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.


First Ladies, Who Are They?

The role of the wife of the United States President was never precisely defined. Historically, it was mostly a ceremonial role consisting of being the Hostess of the White House. The title “First Lady of the Land” was first applied by press publications to Mary Todd Lincoln. This vagueness gave our first ladies much leeway to interpret their role in their own way. And they did.

Mary Todd Lincoln

Some were indifferent. Mary Lincoln said: “I do not belong to the public. My character is wholly domestic, and the public has nothing to do with it.” Pat Nixon adopted the same traditional role and only wanted to go down in history as the wife of the President. Bess Truman kept a very low profile and admitted that she never wanted to be in that “unpleasant situation.” The same was true of Mamie Eisenhower. She too deferred to custom and kept mostly invisible and often absent.

Betty Ford

By contrast, we have Betty Ford who started out as a very reluctant First Lady but gradually warmed to the position and took important actions during her tenure. She publicly admitted her addictions to drugs and alcohol and made efforts to combat them; she also spoke openly of her breast cancer and encouraged the use of mammograms for women.

Betty Ford supported the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court to legalize abortion. She also lobbied for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment which would ensure equality before the law for women.

Lucy Hayes

I find it interesting that Lucy Hayes, who was also a traditional wife and mother nevertheless had this to say: “Woman’s mind is as strong as man’s…equal in all things and superior in some.” This was not a generally held view in the 19th century. In those days many women had no formal education.

Dolley Madison

Dolley Madison was the first president’s wife who saw her role as equally important to that of her husband. She was a successful hostess, redecorated the White House and founded a Washington DC home for orphaned girls. She exerted political influence.

During the War of 1812 when our government had to flee from the Capital, she removed the large portrait of George Washington from the wall to save it from being burned by British troops. She is also credited with saving and preserving the founding fathers’ documents.


Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams, was also a remarkable woman in her own right and a real partner to her husband. She had run a successful farm without slave help, seen to the education and upbringing of her many children and was also among the first to have them inoculated against smallpox.


Edith Wilson

Edith Wilson went even further in exercising power. When President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke she secretly took on his functions, misleading Congress and the public about his condition. Without any authority she screened his activities until his death.

Next time: More interesting First Ladies….

Macron/Trump The Leopard and the Warthog

Macron Stalks Possibilities

Warthog Trump

Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump both ran for President of their respective countries in 2016. Both were elected. Macron was relatively unknown in France and Trump was only known as a businessman. Both ignored traditional political parties. Macron believes that the left/right divide is obsolete and Trump, though nominally a Republican, prides himself on being an independent. Both are free of ideology and Russia interfered in each of their campaigns.

Somehow Macron’s message got through even though Vladimir Putin was openly backing his opponent, the right-wing candidate Marine LePen. And this is where the similarities end. Donald Trump colluded with Vladimir Putin and had no compunction in erasing Hilary Clinton from the picture by all means available, whereas Emmanuel Macron was not afraid of accusing the Russian President of spreading false propaganda.

Emmanuel Macron is everything that Donald Trump is not. He is young (only 39), pleasant looking, has a Master’s in Public Affairs, studied philosophy, reads books and likes to discuss them. Macron also plays the piano and loves Bach and Beethoven.

Donald Trump is our oldest President at 74, sullen looking, an ignoramus and proud of it. He has probably not opened a book since he left school. In addition to his native French, Macron speaks excellent English. Trump blabs in Trumpish gibberish.
Emmanuel Macron is a good negotiator and is not afraid of making tough decisions, whereas as Chuck Schumer famously reported, negotiating with Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O.

Emmanuel Macron believes in unifying Europe, He proposes strong ties between the 27 European nations, a joint military force, a EU Intelligence Service, a EU financial transaction tax and a Europe-wide asylum process for refugees. He wants to refound Europe in close cooperation with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel who has a slightly more cautious approach.

In contrast, Donald Trump is dividing the United States by favoring the 1% richest Americans at the expense of the working people, undermining abortion rights, appointing reactionary judges and destroying our values. In restricting immigration, he is abdicating from our traditional role of asylum, symbolized by the Statue of Liberty.

Trump’s retrenchment from foreign affairs and his abdication from the role of leader of the “Free World” is doing Macron an immense service by giving him the opportunity of stepping into that role, which he is doing very skillfully. He is negotiating economic deals with the Arab Emirate countries and solving crises in African countries. He recently visited China and when he hosted the world fight against global warming, he parodied Trump by coining the slogan, “Make the world great again”. One hundred nations joined him, but our anti-globalist president was conspicuous by his absence. Macron also hosted the Davos Economic summit where Trump struck the lone false note. When everybody was singing in unison about cooperation and coordination, Trump sang from his “America First” song book.
Why is this happening to us? Why couldn’t we too have chosen the Un-Trump?

Streaming Through Dreams

Winter Dreaming

From Biblical days to the present, people have been obsessed with deciphering dreams, mostly using them as tools to predict the future. I have a different view of dreams.

During sleep, when the normal business of the day is over and only a night watchman is left on duty, the world becomes a poorly assembled puzzle because the only entity who knows where the pieces go is absent. So the pieces rearrange themselves.

Our dreams occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of our sleep. That is the time when the prefrontal cortex of our brain is deactivated, impeding logical reasoning but creating unusual associations, which some people believe are a state of precognition, a sort of sixth sense.

Dreams are elusive and evanescent, as hard to capture as a passing cloud. Our dreams are very personal and often fascinate us. Yet, dreams are difficult to share without boring people. Morpheus, god of sleep, likes to deal in riddles.

To me, dreams are tools for explaining our past and present states of mind as we try to make sense of our vision of the world. They stem from the unconscious part of our brain and represent our repressed thoughts and wishes. They serve to make our unconscious conscious by free association. Dream interpretation was reinvented at the end of the 19th century by Freud and Jung as part of the new practice of psychoanalysis.

I personally believe that our unconscious is submerged for a good reason as it allows us to go on with our lives without reliving painful situations.

We all have recurring dreams which we can recognize because even though they take different shapes, there is a common core. They often arise out of anxiety or frustration.

In one such dream I am packing for a trip but no matter how hard I try I always feel that I am forgetting something important and I know that I will never be done packing. In another common dream I am returning to a hotel but they do not know me at the desk and cannot tell me my room number. Or else there is no one at the desk to ask.

The common thread of such dreams is impotence and one is happy to return to the real world where action seems possible.

Happy 96th Birthday To Our Author




January 14, 2018


From the Editor…..

I just wanted to celebrate a little bit with you on the occasion of Simone’s 96th Birthday. It is nice to know how many of you appreciate her marvelous mind.

Simone loves your comments of all kinds, so please take a moment to respond whenever you can. Your energy makes the blog better.

Upcoming post: Dreams and Dreaming

Irl Cramer






Jerusalem, City of Peace

“If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her
cunning, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth”
-Psalm 137

Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since the days of the Bible and Jews have prayed to remember Jerusalem for 3,000 years. It was King David who, at the sound of the trumpet, brought the Ark of the Covenant to a tabernacle in Jerusalem.

Today it is also the capital of Israel. Much as I cringe at the idea of agreeing with Trump on anything, he just accidentally happens to be right. The Knesset (Parliament) is there. So is the Prime Minister’s Office as is the U.S. Consulate. In 1995 the Congress of the United States passed a bill calling for the U.S. Embassy to be moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Successive presidents did not act on this bill for fear of offending the Arab Community.

Jerusalem’s name means City of Peace. It is sacred to the three great religions. To the Jews it is the site of the original Temple. For the Christians it is the city of the Crucifixion. It is also the third most sacred city of Islam  after Mecca and Medina.

But instead of peace, it has known bloodshed, strife and conflict and all the crimes mankind commits in the name of religion. For centuries Israel has striven to regain its statehood (lost in many conflicts) and the day finally arrived after more than 1000 years, when the United Nations recognized the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. What followed was an immediate invasion of the country by the armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. In July 1949, after Israel defeated the combined attack, an armistice was signed, and Jerusalem was divided between  Jordan and Israel. Henceforth Jews were not allowed on their sacred Temple Mount. It was only after the Six-Day War in June 1967 that Israel, in a stunning victory,  captured the Sinai Peninsula (which it has now returned to Egypt) the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip (which Egypt did not want to take back), the West Bank of the Jordan and the whole of Jerusalem which it has administered ever since.

There have been many aborted negotiations about the creation of two states, the status of Jerusalem and the problem of the refugees who fled or were chased out during the wars. No solution has been reached. Neither the West Bank nor the Gaza Strip wants to recognize the state of Israel. Israel cannot incorporate them into a bi-national state for fear of losing its Jewish identity, with the Jews becoming a minority in their own country.

Israel is also determined never to let go of Jerusalem again. Its administration of (mostly Arab) East Jerusalem has been called neglectful (another contentious topic). The situation is complicated by the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu’s regime is plagued by corruption and he may be replaced in the near future. Add to that the Saudi-Iranian rivalry and jockeying for power in the region and you have a very volatile mix And now our blindfolded, lumbering President has blundered into this shaky terrain where an avalanche could happen at the slightest misstep. Hold on tight for 2018.

The New Waltz King

Johann Strauss, The original Waltz King


Andre Rieu stands tall. He is good looking.  He reminds me of the original Waltz King. With great panache, he leads The Johann Strauss Orchestra.

He faces the audience as he conducts his orchestra, violin tucked under his chin. Rieu was born in Maastricht, Netherlands in 1949. His father was the conductor of the Maastricht Symphony Orchestra. He began playing the violin at age five. Rieu has assembled a private orchestra of about one hundred performers who play light classical and popular music as well as folk tunes and anything else that can lend itself to singing or dancing…but especially waltzing.

Mr. Rieu once explained to an interviewer that classical music did not have to be solemn and ceremonial with people only looking at the conductor’s back while unable to move from their seats.  So, he encourages everyone to participate, sing along, clap, sway and jump up to dance in the aisles, in the front and just about anywhere where space can be found. He is renowned for his version of the “Blue Danube Waltz” and as soon as they hear the opening strains, people start to sway and applaud. He begins slowly, languorously, teasing the audience by stopping altogether then picking up the tempo and giving it his all.

The orchestra members are good-looking, superbly dressed and seem to greatly enjoy themselves. This has a contagious effect. Even the audience looks like it has been hand-picked for attractive people.

(Here’s the orchestra playing some waltzes you have not heard a million times)

The Johann Strauss Orchestra tours extensively; they have their own bus and a caravan of vehicles to transport their equipment.  They mostly perform out-of-doors. Everywhere they go they prepare by building elaborate sets, replicating village squares, churches, castles, and plazas.

They have no sponsors and rely on ticket sales to finance all their undertakings.  In his New York City appearance, Rieu teamed up with a local Gospel Group and they sang lustily together. The Orchestra also performs a lavish New Year’s Day concert in Vienna.

Andre Rieu loves what he does and exudes joie de vivre and exuberance (traits not usually associated with the Dutch). In his private life he is just as flamboyant as on stage. He owns a 15th Century castle, plays a 1667 Stradivarius, and drives a red Tesla.


Here is Rieu’s famous version of the Blue Danube. It has been viewed over 31 milllion times.


Simone loves to hear from her readers. Please take a moment to write a comment.

Women, Power, Sex


It caught me by surprise. One night the program was listed as Charlie Rose. The next night it became “To be Announced.”

When I learned that three CBS employees  had accused Charlie Rose of sexual harassment, I was stunned. One of my favorite programs had disappeared: A plain round table, one or two intelligent guests, one attentive interviewer, all discussing what was going on in the world. It was as if the Rock of Gibraltar had sunk below the ocean. How Charlie Rose responded to the accusation was equally shocking. He was “embarrassed,” not contrite. As though you had caught him with his makeup not yet on and not camera-ready.

The present wave of indignation started when the film producer Harvey Weinstein  was discovered to have systematically  abused his position of power by forcing

Vulnerable actresses to cater to his sexual fantasies.  Weinstein fell abruptly and conclusively. It took one courageous woman to create a landslide and the movement #MeToo was aloft.

Embarrassment, shame and the fear of losing their employment or social position had hitherto kept women enslaved to the whims of the first sex. Now allegations of misconduct in the business and entertainment worlds are emerging every day.

Lin Farley had coined the phrase “sexual harassment” in 1975 to refer to this workplace dependency. Some legislation followed, but culture changes much more slowly than the law. Before all this brouhaha, we had already witnessed the fall of that idol of popular culture Bill Cosby. His television image of the very model of the paterfamilias and dispenser of armchair wisdom​, creator of Fat

​Albert  and other funny characters collapsed abruptly and morphed into the bloated monster of depravity who forced women into submission and raped them.  Both Weinstein and Cosby insisted that the sex was consensual.

And who remembers Dominique Strauss Kahn, former head of the International Monetary fund? In 2011 he was accused by a New York hotel maid of sexually assaulting her. He settled the civil action case which ensued by paying her 6 million dollars. In the process he lost his position and his wife but is apparently pursuing his merry and predatory way of life as if nothing was amiss,

And now let us turn to the man presently occupying the Oval Office. He it was who boasted on television of groping staffers, fondling women and other gross behavior. He is also the man who repeatedly assaulted Hilary Clinton by chanting “Lock her up!” when he is the one who
should be sitting in a dark dungeon.  Who will rid us of this hideous creature?

It is a good development that women now feel freer to reveal the indignities they have had to endure, it is also good that some men will think twice before engaging in this reprehensible conduct. But nothing permanent will be achieved until a critical mass of women achieves positions of power and more women reach out to their sisters and help them to places of dignity and security.



Why Do We Still Pray?



On October 19, 1991, a massive firestorm swept through the Oakland hills where we lived. Twenty-five people were killed and 2843 homes were destroyed.  Due in part to a good Samaritan, the fire stopped just before our home.


When I learned the next day that our house had not burned, I remember standing on the sidewalk, going nowhere in particular and repeating over and over: Thank You! Thank you! Then I stopped and asked myself: Whom are you thanking, you numbskull? You don’t believe in God!


When waiting for the result of a test, something in me prays: please let it not be cancer. When the plane I am in shudders and shakes I pray: please don’t crash!


Is the need to pray an inherent part of us? Is it built into our genes? Is it an atavistic vestige of the past no longer needed like an appendix but still working? We have made great scientific advances. We know the answers to many previously obscure questions and we are answering important new questions more and more quickly. We are no longer groping in the dark. We know that there is no God who cares about us individually and can alter things for us and yet we still pray for this favor.


The ultimate curmudgeon Ambrose Bierce wrote, “To pray is to ask the laws of the Universe to be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner.”

When I lived in Beirut   the word “Inchallah” often cropped up in conversations: The doctor would say:

“Tomorrow, Inchallah, you will feel much better.”  I translated it as “hopefully”, but it literally means “God willing”

When the late Christopher Hitchens was dying of cancer he asked: “Don’t trouble a Deaf Heaven with prayers for me.” And on September 3, when the President declared

a National Day of Prayer for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, Richard Dawkins tweeted” Yes, God will now feel free to come to the rescue. Er…why did he send the hurricane in the first place?”

Is it possible that we cannot live by reason alone?


How Things Get Their Names


Buenos Aires

Long before it was discovered that malaria was transmitted by mosquitoes breeding in stagnant waters, people believed that the disease was caused by bad air, hence it was named mal aria (bad air.)

A myth about good air is at the origin of the name of the city of Buenos Aires in Argentina. It was said that the origin of its name was the good air it enjoyed atop a hill.

Another legend has it that the city was named after a Sicilian saint: Nuestra Senora la Virgen Maria de los Buenos Aires who is credited with having helped conquer the place.

Amerigo Vespucci


And that is how names stick long after their origin has been forgotten. Venezuela’s name also boasts of a legend. The area around Lake Maracaibo supposedly reminded the navigator Amerigo Vespucci of the City of Venice, so he named it Piccola Venezia (Little Venice) or Venezuela.


Amerigo Vespucci was also the man who, in 1501 proclaimed that Columbus had not found Asia’s eastern side but a totally different continent, in fact two continents. He had deduced this from noticing the different constellations and observing indigenous customs and habits. In 1507 it was suggested that the continents be named North and South America in his honor. We are lucky that his first name was used in this naming or we would be known today as the United States of Vespucci.