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 cariƱo.”

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!

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