Scott Hanselman

Blogs and Opinions - "Viewer Mail," an icky way to end the year? Or a good way to start the New Year...

January 01, 2005 Comment on this post [6] Posted in Africa
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Well here's an interesting thing, considering that this is a technical blog.

Last week I wrote a post on how I was offended at CNN's posting of a picture of a white face on their home page when ~20,000 non-whites were dead (>120,000 now, likely 150,000 soon and one third were children). I felt, and still feel, that it was an ethnocentric decision by CNN.

Since, for whatever reason, CNN has posted more sensitive pictures, but not before they did two days of coverage on a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model who survived and a whole story on celebrities affected.  Certainly I wasn't the only one who noticed this, and a number of people mentioned it to me, both publically and privately. The Progressive Magazine did an article in the same vein as my post called "NYT says Tsunami Kills White People Too."

A U.S. government site has quote from President Bush about relief aid.

[For example], in the year 2004, our government provided $2.4 billion in food, in cash, in humanitarian relief to cover the disasters for last year. That's $2.4 billion. That's 40 percent of all the relief aid given in the world last year, was provided by the United States government. No, we're a very generous, kindhearted nation.

The interesting things are the $2.4B the government gave this year to humanitarian relief (it doesn't say if it include the Tsunami $350M), and the statement that it was 40% of all relief give in the world. It's good we gave more that any country in the world, considering that our GDP is nearly 11 MILLION MILLION dollars, almost double our nearest competitor, China, and almost greater than the entire rest of the top ten.

The government aid was originally $4M, then $35M on the third day (the same amount pledged by the Pzifer corporation alone) and today was upp'ed the amount of government-pledged aid to $350M. This number will likely change as the death toll rises. This is in comparison to the $13.6 Billion that has been pledged for Florida Hurricane relief. In another comparison, Bill Gates and his wife gave $168M last year to Malaria research alone and another $42M this year.

Anyway, I received this email today in criticism to my earlier post on CNN's ethnocentric news focus.

Shame on you. Americans pay attention to other Americans killed in disasters partly because it hits close to home, and reminds us of how those thousands of people over there feel. America is a very empathetic country.
The Americans have given $350 million dollars to this disaster. How dare anyone criticize them. As for media, anyone with an IQ over 50 knows never to trust the opinions of the media.
For some reason, America is seemingly the most criticized nation as far as it's moral standards and supposed "self-centeredness" goes. However, America gives 40% of the world's disaster relief funds every year. America rushes to help, and immediately orchestrates organizations for rescue and help whenever something goes wrong...
When 9/11 happened, who rushed to their side? Not really anyone, at least no other country in a heroic way. Instead, the Americans themselves took charge, and they didn't give anyone else any grief at all for not giving enough. America isn't perfect, but they do a lot of good for this world.
America has good intentions, and have proven time and time again their selflessness. Anyone who continues to criticize despite this has issues, and needs a reality check.
Either way, is your bitching about the wrong doings of American media helping this situation at all? No, but the American Red Cross is...
You're a flippin' hypocrite- and I'm not even American. Lay off, you come off as an arrogant swine.
[Heather Erickson-Sander]
I was bummed to get such negativity in my inbox so close to the end of the year. This email was so vituperous it triggered my spam filters, and I might not have seen it if I didn't fish it out.
A few things stood out in this response other than "flippin' hypocrite" and "arrogant swine" as I get those all the time. :)
"How dare anyone criticize [The Americans]." Personally, I think that there are few things on this earth that are beyond reasoned criticism. Certainly that's why I posted this critical email on my blog. Like it or not, American is big and worthy of both praise and criticism.
"When 9/11 happened, who rushed to their side?" Invoking 9/11, a tragic, but non-natural disaster that killed 1/50th of the people this tsunami did and that U.S. citizenry and government was capable of handling, doesn't seem like a reasonable parallel. Remember that over 1.5 BILLION was raised after 9/11, much of it by citizens domestically, more that could be distributed.
"America has good intentions, and have proven time and time again their selflessness. Anyone who continues to criticize despite this has issues, and needs a reality check." To be clear, I was criticizing CNN's editorial staff, but I can see how a media outlet can be confused as the face of a country.
Interestingly, she is cut-and-pasting variations of this criticism on other blogs under different names. I would encourage her to channel her enthusiasm towards more useful ends.
Greg Hughes and I have done what little we can by pressuring Bloggers and Google to donate their AdSense revenue. This has worked very well, and it looks like our little movement has taken off. Many other bloggers in other niches had the same idea simultaneously and we've received word that Google has noticed the movement and is exploring options.
I post this as the New Year fast approaches, and it's good to end the year on an introspective note. The human condition is overwhelming. Who are we to be blessed so? 150,000 people tragically dead today that weren't on Christmas, and expected to see the New Year themselves. 5 million people homeless today that weren't last week, but I sit here warm in my house. There but for the grace of God go I.
Acute and instant tragedies like this inspire people to give. Hearing that 150,000 died in a short period of time is overwhelming. However, as you enter the new year and plan your giving, remember that nearly 3,000,000 people die of Malaria every year, and 3,000 children every DAY. That's 250,000 people a month and causes 50% of the deaths of African children. Roughly 2% of Africans in Africa have AIDS, but 25% have Malaria each year. Give often and always. Give to those causes that you feel need help, but have a healthy perspective during this difficult time.
In conclusion, I'd like to point you to another useful thing.  India Today has an interesting currency neutral chart that suggests an appropriate level of giving based on your yearly and daily salary. I think it's more than reasonable to expect everyone who is able to give a few days or a week's pay to help assist in the worst natural disaster that, God willing, Insha Allah the likes of which we will never see again.
Give. I'll see you next year. I'll try to dial up the technical content and dial down the editiorials, thanks for your patience.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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January 01, 2005 12:50
I think it was an unfortunate position she took. While you and I don't always see situations identically (in fact that's one part of why I enjoy our friendship so much - it gives me a chance to learn and see things from different perspectives), we both know that we hae a significant amount of common ground, and ultimately that's just as important as our philosophical differences.

To borrow Hal's words from another weblog, "Shame on the media - but what's new... Hooray for America - but what's new."

I think I can easily agree with that, although I woudl also say that much of the media has this one right, and there are a few that have their heads straight up their backsides.

But hey - what's new?

Well said tonight, and I got your point the other day, too. It's easy for people to do as they tend to do and change context. Don't fret. You're a good man, Charlie Brown.

Happy New Year.
January 01, 2005 20:46
Scott- I LIKE the editorials (as well as technical content). I WANT to read what you have to say on these topics. Don't let the haters get you down. Your criticism was well-reasoned and thoughtful. We need more of that from weblogs- not less.
January 01, 2005 21:09
Scott, I appreciate you sharing your opinion on issues such as this - I think we need more "dialogue" among the people of this world, and blogs such as yours (specifically, the non-technical aspect) help facilitate that. Will your opinion always be sane? Not necessarily. At some point in the future, will you discover you have changed your mind or perspective on some issues because of a bit of backlash? Maybe. It is the strong who can take criticism with a grain of salt and ask themselves questions such as "Was I off a bit on this one? Does this person have some good points?" Maybe some people will blow hot air 100% of the time, but there may be nuggets of wisdom somewhere for those that are looking (not necessarily, but maybe). Sorry to wax philisophical . . . Either way, keep up the good work, your blog is one of the only ones I enjoy reading as much for non-technical content as I do for the technical.
January 01, 2005 21:36
Scott, one thing I learnt from reading your blog is that you put a lot of thought in everything you do. I admire the way you favor reason over hype in all your technical posts and it wouldn't be any different with your non-technical posts. I think most of your readers completely understand what your intentions were and, even if they disagree, they know you are one of the good guys and that you're always triyng to help make things better. Thanks for representing us geeks so well!
January 01, 2005 22:14
hmmmmm, my first reaction was "he's overreacting" and I think it still is, but your not overreacting without merit. Every time I loaded the CNN webpage, there was a non-white face staring back at me. They change the front page image during the day. Along the celebrity vein they also did stories on Jet Li and his son surviving the tsunami. How does that fit into your view of CNN's faux pax? He's a celebrity, but he's not white. They also covered a sci-fi author who is living in Thailand and survived. To his credit the author said, "We're fine, worry about the others."

When I see news outlets reporting on celebrities involved in a disaster, my first reaction is "who cares?". But then I think that the networks are trying to tie the vitims to the readers. If you just see a bunch of faces you've never seen before you might become somewhat numb to the situation. If you see faces you recognize, you pay more attention. I think that's also why they show women and children. People CARE more about women and children suffering than they do adult men.

All that being said, the media likes to tout itself as the fourth estate. My question to that is "who watches the watchmen". Criticism of the media, especially lately, is always appropriate. If they want to represent themselves as a new branch of the governnment, then they work for US!
January 01, 2005 22:22
There has been this weird atomosphere where you are un-American if you criticize the United States government, President or the war. They say we are sending them mixed messages. We are in a democratic country where freedom of speech is guaranteed, so it gives me a sense of "censorship" or "dictatorship" when I hear something like that and it gives me shiver. I do respect their patoriotism, but when patoriotism goes beyond what it's supposed to be, things go wrong. We lose the very basic right that is guaranteed to us under democracy.

I've been reading your blog for more than a year now and I've enjoyed it so much not just your technical blog, but also your musings. Why do I enjoy them? Because you make sense! You make a lot of sense. It really shows how good a deep thinker you are. We are all humans, so we live in the world where we need to deal with humans, not just technical details. Humans are much more complex than programming C# and that's what we are.

I appreciate your sharing your thoughts. I truly respect you as a software engineer and as a person as well.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.