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Do I have to pull this car over?

The local tin pot dictators admit they’ve got 38,000 dead in Burma (pardon me, "Myanmar"), though the International Red Cross estimates 68,000 to 128,000, with perhaps 2 million people facing homelessness or food shortages following the cyclone that hit the Irrawaddy River delta in the miserable land of mosquito swamps, mountains, and political repression tucked somewhere between India and Thailand a couple weeks back. The military rulers have spurned most international help, probably on the theory it might help their victims figure out things folks better off, out here in the Freedom Land. The first relief supplies that did arrive there last week were loaded on a boat … which promptly sank.

I don’t know which would be tougher, coming up with a punchline to help Leno or Letterman mention that without making people wince, or trying to write about it seriously without making people smirk in spite of themselves.

Is boat-building a really new skill?

Why are there 100,000 dead and another million going homeless or hungry in Burma right now?

If you said, "Because a big storm hit, you idiot," you might want to think this through a bit.

It’s a meteorological certainty that storms of similar size and power hit the cities of Singapore and Darwin all the time. So why don’t we hear periodic cries for masses of relief supplies to help the starving and homeless folk of Darwin and Singapora — particularly Singapore, where population densities are even higher than in the Irrawaddy delta? The answer is that the people of Singapore and Australia have done something that the people of Burma (pardon me, "Myanmar") have not. They’re instituted a political, judicial and economic system which may be far from perfect (don’t ask me to praise Singapore’s irrational drug laws, let alone the depraved paternalism of a city-state that desperately encourages couples to have more children yet blacks out the kissing scenes in your average James Bond movie) but which nonetheless do assure capitalists and investors the fruits of their labors won’t be promptly confiscated if they go to the trouble of attracting outside investment and building modern energy generation and water and sewer systems and food transportation and storage facilities out of steel and concrete instead of bamboo stilts stuck in the mud and tied together with fishing twine.

Been asked lately to invest in the Myanmar stock market? Do they even have one?

Yes, Americans are a generous people. The correct answer to these recurring "humanitarian crises" is to help them with all the food we can spare … twice. The second time, insert pamphlets in the native language, explaining to the local peasantry that we also bail our kids out of trouble when they drive after drinking and do other stupid things … once or twice.

The third time, they need to learn the consequences of their bad behavior. Am I saying the people of Burma deserve what’s happening to them? By the third time, yes.

Do you help the bankrupt drunk by giving him money for booze, or by insisting that — if he wants any more help from your direction — it’s time for him to change his ways?

Capitalism, freedom, a couurt system that will enforce contracts, a Bill of Rights. Translate them, use them with our blessing, no charge.

"What are you talking about?" I can hear them whining. "How can you be so heartless? Myanmar is a POOR country; Singapore is RICH."

Yeah. Why? Because Singapore has more mineral wealth ready to be mined than Myanmar? Go consult your encyclopedia. Because Singapore has a greater acreage of fertile, well-irrigated soil per capita? Don’t be ridiculous.

You all know the program. There are 12 steps. And the first step is to say "Hi. I’m Myanmar, and I’m a fascist kleptocracy that can’t even keep my own people from drowning in mud."

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