Tuesday, December 20, 2005

My Wig Hat Posted by Picasa

My Wig Hat

I had a wonderful time at my birthday party: a house full of my most favorite people. I've always dismissed it as perfunctory when someone like George Bush gets elected and says they're "humbled" by the fact. Through your very generous gifts I've got a nice chunk of money to get Nathan a computer and I'm feeling mighty humbled.

First off are the actual logisitics of doing it. I have thought about this some, and have done some research. But I always feel as if I'm missing the "best" solution. I've not settled on anything yet, so I'm quite eager to hear any suggestions you might have.

I'm quite used to finding myself rather incompetent in all sorts of things, so I'm not particularly humbled to discover that I don't have a great plan for exactly how Nathan will get a computer. I feel confident I'll muddle through somehow on that one now that I've got some money. I do feel quite humbled by your generosity.

Bono, Melinda and Bill Gates have been named Time's "Persons of the Year" and there's plenty of snark and cynicism about that. Recently in The New York Times Paul Theroux wrote and editorial, The Rock Star's Burden
THERE are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat, but I can't think of one at the moment. If Christmas, season of sob stories, has turned me into Scrooge, I recognize the Dickensian counterpart of Paul Hewson - who calls himself "Bono" - as Mrs. Jellyby in "Bleak House." Harping incessantly on her adopted village of Borrioboola-Gha "on the left bank of the River Niger," Mrs. Jellyby tries to save the Africans by financing them in coffee growing and encouraging schemes "to turn pianoforte legs and establish an export trade," all the while badgering people for money.
I'm not wealthy, but have fondness for hats. Still, it's shameful that I've hectored you.

Mother always told me to read Dickens, but I never paid attention. Something exciting about Bleak House is that a character in the novel, Krook, as a plot device, spontaneously combusts. It was interesting to see that Wikipedia has and entry on Spontaneous Human Combustion and that the phenomenon is known so well that it goes by the acronym SHC. I did not know that.

Some of my friends made a lovely donation to the Wangari Maathai Foundation in my name. I'll admit the thought came to mind that'll mean even more hectoring mail in my mailbox. Actually, I don't know that foundation's habits of fundraising, but it seems that forests have been wasted by all the very worthy causes who send me mail solicitations. Because I don't respond to them, I can only imagine some of you receive even more mail solicting money than I do.

I was delighted nonetheless. The Green Belt Movement is a story that inspires me. My emotional attatchments are often quite superficial. When Dr. Maathai won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize I was happy that she had studied at the University of Pittsburgh. I thought of the African Students I had meet there and wondered what I might live to know of their accomplishments. And, I hate to admit this, one of the things I like best about Wangari Maathai is that in every picture I've seen of her she's wearing a great big bow in her hair.

Paul Theroux's piece is cranky and he's not without his reasons. He writes:
Mr. Gates has said candidly that he wants to rid himself of his burden of billions. Bono is one of his trusted advisers. Mr. Gates wants to send computers to Africa - an unproductive not to say insane idea.
Wow that stings me a bit, and it's misleading about the work of the Bill & Melida Gates Foundation too. Theroux goes on to say:
It does not occur to anyone to encourage Africans themselves to volunteer in the same way that foreigners have done for decades. There are plenty of educated and capable young adults in Africa who would make a much greater difference than Peace Corps workers.
Nathan works tirelessly to improve the circumstances of his community. Nonetheless the case is pretty clear that it isn't very clear whether or not this scheme of sending him a computer will do any good.

And there are the yahoo-yahoo boys who spam our email boxes. I cleaned out my Yahoo! mailbox today and among the emails I deleted was one of those infamous Nigerian email scams. Even if you've never opened one of those emails, you probably know about them. Some people are taken in and the frustrating thing is knowing the flimflammer's getting the upper hand. That article notes the popularity of a rap in Nigeria:
The scammers' anthem is a popular song called, "I Go Chop Your Dollar." A tongue-in-cheek comedian and singer named Osofia belts out, in local slang, a song that translates to, "419 is just a game. You are the loser, I am the winner. White people greedy.... I take your money and disappear.... You be the fool, I be the master."
I feel so humbled because I know many of you have misgivings about this enterprise, and yet you willingly and generously contributed. I'm old enough and have known many of you long enough that there's no pretense about my track record: I've gone from one ill-formed plan to another. It's not trust that motivated you, so it must be affection. For your affection I'm forever grateful.

I also know how kind you all are. We all do notice and care about all the suffering and wrongs in the world. We all know too there are no simple solutions. What any of us can do to repair the world is only a little. I have a naive faith like the parable of the Mustard Seed, which probably isn't far from the best parts of Theroux's editorial.
I am speaking of the "more money" platform: the notion that what Africa needs is more prestige projects, volunteer labor and debt relief.
Wouldn't the world be a better place with pictures of Bono and Gates in Afro wigs? That's my obsession with hats. I'm more willing to give Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates plaudits for their genuine engagement in finding solutions. All of us are daunted by the challenges which face the human family. Our two medicines are laughter and tears. I've got to laugh and I'm moved to tears that you've given me the best birthday present ever. Thank you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you had a good time on your birthday, John. I hope this is your best year ever!