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Why Did The 737s Crash? Was Language a Factor?

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The Boeing 737 MAX is a narrow-body aircraft series designed and produced as the fourth generation of the Boeing 737. This 737 was announced on august 30, 2011

Number built: 393 as of March 2019. Produced 2014- present.

Primary users: Southwest, American, Air Canada and China Southern.

Grounded worldwide but in production….Wikipedia

I was a passenger in the Max recently. The trip was uneventful. Yet there are details even in the passenger cabin that provide a credible clue to the pilot errors reportedly blamed for the 737 crashes; pilots, it was said, did not understand the instructions provided, or were not trained sufficiently in simulators. Yet they were said to be very experienced and they trained as required. Why the errors? I suggest language may have contributed.

I have a Masters in Spanish literature and have spent much of my life in South America. I speak Brazilian Portuguese marginally but read easily. I have been a pilot since the 1960’s and an instrument rated pilot, though I am not active now. Yet my active pilot years included a flight from California to Punta Arenas, Chile, at the South tip of the South American Continent as well as several months of piloting in Chile and flights to Baja California.

In general all my radio communications in those places were in English, but at times cross cultural or language made them somewhat obscure. I usually was able to avoid instrument conditions except for a stretch in Peru due to political considerations, and one over West Argentina, also due to political tensions; there, my instruments were used but totally silent. No Talk or chance for miscommunication. There were no problems other than high winds.

Based on those experiences and subtle language miscues that I noticed in the main cabin of the new planes, I suggest that language should be considered as a possible contributor to the crashes. Why?

Some languages write and read from right to left, while we read from left to right. Here are the relevant clues as they appear in 737 passenger cabins:

  1. The seat assignment are lettered BA, not AB as would be expected in English. B refers to the window seat, A to the aisle seat. There is a tiny window outline with the B, and stick sketch of an attendant at the A, but a close inspection is needed to see them; some sort of translation by the passenger is required
  2. The storage bins pertaining to each seat are also marked in reverse order. .

Could these inversions of typical English Language order have been inadvertently placed by people who likely spoke English well, and read well, but whose native language was written from right to left rather than left to right?

I grant that such inversions are not dangerous to passengers and are easily resolved. But a difficult approach and landing is a different matter. Unexpected unusual events can occur. It can quickly become a time of very heavy mental and emotional demand for pilots. While modern instruments are arguably superior and safer than pilots themselves, there can be times when unusual things can happen such that a slight misinterpretation of complicated pilot instructions or can be serious.

My oldest son was with me when he was about age 11, on an instrument flight in California. We dropped through rough weather to an open visual approach; he later became a far better pilot than I ever have been, in both rotary and fixed wing craft of all sorts, flying all over the world, and has dealt with many linguistic challenges, far more than I. They matter!

With deference, and with apologies, my question for Boeing is this: Have you looked in to the possibility that cultural or linguistic details may affect pilot instructions and training?. If not, you may want to think about it.

H deus, and Walking White Male

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The diffusion of knowledge–and therefore power– like that which followed the invention of cheap paper and printing– is being affected by an explosive development of technology accessible to multiple and diverse peoples- That development inevitably and irreversibly alters lives, perceived reality, and history.

All my life I have Walked White. All my life I have enjoyed and exercised a Right to walk alone almost anywhere, only trying to avoid walking stupid.  Walking with purpose: erect, alert; with vigor, as if I know where and who I am, and where I’m going. That has never failed me.

Perhaps I have misunderstood the nature my own fortunate circumstances. The world -wide changes taking place may be partly a result of ubiquitous video and audio recording — everywhere in the world– rather than being limited to those with power, like the traditional media, or traditional powerful leaders. The result? There are no secrets. Everyone is a reporter, who can reach an audience of hundreds of millions. Only one tiny result is that I can no longer take pride of ownership in my ‘right’, my ability, to walk freely almost anywhere. I now know my personal white-walking liberty is largely a result of wearing an abuse proof flack jacket;maybe it’s invisible to me, but not to those who don’t have one.

Worse, perhaps, privilege can lead to abuse. But now there is no place to hide, whether one is rich, powerful, or greatly admired. The #Me too movement often exposes powerful but abusive men. A greatly admired actor who perpetuates a fraudulent episode for his own gain, is exposed. A politician who invents a false heritage in order to win an election is ‘outed’.

Similar things happen every day because there simply is no place to hide. On the one hand that exposes frauds, but on the other hand that exposes us all to surveillance by all. The right to privacy has ended, not by law or by choice but by the god Technos who has decreed that there is no such Right, no matter what is written. It’s over.

Even if we could reverse the latest assault by technology– we can’t– Would that be a good thing? The new god is Technos. in the guise of Homo deus. When God The Father was alive, He was all seeing and all knowing, and in the end, Judge. Homo deus takes the form of all the peoples of the world,perhaps of all time.

If so, What is New or Terrible about that? Maybe only that there is no God to ignore or to reject or to blame or to pray to. Homo deus surely knows if the camera cooperates, that I didn’t tell the cashier today that she didn’t charge me for the avocados! But, I hope, like the millionth blackbird in a swarm or the millionth sardine, H deus has better things to do than to catch me in the act.

Homo deus, instead of taking the form of a single being, takes the form of all H sapiens. H deus is all seeing and all knowing. Just like Daddy God. So here am I, only a single specimen of H sapiens if indeed sapiens still applies. (Our kind has been so minimized by Techos and his ilk that H minimus seems more appropriate, even if we may believe we are collectively, H deus.)

Who am I to speak about a matter I have been ignorant of so much of my life? I am a person, with a voice.

  • I hope we– H deus– one and all– will focus on the wider generic problems rather than any single outrageous incident, because our problems are more significant than any single case, no matter how egregious it may be.
  • I hope we continue to express outrage when that is needed, until it is irrevocably clear that we will not shut up or go quietly.
  • As to Walking White Males, I am sure we will see and accept that everyone has a right to Walk Free

The Greatest

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Build the world’s greatest weapons;

contract for the world’s greatest debt,

in the world’s greatest paper;

In notes to pay the bearer

with printed paper promises,

That are constantly devaluating.

Create the world’s richest State

with the world’s richest people

and the worl’d greatest prisons;

Righteously and humanely

house and feed and ‘correct’

abusers of drugs or self or others.

Who squats to shit in doorways,

fetid parks and underpasses.

Where stolen grocery cart’s are piled

with blankets, grub and clothing?

Who lives in the charitable misery

of all caring Government agencies?

Who are multimillionaire public servants

exempt from personal sacrifice,

and laws only others must obey?

The Greatest! They have places to go

and things to do, and walk by,

blind to Who, What,Where, or Why.

Who deals and traffics in addiction?

Who self medicates with drugs and alcohol?

Who prefers dependence to liberty,

and withdrawal to engagement?

We know. But we too pass by

not asking, What, When, Where or Why.

Sleep, Memory!

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I’m in darkness

The night is still and vast;

Yet I’m restless

Troubled by the past;

The times I failed;

When lack of vision,

or too much passiveness  prevailed

and led to indecision.

Then my life was redefined

by someone who prevailed

Through steely love and mind

To believe that I had failed.

Memory! Forget the past!

Dream the coming day

And promises that last!

Sleep the night away.

Sleep, Memory!

Dream what’s never been

But one day will be,

When light returns again.

Belize

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Aldous Huxley wrote in Beyond The Mexique Bay (1934) “If the world had any ends Belize would be one of them. It is not on the way from anywhere, to anywhere else. It is all but uninhabited.” Huxley was one of the few adventurers, more than 80 years ago, to visit what at that time was one of the most remote corners of the British Empire. I met him at a UCSF school of medicine conference shortly before he died.

My daughter has been a devoted scuba diver since her teens, and searches the world’s waters to the best places to dive. That broght her to Belize, and when she found it possible to cash in from a silicon valley job, she and her husband John moved to San Pedro, Belize, on the world’s longest N/S reef. So between Huxly and Amy I simply had to go there, though without my daughter’s advice I would have forgotten Huxley.

Belize today is sparsely populated by 395,000 inhabitants spread over 8,867 square miles; the population density is the lowest in Central America and one of the lowest in the world. : less than 20 / sq mil. Honduras 9 million) AREA 8,867 mi² 2017382,444 ( by comparison, Guatemala 17 million,

Once known as British Honduras, Its unique culture and history make it both attractive and exotic for expatriates, especially from the USA.The mainland, while less developed for tourism, produces plentiful meat, dairy products, and fruits and vegetables. Farther upland toward Guatemala are dense jungles, a pine highland, pyramids and temples – many not yet excavated.

The Mayan civilization of more than a million people was centered in the area from 250-900 AD. Belize gained its independence from Great Britain on 21 September 1981 under the Peoples Party Government led by Prime Minister George Cadie Price, who launched the movement for self-government with the formation of the People’s Committee on 31 December 1949 after the British Colonial rulers devalued the British Honduras Dollar bringing much economic hardship on the colony’s residents.

The Population is very diverse, made up of a multiplicity of cultures, speaking many languages. English is the official language required in obligatory K-8 grades. Spanish is widely spoken by the largest ethnic group therefore most people are bilingual in both English and Spanish; many speak and understand local Creole, or Kriol.

Census 2010 49 % mestizo; 23% creole ; 7% garifuna (African)

5 % white; 6% mixed; 3.6 % menonite ( german)

The Menonites. Despite small numbers, are very significant. Beginning in 1958, they settled in mainland Belize, at the invitation of the government, which hoped to promote their agriculture and stock industries. The land was sold at bargain prices, in isolated inland areas. The Menonites gradually divided into two groups, those who hold to traditional ways, and those who adopt modern farming and husbandry practices. ( The locals wryly call the latter group ‘Mechanites!’ )

Some 4000 mainland Menonites contribute greatly to the carpentry, engineering and agriculture of Belize. .They produce milk, cheese, beans, corn, melons, honey, chicken, and eggs and meat, There are more cattle than people in the country. They are also skilled in manufacturing hardwook furnitureand homes. In San Pedro, on Ambergriss Caye (Key), for example, they hold a very popular Farmer’s Market once a week, where local merchants and residents load up on Menonite products. On the other hand some eco activists complain the Menonites disregard the environment leading to large scale deforestation.

Territorial Conflict with Guatemala is longstanding. The border is quite porous, so that people are able to cross into Belize to escape conditions in Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America, attracted by the stable economy and government. There has long been a fixed exchange rate between the $Bz and $US at 2:1.
Many immigrants move into communities of trasients, like one I visited called Progresso, and thereafter gradually enter the workforce without citizenship. It may be that the relative stablity and attractiveness of Belize contribute to the many decades old conflict with a notoriously corrupt and failed Guatemala that continues to claim Belize as its own. While Mexico (Yucatan , Quintana Roo) borders Belize there is no similar conflict, or signigficant similar transborder migration.

In each of the recurring U N votes on the Guatemala claims to sovereignity over Belize, the United States abstained, thereby giving the Guatemalan government some hope that it would retain United States backing. Finally, in November 1980, with Guatemala completely isolated, the UN passed a resolution that demanded the independence of Belize, with all its territory intact, before the next session of the UN in 1981. The UN called on Britain to continue defending the new nation of Belize. It also called on all member countries to offer their assistance.

A last serious attempt was made to reach an agreement with Guatemala prior to the independence of Belize. The Belizean representatives to the talks made no concessions, and a proposal, called the Heads of Agreement, was initialed on March 11, 1981. But the Guatemalan government refused to ratify the agreement and withdrew from negotiations. Meanwhile, in Belize pro Guatemalan opposition existed. It engaged in violent demonstrations with four deaths, and many injuries. A state of emergency was declared. However, the opposition offered no real alternatives to Independence, which came on September 21, 1981, without any agreement with Guatemala A recent Guatemalan referendum, a foregone conclusion, confirmed their belief that Belize is national territory. The Belize governor is proposing a Belizian referendum to approve submitting the dispute (again) to an international court. He argues that, as before, Belize sovereignity will be verified. Signs and billboards in the countryside declare: YADAT TU WE… Creole for THIS IS OURS!

Languages

English is the official language “used in all domains of public life”, including the government, the legal system, the media, and education

Kriol is English colored Creole

Spanish is the home language of 2/3 but English is spoken by 80%

54% speak Spanish well, and 52 % speak English most can be considered literate..

44% kriol, 10% Maya 3%\ German, 3% Garifuna

Religion

Catholic 40% Protestant 32% Pentecostal 8% 7th day  adventist 5 % Menonite 3.7 % all others 20 %

Currency The Belize Dollar, $Bz is fixed at 1/2 $ US In effect, like Panama, the currency therefore is the $US. This provides stablility and avoids the temptation to devaluation that a national floating currency offers.

Therefore, visitors are not likely to find prices for food and lodging in Belize a bargain. In San Pedro, the main city on Ambergris Island, prices are roughly those of coastal USA. On the other hand, cost of day to day living is attractive especially to retired people,who find both the climate and the culture very appealing. There is an uncommon but universal courtesy and grace in relationships that is not often found elsewhere. Nonetheless, the average San Pedro resident in fully intenet connected and agile.

In the media, Belize seems to be often painted darkly for violemce especially around Belize City, said to have high crime and murder rates. Nonetheless, that is not the case in the tourist heavy areas. My daughter and her husband live in San Pedro , on Ambergriss Island and have never had problems there. We went to the inland cities without any trouble anywhere; and, of course, had no problem at a mountain equestrian resort. Except for the infamous botfly! I never saw, never heard, a single mosquito…but, collected quite a few botfly bites whose vector is… the female mosquito! Even now , a week later, I can count 80 or 90 little inflammed nodules, the nests of what is an intradermal maggot! It is a long story, perhaps, but may be of interest to some. I’ll append it to the end of this post.

Government

Belize is a Commonwealth nation, a parlimentary democracy based on the British monarchic model of self government under a ministerial system. In January 1964. The official name of the territory was changed from British Honduras to Belize in  June 1973. Full independence was granted on 21 September 1981. By Comparison, the Cayman Islands remain a British Crown Colony, are smaller and more densely populated.

In many places today there are strong indigenous movements. Yet in Belize they seem relatively mild, most often taking the form of criticism or rejection of values found in the so called developed world. As an example see below some comments on modern medicine and technology by a Belezian native healer:

From A Belizewan Medicine Man: Peter Singfield
Xaibe Village

Singfield is not an admirer of the titled elite or their practices: In general, his observations reflect a common reaction of indigenous people to the way of life among the more dominant cultures. He is a part of a widespread rebellion within the indigenous worlds of the Americas… from Alaska to Patagonia… they rebel against, resent and reject the abuse, arrogance and ignorance of moderns. In many cases outrage among indigenous peoples today is far more hostile and violent than Springfield’s which is merely quite critical and dismissive. His website contains a long list of ailments he has cured without modern medical means. Some quotes:

Doctors and scientists do not mix. ( dont mix in, don’t get it) I believe they are among the most ignorant segment of the human species. Ignorance defined here is unwillingness to learn. They should lynch the Lawyers first then the Doctors.

“Clear cutting of virgin jungle for raising Beef of poor quality pays well when selling to the pet food industry so a green peace idiot can feed a cat or dog — the child they never had in a world so screwed up it is not conducive to raising of human children.Green Peacers — may they all end up where they belong — in Hell!!

At some point you must personally decide which side of the humanity fence you are. Modern World or Salt of this world.I don’t want to know the world you live in — and really am not interested in the problem with diseases you have. They come from life style –

If you walk with me your eyes will be opened — do you really want that??

My Friend !!!

Conceptions
Are but receptions
Of our Fantasies

Which can be
The monopoly
Of our fear

Then — what of reality ???
Do we banish with a cheer
All our feasibility ???

Oh !!
Comfort me
My fantasy

All is not right!
Feel my fright
Of this!!
Our cold reality

Life Expectancy: Despite very limited access to medical care (Singfield might say because of it), and despite lockstep media reports of violence and death, longevity has remained remarkably stable always. For example since 1975 it has changed very little, unlike some places in the USA.

1975–1980 68.6
1980–1985 70.4
1985–1990 71.5
1990–1995 70.6
1995–2000 68.6
2000–2005 68.5
2005–2010 69.5
2010–2015 69.8

Source: UN World Population Prospects

A Visit to Mountain Equestrian Tours (MET)

My daughter Amy organized a trip to MET. The owner is a Californian who began 30 years ago to build an eco friendly dude ranch. Today it is eminently accessable by a flight from Houston to Belize City, where the dude is met by the owner’s son in law, David, for a 90 minute drive directly to MET. On the way an optional visit to a zoo or a meal, or shopping can be elected.

The ranch itself is at once rustic and elegant. For example, there is no electricity except for charging electronic devices. Light is provided by kerosene lamps and candles at evening meals. I usually left the kerosene lamp in my cabin on and found them suprisingly long lasting and soothing. The windows were open to air, and the beds mosquitoe netted, although I didn’t ever see a mosquito. Never; but more later on that! . (In the Panama Canal Zone 1954-5 I also never ever, saw a fly or a mosquitoe, thanks to draining of swampy areas and .. very likely… DDT. )

The second morining we went on a half day horseback ride, very comfortably, at least for me because the experience is not new. The following day was devoted to an all day ride, which leads me to write about:

Two pesky Belize flies: The Botfly and Sandfly

Myiasis is the parasitic infestation of the body of a live animal, usually a mammal, by fly larvae . Some species grow in the flesh of their hosts, while others grow in the intestines.

The three major families of flies encountered in myiasis can be divided into two groups for comparison of host-location strategies: (1) Oestridae; and (2) Calliphoridae and Sacrophagidae. The former are all obligate parasites, the latter include obligate and primary facultative parasites. In the Oestridae, the majority of Cuterebrinae deposit their eggs at sites likely to be visited by the host, whereas the majority of Oestrinae, Hypodermatinae and Gasterophilinae deposit their eggs or larvae directly onto the host.  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00034983.1995.11812964

The botfly, also known as gadfly ( Sorry Mr Socrates but the appelation does seem apt!) is transmitted on the wings of a mosquito; warmed by the host’s skin, the botfly egg hatches and burrows in, growing into a larva, or less kindly, a maggot. A swollen nodule develops causing severe itching, but it is almost impossible to scratch to death! The larva breathes through a tiny tube, which, fortunately, can be blocked with heavy ointment like petroleum jelly. Otherwise the larva matures and in a few weeks a new bot fly is released. Note: one way to control the Bott is to seed sterile male flies in the infested area. In that case the female eggs are sterile and merely itchy more like an ordinary mosquto bite.

Sandflies (aka sandfleas or no-see-ums) are common in mangrove swamp areas and sandy beaches. They also cause bites which don’t seem to heal, but a heavy ointment will suffocate the mites. To control the sandflies, beaches are often raked daily, and controlled by exposing them to the heat of the sun.

Lieshmaniasis is a more unusual problem caused by sandfly bites, and may cause sores, leaving scars.   The Screworm is a related burrowing larva seen locally.

The day was beautiful. The horseback ride itself was uneventful, except for an oversight of my own. I have diabetes, and use Basal ( long acting) insulin, rarely adding a fast acting dose. Breakfast was early, fast, and light, and I had eaten nothing since. Moreover I was having too good a time to think about my blood glucose. But A lifelong time indulgence of mine is physical activity. It is my drug of choice. Several times I have forgotten that strenuous excercise can burn a lot of glucose, leading to low Blood Glucose Level, and related symptoms. In that case I don’t remember that I’m burning glucose quite fast until I become weak.

At the end of the ride we had to climb down about 600 ft to a waterfall. By the time I got there I felt very weak, understood the reason, and laid down on a rock to eat a couple of granola bars while the rest of the folks went swimming. In a half hour I felt well and climbed uneventfully back up the hill. Problem solved, right? Wrong. I didn’t realize was that while I rested I was being bitten by mosquitoes. I didn’t hear, see, or feel them. Not one.

My ride home was uneventful though onarrival, I encountered one of those events that often happen to a physician in such circumstances. At least it has happened to me often. The owner’s teen aged son drove a station wagon home.. He crossed a bridge too fast, lost control and rolled the vehicle into a creek, about a 15 ft drop. Fortunately the depth of water was only a bout 1 1/2 ft. The wagon was totatlled, landing on its passenger side while people hung from seat belts. Jeff, one of the passengers managed to crawl up and reach the driver side windows, break them, and push the door up and open so the rest of the passengers could un-clip to climb up and out.

But he hurt his shoulder somehow in the crash. and complained of ill defined numbness of his arm and hand; the shoulder was painful. That evening after supper, as darkness fell, the owner– whose son and wife were devastated by events– asked me to look at Jeff’s shoulder.

The shoulder was not deformed, nor was the clavicle. There was tenderness to direct palpation anteriorly, but diffusely, and the shoulder could be passively moved through a nearly full range of motion with little increased pain. No discoloration or break in the skin. The arm and hand were intact in every sense, without deformity, weakness, loss of sensation, or limited strength.
They were considering driving to a hospital in Belize City, or more optimally in Merida, Mexico, to be sure there was nothing serious. That would, of course, be an all night effort, an Xray, and— if an MRI were available it would likely be put to use with, I expect, little benefit except that someone has to pay for such expensive stuff!

So I bit the bullet, and explained that it seemed unlikely there was a fracture; there was no dislocation; no sensory loss, or circulatory deficit. I suggested that in such circumstances an icepack was ideal, with a makeshift sling. If there did happen to be a minor fracture a delay of a few days would not be problematic. The next morning he was almost totally asymptomatic. Amen.


How do you do Mr Maggott! . Within a couple of days I discovered more than 40 slightly swollen red itchy spots on my trunk, abdomen, and extremities. They were caused by botfly larvae nesting cozily in my skin. In travels over much of the globe, Panama, the Phillippines, Mexico and South America, and in practice since 1955 I had never met the botfly. .

A brief on-line excursion will offer more than most anyone wants to know about these little devils. The eggs are transmitted by mosquitoes and hatch in the warmth of the host’s skin. The larva burrow in and develpe in the skin, while breathing through tiny tubules poked up from their intradermal nests. If allowed to mature for several weeks they become ugly little grubs and can leave the nest.

In Beliz most such D hominis infestations are handled by individuals themselves. They usually suffocate the larva by the application of occlusive substances (eg, nail polish, petroleum jelly) .  24–48 h after application, the larva begins to deflate, collapsing its retrorse spines. The larva can then be expelled by applying pressure around the cavity to extract it, or by the use of a snake-venom extractor. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(15)70146-5/fulltext#back-bib1

Since my own infestation was relatively early, I got good results from self treatment. I didn’t have enough scientific curiosity to let these maggots mature for six weeks until I could pull them out by their ugly little faces to examine them closely!

Peace Corps or Peace Corpse

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The Peace Corps was established in 1961 to promote and represent our US society.  In the words of founder Sargent Shriver: “There is no better advertisement for what this country stands for than an individual Peace Corps volunteer walking down the street unarmed, wearing the same clothes that the people do, eating the same food, living the same life, and being there as an independent free-standing person who believes in democracy and who is compassionate to his fellow man.” (italics mine) In 2001 he spoke to volunteers more poetically:

Be servants of peace …

Work humbly, persistently and intelligently …

Weep with those who are sorrowful …

Care for those who are sick …

Serve your neighbors …

Serve your towns …

Serve the poor …

That is your challenge.”

In the early 1970s I was medical advisor for the Peace Corps Training Program in Davis California. It was housed at Cactus Corners, west of town in a former migrant farm worker camp. Experienced Nepal Peace Corps volunteers, and Nepali advisors taught the rudiments of Nepali culture and language during 12 weeks of training. Among many details applicants learned that touching people or eating was only done with the right hand, the left being used for wiping after a bowel movement; that while sexual activity is prominently displayed in stone and tome, in practice it is hidden; that while common drugs are cheap and readily available, to use them is demeaning, confined to the lowest wretches of society. Ironically, though, volunteers at that time were often college graduates, whose attitudes and behavior with regard to sex and drugs was the inverse to those of most Nepalis.

Volunteers were chosen who were skilled in matters felt appropriate  for  remote Nepali villages: teaching, science, demonstrating  advantages of modern agriculture, or technology. The election of individual villages was made by the monarchy,  the King, not by Peace Corps or villagers.   In a sense the volunteer would be subordinate to the Peace Corps mission, to the King, to the culture, to village elders as well as enviromental, societal, and health risks.

Clearly there would be major challenges for volunteers who were  mostly young and not very world wise; who had been born and raised in a country and culture that never significantly exposed them– either physically or psychologically –to the the sort of enviromnet where they were to serve; to infections, privations, foreign values, limitations or dangers.

 Volunteers would be subject to risks that were underappreciated and unfamiliar. They would be like idealistic young people everywhere who volunteer or agree to serve in distant places under difficult situations. In the same youthful ardor and confident spirit  of military recruits, they would be cultural warriors in a cause greater than their own. The word Corps seemed  military, but under the circumstances, reasonable.

On arrival in Nepal, after a relatively short introduction to the Peace Corps staff in Kathmandu, and some practical advice and directions, they would be sent off to their assigned village. Their Nepali language skills,  were essentially those of a 2 or 3 year old but they would walk,  often alone, carrying their belongings to an assigned village. The journey would take several days over mountain trails, across snow melt streams, and  through villages where the rare sato manchi, (white man) is the object of great entertainment and attention to everyone, especially packs of excited children.

Even so, the journey was welcome, exhilirating, a  sweet pure adventure which would animate them greatly. However, nearing  the end of the first half year in a village,  volunteers  found they not only had to deal with trobiling recurring health problems like diarrhea, or amebic liver disease, but manage it alone, although with remote advice from Kathmandu. Sometimes, following their protocol for bloody diarrhea, when it did not respond to treatment, a stool sample would be mailed to Kathmandu. But it was such an interesting and attractive package, it might be stolen. 

In time it would become clear that a culture thousands of years in the making would scarecly change in two years. Sent to teach science, for example, the volunteer had  to develop the wisdom and skill and patience to work with a revered village teacher who probably felt threatened, who didn’t ask for the help, and whose basic-element world consisted of earth air fire and water;  whose teaching methods were harsh and didactic; whose resources were extremely limited; and who could understandably resent his brash young uninvited competitor.   

The volunteer who, by planting and fertilizing his demonstration cornfield,  may have convinced the local folk to do the same, but then might find  that the cost of artificial fertilizer abruptly increased 5000 percent, because the sole provider of chemical fertilizer had won life’s lottery and raised prices. Villagers might therefore conclude that  handfuls of cow dung were more practical, even if less productive.

Facing  such problems, a degree of volunteer depression sometimes developed for the first time, though often unrecognized. Even so, as the two year assignent drew toward a close, friendships developed, and language skills improved,  the beauty of a thousands year old philosopy, music, and art became apparent; most volunteers recovered. Despite illness, difficulties, and disappointmnts, to have met and overcome the personal challenge of two years in remote Nepal was a rewarding accomplishment, and an incomparble life changing experience.

So while changing Nepal would be difficult and unlikely, what would change, was the adaptive and successful volunteer. Change would be  evident both physically and mentally. Those who were able to complete a tour of duty often changed  even in  appearance, gait, attitude and habitus. By contrast to young men, women,  perhaps the hardier and more resilient gender, adapted and recovered more easily. 

My own 1970s involvement in the Nepal training projects in Davis California was to teach about health matters, especially infectious diseases transmitted by food and water; to urge avoiding suspect food that can’t be washed with soap and water or peeled, or treated by soaking in dilute clorox; to avoid water or even tea unless previously boiled for at least 15 minutes; at high altitude, where water boils at a lower temperature,  to pre-treating water with a saturated Iodine solution, carried about in a small glass leak proof bottle for use whenever away from home. ( 5 drops to each glass of suspect water, 15 minutes before drinking) I also spoke of general medical matters, reviewing templates for dealing with infections, GI diseae.  parasitosis and other health topics.

As one might imagine, all this was often so foreign to the volunteer’s own experience that it may have seemed pedantic, obscure, or complicated; therefore the details were recorded in a handout, which included the  protocols for commeon expected health problems. Even so, almost all Nepal volunteers would have difficult bouts of diarrhea; when I later visited in-country vouluteers the first ten minutes of discussion was almost always about frequency,  consistency, character, and color of: stools.

As the years of Peace Corps experience in Nepal accumulated, it was found that the death rate among volunteers was higher than the US military in Vietnam. And while neither was numericaly or proportionately very high, the questions were: Why? What could be done?

I was sent to try to seek  answers and walked for several weeks to vist  a different volunteer each day. It seemed to me that cultural, medical, mental, and physical problems  faced in relative isolation, were most significant.  Unfortunately for UCD it became clear to all that 12 weeks training in Davis California  was not so  effective– or even as economical considering drop-out rates– as would be training volunteers for the same 12 weeks in Kathmandu. The Davis training program moved to Nepal.

Over time the Corps volunteers selected became somewhat older and more often female. Training in-country increased. However, there continued to be reports from volunteers who claimed that both local law enforcement and Peace Corps Administrators tend to deny or obscure problems, especially sexual those of sexual abuse where they, like local authorities,  tended to blame the victim. To some degree  abuse may be increased by cross cultural misinterpretation of typical US  youthful dress and behavior.   Yet  a common complaint was/is that when in country help or even litigation has been pursued it too often reflects local preconceptions; and there is little to no interference by Peace Corps administrators.

Why so hands- off? Could it be that better investigation might create burdensome paperwork, threaten survival of a project,  or make new funding more difficult? Despite efforts to improve, under-reporting  of adverse events by the Corps still seems common. 

Despite alleged evidence of under-reporting the   2015 Statistical Report of Crimes Against Volunteers states that 13 percent of volunteers reported one or more crime incidents, including 268 Volunteers (3 percent) who reported serious crime. A total of 219 Volunteers (2 percent), including 206 women and 13 men, reported one or more sexual offenses (non-aggravated sexualassault, aggravated sexual assault, or rape). Of those, 91 (41percent) were victims of non-aggravated sexual assault. (whatever ‘serious or aggravated’ means!)”

TheDaily Beast Reports “ PeaceCorps Inspector General Kathy Buller has led internal investigationsthat have led to 21 criminal convictions for crimes such as rape,attempted rape, abuse of minors, embezzlement, theft and possessionof narcotics. She’s a career watchdog, with nearly 30 years ofexperience in the inspector general community.

Buller charged the Peace Corps with employing procedures that have hindered er office’s oversight efforts, and said the agency was not fullydisclosing its sexual assault reports. “Are Volunteer victims ofsexual assault better off when the Peace Corps is allowed to withhold information from the Inspector General and operate in secrecy?”Buller asked, “or when the Inspector General has full access toinformation and can hold the agency fully accountable?“ The agency seems to hold that the privacy of volunteers is at stake. But  that implies the office of the inspector general would not treat reports responsibly. https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-peace-corps-awful-secret


The official report of ‘sudden’ death of Mitchell Herman in 1918 was excpyionally cryptic: Aside from the report of his death there was no information.  None. Surely more is known.  Several other deaths stand out: Deborah Gardner was murdered by fellow Peace Corps worker Dennis Priven, who turned himself in after stabbing her – 22times. “Even after everyone knew it was Dennis, (there was an ) effort by the Peace Corps to put the blame somewhere else…. to make things go away,” says Weiss. “That impulse seized the Peace Corps within moments of Deb’s death… the Peace Corps hired and paid for the best defense attorney available in Tonga. Priven was found not guilty and the Peace Corps quietly shuffled him back to the United States,where he lived freely, for decades. Working for the government.”

It is time to re evaluate Peace Corps, not only for unresolved problems but because the  primitive  world is disappearing, developing, changing incredibly fast without our help.  I grant that a two year embedded experience may change positively and forever the life of a volunteer exposed to a new world, a culture,language, values, ethic, or way of being.

That certainly is true of young LDS missionaries who are as idealistic and committed as Peace Corps volunteers, but consist of two people teams that have the support of a world wide organization, and often others in the local community who are ‘there for them’. It  is not a lonely or hair shirt experience in country; there is a clear mission.

By contrast, as the Peace Corps operates and is administed now, its purpose is too vague, too unfocused, and its administration too neglectful, too dedicated to bureaucratic self interest. Volunteers deserve better. Their idealism, commitment, and sacrifice are not justified in terms of the original stated goals or an ineffective, inefficient  self serving adminstration whose purpose and methods have become  irrelevant and obsolete.  The Peace Corps  once such a powerful and admirablely concieved program, is  dead. It is a Peace Corpse and deserves a respectful eulogy and merciful burial. RIP.

China Roads

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The Amercan concept of changing the world, as exemplified in the Peace Corps is admirable and idealistic, but is no longer relevant because the world is very quickly changing on its own, adopting and adapting the American Way without help. Great cities spring up everywhere. Production of sophisticated and reliable equipment, software, and intellectual property is almost a universal. We are, in the US, no longer alone.   China, perhaps the most striking example, has changed itself so rapidly and so radically that it is potentially  on track to become the world’s greatest trading nation. Deeply embedded in China’s history, is the projection of strength and power through trade. At least since the 1970’s their concept of The Road has been actively pursued around the world, as a part of an ongoing long term effort to promote commerce.  In the US,  China TV ( CTV), promotes Belt and Road — interconnected trade routes throughout Eurasia and parts of Africa, calling to mind the Silk Road of the middle ages.

TheBelt and Road is only one of many China Road projects proposed or completed during almost fifty years. They proposed and abandoned a second Amercan Canal across Nicaragua, like one the USA considered before building the Panama Canal. A second Panama Canal had been started by the USA but was abandonded during World War II. China completed it.

In the 1970’s I first became aware of The Road concept while working with  Peace Corps in Nepal. (the subject of another post).  At that time there was only one road in and out of Nepal: to India. But it was tortuous long, dusty, rough, and often closed for weeks at a time due to rain or other problems.  By contrast, while I was there, China opened a modern all weather ‘Friendship Road’ to Kathmandu with connections  as far as Singapore.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friendship Highway(China%E2%80%93Nepal)

China National Highway 318 

At the Tibet- Nepal border  is a Friendship Bridge.

KodariSindhulpalchok District,    Nepal
Zhangmu,  China

Although recently earthquakes have temporarily closed the road it is being repaired; and a railroad is under construction.

While roads can promote trade, they can have less welcome effects. In Nepal, for example, the appearance of the Chinese was feared; their ancient and powerful past seemed to make them haughty, arrogant and agressive.  In a short time down the road came a long,  violent, and very bloody political upheaval along Maoist lines. But ultimately the thousands year old and monarchy was ended, and a  relatively democratic coalition government developed. Arguably, that is a significant improvent over rule  by kings. 

Friendship is a central theme of China Roads. There are many featuring that name, like the propsals for Thailand and Myanmar. The world wide efforts by China, ofter through roads or other means of communication and commerce is apparent everywhere.

https://news.mongabay.com/2015/05/china-unveils-plans-for-huge-railway-in-south-america/

 Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, announced the intent build a South America road to reduce transport costs of commodities like oil, iron, and soy produced at inland sites. Li followed the announcement with a visit to South America to strengthen trade and investment relations between China and Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Chile. The proposed route runs 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) from Rio de Janeiro state northwest around the northern edge of Bolivia into southern Peru, ending at the Peruvian coast. He pledged to invest $250 million in other projects like mines, dams, oil concessions, and transit infrastructure.

The Chinese projects likely would be financed through loans to the various countries involved; to promote trade that benefits all who participate in a joint project requiring contributions from all . China has money to loan, and appears to have the experience and the will to build. Their Can Do spirit  reminds one of the USA when  the Panama Canal was built  on the disasterous failed French attempt to dig a sea level ditch lke the suez Canal. The US built what is still the worlds largest earthen dam, to harness the Chagres River,  drain the swamps,  control malaria, and built the lock system where lift power is provided by water. That canal operates today, exactly as when first completed. While  China’s  heavy construction and  promotion of commerce is consistent with the Chinese past, it also draws upon the U S 19thcentury model of international investment where a financial return is expected and usually realized.

Of course there is much competion in every sense, and there are many similar proposals for projects, railways and roads. But it seems clear that China has skilfully adapted Capitalism for their  their own idiosyncraic use, and will continue to do so. Their view and approach are traditionally long term, and consistent with the structure of their current top down government. Will their success continue? As is always the case: For better or for worse, We Will See.