Sunday, May 17, 2015


Recently, I embarked in a dubious  experiment--I signed up for an online dating service. Thing is, I am not looking for romance. Last year, I lost the love of my life and I think it would be unfair to expect to duplicate the kind of closeness we had.   Anything else in the romance department pales by comparison. Then there is the question of age. I am at the end of my sixth decade. At this stage, if one has not learnt to function as a single unit, one is in serious trouble. For the most part, I am OK being on my own. I have several interests that keep me entertained and when I occasionally need help,  a few good friends and neighbors come to the rescue. What I miss is the companionshiop of someone with whom I can share a good meal, a visit to the museum, a walk by the river. This does not seem too much to hope for, but  the sad reality is that in our society, most people socialise with their coevals. In my village, folks socialise with family embers, fellow church goers, colleagues from work, Rarely do circles of young couples, for example, merge with trhose of single Third Agers.One's companion does not have to be a man, but most of the women I know are too busy with their husbands, their families,  book clubs, Elderhostel and who knows what else to add anew  friend to their circle.

Many retired people who create opportunities for human contact by plunging  into volunteer work. Their primary motive might be altruism, but there is no question that  comraderie  is a strong incentive. I am not, by nature, a group person. I loved my work as a freelance writer for many reasons. Not  being confined to a newsroom, not being part of the politics of the workplace, not being expected to attend  the office party, were high on the list of pluses. I had the occasional lunch and dinner with a congenial editor and that was that.

Some retired people are joiners, just as they were when they were at work. No doubt many transition seemlessly from high activity levels to higher ones. Not so with me. I live quietly, I tend a flock of chickens, I write fiction,  do some gardening, read, bake all my own bread,  publish an occasional book reviews, dabble at watercolor painting, sketching and silversmithing. I like my life. I love my house and its location. Why bother with a largely discredited online dating service in order to find a a platonic companion? Simple, No companions appeared, unbidden, at my door. Some were bidden and tempted with organic fresh eggs, but alas, they had no free room in their agendas.

Hence the Golden Carrot Dating Services experiment. Is it going to work? I doubt it. A sample of my so-called matches is somewhat discouraging. There s a significant number of doctors and lawyers among the offerings proffered by Golden Carrot. Most live in large urban centers. Most claim to make 100k a year. Nearly all claim to be athletic. Most are looking for a twenty something partner " care for. " Many  demand an equally athletic partner. I am doomed. Walking the cat downstairs  is my idea of strenuous exercise.
Athletic or not, truth is that  hardly anyone seems to be looking for a friend unless it is a friend who is willing to be, shall we say, test driven. Why, I ask, at such advanced age, is sex a precondition for a trip to the National Art Gallery? At the moment,  only one of the men who looked at my profile has e-mailed me. He lives in the Southwest, he is ten years younger than I and he is   and eastern Europen looking for Romance. Methinks he wants to romance a sponsor for American citizenship. That is bad of me, but I know of such cases happening in real life. He sent me his phone number on his third e-mail and my reaction was, "Whoa there, cowboy! It is early days yet."

When I said that Golden Carrot was a dubious experiment I meant that it is a huge gambleto connect with strangers. As reader an writer of crime novels I immediately think of serial murderers lurking online. I think of the expense of checking people's criminal--a gamble in itself if they use a false name--and I wonder what in tarnation I am doing. Push comes to shove I know at least one guy who might go to the museum with me. He is looking for a decorative woman twenty years his junior to keep house, and cook for him, but he knows I know his proclivities. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Recently,  a newsletter I received from  Kitchen Gardeners International included a blog entry from a gardener who had requested and acquired  free seeds from GRIN, a section of the United States Department of Agriculture. When I used that information to ask for seeds, I got back a negative response couched in intolerably patronising bureaucratese. This is my message to GRIN. Stay tuned, taxpaying gardeners.

Sunday, June 30, 2013



My next door neighbour and I had one of our occasional chats yesterday.The air was balmy and we sat  in the garden, listening to the music from the local Streetfest, four blocks away. We talked of books. That is, I offered her copies of Vargas Llosas THE DREAM OF THE CELT, which I reviewed, recently, on my book blog,Rich Texts and Edna O'Brien's  COUNTRY GIRL, which I am about to review. I told her Llosa's book is fictionalized account of the life of Roger Casement's an Irishman who documented human rights abuses in the Congo and in Peru, in the early Twentieth century.  He was knighted for his his work, but when he dared to compare the behavior of the British in Ireland to that of the Belgian oppressors of  Congolese rubber workers, all hell broke loose.  The British government acted swiftly to discredit him. It hired  perfidious Norwegian, Adler Christensen to seduce him and it  leaked the the Casement's  private diary, which detailed homosexual encounters,  to the press. Vilified for his sexual preferences, stripped of his knighthood, Casement was jailed and eventually hanged, ostensibly  for bringing weapons  from Germany to be used in the Easter Uprising of 1916.

2MNYHBU6NFRY I told my neighbor, who is a great reader, that  COUNTRY GIRL ties in with DREAM OF THE CELT in that Casement's brother is one of the people O'Brien mentions in her memoirs. Her chapter on The Troubles  echoes with the dream Casement had for a free and peaceful Ireland. For Brazilian readers such as I am,  I added, both books, I added, are particularly relevant at a time when a protest takes place every hour in 375 Brazilian cities. Were he alive today, Casement, who was once the British Council at Sao Paulo, would  probably be interested in  investigating human rights abuses in Brazil. He would probably question  government-sanctioned actions of the Brazilian Military Police against protesters and the press. He would want to bring to light the reasons why  why the police attacked so  many journalists--a total of 54 in two weeks. Many of these journalists were wounded   by troopswho have a propensity to aim for eye when they shoot rubber bullets. Besides shooting reporters, during   the Fortaleza protests, this past week,  police used helicopters to bombard the press with tear gas.

Such violence usually outrages well-educated middle class Americans who have the leisure to reflect on   civil liberties around the globe.Why did she think, I asked my neighbor, that events of vital importance to Brazilian elicited so little interest from most Americans? She grew thoughtful and said, "Maybe because Brazil seems so remote."  My question about the best way to reach Americans hung in the air. My neighbor is a very kind, thoughtful person, but she has little free time. She has  job and  two children  she and her husband parent commendably. It was almost dinner when we talked. The kids were hungry and she had to leave.I thought of her counterpart in Brazil and asked myself how she would respond if the protests were taking place in Washington, DC, Boonsboro, Maryland, Aurora Maine? How would she respond when her own time is equally taken up  by her work and parental responsibilities?

How does each of  respond to social movements in far away places? What do we do when our government sends troops to Iraq and Afghanistan? How do we respond to abuses from local officials, for that matter? What do we know about our police force and how it acts? Maybe we close our eyes and ears to  bad news its onslaught is so intense that  to watch television, listen to the radio and read the newspapers can be a form of torture. I don't mean, by this comparison,  to trivialize the kind of suffering endured by those who undergo, say, waterboarding. But clearly, reading the news about Syria, Egypt, Turkey can be very painful. It can also induce such a feeling of helplessness we try to disconnect, to push the bad news away, to distance ourselves from madness  over which we have no control. Or do we? If we have no control of the madness that leads Brazilian police to exhaust its tear gas supply in less than two weeks, as they did in Rio, recently, why is the press a  target in every Brazilian protest? Is that not an indication that whoever yanks the chain of the Military Police--state governor, in this case--does not want bad publicity to mar events such as World Cup games, the Pope's visit and the Olympics?
Given that  a real effort is being made to suppress news of police brutality--futile effort, judging from the massive documentation in available in print and digital media--it seems to me that remote as Brazil is, Americans, Asians,  Europeans, Middle Easterners, citizens everywhere have the ability to influence events taking place in 375 Brazilian cities. Exactly how that is done, I am not sure. This past week, Amnesty International Brazil mounted an e-mail campaign to let elected officials know that the whole world is watching and that police brutality is unacceptable. Writing an e-mail may seem too simple a gesture to make. But millions of e-mail messages can influence events. What do you say, can you e-mail the governor of Rio, for example? His name is Sergio Cabral and his e-mail address is Sergio Cabral, Governor of Rio


Saturday, June 29, 2013


Munduruku, Para, Brazil.

According to Brazilian media, fifty-five journalist have been attacked by the police since protests against government corruption,  lack of adequate social services, inequality,    high taxes, and the billions of dollars spent for next year's World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, started in mid-June.

Protest plebiscite which could take place in September 2013 could cost up to 500 Reais.

Ceara parliamentarian Ely Aguiar, Ceara, had this to say  about Fortaleza protests, "It's at such times that I miss the dictatorship," adding that if he  were chief of police should  he would beat the living daylights out of protesters. AnistiaOline  #semviolencia

Public prosecutor in Fortaleza says that his office is investigating charges of protest movement infiltration of by gangs allegedly paid for by political parties.

 According to the Associated Press, President Dilma Roussef's approval  rating plummeted in the wake of protests, slipping  from 64 to 40 points.

It is unclear whether there will be a general strike in Brazil  tomorrow. AP reports that representatives of two of  Brazil's largest workers' unions claimed to know nothing about it.

The fate of four Eletrobras  biologists taken hostage last week, by Munduruku Indians in the state of Para, is unknown.

Friday, June 28, 2013


Pedro Rocha, from Fortaleza,  is the latest journalistpolice hit in the eye with a rubber bullet. 
                 Above two Sao Paulo journalists also injured by olice in June 2013 protests.

In case you have yet to understand why Brazilians are protesting, please note that ”In Fortaleza, more than 1,600 people suffering from kidney disease depend on dialysis in order to survive. But due to non-payment  dating back to December 2012,  clinics (under contract with public health system, SUS, Sistema Unico de Saude, might make  treatment to dialysis patients unavailable at any moment. ” Contrast that with the Bolsa Copa per diem of close to 600 Reais awarded by the government to parliamentarians and military officers who wish to attend World Cup games. Abuse of privilege, corruption, and a host of social problems are among the reasons Fortalezenses protested yesterday. Allegedly, yesterday was the first time police used  a sonic canon against the citizenry,  something police spokesperson denies though  some of the symptoms experienced by some of the demonstrators–vomiting, for example–could be attributed to acoustic trauma.According to Castelao stadium are residents they and their children suffered the effects of mass control weapons used by policemen who invaded their houses searching for protesters. Police also attacked members of the media with rubber bullets and tear gas. So far, 200 people have lodged complaints with the Ceara Public Defenders Office.

“Worried about the growing repression by the police against demonstrations and  the authorities’ inability to protect, adequately, the right to peaceful demonstrations,” Amnesty International Brazil,
  is appealing to the public to act against police violence” by contacting the following people,
- Governador do Estado do Rio de Janeiro
Sérgio Cabral
Palácio Guanabara
Rua Pinheiro Machado s/n – Laranjeiras
CEP: 22238-900 Rio de Janeiro – RJ
- Governador do Estado de Minas Gerais
Antônio Anastasia
Palácio Tiradentes – Rod. Prefeito Américo Gianetti – S/N
Belo Horizonte – MG
CEP 31630-901

- Governador do Distrito Federal
Agnello Queiroz
Palacio do Buriti – 1º andar, sala P60
Praça do Buriti
CEP 70075-900

- Governador do Estado da Bahia
Jaques Wagner
Predio da Governadoria
Salvador – BA
CEP 41745-005

- Governador do Estado de Goiás
Marconi Perillo
Palácio Pedro Ludovico Teixeira
RUA 82, 400
CEP 74015-980

- Governador do Estado de São Paulo
Geraldo Alckmin
Palácio dos Bandeirantes
Av. Morumbi, 4.500 – Portão 2 – Morumbi
São Paulo – SP
CEP 05650-905

- Governador do Estado do Ceará
Cid Gomes
Palácio da Abolição
Av. Barão de Studart, 505 – Meireles
Fortaleza – CE
CEP 60120-013

- Governador do Estado do Pará
Simão Jatene
Palácio de Despachos
Rodovia Augusto Montenegro, KM 9
CEP 66823-010

Th eorganization asks that participants in the writing campaign  mention @AnistiaOnline and the hashtag #semviolencia


Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Long ago, in another country, I studied journalism with a man, who introduced me to the poetry of  Fernando Pessoa. Though I did not know it at the time, Pessoa was a B'nei Anoussim, a decendant of forcibly baptized Iberian Jews who  continued to follow Judaic practices for hundreds of years. Had I known this, I would have read a different meaning into the poems where he exposed again and again, the essential loneliness of the outsider. My teacher was also an outsider, a Leftist at a time and place that punished dissent with prison, torture, extraordinary rendition and death. He knew all this and yet he kept dreaming that he could make a difference, that he and a few others like him could change the country, make   it self-reliant and just.  He had been to Russia and when he spoke of workers attending ballet performances his eyes would light up,  his smile would grow wider and he would add, "It can be done, you see. It can be done."
If my teacher knew of Stalin and gulags, he chose not to bring either into the conversation. He did talk about the evils of imperialism and that grasping monster, Uncle Sam. He carried in pocket, a little pamphlet that described the day of the average citizen in our country as a succession of bows to American imperialism--from the moment he shaved with a Gillette blade to the moment when put on his imported pajamas. His fervor was such one of my classmates, a blue-eyed girl from an upper middle class family, trembled and prayed for him.  When he was arrested, as Leftists tended to be back then, she visited and cosseted  him, always praying that he would stop being a godless Communist.  It did not happen. Eventually, she became a godless communist, married him and together they sought refuge in Paris where all good communists  go to refresh their souls.
As someone who believes in equal rights, it pains to say that the women Leftists I knew back then found their way to Marx through some man with whom  they were in love. No matter. All roads led to the kolkhoz. Most followed their men into exile and at least one died after being raped and torture by the military. Years and years later, the country found its way back to democracy, the exiles came home to expose the  horrors committed during the undemocratic period and to remake the country into a semblance of their cherished dreams. The tired, suffering people elected a Leftist government that thumbed its nose at evil Uncle Sam even if that meant cozying up to dictators of countries where they stone women and gays. This show of independence and national pride buoyed the hope that the huge economic gap between classes would close or in the every least  become narrower. A brief period of prosperity followed during which exports to China helped fill the national coffers. Leftist leaders announced spectacular successes in their fight against hunger and poverty. The economy continued to thrive and despite much demagoguery, few people seemed to questions the policies of such a brilliant president, such a dazzling presidential cabinet.
Alas, the bubble burst. Factors such as the Chinese tightening their purse strings, made it harder for spectacular successes to happen.  The infrastructure which had been spectacularly neglected, failed to meet the needs of a population that had grown exponentially--one of the tenets of the Left, way back then was that contraception was part of Uncle Sam's plot to depopulate the country thus making it easier to conquer.Go figure. The gap between rich and poor did not close. This seems is the root cause of the dissatisfaction that erupted into protests, recently. News of the unrest  in the global media reflected a dismal ignorance of the culture  of the country in question. There were linguistic obstacles and that is where I thought I could do a tiny, bit to help get the world out.
Little did I know that as it stumbled toward a participatory democracy, the country in question was fraught with paranoia. Leftists suspected that  Uncle Sam hid under every bed, ready to rape and ravage--"...egorger ses filles et sem compagnes...". Everyone was suspect but those who spoke English and lived abroad, much more so. Just as Chico Buarque sang, long ago,  the country seethed with "lies and brute force." Machiavellian machinations, disinformation, agitprop  abounded.Rumors of a coup, baseless accusations  swirled like dirty water in a drain. I was unequipped for this sort of activity. I'd been through the lies and brute force and I'd escaped by skin of my teeth. I am old and I am too much of a realist to believe that the individual makes that much difference. So, I withdrew   from the fray. Solutions will come or not. It's their gig, not mine. But I feel very much like good old Fernando Nogueira de Seabra Pessoa,
"I am my own landscape,
I watch myself journey—
Various, mobile, and alone.
Here where I am I can't feel myself."
*Fernando Pessoa

Monday, June 24, 2013


Brazilians  continue to navigate the treacherous waters of political uncertainty. Last week, public indignation at corruption,  leading to protests against deficient education, health  and transportation systems,billions spent on World Cup facilities,   and a host of other problems. Over a million people took to the streets and the Brazilian police responded with disproportional force, firing rubber bullets, tear gas and flash-bang bombs  at protesters and members  of the media. Media  in Brazil and  abroad initially focused on vandalism committed by a small fraction of protesters, but as of this past weekend, news stories began to reflect   the complex reality of the protests. Clearly, this immense aggregation of families with children, students, senior citizens of all political stripes had goals other than to smash ATM and burn police police cars. The Leftist government  was quiet at first. Former president Lula da Silva, mentor president Dilma Roussef, took his sweet time endorsing the protest movement. Roussef, herself, conceded that peaceful protests were legitimate, but emphasized that   her government would not tolerate vandalism. Throughout this time, the police–including the mounted police Brazil continues to use as crowd control–was highly visible and often violent.Vandalism escalated, there were at  least half a dozen deaths, and number of allegedly arbitrary  arrests. Allegedly, a disproportionate number of members of the media was attacked by police  and illegally detained, prompting  the  The society of Protection for Journalists  to award Brazil the dubious honor of being named one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.

Following the initial unrest, some state governments walked back the proposed hike on bus and boat fares and  part of Movement Passe Livre decided to withdraw from the fray. Stage two of  the protest movement began with militants  meeting in cities, such as Fortaleza, Ceara,  to clarify goals and  set an agenda for upcoming protests. At the same time, ABIN, Brazil intel services agency, started  monitoring social media, and the police announced that it will use triple strength weapons of crowd control in upcoming protests. A mysterious blogger calling himself Marco Caleb–Google search of his name yielded a picture an infant–started a   campaign of disinformation aimed at deligitimising the #changebrazil movement on the internet. The blogger/s hints at a dark conspiracy by English speakers who have suspiciously expensive gadgets with which they make videos pressuring  Brazil to submit. Just what Brazil is supposed to submit to is not clear, but the blogger also claims the the Brazilian Right is poised for a military coup, that is creating cells in closed pages of Facebook, and many other allegations that do not hold up to fact checking.In a theater of the absurd moment, the blogger’s hints of a foreign conspiracy made today’s edition of Jornal  do Brasil. The story is incredibly fuzzy-wuzzy and it seems to be an attempt to neutralize #changebrazil and to cast doubt on the loyalty of  English-speaking Brazilians living abroad.”Why  would #changebrazil make videos in English,” it asks   By the way, I am  an English-speaking independent e-journalist living in the United States.  I became an American citizen after a nasty encounter with DOPS, the  Brazilian Secret Police in the Sao Paulo airport in 1976. If this makes me suspect, keep in mind that they Brazilian foreign minister  speaks accentless English and he makes videos. My answer to the dubious questioner in the JB is, ” We speak English in order to reach the global media, stupid.” I mean,  who the hell speaks Portuguese outside Brazil and Portugal? Should we rely on Google translations to get the news out?

Questioning all segments of the protest movement  movement is  healthy. So is to doubt the press. Journalists, especially citizen journalists need to establish their creds. BUt there is a difference between questioning and lying by implication in order to gag the opposition. Brazilians are not children, The know that violence, agitprop. dubious rumors, divide an conquer moves are as old as dirt. They can ask the  big question, who is behind the JB story? Who finances the conspiracy theorists? Who gains from demonizing Brazilians who can read the  news in Portuguese and pass it on in English to the free press of the First World? You can agit, but you better be able to prop your accusation with facts, guys. Brazilians are smart. They can see through you.