Blue Moon

When I was growing up, America projected an image of opportunity and hope. Europe was stuck between the dark despair of the Iron Curtain—what a great name that was, by the way, when compared with childish epithets like ‘evil-doer’—and transatlantic freedom.

Slowly the world shifted. To Europeans, the U.S. now comes across as a place of incomprehensible gun violence, religious fundamentalism, and seemingly demented politicians.

Of course Europe has its fair share of nutters, but their eccentricities don’t project them into the mainstream. Maybe it’s because Europe has lived longer, and spent a long and confused adolescence coping with the likes of Henry VIII, Napoleon, and Hitler.

‘Trump rants’, as evidenced by his recent effort in Iowa, and the psychotic confessions of Ben Carson, give a whole new meaning to the circus that US elections have become. This plays out on the public stage over the last two years out of every four—that’s fifty percent of your lifetime.

Average life expectancy in the United States is seventy-eight years, so the average citizen is bombarded with election drivel for  a period of thirty-nine years. Excessive?

The distribution of life expectancy is surprisingly interesting—Hawaii has the highest (81.3 years) and Mississippi the lowest, with 74.96 years. The last eight states have an average of 75 years, and all are poor southern states: Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, West Virginia, and Mississippi.

There’s a huge wealth gap in these regions, and it’s incredibly easy to find. Driving the wrong way out of Nashville or walking in certain parts of Memphis, looking at the stores and ads, and just talking to the people.

And this blight of poverty doesn’t just split communities, in some cases it affects whole towns. Beattyville, Kentucky, is classified as America’s third poorest town, and its misery can’t even be blamed on immigration—ninety-eight percent of the population is white.

An abandoned truck grows roots in East Kentucky.

An abandoned truck grows roots in East Kentucky.

The median annual income per household is below fifteen thousand dollars, and there’s a high school dropout rate of 33%. Elmore Leonard wrote about the drama of Eastern Kentucky through the eyes of US Marshal Raylan Givens—this is a land traditionally dedicated to coal mining, inhabited by poor, hard-working people, who were not averse to a spot of illegal distillation.

The coal vanished, and the moonshine’s been replaced by other drugs. In Beattyville, drug addiction is a way of life. Fueled by welfare (just a touch of irony there) checks, people of all ages are caught up in an infernal machine that involves doctors, pharmacies, and seniors who trade prescription drugs for food.

Such communities are the badlands of opiates, crystal meth, and the other substances, old and new, that kill your family as effectively as a drone strike.

My demographic data was drawn from here, and my search for other issues of real concern led me to the racial component. Partly this is because I’ve often been struck by similarities between the States and South Africa.

Some of that comes from the huge open spaces, the sheer size of the land, but it’s more than that. The ratio of whites to blacks is roughly opposite (9:1 in the US), but the segmentation of society, with areas of desperate poverty bordering almost obscene wealth, is often comparable.

When I read about Beattyville I wondered how poor non-white US towns could get. Actually, they don’t get much worse, and the only two towns in more desperate circumstances have American Indian and Latino populations.

The very nature of classification by race is quintessentially Anglo-Saxon. US forms have it, and South Africa categorizes race into five groups: black; colored; white; Indian/Asian; other.

I made an effort to discover the proportion of black people in Spain or Italy, and in Europe as a whole—not so easy: researching European ethnicity comes up with gems such as Normans and Catalans, but no ready-made racial stats. Ask the same question for England and it’s the first hit on Google—boxed in and complete with images.

The US life expectancy site reveals that Asians live longer than whites, and black people in most areas live up to four years less. Other regional differences are fascinating: where is the lowest average life expectancy for blacks? Washington DC, with 71.6 years. And where do white people live longest?

You guessed it—Washington DC, where they live 84.3 years, a full thirteen years more than blacks. Not only do they beat African Americans hands down, but they outlive Minnesotans (the next in line) by a full three years.

In between a destitute white trash town running on opiates, and the fact that the nation’s capital ‘boasts’ a twenty-five percent gap between the lifespan of whites and blacks, there must be more important things to discuss than whether Carson’s belt buckle stopped the knife.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.


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