JIM:

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a special Van Gogh exhibit running right now. Don't imagine that you can go to see this exhibition on the spur of the moment. No, to the contrary, the museum's website admonishes us, "Your tickets will be issued for the date and time you choose, based on availability, and include a complimentary exhibition audio tour and Museum general admission to both the main and Perelman Buildings. Select your dates carefully, as tickets are nonrefundable and subject to a $2.50/$3.50 exchange fee prior to the selected date." Adult admission is $25.

Forty years ago, when I was in my early 20s, Joanne and I knocked around Europe one summer. In Paris, we stopped at the Louvre, paid a modest entry fee, and in 15 minutes were standing face to face with Mona Lisa. Only a velvet rope separated us from the great lady. We visited many of the great art museums of Europe in just such a casual and cheap way.

Today, almost every worthwhile entertainment requires that we stand in line and pay through the nose. Why? One reason might be that in 1968 - the year I turned 21 - the planet was home to just over three billion folks. A guy named Paul Ehrlich published a book that year, called The Population Bomb, in which he warned us that the world's population was growing at an alarming rate.

In 1990, Ehrlich (with an I-told-you-so attitude) published The Population Explosion. World population stood at 5.3 billion. Last October, we were told that each of us is now one of some seven billion souls on planet Earth. No wonder we feel crowded.

Maybe that accounts for all the rudeness that Claire and I groused about in an earlier "Generation Gasp." My personal suspicion is that middle-class Americans feel threatened. They behave badly as a way of reassuring themselves that they still count for something in the grand demographic equation.

My best estimate is that most of the world's people are headed for disaster. Not only does the population continue to grow unabated, but computer technology is eliminating far more jobs than it is creating. I see two opposing trends that are aggravating each other.

So brace yourselves. The lines, including the unemployment lines, will just keep getting longer.

CLAIRE:

Unemployment isn't the only problem facing our mushrooming population. The effects of overpopulation on the environment, and consequently human beings, are even more troubling - reduced water supply, water pollution, soil degradation, and deforestation are all aggravated by overpopulation. Every person leaves a huge environmental footprint on the earth, and the only way to drastically reduce that footprint at this point is to have fewer humans on the planet. Period. The same can be said of unemployment and poverty.

So I have to wonder: why are we still debating the morals of birth control and family planning?

Whether you are pro-choice or not (I can't even begin to wade into those waters in the space of a column), can't we all agree that people should at the very least be given the best education and means possible to avoid unwanted pregnancies? Not only for their own sake, but for the sake of the entire planet.

Apparently we can't all agree on that, because Planned Parenthoods - one of the most affordable sources of birth control and other family planning tools, not to mention healthcare - around the country are at a constant risk of losing funds or being shut down entirely because some of that funding may go towards abortion procedures. So let me get this straight: we don't want women to be allowed to get abortions, but we also don't want to provide them with any means of birth control to avoid a pregnancy, or affordable healthcare should she decide to sustain a pregnancy? Do Republicans understand cause and effect at all?

At a time when the struggling state of the environment and economy should be of paramount concern - particularly in the upcoming election - why is abortion legislation still the main factor many Americans rely on in order to pick their next president?

When you are standing in line to vote this year, think that one over.