Sunday, January 02, 2005

Sunday evening

Another day of relaxing. I am half way through Louise Erdich's The Master Butcherís Singing Club about a German family who emigrated to Argus, North Dakota. I love the passage when Franz brings his wife over from Europe and she first encounters the prairie:

Even with the houses and shops, the land seemed barren as a moonscape. On the way to Argus, as the train took them cross-country, she had watched the signs of human presence diminish and felt a combination of horror and grief.

Tonight I got a call about creating a flyer for a series called "Women of the World in War" being organized by Women Against Military Madness. Every month they plan to have a woman from a country that is at war or has recently been through war to talk about her experiences and the role women have played in recovering from the devastation of war. So far, they have women from Iraq, Iran and Guatemala lined up to speak. It would be nice to create a series logo that expresses the theme and can be used over the months. I've got my thinking cap on.

Tsunami continued

We get more information on the tsunami's effects every day. The death toll is already up to 125,000 and there are still areas that have not been reached. Foreign aid is growing both in individual donations, corporate donations and country donations. The Bush Administration raised it's promised donation to $350 million after criticism about the original $15 million promise.

Twice today I heard reports about the value of U.S. aircraft carriers and their helicopter fleets in this situation. They can get to places no one else can since the roads and railroads are wiped out. One carrier arrived and made great strides in areas that had been untouched in the week since the tsunami hit. Given that, it seems unconscionable that anyone would conceive of using the power of the military and its resources for anything outside of mass humanitarian relief efforts around the world. Our country could do more for its own reputation by turning its greatest minds, bodies and energies toward helping others rather than attacking others.

That said, it is sad that the issue of how much the U.S. donates got so much play in the media this past week. It has always been true that the poorest countries around the world give a larger percentage of their earnings to charity that those of us in the U.S. have. Even in the U.S., it is the poorest -- the people of Alabama -- that give the greatest percentage of their income to charity, while the richest -- the people of New Hampshire -- give the least. Yet the fact that the U.S. economy is so much larger than almost all other economies combined, the total given by the U.S. will always be more than what is given from most countries. Although Japan is donating more in actual funds than the U.S. at this point.

No matter what the facts are or how you read the numbers, the argument that western countries are "stingy" as one U.N. official said last week, is ill-timed and unfortunate. It will only support those in America who believe the world hates Americans and is ungrateful for all the good that Americans do. It will not lead to a positive discussion about what can be done. It will not help people to honestly consider their personal contributions to charity.

What I do hope will become common knowledge in this country is the incredible efforts that are being made by Asians to deal quickly with an Asian disaster. Already the reports of spontaneous actions by individuals and corporations in the country to immediately rush to aid their countrymen reminds me of the way so many of us reacted after 9/11. It is something we can share and learn from each other.


Today I gave the web address to this blog out for the first time. Welcome friends and I hope you find at least some of this interesting. Feel free to comment by clicking on the icon at the end of the thread or by e-mailing me directly.


Unhinged said...

Well, I always find what you write to be interesting, so I doubt I'll ever do a nose dive while flying the night with you, Rave.

You probably already know how ill-informed I am about world events ... I usually get most of my information from you and the chicas. (News on TV depresses me and I rarely read online news sources, not even the entertainment ones.) I think this will change the older I get. I can hope, anyway.

Loved the story snippet you posted from the book you're reading. Is there a hidden meaning in you posting this, or am I giving you too much credit? LOL. (Okay, so you don't think I'm being snippy or something ... my thinking is that the diminishing human race might have something to do with the Asia tsunami.)

Loved this post, by the way. As always, you gave me food for thought.

Ravenmn said...

O-bug, congrats on being the first commenter on my blog! You may already have won $1,000,000,000,000 dollars. Or not. :)

The excerpt from Erdrich reminded me of the "mood" I've heard described by so many immigrants to the great plains -- the idea that there is NOTHING there! That same mood is even more obvious in "Giants in the Earth" by Rolvaag. Living in an area with no trees, no mountains, no landmarks at all can be terrifying if you've never experienced it before. Landscape has a tremendous effect on how people act and interact and in Erdrich's books the environment can become another character.

It's interesting that you mention the tsunami because later in the book one of the characters becomes fascinated with the fact that he is standing on an area that used to be the bottom of an ocean way back when. You can still find bits of seashells in the soil.

Unhinged said...

"You may already have won $1,000,000,000,000 dollars."

Cool. Since I'm fostering optimism this year, please send that check Overnight!

I will, of course, hold my breath until I receive it.

Anonymous said...

Hello Ravenmn:

So you have a blog! What a warm, intellectual place this is! I havenít had time to read all of it yet -- been skipping around and I like what I see so far. You are pretty sneaky -- setting it up and finding ìyour grooveî before you went ìpublicî with it.

I also liked your farewell statement to your previous community. It struck me as thoughtful and generous. I wish I had written it. I believe in good beginnings and kind endings.

I would feel remiss in posting to a political blog and not making a political point of my own, and since you seem to welcome honest debate, I am willing to take a stab at it. So here goes:

Re: your criticism of the commentary on Americaís ìstingyî aid in the wake of the Tsunami disaster, you argue that it will only lead to a conservative American backlash because Americans will feel slighted from the sting and pull back from making charitable contributions abroad. I disagree. I think that individuals who are inclined to give will do so no matter what. But more importantly, the pressure will force the Bush administration to give more than they want out of fear of being portrayed as miserly. Already, they upped the ante considerably and there may be even more donations from the Bush people once the money from the liberal crowd pours in. It seems like worse things could happen than to start a ìbiddingî war of charitable aid. Does it make a difference what motivates such contributions as long as they are put to good use? Besides, doesnít the stinginess claim seem justified given Bushís initial response? How much self-editing is necessary or desirable for fear of not offending ìthe heartlandî? I would welcome hearing your thoughts if you feel inclined to give them.

Warmest wishes for a Happy New Year in your new digs,
Your Anonymous well-wisher

Ravenmn said...

How lovely to have an anonymous poster! Welcome!

Your bring up good points. Shortly after I wrote my post about the "stingy" comment, I ran into this article from the New York Post. This quote is what I was worried about:

Don't we owe the dead, dying and injured the minimal grace not to convert their suffering into a chat-show segment ó the latest left-right clash over the Bush presidency? I think intelligent thoughtful people will respond in just this way -- they will discard any real discussion about levels of giving and chalk it all up to Bush-hating fanatics. I think a real discussion would be useful and I'm pretty sure we aren't going to get it this time around just like all the other times.

I wandered over to a libertarian site discussing the same issue and the talk had already turned to those oil-rich Muslim countries not giving enough -- of course nobody knew any facts about the amounts of giving, but you get the idea.

On the other hand, you are correct -- the pressure seems to be working. Bush has upped the ante and yesterday, apparently, the White House announced he made a personal $10,000 donation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for replying! I read the John Podhoretz article and am surprised that Podhoretz is surprised (and shocked and dismayed) that pundits would use a catastrophe such as this one as ìcheap debate fodder.î It seems to me that pundits (or ìopinion leadersî as he charitably calls them) would use anything as cheap debate fodder. That goes double for internet pundits. Has there ever been an event that was considered off-limits to pundits? 9-11, maybe. I wasnít reading blogs at the time, but I donít recall much debate in the immediate aftermath. I was, however, somewhat tickled that anyone at the New York Post would advocate approaching an issue with sensitivity. I grew up with the New York Post and donít recall ever having read that sentiment in it before.

Of course, disasters bring out the best and the worst in people. If you have not read enough sickening internet posts about the tsunami, you may want to have a glance at this:

As usual, Fred Phelps gets my vote for the most vulgar person on earth award! There is usually little competition when he is in the running and that takes all the fun out of it.

Question for the day: if you could wave your magic wand and a thoughtful debate about international aid ensued, what do you think would be the most ideal outcome? Do you think it should be mandatory for Americans (or Westerners in general) to give a certain percentage of their income/assets to charity? Do you think aid should be funneled primarily through our government or through private organizations? Okay, that might be more than one question.

Your Anonymous well-wisher

p.s. to Andrea (if you are still reading this): I hope your life in this New Year is bright and shining and leads to many fun adventures. Take care of yourself.

Unhinged said...

Heh. How nice that anonymous thought to wish me well, as well! Thanky.

So far, so good. That fostering optimism bit must be working after all.

Oh. Well hi there, Rave!

Ravenmn said...

You pose interesting questions, anon, and my answer is very simple: I don't know.

But my first step in finding the answer would involve talking to those who work "where the rubber meets the road." The people on the ground when and where crises strike are probably the best at teaching the rest of us how to contribute most effectively. And for me, it's always about letting the workers lead the way.

A couple of anecdotes:

I was once on a hiring committee for a nonprofit organization. One of the applicants was a crisis management worker in a small town in Wisconsin that had been badly damaged by a tornado. She was working in the recovery office three years AFTER the tornado hit and still had plenty of work to do to help rebuild and help citizens deal with all kinds of issues that were still unresolved. That taught me that things take a much longer time to heal than I had imagined.

Another example: when Hurricane Andrew wiped out Homestead, Florida, a small army of people drove down from Charleston, which had gone through a similar hurricane a year or more before. They carried a supply of posts, signs and paint and proceeded to set up temporary street signs throughout the city. This is because they had learned that when all landmarks have been flattened, people were completely unable to find the streets where they had lived and worked. Getting the street signs back up and helping people find their way around was a step most of us would not have thought about. But the Charleston crew knew and their help was essential to the recovery effort.

The other day I heard an expert in disaster recovery talk about tailoring the relief efforts to the local population. For instance, during the famine in Somalia, it was discovered that food relief needed to be funneled through the leadership of women's organizations because they were less influenced by loyalty to the warloads. This expert mentioned that there is no point in delivering new computer software to a community that isn't familiar with computers, even if the software is the newest and most efficient means of solving a particular problem.

As far as your question about whether contributions should be mandatory or voluntary, it's kind of an absurd question. Our taxes, which are mandatory, are contributing to the destruction of so much of the world. So getting fussy about contributing to charity seems ludicrous. For instance, our taxes, through the U.S. military, have recently helped to destroy the entire city of Fallujah in Iraq. Should our taxes also be used to pay reparations and to rebuild that city? Hell, yeah! Do I think that will happen? Not for a minute.