The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Category: Feuding F&F

A killer twist to the Syrian civil war

by fpman

It is probably worth watching out for developments in the Latakia area in Syria these days. One of the last few strongholds of the Assad regime, it is simultaneously under attack from rebels and developing mixed feelings towards the Syrian leadership that has so far been the unquestionable protector of this Alawite-majority region.

This comes after Suleiman al-Assad, a first cousin once removed of President Bashar al-Assad has, on August 7, killed a Colonel of the Syrian Air Force, Hassan al-Sheikh in what is varyingly described as “a traffic dispute” or “a road rage accident.” Suleiman al-Assad shot Colonel al-Sheikh dead either “because he overtook him at a crossroads” or “because he did not give way in a traffic jam.”

The son of Hilal al-Assad, commander of Latakia’s defence up till his death in battle last year, has thus killed an officer of the force that is still able to give a bit of an edge against rebel forces where it matters.

The killer has by now been arrested. Locals are demanding his execution. Bashar al-Assad promised there would be punishment but will surely have second thoughts as to how he should mediate between the interest of justice (and sane governance, you might add) and the interests of his powerful family.

Developments in Sierra Leone, and the quote of the day

by fpman

You may remember that towards the end of February, as we have reported here, Sierra Leone’s Vice-President Samuel Sam-Sumana voluntarily went into quarantine for twenty-one days after one of his bodyguards died of Ebola. Now it seems that there may have been more to the decision than mere precaution, or at the very least the consequences are proving more complex.

There is apparently a power struggle in the background. VP Sam-Sumana was expelled last week from the ruling All People’s Congress Party for allegedly “orchestrating political violence,” and also for supposedly untrue statements about himself. He faces the prospect of impeachment in the near future. A superficial look at the affair seems to suggest that what is happening at the moment is that his political opponents are happy to use his isolation in quarantine against him, trying to unseat him.

It is not unprecedented for epidemics to have far-reaching political implications as this whole book may make clear:

And so, in conclusion, here is a somewhat random example from the above book of the many power struggles throughout history that were affected by epidemics, from page 46, for a broader perspective — our quote of the day:

“In northern Italy, the Duke of Mantua and his only son succumbed to smallpox in December 1612. Abruptly ending the male line of succession of the Gonzaga family, this led directly to the War of the Mantuan Succession between Austria and France.”

A small correction may be due here: the male line of succession did not completely end in 1612 but given that Francesco IV Gonzaga (the son of Vincenzo I Gonzaga) did not have a male heir, his brother Ferdinando I had to take over from him. The problems, and the war of succession, came when eventually Ferdinando I and the third brother, Vincenzo II died without a son, too.

The point that epidemics and political instability make for an explosive combination should not be lost, though.

The absence of nepotism

by fpman

Not so long ago the sibling gap was discussed here. One obviously interesting factor that went undiscussed in the process is how siblings can of course help each other using the various resources they have. That is a very real possibility in politics and one of the central subjects of this blog in fact. Nepotism, that is.

Thus it is always interesting to find examples of the opposite, when nepotism is completely absent.

The link goes to an article in The Mirror about Darren Offord, the homeless brother of Tory MP Matthew Offord.

The sibling gap really couldn’t have grown much greater than here.

Darren used to be an HGV (heavy goods vehicle) driver, had an accident, alleges that he became infected with HIV and Hepatitis through a blood transfusion upon that accident (although he was also a user of heroin for a while), and as a result of his joblessness and a bad break-up is now homeless. He receives some support from his sister. He also has two grown-up children, from different relationships. It is unclear how much help he may receive from his children or his former partners.

Brother Matthew meanwhile earned a PhD at King’s and is now in the House of Commons. Among other things, he is reportedly the owner of a £785,000 cottage, even as he spends much of his time in his constituency home.

Via the media, Darren is now telling Matthew:

“Matthew get your ­flipping a*** here and put your arm out and lift me up… lift me up. Give me a hand up and help me get off the streets.”

Brother Matthew does not appear eager to respond to the call. Apparently they don’t share the same political views with Darren and they had some bad quarrels over this in the distant past. It seems like they won’t start sharing that £785,000 cottage any time soon, and both may take a share of the blame for that.

The sibling gap and the pecking order

by fpman

This article offers a discussion of anecdotal evidence (from psychotherapists) related to a (supposedly) growing income gap (even) between siblings in the United States. Its main thread is the story of a brother and a sister – brother an entrepreneur who worked hard to go to college and then succeed, and sister who didn’t.

The choice of this kind of story may be seen as cherry-picking, a little bit. The dominant understanding in the article seems to be, as a result, that it is primarily a function of individual merit how much one succeeds. It does bring in some alternative perspectives, and to some degree it was intended to be neutral in its assessment, but in the end the article comes across as inclining in that direction.

The way it quotes Dalton Conley, a sociologist, reflects this:

“A decade ago, sociologist Dalton Conley produced research suggesting that income inequality in America occurs as much within families as among them. Yet the similarities tend to end there.

In comparing yourself with rich strangers, Conley notes, you can always convince yourself that they inherited wealth or attended elite schools or had parents with connections to lucrative jobs.

That doesn’t work if your brother or sister becomes wealthy. A disparity in siblings’ fortunes can feel, Conley says, like a judgment on intelligence or drive.

“You had pretty much the same advantages and disadvantages growing up,” says Conley, author of The Pecking Order: Which Siblings Succeed and Why.”

Conley, however, is actually recognized for his work in comprehensively reviewing the many different factors simultaneously at play in the background of the sibling gap.

Biology may play a distinguishing role in the first place but parents often themselves create or reinforce differences by criticizing and praising siblings regarded as inferior or superior, respectively — unintentionally or at times intentionally allowing the emergence of a “pecking order” within the family. Gender plays a role, too, of course: parents may favour boys to become high-achievers, and in fact society does much the same, too, not to mention the old discourse over whether women can have it all. Random things make a big difference as well: different life situations may put a very different burden on a brother or a sister.

I dare add: these variables may also interact. For example, the more a society is competitive the more it reinforces any gap that may have emerged during the siblings’ upbringing.

Thus, however Conley ended up saying what he said in the above brief statement, he would most likely readily point out himself that you may believe that “you had pretty much the same advantages and disadvantages growing up” even when it is not really the case. Let’s add that it may also be a problem if you know or feel that you didn’t have the same chances and you are frustrated by this: by the unfavorable pecking order, and that others may see your protestations about it as, simply, the cognitive dissonance reduction of a loser.

By the way, Conley’s first example in his 2004 book (“The Pecking Order: Which Siblings Succeed and Why”) is that of the Clinton (half-)brothers (Bill and Roger). There the argument is apparently that Roger got “a false sense of invincibility” out of Bill’s experience.

Bill_and_Roger_ClintonThe Clinton (half-)brothers

The Bush siblings: Jeb, George, and the presidency

by fpman

An inside joke from the world of sibling researchers…

Q: What did George W. Bush invade in 2001?

A: Jeb Bush’s life path.*

I’m taking this from Avidan Milevsky’s assessment of how Jeb Bush (prospectively) running for the presidency could be seeking compensation in this way for an invaded life path as instead of George W. he used to be the one among the six siblings in their family who was meant or expected to conquer the world of politics. Yet eventually George got to the very top and in Jeb’s microcosmic universe this may constitute an unnatural order of things. Or at least so goes Milevsky’s interpretation which is laid out with the following very important caveat:

“Although I would be thrilled for George and Jeb to take their place on my couch as we explore their early sibling dynamics, all I can do at this point is juxtapose what we know about the science of siblings and what is known about the Bush family.”

It is important therefore to emphasize that the above narrative of Jeb looking to overcome the rivalry-inducing “re-identification” with his brother through competition in politics is merely speculative at this point.

With that in mind, you can listen to a discussion of some of the actual science on sibling relationships from Dr. Milevsky here:

 

* The joke may work in this way as, technically speaking, the right answer cannot be Afghanistan. There the military operations that started in 2001 (against the Taliban and al-Qaida, in response to the 9/11 attacks) involved special operations forces teaming up with local Afghan forces, with U.S. air support, and hence there was no proper “invasion” to speak of, unlike, say, in Iraq in 2003 where conventional troops poured in and set up lasting presence rightaway.

Thai “democrarchy”

by fpman

Thai Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is about to have his third wife’s, that is, Princess Srirasmi Akrapongpreecha’s family stripped of royal entitlements, according to reports, and most likely a divorce is brewing along with this.

This comes related to allegations of corruption against an uncle of the princess, a police general, who may have been party to some serious smuggling and gambling crime, and may have been involved in soliciting bribes regularly. The uncle in question is Pongpat Chayaphan, formerly the head of Thailand’s Central Investigation Bureau. He has been arrested together with seven colleagues of his.

This source allows a peek into some royal intrigue these days, within the ranks of the royal cabinet, known as the Privy Council:

“The prince has been described in secret cables liberated by Wikileaks from the US Embassy as unstable. Members of the Privy Council have confided that they fear his elevation to the thrown and would prefer his sister, Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.  However, the laws of succession specify that the heir to the throne must be a male.”

So the case is an interesting combination of corruption and positioning for power. To me an even more interesting aspect of the story is this tidbit, however, from the previously linked BBC article:

“Until now the severity of the lese majeste law criminalising any critical comment about the monarchy meant that no Thai media had pointed out the family connection.”

“Lèse-majesté laws” (laws on injury to majesty) are supposedly an historical feature of absolute monarchies. That you cannot insult the honour of a royal family is not really compatible with post-monarchic, let alone democratic, political arrangements. Mixing the two results in “democrarchy” which may be as awkward as it sounds. Yet Thailand has a lèse-majesté law and it apparently is a major obstacle in the way of free discourse, according to this study for example. As past application of the law reveals to us, Thai authorities are even ready to incarcerate a US citizen for two years for posting excerpts of a book about the king that has been banned in Thailand related to the law.

ThaiRoyalStandardThe Thai royal standard (from here). What standards apply to the royal family?

But in fact Thailand is not entirely unique in this respect. Most European remnant monarchies have lèse-majesté laws themselves. There the application of the law is different of course and based on recent practice mostly obscene and pointless statements about the royals would get you into trouble. That is less of an anomaly perhaps as it is not entirely out of line with anti-defamation practice. (Although I’m open to the argument that even such a restriction may be viewed as problematic from a democratic standpoint.)

All quiet in the House of Saud?

by fpman

Gerald Butt, writing for the BBC, is warning us (in my words from here) that the situation past peak production of oil is not the only concern we should have related to Saudi Arabia: being past peak production of the “Sudairi sons” may be similarly concerning, prospectively. The Sudairi sons, or the “Sudairi Seven” are seven sons of the late Saudi king Ibn Saud from Hassa al-Sudairi, a favourite among the late king’s many wives. Currently this line of the family provides the oil kingdom with its succession of rulers.

Below is the relevant part of the family tree from Butt’s article, also giving you suggestions as to who in the next generation could follow once Abdullah, Salman and Muqrin will no longer be there.

Now, we don’t have to have a PhD in Gender Studies to be able to tell that there’s something wrong with how the family tree is visualised there. And no, it’s not that it is indicated that King Ibn Saud had “approximately” forty-five sons even though that indicates some potentially interesting things, too. On a more superficial level, the obvious problem is that women apparently are not supposed to belong in a scheme of this kind. It’s just the men who are shown. Hassa al-Sudairi has done her service as the mother of seven royal heirs but that doesn’t earn her a place there.

SaudiRoyalLineageAn overview of le royal with ease

At the risk of saying “at the risk of stating the obvious,” we may add that the absence of women is of course reflective of the general understanding of the role of women in Saudi Arabia. It is the men who deal with the important problems, such as that of which of them should take the throne. Back to Butt’s article:

“A meeting of the Allegiance Council, a body consisting of sons and grandsons of Ibn Saud to resolve succession issues, was held in March 2014 and endorsed King Abdullah’s elevation of Prince Muqrin – with the proviso that this appointment could not be overturned.”

At the end of the day, however, I don’t actually have to have a PhD in Geopolitical Studies to be able to tell you that this of course is not necessarily the foremost concern from the point of view of the world economy right now, and that in fact a succession of well-educated royal heirs to the throne may be much better in this respect than a bunch of AK-wielding shura members electing their caliphs (opportunity cost, damn it).

The Cousinhood of Humanity

by fpman

So apparently it is very popular these days to be looking for one’s distant cousins, and a pioneer of this is popular author A. J. Jacobs.

In this case, by “cousin” one does not mean people whom one would really think of as relatives in the sense of being closely related.

In its more distant sense, A.J. Jacobs is “cousins” with Gwyneth Paltrow, Michael Bloomberg and others, among 75 million cousins of his that he managed to identify so far. In fact, they may be “n-degree cousins x times removed” – where n may be a fairly large number and x may be zero or larger, to be scientifically accurate.

This is possible given how there really were not that many ancestors in previous generations to provide every living person today with their very own neat blood lineage. Instead, we all carry mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomes from a rather narrow group and thus share in our DNA heritage. Our most recent common ancestors (who are descendents of earlier common ancestors of course) can thus be found through both matrilineal and patrilinial descent. “Mitochondrial Eve” and “Y-chromosomal Adam,” respectively. Given the science of this, Eve might have lived a mere 2,000 years ago (if we assume enough blending of teh peoplez since the beginning of comprehensive globalization) whereas Adam roamed the wilderness about 60,000 to 90,000 years ago.

From the point of view of politics, it may seem interesting to reflect on how Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dutch far right politician Geert Wilders and Islamic State caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or, say, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange may be distantly related. Not only with each other but with each and every one of those listed.

Having said that, one remembers how British King George V, German Kaiser Wilhelm II and Russian Tsar Nicholas II were actually cousins and yet it still didn’t work out all that well between them.

They were related through George V who was first cousins with both (as cross cousins, i.e. as the offspring of opposite-sex children of shared grandparents).

Wilhelm and Nicholas were thus not first cousins (sharing grandparents) but were only third cousins in fact, sharing great-great-grandparents in the Romanov family (though at the same time Nicholas was also second cousin once removed from Wilhelm’s point of view, through their shared ancestors in the Hohenzollern family).

The image below, via the Brookings Institute, is worth having a look to develop an understanding of these nuances.

Cousins_WWI_Wilhelm_Nicholas_George

Given such a prominent instance of intra-family feduing as World War One it is hard to argue with A. J. Jacobs’ pessimistic assessment when he says:

“I don’t think KKK members will be singing Kumbaya with African Americans.”

And unlike Jacobs, we do not even expect, as a result of his considerable efforts at finding cousins, a significant decrease in what he refers to as the “elitism” of those proud of their descent. People who were simple-minded enough to think that being born into a family or where and when they were born constituted a merit of theirs can’t, shan’t, and won’t change their minds about this.

The Cousinhood of Humanity will likely remain a utopian idea – beyond being scientific fact of course.

Valérie’s revanche: Le coup de grâce?

by fpman

It’s all over the papers.

An article in the Daily Mail calls it – really the best expression there is for it – “public figures washing their dirty linen in public.” Imagine that literally is what they are doing, and it won’t be far from what is actually happening.

Valérie Trierweiler, former lover and subsequently partner of current French President François Hollande has written a book, ironically with the title of Merci pour ce moment, printed and prepared for publication in grand secrecy in Germany, revealing to the public all sorts of details about the private life she had with the currently highly unpopular head of state.

TrierweilerMagazine cover heralding the coming of the book

Valérie Trierweiler, often referred to in French public discourse as the “Rottweiler,” or, related to some of her Twitter-based combat of the past, “Tweetweiler,” pulls no punches in presenting an account of all the psychological blows she suffered while First Lady of the Élysée Palace.

The former journalist who hails from a humble family, having been the fifth of six children, in a family where the father, a clerk, lost a leg during World War II, goes after François Hollande with considerable determination – in what some in defence of the President refer to as “paparazzi politics.”

Twice, she says now, François Hollande swore to her, during the course of 2013, that rumors about his relationship with French actress Julie Gayet were false. When word of the affair reappeared, this time among the major news headlines, in January this year, it made her reach for a handful of sleeping pills. In her retelling, Hollande tried to stop her but did not quite manage. She was hospitalized. Hollande immediately dumped her once she was discharged, presumably fearing damage to his popularity from the incident, but kept texting her for a while telling her he needed her. A weird ending to a relationship that in Valérie Trierweiler’s account saw the two gradually alienate from each other after Hollande had taken his office in 2012. At one point, the current Minister of Agriculture, a close advisor and friend of President Hollande, Stéphane Le Foll even told her, in no uncertain fashion:

“If you want an evening with Francois, you have to go through me.”

The book may be clearly in breach of, say, the standards of ethnographic research, in revealing as much as it does, without the consent of those involved. And this raises the extremely complex issue of whether public figures may be entitled to some privacy, too.

But opponents will use this to further Hollande’s character assassination, no matter what. As a member of Hollande’s opposition already declared:

“Clearly, in this case, beyond his private life this is about the temperament of a man whose cynicism and whose indifference are worrying.”

With his current popularity standing making him the most unpopular French President ever, if such perceptions are reinforced, it won’t help him. It’s small consolation to him that it can’t harm him all that much now, either.

Younger sister Minister Bishop

by fpman

Reading this short piece about current Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s older sister I was in for a few tactical surprises.

MaryLou Bishop, the older sister in question is currently pondering whether to run in local government elections (Council elections) in November, feeling she could do something for her community in Medindie (Walkerville, Adelaide, Australia).

The first surprise was this remark: “If elected, Ms Bishop said she would not copy her high-flying sister’s famous death stare.” The context, promptly investigated: younger sister Minister Bishop is apparently famous for a terrifying glance she gave to someone in the audience for a televised debate a couple of years ago. Along with a certain notoriety — and Facebook groups founded in commemoration of this — it also earned her a kind of respect…

JuliaBishop_DeathStareThe famous death stare (source)

Video of the same…

The second surprise in the article was how MaryLou Bishop responded when asked about any higher ambitions she may have in politics, beyond the as yet uncontested local government elections. She said “There is nothing about a politician’s life that I envy … It’s soul destroying.” She may be right but her sister is out there at this point doing that very thing for a living.

With regards to the death stare, MaryLou goes further in fact, and offers this analysis of it — and why she won’t need it whereas sister Julie always did:

“I was the eldest and could out manoeuvre and out smart my sisters in an argument. Julie was the youngest and needed all the weapons she could muster — this was the death stare.”

This kind of explanation may sit well with some observers who attribute Julie’s success in politics to her ability to be tough enough with the boys (so cliché, I know). In an article setting out to explain “So how did Bishop cut through the boys’ club of The Liberal Party?,” the author notes that Bishop “can hold her own in debates,” that she made the tough decision that “women can’t have it all,” and eventually goes on to mention how “Her death stare is the most famous facial expression in Australian politics and has launched Facebook groups and twitter hashtags.”

From other sources you can learn, however, that Julie Bishop has many faces to show to the world, and the simple narrative of the repressed little sister (with two older sisters and a younger brother) who fought back to grow into debating champion, corporate lawyer, and then a master of politics does not necessarily work all that neatly. In her friends’ perspective:

“Her friends struggle to understand why this colourful, energetic woman seems so prickly on television. “Julie seems to have developed this tough bitch persona, and I’m constantly saying she’s not like that,” says one. Adds another: “Julie is a party girl, she loves kicking up her heels. In the public eye you have to be careful how that manifests itself.”

MaryLou may be developing her own persona through those remarks about her sister now, with a view to the upcoming Council elections. A persona fit for size of ambition and purpose.