Tuesday, May 28, 2013

DEARBORN: Parade, remembrance service mark Memorial Day - Life - Press and Guide

DEARBORN: Parade, remembrance service mark Memorial Day - Life - Press and Guide

Eating My Way Through Cameroon.

When I was invited to join a Canadian-US media delegation sponsored by Montreal-based Afrique Expansion Magazine to attend the 38th Unity Day celebrations in the West-Central African nation of Cameroon, I expected to see a long military parade and perhaps get a chance to see some of the country’s tourist sites and new industrial developments.

Well, I did see the parade – several hours of military and civilian groups marching past the reviewing stand along a broad avenue in the heart of Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde. I also got a chance to see some of the countryside from Yaounde west to the Atlantic coast to the country’s largest city, Douala and points south, had an enjoyable visit to a village that is prospering from eco-tourism, and was introduced to Cameroon’s efforts to prevent extinction of its primates through the work of the Primate Sanctuary located in Chefou National Park, south of Yaounde.

The highlight of my visit, though, wasn’t what I saw – it was what I ate, or saw others eating. Cameroon has a national cuisine that can only be described as varied and exotic. A francophone country, it has, of course, been heavily influenced by its French colonial heritage. The western part of the country was, after German colonies in Africa were seized after World War I, was English, and there is some English influence there. Overlaying all this is traditional West African cuisine with a unique Cameroonian touch.
Sitting as it does as the crossroads of the north, west, and center of the African continent, Cameroon’s cuisine is one of the most varied on the continent. The national dish is ndole, a stew made from fish or beef, nuts, and bitter greens. Other staples include cassava, rice, plantain, maize, beans, and millet. Fish is the main source of protein for most of Cameroon’s people, whether they live in the city or the countryside. Another source of protein is bush meat, including pangolin, snake, porcupine, and a species of giant rat. Unfortunately, there is also a large demand for the meat of primates, including some endangered species such as chimpanzee and gorilla.

Our hostess, Beatrice, with a traditional
Cameroonian lunch she prepared.
My introduction to Cameroon’s gastronomic largesse began on the second day, when our group was invited to lunch at the home of Afrique Expansion’s in-country representative, where we were treated to ndole, cassava, chicken, and fish. That was followed all too quickly by a late dinner at the home of one of the country’s traditional chiefs where more ndole, cassava, chicken, and beef were served. It was at this dinner, though, that our tour de cuisine took a unique turn. At the end of the buffet line from which we served ourselves was a large bowl of dark roasted meat that our host hinted we might not want to try. Some probing revealed that the bowl contained monkey meat, at which point it was tactfully decided not to ask what species of monkey. We were, after all, guests in his house.

On our third day – after a day of Unity Day activities – we explored the countryside south of Yaounde. Along the way, we observed eating establishments in small settlements offering everything from brochettes to boa meat (yes, the serpent variety). At the village of Ebogo, we saw the varieties of fish from the Nyong River, including  the poisson de fer, and a small variety of catfish that is absolutely delicious when pan fried. Along the road, we snacked on dried plantain and fish.
Boa on the menu at a roadside resteraunt
south of Yaounde.

Our final stop was the coastal city of Douala, the country’s largest city and a regional hub for shipping. At our hotel, the Akwa Palace, the food was mostly European, but local restaurants offered menus ranging from the mundane to the unbelievable. Sorrento, for instance, which bills itself as an Italian restaurant, offers pizza, steak, wild boar and crocodile tail. They even had a passable version of chili con carne, served with Mediterranean style bread. Entertainment was karaoke, with French pop tunes and American rock and roll, and a singer who filled in the spaces when the customers didn’t feel like singing.

I left Cameroon with fond memories; fantastic scenery, friendly people, and a sense that the country is trying to progress into the 21st century. But the most lasting impression is how it has blended the old and new, alien and native cuisines into a gastronomic experience that is unforgettable.

Me as Grand Marshal of Dearborn, Michigan's 89th Memorial Day Parade

Pausing with Dearborn Mayor John O'Reilly and US Senator Carl Levin before the start of the parade.

Friday, May 24, 2013

I'm Ba-a-a-ack

It probably passed without notice, but I just want to let everyone know that I've been away from this site for over a week. I just returned at mid-day today from a week-long trip to Cameroon. I was there as part of a Canadian-US media delegation to cover the national day, and we had a chance to see some of the country around Yaounde and Douala. I'll be writing more detailed accounts of the trip - including a visit to a Primate Sanctuary and a trip along the coast to see a waterfall that pours directly into the ocean.  Just to whet appetites, below are some photos from the trip.

Lobe Falls near Douala on the Atlantic Coast.
Vendors on the beach.
Chimpanze at the Primate Sanctuary south of Yaounde.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Rescued By Angels


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Gun Violence in America: Are We Abdicating Our Moral Responsibility?

National_Rifle_Association (Photo credit: ChrisWaldeck)

Members of Congress cowed by the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) lobbying power, and its extensive war chest, which it uses unashamedly against legislators deemed ‘soft’ on gun control issues, continue to do the association’s bidding. The ‘Gang of Fear’ came together recently to defeat proposed legislation for enhanced background checks for gun purchasers. As it does with all legislation designed to bring rationality to the purchase and possession of firearms, the NRA’s knee-jerk reaction to the proposed law was that it was a ‘first step to confiscation of our firearms.’

This argument seems to presuppose that there is, somewhere in government, a group that sits in a room plotting to relieve ALL Americans of ALL of their guns. Shudder! A truly scary thought; except that it’s so far from the reality of how our chaotic, short-term focus bureaucratic and political systems work, it’s laughable. Anyone who thinks the U.S. Government does this kind of long term planning has only to look at our recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, I digress. Let’s get back to background checks. The intent of the legislation, as I understand it, was to establish procedures that would go a long way to keep guns out of the hands of felons, the emotionally or mentally disabled, etc.  News reports and surveys indicate that over 80% of the American public, including a significant number of NRA members, supported the proposed law. One has to wonder, then, why the leadership of NRA and the Gang of Fear so adamantly opposed it. But, I’ll leave that for others or for another time.

Right now, I’d like to put another issue on the table – one that I’ve not seen discussed – liability. Are those who block rules that would curb access to guns by people who clearly should not be allowed to have them liable for the harm such people cause? Now, I seriously doubt such an argument would stand up in a court of law. After all, efforts to hold gun manufacturers liable have gone nowhere, so a case like this is unlikely to ever be brought. But, it does raise an interesting ethical and moral issue. Are you morally and ethically responsible if your actions help create conditions that inflict harm on others?
English: United States Congresswoman Gabrielle...
English: United States Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at her desk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Would it have been useful to have enhanced background checks that would have limited the ability of Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho, who had been previously diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder, from obtaining the weapons he used on April 16, 2007 to kill 32 people and wound 17 others on the school campus?  Or Jared Loughner, a disturbed young man who bought ammunition on the same day he attempted to kill U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords during a constituent meeting in a supermarket parking lot in Casas Adobes, Arizona, near Tucson. The January 8, 2011 shooting claimed the lives of six people, including a nine-year-old girl.
Assassination attempt of U.S. President Gerald...
Assassination attempt of U.S. President Gerald R. Ford by Sara Jane Moore. Location: San Francisco, CA. Description: Reaction of Secret Service agents, police, and bystanders approximately one second after Sara Jane Moore attempted to assassinate President Gerald R. Ford. 22 September 1975 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Going back further in time, would stiffer backgrounds have made it more difficult for Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme, a member of the disciple of murderous cult leader Charles Manson, get her hands on the .45 caliber automatic which she waved at former president Gerald Ford in Sacramento in April 1975, or Sara Jane Moore, who shot at Ford 17 days later in San Francisco? We might never know, because those opposed to rational controls over gun ownership also try to block debate and discussion of the issue, hiding behind the Second Amendment.

These are but a few of the incidents of clearly disturbed individuals being able to acquire arms and ammunition under our current regime of lax and haphazardly applied controls.

It’s not a Second Amendment issue. In my humble opinion, it’s an issue of stepping up to the plate and assuming moral and ethical responsibility for the violence that has become endemic in our society. More than 80% of the American public gets it. When will the Gang of Fear?

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: "Framed: A historical novel about the revolt of the Luddites" by Christy Fearn

In the 19th century, English textile workers, known as the Luddites, protested the labor-saving machines that had been introduced into factories, enabling the hiring of less-skilled, lower-wage laborers, leaving them unemployed. No one is completely sure of the origin of the name Luddite, but it’s generally believed to be after Ned Ludd, a young man who in 1781, allegedly smashed two stocking frames in the factory in which he worked. Rather than being anti-technology, as is commonly believed today, the Luddites were really protesting chronic underemployment and exploitation of workers by the capitalists who controlled the factories.
In Framed: A Historical Novel about the Revolt of the Luddites, Christy Fearn gives us a look at the so-called Luddite revolution through the eyes of one family. Facing the possibility of unemployment because of the introduction of new machinery, they decide to take matters into their own hands – and the smashing begins. Fearn does a good job of showing how individuals might have reacted to the chaotic economic conditions of the time. She has her textile workers using French on occasion, and while I can’t say this would have been the case in 1811, it comes across as credible, given the way she describes them. There is also a lot in Framed about clashes between the militia and the rebels; again, showing the human side of it. After all, most of the soldiers came from the same socio-economic background.
A novel of action and suspense, of manners, and of great psychological depth, that goes beneath the surface of setting and characters, revealing what lies beneath. If you like historical fiction that rings true, you’ll like reading Framed.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: "Scotland's Guardian" by Katherina Gerlach

Edinburgh, Scotland's capital and second-large...
Edinburgh, Scotland's capital and second-largest city (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  Fourteen-year-old Bryanna McConnaichie, while riding a bus home, receives a cryptic warning from a strange woman with webbed hands, “Your father’s time is running out.” She doesn’t understand why her father, cryptozoologist Angus McConnaichie, should be in danger until he’s kidnapped by another strange woman right before her eyes. In her quest to rescue him, Bryanna finds herself moving between Scotland and Alba, and encountering strange creatures that, until that time, she had thought to be mere figments of her active imagination. During her search, she learns that her father is the Guardian protecting Scotland and the ‘other’ worlds from all manner of evil, and that she’s a half-blood with magical powers. She encounters Kaylee, another half-blood, who might be a friend – but, who also might be a deadly enemy.

In Scotland’s Guardian, by German writer Katherina Gerlach, you’ll find non-stop action from page one, written in an engaging and entertaining manner that will keep you on the edge of our chair. Gerlach brings creatures from Scotland’s rich history of mythology to life in a way that makes you believe in them. Her characters are believable, and, even the bad guys elicit sympathy.

A crisp tale, told in Gerlach’s unique style, this is a definite must-read for anyone interested in fantasy and myth. In fact, it just might be the book to interest those who’ve never read a fantasy novel before.

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Beware Geeks Bearing Gifts: Microsoft Service Center Scam Can Cost You Bucks

Computer Security
Computer Security (Photo credit: IntelFreePress)
A group of hackers, thought to be based in Chennai, India, are targeting unwary Internet users with a new scam that can cost them money, and leave their personal financial and other information open to exploitation. Called the 'Windows Service Center Scam,' this ploy involves someone contacting you by phone and informing you that your computer has been infected by a virus that is dangerous. He - and, it's most often a male - than tells you that if you'll turn your computer on, he'll show you the virus and fix it for you.

According to my son, who is a senior computer engineer, the hacker will instruct you to download a file that will 'fix' your computer's problems. This operation will also install key stroke capture software that allows the hacker to see everything you type into your computer; passwords, social security numbers, credit card numbers, and the like. Unlike other scams that only take, my son says the hacker will sometimes even really fix any problems found on your computer - which by that time is actually his, because he has taken control of it. You'll also likely find yourself getting an invoice for the software you've downloaded.

This scam has been reported in Britain, Australia, and Canada, and there has been some Internet chatter from users in the U.S.  Microsoft has issued warnings in the UK and Canada, but I've seen nothing here in the U.S. yet.

You might be wondering how to protect yourself from this pernicious scam. Well, the best defense is actually offensive. If you get such a call, HANG UP immediately. Forget about hurting this dirt bag's feelings; he certainly isn't concerned about yours. Don't try to track him down - and, when my wife received such a call, our call monitoring system showed the number as 'unavailable,' and instead of being from Chicago as the caller (a young male with a heavy Indian accent) claimed, the letters TN showed on the monitor. I imagine the call was bounced through a number of relays and would be untraceable with anything but some really expensive, high-tech equipment.

I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty sure what they're doing is illegal - credit card fraud, potential identity theft, and misuse of computers - but, it's unlikely enough evidence will ever be collected to prosecute them. For now, just hang up. That's the best advice I can offer.
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Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Walk In The Woods

Although there's still a bit of a nip in the air, spring is here at last. Green shoots and colorful buds are peeking through the brown, and all sorts of animals are cavorting in the woods behind my house. Here in Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC, there are a lot of places where one can observe nature up close, and one of my favorites is my backyard, which is up against a nature park.  I decided to rest my fingers and eyes and take a walk in that park today. Here are some of the photos I snagged during my impromptu photo safari.

A moth, probably newly emerged from a cocoon, pauses on a shoot.

This robin was so intent on something else, he never saw me sneak
up on him (or her).

A chipmunk on a log - every alert.

A fern that got a jump on spring.

The afternoon sun seen through the new growth of the trees.

The area around this tree will soon by lush green.

Looking for food among the dead foliage.

Lichen on a tree trunk looks almost alien.

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