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American Income I ife Insurance Company BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Frank and Ernest of the newspaper comics describe us more accurately than did the seventeenth century French man, Descartes, who said, “I think; therefore I am.” Frank and Ernest say, “I think; therefore I worry.” Robert D. Kaplan, a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly, in 1996 made a sort of backpacking trip from the midAtlantic coast of Africa across the Middle East and on to the IndoChinese peninsula. His detailed 476-page record \(The Ends of the Earth: A Journey at the Dawn of the 21st Century, New York, Kaplan offers helpful historical information to place each area he visited in context. He offers tentative explanations as to how and why each area has arrived at its present situation. He does not editorialize to suggest what each might do to im prove its condition. The following quotations are specifically about the mid-Atlantic equatorial coast states but they are fairly typical of the other hot and humid areas he visited. “An odor of sour sweat, rotting fruit, hot roofing iron and dust, urine drying on sun warmed stone, feces, and fly-infested meat. Pregnant women sitting on wooden crates, watching children play amid discarded automobile tires, mud, and broken glass.” In these depressed areas, “hospitals are in make-shift buildings with rusted iron bed-frames devoid of mattresses and with blankets of burlap.” In these areas, the only half-way de-. cent hospitals are maintained by Non-Governmental Organizations “universally referred to as . NGOs.” Turkey, Iran, Thailand, and China are some examples of “ancient kingdoms, age-old nation-states,” whose people are blessed with relatively effective “social cement” which seems still to make orderly society possible and to give the citizens pride. Everywhere, in the depressed areas as in the more progressive areas, cities are being overrun by peasants seeking better lives “crude people of no culture who relieve themselves just here and there.” In the more progressive areas, Kaplan observes that “though shacks may line sludgy canals, I saw the architecture of the upwardly striving, with potted plants and ordered interiors glimpsed through the cracks in the cardboard and sheetiron.” APRIL 10, 1998 In this mass of generally disturbing information, perhaps the most astonishing and encouraging story is of the Rishi Valley in India. A few decades ago, it was deforested scrub land whose inhabitants could gain only a marginal existence. Now, it is reforested and producing ample crops. “Every tree in sight, in what looked much like a jungle, had been planted by the hand of an adult or a child as part of a deliberate act of regeneration.” Now, it is home to great varieties of butterflies and birds. This regeneration “has been achieved without the advice of a single Western aid expert and with almost no outside funds.” This regeneration is largely due to one man who died in 1986. He was a skeptic with respect to established religions and governments. But he sold the people of the area on his view that “the earth is ours, yours and mine, and we have to live on it together; we have to cherish it and grow things on its Obviously, Kaplan has given us a rich book. As I read it, my mind kept turning to the conversion to public service of the English ruling class in the 1890s. At that time, they lived in great houses staffed by servants who lived in the squalid basements of their masters’ man sions. When these servants visited their own families, they found there the same lethally unsanitary living conditions. The result was that the serving classes were poisoning both themselves and their masters. The ruling class began to get interested in public health only when the germ origins of disease became known. As I read Kaplan’s book, I could not avoid wondering when we rich people of the Western nations will discover that our world is as small as England was a hundred years ago. How many AIDS-types of epidemics will it take to awaken us? How can we help find the leadership for a great many Rishi Valleys? Perhaps we need to improve a bit on the comics. Perhaps we need to be able to say, “We are informed and we think; we do not just worry; we act.” Ralph Lynn is a retired professor of history at Baylor University, and writes regularly for the Waco Tribune-Herald. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13 1