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Thursday, November 11

Many thanks to the French and American students!

We appreciate your participation and we wish you
 the best of luck!

Monday, November 1

BLOG 8: Our last blog! A historic or political figure!

I am sure you all have a political or historic figure that has affected your thinking or your life or your community and society. Please share him/her with us!
A good link for historic figures is here
Henry VIII

Monday, October 25

BLOG 7: PACKS (Pacte civil de solidarité)

More and more people are becoming skeptical of the institution of marriage. The high divorce rates on the one hand, (55% in Sweden, 45% in the US, 38% in France), increasing numbers of single parenthood on the other (in 2007, in the US 40% of babies were born to single moms), financial stress that complicates the rearing of children, infidelity becoming  more common (20% of men and 15% of women under 35 reported cheating), the no-fault divorce making the process easy and cheap, all have contributed to a fear of tying the knot, here, in the UK, and in Korea.

Well, is there an alternative besides cohabitation? The answer is coming from France in a package called PACKS (Pacte civil de solidarité).  As you have probably guessed, it is a civil union. The law was enacted to allow gay couples have some of the benefits of a marriage but it soon attracted the heterosexual population as well. The contents of the legislation allow the two partners to become contractants and organize their common life. They do it by registering a common declaration to the court in which they state their address in France or abroad. The contractants agree to mutual help while they are jointly responsible for debts occurred because of household expenses. They are eligible for tax benefits after three years while the tenant’s lease may transfer to the other partner if one leaves or dies. Also health benefits are transferable to the partner.

How do you dissolve it? Simply by filing  a common statement, or after a three month delay at the request of one partner. No lawyers involved, no legal fees, no lengthy processes.

How popular is it? The number has grown from 6,000 in 1999, to 140,000 in 2008. It is a half solution to marriage, it offers some of the benefits and removes the costs of a long term commitment.

 What is your opinion on the new form of union? 

Monday, October 18

BLOG 6: Your future: optimism vs. pessimism

In December 2008, in the midst of the deepest recession ever, the Financial Times conducted an optimism-pessimism survey in the U.S. , Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. In the European countries the majority (over 60%) were pessimistic about their personal economic future. In the U.S., most were still optimistic. Regarding the economic prospects of their countries, 83% of the French were pessimistic, followed by 70% the British. However in the US the pessimism rate over national economics reached a 52%.

I have always wondered if the numbers were correct. Are Americans more optimistic than Europeans? Although we are in no position to take the answers of our French and American group and generalize, still it is interesting to know what you think and feel.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about your future and why?

Photo from

Monday, October 11


Are our daily lives similar? Or do we differ dramatically? Please choose a typical day and write a detailed diary. Don't just include your appointments but all the little things that you experience, like, dislike and have to resolve as the day unfolds. From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep.

Monday, October 4

BLOG 4: llegal Immigration: Amnesty or deportation?

Illegal immigration continues to be a controversial and divisive topic, not only in the United States, but throughout the world. The debate over how to deal with the problem has focused on either legalization or deportation. The supporters of legalization point to the fact that borders are almost impossible to patrol due to their size and the existence of alternative routes whereas the native citizens embrace illegal immigration when it suits their needs. If you haven’t employed an illegal, probably you know someone who has. Furthermore they assert that amnesty is the right path. For who among us will condone the forceful separation of parents and children? Finally they point to the fact that immigrants, when they become legal, they contribute to our taxes.

The other side insists that illegal immigrants draw on the welfare system while they have broken the law and they should be deported. Of course that may happen only after they get arrested. Which may be a challenge given that in the US we have close to 11 million illegals and in France from 200,000-400,000.

What do you think the policy should be in your country? Legalization/Amnesty or deportation?.

Please answer by Sunday October 10.

Sunday, September 26

Blog 3: State-funded programs in both countries.

Please visit the site "The welfare state" ( and give us your thoughts on an aspect of the "Social Protection" system that your country employs. For example, how do you feel about your social security or pensions program? Are they too generous or should they be limited? How about welfare services? Are they adequate,  less than adequate or abused? What about your health system? Are you satisfied or dissatisfied? Are you happy with the public education system or would you like to see changes? Or you may discuss whatever topic  falls under the umbrella of "state-funded" program.

Please remember that this week's discussion will end next Sunday evening (October 3).

Have a great week!

Monday, September 13

Blogs 1 and 2: Hello Grenoble and Tampa

Hello everyone!

We are all excited with this trans-Atlantic project and we look forward to hearing from all of you.
You can start the week by describing your impressions of ech other's countries! It's alright if you haven't been there yet... I am sure you still have some ideas...correct and incorrect! :))

This week we post our perceptions/ideas of the other country and next week we ask each other more specific questions for clarifications.

Monday, June 28

Exchange with French students : mutual impressions about each otherʼs cultures

Hi everyone !

I'm François Chappuis, I teach English in France, more precisely in Grenoble, a lovely city ringed by mountains (the Alps).

In my school, we are about 300 students, they are specialised in different fields such as industrial design, industrial maintenance, automatism, electrotechnics... They also attend more conventional courses like maths, physics, history, geography, French, English....Their age range from 15 to 25. When (if!) they passed their examinations, they either look for a job or carry on their studies (BA, MA, engineering school...)

Here is my school website : (sorry this is not a blingual website...yet !)

With Professor Athena Smith, we set a project whose description is this:

The blog will serve the forum for an exchange on mutual impressions about each otherʼs cultures that hopefully will lead to an intercultural understanding, possible creation of friendships and an exchange visit in the future. Each week, you are expected to answer the question posted by either professor in no less than 200 words and comment on another studentʼs answer in no less than 50 words. The programme is divided into 6 weeks of which you will be informed in due time. The programme will start mid-September.

I'm (and especially my students) looking forward to exchanging views on each other's cultures!'

François Chappuis

Tuesday, April 20


Photo found at
Thank you everyone for your posts! You spiced up the course!
As we are approaching the end of the semester, I wish all of you the best of luck.

And congratulations to jtannebe who managed to be the first one to post on most blogs... :)

Sunday, April 11

Our last blog! Prostitution in the US, Netherlands and Sweden.

The debate on whether prostitution is a victimless crime and whether it should be regulated or legalized has raged on for decades. One side asserts that prostitutes inflict harm on themselves and therefore the crime is victimless. The other side protests that they may also inflict harm on the client through STD. Well, the first side points, the client does know the danger before going, doesn’t he? And what about when the client transmits the STD? Yes, but, the second side reloads, society does suffer through the acceptance of loose morals… What morals are we talking about, the first side snaps, when we have legalized pornography? And how can a free society legislate the sexual behavior between consenting adults? We should legislate, the second side retorts, because money is changing hands… Men are buying women... "Not women" the first side answers, merely their services.... and so on and so on and so on….

Most of the debate however is based on ideological approaches to a sensitive matter while cherry picking the statistics that suit the particular ideology. This is why it is useful to not only look at some facts but also some alternative models in the western world. In the US the evidence demonstrates that prostitution is rarely a career choice. The majority of those working as prostitutes are street youth who more frequently report histories of childhood abuse, particularly sexual abuse. More than 50% have been forced into the sex trade. Sexual and physical violence are common, while the risks for AIDSand the probability for mental disorders are very high. Street prostitutes are also more likely to be abusers of crack cocaine, and heavily identify with street life. Girls typically become prostitutes at age 13 or 14 with close to 90% of them wanting to escape the work. The mortality rate for prostitutes is 200 times that of women of similar age and race.

The grim statistics seem to support the argument against legalization. Not so fast, the legalization side protests, because –as they claim- legalization will bring down the violence against prostitutes. Plus, what is the point of criminalizing the oldest profession on earth since men will always seek out their services?

This is where the war against prostitution resembles the war on drugs. They both have concentrated on the supply side having ignored the huge demand side that keeps the supply going. How do you deal with that?

So here are some alternative models. In the Netherlands prostitution involving Dutch or other EU citizens is a legal occupation, and most prostitutes work in brothels or sex clubs that require a permit. The reason why the legalization applies to EU citizens is the trafficking problem many countries face, with kidnapped or lured girls from Easter Europe or Asia brought into the country as sex slaves and forced to work underground.

The Swedes have moved away from total legalization and concentrated on battling the demand side. According to the "Sex Purchase Act" passed in 1999 it is illegal to buy sexual services. The law punishes the client only but not the prostitute as the act is considered  a form of violence and exploitation against women. The client may be punished by fines or up to six months in prison, plus the humiliation of public exposure. Although accurate statistics can not be found, some estimate the number of prostitutes in Sweden to have dropped by 40%. Traffickers avoid Sweden since the clients are hesitant and according to Nicholas Krstof the bottom line is that if you want to rape a 13-year-old girl imported from Eastern Europe, you’ll have a much easier time in Amsterdam than in Stockholm.

Three different models on a multi-dimensional social problem. Your thoughts?

Saturday, April 3


It was three years ago almost to the day that French public opinion was deeply divided over the trial of  Dr. Laurence Tramois, a 35 year-old physician, who with the assistance of Nurse Chantal Chanel gave a lethal injection to the 65-year-old Paulette Druais, a terminally ill cancer patient. Dr Tramois said that she decided to resort to a lethal injection after Druais had told her that she did not want to die "in filth” and after Druais's family had backed her decision. However hospital managers had taken the pair to court as euthanasia is illegal in France. More than 2,000 health professionals signed a petition to support the doctor and the nurse, while they also called for the legalization of euthanasia. The court found the doctor guilty but gave her only a one-year suspended jail term while the nurse was acquitted. The debate over euthanasia still rages in France. They point to Belgium and Netherlands that have legalized euthanasia. Supporters demand the right to a dignified death. Opponents point to the sanctity of life. Supporters retort back by pointing to the abuse of the medical technology to prolong death. Opponents point to the potential of abuse. Supporters emphasize the safeguards that both Belgium and Netherlands have adopted. The Dutch Euthanasia Act states that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are not punishable if the informed patient request it, if the suffering is unbearable and hopeless, if the alternatives have been explained to the patient and if the doctor reports the request to a review committee. Opponents point to the rise in the number of cases, that reached 2,500 in 2009.

The fervor of the division is such that one would believe that euthanasia is a recent social ethical dilemma. Not so. In ancient Greece and Rome, before the coming of Christianity, attitudes toward infanticide,  euthanasia, and suicide were permissive. During the pre-medieval Christian era, medical ethics accepted euthanasia, while during the Middle Ages the Church tapered the practice off and treated any form of suicide or “self murder” as deeply sinful. In the 18th century, during Enlightenment, scholars attacked the church's authoritative teaching on all matters, including euthanasia and suicide, but the matter was treated with gross indifference. In the US, during the 19th century, when morphine was isolated, Samuel Williams, began to advocate the use of analgesics not only to alleviate terminal pain, but to intentionally terminate one’s life. In 1938, Charles Potter founded the National Society for the Legalization of Euthanasia and in the 1970s, the debate made it to the Senate floor, focusing on 'the brutal irony of medical miracles,' which prolonged the dying process only to diminish patient dignity and quality of life. In the 1990s, the US Congress passed the Patient Self-Determination Act, requiring hospitals that receive federal funds to tell patients that they have a right to demand or refuse treatment.

Fast forward to March 2010 and the debate resurfaces in the UK. Early in the year, Kay Gilderdale was cleared of attempted murder for helping her 31-year-old daughter, Lynn, to commit suicide following years of suffering from the chronic fatigue syndrome ME. At the same time Frances Inglis, who killed her 22-year-old son by heroin injection believing he was left in a "living hell" after severe brain damage in a road accident, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to a minimum of nine years in jail. The main difference between the two cases was that in the Gilderdale case the daughter’s wish was clearly demonstrated, while in the Inglis case, the son, being in a vegetative state, could not express any wish. Two months later, the famous author, Sir Terry Pratchett, called for the establishment of euthanasia tribunals to give sufferers from incurable diseases the right to medical help to end their lives. Sir Pratchett became an advocate after he was diagnosed with an early form of Alzheimer’s. "It is not nice and I do not wish to be there for the endgame… If granny walks up to the tribunal and bangs her walking stick on the table and says 'Look, I've really had enough, I hate this bloody disease, and I'd like to die thank you very much young man', I don't see why anyone should stand in her way… The tribunal would be acting for the good of society as well as that of the applicant – and ensure they are of sound and informed mind, firm in their purpose, suffering from a life-threatening and incurable disease and not under the influence of a third party.”

The newspapers smelled blood and ran their polls. In February 2010, of more than 1,000 people interviewed for BBC, 73% believed friends or relatives should be able to assist the suicide of a terminally ill loved one. A YouGov poll of 2,053 people for the Telegraph showed 80% saying that relatives should not be prosecuted, and 75% backing a change in the law.

Would you back such a measure?

Sunday, March 21

Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

One of the most controversial topics has been the move to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy regarding the military service of gays and bisexual persons. Adoption of the DADT followed a long history of banning gays from the military. For a good part of the 20th century gays were discharged as “undesirables” once their orientation became known. However if they had committed homosexual acts while in service the discharge usually became “dishonorable.”

Then we had the brutal murder of the gay U.S. Navy petty officer Allen R. Schindler, Jr. Schindler had often reported anti-gay harassment to his chain of command citing comments from shipmates such as "There's a faggot on this ship and he should die". While en route to Japan, Schindler made a personal prank announcement "2-Q-T-2-B-S-T-R-8” (too cute to be straight) on secured lines and was put on restrictive leave. Once in Nagasaki, Terry M. Helvey, a member of the ship's weather department, stomped Schindler to death in a toilet, crushing his head, breaking his ribs and cutting off his penis. The brutality of the murder prompted President Clinton to adopt “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” under which a gay person may serve as long as he does not reveal his sexual orientation. What happens however if others find out? You were still discharged. The bottom line was that gays were undesirable in the US military. Since 1994, 13,500 service members have been fired under the DADT policy.

Fast-forward to 2009, in the midst of the war on terror. Stephen Benjamin wrote a column in the NYT reporting on the lack of qualified translators (from Arabic to English) in the Armed Forces. He stated that cables went untranslated on Sept. 10, 2001, a crucial date in our history. And in 2007, the American Embassy in Baghdad had nearly 1,000 personnel, but only a handful of fluent Arabic speakers. In March of that year, Benjamin, who had graduated in the top 10% of the Defense Language Institute, was let go after his sexual orientation was revealed. He was not the first. In 2006, a decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist was also dismissed from the U.S. Army under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Although the number of those competent gay translators who were fired is not fully disclosed, one thing remains indisputable. The military is spending millions in training new translators, hoping that they will all turn out to be heterosexual.

Recently the DADT policy has come under attack. The arguments from both sides are interesting. Those supporting the DADT policy say that the situation is not that black or white. They point to certain elements of significant risk. When you are called to defend your country while living and rooming in close quarters with others, overall effectiveness depends on mutual trust and uncomplicated camaraderie that should not be disturbed. Moreover, allowing gays in the military, -the pro DADT side asserts- may encourage enlistment of gays that hope to find partners easier, something that might provoke even higher levels of homophobia among heterosexuals. Furthermore, when people are sent into combat, we make sure that men and women do not fight next to each other in order to avoid complicating emotional situations. When we allow gays to serve, we endanger the overall effectiveness, if indeed there is a sexual/emotional bond between the soldiers.

Those who support the repeal of DADT counter-assert that many emergency occupations require their members to live in close proximity (emergency services, oil rig workers) and gays are not barred from those. They also add that opposition to gays in the military is based on the problems caused by homophobia, which is perpetuated by the ban. Once gays are allowed to serve and demonstrate their effectiveness, the homophobia will diminish. Finally, they claim, emotional bonds (both heterosexual and homosexual) may strengthen moral and not weaken it.

Both sides continue to exchange heated arguments as we speak. Needless to say no argument from either side can be upheld or dismissed by scientific research on the matter. The Congress is called to make a decision to repeal DADT or maintain it. The verdict is still out.

How would you advise them on the matter?

Sunday, March 14

Price-tag partnerships

Last summer an ad in the personal section of Craiglist was posted by a young Neworker, “spectacularly beautiful” according to her own assessment, who was looking for a husband in the half a million yearly salary range. She confessed that she was through with potential husbands making a quarter of million as they could not help her move to Central Park West. An investor banker answered that he thought about the offer but decided to pass it since her beauty would be fading with time, unlike his wealth, making her a "depreciating asset" as he succinctly put it.

If you think that the lady on the Craiglist is an exception, I am afraid you are wrong. A survey by Prince & Associates revealed that two-thirds of women and half of the men were "very" or "extremely" willing to marry for money. On average men and women said they would marry for $1.5 million. The going rate was $1.1 million for women in their 30s, and $2.2 million for women in their 40s, while men set the bar lower. Men in their 20s wanted $1 million and men in their 40s $1.4 million. Furthermore, among the women in their 20s who said they would marry for money, 71% also added that they expected to get divorced. Among men in their 40s, the rate was 27%.

Do you think we are moving towards price-tag partnerships? What aspects in the other person might convince you to proceed with a long-term commitment?

Sunday, March 7

Internet-based exams

Schooling and exams have come a long way. When I was a high school student in Greece, memorization was the key to success. It did not matter if you did not understand it. As long as you could recite, you could pass with flying colors. I suffered my first serious cultural shock when I came to the US for my university studies and the grade was not just based on the old classical closed book exams but also on research papers. Room to breathe I had thought. And as I found out, lots to learn as well when you are involved in your own research.

Fast-forward in the 21st century and we have new learning assessment debates. My Balkan country of origin is still hooked on memorization. In the US high schools teachers have started open book exams and internet based exams if the course matter is appropriate. Last spring, Danish high school students were allowed for the first time to use internet during finals (watch this short video). According the Danish officials, if the internet is such a great part of daily life, it should be incorporated in the classroom and in examinations. Sanne Yde Schmidt, project director at Greve, said: “If we're going to be a modern school and teach them things that are relevant for them in modern life, we have to teach them how to use the internet.” The Minister for education Bertel Haarder, added: “Our exams have to reflect daily life in the classroom and daily life in the classroom has to reflect life in society. The internet is indispensible, including in the exam situation. I’m sure that is would be a matter of very few years when most European countries will be on the same line.”

How about cheating? Emailing the questions to other students is not possible because messaging and emailing have been disabled. Other forms of cheating are not considered serious threats as the students are under the pressure of time and they are also trusted to demonstrate integrity and dignity.

Some teachers do not appear willing to shift away from the old closed-book exam. This is the only way that tests studying they say. Some have shifted to open-notes exams, believing that students who are forced to write, also learn. Allowing internet use, other add, tests your ability to analyze and synthesize information. And they emphasize that testing should be a learning experience as well.

Think back into your high school experience and your college days. What types of assessments (exams, research papers, blogging, presentations, debates) enabled you to retain the knowledge the longest and assist you in developing critical thinking? Which combination of assessments would you suggest if you were a professor? Please take the poll on the right so we can have an aggregate picture!

Sunday, February 28

Parental Consent for Abortion

The US has the highest teen pregnancy rates in the industrialized world. As you can see in the charts, the differences are stark. Yes, we do need more education and yes we do need more parental guidance. But if the teen decides to get an abortion, should she need parental consent as she is underage? Such consent is mandatory in 24 US. Most of the statutes apply to girls younger than 18 and provide for a court bypass procedure in case the girl is not able to involve her parents. Also most statutes include exceptions for medical emergencies.

On the one hand, supporters of the “required consent” camp, say that abortion is a form of medical procedure and as such parental consent should be required. The same way that parental consent is required for ear piercing, tattoos and appendectomies. Moreover, parents have the right to know what’s going on with their children’s lives. And others add that there is always the possibility that when parents find out, may offer support and long term help and thus avert the abortion.

Not so, the opponents of the measure assert. Parental consent is not legally required to have a baby. Why should it be different with the decision not to have one? And although parents may have the right to know what’s going on with their kids’ lives, what happens when the girl chooses abortion and the parents oppose it? Whose will should prevail? And don’t we make things worse –they ask- when we postpone the abortion by requiring an extra legal process to take place?

For the requirements in every state, you may go here You will see that some states have chosen a mid-solution. They require “parent notification.” If you are under 18, you have to tell your parents but you don’t need their consent.

What are your thoughts on the parental consent requirement?

Sunday, February 21

Unwanted Fatherhood

Yes, abortion is a controversial matter but mostly because the sides fight over the rights of the fetus. There is a minority however that tries to campaign for the rights of the father. Why, they ask, the woman may have a say over the future of her pregnancy and a man may not? So far, court decisions have sided against paternal involvement in the decision process. In 1978, in the UK, William Paton attempted to stop his separated wife from having an abortion but the judge ruled against him. He took the case to the European Court of Human Rights which also ruled in favor of the wife. Similarly, in 1989, Jean-Guy Tremblay in Canada, tried to stop his girlfriend from having an abortion. The Supreme Court of the country ruled that there was no precedent for a man’s right to protect a potential progeny. And so on and so on.

Here comes a 25-year old programmer from Michigan, who says that if men are not allowed to protect a potential progeny, they should not have to pay child support either if the pregnancy occurred against the men’s will. The young programmer says that his former girlfriend assured him she could have no children and knew he did not want any. When she got pregnant, he offered to pay for the abortion or give up the baby for adoption. The girlfriend instead sued him for a $500 per month child support payment. And as you can guess, she won.

Think about it. Women have all the rights not to become parents. They may choose to abort, or give up the baby for adoption, or simply leave the baby at a hospital. The law is explicit that women are entitled to avoid unwanted parenthood. Why aren’t men protected similarly? Indeed the National Center for Men has drafted a proposition called “Roe v. Wade for men” which gives men the right, when faced with unwanted parenthood, to resort to a “financial abortion”. If the pregnancy occurred against their will, and if it is early in pregnancy, then, they would like to have the right to be released from any future financial responsibilities. "When it comes to reproduction in America today, women have rights and men merely have responsibilities" (Glenn Sacks, 2008, quoted here.)

It’s only fair the National Center for Men says.

What do you say? (Don’t debate the abortion issue please. The question focuses on men’s rights.)

Sunday, February 14

Individual vs. the group

Although close to 14% of school districts have reported having a uniforms policy, the idea has been hotly debated. On the one hand, supporters claim that it bridges some differences between poor and more affluent students. Also they point to the lack of worrying over what to wear, something that promotes efficiency and boosts a unitary school spirit. School administrators finally spend less time on enforcing a dress code. On the other hand, opponents point to the cost of purchasing a uniform which may impose an extra burden on parents (although a donation program is alleviating the burden).But most importantly they lament over the loss of individualism and the reign of group mentality.

Not so, protest the supporters. They point to other countries, like Japan, where the majority of schools have enforced a uniform policy and the debate is almost non-existent. They also refer to the case of the snowboarder Kazuhiro Kokubo in the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Play the video and look at the way the young athlete on the left wears his clothes. In the end of the video he is apologizing as his appearance caused uproar back in Japan. The Ski Association of Japan stated that “It is not the way the Japanese delegation should dress themselves while taxpayers' money is spent on them" and debated whether to kick Kokubo out of the Games altogether. You see, the idea that one should be punished for offending the group is not difficult to swallow. The Japanese Olympic Committee however decided to only ban him from participating in the opening ceremonies and allow him to compete later in his event.

Consequently, the supporters assert, adherence to group rules becomes more important if taxpayers are paying for it. Therefore, school uniforms, are fair game.

How do you feel about it? Would you go along or oppose it?

Sunday, February 7

Vote on the 2011 federal budget

As the debate for universal health coverage inflamed moods and while half truths were thrown back and forth from all sides, one argument that struck me as peculiar was “I am not paying for your health care.” It did take me aback for a moment because it came from a seventy-year old man. Whose health care the tax payer is financing to a serious extent at least. Let us not forget that 80% of our budget in 2008 was financed by the tax payer and the rest by borrowing. Which will have to be paid back by the future tax payers. Everything is traced back to our pockets in other words.

Allocation of tax money has been hottly debated across countries. In some, the electorate acts on a collective sentiment of shared responsibilities and rights. In others, the electorate has chosen a more individualistic approach. For example, visitors to northern European countries are struck by the extent of social benefits. And the level of taxation of course. They even have universal child care as decades ago the Swedish government realized that if it were to capitalize fully on the female part of their labor market, they had better offer a sound solution to the babysitting problem. (The centers BTW open at 6:30, stay open for 12 hours and accept children older than one year of age.) Their social benefits include secure pensions, universal everything… decent housing for the elderly and significant unemployment benefits.How much tax do they pay? Higher than ours. For a family with one wage-earner and two children, only Iceland and Ireland have a lower income tax burden than the U.S, whereas Sweden, Turkey, France and Poland impose the greatest tax burdens on families. It is my understanding however that property tax has not been co assessed so the US tax rates are probably higher.

 But before you jump condemning those darn “socialist” countries, remember one basic thing that many politicians forget when they blast at them. The electorate in these countries voted in such a system. Blasting their system is equal to insulting millions of Europeans and Canadians for thinking differently. And as we learned, ethnocentrism usually spreads blindness…

So, we have two different worlds, two different systems. The electorate in the US is reluctant towards a stronger safety net and they still debate the use of their tax dollars. However, much of the debating is missing focus since we lack concrete proposals on where to economize from. Fighting fraud and waste is good rhetoric but it won’t get you far since no bureaucratic system is immune to these ills. Suggesting certain cuts from a certain sector and reallocating them to another (even the one that pays back our debt) seems far more constructive. So here is the proposed budget for 2011.

How would you re-split the pie? And why? To have again a total picture please vote on the right which sector you think should face most of the cuts. Then vote again which sector the saved monies should go to.

Who knows? Maybe your representatives are reading us! :)

Sunday, January 31

Medical Marijuana

Certain states have legalized the medical use of marijuana while some others are expected to pass similar measures. As arguments for or against are flying to and fro, today, in Oakland, a new 15,000 s.f. warehouse called iGrow opens up to sell all you will need for medicinal marijuana cultivation. The managers have hired a doctor on site to provide you with the necessary cannabis card and whatever you need to grow the stuff (except for the seeds of course). On site technicians will happily demonstrate how you can set up a “farm house” in your home, how to proceed with the hydroponic cultivation, advise on the nutrients you will need and assist with weekly maintenance. The cost may rise to $1000 for an eight-plant system, and if you use half of the harvest you may sell the rest to a dispensary for a maximum of $12,000. Today’s opening will attract national media attention while three City Council members are expected to attend along with the leaders of the cannabis industry in the region.

Oakland residents voted last summer to regulate and tax “cannabis businesses” and have allowed the operation of four licensed dispensaries. That was hardly a “revolutionary act” within the realm of world history. Marijuana’s legitimate use goes back thousands of years. In 2737 BC the Chinese Emperor Shen Neng prescribed the plant for treating gout, rheumatism and poor memory. Various Hindu sects used it a stress-relief medication. Ancient physicians in Asia, Middle East and Africa distributed it for all sorts of ailments. In late 18th century America marijuana was prescribed for incontinence and sexually transmitted diseases. But in the early 20th century, with 2-5% of the American population addicted to morphine contained in medications like “The People's Healing Liniment for Man or Beast" the Food and Drug Administration was created to regulate marijuana use through the medical establishment. What we call today “medical use” in other words.

In 1914, the Harrison Act imposed a heavy tax on non-medical uses of the drug and punished anyone who obtained it without paying the tax. In 1937 the Marijuana Tax Act criminalized non-medical use while the 1950 Boggs Act and Narcotics Control Act established mandatory sentences for marijuana possessors and distributors. As times relaxed, in 1996 California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana and since then a number of states adopted similar measures. The arguments from both sides are serious. Critics point to the underground marijuana industry (in LA alone it is estimated that 1000 illegal shops are in operation), while supporters point to the plant’s qualities as a safe pain reliever, especially in severe illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS. Critics counter-attack by disputing the medical benefits when they are contrasted with possible health risks and consider the drug as “gate opener” to more potent narcotics. Supporters point to the lack of strong data that could support the latter argument and point to the prison population (the largest in the world), a quarter of which is imprisoned for drug-related crimes (In 2000 for example half of the convictions for possession led to a prison or jail term, while two-thirds of the trafficking convictions did).

Fast forward and back to Oakland. Watch the video Marijuana Superstore Opens. Would you support a similar measure for Florida? Post your opinion and then take a poll on the right so we can have an overall reflection of the students' attitude.

Sunday, January 24


More and more people are becoming skeptical of the institution of marriage. The high divorce rates on the one hand, (55% in Sweden, 45% in the US, 38% in France), increasing numbers of single parenthood on the other (in 2007, in the US 40% of babies were born to single moms), financial stress that complicates the rearing of children, infidelity becoming  more common (20% of men and 15% of women under 35 reported cheating), the no-fault divorce making the process easy and cheap, all have contributed to a fear of tying the knot, here, in the UK, and in Korea.

Well, is there an alternative besides cohabitation? The answer is coming from France in a package called PACKS (Pacte civil de solidarité).  As you have probably guessed, it is a civil union. The law was enacted to allow gay couples have some of the benefits of a marriage but it soon attracted the heterosexual population as well. The contents of the legislation allow the two partners to become contractants and organize their common life. They do it by registering a common declaration to the court in which they state their address in France or abroad. The contractants agree to mutual help while they are jointly responsible for debts occurred because of household expenses. They are eligible for tax benefits after three years while the tenant’s lease may transfer to the other partner if one leaves or dies. Also health benefits are transferable to the partner.

How do you dissolve it? Simply by filing  a common statement, or after a three month delay at the request of one partner. No lawyers involved, no legal fees, no lengthy processes.

How popular is it? The number has grown from 6,000 in 1999, to 140,000 in 2008. It is a half solution to marriage, it offers some of the benefits and removes the costs of a long term commitment.

 Do you see it coming to the US?

Sunday, January 17

Dropping out

Kids all over the country are entering high schools in greater numbers than ever. The free public secondary education has encouraged everyone to attend, study, and shift towards a more prosperous future. Fifteen year olds with radiating faces squeeze on the benches outside the cafeterias obsessed with sports, cars and stuff…. Average kids. Many from middle class or working class background, not excelling but not failing either, are defined by their common optimism and liveliness. Two years later, you visit these high schools again and only a couple of them are on that bench. The rest have melted away by a common fate, that seems to trap mostly boys.

Jay Green (Leaving Boys Behind: Public High School Graduation Rates )reported that in 2003, nationally 72% of girls graduated compared with 65% of boys while the gap is larger in minority students. The graduation rate for Black female students exceeded that of their male counterparts by eleven percentage points, while the difference for Hispanics was nine percentage points. When it comes to college, 57% of students are women and the ratio is expected to rise to 75% in 2020 ( here is the whole article).

The consequences are dire. According to The Consequences of Dropping Out of High School male dropouts of all races were 47 times more likely to be incarcerated than their peers of a similar age who had graduated from a four-year college or university. In 2008 the unemployment rate for the nation’s high school drop outs reached a staggering 54%. In other words only 46% were employed. The employment rate for high school graduates was 68%, 79% for young adults who had completed 1-3 years of post-secondary schooling, and 87% for college graduates. And since the drop-out phenomenon afflicts more males than females, the consequences are more severe for boys. According to the same report, their mean cumulative earnings from ages 18-64 have seriously declined, along with their marriage rates, home ownership rates, and their tax contributions (this is where it becomes your problem as well). At the same time, the imprisonment rates rose. Young high school dropouts were 63 times more likely to end up in jail than young college graduates. In 2009 according to the NYT, on any given day, one in 10 young male high school dropouts is incarcerated, compared to one in 35 young male high school graduates.

In the first chapter we discussed the power of society in shaping individual behavior, a process not that obvious to the untrained eye. Some students voiced their opposition to the concept, pointing to the power of individual will to shape fate. But again, is it possible that this power is socially encouraged or discouraged? A philosophical labyrinth many would say… depending on the situation others would add…and everyone would have a point. A good one as a matter of fact. However, we have to try and gain an insight. Surveys may reveal some common characteristics and provide the macro level of analysis but the insiders’ assessments are our zoom lens. You have probably observed kids (mostly boys) in high school drop out. How do you explain this phenomenon?

Friday, January 1


"Advice is seldom welcome, and those who need it the most, like it the least."