Friday, February 29, 2008

Bob Geldof

I was in college in the late eighties. I was very immature during my college years, even less mature than my peers. Because of starting school early and some skipping around, I was twenty years old when I graduated college, and though I was academically advanced, emotionally, I was probably around the age of a high school junior. I had no idea of what I wanted to do with my life, or, I should say, I had too many ideas of what I wanted to do with my life and zero focus. My parents, who maintained a sort of laissez-faire policy of governing my family once we were all adults, were pretty much okay with any choice I decided to make, as long as 1) stayed frum (check) 2) made a living (check) 3) got married and started a family (gong). Well, that's a very old story. Truth is, no matter how much I've disappointed my parents, they have never expressed it, and were never anything less than loving and supportive and proud of me. I owe my very resilient self-esteem to them. My neuroses are entirely mine.

One of the blazing signs of my immaturity back then was my involvement with popular music. I was very "into" certain musicians. I threw away my tiny post-college salary on concerts and albums, and listened to rock lyrics like they came out of Sefer Tehillim. I was religious about it. It was so young and stupid of me. Today, music is still one of the great loves of my life, but I don't internalize it the way I used to, which is a result of the process of discarding some of the follies of my youth. Music is something I enjoy, not part of who I am.

Back then, Bob Geldof was a hero to me. I am one of the few people on Planet Earth who owns a Boomtown Rats record. (Yes, record.) I loved, truly loved, "I Don't Like Mondays," one of the first songs about school violence. It tells the story of a student gunning down her class in a California school, long before the Columbine incident ever made a headline. It speaks about the senselessness of the crime, the cluelessness of her parents, and trying to grasp the absurdity of a sweet , pretty sixteen year old blasting a school playground to hell for no other reason than she didn't "like Mondays." The lyrics to the song are plain and very, very edgy: "the silicon chip inside her head gets switched to overload..."

Very edgy pretty much characterizes Bob Geldof. I idolized him. He was the mastermind behind Live Aid, a 1985 major benefit concert that was held to raise money and awareness for famine relief in Africa. The concert took place in London and Philadelphia and the biggest names in the popular music world were all there. The concert raised almost $300 million dollars for Africa. Geldof was like a demigod to me back in the eighties. He was a talented, albeit minor-league rock star who cared about a cause and used his connections to do something about it in a big way. I have tried to learn from him and have used him as a personal role model time and time again when I've raised money for Jewish causes: 1) use whatever talent you have 2) use your connections 3) just do it and don't let anyone talk you out of it 4) most importantly, make the prize/event something so attractive, it will become cool to give money to the cause.

In his personal life, as you might read about in his Wikipedia entry, Geldof is the prototypical European rock musician. He's had kids out of wedlock, married, divorced, lived with various women etc., gave his kids all sorts of bizarre names, swears like a sailor, and parties his brains out with his fellow musicians. He is outspoken and brash, and there is probably very little censorship between what goes on in his head and what comes out of his mouth. He is frank and emotional about what he believes in, and he is not shy about telling you exactly that.

Bob Geldof has largely been off my personal radar screen for the last twenty years or so, even though he's still been very politically active in raising money to combat hunger and disease in Africa. In 2003, though, he came back on the field, when he did something completely uncharacteristic: he came out in swooping, unrestrained praise of George W. Bush.

Whu?

Yes folks. You can read about it here, but it's so good, I'll save you the click with the quote:

Live Aid founder Bob Geldof shocked the international aid community on Wednesday by praising President Bush's administration as one of Africa's best friends in their fight against AIDS and famine. Bush on Tuesday signed into law a $15 billion plan to help fund the fight against AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean, a move which aid agencies welcomed. "That is extremely radical and welcoming...and will take the fight against AIDS to new heights," Geldof told reporters. The Irish musician and activist said Bush's predecessor Bill Clinton talked passionately about Africa, but had done little, while the European Union had provided a "pathetic and appalling" response to the continent's humanitarian crisis. Geldof, who staged the world's biggest rock concert to help Africa's starving in 1985, made his comments after visiting drought-affected people in several child-feeding centers in Awassa, southern Ethiopia.
Do you remember reading about this in 2003? Of course not. Do you know why? Because hardly anyone reported it. Reporting this would have interrupted Bush-hating. Bush-hating is the process whereby everything, i.e. the economy, global warming, etc. is blamed on President Bush, and expressed in unrepressed rage.

The popularity of Bush-hating is even entrenched in the reporting of the story: "Bob Geldof shocked the international aid community..." Why were they shocked? Because George Bush is a very, very bad man who undoubtedly hates poor starving Ethiopian children, right?

I love this story. And I love Bob Geldof for flipping off the world and saying what he knows to be true.

And now, he's done it again! Last week, Geldof traveled to Africa with President Bush. He wrote this tell-all, bloglike article for Time in which he was completely frank about his feelings about Bush and his presidency. Mind you, Geldof is generally a political liberal and is very vocal about his opposition to the war in Iraq. No surprise there. This ain't no Rush Limbaugh here; Geldof hangs out with Bono. But perhaps this quote will surprise you:
It was...Bush who initiated the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) with cross-party support led by Senators John Kerry and Bill Frist. In 2003, only 50,000 Africans were on HIV antiretroviral drugs — and they had to pay for their own medicine. Today, 1.3 million are receiving medicines free of charge. The U.S. also contributes one-third of the money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — which treats another 1.5 million. It contributes 50% of all food aid (though some critics find the mechanism of contribution controversial). On a seven-day trip through Africa, Bush announced a fantastic new $350 million fund for other neglected tropical diseases that can be easily eradicated; a program to distribute 5.2 million mosquito nets to Tanzanian kids; and contracts worth around $1.2 billion in Tanzania and Ghana from the Millennium Challenge Account, another initiative of the Bush Administration.

So why doesn't America know about this? "I tried to tell them. But the press weren't much interested," says Bush. It's half true. There are always a couple of lines in the State of the Union, but not enough so that anyone noticed, and the press really isn't interested. For them, like America itself, Africa is a continent of which little is known save the odd horror.

And Geldof on Bush the businessman:
You forget that Bush has an M.B.A. He thinks like a businessman in terms of the bottom line. Results. Profit and loss. There is an empiricism to a lot of his furthest-reaching policies on Africa. Correctly, he's big on trade. "A 1% increase in trade from Africa," he says, "will mean more money than all the aid put together annually." He's proud that he twice reauthorized the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a modestly revolutionary Clinton Administration initiative that enabled previously heavily taxed exports to enter the U.S. tax-free. Even though oil still accounts for the vast amount of African exports to the U.S., the beneficial impact of AGOA on such places as the tiny country of Lesotho, and its growing textile industry, has been startling.
And then there's this absolute gem, where Geldof is honest about his feelings on the war, but refuses to let it color the truth about what Bush has done for Africa:
He is also, I feel, an emotional man. But sometimes he's a sentimentalist, and that's different. He is in love with America. Not the idea of America, but rather an inchoate notion of a space — a glorious metaphysical entity. But it is clear that since its mendacious beginnings, this war has thrown up a series of abuses that disgrace the U.S.'s central proposition. In the need to find morally neutralizing euphemisms to describe torture and abuse, the language itself became tortured and abused. Rendition, waterboarding, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib — all are codes for what America is not. America has mortally compromised its own essential values of civil liberty while imposing its own idea of freedom on others who may not want it. The Bush regime has been divisive — but not in Africa. I read it has been incompetent — but not in Africa. It has created bitterness — but not here in Africa. Here, his administration has saved millions of lives.
Wow. Big Giant Wow. A++ to Geldof for honesty and passion.

Finally, there's this obscure Washington Times article that probably no one will ever read:
Mr. Geldof praised Mr. Bush for his work in delivering billions to fight disease and poverty in Africa, and blasted the U.S. press for ignoring the achievement. Mr. Bush, said Mr. Geldof, "has done more than any other president so far." "This is the triumph of American policy really," he said. "It was probably unexpected of the man. It was expected of the nation, but not of the man, but both rose to the occasion." "What's in it for [Mr. Bush]? Absolutely nothing," Mr. Geldof said. Mr. Geldof said that the president has failed "to articulate this to Americans" but said he is also "pissed off" at the press for their failure to report on this good news story. "You guys didn't pay attention," Geldof said to a group of reporters from all the major newspapers. Bush administration officials, incidentally, have also been quite displeased with some of the press coverage on this trip that they have viewed as overly negative and ignoring their achievements.
Holy Guacamole, Batman! Can it be that this liberal, anti-war former rock musician is saying that George Bush has done a great humanitarian thing, and that the press purposely did not report it, because they couldn't seen their way through the haze of Bush rage and hatred to tell the truth?

Bob Geldof, you are still my hero.

1 comment:

YM said...

Great post WG