Wednesday, October 25, 2006

On the Pile

Just for giggles and grins, I thought I'd post an "On the Pile."

But first . . . A Rant.

I try very hard not to be overly judgmental of others' charitable acts, even when I think that they are terribly misguided. Let's take Oprah, for example (because Scott foolishly kindled my ever-burning Oprah hate). I'm sure we've all seen the pictures of her surrounded by smiling South African girls in their pretty uniforms with their brand-new sacks of school supplies. A nice gesture, sure. But as one of my favorite phrases goes, "Who's going to play Santa next year?" For a few thousand dollars worth of school supplies (and I'd be willing to wager a fair sum that at least some portion of those supplies were donated from the companies and not bought with Oprah's own money), Oprah gets millions of dollars worth of free positive publicity. And the kids go home with a fancy backpack and fancy pencils. But nothing has really changed. Oprah has the money and power to make real, longterm changes---build a teachers' college, build and staff a hospice, pressure pharmaceutical companies to provide low-cost HIV/AIDs drugs. But what does she use her celebrity for? A short-term, feel-good publicity stunt that benefits her way more than it does those kids.

But the "charitable" act that really gets me het up these days is the latest celeb accessory: the third-world baby. Let's start with the fact that right here in the United States, we have plenty of orphans who need good homes. You would never know it because the stories we hear are how hard it is to adopt a child in the United States. One: It should be hard. You're adopting a child, not getting a houseplant. Two: It's really only hard if you want a blue-eyed, blonde-haired perfectly healthy infant. Yes, those are in short supply. But we have a whole lot of children ages 2 and up, with and without special needs, who are stuck in orphanages or being shuttled among foster homes while the very people who have the money and resources to care for these children spend tens of thousands on private brokers or international adoptions.

Now, let's look at the children who are being adopted by the oh-so-charitable celebs. Of the recent adoptions, at least two (Zahara Jolie and David Banda-Richie) have living parents. So they aren't even really orphans. And in Malawi, even if both parents have died, the extended family would take responsibility for the child. Yes, David was in an orphanage. In Malawi, it is common for infants to go to an orphanage if the mother dies during childbirth or shortly after. It's assumed that the father won't be able to care for the infant and it is too much of a burden for the family. But most of those children will eventually be returned to the living parent or the extended family when the children have reached a certain age (usually between 3 and 5 years).

Also, these children have all been reasonably healthy. The celebs aren't adopting the high-needs kids. They aren't adopting kids who are HIV positive or were born with a disability. Again, the kids who have the best chance of thriving with minimal intervention are taken out and the kids who really need more help are shunted to the side.

I know that conditions aren't great for any kids---healthy or otherwise---in Malawi or any other poor nation. But taking a handful of kids out of the country isn't the solution. It's a selfish way to get publicity.

I have more I could say, but this has already turned into a much longer rant than I intended.

Anyway . . .

On the Pile

Finished: Nothing. Really. I have given up on actually finishing a book. I'm lucky if I make it 100 pages in before I have to move on to the next book. I have not finished a single book in almost two months. Which kills me, because I have a thing about finishing books, even really bad books.

Now Reading:
* Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault. A French structuralist philosopher writing on the underlying principles of the Western penal system. And, yes, it really is as exciting as it sounds. Don't read after eating---the first two pages are a vivid account of an old-school execution. Do read before bed, especially if you have insomnia.

* Claude Levi-Strauss by Edmund Leach. Why I thought that it would be a good idea to read a book on an incomprehensible French structuralist written by an incomprehensible English functionalist I will never know.

* Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson. A book I can actually understand! Too bad the current establishment thinks he's a crackpot.

On Deck:
* The Nuer by E. Evans-Pritchard. I'll spare you the mile-long subtitle. I'm supposed to have this read for a class tomorrow. Considering that I haven't even cracked the spine on it yet, I'm thinking that's not going to happen.

* A bunch of articles on mental health, occupational health, and injury.

* Facing Mount Kenya by Jomo Kenyatta

* Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation by Susan Frye

* The Poetics of Manhood: Contest and Identity in a Cretan Mountain Village by Michael Herzfeld

* A bunch of books on religion and family planning in developing countries.

Added to the Pile: As if I didn't have more than enough to read already . . . Although most are for school.

* High Points in Anthropology ed. by P. Bohannan and M. Glazer

* Outline of a Theory of Practice by Pierre Bourdieu

* The Anti-Politics Machine by James Ferguson

* Europe and the People Without History by Eric Wolf

* Writing with Intent by Margaret Atwood

* Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood

* Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

Can you guess which ones aren't for school?

I've also recently bought a bunch of craft books in the delusion that I'd find time for crafts. Ha!


At 9:33 PM , Blogger Bearette24 said...

Hee...I'd say the Atwood and the Prose.

Re the international adoption, it definitely raises some issues, ie, the father says he didn't know Madonna was taking his child away permanently. But I do admire Madonna for setting up a charitable foundation that gives money to the orphanages. It's still better than Paris Hilton, who spends all her money on hair and clothes.

At 9:35 PM , Blogger Bearette24 said...

i missed your On the Pile's, by the way. (great, now it sounds like hemorrhoids.)

At 3:47 AM , Blogger Frema said...

I've read Foucault. You have my condolences.

About Madonna, I have conflicting emotions. I do think anyone who adopts deserves to be commended, even celebrities who can more than afford all the costs it entails. And I do believe in helping our children here. On the other hand, my sister went to Tanzania with Habitat for Humanity two years ago and was appalled to find how poor those people are. They use the bathroom in a hole on the floor. Their homes are built with bricks made from cow feces and mud. It's disgusting.

I have no answers. I do think celebrities could do more than take in a child or two. Setting up colleges, health clinics, and other institutions would provide long-term results that would help a wider variety of people.

Not that Madonna or anyone else cares what I think, but there it is.

At 8:03 AM , Blogger LostInTX said...

For the most part I agree with you Lisa, but Frema brought up an interesting point that I was thinking of before I read her comment. Although it might be less than what we would think is ideal the kids here in America will have better opportunities regardless of whether or not they are adopted. Kids in Malawi, Tanzania, and other third world countries might be lucky if they live to be 13. I guess I just feel like our system here in the US might take care of people better (as measly as it may seem) and I'd rather give an opportunity to someone who would never even have a chance. Mike and I have talked about having one and adopting one, if possible. We would probably adopt out of the country. I may also be influenced by the fact that I was born in another country and I think about all those people who don't have goverment programs, who don't have formal education, who don't have the opportunity to advance - at all. And how they wished they could just come to America for a chance at life. (although frankly I'd rather be somewhere else.. lol.)

At 4:55 PM , Blogger kj said...

very thoughtful and thought out post. oprah leaves me feeling squirmy sometimes.


At 5:38 PM , Blogger Lisa said...

Lost and Frema: I understand what you're saying. My perspective, however, is that the money one would spend adopting one child from a developing nation could go much further and serve many more if invested wisely in the child's own country. A couple of years ago, I saw a proposal for a health dispensary in Togo. The total budget for building the dispensary, stocking it, and staffing it for one year: $20,000. You'd spend at least that much to adopt one child. At the school where I taught in Malawi, the fees for one year for one student were about $150. So for about the cost of one plane ticket to Malawi, you could put an entire class of students through school for a year. When you figure that a couple would have to make at least two trips---that same amount of money could have put an entire class of students through at least four years of secondary school.

Like I said, I do try most of the time not to judge others' good intentions. But I think sometimes good intentions take the place of real, long-term justice.

At 8:26 AM , Blogger Scott said...

Great post... glad that my blog ispried the ideas. Also glad to know that I am not alone.


At 9:55 AM , Anonymous crystal said...

Well spoken, my friend. And I have to say, you're reading list gives me a headache. :)


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