Driving Forward In The Kingdom

It’s June of 2018.  And as of Sunday, June 24, women in Saudi Arabia are finally legally able to drive.

p06byymkIt’s astonishing when you think about it, but until yesterday the kingdom of Saudi Arabia had maintained a ban on women driving — the only one in the world.  It was one of the most visible elements of differential treatment of men and women in that country.  The decision to finally allow women to drive is part of an effort by the Saudis to liberalize and modernize their benighted internal policies, which have received a lot of international criticism over the years.  And, as is so frequently the case, the move also has an economic component.  The Saudi economy has taken a hit because of oil prices, and allowing women to drive is expected to increase the employment of women and allow them to make more of a contribution to the gross national product.

Not surprisingly, many Saudi women took to the streets in cars to celebrate their ability to do something that women the world over have taken for granted for more than a century.  “I feel free like a bird,” one woman said.  “The jubilance, confidence and pride expressed by Saudi women driving for the first time in their country, without fear of arrest, brought tears to my eyes,” another one wrote.  And Saudi women posted videos of themselves driving on social media.

But let’s not get too excited about the loosening of repressive policies in Saudi Arabia, because a number of activists who strongly advocated for great women’s rights have been jailed and remain behind bars, even as the ban against women driving has been lifted.  Some believe that the jailing is intended to placate the ultra-conservative religious leaders who remain a significant force in the country, and also to send the message that only Saudi leaders — and not activists advocating for changes in Saudi policies — can produce reforms in the kingdom.

It’s a sign that, while lifting the ban on women driving is welcome, Saudi Arabia has a long way to go.  And it’s also a reminder that, in 2018, there are still a lot of repressive policies out there against women that still need to be addressed.


Boys And Toys

There’s a bit of a dust-up over in England because Prince George, the four-year-old son of Prince William and Kate Middleton, was seen in public playing with a water pistol.  The toddler, his Mom, and his sister were out to watch his Dad play in a polo match — hey, we are talking about the British royal family here, after all — and the young boy fooled around with the toy gun, as well as a toy knife and a slinky, as he sat on the grass.

prince_george_toy_gun-560x390This sparked outrage from some quarters, because Great Britain evidently has recently seen an increase in violence with guns and knives.  Some people said that water pistols shouldn’t be seen as fun toys, and it was wrong for his parents to allow Prince George to play with them.  One Twitter user fretted that playing with realistic toy guns could lead to children mistakenly shooting themselves with real guns.  Another critic, drawing long-term conclusions from the little boy’s play, said:  “Sad to see George playing with a gun when the whole country has a gun/knife crime situation. Maybe in training for killing wild life in later years.”  Really?

It’s hard for me to believe that people don’t have better things to do than worry about little boys playing with toy guns.  When I was a kid, the family toy box included a few western six-shooters and a sheriff’s badge, a cap gun, a few water pistols, and a machine gun that made a whirring noise and sprayed red sparks from the barrel when you pulled the trigger.  The other boys in the neighborhood had a similar toy arsenal in their homes.  All of these ersatz weapons came in handy when UJ and me and the other kids in the neighborhood were out playing “army” or “Rat Patrol,” cowboys and Indians, or cops and robbers.  These games were like a glorified form of hide and seek that allowed the kids in the neighborhood to get out, run around, and use up some of the energy that kids have in abundance, and having a fake gun was just part of the game.

Astonishingly, none of the kids in our neighborhood went on to become gun nuts or mass murderers.  We played with toy guns because it was fun, but it was just that — play.  And the army-style games alternated with playing baseball or football or freeze tag, or building forts, or catching lightning bugs on a warm summer evening.  Playing with guns didn’t glorify guns, or desensitize us to violence, or leave us permanently scarred because one of our gun-toting friends captured us, or any of the other psychobabble concerns that people are articulating now, they were just toys that were part of great games.  I’m not a gun person, but if I were a kid I’d do it all over again.  It was fun.

Obviously, people in England have a right to be concerned about violence, but we can be sure of one thing — whatever the cause of that violence might be, it isn’t four-year-old boys playing with water pistols.  Give the kid and his parents a break, and let him go about his play without projecting adult concerns on a little boy’s innocent fun.

Winging It

The on-again, off-again, on-again summit meeting with North Korea is set to occur next Tuesday in Singapore.  Yesterday, President Trump confirmed reports that he’s not exactly cramming and burning the midnight oil to prepare for the meeting.

5e6mikironhllmggtkqbd54s4i“I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s about attitude,” he said. “I think I’ve been prepared for this summit for a long time, as has the other side.”  President Trump, who says the meeting won’t just be a “photo op” and may be the first of several meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, added:  “I think I’m very well prepared.”

The President believes that his tough language about North Korea and Kim has been a key factor in bringing North Korea to the table.  He uses the phrase “maximum pressure” to describe his approach to the country that has long been an international pariah, and said: “If you hear me using the term ‘maximum pressure,’ you’ll know the negotiations didn’t go very well.”  Nevertheless, President Trump predicts that the summit meeting will be a “great success.”

A year and a half into the Trump presidency, we’ve long since realized that President Trump isn’t like most people, who would never dream of going into an important meeting with an isolated, notoriously unpredictable country that feels like an international outcast and has been working to develop a nuclear weapons program to attract attention, put its neighbors on edge, and give it a louder voice in the world.  But President Trump is matching, and maybe even exceeding, North Korea in the unpredictability department, having first abruptly cancelled the summit, then determined that it is back on again.

So, is President Trump just supremely self-confident about everything he does, including meeting foreign dictators who have virtually no relations with other countries?  Or, does the President think that saying he hasn’t been spending much time hitting the briefing books helps to set the framework for the negotiations and gives him an advantage of sorts?  Is the statement that the summit is about “attitude” supposed to convey that the United States doesn’t think there’s much to discuss at this point beyond getting North Korea to end its nuclear program?  Or is it to communicate to North Korea that it isn’t really important enough to demand a big chunk of the President’s time?  Or is the plan to make Kim feel overconfident that he’ll be able to pull a fast one on a negotiator who admittedly hasn’t tried to master the details?  Or, is there some other, deep, Art of the Deal-type negotiation game afoot?

With President Trump, you never know.  But hey — what could go wrong?

Capetown Africa

For dinner Kim and I took a short walk to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront area – a wonderful collection of shops and restaurants – there are many public safety people at each intersection making us feel safe – we saw our first “wildlife” – watched the sun setting on Table Mountain and of course I felt the need to stretch my legs after having been crammed in an airplane the past couple of days making the “conga” guys smile – what fun !!!

Green Market Square and Capetown

Kim and I did a bit of exploring around our Inn this afternoon – Green Market Square was a couple of streets away with vendors displaying all kinds of items daily waiting for Kim to make an offer – ha ha – cobblestone streets and brightly painted houses everywhere – including the last picture of us with an 81 year old man who ran a bookstore selling gently used books with a warm hearty laugh – he said Capetown is the place to be not Johannesburg – people are very friendly here

Selfie Soullessness

In northern Italy, a tragedy happened at a train station.  A Canadian woman was struck and badly hurt by a train. Rescuers and station personnel went to help her, and ultimately the injured woman was taken to a hospital, where her leg was amputated.

selfie1-870x418But while the helpless, injured woman lay prostrate on the track bed and rescue workers assisted her, a guy in white shorts and a white shirt positioned himself on the adjacent platform so that the woman and the workers appeared in the background behind him, flashed a hand gesture and no doubt a facial expression . . . and then used his cell phone to take a “selfie” of himself and the tragic scene.  The man’s act of cold-hearted callousness was captured by a news photographer in the photograph published above.  Police noticed the man in white shorts, too, and briefly detained him.  Although he was found to have committed no crime, they required him to delete the selfie — so we’ll never see the photo that he thought was so important to take.

The above photograph of the heartless selfie-taker has caused shock and outrage in Italy.  The photographer said the scene caused him to think that “we have completely lost a sense of ethics.”  A commentary in a popular newspaper spoke of a “cancer that corrodes the internet” and said that the man in white shorts had lost his soul and his personality; a popular radio said the scene showed that the human race is “galloping towards extinction.”

But should anyone really be surprised by the man in white shorts who thought a scene of personal tragedy would be an interesting and fitting backdrop for yet another photo of his face?  We’ve seen stories of people risking life and limb — and sometimes losing the bet — to take selfies, and we all know people whose first thought, wherever they may be, apparently is to take a selfie and publish it to their friends.  The selfie zealots have allowed their narcissism to overwhelm their common sense, and the guy in white shorts has allowed his basic sense of decency to be overwhelmed, too.

For the selfistas, the real world is just an abstraction, and nothing more than background for their self-absorbed grins and gestures.  For the sake of the guy in white shorts, let’s hope that if he ever is injured or needs help, there are people nearby whose first reaction will be to help him — rather than step back and take a selfie.