Saturday, March 25, 2006

"So much waste"

(My correspondence with the author of a piece in the Seattle Times of March 23, 2006)

Dear Mr. Bailly
I came by your editorial in the Seattle Times ("From haunting darkness to embarrassing light") via a link in the web site. I read your article and I must say that you are to be commended and admired for your efforts on behalf of the impoverished Haitians. You set a Christian example for us all to follow.

However, I must ask you to restrain yourself in making apologies for Americans and expressing your embarrassment by the behavior of your fellow Americans for their penchant for consuming resources (in this case electricity) for which they have paid.

You are perhaps expressing, more honestly, the awe-inspiring contrast between your experience on the ground in Haiti and in the air over the richest, most powerful nation on Earth. It is similar to the stark contrast to that nighttime satellite photo of the Korean peninsula that the Secretary of Defense likes to use to illustrate the difference between democracy and totalitarianism. In that image the southern half of the peninsula is ablaze with light which abruptly ends, meeting with pitch blackness along border with North Korea.

Now I don't pretend to know all or even as much as you about our impoverished island neighbor. Nor do I pretend to know how to solve the problems that, I am inclined to believe, are more the result of poor leadership choices than the perceived "waste" measured by the estimated number of lights one sees at night from the air over the United States or South Korea.

Ascribing to your fellow Americans greed and indifference to the plight of Haitians then apologizing for it to a member of that impoverished nation (someone who has managed to attain the education and experience to become a "medical doctor" against the odds that must have been stacked against him) seems to be counter productive. There you were, winging your way back to Snohomish County, Washington where raw sewage does not somehow flow openly through the streets (I am just guessing) and all you can do is wonder aloud at how greedy and wasteful are the citizens of America. Your time might better have been spent in silent reflection on why some nations are rich and some are poor. Or, if you couldn't help engaging your Haitian seatmate in a bit of conversation, perhaps you might have learned a good deal about why Haiti is a political and economic basket case.

This may have made for more interesting and fruitful reading (and writing) than your rambling wishful thinking has otherwise borne. But then again, I am sure the Seattle Times would not have published it.

So let's just say, for the sake of argument that every household in America turned out one light (for an indefinite period) for the explicit purpose of channeling the money otherwise spent making a 40watt bulb glow for a few hours, let's say, every night for a year, to a relief fund for Haiti. And let's further assume that somehow that money is calculated, collected and banked and a sum total of "a bazillion" dollars is suddenly available to the Haitian people.

To whom would you give this money? What goods and services would be purchased by whomever receives this money? Maybe we need to establish the goals of this fundraising. To relieve the suffering of this perpetually poor island nation, obviously. But how and for how long?

Think carefully, Mr. Bailly. The answers won't be as simple as turning off a light for Haiti. I welcome your comments and am genuinely interested in knowing your thoughts of my letter.

Mike Netherland
Severna Park, MD

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