The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: United States

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.

Certain interactions repeat themselves

by fpman

Here is a very interesting piece in the NY Post (“My ISIS boyfriend”), looking at the story of a French woman who delved real deep into some research on radicalisation in France and the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) phenomenon. As the lady reveals through her own fascinating experience:

“This is why girls go there,” said Erelle. “It’s the dream of a good life. They are persuaded that it’s a paradise and that they don’t have any future in Britain or France and they won’t find good husbands and can never be good Muslims surrounded by infidels. Bilel told Melodie she could have a beautiful life, a big apartment and lots of children.”

These considerations are important to understand. It is equally important to understand that this is nothing new.

Take this book as an example: “The Convert,” by Deborah Baker.

It is the story of Margaret Marcus, a Jewish-American girl from New York who suffered from some major vulnerabilities for some time in her life and eventually chose to convert, seeking a solution to all her troubles, and went to Pakistan. She was invited there by Abul A’la Maududi (1903-1979), an Islamist scholar-politician who was the founder there of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. One of the most influential Islamist thinkers in the early development of modern political Islam.

Margaret went to Pakistan in 1961. Maududi, happy that in distant America someone chose Islam (it was more of a big deal at the time), accepted her into his house, and attempted to find a husband for her.

The story is in fact quite complicated from hereon and I would not like to shoot it down with a cheap summary — let me point out that Margaret Marcus went on to live as Maryam Jameelah in her new life. The story of her conversion (a version of it) is widely known in the Islamic world.

Now guess what… one of the arguments that tempted Margaret-Maryam to foreign land was that as a Muslim convert she would not find decent existence (in both a spiritual and a material sense) and a good husband if she stayed in non-Muslim land.

Given that these interactions, which apparently show a durable pattern, nowadays gain strategic significance in the context of the Islamic State, perhaps it is time to pay more attention to the excellent book mentioned above.

Of helpmeets and dirt-throwers

by fpman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara Netanyahu is to some extent at the center of the upcoming Israeli legislative elections these days. She hit the deadlines having recently spoken on the phone with Monique Ben Melekh, wife of the former mayor of Sderot, Eli Moyal — in this conversation she made a series of passionate remarks about her husband and to her unpleasant surprise Monique Ben Melekh apparently recorded the conversation. Theirs is a relationship of tension, mostly because Monique’s husband Eli Moyal is a critic of some of Netanyahu’s policies.

Sara Netanyahu’s rant comparative assessment of the two husbands is as follows:

“(….) he (Netanyahu) behaves with rare political wisdom, speaks with leaders all the time! Binyamin Netanyahu’s experience, his wisdom, his education! [He has] extensive education, university degrees. He also reads books, understands the economy, security, policy, he knows how to speak with leaders of the world! Where is your man? He doesn’t even reach the ankles of my husband, what, did Eli Moyal ever speak once with leaders of the world?!”

The good wife’s intention in this case was, in her words, to be a true “helpmeet” to her husband, something she sees as a “great responsibility” in a world where her husband is facing, on behalf of “the free world,” Iran and the Islamic State. In fact she sees her husband effectively as the leader of the free world. She says:

“He is one of the most veteran leaders in the world. In the United States they say that if he had been born in the US, he’d have been elected president there.”

In politics, of course, consequences weigh more than intentions. The leaking of the recorded conversation’s transcript (parts of it, with possibly worse to follow) comes at a time when allegations of the Netanyahu family’s former housekeeper about Sara Netanyahu’s allegedly bad temper are already making some waves around her. Opponents have thus found a way to turn her efforts against her husband on the eve of the upcoming elections.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post (a form of damage limitation) she reflects on the housekeeper’s allegations, too.

“It’s the idea that some people earn their livelihood by throwing dirt on other people, their reputations – and not just anyone, but someone who you worked for, who was by your side. If you’re unhappy at work, why not just leave? Why do you have to spit into the well you drank from? What kind of person does something like that? I can’t help thinking of the BBC drama Downton Abbey, with its upstairs/downstairs intrigue, scheming staff and the bubbling cauldron of endless gossip.”

We shall see if such witty comments help her help husband.

Gaffe

by fpman

The official narrative of what you see below is that VP Joe Biden was “comforting (newly installed Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s wife) Stephanie Carter after she slipped and fell on ice outside the White House earlier in the day” — while her husband was being sworn into office, that is. Just a bit of shawl chivalry, if that rings a bell.

 

There is not too much in the way of scientific commentary to be offered related to this.

What constitutes a gaffe is, to state the obvious, socially constructed — a matter of intersubjective consensus between observers. You be the observer, watch the video.

The Stuart-Houstons, from Long Island

by fpman

This is a fascinating story and does not require much commentary.

The Stuart-Houstons of Long Island were Bridget Dowling Hitler and Patrick William Hitler, originally. Patrick was Bridget’s son, from Adolf Hitler’s brother, Alois Hitler, Jr. Bridget was Irish and met Alois in Dublin. They went on to live together for some time in London, before they separated. In 1939, Bridget took Patrick over to the US, to escape unwanted attention given the Hitler connection. And she changed her name.

Patrick himself outlined the reasons for the decision in these terms:

“The British are an insular people and while they are kind and courteous, it is my impression, rightly or wrongly, that they could not in the long term feel overly cordial or sympathetic towards an individual bearing the name I do.”

Eloquently put. Patrick didn’t make a secret out of his origins and went on a lecture tour around the country telling people of how wicked his uncle really was (he did meet Adolf Hitler on a visit to Germany once). In the wake of his lobby efforts against Germany he even joined the U.S. Navy’s Medical Corps.

Bridget_and_Patrick“To hell with Hitler,” a message to brother-in-law/uncle, from Bridget and Patrick (source)

Like I said, some story…

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 NSA, gender, and some second thoughts

by fpman

“NSA analysts spied on spouses, girlfriends: documents,” says this headline from NY Daily News.

And then, below it, you eventually find the following excerpt from a document recently released by the National Security Agency upon a request from the American Civil Liberties Union:

NSA

Quote: “she had searched her spouse’s personal telephone directory without his knowledge” (highlighting in red by me)

In the case referenced there, the analyst in question was clearly a woman, not a man.

The headline, with its reference to “girlfriends” (in the plural), displays a very gendered view of espionage and life in general. Spying, serious work with data and even excesses in the process are seen as having a manly quality, whereas being the victim is a feminine thing. But there you have it. Life (i.e. empirical reality) is just more complicated than that.

Having said that, beyond the insensitivity (at least in the title) to details like that, another way in which the whole affair is somewhat misrepresented is by suggesting this is all about the abuse of a tool in the state’s repertoire for purely private purposes. Consider the following example, of another case cited in the article (by the way the only case involving a girlfriend as opposed to the reference to girlfriends in the plural in the title):

“An NSA intern reported his colleague for allegedly spying on his foreign girlfriend.”

There should be no question that spying on someone in this way is an abuse. But the reasons may be more complex. A foreign girlfriend, or even a foreign boyfriend for that matter, may always be interesting in the world of espionage. Not only from the purely private perspective of whether they are a loyal partner to the intelligence officer in question but also from the point of view of whether someone else may be using them to gain access to sensitive information (which is one of the reasons why no intelligence officer should try to deal with this in private).

Life is just complicated. In espionage, surely even more so.

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.

Purchasing access to the United States through campaign contributions?

by fpman

This NYT story is pretty interesting read on how a wealthy Ecuadorian family may have secured access to the United States for one of its members, Estefanía Isaías. The lady in question is reported to have been involved in fraudulently obtaining visas for her maids for which she was barred from entering the country for a while.

Here is a particularly noteworthy detail of the story, on how the entry ban was eventually lifted:

“The Obama administration then reversed its decision and gave Ms. Isaías the waiver she needed to come to the United States — just as tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the family poured into Mr. Obama’s campaign coffers.

An email from (New Jersey Democratic Senator) Mr. Menendez’s office sharing the good news was dated May 15, 2012, one day after, campaign finance records show, Ms. Isaías’s mother gave $40,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, which provided donations to the president and other Democrats.”

A watchdog organization is subsequently quoted as pointing out the obvious: “When a donation happens and then something else happens, like the favor, as long as they are very, very close, that really paints a story.”

Roberto and William Isaías (of the two, Roberto is Estefanía’s father), who are named as “the family patriarchs” by the NYT article apparently considerably complicate relations with Ecuador given that they have been involved in the crashing of a bank there causing losses to the tune of $400 million. In Ecuador, they have been sentenced in abstentia related to this, and so Ecuador is actually demanding their extradition from the US.

That Estefanía may even have been employed by a fundraiser (Balsera Communications, focusing on the Latino populace) connected to the Obama team is not going to make this look any better from, say, Ecuador.

The spy who came in from the cold

by fpman

Some blogging-scarce days are past me. Family matters (I mean, blogging about them) had to wait. Now hopefully I’m back to some more regular posting.

For a while it looked like I might write to you about this developing story in Tanzania where the government was apparently considering evicting some 40,000 people from an area that the royal family from Dubai (UAE) was interested in using as hunting ground. But then it turned out people in government can still get back to their senses or at least can be pressured not to go all the way when thinking out loud about carrying out such an atrocity.

Additionally, I then came across an even crazier story. Just take a look at the headline and you’ll see what I’m talking about:

“Palestinian state is a ‘fantasy’, says son of Hamas founder.”

You would think of anyone having anything to do with Hamas as being in favour of an Islamic state in the territory of “all of Palestine,” basically, as far as their known position is concerned. But Mosab Hassan Yousef is special. His father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef was one of seven founders of the Hamas movement in 1987. And Mosab, as Sheikh Hassan’s son, was part of the movement, too. But, as the story goes, he eventually became disillusioned with what he saw in Hamas’ prisons.* He says he couldn’t stomach the regular torturing of people who were accused of being collaborators with Israel. Eventually he was approached by Israel’s Shin Bet security service and started working with them. He did so for a decade although not quite all the way under the perfect cover – his ties to Shin Bet eventually became known to Hamas’ leaders who were embarrassed by this and feared mostly that news of this would get out. Mosab left Ramallah in time to make it, and currently lives in the United States. He can thank that in part to Gonen Ben Yitzhak, his former Shin Bet handler and a personal good friend by this stage. Ben Yitzhak broke Shin Bet’s code of secrecy and came out to speak in public in Mosab’s defence when the United States was about to deport him from the country “for his Hamas ties.”

* Remark added on December 6: apparently, this happened in an Israeli prison’s effectively Hamas-controlled wing where mostly only Hamas members were held at the time.

Watch this video to hear some of the story directly from Mosab. Bonus crazy twist alert: a lady asks him at the end basically (though not in these exact words) about whether he might be like Nicholas Brody of “Homeland,” like, trying to infiltrate the West with a sophisticated cover story and all that. Mosab manages to answer with a straight face. Crazy questions most likely are a form of compliment when it comes to a crazy story such as this.