Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and the Windows XP Sound Recorder

[This filk song was published on Hubpages in 2009 and was later unpublished because of "pixelated images" at a time when HP thought Google would give them their traffic back if only they did not allow pixelated images.]

Tune: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious by the Sherman Brothers

When using your computer to send a song to me,

Please try the sound recorder built into your XP.

It isn’t high fidelity, and yet the sound you get

Can serve as an attachment — you don’t need a cassette!




Supercalifragilistic XP sound recorder!

Despite the sixty seconds thing,

You can use it — sort of!

Just click “effects” and “decrease speed”

Over and yet over!

No more sixty second thing!

You can keep recording!


It doesn’t cost much money. It’s easy to afford.

You find it in your start bar, and you have to press record.

But you will need a microphone, as Microsoft makes clear:

If you neglect to use one, the sound card cannot hear!



So please don’t go to Wal*Mart, to buy cassette recorders,

I don’t believe they carry them, except for special orders.

Just email me your snail mail and I will send a mike,

And you can start recording anything you like!



(c) 2009 Aya Katz

Microsoft Instructions for Using Sound Recorder 

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Is It Libertarian if it Features Rebellion Against Government?

Lately I have noticed people making lists of Libertarian movies and books to recommend to their non-libertarian friends. Among these such classics as 1984 and the Star Wars franchise, as well as relative newcomers like The Hunger Games have been mentioned.

I have heard people say things like: “Look, they are fighting against an evil, oppressive government, so it must be libertarian!”

I don’t want to seem too negative, but you don’t have to be libertarian to oppose an “evil, oppressive” government. Everybody I know is against “evil.” I don’t know one single person who is in favor of “evil.” I don’t see any politicians campaigning on a platform of “evil.” Same goes for oppression. I bet if you took a poll, one hundred percent of Americans and at least ninety percent of Europeans would come out solidly against “oppression.” The problem is in deciding what exactly that is.

The fiction that seems to be doing very well at the moment is the fiction that skirts making that distinction. I am not an expert on The Hunger Games. for instance, as I have not read the books and have only seen two of the movies, but it appears to be about an oppressive government that makes people fight to the death in a public arena in order to punish a rebellion that took place a long time ago when part of Panem (or PanAm?) tried to secede. So it begs the question: is this about the American civil war and what happened during reconstruction?  Somebody actually asked this online. They were told no, it was not, it was just about oppressive government, but thank you very much for making the connection.

The reason this series about rebellion against an oppressive government is doing so well is that people who think the Civil War was a great humanitarian war to end slavery and people who think the Civil War ended constitutional republican government in the United States can all go see the same movie and eat popcorn and candy and feel happy to be rebels. It does not change anything in their ideology, but it only serves to convince them that they are good people and  that they would fight against evil, too, if evil ever showed up. But in real life, there is no evil, and all is well with the world. Or alternatively, some of them think they do recognize evil, but they are on diametrically different sides when it comes to defining what that is.

I recently saw Star Wars  listed as libertarian. I have always been ambivalent about the Star Wars franchise because I was not really sure what it was that made the evil Empire evil, other than dressing in black. I used to dismiss it as unintellectual entertainment for people with no particular axe to grind. But in 1999 something happened to convince me that Star Wars was actually anti-libertarian.

At the time, I went to see the latest movie in the series, The Phantom Menace, in the company of my newborn daughter. It was hard to concentrate on the movie, as the baby needed constant attention. She was about eleven days old. But I swear the people on the screen seemed to be saying that the bad guys were evil because they did not want to pay taxes imposed on them by the good guys!

This was the text of the opening crawl:

Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.
Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo.
While the congress of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle the conflict.

So basically the greedy Trade Federation was like Amazon, selling things without sales tax, and the planet of Naboo was like the state of Missouri trying to impose sales tax on them. Which side should the Amazon Associates on Naboo be on? Which side should the consumers on Naboo be on?  Tell me more about greed… Is that the attempt to get something for nothing?

I’m still not sure. I had a friend once who told me she enjoys going to the movies for the symbolism of the thing, regardless of the overt ideology. So she could enjoy a symbolic rebellion against evil and come away feeling catharsis, and it did not matter that the Hollywood establishment was getting to define evil in a way she disagreed with.

It does not work that way for me, and if you are serious about pitching libertarianism to your friends, I suggest that this is not a good strategy. If evil is not defined in a way that allows us to distinguish free market from forced market, then it’s not libertarian.

Everybody is in favor of freedom and against oppression. Libertarian fiction defines what freedom and oppression are. If that definition does not make socialists and statists  and theocrats cringe just a little, then it’s not libertarian. It’s mainstream.


Posted in Books and Authors, Opinion Pieces and Editorials | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stray dogs came in all breeds and colors, but a type of dog often encountered was one with stippled black-gray-brown coat, representing the natural blending of several unnaturally produced breeds.

Stray dogs came in all breeds and colors, but a type of dog often encountered was one with stippled black-gray-brown coat, representing the natural blending of several unnaturally produced breeds.

[This article was first published on Hubpages in 2008 , but it has since been de-indexed, so I am republishing it here.]


Tamsui Oxford University College had beautifully manicured grounds. It was said that the President of the University had given orders that all strays on the premises be fed scraps from the cafeteria.

Tamsui Oxford University College had beautifully manicured grounds. It was said that the President of the University had given orders that all strays on the premises be fed scraps from the cafeteria.

In Tamsui, ten years ago, one could not go far without encountering a stray dog. The campus of the university where I taught was full of them. On every walk through the town or by the river, I would meet up with many a stray. They had no collars or tags, and they didn’t bother anybody. If you happened upon a dog in an alley, the dog would go out of its way to avoid an encounter. He might cross over to the other side of the street to give you a wide berth. These dogs were polite, discreet, and wary. They minded their own business,  and they expected you to do the same.

When I complained to the locals that none of the dogs would let me pet them, they were scandalized. “Aya, do not touch the dogs. It is not safe.”

The Tamsui river feeds into the Formosan straits that separate Taiwan from the MainlandBut by the same token, the dogs did not seem to think it would be safe to touch me, either. So we always went our separate ways after each brief encounter.

Tamsui is a city built on the banks of the Tamsui River which flows into the straits of Formosa that separate the Island of Taiwan from the Mainland of China.

one stray let me touch him

one stray let me touch him

The campus of Tamsui Oxford University College was very well tended. During my first few weeks there, before I rented an apartment, I stayed on campus in a building called “The White House”. Every morning, when I went out, no matter how early, there were people with wide brimmed hats manicuring the lawns and tending to the foliage. The president of the university took great pride in the appearance of the campus. When someone asked why there were so many strays on campus, we were told that the president himself had given orders that any strays on campus should be fed daily with scraps from the cafeteria.

A beagle on the TOUC campus in the evening

A beagle on the TOUC campus at night

This presented quite a contrast to me from the way strays are viewed in the U.S. In America, people are discouraged from feeding a dog, unless they plan to adopt it. In U.S. cities, strays are routinely rounded up, and those who aren’t adopted after a short of period of time are euthenized. People who adopt dogs from the pound are told they should have them neutered, in order to avoid adding to the “excess dog population.”

In Tamsui, stray dogs seemed to flourish, without necessarily belonging to anyone. They lived natural lives, producing young, and dying of natural causes. They had enough to eat, but I never saw an obese dog on the streets of Tamsui, and even though they were strays, none of them begged for food. In fact, every time I tried to give a dog some food, the dog declined.

A stray dog eyes me warily beside a derelict bus
Of all the strays I met in Tamsui, only one let me pet him. He was a cute little mixed breed with the head of a German Shepherd, but a much smaller body. I first met him when I was walking back to the White House from a restaurant that a group of us had taken to frequenting. A colleague from Canada and I were waiting to cross the busy intersection of a main thoroughfare.
Traffic consisted of cars, buses, bicycles and mopeds.Traffic in Taiwan is hard to negotiate, especially if you are a pedestrian who believes that he has the  right of way. Cars don’t slow down for a person trying to cross the street, even when the traffic  signals are in your favor. Suddenly we saw a dog dash into the street and make it through the cars that never even paused at the sight of him. We held our breaths. We were sure he would be run over. But no! He was waiting for us on the other side, as we made it across. Unlike most of the dogs in Tamsui, this one was friendly, and he encouraged us to pet him, and followed us all the way home, to the White House. We felt sad that we couldn’t offer him anything. Neither of us could afford to adopt a local dog. We were just passing through, and we couldn’t make a commitment. The next morning, if he was still there outside the wall, I was planning to give him some scraps, but he wasn’t there.

Stray cats can be found near open garbage receptacles.

Stray cats can be found near open garbage receptacles.

After I moved into my own apartment off-campus, I sometimes prowled the streets of Tamsui taking photos of sights that I found interesting. When I showed the photos to my local friends, they would laugh, asking: “Why did you take a picture of that? That’s not interesting. It’s just a bunch of garbage cans.”

“No,” I would answer. “It’s a picture of stray cats.”

“Oh. Don’t they have stray cats where you come from?”

“Well, yes. But these are Taiwanese stray cats,” I would answer.

Small shrines as well as temples dot the side-streets.

When foreign faculty (from the U.S. and Canada) mentioned the stray dogs, they felt regret that they couldn’t do more to help them. But there was also this latent criticism of the local system that tolerated the population of strays, neither rounding them up nor taking complete responsibility for them.

My own feelings were ambivalent. I was concerned that these dogs weren’t vaccinated, and yet they were the best behaved strays that I had ever seen. They maintained a healthy distance from strangers, and they seemed amazingly self-reliant. Most did not even look as if they wanted a master.

All except for that little guy who had crossed the street with us that day. I saw him again on one of my walks through the city, and I happened to have an ice cream cone at the time. I stopped to pet him, and he was very happy to see me, but when I offered him a bite of my cone, he wasn’t interested.

Many months passed before I saw him again. I was invited to a party given by a high ranking professor in our department. He and his wife had bought a new house, which they had renovated with hardwood floors and all the latest trimmings. They had their entire lives mapped out, and there was a room in the house to represent every step of the way. They showed us the room they planned to have his mother live in when she could no longer live on her own.They showed us another room, which would be the nursery, once they had kids. “And we have already got one dependent living with us,” they said cheerfully. “Want to see?” We nodded. They opened a door, and in trotted our friend, which I and my colleague from Canada immediately recognized. It was the dog who had guided us safely across the intersection. He had finally found a home!

The stray who found a home

I think that a country that tolerates strays is not necessarily a bad place for dogs. If the strays of Tamsui had been in the U.S. instead, how many would have been allowed to live full, complete lives? All would have been rounded up. Those not adopted would have perished. Those who were adopted would have been mutilated and de-sexed, in the name of population control.

Sometimes the kindest thing we can do for others is to leave them alone. It’s not necessary to fix every problem we see. Trying to fix the lives of others without understanding their point of view can cause them irreperable damage. We can’t be responsible for every one we meet. Sometimes, the right thing to do is to live and let live.



(c) 2008 Aya Katz



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joyride profile image

joyride 5 years ago

This problem, with unwanted animals, unfortunatelly seem to be a problem, all over the world, and that s a shame, that people have so little concideration, for the well being of the animals, all around the globe, and it deeply saddens me, that all these animals, have to suffer so much, in so many countries, it doesn t reflect good on us as humans, how we treat the animals, and neglect to see them, and recognize their needs, and their rights, kelly ann

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Joyride, I, too, used to think what a shame it was that there are all these homeless animals. However, seeing how it worked in Taiwain, that stray dogs were allowed to live complete lives, (including reproducing and caring for their young), even though nobody owned them, I came to see the limitations of the Western approach to strays.

It was a very happy thing that the particular dog who befriended us found a good home, but it was also happy for all the dogs who had not found a home, that they got to live out their lives in freedom and with dignity.


A Taiwanese 5 years ago


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>seeing how it worked in Taiwain, that stray dogs were allowed to live complete lives,This unfortunately is wrong. Taiwan is not a stray dog friendly, not even a pet friendly country. Take a look at this stray puppy…was burned up alive by 3 junior high schoolers.… the puppy later died while the kids were never punished. Why? Because to the gov., it’s “just” a dog.Please also spent some time look through this gallery: . Photos posted there were only taken by photographer himself. Can you imaging how many other suffering souls are out there in this little island? Most strays in Taiwan can only live for up to 2 years. .. not a full life. Please also take a look at this post:… . The dogs in photos were captured by the gov. pound. Do you see what the gov is doing to them on their last days (these strays were destroyed after a few days as no one were there to claim them. ) The feces were all over the place… and they were fed with chills and vegetables… not to mention illegal restaurants all over the place that slay dogs for meat. Most strays in Taiwan have to seek for food and water from garbage dumps, eating sands and stones to alleviate their hunger, been kicked away from stores to stores, house to house…etc. Most of them face insurmountable danger everyday. Dangers such as animal abuse by human (using knife, rubber bands, ropes, boiling water/oil, fire, dragging by motorcycle, beating, poisoning and chemical burns..etc.), car accidents, bear traps, dog meat restaurants, puppy mills and of course, captured and euthanized by government-owned animal shelters. What I just mentioned is just a tip of the iceberg… I am sorry that I left such a long message… it’s just I saw sad things to these poor animals everyday… Lastly, just take a look at how many puppies were put to sleep in yunlin county:… They were born and captured by the pound.. only 5-10% got the get out of jail card…they lived for a few months and have to be put to sleep. Their mom, too. Wouldn’t you wish those strays were never born?…

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Taiwanese, thanks for you comment and for sharing this information.

When I was in Taiwan, I didn’t see the cruel treatment myself, but I did see stray dogs who knew how to take care of themselves, and were very cautious of humans. I was not under the impression that all Taiwanese were kind to dogs, and this was not the point of my hub. The point was, that despite the less than paternalistic treatment of dogs, many managed to live good and natural lives. It is natural for a dog to be sometimes hungry and to hunt for food. It is not natural for all dogs to be obese and grain fed, as they are predominantly in the U.S. It is natural for dogs to have puppies and for not all the puppies from each litter to survive to adulthood. It is not natural for a dog to be neutered.

You mentioned puppies put to death and asked: “Wouldn’t you wish those strays were never born?” You can say the same things about people who end up having bad and even tragic things happen to them. Wouldn’t it be better if all people who were ever murdered had never been born? I think the people themselves would give a different answer. In life, we hope. We all die in the end. It’s what happens between birth and death that matters. Nobody wants to die prematurely or under horrible circumstances, but ask most, and they will not tell you they would rather never have been born.

It used be commonplace for people to take the pick of the litter and drown the rest. While we may all frown on this practice, would we really like to live in a world where the only dogs that exist are of two kinds:

(1) pets who have been neutered


(2) breeders owned by government sanctioned puppy mills whose sole function in life is to reproduce?


A Taiwanese 5 years ago

Once upon a time, human lived their lives in the wild, too. Why do people now choose to live with the benefits of a city than living in the wild nowadays? Would you rather live in the wild with little food supply or you would rather have the opportunity to live comfortably at home?… this link shows a group of strays living in the mountain, end up loosing their legs. Do you think they would rather live this kind of life or be an altered pet where they have food and shelther and don’t have to worry about danger or hunger.

As long as people still live on this world, there is animal cruelty, then there is suffering for those poor animals who can’t speak for themselves. What you have seen in Taiwan is just a few dogs, you don’t know how all of them ended up anyway. If no one take them in, they are probably be dead within a year, no matter how curious they are. Most of them end up dead of car accidents or torture – even been put down is a torture. This is how government pounds put dogs to dead: Your article gives people the impression that stray dogs in Taiwan can survive but they don’t. Maybe a good way to phrase my question was wouldn’t you rather they never “exist”? Spay and neuter is the only humane way to lower down the overpopulation. Or you think killing and torture is more humane? Or you think cruelty should be done to more strays? (no alteration=more strays) 

A Taiwanese 5 years ago

Once upon a time, human lived their lives in the wild, too. Why do people now choose to live with the benefits of a city than living in the wild nowadays? Would you rather live in the wild with little food supply or you would rather have the opportunity to live comfortably at home?… this link shows a group of strays living in the mountain, end up loosing their legs. Do you think they would rather live this kind of life or be an altered pet where they have food and shelther and don’t have to worry about danger or hunger.

As long as people still live on this world, there is animal cruelty, then there is suffering for those poor animals who can’t speak for themselves. What you have seen in Taiwan is just a few dogs and for a short while, you don’t know how all of them ended up anyway. If no one take them in, they are probably be dead within a year, no matter how curious they are. You thought they know how to take care of themselves, but they don’t. Most of them end up dead by car accidents or torture – even been put down is a torture. This is how government pounds put dogs to dead: Your article gives people the impression that stray dogs in Taiwan can survive but they don’t. Maybe a good way to phrase my question was wouldn’t you rather they never “exist”? Spay and neuter is the only humane way to lower down the overpopulation. Or you think killing and torture is more humane? Or you think cruelty should be done to more strays? (no alteration=more strays) I live on this island and care for those poor strays for a long life and I know none of the strays had a good ending. Unfortunately I am not rich enough to take them all in. All I know is spay and neuter can stop the next one from suffering.

(Mill dog is another story… government is pro human. they won’t care about how the puppy mills are run. All they care is the people can make money and survive…)


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Taiwanese, thanks for your comment. Why don’t we spay and neuter humans first! Then there will not be a problem for dogs.

The truth is that no one wants to be neutered at the whim of someone else. We don’t do it to other humans against their will, because such a solution to the human overpopulation problem would be inhumane. How can you believe it is humane to do this to dogs?

Dogs can’t speak for themselves. True enough. You are not speaking for them. When a delegation of dogs shows up and asks to be neutered, then I may be convinced that this is what some dogs want. Not necessarily all dogs, though.

Your solution is a totalitarian decision to allow only certain privileged institutions to breed dogs. Can you imagine what this will eventually do to the genetic diversity of the canine population?

Many of the so-called animal rights activists are really lobbying for the destruction of entire breeds and species in the name of reducing suffering.

The only way to stamp out all  suffering is to stamp out life!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Taiwanese, I unintentionally ignored your question to me: “Would you rather live in the wild with little food supply or you would rather have the opportunity to live comfortably at home?”

It is a good question. My answer is: “I would rather have a choice than to have others make that decision for me.” I don’t live in a city, nor within the confines of any municipality. I have woods behind my house, where wild rabbits and deer run. I have a pasture. I have an orchard that gives fruit. I shop at the Wal-Mart, but I also live off my own land. If tomorrow there is no Wal-Mart, I and my family will still survive, including the stray dogs that we adopted.

Julaha profile image

Julaha 5 years ago from India

The strays in Taiwan seem to be extremely well behaved.

Here in India they are very assertive. They think they own the cities where they live, especially at night.

Many citizens hesitate to venture out at night for fear of the strays. I myself have experienced this in Delhi which has perhaps as many strays as there are Delhities. We are returning home after visiting the Taj in Agra and it was near midnight. The city was aspleep. The bus dropped us near our home and there was just a short walk. We had with us a couple of small children and we were walking home. Suddenly the strays surrounded us menacingly, several of them, huge shaggy beasts with glistening teeth. We were terrified. Luckly, our shouts of fear aroused a watchman of a society who came to our aid with his lathi (bamboo stick). If he hadn’t turned up at the right moment, I wonder what would have happened to us on that night.

I remember another incident of my childhood days. A cow had given birth on the streets, but even before the calf had emerged properly, it had been bitten to death by a gang of strays.

In Ahmedabad where I live now, we have similar stray problem. When it turns dark, the strays take over the roads and chase any two-wheeler that passes them. This has often lead to accidents in which people have been injured.

In our society, a bitch has taken residence and has given birth to a litter of puppies. They look cute when they are young, but as they grow bigger, they become aggressive and bite children, who can then die of rabies.

More pitiably, the puppies are so dumb that they get easily get run over by the cars in the society when they are shunted for parking. And it can be traumatic for small children to witness such violent death right in their societies.

So there is no wisdom in feeding strays or encouraging them. The city is not the place for animals. It is for human beings, primarily.

True city people can get nostalgic about animals. They should visit wilderness areas or zoos to get over their nostalgia.

It is neither kindness nor pragmatism to encourage stray animals, whether they be dogs, cats, cows, pigs or any other domestic animals.

Unfortunately Indian cities are overrun with all these.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Julaha, thank you for your thoughtful comment. You bring up a very important point: in order for us to respect stray dogs, they also have to respect us.

Some of the commentators from Taiwan wrote that I don’t understand, and that the Taiwanese are really very cruel to these dogs, so it would be better for them never to have been born. I never saw anyone in Taiwan being cruel to a dog, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. In fact, from the way the dogs reacted to meeting a stranger, I gather that there is cruelty, that they witnessed it, and that because of this, they avoided humans. In fact, it almost seemed as if their mothers discouraged them from taking food from the hands of a human, because there was a history of poisoning.

All this I inferred from the behavior of the dogs. But this is precisely what made the stray dogs so well behaved, and created a balance between the right of humans to be safe and the right of the dogs to exist.

It sounds to me as if, from your own description, there is no such balance in India. Perhaps, because of Hinduism or other cultural issues, people are TOO kind to dogs, even vicious dogs, to the point that the dogs take advantage. This is going too far the other way.

What we need is a balance. In order to co-exist, each species should be made to respect the rights of the other.



Julaha profile image

Julaha 5 years ago from India

I have a friend who is an animal expert. He tells me that neutering strays is hardly an effective strategy.

There are so many dogs to be neutered and there are so few resources, and if you don’t neuter them all, the entire program fails, because non-neutered dogs quickly replace the neutered ones and soon begin to breed again.

The best way to control strays is proper garbage management. The dogs subsist on garbage. If the garbage is properly disposed, they won’t have anything to eat and there would be no dogs either.

But Indian cities have a long way to go before they can manage their garbage properly.

Religious sentiments could have something to do with it too. People here are vegetarians, and the Jains, who are quite numerous in Ahmedabad, abhor any kind of violence.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Julaha, yes, I agree that neutering is not a solution. Proper garbage management is a good idea, to keep down rat populations as well. 

Prasoon Joshi 5 years ago

Interesting post. Stray dogs are never a problem I think, they are more of a society that co-exists with us. I’m not saying that it should be encouraged or discouraged, just accept things are if the two societies cross each other’s roads in an obtrusive way then measures may be taken to resolve the issue.

I did a similar article on my blog, do read it, you’ll get insights into a particular city in India, Bangalore.…


Prasoon Joshi 5 years ago

Interesting post. Stray dogs are never a problem I think, they are more of a society that co-exists with us. I’m not saying that it should be encouraged or discouraged, just accept things are if the two societies cross each other’s roads in an obtrusive way then measures may be taken to resolve the issue.

I did a similar article on my blog, do read it, you’ll get insights into a particular city in India, Bangalore.



Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Prasoon Joshi, thanks for your comment and for providing a link to your article on the the dogs of Bangalore.


Rose 5 years ago

This Is soo sad! I wish i could help all these animals. Its so mean what people can do to animals! I am a animal lover! & i just really hurts me when i see all these animals on the streets. I will always keep the animals in my prayers. I also really hope that god helps them. I also hope that they find a loving home. & that no one else hurts animals!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Rose, thanks for your comment. Some of this is sad, but there is a part that isn’t sad. It is happy when a stray dog finds a good home where he is loved and wanted. And it is also happy that dogs who have not found a home yet are still allowed to live freely. It’s a terrible thing to live in a country where the only dogs who are allowed to live are those who find a home.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 2 years ago from Southern California, USALevel 2 Commenter

It sounds like Tamsui has a good way of dealing with their stray dogs. I enjoyed the story about the nice one finding a home.

  • Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 2 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Thanks, SweetiePie. I do think we could learn a lot from the way the stray population is handled in Tamsui. I was so happy to see that my dog friend found a good home, too.

Muhammad 15 months ago

I recokn you are quite dead on with that.


Posted on by Aya Katz | 1 Comment

Candy From Strangers

[This article was first published on Hubpages on 09/26/09. It got 39 comments. It has since been deindexed.]

Candy from Strangers

Image Credit: The Wikipedia
Image Credit: The Wikipedia


When I was a little girl, my grandmother tried to impress upon me how important it was not to accept candy from strangers. If I disregarded this advice, she informed me that what I could expect was a fate worse than death. It was the surest way to be sold into white slavery known to man.

Now, I didn’t exactly understand right at first what white slavery was, but I spent a lot of time wondering about it. It sounded mysterious and even romantic. Some of my earliest creative writing attempts were about children who were sold into slavery because they accepted candy from a stranger.

Mind you, that same grandmother was the person who believed that London cab drivers routinely deliver tourists to factories where they are turned into sausages. She also took me to Paris and then suspected the manager of a restaurant where we dined of plotting to murder us.

My grandmother was a little bit paranoid, to say the least. But this is not entirely a bad thing, as it was this very paranoia that saved her and my father from certain death during WWII. Relatives urged her to remain behind in Poland while my grandfather made a stealthy border crossing. Nobody else believed that the Nazis would murder women and children. But my grandmother was sure they would, and so she insisted on coming along.

Paranoia has survival value.

What is a Stranger? Should you talk to them?

As odd as my grandmother was, she didn’t invent that story about candy and strangers. It is conventional wisdom that she picked up in the same place that she learned to be suspicious of traveling salesmen and gypsies and anybody not of her own kind. It is part bigotry, part common sense, and you don’t have to be a human being to have this maxim deeply ingrained into your psyche. Stray dogs that I met in Taiwan acted as if their grandmothers had told them the same thing.

“Don’t take candy from strangers.” It is the kind of thing parents still tell their children today, and the way this advice is interpreted is very much dependent on the child.

In following a policy of not taking candy from strangers, a child needs to understand what we mean by “strangers.” Is it anybody outside your own family, or just anybody you’ve never been introduced to formally? Does a formal introduction qualify a person as a non-stranger? What if he introduces himself?

Or are strangers people who don’t live in your town and clearly don’t belong there? Are all foreigners automatically strangers?

After I graduated from college, as a special treat, my grandmother took me to Paris — and then admonished me not to speak to strangers! I remember standing in line to buy theatre tickets, and the man behind us wanting to make conversation. “Don’t talk to him!” my grandmother shushed me. “He’s a stranger!”

“Grandmother, they’re all strangers! We don’t know anybody in Paris. How am I supposed to practice my French if I don’t talk to strangers?”

The English word “stranger” comes from a French word, étranger, whose root means both foreigner and someone strange. In many languages those concepts come from a single root. In Hebrew, for instance, the word מוזר [muzar] meaning “odd” or “strange” is derived from the same root as the word זר [zar] meaning “stranger” or “foreigner”. We do recognize foreigners and strangers because something about them seems “not quite right” or “strange.”

In polite society, we socialize our children to overlook other people’s “strange” attributes and to treat everybody just the same. We send a lot of mixed messages to our children. For instance, when my daughter first started preschool, she refused to speak to anybody there, because they were all strangers! It took a lot of effort to get her over this natural reticence. The lesson she learned: you must talk to strangers!

We expect our children to obey all sorts of strangers. When a new busdriver shows up, children are encouraged to treat him or her just as they would the old bus driver they have known for years. When a substitute teacher appears suddenly, for just one day, they are expected to treat her with the same degree of trust as the old teacher. When a new child enrolls in school, they are expected to be nice, and to speak politely to the child’s parents, whom they have never met before, when they pick up the new kid from school.

Under these circumstances, all the natural prejudice against strangers that our children have is bred right out of them. Why shouldn’t they accept candy from strangers? They talk to strangers everyday. It wouldn’t be polite not to.

My Concession to Open Concession Stand

Even if talking to strangers is not something that our children can avoid, surely accepting candy from strangers is different? Surely, we still can tell our children not to accept candy from strangers, not necessarily because the strangers are bad, but because candy is bad for them? Well, it’s not as easy as you would think.

At my daughter’s school, once a month, the student council presides over “open concession stand.” At this time, candy and soda are available for sale at school. Parents are encouraged to send their children to school with money to purchase sweets. When my daughter was in kindergarten, I decided not to give her any money to take to school. I figured it would be better for her dental and overall health if she didn’t have any candy.

Imagine how surprised I was to learn that she had purchased candy with all the others and consumed it there on the spot. But how? The janitor had felt sorry for her, seeing she was the only child without money, and had given her fifty cents!

I was really upset and returned the fifty cents to the janitor, explaining that I had deliberately not given my daughter the money, so she wouldn’t have sweets. The janitor reluctantly accepted my fifty cents, looking askance at me. Clearly, I was the stranger here, and nobody could understand my strange ways.

No matter how many times I tried to explain this policy, none of the people at school seemed to understand. In second grade, a teacher actually instructed another child to share some of her candy money with my daughter — as a lesson in socialism, no doubt.

After this, I gave up. I send my daughter to school with money for candy, knowing that if I don’t do so, strangers will give it to her!

Candy and the Bus Driver

Every once in a while my daughter returns home from school with candy, even though it’s not Open Concession Stand day. “Where’d you get that?” I ask her.

“The bus driver gave it to me.”

If I react in any way, she adds: “Everybody got one!”

Last year, on the last day of school, the school bus was nearly thirty minutes late delivering my daughter home. I was worried. I phoned the school. “Oh, the bus driver just took all the kids out for chips and a soda,” I was told by the school receptionist. “Don’t worry. They’ll be there soon.”

They need a signed permission slip to go on a field trip to the park with their teacher. But the bus driver can just unilaterally decide to take the kids to the store and buy them junk food?

I was pretty upset. My daughter, when she finally came home, said: “The bus driver was just trying to be nice.”

Is it nice? I don’t know. I don’t want to be like my grandmother, but something seems a little bit strange about this. It could be, though, that the reason I don’t understand it is that I am a stranger to these parts!

Trick or Treating

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Trick or Treating

I feel bad that my daughter has never gone trick or treating. As a child in the U.S., Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. Dressing up and trying to look scary were just part of the fun. The best part was that you got to go and knock on strangers’ doors and ask for candy! We went without our parents and without any sort of supervision. We went walking in the dark of night to far away neighborhoods where we knew no one. It was the one night of the year when taking candy from strangers was allowed. Let’s face it: the best part wasn’t the candy. It was flouting the rules and interacting with total strangers! We could do it, because we trusted in the goodness of our fellow man. Even though we’d never met them, we knew they would do us no harm!

When we moved out here to the country, my daughter was two. We settled in in late September, and were all ready for our first Halloween in the U.S. (We had been living in Taiwan up till then.) I dressed her up as Po from Teletubbies and I filled an orange bowl with candy, and I told her that people would come to ask for candy, and we would give it to them. I put the porch light on so they would know someone was home. But nobody came. Not one person. By the end of the night, my daughter was disappointed. “Why didn’t they want our candy?” she asked.

Apparently, trick or treating has gone out of style. There’s always a Halloween party every year at the community center and the kids are given a big bag full of candy just for coming. Some parents do take their children trick or treating, but only under tight supervision, and only to the houses of family and friends.

Nowadays, children accept candy from strangers every day — except for Halloween.

(c) 2009 Aya Katz

In Case There’s a Fox


 Last updated on December 31, 2010

Comments 39 comments


Ef El Light profile image

Ef El Light 5 years ago from New York State

Dictums of sustenance and diet in true

Perception would leave sugar out of view.


ngureco profile image

ngureco 5 years ago

Hello, Aya katz.

You must have learnt that being a parent is never easy.

On one hand, you have to teach your child to keep off strangers because you do know there is always the potential for danger in what you don’t know. It can be fatal to trust everyone and everything. Whenever there is abduction, rape, and molestation of a child there usually is a sign of the child accepting candy from the stranger. It is natural to exercise caution and protect our children. It is abnormal to trust openly and without question.

On the other hand, children must learn how to share with others, learn to be kind and to obey their seniors (regardless of whether strangers or not), learn to be civilized, etc.

In Paris, your grandmother wants you not to talk to strangers but she also wants you to practice your French. It’s now your turn. It’s all about being a parent. It’s all about life. It’s all about risks. You have to sacrifice one at the expense of the other.

  • robie2 profile image

robie2 5 years ago from Central New JerseyLevel 1 Commenter

ahhhh yes taking candy from strangers–I too remember those admonotions. So now you ask– who is a stranger? and when is it OK to take candy from strangers? Fascinating hub. I loved it.

That natural human tendency towards tribalism bordering on paranoia has saved our lives in the past and also gotten us into deep trouble. It’s how wars are made after all.

It’s interesting too that though people are suspicious of foreigners in most circumstances, when it comes to sexual attraction, the foreigner or stranger usually seems exotic and very attractive. Could that be nature’s way of broadening the gene pool? Just a thought:-)


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

F.L. Light, thanks for the couplet. Our body operates by burning sugar, so it’s not surprising that all of us, and especially children, crave it. A diet of straight sugar is not good for us, because it is better to make the body work for it, by converting other substances, such as fats, into sugars. However, an occasional piece of candy never hurt a child. As a parent, I would prefer to be the one to decide how much and when.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Ngureco, thanks for your comment. You’re right, it’s never easy to find just the right balance between trust and caution.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Robie2,thanks! Tribalism definitely has its downside, as you noted, but I think that deep down inside, we all long for a society of intimates, where everybody knows us by name and where we know everybody else. On the other hand, it’s true that the stranger has an exotic sex appeal that must have to do with the need to expand our gene bank. After all, in many tribes, exogamy is routinely practiced.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

I’m right there with you on parental rights to decide how much candy, etc. but found that impossible to enforce in the public school system. Almost as hard in the private schools too.

Grew up in the tuck and duck era that at the same time was quite permissive in terms of freedom to explore the neighborhood, etc. Yet, taking candy back then was also a big no-no.

There was a saying in our house “sugar makes you stupid” enacted by my very authoritative husband at the time upon all 5 kids (3 step/2 mine). He forbid candy, soda, and junk food. They were all between 10 and 15 years in age at the time. This was a war he could not win. It made them different in the eyes of other kids, the social kiss of death according to them.

Other kids would buy them candy. Other adults would by them candy. The worst was the schools having fund raisers of candy, in which the whole class was asked to sell it and if everyone sold the alloted amount of candy they got pizza. Another teacher gave free passes to get out of a quiz for those who met their quota. Since all the kids were selling candy at the same time, no one of course wanted to buy it. Real sure most parents were buying the candy or pushing it off onto their co-workers and relatives.

So our kids were told they could not sell candy by Mr. Sugar Makes You Stupid.

The middle girl who was the most peer pressure oriented of the kids, defied her father and snuck them in the house. One of her siblings stole and ate the candy, maybe even more than one (I still don’t know to this day). She owed the school $80 in candy money before the secret came out. LOL He promptly gave up on the candy wars.

Kaela doesn’t like candy so it’s not a problem these days.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Jerilee, thanks for sharing your experiences with the same issue. I agree, it does seem to be impossible to get any headway with candy in the public schools.

I never intended to forbid Sword candy altogether, as that would surely backfire. I just wanted her to experience it under my supervision. I prefer for her to enjoy high quality chocolates made with real milk chocolate and actual sugar. The things they sell at school aren’t even made with sugar, most of the time. HFCS is everywhere.

At home, we do have our girls’ night celebrations where sweets play a part. But I wish she had more freedom to roam the neighborhood and fewer adults offering her candy!

archdaw profile image

archdaw 5 years ago from Brooklyn

When I was little I never got a chance to go trick or treating, because my brother and I was taught that it was begging. My children grew up Trick or treating, but I always inspected the unopened ones as well as the occasional apples and oranges.

Very informative especially this time of year. Great hub.

  • Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Archdaw, thanks! It sounds as if you found a happy medium between the too strict attitude of your parents and anything that might endanger your children.

I would love to be able to allow my daughter to go trick or treating the way I did, but since it’s no longer customary, where we live, I don’t want to endanger her by having her be the only child to go trick or treating unsupervised.


loveofnight profile image

loveofnight 5 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

it is sad that we live in a day and time where we cannot allow our kids to roam freely as we use to take a village to raise a child now we’re afraid to allow them to get close.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Loveofnight, thanks for your comment! I think the village metaphor is often misapplied. In the villages of yore, everybody knew everyone else, and everyone knew who the parent of every child was. The way the village helped when it came to raising the child was by understanding that each child belonged to its parents, and by not coming between the parent and the child. Nobody would dare offer candy to another person’s child, except on Halloween, when it was allowed –as a special exception. Today, everything is backwards. We don’t know our neighbors, but strangers give our children candy every day, knowing that we can’t do anything about it!

  • maggs224 profile image

maggs224 5 years ago from Sunny SpainLevel 2 Commenter

‘Don’t take candy from a stranger’is a saying common around the world I think, I know more than fifty ok sixty years ago my mum said that to me. lol.


annie laurie profile image

annie laurie 5 years ago from England

My mum use to say don’t talk to strangers and don’t take any sweets from them and I just wish that I had heeded this. I didn’t and I have written a poem called Just another day which tells the story of what happend to this little girl when she didn’t heed that warning.


newkyork com 5 years ago

Terima kasih


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Maggs, yes, it does seem to be a universal saying. At one time, it was understood that someone who didn’t know a child and offered candy must be up to no good. Because we all knew the saying, as adults, we didn’t dare offer candy to children we didn’t know, for fear of being taken for a bad person.



Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Annie Laurie, I’m very sorry to hear about what happened to you. Did you tell your mother? Did she call the police?


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Newyork, you’re welcome.

  • kartika damon profile image

kartika damon 5 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

This reminded me of years ago when I tried to tell my son, who was around 4, about strangers. He couldn’t grasp the concept and I remember going around in circles trying to explain it to him – you write really well! Kartika


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Kartika, thanks. The concept of the “stranger” is a really tricky one. It’s very hard to explain to children, particularly if we have not quite worked it out for ourselves.


Choke Frantic profile image

Choke Frantic 5 years ago from Newcastle, Australia

I’m glad that as of yet I don’t have children to worry about. This is just another step of parenthood, I guess.

  • Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Choke Frantic, thanks for your comment. Yes, the candy dilemma is one of the many issues of modern day parenting.

Crazy888 profile image

Crazy888 4 years ago

ohhh Aya! i have not spoke to you in a long time…

i guess i must be carried away by buying presents for Christmas! Do you celebrate Christmas? My kids are very exited and joyus…that they are making my head spin. One of my children says she wants a purple ipod nano….do you have any advise of should i get it for her? she already has a cell-phone and the texting is over the top. i thought it would be a good idea of coming to you for this since there is only four more days left! great hub! i hope dearly of listening to your advise soon….im running out of time! Christmas comes soon! of course my daugter tells me she wants this right after her friend got it for an early winter gift! please reply…and if i don not see you again, MERRY CHRISTMAS….or i you do not celebarte it have a good holiday! its full of snow up here…where do you live. Do you get snow.??

with love and care

THE crazy888 family

love and peace


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Crazy888, nice to hear from you, though your comment has little to do with candy or strangers. We celebrate Christmas with a tree and presents.

I can’t possibly advise what to get your daughter, knowing neither you nor her nor the rest of your family. Only you and/or your spouse/co-parent can know which gifts are good for your child to have. However, if it’s a question of staying on budget, give each child a spending limit and make them present you with a wish list that falls within the budget.

Crazy888 4 years ago

im very sorry about my coment, from now on i will relate questions to your hub. What your grandmother did when you were a little girl reminds me what mine did! very good hub!

from snowy new england

  • Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Crazy888, no problem. I guess we had similar grandmothers.

It’s snowing today in the Ozarks, too.


Crazy888 profile image

Crazy888 4 years ago

where is the Ozarks? anyway…i think (my opinion) that halloween is a symbol of fun. I dont let my kids just go anywhere they want but i think that halloween is one of those things that a kid just grows up with. I dont disagree with your hub….i just have a different opinion.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Crazy888, I refer you to this discussion of the Ozarks region:

I think Halloween is fun, too. So I don’t think we disagree!


Crazy888 profile image

Crazy888 4 years ago

thanks for the link aya.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

Crazy888, you’re welcome.

davidhamilton 4 years ago


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

DavidHamilton, thanks for your comment. Most people feel that way these days, but it’s sad that things have changed so much and people can no longer trust their neighbors.

SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 2 years ago from Southern California, USALevel 2 Commenter

Well I am a liberal and I used to teach, but I never believed in giving money to the kids for things like going to buy candy. The reason being there is a school lunch program if kids are hungry, but legally I am not sure a teacher is allowed to make another student give money to a student who does not have money for candy. Most teachers I have worked with felt that kids should not give kids money because of these issues. Kids still drank sodas at the high school when I was teaching, but at the elementary level they were trying to discourage soda and candy, and would not have been selling it anyway.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 2 years ago from Southern California, USALevel 2 Commenter

Another thing is our policy as teachers was if there was a rare day when treats were allowed, then the teacher would bring these. Actually, one thing I do not miss about teaching is the onus was always on the teacher to provide treats and fun for the kids on the certain holidays when the more outgoing teachers make a todo about it. I was scolded once for not providing some elaborate Christmas party for students, when my co-teacher only handed out candy canes. At Halloween I was made to feel guilty because I only brought candy for the kids, whereas other teachers bought fancy decorated cupcakes. After that I felt compelled to spend a lot of money buying treats for the few days out of the year when the other teachers were giving parties. I do not miss having to buy lots of treats for kids just because every other teacher wants to have a party day around Halloween or Christmas. Sorry that is sort of off topic.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 2 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

SweetiePie, all of these customs — expecting children to buy candy and soda at school, giving them money if they didn’t bring any, forcing other children to give them money, and teachers and other school staff buying treats and throwing parties for children — all seem very strange to me. Both in terms of nutrition and in terms of inappropriate financial pressures on parents and teachers, as well as fellow students, this seems so wrong!

When I went to school in Israel, in third and fourth grade, there was no cafeteria, we ate our own homemade lunches on our desks, nobody sold candy on the school grounds and children were discouraged from bringing candy to school. We learned a lot more, too, but the school day was much shorter. When school was over, there was plenty of time to play. And there was no school bus. Those children who were not picked up by their parents simply walked home.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 2 years ago from Southern California, USALevel 2 Commenter

I do not miss those aspects of teaching. I think here they banned the fund raisers now, and we have something called Williams law where a school might get in trouble if they asked a kid to furnish money for another kid to get the candy. Now the onus is on the teachers to buy the candy, but in California most of the schools discourage it for most of the year for nutrition reasons, and then go high of the hog at Christmas and Halloween.

Honestly, I have never felt guilty about not buying kids candy because it is the one thing they can always get, and probably have too much of. Growing up now one was buying me tons of candy, and I rarely drank soda.

I have no problem with school lunches and cafeteria for kids to eat in. Plenty of kids still bring their own lunch, but there is a school lunch program for those who really need it. California has been a very populace state for a long time and we have always had cafeterias, busses, and the like. It is not going to change here, and I do not want that drastic of changes. I just do not think anyone should have to be pressured about candy.

There is some weird and worse stuff that goes on in private schools though as well, so they are not immune. I had friends who worked really hard, and were always given bad grades compared to other kids. This one girl truly thought she must have been a bad student, but then she got to college and started getting A’s, and realized her teachers have been handing out grades to favorites, and often parents who made larger donations to the school.

I do not think any school system is superior to another, and ultimately I have always believed you learn the most when you go to the library and are self-driven to read things on your own, beyond what the teacher assigns. I have had people my age who went to both private and public school, and they would ask me, how do you know about this current event, or something that is going on in that country? Well, because I read about it on my own. A lot of things I learned was because I wanted to learn about it, not because it was assigned,


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 2 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

SweetiePie, I certainly agree that the best education is the one we give ourselves when we are driven by an internal compulsion to find out about something. That was one of the minor points in Vacuum County that I think a lot of people missed. Verity ended up learning a great deal more when she was researching the history of Vacuum County than when she was enrolled at UT full time.

  • SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 2 years ago from Southern California, USALevel 2 Commenter

Maybe you can write another hub about this aspect of Vacuum County. I am not trying to take your hub off course, but I do have to admit the one thing that irked me about both pro-public and pro-private school parents is this: both camps want the teacher to be a miracle worker their kids. It seems parents forget maybe they could allow children to have their own interests, and explore new topics. A lot of parents act like the teacher is the one who has to do everything, and I think even sometimes parents are smothering their kids telling them what they should be reading or learning. I just decided around the age of 12 no school was ever going to answer all the questions I had, and teachers did not usually seem interested in those anyway. I had to read myself if I wanted to learn. Not sure if I would even go to college these days with the way tuition is rising. Is it worth it? I know some people who did not go to college who are making a lot more than I am.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 2 years ago from The OzarksHub Author

SweetiePie, I think you and I agree about this. Neither teachers nor parents can be the miracle workers we sometimes expect them to be. Ultimately, it’s up to the child. Not everyone can or will learn everything. But every child is going to learn a lot more about what he’s really interested in when driven by his own curiosity.

I agree that college is not a good investment for young people these days. They should go if they want the college experience, but they should not expect any financial return on their investment.

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Books Available from Inverted-A Press

Inverted-A Press carries the following Titles:

The Portrait of a Lover by John Wheatcroft.

A Thousand and One Stories of Pericon de Cadiz

Transatlantic Lives by Jesse Bier

Theodosia and the Pirates by Aya Katz



Vacuum County by Aya Katz


Our Lady of Kaifeng


Posted in Books and Authors, PubWages Staff | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Misconceptions about Population Statistics

In the western world, in modern times, life expectancy is higher than it was in the past and higher than it currently is in the third world. But is that entirely a good thing? Most people think that it is, but many of us may be misinterpreting the statistics, myself included.

One of things you have to be very careful about is who is being counted when the statistics are compiled. For instance, when we read that the average life expectancy in Swaziland is 39.6 years and the average life expectancy in the United States is 78.2, we might think that living in the United States is much better. By the same token, if we hear that life expectancy in the United States a century ago was around forty years and today is closer to eighty years, we might think that we have made great strides forward due to modern medicine and our current lifestyle.

In the table below, the first number represents healthy average life expectancy and the second one represents actual average life expectancy and the third figure is the percentage of life expectancy that is healthy.


Swaziland has a high healthy life expectancy but a low absolute life expectancy

But there are two factors to be considered that we usually forget to consider:

  1. How does absolute life expectancy compare to healthy life expectancy?
  2. Who was counted as a person for purposes of the calculation of absolute life expectancy?

According to the chart I posted above, the average person in Swaziland could expect to die at 39.6 years of age, but he would be perfectly healthy, without experiencing any sort of illness until he turned 38.1. That means that for about 96 percent of his life, a person in Swaziland would have no health issues. If having a healthy population is your goal, that seems to be the best country in the world to live in.

But wait, who wants to die so young? Wouldn’t it be better to experience more health difficulties, and even undergo surgery or become dependent on drugs, if that will nearly double your lifespan?

In the chart below we see that in the United States the average person could expect to live a healthy life until age seventy, after which he might continue to live an unhealthy life until he was about seventy-eight years old. While those last eight years might be excruciatingly painful and involve several surgeries and being on drugs and a reduction of quality of life, still seventy years of healthy life sounds pretty good, compared to thirty-nine in Swaziland.


American Healthy Average Life Expectancy is 70, after which Americans get to be sick for another eight years before they die

But what if we have entirely misinterpreted those numbers, based on not thinking about what “average” means, and who is being counted as a person for purposes of the average?

I believe that for purposes of these statistics, a newborn baby counts as a person. Now, when you realize how high infant mortality is in undeveloped countries, and how high the birth rate actually is, then it changes the picture completely. Instead of imagining the average adult only getting to live to be thirty-nine, we can imagine that for every adult who makes it to seventy in Swaziland, there might have been a baby who died before age eight. Totally different picture! It means that it’s tough to be an infant or child in that country, but the benefits of surviving are a long and healthy life.

There is a story they tell about the photographer Leni Riefenstahl. After she realized that she had been wrong to support Hitler, she tried to make up for her previous actions by going to Africa and photographing native populations in all their diversity and beauty. But people still accused her of being a fascist. “All the people you photographed were beautiful and healthy!” they said to her. “Why didn’t you take pictures of any ugly or sick people?” She answered: “I didn’t see any ugly or sick people. All the people I saw were beautiful and healthy.” I don’t know if this story is true, but I did read it somewhere. It made me think.

What if in the United States, we are not lengthening our lifespan by a single year with our modern medicine? What if the average adult person has always lived to be about seventy? What if by reducing our birth rate and our infant mortality, we have simply changed the way we count people? We don’t count all the people who would have been born, but haven’t been. And we don’t let our newborns die, no matter how sick they are. That doesn’t make for a healthier population or a longer life. But it does increase the percentage of the economy that is dedicated to healthcare.

I’m not saying this is necessarily the case. My calculations about Swaziland were entirely speculative. I don’t actually know how high their infant and child mortality are.  Nor do I know to what extent American reduction of infant mortality has led to the average lifespan going up from the previous century. I’m just saying that we need to look into average life expectancy more closely and ask ourselves who is being counted for the purposes of these calculations, because the figures could be doctored in order to convince most voting adults today that they need healthcare in order to live a long life.




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The Art of Conversation

There is an art to brilliant conversation. It is more than each person talking in turn. It is more than showing courtesy to your interlocutor, pausing when needed, and listening just as much as you speak. Real conversations, the ones that are truly meaningful, allow occasional interruptions of one speaker by another, to interject additional relevant facts, to help with a word choice, and in all other ways to support the better flow of information between and among speakers.


Many of us who are socially awkward have been led to believe that if only we master turn taking, everything will get better. Of course, we all know people who insist on giving a monologue or a speech to everyone they meet, and that can be annoying. It certainly isn’t a conversation. This is a problem that can and should be worked on with someone who has trouble with social interaction.

However, I have also seen the converse problem. There are some people who are so well schooled in turn taking, that they entirely forget the purpose of a conversation. I have watched some people who are socially intact but otherwise cognitively impaired take turns talking at each other. They very courteously pause to let the other person speak, but what they say after the other person has spoken in no way relates to what he said. Or it only very tangentially relates, as in sharing a general topic, but having nothing to do with the point that person just made.

A true conversation is a dialogue in which the participants are collaborating on creating a coherent text. In all my writing, and in my favorite books that I read as a child, that is the whole point of conversation. Certainly, in order to do this, some social housekeeping is required. We can’t all speak at the same time, because then nobody will be heard. But turn taking is only a very minor concern, one that can at times yield to the greater needs of the conversational flow. It is all right — and even required — to speak out of turn when you have an important point to make. The purpose of the conversation is to exchange information and build a coherent understanding of the topic. The point is not just to socially interact with whoever happens to be there.

Now, when I was a child, we practiced such conversations at home. The text of the conversation was dictated by the general topic and the specific issue being explored, not by the importance of the people involved. The very smallest person at the table was allowed to interject a relevant point, even speaking out of turn. But  a person who was ranked socially higher had better be silent if he or she had nothing to contribute to the conversation. It was not about rank. It was not about civility or conviviality. It was about content.

When I began to put conversations such as this into my fiction, I encountered some critics who said that the conversations were contrived, because real people don’t talk like that. Only characters in nineteenth century books do.

In fact, it took me years until I met someone outside my own family with whom it was possible to have coherent conversations. He did not agree with me about much, but our conversations made nice, coherent texts, which when written down looked a lot like a dialogue from a book. I have always valued the ability of people to have such conversations, and as rare as that quality in a person is, I think it is an ideal to which we should all aspire.

If autistics need more schooling in turn taking, I think most neurotypicals should also undergo training in conversational coherence. They should be taught that turn taking and social rank are not everything and that ultimately, if you have nothing to contribute to a conversation, you should remain silent. This also applies to publishing professional papers and books in which no actual content is present.

There is an art to conversation. The partners in a dialogue are contributing to a text. The value of the contribution depends on the needs of the text, not on the rank of the contributor.  Coherence is a quality in conversation that needs to be upheld, and it should yield to the lesser value of turn taking.



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Reciprocity and Turn Taking in Love


It’s a common saying that there are many different kinds of love. Just because someone else’s idea of love is not the same as your own does not mean that it is not love. In a way, that is true, simply because people are using the same word to mean very different things. This is a linguistic issue, not an objective question of anyone’s feelings. It is possible that the word love covers a wide variety of more specific emotions, feelings that we could name, if we tried.

Here are some of the kinds of love that we may encounter:

1) Nurturing, committed and parental love that revolves around caring for someone who is not your equal. It can be a baby, a dog or cat, or even an elder in his dotage. Whoever it is may be a source of joy to you, but the relationship is unequal because of the power differential. The inequality may be temporary, as in a child who will grow up and become self-sufficient or it may be permanent, as in a pet who will always be your dependent.

I wrote about my experiences with this kind of love here:

Love and Commitment and Chimpanzees

2) Nurturing and committed love for someone who is ostensibly your equal, but to whom you have formed a close attachment.  This would be like the love that husbands and wives have for one another, whether or not they  have a strong sexual connection and whether or not they admire each other. It’s that thing that sets in to cement a relationship for the long term, when all the excitement and glitter have worn off. But it’s not just for husbands and wives. It is also something that siblings or close friends can feel for one another or parents and adult children can experience, if they are working together or living together in a way that allows for a close bond.

3) Limerent love – A love whose main component is admiration and rapt worship of the Love Object (LO), though not necessarily any desire to take care of them or use them sexually. Limerent Love is the love we have for those we feel are far above us, and it may include gods as well as men.

4) Sexual Attraction – This is the earliest form of love and we share it with all forms of life that reproduce sexually.

I wrote in more detail about limerence here:

Love and Limerence

From a biological standpoint, (1) and (2) on my list above are actually the same emotion with the same biological markers: attachment and bonding. It is designed to keep families together long enough for the children to be cared for.  Therefore, even if they are equals, pair bonded couples may each feel a parental-like desire to nurture one another, each regarding the other a little bit like a dependent.

Because they cannot both be the parent at the same time, this mutual nurturing can sometimes lead to turn taking when it comes to playing the nurturing role or the dependent recipient role.

What I have noticed, though, is that many, many people across the world associate “true” or “pure” love with selflessness, so much so that they sometimes feel compelled to play the role of the selfless parent-like provider in the pair bond.

To me, this way of conceptualizing love is troubling, because all forms of love are ultimately selfish, and because this privileges the role of nurturer as the “good” lover and the role of recipient as the “bad” lover. Turn-taking then becomes about who gets to be  ”good” at the moment.


I used to teach a composition course in Taiwan, and among the assigned topics was to write about the perfect love. One of my students wrote that a perfect love is selfless, and she thought if someone really loved her he would give her a fortune and then leave her alone to lead her own life, without bothering her anymore. (She conceptualized this perfect love as coming from a rich uncle.)

While I found this composition amusing, I was never able to quite wrap my mind around the concept. It is only through this trick of requiring love to be selfless that any person could conclude that complete detachment and non-involvement would be a sign of true love. By her reckoning, receiving pure love would be like winning the lottery.

All forms of love, from the highest to the lowest, are biologically based. All are directly connected to the reward center of the brain. Mothers are rewarded for caring for their young by the joyous feeling that their involvement brings them. Lovers are enraptured by their contact with each other, and the truer the love, the less it requires turn-taking to experience it. Even when a passion is unearthly, as in worshiping a hero or a god, the reward is immediate if the love is genuine. Love is not something you give to someone else. It is something you experience yourself.

In all my books, whether the love is reciprocated, as in Theodosia and the Pirates, or one-sided as in Our Lady of Kaifeng, I make that point. Love is not a contract or an arrangement or a relationship. It is not a policy, and it does not require work. It is a feeling, and it is its own reward!






Posted in Apes and Language, Opinion Pieces and Editorials, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reading And Commenting On That Blog Post

I sometimes am hesitant to post links to my blogs on Facebook these days because most people do not click through to read and comment.  One friend told me awhile back she reads only what I post on my Facebook wall, and I was not sure how to respond to this.  Obviously whatever I am writing about is not of interest to this person, and it makes me think posting links on Twitter and my Facebook website pages is the most conducive use of my time.  My honest opinion is how can you get the gist of what someone wrote if you did not click through and actually read what they posted on their own website.  I know posting blogs is considered spammy and overly promotional, but how else are bloggers going to get their writing out there?  Meanwhile no one thinks much about the abundance of Coca-Cola or Crest ads, but get quite irritated when a  blogger posts something they wrote on their own wall.  However, the truth is if you do not promote yourself, then who will?  Major corporations have PR  teams and resources to do that, and the lone blogger should take enough pride in their work to actually want to share it with others.  I suppose my wall is not the best place to do that, but this is besides the point.

The next issue I find perplexing is why do people actually read a blog post, and then only comment about it on Facebook.  Is it really that much more difficult to log into Google to post a comment?  It just seems if readers were truly interested in supporting a blogger they could take the time to make one extra step and post the comment on the actual website rather than Facebook.  I get some traffic from Facebook, but increasingly it seems like no one really likes bloggers to post things on their walls.  Some seem to have success with it, but I am feeling Twitter and other social networks are better for this.  The thing is as a blogger this is how I make my income, and why should I be ashamed for promoting myself?  People are never reticent to promote themselves in a myriad of aspects, but it seems taboo to ever call attention to the blogs one invests time and effort in.  Well, since those people are not running after me telling me they willing to hire a promotion team to share my blogs with the world, I am just going to arrive at the conclusion they are not very supportive of my goals.  No one has to support my goals, but I am not going to apologize for promoting my writing either, especially when it is okay to promote everything else under the sun.

Now when it comes to the strenuous effort involved with commenting on a blogger account, there is really not much to it.  The picture below shows a drop down menu of all the options blogger gives for commenting.

The picture  with the drop down menu below illustrates how easy it is to comment on a post.  If someone does not comment there it probably is because they just did not want to put in the effort to do so.  WordPress is even easier because you can post anonymous comments on that platform.

The picture is a screen shot from my blog. It illustrates how easy it is to comment on a post with many different options. If someone does not comment there it probably is because they just did not want to put in the effort to do so. WordPress is even easier because you can post anonymous comments on that platform.

WordPress is even more lenient when it comes to people commenting on a post, and you can comment anonymously.  So why do you not comment on a blog post? Maybe you just find it boring and could care less.   That is fine, but telling a blogger you read the first three lines of the post on their Facebook wall and got the gist is kind of dismissive to that person.  I guess I will not comment on much of what you post either, since I know you feel about my posts.


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Where Have All the Nannies Gone? A Review of Saving Mr. Banks

I saw the Disney movie Saving Mr. Banks yesterday, and what’s more I liked it. I am as hard to please as P.L. Travers when it comes to movie appreciation, so this is in itself a small miracle. Though the movie came out in December, it only just now appeared in my neck of the woods.

The story is about how Walt Disney and his entire script writing team, including composers and lyricists, won over the reluctant and exacting P.L. Travers and got the rights to make the movie, Mary Poppins.

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To a lot of reviewers, the value of the film turns on the verisimilitude of the historical portrayal of Walt Disney, P.L. Travers and the Sherman brothers. The clothing, the sets, the period pieces are what is all about.

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To me it is also about the making of a musical. I took no small interest in the songwriting process, being a lyricist myself and part of the songwriting team of Carter and Katz. The way in which the Sherman brothers came up with their songs and even how they demonstrated the newly or partially written songs was dramatized realistically.

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I enjoyed the little moments, such as when Travers refused to accept made up words, or suggested that “let us fly a kite” might be more proper English than “let’s fly a kite”, but then quickly gave up that notion when she realized it didn’t scan. It was extremely amusing to see her refuse to sign the contract unless the color red were entirely removed from every scene in the movie.

But what I really went to see and was intrigued by was the story of how the character of Mr. Banks came about. To me, Mary Poppins was never about Mary Poppins. It was always about Mr. Banks and his values.

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 Would you believe that as a child I identified with Mr. Banks and was rooting for him and his way of life? It may seem inconceivable, but it is true. After all, Mr. Banks was a capitalist. He sang the praises of free enterprise

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I knew at once that there was something fishy about the song “Feed the Birds”. Yes, it was a pretty melody, but there was something tricky and treacherous about inserting the song at just that junction in the movie.

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True, feeding the birds, the homeless and the hungry, when you are using your own money is perfectly fine. But to fill the children’s heads with that idea so as to cause them to withhold their tuppence from the bankers they were going to visit that day and thereby trigger a run on the bank where their father works seems like a very cruel thing for a magical nanny to do.  It’s almost as if she were brainwashing her young charges to harm their father. After all, she was the one who suggested he take them to the bank that day, and now Mr. Banks’s life is in ruins.

A man has dreams of walking with giants
To carve his niche in the edifice of time
Before the mortar of his zeal
Has a chance to congeal
The cup is dashed from his lips
The flame is snuffed aborning
He’s brought to rack and ruin in his prime

My world was calm, well ordered, exemplary
Then came this person, with chaos in her wake
And now my life’s ambitions go with one fell blow
It’s quite a bitter pill to take

In Saving Mr. Banks, I learned that Travers Goff lost his job as a bank manager not because young Helen (P.L. Travers’ real name) refused to deposit tuppence in the bank but because he had a drinking problem. In other words, he was not a diligent banker betrayed by a conniving, socialist nanny. He was a poor banker, undone by dissipated living. Unlike Mr. Banks, Mr. Goff was a dreamer who had trouble with self-discipline. He went flying kites with his daughter way too often, and  that was what led to his undoing, as well as that of his wife.

At the beginning of the movie, we see the Goff family saying goodbye to their comfortable house in a nice neighborhood and to their servants, among them a nanny of the starched-cap variety. “Goodbye, Nanna!”

Mrs. Goff says “thank you” to the servants for all they have done to help her, and she is obviously sorry to leave them. The servants, in turn, are very kind to Mrs. Goff. They seem to realize the family is on its way to ruin, and they feel sorry for the lady of the house, who, without their help, will not be able to cope.

What is a 21st century audience intended to make of this scene? Does it seem strange to them that the loss of servants is the real cause of all the suffering in this movie? How many of us have servants in our home to cook and clean and take care of our children?

Today, only the very rich have servants. But it was not always this way. In the not-so-distant past, every middle class family had servants. The family could be very poor or in difficult financial straits, and still they had servants as long as it was middle class. Think about the fictional family in Little Women or of the problems of the very real Bronte sisters, forced to take up jobs as governesses — and yet still they had servants at home, helping with the chores.

Even as late as 1939, in Poland, my father had a live-in nanny. His mother was an educated woman. She had a Masters degree in mathematics, but she did not work outside the home. And yet a nanny was giving her son his baths and helping to clip his fingernails. This did not mean that my grandmother was not involved in bringing up my father. She spoke to him in Hebrew while the nanny spoke Polish. She read to him from the Bible in the original. But she did not cook or clean or do menial tasks. The presence of a nanny did not imply the absence of a mother. And no, they were not rich. They were middle class.

Fast forward to the 1960s in America,  and nobody but rich people had nannies. Some mothers worked outside the home, but most had replaced the nanny and the scullery maid and the housekeeper in their middle class families. They had automatic dishwashers and washing machines, but no servants. And they were expected to dedicate their lives to having shiny floors and dusting the furniture and baking delicious pies and changing diapers, even if they had masters degrees in mathematics. Women needed to be liberated from this, the feminists felt, but actually the middle class females had been thrust into this drudgery by the “liberation” of the servants. Now all the servant class worked in factories, and their employers were not the Banks family. They worked for big corporations that could afford FICA and FUTA and health insurance for their full time employees.

P.L. Travers was not against nannies or housekeepers. She was not for women’s lib. At the beginning of the movie, we see that she had had to let her maid, Polly, go because she was in dire financial straits. After she signed the contract with Disney, Travers was able to rehire Polly. And Polly, far from being an exploited worker, was seen to be a happy person with a strong independent spirit, perfectly capable of standing up to the crotchety author and match her blow for blow in a  battle of wit.

The “classless” society in Disney’s America bothered P.L. Travers. She did not like everybody being called by their first name. And she thought the idea of Mrs. Banks being a suffragette was downright silly. The scriptwriter and the Sherman brothers tried to explain that Mrs. Banks was made into a suffragette in order to explain why she needed a nanny when she didn’t have a job. Otherwise, she would have seemed like a slacker. Why didn’t she take care of her own children? Travers replied that a mother didn’t need to have a job to employ a nanny. Being a mother was a hard enough job as it was. The Americans did not understand.

The terrible thing that happened to the Goff family when their fortunes went down was not simply the loss of the father’s earning capacity. It was not just that his health declined until he drank himself to death. It was that somewhere along the line, they lost all their servants, and all the household work fell on the shoulders of the mother.

In a lower class family, where people are used to not having servants, the mother usually delegates much of the work to her many children. Some scrub floors. Some set the table. Some wash dishes. Some hang up the wash or fold it. But in the Goff family, when the mother tried to delegate some of the work to Helen, the father did not support her. He wanted Helen to keep on playing, while her mother carried the load all unaided. This created a rift between mother and daughter and ultimately led to P.L. Travers conflicted personality, at once “perfectly capable” of doing everything herself, but not really able to do anything besides writing fantasies.

In our society today, the stay-at-home mother is rare. Servants are non-existent. Both parents work, whether they are married to each other or not. All children go to school for twelve years. Some help a little at home, but because the entire command structure of society has unraveled, much of the time nobody cooks dinner, and people end up getting their nourishment at McDonalds. Obesity is the rule rather than exception, not because people are too affluent or because they eat too much, but because nobody is paid to cook except those who work at restaurants, and people eat the wrong things. Cooking is neglected. It’s not the sevants’ job, it’s not the mother’s job and it is not the children’s job. In most homes, there’s just nobody who is required to do it.

By the same token, nobody is the nanny, and nobody is the mother, and people don’t realize anymore that these roles can be different. If mom is the scullery maid in your house, she’s not going to have time to read to you. If parents both work outside the home and there is no nanny, then who is bringing up the children? These are important questions, but nobody is addressing them.

Winifred Banks liberated herself right out of having any help for all her burdens. But Mrs. Goff was not a suffragette. She was a good wife who had a less than responsible husband.

Some reviewers suggested the movie was about the clash between Disney’s capitalism and Travers’ anti-capitalism. In fact, it seemed to me that neither of them was pro-capitalism. Both of them thought money was the root of all evil.

When Disney finally wins P.L. Travers over, he does so by telling the story of his own father, Elias Disney, who had a profitable business, but was too much of a skinflint to employ paper delivery boys. So the entire burden of delivering the paper fell on the shoulders of his two underage sons. Instead of realizing that employing the poor in menial jobs like delivering papers and changing diapers was the way to relieve suffering for society at large, Disney put out a movie whose message was “feed the birds” and “let’s go fly a kite.”

In 1957 Atlas Shrugged came out. It’s too bad Disney’s daughters were not as taken in by that classic as they were by Mary Poppins.  Otherwise in 1961 Disney might have been romancing Ayn Rand, instead, and Dick Van Dyke could have been playing John Galt to Julie Andrews’ Dagny. With singing penguins, no less! Now wouldn’t you like to see that?

Still, Saving Mr. Banks was a very good movie. It was funny and intelligent, and it did not short change the real people it was based on. There’s a lot more dirt on Travers in this BBC documentary:

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Does the Disney movie play favorites, making Walt Disney look good while vilifying P.L. Travers? Actually, no. To some extent, this movie whitewashes the lives of both, concentrating on the matter at hand, and not overdoing the flaws of either.

Ultimately both Disney and Travers were conflicted and inconsistent. He enjoyed great business success, but put out movies that pandered to the foes of industry and free trade. She wanted to hold on to her artistic purity, but did not realize that only money could set her free to do that. All in all, it’s still a very optimistic movie. Why? Because the Sherman brothers wrote great songs! They showed both sides of the coin equally well.


Trailer: Saving Mr. Banks on Disney Video

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