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:

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