lukegilman.com : High on the Hog Blog
Purveyor of Idle Observation

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Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at www.lukegilman.com

Most Interesting Fact I heard Today

“There are more Ethiopian doctors in Washington D.C. than in all of Ethiopia.”

From NPR: Hospital Gives Ethiopian Women a Chance at Care

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New York Review of Books, Allison Lurie on Alice Munro, Jeffrey Sachs on the viability of Economic Aid

Allison Lurie on Alice Munro

The New York Review of Books had two recent articles of interest to me; perhaps to you as well. One of my pet peeves is discovering great writers only after they’ve died. I discovered Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in 1994 for instance. Same with James Merrill, I’ve finally jumped ahead of the curve with Alice Munro. Hopefully this doesn’t bode ill for her. She’s long been admired by fellow practitioners; she was a favorite assignment of the creative writing profs I had in undergrad. Her literary star is now apparently finding a deservedly wider audience. This is surprising for two reasons. First, her subject matter is neither sexy nor exciting. There is no elevator pitch for Munro’s work. It’s highly unlikely movies will be made. She is, simply and rarely, a fantastic writer. To read Munro is to be in the hands of a skilled butcher, to have the animal aspect of ones nature revealed, quarted, boned and trimmed with the same mix of pragmatic nonchalance and artistry. Secondly, Munro lives almost exclusively in the short form, a more difficult, technical yet infrequently lauded.

Lurie does an admirable job of capturing what’s important to know about Munro for the uninitiated.

One of Alice Munro’s great achievements has been to look with care and concern at her chosen world, and at what some readers would consider uninteresting persons: a sulky little girl, a small-town elementary school teacher, a retired salesman of farm chemicals. Munro takes these people seriously. As she says in the epilogue to Lives of Girls and Women, “People’s lives, in Jubilee as elsewhere, were dull, simple, amazing and unfathomable—deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum.”

Growing up next to Canada, I found this line alone was worth the price of admission:

In the imagination of most Americans, Canada is a blur. It contains a lot of pine trees, moose, and Mounties; its population is relatively small, its politics relatively polite. Canadians are honest and serious but slightly dull. Some of us may pity or scorn them for not having joined the revolution of 1776: in this view, they are like the goody-goody siblings who never rebelled against their parents.

New York Review of Books: The Lamp in the Mausoleum

Jeffrey Sachs on the viability of Economic Aid

In a second article, economist Jeffrey Sachs responds to an earlier article by Nicholas Kristof which cited Sach’s panegyric The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time and William Easterly’s skeptical White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.

A second reason for the retreat is the widespread belief that aid is simply wasted, money down the rat hole. That has surely been true of some aid, such as the “reconstruction” funding for Iraq and the cold war–era payouts to thugs such as Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. But these notorious cases obscure the critical fact that development assistance based on proven technologies and directed at measurable and practical needs—increased food production, disease control, safe water and sanitation, schoolrooms and clinics, roads, power grids, Internet connectivity, and the like—has a distinguished record of success.

New York Review of Books: How Aid Can Work, in response to Aid: Can It Work?

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Yunus, Economist Microloan Banker, wins Nobel Peace Prize

The 2006 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammad Yunus, an economist and founder of the Grameen Bank, which specializes in microloans to the poor. I personally think the choice was an excellent one, though not everyone agrees.

In the stunningly asinine Losing its Lustre, The Economist ($) takes the view that the Nobel Peace Prize committee should have not given out the prize at all rather than give it to Yunus, in order to “preserve its value.” The uncredited writer argues that if the committee could not find a suitable candidate, and clearly the Economist thinks Yunus doesn’t measure up, the “brave” thing to do would be to simply declare that there was no suitable recipient and keep it’s money. It mentions several instances in which the award was or should have been withheld. The Economist somehow fails to mention that one of the 19 instances in which the award was withheld was in 1948, on the grounds that “there was no suitable living candidate.” That also happened to be the year Mahatma Gandhi died, never receiving the prize despite having been nominated 5 times. Bravery? Hogwash.

Yunus, who shares the prize with his organization, Grameen Bank, is an excellent and refreshing choice, one which the Economist, of all publications, should recognize. Microlending enables the poor to become the agents of their own upward mobility by providing much needed capital in a way that turns the traditional benevolent condecension of charity on its head. It recognizes that an impoverished community is nevertheless a market with inherent worth. It operates with an efficiency driven from the bottom up rather than the top down, which economists, of all people, can appreciate. As this years press release notes, “Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty.” The Dalai Lama, the 1989 recipient, spoke to this in his lecture, “Peace, in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold.”

The problem I think many will have with awarding the prize to Yunus is that he’s a banker, and as any good bleeding-heart knows, aren’t bankers all elitist, money-hungry, penny-pinching, soulless arbiters of interest rates? Isn’t the Nobel Peace Prize reserved for activists and enlightened diplomats? Um, no. Thankfully.

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