Paul Andersen: Fireworks or charities? |

Paul Andersen: Fireworks or charities?

Paul Andersen

The resort town of Avon recently announced it is canceling its grandiose Fourth of July fireworks display this year because of a downturn in the economy. But there is another, even better, reason for canceling the show.

The cost of Avon’s Promethean pyrotechnics was estimated at about $100,000. It drew spectators from far and wide who gaped at the bombs bursting in air. Compared to Avon’s bounteous display, Aspen’s fireworks show is a bush-league event, which still elicits awe and costs tens of thousands of dollars.

Spending all that money for a brief bombardment of starbursts is not something most spectators consider while in the midst of the spectacle. Still, the price tag for a chorus of “Oooos” and “Aaaaahs” is high.

In the vainglorious interest of national fervor, communities spew thousands of dollars into thin air, polluting same with a pall of acrid smoke. There is something better to do with that money.

A few years ago, my wife took on a charitable cause at her church when she “adopted” a young African boy who desired to attend school. The boy’s family is impoverished and struggling, so my wife has made it her mission to send money for his tuition, books and board.

The contribution is meager, but the boy and his family are exceedingly grateful. They send us e-mails addressed to “Mom” and attach photos of a young black man, Vincent, proudly wearing his school uniform. Two weeks ago, we received Vincent’s report card and a plea for more funds.

Throwing a few hundred dollars at world poverty is like crusading for the natural environment. Both causes bear an air of futility because of the inertia of American complacency. As the richest country in the world, we still have a hard time giving.

We know that global warming is changing the climate of the world, yet we continue to rationalize grander and more wasteful means of consuming the lion’s share of the worlds’ energy resources. Our super-sizing knows no bounds.

While children like Vincent bow and scrape to go to school, our entertainments grow ever more lavish and corrupting. The American consumer culture promotes a throwaway world of brimming landfills and opulent lifestyles. Obesity, indolence, waste and passive pleasure define America in the 21st century.

The French foreign minister recently accused Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld of promoting “American supremacy” through our militaristic foreign policy. The Bush administration advocates this notion of supremacy by furthering good old American hegemony.

Such a reckless policy is one of the primary reasons that terrorism targets the United States. A large portion of the global community decries America for furthering its self-interests at the cost of global stability. The egalitarian ideals that founded America are in short supply when we connive Third World countries to exploit their resources and even wage war for them.

American foreign policy under the Bush administration clearly amplifies the picture of American imperialism and broadcasts it to the world. Anger and rage are the typical reactions to the juggernaut of American capitalism as it sweeps the globe.

What has all this got to do with Avon’s fireworks display? America’s faltering stature provides a far better reason to cancel the show than the economic downturn in the resort industry. If fireworks funds were put into charitable causes, a hundred children like Vincent would be able to attend school. Others might be able to eat.

If Aspen’s fireworks budget were likewise transferred to the needy, another 20 or 30 children could receive an education and a square meal. Rather than spreading smoke and ash over Aspen Mountain, the fireworks budget could spread goodwill.

If every city and town in the United States diverted their fireworks budget to charity for one year, the outpouring of charitable funding would be enormous and symbolic. Rather than cheering a militaristic metaphor, Americans could promote a sense of giving.

Consider what other superfluities could be channeled into giving. Look at Aspen’s social calendar and see if there are other, more worthy, causes than self-promotion and excessive indulgence. If conscience is the missing ingredient, then perhaps that is where we need to start.

Paul Andersen wonders how many families one aerial bomb could feed. His column appears on Mondays.

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