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 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 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.

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. 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  the police attacked so  many journalists–a total of 54 in two weeks. Many of these journalists were wounded  in the eye by troops with 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.2MNYHBU6NFRY

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 seems, 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



Brazilian police brutality
 One of several journalist the Brazilian police shot in the face with rubber bullets during June 2013 protest in Sao Paulo
Giuliana Valone, journalist shot in the face by Brazilian police during Juene 213  protests.

Giuliana Valone, journalist shot in the face by Brazilian police during June 213 protests, Sao Paulo.

Pedro Rocah, journalist police hit in the eyewith a rubber bullet during protests in Fortaleza, Brazil.
   Brazilian police hit journalist Pedro Rocha in the eye with a rubber bullet during protests in Fortaleza, 27 June 2013.
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




Agitprop image

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.



Journalist Wlado Hertzog. murdered by Brazilian military during 1964-85 dictatorship

Follow this link to read allegations that the Brazilian Right is using social media to create cells that will disrupt protests with vandalism violence. This article has links to Brazilian Armed Forces  sites and to movie clips by self-described patriots who favor a return to the 1964-85 military dictatorship. Allegedly, the right hides behind the Anonymous Avatar and Change Brazil hash  tags  to rally useful idiots. Is this a Machiavellian move  by the Right or by the Left? Be your own judge. Inform yourself. Journalists, please take note.



A trumpet lily blooms in my garden.

Chestnut rose

Chestnut rose in bloom.

The quality of news coverage of the protest movement in Brazil took a quantum leap this morning when author and National Public Radio icon Scott Simon, made it into one of the lead stories in his Saturday Edition. Simon is one the primary reason for an  audience of twenty-six million to trust NPR as a reliable source of unbiased, in-depth news and commentary. That he knew the whys and when of Brazilians’ discontent is a credit to the press and a victory for Brazilians.

That The Washington Post and The New York Times also distanced themselves from the pre-packaged stories about riots, vandalism and looting to focus on the real issues that trouble Brazilian society, is another victory. Corny as this sounds, democracy needs a trustworthy press staffed  courageous journalists who care to learn about the places where great social sea changes are in progress. Today, I am proud of having been part, in a very modest way_I worked for several as a freelance reporter and columnist– of a press hat responds to more than the wishes of advertisers.

Normally, mine is a country mouse’s life, a life of which a character in Voltaire’s Candide would approve. I cultivate my garden. I do it badly now that I am a senior citizen with the physical limitations of my age. I persist  because I love the mysterious process of sinking a microscopic seed into to the earth to see it evolve into a plant that produces flowers and fruit, that feeds birds, box turtles and the diverse fauna of my little corner of  West Virginia. I bake bread, which is also a mysterious process for me. I make my own sourdough starter with potato broth, pure maple syrup and good, heavy  unbleached flour. I am fairly  illiterate in chemistry and I don’t know exactly how yeast reacts to sugar, how butter and oil change bread worse for the better at times and how it turns it into a heavy lump of inedible guck at other times. I bake bread the way I drive a car which is to say, I stick the key into the ignition without a clue of how the motor works. I go on trust.

Many  of us lead equally unexamined lives. We take the press, the government, the weather on trust. We plant seeds and expect them to germinate even though experience teaches us that a certain percentage of them fails to come to life. Others come to only to succumb to dread molds, too much or too little water, too intense or too weak light.  We trust the rain to come and the sun to shine in the right proportions so that we can harvest a sufficiency of flowers, fruit and vegetables.although  we know that elemental forces are not always balanced. Last year, for example,it rained so much  in Tater Hollow that if I had been planning to make a living as a vegetable gardener, I would have had to rely on  government subsidies.
What I am trying to say is that Brazilians  have been going on trust and hope for many years. They work, they vote, they cultivate their gardens and they trust their elected representatives to do their the best for the country. In that they are no different from Americans,  Egyptians, Laotians, Turks.What is different in the present situation is that Brazilians have finally realized that democracy is not a spectator sport. They know, as we Americans do, that the quality of life does not improve unassisted any more than an untended garden produces optimum crops or flout turns into bread all by itself. They are ready to take to streets to let the government know what needs to be done to make Brazil into the socially just and economically effective country it deserves to be.

The current protest movement did more than awake Brazilians to their proper role as citizens. It  yanked me away from my complacency. It displaced gardening, baking, doing book reviews, reading leisurely, writing fiction, as the constants in my life. It made me face fears I had tucked away in distant recesses of my mind.I stayed glued to the news and the phoned. I messaged journalist, young protesters,phone and e-mailed  members of my Brazilian family.  Every time I saw the image of a policemen beating a protester I went into the fight or flight mode. I knew that the flood of adrenaline and subsequent low was  an exhausting thing at any age. Now I know that post sixty it is a major bummer. My gut reaction is due to trauma, says my sister, who shares my feelings as if we were twins. A continent away,  she knows exactly how I feel. The trauma of which she speaks is that which every Brazilian my age experienced–that of having had our civil right removed by a military junta.But there have other traumas whose memory  lingers almost is as if they

were part of out genetic code. My sister and I come from a family of B’nei Anoussim, Iberian Jews who were forcibly baptised and who fled to Protestant France, the Azores, Holland and eventually, Brazil to escape the Inquisition. Many of our Brazilian ancestors were burnt at the stake in Portugal for practicing Judaism. We learnt to choose carefully  those we trust. We almost, but not quite, learnt silence. Due to our religious history, we have always known the cost of being a dissident. That is why we don’t take up causes and banner without a certain amount of reflection. But the flag of a participatory  democracy is one we embrace without reservations. Gardening and bread baking can wait. Freedom and justice  cannot.


FRIDAY, JUNE 21, 2013

Brazilian police brutality

One of several journalist the brazilian police shot in the face with rubber bullets during June 2013 protest.

Brazilian journalist shot in the eye by police during June protests in Sao Paulo.Since then several other journalists have  also been targeted by the police.

A journalist’s ability to shape public opinion is a fearsome thing. This came home to me with particular force when I asked a friend in the south of the United States if she had heard about the political situation in Brazil
“O, the riots,” she said.
My friend is a highly intelligent, well read, well informed person. That she failed to question how the global media has chosen to represent Brazilian protesters is, in my opinion, typical of the trust we place in the media. True, we liberals might  question Fox News and extreme Rightists ascribe all sorts of evil motives to the so-called liberal press. Bottom line, a huge number of Americans trust the press to tell them the truth. The problem with the coverage of events in Brazil  the disconnect between the First World and a country that does not yet command sufficient respect in the global arena. I mean, would American journalists characterise the events in Tianmen Squareas a riot? I seriously doubt it.But Brazil is a country the global press fails to take seriously. It is a country  burdened with an image shaped  long ago by the American press. It is the image of dolce far niente,  of  people who do little more than play samba, wear tiny bikinis and play soccer. While a  portion of Brazilian reality might correspond to this depiction, it is a tiny fraction of  a greater painful reality. That  reality includes powerful social upheavals–states of siege, banditry, revolutions,  a brutal military dictatorship that lasted from 1964 to 198. It is a reality that encompasses  political corruption, an infrastructure that failed to keep pace with population growth, an atmosphere of police brutality, a vast gap between the haves and have-nots.

Throughout  history, Brazilians have shouldered heavy burdens, one of which is the weight of American influence on the political life of the average citizen. Nearly every Brazilian knows who trained the torturers of the military regime. Every Brazilian suspects that some American corporations would find it easier to do business in a country  ruled by an oppressive dictatorship than in a democracy where people are free to participate in decision making. One would think that being aware of the somber role their government plays,  Americans journalists would feel more inclined to use some objectivity when they write about current protests in approximately 80 Brazilian cities.
The current movement in Brazil is a national movement. It is a legitimate expression of dissatisfaction with a status quo. It is an attempt to change a system no American would tolerate for long. Journalists have a huge responsibility. They  can make an intelligent woman in North Carolina assume that what is going on in Brazil is nothing but rioting by a bunch of hooligans.Brazilians begged for understanding during the dictatorship. It did not come from abroad. Today, Brazilians are not begging, they are demanding accountability, transparency, a participatory democracy, a free press, freedom of expression and a better quality of life. To fail to show the world what is really happening, to rely on second hand news from newspapers that answer to advertisers is to betray the trust that comes with the obligation to report the truth.Brazilians want to know who bene

fits from the World Cup. They want to know why billions were spent on stadiums when the country needs schools, hospitals and adequate public transportation. These are legitimate questions. Those asking them have the constitutional right to assemble, to protest, to make their voices heard. It is the media’s responsibility to listen and to get the word out.





Center. You are going to need balance, cuca fria–cool head–as we say in Portuguese. Do whatever it takes to clear your mind–meditate, take a walk, listen to inspiring music. I like to go outdoors and reassure myself that the trees are still there, the birds still sing, the turtles still hide under the berry bushes. Sounds simple, right? It is, simple, but when you are super stressed, when you are going from adrenaline highs to lows, the chemical flow does a job on your body and the state of your body affects your mind. Breathe in, breath out, like babies do. Simplest thing to do, but have you tried it when your are tense? So, center.
Remember that it is usually not about you.If society is going through convulsions, it is a collective convulsion. You are important, but you are not the  center of the universe. Gazillions of people all over the world are going through all manner of difficulties every day. How would you like to be a little girl trying to go to school in Pakistan? How would you like to be a Jewish woman who wants to pray at the Kotel? The old, old truths are very real–you are not alone. Whatever you experience might be new to you but you have the collective wisdom of many others who preceded you. Rely on it.
Be kind. Do something for others. The smallest gesture I make is to put out slices of fruit for butterflies.  The hardest thing I do is to maintain a garden that grows consistently messier. It is however, of great importance for the local fauna–pollinators, birds, turtles, raccoons. It is important for the little children on my block because growing up in a green space with lots of birdsong and flowers makes them happy. I don’t need to say that kids should be happy, do I? You can make them happy with other gestures–bake a healthy cake and share it with children and their parents. Offer to take a kid for a walk.Write a real letter to an older person living alone.  Surprise someone with produce from your garden. Offer to do the shopping for a busy mom or a busy father. Do something you do not expected to be reciprocated. If is, why, that’s a bonus.
Be gentle with yourself. Last time I went to see my doctor I complained about this ache, lamented my lack of energy and the impact at had on my writing, my housekeeping and gardening. What she told me is so obvious we overlook it all the time, “We can only do so much.”That is something I should make into my mantra whenever I demand the impossible from myself.
Have some fun. Read a funny cartoon. Watch the Muppets on Youtube. Talk to a baby. Dance with your cat. Dance by yourself. Wear something outrageous. Spritz on your best perfume. Have an ice cream cone.
Simplify, simplify, simplify. I am saying this to myself but I have a brilliant friend with whom I commiserated just the other because we  both have scads of interest and we are both  driven to multitasking By all means do something creative–draw, paint, make a song, sew a dress, but refer to number 4 on this list. Yup, we can only do so much. Choose a task and stop fretting.
Seek support. When the market crashes, the government does something stupid, the authorities exceed their brief, gather loving people around you. You don’t have to ignore reality, you only have to remember that governments fall. Good friends remain.
Be open to good suggestions.
Indulge yourself. Don’t, for heavens sakes,  rush to buy a Maserati. I’m talking little indulgences, guilt free indulgences. I happen to love good chocolate, Lapsong Souchong tea with fresh lemon, good books, flowers, fountain pens and all manner of very pleasing things that do not cost the earth.
Have faith. Trust your strength. Have faith in your resilience. Imagine what humanity has gone through. We humans are still here, doing some good, making mistakes, correcting them, looking for answers, stating the obvious. Draw strength from that.