I think I have found the perfect anti-Trump! She is his opposite in every imaginable way. Her name is Jacinda Ardern and she is New Zealand’s Prime Minister. Maybe being at the bottom of the world map allows a clear view of what is happening in the world above.
Breaking news from The Lancet, May 9th: “New Zealand has recorded its first day of no new cases of Covid-19”
Donald Trump is mean-spirited. Jacinda Ardern radiates empathy. His language is incoherent gibberish. She is clear-headed and articulate. She let the science lead and has built public trust. Her initial aim, which was controversial, was not to control the virus, but rather to eliminate it.
In late March, about one month after the country’s first reported case, Ardern imposed a strict national lockdown. At the time, New Zealand had only 102 cases and no deaths. The nationwide effort included extensive testing and contact tracing focused on problem areas. Now, with only 1500 recorded cases, they are slowly opening up. New Non-stop flights from Los Angeles to Christchurch start on October 20th.
Jacinda is the mother of a little girl whom she treats firmly and lovingly and her approach to governing is much the same: compassionate but effective.
Trumps’s main concern is “How is this virus affecting my image?” Ardren is trying to find ways to stop its spread. Trump believes nothing has changed in the world whereas Arden knows that nothing will ever be the same again.
Donald Trump wants to reopen the US economy in the next few weeks and is not worried that this reopening might lead to more Covid-19 deaths. But the situation is far beyond his control. In New Zealand, effective and early testing and tracing have brought the virus to a “near zero” status which can now be controlled with continuing testing and contact tracing.
Donald Trump’s strategy might be his undoing as more people see him as the selfish, self-centered self-promoter that he is.
Just after the Second World War, my husband David and I lived in France. Food was scare and a system of rationing was put in place. People had ration cards and distribution of various items was announced periodically as well as which cards entitled to us to particular foods.
The days when we got butter were particularly appreciated. It was also great to get chocolate because sweets were rare. On the other hand vegetables and fruit were grown locally and were readily available.
We could and did exchange one food for another by bartering. I remember trading milk and getting rice instead. Of course as is always the case, you could obtain almost anything on the black market at exorbitant prices.
Despite that somewhat challenging bit of history, I have to say today’s situation is unprecedented. I’m 98 years-old and I don’t think I have ever used that word except as a synonym for unusual.
But what is happening now has really never been seen before in my lifetime. When have we ever been required to separate from friends at the very moment when an embrace or a hug is needed as never before?
And why, I wonder, has French President Emmanuel Macron decided it is time to reopen schools and other institutions on May 11th? I question the wisdom of this. It is hard to keep children from playing and touching each other and spreading the infection.
Still, the world is slowly restarting. In Austria and Denmark, schools and universities are reopening. Germany is slowly returning to normal. Italy is reopening its bookstores. In Spain, construction work restarts. In the USA, there are spotty reopenings and a lot of fear.
So we have two contradictory forces at work; the wish to return to normalcy as soon as possible and the high risk of spreading the infection.
I tell myself to be patient. I tell myself that things will be good again. But, oh, waiting is so hard when you don’t really know how much more waiting is in store.
Editor’s Note: We’re happy to share a guest post from Simone’s daughter, Dina Cramer
In 1956 an American actress named Grace Kelly went to Europe and married a prince, Prince Ranier of Monaco, thus becoming Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco. She gave up a highly successful acting career after her marriage although she was still offered acting roles and was tempted to accept. But in the end the palace pressured her to resist going back to acting, and she acceded to the pressure. She devoted her life to royal duties and to raising her three children.
Another American actress, albeit less famous than Grace Kelly, Meghan Markle, has taken an opposite tack. She too married a European Prince. When we last looked in on the adventures of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry of Great Britain, also known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, they were in the process of engineering their exit from Great Britain.
A year and a half into their marriage they informed the Queen and the world that they were setting up a new life in North America. The Queen, who seemed to be presented with a fait accompli, let them go without a fuss. But when they announced that they wanted to represent the Queen from their base abroad, she denied this request, saying they could not be half in and half out of the royal family.
So why did they leave? In England the Duchess, who is half-black, faced racist comments from individuals, a vicious tabloid press, and a relentless social media. She was also criticized for being an American, divorced, and older than the Prince. The couple compounded their troubles by keeping secret the birth location of their baby, the christening details, and the identity of the godparents. The British public was not pleased, especially after having just spent over $3 million to renovate their house.
But why did Harry so readily agree to abandon his country and family? We know that the Prince was deeply traumatized by his mother Diana’s death when he was only twelve, and that he blames the press for that death. He was then brought up by a succession of nannies when not in boarding school. He was left bereft in a family and a culture that believes in a stiff upper lip. He admits that he couldn’t deal with any of it until his late twenties and today has a great interest in causes dealing with mental health.
Harry, who is both a Prince and a Duke, was the second son in his family. His mother produced two sons, known as “an heir and a spare.” Harry’s older brother, William, was the heir to the throne. Since his brother already has three children, Harry is only sixth in line to the throne.
His flight reminds me of younger sons of landed nobility, in earlier days, who couldn’t inherit because of primogeniture. The whole estate would go to the first-born male. Thus the younger brothers would have to find a role for themselves if they didn’t want to live in their older brother’s shadow, perhaps managing the estate. There was a tradition of leaving the country by moving to the colonies or joining the military. Then they could potter about the family tea plantations or ride around with their regiment.
Nonetheless the flight of the Sussexes is without precedent. British royals, no matter how miserable they are, at least stay in England. The Queen’s four children have always lived there, through various ups and downs. Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, rebelled against the family by refusing to carry out her royal duties, but she never moved out of the country.
The only expat was the Duke of Windsor, who was exiled by his family after he abdicated the throne, and forbidden to return to England despite his desire to do so. The status of the Sussexes is different because they left voluntarily and without rupturing their relationships. The Queen even issued a statement praising Meghan for the work she had done as a royal.
After a short sojourn in Canada, the Sussexes moved to Los Angeles, the Duchess’s home town, the home of her mother, and the home of the movie industry in which they are interested. The Duchess has already recorded the narration for the Disney film, Elephant, and hopes to take up her Hollywood career once again. We have not been told what the Prince’s plans are, but together they have launched a charity and are interested in supporting causes they believe in, starting with contributing to the fight against COVID-19.
Why do we care about all this? The question answers itself. Because they are royals – rich, good-looking, titled and entitled – and because they left one glamorous life – Buckingham Palace, for another – Hollywood.
“What does not kill us makes us stronger.” That notion is attributed to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
Nietzsche thought we could turn misfortune to our advantage and seek to build up strength by overcoming adversity. This would help us in future battles. We could become invincible and who doesn’t want that?
This is a very alluring concept also sometimes called the school of hard knocks. Kids who grow up in tough neighborhoods learn how to defend themselves against present and future bullies. People who recover from an infectious disease usually develop antibodies that circulate in the blood and kill the pathogen if it shows up in the future.
Of course, bacteria can get strong too. If they are not killed by antibiotics, they can mutate and become immune to them. Did they study Nietzsche?
All of this relates to the Stoic philosophy which says that we do not control events but we can control ourselves and our reaction to them. The Spartans of antiquity adopted that idea and taught themselves how to confront challenges head on, perform rigorous exercises, accept pain and learn from it. The idea was to practice misfortune to be ready when it came. Some Romans like Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca were converts to this idea. So was George Washington.
But can we apply this philosophy to the corona virus epidemic? Well, yes, but not yet. Do not go out and fight the virus yourself right now, because you will lose. Your body has none of the weapons it needs in the fight. You’ll get sick. You could die.
We are not going to be able to get “stronger” until a little later when our brilliant scientists develop treatments and a vaccine. I find it striking that we all feel confident this will happen. Apparently, faith in science is still alive.
But right now we must avoid it by isolating ourselves. Get in, stay in and if you are anywhere near my age, don’t take any risks that you can avoid.
Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Emile Zola and Jean-Paul Marat have their last home and resting place in The Pantheon in Paris.
This magnificent building is modeled after the one in Rome, which is itself a recreation of ancient Greece’s “home of all the gods.”
The Pantheon currently hosts the remains of 100 Frenchmen highly regarded by their countryman. 95 of the 100 are men of course. The Pantheon bears the inscription: “To the great men, from a grateful nation.”
The newest arrival at the Pantheon, however, is a woman. Simone Veil was interred there in July 2018. (Her husband Antoine got in at the same time, because of her.) They were officially reburied with great pomp, symbolism and honor.
She was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. She was deported to Auschwitz at age 16 with her parents who died there. For reasons she never understood, a Polish guard took her part and assigned her to work where she would not be at risk. She survived and went on to become the first woman Minister of Health in the Valery Giscard d’Estaing administration.
Veil wrote France’s 1975 law legalizing abortion. This was a difficult task in a Catholic country, and Veil bravely faced attacks for her work. She continued to champion women’s rights including the treatment of women in prisons and adoption rights for women. She also served as President of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. She said: “Whenever one tries to suppress doubt, there is tyranny.”
In another modern honor, the French put her name on a Metro station.
Here are the other women who have (so far) been buried in the Pantheon….
Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz (1920- 2002)who fought in the Resistance in World War II, She combated poverty and was a member of
the French Economic and Social Council.
Germaine Tillion 1907-2008 Active in the Resistance Movement. She helped Jews and other prisoners escape.
Marie Curie 1867-1934 French physicist and chemist. Discovered radium, received 2 Nobel Prizes. (and waited 60 years after her death before finally being rewarded by burial in the Parthenon)
Finally Sophie Berthelot 1837-1907 wife of Marcelin Berthelot, a world famous chemist. She died on the same day as her husband and they were
buried together. So she was not really recognized for her own accomplishments.
Perhaps we could request a change to the inscription on the building. (I have a hammer and chisel in the garage.)
Simone’s daughter (along with an editor she knows) is planning a trip to Israel. She mentioned the trip to Simone who recalled a street address in Tel Aviv from 80 years ago. A google search found a picture of the house and this blog post was born…..
I lived at “#3 Karl Netter str” in Tel Aviv at the start of World War II. After 80 years of non-remembrance, any recollections of this house were buried in a deep inaccessible area of my mind. I vaguely remembered a balcony. I looked at the picture Dina had sent me and suddenly there it stood like an apparition vibrating with memories.
Karl Netter was a Frenchman who was a promoter and pioneer of Jewish colonization in Palestine. He founded the colony Mikveh Israel where asparagus, artichokes and other crops were grown. He also founded the Alliance Israelite Universelle
Karl Netter street is modest, but it runs close and parallel to the much more elegant Sderot Rothschild Boulevard, with its tall trees and paths on both sides of a planted divide with comfortable benches.
Looking at the house and the streets put me in mind of the balconies I remember from Tel Aviv. Israeli balconies are more than ornamental but rather wide and roomy living spaces where people eat and sometimes sleep in hot weather. When we lived there, we had no air conditioning and no central heating. Men in undershirts conversed with each other across the street. Privacy was not in particularly hot demand. It was all very informal.
Our balcony was also a place to sit quietly with a book and listen to classical music.
Our house also had an outsize air raid shelter. Although the second world war never officially arrived in Tel Aviv, it was being fought very close by in what was then called the Western Desert. Generals Montgomery and Rommel were having it out in what is now Libya, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
I also remember a promenade that was parallel to the seashore which became a favorite strolling and cycling place for inhabitants and visitors. The promenade went all the way to Jaffa which we knew as the place which exported oranges wrapped in white paper all over the world.
Now though I can no longer travel I can still go back in memory and I can always think of a white sunny city as the ideal place to live.
I fell down. Don’t worry. I cracked my wrist, wore a cast for a month and now I am back to normal. Functioning without a left wrist was a challenge as I couldn’t work on the blog. As you see that has changed.
These events put me in mind of handedness and I have been wondering why ambidextrousness is not more prevalent. It seems to me that whatever we can do to improve our prehensility could result in a big advantage. (I certainly would have enjoyed it.)
Handedness (the tendency to use the right or the left hand more naturally than the other) is mostly a matter of genetics but can also be influenced by the environment.
Apparently, handedness is controlled by the two brain hemispheres and involves multiple genes. Even twins may have opposite hand preferences. Animals who use hands, like apes and raccoons, also have preferred hands.
The overall chances of being left handed are relatively low. In the Western world 80 t0 90% of people are right- handed. In this context, left handers are often looked at as “the other.” Left handedness has even been described as wrong handedness. If you look at the linguistic roots of “sinister,” it means “left.” Think also of the word “gauche,” which is the French word for left, but which also means awkward.
Even fairly recently, some parents and teachers have pressured children to become right-handed. Originally left-handed, King George VI of England (that’s the one in The King’s Speech) was forcibly trained to favor his right hand. It is speculated, though not proven, that the king, who did not stutter as a young child, acquired his stutter as a consequence of having this hand change forced upon him.
Although there is no correlation between handedness and IQ, left hand users are said to be better at sports, music and art. Arabic and Hebrew are written from left to right and it would seem that this is impossible to do using the left hand. Cave paintings are said to have been drawn by right handed people.
Zippers, measuring cups, can-openers and phone booths (remember them) and quite a few other things, are designed to be easier to use for right handed people.
I’m glad to be back to blogging, with both hands.
Editor’s Note: We’re happy to share a guest post from Simone’s daughter, Dina Cramer….
Much has been written about Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s recent announcement that they were stepping back from the British royal family, moving abroad part-time, and becoming financially independent. And all this without getting the Queen’s permission. It remains to be seen how things will develop, but it made me think about other royals, who have tried to rebel against the royal rules. While the Prince and his wife seem to be doing things their own way, other royals, who were forced to play by the rules, were not so lucky.
The British monarchy values duty over love. This is the institution which forbade Edward VIII to be crowned as king if he married “that woman,” Wallis Simpson, because she was twice divorced. He abdicated rather than live without “the woman I love,” causing a constitutional crisis. He lived out his life in France and was only rarely allowed to set foot on British soil and then only with the monarch’s permission.
However, the monarchy drew the wrong lesson from it when it came to the next generation and Princess Margaret, sister to the present queen. Instead of relenting on their “no divorce” rule, they forbade her to marry the man she loved and who loved her, on the grounds that he too was divorced. They extended this cruelty by keeping them apart for two years, promising they could marry when the princess turned 25 and privately hoping they would forget each other.
It did not work. Two years later they still wanted to marry, and the Church of England, which governs these matters, still forbade it. Margaret spiraled down, marrying unhappily later, being eventually abandoned by her husband, and spending the rest of her life with young boyfriends. She died at 70 after a stroke ended her unhappy life. She would be jealous to her core if she saw that Harry, also a second-born, was allowed to marry a divorcee and is even considering leaving England while retaining his title. None of this was possible for her.
Having learned nothing from these attempts to keep people who loved each other apart, in the following generation the palace establishment forbade Charles from marrying Camilla Shand, whom he loved. They arranged to marry her off to some one else while sending him away on a trumped up sea voyage with the navy. The palace powers-that-be thought she wasn’t good enough for an heir, and his pleas did him no good.
Charles never forgot Camilla and dallied with her during most of his unhappy approved marriage to Lady Diana Spencer. This tortured Diana, who said that “there were three of us in this marriage.” Ironically the royal interference caused another divorce as Charles and Diana, who were both miserable with each other, divorced. He married Camilla, now divorced herself, soon after Diana was out of the picture. Apparently now it was all right for an heir to the throne to marry a divorcee. Edward VIII would have been stunned if he could have seen this.
Things have changed in the modern era. The palace no longer enforces their old-fashioned ideas about who is a suitable spouse. Prince William, an heir to the throne, was allowed to marry a commoner whom he loved, and they seem very happy together. A new wrinkle appeared with his younger brother, Harry, who also married apparently happily. In fact he was allowed to marry an American, half-black, divorcee, something that would have been a scandal in earlier times. The couple is causing a royal crisis of their own with their recent announcement. We shall see how this bold display of independence plays out. In an earlier time, they would not have dared, and if they had, they would have been banished from “The Firm,” as the royal family is called.”
One might say that all of this is a tempest in a (Spode) teapot, and who really cares about these silly people, who wear too many jewels and lots of hats? But the fact is they entertain us commoners on both sides of the Atlantic and provide a kind of soap opera for us. We love to see them formally attired and attending fancy social events. They are like movie stars and add glamour to our lives. They also look good on magazine covers.
What do we think will happen next?
The start of a new year answers an age-old yearning by humans for a fresh beginning, the equivalent of an animal’s shedding of an old skin to replace it with a new, shiny and unwrinkled one. (And don’t we wish that we could). Perhaps we even wish to abandon our chrysalis altogether and fly away like a butterfly.
It is a time for reviewing the actions of the past year and resolving to start anew. Every year we try valiantly to emerge as a new person only to fall back on old ingrained habits while most of life continues much as before. Tabula rasa (a blank slate) is not as easy to achieve as one might think, but it is a worthy effort nonetheless.
And of course, each major world religion has its own way of figuring out when the year begins.
In Christianity, Advent (December 1st to 24th) is the beginning of the Christian liturgical new year, a time to celebrate the nativity of Jesus and prepare for his rebirth.
Buddhists too celebrate the New Year. They take
images of the Buddha in procession through the streets; worshipers visit Buddhist sanctuaries; monks are given gifts; exorcism ceremonies are performed by families to remove evil forces. It is a cleansing of bad habits and a dedication to future good deeds.
Muslims celebrate the Islamic New Year (Muharram) on the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Dates differ from year to year as they are based on a lunar cycle beginning with sighting of the new moon. Muharram means forbidden and many observe it by fasting on the 9th and 10th day of the first month of the year. It also honors the emigration of Mohamed from Mecca to Medina known as the Hijrah and gives the first day of the moon its name. Many Shia Muslims also perform chest beating, flagellatio0n and forehead cutting in repentance At this time the Muslim year is 1440.
In Judaism Rosh Hashanah (Head of the year) and Yom Kippur (Day of atonement) occur on the 7th month of the Calendar and is a time for rejoicing but also for introspection, repentance and reviewing of the actions of the past year. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year and is celebrated as such. By comparison Chanukah is a minor holiday.
In Israel a Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1917 and the beginning of the secular new year was reset to
January 1, 1918. In pre-state Israel, under the British Mandate, Orthodox Christians celebrated the new year in
Mid-January, Muslims in summer and Jews in early Fall. We are now in the Hebrew Year 5778.
In Russia the Soviets officially adopted the Gregorian calendar which starts the New Year on January 1, but the Orthodox Church is still quite influential and its New Year only begins on January 14.
So here we are now in the United States on the 5th day of January 2020 and it is time to wish everybody a joyous, peaceful, productive, and Trumpless New Year!