Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Local BookFest, Goodbye Dr. Helmuth, China’s Economy, Bolivia Brigade, Cuban Twitter, NRA Convention, “Smart” Gun, Ruminations on Retirement Communities

On Sunday, May 4, I participated in a BookFest with other local authors in our Capitol Hill neighborhood, as per photo above.

 Received terrible news that Dr. Helmuth Castro, my Peace Corps health director in Honduras, has died after an illness, a type of encephalitis, contracted while he was attending a conference on HIV in South Africa, no doubt a great honor to have been invited. He was a wonderful, supportive man by now in his 50s. Last I heard from him, he was working with the Peace Corps in Guatemala, after the program in Honduras was shut down.  I just got a message from his wife, whom I had contacted, saying she was sure that his work in disseminating HIV information has had an impact worldwide, which has given her some comfort.

 My local NPR station broadcasts BBC news late at night. One night, I heard speculation that China’s economy might overtake that of the US as the world’s largest later this year.  Other estimates are that it won’t happen until 2019. I had not realized it would be happening so soon in either case. I’m just waiting for some Republican political blog to blame Obama and the Democrats for this occurrence, assuming it is even true. Of course, determining the precise year all depends how an economy is measured.  China has more than 4 times the population of the United States, but we always want to be Number One. Reportedly, the Chinese leadership actually doesn’t want their country to be identified as having the largest economy as that might make it more responsible for climate change, foreign aid, etc.  In any case, apparently, China’s economy might perhaps come to be considered larger not in terms of actual GNP or output of goods or per capita income, but rather in terms of internal citizen purchasing power, in that many items cost less there than in the US. That’s true worldwide. As I have commented before, American manufactured drugs or their equivalents cost less in Honduras than in the US. Often, I can buy them there for less than the co-payment would be here and usually without a doctor’s prescription. (However, even using the measure of internal purchasing power, some argue that China’s economy still won’t be close to surpassing that of the US.)

 A fellow Spanish interpreter sent me a request from a Canadian medical charity working in Bolivia, looking for a Spanish medical interpreter for a surgical mission scheduled for next November. Like IHS, the group I regularly work with in Honduras, it requires volunteers to pay their own expenses, not only airfare, but, in this case, for a hotel stay too, as they perform surgery in a city hospital. It would be very interesting to do this work in a country other than Honduras, but I’m already committed to Honduras, where travel is cheaper. I certainly cannot afford two very expensive volunteer trips like that in a single year, having gone to Honduras already in February. It’s not only a matter of the actual outlay for the costs involved, but of lost work opportunities while I’m away. It takes a while for my interpretation agencies to get me back on board afterward and they are not too happy about my annual absence. I would like to see more of Bolivia, as years ago, I got only as far as the shores of Lake Titicaca, with a tantalizing glimpse of fishermen trawling with nets from their impossibly buoyant reed boats. I’m not particularly fond of Bolivia’s current leadership, especially after the president kicked out the Peace Corps ostensibly as a blow against Yankee imperialism, but I still would want to help people there if I could. For first-time participants in such a volunteer endeavor, it’s very educational and eye-opening.  Probably a Canadian medical charity is more acceptable to President Evo Morales than an American one would be, which he might suspect of being a front for gringo spies.  USAID’s Cuban Twitter program was not helpful in that regard.

The damage caused by the revelation of the now-defunct USAID Cuban Twitter program is based mainly on criticism of its secret character, but it had to be secret to function at all in Cuba, because, of course, the Cuban regime doesn’t allow private communication among its citizens that might threaten its control. Many American critics use Twitter themselves.  News stories and Cuban official outrage have focused on Twitter’s potential for sparking an uprising against the government. But the USAID program was in no way influencing the content of Twitter messages, just providing an avenue of communication in a country where communication is routinely blocked, along with gatherings of likeminded citizens. Most critics of the program don’t acknowledge how very difficult it is for Cubans to have unimpeded communication among themselves. Even gatherings of more than three unrelated people officially require a government permit.

 At the NRA’s recent annual convention in Indianapolis, members had to leave their firearms at the door. What? Were there any complaints about that? Perhaps, but probably even the leadership of the NRA realizes that having a bunch of armed gun owners together in a small space was not such a great idea. With someone like Sarah Palin as their darling, I would say that such folks cannot be trusted with firearms.

In a related development, a Maryland gun dealer planning to sell a “smart gun” that only the owner can fire has decided against it, after getting death threats from gun lovers. I’m not sure of the logic here, but it seemed to have to do with opposing any restriction on gun ownership and use. Such people are fanatics, who value the freedom to shoot a gun and hurt or kill someone else above the right of others to be protected from harm.

 Since my last posting about visiting former neighbors living in a lovely retirement community, I’ve pinpointed the main reason why their comfortable life does not particularly appeal to me, assuming I could even afford it. The complex is fairly far removed geographically, as such places usually are, from city life and the public transportation that I now use almost daily. If I were living there or somewhere like it, I would no longer be able to work, host foreign visitors, give public talks about my books, and just enjoy walking around my lively Eastern Market neighborhood in Washington, DC. I’m afraid I would be bored out of my mind and feel as though I had retired from life, no longer independent and in charge of my own destiny. Going for meals is the highlight of the day for most residents of such places, giving them their main opportunity to interact with others. Eating is a biological necessity, but usually a rather routine one. I need a little more excitement in my life. Of course, if our memory starts to fade and we need prompts about when and what to eat or if we become too disabled physically to care for ourselves, then that’s another story. At that point, we do have to accept that we’ve become dependent and have no other choice. Beyond its relation to dependency, any retirement, assisted, or senior living system is also the next step before death, as we would be reminded if we lived there because the death rate is naturally relatively high among residents. That’s usually how units become vacant and available to newcomers .  Somehow, clustering older people together in a protective environment doesn’t seem quite natural, but many older folks prefer it to being dependent on their kids. My daughter Melanie remarked, when we visited our former neighbors at such a place in rural Maryland, that the layout and amenities seemed identical to those in a complex where she recently visited relatives in Portland, Oregon.  If I end up moving to a retirement community myself, I may change my tune.




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