16 February 1998
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness...." Thank you Mr. Dickens for that great opening to this months Long Letter. I thought I would try to write about something other than the weather and my Psoriasis; however, both of those subjects will also be touched upon because they fall into the motif that Charles (I have started to speak of him in this familiar way) has established.
The weather has provided the best of time (that is in the singular because it has come singularly) and the worst of times! We had another big snow here on Sunday (January 31st) afternoon and through the night into Monday morning. It was bright and sunny on the 2nd but very cold and everything a sheet of ice once again. It then began raining the morning of the 3rd and rained through the afternoon of the 4th then turned to snow again through the night. All of this coming after a Saturday that had become warm enough that I was thinking about trying to ride on Sunday. Strange weather here that I can't get used to nor predict an hour, a day, a week or a month in advance. It has been a similar tale of good and bad with my ongoing struggle with the Psoriasis. The best of times, a season of Light, now being with me in the fight. This follows the worst of times that had come when we had the very cold weather in mid-December. During that interval I had a very bad flare-up and traveled to Sofia on the 12th of January for another Dermatologist to offer an opinion. However by the time I got to see him it had already begun to show great improvement; he simply confirmed the treatment that the PC Medical Officer and I had already worked out, I think I have told you before that no two people seem to have the same symptoms, nor respond the same to the same treatment, so every individual works out their own, diagnosis, methods of treatment, medicines, and dosages.
It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity - how better to describe the Clinton Presidency. This is the first time since I have been in Bulgaria that have wished to be in the US and getting US news. Not specifically the news, but the reactions of the people to the news. More precisely - I miss the jokes that must be springing forth like pesky gnats on a long bike ride. My news sources are limited to CNN International-Asia, The Wall Street Journal-Europe, Newsweek-Europe, and what gossip I might hear from others (not much of this). From these sources I see that the media has now decided the CHARACTER does in fact matter; whereas the same sources were claiming it not to be important in 1991. In fairness, The Wall Street Journal thought that character was and is important. However, if the polls that Newsweek took are correct, character continues to NOT be important to the American people. The poll information that I am referring to is that about 1/2 of those surveyed think that Clinton is lying and 1/2 also think that even if he is lying that should not be a reason for him to leave office. Does this mean that the character of a potential and/or serving President of the US is only important when the economy is not doing well. The American people do not seem to care that Clinton said in 1991 "I did not have a long relationship with Gennifer Flowers: and then in 1998 says "I had a relationship with her"; but, claims to not have lied because he used the word "long" in 1991. In 1991, and continuing in 1998, it was - "It's The Economy Stupid!". Have we Americans become as materialistic and disregarding of moral values as this may indicate? I have an additional thought that concerns Mr. Clinton's appearance when he came before the American people and said: "I did not have a sexual relation with that woman... I did not ask anyone to lie, never." Always before when I have seen him trying to convey anger, compassion, sadness, or virtually any other emotion you can think of, he was biting his lower lip. Why was there no lip biting during this denial? Has his body language been untruthful in the past or only in this instance? Also, from what little I have heard so far I find a remarkable disparity in attitudes when contrasted to the Judge Thomas - Anita Hill controversy. However, there is one commonality in the two situations. In the Thomas-Hill conflict the Republicans asserted that the left-wing democrats had conspired to defeat the Thomas nomination. In the Clinton-Lewinsky-Jones_Flowers-"numerous-gates" scandals the Democrats are asserting that there is a right-wing conspiracy to destroy the President and all his good works. One of the funnier sound bite that I have heard so far was from a spokeswoman for a right-wing think tank that said: "I feel slighted that I have not been invited to participate in the conspiracy." I also saw a short clip of interviews on the street in Moscow by CNN-International that quoted a woman as saying "That is the way a man should act!" and a second saying "If the United States doesn't want him we will take him". The attitude here in Bulgaria is somewhat like that, but the emphasis is on the scandal and they said that it is accepted that Bulgarian politicians will have affairs and mistresses. However, if it becomes a media discussion item then that politician if going to be driven from office because they have violated the accepted conventions of behavior. It seems that we in the US no longer have such a thing as accepted conventions of behavior; everything is now acceptable!
It also seems to me that we are in the best of times, the worst of times when the worlds economy is scrutinized through nothing but rose colored glasses. I am not sure who it was that said common sense is not very common, but I am bothered by the seemingly common belief that everything is just great with the US economy. When almost everyone is in an epoch of belief I start to think circumstances are soon going to change. It is now common knowledge that the melt down in Asia will not significantly impact the US economy. It is accepted that the US budget is balanced and we can now start to spend the surplus on all the social ills that have, or will, plagued us. It is common knowledge (or belief) that inflation will continue to go down, interest rates will not rise, unemployment rates will remain low and you must be invested in the stock market. All the experts are quick to point out that the situation is different now than it was in 1929 and it can't happen again. But, then also was the best of times, was the worst of times; that is the similarity! Then also was a time of common belief that the economy could only move in one direction. A time when there was a "war" on alcohol Vs the War On Drugs. A time when many people thought that moral value were under assault; but others said it was finally a liberation of the individual. It was only immoral if it was against the rule of law; and many laws must be changed.
The time that I have been in Bulgaria has neither been the best nor the worst of times if I am correct in my estimate of what is still to come. It may also not have been the best or worst of times for Peace Corps Volunteers in Bulgaria. However, from what I have seen it has not been a good time to be here as a PC Business Volunteer. The Small Business Development Program started in 1991 by setting up Peace Corps Business Centers that were completely paid for by Peace Corps. These Centers were to provide Business Information and Consulting to the small businesses in the communities where they were established; this was primarily in the larger towns of Bulgaria. During my PST there was a great deal of discussion about why this Model I did not work and why the Centers were being converted to Model II's; that is to say the Bulgarians bore the expense of the Centers and PC only provided the Volunteer Consultants. It was also at this time that Volunteers were starting to be placed in any organization (with a wide range of proposed duties) that would accept them and pay for their apartment and utilities. Last year PC Staff and Volunteers met in Gabravo to discuss the direction that we, the Volunteers, thought the Program should take. There were a number of different responses of course, but the largest percentage was in favor of directing efforts toward Business education. Now over six months later we are going to meet again and discuss the new direction for the Program; that is the effort will now be directed to working with various organizations toward Community Economic Development. What happened to Education? I cannot see that this will be any more effective that the effort has been to offer service to Small Business. Generally speaking the PC Volunteers have not been asked to Consult! I think I told you before that most Bulgarians will say that they know everything they need to run their business well; the ONLY thing they need is more money. My experience here with the Zlatograd Municipality indicates that they have the same belief about Community Economic Development; all they need is more money and they can develop the local economy. I may have more to say on this after the meeting next week (25-28 February) in Plovdiv. I will also devote some time to the issue of various magazine and newspaper subscriptions for the Small Business Development Program (I now see that my space is limited).
Not very exciting this past month but the letter gives me an opportunity to vent a little!!!!!