Category Archives: Point of View

Guest Post: Unhappy Royals – Or What Happens When You try to Break the Rules

Editor’s Note: We’re happy to share a guest post from Simone’s daughter, Dina Cramer….

 

Charles and Dianna…we’ve seen happier marriages.

 

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.

Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. What I did for love.

 

 

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.

Radiant Princess Margaret before all that happened to her.

 

 

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.

Charles, happy, with Camilla

 

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?

 

 

Oh! Those French “Premieres Dames”

Danielle Mitterand with President Francois Mitterand

 

Just like their American counterparts, French First Ladies have no real existence. They have no official function and no defined role. They just “come with” and “go with” the President they happen to have married. People mostly see them stepping out of a plane with their spouses looking decorative and smiling bravely. They are then whisked away into some kind of limbo and are not seen again until the next ceremonial moment.

 

Martha Washington

In the USA, the expression First Lady came into common use in the late 1800’s, but an early description of Martha Washington described her as “The first lady of the nation.”

Like their American counterparts, the French Premieres Dames are expected to find a worthy cause to sponsor, often of a charitable or humanitarian nature and without the slightest hint of controversy.

Sometimes First Ladies have modest roles in local politics but they always have to be careful not to outshine the charismatic men who are their spouses.

 

French President Georges Pompidou and his wife Claude sitting on an ornate couch together in the Elysee Palace, Paris, June 21st 1969. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

George Pompidou’s wife, Claude, presided over the Foundation to Protect Modern Art. Danielle Mitterand was president of France Liberte Foundation which advocates for clean water as a human right.

Bernadette and Jacques Chirac

 

Bernadette Chirac is also fighting for feminist issues, especially in underdeveloped countries. She is concerned with girls’ education, forced marriages, sexual harassment, and rape.

 

Yvonne and Charles de Gaulle 1941

Yvonne de Gaulle, wife of French President Charles de Gaulle, started the tradition of a self-effacing President’s wife. She had to. She barely existed, dwarfed by her husband’s gigantic personality and 6-1/2 foot height.

In an interesting twist, Francois Hollande has the distinction of coming to the Presidency with one female companion and leaving it with another.

Francois Hollande with Valérie Trierweiler. They were together until 2014.

 

At this year’s G-7 held in Biarritz in August Benadette Macron organized spouses’ activities and the usual photo opportunities.

Bernadette and Emmanuel Macron

 

At that event, Melania Trump, resplendent in her long white dress, paraded her lavish wardrobe and promoted Gucci, Calvin Klein and other apparel firms. It looks like a President’s wife (whether in France or in the USA) has to content herself with modest occupations and a small role in history.*

*One notable exception is Eleanor Roosevelt who I blogged about previously. Here is a link to that posting.

Simone’s Eleanor Roosevelt Blog Post

Death and Life of The Arab Spring..

It has now been nearly a decade since a fruit vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire in a protest against police brutality and corruption. Thus began, “The Arab Spring” protests driven by millions of people who wanted participation in the governance of their countries.

But when it was over the foundations and pillars on which freedom is built were not there.

Egypt is again a repressive police state. In Yemen, the President fell but instead of reforms, there came Civil War, cholera and famine. Here, the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran is being played out causing much suffering and death.

Even more stable states such as Bahrain, Jordan and Morocco are grappling with the fallout of discontent and unrest.

Tunisia emerged as the only “success story.”  In 2013 it adopted a secular constitution. There were 26 candidates for President, and a runoff election narrowed it to 2. But before the runoff one of these candidates, Nabib Karaoui (who got the highest percentage of the votes in the general election) was jailed on charges of corruption and money laundering. Usually leaders have to be in office a while to achieve this distinction.

Voting In Tunisia

 

Democracy in Tunisia may be delivering what seems like a meager result, but the simple fact that ordinary citizens are participating and expressing their choices is rare enough in the Middle East to be worth mentioning.

The flame needs to be nourished and in time it may catch on and maybe even spread. President Obama had expressed interest in the outcome but of course our current President is viewing it with complete indifference.

Last week in Egypt, thousands of people in Cairo and Alexandria continued protests which began in September demanding that President Abdel Fatah al Sisi beremoved from power. They are being met by severe reprisals, imprisonments  and  other punitive measures prompting Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to label Egypt a repressive regime. But none of this is deterring the peoples’ determination to oppose the government.

The flame of the Tunisian Spring is still flickering feebly. It must  not be allowed to die out.

 

 

Are the Three Bearded Men Still on Their Pedestals?

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

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

 

Karl Marx

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

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

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

 

Sigmund Freud

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

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

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

 

Charles Darwin

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

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

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

Natural selection is too slow to spread traits.

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

Earth is much older than Darwin states.

Some new traits do not increase survival chances.

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

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.

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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.

A Multi-Layered American Part III — French Connection

It is now time to switch to the French connection. While I was born into the Jewish and Russian parts of my identity, the French part only occurred due to my family’s 12-year residence in Beirut during my childhood, which I wrote about previously. It was there that I got a French education in an academically oriented French Lycee.

I not only learned to speak and write French but also absorbed the French world view which is rational, secular and totally oriented to critical thinking. I was very influenced by the 18th century great philosophers, and the Enlightenment remains my favorite period of history. Some other Frenchmen I have loved: Moliere for his beautifully written and shrewdly observed comedies, Voltaire for defying the Established Church, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Gustave Flaubert, in spite of their being classics which had to be admired.

Later I loved Sartre and Camus for their ideas, and finally I must mention Henry Troyat, a very prolific novelist who like my family left Russia as a boy and wrote about both Russian and French life and their interconnections. I read him for pleasure.

The French connection got a big boost when I married a Frenchman in 1943. David Klugman had the same Russian Jewish background as myself and we were introduced by mutual friends in Tel Aviv. David had lived in Grenoble with his widowed mother from age 13. In 1940 when France was under German occupation, he and a companion secretly crossed the Pyrenees and escaped across the border to Spain and from there to Portugal. There he joined De Gaulle’s Free French Forces and fought in North Africa’s Western Desert along Montgomery’s British troops. We met during one of his leaves, started corresponding, and eventually married.

At the end of the war David was demobilized in France and I joined him there. We lived in France for 3 years during which my daughter Dina was born. Throughout our whole marriage French was spoken at home. As a result both our daughters Dina and Helen (born in Oakland) are totally fluent in French.

 

 

And so one might say that Jewishness has been a constant but unobtrusive presence in my life, Russia has fulfilled my emotional needs, and France lodged itself in my brain’s frontal cortex which deals with problem solving and intellectual life. I think they all live together in harmony.

Next time I will tell about our move to the United States and how we fared in yet another new country.

RUSSIA’S AUTOCRATS (part 1 of 4)

Catherine II of Russia

Catherine The Great

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Editor’s note: We’re proud to present Simone’s history and comments about autocracy in Russian history.
This will come in four parts over the coming month. Simone will build the story for us in her
unique fashion. Here, it begins.

The Absolutist Czars

Russia’s natural equilibrium rests on a solid autocratic base, embedded in the title of the Czar: Absolute Emperor of all the Russias. Throughout its history whenever schisms seemed to undermine this base, Russia employed a self-correcting mechanism to return to the status quo ante. Regimes and names change, but the pendulum always swings back to autocracy. No Czar or any other ruler ever shared power. It was his alone. The Czar was affectionately known as “batiushka” (little father). His “children” understood that he had to be severe.

Here is a condensed history:

Ivan the Terrible 1530-1584

Prince of Moscow, he conquered surrounding provinces and was the first czar and autocrat. His name became synonymous with torture and cruelty .He changed Russia from a medieval state to an emerging regional power and he set out to destroy any who dared oppose him. The massacre of Novgorod, which lasted five weeks and killed uncounted thousands, is regarded as a demonstration of his mental instability and brutality. He was Terrible. Other Czars were “Great.”

Peter the Great 1672-1725

He inherited a backward state and instituted gigantic reforms. Singlehandedly he propelled Russia to the rank of a major power. He is known as a Westernizer. St. Petersburg began as an island at the mouth of the Neva River and was a “blank sheet” on which he could build a new city from scratch and construct a microcosm of the New Russia. Because he was an autocrat he could use slave labor, work people to death, and not worry about the peasants’ welfare. But he did create a “window on the West.”

Catherine the Great 1729-1796

Born a German Princess, she transformed Russia into a powerful, modern wealthy country. During her reign Crimea and part of Poland were acquired. Her empire extended from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Catherine was a patron of the arts and founded many institutions of learning such as the Hermitage Museum of Art. Both Peter and Catherine were absolute monarchs.

Alexander the Third 1881-1894

He witnessed the murder of his father Alexander II, killed in St. Petersburg by an anarchist. He promoted the Trans-Siberian Railroad which made the port of Vladivostok more accessible, thus integrating East and West.

Nicolas II 1868-1918 (the last Czar)

During his reign Russia suffered a major defeat following the Russo-Japanese War. He authorized the violent repression of “Bloody Sunday,” a peaceful march of protest during which men, women and children were shot and killed indiscriminately.
He also suppressed the 1905 Revolution. In addition his reign was marred by the interference of the “mad monk” Rasputin in court decisions. Finally there was the rout of the Russian army during World War I. It was the last blow. Nicolas was forced to resign. His cousin George V of Britain, who looks remarkably like him, was unable or unwilling to offer him sanctuary. Finally, after several years of exile, he and his whole family were cold-bloodedly shot. They died never understanding why they had to die.

Next time:Part 2: The Czar is dead. Is autocracy dead?

The Adventures of Bibi in Africa

Bibi Netanyahu

Bibi Netanyahu

Flag of Uganda

Flag of Uganda

Flag of Kenya

 

Flag of Rwanda

Flag of Rwanda

Flag of Ethiopia

Flag of Ethiopia

Benjamin Netanyahu (known as Bibi to his friends) recently completed a four-nation visit to Sub-Saharan Africa, the first such visit by an Israeli Prime Minister in 29 years. The trip included Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Netanyahu was accompanied by a delegation of some 70 business executives.

Israel was already active in Africa, sharing its know-how in irrigation, technology, clean water, crop production, solar panels, lighting and refrigeration. Nowadays its expertise in security is also in demand as terrorism is rising everywhere.

For most of its history, Israel has been a Western country living in an Eastern environment. This balancing act is now in peril. Relations with Europe have been steadily unraveling since the 1967 war. And anti-Israeli and anti- semitic rhetoric keeps growing. In the Middle East Israel is surrounded by countries overtly dedicated to its eradication. In America too, support is eroding. Everywhere guilt about the Holocaust is fading and the slogan Zionism = Racism has become pervasive. Israel is now the new South Africa, and more and more European countries are boycotting Israeli products. In Africa too relations were terminated and ties cut after the Arab oil embargo which followed the 1973 Middle East wars.

Current global danger is making African countries reassess their position. Africa has 54 countries, Many of them are exposed to Jihadist groups such as Boko Haram and Al Shabaab which uses child soldiers to conduct attacks in Kenya, Somalia and other East African countries.

Netanyahu was well greeted in all four countries he visited. When he arrived at Uganda’s Entebbe airport Netanyahu recalled Israel’s raid to end the hostage crisis of 40 years earlier. The Entebbe rescue of hostages who had been captured by Palestinian terrorists on a flight from Tel Aviv was a daring operation. It was one of Israel’s greatest successes . The only victim was Netanyahu’s older brother Yonatan, head of the commando team. This, said Netanyahu, changed the course of his whole life.

In Kenya Israel showed interest in increasing bilateral economic cooperation, boosting exports and technology sharing. The President, Uhuru Kenyatta, will also back Israel’s bid to regain observer status in the African Union.

Rwanda, in addition to needing help in farming, is also exploring tourism opportunities and military cooperation. In Rwanda, Netanyahu visited the Genocide Memorial commemorating the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Later, he was welcomed to the National Palace of Ethiopia by Prime Minister Haitemarian Desalegn. In the Palace Garden he was also greeted by a life size stuffed Lion. In his speech Netanyahu alluded to King Solomon’s visit to the Queen of Sheba many thousand years ago He promised to reinstate the law-of-return program. This concerns Ethiopian Jews who, if they are able to prove Jewish identity, are accepted as Israeli citizens. This program was halted in 2013 and resulted in separated families.

In all four countries visited, the problem of how to stem illegal immigration was raised. All in all this could be called a successful endeavor by Israel to establish a foothold on the African continent.

Burkini, France, God, Man, Power

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Editors note: Just wanted to encourage you to open this posting. I think it’s one of Simone’s Best!

This summer the burkini (a bathing costume which covers all of a woman’s body except for the face) made a brief appearance on French beaches and an almost instant disappearance. The mayor of Cannes, quickly followed by mayors in other resort cities, simply banned it. He cited a city ordinance prohibiting swimming in street clothes.

This, of course, is about much more than safety measures. The French Prime Minister has called full body swim suits archaic, anachronistic and a symbol of the enslavement of women. The French aversion to any ostentatious religious fervor goes back to a law of 1905, itself based on principles first enunciated in the French Revolution, which established the separation of Church and State. The law forbids any display of religious symbols in public places. The French call this “laicity.”

So this is about what it means to be French.The French are a secular nation. Religion is to be confined to to the place of worship and is not to encroach on civic life. For instance, head coverings are not allowed outside the house. Unlike the United States which calls itself “One Nation under God” and where Presidents routinely call on God to bless America, the French are literal about separating the two realms. (The reaction against the burkini was, of course, exacerbated by the July 14 events in Nice when a religious fanatic simply mowed down families with children who were celebrating the holiday.)

In the 1970s nude Swedish women began to appear on the beaches of The Gambia in Africa. The local population was shocked and nudity was banned. The French are just as averse to full clothing when swimming. In both cases, local sensibilities must be taken into account.

The Koran, I am told, makes no mention of hijabs, niqabs or burkas. It simply enjoins women to dress modestly. When I lived in Lebanon which has a sizable Muslim population, women wore Western clothing and were not always veiled. It is only recently that Muslim men invoke the Sharia to force women to cover themselves completely.

In Iran before the revolution, women also wore western clothes. Now the mullahs have decreed that women who do not wear the hijab on the street must be arrested. I even notice that in current Iranian films women and even little girls are shown wearing shawls and head covering inside their own homes. Iranian men are not allowed to see womens’ hair, even in films.

It is supposedly the need to protect women against men’s lust that motivates this dress code but what about the 72 virgins promised to martyrs in Paradise? Who is protecting them against lust? Or are the laws different in Paradise? So it is only natural that the French people feel that this controlling behavior represents a threat to hard-won women’s equality rights and a regression to more primitive times when religions ruled the world.