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.

 

 



What’s In A Name?

 

 

Macedonia and Former Greek Macedonia

 

Macedonia became an independent country in 1991 when Yugoslavia, of which it had until then been a part, disintegrated. Ever since that time Greece has been loudly proclaiming its objections to the use of the name Macedonia because it is the same as one of Greece’s own historic regions (of which what is now called Macedonia was a part).

There are strong feelings on both sides and the dispute has yet to be resolved. In antiquity Macedonia was a part of the Roman and Byzantine Empires. Alexander the Great launched his conquests from ancient Macedonia.

 

Georgia State Flag

Georgia is a state of the United States, the last of the original 13 colonies, named after King George II of Britain.

Georgia is also a country situated at the intersection of Europe and Asia and a former Soviet Republic. Its red and white flag features St. George’s cross.

Georgia Republic Flag

The capital is Tbilisi which used to be called Tiflis. Russia and all the other Slavic countries call it Gruzia. Georgians hate that name because it is associated with the times when Georgia was part of the Russian Empire. Georgia would like to stop other countries from calling it Gruzia.

People sometimes confuse Slovenia and Slovakia, both middle European countries. Slovakia used to be married to Czechoslovakia, but they divorced amicably in the 1990s. Slovenia was another one of Yugoslavia’s component parts, which was cast adrift after Yugoslavia ceased to exist.

It is not unusual for countries or cities to call themselves by one name while other countries call them by a different one, often one that they have discarded. Bombay became Mumbai, Peking is now Beijing.

The French, however, continue to use the old names. This is not surprising. They also call Torino Turin. We refer to Firenze as Florence and what we call Venice is in fact Venetia. Old habits are hard to forego and sometimes we never bothered to learn the correct names anyway.
Name origins have mostly faded into oblivion. Here are some curious ones:

Sudan means The Land of the Blacks (for obvious reasons). Ethiopia (erstwhile Abyssinia): The Land of Burned Faces. The Greeks called Spain: The Land of Many Rabbits and Burkina Faso means: The Land of Honest Men. Nigeria is not the Land of the black People as one might think but: The Land of the Most Beautiful People in the World.

If you Google country names or some equivalent expression you can find many more fascinating ones.

Editor’s note: We sincerely appreciate your comments and hope you will send some in….it makes the blog better!



Wrapping Up First Ladies….

Above: Nancy, Jackie, Michelle, Barbara, Laura, Hillary,Rosalyn and Eleanor

There is a new exhibit on “First Ladies: Styles of Influence” at the George W. Bush Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University. Much of it is dedicated to the clothes first ladies chose to wear and this is what attracts most visitors’ attention.

Is this a frivolous pursuit? Or some atavistic remnant of pageantry and royalty watching? What do we really expect of our first ladies? After all we did not select them for who they were but who they “came with”. A first lady does not have an assigned job. She is not paid. She did not choose the position and is uneasy and unsure of what to do with it.

We do like our first ladies to champion some cause, preferably a benign, non-controversial one. Being interested in children’s welfare, parks and recreation, literacy or some other do-good activity is very much approved of.

Can a first lady keep her outside job? After all Jill Biden did keep hers.

If Hillary had been elected would we have expected Bill to sit home and tap visitors on the shoulder to exchange pleasantries with them?

Do we scrutinize the clothing choices of Teresa May’s husband Philip May or Angela Merkel’s husband Joaquin Sauer? Do we expect them to leave their occupations? In fact many people do not even know their names. And what of conflict of interest? Especially if a president’s family uses their influence to promote their business interests?
Perhaps in a post-feminist society the role of first lady will become obsolete and she will be allowed to pursue the activity of her choice, whether paid or not, as long as it does not conflict with the Presidency.



The Almost First Woman American President

And now we come to our most intelligent, forceful, complex and contradictory First Lady of all: Hillary Clinton.

My introduction to her was an interview she and Bill gave on 60 Minutes during their first run for the presidency. And I do mean “their” because she immediately struck me as an equal partner to the future President. It was during that campaign that we first heard the famous remark that she was not the kind of wife who stayed home and baked cookies. And Bill supported her by declaring that the American public would be getting a “two for one.”

I was very pleased with this open expression of feminism. I thought it was time for women in politics to openly assert themselves. As First Lady, Hillary had her own office in the West Wing of the White House. (Rosalyn Carter’s office was in the East Wing).

Unfortunately for Hillary, within days of becoming First Lady she was named by Bill as Head of the Task Force on Health Care Reform. This created a controversy since she was not an elected official. The task also proved to be far too complex and it failed. The problem has not been solved to this day and we are in the unenviable position of being the only advanced democracy in the world without effective universal health care insurance. Hillary continued to champion various health initiatives such as children’s health insurance, gender equality in medical issues and veterans’ illnesses.

On her many trips abroad Hillary denounced domestic violence and “honor killing.” Hillary was a great advocate for women and children’s rights and as much an activist as Eleanor Roosevelt whom she admired greatly.

Hillary Clinton’s independent spirit ultimately and very unfortunately clashed with her loyalty and support of her husband, and Bill Clinton let her down badly by having multiple and overt extramarital affairs. His conduct eventually led to his impeachment.

In an interview in 1998 Hillary referred to the Lewinski/Impeachment events as a part of “this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for President.” This statement had repercussions on her credibility. Whether she really believed this or was being protective is not clear.

When it turned out that Bill had lied she continued to play the role of loyal wife. Instead of admitting to being victimized and wounded, instead of divorcing herself from the whole sordid affair, she meekly accompanied her husband on a vacation to Martha’s Vineyard.

I will stop here although much more could be said about Hillary. I will only add that I believe she would have been a good and effective President had she been elected.



First Ladies Part IV

Continuing this journey through American First Ladies, here are four more. They haven’t captured my imagination as much as those in the previous blogs, but there are interesting things to note about all of them.

Lady Bird Johnson was often ignored by her husband, but nevertheless helped promote Project Head Start as part of Lyndon Johnson’s War On Poverty. However, she is mostly associated with a Beautification Program which consisted of landscaping, flower planting and designing a more beautiful capital. She developed the National Mall and created the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden and the Children’s Garden on the White House’s south lawn. Elsewhere in the country, she promoted highway beautification and was responsible for significant amounts of floral landscaping throughout the country.

 

Rosalyn Carter saw herself as the adjunct to the President. She traveled everywhere with him, attended cabinet meetings, had her own office in the East Wing and liked to take part in domestic and foreign affairs discussions.

 

Nancy Reagan was the wife “par excellence” and seems to have been created solely for admiring Ronald Reagan. One of her other activities was promoting drug education but she was mocked for her somewhat simplistic “Just say no” approach to the problem.

Laura Bush was a steadying influence on a weak, erratic and less well-educated president. She was interested in promoting early childhood education and active in a program called “Preserve America” whose aim was to protect and celebrate our culture and national heritage. She had the misfortune of being First Lady during the 9/11 attack which cast a pall on the presidency.

Next time…Hillary.

Editors note: We encourage your comments….



Michelle Obama – First Ladies Part 3

Mom-in-Chief, Public Speaker and Fashion Icon

One has to be very versatile to combine all these roles and Michelle Obama certainly was. Confident, comfortable in who she was, normal and beyond….a beautiful combination of family and political life.

She said: I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. This was said without bitterness but with a sort of amazement at the road she had traveled.

Michelle Obama too was a reluctant First Lady. In fact this is almost a prerequisite for a job which involves living in a Historic House with no defined role.  From the start she was aware of the limitations it would impose on her family. They could no longer step outside unaccompanied, open windows, come and go as they pleased.

 

 

In time Michelle developed her own activities.  She campaigned for a healthy life style which involved exercise and good eating habits and planted an organic vegetable garden on the grounds of the White House. She became an advocate for Veterans and military families as well.

Michelle was also a very effective public speaker. She campaigned with and for her husband and one felt that no one was writing her speeches for her. She spoke simply and honestly with sincere feeling. Like Jackie Kennedy, Michelle had a flair for clothes, knew what to wear for any occasion and became a style icon.

Gloria Steinem said of her: She has lived a public life without sacrificing her privacy and authenticity. Michelle was the first in her family to go to college and then became a lawyer. She was also a community organizer and met Barrack Obama when he was similarly engaged. In fact at that time she was his mentor at their law firm.

 

Both literally and figuratively, Michelle Obama cultivated her garden.

We salute Michelle Obama, our first black First Lady.

 

 

 

 



Eleanor and Jackie-First Ladies Part 2

Young Eleanor

Eleanor Roosevelt is a definitional figure for me. Whenever I am asked about my political affiliation, I say that I am a Roosevelt Democrat and by that, I mean that I share Eleanor’s political beliefs, rather than FDR’s.

Eleanor Roosevelt held the position of First Lady for just over 12 years, the longest Presidential term in history. This allowed her to develop the role to its fullest extent. In addition, she had already been politically active as First Lady of New York State.

 

Because of the mobility limitations on Franklin Delano Roosevelt due to his paralysis, Eleanor had more space to act as his representative and data gatherer. She learned a great deal as she traveled throughout the country and the world.

Because FDR was also openly unfaithful to her, Eleanor felt more free to chart her own way. She espoused a progressive political agenda. The issues she championed were education, alleviating poverty, women’s rights, racial equality and even defense, economics and foreign affairs.

Thanks to her, Marian Anderson the renowned black opera singer, who had been refused access to Independence Hall by the DAR because of her race, was able to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939 to an audience of 75,000. (video link to this historic performance is below)

Eleanor Roosevelt held 348 press conferences (Bess Truman never gave a single one) and insisted on including women reporters. From 1935 until 1962, she also wrote a syndicated newspaper column called “My Day”. This was published 6 days a week to an audience of over four million readers.

This means she created over 8,000 “blogs”. (I’m jealous)

FDR named her a delegate to the United Nations and in this capacity, she helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

 

 

Had Eleanor been the president I feel sure she would never have turned back a ship of Jewish refugees who were sent back to Germany to perish in the extermination camps. She would probably also not have exiled Japanese Americans to internment camps where they languished for three years.

 

 

Jacqueline Kennedy, known as Jackie, piously declared that her priorities were raising her children and protecting their privacy, but she did far more. Jackie almost seems to have been created to redefine the role of First Lady.

In the pre-feminism days of the 1960’s, women were expected to be self-effacing but that wasn’t Jackie’s way. She was beautiful, glamorous and eminently decorative. She had a regal bearing which is apparent in her many photographs. She designed and sketched clothes and had a highly developed sense of style. She was also what the British call well-bred and well educated. She spoke and made speeches in French and Spanish.

 

One of her greatest achievements was the historically based restoration of the public rooms of the White House and the creation of the office of the White House Curator. At the completion of this task she gave a televised Tour of the White House which showed a sound knowledge of history.

 

After the assassination of John F Kennedy, Jackie staged a funeral ceremony worthy of a Greek tragedy. Who can forget the tall figure of President Charles De Gaulle marching in the procession, the lone unsaddled horse and the children with their solemn faces?

Next time…. more first ladies.