Thursday, August 23, 2012

Medical Volunteers Needed, Hate Crimes, Pussy Riot, Self-publishing, Stay of Deportation, Tax Rates, WikiLeaks, Doctor Shortage, “Vigara”

One photo shows my 4-year-old great-grandson De’Andre taking a break from playing pool. The other is of us clowning around at last February’s IHS medical brigade, a photo just sent to me. If you know of any volunteer doctors, nurses, dentists, or pharmacists possibly willing to join us next Feb., please let me know ASAP.

Was the recent shooting at the conservative Family Research Council in DC as a hate crime, in that the shooter opposed the organization’s stance on gays? Is its position based on political considerations or on religious ones? If the latter, this might be considered to fall into a hate-crime category.

Now the three female Pussy Riot punk rockers have been sentenced to 2 years for criticizing Putin in a one-minute song inside a Moscow cathedral. Time-served (almost 6 months already) would have been more than sufficient for such an infraction, but guess that Putin wanted to send a message. The case has sparked international condemnation, which is not over yet.

An article in the NY Times about self-publishing observes that while an occasional self-published book becomes a best-seller like Fifty Shades of Grey, the majority sell only 100 to 150 copies. At least on that score, I’m ahead of the game, because my book has sold more than 1000 copies, some on-line, some at speaking venues. I’ve given away at least 150 more to family, friends, libraries, and reviewers, so the book is out there in modest quantities. As the article points out, the hardest thing about selling a self-published book is that people don’t know about it. Unfortunately, since the Peace Corps 50th anniversary has passed and since the Peace Corps left Honduras, my on-line sales have plummeted, as I guess that mostly volunteers en route to that country were the ones buying it. Any suggestions from blog readers about how to jazz up sales would be appreciated, as I do partially depend on those sales to finance my annual trip to Honduras and support my projects there. Also, the Salvadoran eatery outside our neighborhood Eastern Market, where I’ve sometimes tried selling my book on weekends, has put up a fenced enclosure around its outside tables, making it awkward for me to set up there any more. And although I enjoy chatting with folks about the Peace Corps when I do set up, it’s hard to be self-promoter for the book either there or anywhere else. I hate to be too pushy. And I hate gimmicks and tricks, like the first person who orders gets a free book or a discount.

As for the quality of self-published books, that’s very uneven—I can testify to that, having reviewed a number of self-published memoirs for Peace Corps Writers. A rare few are gems, but most are just junk and very amateurish. I hate to downgrade them when I post a review (on the Peace Corps Writers’ website), as I can see that an author has often poured out his/her heart and struggled to get words down on paper, but some are just terrible. I still try to find something nice to say while at the same time warning would-be buyers and readers. When a book is self-published, you just don’t know what to expect. That also applies to books from traditional publishers, I might add—some are real doozies, especially diet, dating, and financial advice books and those by someone famous. The latter are just puff pieces and much of their subject matter is trite and, while traditionally published books have fewer typos, all books have some. (I even once found a typo in The New Yorker, the gold standard.) At a public library the other day, I picked up a co-authored sex advice book from a major publisher by Dr. Ruth, whose doctorate is in education, and saw the most inane statements, such as that not spending every minute 24/7 day-after-day with your partner can often enhance desire. (Dr. Ruth was married 3 times, so guess she learned most of what she knew from experience, not from academic study.)

I chose self-publishing myself because it offered me the greatest control in terms of my book’s contents, photos, and design, but the downside certainly is recognition and distribution, especially with so many books coming out every year. If my book got even 1% of the attention and readership that a Dr. Ruth book gets, I’d be thrilled. I think it still has something to offer readers.

Maybe my book has just run its natural life course? Sarah Palin and G W Bush both sold over a million copies of their memoirs when they first came out, but I'll bet none since and, now, if at all, those books are all appearing at yard sales. Meanwhile, Barack Obama's books have staying power, although as friend has observed, once he’s out of office, they won’t be so popular any more.

Most fiction written today falls into a “genre” category: chic lit, mysteries, science fiction, horror, golf, and even sub-niches like African-American romance and detective stories. No more of the great dramas and classics of yesteryear (maybe attention spans are too short for those now). So-called non-fiction titles are mostly “how-to” books, even though the writer may not be an expert at anything. Often these latter books use numerical points, such as “Six Surefire Dating Strategies” or “Ten Steps to a Thinner You.” Never mind whether the author has actually achieved dating or dieting success personally or by helping other people. There are even on-line courses (for a price) that teach you how to write a whole non-fiction book in just days. Most such writing courses or those for marketing your book seem dedicated, as far as I can see, to getting you in the mood, making you feel (over) confident about your own success, expertise, and road-to-riches—never mind the substance of your book—also trying to get you, the would-be author, especially if you are self-published, to shell out money for the course or book that’s being offered. Thus, these advice entrepreneurs are exemplifying the very self-promoting behaviors that they plan to advocate for you and which you then need to implement in turn, like holding your own pre-paid advice webinar where you will also promote your book. It’s like a giant Ponzi scheme, all fluff, no substance, but money changes hands. My book, a simple, honest straightforward memoir, falls outside the usual categories, making it less marketable to a defined sub-group, except maybe to Peace Corps volunteers.

On the first day of the filing for the 2-year stay of deportation for young people, over 1,000 people lined up at one DC-area site. Some young undocumented immigrants have expressed fear that a Romney victory would jeopardize their status, but I can’t imagine Mitt Romney, once in office, undertaking to actually deport them. Even a tea-party Republican like Marc Rubio has suggested accommodating undocumented people brought to this country by their parents as minors. And probably a majority of Americans would not want to witness the spectacle of that group being deported. Romney doesn’t seem like a deliberately cruel guy like some politicians, just kind of an uncomfortable, inept one, who, nonetheless wants desperately to be president, a job he has been running for now for about a decade. He’s been a successful businessman, a governor, in charge of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, and now he wants to top off his career with the US presidency.

Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer, on the other hand, is not a nice person. She has announced that she is barring those approved under the new Obama immigration stay from getting state ID’s or driver’s licenses and, I suppose, in-state college tuition as well. She says she doesn’t want these people to be a drag on taxpayers, but if she would just give them half a chance, they would become taxpayers instead. I’d expected other Republican governors to follow her example and now the governor of Nebraska has. It’s worrisome that so many governors are defying the federal government or dragging their feet and failing to cooperate on various measures, first heath care, now this. They seem to want to go back to the old days when southern governors resisted desegregation or even to the time before we were a country, before there was a “United” States. Sheriff Arpaio is in the same mold of nasty, mean people apparently elected by the same, who must be a majority in their jurisdictions or they wouldn’t be in office. Not only is their attitude destructive for getting things done, but may also be a tipping factor in motivating some mass shootings, giving legitimacy to angry and hateful emotions. I hope they provoke a backlash for going too far. What if Brewer, Apaio, or some of their supporters suddenly discovered that they had been brought to the US as undocumented children themselves? Would they, in Romney’s words, cheerfully “self-deport”?

Before leaving the topic of nasty, mean politicians, I would also include Dick Cheney in that category. Past the age of heart transplant eligibility, he still got a scarce donor heart, I suppose because no one in the medical establishment dared oppose his request. Hope his new heart might have given him more empathy for others, though he’s been pretty quiet lately, though not displaying any big change of heart. Unfortunately, the addition of Paul Ryan to the Republican presidential ticket, while it has jazzed things up, has also further polarized the electorate and that is not good. Can we expect four more years of partisan gridlock whoever wins the presidency?

Mitt Romney has come out with a statement that he’s always paid about 13% in income taxes. Heck, many of us have paid a far higher percentage than that on a much tinier income, especially if you count social security contributions. I don’t find that percentage particularly reassuring or any evidence that he’s in touch with the common man.

As for Julian Assange, obviously, the man will do anything to avoid a trial and jail. He’s been complaining about being couped up in the Ecuadoran embassy, but that’s nothing compared to what he might face elsewhere. There he is still a celebrity, can have visitors, can use the phone and internet, and gets three meals a day and a place to sleep. Emerging on the embassy balcony recently, he was shorn of his trademark locks, perhaps trying to appear more clean cut and serious.

I received this message on Facebook: “Julian Assange must be set free as he has not committed any crimes - his only crime is to expose the United States and NATO of crimes against humanity and War Crimes committed by the Western Powers!”

Some of the information I have seen revealed by WikiLeaks has been interesting and informative, some damaging, and some actually helpful to US interests. It’s been a treasure trove of historically valuable material over the time-span represented, showing American and other diplomats around the world sometimes coming off better than might have been expected, appearing more nuanced and capable than their public personas would indicate. However, possible secret wrong-doing or wrong-headed actions by the US and other governments has also been revealed. Filmmakers Oliver Stone and Michael Moore, much of whose work I admire (though they give too much credit to conspiracy theories, in my view), have written an editorial in the NY Times hailing Assange as an honest journalist and free-press advocate.

However, I am not one of those believing that this whole WikiLeaks endeavor is something heroic and that all of diplomacy’s dirty laundry needs to be aired publicly, especially if the original communications were expected to be kept confidential. Some matters are best worked out in private, even among nations. I have no particular comment on the sex charges facing Assange in Sweden, except that one of his accusers has visited Cuba and is reported to be a friend of the Ladies in White. It’s ironic that the Ecuadorian government is offering him asylum in the name of freedom of the press when it routinely jails its own journalists for articles the president doesn’t like. Some Ecuadorian journalists have asked for US asylum even as Assange seeks refuge in Ecuador. The police surrounding the Ecuadorian embassy should carefully examine every box and laundry bag that leaves the premises, as Assange may well be squeezed inside on his way to the airport. Once he arrives in Ecuador, if ever, he will be free to visit Venezuela, Iran, Nicaragua, and even Cuba to bring them his message of press freedom.

Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt in a NY Times op-ed (Aug. 17, 2012) has reacted to criticism of health care reform based on its supposed aggravation of the physician shortage, especially in primary care, because more patients will be seeking care. Some physicians groups have darkly hinted that doctors might just drop out if reimbursement is insufficient. As Reinhardt points out, they are not going to any earn more money by dropping out because no other profession will give them the top income, in the upper 5% of America’s income distribution, that medicine does.

I usually scroll through my spam folder before emptying its contents, as occasionally something important gets sent there. I would advise spammers to learn to spell! It’s not “lotterie win,” “lonly wife,” “xxxx freind,” or “penis enlargment,” nor is it Vigara or Canadiana Pharmacy, which popps up (whoops! you know what I mean) over and over again. These spammers seem to mostly have sex on their minds, or sex and money. And there are all those notices, in my case purportedly from Yahoo, direly warning of an immediate shutdown if certain information is not provided. I’d be really shocked if one turned out to be real and my account actually was shut down! Or if I won that thousand bucks with my name on it!

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