Archive for July, 2010

We’ve got a lot to learn ourselves. Most importantly, our children and budding leaders have a lot of important skills and values to learn.

Although many fortune 500 companies include some sustainability disclosure in their annual reports, and apparently incorporate those concerns in their operations, there are very few institutions that train the masses and the professionals to apply a multiple bottom line.

“Money talks, bullshit walks.” as they say. Its time instead that we shift that to “compost talks”.

Practical education needs for sustainable finance in society

1. Personal financial education – Navigating one’s individual financial life

Money is tight. Most people find that they are utterly unprepared financially for retirement, or luck into it (no more). It takes attention to make it through now. The alternative to preparation is willing fraud, legal dependence on others, or suicide.

So, we need to learn to plan, to personally budget, to save, to invest, to insure, to reduce taxes, to contribute. And, we need to learn to do it cooperatively.

2. Social impacts of spending and investing decisions – Sustainable Economics

We need to learn how our spending and investment affects our neighbors. Knowing that we are investing into the big mush is not enough. Spending into the global supply chain helps some otherwise poor in India and China, but it makes otherwise employed regionally, unemployed. We need to learn about economy. We need to become sufficiently confident in our understanding of economic knowledge to customize and/or reject it in management for community good.

3. Professional business education for management of enterprise/corporate world

Those that are working in the “pinnacle” industries, either technically, or in strategic/marketing/supply chain, need to know the social affects of their enterprises’ work, and how to reduce the negative external impacts and improve the positive external impacts. Business skill with human eyes.


4. Professional education in “trades” supporting personal financial concerns – We need professionals that can assist individuals in their specific legal, financial, investment, risk-assessment, quandries. Individuals capable of sensitivity to their clients multiple perspectives, and incorporating innovation to enhance sustainability and social responsibility.

5. Professional education in “trades” supporting institutional sustainable financial concerns. We need more than generalists. We need specialists as well. Sustainable metric auditors, sustainable supply-chain management, management accountants capable of considering multiple criteria of success (or of means to success).

I taught at an institution focusing on 3 above, a great start. We’ve got to go further. Without knowledge, and without knowledge carried by hundreds and thousands, we won’t achieve action or revised policies.


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I’ve had severe medical problems before and been the beneficiary of scientific advances in medical treatment. (I had a non-cancerous growth on my inner ear in 1996, called an “accoustic neuroma”, which required 11 hour surgery, and artistically sequenced immediate and subsequent recovery. It didn’t save my hearing though in one ear. That’s just gone now.)

This weekend I experienced compelling angina symptoms and spent the weekend in the hospital, culminating in the implant of a stent in an artery in my heart. It had gotten to a point of 85% blockage (which doesn’t fix itself).

I’ve been a vegetarian for 40 years, exercise vigorously. I’m overweight, but assumed that I was otherwise a very healthy person.

I assume that diet, exercise, good thinking, treating others and myself kindly would ensure my health. I assumed that my body healed itself (with my and others help), and that that was the role of the physician, to assist my body’s self-healing.

That attitude fit into my ecological view of all things, including work (a generalist financial consultant), home (well-insulated, but still “breathes”), everything.

I had a “deep ecological” form of ecological thinking, consistent with the romantic view that we are small in the scheme of things, that we respond more than we engineer. Individualistic, rural, American, ethical.

For me personally, I am now nearly certainly permanently on an engineered medication regimen. I take a drug that inhibits my white blood cells to attack foreign bodies in my bloodstream, or else the new stent that was placed would be attacked and create a new artificial blockage where the cholesterol plaque one used to be. And, I take an anti-clotting agent, that inhibits my body’s natural formation of clots that could otherwise break off from the area of the stent and cause a stroke.

The drugs do specific things. They are designed. And, the stent is co-designed to fit the specific combinations of interventions possible. My life is now artificially extended. I am now in the engineered zone of life, rather than the ecological.

And, I accept it. I am a beneficiary of it. The experience of lightly struggling for breath, my desire to live, was cellular, undeniable. My mellow, “I accept what occurs” didn’t compare to my body’s guttural desire to survive. I don’t reject medical interventions. I don’t reject the legitimacy of hospitals/doctors, as unnatural and vain as I understand the effort of life-extension to be. (My uncle lived 30 years longer than his father, a long time, but not forever.)

I’m now permanently in the pharmaceuticals-consuming population, permanently dependent on past engineering and ongoing engineered maintenance.

There is a great, long-standing, and permanently continuing debate among any that regard ecological considerations as important, between the romantic back-to-nature theme and the engineered theme of identifying specific key toxic and risk factors and socially/ecologically managing them.

Managing them at each scale is an engineered approach, consistent with my initiation into medical engineered life.

Using space heating as an example. The motives for energy conservation in one’s home or commercial space include most prominently economic factors, but also social ecological. The finite capacity of the planet to assimilate carbon in the atmosphere requires individual and social management (hence the effort to “price” carbon, as knotty as that application is) and the finite availability of carbon based fossil fuels, will raise the price of fossil fuels in the near and extended future.

If the descriptions of the level of stable long-term atmospheric carbon levels by ecologists are accurate, then even pricing carbon is unlikely to realize the reductions in atmospheric carbon that will ensure a stable climate. It will take other additional values and actions, beyond just the economical.

In conservation of space-heating costs/consumption, there are four tiers of commitment that are relevant.

1. Low-hanging fruit of weather stripping doors and windows, awnings, very basic air-sealing. (Maybe costing $500 and $50/year, saving maybe 15% of energy costs). A use of engineered materials, but not exactly an engineered system or engineered society.

2. Mid-range investments in conscientious air-sealing and insulation (but still allowing a house to exchange atmospheres at a level that naturally retains healthy internal air). (Maybe costing $5000 and $50/year, saving maybe 30% of energy costs). Again, use of engineered materials (including recycled and other ecological design), approaching an engineered system but not an engineered society.

3. Deep energy investments in super-insulation (12+ inches), very tight air-sealing (with insufficient exchanges atmospheres to naturally retain healthy internal air). (Maybe costing $50000, saving maybe 75% of energy costs). As the air quality (and indoor moisture) is greatly affected by the tight air-sealing, additional engineered features are necessary beyond just siting, shape and other natural design considerations. Atmospheres must be intentionally exhausted (and through heat exchangers to retain the warmth). Moisture paths for all conceivable moisture must be specifically designed. (Cooking, bathroom, even sweat from exercise). Much additional attention to indoor cleaning to remove dust and other toxins. Attention to what household chemicals, furnishings, paint, carpeting as they often exhaust very toxic gases.

4. Social engineering, mandated zero-energy buildings, in systems designed to optimize energy consumption (and likely ignore some other also permanent individual and social concerns)

An engineered life.

The dilemma of an engineered individual, social and institutional life is that it must identify specific design features, ALL of relevant ones and conclude a permanent balance and design solution. We haven’t done that well historically, if it is possible ever. We, like medicine, pick specific design features for specific outcomes, and exclude design features or system design features that are ignored. So, in the specific design effort to extend life, we design anti-clotting drugs. (I’m not rejecting it.) Even as the effort to extend life exerts population pressures, and financial pressures from extended retirements.

We co-create our social world. Anyone that says that they object to social engineering is fooling themselves. By every decision we/they make, they participate in creating the institutional norm by with OTHERS must live. Maybe we/they have never considered that we co-create our institutions, but it is fact, and responsibly acknowledged, rather than childishly ignored or denied.

So, how will we collaboratively or institutionally engineer? Who will decide? On what basis? Considering what time frame?

For those that advocate for non-governmental definition of design, liberty, the only way that can happen is by ethics, that masses voluntarily modify their definition of their self-interest to include affects on others including other species, current and for posterity.

Otherwise, we have primarily law, or a great deal of chaos. (Our political institutions are beyond human scale currently, so its really quite difficult to say that we have representative system.)

We don’t have a great deal of public discussion on really any social issue of import that I’m aware of. We have a great deal of politicking, but not a lot of thinking and talking, when that is really almost all of what we need.

In ways I want to reject the engineered life. I want to say that “I accept how long my body naturally can sustain”, but I don’t. I don’t want to be cold in my house either, nor financially stressed from high heating bills.

Its partially a question of meaning. What am I living for? (Tomorrow maybe).

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It won’t come immediately, likely even soon.

There is still a downward drag on home values due to a still large inventory of unsold homes and many homes in foreclosure. There is still a bubble in business to business economy, money chasing after activity and profits. (Thats where the highest compensation is and that is what the investing world understands as “business”). Investors are still sitting on the sidelines as far as funding new enterprise, holding their cash until growth is a sure thing.

Structurally, the real world phenomena that Jeremy Rifkin outlined in the “End of Work” still exists, that the world just doesn’t require full employment anymore to meet social needs, or really anything close.

The enormous class differences that exist in the modern economy now fuel the bubble in business to business economy, and distract value addition to an “affluenza” economy.

And, society is only minimally addressing the real-world conundrum of high fossil fuel prices.

So, the downward pressures of sustained unemployment and slightly increasing foreclosure rates keep the economy stagnant. Banks are still exposed to a second or third downward wave of revaluations of mortgage debt (now partially transferred to the federal government, taxpayers). Most large banks have improved their financial health, largely due to their investment sides realizing consistent 45% return from the trough 15 months ago, so there are unlikely to be many large bank bankruptcies coming even as a result of the prospective additional mortgage write-offs.

But, what we have now is likely to remain the same for a couple years, assuming there is not a war in the middle east or a disastrous oil spill or something like it. (Have you noticed that the oil spill has really not had an enormous general economic affect, just localized to Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida Gulf coast?)

What will change the economy and particularly theemployment situation is when baby boomers begin to retire in larger numbers than infusion of new employees. Those born in 1946 are 64 now. I’d give it another 5 years, before any significant affect of baby boom retirement is felt. (It is being felt profoundly in certain professions like education, in which baby boom teachers are retiring in droves.)

Waves of retirement conflict with the conventional wisdom on employment. That is that the conventional wisdom is that economic growth precedes decreases in unemployment. With retirements, unemployment will decrease before the economic restores. (There’s a countervailing pattern though resulting from Americans abysmal saving rate. That is that in order to retire MANY older people will have to work longer than anticipated and longer than desired.)

When unemployment begins to sag (2013-4 I expect, maybe slightly sooner), the general economy will revive as well. That is the time when inflation will likely reappear, as wages will increase dramatically, and if there is revived economic activity and more demand for oil, the consumption of fossil fuels will likely cause an astonishing increase in the price. Fossil fuels will likely remain an inelastic supply, meaning that for each unit increase in demand for fossil fuels, prices will increase more than proportionally to the long-term trend. The only remedy for that is reduced demand and/or options for replacement. Neither of those are occurring seriously, and given the length of time needed to make capital changes in the economy, it won’t happen before the next demand wave hits.

So, my “prediction” is economic stagnation for two to three years. (Who knows how that will affect politics. 2012?) At which point employment and breadth of purchasing power among young adults will improve, but it will be accompanied by inflationary pressures in the economy as a whole, and particularly in increases in the cost of oil.

There are many businesses exposed to oil price increases, most notably those with large space heating requirements and large transportation requirements. Trucking, large warehouses. (Space heating costs will be the more important component.)

For individuals, the space heating costs will also be the most pronounced and the most debilitating, especially in northern climates where economies are depressed currently, and fuel costs are a higher proportion of the costs of living in homes. (In a $500,000 1800 sq ft home, the costs of heating are 8% of total living costs currently. In a $200,000 1800 sq ft home, the costs of heating are 15% of total living costs.)

Transportation costs may be considered variable. People can drive relatively less. Space heating costs are fixed. People can accommodate keeping their thermostats 3 or even 5 degrees cooler than they would like, but to save half of the fuel consumed in a year requires reducing heating levels by 8 – 10 degrees. Not deaths, but discomfort.

Its coming. Its predictable. Even the timing is relatively predictable.

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There is an obvious reciprocal connection between racism that expresses in the form of collective attitudes, prejudices, and individuals. Individuals derive what “everybody” knows from their neighbors, and neighbors derive “what everybody knows” from us. We individually can affect the tenor of prejudicial attitudes, even if only incrementally.

The political signficance occurs when racism changes from prejudice to institutionalization of harms when applied by states or ideological or resistance political movements.

The stimulus for this series on racism was a discussion of Israel and Palestine which is widely described as racialist conflict.

Palestinian solidarity describe the conflict as a result of Israeli racism towards Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims. Many describe Zionism itself as racism, as the institutionalization of privilege based on racial screens, and encouraged through commonly held stereotypes of Palestinians and Arabs. They describe Zionism as racist in design, and amplified racist in application.

While it is painful to acknowledge, it is a truth currently in application, clearly in many areas controlled directly and indirectly by Israel particularly in the West Bank and Gaza, but also in the form of segregation and unequal access to the features of Israeli democracy.

It is difficult to distinguish which of the laws and policies originate in racist thinking and institutional relationships, and which originate in legitimate defense needs.

Sadly, the combination serves the various opportunist forces in the region. The presence and support for militant Palestinian factions, allows the Israeli state and the IDF to exagerate their fears into institutionalized suppression.

It becomes a tragedy, rather than a health.

Ideology institutionalized. Common fears institutionalized, not confronted particularly by any serious self-inquiring movement in Israel.

At the same time, virtually all of the reported Palestinian factions actively promote anti-semitic propaganda that to western eyes is trivially and ignorantly racist and violent.

I personally regard the slogan “Zionism is racism” as itself racist. The Jewish people are a people. Those that choose to assimilate into western society may choose to live and primarily identify elsewhere. Those that choose to settle as Jews with other Jews in Israel are a nation.

Those Jews that are a landed people, deserve to self-govern, rather than be governed by others. Those that identify as primarily civil in orientation, not national, can live successfully as minorities in other countries, or as part of a prospective single state. But, unless that comprises the vast majority of Jews in Israel, then anti-Zionism is also a form of suppression, of racism.

The history of the region, is of attempted ethnic cleansing responded to by attempted ethnic cleansing. It is not surprising that the majority of Palestinians regard the history of intentional settlement, then wars, then expansion as supporting the contention that “Zionism is racism”. And, it is not surprising that the majority of Israelis regard the history of intentional restriction of immigration, attempted ethnic cleansing in 1948 by Arab armies (Syria and Egypt moreso than Jordan), multiple wars, terror and confrontational low-violence agitation (not non-violent) as supporting the contention that “anti-Zionism is racism”

Too many in each community wishes that the other would just go away, and each institutionalize that sentiment in law, policies, actions. Racism opposing racism.

Very very few are seeking to heal the attitudes, to humanize them. There are many Israelis that continue to speak for Palestinian rights, but a small percentage of 15 years ago. There are fewer Palestinians that I’ve been made aware of, that speak in any measure against racism towards Israelis or Jews as Jews.

It is painful to see.

To confound the problem at reconciliation, Israeli and Palestinian communities are not free agents. In too many ways they are pawns or frontier proxies for larger geo-political efforts. Pawns are either expendible or held insenstively. “They can struggle. Better far from us.”

Israel is regarded by many Arabs and Islamics as the intrusion of western, ironically Christian, frontier into what was growing and unbroken chain of Islamic society (North Africa through Middle East, Central Asia, Southern Asia). And, many regard Israel as a proxy state specifically for the US superpower relations. (Shadow of the cold war, morphed into post cold war relations.)

Many Europeans speak of Israel in the “clash of civilizations” terminology also as the frontier for civil democratic states and institutions relative to apparently unsophisticated and/or tyrranical Islamic society. Others speak in more geo-political terms in strategic outposts to secure the supply chain for oil and now capital, now that the oil states are so prominent.

Now that China is becoming more predominant in the world economy, the former favored proxy role relative to the middle east is shifting east. China needs the supply chain of oil currently confidently and is on the fence whether and how to retain relations with both Iranian, Sunni Persian Gulf, and Indonesian sources of oil, however long the oil lasts.

Palestine/Israel is the tip of the pan-Arab society (the pet language/orientation of the Saudi monarchs). Palestine/Israel is the tip of pan-Islamic society.

Israel/Palestine is the tip of European society. Israel/Palestine is the tip of western democratic society.

Some versions of Zionism participate in the pan-democratic expansion enthusiastically. Thats how Netanyahu markets Israel to the world. Some versions of Zionism regard Israel as entirely independant, an island, and distrust both the European and the Islamic world.

All surfaces, compared to getting to know one another. On the ground community should overcome geo-political, if strong.

It would be wonderful if Israelis and Palestinians joined in asserting “We are not your pawns. We are people”.

Neither militant or ideological forms of Zionism or Palestinian nationalism adopt that view. Each are content to be more movement/ideology than person.

Ironically, some of the settlers do, and some of the ultra orthodox (not many). (I spent yesterday evening with a chabad rabbi who described for me his respect for the monotheism of Islam and how close in many ways Islamic theology was to Jewish – to the extent that he was aware, that that differed from the relationship of Christian theology to Jewish – also to the extent that he was aware.)

On a few other blogs that I post, because of my respect for Zionism as a potential, I am called racist. The equation “Zionism is racism”. You support Zionism (even in your own language of it, that differs from the current application). 

In sum, a=b and b=c, therefore a = c.

In contrast, I describe my effort as the OPPOSSITE of racism. Specifically, to adopt accepting views, accepting of my Jewishness and accepting of my participation in the Jewish community and support of Jewish nation (as irritating as that can be often). And, to accept the humanity of individual Palestinians and their collective right to similarly self-govern confidently and healthily in the manner that they find most useful and fulfilling for them.

Live and let live as the antidote to political expression of institutionalized racism. (Anarchy in the form of self-determination and mutual aid. Opposed to anarchy in the form of “smash the state”.)

I’ll do a fourth on my thoughts of the institutionalization of racism relative to other communities tomorrow.

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There are three aspects to racism.

1. Individual – How do I personally interact with individuals from different races and cultures? My personal attitudes are my personal responsibility. I express them. The consequences result from my own actions.

2. Social – What am I a part of? How do collective attitudes affect the experience of members of other communities? To what extent do stereotypes play in the society that I am part of? (Perpetrator, victim, witness, healer).

And what is the interaction of “I” to “we”.

3. Political/institutional – What is institutionalized politically? What attitudes get played out into affecting the decisions of acceptability of say going to war, versus not going to war; or how and whether to introduce a product/service/enterprise globally?

I want to emphasize that there are two+ status’ relative to racism or any social problems in all three spheres.

1. Perpetrator/Victim

2. Healer

In a nutshell, the purpose of inquiry into racism is NOT to justify one’s own prejudice and institutionalization, but to transform it.

“We” contrasts with them. I am part of tribes. I accept that and seek to participate effectively.

In contast there are two universal “we’s”. One is the universal “we” of undifferentiated commercial mush (global economy). The other is of  ideal spiritual humanism, universal citizenship (a potential in attitude, a fantasy objectively. We all associate into families, communities, tribes.)

In a nutshell, I’ve never found a setting where there was an absence of “we”/them.

Socially, I’m part of a few “we’s”. I am Jewish (“we” by my choice as well as external). I am a baby boomer (“we” by common time and context, accepted but not chosen). I’m formerly a hippie, member of the longhair psychelic community (“we” by former choice). I’m originally from the New York area (“we” by circumstance, not of my choosing, comfortable though). I’m college educated, intellectually oriented, prospectively elite (“we” by circumstance also). I’m American (“we” by circumstance). I’m white (“we” by circumstance. Those of color externally often seem to relate to me as “white”.)

The point is that there are some “we”‘s that I chose, and the formation of common attitudes on that basis are our responsibility in origination, continuity and affects on others.

There are some “we’s” that I was just born into, not particularly important to me except by residue. I am responsible for common attitudes in the sense that I don’t attempt to reconstruct them, if harmful to others.

And, there are some “we’s” that I am clearly part of, either by being a beneficiary or accepting, but that are primarily defined by others.

As my black friends are only superficially “black” to me personally (I see their faces, the happiness and/or pain and not their skin color.) I hope that I am only superficially “white” to them (again seeing my face, not my skin color).

I know that my black friends have experienced a stronger weight of how they are seen and how that is institutionalized. They have the same mix of “what is that we are, what is it that we are a part of, what do others project on us?”

I don’t spend much time with those that bear conspicuous prejudices, stereotypes, and have really never learned any of the “blacks are…”, or “Jews are …”, or “Chinese are ….”. I ignored it when I encountered it in family or community, all of my life. I’m both less prejudiced than many, and naive.

One exception is that dress does communicate to me. I see black, white, latinos wearing pants at their knees with a crooked cap, I think “drug dealer” or “gang banger”, certainly someone who doesn’t care and has no serious effort.

So, I do have ageism. I tend to wonder about young people. The cues from my youth aren’t there.

I know that prejudices exist though. In foreign countries, I am wary. Mostly that poor people scare me. Not that they are poor, but that I can’t rely on the affluence to indicate that I am free from violence towards me. I can’t tell who is hateful, from who is predatory (seeing me as a commercial mark), from who is friendly and trustable (and in what way).

I also know that what appears as prejudice doesn’t always originate as prejudice, even some generalizations about others. For some, the identification of a common enemy is what forms a community, as sad as that is. We don’t all possess the mature liberty to actually voluntarily form our relationships and communities.

In other situations, respectful identification of what is valued as important to the other community, devolves into prejudice. For example, among Muslim communities, (and orthodox Jewish) I’ve observed a pattern of family being important, even in urban cosmopolitan areas, and women are protected physically and from emotional intrusion. That has morphed into some contempt, some generalization that Muslim women are only subordinated. (Its true in cases, and not in others.)

Prejudices come out in times of stress. At my shul recently, we were victims of a extended embezzlement by a non-Jewish woman. I expected much prejudice against “goys” to be expressed. There definitely was some, but much less than I anticipated.

Among Jews my age, I do hear comments of fears of Arabs of Muslims. Similar to my fears, I believe that the majority of that is fear of the unknown, and fear of the possibility of hatred and violence. Those of us liberal Jews that have gotten involved in Israel/Palestinian peace efforts, have heard racially violent expression from some dissenters directed towards Jews in general, not only criticisms of policies. We don’t know how widespread the attitudes of contempt for Jews are among Arab and Muslim communities, and we often don’t know how to distinguish a threat from a criticism. (In academic settings, hateful rage is dilluted. The speakers hesitate to yell in deference to the setting, and they are a minority.)

“What do they REALLY think?”

I’ve personally been both harrassed at times, scared horribly, and also amazingly surprised and welcomed. I’ve been in very foreign settings, in the West Bank, Egypt and India, some known to be dangerous. I’ve experienced the dangers exagerated in the West Bank by worried Zionists, and some dangers naively dismissed by liberal ideologs.

Between Jews and Arabs, both think of themselves as victims. My sense is that many Arabs and Muslims are very sensitive to being scapegoated for 911 still, and the general tone and set of associations. It is true that the vast majority of Muslims and Arabs are genuinely just civilians, peaceful individuals and families just trying to live their lives, law-abiding.

It is always the dramatic exceptions that evoke the fears that prejudices are constructed.

I am personally a skeptic. I don’t buy what others tell me. I personally don’t look for cues  how to distinguish “them” from “us”, how to get along. That combined with self-inquiry, seems to be the tool that enables me to belong healthily, to not invest in prejudice in my association in the various “groups” that I participate in.

I wish kind skepticism were more universal. Tests of loyalty in times of stress is more the norm, identification of who is “us” vs who is “them”.

Tomorrow on politics.

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I’ve been invited to explore racism. The stimulus for the inquiry was a discussion on another blog, Mondoweiss,  by an old friend (I hope he is still), Philip Weiss, who has opened up a similar inquiry there.

I want to take this time to first explore what racism is, how it plays in my inter-personal relationships and how it gets expressed in collective consciousness and later in political policies.

In all respects, I’ve been a perpetrator or bearer of racist attitudes, a victim of racist attitudes, personally determined to break through racist attitudes, and a healer in some cases of racist attitudes.

I’ve perpetrated racist attitudes almost entirely in the form of keeping emotional distance, originating from a combination of unfamiliarity and fear. I don’t believe that I’ve actively encouraged racism really at any time in my life, towards anyone. I very easily and quickly see past the surface of skin or culture, to face and person.

I’m Jewish, and the context of the discussion originated in the inquiry into prospective anti-Arab racism associated with the institutionalization of harms to civilian Palestinians, and also public propaganda of Arabs associated with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

There is so much racism floating around, that its almost difficult to isolate and analyze. My family had similarly mixed attitudes to mine. My father and my mother had very different approaches. My father was outwardly offended by racist comments (really towards anyone) and would silently rage about it, rarely even talking about it to family (except my mother, whom he felt permission to argue with). In practise, he was kind, assertively so, forgivingly so. He had two experiences of black employees stealing from him. One was a long-time employee who stole $10,000 of merchandise from him annually over at least a ten year period. My mother spoke of him in the worst terms you could imagine.

The other individual was young. My father had grown to trust him to make regular bank deposits. At one point he skipped off with the money and disappeared. It was striking to me to hear the contrast between the language that my parents used referring to the two different individuals. Both my father and mother forgivingly stated that they understood the life-stress that he was under, and that he gave in in moments weakness, in contrast to the rage they felt of betrayal by their long-term employee.

The irony was that the man that stole over an extended period was more outwardly compliant, deferential. The young guy was more assertively black, clothing, outward support for more assertive black leaders.

May father also strongly supported civil rights efforts and legislation very early from my memory. (I don’t remember specifically – I was 5, but heard later that he had contreversially anti-racist opinions about proposed busing in our hometown in New Rochelle in 1960).

My mother was different. She expressed racist comments periodically, but when a real person needed her help, really in any way, she stood up and more vocally than my father (financially, legally, protection from insult). Growing up, a black woman cleaned our house regularly. She was both part of the household and definitively not, a household employee. Another neighbor visiting spoke of her derisively, and was never invited to our home again.

I knew very few non-Jewish people as a child. Fewer blacks. Prejudices broke down fast in the late 60’s, when everyone my age started smoking pot, and also playing music together. Color was nothing. There were some cultural divides, different networks of friends, different ways of speaking, reacting to things. It was new to have black friends, to go to black neighborhoods to hang out sometimes.

Race was a sensitive subject. We never talked through race, neither the liberal Jewish white community, nor with black friends. We mostly avoided the subject.

Still, us liberal Jews were afraid of black neighborhoods. We were afraid of Italian neighborhoods, not so afraid as feeling excluded from wasp neighborhoods, very afraid of the south (the murdered freedom riders – from our hometown, and Easy Rider, each imprinted).

I never met an Arab until much later. My uncle and others hated Arabs (some certainly prejudicial, some confirmed by hard experiences he told about very very briefly of his WW2 service in North Africa).

In the early 70’s and later, more and more of my black acquaintences and tentative-good friends, also became more aware of race, in the form of black pride and identification.

The things that progressively broke the racial hesitancy for me were just spending time, meditation itself and the experience of meditating with others from different communities, and most pronounced was relying on someone from another race or culture to defend me or protect me in ways, and vice-versa. That hastened the breaking through. Ironically, the same time that I was breaking through, my friends and acquaintances were just learning of black pride and identification. I was personally hurt that some of my black friends didn’t keep up contact after high school, but I accepted their growth path.

In the mid-70’s, when I was a zealous food coop advocate, I worked with a black preacher in my hometown to set up buying clubs. I had an agenda beyond social service, to convince everyone to become vegetarians.

I’ve used conspicuous flaunting of my “anti-racism” at times, as almost a form of racism. “One of my best friends is black”. True and also self-advertisment.

I had an Arab part-time study partner in business school. But, he was so refined, cosmopolitan and affluent, that he seemed “white” to me. He lied low entirely. He did not draw attention to his ethnicity, nor to mine. We just worked together on computer code and systems configuration.

Through the yoga/meditation group that I was associated for a long time, I did meet many non-white, non-western trustable individuals. People were encouraged to inter-marry racially (though few Americans did), and a few adopted black, Indian, South Asian children. Accepting people from different genetics or culture into ones home (especially with the deep and intimate trust of childhood) certainly obliterated any residual racial attitudes.

Family, friends, solidarity, spirituality, music, intoxication (pot) broke through racial superficialities for me.

Contact in a word.  Acceptance of skin color, of upbringing (I’m the only person I’ve ever met that had the same history as mine, that’s a joke, but also not), of emotions, of personal history, of social history.

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How do we know that our tax dollars end up serving the nation’s and communities’ good, rather than for other purposes, or donations to a not-for-profit, or investments in a social venture fund?

Its a dilemma whether the social capital is raised widely or are created by the social elite. Even organizations that have governing protocols  that are varied and democratic, end up serving an individual’s, or a clique’s version of social good.

I’m not proposing this question as an inhibition against donating or socially investing.

Not-for-profits, the ones that have a sense of responsibility that includes long-lived relationships with voluntary current and future contributors, know that their actions, their performance, affects the future of charitable sentiment indefinitely, not only their organizations’.

There are many legal ways to preserve the compliance with the original intention of a social investment or significant charitable donation. Current law governing not-for-profit organizations’ management of donated funds require that all current and long-term funds be managed according to a standard of fiduciary responsibility. In a nutshell that includes that funds donated for a particular negotiated purpose, be used only for that stated purpose, and that all funds held long-term be managed in a way that attempts to preserve the fund principle in perpetuity. There is no sunset for that obligation. Some donors create trusts to accomplish the same objective, that do have specified ending dates, but any endowment is held for perpetuity.

While a donor is alive, or even a generation later, trustees can hold social investment organizations and/or foundations accountable for their decisions and management. After a moderate period, the community of people alive capable of understanding the founder’s or donor’s intentions are gone. A foundation in particular, then takes on a life of its own. Often these foundations are large and in their role as institutional investor and as selective donors, are very powerful.

Grass-roots originating foundations and social investment organizations encounter the same dilemma, actually earlier, as there is no original individual donor. Discerning the sense of purpose for an organization that no longer has a passionate individual organizer even, becomes a dilemma. Boards can then become self-perpuating, and either opportunist or reviving their sense of principle.

Where an investment or foundation’s mission is defined very specifically, there are paths of accountability for adherence to that mission (if anyone is paying attention). So, for example, an investment fund to fund energy conservation in pre-existing dwellings, has a clear mandate. A social investment fund in supporting a specific region’s economic development starts getting more contreversial . For example, when a region achieves some sustaining economic viability (no longer needing a social welfare oriented purpose), the fund then faces the decision of either disbanding, or the knotty problem of choosing which luxury development path to invest in (even as that is in conflict with the original intent of serving as a social welfare enhancing fund).

Social investment funds or foundations, whose multi-generational mission is more vaguely defined as serving a general “public welfare”, have a much more confusing task of clarifying that their operations and decisions are realizing (or not) their stated mission.

The common method employed currently to realize good social investment governance and good foundation governance is through empowering boards of directors, and clarifying what personal and ethical characteristics are required of each board member.  (That can also create a cliquish elite governance, and/or fashions of desirable donations/investments rather than thoughtful responsible mission governance.)

There was a book written by Jeremy Rifkin in the 90’s, that I refer to often, “The End of Work”, in which he describes that the quantity of socially necessary work to meet human needs, is/has/will decline over time to the point that there is a status of constant high unemployment. Marx and Lenin wrote similarly, that modern technological innovation fuels a “reserve army of the unemployed”. One consequence of that concept, is that unless we socially are willing to let a large minority starve or become light criminals (unable to meet their financial promises), that society will have to shift to more social owned and purposed equity relative to individual wealth, supplying relatively more of more people’s means of living by shares of commonwealth.

Some have articulated the need for intentionally developing a community of individuals capable of overseeing the welfare of the community, guaranteeing that social institutions continue for social purposes. Ombuds. Boards overseeing boards. Originally self-appointed or rather self-assumed, extending for generations and generations (by blood, teaching ultimately, and/or revived by compassionate reasoning), fearless, deeply ethical (in contrast to superficially), institutionally empowered, even them accountable to others.

Enough “science fiction”.

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