Warren Buffett
By Mark Hirschey. CC-BY-SA.

For the final entry of Independence Week 2013, I’ve continued the philanthropy theme with Warren Buffett. Along with the Gates’, Buffett is perhaps one of the most prominent philanthropists of this generation. He and the Gates are the originators of The Giving Pledge, a commitment by signatory billionaires to donate much of their wealth between now and their deaths.

Now, far be it from me to say what wealthy people must do with their money; I don’t believe in that. If they want to hoard it all, good for them. If they want to give it all to their kids upon death, then that’s their prerogative. But I cannot help but admire what the 105 signatories (as of this posting) to the pledge are doing. Their donations will help improve health and education in some of the places that need it the most. The beneficiaries of these donations will have a second lease on life and, in the case of education grants, a chance to lead a better life of their own volition.

None of this is new for Buffett, who has held this commitment since 1988, and was one of the first people to do so, ushering a new kind of venture philanthrophy, which uses the principles of venture capitalism to achieve philanthropic goals. He has additionally worked with other organizations, such as the Glide Foundation, that work toward many of the same goals as the Gates Foundation.

Thanks to the donations, many people in many parts of the world will be able to achieve a kind of independence that this week is intended to celebrate.

Bill and Melinda Gates
Photo by Kjetil Ree. CC-BY-SA.

Today, I feature Bill and Melinda Gates. Despite what you may think of Gates’ tenure at Microsoft, even the harshest critics of his business practices will tell you they admire his philanthropy.

Since its founding in 1994, the foundation has donated billions for health research and education, among other goals, and the Gates’ plan to give even more as they get into their elder years, being among a small group of philanthropists who plan to give away most of their wealth by the time of their deaths (more on this tomorrow).

I also admire their plans to continually invest their endowment to increase it over time. I understand this is a somewhat controversial practice, at least in terms of who they’re investing in, but as pointed out above, Bill Gates is a shrewd businessman, so I think the investments should return a much larger endowment than what was initially invested, and in companies more ethical than when the foundation started its investment.

The biggest winners, of course, will be those whom had their health and education improved thanks to the donations.

Portrait of Roger Sherman by Ralph EarlBeing that today is Independence Day, it just seemed appropriate to feature as the topic a figure that was instrumental in the development of the Declaration of Independence.  I could, of course, choose Thomas Jefferson, its primary author, or Benjamin Franklin, or John Adams, but as I’m from Connecticut, it’d be silly of me to not pick Roger Sherman.

Sherman was a native of Massachusetts, but in early adulthood moved to Milford, and with his brother, opened the town’s first store.  He also became a surveyor for New Haven County, and was generally regarded among the top figures of the area. In 1754, he gained admission to the bar, and a year later was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives, where he served three years. In later life, he was elected Mayor of New Haven, followed by four years total in the then-new U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

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This week is all about fighting for freedom. How could I not include the folks in Egypt? The Egyptian situation is a very complex thing, but suffice it to say that Egypt is facing growing pains. The populace there is finding out what having a president such as Morsi is like.

One hopes that the protests will lead to a government that is more committed to freedom than the one that is currently there, but we will see. Like with the previous election, it will be up to the people.

This just goes to show that everybody has a spark of creativity in them. Everybody. From The Daily Mail:

What makes her achievement even more extraordinary, however, is the fact she is autistic. She cannot speak, other children unnerve and distress her, the unpredictability of the world fills her with fear and panic. But art has soothed and calmed her — a source of delight and a therapy.

‘When Iris was diagnosed with autism, the key was to find something she loved to do,’ says her mum, Arabella Carter-Johnson. ‘I’d taken her to a playgroup,  but it had been disastrous.

‘There was one particularly noisy toy train that made her very distressed. She’d have a meltdown, an uncontrolled tantrum, any time a child played with it.

Then her parents found something that worked:

She stumbled on art almost by accident. ‘One day I drew some stick men and Iris found them really funny. My mum bought an easel and we got the paint out. Iris made one brush stroke and the paint dribbled down to the bottom of the page. She was furious and burst into tears. ‘But I figured out the problem: it wasn’t the paint, it was the fact she couldn’t control it. So I put a sheet of paper on a table instead of the easel and straightaway she filled the whole page. She seemed to know intuitively what to do.’

Now Iris’ paintings are being sold as prints to people who’d like a copy, and by all accounts it is helping her interact with other people more often.

Every year I like to do a series called “Independence Week,” where I highlight either people who are doing good things, fighting for the freedom of their fellow person, or other good news.

The first entry this week is sad news, but I think still fits the theme well. These 19 firefighters from Arizona died selflessly trying to save their fellow people. May they rest in peace.

They were part of an elite squad confronting wildfires on the front line, setting up barriers to stop the spreading destruction. But in their unpredictable world, it doesn’t take much to turn a situation deadly.

In this case, a wind shift and other factors caused a central Arizona fire, which now spans 8,400 acres, to become erratic, said Mike Reichling, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman.

Though the deaths are under investigation, the inferno appears to have proved too much, even for the shelters the 19 firefighters carried as a last-ditch survival tool.

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/01/us/arizona-firefighter-deaths/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

Just in time for the end of Independence Week, Yankee Doodle turns 250 years young today.  Well, maybe.

According to Happy News, three dates are likely for the song’s creation, but nobody is quite sure which one is true:

The original lyrics to one of America’s best-known songs, one associated with the American Revolution, were actually written a couple decades earlier during the French and Indian War, although an exact date has eluded historians. Some peg the year as 1755, when the war’s first major battles were fought, or 1756.

The other year often cited is 1758. Now, a state archaeologist believes he has narrowed down the date to sometime in June of that year, when a large British-led army was mustering at Albany for an expedition against the French.

So, happy 250th, 252nd, or 253rd birthday, Yankee Doodle.  I’ll sing it in my head to commemorate your creation and association with freedom in this country, while happily ignoring that you were originally written to mock the militia of my state:

Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, a British army physician, is credited with penning the ”Yankee Doodle” lyrics to mock the ragtag New England militia serving alongside the redcoats. As the story goes, Shuckburgh wrote ”Yankee Doodle” while at Fort Crailo, across the Hudson River from Albany, after witnessing the sloppy drill and appearance of Connecticut troops.

The lyrics attributed to Shuckburgh, an upper-crust wag known for his conviviality, mocked the Connecticut fools — ”Yankee doodles” — who arrived wearing hats decorated with feathers. An old English nursery rhyme provided the tune, which was also used in a musical play popular in the British colonies in the mid-1700s.

Two decades later the song was used by the Continental army in pride!  Happy Birthday, Yankee Doodle!  And with that sentiment, I declare an end to Independence Week 2008.  It was really heartening to do a whole week of positive news here at Dymersion.  Don’t worry about my sanity, though!  I had a whole week of posting about politics over at Poligazette!

Now back to your regularly scheduled blogging.

I was going to write something new for this year, but I was reading the one I wrote last year, and decided it would suffice:

I love my country. I do. I may not agree with all the decisions the government makes, but that’s what makes this country great. The fact that we’re allowed to disagree with the government is what makes it great. Today, I’ll speak briefly about my optimistic view of the past, present, and future of the U.S.A.

Merry old Britain found that out in 1776 when some damn rebels started fighting their forces. Several years later, we have a new country starting to creep its feelers around and get a sense of itself. Since then, this country has been through quite a bit – wars, attacks (though, relatively few compared to some other countries), epidemics, economic depression, and national disgraces – but Americans have always pulled through like troopers. And, it’s been through a lot of good stuff, too. We pulled ourself through a period of disgraceful action with the abolition of slavery, and later on, accepting all our fellow men (and women) as equals (well, more or less). We’ve done a lot of good in the world, helping those who need help, and trying to spread democracy throughout the world. We’ve brought a lot of new innovation to the world (listen up iPhone users) over the years, and will probably continue to do so for the coming future. We haven’t been perfect, but who’s is? Certainly not the U.S., but no one else, either.

The last few years have seen some dark times, but we continue to live our lives. We know that by not doing so, the bad guys win. It’s as simple as that. Some things have come down the pike that would perhaps change the way we live, but Americans are not stupid. We know when things are going against how we like it, and then we let ourselves be heard. And we have, and that’s what makes us great. For, if we get together and shout loudly enough, we are heard. And then our leaders must act. So has it been in the past, and so will it be for the future.

Speaking of the future, I foresee one that is bright. A future of peace and prosperity. A future where America still leads in the world (though perhaps with less influence than in the past, but we need some beating down in status, anyway). We’ll continue bringing innovation to the people. And we’ll continue becoming a freer society, with people allowed to live their lives as they see fit, not the government. Some people take a pessimistic view of the future, but I think that’s the wrong attitude to take. America is not destroying itself. We may slip and fall from time to time, but that’s part of growing up. You fall, and then learn from your mistakes. Likewise, America has taken some slips in the past, but has always risen from them, greater and better than ever. And so shall it be for the future. Long live the United States of America.

Happy 4th of July!

I still stand by what I said last year, because it’s all true.