Because, when scanning British media, I cannot avoid scenes of obscenely rich members of the “royal” family meeting or pretending to comfort/sympathize with the less well-off of that society, especially the military, who do dumb and dangerous jobs for low pay and then are tossed aside, I cringe at the hypocrisy.
Occasionally, I think about how I would act and the the film Little Lord Fauntleroy comes to mind. I would not give away all my wealth, but I would share it with the less fortunate and would fight to improve the lot of the poor. That is not socialism or communism, that is compassion and charity...all the things hypocritical christians preach, but few practice, especially if one is posh and enjoys unearned wealth and privileges and thinks they are better because they were lucky to be born into a certain family.
I recall being shocked by the sight of homeless people. (I still am.) Stories of homeless children tear at my emotions. I can imagine the anguish of parents unable to provide for their basic needs.
When I read news reports of cuts to food stamps--demanded by wealthy, mostly Republican politicians--I am repulsed. What happened to the country of my birth? Is there no shame or pity? This reminds me of stories by Charles Dickens. I wonder what happened to progress and human evolution. Both seemed to have missed the United States, a country plagued by supposedly Christian people.
I attended a school, whose patron saint was a guy called Martin. I recall a large painting of him cutting his cloak for a poor peasant hanging in the dining hall. This image confronted me each day at mealtime. I have no idea if this affected my social tendencies, but I have sympathy with the less-fortunate. Perhaps, all those politicians that swear a bible should check out the contents. And, if they have, they should not be so hypocritical, insensitive, and greedy.
I am not a fan of Jamie Oliver, the English “celebrity chef”, but he does stir things up in the field of media attention to food and eating habits. He tried to improve school lunches in Britain and was ruthlessly attacked. It seems that mothers would rather bow to children’s desire to eat unhealthy food.
I bring up his name, because I noticed a headline in which he stirs another kettle and emotions, cooking up only controversy. Anecdotal evidence suggests that his latest salvo hits a target. Photos or video footage of poor people’s homes always reveal the presence of modern electronic amidst the squalor. During riots, looters always seem to hit the electronics shops, not the grocery stores.
My conclusion is that he is correct. Numbing the brain (have you scanned programs currently available on television?) has priority over filling bellies with healthy fare. High levels of sugar, salt, and fat in cheap food is enough to dull both hunger and thought. Sadly, Mr. Oliver is again cooking up only a furor in which few will be interested and nothing will change.
Supposedly, the taste of a madeleine caused old Marcel Proust to recall his past. Watermelon did the trick for me.
I like watermelon, but only good watermelon. Each time I eat some, I recall summer trips to visit relatives in Virginia during my early years. The drive was long and hot (glad I wasn’t driving), but the excitement of long trips erased any displeasure. These trips are always associated with black farmers selling huge watermelons off trucks beside the road (no Interstate back then) in the part of Virginia the sticks up into Maryland across the Chesapeake Bay. I recall the price: 2 cents a pound, and buying an eighteen pounder: 36 cents.
That was a time of first exposure to racial inequality, because I noticed the shacks in which those farmers dwelled.
The watermelons I buy now are round and about the size of a basketball (have I mentioned that this is a dumb sport?), but the flavor can be sublime. Most are grown in Spain, but not all are equally flavorful. Supermarket melons tend to not so good, whereas ones from my fruit and veg Turk are great...and always gives me those Proust moments.
I noticed this very disturbing headline:
“4 in 5 in US face near-poverty, no work”
I have noticed decline each time I have visited the United States over the past decades, but did not realize that things had reached such a low point. Poverty is the United States, a country touted as the Land of milk and honey and the dream destination of many unwitting foreigners, is more disturbing than what I observe in Asia. In most countries, people are not fooled into believing what are basically lies. I often wondered how anyone could expect a nation to prosper that turned manufacturing jobs into fast food jobs. Someone must make money to buy all those burgers, tacos, and pizza.
One constantly hears about supremacy and “We’re Number 1”, but it seems that the country leads only in growing income inequality. People are suffering, because too many got rich by moving jobs overseas.
Although someone has noticed, nothing will change...
"Obama Says Income Gap Is Fraying U.S. Social Fabric"
...because Republicans and lobbyists will do everything to thwart him.
After I drafted the above, I watched the movie, The Candidate. This was supposed to be a comedy, but I found too much reality to make my laugh. The parody was based upon sad realities of the American system, making this film a tragedy...
I spent my early years in one of Boston’s wealthier suburbs. I would guess that my family was lower middle class in a town bursting with upper middle class and beyond. The town featured no wrong-side-of-the-tracks, because the railroad, which was still a feature of daily life in those days, sliced the town in half. I recall stories of “one hundred millionaires” residing in that town. I had no idea what a millionaire was...other than someone with an unimaginable bunch of money. There was a television program about some rich guy, who gave away one million dollars anonymously. The show was entertaining, but provided no clue as to the value of that amount.
At that time, one’s relative prosperity in the United States was not as big an issue as it is today. “Things” and brands were less dominant. Other kids’ parents might have a nicer car, but we still had a car. And, I had a bicycle...and toys...and clothes...and we ate well. I felt no different from my peers. What more could a kid want?
I can recall my first glimpse of poverty. I might have been seven or eight. A friend invited me to accompany him on a long weekend in autumn to their summer home on Deer Island in Maine. I’m certain his parents wanted someone to play with their only child. The island, which I recall as being sparsely populated and rural, was reached by ferry. I remember driving with his father to a farm that sold pumpkins and then visiting someone’s home, which was little more than a shack. What I remember most vividly was the dirt floor, because no house in Wellesley, Massachusetts, had such a floor. That was the first, and last, time that I set foot in a poor person’s home in the United States, but the look and feel of dirt left a lasting impression.
About the same time, I became aware of a different kind of poverty. Some summers, we drove to Virginia to visit relatives. I recall seeing shacks of dirt poor Black “farmers” beside the road (no Interstates at that time) in Maryland and Virginia. The structures were so different from the houses on the streets of the well-to-do in my town...and even the less well-to-do. When older, I noticed details, such as the shacks being on blocks (no cellar as in our house), a dirt track leading to the door (not a drive for cars), no power lines, missing windows, etc.
I run across such poverty until I traveled to Asia, where non-Western standards are prevalent. I noticed that people were more cheerful and less down-trodden than the poor of America, perhaps because they do not have foolish dreams of a better life and follow a religion that promises more than the choice between heaven and hell.
I do not like to see people suffer. That explains my aversion to traveling to the United States, where one is constantly confronted with people pushing their worldly goods in a shopping cart. I try not to imagine the fate of children, and I do not need to see it.
I believe that, given the extent to which humans have evolved, that all should enjoy a minimum level of comfort, shelter, and nutrition. A whole bunch of people in the United States do not agree with me, and have been working for decades to push more and more below the poverty level. I am happy to live in a modern, civilized, humane country and region.
The always intelligent and articulate Amy Davidson touches on this subject in her New Yorker piece.
I do not have the slightest glimmer of a hope that conditions will improve in the county of my birth. On the contrary, they will become worse, as the rich get richer and politicians help ease their task of becoming richer. One must only read Dickens to understand how far US society has retreated. The country no longer must take unwashed masses from abroad: it’s doing a bang-up job producing them at home.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.