situation: We have a president who should not be president. It’s that simple. The Trump presidency is upon us, but it is unacceptable. Read more...

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Identity Theft



My mother-in-law, Yopie, is turning a hundred this year. She lives very very far away from her children, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren, of whom she has so many that she cannot remember most of their names.

Yopie has always been better at remembering faces. Voices as well, until she turned deaf, first in one ear, as a result of a severe ear infection, then in the other a few decades ago, give or take. Now that she is embarking on her second century of life, a name or a face is not even a guarantee for success, as you will soon find out.

On her hundredth birthday, she will receive a letter in the mail from the President, congratulating her on her long life. She insists on all of us being there when the letter arrives, her five children and their respective wives and husbands, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

So we pack our bags, my husband, the children and I, and resign ourselves to the prospect of spending our holiday in freezing Holland instead of beautiful Bali. With some effort we convince my husband’s older brother Sam, who has settled in Greece after a divorce from his English lawyer wife, to join us. He never leaves his goat farm, you see, not even for one day. He is a recluse and hates to travel, always using his goats as an excuse to stay away from family events. Read more...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Childhood Memories



I was born in Budapest, but we fled from Hungary to France two years after the war. I was seven then, my sisters were five. We were refugees and our life in Paris was difficult. My parents couldn’t find jobs. Soon my father went back to Hungary, reasoning that he would be better off living under Communism with a job than under Capitalism without one. That was the last we saw of him.

My mother did finally find a job working in a photo lab on the Boulevard Saint Germain, in the 6th arrondissement. She had to be at the lab from early morning to eight at night. She had a nearly two-hour long commute each way, combining a long walk, then a bus, then twenty-five subway stops.

We didn’t see much of our mother during those years. Sometimes she paid for a horrid, witch-like care-taker (with an ugly mustache). We also spent time in cheap boarding houses. At times, we simply took care of ourselves, feeding ourselves and putting ourselves to bed. My mother would get home well after ten. How well I remember her gentle good-night kiss, how happy it made me, even as it woke me up.
Read more...

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bravo la France, Bravo the Monde!



 The election of Emmanuel Macron to the French presidency on May 7 is a victory for France, it is a victory for Europe, and a victory for the world. 

We now have a pattern: During the past year, the British people have voted to exit from the European Union, the US elected President Trump, while the Austrians elected a Green Party President, the Dutch turned back Geert Wilders’ nativist insurgency, and the French elected the centrist Emmanuel Macron to the presidency.

It appears that the two Anglo-Saxon nations have  given in to the politics of fear, hatred and division, whereas other countries (so far) opt for the politics of hope, progress and unification.

It may be that the United States and Britain, having been largely dominant in the world for the past couple of centuries, are having difficulty adjusting to a diminished role and a reduction in privilege. Read more...

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Against Nuclear War and Social Injustice



 The mission of Physicians for Social Responsibility is to help protect the public against threats to global survival, specifically nuclear warfare and proliferation, global warming, and toxic degradation of the environment. It offers testimony to Congress and delivers professional and public education. It is a national network with 50,000 members and e-activists, and it is the U.S. affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, winner of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. It is not necessary to be a physician to be a member or a supporter of this excellent organization.

One of the Sacramento chapter’s major functions is the Annual High School Scholarship Essay Contest. This was the 13th consecutive year that the contest was held, a period during which over $150,000 has been handed out.

The contest consists of responding to a prompt in an essay of 500 or fewer words. Each year a different prompt is used and the essays of past contest winners are posted on the PSR/Sacramento website at www.sacpsr.org.

This year’s prompt was the following statement by Franklin Roosevelt: “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” Read more...

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Conversation with Ata, my 103 Year Old Mother

Ata Kando


I watch Ata struggle with her blankets. She has returned from one of her numerous trips to the bathroom, trying to settle back in her recliner close to the window. My sister Juliette moved it there on her last visit, so that Ata can look out, although she cannot see much any more. Just spots, she says. My mother has grown thinner and smaller since last September. When she shuffles across the room, leaning on her wheeled walker, her hunchback is now so prominent, that she has difficulty looking straight ahead.

She breathes heavily, groans and sighs until she finally settles in her usual comfortable position. Then, her sweet smile returns and she is ready to engage with the world, which is now me, on my latest visit from America.

It’s a beautiful Dutch spring day and I ask Ata if she would like to take a ride to the beach that afternoon. But even brief day trips are no longer part of our routine. Her world is reduced to trips to the bathroom and to her bed at night.

A few years ago, when she was only 96, we could still go on overnights together to places like the Ardennes. As the years passed, our trips got shorter, but my visits to Ata were always fused with the joy of driving through beautiful Holland together.

This time it is different. Ata no longer leaves her recliner. She no longer reads, listens to music, or watches TV. She cannot smell the blooming cherry trees in front of her large bay window. Her extreme old age has sneaked up on both of us, as one by one, her senses have abandoned her. Read more...

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Some of the Things I Remember from World War Two




War is on my mind lately, because of the saber rattling by the boy who leads North Korea and our own man-boy leader. It’s scary, when two mentally unstable heads of state face off, and they both have nukes.

Also, I just saw The Zookeeper’s Wife. The movie is better than the credit it gets. It’s about World War Two, in Warsaw.

I was barely over 4 years old when the war ended in Europe, and I grew up in Budapest, which is “next door” to Warsaw, so to speak. This movie brought back many memories. It’s interesting how one becomes more forgetful in the short-term when one ages, but also how long-term memory sometimes resurfaces.

The Battle of Budapest between the Soviet Red Army and the Axis Powers - Germany and Hungary, primarily - took place in the winter of 1944-45, one of the coldest on record. It is estimated that it resulted in 40,000 civilian deaths, 150,000 Soviet casualties, dozens of thousands of German and Hungarian combat deaths, and half a million Hungarians transported to the Soviet Union (Siege of Budapest).
Read more...

Friday, April 7, 2017

Tower of Babel, Cacophony, or Multilingualism on Testosterone?




So this morning I Skyped with my family in Holland (actually, it was morning for me, evening for them).

My mother Ata lives in Holland. She will turn 104 in a few months. This week, my sister Madeleine, her daughter, her son-in-law and her grandson were all visiting Ata. They are all from America, but my sister Madeleine is an immigrant, like me.

In addition, there were a couple of Dutch ladies there, wonderful women who volunteer to provide my mother with immense assistance. Altogether, there were more than half a dozen people in my mother’s Dutch flat while I was skyping with her from Sacramento.

So this skyping event was exceptionally international, which is not unusual in my family.

We were all born in Hungary. I was seven when we left that country, and my twin sisters were six. The three of us soon forgot Hungarian, but it has always remained our mother’s primary tongue.
Read more...

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Is Patriotism Good or Bad?




 There is a lot of talk about patriotism these days. The new president wants to make America great (again).

 Also, I just read J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. It’s a pretty good book. The author describes with great honesty his feelings about his Appalachian origins, and his feelings about that subculture, as well as about America in general. He was a marine for four years and served in Iraq. He is an “enlightened” patriot. He gets teary-eyed when he hears Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

So I am thinking: Why don’t I get teary-eyed when I hear that song? What’s the matter with me? I am an American, too!

And why do I admire Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49er quarterback who kneeled during the National Anthem instead of standing at salute? The vast majority of the public in the stadium booed him, and he might not be hired by any NFL team next season. His act of defiance was in support of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. He is paying a high price and I I find his behavior heroic.
Read more...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hundred Places that will Change your Life?



In the summer of 2016, the National Geographic Magazine published a special edition about “Hundred Places that Will Change Your Lfe.” It describes one hundred  fabulous places in fifty-five  different countries.

As an inveterate traveler, I had to look into this. For one thing, after seventy years of worldwide travel,  - how many of these spots have I  seen?  Regretfully,  I have only been in 32  of the sites listed by  the National Geographic, and only  in 19 of these 55 countries - just about one third.  Oh well, I’ll check out the remainder in my next life.

The National Geographic  divides its list into four categories, each containing 25 places: (1) Mind,  (2) Body, (3) Spirit and (4)Soul:

The first 25 sites  are places where you  may go to enrich yourself mentally and culturally. MIND. To clarify the point, the magazine quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. ,who once said that “A Man’s Mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.” Here are some examples of such places:
Read more...

Monday, March 27, 2017

Juicy French Politics



The current administration is mired in controversy, ranging from conflicts of interest and foreign meddling in our elections, to sexual misconduct, but looking at what is happening in France, we certainly don’t have the monopoly on political scandals.

The French Presidential elections are around the corner and of the five candidates that are competing for the job, two are under investigation: Francois Fillon, leader of the conservative party ‘Les Republicains’ and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right populist party ‘Front National’.

If you think it unethical for Trump to hire family members to help him govern, you only have to look at France to see that nepotism is not exclusive to America. Giving positions to family members is actually common amongst French politicians, but the latest scandal going by the name ‘Penelopegate’ was too much to swallow for the French voter.

Francois Fillon, is charged with paying his wife $1 million with public money for a job as his assistant, that she never fulfilled. Fillon is seen as a hypocrite, since he has proposed cuts to civil servant jobs to save money. Read more...