Queen and Nobel Prize winner worry about recession’s impact

EUGENE, Oregon – The announcement this week that Queen Elizabeth has canceled the Royal’s annual Christmas party due a crippling recession in England -- that’s being compared to the country’s poor economic state after World War II -- is a “signal,” say culture watchers that those with money need to tone it down a bit because so many around the world are suffering.

Rich man and poor man comparisons common these days

The Queen’s annual holiday party, that was planned for Dec. 13 at Buckingham Palace in London, would have cost 50,000 pounds (or about $80,000) state reports from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC).

One BBC reporter noted that “it’s normal to see the Queen dancing with a footman or her husband Prince Phillip waltzing with a maid” as a sign of solidarity with the working class. However, a spokesman for the Royals said the Queen is aware that her country and the world are in a deep recession right now.

“The Queen is acutely aware of the difficult economic circumstances facing the country,” said a BBC America reporter in referencing a state from a Royal Palace spokesman.

In addition, Royal watchers don’t think “it’s the thing to do these days to flaunt something. And, given the state of the nation’s economy, to display anything ostentatiously is bad taste.”

In addition, the BBC noted that the late Princess Diana “always stayed in touch with the mood of the country. Had she been alive today,” said one commentator, “she surely would have not gone overboard on spending money for cloths, expensive meals out or entertaining. It’s simply bad taste to do such things now in this recession.”

Here in Eugene and other areas around the country, Americans continue to be “distracted” by such things as the Brett Farve scandal or if Courtney Cox’s husband will ever grow up. Thus, there’s little time for deep contemplation when skimming the Net for titillating distractions to normal life.

“Youth and many Americans today can’t be bothered if their neighbor is ill or wanting for food or shelter,” says Eugene social worker Fay Houghton who serves meals-on-wheels to needy seniors as a “hobby” in her spare time.

“It’s a self-absorbed American society we’re living in where people have become almost immune to the struggles of their fellow man. To be fair, they’re so burned out on the horrors of life these days that they retreat into the world of twitter or Face Book or other distractions from real life,” adds Houghton.

Gap between rich and poor widens worldwide

Perhaps there’s no better representation of this “gap” between rich and poor than viewing the living conditions of both American and foreign homes.

Here in Eugene, where there’s a clear divide in the city’s neighborhoods between those with lots of money and those living in battered-up dwellings. “You look at these mansions and all the money the rich are spending in those do-it-yourself stores and you wonder where do they get the cash,” questions Eugene local Sena Morrison.

Morrison was shocked to read that the most expensive private home ever built was just announced this week over in India. “What’s going down these days? Is it science fiction,” she asks.

Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani is showing off his new $1.9 billion home that has what’s reported to be “breathtaking views of the Arabian Sea on one side and the poorest slums in the world on the other.” The home is in Mumbai and the rich Mr. Ambani doesn’t appear to have any concerns about flaunting his wealth right in the faces of the world’s poorest poor.

At the same time, the gap between rich and poor widens as more and more Americans get even richer by exploiting the loop-holes in this struggling economy and others are literally starving to death.

In fact, the popular magazine for wealthy Americans, the “Economist,” notes that “the rich, the poor and the growing gap between them” is growing, with the “rich as the big gainers.”

Such news is the prime topic for Robert Reich whose new book, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future,” also points to the “rich as the problem in America today.

Reich, who served as Secretary of Labor to President Clinton from 1993 to 1997, has been hitting the book circuit and railing against those in America who are “getting richer at the expense of the poor.”

Both Reich and Clinton were Rhodes scholars who viewed helping America’s middle class as the key to a healthy America when they were students and later as leaders in American politics. And, both Reich and Clinton pointed to “greed” from the very rich as one of the things that caused this great recession.

Youth in America to busy hooked on gadgets to be worried about economy

Go to any American university these days and ask this next generation of leaders what’s happening in their lives and in the country, and you will most likely encounter two very different types of students.

“There’s the young people who are really into technology and hooked on their gadgets, and there’s the thinkers and those with that sort of Sixties passion to change things,” says retired teacher Aaron Hutchinson of Portland.

When asked what he misses about college life, Hutchinson is quick to say “the students who are conversational, eloquent and vitally interested in this country.

Sadly, there’s too many today who are sort of on the sidelines by living in a sort of virtual world of their own making. They are the disconnected to what’s really going down today, but the irony is they feel they’re ‘connected.’”

Hutchinson, who worked for Microsoft for a few years until he decided to return to teaching and then social work in Portland, points to a pledge made by Bill Gates on national TV to “not spend more than two hours per day on line, and to not allow his kids to go into that virtual state for more than those two hours as well.”

The teacher went on to say: “Gates learned that his kids were ‘bored’ at the dinner table without their gadgets so he made the change. And that change is to be more human and to interact with other humans, face-to-face. If you do that, you will see the humanity in each one of us and the need to connect on a very personal level that can’t be found on line.”

At a Eugene area Starbucks, where most students are wired to various gadgets, “it’s refreshing to find some who still enjoy the art of conversation, even if the subject is the sad state of affairs of America’s recession and its spin-off problems,” adds Hutchinson who engaged in a debate with several students.

The teacher read from a book by the late religious writer Thomas Merton. “How can we find peace, true peace, if we forget that we are not machines for making and spending money. The rich have everything they want except happiness, and the poor are sacrificed to the unhappiness of the rich.”

One student rose to the challenge after being moved by Merton's words.

“I’m sick to death of Payton Place. People are so comfortable numb after two plus years of this depression that they don’t want to deal with real life issues. Well, things are not okay in America and everyplace else these days,” says Beth Lindsay who’s a social science student at Oregon State University.

Lindsay and other students, who say they are weary of America’s obsession with fame, point to the old “rich man, poor man” comparison of America after the Great Depression as “something that’s both interesting and freighting in today’s society.

“Simply put, Americans are in a sort of ‘bury your head in the ground’ mode because everything they view as ‘real’ and vital has gone to hell in a hand basket,” adds Lindsay with tears in her eyes. “This really makes me sad because there’s no more forgiveness with people who are living in this state of fear caused by the recession. Where’s the love, where’s the compassion and empathy when you hear one of these Tea Party candidates exclaim they got there’s and darn if they will give to others.”

Nobel Prize winner Llosa speaks to “dreamers”

When Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa made a surprise visit to Eugene in 1997 to read from his book “Letters to a Young Novelist,” college student Dustin Clay became a big fan. “The book is similar to Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet,’ but more modern and more interesting to me as a would be writer.

Thus, when Llosa won the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature this past last week, Clay was not surprised.

“You look at this great writer of 40 or more great books, to include my favorite “The Green House,” and you say ‘yea, the Swedish Academy got it right,’” adds Clay of this writer that speaks to the working class as heroes.

While Llosa’s award is seen as a victory for Spanish-language and Latin American literature, there’s critics of the writer because of his politics that says all men are created equal at a time when the divide between rich and poor is not equal in Llosa’s homeland of Peru or other places in the America’s.

Llosa doesn’t pull punches and, hence, one of the reasons why he earned this Nobel Prize, adds Clay, “is because of his view that today’s recession and the ongoing recession and social ills in third world countries is due in part to an inability of the very rich to share their wealth for the common good.”

In his “Letters to a Young Novelist,” Llosa points to the Spanish Inquisition as a time when “all governments and regimes were aspiring to control the life of their citizens.” He’s said the same of today’s culture, and what governments still do because the final outcome is the divide they’ve created between rich and poor.