The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Oprah Winfrey’

IS AMERICA A GREAT COUNTRY, OR WHAT? (JUST ASK WEIGHT WATCHERS)

Some come to rallies or protests with bull horns.  Others show up armed with brass knuckles and soda cans filled with concrete.  America’s detractors.  The vocal “progressives” throughout the country who sing a song of cacophonous discord.  Their vision of America is that of a country filled with hateful people who are racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic and who espouse more phobias than would be needed to fill all five boroughs of New York City’s phone books.

Now it is rather remarkable that these same people are anxious to see America filled with an extensive group of new immigrants from the highways and byways of the world.  The thought occurs to me rather naturally, are these progressives sadists?  Why would they want more people to be subjected to living in the dreadful environment which they describe today’s America to be? And, despite the widespread dissemination of news, are people who believe America to be a cesspool and still want to come here completely insane?  We do not need to import more lunatics to this country.  We already have enough of our own.

For all those who share this view of our country, I have a two word rejoinder.  Weight Watchers.  Let me put that in context.

Back in the ’60’s there were two stocks that traded on the NYSE which were blazing white hot.  The first was Xerox which had developed plain paper copying.  The second was Mead, Johnson  which manufactured a meal replacement product called Metrecal.   Making a Xerox was interchangeable with making a copy.  And having a Metrecal was interchangeable with being on a diet.  But there was one significant difference between Xerox’s achievement and in Mead, Johnson’s.

While Xerox effectively put the smudgy carbon paper industry out of business, Mead, Johnson gave serious impetus to the existence of a brand new industry – the diet industry.

Among the list of the Seven Deadly sins is gluttony.  But gluttony can only exist in an environment where there are the necessities to fulfill it.  In other words, it’s hard to overeat if there’s no food to consume.  The Protestant Reformation in part came into being by criticizing the “cloistered virtue” of Roman Catholic religious orders for depriving their members of the right to exercise free will by removing the temptations that the laity faced and had to deal with on a daily basis.

In America we have no lack of food – and no lack of people who are consciously or otherwise willing to take advantage of that fact.  Inevitably, that has resulted in a fair amount of tummy bulge leading us now to the point where we are “achieving” obesity rates that dwarf those in every other country worldwide.  This is not a new phenomenon – but it seems to be accelerating it’s pace.

We were gaining weight back fifty years ago.  And the marketers of Metrecal (available in four equally repugnant flavors) hit on something big.  Americans were obsessed with their appearance and their weight.  And we were obsessed with our God-given right to get what we want and get it as quickly as possible – including weight loss.  Metrecal was the “miracle product” of the day.  Pop a can open and you too could look like Raquel Welch.  Had its manufacturer been able to make it more palatable to the average person’s taste, it might have been the biggest product ever invented..  At least that’s what stock investors hoped would happen.

While people grew tired of Metrecal, they didn’t get tired of trying to achieve the perfect, svelte body.  Diet books were published by the hundreds – often with diametrically opposed advice on the most effective way to lose weight.  But those books required a lot of effort.  First, you had to read them.  And then you had to implement the advice they contained.  That was a lot of work for many of us – far too much.  But the diet industry came up with a solution, Weight Watchers – another child of the early sixties.

Weight Watchers recognized a principle of weight loss that we still accept today.  A person who consumed more calories than he expended was going to gain weight – the converse resulting in weight loss.  But for us Americans who want instantaneous results, seeing a pound or two drop off after a week of self-imposed dietary discipline was discouraging to many.  So Weight Watchers incorporated support meetings to encourage us on our journey – and to console us when we failed to see progress.  And they charged a weekly fee to participate in their version of a seven step program.

No stranger to weight problems herself, Weight Watchers’ current spokesperson is Oprah Winfrey.  She purchased a ten percent interest in the company in 2015.  The company needed a high profile PR person to represent them since they spawned a number of competitors including Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig  – and a host of diet pills which to some is far easier than having to weigh and measure.  Of course, the latest phase of the diet industry is selling portion controlled meals, available in frozen form, which thanks to the invention of the microwave oven seems to be the way the industry may go in the future.

Weight Watchers has no operations in Burkina Faso or Venezuela or Sri Lanka or Somalia.  The reason is obvious.  The vast majority of people in those countries do not have an issue with being overweight.  Their challenge is to find enough food to sustain themselves.  And if you don’t believe that a nearly endless food supply makes America different and great – just ask Weight Watchers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE JOKE’S ON US

We got to the dog park early this morning and I decided to back into the parking space rather than pull in front first.  (We all need a little variety in our lives).  So, of course the rear of my car was at the sidewalk.

Gracie and I puttered around for about forty-five minutes and hob-nobbed with the other people and critters that had come out for their morning constitutional.  But it began to get hot very quickly and we decided to go home.

When we got back to the car a woman was standing and reading the bumper stickers I had placed on it.  I said, “Good morning” to her and as I opened the door for Gracie to get in she looked at me and said, “Why do you hate President Obama?”

I responded, “I don’t hate the President or anybody else.  I simply believe that his policies are bad for the country and for the American people.”

The woman, who was white said, “The way we have treated black people in this country is a national disgrace.  You should know that.  And Romney belongs to a kooky cult religion.”

She had now introduced the two topics that I was taught as a child not to discuss, politics and religion.  It was getting warmer by the minute and I didn’t want to leave Gracie in the car even with the windows rolled down.  I knew this would have been a long and fruitless conversation if I pursued it, so I simply said, “That’s the thing about America that makes this a great country.  We are all free to express our opinions.  Thank you for sharing yours with me.”

I got in the car and we went home.

I learned something from this brief exchange.  Apparently some people actually do read bumper stickers.  And I also learned that there is an assumption of guilt on the part of many that they would be committing an act of racism if they were to vote against the President.  They will find every possible excuse to justify their decision to return the worst President since Jimmy Carter back to the White House for a second term.

Through my life I have heard many jokes – more than a few of which were racist and demeaning.  The repertoire poked fun at blacks, Jews, Catholics, Poles, Italians and gays among other groups.

All such jokes rely on an underlying assumption that there is some specific characteristic about the target group which exists universally among all members of that group.  An example would be that all gay men have limp wrists and lisp when they talk as they flit around the room in an effeminate manner.  Or that black people are shiftless and lazy and not as bright as white people or Orientals.

The late Rock Hudson was the fantasy idol of women throughout America who viewed him as the soul of masculinity and desirability – only to be shocked to learn that he was gay.

Oprah Winfrey started from very humble beginnings to become one of the wealthiest and most influential women in the world.  She did it through hard work and personal effort.

So we know that, just citing these two examples among many, the stereotypes are wrong.  But those who like to pigeon-hole people into convenient slots so that they have a nice orderly and limited view of the world will continue to hang on to their false assumptions rather than be confused by the facts.

And that brings me back to my thoughts on my morning conversation with the lady at the park.  Her argument was that not voting for President Obama is an act of racism.  I would argue the exact opposite.  Voting for an  ineffective person simply because of race merely serves to confirm the old stereotypes that underlie jokes about blacks – that they are shiftless and lazy and not as bright as white people or Orientals.

Then there was the second point this lady made about Governor Romney’s faith – that it was a “kooky cult.”  I am not sure how she defines either of those words, but I do know that when Christianity had its beginnings it also was viewed as a cult.

I am not intimately familiar with the underlying faith to which Mormons hold but I do have a few neighbors who are members of LDS.  They are dedicated to their faith and have raised their children to be polite and thoughtful of others.  If that’s the result of being raised in a cult, we would do well to have more cultists on planet earth.

There will probably always be people who cast their ballot based solely on the race of the individual running for election.  That is, in my view, such a poor way to make a decision – but we often make poor decisions.  I hope never to have developed the narrowness of mind to become a member of that group.

Had the President truly guided us out of the recession and had he inspired confidence through his statesmanship he could have had the greatest legacy in the world.  He could have forever buried jokes about black people.  And had that occurred I would probably vote for him this November.  But his record in office is abysmal and I don’t see how it is likely to improve with an additional four more years.

As to Governor Romney, he wouldn’t have been my first choice as a nominee.  That has nothing to do with his religion.  But to my mind, he is clearly the better choice and, barring a life-changing event, will receive my vote this fall.

Until the election when I need some levity I just think back to the Carter administration.  It was a bad time economically, just as today, but at least we had the President’s brother around for amusement.  And, of course, we had “Billy Beer.”

After four years of that we realized that the “joke was on us.”

OCCUPYING WALL STREET

What’s this protest all about? I’m sure that most of us have wondered. I am no stranger to dissent and to protest. I was actively involved in the 1960’s in the student movement protesting the War in Vietnam. So I believe it would be fair to say that I am approaching this latest protest with an open and inquiring mind as to what it’s about and what the protesters hope to accomplish.

 Unlike the anti-Vietnam War Movement – which was a single focus issue – the OWS protest seems to attract people with different objectives. If there is one underlying issue – it seems that there is a sense that the “99%” – feel financially dis-enfranchised as opposed to their nemeses – the “1%”. Recently, a mini-version of this protest came to the Las Vegas Strip and I made a rare foray down there in order to gain a better sense of what the participants were thinking.

 I had the opportunity to speak with two members of the Las Vegas protest. I asked both of them what they were protesting. Both responded the same way. “It’s unfair that there are super-wealthy people at the top of the ladder and then there are all the rest of us at the bottom.” (For some reason – not supported by fact – they seemed to feel that Wall Street “fat cats” were the ones at the top. The facts suggest that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, sports and Hollywood celebs and quite a few Members of Congress are actually at the top of the heap). Nevertheless, I asked each of them the following question.

 “If, by some miracle you happened to find a magic lamp, you rubbed it and the genie said that if you wanted to – you could be one of the “super wealthy” – would you accept his offer?”

 The first person with whom I spoke was a young woman in her early 30’s. She had been laid off by the Board of Education from her position as a teacher and was struggling to get by. Her answer to my question represented what I took to be a deeply-felt sense of ethics and what is right. She said, “Absolutely not.”

 I responded, “As I understand it – you see the world as a “them” and “us” contrast. You feel you are part of the “us” contingent and, based on your answer to my question, don’t want to be part of the “them” group. So you are, in essence, just where you want to be. I don’t understand, therefore, what it is that you are protesting.”

 Apparently she didn’t like that comment because she walked away.

 The second protester was a young man whom I guessed to be in his early to mid 20’s. He didn’t choose to share his background with me so I don’t know about his education or work history. My only observation about his appearance was that he must have invested an extensive amount of money and pain in body art. I asked him the same question about the genie.

 He thought for a few seconds and said, “Of course I would. You’d have to be stupid not to take that deal.”

 I responded, “So as I understand it, you don’t really have a problem with the super-wealthy – as long as you’re one of them. It’s only the fact that you aren’t and perhaps don’t have enough self-confidence to try to become one – that is the basis for your protest.”

Apparently he didn’t like that comment because, like the young lady with whom I had spoken earlier, he also walked away. (I guess I need to improve my interviewing skills).

 So what’s the takeaway from these two interviews? Well to be honest, I am not an experienced pollster and I think it is foolish to assume any absolute understanding of what the protesters are upset about based on two random interviews, but here’s my feeling.

 I believe that one of those nasty “seven deadly sins” – ENVY – is at the core of all of this. “I don’t believe I have the ability to be a big success – so I’m going to throw stones at those who have demonstrated that ability and have become successful.” Frankly, this attitude amazes me. It is the exact antithesis of the optimism of the immigrants who flooded into America – thinking, hoping and most importantly, believing they could make it big in this new country.

 You don’t have to have a PhD or be a genius to make it big in the USA. I can think of no better example than the guy who invented the “Hula Hoop”. It was a huge success and the inventor became wealthy – with an incredibly simple product. Surely there are more “Hula Hoop” stories to be written. But those stories will only be written by people who make the effort.

 When we’re born most of our physical characteristics have already been determined. Sure, we’d all like to be super models or brilliant athletes – but in large measure – whether we have that potential is largely out of our control. We are dealt a hand. We have two choices in playing our cards.

 We can bemoan our fate that we didn’t inherit super athletic genes and complain about how unfair life has been to us. That’s a very sad and unproductive way to spend your time on planet Earth. It’s hard to be happy if you think you’ve been cheated by nature and your parents. 

The alternative is that we can analyze our hand and play it to the very best of our ability. Most of us are not going to make it into the “Super Wealthy Club” – but at the least we can take pride in the fact that we have done our very best – and that is quite an achievement.

 Is there a better example of a person who was unlikely to succeed because of her sex and race than Oprah Winfrey? What a terrific beacon she has set ablaze – a beacon which can light the way for the rest of us. I congratulate her and applaud her story – and don’t begrudge her a penny of the empire she has forged. She earned it! And that may be the most important lesson that the OWS protesters need to learn.

 

 

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