Stephen Kahn

Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page


In Hard to tell on April 30, 2011 at 11:57 pm

When should people forgive? Historical relations between Japan and Korea (a topic on which I am not an expert) are troubled. For example, it is alleged that during World War II (an event I mostly missed, being born in 1944) Japan invaded Korea and used Korean woman as sexual slaves for Japanese soldiers.

Recently, according to reports in the Los Angeles Times, there was an outpouring of support for Japan, because of the natural disaster there (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear plant problems). However, Japan indulged in some questionable comments and actions, and Koreans are reportedly backsliding on forgiveness.

What difference does it make?

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Our nation has been obsessed with the birthplace of Barak Obama. Was he actually born in the United States? Various people have jumped on this train–for example–Donald Trump, about whom I would ask: was he actually born in this solar system?

Nonetheless, I fail to understand the point of the concern. If Obama is a bad President, he is a bad President, no matter where he was born. If he is a good President, he is a good President, no matter where he was born.

Perhaps the point is that we worship the Constitution of the United States. Perhaps it was drafted by God and whispered into the ears of the Constitutional Convention by angels. In my superficial opinion, the Constitution is a pretty good document as such documents go, but some of our early ideas–such as slavery of black people and taking of Indians’ land–were rather dubious. As a matter of fact, over the years we have revised the Constitution and have a process for doing so in the Constitution.

Was the requirement that the President be a native-born citizen a good idea at the time? I doubt it. If some scholar can explain it to me, I will read his or her comments with careful attention. If someone will point me to such an explanation, I will be grateful. Regardless, it makes little or no sense today. Instead of fussing about whether Obama was born in Hawaii–a state, incidentally, we stole from its owners–we should just get to work and amend this ridiculous and at best obsolete detritus from a pretty good document.

A positive meme

In Good news on April 22, 2011 at 7:49 pm

I suggested recently that we work on trying to help save civilization by coming up with a positive meme. I’m not smart enough to come up with anything really catchy, but I do have something worth considering, which I am stealing from someone else.

All my life I have been bombarded with propaganda from the “left” and the “right,” also known as liberals and conservatives, in regard to politics and economics. It is fairly obvious (at least to me, but perhaps not to the large number of people who spread bombast about these ideologies), that neither of these two systems of thought work very well.

Especially in terms of economics, neither capitalism and libertarianism of the hard-core Ayn Rand sort is very wholesome or practical. On the other hand, the failures and crimes of people such as Stalin, Mao, and their buddies needs to be taken seriously by the liberal “peace and love” crowd, such as the people I am now hanging out with at Transition Whidbey.

Is there any other approach to economics worth considering?

I am currently reading the following interesting book:

The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics

Information about the book and author at

I hope she does not have skeletons in her closet like the three cups of tea guy.

Ill met

In Hard to tell on April 19, 2011 at 3:33 am

I don’t remember ever attending an auto race in person. No, on second thought, I did once attend a crash derby, where old wrecked cars crashed into each other. As I recall, the last car running “won” the race.

Even in “regular” races, where the winner is the driver who crosses the finish line first, there is an evil subtext. Although the drivers are very skilled, and wear safety equipment, and follow certain rules, and the fans don’t really want to see anyone hurt or killed, the races are in fact rather dull and pointless, so that the fans secretly hope to see a spectacular crash with cars rolling over and over, or bursting into flames.

I suspect that humans in general feel the same way about the possible collapse of civilization. There are signs of hope. Just this evening, as I listened to BBC news, I learned that Cuba, a country with problems typical of Communist dictorships, was reforming its agriculture and economic system, to iintroduce some gentle economic incentives. In Arab countries, dictators are being removed, and not being replaced by Islamic fanatics.

Such observations might lead us to think humanity is improving. However, please don’t ignore the How exciting it is to see a war or a huge disaster flaw in human beings. This does not just apply to automobile races. Tsunamis and earthquakes are exciting (as well as awful and heartrendiing) if they occur in Japan or Indonesia. There would be a thrill (as well as horror), if North Korea attacked South Korea. It’s cliched, I know, but We have met the enemy and he is us.

Let’s go viral

In Good news on April 14, 2011 at 1:21 pm

A virus is an infectious agent that preys on human beings. Usually viruses cause harmful diseases such as colds and influenza. When an illness “goes viral,” it spreads from person to person, causing many people to suffer and even die. Off hand, I don’t know of any “good” physical viruses, though some people argue that viruses used to develop vaccines are good. Or at least can be used for good.

A meme is the social equivalent of a physical virus. A meme can be an idea or an emotion. When a meme “goes viral” it spreads from person to person. Reading Wikipedia (itself a meme) I learn that memes are controversial and disputed. As a superficial and silly person, I conclude that memes themselves are memes, something like quantum theory (which I don’t understand) applied to social psychology, anthropology, and sociology, dubious social “sciences,” none of which I understand.

I suspect (along with others) that religious belief is a meme. Religious belief may be true (I doubt it) or may be an invention of humanity, thereby leaving us confused about where the universe came from.

As a meme, religious belief is sometimes good, as when it provides meaning, a reason to live, and charity and kindness. As a meme, religious belief is sometimes bad, as when it burns people at the stake, inspires genocides, or causes people to blow themselves up in crowds.

Civilization is a meme. Somebody, perhaps Mahatma Ghandi, once said that it was a nice idea and we ought to try it sometime. If you look at our planet from outer space with a powerful telescope, or just perhaps fly an airplane around for a while, you will see large amounts of infrastructure such as cities, roads, farms, dams, and so on, which some people take as signs of civilization.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume:

1) Civilization exists.

2) Civilization is worth preserving.

3) Civilization is in danger of collapsing.

4) There is a possibility civilization can survive.

At the moment, this blog is read by somewhere between four and ten people. The chances of anything I write here, or any comment you make, “going viral,” are about 1 in 100 billion (to be optimistic).

Just for the heck of it, just to give us something to do, let’s see if we can come up with a proposal to save civilization from collapse and make it go viral.

The Nazi-Hen from Hell

In Good news, Humor on April 13, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Once we had four baby chickens. One failed to thrive. The others pecked it. My wife said, “It’s not going to make it. The longer we wait, the harder it will be.”

My wife handed me a knife. I chopped off the chick’s head. My wife wept. The other three thrived and were named Little Peep, Moll, and Big Mama. They all lay eggs on a regular basis, and work very hard digging and scratching and pecking. Mama don’t allow any lazy chickens around here.

When they were small, it was easy for me to tell them apart. Big Mama was biggest and at the top of the pecking order. Moll was pecky. Sharon (our neighbor) said Moll was just trying to get our attention, but as a person with a lot of attitude, I could tell Moll has a lot of attitude. Before and after she lays an egg, Moll makes a big speech about the matter. “What a fine hen am I!” Moll tells the world.

We worried about Little Peep. She was the smallest, and the others pecked her, so it was obvious that she lives at the bottom of the pecking order. However, she was the most carnivorous and the fastest to spot and grab and eat a sow bug, beetle, earth worm or other creature down the food chain. She was also the least “flocky” of the flock, often wandering away from the other two.

Now that they are grown up, I can’t really tell them apart any more, but my wife says she can. She goes into fine details of their combs and coloring, which I immediately forget. Yesterday, I presented them with three 5-yecch! slugs (as part of my effort to train chickens to eat slugs like ducks do). One of the chickens picked up a slug, shook it around vigorously, and gulped it down, the same way I have seen people gulp a shot of whiskey. She didn’t even need any bribe of oat flakes to encourage her.

Then she spotted something running and dashed over to grab it in her beak. The other chickens dashed after her to try and grab it from her. She dashed away with the others in pursuit. I realized she had caught a mouse. She shook it vigorously and pecked it. I tossed some oats to the other chickens to distract them, so the killer Nazi chicken from Hell could enjoy her prey in peace. I don’t know if she consumed the mouse, but she soon joined the other chickens so she would not miss out on the oat flake candy  treat.

I don’t know if the mouse-killing chicken is Little Peep. I expect her to get a rat tomorrow, a raccoon the day after that, and by the end of the week to take out an eagle and a coyote. Of course, by then it will only be a matter of time …

No shuttle

In Humor on April 12, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Seattle is depressed. The Emerald City has a shuttle to the airport, but the city’s Museum of Flight is not going to get a grounded space shuttle. When Anne-Elise was very small, impressed by her confidence with heights, I predicted that some day she whould would be an astronaut. With no space shuttle to inspire her, will she be forever grounded?

Sexist ducks

In Hard to tell, Humor on April 12, 2011 at 3:00 am

Craig and Sharon have left for a cruise which will take them through various ports, starting from Florida, going to Aruba, visiting the Panama Canal, and eventually ending up in Alaska.

While they are gone, J, a church friend of theirs, is sitting their house and caring for their chickens and ducks. Sharon has mentioned that the ducks “mind” Craig, but not her. When I have attended to their poultry, the ducks go to bed at bedtime. J, female, told us that the ducks would not go to bed for her. (She left their door open so they cold go in after dark if they so wanted.) I offered tonight to come over tomorrow and see if they would behave better for me.

Apparently the catch-phrase “sexist pig” needs to be replaced by “sexist duck.” How odd. I don’t think this has anything to do with civilization collapsing.

Slugs? No. Ayn Rand? Yes.

In Bad news on April 11, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I was going to describe my latest effort to convince our chickens to eat slugs, but I just glanced at Google News and noticed that a movie based on Ayn Rand’s mad book Atlas Shrugged (or at least the first third of this massive diatribe) will shortly be released. This effort will join movies such as Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth as monuments to vanity film making.

When I was about14 years old, my family (in the process of moving to the Madison, Wisconsin area) rented a house for a couple of months. As a compulsive reader, I looked for something to read and found two books:

Gone with the Wind and Atlas Shrugged.

Like a young child slugging down bottles of liquor or consuming some other harmful substance (slugs, maybe?), reading those two books at such a young age left me  permanently brain damaged.

While the appearance of this movie is not conclusive proof, it definitely falls into the category of indicators that civilization is rapidly collapsing. Perhaps the capture of Laurent Gbagbo (speaking of slugs?) is an indicator on the side of supporting civilization. However, I suspect the chickens would turn up their beaks at him even more than they do at the slugs.

Crises and opportunities large and small

In Good news, Humor on April 10, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Signs of the collapse of civilization appear in large events and small events.

The world has always suffered from wars and calamities. At the moment, the most obvious and well-known wars are in Libya and Ivory Coast. As far as natural disasters, it seems to be a pretty good weekend. Mapleton, Iowa was wrecked by a tornado, but no one died. A giant asteroid will pass close to the earth, but if the astronomers know what they are talking about, miss us by a few lunar distances.

My wife and I visited our daughter, daughter-out-of law (as I call her partner), and our 7-year old granddaughter in Seattle. Anne Elise, a very intelligent and very emotional child, seems to be turning into a passable human being. She has learned to ride a bicycle, though she still does not watch carefully enough for oncoming traffic. Grandma gave her useful safety tips as we accompanied her on a ride (on sidewalks) around the neighborhood.

Back at their house, we enjoyed a pleasant dinner and Anne Elise, a child with a lot of “food issues” ate her food in a reasonably civilized way, though she politely turned up her beak at the delicious beet salad.

Our “barely extended family,” as I dub them, live in a pleasant, tolerant, liberal, racially and religiously diverse neighborhood. The neighbors know each others’ names and work together. Nevertheless, the family was burglarized about a week ago. I am just guessing on the details of the actual event, but it might be that an addict desperate for money to feed his addiction entered through a carelessly unlocked door and rummaged for easy to steal items. He overlooked a valuable violin and a couple of laptops (all sensibly hidden) and got away with an i-pod.

Some of their neighbors are selling their houses. An inspection of one of the adjoining houses revealed a blockage in a sewer line. It’s not quite clear which property the blockage occupies; my daughter discussed with the selling neighbor in a firm but polite manner how they will decide how to allocate the costs of repairing the line. As the saying goes, “Shit happens.” The saying does not add, “Then you have to do something with it.”

A prospective buyer was inspecting a another house for sale (this one across the street). The “kids” (as we deem our family, though they are in their forties) like these prospects and hope they purchase and have told them so. I said, “This is sort of the opposite of a ‘restrictive covenant’ is it not? Sort of a welcoming covenant?”

My wife and I sailed and drove safely from Whidbey Island and returned equally safely. The chickens left us one egg (collected for us by our wonderful neighbors). One of the chickens was roosting on the nesting box instead of the perch. This morning I will go out in a few minutes, give the chickens some oat flakes (which they will gobble like candy), a few tiny 3-Yecch! slugs, which they will turn their beaks up at, and some earthworms, which they will gobble with almost as much enthusiasm as they chow down on the oats.

Then I will sweep the shit from the top of the nesting box down into the wood shavings on the henhouse floor and put the mess into the composting pile where eventually, after it breaks down enough, it will feed the garden plants in the never-ending cycle of life.

Then I will go to the gym where I will use the exercise machine known as the Sisyphus device, which breaks down my muscles so they can grow stronger, until I eventually croak some day. I haven’t decided yet whether I will be cremated or be buried on our land (which apparently is now possible). I don’t wish to have a funeral, but if my family decides they want one, I won’t complain about it, and the alder and fir trees will happily sink their roots into my ashes or corpse.