The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: lovers

Monica Lewinsky on cyber-bullying

by fpman

Monica Lewinsky jokes that she is the only person above 40 who is not dreaming of being 22 again, given the “improbable romance” she was involved in with Bill Clinton when she worked in the White House, between 1995 and 1996. She explains the why of this in the video below.

A TED talk

Some of the specifics of the case are worth mentioning that some may not remember by now. The whole affair came to light after Linda Tripp, a colleague of Lewinsky’s, whom she confided in, secretly recorded long hours of telephone conversations with her in which she talked about her relationship with Clinton. These recordings, “made for patriotic reasons” by Tripp, were eventually made public and are still available online today. Past is always present on the internet.

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Tampa, the center of the universe

by fpman

At the time of elections in the US it is easy to see that Tampa and its environs are at the center of the universe. Candidates come and go. Florida is a crucial swing state, with a demographic profile that makes it an interesting testing ground of political messages even regardless of this.

And then there is CENTCOM, too. The US military’s Central Command.

CENTCOM

That may be just too much to keep cool about as the case of Jill Kelley, the prominent Tampa “socialite” (at the same time a medical researcher, too) may show.

I have been following her case related to the Petraeus affair which, as you may remember, led to the firing of the Director of the CIA in 2012. General Petraeus’ lover-biographer Paula Broadwell sent some angry messages (“broadsides,” sigh) to Kelley, out of jealousy, from an email account jointly run by her and Petraeus, and this led to the scandal that eventually cost the general his job.

I thought this was pretty embarrassing. One just didn’t expect Petraeus to end his career in this way. When I learned that many others from the top brass at CENTCOM similarly sought the favours of Kelley by actively socializing with her, I thought that was a new level of embarrassing.

But then…

I am not sure what to make of it now that I know that cheap email flattery such as

“I wish that we could clone a couple thousand of you, but the land is likely not ready for that big an impact”

can get people to make you “Honorary Ambassador of Central Command.”

I need to re-adjust to the reality of this somehow.

That’s it for today, I have to go compose some emails.

Auctioning off some Russian foreign affairs correspondence

by fpman

This letter, from 1762, is going to be auctioned on November 19 in Paris. In it, the Russian Empress Catherine II (actually a lady of German origin) is writing to her lover, Stanisław August Poniatowski, who would be King of Poland as Stanisław II only two years later. Catherine has just inherited the Russian throne and is in a precarious situation. She is sending some vital instructions to Stanisław to avoid unnecessary trouble. As quoted here (at the end of the article in question):

“You read my letters with very little attention. I’ve told you and repeated that I risk being assaulted from all sides if you put one foot back in Russia.”

Life was to become only more complicated later on…

CatherineIIWords of discontent in the letter…

For about 10 to 12 thousand Euros you may have the rest of the letter as well. And here you find the rest of the private letters written by famous women that will be auctioned on the same day, if you have some more money to spend…

But I wish to stop by the story of Catherine and Stanisław because theirs is a particularly interesting historical case with a view to the role of personal relationships in politics.

It was Catherine’s hope, and of those around her in St. Petersburg, that they would be in control of Stanisław just like they were in control of many other key figures in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth who were their paid clients at the time, including the Hetmans or the Commanders of the Polish and Lithuanian Armies. Palace intrigue played a role in why Catherine and Stanisław came together back in 1755, but they felt genuine attraction towards one another and would eventually consider marrying each other, before the idea became inconvenient (once Catherine had become ruler of Russia). And Anna Petrovna, Catherine’s second child, was possibly their daughter. In 1764, when Stanisław would be elected as King of the Polish noble republic, Russia spent a lot of money on getting him there and even positioned their troops near the site of the election assembly to make sure they got the result they wanted.

In the end, however,

“Stanisław-August, despite his links with the Empress Catherine, was the leader of Reform in Poland: the Empress, despite her links with the Enlightenment, was the paymistress of Poland’s conservative establishment.” (Davies, 2001: 270)

In other words: Stanisław II was independent-minded and attempted to carry out major reform of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including some very progressive and liberal policies, at the same time as he sought to strengthen the autonomy of his state. He was, after all, one out of only four Polish kings out of the eleven elected Kings of the Polish noble republic (the others were foreigners). Yet he was to be the last one.

It was his quest for highly timely reform that resulted in the end in the Partition of Poland. Russia considered the reforms a threat to its control over what it saw as a client state and a useful buffer zone against threats from the West: Prussia and Austria. Russia thus intervened, and once it did so it was forced by the logic of power politics to enter into talks over Poland’s future, resulting in the three-stage, three-way partition of the country at the end of which nothing was left of it, by 1795.

Reference

Norman Davies: Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland’s Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

The Patrimony’s statement on Alina Kabayeva’s recent appointment

by fpman

Alright, alright, so we’re a little late on this one, but let us get this straight…

nuttyprof2“So we’re a little late, right, but… here it’s coming!”

Alina Kabayeva, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged girlfriend has just been appointed chair of the board of directors of the National Media Group (NMG) in Russia.

Putin and KabayevaPresident Putin, allegedly smiling at his alleged girlfriend (photo by Sergei Chirikov, AFP/Getty)

This is relevant, given that there is a great variety of Russian media these days, including government-owned media, Gazprom-owned media, and NMG-owned media along with what independent media there is.

NMG is, for example, one of the owners of Piervy Kanal (Первый канал), with a 25% share, alongside the government. As the name may imply, Piervy is television channel no. 1 in Russia, including in terms of the number of viewers.

That here at the Patrimony we are only reporting this now, two days late, is not due to the Russian NMG having a share in the ownership of this blog. They don’t have a share.

End of statement.

 

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.

The Cowpens Romance

by fpman

What we have embarked on here at The Patrimony is the coverage of political phenomena from a specific, peculiar viewpoint. This will usually entail discussion (i.e. a mixture of responsible, good-natured gossip and analysis) of something (and someone) related to a top decision-maker in this or that country. Today’s, however, is only the second post here so far, and its subject is slightly different.

In case you have missed it, this is what the Navy Times recently uncovered about the 2013-2014 deployment of the USS Cowpens in the Pacific, a tour that has seen the US Navy’s guided missile cruiser take part in disaster relief operations off the Philippines in November 2013, and subsequently get involved in a close confrontation with a Chinese amphibious naval vessel in the South China Sea during the course of December.

USS_CowpensUSS Cowpens (photo: US Navy)

It now turns out that the ship had an equally interesting ride over the 2014 leg of its Pacific cruise. In January, Captain Greg Gombert fell ill with flu-like symptoms, developed Bell’s palsy or partial facial paralysis, and, feeling weak and in a generally inadequate condition to continue to personally command his ship, found it necessary to retreat to the tranquility of his unit commander’s cabin (UCC) for the better part of the ensuing months. For the time being, he handed over command (his responsibility as CO or the Commanding Officer) to his temporary XO (Executive Officer), the chief engineer of the ship, whom he had previously promoted to the position after the predecessor XO had to leave prematurely — at a time when the new XO could not yet make it on board. The problem is: XOs come with a certain carefully determined level of required experience and specific training for the task, and the temporary XO did not have these. Moreover, with Captain Gombert spending most of the time in the UCC, the XO, by then the acting CO, did not even have the captain close by for those special situations with a narrower margin for error where superior experience can make a difference — she had to handle fuel replenishments in heavy seas on at least two occasions alone. This deviation from standard procedure may have put ship and crew at unnecessary risk…

Amidst this narrative you may have noted the gendered reference to the person of the XO. Yes, the executive officer happened to be a woman, by the (some would say remarkable) name of Destiny Savage. If you check out the history on the USS Cowpens, you may also find it interesting that over 2008-2010 the ship was commanded by a female Commanding Officer, Captain Holly Graf, who was eventually relieved of her duties related to allegations that she maltreated her crew. However, before one starts to theorize of a male-chauvinistic conspiracy against women in the Navy, and against women serving on board USS Cowpens in particular, it has to be noted that there indeed was some deviation from standard procedure in this case, even if no major mishap resulted from it.

Where gender certainly does come into play: Captain Gombert and Lt. Cmdr. Savage were eventually found guilty of “fraternization” by the Navy (that is, of being lovers, in this particular context). This, needless to say, is generally not tolerated within militaries, given the need for minds unaffected by ties of this kind in even the most demanding of circumstances. Based on what we know from open sources, the evidence of the two officers’ relationship seems to have been largely indirect though. They may have spent a couple of nights together in a hotel in the Philippines, may have been seen holding hands on one occasion, and Savage is rumored to have often made dinner for Gombert in whose cabin she spent considerable time. And the culinary specialist of the ship would swear that he saw Cpt. Gombert wearing boxers at least once while Savage was with him, and that this was romantically significant.

Savage_and_GombertLt. Cmdr. Savage and Cpt. Gombert (photos via KPBS and Thinking Housewife)

A ship usually makes for a nice metaphor. In this case, it epitomizes much of what this blog is about. For one obvious connection with the world of politics and decision-makers’ friends-and-relations, “fraternization” as well as having one’s actual relatives around can be an interesting issue in the latter universe, too, even as there are no similar anti-fraternization standards for political leaders (for a mixture of good and bad reasons).

But there is more to what the story of USS Cowpens may stand for. As James R. Holmes of the US Naval War College notes writing in The Diplomat, “ships are still islands — in effect self-contained societies — once they cast off all lines.” A ship’s leadership — even though officers therein rise to their position according to specific rules of promotion, or the institutional rules of the game — thus offers intriguing parallel with the leadership of a country.

One point I would make in particular pertains to imagining counterfactual scenarios and outcomes of the events that unfolded on board USS Cowpens. We often conceive of counterfactuals by thinking of circumstances that may have been different. “Had this or that happened, the result would have been different, for better or worse.” Yet it is equally easy to imagine counterfactuals by thinking of what would have happened had there been different people or even slightly different personalities interacting with each other in a given situation. Each and every member of the USS Cowpens crew may have made a difference in terms of how the merits of the case were eventually judged by the Navy — with the different interpretations they had, the way their interpretations evolved over time, the way they expressed what they thought, and the way they acted on the basis of their beliefs at any given moment.

Herman Wouk begins his classic novel, The Caine Mutiny, the fictional story of World War II destroyer/minesweeper USS Caine, by positing about the main protagonist Willie Keith that “the event turned on his personality as the massive door of a vault turns on a small jewel bearing.” Wouk’s masterfully woven plot is nevertheless a good example of how all personalities are important. Replace anyone, or even a personality trait, and you may end up in a different “possible world,” in the language of counterfactual analysis. Not to speak of how an objective description of what happened is hardly possible, and whatever remains may be interpretation rather than fact, from anyone’s respective point of view. In the story of the USS Caine, even Willie Keith is not completely sure by the end of how much he was right to make the decisions he made.

Much of this applies not only to ships and their crews of course.

There are good reasons not to count with personality and interpersonal relations as exclusive determinants of domestic political processes and international interactions, but they clearly are a factor, and often a very important one at that. And in as much as that is the case, this blog is on to something.

To be continued.