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Archive for March, 2007

How to spend $2.5 Trillion and improve things

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

I’ve read this article [newstatesman.com] on the hidden cost of Americas new adventures in Mesopotamia before, but someone just forwarded it to me again.

It’s very depressing. Especially this part about the Middle East Marshal plan that could have been:

In their main paper, Bilmes and Stiglitz come up with [a better way the money could have been spent]: “We could have had a Marshall Plan for the Middle East, or the developing countries, that might have succeeded in winning hearts and minds.”

What a historic triumph that would have been for Bush. Instead, his legacy to generations of Americans will be a needless debt of at least $2.5trn, what his own defence secretary describes as a four-way civil war in Iraq, dangerous instability in the Middle East, and increasingly entrenched hatred of the United States throughout the world.

I don’t think anyone in the current government — Republican or Democrat — can think like that. I don’t think most Americans can think like that and they would tar and feather — if not burn at the stake — anyone who suggested we give half a trillion dollars to a Middle East development effort that did not include gun toting patriotism and cheep oil. I think most Americans are generally uninterested in what happens in the Middle East unless some fear monger stands up and says that if we don’t do something we will have suicide bomber on the streets of rural America. I think most Americans compassion stops at the border. And most Americans don’t want to see a large amount of money go anywhere but back in their pockets.

I heard a speaker in collage say that “humanitarianism is the product of Western leisure time.” (I thought it was Desmond Tutu, but I can’t find a reference now). The logic of that statement strikes me as inescapable: who has the time to worry about people who might be starving or freezing to death halfway around the world when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, if it’s coming at all. However I think that America, at least those who are not millionaires, who don’t have charitable foundations named after them, has moved beyond caring about less fortunate people in other parts of the world. Caring for those outside of your own family is rare in America, caring for those outside your community, church, town or country amounts to “oh, thats horrible.” And it takes something like the Boxing Day Tsunami — something that killed a quarter or a million people to make us dig into our pockets.

If you drive a BMW, a Hummer, a Mercedes or the like, if you own a house, eat out a few times a month, take vacations then you have no excuse for not donating [brandeis.edu] a few hundred dollars a year to some charity. Try the Red Cross [icrc.org], Oxfam [oxfam.org.uk], or any number or others. There are many excuses why people don’t donate but they all break down into only a few reasons: you’re too poor, you’re too lazy, you don’t care, you never thought about it.

America does not give a lot of money as a country to humanitarian efforts, it used to be able to rely on the charity of it’s citizens and not have to. Today most of it’s citizens don’t give and the government has not picked up the slack. If we can spend $2.5 TRILLION on Iraq we should be able to spend more, as individuals and as a country, on humanitarianism.

Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine — March 2007

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

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I was supposed to be in Israel for 4 weeks. Candice was supposed to come and join me for a week — and we would spend a few days in Istanbul, Turkey on the way home. Instead I spent 8 days in Israel before having to head back to Singapore to meet with a customer.

However, I did manage to spend a weekend in Jerusalem. I could have flown home on Friday but the flights were a mess and besides, I didn’t know when I would have a chance to come back to Israel (more on that later).

Two days walking in the Old City of Jerusalem is enough time to see everything. Maybe not enough time to visit all the museums but all the big sites: the Western Wall [wikipedia.org], the Church of the Holy Sepulchre [wikipedia.org] and the Dome of the Rock [wikipedia.org]. As well as spend time walking around the bazaars of the Old City.

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The bazaars of the Old City are quite interesting — once you get away from the tourist kitsch shops along the mail roads and near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at least. many of the streets are filled with shops and hawkers selling all manner of goods from food to cloths to toys. Around Damascus Gate especially there is a lively daily market. The Old City really feels like a functioning ancient city.

Juxtaposed against this is the new city. As soon as you leave ancient or medieval or Ottoman or whatever period they are all, walls of the Old City everything changes. The new city of Jerusalem is like any other modern city with Hotels, gas stations, super markets and traffic.

Other than seeing Israeli solders everywhere carrying M21s I was surprised that there was very few signs of the great Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I don’t know what I expected, but I expected… more. The Temple Mount was closed on Friday and Saturday to everyone but Muslims attending prayer and there was pro-Palestine graffiti all over the Muslim Quarter but I saw little evidence of the conflict. Though I did not visit any of the Palestinian lands on the west side of the city.

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In the title of this post, and the photo set on Flickr I noted the dual nature of the Old City — and I’ve already been given crap by a guy from Israel, but I think most of world realizes that Palestine will be a state one day and whatever happens the Old City is as much a part of that land as it is a part of Israel… History is history but peace will have to mean both sides can clam the city. They should let the Tibetans run the city and neither Israel or Palestine should have sovereignty over the Old City.

The best part about all of this is I am in Israel again as I write this, to finish what I did not get to do the first trip! This time I am supposed to be here two weeks. We’ll see. The El Al security staff in Bangkok recognized me… but this time it was different things that ‘set off alarms’ and had to be repacked, all things that passed inspection the first trip two weeks ago!