February 2008

On Degrading America

I believe human beings mentally juggle generosity and selfishness and that there are legitimate times justifying either perspective (action).  Is it an act of generosity or selfishness to forgo enlisting to fight the unjust war? Is it an act of generosity or selfishness to institutionalize a parent with Alzheimer’s disease?  Is it an act of generosity or selfishness to resist increased immigration to America on the grounds of further environmental degradation by humans?   Is it an act of generosity or selfishness to abort a severely deformed fetus?

All issues, or nearly all issues can be framed in such a context.  I recently was in a conversation dealing with Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and their respective visions for America.  Hamilton had a rather skeptical outlook on the general human condition and the electorate’s ability to make intelligent, rational decisions.  Jefferson believed in the common man and the common man’s common sense. Somewhat ironic, since Jefferson was anything but.

AsideActually, common sense may be overrated, after all, it is common. And all that that implies. Or, is that merely an example of circular reasoning?

Quite candidly, I am torn between Hamilton and Jefferson’s perspective.  I’d like to think that John Q. Everyman is up to the task of being the good citizen, that he is able to weigh fact from opinion (what you are reading is opinion) and make rational decisions that strengthens America.  Ah, but there’s the rub.

What genuinely strengthens America?  Democrats and Republicans differ on that.  I’m going to briefly examine one issue that separates most Democrats from most Republicans (if polling be believed).

Abortion rights.  This is crystal clear to me.  I totally, unequivocally support a woman’s fundamental right to control her own body.  Period.  End of story.  End of discussion.  I do not think it is periodically up for national debate whether the state or the individual woman owns her uterus.  That is the crux of the matter for me.  It is more basic a right than the right to vote.

Ask yourself this:  If you were forced to make a decision, which would you give up last, your right to vote or the right to own your body?

If you listened to Republicans on this, they would claim the sanctity of life trumps a woman’s right to her own body. Yes, I am presenting this argument in these terms because at the most basic level, this is the issue.  Who will control women’s bodies?  The state or the individual woman?  It is a most essential question.

By some accounts there have been 30 million plus abortions in America since Roe v Wade made abortions legal in America. Thirty million decisions were made by women that having “that” baby at that time was ill-advised.  See earlier comments now on generosity and selfishness.   Think:  rape, poverty, fetal deformity, youth, inexperience, timing, despair, plans, etc., etc. and etc.   Republicans would have the state make that decision for that woman.  Democrats leave such matters to the individual woman.

It is ironic and hypocritical (to me) that the Republican Party claims to be the party of individual initiative over government intrusiveness yet Republicans would introduce the state into the most individual and private of matters. Why does the Republican Party feel that women are incapable of deciding for themselves what is best?  For the individual woman?  Such that they would pass laws transferring ownership of a woman’s uterus to the state.

And at this point, if you do not support a woman’s right to choice, you are saying, perhaps screaming, “That Jepson just doesn’t get the sanctity of unborn life!”

Yes, I do but that is not the issue to me.  Whether or not life is sacred. (That is a whole other conversation.  Just exactly how sacred and in what context we hold life.  Republicans, at times, don’t seem to so much care about life outside of the womb. Hmmm? )  The issue is who is going to make the decision.  The individual woman?  Or, the state?  If it is the state, you have for all intents and purposes transferred ownership of a woman’s uterus, her body, to the state.  That is unacceptable to me.

One of the biggest jokes to me are all the pimply faced, bizarre looking white boys who seem drawn to this issue such that they bleat and bark from portable megaphones at women visiting abortion clinics.  I’d yell back, “Get a life.” But such humor would no doubt be lost.

How about this though, rather than appropriating a woman’s uterus, the state research, fund and distribute free, safe and accessible birth control for every American citizen.  And that we educate all on its use.  How about we create a culture that warmly welcomes and sustains every new born. How about we empower every American woman to be all she can be.  And that she will determine to be a mother exactly when she wants to be.  Not the state.

Empowering women strengthens America.  Usurping their rights degrades them and degrades America.

Reach Jepson at:


On Vacation?

My big question for personal-god-believers is where was God during the Holocaust?  Or, during the Middle Passage?  Or, any number of the many large crimes against humanity “events” in our short history.

My benchmarks for evil are two examples out of many possibilities. (These are mine, you’ll have your own.)

A guard at Auschwitz .  You have a wife.   A couple of kids. A dog.  And every morning, six days a week at 7:00 AM you report as shift officer for processing new arrivals.  Or, any number of jobs at the “factory.”  This sort of evil is, to me, an institutionalized example of evil.  The Fascist state.  The Totalitarian State. The Theocratic State.  The “Pure” State.  History is replete.

The other benchmark of evil, that I find particularly troubling, is the Hannibal Lecter example.  He was the character Anthony Hopkins played in The Silence of the Lambs.  He is my conversational model, for any number of the crimes against humanity “being” practiced every day in America.

I’m not talking about the divorcing wife who runs over her obdurate husband in the family Mercedes in their circular driveway.  Four times.  No. Not that.  When I hear something like that I sometimes think (I do.), “Was it justified?”

But you don’t ask anything like that when another woman is found raped and murdered in Nevada.  And they show her photo on TV and she just glows with life and some example of humanity grabbed her, hurt her, made her cry, made her last minutes on earth a screaming pit of bleakest hell and then he killed her.  And, he waits to do it again.

So, you have the institutionalized evil and the Hannibal Lecter, tortured human, evil.  These are my points of reference when I start determining the relativity of lesser evils, lesser wrongs, lesser thou shalts.  “Make it real compared to what?”

But the question on the table today is where was God during the Holocaust?  I love this question because it quickly cuts to the chase on what you think about your God.  Some people have never even phrased a question like that to their God. It never entered their minds to ask, “Say, God, where were you during the Holocaust?”

The question is seldom posed.  God is let off the hook because He gave us Free Will.

There is no design flaw attributable to God such that you can lay the blame on Him for Auschwitz or little girls being molested all over the world. No. He gave us Free Will.  God, the Maker, is exonerated.

I could never swallow that growing-up.  I never tried.  I didn’t have to. Free will?  But we are getting interesting developments daily in the Free Will debate.

Open any magazine, nearly any addition and there will be an article, a blurb, a finding, a survey, a report, someone’s dissertation, a proclamation on how we human beings are a complex jumble of chemistry and biology and that to the degree we humans have free will (How free are we actually?) is “determined” by X gene, by that chemical reaction.  By the environment. By quantum mechanics?  Talk about reductionist.

“Free will is probably located in the pre-frontal cortex, and we may even be able to narrow it down to the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex,” said Stephen Pinker.

We either have the appearance of free will or we have free will and it is a function of biology that we have the ability to determine right from wrong.  And everything in between. At least most of us. Survival seems to require a “bit” of it.   That seems so much more plausible than God gave us Free Will.  It actually is insulting to the idea of God.

I don’t require a mythological explanation for how we have arrived at where we are. I like Robert Ingersoll’s observation, An honest God is the noblest work of man.  If that be man’s religion, let’s not have God the flawed watch-maker absentmindedly cleaning his glasses, tapping his foot, humming a little Gershwin (Fascinatin’ Rhythm, perhaps) whilst Auschwitz gassed along nicely, thank you very much. I can imagine nobler.

“Where’s Dad,” Gabriel asks Michael?  Both angels look perplexed.  Gabriel continues, “His little creation has run amuck again, they’re butchering one another with even more zeal than usual.  They actually have the trains running on time.  Ah, Germanic pride.”

“He was in the lab, last time I saw Him,” said Michael, “Working on yet another specimen of humanity.  Dad made me laugh.  Dad said yes, indeedeee, another specimen of humanity, only this time it won’t be man.  Get it?”

“That Dad,” laughed Gabriel, “I think he clocked out and is on vacation.  He said something about the inviting slopes of Ursa Minor. Knowing the old Man, I’m unsure if was talking about Venus or is actually skiing.”

The above is as plausible as any other scenario for events on Earth. Or, we can embrace evolution and teach our Florida children we are the way we are because it is in our “nature” to be violent (for defensible and indefensible reasons) and not the flawed design effort (the gift of free will) of a flawed God.

Reach Jepson at:Jepson@MEDIAmerica.US


How The News Is Made

Self-government will be more secure if the editorial page recovers the vigor and stature it had before the businessman took over from the editor as top man in journalism.  Herbert Brucker

Quiz Question #1 – Newspapers are just another business. Bottomline.  No different from a sausage factory?  True or False.

This week I’m running a REALLY exciting contest.  Write your answers on crisp, new $50 or $100 bills and mail to the Observer Offices, c/o Chris Jepson.  If your answers are correct and, if I select a winner, I’ll host you for lunch someplace exciting in Winter Park, Floreeeeeda.  If I select a winner.  I encourage you to:  ENTER OFTEN.

On January 31, Sam Zell, the new owner of The Orlando Sentinel came to town and spoke under a tent in a Sentinel parking lot.  Mr. Zell is not the product of some elite journalism program nor did he have a love of writing.  Mr. Zell didn’t ever write sports with clarity, verve and enthusiasm.  He never wrote a great obituary that made someone dead live again.  At least in our minds. Our imaginations.  No, Mr. Zell didn’t do anything associated with being a newspaper man. Ever.  He never led an editorial team to rally a community to be better. Not once.

Quiz Question #2 – The sausage factory and the newspaper both sell a product and both must make a profit? True or False.

A Reminder: the only approved Entry Forms are crisp $50 or $100 bills.  Please print neatly.

Mr. Zell was asked by a Sentinel photographer if he knew what little boys are made of?  Zell mumbled an obscenity and said something about “Puppies.” Or, was it, he said something about puppies and then followed it up with an obscenity?

Aw, Jeeeeeeez, I made it up. The question.  I made the question up.  But not Mr. Zell’s answers of “puppies,” and profanity.  What would make Mr. Zell swear aggressively at one of his female employees? He’s worth billions, a man of the world, of the street, advantaged, yet not cultured. Mr. Zell, a tough guy, tells a Sentinel employee to get lost and go to hell in so many words. Two words actually.

Quiz Question #3 – When it comes to making sausage and producing a newspaper, well, what you slop in either product is market driven?  True or False.

Mr. Zell recently bought the Sentinel.  He bought The Chicago Tribune, too.  And The L.A. Times.  And other national “Media.”  For some ungodly amount of money.  But the fallout is local, to us.

Mr. Zell said newspapers have to give the public what it wants. As long as it generates more revenue.  The Sentinel photographer suggested that the public wants puppy dog (cute, cuddly, inane and non-controversial) stories.  And this set Mr. Zell’s jaw and resolve and with all his humility and love of journalism Mr. Zell suggested that giving the public more than it wants is arrogance.  Think about it.  Someone at the newspaper has the temerity to assume the public (that’s us) has a need to know of Expressway corruption, sweetheart county contracts or regional water mismanagement.  What arrogance, huh?

Question #4 – Someday, we’ll add newspapers to the list of sausage and laws that we wouldn’t want to watch being made?  True or False.

Make sure you include your name and phone number.  Remember now: crisp $50’s and 100’s only. Multiple entries encouraged.

When newspapers are no longer expected to be more than just another sausage factory, just different content, don’t-cha-see, well, let’s just ask our governments (at all levels), corporations (profit, nonprofit) courts and academia to put out a notice somewhere, sometime on some website that they were once sort of naughty or someone once did something kinda wrong but things sure are fine now. That works for me.  Work for you?

Newspapers watch what we cannot always watch.  They employ writers to learn about subjects (municipal government, environmental issues, etc.) and are trained (and expected) to report factually accurate accounts.  Our democracy exists because we can know the facts.  With the facts we can make informed decisions. There is no replacement for the city newspaper.  There is no comparable substitute anywhere on the horizon for what newspapers have historically provided America.

Sausage factories don’t deal in facts.  A newspaper is not just another business.  If you want to do America a genuine service Mr. Zell, get out of the newspaper business.  Figure out a business model that allows you to recapture your investment and, your newspapers are, in one scenario, handed off to local nonprofits (See St.Petersburg Times).

I recommend that anyone who has access to the internet to log-on to Gawker.com or YouTube.com, type in Sam Zell and listen to the temperament and wisdom of our newest, arguably most influential community leader wax eloquent on arrogance.   How funny is that?

It’s not at all funny.  I like the sentiment, “He knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.”  If I were to someday write Mr. Zell’s obituary, I might lead with that.

Reach Jepson at:  Jepson@MEDIAmeria.US


Ring Ka-Ching!

Dough From Death!

How we came to be in Iraq remains “the” campaign issue for me. Color me old-fashioned but lies, deception, fraud and corruption are no foundation on which to build the “moral” war. Yes, Saddam Hussein was a thug but no less than, say, Vladimir Putin and we haven’t invaded Russia. Quite frankly, I thought when the Democrats retook Congress, we’d have extensive hearings on how we came to be in Iraq and all those Neo-con Republican cockroaches would be exposed to the light of subpoenas, testimony and threats of contempt. But, no.

Iraq is tragic for America. We must get to the bottom of the matter? If, for no other reason, then to learn from the tragedy so as to avoid future idiocy? You think? Nah. Why bother? That’s an old news cycle. Sooooo yesterday.

I got a kick out of The Orlando Sentinel asking all our local Congressmen and women what they wanted for their districts. Not one of them said, “The truth about Iraq.” Oh, they wanted dollars for this and dollars for that. Dollars for mass transit, dollars for the VA hospital and as I read their lists, none of’um said, “I want a balanced federal budget for my district.” Balanced budgets, how old-fashioned.

Too funny. We’re too funny. You’re not brain dead. Of course, you’re not. But I’ve a sneaky suspicion a lot of your friends and neighbors are. Mine, too. They think, when they bother, that our elected officials are taking care of America, taking care of business. Yes, they are taking care of business. I don’t get it.

I am pro-business. I like and greatly respect entrepreneurial guys and gals who through their own initiative do something with their lives, make a buck for themselves and a buck, too for their investors and employees. I get that.

What I understand and what many Americans do understand is that entrepreneurial America is not necessarily corporate America. Corporate America has its hands out, its big piggy snout in the trough of federal (and state) entitlements, just like those lazy, morally suspect “welfare queens” Republicans so like to lambaste with righteous indignation. What frauds! What hypocrites!

Half our federal budget is now spent on national defense related (9-11!, 9-11!, 9-11!) matters, more dough for death than the rest of the world combined. Are we crazy? Oh, you say, we just have to spend like drunken sailors! I am (Be) afraid of the world! They’re (It’s) out to get us. Fear! Fear! Fear!

It begs the question, “Why?” Why do we feel the world is out to get us? Because there are bucks to made. What? Every time, absolutely every time something “nasty” happens around the world, the cash registers in Washington ring, “Ka-ching.” As the money gets slopped in the trough for surveillance satellites, the latest tank (missile system, navy vessel, etc.), coast guard enhancement, additional military divisions, permanent bases in Iraq, security systems, homeland security, pensions, recruitment bonuses, you name it, half of our federal budget in expenditures). Oh, and lobbying bonuses, too!

So, it is ironic to me that we say, “Yes, bring back fiscal responsibility to Washington!! Balance the budget. Get ‘dem “Queens” off welfare but don’t touch a nickel, a nickel for national defense!”

Gosh, golly-gee, Gomer, what was it that ol’ fashioned Republican guy, Dwight D. Eisenhower (wasn’t he a general or something?) said as he was leaving office? Hmmm? Beware the Ides of March? No, no. Beware? Beware? Oh, yes, beware our (that’s our, that’s America’s) military-industrial complex. He wasn’t saying beware the Soviet Union’s or Japan’s or Germany’s. Walt Kelly’s Pogo said it best in 1970, “Yep, Son, We have met the enemy and he is us.”

There is a part of me that completely understands how America has arrived in the 21st century, broke, battered and bewildered. If I’m a corporate big cheese, at the public trough of federal disbursements (entitlements, if you will), do I want the gravy train to cut back, do I want unnecessary military systems eliminated, do I want an extended period of world peace to break out? No, I want more, more and more. More strife. More uncertainty. More death. More mayhem. More fear. More bucks for me and my shareholders. Quarter after quarter after quarter.

We just put, according to President Bush, the biggest threat to American security since Adolf Hitler on the national credit card (and it ain’t American Express holding the note). This war, which America wants no accounting of, has made the world a more dangerous, uncertain place. Unequivocally. It has ramped-up fear in America and made the world more fearful of America. Is that ironic or just merely tragic?

Ask yourself, who could possibly benefit from that? Who makes a buck off fear? I do not see any conspiracy whatsoever. Most allocations to the federal trough are done with all the transparency and light that Congress can muster. Know what I mean?

I don’t know, Chris? You think? How about ‘dem Giants!

Reach Jepson at: Jepson@MEDIAmerica.US