Wednesday, May 4, 2011

'Three Cups of Deceit'

Scepticism often is seen as a fault in today’s ‘happy face’ society. Join the crowd. Look on the positive side. Asking questions just complicates life.
Well, blessed be the people who have asked questions about that wonderfully warm and fuzzy book Three Cups of Tea. American mountain climber Greg Mortenson stumbles out of the mountains into Pakistan, is gripped by the poverty and lack of education of the children, and decides to build schools. He starts a humanitarian effort that raises millions of dollars for schools for kids who otherwise would become terrorists.
Then sceptics begin asking questions. One is Jon Krakauer, fellow mountaineer, one-time supporter and writer who became famous with his book Into the Wild about a mentally ill young man who starves himself to death in Alaska.

Krakauer has exhibited the mark of a true pro: When something looks too good, start sniffing and probing and asking unpopular questions. He has produced an online booklet titled Three Cups of Deceit, which accuses Mortenson of lying about how he got started in humanitarian work and of using his Central Asia Institute charity as a personal ATM.
CBS 60 Minutes also has done an expose. The attorney-general of Montana, where Mortenson is based, has started an inquiry into the allegations. Viking, publisher of Three Cups of Tea, has said it will review the book’s content.
Millions of people have been inspired by Three Cups of Tea. Millions have donated hard-earned dollars, some of which, according to the allegations, have been misused. Saddest of all is the fact that Mortenson is not a crook; he’s dedicated and has done some wonderful work, but is a lousy manager who doesn’t like to take anyone else’s advice. He appears to be a visionary who is too disorganized to run a Kool-Aid stand.
Some people are upset that Mortenson’s good work has been questioned. New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, a Mortenson friend, has written: “Part of me wishes that all this journalistic energy had been directed instead to ferret out abuses by politicians who allocate government resources to campaign donors rather than to the neediest among us . . . .”
But then Kristof shows his professionalism and writes that the questions raised about Three Cups of Tea deserve better answers.
“We need to hold school-builders accountable as well as fat cats.”
Exactly. Healthy scepticism - as opposed to cranky cynicism - is much needed in today's world.

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