How Income Relates to Life Expectancy

It is no surprise that wealthier countries, like wealthier people, tend to live longer. But how strong is this correlation? In a video released by The Gapminder Foundation, Swedish academic and professor Hans Rosling uses detailed but digestible visual data to explore the link between a nation’s wealth –namely its gross domestic product, or GDP — and the average longevity of its people.

To check out the two minute video, click here. (Sorry, I cannot embed it.)

Ultimately, the findings do indeed confirm that rich societies live longer. But what the data also show is that those countries in the middle range of GDP — e.g. the developing world — display a broad range in life expectancy, from low to surprisingly high. This illustrates the discrepancy in how states invest their growing wealth, and whether the fruits of their development are going to their people.

Video courtesy of Aeon. 

The World’s Countries, Ranked By Tree Wealth

Friends and longtime readers are no doubt well away of my fondness for international rankings of all kinds. So it is nice to spice up the usual indexes of social, economic, or political performance and instead compare countries by the interesting new metric of tree wealth.

A team of researchers led by Thomas Crowther of Yale University recently published a study in Nature that looks at where the world’s over 3 trillion trees are located, and how this compares with a country’s geographic size, population, and more.

This might seem like an odd attribute to look at — perhaps suited for nothing more than an amusing fun fact — but as the Washington Post points out, trees are an often vital natural resource well worth studying and preserving.

[Having] lots of trees in a country provides a huge host of benefits — trees are both a natural resource and an asset to humans. They filter water, combat air pollution, sequester huge amounts of carbon that would otherwise reside in the atmosphere, and even, it appears, contribute to human psychological and health benefits. Indeed, large parts of the world population depend on forests for food.

And then, there’s just the emotional connection to nature. “I think people inherently value trees”, said Clara Rowe, a co-author of the study and a recent graduate of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, by e-mail. “In the days since our study was published, we’ve heard from individuals all over the world who are concerned about forest resources in their countries.”

Amid widespread environmental degradation and worsening global climate change, such scientific and public interest in the health and abundance of trees is well founded. Where they naturally exist, they are a barometer for the health, vitality, and sustainability of the local ecosystem. So those nations that have managed to preserve as many trees as possible have much to gain, as well as a lot to offer the world at large. Tree wealth is an apt description.

Starting with the most basic measurement, here are the countries with absolute most trees. (The researchers note that these estimates are more accurate with larger countries and less so with smaller ones.)

Total Tree Count

Source: Nature / Washington Post

You can find an interactive version in the Post article, which allows you to select an individual country to see its estimated number of trees.

As one can plainly see, the countries with the most trees in total are, unsurprisingly, the largest ones.

Based on this approach, the world’s overall tree leader is clearly Russia, with 642 billion total trees, followed by Canada with 318 billion and Brazil with 302 billion. The United States is actually fourth overall in this ranking, with 228 billion trees. Other countries with over 100 billion trees include China, with 140 billion and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with 101 billion. Indonesia comes in 7th, with 81 billion, and Australia 8th, with 77 billion.

Adjusting for territorial size, the next measurement looks at tree density, e.g., the number of trees within a square kilometer (roughly equal to a little over a third of a square mile). 2015-09-16 14-20-03

Source: Nature / Washington Post

The difference is dramatic: countries with lots of trees in absolute numbers rank low once you adjust for size. Naturally, this applies most strongly to drier countries, such as the desert nations of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, each with just 1 tree per square kilometer.

Relatively large countries like Finland, Sweden, Bolivia, and Indonesia still fare pretty well, as do smaller countries like Gabon, Laos, New Zealand, and Slovenia. As the researchers note in the study:

…in “northern latitudes, limited temperature and moisture lead to the establishment of stress-tolerant coniferous tree species that can reach the highest densities on Earth”. There is more total forest in the tropics, they found, but it isn’t as dense. So the type of forest that a country fosters has a big influence on this metric.

Next up is the number of trees per person. One could imagine that countries with large populations would have a lot less tree wealth to go around, especially with the subsequently high need for space, shelter, and farmland.

Trees Per Person

Source: Nature / Washington Post

[Once] again … vast northern countries like Russia and Canada are surprisingly “tree rich”, with thousands of trees per resident. There are a whopping 8,953 trees per person in Canada. But tropical countries of the southern hemisphere can also hold their own. Here, Bolivia (5,465 trees per person), Gabon (8,131), and the Central African Republic (5,152) also fared quite well.

By contrast, desert countries once again were quite low – Egypt was  estimated to have only about one tree per person. The metric is also highly sensitive to population size, meaning that India, with a population of 1.27 billion and a tree population of only about 35 billion, had just 28 trees per person.

Very high tree-to-person numbers were clustered in the northeast of South America: Suriname had 15,279 trees per person, Guyana 14,692, and French Guiana a stunning 20,226. Of course, these countries all have populations under a million people.

So we have gone over the number of trees as they relate to size, density, and population. But what about wealth? Intuitively, fast-growing poorer countries would seem likelier to strip their forests clean, given the greater need for readily available farmland, fuel, and construction material. Most industrialized nations have moved on to other sources, or have the luxury of more efficient (and thus less land-intensive) agriculture; urban parks and tree planting are also a hallmark of greater wealth and development. Various reports and studies seem to bear this out, too.

Let the data do the talking.

Source: Nature / Washington Post

Source: Nature / Washington Post

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that “it was not clear that there was any meaningful difference overall”.

Rather, it was simply the case that one emerging country grouping, “Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan” was quite low on trees — but then, that’s not surprising given the prevalence of desert in these countries. So it seems odd to relate this to economics, rather than simple geography. Simply put, some countries, due to their environments and climatic regimes, just can’t host as many trees as others.

“If you said to me, okay, the GDP per capita of Costa Rica is $8,000, I would have no way of telling you how many trees there are in Costa Rica or how dense those trees are”, said Yale’s Clara Rowe. She said that the most meaningful way of looking at the relationship between a country’s wealth and its tree resources would be to calculate a nation’s “forest potential” — how many trees it is actually capable of supporting — and then compare that with how many it actually has, which would then reflect how much the country has exploited those resources, as opposed to preserving them.

“That can really give us a better sense of what percentage of forest can be lost in every single country, and then maybe we can start relating that to things like GDP”, Rowe said. But the researchers haven’t done that analysis on a country-by-country level yet.

Studying “forest potential” would definitely be the next step. Granted, it is important to keep in mind that there is a big difference between having lots of trees and having lots of forest; a country’s cities might have plenty of trees in its parks, medians, and public spaces, but these would not support the sort of thriving ecosystem as an unspoiled forest would. While trees are important in their own right, for reasons specified earlier, they need to be in abundant number and left undisturbed to support certain wildlife. That would be a whole different sort of wealth to look into.

Germany, The World’s Moral Leader

The Economist observes how the refugee crisis has highlighted the German nation’s exemplary moral leadership, starting with this poignant statistic:

Whereas most nations struggle to accept even a handful of refugees, the Germans seem broadly enthusiastic about the idea, owing in part to their history. Continue reading

Slavoj Žižek Weighs In On The Refugee Crisis

I recommend reading the entire article at the London Review of Books, but the following pretty much sum up his points, with which I am personally in agreement.

Humankind should get ready to live in a more ‘plastic’ and nomadic way. One thing is clear: national sovereignty will have to be radically redefined and new methods of global co-operation and decision-making devised. First, in the present moment, Europe must reassert its commitment to provide for the dignified treatment of the refugees. There should be no compromise here: large migrations are our future, and the only alternative to such a commitment is renewed barbarism (what some call a ‘clash of civilisations’).

Second, as a necessary consequence of this commitment, Europe should impose clear rules and regulations. Control of the stream of refugees should be enforced through an administrative network encompassing all of the members of the European Union (to prevent local barbarisms like those of the authorities in Hungary or Slovakia). Refugees should be assured of their safety, but it should also be made clear to them that they must accept the destination allocated to them by European authorities, and that they will have to respect the laws and social norms of European states: no tolerance of religious, sexist or ethnic violence; no right to impose on others one’s own religion or way of life; respect for every individual’s freedom to abandon his or her communal customs, etc. If a woman chooses to cover her face, her choice must be respected; if she chooses not to cover her face, her freedom not to do so must be guaranteed. Such rules privilege the Western European way of life, but that is the price to be paid for European hospitality. These rules should be clearly stated and enforced, by repressive measures – against foreign fundamentalists as well as against our own racists – where necessary.

Third, a new kind of international military and economic intervention will have to be invented – a kind of intervention that avoids the neocolonial traps of the recent past. The cases of Iraq, Syria and Libya demonstrate how the wrong sort of intervention (in Iraq and Libya) as well as non-intervention (in Syria, where, beneath the appearance of non-intervention, external powers such as Russia and Saudi Arabia are deeply involved) end up in the same deadlock.

Fourth, most important and most difficult of all, there is a need for radical economic change which would abolish the conditions that create refugees. Without a transformation in the workings of global capitalism, non-European refugees will soon be joined by migrants from Greece and other countries within the Union. When I was young, such an organised attempt at regulation was called communism. Maybe we should reinvent it. Maybe this is, in the long term, the only solution.

These approaches apply to more than the present crisis;

What are your thoughts?

Mural of the Mexican Independence, by Juan O’Gorman. Courtesy of

Mexico — Rising Global Power?

In honor of Mexican Independence Day, a hard-fought achievement that absolutely did not happen on Cinco de Mayo, I present some facts to counter the country’s warped and narrow image in the United States (most resoundingly apparent in the cycle of hysteria around illegal immigration).

For starters, overall immigration from south of the border has, as of 2013, declined by 80 percent since 2007, the lowest at any point since 1991. Not only does the number of Mexicans returning home outnumber those leaving the country, but more Americans have left for Mexico than the other way around, an underreported trend that has surged since 2005. (Subsequently, our southern neighbor hosts over one million U.S. citizens, the most of any country in the world.)

Moreover, this trend is likely to be permanent, since Mexico is actually doing far better than most people realize, despite its many pressing social and political problems. Following the recession, the Mexican economy has grown twice as fast as America’s, and was among the fastest growing in the world in some years (albeit from a much lower base). Depending on the metric used, Mexico has the 11th to 15th largest economy in the world, and is predicted by groups like Goldman Sachs and the World Bank to become the fifth to seventh largest economy by 2050 – around the level that France, Germany, and the U.K. are at today.

A few analysts have gone even further by suggesting that Mexico could become an influential global power in its own right. This is not as far fetched as it may initially sound: in many areas, such as infrastructure and business climate, the country is at least comparable, if superior, to Brazil, China, India, Russia, and other identified emerging powers; it has even earned coveted classification as one of several economic powerhouses to look out for — see the MINT group or the Next Eleven.

These accolades are well deserved. Since the mid-1990s, the majority of Mexicans have joined a rapidly growing middle-class, warranting the county’s official classification as a newly industrialized nation (NIC), a distinction only a handful of developing countries have achieved. Mexico’s average life expectancy and poverty rate is comparable to the U.S. (thanks in part to its universal healthcare system), while one-third of Mexican states have a violent crime rate equal to or even less than that of many U.S. states.

To be sure, Mexico is still enduring many problems, namely one of the worst rates of violence and income inequality in the world. Its political system, while free and robust by developing-world standards, is nonetheless rife with corruption and venality. Many intractable challenges face the country, but it is not the dystopia that popular culture and news media make it out to be, and it certainly has a lot of potential.

So Mexicans have a lot to be proud of this independence day. Despite the grim present circumstances, their long and rich history demonstrates a seemingly boundless capacity for perseverance, resourcefulness, and hope. Here is hoping that our good neighbor to the south continues steadily along the path to progress.

Photo courtesy of and

Assessing The U.N. 70 Years Later

An article by  of The Guardian offers a refreshingly in-depth and nuanced view of the world’s premier international organization. Founded, as third Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld said, “not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell”, the United Nations is one of humanity’s boldest experiments — and to many, one of its most damning failures. The product of a world devastated by war, it was designed largely to ensure a stable and peaceful international system, one that would never again fall into barbaric and wide scale conflict (a directive that its predecessor, the hapless League of Nations, had also been founded for).

Unlike the hapless League, which had lacked global support (most notably from the United States), the U.N. has managed to remain the largest global body in the world, expanding its membership to encompass most of the world’s nations, as well as an increasing number of activities and goals.

How much of a part the UN played in holding nuclear armageddon at bay divides historians. But there is little doubt that in the lifetime that has passed since it was set up in 1945 it helped save millions from other kinds of hell. From the deepest of poverty. From watching their children die of treatable diseases. From starvation and exposure as they fled wars made in the cauldron of ideological rivalries between Washington and Moscow but fought on battlefields in Africa and Asia.

The UN’s children’s organisation, UNICEF, provided an education and a path to a better life for millions, including the present UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. The UN’s development programmes were instrumental in helping countries newly freed from colonial rule to govern themselves.

And yet. In its 70 years, the United Nations may have been hailed as the great hope for the future of mankind – but it has also been dismissed as a shameful den of dictatorships. It has infuriated with its numbing bureaucracy, its institutional cover-ups of corruption and the undemocratic politics of its security council. It goes to war in the name of peace but has been a bystander through genocide. It has spent more than half a trillion dollars in 70 years.

“Like everybody says, if you didn’t have the UN you’d have to invent it”, said David Shearer, who served the organisation in senior posts in Rwanda, Belgrade, Afghanistan, Iraq and Jerusalem. He is now New Zealand’s shadow foreign minister. “But it’s imperfect, of course it is, and everybody knows that it is”, he said.

Contrary to popular belief, the U.N. is far from useless; indeed, its World Health Organization (WHO) was responsible for spearheading the first effective vaccine against Ebola. The U.N. Millennium Development Goals helped catalyze national governments across the globe to improve their citizens’ social and economic well-being. A multitude of U.N. research, covering everything from the global population to agricultural outputs, helps inform national and international policymaking. Even U.N. Peacekeeping, perhaps the most ballyhooed of the organization’s many activities, is actually comparatively more effective for mitigating conflict than any alternative (including interventions by countries like the U.S.).

Still, even for a world citizen and internationalist like myself, there is no denying the U.N.’s many faults. It is hard enough to keep any human institution clean of corruption, incompetence, and inefficiency, but imagining doing so for a group comprised of literally an entire world of special interests, cultures, and power dynamics? After all, despite an annual expenditure 40 times greater than in the 1950s, including a doubling of administrative costs just over the last decades, the U.N. still has a smaller budget than the City of New York — not a lot to work with when it comes to responding to disasters, facilitating conflict resolution, and addressing a multitude of global problems.

“There is no single institution that I found more exhilarating at its best, yet more debilitatingly frustrating at its worst, than the United Nations,” said Gareth Evans, a former foreign minister of Australia and strong critic of the way the UN is run. He said his efforts to advance reform of the UN “were about as quixotic and unproductive as anything I have ever tried to do”.

That’s a sentiment widely shared among diplomats and UN officials.

Valerie Amos, Britain’s former international development minister, described the UN as a valuable ally in delivering UK aid but lamented its inefficiency.

“There were concerns about the UN being overly bureaucratic and slow in the way it dealt with development issues. I think that’s one of the criticisms of the UN that remains until now, that since it was formed it has become bigger and bigger. Many organisations have overlapping mandates. It’s become an organisation that’s quite unwieldy in lots of respects,” Lady Amos said.

The article goes on to note several accounts from U.N. employees, past and present, who have experienced first hand the many challenges faced by the organization, both internal and external: a tug of war between wealthy and poor countries; undue influence by certain governments over particular posts and agencies; a reliance on begging governments to fund resource-strapped projects; a lack of coordination and assessment for initiatives; and a sclerotic culture of reform owing to vested special interests.

In other words, most of the challenges one would find in any organization at any level of government…but further complicated by the vast disparity of wealth, culture, language, political culture, and geopolitical interests of the nearly 200 nations involved. Again, consider how difficult a project between even a handful of individuals is, let alone tens of thousands of people representing a multitude of very different countries.

This is by no means to make excuses for the U.N. or its failings. But 70 years is not a lot of time to improve, especially given how novel the concept of international law, let alone a sense of global consciousness, remains. Humanity has a long way to go before it develops the requisite values needed to cooperate on such a large scale. Trying to get billions of people onboard when it comes to resolving a plethora of pressing challenges is no easy feat. (Heck, it is hard enough to pull off on a national scale, speaking from the American experience.)

In any case, I recommend you read the rest of the article, as it covers a pretty wide breadth of issues and obstacles facing the U.N. now and well into the foreseeable future. It ends on a somewhat cautionary note, observing that despite quite a lot of evidence of what needs to be done and how — much of it gathered through the U.N.’s own internal investigations — widespread disinterest and stagnation remain entrenched.

As our ever more globalized world continues to face mounting crises in areas like security, food supply, environment, and more, will the U.N. prove capable of stepping up to the task? As the international system becomes increasingly multipolar, will humanity manage to create an institution that can pool its vast collective resources and expertise, and coordinate an effective response to the myriad of dangers that lie ahead? The track record seems mixed at best…but then again, there has never been anything quite like the U.N., let alone the global consciousness that has emerged and grown alongside it.

What are your thoughts?

Visiting Every Country in the World

recent piece in The Atlantic by Albert Podell has reinvigorated one my longstanding life goals: traveling through the patchwork of nations and societies that make up our species.

Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.

This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.

n five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost”.

I’ve had hundreds of adventures inside these countries, but for certain countries, the adventure started before I could even get in. The difficulties I encountered trying to get tourist visas taught me, in their own way, about places I had yet to visit and their relationship with the wider world.

I wonder if his travels include disputed territories or de facto states like Abkhazia, South OssetiaTransnistria, and Western Sahara? Not trying to be a stickler, just curious.  Continue reading

How to Help Victims of the Refugee Crisis

For those of you as morally devastated by the migrant crisis as I am, The Independent has compiled a list of charities, humanitarian organizations, grassroots movements, and other ways in which you can help the thousands of refugees desperately fleeing sociopolitical disasters across Africa and the Middle East. See it here.

From donating funds to giving away well needed supplies to joining advocacy groups, there are plenty of options for those who may lack the time or resources.

Additionally, I recommend you check out U.S.-based CharityNavigator.comwhich can help you choose the reliable and effective charities to support. It also has a section dedicated to the Syrian crisis here, as well as another list of charities involved in the largely overlooked but equally catastrophic Yemen crisis (click here).

Do whatever you can, and remember that no amount of assistance is too small for a tragedy this desperate.

China’s Ecological Apocalypse

An article from, obtained via the Daily Kosoffers an in-depth and sobering look at China’s impending environmental crisis, and the foreign business and corrupt government officials responsible. Written by Richard Smith of the London-based Institute for Policy Research and Development, it combines damning research with equally damning accounts from those having to live with the degradation of their air, land, water, and public health.

The following excerpted vignettes, courtesy of the Daily Kos, should alone be enough to arouse alarm and concern.

The first time Li Gengxuan saw the dump trucks from the nearby factory pull into his village, he could not believe his eyes. Stopping between the cornfields and the primary school playground, the workers dumped buckets of bubbling white liquid onto the ground. Then they turned around and drove right back through the gates of their factory compound without a word. . . . When the dumping began, crops wilted from the white dust, which sometimes rose in clouds several feet off the ground and spread over the fields as the liquid dried. Village farmers began to faint and became ill. . . .Reckless dumping of industrial waste is everywhere in China. But what caught the attention of The Washington Post was that the Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Company was a “green energy” company producing polysilicon destined for solar energy panels sold around the world.

But China’s rise has come at a horrific social and environmental cost. It’s difficult to grasp the demonic violence and wanton recklessness of China’s profit-driven assault on nature and on the Chinese themselves. Ten years ago, in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine in March 2005, Pan Yue, China’s eloquent, young vice-minister of China’s State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) told the magazine, “the Chinese miracle will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace.” Pan Yue added:

We are using too many raw materials to sustain [our] growth … Our raw materials are scarce, we don’t have enough land, and our population is constantly growing. Currently there [are] 1.3 billion people living in China, that’s twice as many as 50 years ago. In 2020 there will be 1.5 billion … but desert areas are expanding at the same time; habitable and usable land has been halved over the past 50 years … Acid rain is falling on one third of Chinese territory, half of the water in our seven largest rivers is completely useless, while one fourth of our citizens do not have access to clean drinking water. One third of the urban population is breathing polluted air, and less than 20 percent of the trash in cities is treated and processed in an environmentally sustainable manner … Because air and water are polluted, we are losing between 8 and 15 percent of our gross domestic product. And that doesn’t include the costs for health … In Beijing alone, 70 to 80 percent of all deadly cancer cases are related to the environment.

As the Daily Kos points out during its own assessment of the report, China’s government, let alone the foreign companies it colludes with, has done little to address the problem (setting aside minor “green” initiatives and official pronouncements).

Members get rich by corruption-generated loot provided by underlings, and security is generated by passing a portion of the loot to patrons.  And that loot is generated by exploiting the country — its natural resources and its people — through industry as thoroughly and harshly as possible.  There are no incentives for reining industry’s polluting ways in, or for environmental protection generally, amongst those in control in China, only incentives to loot.

These incentives have also led to the numerous bizarre construction projects in China – the building of ghost cities, modern airports for flights that don’t exist, intercity freeways for vehicular traffic that doesn’t exist, and so on – all designed to generate income and support existing networks of guanxi, and all of which encourage more environmental destruction.

Also as a result, with respect at least to the environment, China has no functioning regulatory state, legislature, or judiciary. The ruling class essentially is a mass of completely unregulated capitalist enterprises, a legion of polluters with absolutely no brakes.  And yet, the ruling class, the Communist Party members, live very well compared to the people they exploit.

And China’s people, the day-to-day workers, farmers and villagers?  They have no voice.  They live in the world created by the CCP members, and suffer.

At 45 pages, it is a long and often heartbreaking read, but it is well worth your time. Not only are over 1.5 billion lives — close to 17 percent of the world’s population — threatened by this crisis, but so are hundreds of millions more people around the world. An ecological disaster on this scale cannot be localized within any one country’s national borders. The world has practically exported all of its most hazardous and polluting industries to far-off places like China, failing to account for the bigger picture: the impact on the global climate, let alone the immediate effect on hundreds of millions of people.

When Mexicans Crossed the Border to Help Americans

And not just in terms of working millions of difficult, thankless, and necessary jobs, such as construction, farming, and caregiving. Amid yet another cycle of widespread anti-Mexican sentiment, with public perceptions of the country colored by the drug war and illegal immigration, the Washington Post reminds us that for all the acrimony and difficult historical relations, Mexico is a good neighbor to have.

The Mexican soldiers were on a relief mission to feed tens of thousands of homeless and hungry Americans displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Setting up camp at a former Air Force base outside San Antonio, they distributed potable water, medical supplies and 7,000 hot meals a day for the next three weeks…

…The 45-vehicle convoy crossed the border at Laredo at dawn on Sept. 8 and arrived in San Antonio later that day. The only glitch was that the USDA would not allow the Mexicans to serve the beef they had brought because they couldn’t prove it had been produced in a mad-cow-free facility. Undeterred — and un-insulted — the Mexicans bought their beef locally.

By the time their mission in San Antonio ended Sept. 25, the Mexicans had served 170,000 meals, helped distribute more than 184,000 tons of supplies and conducted more than 500 medical consultations.

Mexican sailors also assisted with clearing downed branches and other storm debris in Biloxi, Miss., where they posed for photos with President George W. Bush, who thanked them for their help.

It is also worth pointing out that Mexico was the only country in the world besides Canada to offer direct military assistance, in addition to private sector donations. The U.S. had declined direct military support from other nations, which says a lot about how much we trust our sole international neighbors.

Moreover, dozens of other countries assisted the U.S. during this severe time of need, from Afghanistan, which donated $100,000 despite its bigger worries, to Russia, which was among the first to respond with heavy jets bearing medical and emergency response supplies.

Many might cynically chalk up the support to political self-interest or diplomatic etiquette, but in most instances there would have been little to gain from helping, often in private, a country then under a highly unpopular leader.

This is a valuable lesson for a society accustomed to viewing foreign nations as threats or ungrateful, aid-hungry parasites. Even some of the world’s poorest nations pledged whatever resources they could to help the world’s hegemon as it reeled from this historic natural disaster. The vast and diverse world outside our borders has its problems, but it is a lot friendlier of a place than most of us realize — even where we least expect it.