Monday, January 18, 2010

Who Saves Haiti ?

Riding to the Austin Book & Paper Show on Saturday with friends Bennett and Allensworth,the subject of Haiti naturally came up. "Why should WE save Haiti ? " inquired friend Bennett, a note of anger, or at least extreme righteous indignation in his voice. The Haiti catastrophe is the first I have seen, perhaps ever,where there seems to be a genuine backlash of a group of the citizenry against American help. A local braodcast called it "fatigue" and I think that there is a good deal to that.In a time of extreme economic uncertainty in the American economy, and a general backlash against liberalism, initiated and spread by the "Tea Party" populists ,which appears to have real traction, people are getting fed up.Right Wing Radio Host Rush Limbaugh announced, even before the aftershocks, that this whole tragedy would be seized upon by the Obama administrtion for political gain.This, contrasted to our last president, who used a devestating hurricane, which destroyed New Orleans, as a chance to show gross the incompetence of his political appoitments. Whatever happened to "Brownie " ?

But let us examine this fatigue which I believe has its roots in soemthing David Brooks disscussed in the New York Times on Sunday. As a backdrop, I am not fan of Brooks. I have not been since ther referred to himself and Tim Russert as among the "media elite" one day on "Meet The Press". Big time jornalists have coined this phrase to distance themselves from the common reporter who makes a living covering local politics for the Dallas Morning News.It just shows how desperatly we humans want to seperate ourselves from even the folks most like us.Brooks is somewhat of an ass. But he is intelligent, worth reading, and even worth seeking out for his opinion, no matter how different it may be from yours.

On Sunday, Brooks said what most of us know in our heart. The disater in Haiti is a problem of poverty, not natural disaster.Brooks points out that a larger earthquake in San Francisco in 1989 caused less than 70 deaths. The Haiti quake may hit 50,000.That's the difference that comes about when some people are rich, and can plan for the next earthquake, and some people are poor, and are trying to plan for the next meal, often without succcess.I don't know anything about bulding codes in Haiti and I really don't have to,they are either very lax or unenforced.Earthquake Protection is just not at the top of a country's list when they are as poor as the Haitians.

Brooks very accurately pointed out that nothing the West had been able to do over the years has had any affect on poverty in the so called "underdeveloped countries". The only real success stories of the post war era, with regard to massive aid, took place under the Marsahll Plan, where money was handed out to people who believed that economic growth was integral with their culture.The history of Haiti shows no such belief.Thus, Brooks argues (very carefully, for these are sensitive issues)that a change of culture is what is needed to create economic growth in Haiti and other poor parts of the earth.

Brooks portrays his bias when he says this.He takes for granted that capitalism is the only basis for a successful culture by defineing successful culture as one which has economic growth, so his circular reasoning can not fail.

I am inclined to agree with Brooks on one point. Successful capitalism has a cultural component which, up until now, does not seem to have been overcome anywhere, to any real extent, by the furnishing of aid to an economically poor country.You can make all kinds of argumentns against this, we have not had enough time, the West held back these nations through the use of slavery, colonialism, ecoonomic colonialism and, at least in our country, a policy of extermination. The biggest argument is that we have not spent enough money on the problem.All of these may be true,but neither Brooks nor I believe any of them to be determinative.

Brooks looks to changing culture as the only key to economic grwth and so, believes that this is what we must do.I agree with Brooks if we have all decided that the only culture worth striving for is market capitalism, because the only life worth pursuing is that of consumption. It is upon his premise which I disagree, and in which Brooks may certainly be wrong.Is it really possible to believe that the only economic systeem worth pursuing in this world happens to be our own ? I have a great preference for it, and would not want to change it,but that does not mean that it is the best for all people.It certainly does not mean that all people want it,or would be happiest under it.Very few of the Hawaiians who paddled out to meet Captain Cook did so out of a desire to change their life styles from fishing and simple planting and gathering to that of the sale of life insurance or trading of used cars.I am reasonably sure that the people of the Congo enjoyed their native lifestyle much better that the one Leopold thrust upon them as diamond mine slaves, even if it meant new industry for those tribes.

Many years ago, one of the greatest, posibly the greatest of American diplomatic thinkers, George Kennan, detailed his particular thoughts on diplomacy.One of his initial thoughts was for our country to more or less ignore the Southern Hemisphere, not in terms of friendship, but in terms of one that can have any true bearing on American self interets.Kennan's theory was that no great world power had ever arisen from the Southern Hemisphere.Kennan therefore reasoned that the way to bet was that one never would so arise.To date, Kennan has been 100% correct.No nation from the Southern Hemisphre, or even a nation in the tropics has ever been world economic or military power.There is a reason for that, and it is climitalogical.

The heat of the tropics and southern hemisphere have, throughout our recorded history,prevented the necessary native initiative required for widespread efforts at the accumulation of capital necessary to establish and maintain a market place economy.For years, the countries which had such economies took advantage of this by subjugating the labor of the southern countries and stripping it of its resources.One thing that they did not do was make it easier of the natives to live in areas of killing heat,tropical disease and often (but now always) infertile land.Let me also say that I do not believe that it is possible that the colonialists could have done so, had they been so inclined, which they were not.Late 19th century Europe could not have air conditioned Rhodesia.

The weather conditions of these countries made it not only impossible, but inadvisable for the native peoples to attempt large scale capitalism.The main reason was that most of them had a system that worked pretty well for them, barring the occasional earthquake.The Hawaiian people were so happy with their society that it became necessary for pineapple growers there to import Puerto Ricans to do the work ( these people were used to being exploited).Which one of us would have willingly given up the lifestyle of fishing, surfing and copulating in order to cut pineapple for a subsistent wage ? What's the point ?

I know what you are thinking. Can it really be all that easy ? Extreme hot weather is not compatible with the formation of a mass market economy ? How else do you explain it ? The people are equally intelligent.They just think differently because their climate is different. They had all figured out cultures that worked for them, until we came along. True, none of them had big screen televisions, but none of them had syphilis either.Their cultures were just different.Trying to impose our culture in places where it may not make much sense has been shown to be not only expensive,but often counterproductive. What plays in Peoria does not necessarily play in Pretoria.

Ultimately my view on all of this is somewhat symapathtic to Brooks thesis about culture. I simply don't agree with him that ours is better than others and we should really get tough on enforciing it, just because we enjoy it so much.It could be that for four hundred years we have been trying to put a round peg into our square hole because all of us thought that to be "there" you had to be "square".

Can a world survive with radically different cultures ? It did until 1492.Have all the changes we have wrought over the centuries made it impossible to order the earth with anything except market capitalism ? I don't know, no other system has worked on a grand scale.But that does not mean that one can't be found. What we need to do is to understand the culture of our poorer brothers and sisters and not try so hard to change it just so they can look like us.It will even be cheaper to go about it this way. The other thing we really need to do is export as many air conditioners as we can make so that thse folks can have the option of acting like us if they want. I bet that most of them would rather go out on their own.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Contracting with The Devil, Listening to a Jack Ass

No matter how cataclysmic the event, or how high a degree of human suffering, the world can count on one thing. That thing is the Rev. Pat Robertson making it worse by blaming the victims.

I have written about this Jack Ass several times before and so won't repeat any of the other lunatic statements he made in the past. Today we will be focusing on just one. That one being his statement that the Haitian earthquake, one of the most devestating natural events in modern times, was caused by the fact that Haiti made "a pact with the Devil" over 200 years ago and, in exchange for independence, dedicated the Island to Satan.

Now to be fair, Robertson did not invent this fable. It has been around for a long time, much like the fable of Satan himself. The story is that on August 14,1791 at a place called Bois-Caiman near Cap-Haitien, several slave leaders who were about to revolt against French rule had a little gathering. There the leaders,lead by one Dutty Boukman, signed the contract with Old Scratch.To date, the contract has not been found among historic Haitian records, but perhaps it resides safely in the archieves of Hell.At any rate, the Haitian slaves won their battle of independence against the forces of Napolean and Satan got his island.Voo-doo (sic) fits in here somewhere but I certainly don't know enough about this deal to elucidate.My guess is that the story was told and perpetuated by slave owners in trying to explain why such "backward" people were able to defeat the forces of the greatest general in history and release themselves from bondage.
So now Haiti is devestated and Pat esentially says that it is inevitable because of this deal with the Devil.What a world that man lives in, a world where when something happens to people he does not like he can instantly tell you why God did it to them.It is also a world where once a mistake is made, it goes on forever,despite the power of forgiveness which is the ultimate tenet of the Church he works for and that of his boss Jesus Christ. Would that we all had the wisdom of Reverend Robertson.A lot of folks would not have invested in Haiti if they had known that the Devil pact was going to take this kind of toll.A lot of people would have left Haiti if they had known how badly their ancestors (who freed them from slavery) screwed up.Now that I think about it there are 600,000 Haitians in Florida alone, which I suppose now explains all these years of devestating hurricanes which managed to kill a lot of non Haitians as well. You (and apparently God) have got to break a few eggs to make mayonase).

So let us leave it there. Leave it for Pat to continue to say things to besmirch both my religion and my country. I am no less a sinner than Pat Robertson, I need forgiveness too. One thing is for sure though, I am not as narrow minded, stupid, warped, meanspirited and/ or senile as Pat. Of course that's no big deal, no one is.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Monday Night Moment Of Zen

Scene:TV room watching new episode of The Big Bang Theory

Rayda: Mute the T.V while this commercial is on.

Wade: What ?

Rayda: Mute the T.V.

Wade : What ?

Rayda: I said mute the T.V.

Wade: I can't hear you, just a second, let me mute the T.V.......There, now what were you saying ?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Daughter Flying

Well rats. It is the last day my daughter is working at my office before she goes back to College. It is always fun to have her here because she has to chauffer me to town and back home again. I could get usesd to that. Of course since she is not used to getting up so early, the first five minutes of the drive each morning are kind of rough. Especially if the weather is cold and the windshield frozen over. I get the hear her views of working for a living at that point. But she quickly calms down.

Another cool thing is that we get to eat lunch together. Lately we have been eating at a hot dog place (Franks)downtown. I would have never thought that Stacey would ave ended up such a hot dog connosieur,but she became one while eating sausages and german mustard on a trip she took to Berlin. That's an expensive way to learn something that should have been second nature to her, but we take what we can get in the parenting business.

One odd thing is that she develops a business like persona at the job.It helps me see why her teachers and friend's parents have always thought so much of her poise and articlateness (if that is a word).They see a diffrent person than the wife and I see. Turns out that she is graceful and charming, she just only lets on about this after she leaves the house.But because of this, I am always subject to great compliments from the people who meet her.There is some feeling that I may have had something to do with the way she turned out.I did too,by leaving the hard parenting to my wife who was good at that kind of thing.

I tried to convince her to give up her spring break trip to Maui which she has planned for a couple of years, in order to get her to work here in March.So far I have had no luck with this. Can't figure out why.Nor can I figure out why she prefers the academic life to that of a law firm runner who makes our trips to Costco and schleps mail around the office, but she does.She spends her evening hours studying for the GRE which is still well over a year away.I went over some vocabulary with her last night and was amazed at how many wrong definitions the GRE folks gave to words. How can the GRE claim any efficacy in student evaluation if they can't properly define "bonanza" ?

At any rate, it is fun having her here.Now I have to start driving again just as the nastiest days of the winter are to begin tomorrow.Hope she comes back for a hot dog a few times this semester.