Broward County: Where the Animals are Tame and the People Run Wild

It’s back in the news again:

So what’s the matter with Broward? Republicans tend to blame one-party Democratic rule, and even some Democrats agree that the lack of serious partisan competition has led to bad incentives and bad habits for county leaders, just as uninterrupted Republican rule at the state level has helped make Tallahassee’s political culture dysfunctional. Broward’s decentralized political structure, with a new and largely ceremonial mayor chosen every year from a nine-member county commission, has also reduced accountability: Broward’s independent fiefdoms like the election office, sheriff’s department and schools are essentially free to run wild. Broward’s public health system has been particularly problematic. Its CEO committed suicide in 2016 amid a federal investigation into shady contracts, and his successor, who got the job despite having a degree from a defunct diploma mill and despite being under indictment, recently resigned after less than a year in office.

I’ve used the modified Monkey Jungle phrase “where the animals are tame and the people run wild” to describe all of South Florida, but the original impetus to do it came from Broward County, that Strange Place to the South (for those of us in Palm Beach County.)  Broward County, however, is Ground Zero for South Florida’s basic problem: it’s made up of people groups who basically don’t like each other and don’t form a community, even when they vote alike, as they do in Broward.  The result is that, when community problems arise, nothing gets done, because there is no community, even with political unity.  People just yell at each other.

But isn’t the whole country getting that way?  To grow up in South Florida was to see the future, and sad to say it hasn’t been very nice.

Rusty Runs No More in Florida

Amidst all the other election results, this, from Florida:

Amendment 13, a highly charged proposal to end greyhound racing in Florida, passed. It means the roughly dozen racing tracks in Florida will have to shutter by 2020. Animal protection groups celebrated the victory, calling the win a “historic effort.”

“Tonight, in an historic vote, Florida voters have delivered a knock-out blow to a cruel industry that has been hurting and killing dogs for nearly a century,” the Yes on 13 campaign wrote in a statement. “This is a small step in turning the page on a relic of the old economy, but a giant step for animal protection nationwide.

Florida is home to 11 of the remaining 17 greyhound racing tracks in the country.

“Because of the decision of millions of Florida voters, thousands of dogs will be spared the pain and suffering that is inherent in the greyhound racing industry,” said Kitty Block, acting president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Greyhound racing was a part of the landscape when i grew up in Florida, which inspired one of the oldest pieces on the site: Running Rusty.  I used the mechanical rabbit which the greyhounds chased to make a point about American life:

I suppose this is fine for dog racing but unfortunately too much of life for too many of us has turned into a dog race where whomever we feel is in control of our situation is “running Rusty” in front of us. From youth onward we’re motivated — pushed and shoved in some cases — to achieve goals which we may have had nothing to do with formulating and which we really feel we neither want nor are able to accomplish. If and when we reach these goals it seems that success is more elusive than ever because the “track owner” is moving Rusty faster than we can keep up by either making new demands or enticing us with new things to go harder for. This is called “being challenged” and of course has its upside but in many cases it’s manipulation, pure and simple.

It looks like Rusty, like so many Floridians, is being retired along with the dogs.  I really think this is another example of sentiment and respectability taking precedence over substantive good, but that can be said about just about everything in this country, and that includes the rest of the election last night.

And, sad to say, it does nothing to address the great paradox of American life: while many call for a more humane and just society, the corporatist nature of our system keeps “running Rusty” on all of us for their own benefit.

The only way out is this, and my prayer for you is that you will make the step.

Lessons about Women’s Ordination from Palm Beach’s Social System

Some readers of the blog are doubtless buffaloed at my blasé attitude regarding what Anglicans call WO (women’s ordination.)  I explain some of my rationale here but some of that comes from being a product of the Palm Beach social system.  That system–exclusivistic and highly non-industrial–moulds everyone who lives there in ways that aren’t obvious until they get away from it.  So here are some reflections on the effect of that system and why it’s relevant in the church today.

First, a core feature of the system is the simple fact that women have been powerful and played a central role in the system long before the move to “liberate” them got going.  An easy-to-understand example of this was Marjorie Merriweather Post, who owned Mar-a-Lago for so many years.  Mar-a-Lago was (and is if you ignore the fact that it’s a private club now) the largest private residence on the island, and she was prominent (including the square dances she held.)  But she was only one.  Palm Beach was a place where work was a four-letter word in the past for many people (or in their ancestors’ past.)  With this a person’s position based on the job they did (and for many years it was the men who did most of the paid jobs) didn’t really bear on where you stood in the scheme of things.

This tended to put women in the driver’s seat in many ways–overseeing households (where they routinely told men what to do,) controlling fortunes (based on the terms and conditions of those fortunes) and organising events.  There’s power in all of that.  It’s hard to swallow industrial-era based complementarianism when you’ve been exposed to that.  (A cursory reading of Proverbs 31 should also put paid to such thinking, but I digress…)

The second is that power is not always exercised in the open.  We are routinely regaled with things such as “the first woman to…” and so forth.  And these accomplishments should not be gainsaid.  However, one thing one learns in a place like Palm Beach (and should be learned elsewhere but frequently isn’t) is that real power often resides in the hands of those who aren’t in the limelight, or who don’t have the formal position.  That, just about as much as anything, drives me crazy about American political dialogue.  The whole rise of the Religious Right in politics was based on the idea that, if we could win enough elections, we could take American back for God again.  We now know that this was not true in the 1980’s and certainly isn’t now, although elections are important.

An interesting example of how this played out relevant to the topic of women took place when the Vestry of Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, led by shirt magnate William Cluett, booted the ladies’ rummage sale from the parish hall on “scriptural” grounds.  In those days vestries were an all-male affair, and in a complementarian world the ladies would be compelled to sit down and shut up.  They didn’t; led by prominent socialite Helene Tuchbreiter, they moved their operation elsewhere and started the Church Mouse resale shop, which is today a part of the scene in Palm Beach.

So why is Palm Beach’s social system educational for the rest of us?  Well, “moving up” is a big deal for Americans in church and elsewhere.  You simply cannot promote industrial-era complementarianism one the one hand and the desire of upward social mobility on the other without running in the simple fact that, when you reach the peak of the latter the former isn’t operative.  For all of its unBiblical aspects, Palm Beach’s social system in many ways reflects a time before what job someone had defined their status in life, and that’s something that everyone needs to remember.  If we could get past that, we could liberate ourselves from many things.

P.S. One thing I didn’t touch on was the exclusivist nature of Palm Beach’s social system.  We hear many opponents of Christianity decry churches as “country clubs” but if you’re a product of a system where being in a club was a big deal that isn’t much of an insult.  And if we’re going to implement things such as the “Benedict Option” that aspect will be a key to our survival.  But again that’s another post…

He Was Right, They Do Flunk Clock

Some British schools are taking analogue clocks out of schools:

Schools are removing analogue clocks from examination halls because teenagers are unable to tell the time, a head teachers’ union has said.

Teachers are now installing digital devices after pupils sitting their GCSE and A-level exams complained that they were struggling to read the correct time on an analogue clock.

In 1971, when I was in prep school, I obtained for my dorm room one of the earliest types of digital clocks, namely one with those “flip cards” which changed to display the time digitally.  A friend looked at the clock and said, “Your little brother will flunk clock.”  He was partially wrong because I was the little (or younger) brother in my family.  But he was right about one thing: when people have digital clocks, they will forget how to read an analogue one.

So many problems can be anticipated if we just have the vision to see the consequences…

Ibiza Isn’t the Only Place Where the Tourists are Hated

In the Balearic Islands, along with other parts of Spain, the locals have had enough:

More than 500 people have taken to the streets to protest against the impact of overtourism in Ibiza – the first rally of its kind on the Balearic island famed for its hedonistic 24-hour lifestyle.

The rally, organised by local pressure group Prou!, took place on Vara de Rey in Ibiza Town last Friday. Protesters decried the privatisation of beaches, party boats, the rise in crime, the increase in rental prices and noise pollution. Some held placards reading “For Sale”.

They’re not the first–back home in South Florida, we hated tourists too.  Instead of dealing with people from the UK, France and Germany, we had to bear the brunt from other strange places, like NY and NJ

We didn’t protest, however: we just worked as hard as we could to relieve them of their money and be rude to them in the process.  What a country!

Knowing the Facts and How You Look at the Facts Isn't the Same, @crampell

Washington Post columnist and fellow Palm Beach Day Academy alum Catherine Rampell hits on the “facts” during her hometown address:

Rampell, who focuses on data-driven journalism, said she is worried about Trump’s stance on federal agencies such as the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis. She said his attitude toward analytics has ranged from “indifference” to “contempt,” noting Trump has called the unemployment rate a hoax and made budget cuts to the Census Bureau.

“It really bodes ill for a lot of people because numbers, good data, that’s how we know how to hold our public officials accountable, how to tell whether their policies are doing a good job and how to make good business decisions,” Rampell said.

This is a classic fallacy of our time: we have the data, therefore we know what it means and how to solve the problems it presents.  A good example of that is income inequality: it’s gotten worse under just about every president in my adult lifetime (and her entire lifetime) including Barack Obama.  And there’s been a great deal of hand-wringing about this.  One would think that he, of all people, would have reversed that trend, but he didn’t.  Perhaps the interest in achieving that goal isn’t as strong in a Palm Beacher like Rampell (and others at the top) as it is with those whose income has actually gone down.

The result of this in our electoral system was two candidates–Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump–who built their candidacies on basically the same problems, but looked at their solution entirely differently.  Had the Democrats not been as fixated on Hillary Clinton as they were, a race between the two of them would have been exciting, to say the least.  (The one we had was exciting enough…)

Climate change is another one of those “facts” problems.  All other things being equal, the earth will warm with an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: therefore, we must replace our fossil-fuel based energy generation with only “renewable” sources.  Another intramural problem: another fellow Day Academy alum, Kerry Emanuel, and two others did a piece a while back supporting nuclear power, which would make the replacement of fossil fuels a much more rapid process.  And isn’t time of the essence here?  (Speaking of intramurals, wonder if Rampell is a Pelican or a Flamingo…)

One other note: Donald Trump’s disdain for the unemployment rate is probably based on the fact that it doesn’t include those who have given up seeking employment and left the labour force.  That’s a legitimate problem; it masked that exodus all during Obama’s presidency.  His response, in part, was to expand the disability program and attempt to pension off the victims of economic change.  And that, truth to tell, was partly successful.

The Jewish Club Pans Barack Obama's Membership

The soon to be former President finds out that a slice of exclusive American history has consequences:

It was founded more than century ago as a refuge for Jewish American golfers being discriminated against, but now a Maryland country club is facing its own exclusion row over whether to admit Barack Obama.

Several members at the exclusive Woodmont Country Club have said an application by the outgoing US president, a keen golfer, to join the historically Jewish club should be rejected because of his Israel policies.

The existence of Jewish and Gentile clubs may seem strange to most Americans, but it remains a feature of the country club scene in many places.  One of those is Palm Beach, where I found this out the hard way growing up there.  Excluded from the Gentile clubs (which were started first,) Jews founded their own clubs.  In the case of the Palm Beach Country Club, support for Israel charities is expected from new members, and I suspect at Woodmont it is the same.

The supreme irony in all of this is that the one person (in Palm Beach at least) who has done more than anyone else to break this Jew-Gentile separation pattern in clubs is none other than Donald Trump, which he did when he made Mar-a-Lago (his Florida White House) a private club.

My advice to well-heeled Evangelicals in the Washington area is to apply for membership at Woodmont.  We’re not Jewish, but after our support for Israel, there should be a reward for that somewhere on this side of eternity.

Our Elites' Snotty Attitudes, Then and Now

Wikileaks’ revelations that Hillary Clinton and her operatives take a dim view of social conservatives–following her characterization of large portions of the population as “deplorables”–has ignited a great deal of anger.  As someone who started out life growing up with the elites, I think some perspective is in order.

Let me start by putting up something that’s been on this website since 2004.  It comes from my Around the Island post about Palm Beach, and it goes like this:

Below: “There’s a hole in my bucket…” Fourth graders at Palm Beach Day School perform a satire on “hillbillies” called “Appalachian Legend” during Stunt Night 1969. Attitudes from the “coasts” about “flyover country” in the U.S. have been deep seated for a long time; stage productions like this only reinforced that. It’s fair to say that, if the “Religious Right” had fully grasped the contempt they were held in when the movement first got going in the late 1970’s they would not have started the Moral Majority: they would have started a revolution.

Haughty attitudes of our elites towards the rest of the population aren’t new; they’re as old as class differences.  So why didn’t the revolution I thought would be a logical outcome (then, at least) not happen?  There are several reasons:

  1. Our elites had better taste and manners then; they knew better than to rub the rest of the population’s face in their perceived superiority.
  2. We lacked the instant means of communicating contempt we have now.
  3. Most of the “moral majority” didn’t see the difference between their values and those at the top as class based.   That was simply false; the top of our society had been lost to the fervent Evangelicalism for a long time, being steeped in either Main Line Christianity or Judaism.
  4. Some actually did, but didn’t care; they felt that those at the top would go to hell for their lack of belief and they would not.  That kind of “remnant” mentality was very deep in Evangelical Christianity, especially in the South.  One result of the political activity of the last forty years or so is the erosion of that mentality.
  5. Others sensed it, but were too ashamed to admit it, because it would imply those who opposed them were better than they were.  They were and are the aspirational types; much of the impetus for political involvement has come from these people.
  6. Income inequality has increased since that photo was made; the gap between the elites and the Appalachians has grown significantly.

That leads me to some observations about the present:

  • I think it strange that the standard-bearer of those who seek a revolution is a billionaire; it’s one of those bizarre American things.  But it’s the aspirational way: those who idolize Trump project their own aspirations into his own success, which is very common in our society.
  • On the other hand, aspirational people are a threat to the existing power holders, which is why Hillary Clinton and her operatives feel about them the way they do.  Elites, then and now, prefer corporatism.  And that’s ironic too for a bunch whose ideological roots are in 1960’s radicalism.
  • As far as her attitudes towards social conservatives is concerned, what we’re headed for under her idea is a “two-tier” religious structure where certain churches and religious organizations are “acceptable” and certain ones are not, with legal disabilities following.  That was the case in Nazi Germany with the “Confessing Church,” in the Soviet Union, and is the case in China, although the Three-Self Church is showing many signs of life.  Her idea that Roman Catholicism is an “élite” religion (as opposed to Evangelicalism) has a strange feel to it.  Going from Episcopal to Catholic was a drop in social level in the 1970’s, but the Main Line churches have lost most of their relevance even at the top.
  • Trump’s crudity is unsurprising, especially for someone raised in South Florida as I am.  What we have to choose from is one candidate whose forced sexualization agenda is one of personal depravity and the other whose forced sexualization agenda is a matter of public policy.
  • Personally I’ve always gravitated to the “remnant” mentality.  I was raised listening to the encounter with the rich young ruler and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus; somehow anything else misses the point.  The most active alternative along these lines is the “Benedict Option” advocated by Rod Dreher.  Maintaining that in a totalitarian society–even one with periodic elections–won’t be easy.

Pro-Life Democrats: If You Knew the Priorities…

@timothypomalley is lachrymose for his party’s call to repeal the Hyde Amendment:

I had hoped for this. Until this week. Like many pro-life Democrats, I had been dispirited by the inclusion in the 2016 Democratic Party Platform of the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which has previously disallowed federal funds to pay for abortion except in the case of incest, rape, or the life of the mother. Here, a seemingly reasonable way of making space for us pro-life Democrats was being closed. Before the convention began, I was considering that it was time to leave the Democratic Party. To find an alternative way of building a politics of human dignity in my local community.

Having grown up at the upper reaches of this society and not the lower ones, I can say with confidence that our elites, under all the gaudy rhetoric, have two basic priorities in life: getting laid and getting high or drunk, which facilitates Priority #1.  Look at what’s been at the top of the agenda: contraception, abortion, the LGBT movement, the transgenders, all of it.  It’s all about sex.  That’s why real economic equality (and the economic development that makes it possible) has taken a back seat.  And it doesn’t hurt that a society where wealth generation is held back tends to concentrate what’s left at the top.

O’Malley and his ilk in the pro-life movement have always spoken of a “culture of death.”  But that’s not what this is really all about.  It’s about a thrill-obsessed culture that’s ready to sacrifice anything, everything, anyone and everyone to kill the pain of its own worthlessness.  The Democrats’ lame attempt to frame the issue on the timing of children was just that, as O’Malley justly points out.

That being the case, it’s only a matter of time before this kind of obsession will take command on both sides of the aisle.   In light of that O’Malley’s closing bears repeating:

I have left the Democratic Party this week. And the last gift this Party has bestowed upon me is a sense that the present political system is so broken, so obsessed with death that the rebuilding of the structures will not occur within the present structures of American political life.

Politics are about stories. And it’s time to tell a new one.

The Never-Ending Interest in Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club

My piece last year on Donald Trump and Mar-a-Lago has been a hit on this site.  There’s a great deal of interest in the subject, either by his supporters (who think he’s a SJW hero for the club) or his detractors (who are trying to find out some dirt about the place.)  Neither of these quite hit the spot, although his supporters have the better argument.  My last piece was a little brief, so some background is in order.

It’s easy to get sidetracked in an issue like this, because Palm Beach’s social system is different (or sui generis to use the fancy term) than what most Americans are used to, either in the past or now.  Donald Trump’s concept of a club for everyone in the place–black, Jew, gentile–was revolutionary, but that has to be seen in the context of Palm Beach, not some egalitarian utopia.

First: Mar-a-Lago wasn’t a club until Trump bought it.  It was the estate of Marjorie Meriwether Post, the cereal heiress, and it was the largest private home on the island.

Second: until around the First World War, Jews and Gentiles mixed pretty well in Palm Beach.  That changed with the growing perception among the Gentile community that the Jews, God-chosen achievers that they are, were a threat.  Probably the most shameful manifestation of this was the change in the admission process of the Ivy League schools, who de-emphasised academic excellence and went for this “well-rounded” (usually Gentile) student.  We’re seeing a repeat of this with the Asians.

Jews in Palm Beach, not wanting to be at the bottom of the place’s social system (and that’s a bad place to be, as I found out the hard way) started their own clubs, most prominently the Palm Beach Country Club.  The segregation of Jew and Gentile was a prominent feature of Palm Beach society for many years.  The one place that wasn’t extended to was the schools, where I had Jewish friends whom I remember fondly.

Turning to the issue of black people, South Florida is in many ways an extension of the Northeast.  However, looking back the Southern influence was a lot stronger in Palm Beach than I used to realise.  Gentile Southerners brought their racial attitudes to the place just as their Northern counterparts brought their religious ones.  The first time I heard anyone I knew called the N-word was a schoolmate at Palm Beach Day School, something that still blows me away.  Having said that, when some enlightenment started to sink into the place the big issue, IMHO, was economic.  Living on the island is a dreadfully expensive proposition, joining the clubs isn’t any easier.  The Jews had that problem in hand; most black people have not.

Into this segregated/stratified situation enters Donald Trump.  As I noted in my review of Lawrence Leamer’s book:

The inrush of that kind of money has changed the landscape of Palm Beach more than anything else, both physically (to the extent that those who want to build can get past the preservationists) and socially.  At the vanguard of that change is Donald Trump, whose transformation of the Mar-a-Lago estate into a private club, with the concomitant opportunity of the clubless arrivistes to have their own place in the sun free from the constraints of places like the Everglades Club, the Bath and Tennis (B&T) Club, or even the Palm Beach Country Club.

From my viewpoint as someone who grew up in Palm Beach, Trump’s opening of the club scene to nouveaux riches was the biggest innovation that he made.  Putting together a club where Jew and Gentile could mix freely was and is an achievement for which he needs to be given credit. Iconoclastic as that was, Trump saw that an “old money” town like Palm Beach was changing with the billions generated by the newly wealthy, and he put Mar-a-Lago at the centre of that change.  And there’s political significance to that.

As distasteful as nouveaux riches are, they are a necessity for a vibrant economic system.  They show that people can and are moving up.  Unfortunately there are many “gatekeepers” in our society who don’t want others to move up as it would involve them to move out. Some of them are the recently successful people in the tech industry, who know better than anyone that glory is very fleeting.  Others are in academia, who have convinced everyone that the credentials people pay them dearly to hand out are the key to a unruined life.  Still others are in government, the usual laggard, which finds it easier to block change than to adapt to it.

Most of the discontent is coming from the American people’s decision that they’re getting the shaft from all of these “gatekeepers.”  That’s true of both Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters; they share the basic perception of the problem but not the solution.  As long as our haughty masters attempt to lord over us the way they have, they will have blowback.

The fear of Trump is that, if he can take on a social system like Palm Beach’s and win, he could do the same with them.

Yes, he can.