Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Bah Humbug

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: When the Right Is Right

Liberals traditionally were the bleeding hearts, while conservatives regarded foreign aid, in the words of Jesse Helms, as "money down a rat hole." That's changing. "One cannot understand international relations today without comprehending the new faith-based movement," Allen Hertzke writes in "Freeing God's Children," a book about evangelicals leaping into human rights causes.

When my husband was in library school at the University of Alabama I got a delivery job at Chanelos Pizza Parlor in town. I liked the job but delivering to the frat houses was a pain. Pizza delivery drivers were sport for the good ole boys.

Once, after a particularly humiliating experience, as I was driving away my VW got hopelessly stuck in the mud. After pulling every trick I could--high gear, low gear, rocking and turning--I went back into the frat house where the boys and their girlfriends who had had a high old time setting me up as a figure of fun were lolling around and asked them if they could give me a push.

The boys immediately became Southern Gentlemen, all chivalry and gentelesse, and sprung into action. We went out into the night and half a dozen of the beefiest lads shoved while I steered the bug loose. They cheered and wished me well.

I appreciated their efforts and think of them, retrospectively, as good kids though they're my age now, gone their various ways. But I've always been bugged by the program: decency, sympathy and the will to help only kick in when people are in obvious distress--and only then. We contribute canned goods to food pantries, distribute sandwiches to bums on grates, raise money finance medical care for sick children and now, at Christmastime, give generously to the 100 Neediest Cases. But we will not do a thing until the sympathy mechanism kicks in and then only what it takes to to meet the immediate need--gruel for the starving refugees, medicine for the AIDS victims in Africa, a turkey with all the trimmings for poor families at Thanksgiving and a push for a pizza deliverywoman in distress.

That's the American Way, and I'm not impressed. We're stingy on prevention but generous with bail-outs--and that is an expensive strategy that yields minimal benefits at high costs.


John said...

I can't believe you delivered pizza.

I was wondering, has there been anything written about how a nation originates and how the culture is today? I am not sure how a scholar would study such an idea, but I think that would be an interesting read.

H. E. said...

I liked delivering pizzas--best non-academic job I ever had, though it put me off of pizza for years (we ate up the returns at closing time--including the pineapple/anchovy specials)

I think the folks who deal with how nations originate and how their cultures arise from the circumstances of their origin are historians--which I am not. The best book I ever read on this was Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Just came across your post. I owned Chanelo's Pizza in Tuscaloosa. My name is Roy. Just wondering if you worked with me. Roy

H. E. said...

Roy, I'm blowed! I DO remember you. You could actually spin unbaked pizza-to-be over your head!

I was back in Tuscaloosa a few years ago and Chanelos has disappeared--and also the student housing in which we lived had been razed. But I do have fond memories!