Friday, December 24, 2004

"And today the millions cry, we eat and drink while tomorrow they die" 

U2's Bono addressed Britain's Labour party in September about world poverty. Honestly, I think he did a great job, and delivered a truly important message that seems doubly relevant during Christmastime. (My emphases):

I've been here in Brighton before... March 13, 1983. That time I had the greatest rock band on the stage behind me, they looked a little different from you. I think I was climbing the PA stacks, waving a white flag... and yes, I had a mullet from the 80s.
I've come because Prime Minister Blair asked me. He might well regret it.

In the larger sense, I'm here as part of a journey that began in 1984-85, with BandAid and LiveAid. Another very talll, grizzled rock star, my friend Sir Bob Geldof, issued a challenge to 'Feed the World.' It was a great moment, it changed my life.

That summer, my wife Ali and I went to Ethiopia, on the quiet, to see for ourselves what was going on. We lived there for a month, working at an orphanage. The locals knew me as 'Dr Good Morning'. The children called me 'The Girl with the Beard.'

Don't ask.

But let me say this - Africa is a magical place. And anybody who ever gave anything there got a lot more back. A shining, shining continent, with beautiful royal faces... Ethiopia not just blew my mind, it opened my mind.

On our last day at the orphanage a man handed me his baby and said: take him with you. He knew in Ireland his son would live; in Ethiopia his son would die.

I turned him down.

In that moment, I started this journey.

In that moment, I became the worst thing of all: a rock star with a cause.
We like to give, and we give a lot. But justice is a tougher standard.

Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment. Because there's no way we can look at Africa-- a continent bursting into flames-- and if we're honest conclude that it would ever be allowed to happen anywhere else.

Anywhere else.

Certainly not here. In Europe. Or America. Or Australia, or Canada.

There's just no chance.

You see, deep down, if we really accepted that Africans were equal to us, we would all do more to put the fire out.
In certain quarters of the world, Brand UK, Brand EU not to mention Brand USA-- are not their shiniest. They're in real trouble. The neon sign is fizzing and crackling a bit, isn't it? The storefront's a little grubby. Our regional branch managers are getting nervous.

Let's cut the crap.

The problems facing the developing world afford us in the developed world a chance to redescribe ourselves in very dangerous times... This is not just heart - it's smart. Onerous debt burdens, decreasing aid levels, duplicitious trade rules-- no wonder people are pissed off with us.
I know many people-- and I include myself-- were very unhappy about the war in Iraq.

Still are.

But ending extreme poverty, disease and despair-- this is one thing everybody can agree on. These efforts can be a force not only for progress but for unity-- not only in Labour but around the world.
As I say, next year, 2005, Great Britain is on the door at the EU and G-8. So this is the time to unlock something really big.

Excuses? Horseshit.

Earlier I described the deaths of 6,500 Africans a day from a preventable treatable disease like AIDS: I watched people queuing up to die, three in a bed in Malawi.

That's Africa's crisis.

But the fact that we in Europe or America are not treating it like an emergency-and the fact that its not every day on the news, well that is our crisis. And that's not horseshit, that's something much worse, I don't even know what that says about us. There will be books written. Think about it. Think about who you are, who you've been, who you want to be.
This stuff is the real reason to be in politics, to go door to door, to organise and demonstrate and take bold action. It's every bit as noble as your grandparents fighting the Nazis. This is not about 'doing our best.'

It's win or lose. Life or death. Literally so.
We are the first generation that can look extreme and stupid poverty in the eye, look across the water to Africa and elsewhere and say this and mean it: we have the cash, we have the drugs, we have the science -- but do we have the will?

Do we have the will to make poverty history?

Some say we can't afford to. I say we can't afford not to.

News Item!
In one of the first signs of the effects of the ever tightening federal budget, in the past two months the Bush administration has reduced its contributions to global food aid programs aimed at helping millions of people climb out of poverty.

With the budget deficit growing and President Bush promising to reduce spending, the administration has told representatives of several charities that it was unable to honor some earlier promises and would have money to pay for food only in emergency crises like that in Darfur, in western Sudan. The cutbacks, estimated by some charities at up to $100 million, come at a time when the number of hungry in the world is rising for the first time in years and all food programs are being stretched.

As a result, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services and other charities have suspended or eliminated programs that were intended to help the poor feed themselves through improvements in farming, education and health.
Officials of several charities, some Republican members of Congress and some administration officials say the food aid budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 was at least $600 million less than what charities and aid agencies would need to carry out current programs.
One administration official involved in food aid voiced concern that putting such a high priority on emergency help might be short-sighted. The best way to avoid future famines is to help poor countries become self-sufficient with cash and food aid now, said the official, who asked not to be identified because of the continuing debate on the issue. "The fact is, the development programs are being shortchanged, and I'm not sure the administration is going to make up the money," the official said.

At a private meeting with charities last month, Lauren Landis, the director of the Food for Peace program at the Agency for International Development, warned that her budget for food aid was smaller than in recent years and that the increased costs of buying and shipping commodities presented "a significant challenge," according to the minutes of the meeting. She also warned that the Office of Management and Budget had been pressing her office "to reduce its spending on development programs, and this has been a consistent message over the past year." (NYT)

The Poor Man notes that $100 million is about "0.02% of the total value of the 2001 Bush tax cut received by the richest 1% of Americans."

News Item!
In 2005, poverty reduction is scheduled to dominate the global policymaking agenda as never before... [Britain's Tony Blair] he will host a G8 summit of rich-country leaders which will focus on tackling poverty, especially in Africa. In September, the UN will hold a special General Assembly Summit to review progress towards the Millennium Development Goals agreed in 2000, which include a commitment to halve the proportion of the world's population living in poverty by 2015. As progress has been slow, there are likely to be plenty of new initiatives and promises of fresh action. In December, it is hoped, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Hong Kong will bring the year to a triumphant close with the announcement of a deal to further liberalise global trade in ways that should give a big boost to the economies of poor countries. (Economist)

The rock star is right, we are at a moral crossroads; a First World "gut check," of sorts. Will we pressure our leaders to do the right thing, even if it necessitates some uncomfortable sacrifices? Will we hold our leaders accountable if they are unwilling to do more about world hunger? Will we put aside partisanship, and heartily cheer anyone who boldly fights the good fight? I truly hope so.

Individually, in light of the above excerpts, how will you use your time, your money and your vote to fight poverty next year? How might you craft your new resolutions to effectively help (in whatever small way) those who most need it? And, will you summon the courage to yell "Horseshit!" when others make excuses? Will you remain true to your deepest values? Will you regularly ask yourself: How am I helping the effort to feed, teach and enable the impoverished?

Show that you care, and do your part. Then do it again, go beyond yourself, and persist... I think the Nazarene whom many profess belief in would heartily approve.

Happy Holidays to everyone this year, and, I hope, even happier holidays the next!

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Thursday, December 23, 2004

I hate this city when... 

...I read something like this. The title is "Barbarity beyond belief" and it will seriously ruin your day. Remember when "Bunny" split a retarded kid's skull open in Platoon? It's around that level of wanton cruelty, but in real life. Prepare to blanch.

Far and away the most harrowing, horrible and depressing local story I've read all year. Sadly, there were plenty to choose from. I post excerpts and register my disgust over at New Orleans Metblogs.
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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Most wonderful time of the year? 

These aren't friends or relatives of mine, so I don't know the specific circumstances of this photo (Chicagoland '69). But view it for a while, study it, and amuse yourself. Then tell me what your thoughts are down in the comments. I wanna know if we're on the same page here.

(From the Scared of Santa photo gallery -- h/t Wizbang!)

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Go read Michael's excellent strong rant at his 2millionth Web Log that serves as a (superior) companion piece to what he generously calls my "Parable of the Cajun Bingo Game" post below. As usual, he says exactly what should be said, sans sugarcoating. I know I'm linking to a post that links back to YRHT, but please indulge me.

Jeffrey at Library Chronicles links to my post also, and somewhat explains his recent absence as well as Daisy's (whom we actually miss). His "Lib Chron Holiday Digest" is, shall we say, comprehensive.
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The end of fixed tix? 

I share Ricky's mock surprise at the New Orleans ticket-fixing allegations now being probed by the Feds.

A wide-ranging probe into potential ticket-fixing at Orleans Parish Traffic Court has been under way for more than a year, and federal authorities have obtained video and audiotape evidence showing bribes being paid, sources close to the case said.
The key to this is the documented bribery, which might unravel the whole system and lead to substantive changes. I love how the Times-Picayune tiptoes around widely known facts (my emph):

City attorneys, who act as prosecutors in Traffic Court, have wide discretion in handling cases. Without giving a reason, a city attorney can choose to drop a given case, according to people familiar with traffic court procedures.

Even I could confirm that. If you have access to a city attorney, your ticket can be "fixed" quite simply and quickly (obligatory "so I've heard" disclaimer). Since these attorneys are massively overworked and underpaid, it's understandable why they might be tempted to give friends and family some favorable consideration. The overt bribery in this case (stupidly) crosses another line, though, and might be the point of no return.

My personal contact at the DA's office moved on with Connick, so I can't speak to how or if things have changed. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, though, and I couldn't very well rail against school board corruption while having insiders (potentially) helping me skirt traffic fines. Who knows how much revenue has been siphoned off from these alleged practices over the years?

Ah well. One less banana in the republic of New Orleans, I suppose.
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When do you tell your spouse to stop playing Cajun bingo? 

The following is fictional, but not as much as I would like:

Many moons ago, Lovely and I went to the Quarter for a night of fun. In a dark alley, I spied a guy challenging strangers to a few rounds of Cajun bingo, an addictive con-game that requires progressive betting. I felt for sure that I could "beat the system" with my superior bankroll, and put this huckster out of business. So I pretended to be a patsy, and felt certain I could outwit the dealer. The balls rolled out on the board and settled in the holes, the points were tallied, and I kept losing each successive bet. I doubled my money with each roll, thinking I was getting closer to the elusive jackpot. But again and again I lost. Sixty four dollars, then a hundred twenty eight... Lovely was getting nervous and advised me to quit. "You're ruining my focus" I yelled. "How can I win if you weaken my resolve when I'm so close? Jeez, it's like you want me to lose or something."

I bet again, and felt sure I was on the verge of hitting the jackpot. Now, though, I was basically trying to recoup the money I'd already put in. At this point, if we stopped playing we couldn't afford our night on the town, and would have to turn around and leave. Inside I felt stressed and embittered at the deteriorating situation and my defenses started to kick in. I decided that if I lost all my money I could blame Lovely for distracting me. And if I somehow won, I could laugh and chide her for not having faith in my good-decision making. After all, winning the jackpot would net me a small sum and I would've scammed the scammer-- possibly putting him out of business... perhaps maybe he'd rethink his life and turn legit. How can anyone argue against that scenario?

Either way, I knew how to deflect blame away from myself. If I won it would be in spite of the naysaying wife, and if I lost it would be because of her.

With that story in mind, consider some recent wisdom from Hindrocket's popular blog.

As we've said before, the Democrats don't fear that we will fail in Iraq; they fear that we will succeed. Their view that the war was a catastrophic blunder is now widely shared among the opinion elites, and maybe even among American voters; in a Washington Post/ABC News poll released today, 56% of respondents said the war, given what we now know about its costs, was "not worth fighting." So the Democrats' message has been heard loud and clear. Nevertheless, the left fears that the President's policy ultimately will succeed. Elections will be held next month; terrorists are steadily being eliminated; Iraqi soldiers and policemen are being trained.

We can't cut and run, we're about to win!

My biggest concern about the war, that Iraqis might not have enough sense of Iraq as a nation to overcome divisions among Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, seems clearly to have been misplaced. The country appears to be both viable and governable.

Yes, Hindrocket. Clearly. Let's double down again.

It's so easy to gamble when you've told yourself a comforting story that only blames others for losses incurred... Keep rolling, freedom isn't free!
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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

"I will pray to a big god as I kneel in the big church" 

Huck and Michael must have a much smaller God than I do, or else they wouldn't say such outlandish things during Christmastime.

So, for me, at the end of it all, the phrase "keeping the Christ in Christmas" means that I should strive to exhibit my solidarity with the poor and dispossessed of this world all the more forcefully and to work towards a justice for them worthy of God's becoming flesh in the birth of Jesus and worthy of Jesus' life-long embrace of the marginalized.

If the "dispossessed" would sit and listen to Bush explain the "Ownership Society", they might finally become "possessed" and their lives would improve Big Time. Huck probably reads too much Sojourner's, and not enough Robertson.

Musing's Michael (from earlier comments):

If they're looking for a reward in heaven, these boys and girls are going to be in for a nasty surprise. Jesus himself said so: "See to it that you do not do works of mercy in people's faces for them to see: if you do, you will receive no reward from your Father in heaven. ...And when you pray, go into your chamber and close the door and pray to your Father in secret: and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:1, 6, my translation)

If they really wanted to be good Christians, they wouldn't be bragging about it in public. They'd be living out the Beatitudes in private.

First, what the blazes is Michael translating the Bible into? Chicagoan? Like Ma said, if the King's English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for you or me!


B) This talk of "Booty-tudes" and "secrecy while alone" sounds awful degenerate to me. All I know, and all I ever will know, is that if you're not twice-born your pagan "booty" will be frying in the lake of fire.


Finally, whatever you do, don't you dare read or internalize this text. (Thanks to fantastic planet for warning me).

Update: Michael has more here.
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When you combine President Bush and a holiday like Hanukkah, you know there's an opportunity for irony/unintentional humor/national embarrassment... etc. Ricky reminds us that Hannukah ended a week ago (oops-- belated happies!) but I did want to quote Wonkette, who was, of course, on the case. She had a great take on Bush at a Menorah-lighting ceremony, saying:

You wouldn't necessarily think a holiday that celebrates the victory of a small band of religious insurgents over an occupying foreign power would be one of Bush's favorites.

(via Wampum)
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Monday, December 20, 2004

Dreaming of a winter wonderland 

Since New Orleans might get a white Christmas for the first time in 50 years, Lovely and I thought we'd dust off the old sleigh, and ride it around town after the snowfall. It would be a festive and unconventional way to enjoy the rare weather. After being left out in the "warmth" all these years, we're itching to finally have a real reason to sing a sleighing song. Perhaps Lovely and I will sleigh to the Superdome and cheer the Saints Dec. 26...

Hey, if it can snow in Crescent City on X-mas day, then anything's possible. The Saints making the playoffs, for example.

I have a question, though, for my northern readers in the snowbelt. Perhaps they can help. For whatever reason, we own a two-horse open sleigh-- not a one-horse deal. I wonder: will it still be "fun" to ride in it, or is a two-horse model hopelessly inelegant? This will be our first time using it, and we want everyone to be laughing all the way... but not at us. So tell me if two-horse sleighs are ostentatious, nouveau riche attempts to "improve" on a classic, or are all sleighs inherently cool whatever their design? Please fill me in if you know.

Speaking of sleighs, here's a selection from the third verse of "Jingle Bells". I think it's more infused with schadenfreude than the giftgiving spirit, but you be the judge:

I went out on the snow
And on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by
In a one-horse open sleigh,
He laughed as there I sprawling lie,
But quickly drove away.

Uh... "Sprawling"?... "Quickly drove away"? What's in the next verse: frostbite and dead toes? For a second it seems like a Good Samaritan parable is developing... but the rest of the song is all girls and horses.

Update: da local paper's headline was "I'm dreaming of a..." over stories about the coming snow and the Saints' playoff chances. I guess we were on the same wavelength. Btw, the Saints need some help from Seattle to get in the dance.
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"You're so COOL, Bushter." 

The Bull Moose has a fine take on Time's "Person of the Year" (hint: it's not this guy, but close).

George W. Bush is an inarticulate, incurious, unaccomplished man who has been re-elected to the most powerful office in the world despite relatively low approval ratings. He is the blameless beneficiary of South Carolina and swift boat slime while he casts himself as a compassionate conservative. His primary domestic acomplishments are turning surpluses into deficits and redistributing wealth to the comfortable.

He is the Mr. Magoo of American politics who has presided over a war that was based on a premise that was wrong and a post-war period that has proven to be disastrous. He eschews all responsibility and admits no wrong.

He is America's chief beneficiary of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

I think I'll be alternating between laughter and fear over the next four years. One long Fright... Night.
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