2008-07-01

Things that make you go hmm.

Last night the topic of which charitable organization are preferable came up in conversation. I said that I thought that Doctors Without Borders might be the one I prefer. I am embarassed to say that I know very little about them, but they come across as a cost-efficient and direct. Money gets translated into measurable action with a minimum of overhead, it seems.
As opposed to the types of organizations that have a larger bureaucracy and seem to be fighting the ills of the world from behind the safety of their desks. Indeed, such a comparison is unfair since one approach is tactical while the other is strategic Apples and oranges. But I suspect that most strategic initiatives mostly end up offsetting certain costs in the budgets of bandit nations and thus are indirectly subsidizing wars, corruption and mismanagement of state funds. We may mean well, but what I read seems to suggest that traditional foreign aid does more bad than good in that it helps perpetuate the status quo rather than bring about sustainable change.

In any case, I pointed out that I thought Doctors Without Borders came across as a good candidate if I should find myself having some spare cash floating around the place. Then someone pointed out that Doctors Without Borders are probably fairly well funded these days. So while they are no doubt a worthy organization, they are probably more in need of qualified personel than money. (Note, I don't know this. It was suggested to me and I thought it sounded plausible). Fair enough I thought; I'll pick someone else then.

Finding an organization you'd want to endorse isn't easy. First you have to think about what you think is important. Then you have to try to figure out if your money will be put to good use.

I spent most of last night thinking about what I care about. What is important. And which organization tries to do something about it. Then I stumbled across Reporters Without Borders and had a look at their website.

Before I can endorse them I still have to read up a bit more on what they do and whether there are any apparent problems that would make me think twice about supporting them, but in principle, promoting freedom of press seems like a very important cause. In fact, after a bit of pondering it struck me that their cause is probably more important than tactical medical support since it attacks problems around the world in a more fundamental manner.

You can't have a working democracy unless you have transparency and freedom of press. Secrecy and censorship breed totalitarian and corrupt states in which the rights of the individual erode quickly. And as history has demonstrated, once transparency and the free flow of news goes out the window, things can quickly descend into the sort of regression that ends up staining the history books forever.

We are tending in that direction in the west right now and it is scary.

Even in Norway, which thrones at number 2 on the list of countries that enjoy the most freedom of press has an embarrasing stain in its criminal code that demonstrates how horribly naive our politicians can be. §390c would actually prohibit photographic documentation of, for instance, arrests -- the act of photographing an arrest would be an offense punishable by imprisonment (Note that the act of photographing an arrest and the act of publishing the resulting imagery are two very separate issues. The latter being covered by both other laws as well as the strict code of conduct in such cases that newspaper editors have to follow).

How on earth can legislation that is so corrosive to the fundamental underpinnings of a democratic society make it into law in a country like Norway? It makes you realize just how fragile everything we have come to expect from a civilized society is.

If it wasn't for the fact that the attorney general in Norway strongly suggested the law not be enacted, and if it wasn't for the journalists speaking up, we could have gotten stuck with this legal blemish.

In Norway such things happen simply because we have uneducated politicians who appear to be unfit for qualified work (Don't take my word for it; have a look at the CVs of our members of government and the parliament. It is an embarrassment). Big on grandstanding, not so big on actual long term thinking. You can only imagine what happens if you substitute that sheer feeblemindedness with ill will. When a government or government agencies make a conscious effort to eradicate the free flow of information, ideas and criticism.

In most parts of the world this seems to be the norm. Even in "civilized" and "democratic" societies. That's fairly scary.

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