Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Tsunami Relief: Charity Efficiency and Transparency Ratings

My contribution to the blogosphere's response to the tsunami...

Here's Google's tsunami relief page, here's the Tsunami Blog and Wiki, and here is a table with ratings by watchdog organizations on the efficiency of the relief organizations most prominently mentioned, plus news:

(Since Charity Navigator's site seems to be having trouble with heavy load, I am adding links to the Google cache of their ratings, following the stars.)

Relief organization Charity Navigator's rating (and Google cache thereof) AIP's rating Fulfills BBB's transparency criteria? Notes News
Association for India's Development ****     (cached) not rated not rated Seems to be big in India, oft mentioned on tsunami blog News
Medecins Sans Frontieres
(Doctors w/o Borders)
***     (cached) A Yes Spends a lot on fundraising, but has a reputation for boldness -- going where many others don't (e.g. Myanmar?) News
Oxfam ***     (cached) A- No Spends a lot on fundraising. BBB objects to dodgy credit card promotion. News
UNICEF not rated not rated not rated An article in Lancet(free registration required) criticizes the present director's focus on childrens' legal rights at the expense of basic survival aid. Anyone have any data on UNICEF's own efficiency, as opposed to national charities funneling money to it? News
American Red Cross(via Amazon) ****     (cached) A+ Yes Big but apparently efficient; came under fire for usage of 9/11 funds and related issues; the BBB report has lots of details News
World Vision ****     (cached) B+ Yes Christian charity with child and family sponsorships, added by request; US site having trouble? News
Mercy Corps ****     (cached) B+ Yes added by request News
American Friends Service Committee not rated A- Yes Quaker charity; added by request News
Asha for Education ****     (cached) not rated not rated Extremely efficient (volunteer staff, 98% to programs); usually focuses on education and long-term socioeconomic change, but responding to the disaster; added by request News
American Jewish World Service ****     (cached) A not rated Jewish international development charity; added by request News
Salvation Army not rated not rated Yes Christian relief organization, added by request. Huge(13.5K employees), reputed to be very efficient (86% of funds to projects, volunteerism), low-key proselytizing, accused of discrimination against gays News
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee **     (cached) not rated Yes Unitarian relief organization, added by request. News
Christian Children's Fund ***     (cached) A Yes Historically Christian, but apparently non-proselytizing international relief and development organization, added by request News
Americares ****     (cached) A Yes Extremely efficient (99% to programs) nonprofit specialized in international disasters, added by request News
Islamic Relief Worldwide ****     (cached) not rated not rated Islamic relief organization, has relief operations running (from before the disaster) in Sri Lanka and in Indonesia, added by request News
Sarvodaya not rated not rated not rated Local Sri Lankan charity, recommended by Sir Arthur C. Clarke: "a 45 year track record in reaching out and helping the poorest of the poor...has mounted a well organised, countrywide relief effort". News
Catholic Relief Services not rated A- Yes Catholic relief organization, added by request News

These ratings do not necessarily tell the whole story. The efficiency ratings rely on the distinction between "administrative", "promotional", and "administrative" expenses: what constitutes "program" expenses may vary greatly from charity to charity. For instance, the United States Fund for UNICEF gets four stars because 88.5% percent of its revenues go to "programs". But "programs" in this case means "giving the money to UNICEF" (as well it should, since that's its mandate). The 3.4% of administrative expenses listed does not include UNICEF's own administrative expenses. (However, UNICEF's FAQ says "you can choose to earmark your contribution for the tsunami relief effort...As each of UNICEF’s Country Offices have their own annual budget to cover their overhead costs, your donation can go solely to the relief effort").

It pays to poke around. Look in the comments of this post for people's discussion of pros and cons of different charities, in addition to my own decisions.

Network for Good, also mentioned on the Google page, does not itself accept donations for tsunami relief, but rather provides further links to several different charities.

eBay's Tsunami Disaster Relief Page allows you to sell things on eBay and automatically donate 10-100% of the proceeds to one of eight charities.

If you are specifically interested in any others, let me know and I'll add them. I'm also interested in other feedback and reports on the charities, particularly if you have links (such as to news articles) that can document any problems that may be relevant.

American Institute of Philanthropy's criteria. Here is their page on the most effective ways to help victims of the tsunami (e.g. it's better to donate money than goods, beware of fly-by-night charities).

Charity Navigator's criteria ( or via the Google cache).

The Tsunami blog also mentions various other funds which are local to India and SE Asia; I don't have any information on their efficiency or transparency.

Give wisely, generously, and soon.

Update: Now that many billions of dollars have been earmarked for tsunami relief and reconstruction, by governments, corporations, and private individuals, you may want to consider donating to these charities' general funds, rather than earmarking your donation for the tsunami. Though the tsunami is the worst natural disaster of recent times, killing more than 150,000 people, it is dwarfed by things like AIDS (which has killed 19 million people and is destroying much of sub-Saharan Africa) and the war in the Congo (which has killed 3.8 million people, mainly from disease and starvation, since 1998). Comments (46)   permalink

Thursday, December 23, 2004

City of Mimes

via BoingBoing -- my God, this makes me want to move to Bogota.

It sounds like one of the Other Cities...

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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Various tidbits of writing news

  • If you're in SFWA, they've put together this really cool interactive Nebula Report that let's you search on things like what stories a given member has recommended, and to sort by author and date and so on. Very spiffy. I note that "Embracing-the-New" has seven recommendations -- wowzers!

    It's almost due to expire from eligibility, though. Partly motivated by this, and partly by the tremendous amount of play that "The Orange" got when I put it under CreativeCommons, and partly because CreativeCommons is just so cool (as I talked about before) , I went and put "Embracing-the-New" under a CreativeCommons license as well.

  • I'd sort of been thinking of McSweeney's as a non-paying market, because they don't talk rates in their guidelines, and because they didn't pay anything when they printed my story "The Blow". Turns out that's because "The Blow" was printed as a "letter". They're sending me $500 for "Orphans". Howdya like that.

  • Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (which, I must say, as much as i adore the magazine and admire to my core Gavin and Kelly for their spunk and integrity and the way they've revolutionized spec fic by invigorating the zine-scene, is still a really dumb name for a magazine) will print my funny collaboration with Paul Melko, “Collaborations by Well-Known Twentieth-Century Authors Which Were Rejected By Their Publishers”, possibly "in tiny tiny type". I've been working on a lot of collaboarations lately (with Ramin/David Ackert, Cory Doctorow, Greg van Eekhout/Kiini Ibura Salaam/Chris Barzak/and maybe Kelly), but that's actually the first collaborative thingie I've sold.

  • And I hear Clean Sheets, an online magazine of erotica, is going to publish a story of mine, “One for the Road”, shortly. I'll let you know when it goes up. This is the first piece of erotica I've published, though I sold "Duet" to Mary Anne Mohanraj for the "Blowing Kisses" anthology. Those two are also, in a sense, the only stories I've sold that work as contemporary mimetic realism. Writing erotica is fun -- it's a lot like writing hard science fiction, because you have to juggle two modes of reader pleasure at once. The thing I've learned about writing erotica is to write sad -- tragic or at least bittersweet -- erotica; that's much more interesting to me than baldly "whee, look how much fun we're having in the sack" erotica.

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Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Butt-Scoot, the Shamanic Etch-A-Sketch, and the Rights of Piñatas

I don't talk about Noah enough in here, I think. Because it's not, like, you know, he's doing less interesting things than Aviva. But they don't exist so much in the realm of words.

Noah has mastered the butt-scoot across the floor of the house, his alternative to crawling which uses two arms and one leg for propulsion and the other leg for stability; he also stands up and pushes chairs and tables about. He despises snowsuits, hats, and other such vile mobility-restricting accoutrements. He is, generally speaking, of a gentle, boisterous, sunny disposition -- perhaps less dramatic and insistent than his sister was at his age, more willing to go along, grinning, watching to see what's up. At least some moments.

But he's got a strong will of his own; he knows just which adult he wants (sometimes me, sometimes Esther, sometimes my Dad, etc) and will fling himself bodily out of the wrong set of arms toward the right one, or pursue the person who should be carrying him with crawl, cruise, and scoot across three rooms. If he is denied -- if the object of his pursuit is carrying shopping bags and must brush past to set them on the table -- he lays his face on the ground, throws his hands out to his sides and sobs as if every songbird in Eden had just died. Picked up, he brightens at once, and with a proud, glowing, gleeful smile, says, "Mama!"

Or sometimes "Dada!" (which also means here/thank you, when he hands you something and then takes it away before you can close your hand around it) or "Vava!"

His relationship with sister "Vava" is volatile, fractious, and devoted. Typical interaction: Aviva bustles in from the outside, where she has been swinging. Noah brightens and trucks towards her. "Noah!" Aviva says lovingly. She sits down beside him. She gives him a kiss. She gives him a hug, toppling him over. She puts her ice-cold hands down his shirt to warm them up against his back and stomach. Noah screams. Parental intervention; Aviva is removed to her room, or back outside, or the breakfast table. Noah looks plaintively after her, and says "Vava?", like, "you're leaving already?"

The kids' adjacent birthdays were celebrated this weekend in wonderful company: babies and godparents friday night, a crowd of 12 one- to six-year-old kids (9 visiting, 2 ours and biologically alive, and 1, Goa, Aviva's self-conjured sister, incorporeal but very present) and their parents, in full bacchanalia Saturday.

The obstacle course. The piñata. The balloon animals. The balloon animal construction seminar. The cake (which Aviva decorated and thus said "Elisa and Aviva", though Elisa was in Switzerland and it was not her birthday). The drawing of giant pictures for the walls, to hang next to the ones many of the same kids had drawn at Aviva's third birthday. The pizza. The other cake. The presents. The guests having to be carried out sobbing "No! I want to stay!" I always consider that the sign of a good party, in any age group.

Among Aviva's many amazing presents, two in particular have occupied a great deal of her attention in the past few days.

First, Jamey and I built a rope swing and a traditional swing from a huge partly-horizontal tree in our yard, and these were revealed Friday. Since then Aviva has devoted most of each day to finding new angles, trajectories, and launching surfaces with which to fling herself about. The favorite at the party was jumping off a wooden sled placed in one corner, tarzanning with the rope swing across the slope, and falling into the trampoline-cushion at the other end.

Second, Aviva got an Etch-A-Sketch which, after some experimentation, was discovered to induce shamanic trance states. "You see, I work really hard, like this " -- drawing boxes -- " and then when it's ready, I do this " -- shaking away the design -- " and that sends it to dr liebi Gott (the dear God), about the presents that I want when I get five" (i.e. turn five years old, a year from now). "And then, see -- " drawing again --" when He cuts it off, like this " -- a horizontal line emerges, slicing through the vertical lines Aviva had drawn -- " and that says how many presents I'm gonna get when I'm five."

The Etch-A-Sketch Divination Kit, available now at Target.

The night before the party, I was filling the piñata. "What's that?" Esther said.

"It's a piñata. You know, you fill it with candy and toys."

"How does the candy get out?"

"Well, the kids beat it with a stick, until it explodes. What?"

"This little cow. The kids beat the little cow to death, and then they get candy."

"Well... yeah. No, it's a bull. See, no, it's really fun -- it's like, boom! -- and then they all run in and grab as much candy as they can -- what?"

"The children beat the animal to death, and then they fight each other for candy."

A calm and reasoned analysis of violence and representation in the rhetorical field of children, expression and repression, conditioning, the American homicide rate and the Swiss suicide rate ensued. Finally, me:

"Okay, okay, okay. So there's this little village of candies and toys. And one day they see this cow, and they fall in love, en masse, with the cow. So after much thought, they build a Trojan Bull to live inside. But when they find the cow, they realize, they have forgotten to build a door! So they call me on their cell phones -- 'Ben, do you know of any children who could break open this poorly designed house and let us out....?"

"Much better," said my beloved.

Art by Aviva:

Aviva and Noah (I believe Aviva is the frolicsome yet menacing pink figure with long blue arms at the extreme left, and Noah the enigmatic orange figure with the very tall hat at the right)
A Snow Girl

Oh, and here is me fooling around with Photoshop:
Contemplation of the Illusory Nature of Being
Geisterbone Avenue
Miss Mist
Miss Mist With Suitor

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Thursday, December 16, 2004

In praise of routine

I used to avoid routine, preferring serendipity and chaos. But I am by nature so chaotic, distractable, mercurial, and intense, that routine is the only way I have to lead an efficient life -- to get anything done at all, really.

Writing and children have both led me to routine. Writing, because it is solitary and self-imposed, because it calls up resistance, and because it is quantifiable. How many words? What did I get done? Do I have anything to send out? Against these constant questions -- and against the fact that, really, at any given non-writing moment, while I like the idea of writing and know I'll love the process when I'm warmed up, I don't really ever feel like writing -- routine is the only ally I have.

Children, both because they crave routine (we've started a bedtime bath-and-cuddle-and-dim-lights for Noah and story and whispering-time for Aviva at 7:30 pm, and not only is it doing wonders for Noah's sleep patterns, but -- mirabile dictu -- it has Aviva falling asleep at 8pm!) and because children will fill all unplanned time with their needs and desires: so, as a parent, if you want any other space in your life, you have to carve it out with routine.

And the wonderful thing about a routine, I've discovered, is that you can optimize it. I'm a coder at heart, you know -- nothing makes me happier than to optimize some loop on the critical path. Should I set my sneakers by the side of the bed? Or by the couch by the front door? Do I save time running an extra half mile to be able to catch the 23A and 15K as well as the 3T? If I shave while in the shower? None of these questions are worth thinking about in a one-time-only process. But if we're talking every weekday for the next three years, well...

So I'm so delighted with my morning routine today. I woke up at 6:00am to Aviva tugging my arm, wanting to get in the bed (our current nighttime deal with Aviva is this: she goes to sleep in her tent in her room. If she wakes up -- usually around 2 or 3 am -- and can't sleep in her room, she can come and sleep on the matress at the foot of our bed, and one of us will groggily tuck her in. At 6am, she gets to climb in bed and cuddle as long as she doesn't wake Noah). I climbed out of bed and she climbed in.

By 6:10 I had tied my shoes and was out the door into dark, frost-glisteny suburbia. It's about two and a half miles from my house to my office. You can't run the whole way, because the interlocking sprawl of 123, I-495, and the Dulles Access Toll Road was designed with no consideration for such lunatics as pedestrians and cyclists. So I run up to 123, just before the first exit to I-495, and take a bus for one stop. There are four buses that stop there, and today I could just sprint to catch one. Perfect.

There's a gym in my office building we can use for free (routine is also cheap: you can optimize for cost as well as time). I was there by 6:40. There was one other guy there, a perfect gym partner (silent, companiable but distant, seriously engaged in his workout, wanted to listen to classic rock rather than loud ESPN debates about some pitcher's injured tendon). I turned Bjork off on my iPod for the interim, and on again when he left.

Bjork segued to Bo Diddley -- the alphabet of iPod.

Five pullups, three hundred crunches and various sets of bench presses (I am inordinately excited that I can bench 200 pounds on this Nautilus thingie) and lat pulls and such contortions later, plus one shower, plus dressing in my spiffy work clothes already laid out in the locker (see? routine), I was in the Corner Bakery having an egg and cheese croissant and writing by 8:15.

Hurrah routine, hurrah!

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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Inalienable, part two

I am reasonably certain that the authors of the Bill of Rights intended it to be an expression of universal human rights; rights which every human being owns by nature, the violation of which by any government constitutes wrongdoing. They did not intend them to be a special prize given to citizens of the United States, thereby distinguishing them from the rest of the world.

According to this Washington Post article, here are some of the categories of people our government argues that it can seize, anywhere in the world, and detain indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay:

  • A little old lady in Switzerland who writes checks to what she thinks is a charitable organization for Afghanistan orphans, but which is really supporting al Qaeda
  • a teacher whose class includes a family with Taliban connections
  • a man who does not report his suspicions that his cousin may be an al Qaeda member
  • a reporter who knows where Osama bin Laden is located but does not divulge the information to protect an anonymous source

All of the above are enemy combatants.

In order to decide whether a person is guilty of the above crimes, our government argues that it is permissible to use confessions gained under torture.

Do you think that the Bill of Rights describes special privileges for Americans, which we are under no compunction to extend to Africans or Europeans?

If you can find this anything other than odious and despicable tyranny, I would like to know why.

It looks like we will be in Switzerland for the inauguration, but if I were here I would find this an elegant way to express my feelings in the matter.

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Monday, December 13, 2004

Three Stories About Attacking Dogs


I was always scared of dogs. I lived with a lovely dog for a year in college, the much beloved and much missed Lucy, and that helped. But still, walking down the streets of subrubia on the way to the Metro, I can't help thinking: there are all these dogs around. They bark. They could jump these fences easy and come after me.

I know all about the contract between us and dogs, I know we have a common language (offer hand to sniff, no eye contact, no running, "stay"), but I also know these are not MY dogs. They refrain from tearing my throat out merely based on their supposition that their masters wouldn't like it.

My suspicions are confirmed when I go running. A human who, walking, seems like some unremarkable member of master's pack (namely, me), is transformed by a running gait into a clear threat -- a criminal, or an interloper from another pack -- here to steal meat, or the first wave of an attack?

Or is it just fun to charge the fence, barking one's head off, and watch him slow to a walk and shift off the sidewalk into the street?

Even when I'm just walking, not running, sometimes I'm thinking about some untrained, inimical dog slipping its leash and going after me, and what would I do? Could I outrun it? No. Could I axe-kick it in the head? No. Could I grab its collar and swing it around, flinging it onto a nearby roof? Probably not. Could I fend it off with something, perhaps an antenna snatched from a nearby car? Cars no longer have external antennae...


At Clarion West 2001, Octavia Butler told a story (which I may be misremembering). At some point she was attacked by a dog -- for real. Not the kind of dog who is not just screwing with your mind, nor the kind who really wants to play and you mistake their exuberance for a threat: rather, the kind that wants to make you bleed.

I figure I, or any of the guys I know, would have tried to run or fight, and gotten mauled. Octavia, perhaps, had no such illusions -- at any rate, she was so surprised, she fell onto her back helplessly, exposing her belly.

This turned out to be the right thing to do, she told us drily. She had adopted the belly-up submission posture used by non-dominant dogs. The dog was satisfied, and let her be.


My grandfather, Charles Albert Smith, was a gas man for most of his youth. He travelled the laundry-hung back alleys of Depression-era Cleveland, reading meters. He was very strong.

One day a big dog attacked him. It was too big and too violent for him to control it or calm it down. He had to break its neck with his bare hands.

He cried when he did so, because he really loved dogs.


So a dog did -- almost -- attack me, some months ago. I was running (running in suburbia again, dangerous habit) and it broke away from its owner and charged me, snarling. I don't think it just wanted to play: it's tail wasn't wagging, and its owner sounded awfully frightened and angry as she called after it.

I turned to face the dog. I used my I Am The Master Here voice, a voice I began to practice when I was a Camp Director at TIC Summer Camp and had to control crowds of kids; which came in handy when I worked as a night watchman and bouncer in Israel; and which I use very, very sparingly with my children.

"I am the human and you are the dog," my subtext said. "Let us recall that my species has ruled yours for tens of thousands of years. You bite me, you are in deep trouble."

"Go home! " I commanded, pointing. "Go home!"

The dog backed down. Its owner came and got it.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2004

On knitting

Does it bother anyone when half of this blog is links to me saying things on other people's blogs?

Interesting discussion on the crafty craze over at Susan's.

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In honor of the fitaly keyboard, I'm thinking of writing a story using only the letters in "italnedors" (which, together with space, comprise 73.4% of keystrokes). Or possibly "italnedorschum" (84%).

No "you". No "own". No "delight". No "say". No "false". No "right". No "wrong". No "joy". No "fear". No "sorrow".

And, interestingly, no characters that drop below the line, like "gpqjy" do. Which will make the story look odd on the page, perhaps?

(Thanks to Toby for this idea).

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Monday, December 6, 2004

An Early New Year's Resolution

To spend less time worrying about my kids, and more time enjoying them.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2004

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The Hugo-winning review zine Emerald City has very nice things to say about my novelette in the All-Star Zeppelin Stories anthology, which debuted on Halloween (and which you can get here):

"What really impressed me about the anthology was the consistent quality of all the stories... Every anthology, however, has a stand-out story. For me, this time, it is Ben Rosembaum's eccentrically titled "Biographical Notes to `A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, With Air-Planes' By Benjamin Rosenbaum"... The anthology has all sorts of fabulous re-imaginings of the airship, but there is nothing else to match Rosembaum's magnificent Hindu war-city....
    'Every cubit of its surface was bedecked with a facade of cytoceramic statuary – couples coupling in five thousand erotic poses; theromorphic gods gesturing to soothe or menace; Rama in his chariot; heroes riddled with arrows and fighting on; saints undergoing matyrdom. In one corner I spotted the Israelite avatar of Vishnu, hanging on his cross between Shiva and Ganesh.'
Eat your heart out, Kim Stanley Robinson."

Heh. I liked that bit too. :-)

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