Sunday, December 29, 2013

Happy New Year, Peace Corps Holiday Party, Son’s Death Anniversary, Target, Honduras Killings, Wash. Post Cuba Editorial Appeal, Sudan Conflict, Mainstream Republicans Fight Back, Feb. Honduras Trip

Here in DC, snow has been predicted several times already, but the snow that has pummeled the northeast has not actually materialized here or has melted the same day. But my sister in Philly, just 3 hours north, says several inches have fallen there more than once already. A big storm was predicted for Sat. Dec. 14, but turned out to be only a light cold rain, at least in my Capitol Hill neighborhood, so did not daunt the attendance at a Peace Corps function that evening. The photo shows me at the Peace Corps holiday party held at the nearby Eastern Market. It reminded me of the Carter presidency inaugural ball that I attended years ago, a live band, but wall-to-wall people making it hard for anyone to move, much less to actually dance, though a few valiant folks tried, more or less standing and moving their feet in one place. Very few people my age were attendance and the few I talked with (shouted to) over the din were surprised to learn that I had served fairly recently—they assumed that it was years ago in my youth, like most of them. One young man had been in Cape Verde, a Portuguese-speaking African island that sounds quite idyllic. I only saw 2 people I actually knew there and none from Peace Corps Honduras.

Other photos include folks attending a potluck after a Christmas Eve Mass at my local Catholic community, Communitas, and my great-grandson De'Andre, age 6, with an electronic Christmas present and helping his grandmother, my daughter Melanie, rake leaves in my backyard.

Dec. 19 was older daughter Melanie’s birthday (I won’t say her age because it makes me feel too old!), also the anniversary of older son Andrew’s death, now 19 years ago. It doesn’t seem that long. December is also the anniversary month of the death of my Cuban foster son Alex 18 years ago. Except for marking Melanie’s birth, December is not an especially festive time for our family.

Ordering gifts certificates for my grandson Andrew, named for his late uncle whom he never knew, now living with his mother in Texas, I ordered them from Target, his stated preference. The certificates were cancelled after the security breech there and I had to send a check instead. Target really took a beating on this at this crucial time of year, though perhaps they are at fault for their lax security—or perhaps the hackers were just one step ahead. On-line purchasing, like most things, is a two-edged sword.

Internet surveillance and hacking, whether done by governments or non-governmental groups, I consider a fact of life and not particularly shocking. Of course, proper safeguards should be installed to the extent feasible, but the very fact that the internet exists means that breeches will occur and I’m sure all governments try to spy on each other and that they all have to constantly fend off breaches from many sources, including from bad guys conducting cyber warfare. As individuals, organizations, and nations, we have to accept such risks in exchange for the benefits that the internet confers. At the same time, I can see why some folks I know, including my own sister, refuse to connect to the internet or use computers, though she does use a phone and is vulnerable there.

I must express a minor and totally useless complaint about how early darkness arrives these days, though I’m quite happy in June when the days are long. At least now, we are on the upswing.

News out of Honduras continues to be grim. General Mills heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post was found stabbed to death in her luxury Honduras spa on Roatan, one of the northern Caribbean islands. Her assailant was a young Honduran man whom she was apparently trying to help kick a drug habit and who claims to have been her lover, though she was some 20 years older, so that’s somewhat doubtful. He also denies killing her though he was discovered by police driving her car and covered in blood. Below is an article about a more common killing. The US State Dept. has warned travelers to Honduras about the violence there and, of course, the Peace Corps left for the same reason in early 2012.



Amnesty International Urgent Action
Issue Date: 10 December 2013

On 7 December Honduran journalist Juan Carlos Argeñal was shot and killed by two unidentified men in his house. Honduras is an extremely dangerous country for journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders to carry out their work. A full and impartial investigation is urgently needed.

At around 3 pm on 7 December, two armed men reportedly visited Juan Carlos Argeñal’s house in Danlí, in the southern department of El Paraíso, and shot him twice. Juan Carlos Argeñal was a correspondent for both Radio Globo and Globo TV, as well as the owner of a local TV station and an activist for the Freedom and Re-foundation Party (Partido Libertad y Refundación LIBRE). In the months prior to the killing Juan Carlos Argeñal had reported about corruption in local government.
In July 2013 Juan Carlos Argeñal told human rights group Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras, COFADEH) that he had been intimidated because of his work. Juan Carlos Argeñal reported that he had felt pressure from local authorities who summoned him twice concerning broadcasting permits. He told COFADEH that he attended both meetings and that he feared such requests had been provoked by his journalism.
[Sorry for extra space here, cannot close it.]

President Obama should extend a hand to brave Cubans, Washington Post Editorial, Dec, 11, 2013

President Obama's homage to Nelson Mandela on Tuesday was moving and heartfelt. He celebrated a “great liberator” who demonstrated the power of words, ideals and actions to change history. But the president added an awkward footnote to his tribute in Soweto by stopping to shake hands with Raúl Castro, a man whose regime, led for a half-century by his brother Fidel, has bashed heads and broken arms to stifle freedom.
       A handshake is a gesture, in this case one freighted with symbolism that cannot be ignored. Tuesday marked the 65th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations. On the streets of Havana and other cities, a crackdown on civil society was underway. Mr. Castro’s goons showed that they have not lost their taste for violence and coercion to extinguish even the slightest protest or expression of free will.
      We called attention two days ago to the work of Antonio Rodiles, a democracy activist who announced his intention to hold a human rights conference in Havana on Tuesday. In a letter to Mr. Castro, he described a litany of harassment and abuse directed at him by Cuba’s security forces and thugs under their control, who threatened retaliation if the conference went ahead. Sure enough, the authorities followed through on their threats. The home of Mr. Rodiles was cordoned off, and most of those who came to participate in the conference were barred from entering. Then Mr. Rodiles and several colleagues were arrested Wednesday.
      According to a Reuters dispatch, about 20 members of the dissident group Ladies in White “were pounced upon and quickly shoved into waiting vehicles by security personnel and government supporters” when they arrived Tuesday at a busy Havana intersection. The Miami Herald reported that the group’s leader, Berta Soler, and her husband, former political prisoner Angel Moya, “were hauled off by plainclothes police as they headed” to the planned protest. Security officials also blocked the telephones of several dissidents in an apparent effort to silence news of other arrests. The popular blogger Yoani Sánchez tweeted Tuesday morning, “Like in a bad horror movie, I am losing communication with . . . activists.”
      Elsewhere on the island, there were reports that independent journalists, filmmakers and writers were arrested. The Herald reported that police left 16 dissidents bleeding and that six others were arrested when they raided the home of Roger Curbelo, a member of the opposition Christian Liberation Movement in the town of Puerto Padre. The movement was once led by Oswaldo Payá, the dissident who was killed last year in a suspicious car wreck.
      While Mr. Obama was shaking hands with Mr. Castro, courageous people attempting to uphold Mr. Mandela’s ideals were suffering beatings and arrests. The president ought to follow his handshake with a loud and unambiguous salute to the real champions of human rights — those fighting for it on the streets of Cuba.

Ethnic divisions in impoverished South Sudan have boiled over into an attempted coup and inter-ethnic fighting. As you know, I was there in 2006. This time, the north seems to be not to blame and the situation is fragile. The country only achieved impendence in 2011, after decades of strife with the north, amid many hopes and celebrations. Now, the State Dept. is warning American citizens not to travel to South Sudan and is evacuating those already there. I’m broken-hearted because that new country has so many problems already and doesn’t need any more war. Is it a matter of principle and issues or just a power struggle? The new nation’s former solidarity was its strength, now divided. Unity often fractures after opposition groups unite against a common foe. It has happened in Afghanistan and Syria and even happened in South Africa after Mandela’s efforts to reconcile with the apartheid regime. Many in the ANC opposed such efforts, including his then-wife, Winnie, who was also carrying on an affair with a more militant guy, leading to Mandela’s decision to divorce her. I even saw it, to my surprise, among the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, two bereaved groups of mothers marching separately, one considering the other too conciliatory toward the government. While I would lean toward reconciliation in most circumstances, there is a point where principle trumps reconciliation—with every observer of a situation drawing that point at a different place. 

Glad that the mainstream Republican Party is finally pushing back against the teapartyers and that ordinary citizens are finding their voice. Some Republican office holders are realizing that catering to the extreme right-wing is not necessarily going to keep them in office.

Finally, despite the violence, I am now planning my Feb. trip to Honduras, my 10th return trip since leaving the Peace Corps. More on that later.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Radio Interviews, DC Area PCVs, Honduran Elections, A Handshake, Africa Photo Exhibit, Dementia Upswing, Rare Illness, Fellow Catholic

OK, did this one-hour interview on Dec. 2,

 On Dec. 6, was my 15-minute segment of the show that didn’t go through on Nov. 30 as previously scheduled,

 The DC metropolitan area fell to second place in 2013 in its per capita rate of sending volunteers to the Peace Corps. DC produced 7.6 Peace Corps volunteers per 100,000 residents this year, compared to 8.1 volunteers per 100,000 residents in 2012, when the district placed first in the nation. Vermont ranked first with 7.8 volunteers per 100,000 residents.

 If my readers are following the news from Honduras, they know that there is much upheaval over the recent results of the hotly contested presidential elections in which 8 candidates were running, so whoever ran was sure to have garnered a minority of votes as the highest vote getter, not of a majority of votes, wins. As in neighboring Nicaragua, where Daniel Ortega has perpetuated an initial minority win into perpetuity by jettisoning a previous rule prohibiting consecutive terms, a minority win is not a good recipe for maintaining political stability. In both Honduras and Nicaragua, it would be better, in my opinion, to have the 2 top candidates face a run-off election, such as happens in Chile. Frankly, unlike my fellow would-be liberals, I was never an admirer of Zelaya, considering him inept, a fraud, an opportunist, and a demagogue, so would hardly have supported his wife Xiomara. But I realize that she has many ardent advocates, including the family of the young doctor called “Loni” in my book, who are her immediate relatives. Many Hondurans rightly feel the economic and political system is stacked against them—certainly there are obscene extremes of wealth and poverty, with those in poverty far outnumbering the wealthy (as in the US also). However, whether Zelaya and his wife would actually help the majority of the poor while feathering their own nest  is questionable in my view and I never considered Zelaya’s ouster a “coup,” though the action was highly irregular and the situation murky because of the lack of impeachment powers in the Honduran constitution. During his presidency, Zelaya did raise the minimum wage to something equivalent to $280 a month, which was never enforced, except among Peace Corps volunteers who argued to be included. He also got cheap oil from Venezuela, which helped everyone. However, now Venezuela is in fairly dire financial straits and unlikely to keep expanding its oil largesse. If, indeed, the US did favor or assist the winning candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez, that was not obvious and there is no such evidence, and, nonetheless, EU observers have certified the election results, despite irregularities. As indicated, Hernandez had a substantial lead, though not a majority of all votes cast. Ortega already has called from neighboring Nicaragua to congratulate Hernandez. Doubtles Zelaya’s wife’s supporters still believe there was fraud, with Zelaya loudly denouncing the results, and the article below in the Guardian disputes the outcome—however, with much opinion and little proof, I would say. Very belatedly, am regretting not volunteering to be an election observer for this contest. I do have election observer experience (Chile, Nicaragua, Haiti, and DR) and an abiding interest about and concern for Honduras, but I was distracted by other responsibilities and just didn’t present myself beforehand. Who knows for the next presidential election in Honduras? I might be considered too old then and fear much turmoil in the meantime.

Of course, we all saw the photo of Barack Obama shaking the hand of Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, apparently as he was going down a line of heads-of-state. In his later remarks, he mentioned that some in attendance at the service praised Mandela for his support of democracy and reconciliation while not observing it in governing their own people, an oblique reference to leaders such a Castro.

With Mandela’s death, the new film Nelson Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom is likely to do well. South Africa is one of the country’s I hope to visit, just waiting for the opportunity to arise. I rarely travel for just a vacation, usually only when I’m invited and have a specific task. I would recommend that my readers do the same; it makes your visit so much more meaningful and memorable.

 My nostalgia for Africa was re-awakened the evening of Dec. 4 when I was invited to the opening of an archival exhibit of the Africa photos, taken over decades all over the continent, by the late photographer Eloit Elisophon, many of which appeared in National Geographic and LIFE. The exhibit appears in the Museum of African Art, but I note that the accompanying literature says that a larger archive is accessible only by appointment. The main exhibit, mounted right next to the museum shop, appears fully accessible and inviting and will keep visitors busy for quite a while. I was invited to the opening because of my hosting of fellows at the museum. Not only were African hors d’oeuvres served but we were serenaded by a hefty African wearing a cute top hat, singing and playing a large unfamiliar instrument that combined strings with a drum and bells. Two of the photographer’s daughters came from Arizona for the opening. I have only visited 3 African countries: Kenya, Morocco, and what is now South Sudan. But I have always been enthralled, perhaps because those countries were so exotic and different from what I already knew. Also, I have had visitors from Africa attending other programs and those people have always been delightful guests. Someone of Latin American heritage once told me that he had no desire to visit Africa, considering it dangerous, backward, and ruled by demagogues. All that is true to some extent, but shouldn’t keep someone from experiencing the richness and variety of that continent, which is experiencing explosive development, growth, and opportunity. And, I would say, the Peace Corps is having role in all that.

 Predictions are that worldwide dementia numbers are likely to triple by mid-century, not due primarily to overall population growth, but, rather, because of the increase in the elder population, an unfortunate side effect of extending life spans and treating formerly terminal maladies. Likewise, I suspect, the number of people living with disabilities of all types will increase, creating an extra burden for the well population, as is already happening in China, Japan, and Europe, where birthrates are below replacement. They are still at replacement in this country only because of immigration, something Republicans, especially the Tea Party wing, fail to acknowledge.

 Had a fairly young patient the other day with aplastic anemia, an uncommon but serious disease of the bone marrow and blood cells. It has multiple causes, though in many cases, the cause is unknown. My patient and his wife left their children with relatives in another state to travel to this area for the most advanced (free) treatment at the National Institutes of Health. So far, he has experienced some relief, but is not “cured.”

 Here’s an article about a member of my small Catholic community, Bill D’Antonio:

Saturday, November 30, 2013

First Blog Radio Show Postponed

Sorry folks, my radio show today didn't go through. Below is a message from the host.
The program is entitled

Producer's message:

Unfortunately, BlogTalk Radio is having technical difficulties this morning. The show was scheduled properly but I was unable to get into the studio for some reason beyond my comprehension. I will reschedule the show for Thursday evening at 7:00 pm (CST). Does that work for you? Please accept my sincere apologies for any inconvenience. Sharon

Friday, November 29, 2013

More on Radio Shows, AIDS Day Dec. 1

Date/Time: _November 30, 2013___, 9:00 a.m. (CST), 10:00 a.m. (EST)

On Monday, Dec. 2, at 6 pm EST, I’ll be on Dr. Jeanette Gallagher’s hour-long blog radio program, a call-in program at (424) 258-9318, where you may call in anytime during the whole hour. Here’s the link:


Reminding everybody that Sunday, Dec. 1, is international AIDS Day. When I was in Honduras, we always scheduled special activities for AIDS Day, including outdoor AIDS information skits performed by teens and a march through town carrying a homemade AIDS Day banner. New AIDS infections have been reduced dramatically worldwide. In 2012, the last year where figures are available, there were still 2.3 million new infections, including 260,000 among children. Some 35.3 million were living with AIDS, many thanks to antiretroviral drugs, and 1.6 million had died of the disease, so we still have a long way to go. My Cuban foster son, Alex, as my book readers know, died of AIDS in 1995.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Greetings, My Upcoming Blog Radio Interviews, Obamacare, Lawmakers Physically Attacked, JFK Remembered, Monroe Doctrine, Honduras Elections, Cuban Honoree, UN HR Council, Mandela Film, Zimmerman Again, Sandy Hook Anniversary, Another Recommended Book, Artist Dubya

OK, folks, trying again with a little higher resolution and larger image of my early Central American bath time photo that I posted last time. Let’s see what happens this time. It now looks like some text will ne underlined, but when it wants to do that, It's hard to erase. I'll try.
            Thanksgiving greetings, Feliz Dia de Accion de Gracias, Happy Hanukkah!
I have a couple of upcoming interviews on blog radio. One is only 15 minutes at 10:15 am EST on Saturday, Nov. 30, Sharon Jenkins Show. I’m not quite sure what her website address is but when I look for her name this comes up: The number I’m supposed to call to talk is (858) 357-8416, then press 1. I don’t know if that’s the same for callers or listeners.
On Monday, Dec. 2, at 6 pm EST, I’ll be on Dr. Jeanette Gallagher’s hour-long blog radio program, a call-in program at (424) 258-9318, where you may call in anytime during the whole hour. Here’s the link:
From The Hill newspaper: A key official in the repair effort for said the site's error rate is now lower than 1 percent thanks to weeks' worth of special improvements were made. Former White House budget director Jeff Zients, who was enlisted to triage the website, touted the development as a sign of progress. He noted that there were no unscheduled outages on the site in the past week, a positive sign.                  
Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), a freshman member of Congress, was robbed and left unconscious a few blocks from my home, right next to the Capitol bldg.
Va. State Senator Creigh Deeds (D), a previous gubernatorial candidate, was stabbed and seriously wounded by his son who then shot himself to death. Hours earlier, the son had been seen in a hospital emergency room in an apparent mental health crisis, but apparently no psychiatric bed was immediately available, so he was released. The details don’t seem to be known. Many factors can impede a mental health hospitalization: lack of adequate insurance, lack of mental health treatment facilities, and the patient’s unwillingness to undergo treatment. However, those voters most bent on cutting taxes and impeding Obamacare are those targeting the need for mental health treatment while also promoting gun rights. If the electorate wants low taxes, no gun restrictions, and no expansion of health care, then these sorts of tragedies are going to continue to occur. It’s a matter of choices and odds. Not everything can be fixed. Any course of action has benefits and risks.
We have just been through the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death. I was living in Sacramento, California, with my husband at the time, hearing the terrible news on the radio and shedding silent tears. President Kennedy’s earlier announcement of the formation of the Peace Corps stayed with me throughout the decades, prompting me to join the Peace Corps later in life. In all my travels, especially to Africa and Latin America, it’s been common to see a portrait of Kennedy right there next to family photos and the ubiquitous Last Supper in a kind of household altar. There’ve been a few American presidents with that iconic saint-like worldwide appeal: Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy, and, yes, Obama.
Secretary of State John Kerry has declared that the Monroe Doctrine has outlived its usefulness and that nations in the hemisphere now regard and treat each other as equals. Known as the Monroe Doctrine after it was adopted in 1823 by former US president James Monroe, the policy had stated that any efforts by European countries to colonize land in North or South America would be views as aggressive acts and could require US intervention.
The European Union sent election observers to the Nov. 24 elections in Honduras. I haven’t heard about US observers going there. The Nationalist candidate, Juan Hernandez, seems to have won, with vociferous objections and cries of fraud from Xiomara Castro, Zelaya’s wife, or rather from Zelaya himself in his wife’s notable absence. I know nothing about the probable winning candidate except that he has promised to get tough on crime, but I fear that the objections of the Zelaya faction and their followers do not bode well for peace and stability there. Also, with 8 candidates in presidential contest, the winner will not have a majority of the votes. If Zelaya’s wife had won, probably Maduro would have again turned on the Venezuelan oil spigots, turned off abruptly when Zelaya was ousted.
Ximoara Castro was an opponent and Juan Hernandez, a supporter, of a law to regulate new Employment and Economic Development Zones (ZEDE –  Zonas de Empleo y Desarrollo Económico) (the newest version of the discarded “Model Cities” initiative), approved by the Honduran National Congress after their last debate. This law is the complement to the amendments to the Constitution, which paved the way for the creation of these special ZEDEs where businesses can choose to invest in specific regions with different rules than the rest of the country.
An article in the Washington Post is headlined, “At one of the world’s scariest airports, there’s little ‘margin for error,’” referring to Tegucigalpa airport, which has seen 10 crashes since 1989. It’s very scary to land there and passengers usually applaud once safely on the ground. Fortunately, it’s not one of the world’s busiest airports, but several flights a day do land there. Often before my annual trip to Honduras, friends ask whether I’m not afraid of all the violent crime there. Well, yes, but perhaps that initial landing is the riskiest part. The take-off is not so scary. According to the article, regular US deportation flights now land at the more ample San Pedro Sula airport, 150 miles away.
In an unauthorized referendum conducted Oct. 31 in the contested Abyei border region between the two Sudans, 99% of those voting favored going with the south, which does not surprised me after having been there in 2006. Of course, the north does not recognize this vote.
President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a Cuban dissident, Dr. Oscar Biscet, one of those arrested in the 2003 Black Spring crackdown and declared an Amnesty International POC. He was denied an exit permit by the Cuban government, so his wife received the medal on his behalf. I once met her in Cuba about 20 years ago. Dr. Biscet, along with several others, has often been mentioned as a future leader of a democratic Cuba.
December 10 is Human Rights Day, a time when my local Amnesty Int’l group holds an event to raise awareness and urge people to write letters on behalf of individuals and issues.
In recent elections for the UN’s 47 member Human Rights Council (UNHRC), some of the winners of the coveted seats are countries that are among the world’s major human rights transgressors.
 According to Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch “China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia systematically violate the human rights of their own citizens and they consistently vote the wrong way on the UN initiatives to protect the human rights of others.”
“Regrettably, “added Neuer, “so far neither the U.S. nor the EU have said a word about the hypocritical candidacies that will undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the UN human rights system.”
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng stated, “China wants to join the UNHRC not to promote human rights, but rather to prevent democracies from questioning their human rights record.” Chen, a blind former political prisoner, was spirited out of China last year and now lives in New York.
Rosa Maria Paya, a daughter of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, commented that, “The presence of the Chinese, the Russians and the Cuban regimes, is disappointing for the victims of repression, and it sends a message of complicity from the international community,” adding that “democratic governments should not share seats with criminals which behave with impunity since they are not suffering any consequence.”
It certainly seems that adding Cuba and some of the other nations to the UN HR Council is inviting the foxes to guard the henhouse. If the idea is to coopt them and win them over to the human rights agenda, it could well turn out in reverse. I believe that the Saudis have declined to serve.
I was invited along with Amnesty Int’l members to premier release at the Kennedy Center of a new film, Nelson Mandela: The Long Road to Freedom. Producer Harvey Weinstein spoke beforehand, along with Sen. John McCain and former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton. There was no obvious security but guests were pre-screened. Clinton, whose wardrobe has often been commented on, was wearing an odd bright turquoise jacket with pinched waist and a flared reaching to mid-thigh over black leggings. The film, appearing appropriately now at the end of Mandela’s life, is an emotionally moving, serious, non-genre effort, filmed entirely in So. Africa, with a cast of thousands and lots of sudden eruptions of violence (as indeed actually happened) but sometimes with shifts that are barely explained, such as when Mandela publicly announces his separation from his wife Winnie, his champion during his incarceration and who herself endured more than a year in solitary confinement. In reality, his split from her, which ended in divorce, was apparently triggered by her continuing advocacy of violence and involvement in the murder of a 14-year-old boy while Nelson was advocating peace and reconciliation. Also, she was thought to be carrying on an affair with one of her body guards. These aspects are only hinted at in the film, such as a flash of a tire necklace-ing of an apparent suspected informer and the Winnie character reminding her husband that he was gone for so many years. In the film, she listens to his presidential address over the radio (since, in fact, she was not invited to his inauguration). The actress playing Winnie was also present at the Kennedy Center event.
If South Africa has any lessons for other countries, they aren’t very hopeful. Blacks succeeded only after continuous acts of violence, such a fire bombings, and suffered many casualties. Finally, the apartheid regime gave in.
George Zimmerman is in trouble again. He apparently has a persistent violent and impulsive streak. But so many gun-rights advocates rallied around him and donated money to his cause that perhaps the jury trying him for the Trayvon Martin killing felt duty bound to acquit him—who knows what they were thinking? Now, they may realize that he is someone who shouldn’t carry a weapon and that he probably should have been found guilty of manslaughter after all.
With the approach of the Sandy Hook anniversary, Columnist Ruth Marcus observes that despite her son Adam’s odd behaviors: still Nancy Lanza encouraged his interest in guns. She went target-shooting with Adam and his older brother. They took National Rifle Association safety courses. I can understand a parent, desperate to find a way to connect to an alienated child, seizing on a mutual passion. But no person with Adam’s bizarre behaviors ought to be around guns, let alone have them within easy access at home. Few parents have to deal with the likes of Adam Lanza. Many parents, perhaps most, have to learn to find the balance between devotion and denial, empathy and enabling. Nancy Lanza failed at that task. Searching her house after the shootings, they found a check she had made out to Adam. It was dated Christmas Day, and designated to buy a CZ 83 pistol.
Will mention another book that I’ve just read, The Invisible Wall (2007) by Harry Bernstein, about the author’s early life on the Jewish side of the street in a small English town on the eve of WW I. Christians live on the other side and there is little interaction. Then his older sister falls in love with and marries a Christian boy. Her family considers her dead and sits shivah. Only after the newly married couple has a baby does her family acknowledge her and then the two sides of the street come together to celebrate their union. The book, his first, was written when the author was 96, a feat in itself. That story reminded me of a Jewish friend who was similarly mourned when she married outside her faith, to an African American man, no less. She was not informed of her father’s death, being only readmitted to the fold decades later when her own husband passed away, though no one in her immediately family ever referred to her marriage.
Last but not least, GW Bush’s artistic skills appear to be improving. Dubya, appearing on the Jay Leno show, awarded Leno a portrait that looked pretty realistic with a little individual touch.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Nigerian Artist, Grandson Andrew, Pending Honduran Elections, Iran Nuclear Talks, Sen. Graham, Obamacare, Atheist “Churches,” Books

Photos are of Evaristus or “Eva” (pronounced Eh-vah), the visiting Nigerian artist, and his fabric-based works, November roses and berries, and my grandson Andrew, named for his late Uncle, whose father is my son Jonathan, now an 11-year-old football star in Texas. I’m also including a photo that was lost, but miraculously just found again, of my bath time in 1940, in Central America, when I was 2 ½, included in my upcoming book, title mentioned below. The child standing next to me is my younger brother, then only a little more than a year old. (It looks like that photo came out very small, but I’d better not fool with it.)

 Evaristus, my artist visitor from Nigeria, just left, looking forward to returning to his wife, four kids, and teaching job there. On his last Sunday, he told me for the first time that he wanted to go to church and that he is Catholic. Most of my other African visitors have been fundamentalist Protestants or non-affiliated, so I was surprised and sorry that he had not spoken up sooner. I took him with me to Communitas, the little storefront Catholic community I belong to. Only about 20 people were there that day, but they received him warmly and he even spoke up at various junctures where responses were solicited from those gathered, i.e. in answer to the question: “What are you thankful for,” he spoke up, “For all of the wonderful people I’ve met while in this country, including all of you here.” As for the bloodshed between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, he insisted that Muslims have mostly attacked Christians, not vice versa. This was his first visit to the US and he was only here for 2 months, so his adaptation had to take place quickly. Using the metro, confronting the government shutdown, and just getting used to US currency, especially coins, were all challenges. Halloween kids and colorful and falling leaves were surprises. Hardest for him was adjusting to colder weather (by mid-November, we had not yet had freezing temperatures, so he hadn’t seen anything yet!), requiring him to buy a sweater and a vest, but he refused to wear socks with his sandals, saying that would be an unnecessary extravagance because he was going home soon. He is a fabric artist as well as a professor of art, so I’m going to try to post some images of his work—let’s see if I can. The other person in the photo by the cars is Sarah, another housemate and a recent college grad and an intern at Amazon Watch, an environmental and indigenous rights organization, though she’s soon starting a paid job elsewhere. Nathalia, my doctoral student from Brazil, is getting married next month, so she also will be leaving soon. I do miss most folks when they leave, but turnover is also interesting, as I never know who to expect next or when. Eva’s final message to me was: Thank you so much. You have been a wonderful person to stay with. I really enjoyed staying with you. May God keep you healthy. Farewell. Eva

 Honduran elections are coming up on Sunday, November 24. In addition to the traditional Liberal and Nationalist parties, there are six other candidates, notably, Xiomara Castro of the newly constituted “Free” (Libre) Party, wife of deposed President Manuel Zelaya. Municipal offices are also in play. I confess to not knowing if the biggest vote-getter wins (as in neighboring Nicaragua, allowing Daniel Ortega to be elected and re-elected) or if the winner must achieve a certain percentage of votes.

I don’t claim to know what’s in the secret heart of Iran’s nuclear negotiators, but if the US and Iran can come to agreement, that will further reduce tensions and the danger of a nuclear Iran—and of an increasingly hostile Muslim world. Such agreements are more than mere legal documents, they are confidence- and trust-building measures. Of course, these talks may also be an Iranian stalling tactic. Yes, Israel’s Netanyahu is right in intimating that perhaps the only way to assure that Iran doesn’t build nuclear weapons is to nuke all their nuclear sites preemptively. Would that be wise? Would that really protect Israel and the world? I doubt it.

In the DC area, since we are so top-heavy with government workers, we’re still recovering from the government shutdown. Minority rights shouldn’t be allowed to coerce the majority, as is happening in today’s Congress. Even one recalcitrant lawmaker can hold up everything, such as Senator Lindsey Graham, now threatening to block the confirmation of Janet Yellen as Fed. Reserve Chair and Jeh Johnson as Homeland Security Director. People like him and Senator Ted Cruz are in the contradictory position of combating government as the enemy while they are also part of government and receiving their income, platform, and influence from that source. We need government, so if it’s not effective, the answer is to make it more effective, not to demolish it, or we are all in trouble.

 Probably the Obama administration considered certain health insurance policies inadequate because they lacked particular key items of coverage, lacks that might still fall onto the health care system in terms of worsening health leading to emergency room visits, which cannot be denied, coverage or no. Of course, the President should have anticipated this problem before speaking out so glibly about allowing people to keep their existing coverage. Added to the problems with the Obamacare website, this was another glitch in the roll-out of a program already under fierce fire from Republicans. Obama did well to yield somewhat on this issue, after pressure coming also from Democrats.

Interesting and not all that surprising that atheists, feeling beleaguered and alone, have joined together in “non-religious” gatherings to celebrate togetherness, song, and ethical living. Certainly those qualities of religious observances are probably as important as actual beliefs.

 A gentle reminder that my book, Triumph & Hope: Golden Years with the Peace Corps in Honduras, is available in print from Amazon and electronically on Kindle and the Nook, makes a thoughtful gift for people of all ages, not necessarily just for would-be Peace Corps volunteers. It’s a human story with widespread appeal. I’ll be doing a couple of radio-website interviews on my book and my life on Nov. 30 and Dec. 2 respectively and will let you know details when I get them.

 I’ve finished a second memoir entitled Confessions of Secret Latina: How I Fell Out of Love with Castro & In Love with the Cuban People, but, as we all know, just writing a book is hardly the end of it. It must be set up in print and digital formats and I like to include lots of photos, which adds complications. I’ve proofed my manuscript over and over, but probably have still missed a word or two. My graphic designer is in Honolulu, so that adds another layer of complexity. It’s quite a process and that’s only the beginning, as marketing it comes next, something I’m not very good at. You will know first on this blog when the new book becomes available. In the case of either or both books, if you want me to send you a signed copy, let me know and I’ll arrange to do that.

 Speaking of books, they’re practically my only recreation or indulgence, since I have little free time and don’t watch TV and only listen to NPR when eating or doing chores. When I was in the Peace Corps, books were much coveted by volunteers, voraciously read, passed hand-to-hand, and many old favorites were re-visited, at least by me, classics like The Secret Garden, Little Women, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Oliver Twist, Moby Dick, and The Scarlet Letter. I think I enjoyed them even more in my old age than in my youth—in part, because of the nostalgia factor, in part because, as a writer, I could better appreciate their structure and craftsmanship.

 Now, I read mostly non-fiction, library books that turn over quickly. A recent one was Hanna Rosen’s The End of Men (2012), a best-seller arguing that while women have forged ahead in education (earning more than half of all college degrees, including in medicine) and have become more wide-ranging in their workplace choices, most men have stood still or lost ground, unwilling or unable to adapt to the demands of the current marketplace and only half-heartedly taking up some of the burden of household chores and childrearing. (Women also predominate in the Peace Corps.) Another recent read was Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope (2006), written before his presidential campaign and finished only just as he had won his senate seat. It’s a frank, well-written book, foreshadowing many of his positions and initiatives as president, not obviously self-aggrandizing as is the case with other political memoirs. It’s a very adroit exposition of personal and family details blended with sensitive issues of faith, race, and family structure along with public appearances and policy maneuvers. For example, his early life in Indonesia leads into a discussion of the history of US involvement in that part of the world. Rather than making him less American, his experiences abroad probably made him more appreciative and more knowledgeable of the issues our country faces. As far as I know, Obama did not have a ghost writer, as GW Bush and Sarah Palin did.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Halloween, DR Ct. Decree, Amnesty Int’l Regional Conf., Death Penalty Abolition, Adoption vs. Assisted Reproduction, Spanish Boy

Halloween, DR Ct. Decree, Amnesty Int’l Regional Conf., Death Penalty Abolition, Adoption vs. Assisted Reproduction, Spanish Boy

Quite obviously, the photos shown were taken on Halloween at or around my house. It was a balmy evening, but a light rain began falling later on. It’s one of my favorite holidays, seeing all the kids in their various costumes. My Nigerian artist visitor was surprised and curious.  The other 2 photos are of my granddaughter Natasha, her mother, my daughter Melanie, and my great-grandson De’Andre, now age 6.

As Amnesty Int’l USA’s volunteer Caribbean coordinator, I met with a group of other NGO reps at the DR Embassy to discuss the recent high court decree that all descendants of people who arrived in that country after 1929 are non-citizens, a provision applying mostly to Haitian descendants. This basically leaves them stateless, since if they were born in the DR, they are not necessarily Haitian citizens either, especially if their ancestry goes back more than one generation. I do feel for the DR, a relatively poor country, feeling invaded by even poorer folks from across the border. At the embassy, there was much polite resistance to trying to change the court decree legislatively or through executive action and, I suspect, it has considerable support within the DR itself among ordinary (non-Haitian descendant) people. However, Dominican authorities seem to be trying to blunt the avalanche of criticism that has started bombarding them from around the world. Fortunately, Dominican Americans appear to be rallying against the measure.
On the first weekend in November, members of Amnesty Int’l (AI) USA held a regional meeting in Washington, DC, where the DR situation, among others was one of many issues. Amnesty has always relied on volunteers, now more than ever for financial reasons. But it’s always been an organization dedicated to member participation in the fullest sense of individual volunteer practical action, not just by asking members to donate money to support paid staff. Worldwide, some 4 million people consider themselves members. The AI organizing model has been called a snowflake, based on one-on-one relationships building upon each other, creating branches that connect at the center. 

One of the workshops I attended was on death penalty abolition. As I’ve mentioned before, AI opposes the death penalty in all cases.  In our region, DC and Maryland have abolished the death penalty, but NC, Pa., Del., W. Va., and Va.  still have it, though it’s use has been much diminished.  Worldwide, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty , but a lesser number have retained it. Besides the US, other DP countries include China, Cuba, Egypt, Japan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Zimbabwe. Others have had a de facto moratorium, which is how some US states got started on the road to abolition. American public opinion is shifting against the DP, in part because of the 143 death row inmates exonerated by the Innocence Project, either through DNA evidence or a confession by someone else. Faith-based groups and victims’ advocates for abolition have been powerful voices. It‘s up to the prosecutor’s  discretion whether to seek the DP and only a few states and a few jurisdictions within those states account for the bulk of executions, with Texas having the most and with certain jurisdictions within the state being responsible for all. In Arizona, it’s no surprise that Maricopa County has had the only recent executions.  Amnesty is currently working to stop the execution of Reggie Clemons, whose 2009 execution date was stayed by the Missouri Supreme Ct. because of evidence suppression by the prosecution.

As for getting public attention for an issue, we are now in an era of do-it-yourself media, with multiple avenues competing for attention in a 24/7 news cycle providing a continuous avalanche of information. People have short attention spans, may get compassion fatigue, and are bombarded with much contradictory information, often with a marketing angle. Visual images help get a message across. Twitter and Instagram are increasingly popular avenues for providing brief messages, in line with short attention spans. I have not mastered those avenues, which, apparently, are most effective if one uses them on a continuous basis, thereby acquiring a following. With my lengthy, rambling blog postings, obviously, I’m out-of-the-loop.

On another matter, as mentioned here previously, I’m a board member of a local adoption agency that assists with both domestic and inter-country adoptions. However, both forms of adoption have become increasingly more expensive, difficult, and rare, in part, because birth mothers, especially in the US, are not relinquishing their babies and are having fewer of them, in part, because of well-meaning safeguards that make international adoptions more difficult. Also, many other countries have made requirements for infant adoptions more stringent, such as that parents must be under age 40, married a certain number of years (heterosexual only), and have no other children. Often, they also must remain in the birth country for an extended period and pay high fees there. The other reason for reduced adoption demand is the growth and availability of assisted reproduction, going far beyond in vitro which uses eggs and sperm from the biological parents for their own offspring, instead, relying on sperm and egg donation, including for singles and gay couples, and even the use of gestational mothers carrying babies not related to them for a price. The head of our adoption agency has told me that in Maryland, one of the jurisdictions where our agency works, she has been asked to interview gestational mothers to make sure they are entering these arrangements voluntarily, as is usually the case, because they are being paid to do so and are also required to sign agreements (whose enforceability is uncertain) not to drink alcohol or use drugs, to participate in prenatal care, and not to claim the baby after the birth. Most of these gestational women, she says, are poor and black, unlike the contracting parents, whose own genetic material may be used, or who may be producing a baby with donated eggs and sperm. Most often, if the contracting father is fertile, his sperm is used along with a donor egg if his wife cannot produce viable eggs. Assisted reproduction has become big business, but is mainly available to high-income people, as, increasingly, is also the case with adoption. While perhaps most people try to reduce their fertility, there is a small subset of people willing and able to spend any amount of money to become parents. But, of course, the recession and continuing economic downturn have put a crimp in both adoptions and assisted reproduction.

Last time, I got a message on my blog from someone identifying himself as a Spanish boy who posts images of stamped envelopes of letters received from all over the world on his own blog. He has asked me to send him a stamped letter from Honduras, which I will try to remember to do when I go there next February. Emilio, if you are reading this, please be patient. Also, if anyone else wants to send him a stamped letter, below is his address, though he has received mail already from the US. I note that senders wisely do not put their name and return address on the front of the envelope, probably not at all, for privacy concerns, and he could scarcely reply to all anyway (access his blog via my own--see bottom of my post for Oct. 14). Any readers from other countries, please take note and, perhaps, he would appreciate more letters from the US as well, especially if they have interesting stamps—perhaps an ingenious combination of stamps to make up what’s required for an airmail letter to Spain. Also, he apparently knows English, so you may write to him in English. He must enjoy opening his mailbox every day.

Emilio Fernandez Esteban
Avenida Juan de la Cierva, 44
28902 Getafe (Madrid)