Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani: I Do Not Come to You by Chance

This book, the first novel from Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, is hilarious, with moments of pathos, and a fresh point of view.

Amazon.com recommended it to me as I was busy buying books by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; I thought ‘OK, I’ll read a series of Nigerian books as part of my summer reading.

Young Kingsley Ibe is the family’s first born male, and with that status goes many privileges – and responsibilities. After graduating with a Masters in Chemical Engineering, he has no success in his search for a job with an oil company in Nigeria, and consequently loses the love of his life, Ola, to another who has secure employment.

Worse, his retired father has a stroke, and the family discovers that with all the fees required, they haven’t enough for his continued care, so Kingsley must approach his uncle, Boniface Mbamalu, more familiarly known as Cash Daddy, for funds to transfer his father to a long term care facility, and, later, for his father’s funeral.

Serious Kingsley’s eyes nearly pop as he sees the life his uncle is living, cars, women, designer watches, shoes, suits and all the trappings of new wealth. Soon, his uncle makes a convincing case for Kingsley coming to work for him, the better to help out his family of mother, brothers and sister, now that he is the senior male in the family.

Kingsley discovers he has a gift for the work – which is writing 419s, those scam letters which I frequently publish in this column. I loved being on the inside, learning how strong possibility e-mail addresses are netted, how response e-mails are massaged – not unlike fund raising techniques by charitable organizations in the US. Kingsley’s education helps him achieve enormous financial success in a very short time – but he finds that all the cash and designer goods in the word do not solve his problems nor make him happy.

I learned a lot about how successful many of these scammers are, and how the money made is spread throughout the Nigerian communities. The author takes a balanced view, balancing the way the cash makes life easier for people – a lot of people, because the rich man has many obligations to his community, balanced against the disgust, and sick fear felt by his religious mother and aunt, and his one time girlfriend, when they learn the work he is doing. They are disappointed that a man of such promise has sunk to making so much money in a dishonest way. The book also does not deal sympathetically with those who have given or lost money to the scammers, nor, in my opinion, does the ending satisfy.

This is one of the funniest parts of the book – a group of Nigerian scammers is about to meet with a representative of a major US investment firm. He thinks he will be meeting with the Nigerian Minister of Transportation to discuss building a new airport; the reality is that Cash Daddy, in disguise, will be pretending to be the minister. Kingsley protests that Cash Daddy looks nothing like the minister, and Cash Daddy responds:

“Let me tell you something . . . Me, I really like these oyibo people. They’re very very nice people. See how they came and showed us that the ground where we’ve been dancing Atilogwu has crude oil under it. If not for them, we might never have found out. But Kings,” he dragged in his dangling foot and sat up in the tub, “white man doesn’t understand black man’s face. Do you know tht I can give you my passport to travel with . . . Even if your nose is ten times bigger than my own, they won’t even notice?”

It was a fascinating book. I understand better now why 419 scams work. (419 is the section of the Nigerian criminal code making scam e-mails a crime; thus the crime is called ‘a 419’) There are some very funny and very insightful moments in the book. It is no where near the level of literature that you experience with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, but there is more humor, and the book shows a more modern day Nigeria. Not a bad summer read, but not great literature.

June 18, 2011 Posted by | Africa, Books, Character, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Financial Issues, Fund Raising, Humor, Living Conditions, Scams, Work Related Issues | , , | 2 Comments

“You Can’t Send Money to the Sudan”

I totally get it. My bank is trying to protect me. I am “elderly” and I am sitting in the bank officer’s office asking to wire money to my friend in South Sudan.

“I need to talk with somebody,” she says and comes back with a man. I manage, barely, to keep from rolling my eyes.

“You know,” he tells me sternly, “We are forbidden to send money to the Sudan. It’s on the prohibited list.”

“Yes,” I say brightly, “The Sudan is on the prohibited list. The South Sudan, and entirely different country, is not.”

They want to make sure I know what I am doing. They tell me true stories of people here in Pensacola sending money to scam artists. Thousands of dollars. How do I know this person?

I explain he was a State Department International Visitor on their IVLP program, that he has attended church with me, is a renowned journalist, that he has dined in my home. They are looking at me with pity.

“This isn’t thousands of dollars,” I tell them. “This is school tuition, he only asks for help this one time to keep his daughters in school. The South Sudan is going through tumultuous times.”

“I know this person,” I re-assure them. “I believe I am sending money to my friend,” I tell them. “I can afford this risk; I can afford to lose this money,” I tell them.

I have to also tell this to the international wire-banking account manager who they get on the line. We go over it all again. I sign all the papers.

A couple hours later, I get a call asking if I am really sure. What are the names of the daughters? I look up our correspondence and provide the names. The bank information is in Juba, where my friend lives, not Nigeria, not anywhere other than where my friend lives.

In only two days, my friend notifies me that the funds have arrived, and he is profoundly grateful.

A week later, my bank calls me again, concerned as to whether the funds made it to my friend, and how I felt about the experience. They are still concerned. I assure them the funds have reached my friend, he has contacted me, thanked me. I do not tell them my friend continues to raise his voice at a time when the government is transitioning, and he is trying to be a voice of reason and civility.

There is a part of me that totally understands the banks need to protect their customers, and how gullible I might appear to them. And there is a part of me that despairs at our fear of the stranger, at our fear of being taken, and at our ignorance, not even knowing that there is a Sudan, and that there is a new country called the South Sudan.

Four times in my life I have been asked to help with school expenses, in tough times, to people we know in four different countries. Four times my husband and I have wired money to people who only want to give their children a chance at a better life. We have always been thanked, We have never been asked again.

I met a woman whose theory was that none of the money that came her way was hers, that it was God’s money and she was merely the steward; it passed through her hands on the way to where God wants it to go. It helps me with requests like this, from people I know. It helps me with the homeless on the streets of Pensacola, knowing I am to freely, freely give, and God will see that it gets where it needs to go.

July 25, 2019 Posted by | Aging, Bureaucracy, Character, Charity, Cultural, Customer Service, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Money Management, Social Issues, South Sudan | Leave a comment

Wake of the Vikings: You’ve Got to Be Flexible; Missing Nanortalik, on to Qaqortoq

We got really really close to Nanortaliq. Really close:

 

And just when we are all dressed and ready, so ready to go, the Captain comes on and tells us that he and the port authority in Nanortalik have decided that the surf is too rough, the incoming weather too rainy, and the winds too strong to risk transferring us to shore by tender, tenders being the boats that double as our lifeboats if anything happens to the ship. We are disappointed, but not greatly, as we know we have another chance tomorrow with Qaqortoq, and you know how it is, we love places with Q’s in them. Qaqortoq just tickles us, the very idea of a place with three Q’s delights our hearts.

The scenery is also not at all bad; we can just sit in our staterooms and watch gorgeous iceburgs drift by. Actually, we both make a quick trip down to the spa pool, which is quiet, and then spend some time in our room.

Nanortaliq means something like where all the polar bears get together, or the place of the polar bears. We saw some breath-taking scenery, but we never did see a polar bear.

 

 

 

I just love the sculptural quality of these icebergs; hope you don’t mind my showing so many, I actually am only showing you the best.

 

 

 

 

Near sunset, the air went all misty and glowing, and this iceberg looked pink.

Leaving the Nanortaliq area, a truly glorious sunset:

September 17, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, ExPat Life, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Sedona Airport Vortex, Watching the Sun Go Down

I do not want to be insensitive, or to offend anyone who understands vortex energy and has experienced it in Sedona, and finds him/herself consequently “on the path.”

In fact, I do not consider myself an insensitive person, so although I am by nature a little skeptical, I was willing to give vortex energy a chance.

I never experienced it.

In fact, every time someone started talking about vortex energy, I had a hard time keeping my face straight.

I DO believe in positive energy, and in energy, and how we interact with one another.

It may be a language misunderstanding; I do believe in holy places, and I have experienced the feeling of knowing I stood on holy ground.

Sedona is reputed to have special energies, and special sites for this energy. I only know this much because I went to a blog called LovesSedona.com where they explain the energy sources and where to find them and how anyone who comes within a quarter of a mile and has any sensitivity at all will feel the energy of the vortex.

We were near every one of the four vortexes; right at one. I felt awe at the beauty of Sedona, unending awe at this beautiful place. We met some wonderful people. But a special energy? I guess I am just not sensitive enough, but I allow that YOU might be, so I refer you to LovesSedona.com, from which I share the following information about Sedona Vortexes and their energy:

What is a Vortex?

A vortex is the funnel shape created by a whirling fluid or by the motion of spiraling energy. Familiar examples of vortex shapes are whirlwinds, tornadoes, and water going down a drain. A vortex can be made up of anything that flows, such as wind, water, or electricity.

The vortexes in Sedona are swirling centers of subtle energy coming out from the surface of the earth. The vortex energy is not exactly electricity or magnetism, although it does leave a slight measurable residual magnetism in the places where it is strongest.

There are four main energy vortexes in Sedona. The subtle energy that exists at these locations interacts with who a person is inside. The energy resonates with and strengthens the Inner Being of each person that comes within about a quarter to a half mile of it. This resonance happens because the vortex energy is very similar to the subtle energy operating in the energy centers inside each person. If you are at all a sensitive person, it is easy to feel the energy at these vortexes.

If you are planning a trip to Sedona, here is a map to help you easily locate the four main energy vortexes. On the map, a diamond indicates the location of a vortex. Although the Sedona area has many hiking trails that only a vigorous hiker can enjoy, the vortexes are all easy to get to, and no strenuous hiking is required to get to any of them.

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One of the Sedona traditions is to go up to the airport and watch the sun go down from the airport viewpoint. It is supposed to be a very special Sedona experience. This is what it looks like in low season. There are probably three hundred and fifty people here to watch the sun go down, take selfies with the sun going down, take photos of your friends with the sun going down, etc.

00SedonaAirportVortexSunset

00SedonaSunset

When you go, there are many many many many people, in fact if you have ever been in Key West to catch the green flash of the Key West sunset, you will have a deja vu feeling. This is a very funky kind of gathering, everyone is there, locals, tourists, probably a pickpocket or two.

We got there just in time to park, walk over, and catch the sunset. Sedona is laid back and has a wonderful sense of humor about all this, and individual Sedona residents volunteer to be The Ambassador, who shows up and maintains some order and good will as the people stream to the viewing place and then stream back to the parking lot.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it is going to be chaos once the sun goes down. As everyone else is watching the last gleams of the sun (and it is getting pretty chilly, I might add) we head for our car to head back down the mountain before the teeming hoard. The Ambassador on this night is a very tall woman, dressed as a Sheriff, I think, but a Sheriff in a dress. She is very good at keeping order.

We have made reservations for massages while we are here, and are trying to find where it is. When we get our confirmations, it is at a different location than we thought, so we have to find it again. I am confused because the lady says it is nearer to where we are staying than the original site, and the place where we think we are going is almost next door to the hotel. After a while, I figure out that where we have reservations is NAMTI, and the spa near us is NAMASTE, not the same. NAMTI is only a block away, we find it and we know where we will be going tomorrow.

A totally great day in Sedona, Arizona.

April 21, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Environment, Events, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Road Trips, Sunsets, Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor . . . “

Who are we?

I’m listening to a heartbreaking discussion on National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm show about the masses of children heading toward the southern border of the United States.

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Anti-immigration is nothing new, not in the United States, not in newer countries. It is shocking to me, however, that people who came from somewhere else are so strongly opposed to allowing these desperate children in. If they are running for our border – and they are – they are desperate. They are desperate to escape violent death, and death by starvation, death of the spirit eeking out a living day to day.

“They come here for a hand-out!” is the most common complaint.

Read your American history. Very few immigrants – your ancestors, American citizens – arrived with money. Most relied on friends, family, the immigrant community, social services – whatever they needed to survive until they could get on their feet.

And get on their feet they did. Immigrants to America come here to work hard, believing that working hard will give them a chance at a better life. Your ancestors and mine – they came and worked hard, scraping together the money to build a business and/or to send their kids to schools. If you’ve ever attended a citizenship ceremony, you will love the jubilation. They don’t want a handout. They want a chance at building a decent life.

So now it’s “I’ve got mine, go back where YOU belong?”

When I grew up, not even in the United States proper, but in a U.S. territory, we sang a wonderful song, from a poem by Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, which is on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty:

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Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I’ve never forgotten those words we all sang as children. The immigrant flows into America are our life-blood. You can keep your stale traditions and meaningless pomp, she cries, send me those willing to work hard and yearning for freedom.

How can we refuse CHILDREN seeking asylum? Each child we feed, house and educate will have a chance to become contributing citizens. The face of our nation is changing, has already changed greatly and will continue to change, and what we choose today will have a critical effect on what our society will look like tomorrow.

Do we still yearn for liberty for all? Do we want a highly stratified society where some are born to high paying jobs and others relegated to trades (I’ve seen how this works in another country; it’s stultifying.) Restricting access to all that we enjoy will create a wholly different society, a zero-sum-game society, where your loss is my gain, instead of an everyone wins society, where my success lifts you, too. Our country thrives on the creation of wealth; ideas are generated, resources and labor pools are created, they are not finite, they transition. Immigrants fuel the kind of innovation and population flow that keeps the lifeblood of our country flowing.

My family has been in the US a long time. We qualify as daughters-of-just-about-everything. We were immigrants; we were not native-born. The entire United States, other than the First People, are immigrants. We are immigrants, all of us. It makes us strong.

July 28, 2014 Posted by | Character, Charity, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Spiritual, Values | | 4 Comments

Russians Told Flight 17 Full of Corpses, not People

Fascinating article from Digg, saying Russian press has totally different spin on the Shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17. All part of a big Western plot .  . .

 

When it was the Soviet Union and they told such whoppers, even their own citizens didn’t believe them. Now that they have access to cable news, and other inputs through the internet, how can they hope to pass this one along as truth?

JULY 20, 2014

The Russian Public Has a Totally Different Understanding of What Happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17And it’s more of a problem than you think.

By Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty

Did you know Malaysia Air Flight 17 was full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam? Did you know that, for some darkly inexplicable reason, on July 17, MH17 moved off the standard flight path that it had taken every time before, and moved north, toward rebel-held areas outside Donetsk? Or that the dispatchers summoned the plane lower just before the crash? Or that the plane had been recently reinsured? Or that the Ukrainian army has air defense systems in the area? Or that it was the result of the Ukrainian military mistaking MH 17 for Putin’s presidential plane, which looks strangely similar?

Did you know that the crash of MH17 was all part of an American conspiracy to provoke a big war with Russia?

Well, it’s all trueat least if you live in Russia, because this is the Malaysia Airlines crash story that you’d be seeing.

As the crisis surrounding the plane crash deepens and as calls for Vladimir Putin to act grow louder, it’s worth noting that they’re not really getting through to Putin’s subjects. The picture of the catastrophe that the Russian people are seeing on their television screens is very different from that on screens in much of the rest of the world, and the discrepancy does not bode well for a sane resolution to this stand-off.

Western media has been vacillating for days between calling Putin a murdererand peppering their coverage with allegedlys, telling the heart-rending tales of the victims, scrounging for anonymous leaks to link the Russians to the downed jet, and punditizing about exit ramps.

But in Russia, televisionmost of it owned or controlled by the Kremlinis trying to muddy the water with various experts who insist that there is no way that an SA-11 missile system could possibly have downed a plane flying that high. And, mind you, this is not part of a larger debate of could they, or couldn’t they; this is all of Russian television and state-friendly papers pushing one line: the pro-Russian separatists we’ve been supporting all these months couldn’t have done this. Watching some of these Russian newscasts, one comes away with the impression of a desperate defense attorney scrounging for experts and angles, or a bad kid caught red-handed by the principal, trying to twist his way out of a situation in which he has no chance.

And that’s when they’re not simply peddling conspiracy theories, which have become a kind of symbiotic feedback loop between state TV and the most inventive corners of the Internet. The best of the bunch is, of course, an elaborate one: MH17 is actually MH370, that Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared into the Indian Ocean. According to this theory, the plane didn’t disappear at all, “it was taken to an American military base, Diego-Garcia.”

Then it was taken to Holland. On the necessary day and hour, it flew out, bound for Malaysia, but inside were not live people, but corpses. The plane was flown not by real pilots; it was on autopilot. Or take-off (a complicated procedure) was executed by live pilots, who then ejected on parachutes. Then the plane flew automatically. In the necessary spot, it was blown up, without even using a surface-to-air missile. Instead the plane was packed with a bomb, just like the CIA did on 9/11.

The theory also notes that the passports of victims at the crash site all look brand new even though there was an explosion and a fire. “That is, the passports were tossed in [after the crash].” And, most damingly, all the victims’ Facebook pages were created in one day and the media is not showing any of the victims’ families, just the crash site. Though this is not true of Western media, Russian television has not featured any of this. “There’s very little talk about the human cost of this catastrophe,” says independent television analyst Arina Borodina, formerly of the prominent Russian dailyKommersant. “Instead we’re seeing these unbelievable versions. For example, that someone had actually been hunting for the president or that some of the locals saw parachutists coming down from a height of 30,000 feet.”

But though it may look unconvincing to us in the West, that is because we have seen and read other things that contradict it. The Russian media space has become so uniform and independent voices so cowed and marginalizedthat there is no counterweight and, when there’s no counterweight, if you repeat a thing often enough, it becomes the truth.

 

This isn’t an innocent you-say-tomato moment; this is a very problematic development. The result of all this Russian coverage is that Russians’ understanding of what happened is as follows. At best, the crash is an unfortunate accident on the part of the Ukrainian military that the West is trying to pin on Russia, which had nothing to do with it; at worst, it is all part of a nefarious conspiracy to drag Russia into an apocalyptic war with the West. So whereas the West sees the crash as a game-changer, the Russians do not see why a black swan event has to change anything or they want to resist what they see is a provocation. To them, after a few days of watching Russian television, it’s not at all clear what happened nor that their government is somehow responsible for this tragedy. And the more we insist on it, the less likely the Russians are to agree.

Floriana Fossato, a longtime scholar of Russian media, says that this, coupled with the media’s conscious use of the Soviet language of crisis“traitors,” “fascists,” “fifth columns”quickly brings to the surface the psychological demons of a society massively traumatized by the 20th century, traumas that society has never adequately addressed. The result, she says, is a kind of collective PTSD-meets-Stockholm Syndrome.

In Russians’ view, “Americans have recreated the situation where they have excuse for intervention,” Fossato says. “No one admits that they are afraid, but they are. They are panicked. And they are right in being afraid because theyknow what happened, and they know there must be an answer to what is going on. And so they lock onto Putin for protection. This is why they don’t turn to Putin and ask him to do something.”

But in addition to the Russian public not clamoring for decisive action from Putin, there is a far more serious problem. As David Remnick noted in hiscolumn on the crash of MH17, Putin has become prisoner to his own propaganda machine, much as he’s become prisoner of the rebels he thought were doing his geopolitical dirty work in Ukraine.

After Putin’s ascent, media became the flexible element that could be readjusted for any twist or turn of the political rudder. “Today, it’s the opposite,” says Gleb Pavlovsky, a political consultant who helped Putin win his first election and was a Kremlin advisor for years afterwards. “It’s almost impossible to turn the rudder of the picture that’s formed on television because it would mean losing the audience they formed in this year” of sword-brandishing and imperialistic conquest.

This audience is now fired up and brandishing its own swords, and the propaganda apparatus, much like the rebels in eastern Ukraine, has rolled on an on, fed by inertia and paranoia, reproducing and magnifying itself with each newscast. The sensationalized newscasts are now neck-and-neck, ratings-wise, with the sitcoms. “It keeps people in a traumatized state,” Pavlovsky says. “It’s notable in media metrics, and in conversations with people. They lose their sanity, they become paranoid and aggressive.”

This has had a noticeable impact on the ruling class, Pavlovsky says, which has to watch this stuff in order to stay au courant. And they become less sane as a result, too, which limits their ability to adequately assess a situation such as this and devise a good way out of it.

“It’s noticeable that the Kremlin is much more tempered than Russian TV but can’t change it,” Pavlovsky says. “It’s fallen into a trap, so it’s now trying to function within the strictures of this picture.” He cites the example of the PR contortions the Kremlin had to use just to announce that it would not send troops into eastern Ukraine. “In this seemingly controlled media, any rational political arguments of the state have to be hidden and packaged in idiotic, jingoistic rhetoric,” Pavlovsky says.

None of this looks very good for the West, which is clearly hoping that MH17 is the thing that will bring Putin to his senses and get him to agree to some kind of off-ramp, or, at least, a deescalation. But that’s hard to do if neither your public nor your political class see it as a game-changer or as anything that should force Russia to end this game.

“Of course it gets in Putin’s way. He has to be the hero of this TV material, he’s not free from it anymore,” says Pavlovsky. “I have a feeling not very comfortable right now.”

July 21, 2014 Posted by | Political Issues, Relationships, Technical Issue, Transparency, Travel | Leave a comment

“You Can’t Put the Manure Back in the Horse”

From Forward Day by Day, a meditation from Hebrews that made me laugh while it instructed me.

Hebrews 12:17. He found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears.

“I’m sorry.” For the first thirty years of my life, more often than not, this meant I regretted the personal consequences of what I had done, not necessarily the act or damage. During the last twenty years, I’ve come to see being sorry as distinctly different from regretting.

Most of us have said we’re sorry more times than we could hope to remember, but we are still able to recall events that we truly regret. Chances are that regret brings about change at a higher ratio than does being sorry—a change to ensure the behavior doesn’t happen again.

One of the illustrations that helped me came from an old farmer who used to volunteer at a prison where I was serving time. The discussion was about things done wrong and, with language more colorful than I can use here, he tipped his old dust-and-sweat-streaked cap back on his head and said, “Boys, you can’t put manure back in a horse.”

That was almost twenty years ago, and I wonder if that old man ever realized how much he helped me to begin to learn to live with some things.

February 8, 2014 Posted by | Community, Faith, Interconnected, Lectionary Readings, Relationships, Spiritual | Leave a comment

The Meat You Eat Can Make You Sick

A fascinating – if long – article on how our meat is farmed and the high cost of ‘cheap’ meat:

‘Healthy’ Cows, Sick Consumers: CDC Warns of a High Cost in Cheap Meat
by Bruce Watson Sep 25th 2013 6:00AM

On the surface, it’s hard to question the cost-effectiveness of factory-farmed meat. After all, the math is pretty simple: You start with inexpensive animals, raise them at relatively minimal cost, butcher them in the cheapest way possible, and sell them for low, low prices.

But the math gets a little more complicated when you look at the long-term health impact of all that cheap meat. Of course, there are the obvious things that everyone’s already worried about — issues like cholesterol and high blood pressure and gout and whatnot — but the biggest downside comes from something that you probably haven’t considered: antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In a recent report, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that 2 million Americans are hit with antibiotic-resistant infections every year — and 23,000 people die from them.

Doctor Feelgood

So what causes all these outbreaks? In part, it’s our overreliance on antibiotics. Every time your doctor prescribes antibiotics to you, the bacteria in your body grow more able to tolerate them. Those antibiotic-resistant germs can then get passed on to other people, leading to the spread of harder-to-kill infections, which leads to more doctor visits, and so on, in a vicious cycle.

So, obviously, the first solution to our antibiotic-resistant bug problem is to stop overprescribing antibiotics. We should, many health experts argue, save the antibiotics for the times when we really need them.

This Little Piggie Had Penicillin …

But our overuse of erythromycin and amoxicillin is just a small part of the problem. Even if you never fill your antibiotic prescriptions — even if your doctor never writes them — chances are that you’re still consuming a huge amount of antibiotics in your food. More specifically, in your meat.

When factory farms look for ways to cut costs, space is one of the first things to go: Factory owners often crowd animals together in cramped pens. But when cows, pigs and chickens live in such cramped conditions, often with open wounds and amid ever-growing piles of feces, the barns become a breeding ground for bacterial infections. One way to cut back on this is to give the animals more space. Another way is to pump them full of antibiotics.

Not surprisingly, most factory farm operations go for the latter. In fact, the meat industry currently uses 80 percent of all antibiotics that are consumed in the US. All those drugs keep the animals relatively disease-free — and help keep meat cheap. But it’s not exactly an impressive price cut for the customer: According to one estimate, the use of antibiotics on farms saves the average meat-eating consumer $5 to $10 a year.

And those minor savings may come at a huge cost. Sloppy slaughtering methods often contaminate meat with antibiotic-resistant bacteria from the animals’ colons and stomachs. And, even if factory-farmed meat makes it to your grocery store without becoming contaminated, there are other ways animal waste enters the food cycle: Water and manure that are left over from factory animals often get used on crops, further spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

So What Can You Do?

As I’ve pointed out in the past, there are a few ways to protect yourself. To begin with, you can ensure that your meat is cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F — both at your home, and in any restaurants that you visit. Unfortunately, while this will kill any bacteria hiding inside your burger, it will also transform it into a well-done hockey puck.

Maybe you should just stick to the brisket.

You can also try looking for organic meat. While a little more expensive, it is produced without antibiotics, which lowers your chance of encountering antibiotic-resistant bacteria. For that matter, you may want to think about using organic vegetables — or, at least, carefully washing your fresh produce.

Another option is to get involved. Last week, I wrote about new USDA procedures would cut inspections on chicken and pork, and would allow Chinese poultry to be sold in American markets. Since these plans also reduce the number of USDA inspectors — among the few barriers between you and food poisoning — they could directly affect your health. If you get a chance, you may want to tell your congressman or senator that you’ve got some problems with this.

Given the huge lobbying efforts behind the USDA’s inspector cuts and opening the U.S. to Chinese chicken imports, chances are that both policy changes will happen. Even if they don’t, however, it never hurts to be safer with your food.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance’s Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Food, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Shopping | , | Leave a comment

Long Term Care Insurance: Buy it Young

I have a whopping bill to pay, and while I hate to do it, it is necessary. Women in my family live a long time. People in America are living longer. While retirement funds can look generous at the time you retire, health care costs and late-life care can eat those funds down to nothing . . . and then what?

It’s not like the old days. There was a time when we didn’t live so long, and women didn’t work. Who, these days, has time to stay home and care for the ailing elderly? Because we live longer, by the time we become ailing-elderly, our children are borderline elderly themselves, unable to do the heavy lifting that comes with helping the elderly do even the smallest of everyday tasks, bathing, grooming, eating, dressing – it takes strength.

I found this article on AOL’s Daily Finance page.

Long-Term Care Insurance Should Be Part of Your Financial Plan
by Michele Lerner, Mar 12th 2013 5:00AM

In the world of insurance products, long-term care insurance is a relative newcomer. It was introduced in the late 1970s, but in recent years, it has become a much more important element of retirement planning thanks to twin rises in health care costs and longevity. (Life expectancy in 1930 was just 59.7; in 2010 life expectancy for Americans was 78.7.)

Many people associate long-term care insurance with nursing homes, but it also pays for in-home care and assisted living facilities. According to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, 50 percent of long-term care insurance benefits in 2011 went to pay for in-home care, 31 percent for nursing home care, and 19 percent for an assisted living facility.

How Long-Term Care Insurance Works

Each long-term care insurance policy is slightly different, but most benefits kick in based on a similar definition of “disability”: either you have severe cognitive impairment or you need help with at least two daily living activities. These activities include bathing, dressing, eating or using the bathroom.

In other words, you don’t just automatically receive the benefits when you think you could use some help or when you move into a retirement community. Policies are typically purchased with fixed daily benefits for a fixed period of time such as three years or five years.

Can You Cover These Costs Without It?

On an hourly, daily and monthly basis, the cost of the kinds of services covered by long-term care insurance really add up.

A 2012 MetLife Survey of Long-term Care Costs found:
The national average monthly base rate in an assisted living community cost $3,550 in 2012.

The national average daily rate for a private room in a nursing home cost $248; a semi-private room ran $222 per day.

The national average daily rate for adult day services was $70.

The national average for hourly rates for home health aides was $21.

While many people recognize the value of having insurance coverage to help pay for their care when they age, not everyone purchases it.

A 2012 Generational Research project by Financial Finesse showed that just 10 percent of people age 45 to 54 have purchased long-term care insurance, and only 16 percent of people age 55 to 64 have it.

Why are people forgoing coverage? It comes down to cost, according to the AARP.

How Much Does Coverage Cost?

Long-term care insurance can vary widely depending on your age at the time of purchase, the length and amount of coverage, and policy characteristics including whether your benefits are adjusted for inflation and the length of any waiting period before benefits are paid, among other things.

According to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, the average annual premium for long-term care insurance in 2012 for a policy for a 50-year old with a daily benefit of $200 for three years of coverage and a 3 percent automatic compound inflation coverage was $2,235. Your policy can’t be cancelled (except for non-payment) and premiums for long-term care insurance cannot be increased on an individual basis for your age or health reasons. Still, insurance companies can raise the premiums for an entire class of policyholders (such as everyone age 75 and older).

Obviously, the older you are when you purchase long-term care insurance, the more expensive the policy and the higher the likelihood that you will be turned down for the coverage. Underwriters look at your health records as well as mortality risk to determine your eligibility for coverage.

Some companies give you a discount if you’re married because they assume spouses are likely to take care of each other longer before resorting to a nursing home.

Four Reasons You Need Long-Term Care Insurance

So how do you know if you need this kind of insurance? If you have more limited retirement savings, long-term care insurance should probably be part of your financial plan. And even if you have $2 million or $3 million in the bank for your retirement and future health care needs, don’t dismiss these policies before you examine the benefits more closely. Consider, for example:

How much longer we’re living these days. The longer you live, the higher your chances of needing some type of long-term care, either in your home, in a nursing home or in an assisted living facility.

Rising health care costs. AARP says that health care costs have historically outpaced the overall rate of inflation. If you need to live in a nursing home for more than a year or two, you could need $250,000 or more to pay for it.

How far your retirement investments will really take you. Your 401(k) may look good when you retire at 65, but if you need to pay for assisted living or even a home health aide the income generated by your retirement investments could get eaten away very quickly. If one spouse needs to live in a nursing home but the other can stay at home, you’ll need enough savings to cover two separate living expenses.
Your family’s emotional and financial health. Even wealthy families often choose to purchase long-term care insurance because the policy can make decisions about how to care for loved ones easier by giving them more options. Instead of draining their inheritance, your family members can use insurance benefits to pay for home health care or to cover some of the expense of a more costly nursing home.

Financial experts suggest purchasing long-term care insurance between age 55 and 64, but remember that the younger you are when you buy it, the lower your premiums will be. If you or your parents are 50 or 55, it’s time to discuss your options with an insurance agent.

March 12, 2013 Posted by | Aging, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Health Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Women's Issues | 7 Comments

Ladies Bible Study in Doha

“Tell me the story of Noah” our priest said, and we all chimed in. Everybody knows the story of Noah, how God told him to build an ark, and how he did it. How everyone laughed at him, but he faithfully built. How he filled the ark with animals, and then it started raining and rained for forty days.

“OK, stop there” the priest said. “Is that what the bible says?”

Well, of course that’s what the bible says! We all know the story!

“Wrong!” he exclaimed!

“We have many stories with facts not in the bible, information gathered from another source – the Qur’an.”

We sat there, our eyes wide.

“No where in the bible will you find that Noah was living in a dry and arid place, or that his neighbors laughed at him – that’s in the Qur’an.”

The Episcopal lectionary is in Genesis right now, and so I have had a chance to read – and re-read – the story of Noah. The priest is right. There are details we all take for granted, not there.

One of the other details was that until Noah, the first instructions to Adam and Eve were that they could eat from every tree – no mention of meat. After the flood is the first mention of meat – but NO blood.

Genesis 9:1-17

9:1 God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.

6 Whoever sheds the blood of a human,
by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;
for in his own image
God made humankind.
7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.’

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.* 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ 12 God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ 17 God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’

Now I have to go find a Qur’an and read what it has to say about Noah and the ark. I like it that our traditions don’t have to be at war with one another, but can illuminate and enrich one another.

January 19, 2010 Posted by | Community, Cultural, Doha, Education, ExPat Life, Interconnected, Qatar, Spiritual | 2 Comments