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?

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