The Opposite of Self-Pity: Neil Alan Smith

A reader in Dallas sent this note:

TPM this morning led me to this obituary of a man who is near the other end of the wealth bell curve from the University of Chicago Prof recently discussed at length.

I'm generally too old and cynical to tear up. But the obituary moved me quite considerably. I understand that it is not a complete picture of the life depicted, just as the Professor's comments about his personal finances are probably (hopefully) not a fair window into his worldview. But I find it of immense spiritual benefit to set these two portraits against one another.

I agree. This case has been discussed many other places, for example by David Gura at the NPR site, but seemed worth mentioning for those who might be interested. As the reader points out, it's not as pat as "well-paid person greedy; poor person virtuous." But the juxtaposition of two contemporaneous American stories is striking. The deceased, Neil Alan Smith at work as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack, from Tampa Bay Online, below.

Also, this interesting note from a commenter at the St. Petersburg Times site:

This story is a poignant example of why we as a society continue to need solid daily newspaper journalism. It's a reminder that we all have value, and that low pay and a humble way of living are not at all incompatible with kindness, decency and self-respect. This piece is a respectful tribute to a proud working man. Well done, Andrew Meacham and the St. Petersburg Times.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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