January 08, 2005

I've Finally Got A Piece Of The Pie!

The Evil System Adminstration Overlords have decreed that, on January 21, this webserver will be shut down. No exceptions this time. So ...


Tell your friends! Update those bookmarks and links!

Posted by bpadams at 10:34 PM | Comments (1)

January 05, 2005


I donated $40 to a random tsunami relief effort.

How did I choose that number? Will it save one family? Ten? Will it go towards a glossy promotional brochure that will generate more money? Is it all I could afford? Is it the total cost of the relief effort divided by the number of people I expect to donate? Why $40 instead of $41? Or $39?

There was a huge political flap when President Bush initially offered $15M in tsunami aid and was subsequently shamed into giving more. As a liberal, I'm supposed to take him to task for being stingy and unfeeling and hypocritical. But, while he is all those things, I have a strange sympathy for him this case. How did he choose $15M, and why did he increase it to $35M, and then to $350M?

If you listened to Colin Powell on Meet the Press on Sunday, he made it sound like our response grew in direct proportion to the size of the tragedy. "We have nothing to be embarrassed about," he said. "Our response scaled up as the scope of the disaster scaled up." He made it sound like there's some underlying logic to it all; an equation that we've had in place for ages that factors in death and destruction and suffering and results in a dollar amount that's fair and appropriate. Put in the tsunami on the left, get $350M on the right.

That equation is a polite fiction. The truth is that there is no rhyme or reason to our global aid. Ask yourself: how does the death toll from the tsunami compare with the annual death toll from AIDS? Or malaria? Or even diarrhea? The answers, from Nicholas Kristof's fantastic column today, are shocking. Every month, 140,000 people die from diarrhea, 165,000 die from malaria, and a horrifying 240,000 die from AIDS. That's something like 36 tsunamis every year.

So let's compare the two. Our federal government gave $350M for 150,000 killed in the tsunami, or roughly $2333 per death. We spent $16B on foreign aid last year, and if you add up just the loss of life listed by Kristof in his column -- just AIDS, malaria, and diarrhea -- you get about 6.5 million, or ... about $2461 per death. So if we spent our entire aid budget on those three diseases, our tsunami aid would be roughly proportional. And a quick visit to the USAid page tells us that those three things were not all we spent our aid on.

I'll tell you how I arrived at the $40 that I donated. It's the amount that looked the best to me. Thirty dollars looked too cheap, but $50 seemed like too much. Two twenties, or about one visit to the ATM. The truth is that $40 maximized my good feelings at minimum actual financial cost.

I am afraid that our foreign aid is much the same. We spend an amount that seems good to us without any real regard for need or affordability. The scariest thing about Kristof's column is not how many people die each month from disease, it's our response to those deaths. When the tsunami hit, Yahoo put a clickable donation button on my yahoo start page. Amazon set up one-click donations. Sandra Bullock donated a million dollars. Linkin Park donated money and is going to host a concert. These things are all great, but why hold a concert in January to help the 150,000 people who died from the tsunami, but keep the proceeds from your concert in February when 240,000 people died from AIDS? What made the deaths from natural disaster worthy of attention and assistance but death from disease completely unremarkable?

The truth is that something like the tsunami highlights a horrifying global reality. That reality has two parts. The first part is that I could save tens, maybe hundreds of lives by giving up DirecTV and donating the money I spend on it to a global relief fund. The second part is that I know that fact, and will watch Lost and Alias tonight without feeling the slightest bit guilty. And that's true for just about everyone in America -- our capacity to do good far outstrips our willingness to do it. And if there is some cosmic judgment day, we're all going to have a lot to answer for when we're asked why we spent $5 on a large cup of coffee instead of a malaria net.

I am required by law to conclude by saying that I think that the people donating money to the tsunami relief effort are doing a good thing, and that's certainly true. Many of the donations will succeed in saving lives, and that is literally awesome. But to the extent that those same donations succeed in making us feel better about our global citizenship, that is yet another tragedy.

Posted by bpadams at 01:24 PM | Comments (15)

January 03, 2005

Permit Me One Melodramatic, Self-Indulgent Post. It's The First Monday of 2005.

Because I'm a student, I got to spend three weeks with my family and friends to celebrate the holidays. It's like that every year -- most of my friends have to work around the holidays, but I still go home and visit my mom and dad, just like I've done every year since I was 18. It would be a little childish if it weren't so gosh darn fun.

Well, it's usually gosh darn fun. But this year was a little more "gosh darn" than "fun." No electricity, broken computers, and smashed cars all made me feel I ran out of holidays to celebrate, and instead I was getting some kid of broken filler material. Horrific images from halfway around the world precluded any overly-dramatic interpretation; I would rather fix every computer in Columbus than have to dig my life out from under a giant wave.

Still, seeing the little "2005" in the corner of my laptop reminds me that Christmas won't be the only thing that's different now. This will be the year I finally graduate for good.

My entire life, which will count 28 full years two weeks from Sunday, has been spent getting an education. An education, it must be said, for education's sake. I realized far too late that I am not going to have a career researching issues in computer science, and this final year of doing so will happen entirely in pursuit of letters, not ideas. I am fully resigned to this fact.

And, not to put to fine a point on it, I'm ready to get the fuck out of here. I'm tired of the open scorn I get when I tell people that I'm still in school. I'm tired of living in the basement of a fraternity because I don't make enough money to afford a real place. I'm tired of not making enough money to afford a real place. And I'm painfully, excruciatingly tired of spending every day working on something that I don't care about.

Most of all, I'm tired of standing still while everyone else moves. My friends are all getting married and starting careers and buying houses and starting to write the next chapter in their lives. Some of them are doing it for the second time. Not participating in that process was fine the first time around, but this time, it's excruciating. I want to have to stay up late letting wedding invitations, I want to have my new employer pay to move me to a new city, I want to complain about rising interest rates when I apply for my first mortgage.

Several people have asked me if I'm making any resolutions, and up to now, I've just said no. But I'm making one right now. I resolve not to end 2005 the same way I ended 2004, 2003, and 2002: uninspired, unhappy, and ungraduated.

Posted by bpadams at 01:20 PM | Comments (13)