May 2008

Less As More.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is losing population.  Dramatically.  Since 2000, 25,000 more people have died than have been born there.  Public school enrollment has declined from 70,000 two decades ago to 30,000.  Enrollment continues to decline at about 1,000 students a year.  From 1980 to today, the population has dropped from 423,000 to 312,000.

Of course, this reality is confined to specific locales. American population continues to grow, mainly from immigration (both legal and illegal). In contrast, Russia as a population (nationality) continues in decline.  There are now less than 150 million Russians and that government is attempting an incentive program for couples (women)  to have more babies.  Japan is in a serious world of hurt from both an aging and declining population.  Italy, too.

It is asserted that because of petroleum (since first being “discovered” in Pennsylvania in 1859) that world agriculture production is nine times what the planet could produce without it.  In other words to sustain Earth’s population without ample and (virtually free) energy it would take the equivalent of nine earths to carry the planet’s existing and projected population.

I am not one of those who think more is necessarily better, although I’ve lifted many a champagne flute to just that, “To More!”  But not to more population.  More art.  More literacy.  More beauty. More opportunity.  More fun.

Don’t you laugh out loud when The Orlando Sentinel chides our local government officials to enact more stringent water conservation standards.  It’s too funny.  Yes, let’s make sure there’s plenty of water for more human development.  More golf courses, shopping malls, strip malls and housing developments.  More newspapers subscriptions, too.

And you, you profligate water whore, unless you cut back we won’t be able to pave Osceola County.  Yes, let’s cut back our individual water usage so yet more water meters (homes/developments) can be plugged into our diminishing aquifer.  Does that make sense to you?

It actually does.  Everything that happens in Central Florida is predicated on one thing.  Growth.  If we are not growing, we are declining.   Tax revenue, government bureaucracies, corporations (profits), hospitals, school systems, infra-structure proponents (companies), theme parks, basketball arenas are all premised on one word: growth.  Jobs.  More people, more jobs, more revenue, more taxes, more, more, more.

There is a flip side.  And that is less.  Less water, less congestion, less pollution, less environmental degradation, less aggravation, less people. Less of a lot of things that make our lives more rewarding.

If you examine (review, research) our history, we, as a species have never successfully gotten our hands and minds around the issue of sustainability.   How do you create a culture that is both rich and rewarding to its citizens yet is able to sustain itself through time without destroying its humanity or its environment?

Yet, when having a rational discussion on what constitutes the “good” life rarely is sustainability an integral part of the conversation.  It seldom enters into the equation.

Ah, and then you have the double-edged sword of feminism. Actually feminism is a victory for women and a win for the planet.   The more educated, the more affluent, the more free, the more empowered the female to make decisions as to when (or even, if) to have children the closer humanity moves to the debate over sustainability.  Arguably, the biggest single scientific achievement of the 20th century may someday be identified as birth control.

Create a world where women are free to choose whether or not to become pregnant or take a pregnancy to term and you’ve turned the “natural” world upside down.  No longer at the mercy of their bodies, women can determine for themselves their future and biology becomes one option out of many. One child?  Two children?  No children?

It’s humorous to me that a lot of the same folks who rail against immigrants are the same who argue America has to grow, grow, grow. More people. Period. We have to sell more zero lot line homes or condos that require toasters and refrigerators and cars and water and energy and use lawn services and use more . . .  Immigration is the only thing growing our national population.

Our educated daughters are our nation’s future, the world’s future. Empower women worldwide, educate them, provide them with safe, effective and accessible birth control and the issue of sustainability will move from an issue occasionally argued in the dining rooms of the liberal west to a world wide concern.

Sustainability of the planet, of humanity is coming.  It will either be a conversation forced by apocalyptic conditions or a conversation required because we have intelligently and rationally determined that “more” is a false god, like so many, an unsustainable god.  What good is paradise if we consume it?  That is what humans do.  We consume. Everything.

But, until then, you nasty, squandering water whores, conserve because less is more.  More people. More jobs.  More growth. More development.  More.


Blind Faith

Put God to work for you and maximize your potential in our divinely ordered capitalist system.  Norman Vincent Peale

Twice a year a Jehovah Witness will knock on my front door and inquire about my faith in God.  I immediately tell them (it’s typically two women) that I greatly admire their willingness to go door-to-door promoting their beliefs.  And, I genuinely do.  I then tell them I do not believe in a personal god.  They always look slightly excited by the prospect of converting a “lost” soul but before they can launch into their evangelical spiel I forcefully ask, “Where was God during the Holocaust?”

Invariably, they search (stutter, mumble) for “the” answer but I condense their answer(s) for them.  Free will, I say.  God gave us free will so God is off the hook for the Holocaust.

Before they can nod in agreement with my assessment, I say how puzzling all this is.  If God is omnipresent and omniscient, He’s known everything for all time.  So when God created man, He knew German’s would organize their nation and all of Europe, coordinate train schedules, construct concentration camps, chronicle their deeds with an accountant’s zeal, all to collect, to the best of their ability, all of Europe’s Jews to slaughter them. God knew this would happen yet chose when he was creating man not to tweak the model so this wouldn’t occur.

I tell them I do not understand. My limitations are too pronounced to comprehend why would you not tweak the design if you could see, oh, how shall we describe it, such egregious human behavior?   Where was God when American pilots dropped napalm on sleeping Vietnamese children, horrifically melting their skin off their innocent, screaming bodies? You remember the pictures of the little girl running down the road with the skin coming off her arms.  You know it’s going to happen. God does. Why not ever so slightly “tweak” the design?  You know, wring out the excess?  Construct a more humane, compassionate, less violent model?

At this point, my evangelists stand as deer caught in headlights.  I again tell them of my deep admiration, wish them well and, Godspeed in their ministrations.  I have never heard in all my years an appropriate, intelligent, rational answer (response) to my “Where was God during the Holocaust” query.  Free will simply does not cut it for me as an explanation as to why God didn’t tweak our design when first creating man. You know, in the big inning.

There is a topic even more off limits than God to Americans and that is our economic system.  Questioning the efficacy of capitalism is akin to questioning the existence of God. Worse, perhaps.  It is something you simply do not do in America.

It is at this point I must genuflect, pay appropriate homage before the shrine of capitalism. I sincerely do believe in and have benefited from our free enterprise, capitalistic system.  I love all my choices and creature comforts.  I do.

That said, can we not thoughtfully and realistically examine as rational, sentient creatures some of the excesses of our capitalistic system?  Or, is the subject similar to challenging the received wisdom of God?  Verboten.

The morality of the marketplace (of capitalism).  Capitalism as a virtue has us paying $125 a barrel oil, the money flows to some of the most despotic, repressive regimes on the planet.  This is capitalism.

Capital is indifferent to morality.  It is a function of return on investment.  Do not expect capitalism to have a conscience. It is a quality not inherent in its “design.”  That is a human quality and heaven forbid (hmmm?) our economic system reflect humanity.  Some will argue it does.

Corporations, a formalized structure of capitalism, do not have a conscience either.  I just read in the New York Times of a New York investment bank that was cutting staff.  A mid-level manager lost her job because of cutbacks, not because of her competence. Upon termination she was immediately escorted by security from the building.  She was unable, even, to tell her fellow employees goodbye.  This was a long term employee.  So sorry. Have a nice day.

We Floridians, or some Floridians would like to “manage” growth.  We want to preserve the quality of the air, land and water resources within the state. To that end “we” have attempted through government jurisdictions and regulatory oversight to take control of our future only to be thwarted by those arguing to let the marketplace (capitalism) determine Florida’s future. It will.

To suggest that the interests of capitalism and humanity are not necessarily joined at the hip is to speak blasphemy. Norman Vincent Peale connected capitalism with God’s divine plan.  Capitalism, however, is a human construct but you would think God, Himself created our capitalistic system and, as such, it’s an apostasy to say, “Can we not tweak our economic model, our capitalistic excesses are consuming us.”  Why not play God?

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See Hillary Run

It dawned on me last week what Hillary is all about.  I learned to read with the 1950s Dick & Jane series.  To paraphrase those inimitable words:  Run Hillary Run.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t know when to quit because she doesn’t know what to do.  What she has done her entire adult life is run.  That sums up her life to this point.  She has been running for public office since the 1970s, either with her husband or on her own.  See Hillary Run.

What’s a girl to do when the tiara is going to a fresher, younger face?  Sigh. What kind of beauty contest is the American presidential race?  Is steadfastness not the virtue it once was?  Is steely determination and relentless pursuit to be eclipsed by the ephemeral effervescence of change, dare we say, of hope?  Yes.

For me it happened last October when I heard Bill Clinton announce that he publicly and vigorously opposed Bush’s occupation of Iraq.  I almost jumped off my couch. I yelled, “What in the hell is he talking about!”

That was it.  Time to turn the page on the Clintons.  I didn’t care what Monica Lewinsky did or did not do with the President.  In the total scheme of things, historically speaking, it seems pretty benign.  Who cares?  It took six years, a special prosecutor and $60 million to determine that a man will lie about having sex with a woman.  Stop it! Men will lie about sex. No! Really?  He was relentlessly hounded and pursued by sheet-sniffing, hypocritical Republicans (and a “vast” rightwing coordinated effort).

And the promise of his presidency?  Well, I think the stained, wrinkled blue dress has come to symbolize his time in office, too.  Unfortunately so.  He showed such promise.His last minute pardons are suggestive of his corner-cutting, his accommodations with sleaze.  In this specific matter I was genuinely embarrassed for Bill Clinton.

Hillary ran for the Senate and won and I was inwardly happy for her. A place in the sun, an accomplishment clearly her own.  Her presidential campaign was always “iffy” for me.  It was clear to me (to many) that her vote authorizing Bush’s war in Iraq was purely a political calculation.  Democrats can’t be viewed as soft on terrorism, cannot appear wishy-washy on war and, voila, we have a candidate who has yet to acknowledge she made a colossal mistake.   She will not.

Hillary argues she was misled by the Bush Administration.  Yet 23 of her Senate colleagues were not so bamboozled.  If this campaign is about judgment, she failed the exam right there.  The most important foreign policy decision of the last 40 years and Hillary got it wrong.

Yet, I was not totally adverse to her Presidential run.  I want a woman to be President.  In so many ways Hillary is abundantly qualified to be President.  I get it when women my age enthusiastically support her candidacy. Females who came of age in the 60s remember their mother’s and grandmother’s lives and how far we’ve come (and what it took) as a nation to support any (a) woman’s dream (Right) to be “all she can be.”  The presidency was one bar yet to be hurdled.

But it isn’t going to happen. This time. Yet Hillary continues running like the Energizer Bunny, beating the drum, relentlessly nodding her head.  Keeping-on, keeping- on.

For what else is Hillary going to do?  I know not her motivations. I could guess.   I know, however, she has no Plan B.  It’s her dream and it’s a chimera on the horizon, it’s a fading fantasy (the White House) that is inexorably passing her by. Her dream is deserting her. It’s her core. But she clings to it.  She campaigns.

And on she goes.  Run Hillary Run. To some this shows steely determination, a commitment to her values, a willingness to sacrifice for America.

She confuses herself with the cause of a better America.  In her mind’s eye, those two are interchangeable. Hillary equals a better America.  A better America equals Hillary.  Run Hillary Run.

See Hillary run.  See Hillary think.  See Hillary stop.  See Hillary unite.  See America win.

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My Father’s Elite

Everyone has the impulse to be elite. Alfred Woodard

To my father, there was only one elite.   It did not include Jews, Catholics, blacks or, at the time I was growing up—Democrats.  My father’s elite was so narrow as to exclude virtually all of humanity.  My father’s elite had but one qualification.  Were you a blood relative?  Were you a Jepson? To my father’s credit he did a marvelous job of bonding his children to one another.  It was us. And everybody else.  We were an elite team, in his mind’s eye, exclusive, gifted and privileged.  Privileged in the sense that our ancestors were of tough, gnarly, intelligent human stock.  My forbearers, according to dad made us a genetic gift that was superior to the rest of humanity.  Elite.

My father never specifically articulated the above but he certainly implied as much.  I never heard my father once utter an intentional denigrating remark about “a” people.  He didn’t care for the papacy but Catholics were fine.  I heard many times favorable remarks about Jews.  He greatly admired their emphasis on family and education.  And he said to me in the 1970s that he was wrong about blacks. (It was news to me as we had never particularly discussed race.) He was a pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, mind your damned business kinda guy.  He hadn’t properly digested the American black experience.  But by the mid-70s, he got it.

Of course, my Father’s elite is a silly approach but I will give him this. If you have any family pride, some of what he felt will resonate with some of you.  Elitism, by its very nature, is of limited membership.  My father’s elite is about as elite as you can get.  Aside from the elitism of the solitary ego.

I’ve said for a couple of decades the only thing better than being Christopher Robin Jepson would be to be Christopher Robin Jepson Rothschild or Medici.  Sorry, Father.  I would have loved (based on my values today) to have grownup enriched by unlimited access to the arts and culture, although my mother and father were exceptional in their appreciation of both.

But, sigh, I grew-up a Jepson in Sioux City, Iowa. As unpretentious a Midwest town as you can imagine.  Sure, some folks had big money, you knew it.  But at that time no one was returning tanned from a Christmas vacation in the BVI.  Few left for European summer excursions. Sioux Cityians were for the most part just plain folk trying to have some fun while making it. Like everyone else in America.

What does it mean to be elite today?  Can a black man raised by a single woman (and grand parents), one who grew up in modest economic circumstances be legitimately characterized as elite?  Barack Obama is so charged. Elite has a French derivation: to choose.  The choice part.  A socially superior group.  Using Webster’s standard, it would be a challenge to depict Barack Obama as elite.

For reasons to me, inexplicable in a modern world, having an education and thinking about social issues from a particular slant or perspective will get you labeled elite.  Thank you Republican Party for calling into question intellectual curiosity, formal education and a secular humanist approach to life and governance.  You’re the best. At dividing America.

Why would elitism as an indictment enter this election cycle?  When is the last time you have actually had a conversation about elitism?  Hmmm?  By classical definitions and standards, our current President is elite. A prime example of elitism.  He is a mediocre mind, a legacy collegian, a silver-spooned failure until molded into a Rovian Frankenstein.  He is a cataclysmic misfortune for America.  Elite, for sure, in that regard.

Yet here is a black man being charged with being elite.  I don’t know how those promoting such nonsense can do so with a straight face.  Maybe they mean he is elite because he is black, handsome, intelligent, cool, calm, educated and, yes, articulate.  But I don’t think they would give Barack Obama even that.

Being educated, talking intelligently will unfortunately get you labeled as elite in today’s America.  What a sorry statement and a worrisome development for America’s future.  Being educated, talking intelligently.

Folks, be aware of the Republican three-card monte.  Labeling a black man as elitist is a gimmick (a sideshow) to get you to take your eye off the ball (the card).  The ball is America’s future and how best to make America healthier and more prosperous for all.  The ball is Iraq.  The environment.  Our economy.  Our judicial system.  The ball is the Republican failure to make America safer in the world and of economic hardship at home.

Yet, through a remarkable Republican (even Hillary!) sleight of diversion, we talk about elitism. We talk about goofy ministers (Are there any other kind? Oh, be kind Chris).  We talk about bowling scores and even purloined cookie recipes.

If wanting an educated and articulate debate on the issues makes me elite, I willingly embrace the label.  Even my dead dad would concur, elitist that he was.

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