Sunday, September 16, 2012

Amish at Eastern Market, Cuban Dissidents, Juvenile Services, Cameroonian Artist, Muslim Rage, Romney, Blog Advice

On Tuesday afternoons, at our local Eastern Market, Amish families arrive from Pennsylvania to sell produce outside, looking rather exotic wearing their traditional attire, hats, and long beards. They transport themselves and their products in what appear to be covered wagons, but pulled by a motor vehicle, usually a truck or pick-up. I suppose that’s because a horse-drawn carriage cannot travel on city streets, so they adapt in that way. Last Tuesday, almost at dusk, I took a photo (above) of one of their parked wagons with a little Amish girl beside it. Afterwards, she ran shyly away, barefoot on that warm September evening.

The second photo is of an historic Cuban dissident, Ana Lázara Rodríguez, whom I met on September 14 at The Institute of World Politics here in Washington, DC, during an event honoring female survivors of communist prisons. A woman my own age, now living in Miami, she has written a memoir entitled Diary of a Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Woman’s Prison. Her opposition to Batista began when she was only 13 and continued after she became a medical student. Glad to see him ousted, her curiosity was initially aroused by Fidel’s “romantic story,” but not for long. Soon disillusioned, she began working against Castro, “just as against Batista,” mostly using the written word and mockery, “We made fun of him and his long-winded pronouncements. I was not afraid. If they destroyed me, that would spare me suffering and they would no longer have an enemy left to fight,” she said. “I told them, I am free to talk; you are not.” Her freedom to talk was short lived; someone turned her in. She was arrested in 1961 and sentenced to 30 years. “When they burned all my books, I cried,” she admitted, “but I didn’t let them see it.” She endured 19 years of ill treatment, periods of solitary confinement, being moved from one prison to another, hunger strikes, and, during one such strike, prisoners were also denied water. These women, called plantadas, were forced to give blood for hospital patients. Finally in 1979, Ana was freed in an agreement brokered by President Jimmy Carter, who had lifted the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba, and she came to the U.S. in 1980. She took up her medical studies again in the Dominican Republic, but by then in her forties, never practiced medicine in the United States. Once a devout Catholic attending daily Mass, she now feels the church has been too accommodating to the regime. “Communism, fascism, any kind of ‘ism,’ it’s still a dictatorship,” she declared. After I took her photo, I promised to e-mail her a copy, but she has refused to have e-mail, “because then you have no privacy or independence; everything you do can be monitored.”

In Cuba, on September 11, independent LGBT activist Leannes Imbert Acosta was arrested by state security and a planned exhibit opening was disrupted. Cuba only allows regime-sponsored LGBT organizations approved by first daughter Mariela Castro.

For three days in a row, my interpretation assignments were all at Maryland juvenile services. Each time, it was a single mother who didn’t speak English with a wayward teenage daughter or son who does speak English and may have been born here. Very rarely do these kids live with a mother with a husband at home and never in eight years of working as an interpreter have I ever had a father actually come to juvenile services with the youngster. Nor in the waiting room sitting next to English-speaking families do I ever see any fathers present. If a teen gets into trouble, shouldn’t the father be concerned? That may be a big part of the problem. Again, with kids’ health problems in hospitals or clinics, usually it’s the mother only with the youngster, although in the case of surgery, an occasional father has appeared with the mother. It does take two to produce a child.

Herve, an artist from Cameroon, arrived Saturday and immediately wanted to get on the internet with his laptop to notify his family back home that he had arrived safely. But his battery was low and I didn’t have an adapter for his plug-in, only adapters going from here to other countries, not vice versa, but we found the right one at the local Radio Shack. He will be doing research for two months at the Museum of African Art. Something about comparative styles, I’m not sure what, as his English is not fluent. This is not his first trip to Washington; he was here for one day last year to give a lecture. A museum staff member picked him up at the airport and said that obtaining his visa and getting through the airport have become harder than ever now. Surely, with all the unrest abroad, getting even temporary visas will become more complicated and difficult.

J. Christopher Stevens, our Ambassador to Libya killed recently, was once a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, 1982-1985, probably where he first learned Arabic. The anti-Islam film or video that led to his death and that of his colleagues was not in general circulation until excerpts went viral on the internet. Google has now blocked access, but a little late. The producer/director (on probation for financial crimes in California) was first identified as Israeli, then as an Arab, an Egyptian Coptic Christian, evoking fury against already beleaguered Copts in Egypt. Of course, such attacks would only seem to corroborate one apparent premise of the video, that Islam is a violent, fanatical, and corrupt religion. It was certainly unknown to the U.S. government and American public until now, when these events have raised its profile, so an attack on American government facilities makes no logical sense. But since when is logic involved? Attacks on the German embassy in Khartoum make even less sense. While Islamist extremists may represent only a small percentage of Muslims, they certainly do a lot of damage, reacting to any perceived or imagined insult or slight, as evidenced by the Danish cartoon controversy, reactions to Koran burnings and some of Pope Benedict’s pronouncements, and now this film. Of course, suicide bombings and the 9/11 attacks are further evidence of such fanaticism, seeming all out of proportion to the alleged original offenses. Is the violence that has swept the Muslim world just an expression of anti-western feeling writ large or of frustrations with their own daily life and with the unfulfilled expectations of the “Arab Spring”? The relative youthfulness of Muslim populations is also a factor, as is the cunning of agitators ready to pounce on any excuse to whip up a crowd. Of course, once such mobs get going, they attract others and inspire copy-cats in other countries. The excitement of the crowd and the thrill of destruction apparently sweep up many young people, already in the habit of fighting and demonstrating. At the same time, western societies and governments, which allow freedom of speech and expression, cannot be policing every piece of obscure writing, drawing, film, or action that might conceivably enrage some folks in the Muslim world.

Mitt Romney would seem to be out-of-touch with middle income voters if he defines “middle income” as $200,000 to $250,000 per year, when the real figure is about $50,000. Most of us would feel downright wealthy if we earned $200,000. In all fairness, Romney did qualify his statement by adding “or less” at the end. Presidential candidates have to be super-careful about saying anything that can be cut into a sound bite, just as Obama’s “You didn’t make this” was excerpted without the qualifier “alone.” And Romney states that there would be no mid-east turmoil if he were president? I suspect it would be worse. The man seems confused about what just he plans to do and what he wants to say. Is that someone who should be president?

Blog advice columns (yes any and all subjects are legitimate blog topics, including how to write a blog) definitely recommend being focused on your blog, also promoting it to a targeted audience, which you are supposed to notify whenever a new posting goes up. I confess to my readers that I am completely unfocused in life and an on my blog, moving in many different directions at once. No wonder I’m always pressed for time! My blog is like a rambling conversation that I would be having face-to-face with you, my indulgent reader, something that probably appeals to only a few, mostly good friends, at least judging from those who actually send me comments via e-mail. I am expressing myself and discussing what interests me and what I hope interests you in a sort of public diary. At the very least, when I am gone, my kids will be able to go through the blog and reconstruct much of their mother’s daily life.

Friday, September 7, 2012

SOS for IHS Medical Brigade, Honduran Journalist Killed, Haitian President Accused of Corruption, Democratic Convention, Profit Motive vs. Sharing, Gun Control Again, Party Platforms on Cuba, More Fake Amazon reviews, Dying Cardinal Critiques Church, Translation vs. Interpretation, Blog Reader’s Critique

The photos shown are of handmade dolls made by indigenous Lenca women living near La Esperanza—thanks to Susan for the photos of items she bought while volunteering there.

OK, folks, we still need volunteer doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and dentists and a ham radio operator for the IHS (Int’l Health Service of Minnesota) medical brigade to La Esperanza, Honduras, starting next Feb. 15. We have interpreters (including me) and helpers, but that’s useless without the basic practitioners. If anyone out there might be interested, please contact or me ASAP!
Miraculously, according to a report in our local Spanish-language press, Jhonny Carrasco, a special agent with the Honduran national police gave a female reporter whom he had attacked an envelope containing his apology and money to replace the camera he had broken. While he should have been disciplined, that’s better than nothing and, I’m sure, was a huge surprise to the reporter.

The human rights reporting website , IFEX, has three items on Honduras, so check it out:

• Honduran government announces plans for protecting journalists as online reporter is found dead

Journalist José Noel Canales Lagos was killed on his way to work for the online newspaper; his murder brings the total number of journalists killed in Honduras in the past decade to 30.

• Peasants' rights spokesperson harassed by Honduran authorities

• Honduran government announces plans for protecting journalists as online reporter is found dead

Honduran journalist threatened after broadcasting complaints against water company. A Honduran journalist said he fears for his life after having reported complaints by local residents against the Aguas de Choloma company.

Haiti: Duvalier Lawyer Called to Defend President's Family from Accusations of Corruption

Tuesday, 04 September 2012

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti ( - The presidential family called on the services of the defense attorney for former President-for-Life Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, Reynold Georges, to defend them from accusations of "usurpation of title and function" and embezzlement by First Lady Sophia Martelly and the president's son Olivier.

For rest of article see:
Thank goodness the political conventions are over. Does anyone else feel that way? Nothing really earthshaking happened at either one, but, overall, I thought the Democrats gave better, more substantive speeches, perhaps reflecting my personal biases. Bill Clinton was very good, rather long, but full of specifics. I thought Barack Obama gave a rousing speech and came across as more sincere than Romney, who only seemed to want to get elected. Of course, Obama wants to be re-elected too, but he also seems to want to fix problems. However, I must say he is a better speaker than an implementer, although, of course, I do intend to vote for him.

The most interesting part of the Republican convention was Clint Eastwood’s odd narrative, but the Republicans cut that out of the final convention edit. The Democratic platform did support DC voting rights, but not necessarily “statehood,” which has been the push of many local activists. It would be nice to have statehood, but it’s not as important what our jurisdiction is called as that we have congressional representation.

The question posed by Republicans is a strategic one: Are you better off now since Obama has become president? Probably a lukewarm “slightly better” is the answer most people would honestly give, but nowhere near where we were before, mainly back to when Bill Clinton was president, which seems to be where most think we should be. The recovery will continue to be slow no matter who is elected, I predict, but that slowness now is certainly reducing Obama’s popularity and will do the same for Romney if he should win the presidency. Romney voters should not be surprised when and if their man fails to deliver either.

I don’t have TV, so what I know of the convention speeches is only audio. I thought the Demo pro-choice speaker was a little too militant, but that probably reflects my own stance as an adoptive parent, being more pro-life myself, though still a Democrat and an Obama voter. Hispanic voters, too, are pro-life and don’t favor gay marriage either, an issue on which I am fairly neutral—if people want to get married to someone of the same sex, that’s their business. I have gay friends who have tied the knot and I certainly support them. Likewise, I would support access to contraception, including in government-funded health plans. But for me, abortion is a step too far except in cases of rape, incest, and medical problems for mother or child—and if it’s going to happen, early is better than later. I suspect many Americans fall into that same category—we don’t want abortion criminalized, but neither do we want it encouraged or considered just routine. Michelle Obama gave a very good speech. I didn’t hear Ann Romney, but I understand she did well too. I noticed that while Bill Clinton had a prominent role, Hilary, who is pretty popular in her own right, was away in China during the convention. She may really mean it that she is through with politics and is leaving the spotlight at the end of this year.

According to polls, almost all of Romney’s support comes from white voters. The question for Obama, who takes most minority votes, is whether he can win over enough white votes to squeak past Romney. The election at this point looks like a squeaker, however it turns out. In any case, with the white percentage of the total population falling, the Republicans will have a problem long-term. It’s unfortunate that the country is so polarized now along both political and racial/ethnic lines.

Since financial sacrifices are required in light of the deficit and the slow economic recovery, I would ask why shouldn’t those who have more, who really have plenty of money to spare, contribute more? They aren’t even going to feel it if they have to pay a little more in taxes. Their quality of life will hardly suffer. Poorer people will have to give up some benefits, but richer people may only have to give up some money, which for them is actually fairly painless. It’s pitiful that a multimillionaire like Romney pays so little in taxes. I know he tithes to the Mormon church, but that doesn’t reach the majority of needy citizens.

The profit motive is always a strong incentive; certainly in our country, it is much praised, encouraged, and reinforced. It’s only natural for people to want to improve their economic and material circumstances, but there are limits on how much one person or family can spend, even if they have millions. Lottery winners are always faced with a quandary of what to do with their windfall. Super-rich people face that quandary their whole life. They can’t consume and spend it all. Nor can they say they amassed their fortune completely independently. How much they have acquired depends on luck, customers, employees, and government policies (hence lobbying and political contributions), so a “self-made man” is not entirely self-made. In addition to having parents, family, fellow church-goers, and friends, he depends on a whole social and economic network. So no one, even Mitt Romney, can say he built his fortune all by himself.

Furthermore, there has always been a countervailing force in the direction of altruism and sharing. Empathy and group protection are hardwired even in children and animals. Nor is private enterprise guided by the profit motive always the best avenue for accomplishing something –sometimes government or a non-profit entity is more appropriate. Therefore, voters and politicians alike need to question propaganda, coming mainly from the Republican Party, demonizing government, taxes, and assistance for people in need. Even realizing profits, as Henry Ford once pointed out, depends on the ability of ordinary people being able to buy whatever is being sold. Squeezing out every dime of profit from consumers not only may skew the economy but may leave consumers without the wherewithal to continue consuming and keep the economic engine running. I was hoping the Democratic convention might question some Republican values and assumptions. Wealthy people don’t seem as interested in being job-creators, as Romney alleges, but in protecting and hoarding their wealth, including in moving their operations and investments off-shore, as he himself has done. What’s the point of having so much? I suppose to feel powerful, to have bragging rights, to be able to say, “Mine is bigger than yours,” and to be able t run for president if you want to.
I see that some city folks and organizations are now asking politicians to address the gun control issue, but, so far, I haven’t heard of any such plans. It would be a very difficult matter to tackle if every place comes up with different rules since firearms are fairly easy to transport across jurisdictional boundaries. And, at least here in DC, despite voters’ expressed desire for stricter gun controls, the Supreme Court has upheld the “right to bear arms” and knocked down our previous more restrictive laws. Also, Congress has not been shy about imposing laws on the District, since we have no federal voting rights. There is also the problem of so many guns being already in circulation. Personal possession of weapons, other than for target shooting or hunting, would seem to have two major purposes: offense and defense. If everyone else is armed, you may want to be armed too to deter attacks and protect yourself, sort of like nations having reciprocal nuclear deterrence. At least, that’s the argument. But does it work out in practice? I would favor programs that would pay people to turn in their guns to authorities, but only if the supply of new guns were restricted, or else we would just have a revolving door.

In the August 20, 2012, issue of TIME, Fareed Zakaria makes a compelling case for gun control and reducing the sheer number of guns in circulation, however that might be done (he doesn’t say). He was recently suspended for using someone else’s work without attribution in that same article, though the article still appears. It may be available on line, so I won’t repeat everything, just that he points out that the U.S. has 30 times the per capita gun homicide rate of Britain and Australia and opines that we don’t have any significantly higher percentage of crazy people here. In any case, such people are in the millions and we cannot track them all. In our nation’s early history, despite gun advocates’ frequent invocation of the founding fathers, gun control laws, especially against concealed weapons, were actually in effect back then and the enactment of current wide-open and aggressive “guns-rights” laws is a more recent phenomenon. While some pundits have advocated simply accepting that unexpected tragedies will occur in life, Zakaria says we didn’t take that position in regard to 9/11. Nor, I might add, do we passively accept it for myriad other threats such as traffic accidents, cancer, schoolyard bullying, and flood control. Such a fatalistic attitude on the part of Hondurans, in my opinion, is one reason gun deaths are so high in that country. Guns are seen openly everywhere in Honduras, in shops, banks, and even ice cream parlors. Does that make people there any safer? Apparently not, since the homicide rate there is many times ours in the U.S., even though ours is so much higher than in other developed countries.
Involved as I am in Cuban affairs in my volunteer role as a Caribbean coordinator for Amnesty International USA, I’m well aware that the Cuban regime has long justified restrictions on freedom of information, association, and expression as necessary to protect its allegedly superior material benefits from encroachment by the big, bad “empire” (the USA). But now those benefits are being reduced by brother Raul Castro, who insists that is the only way to protect and maintain “socialism.” Meanwhile, the Republican Party in the US is proposing to curtail benefits in the name of protecting the American people from “socialism.” The meaning of the term seems to have become rather murky. Former President Jimmy Carter has again called for the end to the embargo against Cuba, which is coming up for renewal this month. President Obama has relaxed it considerably, I is unlikely to abolish it completely in this election year.

GOP Party Platform on Cuba:

We affirm our friendship with the people of Cuba and look toward their reunion with the rest of our hemispheric family. The anachronistic regime in Havana which rules them is a mummified relic of the age of totalitarianism, a state-sponsor of terrorism. We reject any dynastic succession of power within the Castro family and affirm the principles codified in U.S. law as conditions for the lifting of trade, travel, and financial sanctions: the legalization of political parties, an independent media, and free and fair internationally-supervised elections. We renew our commitment to Cuba’s courageous pro-democracy movement as the protagonists of Cuba’s inevitable liberation and democratic future. We call for a dedicated platform for the transmission of Radio and TV Marti and for the promotion of Internet access and circumvention technology as tools to strengthen the pro-democracy movement. We support the work of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba and affirm the principles of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, recognizing the rights of Cubans fleeing Communism.

Democratic National Committee platform on Cuba:

Under President Obama we have undertaken the most significant efforts in decades to engage the Cuban people. We have focused on the importance of family ties between Cuban-Americans and their relatives still living under oppression. Because of the steps the President has taken, it is now possible for Cuban-Americans to visit and support their families in Cuba and to send remittances that reduce the Cuban people's dependence on the Cuban state. We have taken additional steps to bolster Cuban civil society, expanding purposeful exchanges that bolster independent religious groups on the island and enhancing the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people. Going forward we will continue to support the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their own future.


Here below is part of an article foloowing up on the NYTimes article about a man who ghosted Amazon reviews for pay and reminding me of the former Peace Corps volunteer who had slammed my book on Amazon and probably wrote a glowing review or two of his own Honduras memoir. I remember him contacting a bunch of people, including me (before his terrible review of my book), asking us to “vote” for his Honduras book for an award. Fortunately, another Honduras PC volunteer convinced Amazon to remove his biased diatribe against my book. Now, it seems, he is not the only one trying to bring down his competitors by reviews, both positive and negative. Writers should not hide their light under a barrel, but neither should they self-promote shamelessly and by subterfuge, but, as shown below, even famous authors may stoop to using such tactics, encouraged by the relative anonymity of the internet. These tactics also raise doubts about the validity of legitimate reviews.

Crime Writer RJ Ellory Caught Faking Amazon Reviews

Sept. 3, 2012 ABC 20/20

Best-selling crime writer RJ Ellory has been caught red-handed faking both positive and negative book reviews on Amazon. Ellory was writing glowing reviews for his own books and slamming his competitors' books. Ellory, a British novelist, was exposed by fellow writer Jeremy Duns who disseminated his evidence against Ellory in a series of tweets.

"Ellory writes 5-star reviews of his own work on Amazon. Long, purple tributes to his own magnificent genius," Duns tweeted. "RJ Ellory also writes shoddy, sh***y sniping reviews of others authors' work on Amazon, under an assumed identity."

Through a tip and some slip-ups on Ellory's part, Duns discovered that Ellory was posting reviews under at least two pseudonyms, "Jelly Bean" and "Nicodemus Jones." Duns tweeted that he noticed that both of those "users" had given all of Ellory's books five stars and given them praise-filled reviews.

Ellory also panned his competitors. After he was “outed,” he apologized. Good for Duns for noticing and for alerting the reading public.

Here below is part of a recent article, which seems to have made the rounds of the internet. I do think change is overdue in the Catholic Church and a revival of the spirit evoked by Pope John XXXIII. The polarization seen in other realms has also hit the church.

In final interview, Cardinal says Church "200 years out of date"

ROME (Reuters) Sept.1, 2012- The former archbishop of Milan and papal candidate Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said the Catholic Church was "200 years out of date" in his final interview before his death, published on Saturday. Martini, once favoured by Vatican progressives to succeed Pope John Paul II and a prominent voice in the church until his death at the age of 85 on Friday, gave a scathing portrayal of a pompous and bureaucratic church failing to move with the times.

"Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous," Martini said in the interview published in Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

"The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops. The paedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation," he said in the interview.

Although I much prefer face-to-face interpretation to written translation of dry, disembodied medical reports, I will do the latter if requested. Lately, quite a few medical translations have come my way, records originating in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru Argentina, and Chile. These reports show a high degree of medical sophistication, not only in the use of professional nomenclature, but in providing MRI, EKG, lab, and bone scan reports. Many of the patients apparently have intractable health problems for which they are seeking a second opinion, usually at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. So, they are people of means if they are able to travel to this country and pay privately for their care. None are referred by the public clinics that I typically worked with in Honduras, rather by the type of private clinics that the Peace Corps would use when we volunteers had health concerns.
Finally, one of my alert blog readers points out that so-called “fact-checkers” often need to have their own facts checked, as some have been shown to be in error themselves. Whom can we trust? She also chides me for not reading the whole article about the paid book reviewer, as the guy was eventually “outed” and is no longer in business. However, he did make gravy for a while and his customers probably also benefitted in their own book sales.

This reader is neither a gun control advocate nor an Obama supporter, asking: Would Romney learn on the job faster than Obama has? Would we be throwing the baby out with the bathwater to chuck Obama now after all the lessons he's learned at our expense?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

San Jose Obrero, Republican Convention, Williams Leaving Peace Corps, More Shootings, Book Reviews For Sale, Counties Bucking States, Amnesty’s London Website Hacked, Late Son’s Birthday

First, the above photo, which I saw on another website describing the work of San Jose Obrero, really a kind of Catholic Goodwill store in Choluteca, Honduras, where I often buy used wheelchairs, crutches, and walkers to donate to the Choluteca rehab center located nearby. The priest in charge there, originally from Cuba, has made a deal to send donations from the U.S. free to a port on Honduras’s north coast, usually La Ceiba, in empty banana cargo containers. He has offered to let me use some of the space for items I want to send, but my problem is getting stuff to Miami and loading into the containers, then unloading it on the Caribbean coast and transporting it to Tegucigalpa or Choluteca or wherever else I want o distribute it. I have enough trouble just getting around the country myself with luggage I’m carrying, much less trying to engineer such an operation long distance, especially with theft being so common. Still, I salute San Jose Obrero for doing it and although they never give me price break, even though I am donating the items to the rehab center, it’s really been easier for me to buy there than to transport a lot of stuff from home myself. However, I have accumulated a bunch of yard sale crutches which I must take on my next trip somehow.

Well, the Republican national convention is over, thank goodness. Some of its excesses and outright falsehoods were breathtaking. Fact-checkers have pointed out the many misstatements (lies? referred to discreetly in the press as “factual shortcuts”) but Republican partisans don’t look at facts. As for Romney, reportedly at a campaign time-out with veterans, he said that Obama had reduced America’s standing in the world. That’s a laugh. He increased it from the low point where it had fallen with GW Bush. Citizens, if not all leaders (certainly not Netanyahu), of most other countries like and admire Obama and are holding their breath that he will win again to prevent such world disasters as took place during the Bush years, whereas Romney really bombed on his recent overseas trip. As for Romney’s Thursday night keynote, I give him an “A” for effort, though I feel a little sorry for him because he’s obviously trying so hard and wants so very much to be president, something I certainly hope he doesn’t achieve. If not, maybe he can console himself that so many at the convention apparently loved him. His convention speech was actually better than some he has given, with no gaffes that I noticed, so that’s a plus for him.

Mitt Romney made a lot of promises in his speech: creation of 12 million jobs, lower taxes, cheaper gas, abolition of “Obamacare,” support for the needy and elderly, and reduction of the deficit aiming toward a balanced budget. His successful business experience will make all that possible! How? No examples or specifics were offered, just raw numbers. If voters actually believe him, then they deserve the unhappy result, though they’ll take us unbelievers and the rest of the world down with them. When the Supreme Court declared GW Bush the winner of his first election, I was in Honduras, but I remember thinking then, well, maybe when he’s actually in office, he won’t be so bad after all. Actually, he was worse. His name was never mentioned at this year’s Republican convention.

Of the few other convention speeches I listened to, Condoleezza Rice did the best in my view. She sounds like an intelligent woman who writes her own speeches, unlike some others. I thought she laid out the Republican position quite well, even though I don’t always agree with her, and I appreciated her statement that immigrants have found opportunity here and that we must welcome them, a refreshing change from the usual Republican line. It was also nice to see a darker face at a largely all-white convention. Otherwise, I found most of what was said at the convention bland or even sickening. How is that so many whom we call our fellow Americans can be so myopic and, frankly, mean-spirited, anti-intellectual, and greedy? Republicans say it’s un-American to be envious of the rich, since we all have an opportunity to be just like them. Well, fewer and fewer of us are actually achieving that opportunity—is that our own darn fault? Is the pie—are earth’s resources— really infinitely large, large enough that we can all be well off, that we can all be rich? There may be some elasticity, but often one person’s gain becomes others’ loss.

Like many who will be voting for Obama, I don’t support him and the Democratic Party in everything. Although he has offered a modified dream act, his administration has been aggressively deporting people, including going after folks who may have committed minor traffic offenses decades ago—this despite lip service for immigration reform. So, as with anyone else who has been in office for a time, his honeymoon is long over. But Romney and company, talking big about creating jobs and lowering taxes, give no particulars except for less regulation, which doesn’t sound like such a good idea, and allowing the oil pipeline from Canada, while reducing incentives for renewable energy, which will only add to the climate change that has been assaulting our nation and the world. Romney, in his convention speech, snidely accused Obama of being concerned about rising sea levels, while Romney himself was concerned about your own family. Some families in neighboring states were being assaulted by rising waters as he spoke. As a Catholic, I was surprised that Cardinal Dolan seemed to be giving his blessing to the Republican convention, but I understand he will also be at the Democratic convention next week, also Sister Simone, a socially oriented Catholic nun. Some Mid-West voters interviewed on NPR said they would never vote for Obama because they just can’t stand his appearance or Michelle’s either—the Obamas just don’t look like a first couple of the United States should look. Maybe a little bleach cream would help?

And, while I’m on my soapbox in this election year, we residents of the District of Columbia, with a bigger population that Dick Cheney’s state of Wyoming and close to that of other small-population states including Alaska, Delaware, North and South Dakota, and Vermont, each with 2 senators and a congressperson, yet we still have no voting representation in Congress because the rest of the country has ganged up against us. Is it because we have a large black population—although now, for the first time in decades, slightly below 50%--and because our registration is about 95% Democratic? The citizens of the capital of the “free world” don’t have the same voting rights accorded to all other Americans and no one seems to care except us.

Alas, Peace Corps director Aaron Williams has announced his departure in mid-September. He has not stayed the fully allowed 5 years, only 3, leaving now before the election. He is a good man and was always very supportive of me personally, so I’m very sorry to see him go and will be sorrier still if Romney wins the presidency and appoints his own director.

A couple of other multiple fatal shootings, this time in NYC and New Jersey. We’re kind of jaded now, almost getting used to it, the "new nomal." And, unfortunately, some of it is copy-cat, whereby guys with grievances see others going out in a blaze of gunfire and decide to do the same. NYC cops do seem to have had a pretty bad aim in hitting so many bystanders during that particular shooting. Supposedly bullets ricocheted. Also a high school student near here was shot and badly injured by another student on the first day of school. In an election year, it looks like no politician dares to utter a word about controlling either gun proliferation or access to firearms. It’s just a matter of so sorry, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time and now are dead or disabled, tough luck; our hearts go out to you or your survivors and we will say a prayer. Anyone who has a grudge, hallucinations, intends to rob, rape, or commit suicide, or wants to commit terrorism just picks up a firearm. Need we all go around wearing helmets and body armor? And, among other things, what about the cost to our health care and rehab system of treating all these serious injuries? Climate change is another topic not mentioned during this election year, despite weather extremes occurring over the last few years, including during the Republican convention.

As a follow-up to my lament about falling book sales, here’s an excerpt from an intriguing item in the NYTimes (Aug. 27, 2012) about buying laudatory book reviews. No wonder I missed the book-promotion boat now in the digital age! According to the article, in the fall of 2010, Jason Rutherford “started a Web site, At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50. There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm’s-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.”

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. After some state governors have announced that they are standing at the statehouse door, refusing to go along with at least some aspects of “Obamacare,” now in Texas, some counties say they plan to buck the state (presumably in the name of local control). Next, we’ll have towns and cities opposing counties. Where will this chaos and madness end? Having different public jurisdictions asserting their own sovereignty in opposing directions makes for tremendous confusion. This is democracy? Can’t we all just get along and go along once the political system we currently have arrives at a conclusion? Undermining laws after-the-fact makes for ineffective and inefficient governance. Wait until the next election to kick the bums out, or to mount a referendum, do something where voters and the public can weigh in, but don’t just allow political figures willy-nilly to engage in civil disobedience.

Because of Amnesty International’s criticism of the atrocities perpetrated by the Assad regime, its London website has been hacked and items have been posted attacking the Syrian rebels for committing “crimes against humanity.” Cyber warfare has risen to new levels.

September 4 is my dearly departed son Andrew’s birthday, a time of remembrance. It doesn’t seem as though 18 years have gone by since we lost him. Of course, I still miss him.