Feed the World, 20 Grains of Rice at a Time.


by David Safier

I’m going to leave yesterday’s controversial tax-and-spend posting behind for today, though I have to ask, in response to one comment: Why is it people talk about “throwing money at education” but you never hear anyone use the phrase “throwing money at military defense”? Just asking.

If you haven’t visited the site,, you should take a look. Here’s what you’ll find. On the screen is a vocabulary word and four possible definitions. If you choose the right definition, the site contributes 20 grains of rice through the United Nations to people who are hungry, and a new screen comes up with a new word. If you choose wrong, it tells you the right answer and gives you a new word to try. The site adjusts the vocabulary level based on your right and wrong answers to keep challenging you without frustrating you.

Since October, 2007, when the site began, 17 billion grains of rice have been donated (These are the site’s figures.) Scanning the web, I found varying figures for the number of grains of rice in a pound, but let’s go with the ballpark figure of 25,000 grains/pound. That would mean the site has donated 680,000 pounds, or 340 tons of rice to date (I think I got the math right, but correct me if my figures are wrong).

Where does the money for the rice come from? The wonderful, free enterprise answer is, it comes from advertisers. The creator of the site, John Breen, who also created, says he makes no money from the site, and all the advertising revenue goes toward buying rice. In fact, he has raised the reward for each right answer from 10 grains to 20 due to increased ad revenues and hopes to increase it again in the future.

Teachers can use with students. (Imagine a computer lab full of students, each of them racking up 20 grains of rice every few seconds! Then comes the math question at the end of the period: “How many grains of rice did we send today? How many pounds is that?”) Parents and their children can do it together at home. Adults like me can develop minor addictions (“OK, just one more vocabulary word, and that’s it.” “YES, I got it right! OK, just one more.” “Damn, I missed that! I can’t quit now and be a loser.”) And the bottom line is, you’re doing a little bit to feed the world’s hungry with every right answer. That’s positive reinforcement times two.

By the way, you get a running vocabulary skill level number as you go, with the top being 55. I’m at 44. Beat that, sucker!


  1. David Safier,

    Congratulations on your big vocab. This website is great. PARENTS and educators should use this tool.

    You did not answer Spartan’s question. You want a progressive tax which demands an arbitrary line be drawn. Yet you won’t draw a line – you say it is a red herring. This tells me you aren’t really serious about your commitment to the progressive tax. Thus when we propose a flat tax or a consumption tax, we will expect no resistance from you in running you over.

    Sir, I am not going to deny that there isn’t waste in the DoD budgets. But to say that there is waste means that you have to prioritize weapons systems and training. Which means you have to understand the Department of Defense and its ability to meet political objectives established by the National Interest. It is a bit more complex than setting educational priorities and helping the next generation meet their goals.

    So I ask you: where is this fat? Be specific. Name weapon systems and training that you would like to cut in a time of war? Given your books to bombers analogy, I question your competence to answer Defense questions. Even Gabby to her credit doesn’t go that far.

    Lastly, the Spartan is right. The DoD outperforms all of the other government agencies because of the undue scrutiny. One of the things the DoD learned is the importance of contractors in executing agency objectives. Why? The DoD has found that contrary to what Representative Henry Waxman and GAO Comptroller David Walker believe that government does not make better goods and services, business does. The DoD employs businesses – Contractors like L3, Lockheed, Northup and Raytheon to produce weapon systems and training that stand as modern marvels in the 21st century. They are one the few industries left that have not been taken over but multinationals in Europe and Asia. How would our education system be different if we invited education companies to take over educating our kids from the unions in government schools? We would be a lot better off.

  2. The point I was making about the phrase “throwing money” was a semantic one. “Throwing money” implies you are wasting money — throwing your money away. In defense spending, lots of money is spent to build weapons systems that fail to work or aren’t used. Bases are kept open that could be closed. And so on. These are examples of money spent that we are not getting much value from. Yet we don’t say we are “throwing money” at defense and demand the Pentagon cut the fat and tighten its belt before we give it any more. Anyone who uses the phrase “throwing money at education” is devaluing the importance of education, in my opinion. “Money spent on education is money wasted.” That’s what I hear.

    As for the exact “affordability line” where taxes should be raised, I think that’s a red herring. Income tax is and should be progressive. There is a line that can be drawn at some income bracket where the tax rate is raised slightly above where it is right now, and it can continue to be raised as incomes grow above that. The effect on the people at that “affordability line” will be slight, so it isn’t a life-or-death issue whether it begins at a slightly higher or slightly lower level.

  3. Mr. Safier,
    I’ll take on your “Apples to Oranges” question of “throwing money at defense.”

    First off, the Federal Government is authorized by the Constitution to fund defense, they ARE NOT authorized to usurp the 10th Amendment of the Bill of Rights by getting into the education business. That should be exclusively up to the States.

    If we only followed the Constitution you would not be able to make a point by raising that question. Instead you and your cohorts continue to expand the “Nanny State” and because of that you get to constantly raise that idiotic analysis of Books vs. Bombers.

    Second, our military is second to none. I only wish our Schools could perform the way our Military Branches can. When Graham-Rudman went into effect, the Defense Department became one of the most scrutinized Cabinet Departments in the Executive Branch. Because of this, it has become one of the most efficient.

    Can we say the same with Education, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, HUD, and the Department of Agriculture? (All not authorized by the Constitution).

    So I say why are we “throwing money” at Mediscare and Ethanol subsidies and Katrina trailers when it is not authorized by the Constitution?

    We’re still waiting to find out from you who those people are that “can afford it.”

    What’s the Magic number? People with incomes above $75K?, $100K?, $200K?

    Draw that “affordability” line Mr. Tax and Spend.