Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Baby Talk

Anyone who reads this blog weekly knows that I am absolutely smitten with my granddaughter. A hug and a smile from her completes me.

I love to watch her and learn again lessons that should be second-nature to me, but with her and through her, I realize anew how essential are those lessons.

First, applause delights. My husband and I purchased a small stepstool for our grandchild, one that features her first name as letters in a puzzle. She’s only a year old so she doesn’t recognize her name or individual letters. They are just shapes, but shown that she can remove and replace them, she began to try to do so.

The letters fit tightly together though. They were tough to pull free, but she persevered, using her finger as a lever. When she at last despaired of succeeding, I showed her how to use two fingers, and she was grateful. Her brow relaxed as she renewed her efforts to pull a letter from the ten snugly fit together spelling her name. When she brought forth one, I cheered her name and applauded. She lifted her head and grinned, delighted to be centered in a spotlight of success. She liked the reward and bent to reproduce the feeling, tugging at another letter, then dropping it to clap hands for herself.

I know, of course, how effective pats on the back are. I know how much I enjoy receiving acknowledgement for my efforts. We all occasionally live and die by please and thank you, but we speak them less often as the years pass. We forget to appreciate the struggle to put interesting, healthy meals on the table. We fail to honor the well-made bed and towels folded neatly over the rack. We shouldn’t. We should endeavor to put each other in the spotlight of success at every opportunity.

Second, my granddaughter reminds me that any place can be the right place for a nap. Soft blankets and pillows are not just right, but best. One particular blanket, a gift from my daughter, is flannel, the kind of flannel that grows softer with every wash. This one is soft and thick, a perfect protective layer for the metal rails in which the glass doors separating our living area from the outdoor deck slide open and closed. These are tough for little knees and bare feet so we fold the blanket across them, making the passage painless and smooth--except that my granddaughter never fails to stop and press her cheek against the soft flannel, breathing on the relaxation of the moment and texture.

I too am fond of textures and colors, especially in places where I rest. I like Egyptian cotton with as many stitches per inch as humanly possible. I prefer azure blues or soft neutrals or the colors of twilight skies. With their influence, my eyes want to close, and my mind flees to the land of dreamy dreams to renew itself for another day.

Some would call fabric choices and paint colors indulgences. Maybe they are, but my granddaughter would say, if she could, that indulging yourself and immersing yourself in the moment is a solid path to self-discovery.

Finally, my granddaughter reminds me that I should give new experiences a try, but also say “no, thanks” if it’s just not for me. She tries foods offered to her without hesitation, and her adventurous nature rewards her more often than it punishes her. I too have been gracious when my hosts offered something exotic. In Tokyo, for example, a guest at an elaborate banquet, I found shark cartilage on the menu. Overcoming my sympathy for the overfished shark and my antipathy for ingesting cartilage, I tried a bite and judged it a 10 on a Scale of Disgusting foods. I didn’t spit it out, as I once did poi, and I didn’t gag as I did upon attempting calf’s liver and cuttlefish, but I wanted to do both. Shark cartilage, it seemed to me, resembles plastic twist ties. But I tried it and now know it’s not for me. I have no regrets about never eating another bite and better still, no regrets about how I treated my hosts.

Bucerias, Mexico: Shooting into the Sun at Sundown, 2010

I gave Sayulita, Mexico a try during the rainy season and have no regrets about saying I loathe it there at that time of year. I tried Progresso, Mexico in the summer and have no desire to return. The tropics are not kind to me. I sweat and feel my good humor leak from me with every drop. I grow crabby and dispirited. Give me snow and gray skies instead. But I learned this by giving new experiences a try, then saying “no, thanks” as needed.

So take a lesson from babies. They may not be verbal yet, but they know a lot about life.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Voting and Identity

I voted in a local election on August 6, 2013, my second visit to the polling place in my brand new home in a different state. When I applied and paid for vehicle license plates and a state driving license, the clerk offered to help me register to vote. As a retiree, I have more time to take care of this sort of duty, but I also have less energy for it so I was grateful for her suggestion and one-stop shopping.

"Somewhere in Alabama" Photo by Al Griffin.

At my designated polling place, I paused, searching for my new Voter Identification card when the polling-place worker reminded me that my driver’s license would suffice. No sooner had he spoken than the Voter ID pulled free, and I handed it over.

The other polling-place worker placed the ID on a small, low stand positioned under a bar code reader. Quickly, my name popped up on a screen, and I was asked to verify my current address, then the screen was turned toward me so that I could sign with an electronic pen. With my identity and right to vote affirmed, I took a ballot and marked it.

The entire identification process took less than a minute, including the time I wasted searching for my ID so I have no complaint about being required to identify myself in order to vote. My concern is for the misinformation that has brought us all to this place.

Some people were led to believe and still believe in spite of evidence to the contrary that new state law and stricter voter identification were needed because of rampant voter fraud. And these gullible folks never demanded that the purveyors of distortion and truthiness prove their claims. They could have and should have asked that incidents of voter fraud and stolen elections become part of argument, but apparently prepared to believe the worst about the other guy, no matter which side he stood on and for, they didn’t ask.

Here is the evidence:
  • On March 15, 2007, NPR aired a report about U.S. Attorneys being fired for not pursuing White House initiated claims of voter fraud. The attorneys did, in fact, pursue the claims and found insufficient evidence to pursue an investigation.

  • On November 20, 2007, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law released a report subtitled “…Myth of Voter Fraud.” The introduction to a bulleted list for 1) analysis and reports, 2) case studies by issue, 3) case studies by state, 4) commentary, 5) litigation, and 6) news reads, in part: “Allegations of widespread fraud by malevolent voters are easy to make, but often prove to be inflated or inaccurate. Crying ‘wolf’ when the claims are unsubstantiated distracts attention from real problems that need real solutions. Moreover, these claims are frequently used to justify policies – including restrictive photo identification rules – that could not solve the alleged wrongs, but that could well disenfranchise legitimate voters.”

  • A September 12, 2012 report from Politifact finds that “In-person voter fraud [is] ‘a very rare phenomenon.’”
  • From August through October, 2012, Moyers and Company shared posts and televised discussions about voter fraud. Just one of the archived titles provides the gist of these programs: “UFO Sightings Are More Rare than Voter Fraud.”
  • On November 6, 2012, John Wasik writing for Forbes dismisses claims of voter fraud and offers useful suggestions for insuring that all citizens have the opportunity to vote. The title for his essay reveals his thesis: “Voter Fraud: A Massive Anti-Democratic Deception.”

If you review the samples of reports dating from 2007 to 2012, you will conclude that the so-called evidence of voter fraud has been weighed, examined, re-examined, and debunked as hyperbolic and anecdotal. The problem simply does not exist on a wide scale or even in numbers so great as to alter election outcomes.

Why then are states across the nation writing and enacting voter identification laws? Indiana, in 2006, was the first state to require that voters present specific forms of identification in order to vote. Prior to that state’s action, first-time voters were asked to provide proof of identity and many states recommended that voters bring identification to the polling place, but 2006 marks the date when voters could be denied a Constitutional right without proper identification. And that denial appears to be undertaken for a false narrative; i.e., because voter fraud is rampant when, in fact, it is not, leading many to conclude that voter identification has become a “financial barrier,” a new incarnation of poll taxes that effectively disenfranchises at least 11% of voting-age citizens because they lack the means to acquire proper identification. They may not have a birth certificate, the money to acquire the certificate, and/or the funds to travel to their state’s archived birth certificates.

An additional financial barrier to voting is the need to be absent from work, especially since the number of days and hours in which voters may vote have been reduced. Some recent legislation has tried to make voting easier by allowing people to register to vote while at the Department of Motor Vehicles for a title or driving license. As I noted above, my new state home, Missouri, allows for such registration, and I approve. Still many citizens do not register resulting in a small voting bloc of our citizenry, a bit less than 60%, making decisions for the rest of us. 

We can and do register citizens in Medicare when they near the age of 65. Why then do we pretend not to know when citizens approach voting age and put all responsibility for registering on the individual, even though many of them will need to miss work in order to register and later vote. Australia and Sweden make is easier to vote and enjoy a larger percentage of their populations participating. We should, too, especially if we believe in the document that shapes our governance, one that honors participatory, representative government.

So it’s not the ID required that troubles me; it’s the spirit in which voting laws begin and end. If that spirit believes above all else that citizens should vote and all law, rules, and regulations proceed therefrom, then who among us could object? But if the spirit directs lawmakers to restrict, suspect, and limit participation, then we must protest and demand more from our lawmakers.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Necessity, Inspiration, and Invention

I returned to the Museum of Modern Art recently. Three of my husband’s photographs had been selected for the See Me exhibit now showing in Long Island City, Queens, New York so we made a holiday of the opening and toured some of our favorite places in New York.

Manhattan as seen from windows overlooking the MOMA courtyard © CoachConnye

Of course, we returned to the three large Monet paintings on permanent display at MOMA, and we couldn’t skip photography. The current exhibit, Shadow & Light, is Bill Brandt’s vision of 1930s London. I recommend it and the photographer highly.

One of our favorite exhibits was Applied Design, an area inspired by necessity. Massoud Hassani, a designer from Afghanistan, turned his childhood inventions into a gift for all mankind.

As a child in a war-torn region, Hassani collected the detritus of war and created toys for himself and other children. One rolling toy inspired the Mine Detonator now on display. Using bamboo and biodegradable products, Hassani’s toy for grown-ups and a safer world will not leave behind traces of itself. In fact, if any parts are destroyed when deployed, they are replaceable, making the detonator one of the most eco-friendly and cost-effective tools of war.

Like a child's ball, this much larger version rolls across the land, triggering and rendering land mines (IEDs) useless for their intended targets: human beings, including and worst all all, children. Hassaini’s invention saves lives.

Image from www.wordlesstech.com

Another design team, Ido Bruno and Arthur Brutter, reimagined school desks, making them protective shelters and passageways for children to survive earthquakes. Children can scoot under the desk--as they are most often trained to do--but these desks will actually withstand what falls from above. In addition, if enough time and conditions allow, the desks can be placed end to end, giving children safe passage to a clear area and ideally, out of the rubble.

Image from www.fastcodesign.com

What elegance these two designs reveal: A mind that overcomes tragedy to create hope and promise for unnamed millions and a testament to the angel within the human heart.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Rush's Rush to Judgement Redux

Friday, July 12, I drove six hours from my old home to my new one having been present for the closing on that old place. Preoccupied by memories of the past and hopes for the future, I completely missed the fact that part of the Will Rogers Turnpike Midway had become piles of rubble. The fuel tanks are gone and MacDonald’s has moved out, but I didn’t know any of that until my husband asked me about it later. He was in a different vehicle traveling the same road about 5 hours behind me.

What really caught my attention was Rush Limbaugh, a radio voice I never, ever seek, but one that I stumble upon now and then. That’s what happened on July 12. I was in that vast Heartland twilight zone of evangelicals, country music, and talk radio. I’d let the “Seek” button rest when I found local news, but this was only temporary--the five-minute or less recap at the top or bottom of the hour--maybe both, for all I know.

Rush began speaking, but I didn’t recognize his voice. I wasn’t expecting it; I was prepared for local news only. Soon, however, I realized no one else on the planet--except Glen Beck and Ditto-heads--would lisp as he does, speak the words he does, or sling mockery as he does. Here’s a sample:
  • Feminimsm exists to level the playing field between attractive and unattractive.
  • Feminism is militant liberalism.

Yes, he really, actually, literally spoke those words. Unbelievable.

In the interest of full disclosure, if I must agree to a label, I’ll accept feminist as my own, but many people who know me believe they’ve met few folks in the Heartland as liberal as I. But militant? Never! Unless, of course, you believe that extending Constitutional protections to the female gender is a militant idea.

I furthermore reject Rush's claim that feminists are unattractive. Would anyone label Gloria Steinem? So I can’t accept the notion that “feminism exists to level the playing field between attractive and unattractive.”

But Rush doesn’t mind hasty generalization and ad hominem. You might say that both propaganda devices are his trademark. He was also preaching to his ditto-head choir about an Iowa Supreme Court ruling after James Knight, a dentist, fired his assistant with ten years stellar service in his dental practice, for being too attractive. Melissa Nelson, the woman with ten years invested in her career, the woman deemed irresistible, was incredulous and asked the all male Iowa Supremes to reconsider. They agreed, but ruled as they had the first time.

James and his wife, Jeanne, believed that Melissa, a married woman and mother of two, was a “threat to their marriage” so James fired Melissa. And the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the termination.

"Welcome to the Dental Clinic," © Agencyby | Dreamstime.com

Nothing in the story suggests that Melissa behaved as siren, luring James to his doom in order to replace Jeanne, but she did cross the line from professional to personal by texting her dentist-boss. Like Tiger Woods, James was outed by his wife’s discovery of those text messages, some of which discussed sex in Melissa’s marriage to which the dentist replied, lamenting that Melissa is like a Lamborghini hidden away in a garage when it should be driven often and, it seems, hard.

James also crossed professional lines and employer-employee guidelines by confessing that a bulge in his pants was the result of Melissa’s tight-fitting clothing. He confessed that he might not be able to resist taking that Lamborghini for a test-drive, leaving Jeanne and James no choice but to eliminate the temptation.

What James and Jeanne seem to believe is that a man is incapable of not acting upon his impulses. This is the same rationale for the role many woman have been forced to play in courtrooms across the nation: they have been called upon to defend their clothing choices and decisions to enter certain places or even have a drink because clothes and/or neighborhoods and/or adult beverages are a factor in questions of rape and sexual molestation and harassment. Men, poor things, are just creatures of instinct, biological foremost among them. They can’t help themselves so get thee behind me, Woman, is their only recourse.

And Rush, of Sandra Fluke infamy, feeds the myth: men are entitled, and wives, be wise and beware. Protect your property. Keep that man from harm because he just can’t help himself.