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 SueƱo 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.”