December 2011

Republican Values Found In A Diaper.

Republicans keep me in stitches. They’ll predictably trot out familiar old bromides like “Live Free or Die” or “It’s every man for himself.” Even I, on occasion, can be susceptible to such infantile gibberish. Yes, sometimes my latent libertarian nature reflexively embraces simplistic nonsense. “Don’t expect the government to do for you what you should do for yourself!” Republicans regularly run that one up the flagpole for REAL Americans to salute.

Republicans love all humanity until it is born. Un-huh, life is sacred! They get all warm and fuzzy inside at the thought of a zygote attaching to a woman’s uterine wall. It makes them weak in their knees and teary-eyed, however, imagining that process interrupted, aborted, if you will.

Oh, and then the wailing begins just like in Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are.” THEY ROARED THEIR TERRIBLE ROARS! AND GNASHED THEIR TERRIBLE TEETH! AND ROLLED THEIR TERRIBLE EYES! AND SHOWED THEIR TERRIBLE CLAWS! Republicans do exactly that at the thought of coitus interruptus or rather, Zygotus Abortus.

What is it about women and their uteruses that gets Republican men all atwitter and flummoxed? They cannot keep their minds (or laws) off of a woman’s body. Ironically, they applaud corporations as having the same rights as people but think little of eviscerating a woman’s right to reproductive choice. What is it about women? Are women too stupid to manage their own affairs (their own bodies)? Why is it that Republicans are for the government getting the hell out of regulating business yet they are perfectly okay regulating a woman’s fertility, her sexuality? What’s up with that?

Guys, this might be tough for you. Imagine a scenario where it is you who actually becomes pregnant. You’re still the independent operating, functioning individual you’ve always been but you find yourself pregnant. As a man, how well would you cotton to the government telling you what to do with your body?

According to Republicans, you don’t even own your body; it’s the government’s to regulate. Does that scenario sit well with you as a man? Then why should our sisters, daughters, wives or lovers put-up with such intrusions in their personal lives? No self-respecting man would ever countenance such invasive, intrusive oversight. So, why should America’s women?

Oh, it is argued because Republicans “wuv” all life, particularly the unborn. That’s an interesting time in which to be all for life yet, once born, that life is virtually on its own. Irony, hypocrisy, anyone?

Crack whores. Impoverished, destitute homeless women. Raped sisters. Poor women. Third-year medical students. Graduate students. Mothers already nurturing five children. Older women. Unhealthy women. The mentally disturbed. 16-year-olds. Any woman, no matter her circumstances, no matter her wishes or desires, no matter her rights as a free individual—all pregnant, all menstruating women will be regulated by the federal or state government. A woman will give up her independence, she will forfeit her freedom, she will willingly subject herself to the authority of the state.

I once served on the Orlando Planned Parenthood Board of Directors. At that time there was an alternative facility next door purporting to assist pregnant women. They’d persuade “some” to take the fetus to term with the assurance of long-term help. The long-term help consisted of two dozen Pampers. Oh, and a “Good luck, girl!” She’s going to need it.

Real Republican values, folks. Found in two dozen diapers.

Living Religiously Free.

A reader recently commented on me by observing, “Oh, Jepson, he’s an atheist but I like him anyway.” I took “like him” to mean that she agreed, more times than not, with my overall worldview. That in spite of my disbelief in a personal god, I still appeared/seemed a moral person.

Religion, per se, intrigues me, primarily, at an historical level. I read books, for example, on the Catholic papacy not for the arcane disputes over dogma and/or ritual (although interesting and humorous) but to learn more on the longest running, most successful corporate bureaucracy in history. If one were looking for consistent moral authority, Rome would not be one’s destination. Anymore than Salt Lake City is a repository of latter day righteousness.

That makes me laugh out loud, that religion or more specifically, that a belief in a Muslim or Mormon or Mennonite God somehow imbues you with “the” correct morality. Arguably, and the case is strong, religious dogma (doctrine) achieves just the opposite effect.

Take, as one example, the recent political advertisement of Rick Perry, Republican presidential aspirant. In it he clearly affirms his Christianity and that it is okay to discriminate against Gays (in the military) and that, if elected, he’ll restore Christmas and Christianity to the public square. Perry is a comical caricature of religious ignorance/intolerance. He articulates a religious doctrine that says it is okay to marginalize human beings because they are different from you. Why? Cuz the Bible says it’s so.

And that, Gentle Reader, is the problem with religion. It too often requires its adherents to think neither critically or creatively. Or, to not think in a rational or enlightened manner. Not only that but it frequently encourages just the opposite. See much of the Republican Party platform for examples.

Religious doctrine fosters static cultures. Contrary to evangelical thinking, a genuinely unfortunate development for America would be the full-throated embrace of Christianity; that the United States would in perpetuity operate under Biblical law with conformity of the population to canonical principles both expected and required. See: 17th century Puritan colony of Massachusetts. See witch trials.

Why is much of the Islamic world seemingly trapped in the 12th century? Because religion has created monolithic, static cultures. Because dogma, doctrine and conformity trump creativity and originality.

Where does morality originate? What makes an individual operate in a moral manner? How is “religion” a factor in moral behavior? To the degree that religious dogma and a belief in a personal god are factors, well, possibly, any connections are merely incidental and/or coincidental. But that is grist for another column.

Is belief in a personal god required when organizing a nation, at any level? Politically, morally or otherwise. No. The answer is no. Japan is a highly successful, moral nation. It venerates ancestors as opposed to a god. If one were to dispassionately evaluate the success of Japan, from the perspective of history, you’d have to say Japan has succeeded – without any belief in a personal god that is actively involved in the lives of the Japanese.

Some Christians assume that atheists operate without a moral compass. Or, worse, they are immoral. When in reality the many atheists I know joyfully construct their “moral” worldview without needlessly embracing superstition or antiquated dogma.

You know what? Who cares what you or I practice (believe). We live in America. Home of the free! Let’s all live that way.

Merry Christmas. Indeed.

Give Art.

Cars as Christmas gifts? What recession? A couple of different automobile companies have advertisements running where one spouse surprises the other with a new car in the driveway neatly wrapped in a bright red bow. Cue the music and the “Aw-shucks Dear, you didn’t” look of surprise.

Why run such an advertisement? How many of us have the cash sitting around to make such an acquisition and/or how many of us (as couples) would undertake such a substantial purchase (loan or lease) without first consulting our partners? “Here’s your present, Dear! Oh, and here’s our 60 month payment book. Merry Christmas!” Some gift. Yet, definitely a surprise.

Well, I have a few “modest” ideas for gifts that will not break the bank. Give art. Give ideas. Give music. Give experiences.

Experiences first. Say you have a couple (relatives or friends) who, like many of us, have enough. What do you give them that they don’t already have three of, two of which are boxed away in the garage? An experience. Give two tickets to a play of their choice at the Mad Cow Theater or the Orlando Shakespeare Theater. Give them a morning in Winter Park including tickets to The Morse Museum, the scenic boat tour leaving 312 East Morse Street and lunch at an avenue eatery. Giv’um a hot air balloon ride. (No, not tickets to a Republican debate!) You get the idea. Consider what they “might” enjoy and provide that experience. Package it for them.

Ideas. Books! I recommend the following (all released in 2011): The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt; All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly; Absolute Monarchs by John Norwich; The Greater Journey – Americans in Paris by David McCullough; 1493 by Charles Mann; The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch and Cleopatra – A life by Stacy Schiff. One piece of fiction by Jim Harrison titled The Great Leader (an example of male-centered silliness but fun nonetheless). Finally pick-up (a gift for yourself, perhaps?) Christopher Hitchens’ Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens. All good. For the mind.

Music. Tickets to an Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra performance, of course. Or, the Winter Park Bach Festival. Culture/pleasure for the ears. Here are several jazz recording recommendations: Go by Dexter Gordon; Jazz: Red Hot & Cool by Dave Brubeck Quartet; Music for Loving by Ben Webster; Swiss Movement by Les McCann & Eddie Harris; Lady in Satin by Billy Holiday; Waltz for Debby by Bill Evans Trio and Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis. Two more delights: Songbird by Eva Cassidy and Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell. All classics rated certifiably “Far Superior” by CRJ. Give a yearend contribution to WUCF, 89.9 FM. Great Jazz station!

Art: what separates the wheat from the chaff? Art, you Philistine. Art is often expensive, as well it should be. But it needn’t be. I purchased two original paintings off a 20-year-old Sanford street vendor several years back for $50 a pop, framed’um and they’re gorgeous. Look for local art of quality. Be selective. It’s ubiquitous.

Three local shops to recommend: Timothy’s on Park Avenue in Winter Park. Consistently good—year-in/year-out—artistic “stuff.” Great selection of unique jewelry, ladies! And, for gentlemen who buy for ladies. I recommend The Jeanine Taylor Art Gallery on First Street in Sanford as it has unique, one-of-a-kind objects. And The Artistic Hand in Oviedo. You will find something there to like.

Give art. Support artists. Make your giving distinctive. Be memorable.

Halfway To A Place I Don’t Wanna Be.

I’m not much of a fan of modern Country Western music. It just doesn’t resonate. Much of it sounds like 70s bubblegum music with a twang. Big-thighed, thirtish, balding white boys in black hats singing of love, for all I know, about their customized Ford F-150’s. I prefer Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. They sang of love and loss and sorrow and you sensed they felt it because they actually lived it.

Sometimes I write a line and I think, “Damn, that’d make a great Country Western song!” I thought I heard an individual once describe himself as “halfway married” when, in reality, he was actually claiming to be “happily married.” Haha! Quite a difference and what a great opening line for a song of regret. “She thought we were happily married but I was only half-way married and . . .”

Invariably over the course of a day my mind will wander, depending on the prompt, from the state of the nation to America’s political leadership, environmental issues, reproductive choice, healthcare access, poverty, Republican simpletons, Tea Party yahoos, spineless liberals, the perverse Israeli/American relationship, the nation’s many wars, American imperialism, our economy, elections in Russia or Congressional ineptitude.

During a recent particularly bleak day privately assessing America’s current position and prospects, I wrote, “I’m about halfway to a place I don’t wanna be.” I immediately scribbled underneath “Country Western Song.” It’s a good line and a valid determination of where a lot of Americans find themselves. If you have half a load on intellectually you cannot help but be alarmed at where the United States finds itself today.

I have a relative who recently participated in a surgery in a Western U.S. hospital. A number of physicians were involved and over the course of the operation the conversation between the doctors turned to whether bullets or gold would be more valuable (and tradable) if, heaven forbid, the center didn’t hold and America’s government collapsed. I’ve a call in to see what was the consensus of that esteemed, educated assemblage.

Any student of history clearly understands that what is or what was is no guarantee for what will be. No nation has sustained itself at its “peak” indefinitely. Historically, simply persevering as a national entity has been success enough. Many nations, many empires that once were, simply do not exist today – in any form. Let alone in a reduced state such as Great Britain or Russia.

It is hard not to consider that America is inexorably moving to an Orwellian oligarchy predicated on (necessitating) a gullible electorate skillfully manipulated to voting against its own interests. There is a despair setting in, a growing feeling, a realization that the game is rigged—that those who have the most will inevitably get the rest.

Yes, that is a simplification but how long before such perception erodes what confidence remains in our American “system.”

American Exceptionalism is best summed-up in two modern advertising slogans, “Be all that you can be,” and “Just do it!”

That is so American and seemingly, so yesterday.

We desperately need a new vision. A new order. A new song.

As Walt Whitman commemorated in his poetic vision of the United States, “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear . . .”

It’s about work. Life. America. It’s about happiness and hope.

All in short supply these days.