Shame on us, America, for showing up next-to-last--just before (once Great) Britain!--in the UNICEF report on children's well-being in developed countries. Twenty-one countries! And we show up #20. Almost as shameful is the paucity of media attention to the report, which was released yesterday. Here we compare unfavorably also to the UK: the BBC World News had the good grace to feature the shameful news near the top of its newcast. I saw not a mention on the network news that I watched, and I'm not sure, either, about Public Television, which I was watching only out of the corner of an eye whilst Ellie and I were preparing our Valentine's Day dinner (steak, baked potato, brussels sprouts and a nice bottle of California coastal Syrah: even this seems a bit obscene to me--to confess to sumptuous dining while children starve.)
Yes, starve. Here in the richest country in the history of the world. Well, perhaps they don't die of malnutrition in the tens of thousands, as they do in less fortunate countries, but thousands go to bed hungry. UNICEF's cateogries, according to this morning's Los Angeles Times (where was the report in the New York Times? I couldn't find it!) included "material well-being, health, education, relationships, behaviors and risks, and young people's own sense of happiness." The highest ranking for the United States was 12th, in the education category. 12th! So much for No Child Left Behind. The vast majority of our children, it would seem, are being left behind when compared to their peers in other developed countries.
So much for the best. The US was bottom of the list for health and safety, "mostly," the LA Times reports, "because of high rates of child mortality and accidental deaths." We ranked next-to-last in "family and peer relationships and risk-taking behavior", and 17th in the percentage of children who live in relative poverty. Our low standings, it seems, result from "less spending on social programs and 'dog-eat-dog' competition in jobs that [lead] to adults spending less time with their children and heightened alienation among peers."
So what, I wonder, is the response of the American people to such a disastrous report card? Do we know about it? Likely not, given the slim media coverage. Do we care? Are we sufficiently outraged to go running to our representatives in government to demand that they address these issues without delay? I fear not. I fear that our greed and narcissism is so deeply engrained at this point that we will simply throw up our hands and deny any personal responsibility.
Here's for me, though: I pledge to write, today, to both my senators and my congressman to bring my own sense of outrage to their attention; and to find some charitable organization concerned with food for children and make a donation proportionate to the cost of that Valentine's Day dinner for two.
On another front, a thought, this morning, after meditation, regarding that troublesome question of reincarnation: if we are reborn into another, different life form after our death to this human existence, who gets to decide what form that will be? Does the belief not imply the existence of a source of judgment? A god? In my next life, am I to be a rat, an elephant, a hyena--or a boddhisatva? Who makes that decision--if it's not left up to me?