Are the Three Bearded Men Still on Their Pedestals?

Three men dominated the intellectual world of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. They were not scientists. Not one of them spent any time in a research lab or conducted any scientific experiments; yet each in his own way altered the existing cultural landscape.

I also think that each one of them was noticeably wrong about some of the things he believed.

 

Karl Marx

Karl Marx (1818-1883) believed in the existence of a class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and thought this struggle was intrinsic to the capitalist industrial world. One group controlled the means of economic production and profit, the other provided the labor. The conflict between them was that of oppressor against oppressed and revolution was the only means by which this situation could be reversed.

This was to be a communist revolution on the model of the French Commune uprising of 1871 in which the Paris commune rose against the French Government after the French defeat by the Germans in the Franco Prussian War.

The Revolution did occur, but it happened not in the capitalist industrial world but in an agrarian Russia in 1917. It quickly lost its focus and created a new set of oppressors. The labor theory of value has since been discredited. The idea of an inevitable overthrow of the dominant class turned out to be too rigid and somewhat naïve.

 

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (1856-1039) was the inventor of psychoanalysis and the interpretation of dreams and delved into the unconscious for an explanation of human behavior. Freud said: “Human beings can keep no secrets. They reveal their innermost selves with their unconscious mannerisms. Whatever we do we are expressing things about ourselves to people who have ears and eyes to see.”

Freud coined the concepts of the id, ego and superego and explained their working within the human being. His concepts are still hotly discussed though they have fallen out of favor in the scientific community. But popular culture appropriated many of his insights. “Freudian slips”, “the subconscious”, “cathartic release”, and “defense mechanisms” are now part of our vocabulary.

Freud, like Marx, stimulated others to think about new topics even though both men were often not entirely correct in how they viewed these topics.

 

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin (1809-1882).
In “On the Origin of Species” in 1851 Darwin outlined his theory of natural selection, which states that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small variations that increase their ability to compete, survive and reproduce. He believed that species changed and mutated over time and gave rise to new species that shared a common ancestor. Each mutation created a more complex and efficient organism.
Here are some of the arguments that critics advance to question some of his thinking:

Darwin does not explain how life originated in the first place.

There is a lack of fossil evidence to support the ideas of a “tree of life”

Natural selection is too slow to spread traits.

Some also question whether evolution is directional and has a specific aim or is blind and random.

Earth is much older than Darwin states.

Some new traits do not increase survival chances.

These interesting criticisms do not delve into religion and “creationism” which is a separate controversy.
It is interesting how some thinkers can be so wrong in important ways and yet stimulate so much change, influence so many thinkers, and propel us towards new ideas.



Gee…Mail

We often think of ourselves as unique and different from other living beings and mostly for the wrong reasons. We are not the only animal capable of compassion and empathy. We are not the only animal capable of living in organized societies. We are not the only animal capable of trickery, deceit or betrayal.

But we do have one remarkable trait which I think is unique to humans. Other animals use sounds and gestures. to communicate, but no other living being has ever invented symbols representing sounds, no other animal has organized those sounds into words and phrases to express thoughts and describe events.No other animal has invented writing and created a literature.

We should not give up this capability out of mental laziness and rely on primitive catch phrases to express ourselves.

But Google has a new idea about all that.

I recently noticed that my Gmail has taken it upon itself to offer me “one click” answers to my email. Has Big Brother arrived, and is he looking over my shoulder? Not quite. No human being is reading my mail. It is only an Artificial Intelligence Device, a sort of Mr. Robot who has been programmed to (timidly ) propose a choice of three bland replies like

1.How interesting!
2.Thanks for letting me know.
3.I did not know that.

Robot Man does not presume to reply himself but is giving me a chance to pick the reply I like best. I can see the usefulness of such features in business situations. Pre-built phrases or types of responses for often asked questions are a useful shortcut. When people are away from their desks or on vacation they can leave prepared set responses to routine queries.

But today I am more interested in personal email interchanges between friends and regular correspondents. In such situations, if the question is a simple one (How are you feeling? or Are you back at work?) you don’t need the help of Mr. Robot to respond. Even if he suggests what I would have said, it feels rather creepy.

And if it is a complicated response, you definitely want to do your own answering. Devices like “Smart Reply” have been made human-sounding and on-topic, but how will they deal with “What is your opinion of this film?” “What do you think of the latest book? ” There are just no pre- set answers to such questions.

I do love the way Mr. Robot takes all the spam out of my inbox, but for replying to personal emails, I think I’ll handle that myself.



Is Access to Abortion A Human Right?

 

 
Over the last 30 years more than 25 countries have changed their laws to provide greater access to abortion.  Unrestricted abortion is now available in he United Sates, Canada  most European nations, China, South Africa , and Tunisia among others.

But in Latin America and the Caribbean 97% of women live in countries with restrictive abortion laws. The exceptions are Cuba, Guyana, Uruguay and Mexico City.

At the moment the great battleground and test  case for abortion rights is in Argentina. After the Chamber of Deputies recently approved an abortion rights bill, the Senate on August 8 voted it down 38 to 31.

The battle that preceded this vote centered on two opposing groups. “Ni una menos” (not one less) was formed in 2015 to raise awareness about violence against women. Green handkerchiefs are the symbol of their efforts.

Opposing them are the pro-life activists, whose support comes mostly from rural areas.  They succeeded in defeating the bill. They wear blue handkerchiefs and their slogan is

“Si a la vida” (yes to life).  This group has the support of the Church, which calls abortion the murder of a child.  Also in their favor is the fact that the Constitution bans abortion except for rape victims. In Argentina, abortion is considered both immoral and illegal.

In  Chile restrictive measures on abortion were also introduced this year, and a protest march by women  took place on July 25.

Pope Francis, who is Argentinian, was in Chile at the time and he compared having an abortion to avoid birth defects to the Nazi idea of trying to create a “pure” race.

Our Great Leader, not to be outdone, also plunged into action. He promptly decided to deny funds to family planning clinics that provided abortions.

Banning abortions does not make them go away and  an average of 200 women die each year because of botched illegal ones. The victims of unsafe abortions are the poorest and most marginalized women. They fall victim to unscrupulous and dangerous quacks.

I believe that abortion should be allowed but used as a solution of last resort. Every living organism has a built-in urge to continue living and we are deluding ourselves when we affirm that killing a “pest” or slaughtering a cow or a pig is OK and that the “sanctity of life” applies only to humans. It is also true that aborting a fetus can have emotional consequences such as feelings of guilt and depression.

And so I agree with those who say that abortions should be legal, safe, and rare. Having the possibility of abortion available in case of need should be like having a fire escape in your building. You hope not to use it, but your life is more secure because it is there.



The Death Penalty: A Cruel and Unusual Punishment



Classical Arts Showcase

If, like me, you have reached a stage in life when you are not as mobile as you used to be and are no longer able to go to concerts, operas or other performances regularly, there is no reason to mourn. You can still enjoy these shows at home. There is a channel on your television called Classical Arts Showcase. It is the brainchild of the Lloyd E. Rigler and Lawrence E. Deutsch Foundation and can give you up to  three hours a day of high-quality, commercial-free entertainment.

 

Luciano Pavarotti

 

There is no announced program, so you are just as likely to see a clip of the Red Army Chorus belting out “Moscow Nights” or “Ochy Chernye” as a puppet show of Peter and the Wolf complete with duck, cat and grumpy grandfather marching to the zoo with a captured wolf.

 

Charlie Chaplin

Everything comes as a surprise. Perhaps it will be Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times struggling with boxes on a conveyor belt  or a parade of  dominoes strutting to the music of George Bizet. Or it is just as likely to be a musical conversation with a singing Kathleen Battle resplendent in a gorgeous red dress and Wynton Marsalis and his glorious trumpet.

 

Wynton Marsalis

Sometimes you will watch interviews with obscure German actresses you have never heard of  or discover a rest home for retired Italian opera singers.

 

Herbert von Karajan

Symphony orchestras and their various conductors offer many insights. Some conductors like Bruno Walter or Herbert von Karajan are very formal; others like Zubin Mehta or Leonard Bernstein dance and sway exuberantly. All conduct with their whole bodies and facial expressions.

It is also fascinating to watch soloists’ fingers running on the piano or flute, or harp, or to observe violin bows rising and falling in unison.  Because some of the performances go way back in time, you can note in passing that many orchestras like the Berlin and Vienna Philarmonics did not  include women until recently.

You can also admire the dexterity and improvisation of the Modern Jazz Quarter or enjoy a rendition of “Bess, you is my woman now,” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

This is not to say that every clip will always please you. You could happen on a boring “Pas de Deux” where the male dancer does nothing but twirl  the ballerina or hold up her leg and want to tell him: “Let her hold up her own leg and start running, pirouetting and doing entrechats.”

I also get tired of Russian classical ballet with stiff tutus  and of Pavlova and the dying swan.

And I turn off  or mute Richard Wagner or Richard Strauss’ Ariadne. Everyone has favorite tiresome performances

Renee Flemming

But where else are you likely to see artists who are no longer with us like Pavarotti or a close up of Renee Flemming’s face  singing Ave Maria or Vladimir Horowitz being given a standing ovation in Moscow?

All you need is  a television with a sharp image and good sound and a comfortable chair  to savor and enjoy.

 



Women And The Arab World

On The Move, But How Fast?

 

 

Real Change in Tunisia?

Emmanuel Macron recently visited Tunisia and declared that the Arab Spring was alive and well in the country. Women’s emancipation started there in 2011. The constitution declared equality between men and women and Tunisia became a progressive pioneer in the Muslim World.

But political flattery only goes so far and ignores powerful counterweights. It is true that many women go about in western clothes and wear no head scarves. In 2018 the interdiction against women marrying non-Muslim men was abolished. A new generation has come of age in relative freedom.

And yet a woman can only inherit one half of what a man inherits. Single mothers are still “an infamy.” Alternative life styles like LGBT are under Islamist menace. Patriarchal family traditions persist though not visible to the casual visitor.

 

Tunisian Women March

 

Six years after the “Jasmine Revolution” of 2o11, new protests reflecting frustration at broken promises are erupting. Some men resent the rising employment of educated women when the unemployment rate of non- educated men is still very high. And a new risk of militant violence can spill over from neighboring countries like Algeria and Libya.

 

 

Women Still In Prison…Literally and Figuratively

 

 

 

Saudi Arabia finally entered the 21st century (or is it the 20th?) by allowing women to drive. Women are rightfully celebrating. One woman said ”Saudi Arabia will never be the same.” Another enthused, “I feel like a bird.”

But this permission has graciously been granted to them as a favor from the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The women activists who fought for it were imprisoned and are still in prison! This new right also only affects a very small number of women and many males continue to prohibit their female relatives from driving.

 

 

Other improvements in lifestyle due to the monarch are: The reopening of public cinemas, lifting the ban on public concerts, and allowing women in sports stadiums.

But Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and still has very strict limitations on women’s rights. All women in the kingdom must have a “wali,” an official guardian, usually a male in the family. Women need their guardian’s permission for many activities: marriage, travel, signing contracts, even reading magazines and trying on clothes and there is no redress for domestic violence or sexual abuse. Many public places are segregated, and public buildings have separate entrances. (Does this ring a bell?)
The dress code is strictly enforcedt. Women wear an abaya (long cloak) and a head scarf.

So let us not yet rejoice for Saudi women. Sadly, they are still in prison. Rather, may the liberated women of the world communicate to the women in Tunisia and Saudi Arabia that we stand with them.



Thoughts On Mother’s Day

Editor’s note: You’ll notice we are publishing a Mother’s Day blog on Father’s Day. You could say we are very late…or perhaps very early.


 

Why was I unaware of Mother’s Day until I arrived in the United States in 1948? I spent most of my childhood and early life in Beirut and Tel Aviv. This was in the 1930’s and Mother’s Day was not celebrated in the region at that time.

The idea, however, was far from new. Cybele was an Anatolian Mother goddess. She may have been the precursor of mother worship in antiquity, She was partially adopted by the Greeks and Romans in the 6th century BCE and was incorporated into their deities cult.

Pharaohnic Egypt celebrated Mother’s Day 7,000 years ago. They had an annual festival in honor of Isis, who was the mother of Pharaohs and represented the ideal mother.

In modern Egypt a secular Mother’s Day was reintroduced and became an official holiday on March 26, 1956. From there the tradition spread to the rest of the Arab World. So when I was growing up in the Middle East during the 1930’s, the celebration of Mother’s Day had not yet returned from antiquity.

In France, where I lived after World War II, Mother’s Day, la Fete des Meres, also has an interesting history. It began as an encouragement to mothers to have large families to repopulate France after the loss of nearly 1,300,000 French solders and civilians killed in World War I.

Marechal Petain reintroduced the idea in 1941 for the same reason. However during my time in France, 1945-1948, there were no celebrations of Mother’s Day at all. It was not until May 24, 1950 that Mother’s Day was officially decreed by law.

In the United States Suffragette Julia Ward Howe had already written a Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870 asking women to unite to promote world peace. Anna Jarvis created Mother’s Day in 1908, and it became an official holiday in 1914. President Wilson signed and officially established Mother’s Day to be on the 2nd Sunday in May.

As is the case with many celebrations, merchants quickly pounced on the occasion to promote gifts, flowers and candy. More phone calls are made on Mother’s day than at any other time. This commercialization caused Jarvis to try to remove the day from the calendar. Too late for that.

So how do I feel about Mother’s Day, now that I live in a country that celebrates it?

I would say that I am rather indifferent and have no strong feelings about it one way or the other. My family did not even celebrate religious holidays when I was growing up, because my parents were aggressively secular. Although Mother’s Day is a secular holiday, I am not really invested in it. If people want to send me good wishes I will be grateful for them, but if they do not I shall not be devastated.

Editor’s note: Your good wishes, of any kind and at any time, are always most welcome to Simone.



Death and Resurrection

Arkady Babchenko

Death and Resurrection may sound like the title of a novel by Leo Tolstoy but it is actually the story of an elaborate fake event. On May 30 Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist and Putin critic, was reported to have been shot outside his apartment in Kiev. Not an unusual story for the region. Since 1992, 58 reporters have been killed in that part of the world. Everyone is used to such occurrences.

Babchenko, 41 had served in the Russian army and fought in Chechnya. He then became a journalist and worked as a military correspondent. He also wrote books about his experiences. As he started being more and more politically active and critical of the regime he became a target.

And so the Ukrainian Secret Service concocted an elaborate plot and staged what looked like his assassination. Babchenko, smeared in pig blood was loaded in an ambulance and rushed to the morgue. Even his wife, who identified him was supposedly not in on the secret. The Ukrainian Authorities subsequently arrested an individual who was allegedly paid $40,000 to kill the journalist.

Then, surprise! Babchenko appears at a press conference in Kiev, back from the beyond. He and the Ukrainian security services happily announce the success of the sting operation.

Babchenko’s immediate family had been planning his funeral. At a moment, their sadness and tragedy disappear. A good ending, right? But is it?

Reporters Without Borders expressed their indignation at this manipulation of the news. This is a dangerous game they say. It is taking fake news to the next stage: Fake facts! It plays right into the hands of the news manufacturers by undermining the credibility of the press and eroding public confidence in it. This is already at a low ebb. Do we want to sink further down? Does this mean that anything goes as long as “good” results are achieved?

We need to think about this.



Free Press Under Attack

On May 28th, a group of Turkish young men in Avignon, France temporarily succeeded in removing a publicity poster for the magazine Le Point. What had angered them was a somber looking picture of Turkish President Recep Erdogan on the cover of the magazine with the word “Dictator” in bold yellow print next to his forehead and the caption “How far will he go?”

The gendarmes were called, and the poster was eventually returned to its place. President Erdogan is in the midst of running for reelection and the incident is troubling because it reveals Turkish intolerance for free expression.

Erdogan

President Erdogan’s authoritarianism is growing rapidly. There are now questions about whether he himself engineered the failed coup d’état of July 15, 2016 so he could rid himself of his political opponents. Mass arrests and purges ensued which included not only the military but also civil servants, university professors and scholars.

In 1938 the Reichstag Fire (which was started by the Nazis) had already served a similar purpose, by giving the Nazis an excuse to consolidate their power and eliminate the opposition.

Erdogan put the blame on Fetullah Gulan, an Islamic scholar who created a social movement outlawed in Turkey and who is now living in exile in the United States. Erdogan has loudly demanded his extradition.

Ever since Recep Erdogan came to power his goal has been to dismantle Mustafah Kemal Ataturk’s reforms. Ataturk (Father of Turkey) was an army officer who founded an independent Republic of Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. He served as Turkey’s President from 1923 to 1938. Although his regime was authoritarian, he instituted reforms which westernized and secularized the country.

Ataturk

Erdogan’s repression is gaining momentum and moving at an accelerated pace as though he is impatient to dynamite the whole edifice Kemal Ataturk created. In addition, he is now bombing his own Kurdish population within the country.

For a long time, he has petitioned for entering the European Union, but President Macron of France is wise in opposing this move. Unfortunately, Turkey is already a member of NATO.

Certainly, much of this echoes in our country today. A Dictatorial leader scrabbles to hold onto power by besmirching people and institutions who are dear and important while he seeks to invalidate our free press. Against this background his “accomplishment” is to undo what his far wiser predecessor accomplished. And it’s all done with a seasoning of hatred and, most recently, cruelty towards children.

Freedom of the press is one of the main pillars of a democratic society, more important even than free elections. In the United States, the First Amendment protects the rights of all citizens to express their views and opinions without fear of reprisals from any government agency. It is no accident that our current President is attempting to muzzle the press by impugning its credibility and integrity. This constitutes a clear and present danger.

Important elections are coming.



Beware of Dictators Bearing Gifts

 

 

Kim Jong un, North Korea’s hereditary Supreme Leader, son and grandson of North Korean dictators is well known for treachery and double dealing. His human rights record is appalling. Last year he conducted a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests that brought him in very close range of being able to attack Japanese and American cities.

On February 13 Kim had his half-brother Kim Jung nam murdered at the Kuala Lumpur Airport. Two women approached him as he was about to board a plane. They smeared nerve agent on his face, having first removed from his backpack the antidote he carried against just such an attack.

Then one fine day we rub our eyes and witness a wondrous sight…A most unusual “pas de deux” is unfolding in front of us.

Kim Jong un and South Korean President Moon Jae are holding hands and they are stepping across the symbolic threshold that has separated the two Koreas for more than 50 years. This little dance is repeated by the press “corps de ballet” running and prancing behind them. Can you not hear them sing Here We go ‘round the Mulberry Bush?

Is there a conjunction of interests here? Or is all this a sinister plot to take advantage of our President’s political inexperience?

And so we cannot help wondering, why is Kim suddenly making “nice”?  Why has he released the three Americans he was holding? Kim continues to be shrouded in a fog of mystery which makes guessing very difficult, and he has profited from the aura of mystery surrounding him.  Because of this, every overture seems momentous even if he is in fact giving up very little.

His country is economically very backward and its citizens are starving. How long can North Korea survive as a pariah?  And so, Kim is probably ready to make an entrance into the modern world. As a start the two Koreas have synchronized their clocks so that they are now living in the same time zone.

We can also be sure that Kim will not ever give up his nuclear arsenal because it is his only protection.

We shall have to wait until June 12 when Trump and Kim will be meeting in Singapore to see the rest of the performance. Much self-applause is sure to be in evidence.

Unless of course Kim gets cold feet and is thinking about sitting out the next dance.