Category Archives: Politics

Me and J.P. (Sartre)

J.P. Sartre when he refused the Nobel Prize

J.P. Sartre when he refused
the Nobel Prize

In 1946, when we were still living in France, I came upon a publication called “Existentialism is a Humanism” by Jean Paul Sartre. It captivated me. Sartre wrote of choice, personal responsibility and discipline. He advocated a philosophy of free will, of man being the architect of his own destiny, with no help from religion or other diktats. Sartre rejected other-directed moral imperatives and received values. I liked the idea of man being defined by his actions and their consequences, without a prescribed way of life. To Sartre, life was a succession of free choices. Jean Paul Sartre was a philosopher, a political activist and a novelist. I read No Exit, Nausea, The Flies and others and enjoyed them all.

But Sartre’s views led him to strange engagements. Like many other intellectuals of the day he had become a Communist during World War II. To him communism was an antidote to fascism. Wasn’t Stalin fighting and defeating the Nazis? After the war, Sartre traveled to Russia and wrote a favorable report, unable to see forced collectivization, and the mass executions of political “enemies” that did not fit his preconceived views.

Sartre met Simone de Beauvoir when they were both studying philosophy. De Beauvoir was a novelist and a feminist. She wrote: The Second Sex and Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter which I read and found to be a little heavy. She had no sense of humor.

De Beauvoir and Sartre had the same philosophy of life and thus a very strange relationship. They were a couple but led totally independent lives. Sartre loved women and both he and de Beauvoir had many affairs. She even introduced him to other women. They both affected to despise conventions and to reject bourgeois morality. Though she was a feminist, de Beauvoir was totally subjugated by Sartre.

In May 1968 they both joined the student revolt in Paris and marched with placards glorifying Mao Zedong. They had chosen a path that I could not follow and I lost my respect for them. It was incomprehensible to me how such intelligent people could so willfully blind themselves to what was happening around them.

Many of their peers had also fallen prey to this bizarre fascination for Mao and his little red book. How they could overlook the 36 million or more dead in the artificial famine of the “Great Leap Forward” and the tortures, massacres, and imprisonments of anyone not in favor with the ruling powers was incomprehensible to me. Why did they ally themselves with the executioners rather than the victims? I saw a yawning trench between their ideals and the path they had chosen to follow.

French intellectuals in those days also worshiped Stalin and Castro and exhibited a virulent anti-Americanism. It was their way of “epater le bourgeois,” (to shock the middle class). They seemed to enjoy this role. They had followers in the United States including Leonard Bernstein who affected this form of “radical chic” also.

Protected from reprisals because they lived in a democracy, they became “revolutionaries” from the safety of their armchairs. To me, it was blatant hypocrisy. The French author Jean Francois Revel called Sartre an impostor with his Marxist acrobatics. He wrote that Sartre was a philosopher of liberty who hated liberty and wondered why this intelligent thinker chose the intellectual night of Communism.

Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964, but turned it down stating that writers should not affiliate themselves with institutions.



The Other Africa

Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi

Mma Ramotswe and Mma
Makutsi

Our constant news cycle gives us a very skewed view of the world. We are at the mercy of the media which have a penchant for the brutal, the sensational and the disastrous. Take the coverage of Africa. We know all about greedy dictators who accumulate obscene fortunes while their people are destitute. We know about rigged elections and corrupt rulers who cling to power long after their terms have expired. There is chaos in Somalia and Eritrea, mayhem in Congo and Sudan. Nigeria has an infestation of terrorists (Boko Haram) and in Zimbabwe, President Mugabe has instituted a North Korea-style brutal dictatorship.

But what do we know about countries where people lead ordinary lives, going about their business, not causing trouble or bothering anybody? We never hear about Malawi, Senegal, Gabon, the Gambia, Tanzania or Botswana.

For this reason I would like to give a huge thank you to Alexander McCall Smith who takes us to Gaborone, Botswana in his series about The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. He shows us another Africa that is not torn by violence and mayhem. Granted he has idealized Botswana a little, but the good thing is that he introduces us to a different culture, one of people who show much kindness and consideration for others and who look at life in their own unique way.

He introduces us to Mma Ramotswe, the founder and owner of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, presented us to her secretary-assistant-partner Mma Makutsi, and to her husband J.L.B Matekoni, proprietor of the Tolkweng Road Speedy Motors garage. Mma Ramotswe’s name is Precious and she is euphemistically described as “traditionally built.” Mma Makutsi whose first name is Grace is the proud recipient of a 97% final grade in Secretarial School. Mma is a polite and formal way of addressing ladies. The equivalent for men is Rra. J.L.B. Matekoni’s first name has never been divulged. We are also told that Mma Makutsi has many virtues which “she is the first to admit to.”

We all have an inner voice which talks to us. Mma Makutsi who has a weakness for colorful shoes, has projected this voice onto her shoes and they talk to her and guide her choices in life.

Mma Ramotswe and J.L.B Matekone live in a comfortable house on Zebra Drive, with a verandah where they drink bush tea, and a shady garden with an acacia tree. They have two adopted children, one of whom is in a wheelchair. In Africa it is very common to raise children who are not your own, sometimes nieces and nephews, sometimes strangers, because of the large number of orphans, and to treat them as your own children. Although Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L. B. Matekoni obviously love each other, they have a curiously formal way of addressing each other.

People come to Mma Ramotswe ‘s agency with problems that she solves with a combination of common sense, determination, empathy and astuteness. The detection aspect of the story often serves to demonstrate the Botswana way of thinking and to illustrate a way of life which is essentially leisurely, old fashioned and unassuming. There are, of course, also villains, cheaters and baddies or Precious Ramotswe would be unemployed. Gaborone’s inhabitants have a circuitous way of conversing, going off on tangents and meandering before they get to the point (if they ever do.) They have a knack for making a short story long and the author loves to poke gentle fun at them. People’s wealth is measured in heads of cattle.

The country they live in has been democratically ruled since its independence in 1966. It is sparsely populated and has a modest standard of living. Once in a while we are reminded of medical epidemics (AIDS) which leave children orphans. The Limpopo River and Kalahari Desert add a note of exoticism. There are still some wild animals and human hunter-gatherers in the desert.

There are now 15 titles in this series and they are all a pleasure to read. The latest one is “The Woman who Walks in Sunshine.”



Terror Stalks Paris, Beirut, Bamako

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There were three terrorist attacks in in the world in one week carried out by ISIS and Boko Haram: They were in Beirut (Lebanon), Paris and Bamako (Mali). The magnitude, character and location of the Paris attacks captured all the media attention and managed to suck the air out of anything else that happened that same week.

In Paris, the planning by at least four groups had been meticulous. Much of the preparation originated in Brussels, Belgium. Many of the terrorists have now either died, been captured or killed but some are still not accounted for as of this writing. Saleh Abdelsalam, thought to be the brains of the operation is still at large. As a result, for much of last week, Brussels was a “dead” city. Everything was shut down, streets were deserted as people were encouraged to stay home because large gatherings were likely to be targeted. Life did not “go on.”

President Hollande of France whose job performance ratings had been very low, rose to the occasion and took a De Gaullesque stance. He announced: We are in a state of war and ISIS must be destroyed. Well, Monsieur Hollande, we have been in a state of war for some time already. The attackers were not “strangers.” Many of them are disenchanted locals, second and third generation immigrants who reached the citizen stage without ever going through the “melting pot” stage. They did not grow roots or learn how to fashion their own destiny. As a result, they fell prey to the jihadists’ siren songs. These West-haters are only too happy to do the thinking for them. They lure them with promises, give them a sense of belonging and a group identity not to mention a salary. The French have been lax in detecting the signs of this mounting discontent. They have closed their eyes to these youth’s increasing restiveness and have not been able to gain their allegiance.

Another contributing factor to this new vulnerability is that Europe does not have a common defense system. There is no coordination in information sharing and precautionary measures. So now the violence is no longer peripheral to Europe. Contamination has set in. We know now that this sort of attack does not happen only in destabilized societies. Europe is not used to living in a context of violence, suspicion and paranoia. It is also helpful to remember that France is one of the countries that has been selling arms to Qatar which finances revolutionary mosques in which much terrorist recruiting occurs.

In Beirut, forty people were killed and 200 injured at the American University of Beirut. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. Beirut once known as the Paris of the Orient has had many upheavals and a bloody civil war. It now has an absent government and many Syrian refugees. In spite of this, life had been relatively “normal” recently. However, because the country is associated with upheavals and conflict, hardly anyone took notice of this terrorist attack even though the killings were as random and deadly as the ones in Paris. They happened in crowded areas and affected young and old, Christian and Muslim alike. But in the aftermath, no monuments were illuminated, no flags flown. No outpouring of sympathy and grief were visible. There were no signs of support, solidarity or compassion and no one called it “an attack against humanity.” Was Beirut’s grief less important?

The third attack took place in Bamako, Mali at the Radisson Blu Hotel where many Westerners congregated mainly for business. They were all having breakfast when the assailants burst in and started shooting indiscriminately, randomly and repetitively. Most of the dead were Westerners including six Russians.

Mali had not quite yet recovered from an attempt a few years ago by Tuareg rebels to split the country in two. Fighting raged for months and was only stopped by an infusion of French forces which succeeded in reestablishing a fragile order. It was during this war that the shrines of Sufi Saints, those historic monuments that had stood in Timbuktu for centuries, were blown up.

Motivated probably by the terrorist attack on a Russian airliner which killed 224 people and the Bamako attack, the Russians have decided to join, at some level, the Western anti-terrorist coalition. Suddenly Vladimir Putin is a persona grata and not a pariah . He says he is quite eager to help. But so long as Russia supports Syria’s President Assad, the Syrian Sunnis will not take up arms to expel Isis. We don’t know what Russia will do and can only watch and wait.



Fanfare For The Common Man?

Editor’s note: Simone suggested some music to accompany this post. It is Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare For The Common Man.” (there are big drums for the first 30 seconds and then will come music many will recognize)

“Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” is the title of a book by Richard Hofstadter which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. It was written shortly after Adlai Stevenson had lost the Presidential election to Dwight Eisenhower partly because Stevenson was said to be the “egghead” who read books but did not know much about real life.

Hofstadter argues that this kind of anti-intellectualism is deeply ingrained in American culture. He sees it as the fusion of evangelical religion and the business ethos which suggests that practical training should take precedence over book learning. Intellectuals form an elite and Americans are deeply suspicious of elites because they see them as a threat to democratic aspirations. You have to be average to be liked, thus the lowering of culture to the lowest common denominator. Publications like Readers’ Digest and the trivialization of Walt Disney adaptations come to mind. (I am thinking in particular of Winnie the Pooh and Mary Poppins.)

Our founders did not subscribe to this anti-intellectualism. In fact they were suspicious of the masses. They were the heirs of the Enlightenment and very well educated. They loved books and were keenly interested in scientific discovery. But their values were threatened by the Puritan strain exemplified by John Cotton who wrote in 1642:”The more learned and witty you be the more fit to act for Satan you be”. Andrew Jackson was the first president who styled himself as “a man of the people.” I guess they did not use the term “folks” at that time.

Two other books that treat this same theme are Susan Jacoby’s “The Age of American Unreason” and Isaac Asimov’s “The Cult of Ignorance.” Both report an unfortunate belief shared by many people who don’t have any respect for knowledge and who then say “Democracy means that my ignorance is as good as your knowledge.” Thus the dumbing down of America. We call intellectuals eggheads, nerds, geeks and dorks. About half of Americans between 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries. More than one third consider it “not important” to speak a foreign language. Many think that one’s education needs to lead primarily to immediate financial benefits. One can see this anti-intellectualism still alive in the Republican party and in the utterances of the Tea Party. When they don’t like what science has discovered, they deny it. Rick Santorum called Barack Obama a snob for wanting everybody in America to go to college.

In pre-revolutionary Russia the intelligentsia was the educated, professionally active population. It consisted of spiritual leaders, artists, writers and scientists. The tsars repeatedly tried to clip their wings because they challenged their absolute power. The Russians are very proud of this cultural heritage. The worst insult you can hurl at a Russian is to call him/her “nekulturny” (Not cultured).
Russians cherish their rich history of art, literature, music and ballet. They revere the Bolshoi and Marinsky theaters and the vast collections of history and art in the Hermitage Museum. They are also deeply in love with poetry. Their national hero is Aleksander Pushkin who wrote Eugene Onegin, a novel entirely in verse. I suspect that even Vladimir Putin is proud of this heritage as long as it does not threaten his power.

According to Hofstadter, intellectualism consists not so much in accumulating knowledge and feeling superior about it but rather as a habit of mind. It is being sensitive to nuances and seeing things in degrees rather than in absolutes. It is essentially relativist and skeptical but also circumspect and humane. It also means constantly exploring and widening one’s horizon.



Alice In Debate Land

alice

Alice considered the Mad Hatter and the equally mad March Hare and declared: This is the stupidest Tea Party I have ever been to.

Seventeen Presidential candidates are sitting in a sand box, throwing sand into each other’s eyes.
They are talking all at once, calling each other stupid and not listening to one another.

Then Alice encountered the Dormouse who was spinning a long tale leading to nothing, The Knave of Hearts who stole some tarts and the Queen of Hearts who said: Sentence first, verdict afterwards. And then she commanded: Off with their heads!

Here is Donald Trump. He does not feel he has to discuss the environment or the economy. Instead he has fun calling women fat pigs and Mexicans rapists, drug runners and criminals. Next to him is Carly Fiorina. She is furiously attacking Planned Parenthood and adds false embellishment to an already doctored video. She would also break off all communication with President Putin of Russia.

Also at the party there is a Mock turtle who once used to be a real turtle and a Cheshire Cat with very long claws, many teeth and a grin that does not disappear even after he does.

Now meet Jeb Bush. His answer to constant gun violence and mass killing is “stuff happens.” He also claims, “my brother kept us safe. When was this, Jeb? Before, during or after 9/11? Jeb favors a picture of Margaret Thatcher on the $10 bill. Perhaps he thinks that Britain still rules here. As to Ben Carson, he would like us to know that electing a Muslim president would be a big mistake. He also denies evolution. Did he skip biology classes in college?

The White Rabbit ran a race in a circle with no possible winner. Is it any wonder that Alice wished she had fallen into a different burrow? (In that she is not alone.)

All the other Republican candidates sing in unison the praises of creationism. All of them also hate the Supreme Court. Now listen to Marco Rubio. He declares climate is always changing. It is not because of human activity. He also loves the Second Amendment and is totally opposed to abortion.

And the following sentence comes from the mouth of Rand Paul: Socialism could lead to mass genocide.

At this Alice wakes up and drifts in a daze not knowing where she is or who she is. Quite by accident she stumbles on “The Island of Sanity.” She rubs her eyes.

Five people are standing next to each other looking relaxed, confident and happy to be together. In the middle is a woman. They listen to each other attentively. But they have also come prepared to say what they have to say and to do so clearly and even succinctly. No one is negative or on the attack or is distancing themselves from our current President. What a refreshing contrast it is to be watching civilized adults. Bernie Sanders gives his usual speech denouncing billionaires, but he manages to sound as though he is doing it for the first time. And everybody applauds when he says he is sick and tired of Republicans harping on Hillary’s emails. He is a little wobbly on gun control.

Hillary speaks forcefully about women, gun control, immigration and her willingness to take on the Republicans. She is doing a great job of presenting who she is rather than being defined by others. Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb get a chance to say a few words and Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, emerges as a possible contender at some point in the future.
We all look forward to seeing more of this substantive discussion and more well conducted and moderated debates.

Alice is wide-eyed and wondering where she has been…and where she is going.



The European Dis-Union…Misfortune Has Not Taught Them Compassion

For several years we have watched the Mediterranean  Sea become a huge human cemetery as desperate people fleeing from Syria and Africa crowd onto rickety boats and drown by the hundreds  within sight of the Italian coast. We think, “­­­­How terrible!”  Then we read the next news story. Now there is a new swell of arrivals on the Greek island of Lesbos. People on unsafe boats are crossing from Turkey by the thousands and huddle on a small beach totally unequipped to receive them. Again we read, we watch on our screens and we think. “Poor people!”  And we move on and go on with our lives. Then one day a picture that appears in all the papers and on all our screens hits home. Aylan Kurdi is 3 years old. He is lying  face down on a Turkish beach, his head in the water. He is from Kobani. Someone had lovingly dressed him in a red T-shirt and navy shorts. We know he will never get up and run in the sand. We know he will never reach safety on the other shore.
The people who arrive on Lesbos have an itinerary and destinations. They have researched the best routes and methods and shared information and advice using social media. They have hired guides and smugglers and paid them well to take them across to Greece, their entry point  into Europe. Greece, which has its own problems and is the weakest link in the European Union, suddenly finds itself  overrun and having to “process” thousands of fleeing people. But that is only the beginning of the nightmare for the refugees.  They have to rush across Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary where they face various walls, barriers and hostility on the part of the locals.
Hungary  is blocking them with fences topped with razor wire strands. Many families get separated. Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia are barricading themselves against these hordes of aliens forgetting what they themselves had to endure when they were occupied by the Soviet Union. Misfortune has not taught them compassion. In Hungary people are crowded into pen-like enclosures, food being thrown at them as though they were animals.  Elsewhere they face hostile police with tear gas and water cannons. Did the Hungarians forget that Austria opened its borders to them when they were fleeing from Russian tanks rolling through Budapest in 1956? Hungary may be the main villain here but the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Estonia are similarly hostile. In Bratislava (Slovakia) they proclaim loudly that they will only accept a few hundred Christian Syrians. They want no Muslims; they have no mosques, they say. Many are afraid of Jihadist infiltration.
There is definitely an Old Europe/New Europe schism operating here. Most of the  newly accepted countries have right-wing regimes, hostile to immigration. Germany, Austria, Sweden, old, established  democracies, have shown empathy and understanding. In Germany, with an aging population, young workers are needed. But there is also some residual guilt about Hitler’s crimes. Most of the refugees are heading for these countries which have extended a welcome to them. But no one really expected this melting glacier of refugees sliding inexorably across Europe. Cracks, fissures and splinters are appearing everywhere and the whole threatens to break apart. The Schengen Agreement providing free circulation across European borders has already given way. Chancellor Merkel has been in the forefront of the humanitarian effort, saying refugees are entitled to asylum. The  German population as a whole is sympathetic and there are many  volunteers spontaneously offering help, but  it may have  unwittingly created this onslaught of arrivals that threatens the whole continent. Denmark and Norway are dissuading people from coming. France, Britain and Italy are reluctantly offering some hospitality.
Recently the scale of the refugee crisis has reached catastrophic proportions.Water, food and sanitation problems are worsening. The UN humanitarian agencies are on the verge of bankruptcy Even Germany had to institute border controls along all its frontiers. Europe has lost control of this tsunami of gigantic proportions.There has been no solidarity, no  sharing of the burden, and moral responsibility has been sadly lacking.
But what about the rest of us? This is not only a a European problem.There have been more than 7 million Syrian refugees displaced so far. In Turkey, which is their first destination, many live in refugee camps. Others are in Lebanon, which faces its own problems and has no functioning government. Jordan already has a huge number of Palestinian refugees . None have been integrated or resettled. The Gulf countries, except for the United Arab Emirates have accepted no Syrians. Some Latin American countries have taken in a modest number. But where is the United States in all of this? Where is the Lady on the pedestal? Has she closed the golden door to the tired and the poor? Has she extinguished the lamp that guided the homeless and the tempest-tossed? We are vacillating. Some of us say it is not our problem. Others think there might be terrorists among the refugees. As a result we are piously  proclaiming that we will accept a few thousand of them.  (And maybe more in 2017.) Are we going to repeat the mistakes of the past when we could not distinguish between the culprits and the victims? When we imprisoned Japanese-Americans because they might be enemy sympathizers? Don’t we remember that we refused entry to Jewish refugees during World War  II who then went back to perish in extermination camps?
It is time to wake up and acknowledge that this is now a global problem and that we have a common duty to participate. We cannot shirk our responsibility any longer.


Fallacies

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Pundits are writing: How can Hillary be a credible advocate for the middle class? How can she understand everyday people’s problems when she is so immensely rich and vacations in the Hamptons and mingles with all those multi-billionaires? It’s like saying: This doctor looks so healthy. How can he possibly understand and cure sick people when he is not sick himself?

Another thing I would like people to explain to me is the gay “pride” concept. Sexual orientation, like gender, race and eye coloring is something that one is born with and not a question of choice. It certainly should be accorded equal protection under the law. We do not say we are proud to be tall, or curly haired or left handed. Maybe the “pride” in gay pride is a reaction to and over-correction for centuries of ostracism and persecution.

I also do not comprehend all the uproar about Rachel Dolezal, the Spokane president and CEO of the NAACP who turns out to be white. What is so reprehensible about a person who wants to identify as black and to celebrate black identity? We always say that we need to start a “conversation” about racism. Rachel did not talk about it. She acted. Let’s hear it for Rachel Dolezal.

Contrast this with Dylan Roof in Charleston who sat for an hour in a black church, was welcomed by the congregation and then got up and shot 9 people because he wanted to start a race war. The southern States came together and immediately took action. They removed the confederate flag from public buildings. It took this horrific action to galvanize them.

But how many deaths will it take before we get the same kind of response to the damage caused to our psyche, our families, our society and our reputation in the world by so many individuals running around with guns and shooting people in schools, churches, movie theaters, military installations and everywhere they please.
How many more mass shootings will it take for the American people to wake up to the menace of guns?

(Editor’s note: This post was written before the recent murders in Chattanooga and Lafayette)

Guns in the home are not a protection. Guns in the home are an invitation to violence and death. Children die in accidents. Suicides are made easy and quarrels degenerate into killing. Guns do not protect. Guns kill. Let us get rid of guns like we got rid of the confederate flags.



Charlie Rose Interviews Vladimir Putin

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Vladimir Putin was recently interviewed by Charlie Rose at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg. Putin was in his home town, amid the splendors of Tsarist Russia, very much at ease and in an expansive mood. He, Charlie Rose and other invited guests were seated on an elevated platform facing an audience ready to applaud his every utterance. He was speaking directly to them. Charlie Rose, on the other hand, had to turn sideways to ask his questions. He was not comfortably ensconced at his usual round table.

Putin used this forum to talk about Ukraine at great length. He put his own spin on the situation there and to anyone who had not followed the events as they happened, he might have sounded totally believable. Putin prefaced his remarks by explaining that Russian ad Ukraine were one people speaking the same language, sharing the same origins, ethnicity and history. According to him, Ukraine was directly responsible for creating the current situation by refusing to honor a treaty with Russia. According to him, the Maidan popular revolt, which he called a revolution, was to blame because it lead to the coup d’état which ousted President Yanukovych and resulted in the discontent in Donetsk and Lugansk. (Applause!).

Regarding U.S.-Russia relations he noted that the U.S. likes to impose its own standards everywhere. He also cited the American unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty. Putin likes to use the phrase “our partners” when speaking of the US and the West, but he obviously has no interest in partnership. Regarding sanctions, Putin explained that they have made Russia adjust to the new realities and rethink some of its policies. He cited the 108 foreign countries attending the economic forum and the 200 investment agreements signed.

Asked what Russia intended to do about Syria , he quickly seized the ball and ran with it. What a superb occasion to explain that Russia does not interfere in the affairs of sovereign states and that the fate of Syria was in Syrian hands. He lost no opportunity in pointing out that the current disaster in the Middle East was the direct result of the American invasion of Iraq and the West’s destabilizing of Libya. There were no jihadists there before the so-called Arab Spring. (Alas true! Thank you George W.)

Putin has a black belt in Judo. I am awarding him a black belt in verbal combat. He is so glib and plausible that I have to remind myself that this amiable man who does not shout or pound the table (he did not have one) is actually all the more dangerous because of it. I had a hard time withholding my admiration at this performance.
Putin is not afraid to say anything he pleases and Charlie Rose was entirely too polite in letting him get away with it.
He did not do his usual pouncing and pointing out how events contradicted his statements. Someone like the late pugnacious Mike Wallace might have done a better job.

When Rose used the word aggression, Putin retorted that Russia was not aggressive, it was persistent.
Charlie Rose was visibly impressed with Vladimir Putin.

So am I, though for different reasons.



A Muslim Woman of Valor

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1969. As a 5-year-old she was subjected to genital mutilation. Her family moved to Saudi Arabia, then Ethiopia and Kenya. Throughout this time she was a fervent Muslim. In 1982, refusing to submit to a forced marriage, she fled to the Netherlands escaping from her family. In 1992 she was granted asylum. She learned Dutch, went to University and became a member of Parliament. She then began to speak publicly against the repression of women under Islam.

In 2004 she collaborated with Theo Van Gogh on the film “Submission” based on the book she had written about the suffering of women, including honor killing in the Muslim world. Van Gogh was assassinated by a radical Islamist who left a letter threatening Hirsi Ali pinned to his chest with a butcher’s knife. Aayan then went into hiding (like Salman Rushdie). The Dutch Government, in an effort to placate its Muslim community, refused to grant her protection.

Eventually she moved to the United States. Here, no liberal institution wanted anything to do with her because of her outspoken criticism of Islam as a whole. She is now a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
In her book Heretic, Hirsi Ali says that Islam is ready for a major overhaul and that it needs to find a way for its vast majority (more than a billion people all over the world) to express their condemnation of a murderous minority.

Because of such utterances, she has been accused of Islamophobia. She says: “If Islam is like any other religion, why can’t people criticize it or leave it? Is it controversial to say that women and men should be equal? Most of the suffering attributable to the religion is visited on Muslims themselves. If you say, for instance, that Mormonism has some ridiculous beliefs, no one will try to kill you. Moderate Muslims hate me because I make them feel uncomfortable.”

Other religions have shed the most barbaric aspects of their creed and have been weathered by humanism, reformation, science and secularism. Ayaan Hirsi Ali believes that Islam, unreformed, when put into practice leads to dystopia.

She has found an admirer in Sam Harris, the author and bio scientist. He says: Ayaan has surveyed every inch of the path leading out of the moral and intellectual wasteland that is traditional Islam. Christopher Cadwell writes in the New York Times: “Voltaire, who spoke out against religion in the 18th century, did not risk his life with every utterance, making a billion enemies who recognized his face and could, via the Internet, share information instantly with people who aspired to assassinate him”. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a brave woman and deserves the support of all thinking individuals.



Hero of the American Revolution, Marquis de Lafayette

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LAFAYETTE and the HERMIONE

The Hermione, a replica of an 18th century Liberty frigate, set sail on April 16, 2015 from Port des Barques, France for a transatlantic crossing of 27 days and 3819 miles. It will arrive in Yorktown, Virginia to commemorate the historic voyage of the Marquis de Lafayette who sailed in 1780 to support George Washington and the American Revolution. Lafayette brought 5,150 men and 5 frigates as reinforcements and he had financed the whole enterprise himself. He was only 22 years old.

In Yorktown, Lafayette’s frigate took part in the blockade that led to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis and his army, helping to turn the tide of the American Revolution. Lafayette fought for the principles of the American Declaration of Independence and became an American general. He also became a symbol of the Franco-American Alliance and a part of the mythology of the United States. His motto was “Why Not.” Of the Hermione he said, “She sails like a bird.”

When he returned to France, Lafayette wanted to expand the rights and liberties of ordinary people but he was also a royalist and wanted to keep Louis XVI on the throne. Lafayette was a moderate who believed in an empowered nobility and a constitutional monarchy, but France was then moving towards radicalism. Lafayette was eventually relieved of his command of the French national militia and accused of treason. He was imprisoned for 5 years. In 1824, he made a triumphal return to the United States and was celebrated everywhere.
During World War I, when General Pershing’s aide, Charles Stanton arrived in Paris in 1917 he uttered the famous words: “Lafayette, nous voici.” (Here we are)

Lafayette died in 1834 at age 76 and President Jackson declared a national day of mourning.
There are at least 36 cities and numerous counties and other localities named for Lafayette in the United States but in France he is not as well remembered. There is a small “rue Lafayette” in Paris, but when people on that street were recently asked whether they knew who it was named for, most did not. One person guessed that it was perhaps for the founder of the Galeries Lafayette (a Parisian department store).

Lafayette is also the subject of a statue in New York’s Union Square Park by Frederic Bartholdi (the designer of the Statue of Liberty). He is buried in Paris at the Picpus Cemetery. The American Flag floats over his tomb.