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July 06, 2005

American Foreign Aid

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I often scratch my head over the facts and figures the media cough up. In what sense are they intended? And from which points of view are they true? It often seems that the closer you look, the more slippery the facts and figures appear.

I know nothin' about nothin' of course. But I can use as an example one field I do know well, the arty-intellectual-cultural world. It's often said, for instance, that America has a tightfisted attitude towards the arts. Proof comes from how small the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts is.

The NEA's budget is undeniably tiny. And yet, and yet ... Americans spend tons of dough on TV, music, clothes, movies, food, houses, and cars. State and national governments spend hugely on buildings (architecture) and roads (landscape architecture, anyone?). The American creativity biz is a giant one, employing tens of thousands of people. That's not evidence of support for the arts?

Even so far as a narrower definition of the arts goes: Why do the complainers never factor in the kinds of help many families give their arty kids? Heaps of private money is spent every year on teaching, coaching, schools, and training.

And there's mucho private money spent helping out the kids once they grow up too. I know many, many grownup writers, artists, dancers, and actors who receive help from home. It used to be joked, for instance, that the publishing industry was completely dependent on the generosity of the parents who helped their publishing-biz kids survive despite minuscule salaries. And how long would the gallery-art world and the literary-writing world survive if trust funds were to suddenly evaporate?

Are the facts and figures as misleading in other fields? An example: Are Americans really as pennypinching as they're often made out to be when it comes to foreign aid? The usual rap is that we help poor countries out far less than do other rich countries. But this assertion is based on direct government-aid figures alone. (Why-oh-why do people denouncing American tightfistedness so often rely on government figures alone?)

John Ray points out an article in The Scotsman reporting on how the foreign-aid scene looks from a more inclusive point of view.

Some eye-opening facts:

  • "Private American citizens donated almost 15 times more to the developing world than their European counterparts."

  • "American churches, synagogues and mosques alone gave $7.5bn in 2003 -- a figure which exceeds the government totals for France ($7.2bn) and Britain ($6.3bn)."

So perhaps -- as with the arts -- the Euros like to leave many decisions to their governments, while Americans prefer to address matters as individuals. Ain't it nice that there's variety in the world? In any case, as the Scotsman notes, such facts and figures "deal a blow to those who claim moral superiority over the US on aid."



UPDATE: The very un-PC John Ray struck me as smart and funny on the topic of women's friendships.

posted by Michael at July 6, 2005


I think that everyone should stop writing things that say "Feminists always say..." at the beginning. It's like starting an article saying "Whigs always say..."

First of all, what is meant today by "feminist"? The National Organization for Women? Gloria Steinem? A woman who doesn't think she should get paid less? A woman who is pro-choice? Britney Spears? Hillary Clinton? Jackie Joyner-Kersee? What are the authors talking about?

If people are talking about official, political, 70ís-style "feminists"---I think the ridiculousness of some of their points of view and political agendas has been long since documented. They were as repressive about women and as destructive as the biggest male chauvinist idiots, IMHO.(I always feel that "those men" are forever immortalized in the old Geritol ads, when he smugly looks at the camera and says "My wife---I think I'll keep her." Gag. I have the same gag reflex about hardcore old-style "feminists."). They had no wisdom about balance, or happiness, or "femininity" as well as "feminism."

So when someone starts an article with the words "feminists always say..." I always know he has his own agenda. (Which might indicate that men aren't always as "strightforward" as Ray implies).

However, I do think John Ray has a point---truthfully, I've long felt that men ARE more honest, less judgemental, and more open about their competitiveness with each other than women in general are. Or...perhaps I should say, women over 30. It's possible that the best parts of feminism---the belief in themselves, the belief that doors are open to them and they deserve to walk through them, the belief in education, the belief in motherhood, the belief in "competing"--has been so incorporated in the younger generation that it changes the nature of their friendships, too. I honestly don't know.

I DO think women are more conscious of and more intuitive about emotions and hidden agendas than men. I think that aspect of relationships are different. I don't think women are "more supportive" than men. Some of the best cheerleading I ever got in my life was from men--not women. And I like my women friends. My women friends have great senses of humor. But women are more indirect about their competitiveness, IMHO. And in my experience. It's also possible, though, that this is all individual, and someone else had different experiences.

Posted by: annette on July 7, 2005 11:06 AM

I think John Ray most certainly has an agenda! That said, his characterizations of female friendship and male friendships rang pretty true to me -- interesting to learn that they ran pretty true to you too. I've been going through a Teaching Company series on anthropology, and if it's to be trusted (I'm enjoying it, and think it's good), it seems to be broadly accepted by linguistic anthropologists that women tend to speak more indirectly than men do. Not: "Dude, take the freaking garbage out, would ya?" But: "Gee, isn't tomorrow the day they pick up the garbage?" Many guys speak indirectly and many gals speak directly, but evidently it's semi-fair to think of "indirect" as "female" and "direct" as "male." Interesting too to think about the new young gals. Will they upend the old categories. God knows they're rambunctious and outgoing. I wonder how they'll develop over time. I'm an old fart, of course, but I can't help noticing that their outgoingness is being supported by a big social push -- schools, parents, the media, etc. What happens if/when the big social push comes to an end? (I notice, for instance, that gal tennis players often have pushy, ambitious parents providing much of their motor, where guy tennis players largely just like to go out there and kill. Would we have such great current women tennis players if the parents weren't so involved?) And what happens when these gals hit their 30s and start encountering some of life's inevitable frustrations? It'll be interesting to see.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 7, 2005 12:09 PM

Well, I don't agree much with Ray's article -- for a number of reasons, but what the heck is this about?

"Men tend to keep trying to form a new relationship after a breakup (even with a Filipina if nobody else is available)"

He lost me there . . .

Posted by: missgrundy on July 7, 2005 12:11 PM


I could use some of the heaps of money American families lavish on their arty kids. Being 51, I know a whole lot better than those little snots what to do with it, too. Trust me, society will get far more bang for the buck if I'm responsible for the dough.

So, please arrange to have the checks start showing up in my name at my local bank. I'll email you later with the account details.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on July 7, 2005 1:46 PM

As soon as one realizes that movies and television are "art", the idea that "America has a tightfisted attitude toward the arts" pretty much goes out the window.

Posted by: Glen Raphael on July 7, 2005 4:16 PM

Let alone photography, ads, magazines, design, clothing, housing .... Now, as to whether we show decent taste or not, and whether we demand good enough products or let ourselves be bulldozed by greedy, exploitative idiots, that's another conversation.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 8, 2005 10:53 AM

Interesting female-male indirect-direct comparison was made the prizewinning female author Lionel Shriver:

"Throughout the whole Orange Prize experience, I was confronted with evidence that women are uncomfortable with naked ambition, trained to have low expectations, embarrassed by head-to-head competition, and virtually obliged to act abashed when they win. In contrast to a certain other sex that will go unmentioned."

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 8, 2005 12:45 PM

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