The plight of the whales trapped by ice near Point Barrow, Alaska, captured the imagination of people around the world. Soviet ice breakers successfully cut a path to the whales that allowed them to swim to safety.

That represents a remarkable instance of international cooperation. It also raises a nagging question: Why do three wayward whales elicit such heroic efforts, while all over the world human beings drown, freeze, starve, or die from war and violence? The question is as old as Eden and the answers - or excuses - are legion. In one recent example Jamaicans get hurricane relief from this country, but Nicaraguans don't. And for years, politics has stood between lifesaving food shipments and starving people in North Africa.Yet in all those countries, mothers, fathers, children and old people - regardless of their ideology (or lack of it) - face hardship and death with no rescue in sight. Why?