Among the things that are easy to miss on the international scene is that women are playing important roles in diplomacy. Actually, we have been for some time, as I discovered when I wrote a chapter on diplomats in my Women in American Politics (2010). What recently reminded me of this unheralded phenomenon, though, was an Associated Press story on a meeting of top diplomats from the US, the UK, and the EU about Russia's threatening behavior towards Ukraine.
The UK's foreign secretary – the highest position in its Cabinet – is Liz Truss, and she spoke strongly about protecting Ukrainian independence. I was even more impressed when the AP writers went on to say: "The top American diplomat, Karen Donfried, will visit both Kyiv and Moscow this week… After meeting with Ukrainian and Russian officials, Donfried will go on to Brussels to talk with NATO and European allies." Who knew? This is another gold star for the Biden administration that the press has ignored. You do, in fact, have to read between the lines.
I'd like to be a fly on the wall when she meets with Putin's bellicose guys. It's important to remember, too, that Russia's attempt to take over Ukraine began when it orchestrated the ouster of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. She was the first woman to be elected to the top job in a former Soviet Republic, and apparently that was too much for the misogynists who run this part of the world. I'm going to be politically incorrect here and say that I wish I had her shiny blonde hair -- but seriously, I wonder if part of the reason the guys objected to her is because they found her distractingly beautiful. It's hard for many men (and some women) to believe that a woman can be both physically attractive and smart.
Also between the lines: Morning Brew, an online daily newsletter that focuses on economics, ran a story speculating on whether top dogs in biz think that the stock market is rising beyond sustainable heights. It mentioned Zuckerberg, Dell, and the Walton family in reporting that "48 top executives have collected more than $200 million each from stock sales in 2021, almost four times the average insider numbers from 2016-2020." It didn't spell out another thing you might read between the lines: who was president between 2016 and 2020?
THE TRUTH IS THAT I HAD TO FIND A RESTROOM
This was a month ago, and I was driving to my sister's memorial in South Georgia. I sailed past the welcome station at Plains, where I should have stopped, and found myself in downtown Plains. The one-street town was beginning to adorn itself in holiday décor that was lovely and welcoming. Most stores still were closed because of COVID, but Carter's warehouse, which the family used to store peanuts, was open and busy. They kindly allowed me to use the employee restroom at the back, and I browsed for Christmas presents and unique products, including pickled quail eggs. I also picked up more of Jimmy and Roselyn's books.
A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power (2015) was called "a tour de force" by one reviewer, and I agree. Except that his family was more affluent than mine, we shared a common culture growing up in the segregated South. He began the book by reminding us "how carefully selected Holy Scriptures were quoted to justify [racial] discrimination in the name of God." And then he goes on:
There is a similar system of discrimination, extending far beyond a small geographic region to the entire globe; it touches every nation, perpetuating and expanding the trafficking in human slaves, body mutilation, and even legitimized murder on a massive scale. This system is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible, the Koran, and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are, in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms… I have become convinced that the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls.
The former president then reports on the (hopefully well known) statistics showing that women make far better use of foreign aid monies than men. Like Bill and especially Hillary Clinton and their work with Heifer International, Carter understands that giving a cow or a pig to a woman in a Third World nation will have hugely greater beneficial effect than providing a man with a gun. After reviewing micro-loan programs aimed at women, he returns to religion and politics and says:
As in Christian communities, the social status of women varies widely within the Islamic world, and we in the West quite often fail to understand the high degree of political freedom and equality many of them enjoy. The Carter Center has monitored elections in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, Indonesia, Palestine, and Sudan… In all of these countries, as well as in Algeria, Iraq, Oman, Kuwait, Morocco, Syria, Mauritania, and Yemen, where Sharia law has a major influence, women and men have equal voting rights. There is no religious impediment to political rights for women in the Koran.
He moves from the Middle East to Sub-Saharan Africa, especially praising Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Liberian who was the first woman to be elected to the top national position on the continent. The country, like much of Africa, had been controlled by warlords "whose most powerful impact was on women… We worked to inform the people, often for the first time, that rape was a crime…, that women could own property, that a wife could inherit her deceased husband's estate, that both parents had claim on their children, that there was a minimum legal age of marriage… Most of this was news to them."
It's a thoughtful book, and I intend to return next week to the chapters that directly deal with violence and war. Meanwhile, though, I also want to point to a Washington Post story that compared several nations on parental leave. Japan offers the most: both mothers and fathers are entitled to 104 weeks, or two years. That may not be good as it looks, given that Japanese men rarely take breaks from work, but the leave is real in other countries.
Little Estonia on the Baltic Sea, a former Soviet satellite, offers mothers 86 weeks of leave, with full pay to her for 140 days and another 435 paid days that parents can split. Sweden, long known as the best nation for women, gives parents 480 paid days after either a birth or an adoption. In Britain, a working mother's job is protected for a year of maternity leave, with 39 weeks paid. And in the US? You know it: zero, zilch, nada. Who really cares about unborn children?
FAIRLY OBVIOUS OBSERVATIONS
A lot has been said recently about the lack of affordable housing, and a fair amount has been said about the glut of office space now that a lot of work is done remotely. I'm waiting for someone to combine the two observations and turn offices into apartments. Should be obvious, shouldn't it?
Not so obvious to most, but certainly observable to longtime gardeners: at least in Florida, the climate obviously is changing. I came upon a photo of my daughter in her infant seat and remembered that she was cooing at the willow tree wafting over her -- and it struck me that it's been decades since I've seen a willow tree in Florida. There's another picture of her a little older and standing next to a hydrangea bush much taller than she is. Again, it's been years since hydrangeas reliably flourished. I've tried, planting many of those leftover from Easter and Mother's Day, and none have made it.
These and other plants need dormancy and a touch of winter cold, and they don't get that anymore. I've given up and resolved to grow nothing but tropicals: orchids, gingers, bromeliads, and other plants that aren't native to Florida, but even bromeliads are slow to bloom this year. In 2009, I decorated the tables for my daughter's wedding reception with the flaming pink ones that bloomed like clockwork from mid-November to mid-December back then. Now we are in mid-December, and only a few of several hundred plants show any sign of flowering.
We may still have some winter weather: I've also observed that it just comes later, with March being colder than December. If these patterns continue, we will need a re-working of the calendar because old-fashioned Christmas scenes with snow and icicles are less and less appropriate. My Minnesota family never imagined Christmas without deep snow, but in recent years, the ground has been barely frozen.
I think a reworking of the calendar may be in order anyway. I've thought that since a geography professor proposed it back when I was in college. You doubtless know of the Chinese New Year, the Jewish New Year, and other methods of keeping track of time that were displaced by spread of Christianity. The Bible has absolutely nothing to say on this complicated topic, and although answers aren't obvious, it is worthy of discussion.
PS I wrote this before going out into the 80-degree day to fetch the mail. I noticed something under the guava tree – and it was a ripe, fragrant, larger-than-usual fruit! A guava in December! Something indeed is happening.