Thursday, May 31, 2018

Life in this Nation’s Capital, More School Shootings, Nicaragua, Ghana’s Schools, Birth in An Abortion Clinic, My Interpretation Work

The Jack Johnson pardon, coming more than 100 years late, is a cheap way for Trump to try to cater to African American voters. However, despite hopes for a Democratic wave, polls reportedly show waning Democratic support. The economy right now favors Republicans, though the national debt is looming because of excessive tax cuts and little trickledown has occurred. There is full employment, but wage growth has stagnated. Living here in disenfranchised Washington, DC, I feel pretty frustrated! Voters seem to have become accustomed to the Trump administration’s outlandish and unpredictable ways and are no longer shocked.

Democrats do need to be more than anti-Trump and must find a new spokesperson and a new inspirational vision. Americans are almost at the point now of reviving the civil war thanks to Trump’s divisiveness. Few folks remain in the middle. The problem is that though Democrats (like me) feel strongly against Trump, they/we still have only one vote per person, so it will be a matter of turnout in the midterms. Trump is scary because he is so unpredictable, ignorant, and misinformed, along with being full of self-importance and self-confidence. He may even have scared Kim Jong-Un into coming to the negotiating table. Trump has his family, staff, and other world leaders holding their breath and walking on egg shells. They know that fulsome faux praise works best with him. I don’t know how long Trump can try to run a nation like that. As he would say, we’ll see. Even Chinese leaders, who are pretty calculating and savvy, may be puzzled about just how to deal with him. To some extent, being totally unpredictable is a negotiating strength—scares everyone else silly as no one knows what to expect. But, after a while, that tactic gets old, as nothing much actually gets done. Only flattery helps with Trump. On the subject of China, the leadership there is taking a risk by allowing most of its citizens to travel. Those who return bring back new technical knowhow and ideas, but they may also bring new political ideas and attitudes.

Okay, granted that in a rare occurrence in Oklahoma recently, an armed bystander did take down a gunman. It occasionally does happen. Gun advocates are saying that the Second Amendment is “God-given” though apparently God has spoken only to Americans. Divine or not, insurance companies are balking or threatening to raise rates where teachers are armed because of the risks. Can Donald Trump just decree that insurance companies ignore the odds? He will try to do so, as with his other counter-factual efforts, expecting his kingly pronouncements to alter objective reality, like when he decreed that climate change is a hoax. Sooner or later, the facts will catch up with him, his followers, and the more sober majority, but much damage will already have been done and will take time to remedy. One remedy should be to get rid of the Electoral College once and for all, as Hillary is advocating.

Unlike Obama, Donald Trump avoids press conferences and does not go out in public in DC, except to Trump Hotel or his golf course. And for good reason, since only 4% of DC residents voted for him. He must have noted how Giuliani was roundly booed at a football game in NYC. Where will Trump live after his stint as president? Maybe at Mar-a-Lago? There he can play golf to his heart’s content. However, his net worth has shrunk since he became president as revenues from his properties have diminished, probably the opposite of what he expected.
Valve Corporation was reportedly planning to launch an active school shooter video game, which sounded like a really dumb idea. Now, after protests, it has cancelled the project.

In Nicaragua, one of my several old stomping grounds, most notably as an election observer there in 1990 when Daniel Ortega was defeated (as per my books), it now looks like Ortega’s more recent power grab has caught up with him again, even though he played his cards more subtly this time around. To his credit, he has allowed the Peace Corps to operate in Nicaragua. But why do some guys want to be president-for-life? I suppose it’s a cushy deal to be president, especially, as in Ortega’s case, when he has named his wife as vice president. Now more than 83 people have been killed and more than 860 wounded in protests. Amnesty International has criticized the use of lethal force against protestors.

Heard about a US-directed effort in Ghana to have teachers experiment with moving away from rote learning and corporal punishment. Children began loving going to school under these new strategies of self-direction and encouragement, but some parents objected and I’m not sure the effort has continued. Unfortunately, in Honduras, too, teachers use rote learning and threaten kids with a ruler. It’s a wonder that so many people around the world survive such tactics into adulthood as well as they do.

Now a woman seeking advice in Mississippi’s only abortion clinic has actually had a surprise live birth there and was transported to a hospital with her baby. Fortunately for her child, she gave birth before an abortion could take place. Contraception, egg freezing, the abortion pill, and first-trimester abortions, most people have no quibble about allowing those. But where to draw the line is always the question, as mentioned before. Any line will always seem somewhat arbitrary.

For a while, as a Spanish interpreter, I was getting unaccompanied minor asylum legal cases. Though I am not allowed to speak specifically about them, they were quite interesting. But now they have stopped. I don't think it's because the cases here in DC have stopped, but I got a hint that maybe I was considered to have become too involved with clients, as females would usually embrace me after a session. These were not court sessions, but interviews in pro bono legal offices. I did not initiate these embraces, but they are common among females in Latin America, so I responded as is customary. However, maybe the lawyers thought that was being too familiar. In any case, the agency offering me those cases has not called me again and that's all I can think of. Maybe they considered there might be some taint of over familiarity if I appeared in court or if affidavits I translated for clients were used? Interpretation agencies use us "on call" interpreters as independent contractors and don't have to explain not calling any more. They have complete discretion. The gig economy provides little worker protection. Of course, we can always refuse an assignment and leave the country whenever we want (as I do every year). But if we are available, of course, we prefer to work, though not all of our hourly “pay” actually goes to us.

Meanwhile, I'm still very involved as an interpreter in evaluations and therapy sessions in children's own homes with another agency, in work closely related to my prior experience as a social worker and at the occupational therapy association. Here again, mothers often embrace me when I leave, as also happened when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras and still occurs on my return visits there. Sometimes, instead of a hug, a woman will just touch both my forearms with hers before departure, as is also customary. I’m pleased that Latin Americans, especially women, accept me as one of their own. While I first stumbled into interpretation as a stop-gap after Peace Corps, it has turned out to be a satisfying and interesting post-retirement part-time career.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Winchester, Speaking Spanish, “Sorry” Is Not Enough, Kim in Control, Reassessing the Rohingya Crisis, Honduras Plane Crash, Panama, Blackness, Baby Bust

While visiting my son Jon in Winchester, Virginia, he and I stayed at a hotel, giving him a break from his all-male residence. Here we are in the hotel hot tub, where, if you look very closely, you will see his missing left index finger, whose shocking amputation was mentioned earlier in these pages.

I am not the lone parent who unsuccessfully tried speaking Spanish to my young kids so they would learn. First, there was my then-husband who did not know Spanish and undermined the whole idea. But mainly, it was a matter of peer pressure and embarrassment if friends were around and Mom was speaking Spanish (“Mom, stop it!”) and they always answered me in English. That often happens with US-born school-age kids living even in households where both parents are native speakers. The kids usually understand the parents’ Spanish, but always answer in English with their rejection of the parents’ language becoming more pronounced as the kids get older. Only at college age do they begin to understand the advantages of bilingualism.

Another deadly school shooting—what’s next, close all schools? Make everyone stay indoors with a personal firearm at the ready? It’s way past time to reign in the NRA and the “right to bear arms.” As my kids used to say, “’Sorry’ is not enough.” OK, gun lovers, how have your firearms stopped gun violence? Parkland survivors are now righty saying “We told you so.” Hey, Mr. Trump, a young Muslim woman was now killed by a native-born American, what about that? Candidates running in Nov. will have to decide if the financial benefits and votes they get from the NRA and gun supporters are enough to counteract pressure from gun-control advocates. All evidence shows that where there are fewer guns present, there are fewer gun deaths. Although there was a horrific family murder recently in Australia in a rural area where firearms are permitted, the overall gun death toll in that country has shrunk dramatically since controls were enacted—the same in Conn. and other states with strict gun laws. 

Reportedly, Trump made a brief trip to see Melania in the hospital, and later welcomed her home in a tweet, calling her Melanie. And what about Barron? Where is he? Apparently, he did not visit his mother in the hospital. Barron must be away at boarding school because he’s never around. Poor kid, with a dad like his, he’s better off staying elsewhere. Melania has agreed to tough it out, but is keeping herself as separate as possible

A “trumped-up” claim means one that’s inflated, a term with special resonance these days. One of Trump’s many trumped-up claims is for still more tax cuts before the November elections, a transparent simple-minded ploy to win votes, even though the nation is already in dangerous deficit territory. He is deathly afraid that a Democratic Congress will impeach him. Who is the actual criminal, those who want to impose penalties on Trump for his criminal conduct or Trump himself?  

Kim Jong-Un has taken charge of the North Korea talks as a befuddled Donald Trump tries to grasp what’s going on. His rather crude cancelling of the talks does little for his reputation or our national security. Trump is a big crybaby.

However, probably most issues are not 100% black or white. From AFP, May 23, 2018, Rohingya militants massacred Hindu villagers during last year's uprising in Myanmar's Rakhine, Amnesty International said Wednesday in a report that sheds fresh light on the complex ethnic rivalries in the state.

Here’s from an article about a private plane crash at the airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, one of the scarier places to land. We passengers always clap after a safe landing. Fortunately, no one was killed in this crash.
Miguel Osorio, a spokesman for the Hospital Escuela Universitario, said that five crew members were being treated for minor injuries and were in stable condition.
The Honduran Civil Aviation Agency said in a statement that the crash took place at 11:15 a.m. It added that everyone aboard was taken for medical attention and said airport operations were temporarily shut down while authorities checked to ensure conditions were safe. Operations resumed at 3:15 p.m.
In 2008, a plane of the former airline TACA crashed in nearly the same spot. Five people died in that crash.
Tegucigalpa's airport has long been notorious as one of the more difficult approaches in the hemisphere, surrounded by mountaintops and residential neighborhoods. The airport's runway is about 6,600 feet long, according to the airport's website.
Authorities asked drivers to avoid the area and said about 50,000 people in the surrounding neighborhood lost power because the plane took down power lines.

Panama is just one of over 45 countries I’ve been to for various reasons during my long life and my involvement in many different endeavors. So I would recommend this piece that appeared in The New Yorker about US ambassador to Panama John Feeley, who resigned recently.

Is there any way for compromise or reconciliation to take place between the Trump administration/Trump’s base and the rest of us, who are, after all, the majority? I’ve been trying to think of an opening, some issue—maybe on the Dreamers? The problem is that the mid-terms are coming up and neither side wants to be seen “giving in” to the other.

Regarding the royal wedding, I certainly wish Harry and Meghan well. They seem very fond of each other, though there also seem to be some red flags in their relationship. As Donald Trump would say, “We’ll see what happens.” It was gracious of Prince Charles to walk the bride down the aisle.

As for the bride’s much-touted African American heritage, she is hardly “black” in appearance and her mother only partially so, more properly “blackish” rather than black. We have darker-complexioned folks in my own family, like my granddaughter and great-grandson, but they don’t make an issue of it. 

To see someone who’s really “black,” go to South Sudan where you see me there with one lady and another whom I met.

The US birthrate, which plunged during the recession, has not picked up but has continued on its downward spiral. That reflects some pessimism about the future. Fewer babies mean fewer future workers, which is why we in the US should more than ever welcome more immigration and legalize undocumented people already living and working here now to keep them here. And the foreign-born birthrate is often greater than for the native born. The shortage of farm workers is especially acute. Of course, welcoming more outsiders means the national complexion begins to change, not only skin color, but language, food, and culture. Is that what a minority of white native-born Americans fear?

However, with the baby bust now occurring in this country as well as the current shortage of farm and construction workers, it is certainly counterproductive to be deporting people and keeping others out when we need more, not less, immigration. DACA and TPS should be renewed immediately and a more sweeping amnesty put in place. We need those folks! Do we want to end up like Japan, a nation cool to outsiders, where robots are starting to take care of an increasing elderly and shrinking population and people rent out fake families?
China is on the verge of abandoning its limits on births, a policy that went too far. So much for the “population bomb.”

If Trump actually confused HPV with HIV, as Bill Gates alleges, that would be par for the course. The man operates at about a 4th-grade level, no offense to 4th-graders who are actually growing and learning daily, while Trump is retrogressing. Maybe the Trump base doesn’t care how misguided and ignorant he is, as they are at the same level and consider themselves equally capable of running a whole country. They are proud that one of their own is actually doing so now, at least to some extent. It’s sad and unfortunate that Donald Trump and his followers are so mentally and psychologically challenged; the rest of us , while sorry if their feelings are hurt, consider that all this has gone much too far, that they have had their moment in the sun and now he and they should not be permitted to keep inflicting their misjudgments on the majority of Americans and on the world. The problem is how to stop him and them. So far, no one seems to have found a likely remedy to an increasingly damaging and desperate situation. Someday, we’ll look back on the Trump presidency with amazement and disbelief, as well as relief, but we certainly are not there yet. Wake me up when it’s over.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Font Quirks, Bhutan Film, DC Schools, Cuban Refugees, Hondurans Lose TPS, Iran Decision, Craziness as Strategy?, Quibbles with the Democratic Party, State’s HR Report

As noted in previous postings, font size and spacing between lines unexpectedly varies on this blog, but I seem to have little control over such details, so ask for readers’ understanding. Such quirks don’t actually impede the message and trying to fix them can make matters worse. I’m not indulging in these strange variations on purpose! The blog gods have their own ideas.

The volcano goddess in Hawaii also has her own ideas and is angry, so some native people say. 

Spring is finally here or is it now suddenly summer?
It’s also my late ex-husband’s birthday, Tom Joe, RIP.
The Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries are celebrating the art of Buddhism during the month of May. As part of that celebration, I accompanied my two Bhutanese visitors to a rare film produced in their country. It’s a melodramatic, convoluted, highly stylized tale, shot mostly in dreamy mist and at night with a campfire in the forest and dark mountains behind. The old-fashioned atmospherics concern the mystery of an abbess’s death. Yet, while numerous traditional and ancient aspects are depicted, including scary old Buddhist statues, cell phones are also in evidence, as well as cars (with righthand steering wheels), and detectives wearing shiny badges. 

The capital city, Thimphu, is more than a mile high, even higher than Denver, with a cool climate. Its population is only 100,000 and the whole country has only 800,000 people, about the same as Washington, DC. Tourism is limited by the king, the nation’s supreme leader, who decrees hefty daily tourist expenditures, including for guide services. This keeps outsiders from influencing the country much and also guarantees tourism income—no backpackers or hitchhikers allowed. Since I am unlikely to ever visit Bhutan, I was glad to have had this glimpse of its quaint villages, capital city, forests, rivers, and mountains.

Below is the name of the film we saw and link to a trailer. I asked my young ladies what the English-language title means—they said it can only be understood in the context of their Buddhist religion, which everyone there adheres to. In addition to their own language, kids learn English in school, which is why my visitors are so fluent. There is no embassy here--just a few folks attached to the UN mission in NYC who carry out embassy-like functions.

Honey giver among the dogs

A local friend of my visitors and her young daughter also went with us to see the film. I ate some rice and very spicy chicken with them beforehand in our kitchen. Bhutanese folks eat with their fingers, not utensils, something I also observed in the movie.  

A word now about the evolution of DC public schools since the days when my kids attended and were a minority among a mostly African American student body. As I now sometimes act as an interpreter in DC schools, I’ve witnessed the many improvements made in physical settings, activities, and services, as well as close teacher involvement with each individual student. Now, instead of white middle-class parents sending their kids to private schools, they are jockeying for spaces in public schools. And an unprecedented number of “illegal” students have been found to be attending DC public schools from surrounding jurisdictions, with their parents now being dinged for tuition! We may well have former controversial visionary reformer Michelle Rhee mostly to thank for that.

No longer welcome in the USA, Cuban refugees are increasingly ending up in other Spanish-speaking countries that have proved more receptive: Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Chile. 

At a recent interpretation at the home of a Honduran family with several US-born children, the husband/father, a construction worker assigned to a government project, told me he had just learned that his TPS status would be terminated. Now what?

By the way, this family had a therapist visit because their youngest child, now about 15 months old, had been born after only 26 weeks of pregnancy and weighing just 1 lb. 2 oz. He stayed in the NICU for two months and came home initially with a stomach feeding tube. Now, though eating by mouth, walking, and playing, he is behind in his development. Yet, he seemed to be a responsive, engaging, and curious child much loved by his family. While there is a big difference between 20 and 26 weeks of fetal development, I will say again that I don’t find a 20-week abortion ban to be overly restrictive of women’s individual “rights over their bodies.” Of course, 20 weeks is only halfway through the 40 weeks considered a full-term pregnancy, so it’s very early. But if a fetus must exit the womb after that early date of gestation for whatever reason, why not let him or her have a chance at survival or the dignity of a natural death, rather than being actively killed? Certainly a fetus at 20 weeks can feel pain. I’ve agreed with the Democratic Party position on most issues throughout my long life, but as both an adoptive and a birth mother, I’ve never been comfortable with my fellow Democrats awkwardly characterizing the pro-life position as ”anti-choice” or “anti-abortion rights.”

Embryos being held in frozen limbo, though possessing future characteristics, I would agree, are not yet persons, and the question may be ambiguous during the first 3 months of pregnancy. Contraception and the “morning-after pill” should be available. But there is a transition to personhood somewhere along the line. There can be and is debate about just when that occurs (it’s a matter of social definition), usually when most people would agree that it happens—in historical times, it was with “quickening,” that is, when the pregnant woman became aware of independent movement by the fetus. Of course, not every baby, child, or young person develops into a worthy adult—just look at Donald Trump, probably once a cute, chubby baby. Producing a child is a big gamble that doesn’t always turn out well. However, the abortion debate is not yet settled and is evolving as understanding of fetal development and ever-more successful and earlier fertility and medical interventions occur.

Arguably, the world already has too many people, too many mouths to feed, but increasingly this is due not to excessive births, but to better survival, especially of older people like me. World population is becoming top-heavy with oldsters who use more medical and other resources, so only encouraging them/us to live longer means that many consume more while often no longer producing. I am trying to remain productive in my own life, not only by working part-time, but by participating in local volunteer activities and in helping out younger members of my own family, as well as folks in Honduras. However, the time may come when I will need a helping hand myself.
Besides abortion, another issue where I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye with the Democratic Party and with Barack Obama, whom I otherwise admire, has been on their unnuanced position on the Castro dictatorship and the excessive coziness with that regime aimed at gaining some measure of trust (maybe this is how Republicans view the nuclear agreement with Iran?). I shared the hurt feelings experienced by genuine pro-democracy activists in being shunned in that effort. So, while I could theoretically support a moderate Republican at the ballot box, I’ve never actually done that nor been able to agree with such a candidate on most issues. 

Not every Republican or Republican candidate is an ogre, obviously, but Donald Trump has sharpened the divide. From my current vantagepoint after having lived quite a long time on several continents, it does seem that Trump, based on a combination of faulty information, outside pressure, and just plain ignorance, has made a very unfortunate and harmful decision on the Iran nuclear deal. Iran’s leaders are quite right to say that he doesn’t have the mental bandwidth to understand the agreement. Let’s hope that other countries can hold it somewhat together until we can manage to get rid of Trump’s presidency. Iran’s old tactics of burning American flags while shouting “Death to America” and “the Great Satan” have genuine resonance once again. Given his general ignorance of foreign affairs and seeming inability to learn, former Republican Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has given Trump some good advice—meet with Kim Jonq-Un, shake hands for a photo-op. but leave the heavy lifting and negotiating to others.

When Donald Trump or one of his spokespersons, whether Giuliani, Scaramucci, or Kellyanne Conway, says something completely off-the-wall, is that being just plain crazy and undisciplined or is there an actual method to their madness? Pundits keep trying to figure that out. Sometimes craziness, whether inadvertent, impulsive, or on purpose, seems to work, as when Trump threatened Kim with nuclear annihilation. Kim has met his match against someone even crazier than he is and more likely to actually carry out his threats. But pundits think there was no grand strategy behind Trump’s exit from the Iran deal; he just wanted to undo an Obama-era policy, cement further ties with Netanyahu and the Saudis, and play up to his voter base. Putin has succeeded in damaging the USA well beyond his wildest dreams. He has effectively used American openness and democracy to undermine our country. If Trump had really wanted “a better deal” with Iran, he would have realized that a deal is not just a signed contract, but a relationship of initial mutual trust that can be built-upon and expanded. Where is the better deal that he wanted to make? The USA has lost the trust of the rest of the world and of most American citizens in Trump’s impulsive move on Iran. Donald Trump craves praise, so why doesn’t he try doing something to earn it for a change? 

If, as John Kelly alleges, undocumented immigrants “don’t integrate well,” it’s partly because they must live in the shadows, half-hidden. Their American-born children seem to be pretty well integrated. Just look at the Dreamers! And as for the allegation that such immigrants have no skills, they have plenty of useful skills when it comes to working in construction, agriculture and horticulture, and taking care of elders and children. Nor is integration just a one-way street. Newcomers don’t only have to “integrate” with those already here, the rest of us need to integrate with them, which I have tried to do by learning Spanish and also by traveling the world, not mainly as a tourist, but mostly with supporting useful projects abroad. The folks who don’t “integrate well” and are out-of-step with the majority of Americans are actually Donald Trump and his minions, including Mr. Kelly. However, it has been reported that Kelly may support TPS families who have long-established roots here—if true, Kelly is not completely irredeemable and maybe his criticism of immigrants is merely a ploy to win over Donald Trump? If so, more power to him.

It’s become increasingly hard to hear or read the news. I’d like to be back in the Peace Corps in a small town in Honduras, away from world news and the memories of my late son Andrew, immersed instead in the everyday details of a simple country life. I was in leafy, quiet El Triunfo in the Peace Corps when the US Supreme Court allowed GW Bush to assume the presidency despite his popular vote loss, also when September 11 occurred, followed by the Iraq WMD debacle, so the news didn’t filter down to me right away and the shock was less acute. I was involved instead with home births, helping local ladies plant vegetable gardens, and simply washing my clothes by hand and cooking meals over a wood fire. Once in a while, I listened to a transistor radio. Today, living right here in Washington, DC, blocks from the capitol, Supreme Court, Trump Hotel, and the White House, it’s all too close for comfort. But once it’s over, we will feel such great relief and will be fully occupied with assessing the damage and taking steps to remedy it. We may look back on these awful and ridiculous days with a certain nostalgia, disbelief, and even humor about what we all went through. I hope to live to see the day.

A Critique of the US Department of State 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (from Amnesty International)

Thank you, dear readers, those still with me, for allowing me to express myself so frankly and freely. And, after I am gone, if my children, should want to resurrect my memory, they have only to consult these pages. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Kilauea On a Rampage, Cartoon Antics, Spanking, Cuban Arts Festival, Iran Deal, Kanye, Universal Health Care, Triunfo Library, National Borders, Former PCV Teacher of the Year Unmuzzled, One or Two Spaces?

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on the Big Island erupted suddenly, sending plumes of lava shooting up into the air, prompting a mandatory evacuation as more lava and steam poured out of cracks in roadways in a residential neighborhood, destroying an estimated 35 houses and several cars. One resident also described the sudden appearance of “a curtain if fire.” The volcano has been spewing lava since 1983, lava constantly flowing down into the ocean, creating a perpetual cloud of steam. Now earthquake activity has disturbed the volcano further. I’ve often hiked over the hardened lava beds around Kilauea to marvel at the steady stream of lava flowing out, especially at night, glowing a brilliant, hot red-orange, a very impressive sight. But never get too close! Will the volcano ever run dry? It seems to spew lava up constantly up from the bowels of the earth, never running out. (I have family in Hawaii and friends living on the Big Island.)
Recently arriving early for a therapy interpretation for a child and parent in a private home (interpreting, as I’ve said before, is my part-time job), I found the child watching what seemed to be a rather clever cartoon show. The cartoon characters visiting an art museum playfully entered well-known artworks, like the Mona Lisa or impressionist riverside picnics and actually interacted there with subjects. Most of their antics inside the paintings would not have impressed our young client, but I enjoyed watching the cartoonists having fun making the scenes play out.

By the way, my observation is that most Hispanic mothers living in the US, even with kids with developmental problems, like other mothers I’ve observed in Latin America, use physical punishment, sometimes just a slap on the hand or a threatened “pow-pow.” I only recall once hitting one of my four children in exasperation (to my own surprise and distress)—I’m definitely an advocate of raising kids without physical punishment or threats. It can be done most of the time. Maybe it’s also a class thing, as when I was a social worker, both black and white low-income parents resorted routinely to corporal punishment of children. And male partners in many cases beat their wives.

My own mother used a hairbrush on occasion. I remember once at about age 5 vowing not to cry as she wacked me harder and harder and finally gave up when no peep came out of me. I don’t recall the infractions that in her mind merited the hairbrush, but they were infrequent.

After a recent evening Spanish interpretation session, I found myself standing out alone after dark on an unfamiliar street across the river in Anacostia in a largely low-income area of DC. I began feeling a little apprehensive while waiting for a bus for almost a whole hour. But certainly, it was not as scary as in any city in Honduras, where, of course, I would never stand outside at night. 

As per my Confessions book, I have always supported cultural exchanges with Cuba and with other countries too. Celebrating Cuban Arts is the name of a current celebration. For two weeks, the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, will present Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, a festival celebrating the artistic richness that has emerged from this "island archipelago in the sun." This unprecedented gathering of Cuban and Cuban-American artists represents some of the greatest from the island and the Diaspora, May 8-20.

Netanyahu has been pretty successful in manipulating Trump, first regarding moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, now with his latest efforts to derail the Iran agreement. That deal may be imperfect, like all deals, but is probably better than no deal at all. Netanyahu and others seem to be goading Trump into a war with Iran, likely to achieve some Israeli objectives vis-à-vis Iran and also to rally our nation in support of a wartime Trump. Meanwhile, peace efforts are going forward regarding North Korea, thanks to the two Korean leaders, perhaps incentivized by Trump’s scary nuclear threats.

Sympathy may be due for Trump appointees working (voluntarily, of course) for an erratic and ignorant boss and too often ignorant themselves about the agencies and policies entrusted to them. I feel sorry for those who seem to have no clue about what they are supposed to do while painfully testifying before Congress or trying to respond to reporters’ questions. Sarah Sanders is actually more adroit than most Trump spokespersons in answering questions in slippery ways that avoid outright lies, but also are unlikely to antagonize her big boss.

Trump is definitely more popular with Trumpists than Obama was, so taking a poll among his own supporters, as Rasmussen does, will always come put him on top.

Is Kanye West seeking extra publicity? If so, he has certainly gotten it. But rather than increasing Trump’s support among African Americans, he has actually reduced it—along with his own.

The cover story in The Economist of April 28, 2018 makes a well-researched argument for “Within Reach: Universal health care, worldwide.” Might the US eventually be swept up in a growing tide?

If anyone reading this has the name of someone I might contact to help us with getting underway the long-delayed public library in El Triunfo, my first Honduras Peace Corps site, please let me know. For some time, funding for the library was included in the will of a childhood friend who had visited me in the Peace Corps in Honduras. But perhaps due to outside advice, that provision was apparently removed from her will shortly before her death last year. So, we are back to square one again on the Triunfo Library—we have a collection of books but nowhere to put them or to lend them out.

The Trump administration said that it is ending special immigration protections for about 57,000 Hondurans, adding them to hundreds of thousands of immigrants from other countries battered by violence and natural disasters who are losing permission to be in the United States. Expelling all these well-established people, not only Hondurans but of other nationalities, if it actually happens, will be a big loss to our country culturally, economically, and just about losing so many if our friends. Wouldn’t it be so much more effective to get rid of Donald Trump and his myopic associates instead?

The Central American migrants currently gathered at the southern US border do present a dilemma. Letting them in does encourage others to make the risky effort and there are limits on how many can be accepted. Their grievances and fears in their home countries are real, but is it the obligation of the United States to be their refuge? Many have chosen to stay in Mexico, not exactly a safe place either, but one more accommodating than the US and where their language and cultural adaptation is less severe. Why are they still coming? Probably for what motivates refugees and migrants everywhere, for a combination of both greater safety and more economic opportunity. While I do support DACA and legal status for other long-time crime-free residents with a well-established life here (facts on the ground), that is, those who have already become part of our social and economic fabric, no country can allow fully open borders. So, while Trump’s proposed southern wall would be an ineffective, costly, ugly, and symbolically unwelcome purely cosmetic device, at the same time, allowing open borders is not the answer either. Opinions certainly differ about how many refugees and asylum seekers our country can or should accommodate. However, like it or not, Trumpists, humankind is moving closer to “One World,” the reason that you folks are now fighting so hard against it.

Here’s a case of where Trump tried to silence the message, but it ended up coming through even stronger. Mandy Manning, a former Peace Corps volunteer, (Armenia 1999-2000), this year’s National Teacher of the Year, read a speech on CNN Saturday, which she said President Trump wouldn’t let her give during her award ceremony at the White House. On CNN, Manning’s speech referenced the immigrant and refugee students she teaches, as well as her support for LGBT and other marginalized students. Manning said her purpose was to tell her students “that they are wanted, they are enough, and they matter.” In her appearance on CNN, she listed the names of her students who she said rely on America’s “policy of welcoming immigrants and promoting peace.”

As a woman myself of a certain age, having worked in social work, occupational therapy, overseas medical brigades, and, now, as a healthcare interpreter, I am not particularly surprised when I or my contemporaries experience a sudden health setback. Often, it’s something that has actually been building up for a while, but has just come to light. Yet my agemates, confronting a cancer diagnosis or cardiac surgery, often act surprised and affronted, as if fate has conspired has against them by dealing this unfair and shocking blow. Well, yes, it has—but not in terms of mere random bad luck, rather because aging and death are our universal fate. Of course, they—and our modern medical system—will seek to delay the inevitable. Because I’m well aware of my own potential health risks, I never plan my annual Honduras trip until a few weeks out. Everything is temporary, planet earth, Donald Trump, and we ourselves. And yet, Egyptian-born Wanda, a mother of three and my long-time friend in South Duxbury, Vermont, is now 103 and still living in the house that she and her husband built on their farm so many years ago. She has a very attentive family, one key to her longevity. 

Finally, what about the current debate between leaving one or two spaces at the end of a sentence? As a recent article in the NYTimes attests, back when most text was rendered by typewriters, leaving two spaces may have made reading easier. Now, with computer fonts, one space between has become more common. I began leaving only one space back when we decided that for our occupational therapy association magazine, OT Week, it would save space. After getting accustomed to doing so, I’ve used one space in my books and now here, so two spaces actually make my eyes hesitate. But, apparently, two spaces may result in marginally smoother reading for most people, though the jury is still out. I notice that The New Yorker’s print version seems to leave only one space at the end of sentences, likewise, in the on-line versions of the Washington Post and New York Times. Typos are rare in those publications and I only once found what might be considered a typo in The New Yorker—it was the lack of a period at the end of a sentence in a place where it would have been awkward to include it. But I have often found typos and misspellings even in big publishers’ best sellers. I hope there are none in either English or Spanish in my books. I became a typo obsessive after my years proofing OT Week.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Ortega’s Reckoning, Cuba, Sessions, Macron, More Gun Violence, Me-Too, Trump and Money Worship

Ever since Daniel Ortega’s comeback in Nicaragua, he’s been keeping a fairly low profile on the world stage, but, suddenly, Nicaragua is back in the news. Some estimates have put the number of deaths in the recent Nicaraguan protests as high as 34 or more, including a journalist killed on-camera. The fight has gone beyond protests over pension reductions, extending to the heavy-handed way Daniel Ortega has prolonged his presidency once back in power, including the installing of his wife as vice president. I was an election observer back in 1990 when he suffered a surprising and bitter loss to Violeta Chamorro, despite having control of the military, courts, press, and everything else in the country. He had persisted ever since to regain the presidency and did so in 2007, with only one-third of the vote, as the Nicaraguan constitution bestows the presidency on the highest vote getter, not necessarily the winner of a majority. Ortega then rigged the courts and other government agencies and changed the constitution to enable him to run indefinitely. He is now on his third consecutive term on this round. He tried to steer a less fiery course than during Sandinista days and allied himself with business owners, an alliance now fraying. Oil subsidies from Venezuela have shrunk, which has not helped his fortunes. Now, Nicaraguans are expressing their discontent. To his credit, however, Ortega has allowed the Peace Corps to work in Nicaragua.

Check out our new Amnesty International Cuba podcasts on
The Podcasts include testimonies of ordinary Cubans about their lives in the island. The 2nd episode of the podcast series ‘Cuban Lives’ is the story of Cuban human rights defender Laritza Diversent [who also spoke at AI USA’s annual conference in Miami in 2016].

Jeff Sessions, eager to keep his job, has wisely not recused himself from the probe into Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen. Sessions is clinging onto his job for dear life as his only way to remain in politics, enduring all sorts of humiliating insults from Trump who, so far, has not fired him.

Whenever Trump’s ego seems to need a boost, he goes on a campaign-type rally in front of a well-selected friendly crowd, as he did recently in Michigan. His boorish behavior gives license to his followers to follow his lead, to get revenge for what they regard as threats to their status in our country.

While many of us voters oppose the counterproductive activities of Trump and most Republican leaders, and also decry Trump’s hardcore supporters, along with Fox News (the real “fake media”) and the systemic advantages favoring Republicans, we also have ourselves to blame for not fighting hard enough and for taking for granted that since we were, and still are, so obviously “right,” that right will prevail. Overconfidence and a feeling of moral superiority on the part of Democrats and Democratic voters was a main reason why Hillary lost and why we now have a President Trump.

French President Emmanuel Macron put on a charm offensive, buttering up the easily flattered Trump in an effort to persuade him not to ditch the Iran accords. Perhaps that’s the only way to deal with Trump for the greater good of humanity and of our nation, by expressing fulsome admiration and praise since the guy has such a fragile ego—
”a spoonful of honey” as the song goes.

On a drizzly April 25 morning, I joined a crowd outside the Supreme Court protesting the latest version of the travel ban, which tacked on Venezuela and North Korea to give it the cosmetic appearance of not targeting Muslims. Reportedly, Justice Anthony Kennedy is leaning toward joining the conservative majority to uphold the ban this time, despite Trump’s desparaging comments about Muslims making his intent obvious.

 (The idea that the Supreme Ct., because of lifetime appointments, is above the fray, free of political influence, has long since been disproved.) The protest crowd was huge, snaking around the block, as curious tourists looked on. Meanwhile, Kennedy, often a swing vote on the court, will be 82 in July, and is being pressured to retire by Republicans who want to give their party still another shot at naming a Supreme Court justice. Let’s hope that Kennedy, despite his unpredictable leanings, hangs on until after the mid-term elections to prevent that from happening.

Quite apart from mass school, concert, nightclub, and workplace shootings, now there has been a gun rampage at a Waffle House. And a legal gun owner, an Ohio mother, accidentally dropped a loaded gun and killed her 2-year-old daughter. The constant repetition of such incidents has made the public kind of numb. I suspect that many more gun owners and their loved ones actually die from gun accidents, family murder/suicides, and individual suicides than ever confront a dangerous person with their gun. It’s too easy to pull the trigger on impulse or by accident. I’ve already mentioned that my son Jon, at age 11, was accidentally shot in the foot by a parents’ bedside gun dropped by another boy, an injury which thankfully did not kill him, but still plagues him today. A gun is most dangerous to the person who possess it and to their family and friends. It can be fired by a curious child (remember the mother killed in Walmart when her 2-year-old pulled a handgun out of her purse as he sat in the grocery cart?) or appropriated by a young family member intending to become a mass shooter or else stolen by someone intending harm. Countries with strict gun laws and fewer guns in circulation have fewer gun deaths. Even Switzerland, which allows considerable legal gun ownership, has stringent laws governing their use. We and our loved ones are all at risk because of the proliferation and lack of adequate gun controls in our country. Even if they aren’t actually killed, victims can still suffer lifelong injuries, like my son has. There are enough other risks in our lives—we don’t need this one. While gun advocates point out that a motor vehicle can kill people too, as has happened in Toronto and elsewhere (either accidentally or on purpose), a vehicle does provide much useful transportation, but a gun—except perhaps in the case of target shooting—is designed only to hurt or kill. The NRA is banning firearms during VP Pence’s upcoming meeting with them in Dallas—why, if guns are so protective?

I have a smidgen of sympathy for men caught unaware by the Me-Too movement. I’m old enough to remember times when sexual harassment by men of women was simply part of the culture, maybe not outright rape, but a sneaky pinch on the bottom, a too-tight hug, or a hand on a breast, as well as simply women being paid less than men in comparable positions or not being promoted at all. We didn’t complain—it was just how things were. Now, mores have changed, just as they have for the acceptance of divorce, interracial marriage and even gay marriage, pot-smoking, and being unchurched. Some guys were caught in the transition for activities they had indulged in before the full-blown change. As women, we allowed men license and now that such license has become unfashionable, we are complaining after the fact. I don’t mean to downplay the Me-Too movement; it is way overdue. But some men question being called out for behavior that was accepted at the time.   

In my old age, I’m wondering how we have come to so admire and value money accumulation? It’s understandable that everyone needs a basic income for food, clothing, and shelter, as well as for medical care, transportation, and even some extra for fun. Yet, the most important life values are human connections, physical wellbeing, and basic security. Surveys have shown that beyond a certain amount--in the US, about $75,000--an increase in income doesn’t add to life satisfaction. But does it then add to prestige or feelings of superiority? Why else do folks, especially men, seek to accumulate large amounts of money in the bank or in investments, something which, after all, is rather abstract, not a concrete benefit? Is it for bragging rights? Is it to compensate for evident personal deficits, perhaps the motivation behind Trump’s boasting about his wealth, while also making sure no one finds out exactly how much (or little) he really has? Maybe Trump hopes that seeming to be rich will make up for his feelings of inferiority because of his evident deficiencies in intelligence, personality, judgment, and appearance, especially in relation to Barack Obama, someone actually quite competent and with (gasp!) African ancestry? Trump is getting his revenge now as president by making often cruel and arbitrary decisions that willfully hurt others, justified by a veneer of political legitimacy. While some individuals seek to settle scores and overcome feelings of inferiority with guns or by driving vehicles into pedestrians, Trump uses the powers of the presidency to do the same against his perceived rivals and so many other, mostly aggrieved and marginalized men, identify with him and cheer him on. It’s a sorry, mutually reinforcing, situation.   

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Summit of the Americas, Cuba, State’s Human Rights Report, Colombia, Nicaragua, Wheelchairs, More Bhutan Visitors, Traveler’s Circle, Taxes, Midway Island, Purposeful Activity

Neither Donald Trump nor Raul Castro attended the Summit of the Americas

OAS secretary general: 'We cannot allow the Cuban people to continue to be oppressed'

The secretary general of the Organization of American States urged participating governments at the VIII Summit of the Americas to put more pressure on Cuba and “not allow a convenient indifference in the face of a dictatorial situation.” “We cannot allow the Cuban people to continue to be oppressed by an infamous dictatorship, a dictatorship that carries the weight of decades of human rights violations … tortures and executions. We cannot allow that,” Luis Almagro said Thursday during a gathering organized by two organizations, Victims of Communism and CubaDecide. “We have to be faithful to fundamental ethical values.” (Miami Herald, April 13, 2018)

The passing of the Cuban presidency on to Miguel Diaz-Canel represents an historic shift away from the Castros, but probably won’t make much difference, especially as long as Raul Castro is still alive and heading up the overarching Communist Party. Diaz-Canel, even if he wanted to, would not dare stray very far from Communist orthodoxy.

I wrote my Confessions book to make the case, through the example of my own life, not only that unsung people like me and you are integral to the social and political fabric, but that governments and political leaders should be judged by what they do and its impact on others, not by political or partisan labels. Fidel Castro for decades tried to depict his regime as caring about the little guy by ostensibly providing food, health care, and education to all citizens, yet alleging relentless ideological attacks by the mighty USA/ Goliath. Actually, Fidel was the greater ideologue. Barack Obama, for all his many thoughtful policies, did go somewhat overboard in accommodating Havana, as did members of the Democratic Party, who followed in lockstep, posing for photo-ops shaking hands with Raul Castro and shunning Cuba’s genuine democracy and human rights activists. The US Embassy in Havana, which had allowed democracy activists to send secure e-mail via its computers, no longer allowed them access, instead reserving the computers for students selected by the regime. Except for MLKing associate Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the Congressional Black Caucus has shunned afro-Cuban rights’ activists out of a misplaced loyalty to Fidel.

Fully expecting Hillary Clinton to assume the presidency, I wrote my book, hoping to persuade “progressive” folks to hold Raul Castro to the same standard as any other head-of-state. I also wrote a series of Cuba-themed on-line articles in Huffington Post and Democracia Participativa. With a friend who had donated to Hillary’s running mate Tim Kaine’s campaign, I was planning to make my pitch to one of his staff members, whose name my friend had been given. I’d also scheduled a talk on my Cuba/Latin America book for the day after the election at the Chappaqua public library in the very town where Hillary lived. I had hoped to influence someone close to Clinton. Of course, only 8 people showed up to my talk and they were definitely downhearted and understandably not very fired up about Cuba or Latin America. So that plan backfired. We all know that Donald Trump took office instead and that Cuba has subsequently largely faded from the world scene. Contrary to what Fidel so relentlessly invoked and Trump’s own emphasis on personal loyalty only to himself, we should never pledge loyalty to any political leader. A leader needs to earn our trust, not demand it before the fact.

Speaking of loyalty, Trump, the accidental president, is giving James Comey’s book a big boost by trying to trash it. He would have been smarter to have just ignored it or dismissed it with few words. Now that Trump is on the warpath against still another well researched and carefully worded book criticizing him (so far, best sellers by Hillary, Wolff, and now Comey), he is likely to take out his vengeance, as before, by hurting vulnerable people who have a hard time fighting back: immigrants, American Muslims, Medicaid and food stamp recipients, and federal employees. Since Trump himself is illiterate, it would be hard for him to rebut his accusers with his own memoir because the only folks willing to write it for him are discredited political hacks and he would be likely to get himself into even more hot water by lying on the printed page. I’ve been allowing one rightwing website into my in-box, just to see how that thinking goes, but now they, like the Democratic sites, are starting to metastasize, so it may be best to shut them all down. All sides use emergency language and, of course, ask for money, money, money. 

Before they married, James Comey’s wife, Patrice, was a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote village in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Comey, visited her there and became very ill with malaria, so she took him to the hospital in the middle of the night, which saved his life. 

Facebook seems to have become extra careful now, asking for a password before allowing access.

Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, the State Dept. human rights report this year has many omissions, among them no mention of the DR’s anti-Haitian-descendants’ policy—that is, its policy of considering anyone whose antecedents came to the DR after 1929 to be a non-citizen—something, in fact, applied only to Haitian descendants. This year’s State Dept. Human Rights Report has many critics, including those of us with Amnesty International.

I graduated from high school in Bogotá, Colombia, many years ago and also have an adopted son born in Colombia, so have strong connections to Colombia. Colombia may have celebrated the signing of peace accords between the government and FARC rebels and paramilitary factions, but peace does not yet reign. Two defenders of the post-war rights of civilians caught in the crossfire and still suffering the effect of the civil war are now making a US tour and met with some of us at the Amnesty Int’l USA DC office: Ofelia Castillo of Tierra Patria in Cartagena and Sandra Bermúdez of Bogotá. Many rural Colombians and ethnic minorities have not been afforded justice or allowed to return to their ancestral lands.  
Here’s a statement related to their efforts from Amnesty International’s website: Amnesty International has denounced the lack of comprehensive protection of rights defenders and their families and urged the Colombian authorities to introduce measures to guarantee the protection of civilians and to dismantle paramilitary groups. Our campaign Unprotected Peace advocates for improved protection measures for communities at risk but it will highlight the alarming situation of Human Rights Defenders attacks in Colombia and the lack of effective protection mechanisms. In the context of Colombian presidential election, the campaign will promote dialogue about this issue in the electoral debate in Colombia and will help showcase the dire situation HRDs in Colombia now face. For more information on Amnesty International research and campaigns: 

Nicaragua (again, a matter of my personal interest as I’ve been many times and was an election observer there in 1990)—at last count, 10 protesters were reported killed;
Amnesty International press released on attacks against peaceful protesters:

Finally, with the invaluable help of my friend Dave, who has a car, in two roundtrips, we were able to take the four wheelchairs donated to me with missing footrests to the Salvation Army warehouse in Virginia. The Salvation Army has quite an organized system for drop-off and seems to have an army of volunteers and/or employees taking charge of donations. After I had been given those somewhat vintage wheelchairs, as mentioned previously, finding the right footrests for each proved too daunting and, instead, I just ended up ordering and taking a brand new wheelchair to Honduras last Feb. In Honduras, there would have been even less possibility of replacing the missing footrests, so as long as continue traveling to Honduras, I will take a new wheelchair. 


My two Bhutan (female) visitors had two (male) short-term visitors from their office whom felt I could not accommodate, having become less tolerant of confusion in my old age. I insisted they stay at a nearby Air B&B, though they did come over to eat at our house and gave me a jar of Bhutanese honey. 

The population of the whole country of Bhutan (a small, isolated traditional Buddhist kingdom) is the same as that of Washington, DC, so here you see a fairly good portion of the Bhutanese population right with me in my living room. 

Recently, had the good fortune to reunite with some old buddies from a travel story-telling group called Traveler’s Circle, including with our original organizer Mark, who drove all the way from Vermont. Here are a few Traveler’s Circle friends at our reunion just as the party was getting underway. 

Traveler's Circle reunion, 2018

I did file for an extension and paid my estimated taxes on time, planning as usual to finally file in October, as I do every year. My taxes, though not huge, are complicated, as I'm self-employed.

My daughter Stephanie is now doing biology research on Midway Island, of WWII fame, at the tail end of the Hawaiian chain. It has pretty much reverted to its natural state, so is a gold mine for biology research. It’s so far from Oahu that it took them 4 days to even get there (a thousand miles from Oahu, I believe) and she is incommunicado now on that island until mid-May.

Son Jonathan is slowly getting used to having lost his left index finger.

In my prayers, I ask “Deliver us from evil,” and you know what evil I’m referring to. Yet, despite the many challenges to human life here on earth and even in our own small corner of Washington, DC, I’m grateful that at my age (never mind how many years!) to still have such a full and rich personal life, still able to remain engaged and productive and fairly mobile while having no car and, more importantly, despite the many tragedies I have endured and the numerous ongoing challenges I now face. It’s also gratifying to have this forum as a sort of personal diary to document the salient events of my life and to share them with a few self-selected readers, including members of my own family. I learned a lesson from working for 16 years at the American Occupational Therapy Association, namely that everyone seeks their own subjectively defined “purposeful activity.” I’ve taken that lesson to heart.