Sunday, December 16, 2012

Holiday greetings, Flying Fish Coffee Shop, Fiscal Cliff, International Human Rights Day, Alzheimer’s Friend, MedCottage Update, Domestic News, Gun Issues, Nigeria Outlaws FGM, Honduras News

Happy Holidays, Felices Fiestas. The decorated house is across the street from where my older daughter Melanie lives in Norfolk, Va., where I visited her recently. The figure is a pottery statuette, a Christmas gift from a friend, who bid on it an auction with me in mind. It is originally from Peru, where I have visited more than once, but whether an authentic antiquity or only a copy is hard to say. It is lovely and I appreciate such gestures all the more this season on the anniversary of my son Andrew’s death, now 18 years ago, but, of course, a parent never forgets.

As mentioned before, I love my interpretation work because it’s so varied and surprising, providing real-life entertainment and drama. No wonder I don’t need TV! On a recent evening assignment, I met a special education teacher and school social worker at a DC hangout called “Flying Fish Coffee Shop” to discuss our strategy in approaching the non-responsive parent of a special ed student. Later, we made an unannounced house call on the family, a non-English-speaking working single mother from Honduras with five children. (No wonder she didn’t seem particularly responsive; she was busy!) Naturally, she was quite surprised and her son, a sixth grader, was obviously not happy to see us. I cannot go into more detail because of confidentiality, but it does seems that we resolved the communication issue. This woman is from a rather remote part of Honduras, so I wondered how she had ever come to this country.

December 10 was International Human Rights Day. My Amnesty International (AI) group celebrated it with a Write-A-Thon held on Friday, December 7, in conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) which has also worked in the human rights arena since 1980. AAAS forensic teams have gone to Latin America, members’ satellite imagery has shown devastation from the air, and scientists have been jailed for their efforts to disseminate information or help those injured by government forces. In short, AAAS and AI collaborate in many areas. At the AAAS headquarters where we held the Write-A-Thon, we set up separate tables for writing letters to the appropriate authorities on numerous cases, some cases held in common with AAAS. Altogether some 50 people attended our event which generated hundreds of letters, just the beginning of an effort that will last through December. In December 2011, Amnesty members around the world sent about 250,000 letters, some of which seem to have had an impact judging by the results.

Through a webcam connection with Albany, NY, during our gathering, we were able to communicate with an Iranian doctor, Arash Alaei, who, along with his physician brother, has obtained asylum in the United States. They were arrested together for working on HIV/AIDS prevention and sentenced to 6 years for what, they never quite knew. But thanks to a worldwide campaign they were freed after 3 years and escaped from Iran. Their prison treatment was very harsh and their families left behind are still being pressured and ostracized. However, they are continuing their efforts to prevent and treat AIDS and drug addiction in the Middle East from the United States.

I regret to report that a friend age 85 living in an Alzheimer’s facility recently had a fall, was hospitalized (a change of scene for her), and is now recovering physically. I had mentioned this woman once before on this blog, that it was heartening to see her engaged then in an animated nonsense conversation with another resident, a man who said he was originally from Korea (that much was intelligible). Now the home’s staff indicate that our friend’s children have objected to her very chummy relationship with this man and want them separated. If so, what ridiculous kids!! What if, within the bounds of decency allowed at this facility, the two converse, hold hands, and possibly even kiss each other? In fact, if they actually stripped naked in front of other residents, I doubt that anyone would even notice, as each is in his/her own world.

My friend with Alzheimer’s is just one of a growing number of older people with disabilities. If she had been born a century earlier, she might not have lived long enough to get dementia and hence to require 24-hour care, which someone has to provide and pay for. I can attest that 9 years ago, when I came back from the Peace Corps, she was 76 and still had all her faculties. It’s no surprise to learn that people all over the world are living longer and with more disability. But given a choice, most of us would still choose to live longer, disability or no, and would want the same for our loved ones. Soon after 2015, for the first time in history, there will be more people over 65 than under the age of five. Are people living too long? Maybe not you and me, of course, but everyone else? Saving lives, especially of children, which is a priority everywhere, means more people are likely to grow old and frail, becoming a social and financial burden. Every remedy or “cure,” like dialysis, organ transplants, or AIDS drugs, carries its own costs in disability and in treatment for survivors.

Now someone living next door to the MedCottage elder care pod mentioned last time has complained in a newspaper op-ed that the neighbors are not consulted. She says the pod spoils their view and may be a fire hazard (though I believe it’s made of fireproof materials). Several on-line commentators chided the complaining neighbor. However, it’s true that an exemption to zoning laws has been made for such supposedly temporary structures, considering them like a shed. However, if they proliferate and are not removed when the occupant dies or leaves, they will have an impact on a neighborhood. Yet it does seem a more humane way to care for failing elders than sending them to a nursing home and allows some privacy for both sides.

On the fiscal cliff negotiations, both sides seem to be playing a game of “chicken.” As they race toward the cliff, who’s going to stop first?

Cities with falling population, like Philadelphia and Baltimore, are overtly attracting immigrants, documented or not, deciding it’s better to have them than empty houses and neighborhoods. After the election, the Republican party is softening its anti-immigrant rhetoric. In my opinion, the Tea Party did the party no favors.

On other news of the day, I’ll just say that I regard neither Pvt. Bradley Manning nor Julian Assange as heroes. However, the damage done by WikiLeaks is, by and large, not monumental. A lot of information was not so secret anyway or did not need to be secret. The published material does not show any great government cover-ups, but does provide an interesting glimpse into the secret world of international diplomacy and will give ample fodder to historians. Much of what was revealed by WikiLeaks also shows diplomats to be more sophisticated than perhaps their public statements would indicate. Still, leaking secret information is not to be condoned or encouraged, in my opinion. What WikiLeaks has revealed was more than enough.

Here’s headline for you: Twinkie CEO Admits Company Took Employees Pensions and Put It Toward Executive Pay,
By Thom Hartmann, December 11, 2012

Twinkie-maker Hostess continues to screw over its workers. The company is in the process of complete liquidation and 18,000 unionized workers are set to lose their jobs. More troubling – they could lose their pensions.

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Hostess’ CEO, Gregory Rayburn, essentially admitted that his company stole employee pension money and put it toward CEO and senior executive pay (aka “operations”). While this isn't technically illegal, it's another sleazy theft by Hostess executives - who've paid themselves handsomely while running their company into the ground. Just last month, a judge agreed to let Hostess executives suck another $1.8 million out of the bankrupt company to pay bonuses to CEOs.

Football player Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide is one of many family tragedies of that sort. Four people, including the shooter, were also shot and killed, with others wounded at a California Indian reservation, then a mass shooting in Portland, Oregon, hitting 60 people, though only 3 dead due to an apparent assault weapon malfunction. It’s almost becoming an epidemic. There have been at least 7 mass shootings in the US this year. Colorado Governor Hickenlooper (there’s a name for you) is the only politician who has even dared to comment openly that maybe gun laws need to be revisited, especially for assault weapons. Of course, the worst and most recent such event was the massive Connecticut school shooting. Like all parents, I am sickened, especially as I know what it is to lose your child. How parents who lost children must have wished that their kids had stayed home sick that day. The constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness trumps the constitutional right to bear arms. We are all at risk. Speaking live on Fox News, Mike Huckabee said that this shooting happened because "we've systematically removed God from our schools," a real insult to the victims and exoneration of the shooter and the NRA. Before the election, fear of the NRA kept politicians, including Obama, mute on the subject. We cannot prevent every such incident, but certainly curbs on automatic and assault weapons, plus background checks on every gun buyer no matter where, would help. Of course here in DC, contrary to the voters' will, we have had our gun controls removed by the Supreme Court.

Many of these tragedies, of course, are copycat, guys wanting to enact vengeance, go out in a blaze of glory, and take others with them. The vast publicity accorded such events may sensitize the public to the problem of gun access, but also fuels the ideas of future mass murderers. The easy availability of firearms not only promotes both planned and impulse violence but also accidents. In neighboring Pennsylvania just now, a father laid down a handgun, supposedly unloaded, on the front seat of his truck, but it discharged, killing his 7-year-old son sitting in the back seat. Of course, it’s always possible to kill someone with a knife, or even with a bow and arrow, as happened recently, but accidents would not be involved there. The carnage is also not as great as with a firearm, especially an assault weapon, more firepower than necessary for self-defense or hunting. (I’m not a big fan of hunting either and mourn along with many others the recent killing of a female Alpha wolf in Yellowstone.) In China, a man recently stabbed many school children with a knife, but none died.

In Canada, with more restrictive laws (it takes up to 60 days to obtain a firearm in Canada after registering, taking a course, and going through background checks) gun violence and homicides are much fewer per capita than in the US, though determined folks there can always get American firearms without that. There’s probably also more of a culture of nonviolence there. And, if not some curbs on gun purchase and possession here, then what is the answer? The NRA and its supporters have only said that this is "not the time" to discuss the issue and some have even said that teachers should be armed (and trained to shoot as part of their educational duties?). What if there were loaded weapons in schools? It's not hard to imagine some disgruntled student getting ahold of them. But gun advocates and the NRA, in its zeal to promote gun sales, are all complicit in the murder of innocents. I only hope there will be a backlash among politicians and the public against the NRA and its tactics and positions. Yet, it must be acknowledged, despite recent frequent mass murders, often of random individuals, the gun murder rate one-on-one is down from a couple of decades ago.

What makes America’s gun culture totally unique in the world [excerpts]
Washington Post, Posted by Max Fisher on December 15, 2012

Americans don’t just have more guns that anyone else – 270 million privately held firearms. They also have the highest gun ownership per capita rate in the world, with an average of about nine guns for every 10 Americans. The second highest gun ownership rate in the world is Yemen; yes, Americans have nearly twice as many guns per person as do Yemenis, who live in a conflict-torn Arab nation still dealing with poverty, political unrest, a separatist Shia insurgency, an al-Qaeda branch, and the aftereffects of a 1994 civil war.

Israel has only 7.3 privately owned guns for every 100 people, which means that the American rate is 12 times as large. For comparison’s sake, Israel’s gun ownership rate is about 12 times that of Japan. That means that the difference between America and Israel, in terms of gun ownership per capita, is about the same as the difference between Israel and Japan, which has perhaps the strictest gun control regime in the world.

America’s gun-related murder rate is the highest in the developed world, excluding Mexico, where the ongoing drug war pushes the murder stats way up.

One might question whether Mexico is exactly part of the "developed world," though it straddles it--certainly in other parts of Latin America, especially in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, the murder rate is far higher than in the US.
Senegal will be first African country to end female genital cutting according to TrustLaw

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo has denounced a conspiracy by a group of businessmen led by Jorge Canahuati to depose him by colluding with the Constitutional Court. He warns of a “return” to violence if they don’t stop.

(I don’t know about a "return to violence," maybe an increase in factional violence is more like it.)

Honduras ousts high court judges after ruling on police purge
Reuters, Wed, Dec 12 2012

TEGUCIGALPA - Honduran lawmakers on Wednesday dismissed four Supreme Court judges who had declared unconstitutional a law designed to purge the country's police of corruption, deepening a conflict between the ruling party and the court.

Lawmakers voted to oust the justices and name their replacements after a panel of judges on November 27 declared the law that established confidence exams as unconstitutional in a 4-1 vote.

The law in question required officers to undertake lie detector tests, drug screens and a probe of their personal wealth to determine if they could remain in the police force.

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo on Saturday said the judges were "against the purging of the police" and accused them of acting "in collusion to attack institutions."

Last week, Lobo said there was a growing conspiracy against him, aiming to remove him from office in coup similar to the ouster of former President Manuel Zelaya in June 2009 that plunged the country into a political crisis for months.

Led by lawmakers from Lobo's National Party, the country's unicameral legislature voted 97-31 in the early hours of Wednesday to remove the four judges from office.

The split ruling against the law by the five-member panel of judges set the legislation up for a review of the full 15-seat Supreme Court.

The head of the opposition Liberal Party, Alfredo Saavedra, said the ouster of the judges was "a blow to democracy" and he said their dismissal undermined the independence of the court.

The move was the latest development in an increasing dispute between Lobo's party and the Supreme Court, which recently threw out a tax on big companies and law designed to attract more foreign investment.

Officers who were fired after failing confidence exams had filed complaints before the Supreme Court, arguing that the law violated their rights to a fair defense and the presumption of innocence.

Lobo pushed for the confidence tests after a surge in violence in the poor Central American country that followed an expansion of Mexican drug cartels into Honduras.

According to the United Nations, Honduras has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world, with 86 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Corrected DR Twitter Action, MedCottage

Coming right back to correct the DR Twitter action I sent last time, which was really for a preliminary report. The correct Twitter link is: It’s only good through Nov. 29! So do it now!

Recently, a member of our Communitas Catholic community was featured in the Washington Post because she had implemented a new idea in elder care by purchasing a small, pre-fab cottage to house her elderly mother in the family’s own back yard. Developed by a Blacksburg, Va. company associated with Virginia Tech, the unit is a self-contained 12x24 ft. module called MedCottage that sells for $85,000, but which cost this family $125,000 with some extras, including delivery by crane. The unit is all on one floor (with special flooring material for an elderly resident) has its own climate control. It contains a bedroom, small kitchen, and bath and is located just steps away from the main house, allowing the mother to join the family for supper, but also to have privacy and to provide them privacy. It has been in use several months now and all parties are pleased. Formerly, the mother had been in a nursing home, which she did not like at all.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dominican Friends Reunion, Amnesty DR Twitter Action, Miami Cuban Vote

Fifteen years after we last saw each other in Santo Domingo, I was recently reunited with Espaillat sisters Ana Antonia and Miriam in an outlying Maryland suburb. The photo shows us in front of Willow Manor (the name already gives you a feel of what it’s like), a senior residence in Olney, where Ana, center, is now living. A lot has happened to us all since we last met back in 1997 in the Dominican Republic when I was on my way out of Cuba after my expulsion by state security agents. At the time, Miriam and her husband who lived (and still do) in Maryland, were visiting relatives in their native country. Ana and her brother were waiting for me at the Sto. Domingo airport as I emerged on that fateful visit, feeling distressed and disoriented after a long, intense interrogation by Cuban agents, who had finally allowed me to depart after holding my outgoing flight for several hours on the tarmac with many passengers fuming about the delay. The next morning, Ana, a psychiatric nurse near my age, had taken me to a spa she belonged to relax in the hot tub and sauna to put my interrogation behind me.

In 2000, the year I started my Peace Corps service in Honduras, Ana, then age 60, married a frequent American visitor to the Dominican Republic, a widower several years her senior with MS who used either a wheelchair or a cane, depending on circumstances. He spoke Spanish, having been a missionary in Ecuador in his earlier years. So Ana retired from psychiatric nursing in Santo Domingo, a demanding job, and assumed the care of her husband, who took her to live with him in Massachusetts. He was a man of means and so they were able to spend part of every winter in her apartment in Santo Domingo and also to go on cruises all over the world to places she had never visited. Their travels allowed her to see her three sons in the DR regularly, including a profoundly deaf adoptive son who works with one of his brothers and keeps up her apartment. After her American husband died eight years later, Ana was the main beneficiary of his estate, although he had three grown children apparently grateful for her entrance into their father’s life in his last years—at least that is the story she told. I am sure she took loving care of her husband.

After her husband’s death, with the help and support of his son living nearby, she sold the Mass. house and moved to Willow Manor, a Md. senior residence within walking distance of where her sister Miriam and husband live. It’s a pleasant place with friendly older occupants, a few of whom are Latinas, fortunately for Ana, who has not learned English after 12 years of living in the US. Why not? Well, first, because her late husband spoke Spanish and now because she just wants to relax after her strenuous life as a psychiatric nurse in her native country and eight years of caring for her ailing husband. Her days, it seems, are spent with watching Spanish-language TV and writing her memoirs, all by hand. I suggested devoting at least one hour per day to English-language TV to accustom her ear, something I recommend to my interpretation clients, but she nixed the idea, although admitting that if she knew English, she would have more friends in her apartment complex and would participate in more organized activities. Like many people who live alone, Ana talked non-stop about her life, past and present. I hardly got a word in edgewise, so just decided to shut my mouth and listen.

Ana has already written a memoir of her early years as a psychiatric nurse in a book published in the DR. The book, of which she gave me a copy, is called Un Sueño Hecho Realidad, which I would translate “A Dream Come True.” However, one of her nephews, who did an English translation in a computer print-out, was more literal: “A Dream Made Reality.” We professional translators/interpreters go more for meaning than for exact word-for-word translation. But Ana, lacking English, was very happy with his effort.

In exchange for the Spanish version of her book, I gave her my Honduras book in English—at least it has a lot of photos. She said she will ask a nephew to read it and give her a summary. However, she is not likely to remember much, as her short-term memory appeared spotty. She often misplaced her keys, couldn’t remember whether she had given me her book, and repeated herself over and over in conversation. So the opportunity to learn English has probably passed her by. She acknowledged her memory failings, but said that when writing her second memoir, this one about her years with her American husband, everything flows off her pen with crystal clarity. Her attentive nephew, who rendered her first book in digital format, has promised do the same for her second book and also to translate it. Computer enabled self-publishing, or the Dominican equivalent, has allowed her to create an unvarnished, unedited narrative of her life. I’ve read some similar self-published memoirs by my fellow bereaved parents, the ordinary day-to-day with the usual birthday and graduation photos, which may not seem terribly compelling to us today, but will give future historians a glimpse into ordinary life in our times, just as diaries have done in past generations. I do hope that Ana remembers my visit and won’t be puzzled when she comes across my Honduras book on her coffee table. A sheltered, safe environment like Willow Manor is perhaps the best place for someone like Ana, who still seems quite physically fit, but whose memory is fading. While I acknowledge the value of such residences for failing seniors, I will do my level best to avoid ever having to live in one myself.

Fidel Castro tweets, so does the Pope. Twitter has gone mainstream, but I still know almost nothing about how it works. Therefore, when I was supposed launch a Twitter campaign on behalf of Amnesty International, I panicked. I still don’t know what to do, but perhaps some of my readers will, so I’m asking them to please look at ,
Spanish version: We want to bombard the DR government with tweets on Nov. 27-29 the third anniversary of the deaths of Cecilio Diaz and William de Jesus Checo, killed by police with no accountability, investigation, or charges being brought. Their deaths are emblematic of the many deaths at hands of the police that are not investigated or punished.

Now that apparently even Miami Cubans have veered toward the Democrats in the presidential election, you have to wonder about the Hegelian dialectic, that extremes on one side will push toward the other and so on, back and forth. The same dynamic that has turned some states red (or blue) may work against them when the actual results are seen and felt on the ground, propelling them to the other side. Certainly budget cutting is a reaction to the "bubble" and the excessive "exuberance" that Greenspan rather belatedly warned against, but now may be going too far in the other direction. Can we ever reach a middle ground? Let’s see how the "fiscal cliff" negotiations will work out.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Honduran Child, Election Outcome, Puerto Rican Statehood? Amnesty International Regional Conference, Friend with Dengue, More Mass Shootings, Readers’ Advice, Thanksgiving Greetings

The above photo is of Sebastian with his mother, a Honduran child mentioned previously on this blog, who lost a leg as a newborn because of an egregious medical error, requiring his leg to be amputated. The physician whose mistake led directly to the amputation suffered no penalties whatsoever nor did he ever apologize or offer to help the child and his parents. He has kept both his hospital post and private practice. We may have frivolous malpractice suits in this country, but Honduran patients have no redress. Now the child’s mother, who has since separated from her husband in part because of complications over the issue of their child’s care, has apparently obtained an prosthesis of sorts for her son, as shown in the photo, sent to me via Facebook. I would guess that the setting is a rehabilitation facility, judging by the stair-steps in the photo.

On the whole, in my opinion, we had favorable election results, especially Obama’s reelection, despite disagreements on issues of style and substance that any of us who voted for him might have had. And most people around the world are relieved as well. At least he is a known quantity.  I do feel sorry for Romney, who had wanted it so badly and who has been running exclusively for president for more than 6 years now. He seemed stunned, having believed his own advisers and some polls, but he was gracious in defeat, as was appropriate. His wife said categorically that he was through with politics. I’m sure it took a lot out of her and their whole family. The popular vote was closer than the electoral vote (a terribly antiquated system), so he should take some comfort in that. It was milestone that a Mormon had even run for president.

However, the country still remains bitterly divided, uncomfortably close to 50-50. Obama won decisively, by 3 percentage points and millions of votes, but not overwhelmingly. The most typical Romney voter was an older white male with only a high school education. Women, young people, and minorities were more favorable toward Obama. Those demographics present a warning to the Republican Party, now belatedly shifting away from its immigration unfriendly stance. I’m a solid Democrat, yet as an adoptive parent and also the great-grandmother of a child conceived by my granddaughter when she was an unmarried teenager, I have to admit that I do not consider myself pro-abortion—probably no one is actually pro-abortion, which why is the preferred term is “pro-choice”—and I would not oppose some abortion restrictions, especially at later stages. I suspect that late-term abortions are rarely undertaken lightly even without legal strictures because once a pregnant woman feels the baby move, she understands its separate existence. As I recall from my own pregnancy experience, such movements begin fairly early.

Republicans have also been talking bipartisanship, common ground, working together, problem solving. Let’s see if they put their money where their mouth is. Even some well-known conservative pundits have faulted the Republicans, especially the new Grover Norquist, Tea Party types in the House for being knee-jerk obstructionists. Most voters agree that high earners should pay more taxes. Furthermore, there is no proof that somewhat increasing such taxes reduces job creation; the impact, if any, on jobs is quite small. Perhaps some wealthy folks do buy more things if their taxes are lower, but economic uncertainty seems to have a greater dampening effect on job creation than do tax increases. Some Southerners are talking secession after the election. I say, “Go ahead, good riddance to you,” but first let out the people who want to leave your retrogressive states.

Joe Kennedy III won the race to replace retiring Representative Barney Frank in the Fourth Congressional District of Massachusetts. Kennedy, a Democrat (of course!), is the great-nephew of JFK and Senator Edward Kennedy. He went to Harvard Law School and was in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. Most recently he was an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts’ Middlesex County. Kennedy, 32, is among the youngest members of Congress.

Puerto Ricans have voted in favor of statehood, while also ousting a pro-statehood candidate, so the will of the people is unclear. In any case, Congress would have to approve the addition of a new state.

Meanwhile, Honduras is now counting the votes from its own primaries, held Nov. 18, one year before the actual elections. In addition to the two major parties, Liberal and National, deposed former president Manuel Zelaya is back with a 3rd party challenge, left of the Liberal Party, which maybe the closest to our own Democratic Party.

The General David Petraeus scandal has catapulted Paula Broadwell’s biography from 76,792 on Amazon’s list (about the place my own book occupies?) to 111, so she's crying all the way to the bank. She apparently has had ambitions of becoming a TV regular or political candidate, using the book as stepping stone. She still may be able to achieve that, having gained name recognition beyond her wildest dreams. Although she is shown as the author of the Petreaus biography, she had a ghostwriter, Vernon Loeb, which raises obvious questions about why she supposedly authored a biography of a well-known figure if she did not actually write it? A biographer normally would not have a ghost writer, though apparently as a graduate student at Harvard, she couldn’t quite cut it so may have needed help. What was her actual role with the book? Why even have her as the middle man? Why didn’t Petreaus just cut to the chase and have Loeb or someone else simply write the book under his/her own name? That indicates, at least to me, that the whole book enterprise might have been a cover-up and an excuse for getting together and carrying on their affair. What was her prior relationship with Petreaus that allowed her such close access to him that another writer would not have enjoyed? She apparently was unable to put the book together on her own, so exactly what came first, the chicken or the egg? –her knowing Petreaus pretty intimately and then two of them deciding together on this project or, out of the blue, she decided to write his biography (albeit with a ghost writer), then later, they “fell in love”? It’s an odd sequence of events that raises questions. One question is the ostensible short duration of their affair, beginning conveniently after his retirement from the military (when it would have been illegal), enduring only a short time, and ending some months ago. Do you believe that? I suspect the secret e-mails will show something quite different, assuming the actual timeline is ever revealed.

Matters are complicated further by General John Allen’s barrage of e-mails to another social-climbing woman, Jill Kelley, also seeking her 15 minutes of fame or more. Who said that political power is an aphrodisiac? Wasn’t it Henry Kissinger? Broadwell apparently has parlayed her military ties to appearances in gun commercials, for which she will not divulge whether or not she was actually paid. Many get-rich-quick books and gurus urge building relentlessly on personal contacts to get ahead, something Broadwell and Kelley have certainly put into practice. It wouldn’t be a big surprise to find, as an attractive younger woman, that Broadwell had even set out to deliberately seduce Petraeus as part of her ambitions, not that that would make him innocent. And while Petraeus’s marriage and professional reputation have suffered, Broadwell may end up enormous reaping benefits and even soon write her own autobiography, certainly another best-seller, with or without a ghost writer. You heard it here first! Poor Obama, trying to get serious about the looming fiscal cliff, a boring budget matter, when all this salacious stuff is going on.

What is Hamas’s objective in firing rockets into Israel? To call the world’s attention to their grievances and consolidating local support among Gaza citizens? Or simply to express anger and frustration? If it leads to a ceasefire and some greater normalization of relations, it may not turn out to be the empty and contra-productive gesture it seems like at first glance.

On Nov. 10, we Amnesty International members in the mid-Atlantic region mounted a regional conference organized completely by volunteers, using space donated by Georgetown University Law School. Amnesty, like many non-profit organizations, has suffered a decline in donations and had to lay off staff last July, leaving more responsibility than ever to members and volunteers. Some 250 folks from W. Va., Va., Pa., and Md. as well as DC attended the conference which proceeded smoothly in a pared-down one-day agenda (regional conferences previously lasted 3 days). We weren’t able to invite big-name speakers, but did have two undocumented Maryland college students talk about their role in passing a state “dream act” allowing them in-state tuition at Maryland institutions of higher learning. At the end of the conference, we made a candlelight procession to the capitol on behalf of the right to education, not only for a national permanent Dream Act, but for the right of girls in Pakistan, including Malala, to go to school. Many participants were college students themselves. The problem is always to get students to remain active in Amnesty and with human rights volunteering after graduation.

A friend from Canada who was with me on last February’s medical brigade with IHS in Honduras went on another IHS brigade just now in October in the eastern jungles of the Mosquitia during the rainy season and has since come down with dengue, a painful mosquito-borne viral disease. There are four varieties of dengue and now she has had two, small comfort that she has only two left to go. There is no vaccine or good treatment; the victim just has to get over it in two weeks or so. Some of our volunteers in Honduras came down with dengue, but I never did—or have not so far. And since now I only visit in Feb., during the dry season, the risks are much less for both dengue and malaria.

Going to an interpretation assignment recently in a hospital shuttle, I talked with the driver, a Haitian who believes that Aristide was even more corrupt than baby Doc Duvalier, only better at covering his tracks. If he was so good at covering his tracks, how did this guy know?

From my feature article in the local paper, the Hill Rag, two people contacted me about participating in one of IHS’s medical brigades and someone sent me 15 pairs of Rx eyeglasses. But for our Esperanza area brigade, we still need a physician, dentist, and pharmacist. A pharmacy student would be fine and physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner could replace the physician (we already have one but need two)—we are talking very basic health care here in a setting without electricity or equipment. The brigade starts Feb. 15 and lasts 10 days, but shorter participation is possible. Feb. is the dry season and the Esperanza area is cool, so few if any mosquitoes. IHS has no staff or overhead, all expenses are borne by participants themselves who must bring their own tents and sleeping bags. It’s an adventure and every time is different—as I have found the many times I have gone. So anyone interested should contact me ASAP ( or go directly to volunteer team organizer John Kirckoff, Phone: 320-634-4386.

Deadly mass shootings again, most recently in NC and California, on either election day or election eve. We hardly notice such shootings any more, they are so routine. Maybe this is just the price we pay as individuals and society for the right to hunt and to bear arms, supposedly for self-protection. Certainly candidates of either party, no matter for what office, were not going to comment on that issue so close to the election. Now a private Florida shooting range encourages folks to shoot at each other, but with blanks. Maybe there is some thrill in that?

The UN Population Fund’s annual report has declared contraception (but not abortion) a human right, a non-binding statement and certain to be controversial.

Regarding the previous on-line conversation about the guy disparaging my book on websites, another correspondent agrees with my friend who recommends going to the police or at least to a lawyer, I agree with the friend who gave that advice, Barbara. Even if the guy isn't clinically mad, the continuation of his series of unprovoked attacks on you indeed crosses lines -- like the one in the laws against libel. You have every right to be concerned not only for your reputation as a writer and respected member of the HR community and for a partial source of your livelihood but for your personal security. This isn't an anonymous creep: you know his name; you can and should provide it to the authorities.

A (male) friend advises: This fool could be cyber stalking and feeding on his own jealousy and then it could turn dangerous. I am not an alarmist but maybe this time, get police advice. But remember with guys though, the least thing sets them off, and nothing more than a protective order.

That’s the problem, getting law enforcement involved could definitely backfire. Another reader recommends that I “just leave it alone and walk away. It will not do anyone any good to confront him.”

A psychologist actually advises extending an olive branch, sending an e-mail praising something my critic has written. Another fellow author suggests even offering to post a 5-star review of one of his books in exchange for stopping his harassment or just doing so spontaneously with no quid pro quo. Would that help or be too transparent? That course smacks too much of bribery; besides the only one of his books that I have actually read was decidedly mediocre.

Still another friend argues, “That review is meaningless, so obviously weird that I can't imagine anyone in their right mind would pay any attention to it.”

Along the same lines: “given that no one found his review helpful on Amazon, i think he just hung himself.”

Leaving it alone would certainly be easiest, but would it actually be the safest course? I’m conflicted. Maybe I shouldn’t even discuss the problem here, as that may only fan the flames, but too late now, as I’ve already mentioned it previously and have gotten considerable heartfelt, but contradictory, feedback from faithful readers, which I greatly appreciate. Thanks so much for your concern.

I’m now leaning toward leaving it alone, as any acknowledgment on my part that I even noticed might prove a provocation. Even asking him for a truce and extending the hand of friendship—perhaps going so far as to post a 5-star review of one his books somewhere as has been suggested—would be giving him undeserved attention and rewarding his misguided attacks. So let’s drop the subject from here on out unless there is another outrageous development. Then I will have to think again about how or whether to respond.

My neighbors and I are so fortunate to live here near the capitol and museums, with our venerable Eastern Market within walking distance, also within walking distance to the post office and metro station. After more than 40 years in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, without and a car and not getting any younger, I’m grateful to be living here.

One perk is being only blocks away from the Folger Shakespeare Theatre, a small, intimate theater configured as it would have been in the bard’s time. Recently, I was invited to see a truly spectacular production there, “The Conference of the Birds,” based a Persian Sufi epic poem written in the 12th century. Actors took on the roles of birds, such as duck, sparrow, peacock, falcon, parrot, and hoopoe, in an amazing and imaginative combination of dialogue, dance, singing, and drama. The effect was emotional as well as intellectual. A week later, I was invited to a discussion and slide show held at the same theater billed as “Shakespeare in Kabul,” also the name of a book about the performance of “Love’s Labor Lost” in the Afghan capital, with several outdoor showings,a play that had already been translated into Farsi. We were introduced to the actors on screen in their colorful robes and saw several images from the play, where the names of kings and other characters were changed to reflect Afghan historical figures. Because acting was prohibited under the Taliban, few actors had prior experience, but all were eager to participate. We were told that the idea of Western-style romantic love is foreign to Afghanis and actors also had trouble looking directly at those of the opposite sex, as required, on stage. Still, judging by shots of the huge outdoor audiences, the play was very popular.

Sadly, my young artist visitor from Cameroon got news that his wife was bleeding, had a C-section, and lost the baby girl she was carrying. So he left earlier than expected. They already have a four-year-old boy who had been told he would soon be having a new sister.

I feel thankful that Obama was reelected, so Happy Thanksgiving, Feliz Dia de Accion de Gracias

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Halloween, Personal Book Critic Won’t Leave Me Alone, Chris Stevens

Starting out here with Halloween shots, in a surprisingly lively scene only a day after Hurricane Sandy, lots of fun to perk us up after the storm. I usually don’t post here so soon after the previous posting, but cheering up is in order, as per the item below.

Mudslinging is not unique to Obama-Romney. If I knew how, I’d start my own Twitter defense. As indicated last time, sadly and inexplicably, a fellow Honduras Peace Corps volunteer disparaged my book on Facebook’s “Goodreads,” after attacking it before on Amazon, the latter removed by an irate reader. Now, I find, he came right back on Amazon with another inaccurate and unfair review, designed to boost his own rival memoir. You who know my book, please put your own truthful review on Amazon under “Barbara Honduras” and on Goodreads Help fight cyber warfare with the same! Gracias

The guy is relentless and obsessive. I wonder about his mental health. This time, he concludes: “Of the nearly four dozen Peace Corps memoirs I have read, this is the worst… Don't waste money on this one.” And Amazon let him post again!! This time, the rebuttals against him from the first time are gone, because they were erased with his first review. He is being deliberately hurtful. He chides me for using the term “Fast forward,” which appears exactly once in my book. He cites another unfavorable Goodreads review (did he plant it?), and never mentions my favorable reviews in the Washington Post and elsewhere, the many awards my book has received, invitations from librarians and radio shows, a feature in Woman's Day and in a worldwide video posted by Voice of America, and that PC director Aaron Williams loved my book. I’ve never met the man and the only thing I ever read that he wrote was quite mediocre, but did I go on a tirade against him?

To make a special point of coming back like that after his first review was removed and to bad-mouth me on Facebook (and who knows where else?) is incomprehensible. To falsify the contents of my book is worse. His descriptions of my book are unfair and completely untrue. Why this vendetta? We're fellow Honduras RPCVs, after all, part of a special family, supposedly in solidarity. I've reviewed some pretty terrible PC books for Peace Corps Writers, but, even then, I've tried to go a little easy to salvage the authors' feelings and it would never occur to me to deliberately seek out websites to put up bad reviews and to recommend not buying those books. It's really strange and hurtful to be treated that way by a stranger and also worrisome. I hope that most people looking at my Amazon site will see that he is an outlier, a kook. I will contact Amazon again and try to get them to remove his review again. If they do, will check more often than before to see if he comes right back a third time. I've thought of contacting him directly, extending an olive branch, and trying to see what his beef is but that might put him on the defensive and he kind of scares me.

A friend with experience with this sort of excessive behavior believes it calls for law enforcement advice. She says, “If it were just a single review I’d say ‘forget it,’ but it’s his obsession with you and on-going slurs that makes it uncomfortable and personal. I just beg you to contact the cops for their advice. I don’t want to alarm you, but I’m worried about your personal safety. The man has a screw loose. He’s probably perfectly harmless, but at least go to the cops for an expert opinion.”

She cites similar cases she has known which turned out to be serious. I think DC cops would laugh at me and consider me kooky if I came to them about some on-line book put-downs. They have more serious matters to attend to. My friend disputes this: “The cops will not laugh at you to your face, believe me. You will not be wasting their time. Since this involves the internet and a man who lives across state lines, they may quite possibly refer you to the FBI, but they won’t laugh. This is not a single negative book review. He is aiming to ruin your career as a writer and has written a number of scathing ‘reviews.’ How many negative book reviews have you read that personally attacked the author? Not many and not repeatedly. That man does not have both wheels on his bicycle. He may not be dangerous, but why wait to find out?"

What do you out there think? Other people advise ignoring him. He hasn’t actually threatened me personally and I’m afraid to stir him up any more and escalate things. On the other hand, his actions do have an unsettling flavor that, in hindsight, observers have said were signs of impending violence in other cases, something they should have seen coming. What might work best would be for a friend to approach him in confidence and advise him to knock it off, but I don’t know any of his intimate friends.

In a more mundane and practical level, if anyone reading this has read my book and should want to put a legitimate review on Amazon, just go to books and to “Barbara Honduras.” There you will see his relentlessly unflattering review and can also post one of your own.

Admittedly, my book is not the typical Peace Corps memoir. I was much older when I joined and already knew Spanish, having lived in Latin America. I’d been to Honduras several times before, so wasn’t an innocent, starry-eyed new college graduate in travel-advenure mode. But Peace Corps needs all ages and I especially wanted to appeal to those with experience under their belt. From the feedback I’ve gotten, some readers have actually been inspired to join Peace Corps by my book.

On another subject, someone staying at my house right now once worked with Christopher Stevens, the late U.S. ambassador to Libya, who, he says, always insisted on making his own itinerary and going out among the people, whatever his security detail advised, a legacy of his Peace Corps experience. Although, obviously, he was not with Stevens when he died, he suspects that even if Stevens had been advised not to go to Benghazi when he did, he might well have gone anyway, “He was just that kind of guy.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane, Goodreads, Visitors, Voting, More Shootings, Fallen PCVs, Muslim Festival, Trump, Halloween

Hurricane Sandy caused us all to take time out to focus our attention on the immediate physical environment. My interpretation work was cancelled for two days, unfortunately, as we are paid only for hours worked. However, it was kind of exciting to watch rain constantly beating down and trees swaying wildly for hours on end as the wind howled. Our city, like others, came to a standstill, with the federal government and metro system both shut down for most of Monday and Tuesday. A tree fell on car in our block and there are other downed trees. Washington is located a little south of the worst of it, but we were still hit fairly hard, with wet snow actually falling at higher elevations and many power lines knocked out. Fortunately for our neighborhood, all electric lines are underground and therefore protected. The suburbs, with overhead lines, were not so fortunate. These more frequently occurring natural disasters, perhaps exacerbated by man-made climate change, are certainly wreaking havoc on an already fragile economy. This time, the disaster hit the heavily populated northeast corridor, increasing the human and economic toll.

Just discovered that the former Peace Corps volunteer who’d tried to sabotage my book on Amazon because of his competing Honduras book has been at it again on Facebook on a site I didn’t even know existed. He has a real vendetta against me. I won’t mention his name nor will I retaliate in kind, though it’s tempting. However, if blog readers familiar with my book should care to post a counter-review on Facebook or even register a “like,” I wouldn’t object. I imagine you’d have to be a Facebook subscriber. Certainly the internet is a two-edged sword. This is cyber-warfare! My book has won universal praise from professional reviewers and has led to numerous speaking invitations, including from two biography-collections librarians I’d never met before who invited me to speak, in DC and NY City respectively, not to mention librarians from several smaller libraries. Librarians are the ultimate critics. Anyway, here’s the link and thanks. Facebook, unfortunately, is too influential!

After I’d gotten all hot and bothered, all ready post this, a veteran PC volunteer who loved my book, advised, “Just ignore him, not very well read. I stand by what I said, your book is one of the best ‘manuals’ for volunteers and staff, and not limited to age, Honduras, or Latin America. Don't stoop to his level; you are too much of a professional. Go to the high ground...con cariño.”

Another friend said, “Some are readers, some are writers, some sit in cellars tapping out hateful spite message on ancient keyboards because their Huggies need changing. I am a reader; you are a writer; he is what’s left.” Maybe they are right, I should remain above the fray. But you may still register a “like” for my book if you’ve read it, or even post a review on Goodreads above if you are so inclined.

Lots of recent out-of-town visitors, including my nephew John, my brother’s oldest son, shown with me here. One of my longer-term visitors, back in 2006, was Davaa from Mongolia, back again in Washington for a conference, with photos he took of me and of us together. He said that many Mongolians who had lived in nearby Arlington, Va., have now returned to their own country because of difficulty finding work here, while Mongolia is booming. That’s due mostly to mining for gold, coal, and other metals, many of them being shipped directly to China, which borders Mongolia and has a voracious appetite for all raw materials.

Romney seems to be a chameleon, shifting positions to the point that it’s hard to predict what he would do as president. Every politician does that to some extent, addressing different audiences in different ways, but Romney remains a big question mark. Although he has vowed to take a number of actions on “Day One,” you have to wonder, because he will have a pretty busy first day if he actually does them all. Prospects for the Peace Corps don’t look good if Romney wins. Already the Republican Congress has cut foreign aid and the Peace Corps budget. Why would Romney support a Kennedy program? His experience in developing countries is nil. Unlike the Mormon missionaries I saw in Honduras, young Romney served as a missionary in France.

In the 3rd debate, Obama scored some points, I hope not too late. I’m very worried that he may actually lose and haven’t really faced up to that possibility. Any readers out there who favor him, please get yourself to the polls! As already indicated, I’ll be voting for Obama myself, despite disagreements, especially on immigration, where, in my opinion, this administration has been overly aggressive in deporting people, especially those with no offenses beyond illegal entry or with old, minor closed cases, like traffic violations, under the so-called “secure communities” provisions, including some Cubans, who surely will suffer at the hands of the government if sent back. Also, if a modified “dream act” could be implemented administratively, why wasn’t that done much earlier? In the last debate, Romney came off as a peace-maker, an image he hasn’t tried to project before. However, an editorial in The New Yorker lays out what I consider a fairly cogent case for voting for Obama:

One of my readers remains unconvinced, saying: We remain conflicted: unable to vote for either major candidate because neither should be in the job, but reluctant to throw away a vote on a third-party candidate that has just as much chance as being attributed to nut fringe as to "none of the above."

Perhaps all the negative ads are having an effect, making some voters reject both candidates. Of course, here in Washington, DC, there has been no campaigning or advertising whatsoever, since over 90% of voters are registered Democrats and we have no voting congress people or senators. Black evangelicals, I understand, are having a hard time voting for Obama because of his announced support of gay marriage, but are hardly inclined toward Romney. I don't know what to advise people who feel they cannot vote for either Obama or Romney. What to do in a two-party system when you can’t stand either major candidate and third-party candidates are not enticing and have no chance of winning? Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world of imperfect leaders. None is without flaws. Who have been good presidents in the view of hindsight? George Washington? Abraham Lincoln? Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt? John Kennedy had too short a tenure and his image has been enhanced by martyrdom, so maybe he doesn’t count. Many folks still like Bill Clinton despite his womanizing. If I were in the shoes of a frustrated undecided voter, I’d either not vote or would find, if possible, a third-party candidate, however obscure, who I thought (hoped) would do a good job if actually elected, even though he or she had no chance of actually winning and I would cast my vote there. Then when the actual election winner screwed up, as he inevitably would, I could at least feel I was not responsible.

Another correspondent tells me he’s voting for Jill Stein, Green Party candidate. There is also Virgil Goode of Virginia on the right and a slew of others. Just Google “Third Party Candidates” and you will see a big array there. I hope we won’t face a situation like 2000, when the guy with fewer votes is declared the winner, though if that’s Obama, this Supreme Court may not lean in his favor. In any case, it’s a very polarized electorate and pretty evenly divided, divided both racially and gender-wise as well, so half the country is bound to be very unhappy and even angry at the outcome. A recent AP poll shows a slight majority of Americans have negative views of blacks and Hispanics, no huge surprise. When whites are no longer the majority, the tables will turn. The anti-black sentiment apparently has actually grown slightly since Obama became president, but perhaps due to the recession more than to him. The winner of the presidential race will have to try to mollify the other side. Romney was not such a terrible governor, though some residents of Massachusetts dispute his own representation of his bipartisanship, which they say he resisted. Maybe he will soften his positions if he wins office? A Republican president may even be able to win over a recalcitrant Republican Congress on some issues, like Nixon going to China. While bracing ourselves for the worst, we can only hope for the best. Just like with the recent storm Sandy.

Iran now, copying the U.S. and Israel, has its own drones and probably is also planning cyber-warfare like that which Israel apparently perpetrated on its centrifuges. War has escalated into new territory.

Still more mass shootings, in California and again in Wisconsin. The president and the governor of Wisconsin sent their condolences, but said no more. We’re already becoming almost numb to these tragedies, which certainly have a copycat element. Nor does the “right to bear arms,” touted as being protective, seem to be protecting victims in any noticeable way. The Wisconsin shooter’s wife had a restraining order, but she died anyway and others with her. Of course, there are probably thousands of restraining orders in effect and not all can be closely monitored. There is also the cost to survivors in pain and suffering and long-term disability, think Congresswoman Giffords who barely survived and had to give up her seat, plus the cost to society of treating survivors both medically and in rehabilitation. I often see black men in wheelchairs clustered around metro stops, some fairly young, some doubtless gunshot victims, just as I saw many young Honduran men paralyzed by gunshots, including Antonio, a lottery salesman introduced in my Honduras book, who died young because of pressure sores.

A list has been compiled of “fallen” Peace Corps volunteers over the last 50 years, 287 in all, unfortunate, but not a terrible toll given the many thousands who have served. The latest was this year, a man age 65, the very demographic I’m reaching out to in my talks—he died of a sudden heart attack in Zambia at age 65, after having passed the initial physical exam. For him, like for me, Peace Corps service was a long-delayed dream, but he didn’t get to realize very much of it. Reportedly six volunteers have died in Honduras over 50 years, one shot when mistaken for an intruder, one in an auto accident, one of illness, and one in a flash flood, with the cause of death not specified for the other two. It’s sad that they died while in the Peace Corps, but, in reality, people die every day in this country in a variety of similar circumstances, auto accidents, getting shot, becoming ill, or in natural disasters—and that includes young people in college or elsewhere, young people like most PC volunteers. They get into auto accidents, get drunk and fall out dorm windows, or are killed by jealous lovers. We cannot expect the Peace Corps to be any safer, though somehow, a death seems more shocking when it occurs during humanitarian service far from home.

Our Amnesty Int’l office recently celebrated the Muslim festival of Dhul Hijjah, specifically Eid Al Adha, whereby we had to countdown until sundown before actually start eating, though it’s not such a long-term fasting proposition as during Ramadan. We had a speaker, Laila Al-Arian, an attractive young woman who was wearing a headscarf and was pregnant. She belongs to a Palestinian family and is a journalist and a reporter for Al Jazeera. I don’t know if she was born in the U.S. but she speaks unaccented American English. Her father, Sami Al-Arian, was formerly a professor of computer engineering at the University of South Florida and was a first-term GW Bush supporter. Now he is under house arrest in complicated circumstances, acquitted by a jury of most charges, but apparently because of some involvement with a Muslim charity and a plea bargain is still considered suspect. Googling him doesn’t add much clarification. The daughter gave a convincing defense of her father and made a case that U.S. law enforcement is entrapping young Muslim men, fabricating plots with them, mistreating and radicalizing them.

I predict that despite Africa’s political and economic turmoil, that continent, because of its untapped human, agricultural, and mineral potential, is rising and will be a growth and investment center in the future. The Chinese know that and are already heavily involved there.

I have 100 balls in the air and am only catching some of them. I’m not as swift as I used to be, but am working on something all the time, almost every minute. When people tell me they have been watching TV or a film, that’s beyond my comprehension. I do listen to NPR, especially Prarie Home Companion when eating dinner or on the rare occasions that I’m cooking. With houseguests, like my nephew, Davaa, and another friend from SF recently, I will go out to dinner. Taking the metro or bus to interpretation assignments, I read newspapers, magazines, or books—that’s my recreation and I sometimes almost miss my stop. The rest of you are probably more efficient, giving you more leisure time.

Donald Trump’s much touted “October surprise” on Obama turned out to be a real dud, but the man doesn’t care how foolish he ends up looking as long as he gets publicity, which he always does.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Articles Featuring Yours Truly, Deaf Bereaved Father, Interpretation & Translation, Caribbean & Honduras Happenings, Gallup Poll, Domestic Concerns, Peace Corps Bad Apple

Above, Cuban and Honduran flags, also an image of my son’s gravestone, which I visited recently in a lot of land in rural Virginia. It’s sinking into the ground and needs to be pulled up and sand put underneath, if I can get someone to help me do that. The inscription is a quote from a Walt Whitman poem, “I Stop Some Where Waiting For You.”

FYI, I was featured in an article in a local free monthly paper The Hill Rag. There were several color photos included, but only one shows up in the on line version below. The article emphasizes the IHS medical brigade in which I participate every year (, as we still need more volunteers, especially doctors, nurses, dentists, and pharmacists, so if anyone reading this is interested, please get in touch with me or IHS directly. The organization works only in Honduras and has no office or paid staff—no overhead—volunteers and donors pay everything, so be forewarned. Two prospects have already contacted me because of the article. If you or anyone else might be interested, please contact me via the e-mail address above or go directly, ASAP, to organizer John Kirckoff ,, Phone: 320-634-4386.

Another item, this one appearing in an on-line inspirational blog, was actually written by me according to the host’s specs. Its emphasis is on recovery from loss.

The above article mentions The Compassionate Friends, a support group for bereaved parents to which I belong. Last night, at our meeting, we had a deaf father for whom we were having trouble finding a sign-language interpreter, preferably one who would help him out pro bono. At the last minute, we found a woman who had lost her own daughter and was willing to do it free of charge.

Earlier this week, en route to a medical interpretation at a hospital, I was dismayed that our metro train stopped suddenly because of a report of someone on the tracks at the next station. It turned out that a 24-year-old man had committed suicide by jumping in front of a moving train. Not only does that mean the tragic (and painful) end of a life, but such suicides create havoc in the transit system affecting thousands of passengers. Of course, I was late and missed the bus to the hospital where I was due, instead taking a cab driven by a man from Ethiopia complaining because the ride was so short. I gave him a $2 tip for a $7 fare. (I should have given him nothing for all his grumbling.)

At a school interpretation for a parent workshop, about a dozen parents were Spanish-speaking, including one father, a rarity. Two women were from Honduras! Among non-Hispanics, was a mother cloaked all in black, with only her eyes and hands showing, her voice muffled by her facial covering. But she entered into the workshop with enthusiasm (making learning aids for kids to use at home). Our workshop was held in the school cafeteria, where some kids were finishing up their breakfast, many throwing away uneaten bananas, cartons of milk, and small boxes of cereal. It seemed like such a waste, but a teacher said rules prevented recovery of uneaten, untouched food. All must be discarded by the child without interference. I would think that if children know beforehand that they don’t want to eat the full breakfast (or lunch) then an adult could remove those items before handing over the package and collect any unwanted items for a shelter or soup kitchen. But, of course, the entire breakfast is prepackaged and removing unwanted items and transporting them to needy folks would require an extra task of school personnel.

I prefer live interpretation to written translation which, however, can be done in the comfort of my own home. Written translation is less personal, much harder and more technical and, of course, more permanent and subject to greater scrutiny. With live interpretation, even in a medical setting, the main effort is to simplify explanations, because the patient is the recipient of the communications. Written medical records translations involve physicians communicating with each other on a professional level and become part of the patient’s medical record here. I just finished a very long interpretation (14 pages) of the records of an 81-year-old lady from Mexico who has been experiencing mild memory problems and who underwent a whole battery of tests and even a brain scan in Mexico City. Now, apparently, she has come to this country with her husband (judging by the reports) to see if anything more can be done. First of all, her deficits did not seem all that serious to me; who doesn’t have some forgetfulness at age 81? The woman still drives, reads books (though forgetting some details later), and recognizes and remembers the names of people close to her, though often forgetting the names of those she has met recently. Furthermore, there are few remedies available, perhaps some drugs to slow the progression or ways of cuing the environment. Dealing with her problems here will be complicated further by the language barrier. But often wealthy people from abroad do come here, hoping for miracles.

Speaking for myself at age 74, I certainly need to write reminder notes on my daily calendar to know what to do each day. Otherwise, I’d be lost. Do I need and could I possibly benefit from medical intervention for my slightly failing memory? Is this the beginning for me of the slippery slope? A good friend, now in her 80s and living in a locked Alzheimer’s facility, always feared the onslaught of dementia and consulted every specialist available, undergoing brain scans and all the rest, taking meds, and still failed to prevent the fate she most feared. At first, she resisted and railed against her protective “incarceration.” But now, as her memory deficits have progressed and as she has adapted to her restricted environment, she seems fairly tranquil. Modern medicine can help slow the aging process and delay death, but not forever.

Cuba’s President Raul Castro has announced that starting in January, Cubans will no longer have to get an expensive and complicated exit visa to leave the country. However, professionals, athletes, performers, and military and medical personnel will still have to apply for an exit visa, which can be denied. This is to avoid a brain-drain. “The update to the migratory policy takes into account the right of the revolutionary State to defend itself from the interventionist and subversive plans of the U.S. government and its allies,” the government declared. “Therefore, measures will remain to preserve the human capital created by the Revolution in the face of the theft of talent applied by the powerful.” (“Cuba to ease travel abroad for many citizens,” The Washington Post, October 16, 20012) Some Cuban Americans see the move as a cynical attempt by the Castro regime to rid itself of less productive and more burdensome citizens. In any case, Cubans arriving by air from the island presumably would need to have U.S. visas before being admitted. Also, the Castro government can always deny certain individuals a passport, even without the exit visa. So it all depends on who the government wants to see leave.

On October 4, 2012, well-known opposition blogger Yoani Sánchez was arrested along with her husband Reinaldo Escobar and several others in the south-eastern town of Bayamo where Sánchez was to cover for Spain’s El País the next morning’s opening of the trial of the imprisoned driver of a car in which well-known dissident Oswaldo Payá was killed. Seven judges were scheduled to hear the case. Sánchez was transported back to Havana and subsequently released after 30 hours of reported mistreatment during which she lost a tooth. Payá’s family was not permitted to witness the trial where the defendant, being held incommunicado, was facing seven years imprisonment.

Javier Zúñiga, at Amnesty International’s London headquarters, declared: “These apparently arbitrary arrests ahead of Angel Carromero’s trial mark the latest in a string of harassments that Yoani Sánchez and other dissidents have suffered at the hands of Cuban authorities. The authorities must immediately reveal the full details of everyone detained in Bayamo and either charge them with internationally recognizable criminal offences or set them free. Cuba’s senseless restrictions on freedom of expression and independent media must come to an end.”

In my capacity as Amnesty International USA’s volunteer Caribbean coordinator, I sent a letter supporting a stay of deportation for a Dominican adult with—not sure of politically correct term—intellectual or developmental disabilities, what we used to call mental retardation.

Gunmen kill 11 men playing soccer in Honduras

AP, October 15, 2012

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Police say gunmen have attacked three groups of men playing soccer at small fields in Honduras, killing 11.

The motives for the attacks in the rural province of Olancho are still under investigation. Drug traffickers have been active in the area.

The victims were aged 18 to 25.

Police commissioner Hector Garcia says the first attack occurred Saturday, and killed eight men. The second attack Sunday killed two more men, and a third attack left one man dead. All the attacks occurred around the city of Catacamas.

On Friday, gunmen killed the husband of the national Assistant Health Minister Miriam Paz in Olancho. Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla pledged to impose order in the violence-plagued province, and dispatched a contingent of police and soldiers to the area.

Well, Hugo Chavez was victorious by a comfortable margin, though smaller than before. Of course, he controls all the communications media and also tried to project a softer image, retracting his threat that followers would create havoc if he lost, saying instead that he would accept the outcome, whatever it was. Let’s see if he survives his term.

The latest Gallup poll, usually reliable, shows Romney ahead of Obama among likely voters. It’s really scary to think Romney might actually win! He has had pretty good debate performances and has avoided putting his foot in his mouth, as he has so often done before. Obama has done OK too, but he needs to be superior to pull definitively ahead. For many undecided voters, the superficial impression each gives in the debates may matter more than the substance of what each says he will do and what he will actually do in the presidency next term. If Romney should win this election, we can only hope and pray that he won’t be as bad as we had feared, though I said the same about George W. Bush when the Supreme Court declared the winner of his first election and, in fact, he ended up being much worse. Of course, I was in Honduras then and was glad to be far away.

Terrance Williams, a prisoner on death row in Pennsylvania, got a stay of execution in part because of advocacy by Amnesty International activists. Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases.

A local judge in the DC area ruled that the following sign had to be displayed in public metro-rail stations, which it has been: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man, support Israel, defeat Jihad.” So far, no one has attacked the sign, though I heard that a couple of women stood outside one such sign with their own sign or statement disputing it. A Muslim group now wants to post a counter-ad. It seems that a public area like a metro station supported by tax dollars could have certain restrictions. Of course, there's always the question of where to draw the line. Cigarette and alcohol ads are not permitted on metro, free speech or not. Maybe this question will go to the Supreme Court?

There were two cases recently of a man killing his son with a firearm, thinking he was an intruder. People trying to protect their homes with handguns would be well advised not to be so trigger happy, to at least shout out, “Who goes there?” before pulling the trigger.

Here’s a shocking report about a former Peace Corps volunteer: Jesse Osmun of Milford, CT, charged with abusing several young girls in a South African HIV/AID encampment preschool, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. Just how this case impacts the future of the Peace Corps in screening volunteers could not be determined. Calls to the agency resulted in the release of the following statement from Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet: “The Peace Corps has no tolerance for abuse of any kind, and our deepest sympathies are with all the victims involved.” However, the prosecution said that if Osmun’s “prior instances of his misconduct” had been properly reported, “he would not have been accepted as a volunteer…and the abuse to these children would have been avoided.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cameroonian Artists, Presidential Debate, Netanyahu, Tax Cuts for the Wealthy, Venezuelan Election, EU Peace Corps, Honduran Deportees, Father at School, Bereaved Deaf Parent, Gun Violence, Aung San Suu Kyi, Cuban Five, Under Tents in Haiti, Honduran Model City, Amnesty Urgent Actions on Honduras & Cuba, Baby Panda Dies

Photos above are of Herve, a young Cameroonian artist staying temporarily at my place while using resources at the Museum of African Art. One shows him with his 4-year-old son, now waiting for him back home. The others are of him at a couple of his exhibits. He speaks French, but not much English yet. As I have mentioned elsewhere, my daughter Stephanie and her husband, both biologists, spent 6 months in the eastern jungles of Cameroon doing research on monkeys and plants, camped out in a tent among Baka (pigmy) people there. Poor Herve, his last two weeks of search here were lost when his computer crashed and he had made no backup.

Listening to the first debate between Obama and Romney, I thought Romney did pretty well; he didn’t flub as he often does. He seemed well prepared, though offering very few specifics. We shall see if he has gained momentum from his performance. He has everything to gain from these debates.

Speaking of the election, in a get-together with former co-workers from the occupational therapy association where I once worked, I was surprised when one woman said she is supporting Romney because he was a successful businessman. (Yes, successful in laying off workers and investing off-shore.) A sub-text of her support was that she is Jewish and considers him more protective of Israel. Though we thankfully didn't get into a contentious discussion, she seemed to like Romney's tough talk on Israel-Iran and his apparent siding with Netanyahu about bombing Iran's nuclear facilities. But not everyone in Israel is happy about Netanyahu's war talk, red line, and obvious efforts to affect the US election, although many American Jews (and evangelicals) still buy his arguments. Of course, nothing is certain in life, but I am sure Obama is keeping track of the Iran problem and is trying to reduce tensions and offer Iran a face-saving way out, while Netanyahu is only ratcheting up tensions, perhaps because he genuinely believes that preemptively attacking Iran is the way to protect Israel or maybe he’s only bluffing to increase his own domestic support. I thought his direct appeal to the American public and his cartoonish UN bomb graphic were a little crude and might evoke a backlash among the American public, since the US is bankrolling Israel and doesn’t need Netanyahu to be directing our foreign policy. Of course, there are quite a few Jews (certainly not all) and evangelicals who believe in the “chosen people,” biblical land rights, and in Israel’s exclusive right to have nuclear arms in the Middle East. However, others may feel that Netanyahu has overstepped the bounds and is trying to drag us into a war of his own choosing. All we need now is another war in the Muslim world, with Iran a much more powerful country militarily than either Iraq or Afghanistan. Attacking Iran unilaterally, in my opinion, will only increase the danger for Israel. It’s a very delicate situation. Obama called Netanyahu after his UN appearance and would have had to choose his words very carefully, as the Israeli leader would have no compunctions about revealing details of their conversation that he did not like. Romney also called the Israeli leader. Netanyahu believes he is helping Romney to win, but even if that happens, Romney may not be as pliable as Bibi hopes and may equally resent his meddling.

No big surprise that the Congressional Budget Office has found that tax cuts for the wealthy don’t actually create jobs or boost the economy, they just make some people richer. Some wealthy people may buy a few more things or hire more servants, making a small trickle-down effect, but mostly, they already have everything they ever wanted and are hoarding their money or putting it into off-shore accounts, as Romney has done, perhaps trying to protect their wealth to pass on to progeny, because there is only so much they can actually spend in their own lifetime.

The Venezuelan presidential election is immanent. Venezuelans in the U.S. are allowed to vote, but only at a consulate and the consulate in Miami, where most of them live, has been inexplicably closed, perhaps because most Venezuelans living here have already voted with their feet to leave during Chavez’s time in power, hence are not his supporters. Not daunted, Miami Venezuelans have organized caravans and special flights to take them New Orleans, the next closet consulate, so they can vote.

Recently, I had a conversation with a woman who told me that the EU is starting a program like the Peace Corps. She didn’t give details, but that’s good news, because the need is so great and it also provides an excellent experience for volunteers. I’ve searched on-line and see that the program still in the planning process. Like the Peace Corps, it seems mostly geared toward young people, providing them with training and experience to make them “the leaders of tomorrow.” But there should be no overlooking that yesterday’s or today’s leaders could become “the volunteers of tomorrow.”

During the period 2003-2012, more than 220,000 Hondurans have been deported from the US, with the highest number in this year, 2012. Final figures are not yet available, but it looks like there might be as many as 44,000 this year alone. It’s so difficult and perilous for Hondurans to make that journey across Guatemala and the whole of Mexico that it’s surprisingly that enough make it to allow so many to be deported. I have commented here before that I have seen the deportation flights unloading on the Tegucigalpa airport, with dejected passengers getting off a plane unmarked except for a tiny American flag on the tail. Airport employees told me that was the regular deportation flight, the exact reverse of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Recently, I commented here that in all my school interpretations, usually for annual evaluations carried out with parents of children in special ed, only mothers have appeared on their children’s behalf. Well, yesterday, I had a father for the first time and I commended him for that. “Well,” he said, “I wouldn’t be here except my wife died. I really didn’t want to come, but the school insisted.” He was a man my own age or older who said he had something like 9 kids and, really, it was too much to try to help them all with their education, as he himself had never attended school and didn’t know how to read and write or speak English. Accompanying him was a son in his late 20s who apparently is helping the 17-year-old special ed student, a very diffident boy, who, because of his age, was allowed to sit in the session with teachers and therapists trying to chart his future educational course.

Haven’t discussed it much here, but I belong to a support group of parents who have lost children, The Compassionate Friends. A new parent is the father of a 5-year-old who ran out into the street and was killed by a vehicle. This father is deaf and I have contacted Gallaudet University for the deaf here in DC to see if anyone would be willing to act as a pro-bono sign language interpreter for this grieving father during our meetings.

Another multiple shooting, this time in Minneapolis. Anyone with a grievance and a gun is a menace to the rest of society. A Conn. man shot and killed his son wearing a mask, thinking the boy was a home invader. But, quite obviously, nothing is going to be done before the election, if ever. Ryan has come out even more vociferously than ever for “gun rights.” Suicide now surpasses car accidents as a cause of death, many of those suicides impulsive acts committed with guns. In this area, apparently a man shot his wife and two children before shooting himself in a family murder-suicide. I have a reader who insists that guns protect, though I haven’t seen much evidence of that. Perhaps gun possession does prevent some injuries and deaths, though that’s harder to quantify than cases where someone is actually killed.

Burmese laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was here in Washington and because of my Amnesty work, I received an on-line ticket to hear her speak on September 20. But when the ticket was issued, it required confirmation within 6 hours and I did not see it in time to confirm, so my ticket went to someone else, much to my regret. It’s expected that most people will remain “connected” at all times, checking e-mail frequently. However, I’m an old-fashioned type, with only a fixed home phone and a desk-top computer, so I missed out. Suu Kyi’s case was one that we had worked on for years in Amnesty.

On September 17, 2012, several Americans appeared as spokespersons and among the audience for a Cuban Interests Section presentation broadcast via live webcam (a tactic adopted from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana) rallying support for the Cuban Five’s innocence and attesting to the still inspiring nature of the Cuban revolution, lo these many decades later, despite continued American government hostility. The Cuban government seized American Alan Gross 3 years ago to use as a bargaining chip for the Five's release, but probably matters will remain stalemated until after the November election.

The Cuban Five, my readers may recall, were men convicted of spying in the US who had infiltrated Miami exile organizations and notified the Cuban government of the flight pattern of 2 Brothers to the Rescue planes, which were shot down by the Cuban air force, killing 4. One of the Cuban Five has been out on parole for a year, but not permitted by a judge to leave the US for 2 more years. Interesting that the Cuban Interests Section here in DC is using a webcam, just as the US Interests Section in Havana has been doing from time-to-time, but under much more restricted circumstances there, because Cuban dissidents wanting to talk by webcam from Havana may be intercepted on their way to the US Interests Section by Cuban State Security. Amnesty International has questioned the fairness of the Miami venue of the Five’s trial and has advocated that their wives be allowed to visit, but has not pronounced them innocent.

On September 21, participants at the NYC and DC offices of Amnesty Int’l, along with many other organizations, held a joint meeting via live webcam with Sanon, a Haitian representing FRAKKA, a citizens’ grassroots effort mobilizing around housing initiatives. Speaking in French with interpreters, Sanon traced the roots of Haiti’s current housing crisis from its troubled political past, through the earthquake of January 12, 2010 that killed 300,000 people, to today when 350,000 to 400,000 people remain without permanent shelter. He gave examples of police and landowners colluding to evict squatters without due process and NGOs and government functionaries, along with common criminals, preying on helpless families, wantonly destroying their shelters, arresting, and even killing them with impunity. (Some videos of these events were shown.) The Haitian legislature and president have apparently ignored the situation. The pretext for evicting families is often environmental protection. However, the situation is not completely hopeless and progress is possible. Giving up would only make matters worse. Homeless people are being trained to plead their cases. Pro-bono law offices in the U.S. are being called upon to help. Haitian groups are touring the U.S. to raise awareness and money. One Haitian organization is able to build a decent house for $11,000. Habitat for Humanity and Taiwan are also constructing houses in Haiti, building them to withstand tremors and other acts of nature, some being built right at the quake epicenter. “Under Tents” ( is an international campaign for housing rights in Haiti, so check out the website.

Plan for Charter City to Fight Honduras Poverty Loses Its Initiator

By ELISABETH MALKIN in the September 30, 2012 New York Times

Apparently the charter city idea has hit up against the very problems it was trying to address—see article.

Urgent actions issued by Amnesty International regarding the situation of human rights defenders in the Americas.

Honduras: Killing of human rights lawyer Antonio Trejo Cabrera exposes dire need for action

Human rights lawyer Antonio Trejo Cabrera died on Saturday evening after gunmen shot him five times outside a wedding ceremony in a southern suburb of the capital Tegucigalpa. He had reported receiving death threats linked to his work representing the victims of human rights abuses amid an ongoing land conflict in the Bajo Aguan region in the north of the country.

Read the press release here:

Urgent Action: Cuba – Human rights activists detained in Cuba

Members of the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) have been detained in Havana and several other places in Cuba. Some remain in detention and the authorities have failed to provide reasons for their detention or information on their whereabouts.

To read more, take action and share the information, visit:

Maybe it’s not monumental on the scale of calamities, but we here in DC are lamenting the death of our new baby giant panda, something of a surprise when it was actually born, a rare event. Years ago, at the National Zoo, I saw the playful panda born here before he was shipped back to China when he turned five, as per the agreement with that country. This cub was female, even more of a loss, as she could have been bred when she came of age, since her mother is coming to the end of her reproductive life. Panda breeding in captivity is very difficult in any case, involving calculations of when ovulation occurs and artificial insemination at the precise moment, even then, with minimal chances of success. Not like rabbits! The mother panda apparently mourned her infant’s death, judging by her vocalized laments and she has been cradling a toy ever since as if it were the departed panda cub.