Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Very Important Death

Do you recognize the young lady in the portrait above? Of course you don't. Perhaps you'll recognize her name, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales. Does that help? Of course it doesn't. What American knows who Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales was? In fact, I'm wondering, what average Briton knows who she was?

It's not surprising that she's virtually unknown today. The poor girl died at the age of 21, back in 1817, before she was able to achieve anything. She could have achieved a lot, had she lived. After all, she was meant to be the queen regnant of England. Had she lived, she would have assumed the throne in 1830, when her father, King George IV died.

Had Princess Charlotte lived, Queen Victoria would never have been born, and therefore, Queen Elizabeth II would never have been born. For that matter, the English kings Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI would never have been born. Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry would also, never have been born.

A lot of the royalty of other European countries would never have been born had Princess Charlotte lived... Kaiser Wilhem II of Germany, the czarina Alexandra of Russia, King George II of Greece, King Alexander I of Greece, King Paul I of Greece, King Constantine II of Greece, King Olav V of Norway, King Carol II of Romania, King Michael of Romania, King Harald V of Norway,
King Peter II of Yugoslavia, King Carl XVI of Sweden, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and King Juan Carlos of Spain.

All of these crowned heads are descendents of Queen Victoria. I looked on a royal website and saw that Queen Victoria, at present, has 1,056 descendents. None of them would have been born had Princess Charlotte lived, because again, Queen Victoria would never have been born had Princess Charlotte lived. There never would have been a Victorian Age.

The story behind the birth of Victoria, the world's longest reigning female monarch, is very interesting to me. But to even approach her birth, we must start with the death of her cousin, Princess Charlotte, because although Charlotte was her first-cousin, she was old enough to have been her mother.

Here's the story. Princess Charlotte's grandfather was King George III. He was the English king who lost the American colonies, the king whom our founding fathers rebelled against. It's kind of great that he was such lousy king to the colonists, because had he not been, the USA may never had been born.

But I digress. Back to George III.

George III had 15 children.With 15 children, one would assume that the succession to the throne would be secure. Surely 15 children would eventually produce 30, 45, even 60 grandchildren. Well, 57 grandchildren were produced, but all of them were illegitimate, except one: Princess Charlotte Augusta. So for royal purposes, George III's 15 children only produced one grandchild.

Princess Charlotte was produced by George III's oldest son, the Prince of Wales, also named George. As the heir to the throne, he did his duty and produced an heir, or rather, an heiress. The Prince of Wales had a hideous marriage with his wife, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. No male children (who would knock Charlotte out of the line of succession) would be produced by the couple, because after Charlotte was born, they promptly stopped having sex with each other, due to an intense, mutual loathing which lasted decades.

So Charlotte was it. The only legitimate heir of her generation of the family, a princess with no brothers or sisters, but with 56 illegitimate first-cousins.

From girlhood, the common people knew that one day she would be their queen, and she was adored, the darling of the nation. The young, virtuous princess offered a sharp contrast to her royal uncles, who were known for their financial debts, public scandals, bastard offspring and disreputable private lives.

She married a dashing and handsome prince, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and the lovely couple were the pride of the kingdom. Then came the joyous news that the princess was pregnant; the next generation's monarch could be produced in a matter of months. True, she had suffered two previous miscarriages, but this time it should go smoothly. Her doctors closely monitored the new pregnancy, putting her on a severe diet, and performing on her the questionable practice of bloodletting.

Well, the due date came, and Princess Charlotte went into labor. She labored. And labored. And labored and labored and labored. She labored for 50 hours. Two full days of labor. Finally, her laborious labor produced a 9-pound baby boy. The boy would have been king one day, had he not been born dead. The plump, stillborn baby was taken away, and the exhausted Charlotte lived for another six hours, and died.

Princess Charlotte, dead!

The nation descended into a maelstrom of mourning. Do you think the Brits were overwrought by Princess Diana's death in 1997? You should have seen them when Princess Charlotte died in 1817. After all, Diana's death did not affect the succession to the throne. There was Prince William, Prince Harry, and the two daughters of Prince Andrew. But when Charlotte died, that was it. Her father and mother were still married, but estranged, and they were old. They would produce no more children. Charlotte's uncles were all that was left. The throne was destined to be inhereted by dissolute uncle after dissolute uncle.

UNLESS... one of those dissolute uncles could produce a legitimate heir!

There were six of them, and three of them were married. Of the three married uncles, two were married to women who were too old to have secure pregnancies, and the third was in a morganatic marriage, meaning their offspring could hold no royal title.

Of the three unmarried uncles, two were involved in long-term relationships with their mistress, and the third seemed to have little interest in women.

So it was up to the two uncles with mistresses to dump their mistress, marry a princess, and produce an heir that would save the crown from oblivion.

The elder of the two mistress-involved brothers was William, Duke of Clarence. The younger was Edward, Duke of Kent.

William had been in a 20-year relationship with a well-known actress of the day, and together, they had 10 bastard children and happy family. After Princess Charlotte's death, he left his happy bastard family and married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen.

Edward on the other hand, had been in a 27-year relationship with French Madame. After Charlotte's death, he bid her adieu and married the sister of his dead niece's widower, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

Within two years of Charlotte's death, both brothers had pregnant wives. In March of 1819, William's wife gave birth to a baby girl, whom they called Charlotte, in honor of her dead cousin. In March of that same year, Edward's wife also gave birth to a baby girl, Alexandrina Victoria (or as she was simply called, Victoria).

William was the elder brother, so it was his daughter, Charlotte, who would one day become queen, except for one problem: Charlotte died on the day of her birth, so Victoria, the daughter of the younger brother, was heiress presumptive-- for the time being. William and his wife would not let one dead infant stop them from having others, and William's wife was soon pregnant again. In December of 1820, little Victoria was knocked out of the line of succession by the birth of her younger cousin, Princess Elizabeth.

Little Elizabeth would have grown up to become Queen Elizabeth II, had she not died three months after her birth. As a result, the world would have to wait another 132 years for a Queen Elizabeth II.

What the world got in her place was Queen Victoria.

I imagine that Edward would have been awed by the fact that he, the fourth-youngest son of George III, would one day become king, and that his daughter, Victoria, would succeed him. It would become inevitable, as time passed without his older brother producing any living children. But the inevitable didn't happen to him. Edward would not see time pass, because he died 8 months after Victoria was born. He would never become king.

Upon the death of George III, his eldest son, George the Prince of Wales, became King George IV. He reigned for ten years and died. The next in line for the throne would have been his daughter Charlotte, but she was dead. Next in line. His brother Frederick, but he was dead. Next in line. Frederick's children, but he had none. Next in line. His brother William. He was alive, and he became King William IV. He reigned for seven years and died. The next in line for the throne would have been his daughter Charlotte, but she was dead. Next in line. His daughter Elizabeth, but she was dead. Next in line. His brother Edward, but he was dead. Next in line. Edward's daughter Victoria, and she was alive.

Victoria, the 18-year-old girl at the end of the line, was alive and well, and she reigned as queen for 63 years. She resided over an empire that spread so far across the globe, that the sun never set on it. Her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren have become kings and queens that have greatly influenced modern history.

Yet none of these monarchs would have been born, had Victoria not been born. Kaiser Wilhelm II and King George V would never had led Germany and the UK through World War I, had Victoria not been born, and been their grandmother. There would never have been a Victorian era, had there been no Victoria. We wouldn't even have the tradition of Christmas trees outside of Germany, had Victoria and her German husband Prince Albert not introduced them to the Anglo world in the 19th century. These, and so many other historical and cultural effects would never have happened, IF....

...Victoria's older cousin Charlotte had not died in childbirth, changing world history irrevocably.

I believe that the death of the forgotten Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales is one of the most important deaths in world history.

Food for thought as you decorate your Christmas tree this holiday season.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oh Boy, Balloon Boy!

I'm hearing in my head, the first few notes of the song Love Story..... "Where do I begin, to tell the story of...."


Well, perhaps not tell the story, because pretty much everybody in the USA and a few other countries knows the story inside and out.

What I'll attempt to do is tell you how the Balloon Boy circus has affected me personally. Aren't you oh-so interested?

I'm hearing another song in my head... "Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon? Would you like to glide in my beautiful balloon? We could float among the stars together, you and I, for we can fly, we can flyyyyyyyy, UP, UP and awayyyy in my beautiful, my beautiful balloooooooooon......"

I've been humming that song intermittently for... how many days now...? Since last Thursday, when the Heene family of Colorado blew into my life on the autumn breeze.

I was at home, listening to The Randi Rhodes Show on the radio. She stopped talking about politics for a minute and said something to the effect of, "If you're near a TV set, turn it on, you've got to see this. There's a little boy alone in a balloon and it is soaring across the sky. This is horrible. I sure hope he gets down okay."

I rolled my eyes and thought, Oh God, the news will now be canceled for the rest of the day until they get this little boy down.

It's not that I didn't care about the boy. I of course hoped he'd be rescued. But I instinctively knew that CNN, MSNBC and FOX would be carrying it live, milking it for all it was worth, and that maybe even ABC, CBS and NBC will have interrupted their regular programming to carry the balloon chase.

None of those news channels give a rat's ass about the boy's life. I mean sure, the news anchors, the reporters, and other employees care, they're human after all, but the news channels themselves were covering the story live, because it was dramatic television viewing. A 6-year-old boy whose life is at risk in a more mundane way would not have attracted continuous live coverage on channel after channel.

Let's say that a normal child, not the son or daughter of a celebrity, just a normal suburban kid, a boy, named, say, Falcon Heene, had accidentally swallowed some poison and had been rushed to the hospital with doctors fastiduously trying to save his life...

Do you really think that all the news channels would be planted outside the hospital with their cameras pointed at the building, canceling all other news coverage for two hours straight? No. A normal boy's life in that case, is not worthy of the coverage, but a boy in a BALLOON, well, that's a different story!

It was on all the channels for the thrill of it.

After hearing Randi mention it a couple of times more, I gave in, and turned on the TV.

The very first thing I saw was what looked like a giant, inflated Jiffy-Pop popcorn pan, zooming across the sky. My jaw dropped. I had expected to see a typical, classic, hot air balloon with a basket underneath, like the one that the Wizard flew away in, at the end of The Wizard of Oz. I expected it to be loftily floating in the sky, quite placidly, with the boy in basket, clearly visible. Instead I saw this foreign-looking object soaring through the heavens at great speed. What IS that, I thought, and where's the boy? Inside it, like Jiffy-Pop popcorn?

I sat down and became immersed in the spectacle. The more I looked at it, the more it began to look like a silver chef's hat... then like a flying saucer... I started to wonder if there could really be a boy in there. The wind was blowing that balloon effortlessly, it was traveling like a bullet through the air. That boy must be as light as a feather, I thought.

I got on Facebook, wondering how many comments I'd see about it on the news feed of my homepage. I remembered how when Michael Jackson was dying, there were lots of comments on Facebook as the story unfolded.

There were a few about the balloon boy. Most of them saying things like, "Pray for that poor, air-borne child." I wrote something like, "How many of you are watching the boy trapped in a UFO-looking balloon which is flying across the country? It's dreadful!"

I hadn't been watching for long when the balloon began to make its inevitable descent. Within a couple of minutes of my writing that Facebook status, the balloon descended slowly, and not in a free fall. It was gliding softly down onto the ground. Whew, I thought, if there's a boy in there, he'll be okay. That was a gentle landing.

Well, the moment that balloon touched terra firma, there appeared a man, then a crew of men, on the ground running towards it. The last thing they seemed to have on their mind was saving a trapped child. They treated that balloon as though it were a wild animal that they were trying to rope into submission. They actually threw ropes over it, they wrestled it, they dragged it, it almost looked as though they were kicking it.

I said out loud to my TV screen, "Uh, are you guys gonna like, look for the boy? Isn't the point of this recovery mission to recover the boy, not the balloon?" I wondered if maybe someone should call one of those guy's cell phones and say, "Perhaps you haven't been watching TV, but there's supposed to be a little boy in there, that's why half the country is watching you, live. I suggest you gently but quickly open that balloon and look inside."

After a few minutes it dawned on me that there was no boy in that balloon.

I got on Facebook and wrote, "THE BALLOON BOY IS A BOGUS STORY!! FOOLED US!!

My two statuses garnered me about 20 comments in 20 minutes. Many people were transfixed by the story.

I looked at the TV again, knowing what would come next. THE SEARCH IS ON! WHERE'S THE BOY?

Ah shit, I thought, all my political talk shows on MSNBC are gonna be canceled today because they're gonna be looking for that missing boy. He's probably hiding somewhere in the house, because it's his fault that the balloon blew off, and he's afraid of getting a spanking. I turned off the TV in disgust.

A few hours later, I heard on the radio that the little boy had been found. He had been hiding in a cardboard box in the attic. I should join the Missing Persons Bureau, I thought. Then I heard that the boy's name was Falcon. Falcon? I thought, Who the hell names their kid FALCON?

That night, I was flipping though the TV channels, and saw that the boy and his family were being interviewed for the full hour on Larry King Live. The Heene family exclusive!

I was not going to watch it, but within a minute of having it on, I became drawn in. There was something "off" about that family. I have an ingrained bullshit detector, and it went *BEEP*BEEP*BEEP*

The father. It was the father. I honed in on him. His demeanor, his voice, his eyes, everything about him made me suspicious. He seemed like total bullshit artist who knew he was skating on thin ice. The wife raised my eyebrows, too. I couldn't put my finger on it, but she seemed compliant and complicitous. It was just a gut feeling that I got from watching her. In between the couple were their 3 sons. There was something bizarre about them, too. The boy in the middle kept coughing. The coughs seemed fake. "Are you okay?' the mother kept asking him. Yes, he'd nod, then he'd keep coughing, passively. It's an act, I thought, he wants to be the center of attention. In this family, it's all about attention.

I was beginning to think that maybe I was being too harsh on the Heenes, that my imagination was running away with me, UNTIL... little Falcon blew the lid off the story.

Wolf Blitzer, who was substituting for Larry King, asked if, when Falcon was hiding, if he heard anything, if he heard his parents screaming his name. The boy didn't have an audio feed, so his father asked him if he heard them calling for him. He said yes. He was then asked why he didn't come out then, and Falcon said,

"You guys said that, um, we did this for the show."

I leaned forward and thought, WHAT did he just say?

I could see the father's heart sinking. He looked suddenly full of dread. The mother said, "No," in a helpless, nervous voice. Neither of the parents asked him to elaborate. They tried to skirt his remark. Wolf Blitzer went on blithley asking them other questions. I said aloud to the TV, "Uh, Wolf, didn't you just hear what that kid said?!? 'We did this for the show,' so how about a follow-up question, like, 'Mr. Heene what did your son mean when he said you did it for the show? Will you please ask him that?'" But Wolf didn't! I was going crazy. The whole hoax could have been exposed right then and there by asking the boy that question at that moment. Wolf blew it.

As the interview continued, I kept focused on the father. It was so obvious to me that his mind was elsewhere. He was superficially answering the remaining questions, trying to keep it together, while in the back of his mind he was thinking things like, Shit, we are so busted. I can't believe Falcon said that. I told him what he was supposed to say. Now what? The whole nation has heard it. I wonder if what Falcon said was really audible or noticeable. Shit what am I gonna do? Thank God Wolf didn't notice it and ask me about it. We're exposed. What will we do to cover it up...?

The whole thing was so transparent to me, and as the show dragged on, I resigned myself to the fact that that idiot Wolf Blitzer was not going to confront the Heenes on what Falcon said. But I was wrong. E-mails had been coming in to CNN, and obviously many viewers were asking about Falcon's comment, because in the very last segment, due to being prodded, Wolf Einstein Blitzer finally asked what Falcon meant by saying, "We did this for the show." Mr. Heene gave some bullshit reply, and so Wolf asked him to ask Falcon directly why he said that.

The father paused, with a look of panic. You could feel his panic. It was palpable. He hemmed and hawed and finally said, "Falcon, they want to know why you were in the attic..." then it looked like he was about to ask him the question, but that he just couldn't bring himself to do so, because he feared the boy would tell the truth. He paused, and asked Wolf, "Say--say it again...?" and Wolf repeated the question that did not need repeating: what did Falcon mean by "We did this for the show"?

And then, the father refused to ask his son the question! He changed the topic, telling Wolf how appalled he was that their story was being questioned, that he didn't even want to do this interview, and look how he was being treated, with suspicion, of all the nerve! There was such tension in Richard Heene's voice. He sounded like he was unraveling. He looked like he was unraveling.

After expressing his indignation, Wolf apologized, basically told them how wonderful they were, and ended the show.

After that, I was so sure that the whole thing was a hoax. I had heard that he had been involved in reality TV. The man is obviously an attention-whore. The kids were his tools, his wife, his accomplice.

I thought about the boy, Falcon. He was so jittery, he couldn't sit still for more than a minute. I know he's only 6, but still, even for a 6-year-old, he seemed a bit wacky. I thought about what he said. "You guys said we did this for the show." I became convinced that, in addition to being an attention-whore, the father was an idiot. I mean really, if you're going to pull a hoax on national TV, you don't choose for your accomplice a goofy 6-year-old boy. Children have loose tongues.

When I watched a replay of Countdown with Keth Olbermann later that night, I shot a video of the Balloon Boy segment with the volume turned off. I played The 5th Dimension singing, "Up, Up and Away" in the background, as I was filming. I laughed. I thought the whole story so hilarious. Then I uploaded the video onto YouTube. I gave it the title, Up, Up and Away, Balloon Boy! It's the first time that I've ever uploaded a video onto YouTube.

That was Balloon Boy, Day One. The next day, was to be even more bizarre...

Once again, the noon hour had arrived without my having turned on the TV. Once again I was listening to my girl Randi Rhodes talk politics on the radio. Right away, she started talking about Balloon Boy. What she was talking about initially though, was not about the Wolf Blitzer snafu.

She spoke about the vomit. Yes, the vomit. The family had been on two morning shows, Good Morning America and Today. He had vomited on both shows. On camera. He had vomited. He had vomited on both shows, on camera. I couldn't resist. I turned on the TV to see if they'd be showing video clips of it. Then I looked on YouTube. Eureka!

I can't describe how hard I laughed when I saw Falcon vomit, while his father tried, in his yeoman manner, to trudge on in their charade. How can I express the way I laughed? Let me just put it this way: I scared my cat. That's how loudly I laughed.

But back to Richard and Mayumi Heene and their three sons.

I don't know which of the shows they did first. I think it was Good Morning America, because, if memory serves me correctly, on the Today show, they had a Tupperware container at the ready for him to puke in, whereas on Good Morning America, the boy was sent off to the bathroom to do his puking.

This strongly suggests that they were caught unawares on Good Morning America, and that on Today, they were prepared to deal with the vomit to come. My conclusion: Good Morning America first, Today, second.

The up-chuck drama truly fascinated me. First of all, didn't the father say that he didn't even want to do Larry King Live, and that he only did it because it could be the first and last show they'd do? So okay, he says that, and the next day, bright 'n early, he's doing Good Morning America AND Today? Isn't he proving himself to be full of shit then?

It was actually kind of sad to watch. As his son vomited, Richard Heene could see the narrative being stolen from him again, second day in a row. His 6-year-old accomplice was becoming his worst enemy. His face looked pained as his son's puke interrupted Daddy's talking, but the pain was not for Falcon, it was for himself. The whole gig was unraveling on live TV. Again.

The mother's behavior seemed to be lacking in all maternal instinct. They were on TV, that's all that mattered. Her boy could have been having an epileptic fit, and she would have ignored it, and soldiered on the with interview. Of course she would. Cameras are rolling.

This was Mayumi-as-mother on TV that day...

On Good Morning America, Falcon kept saying he wanted to vomit. It was Dianne Sawyer who finally suggested that the boy go to the bathroom. Off to the bathroom he marched, all alone, while his mother obliviously sat in her chair. Dianne Sawyer said something like, "Mayumi, perhaps you want to go with him," and Mayumi said, "It's okay...?"


Perhaps I'm being too hard on poor Mayumi. After all, by the time they sat down for Meredith Vieira on the Today show, Mayumi was prepared with that Tupperware container, plus a handful of toilet paper. She was equipped. That's motherly of her. It's not as motherly as saying, "My son has been vomiting, so he's going to sit out this interview. He'll be in bed, not on TV," but still, it's motherly in a way.

So they're doing the interview, and Falcon is sitting next to his father and starts writhing his body. He closes his eyes. He leans forward. Whatever words are coming out of the father's mouth are completely immaterial, because all I could focus on was that boy and if more vomit was going to exit from mouth.

The boy delivered. He said, "Mom, I'm gonna vomit." Mayumi immediately held out the Tupperware container, Falcon puked, his brothers said, "Ooooooh!" and Mayumi wiped the vomit off his mouth with a long trail of toilet paper. Meredith Vieira kept asking the questions oblivious to the puke fest, Falcon vomited again, and Richard kept answering them, saying again how offended he was at the idea that this was all a hoax. Meredith suggested that they take a break, seeing as how little Falcon was not feeling well, and cut to commercial.

That was day two. Do I even want to write about day three? I'm not sure.

(To be continued...?)