Video of the day

Umm, wow.  This is some golf shot:

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To whom to give?

I’ve become really intrigued by the increasing research and analytic rigor applied to charitable giving.  Both the Freakonomics podcast and the Planet Money podcast have done good episodes on this.  I’m quite intrigued by the idea of Give Directly, which simply gives money to the poorest of the poor and rigorously tests the effectiveness of its programs.

Anyway, really thought-provoking column by Pete Singer today about how we give money away.  Pretty much any money spent on a first-world cause could have a dramatically larger impact in the developing world.  Yeah, it’s great to help a kid dying of cancer, but what if that money could literally save the lives of 10 African youngsters:

You’d have to be a real spoilsport not to feel good about Batkid. If the sight of 20,000 people joining in last month to help the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the city of San Francisco fulfill the superhero fantasies of a 5-year-old — and not just any 5-year-old, but one who has been battling a life-threatening disease — doesn’t warm your heart, you must be numb to basic human emotions.

Yet we can still ask if these emotions are the best guide to what we ought to do. According to Make-A-Wish, the average cost of realizing the wish of a child with a life-threatening illness is $7,500. That sum, if donated to the Against Malaria Foundation and used to provide bed nets to families in malaria-prone regions, could save the lives of at least two or three children (and that’s a conservative estimate). If donated to the Fistula Foundation, it could pay for surgeries for approximately 17 young mothers who, without that assistance, will be unable to prevent their bodily wastes from leaking through their vaginas and hence are likely to be outcasts for the rest of their lives. If donated to the Seva Foundation to treat trachoma and other common causes of blindness in developing countries, it could protect 100 children from losing their sight as they grow older.

Singer also does a nice job on the psychology of this– much easier to give to an American with a face and cancer than thousands of nameless Africans at risk for some disease you’ve never heard of.

On a related note, I always enjoy Yglesias‘ rants against charitable giving to universities:

 Here’s some advice: Don’t do it.

The one and only valid reason to donate money to your selective and well-endowed alma mater is that you’re implicitly trying to bribe them to give your own children preference in the admissions process.

I guess my $20 or so a year of giving to Duke is invalid.  I guess I just do it to reinforce a psychological connection to my alma mater and because I really enjoyed my time there.  Next time they ask I should probably just write a $20 check for mosquito nets, though.

Photo of the day

From Big Picture’s part II of the year in photos:

LaTisha Garcia carries her 8-year-old daughter, Jazmin Rodriguez, near Plaza Towers Elementary School after a massive tornado carved its way through Moore, Okla., May 20. leaving little of the school and neighborhood. (Sue Ogrock/Associated Press

Don’t just live in the moment– save it

I read a recent NYT essay castigating those like me from taking time to record life instead of just “live in the moment.”  I almost wrote a blog post, but I didn’t.  I’m glad I waited because John Dickerson has a terrific response that captures my own thoughts perfectly (great stuff, so I’ve excerpted a lot):

 Last weekend in the New York Times, Sherry Turkle wrote about putting our lives “on pause” in order to tweet, text, or take a selfie: “When you get accustomed to a life of stops and starts, you get less accustomed to reflecting on where you are and what you are thinking.” A few months ago, also in the Times, Nick Bilton wrote that we’re all so busy capturing moments, we’re not living in them.

This is a false choice. You can live in the moment and capture it…

These people are a chore, but people have been abusing the mouth by talking too much for ages. If you are tweeting and not paying attention to the world around you, then you’re just a bore. It’s not technology’s fault or a change in norms. If you go out to dinner with people who are constantly texting, it’s like going to dinner with people who won’t shut up about their golf game or their wireless speakers. It’s also true, though, that for some people, talking too much or taking a thousand photographs is the way they experience the world…

When you pause to write about something—even if it’s for Twitter or Facebook—you are engaging with it. Something within you is inspired and, at the very least, you’ve got to pick the words and context to convey meaning for your private recollection or, if you make it public, for the largerworld [emphasis mine]…

 Photographs, and particularly selfies, get a lot of criticism for distracting us, but they are even more powerful passageways to meaning than the written word.

Surprise fireworks at wedding across the street.
Surprise fireworks at a wedding across the street.
Courtesy jfdickerson/Instagram

Here’s a picture of surprise fireworks that broke out across the street this summer. Taking the picture didn’t diminish the surprise; I’d already experienced that. But what I did capture was the kids rushing from their beds and all of us hovering around the window. I suppose there were a few moments lost to possible consideration of the larger role fireworks play in man’s winding path toward meaning, but the fireworks went on for a really long time, so I think I figured that out too…

In the past, you took a photo, you hoped it developed, you relived the moment, and then entombed most of the pictures in a shoebox or a photo album. Now we carry those moments with us. The first time I played guitar with my daughter, I might not have been 100 percent in the moment when I made a video of it, but I don’t think I missed a chord, and when I’m stuck on a plane I’m very happy to hear her play. I am happy to swap the seconds I expended getting the video in place for the moments of escape the video provides from the middle-seat armrest competition…

One of the great things about children is that they have no other concern than to be simply interested in things. It is considered by some the height of mindfulness to approach the world afresh like a child. So perhaps we’ve got this all wrong. If we practice hard enough, we can become thoroughly interested in even the simplest things of daily life, the way a child would. The smallest things would become so meaningful, they might even be worthy a few words or a photograph, whatever method you use to capture them.

You all know that I love photographs and photography.  Sometimes those photos interrupt “the moment.”  But that is far outweighted by the value that comes of preserving– and even better re-living– that moment when I see that photo again.  Or the joy that comes with sharing that moment with others that I know care to genuinely experience it vicariously.  Or even like Dickerson’s photo above.  That gave me a great sense of wistful parenthood even though I don’t personally know Dickerson (did meet him once– great guy) or his kids.

As for me, I’ll keep interrupting those moments to capture them, engage with them, and share them here, on Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr

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