Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hawaii Daughter, Magnolia Tree, Author Interview, Earth Day, Transit Ad Wars, South Sudan, FARC, Cuba, Hillary, Patrick Leahy, Peace Corps Sexual Assault Reporting, Free-Range Kids, Food Poisoning


My daughter Stephanie was visiting from Honolulu, reconnecting with high school friends as well as her East Coast family, as per above photos.

 A reader asks regarding the last posting, that whether what I’d called a magnolia is actually a tulip tree? I’d ordered a pink magnolia from the nursery (there are also white-flowered magnolias), but when it was delivered almost three years ago, it was not in flower. Now, in the spring, it bursts forth with the pink flowers that appeared in the photo. Not being a botanist, I asked my daughter visiting from Hawaii who has a master’s degree in botany; she said it was a magnolia, something confirmed by an internet search. The tulip tree, which is related, typically has yellow flowers according to these sources.

 Here's an author interview I gave months ago that was just posted

Sat. April 18 was Earth Day, celebrated with music and speeches on the National Mall, including an appearance by UN Sec. General Ban Ki-moon. It was a bright, summery day, very nice for a celebration.

[This does not need to be all bolded, but I cannot change it.] First, there were the extremist anti-Palestinian signs on public transportation in DC and Philadelphia, equating Palestinians with Hitler. Now, turnabout is fair play, with anti-Israeli signs on Israeli apartheid appearing on public buses here in DC. The transport system has felt compelled to run both types in homage to free speech. [Now I see it comes out in red, not bolded on the blog--???]


As for the senseless tragedy of the current civil war, a power struggle in the fledgling nation of South Sudan, below is an e-mail from a young Kenyan supervising construction there, someone I met in 2006. He is referring to a new hospital that I saw being built then, laboriously by hand, stone by stone, both men and colorfully-dressed women working side-by-side, but now apparently destroyed. Above is a photo of a Sudanese woman and another of me with a local woman.

Hi Barbara
Sorry I was in the field and we do get very few chances to be on net and reply to mails hence this late response.
I am still here trying to do my part in raising this new nation and the current situation is not making it easy, but we are trying.
The hospital was bombed by the Northern Government sometime back and it’s such a tragedy for the people in the Nuba mountains.
Anyway take care and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you. Kind regards, Omoro
Sorry to get news about the FARC attack on Colombian soldiers, promising to reignite the civil war of so many decades. Colombia is where I went to high school and where my (adopted) son Jonathan was born—also where I graduated from high school and learned Spanish, which has stayed with me throughout my life. Peace Corps volunteers are still in Colombia’s north coast, where the FARC are not active.

Tania Bruguera, the Cuban performance artist prevented from mounting her open-mike performance in Cuba after the announcement of the Obama/Castro accords, now has the support of MOMA, the Guggenheim, and Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei. Bruguera had her passport confiscated in December after being arrested and has been unable to leave Cuba.

The Cuban prisoner whose name Afro-Cuban dissident Antunez gave us at the DC Amnesty International last January, Ciro Alexis Casanova Pérez, is now mentioned in an article in Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/missing-cuba-thaw-basic-human-rights-322234

 Somehow, now two Cuban dissidents are reportedly on the ballot for municipal elections, something totally unprecedented, Hildebrando Chaviano and Yuniel Lopez. Was that an accident? In any case, it's a good sign--even a year ago, they might have been arrested for even daring to try, so the fact that they are still in the running is a huge change.

However, they did not win—both said the deck had been stacked against them. Still, the fact that their names were even on the ballot was unprecedented. However, one Cuba watcher tells me that they may have been fake dissidents—of whom there are many infiltrating and undermining opposition groups. [Again, excuse different type sizes, no use meddling with them.]

 Some observers have questioned what President Obama got from making nice with Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas, when Castro has not been offering anything—still saying that Cuba will not yield one iota on its revolutionary principles, statements that mostly seem aimed at keeping the Castro family and the Communist Party in power. Whether for Castro, his histrionics are mere rhetoric and bravado, time will tell. It would have been preferable if Cuba could have gone the way of Eastern Europe in shedding communism altogether instead taking the China/Vietnam route of opening up economically but not politically or the Putin route of backtracking on democracy. The problem had been that the Cuban leadership had barely budged for 55 years, so President Obama was trying to give it a nudge. On the other hand, a family dynasty eventually does die out, so perhaps there was a chance that Cuba would have changed for the better politically after the pending demise of Godfather Fidel and Brother Raul, both in their 80s. Now, the regime has been given a new lease on life, seemingly destined to follow the China/Vietnam model of economic opening without a political opening. But Obama was not only trying to offer at least economic hope to ordinary Cubans, who felt they were in a rut, but to free Alan Gross, and to get on a better footing with visceral Latin American opponents, who really were caught off-guard and haven’t known quite how to react, especially Venezuela’s Maduro. And most Americans have applauded the outreach to Cuba, not realizing exactly what it entails. Obama was clearly the star at the summit, taking the wind out of his Latin American critics’ sails.

However, it was disgraceful that at the summit, the Castro regime brought in its usual mobs of physical attackers—the Rapid Response Brigades-- against peaceful dissidents, something it does all over Latin America wherever opposition Cubans appear in public. Independent blogger Yoani Sanchez has encountered them at speaking engagements all over the region, though never in the US, where either they are not allowed entry or the regime decides it’s a better tactic not to unleash them. Some such gang members have said they have been forced to participate, while others seem to relish the opportunity to beat up other people.

Taking Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, whether or not completely justified, was something required for re-establishing formal diplomatic relations. Certainly Cuba is less of a threat now to the United States and the rest of the world than during the Cold War and maybe the Cuban leadership will now try to live up to the non-terrorist designation? But the regime is not exactly benign and it would have been good if President Obama had gotten something in return in terms of greater freedoms for the Cuban people. Just reducing the pressure on the regime from the US is not going to automatically help ordinary Cubans, even though curbs on their freedoms have long been justified as necessary to protect against American aggression. While most Cubans are not used to having political freedom and a voice, most people everywhere do prefer self-determination if given half a chance. Obama’s apparently unilateral concessions to the Cuban government are somewhat worrying as they are not necessarily being reciprocated. Although Raul Castro has made laudatory remarks about Obama, he remains wary and won’t hesitate to cry “wolf” to arouse his partisans in Latin American and around the world if he feels his position and that of his inner circle are threatened. The Cuban regime long ago won the international PR battle with its appealing David-Goliath narrative. Many other leaders who feel small vis-à-vis the US (and maybe our country and leadership do bear some blame for this) readily identify with poor little Cuba. But poor little Cuban citizens get little sympathy. Predictably, the Wall Street Journal decried the removal of Cuba’s state-sponsor-of-terrorism designation http://www.wsj.com/articles/another-gift-for-castro-1429054312.

President Obama’s game plan regarding Cuba remains murky, perhaps because the American and world public wouldn’t really understand it. Some of us are trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, hoping he’s just playing his cards close to the vest so as not to propel a wary Raul Castro into a defensive mode. He also seems to have taken a somewhat less confrontational approach with Congress, realizing his remaining time is short.

Pres. Obama has wanted to create a Cuba legacy and to counteract the negative image of the US being successfully perpetrated, especially by Latin American leftist leaders. They have been kind of set off-kilter by his outreach to Cuba, especially Maduro, who was ready to pounce on the US for the sanctions against some of his officials in Panama. While Obama in Panama and US officials in Cuba have made a point of meeting with dissidents, this alone does not promote more freedom of expression and association. They still got beaten up, even in Panama. I haven't yet heard Raul Castro castigating Cuban mobs for physically attacking peaceful demonstrators, even if they disagree with them (quite to the contrary, he organizes and applauds them). If and when he tells them to stop, it will be noteworthy.

As I've said before, I do fear that the current US approach will end up promoting a system like China's and Vietnam's (exactly what Raul Castro has been aiming for)--an economic opening under a strict one-party system with executions, political prisoners, and curbs on assembly and communication. Still, most Chinese and Vietnamese are better off because of the economic opening. Yet, it would have been much better if those countries and Cuba could have taken the path of Eastern Europe and moved to a more democratic system, with free assembly, free expression, and elections. Might that have happened if Obama had hung tight and the inevitable demise of the Castro brothers had occurred?

It will be interesting to see how Hillary Clinton handles Cuba and Iran issues—probably distancing herself from Obama, but not too much. Years ago, when Hillary was First Lady, I was with her at some small forums where she seemed candid, thoughtful, and handled herself well. Since then, I’m not as crazy about her performance as she seems less genuine, but, of course, now the stakes are much higher. If she becomes the Democratic presidential candidate, which looks likely, I will vote for her, as I cannot bring myself to vote for a Republican and would certainly like to see a female president. But I’m not committed to voting for her until she actually wins the nomination.

If another Democrat should win, a dark horse like Obama, then he or she will get my vote, unless that person should happen to be Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy (quite unlikely), for whom I would never vote, Democrat or not. I believe he behaved hypocritically and in an extremely self-serving manner during the whole Cuba/US debate. Although I often get appeals from him for money, I completely ignore them. Why am I so opposed to him? Leahy seemed to have regularly leaked sensitive USAID Cuba information to the press and therefore to the Castro government, and then loudly berated USAID for being ineffective and for permitting those same leaks (thanks, Leahy, for making USAID even more ineffective). Subsequently, while railing against US government secrecy toward Cuba, he clandestinely arranged to transport sperm (twice) to inseminate the wife of the Cuban Five mastermind, boasting later about that transport, and, then, after all his scathing criticism of USAID’s efforts to facilitate democracy in Cuba (totally non-violent efforts to promote freer communication), he prominently escorted freed prisoner Alan Gross back to the US and supported his several million-dollar settlement with USAID. Sorry, Leahy, if you should happen to aspire to the presidency, you’ve lost my vote.

 Sexual assault—rape, if you will—is now being reported more frequently in the Peace Corps, as well as on college campuses. It is doubtful that such incidents are actually occurring more often in either case—rather, there has been greater public awareness of the problem and an increased willingness of victims to come forward. It’s understandable why rape, especially if done by known persons, has been underreported—young women may be totally in shock, ashamed, and uncertain of how to proceed—perhaps also fearing retaliation and further trauma by having to recount what happened to authorities or even motivated by the desire to protect a perpetrator. For many, it may seem easier to remain in denial and just pretend that nothing has occurred. Similar feelings keep child abuse victims silent.

As for the local “free-range” children picked up again by the police in a DC suburb, it’s quite true that most American adults, myself included, have had ample experience as free range kids them(our)selves. Why then, are most unwilling now to allow their children that same freedom? Perhaps it’s due partly to a few high-profile child abductions now being disseminated more widely in our internet age. My own concern, for my grandchildren and great-grandson, has less to do with unsavory and dangerous strangers and more with fear of accidents. What if a child playing alone or with a sibling at a park falls or chases a ball into the street? An alert parent would intervene quickly. Perhaps I’m being over-vigilant, having lost both my son and foster son in quick succession (but as adults, not children), so I’m not prone to taking unnecessary chances. While realizing that the odds of a serious accident are quite low, the remote possibility of injury or death justifies keeping a parent always on the scene in my opinion, at least until a certain age, maybe 10? The particular age does depend on the child and a child of 10 should not be in charge of a younger one, as in the case of Maryland kids. If children need to learn resilience and independence, parents can take an unobtrusive stance, bringing along a book or electronic device to a park, sitting on the front steps while youngsters ride bikes or scooters around the block, and enrolling them in sports and swimming lessons—then sending kids off to day- and overnight camp. A cell phone carried by a child when not in sight can help parents to check in. Even when physically present, adults cannot always protect children. And, it’s quite true that the greatest danger to kids comes from friends and family members—sometimes even from parents themselves--and occurs in their own homes. The question is how much leeway should parents have in raising their own kids and when does the public and the government need to intervene?

Much has also been made of hovering or helicopter parents who undermine their offspring’s own self-confidence and development, intervening at every turn, but after being a member of The Compassionate Friends, a self-help group for bereaved parents, where all manner of unexpected deaths have occurred, I’d rather err on the side of being overprotective. Bad things happening to kids are rare, but when they do happen, their effects can be devastating and irreversible. Remember a boy walking to school for the first time in a NYC Orthodox Jewish neighborhood and being abducted and murdered by a member of his own community? Why even take that small chance when children can acquire self-confidence and independence with only light adult oversight?

I was painfully reminded of the bouts of vomiting and diarrhea that I endured in Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer once again after eating a recent meal prepared by my Zambian visitor. He and his colleague from Kenya were fine after eating it—I was the only one affected. Such an episode has never happened to me here in the US, but, as in Honduras, I woke up at midnight with that familiar horrible feeling of blood flowing from the extremities to the stomach to expel its contents. Amid alternating chills and fever, that continued all night long. The only bright side is that I lost a couple of pounds. But I remembered our advice to Honduran mothers regarding their kids with stomach and intestinal upsets: always keep them hydrated. Even if everything gets expelled, liquids should be kept flowing into the body to prevent dehydration.


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