I Object!

objection

I object to the picture of a beautiful woman in a red dress seated at a banquet table with a painful smile pasted on her face. I object to her having to listen to the jokes of her husband which she has heard too many times. I object to her being displayed like a valuable diamond or a royal snuffbox. I object to her not being able to get up and say: “Please excuse me, I am tired of this farce.”

I also object to the picture of a Chinese woman equally imprisoned in her seat. She is probably tired and not enjoying her food but at least she does not have to smile endlessly. I object to the two men who dominate this picture.

I object to a hypocritical Republican Senate which has firebombed long standing Senate rules and practices in order to force-feed us their Supreme Court candidate. Judge Gorsuch will inflict severe damage on the American scene long after most of these cynical Senators are gone.

I object to a hypocritical man who bemoans the fate of “beautiful babies” whose parents he will not admit into the United States.

I object to the abominable fact that we were denied an intelligent and competent woman president because a Russian barricade stopped her at the gate.

I object to the very existence of the man in the Oval Office.

The 1000-Year-Old Cinderella…(glass slipper or squirrel fur?)

It's Almost Midnight at the Ball....

It’s Almost Midnight at the Ball….

It is one of the oldest tales recounted and it exists in one variant or another in most places in the world. Call it a “goodness rewarded” parable, a “rags to riches” tale or a “damsel in distress” story.

It recounts the same events. A man has three daughters: Two are mean and ugly, the third one (always the youngest) is lovely and kind and is mistreated by the other two. Her mother is dead and her stepmother uses her as a servant. Among the menial tasks assigned to her is the cleaning of the chimney and she is covered in ashes or cinders, hence she is known as Cinderella. Her goodness and beauty are recognized and she is rewarded by a marriage to a Prince who falls in love with her and makes her his Queen.

The Disney Version

The Disney Version

 

The oldest version of this tale appeared in China around the year 860. Ye Xian is the good and beautiful daughter who is rescued by a king who marries her. The same legend exists in Vietnam and Indonesia. Remarriages and reconstituted families were even more common in ancient times than today because so many young women died in childbirth and left infants to be raised by other women.

 

The Russian Cinderella

The Russian Cinderella

In Russia Cinderella is called Zolushka. In another version she is Vassilissa the Beautiful and Marco Polo is her rescuer. There is a ballet by Prokoviev called: Vassilissa the Brave.

In Germany in the 19th century the brothers Grimm created yet another fairy tale in which the same heroine is Aschenputtel.

 

Spooky Macedonian Cinderella

Spooky Macedonian Cinderella

The version which we are familiar with originated with Charles Perrault who in 1697 wrote: Les Contes de Ma Mere l’Oye (Mother Goose stories). He also added the Fairy Godmother character (a sort of mother substitute?). Walt Disney’s animated creation is pretty faithful to Perrault’s Cendrillon. (French for Cinderella)

Perrault is also the originator of the “glass slipper” element of the plot which I always found difficult to accept. How could one stand up on glass, let alone dance with shoes made of glass without shattering them? A possible explanation for this is that Perrault was referring to “une pantoufle de vair” which translates as a “squirrel fur slipper” but as the tale went through many copyings, translations and retranscriptions “vair”(squirrel fur) became “verre” (glass). This makes me think of a
miscopying of letters in the genetic code resulting in a mutation of the original which is then repeated in all subsequent versions.

There are kindred stories with slight twists in which one can recognize some elements of the Cinderella theme. In Shakespeare’s King Lear, the youngest daughter Cordelia is the good one. Alas she is not rewarded for it. David Copperfield is a gender reversed story in which the young boy whose father is dead, is mistreated by a stepfather.

And then there is Rossini’s opera: La Cenerentola which takes great liberties with the original plot. The Fairy Godmother is replaced by a kindly Godfather. There is no pumpkin coach. The glass slippers become a pair of bracelets and there is no ball, only a supper. The two sisters are a grotesque caricature of womanhood. These changes seem random and unnecessary to me. In a brilliant coloratura final aria, La Cenerentola, in a halo of goodness and almost sainthood, forgives and embraces everyone.

(editor’s note: We’ve attached a wonderful video of Maria Callas singing this aria. The quality of voice and image is remarkably good. Listening to this helped me understand, for the first time, the singular place Callas occupies among divas. I was particularly struck by her composure and preparation during the first part of this as she waits for the moment to begin singing)

 

 

 

Our Surprising Brain

brain

Eric Kandel is a dapper, bow-tied, Austrian-American neurophysiologist and Nobel Prize winner. He specializes in the physiological basis of memory. In his book “The Age of Insight,” he reminds us of the creative atmosphere of Vienna where he was born. He writes, “I see psychoanalysis, art and biology coming together”

I first learned about Kandel on the Charlie Rose “Brain Series” where a panel of scientists described their research on the human brain. Each episode discusses a different aspect of the brain: perception, creativity, aging, depression, addiction and so on.

The latest episode was devoted to childhood environmental deprivation. Deprivation affects specific areas of the brain and stunts normal development in such areas as behavior and language acquisition. Mental disorders are rooted in biology and we have evolved technologies such as brain imaging and mapping that can trace and record mental impulses and clearly show the affected brain areas.

I learned a new word: “epigenetics.” This is the study of biological mechanisms that switch certain of our genes on and off. Some circumstances in life can cause genes to be expressed or silenced, and that is how environment affects genetics.

Some of the causes of abnormal development seem self- evident. Poverty is an important factor and often results in parental neglect and abuse as well as lack of intellectual stimulation. Institutions like orphanages are particularly responsible for an impoverished childhood environment. This is expressed when children have problems in controlling their behavior. Some of the symptoms are: aggression, tantrums, difficulty in relating to other people, and cruelty to animals. Intervention is possible, especially if started early. At age 2 it can be very successful. Although the scientists seemed very reluctant to say so, the window of opportunity seems to close by age 12.

School bullying was discussed since it also affects normal childhood development. It is possible to teach a child some defense mechanisms, but there is a need for more awareness on the part of teachers and school administrations to intervene to try to change the culture in which bullying arises. More studies are also needed to understand how and why some children are more resilient to adversity and the ways to promote such resilience.

It is always fascinating to learn and understand more about the constant interaction of our genetic makeup and our environment.

Here is a link to the shows in the Brain Series.

Charlie Rose Brain Series

Obama for President?

obama

The French Presidential elections are to be held in April and May of this year. So far three candidates have emerged, and what a sorry lot they are, swimming in a sea of scandals, petty squabbles and flat rhetoric.

Francois Fillon (the candidate from the center-right) has secured jobs for his wife and relatives at tax payer’s expense, but he then went one step further. The jobs were fictitious and not one of his favored family ever did any work. All were paid by the State for doing nothing. Now did Fillon seem contrite? Did he admit that he used poor judgement? Did he apologize? Not at all! He shrugged it all off as if to say…So what? Doesn’t everybody?

Marine LePen, on the extreme right, has been a French Trump for more than twenty years. She wants to “make France great again” by getting rid of all foreigners. And now she is also involved in fraudulent party financing.

Emmanuel Macron is perhaps the least objectionable candidate. He is an independent and a centrist, with little experience in government beyond having been at one time an economics minister. He does not seem to have a program or an agenda.

Young voters are disgusted with all three of these candidates. In this lamentable climate, a radically new idea has emerged. Why not draft Barrack Obama for the French presidency? A website and a poster campaign
have been formed called:”Oui On Peut”! (Yes We Can).
But Obama is not French? No matter, they will naturalize him. How is that for a lovely dream? (and such an uplifting one). While the Americans just voted for the anti-Obama, the French are yearning for him to be President. He is a charismatic and eloquent speaker and young people love him.

In France presidents are elected directly by the people for a maximum of two terms of five years each. They have substantial power and a Parliament that is much more obedient than in the United States. Wouldn’t Obama thrive in such an environment?

We too miss Obama, his sense of humor, and his self- deprecating attitude. He is fit and dresses well. In his eight years in office, not the slightest hint of scandal has ever been attached to him personally or to his administration. We sometimes wish he had shown a little more decisiveness and had been more actively engaged in the Middle East. But we will always admire him because
he possesses that elusive old fashioned quality: He is an honorable man.

Knock Knock

doorofwhitehouse

There is a new tenant in the White House. Colleagues, friends and neighbors are rushing to pay their respects and see him for themselves.

Theresa May is the first, happy to converse with her new friend. He speaks her own language fluently. No need for interpreters. They get along like a house afire.

Shinzo Abe of Japan is next. He too is happy after he recovers from a lengthy and too-energetic handshake.
(How was his host to know that handshakes are not the way Japanese people greet each other?) Still, what is a little discomfort when you can assure your people that the President is a splendid fellow? Abe is not so ill-bred as to bring up trifles like Muslim bashing and border closures. Much safer to stick to the usual clichés and stock phrases of diplomacy.

Earlier our new leader had taken a phone call from the President of Taiwan, Tsa Ing Wei. This created a bit of brouhaha since he had now stepped with both feet
directly into the One China Policy which does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state. No matter. He quickly withdrew one foot (leaving him standing awkwardly on one leg) and muttered: One China, Two Chinas, whatever…

It is now Benjamin Netanyahu‘s turn. A hardly recognizable Netanyahu. Who knew that he possessed such a happy smile? He is so delighted not to have to deal with that grumpy Obama. Accompanied by an equally happy wife, he basks in the friendship of their host. For this occasion the leader’s wife is also on show. Both ladies wear their finery. The new master of the White House is indeed very agreeable…Two nations for two people, One Nation for two people, Two people for one Nation, it is all the same to him. Oh and Bibi try not to slow down the settlement building for a little while?

A little bemused, Justin Trudeau is next. This is after all his next door neighbor. He may not have much in common with T. In fact he could easily be his son’s age but it will never do to show the least discomfort. He is the very model of a modern gentleman. Looks very elegant too next to our disheveled leader with his too long red tie.

Vladimir Putin does not venture forth. Much better to watch from afar with his usual smirk. He will work his usual mischief around the word while he watches our leader flounder.