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« In India, A Struggle To Pass Down Passover (Norman Costa) | Main | Can Anyone Meditate? (Norman Costa) »

April 19, 2011


We will see what emerges from this story in the end.

We read Mortenson's book in our book club last year and although everyone was impressed, there were already a few murmurs of "too good to be true."

I don't to know the full extent of what is going on. I will wait to find out. Popular and wealthy charities coming under a cloud is always troubling. Seemingly heroic efforts in the Third World that tug at the hearts of more prosperous nations (particularly when guilty of causing warfare in the region) but turn out to be misleading and mismanaged in the end, seem especially exploitative. For me the most compelling testimony against Mortenson in the 60 Minutes broadcast segment came from Jon Krakauer, a fellow mountaineer and early supporter.

One of the things that bothered me the most about this guy's story when it came out was his close work with the US military. For many liberals it had the effect of legitimizing an illegal invasion. "You see?" they would say to themselves while patting each other in the back. "We're fundamentally good. We are there just to help these poor non-western people". It had the effect of a virtual lobotomy. They would forget about business interests and the evident US push to secure control over an area of the World that it doesn't understand.

Nobody supporting an entity whose intention is to dominate a foreign territory by force (although they disguise it by the trite strategy of giving away candy), will have my support. No matter how many schools he's promising to build.

Laura Miller points out in Salon that Mortenson the author lying in his memoir is less important than Mortenson the philanthropist cheating in his charitable efforts.

Laura Miller's words here are right on the mark:
"Three Cups of Tea" belongs to that category of inspirational nonfiction in which feel-good parables take precedence over strict truthfulness. Its object is to present a reassuring picture of the world as a place where all people are fundamentally the same underneath their cultural differences, where ordinary, well-meaning Americans can "make a difference" in the lives of poor Central Asians and fend off terrorism at the same time. Heartwarming anecdotes come with the territory and as with the happily-ever-after endings of romantic comedies, everyone tacitly agrees not to examine them too closely. "Three Cups of Tea" is a wonderful tool for eliciting donations for the very worthy cause of educating Afghan and Pakistani children, which is its purpose."

The misuse of the money is par for the course, as well, I suppose. And I still wonder about what he received from the military and Herring's foundation, as well.

Yes, skepticism was in order. But the realest crime of Mortenson, I believe, was to conduct his affairs in such a way that skepticism will be directed, now, at the good guys. They will have more trouble raising money, because of him. Exactly the way that cheating students make life unfair and hard for students who don't cheat.

That is exactly right, Elatia. Whenever a high profile case of philanthropy is tainted by troublesome book keeping and unnecessary gilding of the lily, sincere people get penalized too. Also, xenophobia, clouded further by suspicions of occupation and imperialism will play a bigger role in how help from the west in Third World countries is looked upon. It's a shame. National pride aside, some countries like Afghanistan need all the help they can get. Will organizations like Doctors Without Borders now be thwarted just because the team includes white doctors? Really! Despite the colossal blunder by Mortenson, as Jon Krakauer his erstwhile friend and now critic, reminds us, while Mortenson may be a boastful fabulist and a sloppy bookkeeper, he is not exactly Bernie Madoff. Let's keep things in perspective. Even though I am extremely disappointed, I am not ready to look upon this with as much generalized anger and contempt as some have expressed. It will be foolish to throw out the baby of genuine philanthropy out with Mortenson's murky tea water.

And Elatia, no matter how much Passover lamb you dish out, you are ALWAYS smart enough to be anywhere you wish to be :-)

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