Friday, September 30, 2005

Why Conservation Doesn't Work

Congressman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) is introducing legislation to raise the fuel economy requirements for cars to 33 miles per gallon by 2015. Republicans for Environmental Protection describes the rationale:

Since America holds only 2 percent of global oil reserves, increased domestic production would add little slack to the oil market. America accounts for 25 percent of global oil demand, but 98 percent of global oil reserves are in foreign countries. Consequently, an energy policy that perpetuates America's oil dependence is a poor strategic choice.

In contrast, we can exert more control over our energy destiny by reducing fuel demand through greater efficiency. The National Academy of Sciences has documented that technology is available today to produce safe vehicles that get substantially better mileage.

Improving mileage by as little as 2 mpg would cut gasoline demand by 1 million barrels per day, equivalent to all the growth in U.S. gasoline demand since 1997.

I'm going to speak some heresy here--conservation doesn't work. Not voluntary conservation, anyway. Jimmy Carter was rightly mocked in the 1970s for asking Americans to wear sweaters as part of his energy policy, and GW Bush should be mocked as heartily. We know from clinical trials of depression, ADHD, and other psychiatric disorders that 'Behavioral' interventions--defined as those that rely on changing habits and offering rewards/punishments--only work as long as the intervention period lasts. As soon as the patient stops meeting with the therapist, the changes all go away.

The real solution is making the desired behavior flow directly from the system, rather than imposing change from without. In other words, for ADHD for example, it's better to have class in a room with less distractions, than to punish a kid each time he gets out of his seat. Likewise, it's a more sustainable program to provide incentives for buying smaller cars, than it is to release the strategic oil reserve with each shortage. And it certainly makes more sense to level the playing field for car manufacturers by having them all adhere to an aggressive fuel efficiency requirement than to have the Commander-in-Chief periodically exhort Americans to drive less.

H/T Moderate Republican

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Living Originalism

Jonathan Rowe writes of a brand of originalist constitutional interpretation that is free of the absurd Scalia fetish of the 'original intent' while giving full homage to the Constitution as supreme law of the land.

He points out that there are many situations and questions about which the Constitution says nothing, and shows how the standard originalist modus operandi of asking what the constitution's text specifically says about the issue does not usually shed any light. He suggests that it is necessary to go one level of abstraction up from the text to see what the general idea embodied in specific language is, rather than focussing what the Founders' history-specific intent was. As an example of this type of critique, he analyzes the Declaration of Independence.

Let’s focus on the Declaration of Independence. The words state “All men are created equal.” The original intent of the Framers might ask, “how did Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, understand and expect those words to apply?” Did they, for instance, think blacks are covered under the norm? If we asked instead, how did “the people” expect those words to apply, arguably we get an outcome that is far more illiberal than asking the Framers that question. Jefferson et al. because they were more reflective than the average Joe of the Founding, arguably did think that blacks had rights under the Declaration and were thus very troubled by the institution of slavery. Your average Joe of the Founding thought “all men are created equal” meant “all white Protestant Males” were created equal. But again, regardless of how the average Joe expected the words to apply, the Declaration doesn’t say that. It makes no distinction between blacks and whites. Original meaning would instead ask what did those words generally mean in a dictionary sense. For instance, “All” meant “every”; “men” arguably meant “mankind” (which term would include women with men) or “human beings,” and “equal” meant, not “equal in abilities” but rather equal in deserving certain basic rights which governments are in the business of securing. So as a matter of logic, we would ask not, “did the Framers or the people” think that blacks and women had equal rights under the Declaration. The answer is arguably “NO”; but rather, “are blacks and women human beings?” And the answer to that is most certainly yes. Thus blacks and women by nature are entitled to “equal rights.”

This type of common-sense approach to constitution interpretation, I believe, is why we have human beings sitting on the Supreme Court rather than a Westlaw terminal. Overeagerness to depart from the text of the constitution can stem from an underestimation of the value of a functioning system of checks and balances in the face of an issue of the moment; overzealousness in the worship of the word-by-word constitutional text may betray the mistaken belief that the foundation of our government is somehow eternal, rather than temporal. But a philosophy based on 'original meaning' is a practical compromise between the twin needs for order and liberty.

Hat tip to Dipatches from the Culture Wars.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Mental Health and the Third World

NAMI plans a protest this week in Washington to draw attention to the WHO/World Bank initiatives to expand access to mental health care in third world nations. Their concerns revolve around two main points: that treating mental health as a separate problem draws attention away from the social and political problems that exacerbate psychiatric symptoms, and that this initiative can be used by multinational drug companies as a way to expand the reach of biological psychiatry. These are legitimate issues, and I think that policy makers ought to take them into account when deciding how to respond to the mental health care system's deficits in these countries.

But disparities in mental health care access do exist. Disorders like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder clearly respond to treatments that are available in first world countries--some medication treatments, but also psychosocial treatments. Moreover, it's easy to reverse the direction of causality when thinking about poverty and mental illness in developing countries, while the relationship is seen as synergistic here in the US. The 2001 WHO report notes:

Poverty can also be both a cause and a result of ill health and may contribute to brain disorders through poor nutrition, unhygienic living conditions and inadequate access to health care. According to the report, research indicates that in many countries "poverty and several psychiatric disorders, such as depression, exacerbate each other."

The "primary health care model" for general medical care delivery has been implemented in many developing countries, but mental health has been slow to adopt it (Link). "Primary health care" is a strategy of integrating technology and support from outside countries into the political, administrative, and cultural framework of the host developing country. It should be developed for mental health purposes, especially to deliver psychosocial treatments which engender less reliance on outside sources of funding and medications.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Germans Can Move Water

Even in the midst of so much tragedy on the Gulf Coast, there is a story of generous effectiveness, thanks to the Germans. TQE reports:

Remember those estimates that it would take three to six months to pump the water out of New Orleans? Just ten days after those estimates were made, the city is more or less dry. There is a story behind this news. It has to do with a large contingent of German volunteers who came to play a major role in the rescue of New Orleans. It's time someone told their story...

Tested and proven in the Asian Tsunami disaster earlier this year, and in the floods of 2003 in France, the German pumping team could provide what no other country had available: fast, experienced help with some of the best mobile pumping equipment available anywhere.

By Sunday, September 4, the offer had been accepted by US Ambassador William Timken on behalf of the United States — at a time when most other nations were still asking how they could help. THW, the German technical relief agency, asked for volunteers. By departure date the German team had grown to 89 volunteers, with five paid support personnel. They were joined by a five-person team from Luxembourg. All expenses were covered by the Federal Republic of Germany.

It is largely due to these pumps that the now-famous 9th ward was largely dry by the time Rita hit, and if the pumps weather the storm, it will be dry again much sooner than after Katrina.

While the story is inspiring, it is also distubing that there were no official channels through disaster response agencies, no pre-conceived plans to arrange for such pumps. That is a lesson for FEMA to work on for the future. Nevertheless, it renews hope in humanity when people come together like this in a time of need.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Victimization of the Severely Mentally Ill

Conventional wisdom says the mentally ill often perpetrate crime, but new data turn that assumption upside-down. The recent Archives of General Psychiatry reports data from the National Crime Victimization Survey showing that the severely and persistantly mentally ill are 12 times as likely to be victimized by crime than the general population. In other words, 25% percent of the severely mentally ill population has suffered a violent crime. By contrast, Steadman found that mentally ill patients did not differ from the general population in rate of crime perpetrated.

The severely and persistantly mentally ill live in the most dangerous social environments due to economic disadvantage, and are the most vulnerable to coersion and exploitation. In this post-institutionalization era, we must find more effective ways to detect and prevent their victimization.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

CT to Recognize VT Civil Unions

More evidence that the national compromise on same-sex marriage likely will look like the VT civil union law--Connecticut will recognize VT civil unions, but not Massachusetts' same-sex marriages, according to VPR. Connecticut will soon be granting civil unions itself.

Most pro gay marriage people are most interested in securing the legal protections that marriage confers, while most anti gay marriage people are primarily concerned about maintaining the cultural-religious-legal construct of marriage as they have seen it bequeathed down the ages. I think that the civil union solution actually does that quite nicely, and if it is seen not to disrupt the institution of heterosexual marriage for any length of time, I think objections will slowly fall away as it is adopted in state after state.

From Freedom to Virtue

Doug Muder writes of how religious (and by that I also read cultural) liberals need to make the personal political.

For years, religious liberals have been publicizing the wrong thing about ourselves: our freedom. The Right knows that we have more freedom than they do, and they see it as evidence of our superficiality: Sure, you’re free. You can get an abortion. You can get a divorce. You can drink. You can sleep in on Sunday mornings. You can go to porno movies. You can sleep around.

They’re not impressed.

They see us as people who want to be free to slough off our obligations. They don’t understand that we want to be free to make commitments. And that we do make them and keep them. That part doesn’t fit. It breaks the frame.

When I look at this congregation, I see a lot that would break the frame of the Religious Right, if they only knew about it. I see married couples -- gay and straight alike -- who stand together and handle gracefully whatever the world throws at them. Their frame can’t account for that.

I see children who are growing up to be fine young men and women. Their frame can’t account for that.

I see people who give up their time, their energy, and their money to make the world better. Who build affordable housing. Who are committed to peace. Who make beautiful art and music. Who care for the mentally ill. And there are people I don’t see right now, because at this moment they’re back there teaching our children to be better people.

Their frame can’t account for that.

The Religious Right sees itself as the last embattled fortress of virtue in a world overrun with vice. If evil is breaching that fortress, it just makes their battle more desperate. But if goodness is alive and well outside the walls, that doesn’t fit. It breaks the frame.

We fight them best by making lives that they have to admire. By building better families and better communities. By contributing more to the world. By doing it in public. By doing it in ways they can’t ignore. If you want to hear sermons about family values, go listen to Jerry Falwell. He’s good at that. But if you want to be surrounded by people who live values, whose example can show you how to make your family work, come here.

That’s the message that wins.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Hate-America Right

I'm not a fan of anyone who hates America, and as Dean's World points out, the hate-America Right is just as harmful as the hate-America Left.

We talk a lot about the Hate-America Left. There's no doubt that they do exist--the Michael Moores, the Noam Chomskys, the Howard Zinns, and the other members of the fascist and communist apologist left. But one of the reasons I turned my back on conservatism was the dour Hate-America Right.

Who are they? The ones who say God no longer loves or protects America because we've fallen into wickedness and hedonism. The ones who suggest we got what was coming to us on 9/11 because God won't protect a country that considers allowing gay people get married. The ones who say we're a lazy, stupid, illiterate, slovenly bunch of uncouth pigs and vile hedonistic sinners.

Here's my question for the Hate-America Right: where was the point exactly that America was protected by God's grace? Was it before or after the British sacked Washington DC and burned the Capital and the White House? Was it before or after Gettysberg and Antietam? Before or after the bombing of the Maine? Before or after Pearl Harbor? Before or after the bombing of the Cole? Before or after 9/11?

[Here's] a news-flash for the dour "America sucks" conservatives: the divorce rate is down, not up. Illegitimacy is down, not up. The "free love" movement ended over 20 years ago. Single motherhood is viewed as either an unfortunate situation or is outright frowned on by most of society and is on the decline. And sexually transmitted diseases are less of a problem today than when our grandparents were young...

These observations are related to my prior post on Choice-based vs. Obligation-based families. To believe that excessive choice is the culprit in one's own family problems, one must believe in a general decline of the culture due to the same forces. But these ideas, as well as the false "Roman decline" historical analogy just don't hold up under data and closer scrutiny.

But then the class-war ideology of the left doesn't hold up either. That is why so many Americans self-identify as independents--they do not wish to be affiliated with the two parties using ideological mobilization of the bases as their main strategy, rather than reaching out to the the center. As long as moderate rhetoric is poison for a candidate in the primaries, politics will be more about a duel between each end of the hate-America spectrum than about centrist solutions.

Hat tip to Classical Values

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Update: Darfur Isn't Getting Better, and We're Not Helping

Nicholas Kristoff writes in today's NYT that the Bush Administration continues to be more hindrance than help in the world's response to the tragedy in Darfur.

[In] effect the United States successfully blocked language in the declaration saying that countries have an "obligation" to respond to genocide. In the end the declaration was diluted to say that "We are prepared to take collective action ... on a case by case basis" to prevent genocide.

Kristoff points out that much of Bush's evangelical base has been moved to action, making his own reluctance difficult to explain on domestic political grounds. I don't know whether that reluctance is driven by concern about overstretching our military, or unwillingness to cede our sovereignty by allowing international bodies to define genocides and thus oblige our military to intercede. But whatever the objections might be to the operational parameters of anti-genocide policy I would have hoped we would be able to at least provide the international community solidarity and strong language. It would have really cost us nothing, and would have provided the type of symbolism that influences the acts of nations.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

White Coat Blues

Medical school is a set up for developing clinical depression. Sleep deprivation, socialization into a profession where illness and death are routine, and an academic work load unlike any other ever encountered all add up to quite a burden for your synapses. The New England Journal writes this week:

Students may become depressed at any point in medical school, but Gartrell has found that the period of greatest distress occurs during the third and fourth years, when students rotate through the hospitals and clinics. "In the clinical years, there's just far greater commitment of time, plus as match pressure begins to emerge, it's an extremely stressful time for a lot of people," she said. Students are often separated from friends and classmates and must work with a constantly changing set of residents and attending physicians, which contributes to their sense of isolation. Gartrell said that many of the female students she sees are worried that the mounting demands of training and clinical practice will not allow them time to find a partner, marry, and have children. Haynes noted that the increase in sleep deprivation during rotations may also expose mood disorders.

There's no question that even under the best circumstances medical school pushes people's cognitive and emotional reserves to the limits. I'm glad that the risk of depression is getting more attention.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

"We Had to Kill our Patients"

At least some physicians in New Orleans gave lethal doses of morphine to critically ill patients they could not save, as looters stormed the hospital seeking drugs and the last of the staff were evacuated, according to The Mail.

My colleague in contact with staff at the New Orleans VA Hospital reports that when the power went out, they were unable to evacuate all of their critically ill patients when the ventilators went out. They had to bag ventilate them all night by hand and lost nearly all of them. Truly a nightmare.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Nature, TV, and the Brain

Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods stands in a tradition of nature-education reaching back through John Dewey, at least as far as Rousseau. But I would go farther than the author.

Louv describes the multimedia world as a filter, a layer of perception between people and the reality--natural but also cultural--around them. Electronic media are very effective at distributing and organizing information, but they are not as good at conveying subtle emotional content. There is simply a different gestalt to seeing the Grand Canyon on TV, and being there. In fact, having seen it enough times on TV actually distracts one from fully enjoying it when you see it the first time--there is an impatience, a jadedness that takes a little while to overcome before the grandeur of the place can sink in. And many are not willing to wait long enough for that to happen, though it surely does.

There is sound neuropsychological basis to the idea that electronic media cause distorted learning patterns. TV, including educational programs, put the cognitive areas of the cortex into alpha-wave activity (semi-sleep), favor right-sided cortex activity, and inhibit cortical communication with the limbic system, associated with emotion and learning (Link). The many detrimental effects of excessive TV exposure to kids are well documented--increased irritability and risk of ADHD for example. And much is written about TV and obesity. Little is said though of the ongoing cognitive toxicity TV has on adults.

But here is the hope: the vast improvement in information management can be put to use without drawing the soul out of our experiences if we take the time to truly experience nature, if we realize how many experiences must be had in person. Television, the internet, and video games are obstacles only when we allow them to become so. Louv's message applies to adults at least as much as it does to children--create authentic experiences and your life will be richer.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Photos From New Orleans

Check out this eerie photo diary from New Orleans with captions, by a Nicaraguan hotel worker living in the French Quarter.

Hat tip to Med Pundit.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

What is Judicial Activism, Really?

Charging RINO cites George Will's WaPo piece suggesting good questions to ask the prospective Chief Justice when he comes before the committee. Many strike at the basis of how one reasons about the law, and it's important that we constantly consider these questions as a nation, not only at the time of SCOTUS nominations.

The idea of judicial activism is a pervasive item of contention. Today, liberals tend to believe the constitution is a 'living document' with which each new generation must have a dialogue of sorts if it is to remain relevant and useful. Conservatives are more likely to hold the originalist view that the intent of the Founders must be preserved by considering it a static document.

But that's not how the political factions have always aligned themselves. In FDR's day, conservative justices were considered 'judicial activists' for striking down democratically enacted New Deal legislation. Is this evidence of mere political obstructionism? I don't think so. Rather, the concept of judicial activism is not used the same from instance to instance, and it is a cause of confusion.

The judicial activism of today that conservatives rail against as 'legislating from the bench' might be renamed 'judicial social engineering'. The state supreme court ruling requiring Vermont to enact Civil Union legislation, for example, was not upsetting to two different types of conservatives on two different grounds:

1. To limited-government conservatives, the court was seen as forcing the state to assume an inappropriate role in structuring society itself. These folks would see the state take its cue directly from the culture, rather than allowing the culture to be shaped by the fickle goals of the state.

2. To cultural conservatives, the court was seen as a body of political adversaries (i.e. liberals) enacting their own political agenda in the only way they could, since civil union legislation would never pass.

The judicial activism of FDR's time might be renamed 'assertive judicial review.' That is, the Court assiduously enforced the constitutional limits on another branch's powers. To liberals, this view seemed like obstructionism and pro-business cronyism, but remember the context of the time--governments in Europe were meddling in their countries' economies with a free hand, ordering citizen-producers about and sliding toward totalitarianism.

There are no black-and-white solutions to differences of perception about what constitutes judicial overstepping. Courts must stay within the letter of the law, for to allow full blown judicial social engineering would be to set up lawyers as a ruling caste. But let's be honest--no mainstream liberal is really advocating this. What liberals do often do is rely on dramatic test cases a la Rosa Parks to prove a point, and attempt to change policy. That was appropriate early in the civil rights movement, when the chance of legislative reform was virtually nil. But today, there is certainly a critical mass of support for progress on issues like gay rights, the environment, and civil liberties. Besides, which have had more pervasive impact: Gomillion v. Lightfoot or the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Missouri vs. Illinois or the Clean Water Act?

We should fight injustices in the courts when we must, but making policy in the halls of democracy is the hard work of enacting lasting, fundamental change.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Tulane Hospital Evacuation

Check out this compelling account of the Herculean task facing the staff of Tulane's teaching hospital, as told by its CEO.

At 1:30 am on Tuesday morning began the biggest crisis and challenge of my life and in the life of Tulane and no doubt New Orleans. I was awakened by my COO who told me the water in the boiler room was rising a foot an hour since midnight and if it continued at that rate at best we had only another two to three hours before we would lose all power since we already were on emergency power since early Monday morning. We had only 7 ventilator patients whose lives would be in jeopardy, and we had to move fast to get them out. We had no boat and no helicopter pad.

Houston we have a problem.

Hat tip to Gruntdoc

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Disorder on the Gulf Coast

If you don't have a clear enough picture of the horrors in New Orleans, see this NO Times-Picayune post, with reports of gang rapes of young girls.

Or see CNN's report on looters taking potshots at contractors rebuilding the levees.

My brother just returned from delivering water and supplies to friends in Mississippi, and tells me that everyone has armed themselves to protect their belongings.

It's unbelievable that this is happening in America. Some argue that this disorder is proof positive of the virtue of the second amendment. I'd be interested in seeing data when this is all over that give us guidance as to whether an armed society is a polite society, as the NRA saying goes, or if it's really just a more dangerous society.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Choice vs Obligation: Towards New Family Values

I have argued that America's regional cultural--and voting--patterns can be explained by examining the settlement patterns of British immigrants and their folkways. A recent UU World article suggests that differences between New England Yankee family ways and those of the other 3 folk groups may be more profound than Albion's Seed points out. I'd like to look at these family differences from a psychodevelopmental point of view. But first, here are some quotes from the article.

Fundamentalists themselves would claim that the Bible is the center of their worldview, but scriptural support for their more controversial positions is often scant and open to alternate interpretations...

Members of the pseudonymous Shawmut River Baptist Church “generally held such views before they were ‘saved’ and became born-again Christians. Their pro-family conservatism could not be explained, then, by doctrines or practices found in any particular religion.” Instead, Ault attributes Shawmut River’s conservatism to a “villagelike” web of multigenerational family ties very different from what he observed among his academic acquaintances.

Though a life of mutual dependence within a family circle was commonplace among members of Shawmut River and other new-right activists I met, it was foreign to people I knew in academia and the New Left, as well as to other educated professionals I knew... Our material security did not rest on a stream of daily reciprocities within a family-based circle of people known in common, but rather on the progression of professional careers, with steadily increasing salaries and ample benefits to cover whatever exigencies life would bring.

Shawmut River’s extended-family system was based on its shared belief in congenital obligations, in a society in which “relationships were seen and acted on as given rather than chosen.” A child, in this view, is born into a network of mutual obligations and depends for its survival on the fulfillment of those obligations. As it grows, the child takes an ever more active role in upholding that network. At no point in the process is the individual in a position to stand outside the network and choose whether or not its obligations apply to him or her. The only choice the individual has is whether to fulfill his/her obligations or to renege on them. This is what fundamentalists mean when they say that moral values are “absolute” rather than “relative.”

By contrast, the liberal worldview puts a much greater emphasis on commitments undertaken by choice, rather than obligations imposed from birth. Naturally, this is a difference of degree rather than kind. Unitarian Universalists have obligations and Baptists make choices, but choice plays a far greater role in the liberal worldview than in the conservative. Choice is entirely a good thing in the liberal worldview, whereas it is ambiguous to the Christian Right.

Muder cites statistics that show that Liberal and Conservative households do not differ measurably in terms of signs of 'moral decay' such as divorce, pornography viewing, teen sexual promiscuity, wife beating, etc.

Religious conservatives are not being busybodies when they worry about moral breakdown: Fundamentalists worry about moral breakdown because they see their own lives, families, and communities breaking down.

This makes it understandable how someone with a 'obligation' view of the family sees the trouble in his own community can feel very threatened by concepts associated with a choice-based family where obligations would be even less surely adhered to. When they see the moral problems in their own families, they imagine that liberal families can only be much worse. He goes on to discuss the liberal concept of 'commitment' as distinct from the conservative's obligation.

If there is one basic thing conservatives do not understand about religious liberals, it is this sense of commitment. They see us champion choice over obligation, but misunderstand our reasons. They understand us to be advocating a superficial and nihilistic way of life. They think we want to choose our own moral codes so that we can pick easy ones that rationalize our every whim. They believe that we want the freedom to define our relationships so that we can walk away from anything that looks difficult...

In fact, religious conservatives and liberals share more concerns and beliefs than either commonly admits. Both have loyalties that go beyond self and the convenience of the moment. Both reject the materialism of popular culture. Both seek something more substantial than the momentary satisfaction of desire or the endless striving after status. The committed life is a different way to pursue these goals, not a denial of them.

Muler calls this the "Liberal Good News"--that choice-based families work, and that meaning in life can be found equally well through chosen commitment as through obligation. He also argues that the progress of Capitalism makes the continued erosion of the obligation-based family inevitable. While that might be true, I would also suggest that there is more theoretical reason to promote the choice-based family; I believe it is a better 'holding environment' to promote healthy ego growth, especially as children grow older.

Ego psychology is the study of the faculties of cognitive and emotional problem-solving--how they develop and how to use observations about their function to help patients. In The Evolving Self, Robert Kagan writes of stages of adult ego development as a process driven by the brain's growing Piagetian cognitive development (which he extends into adulthood). He describes a cycle of stages with a goal of increasing individuation, alternating with stages with a goal of better integration with other people. As we progress through these stages, we attain deeper senses of self and deeper connection with others according to the cognitive level we're capable of at the time. While obligation-based family structures are good holding environments for integration stages, they are relatively poor for individuation stages; choice-based families are more flexible, and allow better progression to cognitive and emotional maturity.

While the available evidence doesn't support the proposition that obligation-based families are more stable or produce better people by objective measures, there is similarly no evidence that choice-based families are any better. But I'd prefer to live in a choice-based world, and the best preparation for that is growing up in a choice-based family.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

International Aid for Katrina

The outpouring of aid from around the world is well documented elsewhere. Americans' response to this aid runs the gamut--everything from gratitude for help, to embarassment at our government's inability to take care of its own people. There is anger at the opportunistic politicization of the tragedy by Chavez, Islamists, and some Americans themselves, but also some surprise that many of the very countries our government has held in disdain are making offers of support.

Others are ashamed that resources that might otherwise have gone to places like Darfur are being expended on the richest country in the world. Certainly, most people agree that regardless of the political implications, aid that would save lives should be accepted. All of these responses are appropriate in their own way.

The best that can come of this disaster is the solace that can arise from all tragedies, natural and artificial--a renewed faith in the ability of people to come together and take care of each other. The worst outgrowth of disaster is the dashing of that hope. Let us respond to offers of aid with enough dignity and gratitude to bolster faith in humanity, and leave it to historians in a time of leisure to judge the motives of the governments giving and accepting aid.