2018: Best Year Ever!

Nicholas Kristof, graduate of Yamhill-Carlton (Oregon) High School, has for the past two decades been reporting for the New York Times from what a certain U.S. leader has referred to as “shithole countries.” Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in 1991 earned a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on Tienanmen Square student protests. They became the first husband-wife team gain the honor. Kristof won the Pulitzer again in 2006 for his reporting from Darfur on the genocide there.

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Mr. Kristof’s dispatches focus on subjects such as poverty, famine, human trafficking and ethnic cleansing from outposts in Myanmar, Yemen, Bangladesh and other sites of human misery. He has also made known his contrarian views on the anti-sweatshop movement and the social structure of the U.S. military.

In contrast to his regular reporting and general public perception, Kristof in his year-end summing up makes the case that, overall, 2018 was the best year on record for general improvement of the human condition. Without disregarding all the bad news, he reports that fewer people live in poverty than ever before, that more people have access to clean drinking water and electricity, that literacy is at an all-time high and infant mortality is at its all-time low. (Unlike most other countries, life expectancy in the United States has gotten worse.)

In his book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Harvard professor Steven Pinker presents evidence in text and seventy-five graphs the betterment of the human condition over time.

We may be past the tipping point on climate change and over-population proceeds unchecked. Still Nicholas Kristof takes a break from his usual topics to give us some perspective.

The Half-Billion Dollar Swoosh

nike1Every city seems to have its Martin Luther King Jr Avenue, or Boulevard. It typically is in the most dilapidated part of town. You can draw your own conclusion from that. When Portland renamed Union Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, there was an outcry, claiming that “Union” was part of the city’s heritage, even though no one was able to come up with what the significance of the name was. About the same time as the name change, the city decided to upgrade the desolate avenue, lined with empty stores and decaying buildings. They improved the street, building a shrubbery-lined median along its length. The crown jewel was a brand new, block-long retail strip. It housed several retail businesses, including a café and a Nike outlet store.

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Race and Self-Deception

Nicholas Kristof grew up on a farm in Yamhill, Oregon. He works for the New York Times, traveling the world, reporting from wherever there is human suffering. In 2005, when pundit Bill O’Reilly was promoting his annual “War on Christmas,” Kristof offered to show him what war really looked like.

“If you want to do something journalistic, come along with me on my next trip to Darfur. You’ll have to leave your studio and deal with people who, if they don’t like you, will shoot you in a moment. But you’ll also have the chance to take a genuinely important and overlooked story and bring it into people’s homes. So come on, Bill. What’ll it be? More ranting from your studio? Or real journalism?”

Mr. O’Reilly did not take him up on the offer.

Mr. Kristof recently published a piece on a timely subject: race and white delusion.

“My hunch is that we will likewise look back and conclude that today’s calls for racial justice, if anything, understate the problem — and that white America, however well meaning, is astonishingly oblivious to pervasive inequity.”

Read it here.