More About Apple and Me

The item I wrote yesterday about the iPod and Apple’s poor history of investing in accessibility seems to have struck a nerve in our community.  Blind Confidential received more hits in the past 24 hours than any other single day in our three month run.  I also received a lot of private emails about the subject and thank everyone for participating.  As I’ve said before, I don’t have the answers, I just like to make sure we ask the questions and hopefully do so in an informative and entertaining manner.  Today’s entry will contain some response to the comments posted yesterday and, in the name of full disclosure, a little more about my anti-Apple bias.

Way back in the late eighties and early nineties, a lot of IP law regarding software had yet to be settled.  Thus, Federal courts got jammed up with cases regarding user interface copyright and whether or not patent law applied to software.  Richard Stallman and I founded an organization called “League for Programming Freedom” that dedicated itself to opposing UI copyright and software patents.  We won the UI copyright battle in the Supreme Court in the landmark Lotus v. Borland case but, sadly, lost the battle over the fundamentals of software patents.  You can google for “Patently Absurd” an article I wrote a lifetime ago and probably still find it on the MIT and other free thinking web sites today.

How did Apple figure in all of this?  

After Microsoft released Windows 3.1, Apple Computer filed suit in Judge Walker’s court claiming that they had a copyright on things like icons, point and click procedures, overlapping windows and a whole lot of other items standard to any graphical user interface.  Apple wanted to become the terminal point in a legacy started at MIT with Greenblatt’s Windowing System (circa mid 1960s) for the original Lisp Machine.  Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) filled with students of John McCarthy (Stanford), Greenblatt and Minsky (MIT) who all got to hack on the original Lisp box (on which the first Lisp based emacs would make its appearance) took the basic ideas and created the Xerox Star, the first computer with a graphical user interface to attempt to enter the commercial market.  Then, Steve Jobs visited PARC and his eyes lit up, first came the Lisa (how many of you geeks ever touched one of them?) and then, in 1984, with memorable Super Bowl advertisements and all, Apple took on Big Brother and released the Macintosh.

When Microsoft developed windows, Jobs ego got in the way of his memory and history itself.  Suddenly, as if Greenblatt and Xerox never existed, Jobs and Apple insisted they should own the graphical user interface concepts entirely and argued that, rather than admitting they too stood on the shoulders of giants, rounded up a bunch of lawyers and went to Federal Court.  Meanwhile, on the East Coast, Lotus had filed suit against Borland over Quatro Pro providing a “1 2 3” mode to ease a users learning curve if they switched spreadsheets, Lotus having forgotten that they took their UI lock stock and barrel from Danny Bricklan.  The Supremes ruled against Lotus while Apple v. Microsoft remained in the lower courts and all UI copyright ended suddenly.

During these years of IP battles, Stallman coined the phrase, “Innovate, Don’t Litigate!”  Which I still use pretty often today.  Back in the days of the LPF, I thought of the old fanged Apple logo that went onto buttons, coffee mugs, stickers and all sorts of other items surrounded by the phrase, “Keep Your Lawyers off My Computer!”  (I did not do the drawing as I don’t have that sort of talent.)  I was also the one who designed the Day Glo stickers depicting a nineteenth century, “wild west” prostitute emblazoned with the slogan, “Only a Whore Charges for a Look and a Feel – Boycott Apple and Lotus” which our small organization paid homeless people in cash to plaster all over downtown and the Las Vegas strip during a COMDEX convention.

Needless to say, there is little love lost between old time Apple people and me.  So, when I got into the AT biz and Steve made his proclamation that “speech technology is superfluous to our mission” I already had a distaste for them and their poor to non-existent accessibility didn’t do much to help change my mind about the company located at One Infinite Loop, Cupertino, California.

Onto the comments I received yesterday:

Prior to the comment posted anonymously that mentioned a few other portable digital media players, I hadn’t heard of the open source rockbox project.  A few people mentioned the project via email as well.  The latest version of Rockbox apparently works on an iPod and has optional self voicing menus as well.  I didn’t have much time to research this project but, in my cursory look, Rockbox does not seem to include a speech synthesizer so you can navigate the program menus but not the content.  As an iPod contains a ton of storage and my collection of recordings spans from Glenn Gould playing Bach to Eminem insulting me for buying his album, I really need to have access to the content I am about to play as you might guess that I would be in different moods when I would select Hogwood’s rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth or when I might want to listen to Miles Davis and his super cool 1957 line up.  

Also, it comes as no surprise that the Rockbox developers build the software voluntarily and without any notable support from Apple.  If their accessibility solution falls into, “let the community do it” they don’t really have an actual accessibility strategy.

Another anonymous comment called into question the facts in Jay Leventhal’s Access World review of the Apple screen reader.  As I have known Jay for a long time, respect his opinions and find that he can be neutral to a fault, I tend to give him the benefit of any doubts.  Having also recently published an article in Access World (this month’s issue if you’re interested) I have gone through their rigorous vetting process and feel strongly that they do very solid fact checking in their publication.

With that said, though, following the link included in the comment, I first noticed that I had a factual error regarding Jay’s review in yesterday’s BC post, I said it ran in December when, in fact, it appeared in the September 2005 Access World.  Some of the factual errors listed about Jay’s article have little importance to the reader.  Some, however, stand out as fairly major failures in the editing of the review.

The page linked to in yesterday’s comment points out that Jay describes the Macintosh he used for testing with highly ambiguous terms and mixes up some features of desktop and laptop Macintosh models.  This could certainly cause confusion in the mind of a consumer and should have been caught in the editing process.  

Jay’s critic points out that the Access World article slights the VoiceOver documentation and suggests that rather than snippets of information that the documentation included on the Macintosh, supplemented by the online help system is quite robust.  As I have not seen or tried to read either the help system that comes with OSX or checked into the online documentation either, I cannot make an informed comment.  I will, however, state that one man’s “robust” might be another’s “snippet” when neither Jay nor anonymous provides a baseline standard for screen reader documentation.  I’ll put this criticism into the category of subjectivity rather than fact.

Our critic writes, “The equivalent of the Windows desktop on Apple computer is, of course, the Mac OS Desktop.  For users migrating from Windows, Apple has good material describing What’s What, What’s Where.
There is readily available information about the OS X Desktop and Dock.

“The Dock doesn’t have a close analogy in Windows, but it might be considered as analogous to a hybrid between the Windows Task Bar and Start Menu.”  In response to Jay’s statement, “The equivalent of the Windows desktop on Apple computers is the Dock.”  I don’t know the Macintosh well enough to make any comment on this.  Perhaps, I should visit the Apple salon store over in Tampa and learn a bit more.

The web page criticizing Jay’s article quotes Access World as saying, ” This editor [TextEdit] does not include a spell checker or other advanced word-processing functions,” and then goes onto list a number of very advanced word processing features, including spell checking.  As I have quoted Jay in BC when commenting on VoiceOver not supporting a word processor with a spell checker, I must retract my earlier statements as it sounds as if both Jay and I are incorrect in our assertions.  I’m curious, though, does VoiceOver make using the spell checker convenient enough so as to be obvious, like the way JAWS or Window-Eyes do with MS Word, or does it require some sort of convoluted procedure to access it?

Bruce Bailey, aka anonymous, has a very nice collection of pointers to articles about the Macintosh VoiceOver screen reader that you can get to by backspacing over the end of the URL posted in yesterday’s comment.  Bruce is definitely a smart guy and his web site contains a lot of compelling reasons to take a look at the Mac but probably not enough to cause one to run out and buy one.

As for the criticism of Jay’s review, I find that the question of the spell checker existing or not falls solidly into the important category.  I would describe most of the other points, though, as either subjective (in the case of the documentation question) or editorial sloppiness which is rare for Jay but certainly should be noted as it can cause a bit of confusion.

Why do I hold Apple to a higher standard than other companies who make portable media players?

I know that few marketing materials actually tell the whole truth and that even fewer mission statements and corporate images have any basis in reality but Apple has always gone far out of its way to describe its products as the most inclusionary and easy to use.  They have done everything to promote their “outsider” image from having their CEO appear barefoot at COMDEX to suggesting that their computers had so much power that they might actually be weapons.

I don’t fall into the category of the naïve, I don’t believe in either Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny so why do I occasionally fall for Apple’s hype?  

The original Macintosh slogan, perhaps one of the greatest piles of horse manure in history, described the lunchbox computer as, “The computer for the rest of us.”  In fact, a slogan like, “The computer for the best of us,” would suit it better.  Back then, the under-powered, tiny screen, low memory device cost twice what one would pay for a name brand DOS machine and had fewer than a quarter of the applications.  As John Dvorak described it in a PC magazine article back in the eighties, “It’s a yuppie machine, a closed box easy to use computer for dopes.”

The old Apple II machines had provided us hacker types with a dream machine.  We could bring it home, rip off its skin, design and install our own wire wrapped boards that could do everything from really high resolution graphics to speech synthesis.  Then came the Mac, an entirely closed system.  We couldn’t get at the OS and the Andy Herzfeld, ROM QuickDraw primitives were hidden from us.  Clearly, Apple had introduced a computer for the elite.

Meanwhile, Big Blue, the Big Brother of the 1984 Apple Super Bowl advertisements, provided us with a completely open system; we could replace interrupts at will, easily disassemble the BIOS and make incredible hardware and software hacks which, ultimately, led to its dominance.  Apple took the hackers out of the picture so only programmers who liked following rules could write software for it.  JAWS for DOS, Vocal-Eyes and all of the other screen readers that blinks could use to do jobs, get educations and learn their own way to hack had become impossible on an Apple platform.

Over the years, Apple has continued to promote its outsider image and, to me, most offensive of all was its advertising campaign that exploited true iconoclasts who dedicated and, in some cases lost, their lives to breaking down barriers and working toward a more inclusive world.  Gandhi, John Lennon, Martin and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, all appear in relatively recent Apple advertisements.  I wonder why they didn’t choose to include Helen Keller or Stevie Wonder to promote their products?


Beating up Apple two days in a row makes me nostalgic for the old days of hanging around the AI lab.  We’d have all sorts of take out from restaurants specializing in foods from around the globe.  The Free Software/Project Gnu/League for Programming Freedom gang, rms, wojo, mmm, hack, bfox, sgs, gsz, gjs, cdh and so many others would sit around the ninth floor play room, chowing on global cuisine, guzzling Cokes and green tea and talking about the information anarchism for which we all stood.

Richard Stallman, the effective founder of the free software/open source movement, the author of the GPL and emacs itself, still stands for everything we believed in.  I don’t know where most of the others went, I write these articles and work on technologies for us blinks and, while I still hold patent free software covered by GPL as the ideal, I put breaking barriers for blind people first.  My free software ideals have definitely been compromised to my ambitions of fighting the techno-discrimination against people with vision impairments.  I sure do miss those wild days when IP law was still up for grabs and we didn’t need make such compromises.  

Remember, it was Woz who “liberated” the source code to Bill Gates’ BASIC interpreter and published it in issue one of Dr. Dobbs Journal.  Boy, those Apple guys have come a long way since then.

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The iPod and Apple’s Barriers to Accessibility

Yesterday, I engaged in an email conversation with an old buddy from the blindness community with whom I hadn’t communicated in well over a year.  We got a bit into the old Windows v. GNU/Linux/Macintosh discussion and which may emerge as the next accessibility leader.

We agreed that, today, with an excellent collection of AT products in all categories, Windows had a substantial lead.  We then commiserated over the recent announcement that UI Automation (UIA) would not make it into the first Vista release and that AT products must continue to rely on MSAA.  As new applications will use various Vista enhancements for which there will be no MSAA, the first year after the Vista release could be pretty rocky for those of us who depend upon AT to do our jobs, get an education or just enjoy computing.

The GNU/Linux discussion went a bit differently.  We agreed that the gnome accessibility API certainly could provide an excellent amount of information to an AT product but as few applications exist to really exercise the framework, how will we know if it is usable – another chicken and egg problem.  We also questioned why it seems that, at every CSUN, the open source people have a few new demos of AT for gnome but never seem to release anything beyond an alpha test version.

This year, both IBM and Sun showed off new alpha test screen readers for the GNU/Linux platform.  Sun has ORCA and IBM has a program described by three initials which I can’t recall at the moment.  Neither talked about gnopernicus so I guess that project died on the vine.  This leaves me with the question, “Because both programs are open source and both are targeting the same platform, why do we have two alphas and zero betas?”  Why can’t we all just get along?  How many more years until we hear something described as a “released” screen reader for the gnome desktop must we wait?  How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?

The open source world seems to have more screen readers than users.

Finally, we get to Apple.  I really like some of the people working on their screen reader very much and don’t want to trash it as I don’t want to continue to stamp on the toes of old friends.  I will just suggest that anyone interested in it read Jay Leventhal’s article in Access World (I think it appeared in the December edition) and try to give it a whirl at an Apple salon shop at your local mall before committing to using it.

Thus, the recent future seems pretty murky.  Personally, I’ll stick with JAWS on Windows because it will not require me to learn a whole new platform and the idiosyncrasies associated with it.  I know which applications I can use and I know who I can call if I’m in a bind.

The discussion of the major platforms led us to talking about handhelds and, specifically, the “no blind person need apply” iPod.  With a variety of different accessible portables ranging from talking cell phones to the iPAQ to PAC Mate, BrailleNote and some others with accessible interfaces that can play most, if not all, multi-media formats, why does Apple remain so completely bigoted against us blinks?  Don’t the hipster blind kids have the right to destroy their hearing by playing 50 Cent at an ear shattering volume?

So, why is the iPod Inaccessible?

Let’s start by looking at some of the highlights of Apple’s history.  In 1984, Steve Jobs walked out onto the stage at a Boston Computer Society (BCS) meeting.  He placed an original, 64K, single floppy disk Macintosh on a table, clicked a few things and then stood back.  Although I lived in Boston at the time, I did not attend this event but I’ve seen it on video many times.

“Hello, I am Macintosh,” said the robotic speech synthesizer inside this oversized lunchbox with a screen.  The Macintosh, through what we later learned was the MacTalk synthesizer, continued to describe itself as Jobs stood proudly on the stage next to his baby at its first public performance.

The attendees at this general meeting of the BCS sat silently, awed by a computer who could describe itself.  Jobs went on to show the audience a WYSIWYG word processor, a paint package and a few other little doo dads that he could launch by swapping a few floppies and clicking his mouse.  The 1984 audience found his performance vexing and, by the following day, the buzz about Jobs’ new miracle machine had conquered the entire Boston/Cambridge nerd scene and the gossip grew louder each day until a few people got their hands on actual first run Macs.

To those of us with an interest in accessibility, Steve Jobs’ performance at the BCS meeting had an entirely separate impression.  The Macintosh that Steve showed the world that night included the first standard issue software speech synthesizer.  This, we thought, would rock the world.  The earthquake of excitement slowly dwindled to a mild vibration and then to silence.  While the Mac had a major screen reader component built in, it exposed so little information as to render the synthesizer useless for most real blindness applications.  I know, outspoken for the Mac came along but the screen reader later to be acquired by Alva and, more recently, permitted to die a lonely death, felt like using JAWS with only the JAWS cursor or Window-Eyes with its mouse cursor.  

Later on, as my vision deteriorated, I didn’t know about programs like JAWS and the accessibility on Windows but I did remember that Macintosh had a built in magnifier (CloseView) and a synthesizer.  So, with the help of a Mac hacker friend of mine, I set out to create my own screen reader-like utility that, with CloseView running at 10-16X magnification, I could actually use (very inefficiently) the Internet, WordPerfect and Eudora.  My utility wouldn’t win any technology awards as it simply copied selected text to the clipboard and then spouted it out through the synthesizer.  This solution, crufty as it may seem, provided me with good enough computer access to take creative writing classes at Harvard University and to keep in touch with friends and family via email.

Then, a friend of my family who also lost his vision to RP, told my dad about JAWS, Window-Eyes and the Windows solutions.  Bob (my dad) bought me a Gateway laptop, a copy of Window-Eyes and sent it up to our house in Cambridge.  My wife struggled, with the excellent assistance of Mike Lollar on the telephone, for about three hours to get Dec Talk Access 32 installed without bothering the pre-installed virus protection too badly.  I thought I had found heaven.  Within six months, it was bye-bye Harvard and hello Henter-Joyce and my full time pursuit of access technology.

So what happened to Apple between the time it showed off the first computer to ship with a standard speech synthesizer and the release of its iPod?

If you have followed the business side of the computer industry, you probably have noticed that Steve Jobs got fired and replaced by that guy from Pepsi.  The soda guy got fired and was replaced by Gil who, in turn, got fired and replaced by Steve Jobs.  Throughout all of this, Apple would create some really innovative concepts and then kill them before letting them hit the market.  They built things like the Newton about a decade before the technology had matured to a point it could be commercially viable and they floundered listlessly without a real leader at the heart of the organization.  Thus, the return of Steve meant joy in Macville, ding dong the corporate witch was dead and the dreamer had returned.  The rainbow colored Macintosh logo glowed brightly once again.

Steve Jobs, though, had learned a lot about business while in exile at NeXT Corporation and other disasters.  He had learned about saving money, cost cutting and not going too far from the path to relatively certain dollars.

One of the first moves Steve made upon his return furloughed the speech team.  Some of the most talented people in speech technology lost their jobs (none had trouble finding employment elsewhere) because, according to an official statement issued by Apple on that day, “Speech technology is superfluous to our mission.”  I remember reading this article and feeling my heart fall into my stomach.

More recently, in a move typical of Apple, they reversed direction and started a reconstituted speech team and the synthesizer and voice command control in OSX is really quite good.

Why, then, can’t an iPod talk?

Because Apple doesn’t want it to.

Why doesn’t Apple want the iPod to talk?

Ask Steve.

Is it technically feasible for an iPod to talk?

At last, the crux of the biscuit, from the very first iPod released a few years ago to the fanciest one out there today, all had more than enough compute power and storage (with zillions of bytes left over) to run a speech synthesizer.  Having walked through the iPod interface with a sighted guide, I can also state quite clearly, that offering the interface as a self voicing application would not challenge the talented Apple engineers to much.  Including a full talking interface, would definitely add to the “cool factor” of the device as sighted and blind users alike could keep the iPod in their pocket and navigate to their Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd folder quickly and easily without diverting their mind numbed, 120 decibel charged gaze away from whatever they had been staring at.

Effectively, the iPod has no accessibility features because Apple thinks of accessibility well after anything else they design into their products.  Speech in an iPod would have been relatively cheap and easy but Apple thinks of “cool” first and nerdy ideas like universal design just isn’t cool.

So, I cringe every time I hear the term “Pod cast” on a blind person’s web site.  Well before the iPod, an Apple trademark, we blinks enjoyed all kinds of streaming audio on the Microsoft platform using Windows Media Player, Real Player, WinAmp and other programs.  Today, we have the PAC Mate, Braille Note, iPAQ, a whole pile of cell phones on which screen readers run and probably other products I’m forgetting to use to listen to music, books and other information while out and about.  Why then do we insist on giving Apple a free advertisement for a product that might as well have a sign saying, “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish” hanging on it as far as we blinks are concerned.

I’m also dubious of anything containing the word “pod” that doesn’t refer directly to food.  This comes from the classic Sci-Fi thriller, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” not the remake but the 1950s original.  In the movie, the townspeople disappeared one at a time to be replaced by replicants (who had that zoned out look of an iPod user on their faces) who, perhaps not coincidentally, grew out of giant pea pods.  Are Steve Jobs and Apple snatching the portable music lovers of the world and replacing them with mindless servants of their corporate goals?  Am I one of the last townspeople left running around to spread the information that Apple employees come from outer space and intend to conquer our planet?


Sorry for the fairly lame posts the past two days.  I had little time to write so I depended heavily on material I could draw from other news items.  I do think both items described important events but I didn’t do much to add any color or useful commentary to improve on their value.

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Jodi Awards Celebrate Accessible Museum and Library Web Sites

Although I enjoy learning about many things found in museums, I have spent little or no time surfing the web looking for accessible online collections.  This morning, while drinking my coffee and sorting through the stories that came over Blind News, I found one titled, “Jodi Web Accessibility Awards 2006 Shortlist Announced” from a web site called, “24 Hour Museum” based in the UK.  This impressive site claims to serve as the “official guide to UK museums, galleries, exhibitions and heritage.”  This site where the article about the Jodi Awards appears meets almost all of the accessibility guidelines I could check in my quick survey but it does contain a couple of unlabeled graphical links to sponsors which makes a little noise but, otherwise, this resource appears near letter perfect.  I don’t know about such a site in the US but would enjoy learning of one.

The Jodi Awards, according to the article, “recognize excellence in museum, library, and archive and heritage website accessibility.”  A group of judges, half of whom have a disability, chose the finalists by using the web sites personally and by testing them with automated validation tools.  The award is named in “memory of Jodi Mattes (1973-2001) who worked to ensure the British Museum’s COMPASS site was as accessible as possible. After COMPASS went live in 2000, she went on to work for the Royal National Institute for the Blind,” says the article.

The short list of finalists includes six museums, all based in the UK but, because the Internet has few borders, one can enjoy the sites from wherever they have an accessible computer, PDA or notetaker.

The first site listed in the article, the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery contains a lot of interesting content from a number of museums in its city.  I enjoyed reading about the representation of black Victorians as represented in British art of that time.  The site has many links to interesting sounding subjects and I look forward to returning to it in the future.  The article about the awards says it was chosen because it “is an easy to navigate portal to information about the city’s seven museums and links to BMAGiC – an online collections database. The site includes straightforward advice on changing text size, sharp images and an alternative, text enriched version of the Flash kids’ website.”  I commend any web developers who can make Flash content accessible.

I really enjoyed browsing through the pages of The Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds site which also contends for the Jodi Award.  The web site describes itself by stating, “The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a voluntary scheme to record archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. Every year many thousands of objects are discovered, many of these by metal-detector users, but also by people whilst out walking, gardening or going about their daily work.” This site contains all kinds of interesting descriptions of objects of historical interest found by volunteers.  It seems that some people look about for such things as a hobby and others just happen upon things ancient.  Either way, this site describes artifacts very nicely and I’m happy to hear about an organization of volunteer archeologists keeping track of found things.

Next in the running comes, i-MAP “The Everyday Transformed” which has “Accessibility Options” at the very top of their page.  I believe this online art museum is the only one intended specifically for visitors with vision impairments.  It includes detailed descriptions of the works it has on display and offers downloadable tactile graphics for those who like to touch their art.  I-Map is part of the internationally famous Tate Modern Art collection and was the winner of the first ever Jodi award,

Their Reading Futures provides “Training and support for libraries’ work with young readers.”  I didn’t find this one especially interesting as I am neither a librarian nor a young reader.  People with children or those who work in the library sciences might find this site useful and it, like the other nominees, is highly accessible.

The History of Wolverhampton web site contains almost exactly what one would guess from its name.  “Wolverhampton is a vibrant, multi-cultural city with a documented history that stretches back to 985AD when King Aethelred granted the title of land known as Heantune to Lady Wulfruna,” says the site.  It contains all sorts of archives and arcane materials about this town with a very proud history.  The accessibility of the site is superb and I wish more places of interest around the world would have their municipal history so well organized and presented in such an accessible fashion.

Another nominated site that dedicates itself to reading is “Speaking Volumes, by Wakefield Library and Information Service.”  The home page states, “Our site is all about the enjoyment of reading and if you look through the pages you will find lots of reading suggestions, local reading related events, reviews of talking books and a noticeboard to give you the chance to swap views and opinions with other readers. You can hear a reading group in action and if you are interested, find out about local groups”

As one might assume, I found some of these sites far more interesting than others.  The concept of the Jodi Award for accessible museum and library web sites should grow to something with an International stature.  Learning about these particular sites in the UK gave me some cool web sites to look at but, more so, provides an example for how museums and libraries no matter of location can make themselves entirely usable by people with disabilities.  I recommend that everyone sends this BC article or the original to any museum web site they would
like to see improved as all six can serve as templates for accessibility excellence.

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Chicago Art Show Features People with Disabilities

I usually have at least an hour free to write the daily entry for Blind Confidential.  I value this hour as it is the part of the day that I can just be Chris and simply improvise on a topic.  I hardly edit most BC posts and just let the stream of consciousness flow.  I do run the Word Spell Checker, read through my articles and fix any really broken sentences.  I always double check any references I make to materials I’ve quoted from other sources to make sure I’ve credited them to the proper author so as not to cause any confusion.  I know the blogosphere tends to have pretty low standards for referencing sources and such but I like to keep my writing chops solid and don’t want anyone crying foul over an incorrectly attributed statement.  

I will, however, steal jokes from anyone and use them as if they came from my own mind.  Few thoughts are truly original and even fewer jokes wander far from the same structure that probably followed the invention of language well before history started so everyone who tells jokes is, at some level, stealing from a cave man who first told it around the campfire while cooking some wooly mammoth for dinner.

Today, however, I don’t have my requisite hour available to construct a full entry for Blind Confidential so, like any gonzo journalist in a hurry; I’ll cheat and copy in a press release verbatim.  This item comes from the Accessible Image mailing list hosted on where it was posted by Jennifer Justice.  The press release is about an art show called “Humans Being” that opens in Chicago on April 1.  As many of you know, I have a passion for the fine arts and this show of works by people with disabilities sounds terrific.  It is an International show that will run until June and I hope I can get to Chicago to check it out before it ends.


Ground-Breaking Exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center
April 1—June 4, 2006
Highlight of the City-Wide Bodies of Work Festival

This spring, the Chicago Cultural Center will host one of the first American surveys that will take an in depth look at the issues of art and disability.

Humans Being: Disability in Contemporary Art is a ground-breaking exhibition that will be a cornerstone of Bodies of Work: The Chicago Festival of Disability Arts and Culture, the city’s first-ever multi-venue festival showcasing work by professional artists with disabilities.

Humans Being: Disability in Contemporary Art will come to the Chicago Cultural Center’s Michigan Avenue Galleries, located at 78 E. Washington St. (accessible entrance located at 77 E. Randolph St.), from April 1 through June 4, 2006.  The show aims to be a complex
And serious conversation about how disability is both understood and misunderstood by the culture at large.

It will include paintings, sculpture, photography, installation and samples of graphic novels by more than 20 artists—both disabled and non-disabled—and will explore issues of illness, impairment, discrimination, alienation, sexuality, community,
Identity and the political aspects of disability.

The exhibition is organized by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and co-curated by Illinois artist Riva Lehrer and Sofia Zutautas, Assistant Curator at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.  Humans Being: Disability in Contemporary Art has been underwritten by Maria Magnus and is made possible through generous gifts from Beatrice C. Mayer, Michael Louis Minns, Mary McFadden, Good’s of Evanston and The Compounder Pharmacy.  Admission to the exhibition and related programming is free.  

Humans Being: Disability in Contemporary Art will include work by local, national and international professional artists including David B. (Beauchard), Madison Clell, Katie Dallam, Susan Dupor, Laura
Ferguson, Tabata Hideoshi, Jennifer Justice, Terry Karpowicz, Leonard Lehrer, Riva Lehrer, Tim Lowly, William Newman, Harriet Sanderson, Katherine Sherwood, Hollis Sigler, Sunaura Taylor, Frances Turner, Richard Yohnka and Jonathan Wos, among others.

“This exhibition challenges the way disability has stayed beneath the radar on the art world’s screen,” said Sofia Zutautas, Assistant Curator of Exhibitions for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.

  “It also gives this artists’ community its well deserved exposure while bringing to light a subject matter that is rarely addressed.”

The public is invited to learn more about the exhibition by taking part in a number of programs at the Chicago Cultural Center.  A list of programs include:

Public Discussion:  “The Geography of Art &
Saturday, April 1, 2 p.m., First Floor Garland Room
Katherine Sherwood, participating artist and professor of Art at UC Berkeley, discusses the history of art and disability.  

Bodies of Work: A Public Forum  
“Disability Culture in the U.S.: Revolutionizing Art
From the Inside Out”
Friday, April 21, 6 p.m., First Floor Garland Room
Moderated by Carrie Sandahl, disability rights activist, cultural critic, historian and theatre artist, and Associate Professor at Florida State University’s School of Theatre.

Audio Described Tours
Saturday, April 22, 12-2 p.m., Michigan Avenue
Thursday, April 27, 12-2 p.m., Michigan Avenue
Audio described tours will be available for the visually impaired.

Gallery Talk
Thursday, April 27, 12:15 p.m., Michigan Avenue Galleries
Co-curators Riva Lerher and Sofia Zutautas discuss the exhibition.

Public Discussion:  “Imagining and Imaging the Disabled Self”
Saturday, April 29, 2:30 p.m., First Floor Garland Room
Moderated by Alice Dreger, PhD., of the Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program at Northwestern University, and including a panel of artists whose works are included in the exhibition.

Expanded hours for summer at the Chicago Cultural Center begin on April 1 and run through October 31.

Viewing hours for Humans Being: Disability in Contemporary Art at the Chicago Cultural Center are Mondays through Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Fridays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and
Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  The Chicago Cultural Center is closed on holidays.

This program is presented as part of Bodies of Work:
The Chicago Festival of Disability Arts and Culture, held in venues across the city from April 20-30, 2006.
Bodies of Work features artwork and performances that address disability issues and highlights the work of artists with disabilities in a variety of disciplines including the visual and literary arts, dance, film and theater. Lectures, tours and workshops are also featured.  

The Michigan Avenue Galleries are supported by Chase.  Exhibitions and related educational programming presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs at the Chicago Cultural Center are partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.  

Also on view in the Chicago Cultural Center from April 1 through May 14 is the exhibition, “Thinking Out Loud: Studio Programs for Artists with Disabilities,” which features the work of artists with developmental, cognitive, and mental disabilities.  A part of the
Bodies of Work festival, “Thinking Out Loud” includes work by artists who participate in studio programs operated by community-based organizations in Chicago, including Project Onward, Esperanza Community
Services, and Thresholds South.

For more information about Humans Being: Disability in Contemporary Art, call 312.744.6630 (TTY: 312.744.2947) or visit

For more information about “Thinking Out Loud,” visit;

about Bodies of Work: The Chicago Festival of Disability Arts and Culture, call 312.744.6630 (TTY: 312.744.2947) or visit


Our local neo-nazi murderers continue to impress the community with their intellectual prowess.  WMNF, our local community radio station, reported last night that Plott and his gang weren’t even certain who they wanted to kill.  They agreed that they definitely killed the wrong guy but could not come to agreement as to whether they were after Wells’ black boyfriend or her gay son, neither of whom were injured in the attack.  Plott, the individual “too mean” to be a member of the Iron Coffins biker gang also proved that he wasn’t too mean for the Pasco County lock up as he, while watching television in the common room, got beaten so badly by the other residents that he had to be brought to a hospital outside of the local jail.  I guess nice guys like Plott just can’t hack it in a tough county cooler.

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Voting Rights for Blinks

“How much should government agencies pay to ensure full accessibility to people with disabilities?”  Is a question with a financial nature that any governmental body must ask when working on budgets.  “What determines the value, in dollars, of providing people with disabilities a manner to vote independently, one of the most sacred rights in American culture?”  Is a question with a more qualitative nature as it asks just how much equality people like us deserve in the land of the free.  Finally, “Are county government officials too stupid to figure out if a bid for accessible voting machines includes so much padding as to be ridiculously expensive?” Or, “Do President Bush’s friends at Diebold and the other voting machine manufacturers realize that county officials around the US have fairly minimal intellectual capabilities and, therefore, should have the tax payer’s money taken as quickly as possible from them lest they spend it on something foolish like a homeless shelter or art for the local museum?”

These questions came to mind when I read two articles that came to my inbox via Blind News in the past 24 hours.  One, an editorial, which I will include in its entirety below, came from the Illinois based Belleville News-Democrat a paper that includes the word “democrat” on its masthead but seems to question voting rights for people with disabilities and the other, a news report from an Illinois television program on WQAD TV
Titled, “Henry County spends $260,000 for one voter.”  Both items jump directly to the issue of the financial burden of providing accessible voting machines to people who require them during the recent Illinois primary election.

I cannot add much to the editorial so I will quote it entirely, verbatim, as it appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat:

    Posted on Fri, Mar. 24, 2006


    Too high a price at the polls

    Liberals love to say that if a government program benefits even one
Person, it is worth the cost. But in St. Clair County, even that low bar is too high to justify the new federally mandated voting machines for the disabled.

    Not one person in St. Clair County used the machines in the primary
Election Tuesday. Cost to the taxpayers, $921,000; benefits, zero.

    Madison County and East St. Louis had some voters use their special
Machines, although they didn’t have a count of how many. But no doubt the costs were phenomenally out of balance with the benefits achieved.

    Federal tax dollars covered most of the expense. Nationwide, the
Government spent about $2.8 billion to update voting equipment, $600
Million of that for equipment to accommodate people with hearing and visual impairments.

    This is what occurs when lawmakers try to pander to every
Special-interest group. Yes, it’s unfortunate that people with
Disabilities have a difficult time voting; yes, it would be nice if they could vote independently at their assigned polling place.

    But we also expect our elected leaders to be responsible with our
Money. Couldn’t we have one special voting machine at the county
courthouse rather than at each precinct? That would have saved millions, or at least freed up money for programs that would benefit more people, and not just on a couple days a year.

    The truth is, the government can’t afford to enact every good idea.
But politicians continue to try, which is why our taxes are sky-high.

End of Editorial

I’m not sure how many precincts St. Clair County, Illinois has but $921,000 seems an incredible amount to pay to put a single accessible voting machine in each polling place.  Thus, I return to a rephrased version of a question I posed above, “Were the government officials aware, in any way shape or form, of the typical cost for a piece of assistive technology or did Diebold and other automated voting machine manufacturers, all close friends of the administration, bilk the tax payers for a windfall profit that they could claim necessary to meet the ADA?”

The reactionary editorial blaming government spending on liberals and pointing out the population of people with disabilities as the culprit special interest in this case, obviously forgot that Bill Clinton left the Federal budget with a surplus but that’s all history.  Conservative Arizona Senator, John McCane, points to the Alaskan “bridge to nowhere” as the greatest boondoggle in history by demonstrating that it would cost less to purchase a private jet for everyone living on the island to which this bridge would go than it would be to build the bridge itself.  Conservative Alaska senators disagree and insist that this engineering wonder start construction in their state as soon as possible.  So much for conservatives keeping an eye on our money.

The editorial doesn’t provide enough numbers to do any arithmetic but spending over $900,000 to install voting machines accessible to people with hearing and vision impairments seems to me, a former assistive technology executive, a huge handout to the provider of said machines.  The editorial doesn’t state anything about the vetting process, the cost analysis or even if any AT companies, expert in delivering such solutions were consulted.

The WQAD television story, covered as an article on its web site which includes a link to a streaming video of the piece, about the cost of voting machines in Henry County, Illinois, does provide us with a few numbers with which we can play around.  “    Like every county throughout the United States, Henry County had to
Install special voting machines to meet the federal Americans with
Disabilities Act. 49 voting machines were purchased costing $260,000. But on Tuesday, only one person apparently used them,” says the web version of the article.

Before jumping into the arithmetic, I must say that the Henry County officials seem a bit less dense than those in St. Clair as they spent less than a third of the dollars to provide accessibility.  Bringing up my Windows calculator, up, though, shows that the Henry County bargain hunters paid a measly $5306 plus change for each accessible voting machine.  I’m sure if I called Sharon Spenser, executive VP of Sales at Freedom Scientific, with a request for a proposal on 50 PAC Mate QX 420 devices with “a little extra software to interface with voting machines,” we could come up with a deal costing (in my guestimation) under $4000 per unit.  If we didn’t care about the deaf/blind voters, we could do this with a speech only PAC Mate for under $2500 per unit.  Would Henry County pay me the difference or even half the difference if I proposed such a cost cutting solution?  Of course not, neither I nor Freedom Scientific has enough clout or cash to grease the wheels of the body politic and come out with a sweetheart deal in the end.

The article continues, “Rock Island County spent $750,000 on 60 machines for the disabled.  By my calculations, this comes to a whopping $12500 per unit.  At this price, it would have cost much less to send a limousine to each voter who required such accommodations, put them up in a luxury hotel for a few days, pay for all of their meals and give them each their own PAC Mate QX 440 with special voting software added that had much better security than the Diebold machines that hackers nationwide have proven to have holes in their protection against tampering.

I’m also highly confident that if any of the AT CEOs received a phone call from any of these counties that they would accommodate them at a lower price, with better devices and a greater level of accuracy.  I know most of these CEOs personally and can state that Lee or Doug or Ben or Mike or Eduard or anyone I’m leaving out would jump for such a gig.  I’m confident they would do so at a municipal, county, state or Federal basis and come in with a cost far lower than our President’s good buddies up in Ohio.

The television story, apparently trying to show they have some level of sensitivity to the cause of people with disabilities, ends with, “    In fact, a survey shows one in ten polling places nationwide aren’t
even wheelchair accessible. And 80-percent of people with vision problems need help filling out their ballots.”  These statistics, although provided without a source, probably come close to accuracy.  

The problem, totally ignored by both of these articles, though, has nothing to do with the cost of accessibility and everything to do with sweetheart government contracts.  Look at the no bid deals that the Vice President’s former employer has taken out of Iraq.  Let’s not forget how KBR also got no bid contracts to help clean up the flood damage in New Orleans, why not assume that a reasonable public accommodation to provide people like me with access to my right as a patriotic American citizen to exercise my right to vote wouldn’t find its way into the money grubbing financial feeding trough that has become our Federal budget?

Blaming the blind people for the deficit is almost funny.  This administration has cut way back on enforcement of Section 508, to “save the taxpayers’ money,” their AG has taken the side of the defendant in every ADA case in which the administration has participated and who can even remember Section 255 being discussed, let alone enforced?

I suppose we should expect this.  If we scour the president’s statements on discrimination, you will find that he has expressed outrage exactly once – when the victim of the discrimination was a multi-billion dollar corporation from the UAE vying to purchase some US port businesses.  There, in the White House rose garden, President W. stood with a teardrop dangling from his eye, sniffling at the purely overt injustice that cripples billionaire multi-national corporations.  As Bill Clinton would have said, “I feel their pain.”


In an update on the neo-nazi story I ran yesterday, it turns out that the gang killed the wrong guy.  It seems that Shawn A. Plott, the fellow whom you might remember as having been thrown out of a biker gang called the “Iron Coffins” for being too mean, had intended to kill Patricia Wells’ African American boyfriend.  Instead, these candidates for Rhodes Scholarships stabbed 17 year old Kristofer King to death for sleeping in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Someone asked me if I feared reprisals from white supremacist groups over the articles I publish here.  Given the fact that many such people live in Florida, I might concern myself with my safety as these people don’t seem to take criticism very well.  On the other hand, though, I don’t think I need to hurry out to buy my shotgun too soon as these Cro-Magnons, while violent, don’t seem capable of hitting the target.  Thus, if one came for me, I’d probably be safer than any of my neighbors or even my 20 pound dog as the neo-fascists seem so intensely incompetent.

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The Minds of Florida Nazi Groups

In the realm of life meets art meets Sunshine State weird fiction, a tragic event occurred in New Port Richey, Florida last week that could have come directly from Carl Hiaasen’s “Lucky You.”  I include issues regarding neo-nazi groups in this blog because their doctrine would have all of those of us born with birth defects, regardless of race, creed, color or national origin exterminated.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous item, I wouldn’t go so far as to kill the skinheads, I’m a pacifist after all, but I do feel strongly that they are the pee in the gene pool and should be rendered incapable of reproduction.

Hiaasen’s story takes place somewhere in Central Florida and involves a group of bungling neo-fascists who kidnap a black woman who holds a winning lottery ticket.  The real life story takes place in New Port Richey, Florida, nearer the beach than the town in Hiaasen’s story but, as if taken straight from “Lucky You,” it also involves drunk and stoned white supremacists, an African American, inept law enforcement and, tragically, a number of comical statements that appear in the St. Petersburg Times coverage on the crime page of the paper.

The article titled, “Nazi describes ordeal as one of betrayal” includes a description of a woman who received multiple stab wounds and her son’s friend who died from repeated stabbings at the hand of the neo-nazi group who’s headquartered itself in the mobile home next to her in a Pasco County trailer park.  Two members of the white’s only men’s club, 33 year old Shawn A. Plott,, the groups leader and 20 year old John Ditullio currently sit in the county lock up on charges related to the attack.  Ditullio made himself available to the press and gave what I believe the most bizarre description of a horrible crime that I ever heard.

“I felt like I loved them, that they really had my back,” started DeTulio, an obvious poor judge of character.  The article continues, “He became a recruit for the white-men-only American Nazis only a couple of weeks ago. He was proud of his race, he said, and joining the group seemed like the right thing to do.”

Hell, I’m proud of growing up in New Jersey but I’m not willing to become militant about it.  If we Jersey refugees all took on people who malign our home state, we’d have no one but ourselves to talk to and we don’t really like each other that much anyway.

The group “gave him a red recruit T-shirt. It said ‘Blood, honor, loyalty.’ They hung out in a mobile home on Teak Street in New Port Richey. Four Nazi flags
flew outside,” continues the description in our local paper of record.

DeTulio claims, “We weren’t a violent group, just into name calling.  But, name calling with the next-door neighbor, Patricia Wells, heated up last week.”  Heated name calling, in the opinion of Blind Confidential remains a form of speech.  It may be stupid, childish and hateful speech but, in my mind, does not involve knives.  These nazi kids, though, broke into Wells’ home early Thursday morning and stabbed her in the face and hands.  They also attacked Kristofer King, a friend of Wells’ teenaged son, who later died from his injuries at Bayfront Hospital in downtown St. Petersburg.

DeTulio held a press conference on Friday in which it appeared as if the police investigation focused on, “Ditullio’s boss and fellow neo-Nazi, Shawn A. Plott.”

The article continues, “’I’ve taken care of them forever,’ Ditullio recalled Plott saying,” early on Thursday morning.

At this point, the story switches from a heinous crime into one that even Carl Hiaasen’s incredible grasp of the weird that only happens in Florida or, sometimes, Germany, takes over.  Prepare to enter the sunshine zone…

“Wednesday night was supposed to be one of celebration. The Nazis’ club president was returning from a trip, and his fellow members were drinking in honor
Of his return,” says the Times.  Demonstrating the true friendship and camaraderie among the group, someone spiked Ditullio’s whiskey with Xanax, a strong sedative, a practice he said, “Was a typical practical joke played on recruits.”

The Times article, demonstrating its grasp of the obvious,  reports that, “He grew groggy.”  Other than death on some occasions, sleepiness usually follows mixing Xanax with booze.  In his stupor, DeTulio cannot remember Plott leaving the trailer but seems to have a vague memory of his return as Plott rattled the front gate and, “was acting all strange.”

“Something’s going down, man,” the vice president of the nazi group said, according to Ditullio, “who didn’t know how to spell the vice president’s name.”  The VP, showing the acumen of any great executive, gave DeTulio three guns and left him alone in the trailer with the orders, to hold down the fort,” and “to shoot at the cops (if they came).”  DeTulio, still whacked by the mickey, promptly fell asleep.

When he woke up on Thursday morning, he looked at the home security monitors and saw,” deputies, then members of
The special weapons and tactics team, their guns trained on the clubhouse.”  An example of Florida’s finest in action.

DeTulio, somewhat stressed out by all of the cops and the SWAT team,  did, doing what any highly trained member of a domestic terrorist group would do under such circumstances, “took four more Xanax tablets, then smoked marijuana. After about 45 minutes, he passed out.”

Meanwhile, outside the highly fortified and well protected Nazi compound, the SWAT team, “stayed outside for what appeared to be a standoff.”

Finally, “At 1:45 p.m., the SWAT team stormed the mobile home. Ditullio said he didn’t wake up until the officers were in his face, yelling at him to put his hands
Behind his head.”

The Times article quotes a grinning DeTulio as saying, “It was funny … You’ve got all these cops out for little old me. I didn’t do nothing, man.”  

DeTulio continued to say that he didn’t want law enforcement to catch Plott because he respected Plott for “Doing what he believed in.”  Obviously, what Plott believed in included leaving DeTulio behind as the patsy.  The thought hadn’t yet entered DeTulio’s pea brain that this part of the belief system landed his butt in jail.

Plott, as further described by DeTulio, had once been an officer of a biker gang called the “Iron Coffins.”  Plott was “kicked out for being too mean.”  Too mean for a group of motorheads who call themselves the Iron Coffins?  

Throughout my life, I have had the opportunity to meet and spend time with people from all walks of life.  This human menagerie includes the criminal element.  I’ve known guys with names like Evil and Blowfish.  I’ve known Hell’s Angels, Italian mobsters, ugly skinheads and at least one true sociopath who will spend the rest of his life in Attica, an incarceration that definitely benefits society.  I’ve known drug dealers, gun nuts, whacked out Viet Nam vets who live in the woods but, including all of these and a few others who I cannot think of at the moment, none rose to the level of “too mean” for an organization called the Iron Coffins.  This Plott must be someone truly special to be that mean and maintain the loyalty of his friend DeTulio, who he left to take the murder rap for him.

DeTulio completed the interview by describing how he had been beaten up in the jailhouse after his story hit the news and then, as if nothing had happened, he, “popped open his blue jumpsuit to reveal a swastika tattooed on his chest. He said talking to a reporter would get him killed. I don’t care,” he said. “I still believe in my race.”

These people want to exterminate us blinks.  Hopefully, their obvious stupidity will keep them from succeeding.  Plott, the leader, demonstrated some common sense by trying to stick DeTulio with the rap but he got caught anyway.  DeTulio seems so stupid that, after taking a jailhouse beating, he tempts fate by showing off his swastika tattoo.

As this event happened so close to my home and because this particular group, a spin-off of the Arian Nation, has numerous members in Florida, my shopping list now definitely includes that Mossberg M9 with the halogen blinding light affixed atop it.  If the Nazi who comes after me is loaded on whiskey, Xanax and pot, I think my chances of taking him out increase dramatically.  Sorry skinheads, I’m still willing to shoot it out anytime you care to come for me, one of my blink brothers or sisters or any other person you dislike.  If I have a weapon, I’ll go down just to take some of you guys out of the breeding pool.

(I will not attack any white supremacist who simply delivers his hate literature in a peaceful manner.  I hold that as free speech and accept that all ideas deserve the right to dissemination.  I do not think my using a shotgun against these lunkheads is incongruent with my pacifist beliefs.  I will only take action in self defense or to defend the life of a neighbor threatened by one of these truly evil people.  If they just hang out in their clubhouses, swear allegiance to their race and get drunk and high, so be it.  It makes these evil bastards look a bit like Bevis and Butthead but, intellectually, they don’t reach even the level of a pair of heavy metal cartoon dudes.)


I’m still looking for ideas for a smart house for blinks, please send in your concepts and, hopefully, we can make them a reality.

As for the question as to whether our proposal will be published.  The answer is yes because it is a proposal for a Federal grant and sunshine laws require that all such proposals be open for public viewing, it will show up that way.  Because the vision component is a small component of a very large proposal, though, I will probably do an article either for Blind Confidential or a more reputable publication about the concepts we’re proposing which will likely be of greater interest to a blind audience as it will leave out the pan-disability stuff as well as all of the language which is required in a grant proposal but reads like the phone book but even less interesting.

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Gone Fishin’

I will not be writing a full article for today’s Blind Confidential as, by the time you read this, I will be out on the water competing in the annual Osprey Bay, Merrill “Canoeman” Chandler Memorial No Motor Fishing Tournament.  Hopefully, I’ll bring in the biggest slam (the combined length of my biggest spotted sea trout, snook and redfish) and come home with the top prize, get my picture in the local papers, raise awareness of PPO and having bragging rights among my buddies for the next year.  Likely, as we got hit by a cold front yesterday, the fish will not be too interested in eating soft plastic lures and we’ll spend our day in the canoe cold, wet and hopeful that the next hole we hit will have them stacked up in it.  For no reason apparent to me, the Osprey tournament always seems to fall on a cold windy day.

I have a request for my readers.  In my professional life, I’m working on a description of the ideal smart house in which a blind person might live.  My outline includes a general category and then a room by room (kitchen, bedroom, living room, etc.) description of the house.  I would appreciate it if any of you out in the Blind Confidential world could send me your fantasy ideas for automating a home to make it the ideal place for one of us blinks to live.  Do not reserve your ideas to current inventions, current standards or current ideas but, rather, send in the ideas you find to be the coolest you can imagine.  

Please do not, however, include sexbots and other hard core fantasy technologies that would not fit into an academic project.  Save those ideas for when I start a technology company and I’ll share the profits with you.

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Recent Reading Materials

As regular readers of Blind Confidential as well as personal friends know, I enjoy “reading” audio books.  My taste in literature runs from the high art of authors who won the nobel prize for literature, Toni Morrison, Hemmingway, Faulkner, Naipaul to non-fiction texts about almost any kind of science to the great story tellers of crime fiction, Walter Mosley, Chandler, Hammett to histories and biographies by David McCullough and the late Stephen Ambrose to the difficult to categorize greats of 20th century writing, Vonnegut, Thompson, Didion, Sontag, Capote, Vidal, Mailer, Pynchon, Dom DeLillo and so many others.  I’m quite happy that I can find a lot of things to read in audio form or in an accessible e-book format.  So, I thought I might write today’s entry about the books I’ve enjoyed during the first quarter of 2006.

First and foremost, if you enjoy good literature, a subscription to Choice Magazine Listening (CML) an anthology of excellent articles selected from the top English language publications, read by professionals and distributed on 4-track cassette tapes is a must have.  CML comes in the mail every two months and contains about 8 hours of very well written fiction, non-fiction and poetry gathered from publications like “The New Yorker,” “Atlantic Monthly,” “National Geographic,” “Poetry,” “Oxford Review,” “Granta,” “New York Review of Books” and other excellent periodicals.  The CML editorial staff chooses some of the very best writing from these publications and has excellent readers, many of whom you will recognize from recordings available on, Books on Tape, Inc. and other commercially published recorded readings.  

I eagerly look forward to receiving each edition in the mail and CML is the only reason I still use a four track player with any frequency.  You can subscribe to CML through their web site or just by calling them on the phone.  I recommend that any blink with a love of literature subscribe immediately, if not sooner, and promise you will not be disappointed.  I’ve had a subscription for a number of years now, keep all of my back issues together and have enjoyed almost every article in each volume.

The rest of the items I’ll discuss this morning all came from which, as regular readers might remember, causes me regular headaches but has a terrific catalogue.

I started the year by reading Truman Capote’s classic non-fiction novel, “In Cold Blood.”  I had read it when a teacher assigned it in a high school literature class 30 years ago and, with the success of the play “Tru” and the film “Capote” I wanted to dive back into his work to develop a current opinion of his writing with which I could contrast the recent biographical material.  “In Cold Blood” didn’t receive the critical acclaim written about it when it first hit the bookstores and the continued critical success it gets today for nothing.  From opening page to the end, Capote brings both the slaughtered family and the pair of cold blooded criminals to life.  Every character in the book receives a fully three dimensional treatment, the family, the towns people, the killers and the beauty and horrors involved in their stories come from the pages to real life.

Capote would likely have received greater awards and even greater acclaim had the disease of substance abuse disorder not first crippled his brilliant mind and, later, caused his premature death.  In his final interview, on the local New York, Stanley Segal show, the host asked Capote, “Truman, what do you think will happen if you keep living like this?”  The brilliant author slurred his response, “I’ll probably kill myself without wanting to.”  Three days later, Capote was found dead in his bed in his United Nations Plaza apartment.

In addition to the terrific play, “tru” and movie, “Capote,” I can also recommend George Plimpton’s oral biography of Capote in which many of Truman’s friends, colleagues, critics, admirers and detractors tell stories about him which Plimpton edits into an excellent biography.

Next, I decided to remain in the deeply disturbing modality and, also for the first time since a teacher assigned it to me in high school; I reread the George Orwell dystopian view of the future, “1984.”  Regular readers of Blind Confidential will remember my parody sequel to the novel which I called “1986” and published here last month.  If you haven’t read “1984,” you should.  The novel sits in the pantheon of 20th Century literature and causes one to think very critically about historical figures like Stalin, Mao and others who erased history and cultural artifacts that disagreed with their philosophy.  

The novel also feels very current as we, in the land of the free, have elected leaders who feel that changing language a bit can cover their pitfalls.  George W. Bush never uses the ugly term prisoner but, rather, says, “Detainee” which kind of sounds like one needs to wait a little longer for a flight than live in an eight by eight cell without charge or defense.  The phrase “terrorist surveillance program” to replace “warrantless wiretaps of American citizens” makes anything that Madison Avenue has sold us look like child’s play.  Of course, Bill Clinton’s linguistic gymnastics did not demonstrate any sort of superiority in the honesty arena.  None of us will forget quotes like, “It depends upon your definition of what is is?”  Both parties play games with legislation by naming them directly opposite of what they actually mean, “The Blue Skies Act,” for instance, permits coal burning power plants to emit more pollutants through their smokestacks.  Yes, propaganda propagates here in the US and no one from either party seems to care.  Rereading “1984” in a 2006 context really opens ones eyes.

I needed to move onto something a lot less depressing so I selected a book called, “E=mc2” by David Bodanis.  The author takes a different approach to the world’s most famous equation by writing a biography of the formula itself.  Bodanis starts by telling us the history of “E” and Faraday’s discovery of the law of conservation of energy.  He then tells us the history of “=” and how the symbol we use to represent it came into our language.  He continues with “M” and how Voltaire, the enlightenment philosopher/author, spread the word of his wife’s proof of the law of conservation of mass.  He tells us about Roma’s discovery of the speed of light to describe “C” and, finally, why it needs to be squared.  Once we’ve learned the history, the author then brings us through how Einstein discovered it and how its application would lead to atomic weapons and nuclear power.  His description of the spy versus spy adventures that kept the bomb from Hitler’s hands keeps one turning the pages like they would in a novel by Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum.  The book does not delve too deeply into hardcore physics or mathematics so I recommend it to anyone who might find the topic interesting as it doesn’t require a pile of prerequisite reading or a an ability to work difficult mathematical problems as one reads.

Next, I returned to my old friend Kurt Vonnegut and his most recent publication, “A Man without a Country.”  This short book contains many hilarious observations of current affairs as described by one of America’s greatest minds.  When Kurt published his last novel a number of years ago, he claimed that he had retired and wouldn’t write anymore.  This collection of essays, to my delight, proves that he lied to us.  In “A Man Without a Country” he admits that he has a new novel underway but also suggests that he might sue Brown and Williamson who produce the Pall Mall cigarettes he has chain smoked since he turned sixteen for, “printing on the package that these things will kill a person and, at age 76, I’m still alive.  We’ll call it the first ever wrongful life litigation.”

Upon completing the short collection by Vonnegut, I jumped into, “The Rum Diary” by another of my literary heroes, Hunter S. Thompson.  While I had read virtual all of Thompson’s major works and literally hundreds of his articles, I had never gone back to read his really early stuff.  “The Rum Diaries,” published long after Thompson wrote it in the 1950s, shows clear signs of his future brilliance.  It has a certain off-the-wall gonzo twist, sex, violence, boozing and a stunning description of the literary life in the Caribbean during that period.  Unfortunately, the version on is abridged, although the web site claims it is unabridged and it lacks the thorough treatment Thompson gives the subjects of his later books.  The customer service people at did give me a free book credit for reporting the error on their web site so I didn’t get too angry.  I do recommend, though, trying to find a complete, unabridged version of the audio book or scan and read the print edition with OpenBook or your favorite scan and read program.

Looking for something less bizarre after Vonnegut and Thompson, I found “The First Three Minutes,” by the Nobel price winning Harvard physics Professor Stephen Weinberg on and bought it with my free credit.  Weinberg claims that he wrote this text for mainstream readers, he promises that one’s math skills need not go beyond arithmetic and that the reader has no prior knowledge of physics.  Weinberg lied.  My science background exceeds that of most lay people and I have excellent mathematics skills.  I read a lot of books about physics as well as other sciences that require a knowledge of the physical sciences and that use some pretty intricate math to describe natural concepts.  I have read most books by Hawking, all of the famous Fineman lectures and lots of other books by lesser known writers about physics ranging from Newtonian mechanics to quantum theory, the uncertainty principle and string and m-theory.  Sometimes, when reading these other books, I need to stop to look up a word in a dictionary or to let my brain catch up with the math.  

Weinberg’s book, ostensibly about the first three minutes after the big bang, caused me to feel completely outclassed and undereducated.  This book should not be recommended to non-professionals in the physical sciences or mathematical arts.  To wit, Weinberg, in the first chapter, introduces the red shift concept of bodies moving away from the point of observation and dives directly into the increasing amplitude of wave forms as they grow more distant.  This goes well beyond basic arithmetic as the increasing wave lengths require a differential equation to describe and an understanding of optical physics to recognize why the wave shifts toward blue rather than red yellow or any other color.  I forced myself through this book and cannot claim to have understood more than half of it.  Hawking, Fineman, Kaku can all write great books for lay readers about very complex physics problems, Weinberg fails in his attempt to do the same.

Needing to clear my head of having attempted to perform both integral and differential calculus during the Weinberg read, I downloaded, “The Life and Works of Beethoven.”  This audio production written and read by Jeremy Siepmann combines biography and music history in a terrific piece that includes both spoken word and musical examples from the great works of the wonderful composer.  The web site has a number of other “Life and Works” recordings about other composers and I plan on trying some others in the future.

Staying in the Beethoven path, I next picked up, “Conductor’s Guide to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 & Piano Concerto No. 4” by Gerard Schwarz.  This recording requires far less musical theory than one would think based upon its title and provides a detailed analysis of two of Beethoven’s most important and beloved compositions.  If you have an interest in learning how a professor describes composed music in an analytical manner, give this one a try.  If you have ever taken a music appreciation course or listened to any classical music these two compositions will undoubtedly sound familiar to you.  I found reading it to be a lot of fun but, then again, I accept the title “uber-geek” when discussing things intellectual.

Moving back from music into the history of technology, I read, “Longitude” by Dava Sobel.  This book describes the life and works of John Harrison, the man who designed, developed and built the first sea going chronometer.  This may sound dull but, prior to its invention, ships at sea could determine latitude by the position of the stars so could know fairly well how far north or south they might have traveled.  But, in the 18th century, before GPS and Harrison’s chronometer, they could barely tell how far east or west they might have traveled.  Many ships carrying very valuable treasurers, foods, spices and other necessities of daily life went down when they crashed against an unexpected pile of rocks.  The book details the debate between an astronomical method of determining latitude and a mechanical approach using a chronometer (a fancy word for clock).  The astronomers and the clock makers came to a virtual tie, Harrison had produced a chronometer which the legendary Captain Cook would refuse to sail without and praised repeatedly in his ship’s logs and the astronomers would invent the octant and a manner of finding longitude based upon a number of mathematical formulae and books filled with tables.  Both systems it turned out could provide an accurate enough reading but the chronometer rapidly became the more popular as it didn’t require clear skies or difficult calculations.

That’s it for the books I’ve read in the first quarter of this year.  I’ve also read quite a few articles in CML, Scientific American, The New Yorker and other of my favorite magazines and enjoyed listening to a lot of music.  

I hope people have enjoyed my critical romp through my recent readings and hope that some of you might enjoy something I recommended as well.

“Reading is the food of the writer.” – earnest Hemmingway.

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Thinking About Baseball

On July Forth of this year, I will turn 46 years old.  This means that the activities at the grapefruit league baseball parks in nearly every town or city near our home in St. Petersburg will be the 46th Spring Training through which I have lived.  Obviously, I can’t remember the first few but somewhere around 1965 or ’66, I started paying attention to the game as if baseball had, indeed, more importance than any subject in school or hobby at home.

Back in those days, my friends and I hardly knew the rules of the game, the infield fly rule, for instance, made no difference to a six year old.  Having a Bob Gibson, Willy Mays, Hank Aaron or Tommy Agee baseball card, on the other hand, could make or break a kid’s summer.  Not to mention the value of the Mickey Mantle, always one of the high numbers released late in the season that caused me to buy so many packs of Topps bubble gum cards that I’ve paid off a few boats for dentists since then.

Playing baseball, the primary summer activity in Westfield, NJ for kids like me started just around the spring thaw.  The ground felt hard or muddy.  The grass remained patchy from the football season and grueling winter.  We could still see our breath on those cold mornings and the bat stung our hands when it connected with a ball.  Grasping, throwing, pitching had major accuracy problems in those March days but we, like the guys in the big leagues, could blame our errors on the long off-season and the rustiness that developed during those dark months when the television and radio stations didn’t broadcast baseball games.

As spring grew to summer, school let out and the pick up games moved from weekends to daily, from dawn until dusk.  We’d ride our bicycles to Roosevelt Junior High which had three or four great fields for playing ball.  The grass remained wet from dew which in turn would soak my Keds and socks as I walked about the field waiting for the other boys to arrive.  The smell of wet grass, the smell of morning, the thrill of the grass, the smell of the leather and oil from my Felipe Alou signature baseball glove, the smells, the thrills of summer, the feeling of baseball.  These constant mornings and hot, humid afternoons seemed like they would last forever.

People who understand the language of baseball can communicate without words.  You can take a white kid from Columbus, a kid from the Dominican Republic, a kid from Mexico, a Japanese kid, a Korean kid, a Chinese kid and a Jamaican kid, put them together on a field with some balls, bats, gloves, caps and they will soon start a game.  They can choose sides (picking me last), decide who represents the home team and start pitching, hitting catching without verbalizing more than a grunt or two accompanied by a gesture.  Kids and baseball go together almost as if the rules came in their DNA.  A kid alone might toss a ball up in the air, swing his bat at it and chase the ball down wherever it landed, two kids will start “having a catch” or playing one on one wiffle ball, three kids might start a game of running bases and all of the kids, no matter how many, will do so with their heads filled with dreams of their heroes.  In my childhood, these included those mentioned in the must have card list plus some others mostly forgotten to history.  Georgie, the half Mexican, half Greek kid from up the street loved the Yankees second baseman Horace Clark, “Hondo Hoss!”  He would yell as he stole a base.  Michael, his older brother, supported Mel Stottlemeyer, still a player back then and tried to pitch with Mel’s signature wind up.  Billy Walsh, their next door neighbor, went all the way for Cleon Jones and tried his best at basket catches.  

Outwardly, I showed my Ron Swoboda, Bobby Murcer or Joe Pepitone persona but, inwardly having never had much talent for the sport, I wanted to grow up into the broadcast booth and loved Bill White, Phil Rizzuto, Ralph Kiner and the other voices that filled the New York area nights.  Still, I would attempt a miraculous diving catch like Swoboda, an over the head Bobby Murcer style grab while running for the monuments in center field (I find it hard to believe that an entire generation has grown up since the monuments were moved off the field and behind the wall, next to the bullpen in Yankee Stadium) or jumping as high as I could to bring down a ball tossed over my head just like “Joey Pep.”

As the sandlot years of my childhood faded into the occasional softball game, which had more to do with drinking beer than hitting home runs, of my high school days, I remained a hardcore fan.  My glove didn’t come out as often but the dice for Strat-o-Matic or APBA baseball were never far away and my buddies and I would have a game on the television, a cooler filled with Molson and a dice game or two on the table.  We didn’t go much for Dungeons and Dragons (that just seemed too nerdy) but fantasy baseball somehow still felt kind of cool.

College started my drift from the game.  I would, on occasion, catch the A train, switch to the D up to 162nd Street to take in a Yankees game (the bleachers will still only a buck and a half back then) but Shea Stadium might have relocated to another planet, the subway ride to Flushing seemed so long.  I didn’t follow the game as avidly though.  I rarely examined a box score or the tables of the batting, pitching and fielding leaders.  I had more important things to do, like sing in a punk rock band at CBGB or take a walk to cop from my man.

In October of 1983, I moved to Boston to live with a girlfriend originally from Philly.  Together, we watched the Phillies, during that great Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt season, win their first ever World Series and, by Spring, a curiosity for baseball and quaint old Fenway Park turned into a love affair that continues to this day.  The girlfriend is happily married to a history professor in Philadelphia and I’m in Florida during spring training.

In Beantown only two sports really count – baseball and hockey.  The Patriot fans live in the suburbs or Rhode Island and Celtics rooters live in the affluent Back Bay or stuffy, old money Beacon Hill.  Everywhere else, the bar room conversations, no matter the time of year, dissect, debate, celebrate and mourn the fates of the Bruins and Red Sox.  In most of these places, the “big three” never meant Larry, Parrish and McHale but had something to do with auto manufacturers in Detroit.  Mention Teddy Ballgame, Tony C., Yaz, Bill Lee, Bernie Carbo, Jim Lonborg, Dewey, Rice, Wade, Roger and, more recently, Pedro, Troy or Manny and you’ve got a conversation on your hands.

The first game I attended at Fenway Park was opening day 1984.  Bobby Ojeda, a journeyman lefty, was the starting pitcher.  Billy Bucks at first, Marty Barrett at second, Wade Boggs at third, Joaquin Fernandez at short and the tremendously powerful outfield populated by Jim Rice, Tony Armas and the great Dwight Evans.  Ralph Houk, who I remembered as Yankees manager from my youth, was the skipper.  The Sox played the Orioles and lost by a significant margin if I remember correctly.

What I remember clearly, though, included paying $3 for a bleacher ticket, and entering the park hours before the first pitch.  I remember wandering about Fenway, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of 70 year old beer spills and overflowing urinals.  Up top, in the seats, though, I saw the most beautiful structure in all of baseball.  The green grass running to the green monster, the manual scoreboard, the coziness of the 35,000 seat facility, the quiet before the park filled up, the over priced flat beer and the nasty hot dogs that, unlike Yankee Stadium, were definitely not kosher.

I became a regular at the park and, in 1987, after the Sox had yanked defeat from the claws of victory the season before, my wife and I started sharing a pair of season tickets with a few friends.  If you were to draw an imaginary line from second base to first, continue it above the visitor’s dugout to the ninth row, you would bisect our seats.  I couldn’t imagine a better location to watch the young Wade Boggs and Roger Clemmens, the aging but still powerful Jim Rice and Dwight Evans, the swooping curves thrown by Bruce Hurst and the antics of Oil Can Boyd.  From those seats, I watched Roger set the record for strikeouts in a game, I witnessed Eddie Murray’s 2000th hit, Mike Greenwell hitting for the cycle (a feat more rare than a no hitter), Marty Barrett pulling off the hidden ball trick and, in 1988, in one of the strangest games I’ve ever attended, we saw Bill Buckner, after his return to the team, hobble around the bases for an inside the park home run.  In the same 1988 game, Bob Boone, the 75 year old catcher for the Kansas City Royals stole third base as our Rich Gedman, probably unable to believe what he saw, threw the ball into left field.

As my vision faded, so did my attendance at Fenway Park.  I preferred listing to Joe Castiglioni on the radio in the comfort of my home or listen to the television guys call the play by play at my local watering hole.  I haven’t picked up a glove in years and hadn’t thought much about participating in the sport in a very long time.  I thrilled and cheered at the Red Sox championship and still listen to games over the Internet.

Recently, though, Stephen Guerra, a Blind Confidential reader sent me a few pointers to web sites and a pod cast devoted to beep baseball.  I had heard of blind people playing the game once before, when I saw an exhibit about it at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  Over the years, I’ve heard a lot about blind cricket but this was the first mention of baseball that I had heard in a long time.

Stephen, in his “Beep Baseball Guy” persona, runs the beep baseball Podcast web site which contains a number of very cool audio bits about beep baseball and links to other resources about the sport.  When I get a chance to look more closely, maybe I’ll find a bunch of guys in Florida so I can give this game a try.  It certainly sounds like fun and Stephen’s enthusiasm for the game is certainly contagious.

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Fear and Loathing at CSUN 2006: Gonzo Fiction

[Author’s Note:  Today’s article is dedicated to the memory of the late great Hunter S. Thompson who died at his own hand in 2005.  Whether you know him for his articles in Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, , The New Yorker or elsewhere, his many books, his outstandingly bizarre lectures or as the Doonesbury character “Uncle Duke” you probably enjoyed some of his weird and wonderful, purely American genius.  His writings invented the concept of gonzo journalism, which would later be called the “New Journalism” by more mainstream authors like Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe as well as others who, like Thompson, through objectivity to the wind, inserted themselves in their narrative and never let facts get in the way of a good story.  Any American who writes creatively today has, consciously or otherwise, been influenced by Dr. Gonzo and his Samoan attorney Laslow Toth.

I did my best to write in a style as close to Hunter’s as I could.  I don’t have his tremendous command of the language nor his ability to make the grotesque sound beautiful but I hope I succeeded in bringing our readers on a short literary adventure into the gonzo world that Hunter helped us all visit when we needed to.]

Fear and Loathing at CSUN 2006
By Gonz Blinko
Freelance Reporter for Blind Confidential

“Coming into Los Angelees, Carrying a couple of keys, Don’t look in my luggage please, Mister customs man,” I sang while walking up the jet way at L A X.

“Do they play Arlo Guthrie in your country?”  I asked the airport employee sent to help me up the jet way, while wondering why I needed a guide in a structure that has only one way in and one way out.

The five foot tall man struggling with my carry on bags grunted something in a foreign language and, remembering my location, I asked the question again in Spanish.  He sounded more confused and his second response contained enough words that I could tell he didn’t speak Spanish either.  I asked, “Where are you from?”  

He paused to catch his breath and responded with a couple of syllables that I couldn’t parse.  We exited the jet way and he handed me over to an airline employee.  I pulled a $20 bill from my pocket and stuffed into his hand as he patted me good bye.  “Thank you!”  He exclaimed in a heavily accented but exuberant English.  As the person from Delta started gathering my carry on bags, I could only think my jet way guide had probably sat in some rat infested refugee camp a few months ago and now, here he was, grasping the American Dream in the form of a twenty dollar bill handed to him by a blind journalist stuck on old folks songs from the hippy days.  “Where do you want to go?”  Asked the large man from Delta.

“My attorney has a gate pass, she will meet me here momentarily,” I said, “I called her from the plane.”

“Can she see you?” asked the Delta person.

“I’m blind, not invisible,” I retorted.

“Is she visually challenged too?”  Asked the airline employee as I grew increasingly impatient.

“The word is blind.  B L I N D. You freaking dolt!”  I couldn’t help myself, this moron had my arm in a vice grip as if I could possibly fall off of the floor.  Pulling rational thought back into the forefront of my mind, “No, she’s not blind, she can see me, she can see you and she can see herself if there is a mirror available.”

“Would you like a wheelchair?”  This guy just wouldn’t stop so I whacked him with my cane.

“Does it look like I have something wrong with my damned feet?”  I hollered.

“I’m only trying to be helpful, uh, uh, Mr. Blinko, uh, uh…”

“Then let me sit down and leave me alone.  I have important work to do.  Don’t you realize I’m a doctor?  A doctor of journalism and I’m in this god forsaken city to cover a very very important event.  I need to concentrate.  Get me a coffee.”

The man from Delta finally let me sit and, rather meekly, said, “We don’t have coffee up here.”

I didn’t give him any money but wished my refugee would come back so I could learn about whatever horrible dictatorship he had escaped from.  It seems that a lot of refugees from truly horrific places work in airports.  I pulled out my PAC Mate and started typing a new document about the use of refugees as slave labor in US airports.  I had no evidence that these people suffer the humiliation and bondage of slavery but it makes a better story and I’m more likely to find a buyer than with some heartwarming tale about a nice immigrant helping a blink.

As I waited for my attorney, she often ran late, my cell phone rang.  It played the tone that I assigned to that annoying Blind Confidential editor.  MSP screamed out his name from my PDA phone.  “Crap,” I thought and hit the call button, “Blinko.”

“Did you arrive safely,” the jerk asked.

“I’m talking to you,” I mumbled, wishing the idiot from Delta could go over to the Starbuck’s I could smell from my seat and get me a triple shot vente late.  I needed the caffeine to overcome the handful of valiums I took so I could sleep on the flight.

“Sounds like you’re still in the airport,” the editor stated inanely.

“An overstatement of the obvious on which you have such a terrific grasp.”

“Who’s paying the bills?”  Asked the irritated editor who is always certain he is the smartest guy in the room.

“Who’s writing the article?  Who flew out to the city of car exhaust and poisoned oceans?”  I asked in response as I felt a hand land heavily on my shoulder.  My attorney had arrived.  “Samhara just got here, I got to run, talk to you in a few days…”  I could still hear the rat turd of an editor yelling as I hit the button to hang up and put the phone back in its belt clip.

“What kind of car did you get us?” I asked my tall African attorney.

She replied, with her soft accent and British educated tone, “I couldn’t get a caddy, Eric MacDamery got the last one.”

“The Scottish golfer,” I asked.

“One in the same, he says he’s in town for the fight too.”

“So, what did we get?”

“I had to shop around a bit,” said Samhara, “I found us a Porsche 911 Turbo from some exotic rental place out in the valley.  That’s why I arrived late.”

“Will BC pay for such a thing?”

“As your attorney, I made certain that the expense portion of the contract would permit a few extravagances.”

“But they’re so cheap; they made me pay for my own PDA on that other story.”

“That’s what you get for negotiating without your lawyer.  Face it Gonz, you need a lot of legal advice and I’m the last attorney in the US willing to represent you.”

She always told the truth, brutal as it may be, I did find myself in a lot of legal troubles, and I’m always saying or doing the wrong thing without even knowing so.  “What about weapons, we’ll need lot’s of weapons?”  I asked, “This job has a high potential for danger, it has violence at its core, rooms filled with highly trained dogs and the usual conflicts that arise when a Cuban gets into the ring with an American.”

“I’ve got a Glock 9, a Ruger .22, your Mossberg M9, an AK and a few other goodies, all adapted for your needs.”  Samhara responded coolly.


“Enough to take out most armies.”

“Let’s get some coffee.”


Our Porsche screeched out of the airport parking lot and I spilled a bit of my second triple shot vente laté onto my chin, “Damn that’s hot.”  I mumbled.

Samhara quipped, “You didn’t ask for ice coffee,” as she barreled forward, taking speed bumps at 75 and turns far too quickly for my stomach’s taste.  She hit a button on the dashboard and some kind of reggae inspired hip hop blasted out claiming that someone should shoot the sheriff and that they planned hurting on some guy named Ice quite badly.  I think the song was titled, “I Hope You Got a Good Doctor ‘Cause I Got a Great Lawyer.”  I could identify.


We arrived at the LAX Marriott within seconds.  The airport is actually very close to the airport so we didn’t terrorize too many people with Samhara’s driving.  The valet, upon seeing the cache of weapons in our trunk stuttered a bit so I gave him a hundred dollar bill from the tip roll I keep in my pocket while traveling.  “Gracious!” he exclaimed, “My name es Ricardo, you want anything dis week, you aks for Ricardo.”

“Bueno,” I mumbled as I walked into the hotel and headed for the lobby Starbuck’s to seek old companions from previous CSUN and other nightmares.  I guess I’ve been coming here for long enough that the girl behind the counter, upon seeing my face, said, “Triple shot vente laté, right?”  The espresso machine whined as she steamed my milk and I handed her a twenty and said “keep the change.”  I figured in a convention filled with blinks that her tips would probably hit a low for the year and she has kids to support.

I wandered into a crowd of people idly chatting and acted like I’d been there all night.  I folded up my cane and stuck it into my pocket.  The big fight, the World Blind Boxing Association (WBBA) championship would be won the following day and everyone had an opinion.  I recognized the voice of old bookmaker friend, Harry the Hat and said, “Put two grand on Garbanzo for me.  What’s the over/under?”

“Pedestrian in four,” he replied.

“What can I get on Garbanzo in five or less?”

“Eight to one.”

“Put two grand on that for me two.”

A delightful petite blind chick then spoke up, “Any of you tired of the booze and gossip and want to venture into the sex and drugs should follow me up to the party in my suite.”

Samhara had joined me and said that she want to go to the party.  “I want to stay fresh, got to keep my eyes open for this fight article.”


After interviewing a few other sports fans, I tapped my way to the elevator and pushed the button for my floor.  Upon arrival, I had no idea which way to turn.  The LAX Marriot has its elevator bank arranged with three on each side facing each other.  The floors with rooms are arranged in a giant figure eight, I had no idea which way to turn.  So, I guessed and embarked on my annual walk through the corridors of an airport hotel.

I noticed the sweet smell of hashish smoke as I walked through a cloud outside the door of the party that the young and cute blind woman had invited us to.  I could overhear lots of happy sounding voices, blasting punk rock and an occasional farm animal bleat; I didn’t want to get involved.  I heard the voice of Mike Pedestrian yelling something about Velcro and lime Jell-O and knew for sure I didn’t want to go in there.

Upon reaching my suite, I noticed that Ricardo had brought everything up, hung up my clothes and arranged the weapons in order of caliber.  “Nice work,” I thought and made a note in my iPAQ to tip him again.

Thus situated safely in my room, I took my Glock, made sure its clip was full, and sat down to go over the notes for my assignment.  “A boxing match,” I thought.  “This will feel a lot different from most of my stories.”

On the plane I had read up on the fighters.  One Andres “The Giant” Garbanzo would duke it out with the heavily favored, Mike “The Streetwalker” Pedestrian.  The odds makers gave Andres, a political refugee who had escaped Castro alone, quite a feat for a blind person going it solo, little chance because of his age, higher than Pedestrian’s and his reach, a bit shorter than his opponents.  Pedestrian, who never escaped from Fidel but spent a lot of time in the Castro, did stand taller and had a longer reach but I didn’t think he had the killer extinct that Garbanzo brought with him on his inner tube ride across the Florida Straights.

The regulation 12 round championship bout would only accommodate for the blindness of the fighters by putting bells on their boxing shoes.  Otherwise, the fighters had to feel and hear their way around the ring.  “This could be quite a spectacle,” I thought.

The fight’s object, to determine which would rule supreme, PDF, (Proprietary Document Format) represented by Andres, an employee of Mud Hut Systems or ODF (Obfuscated Document Format) represented by Pedestrian.  Far more than the championship was on the line, the future of documents read by Massachusetts State employees could go either way.

I read a few more statistics about the fighters and their sponsor companies.  Mud Hut Systems seemed to have a strong lead so Garbanzo has history on his side, ODF, sponsored by Moon Macrosystems, had Jolting Joe Lazarro, a guy every blind boxer wants in his corner, working with Mike.  Don King, representing Seattle’s Macrohard Corporation, said he didn’t have a dog in this race and that he wants to see who might emerge as the winner.


I must have nodded off in my chair as the sun, one of the few things I could still see, glared in through the window as I felt around for my Ray Ban sunglasses.  I could smell coffee and then heard, “Ha Ha Ha,” as samhara’s deep laugh filled the room.

“Triple shot vente laté for the doctor,” she said as she handed me a piping hot paper cup.  “You’ve been sleeping for twelve hours and missed the new seeing eye bottlenose dolphin at the beach.”

I sipped my hot beverage and asked, “What else?”

“A few dozen quarter sized low vision people took over the lobby for a while,” she added nonchalantly.


“It seems that the AI^3 people never tested ShrinkText with more than two people in the room.  Their demo left a bunch of people shrunken and little nano-bits flying all over the place.  It definitely stole the show.”

“Anything else?”  I asked hesitantly.

“The BC people called about three dozen times…”

“Paranoid freaks,” I exclaimed and shot off a few rounds from my Glock into the ceiling.  The LAX Marriot knows to put me on the top floor because of this little habit of mine.

“I calmed them down,” said samhara as she handed me a second laté”  “As your attorney, I advise you to stop shooting and get dressed so we can go to the fight.”

“She has a point,” I thought as I stood up and walked to the bathroom.  “How did the party go?”  I asked as I started heating the water for my shower.

“Pretty good,” said my lawyer, “I brought home a lovely woman who sells bootleg screen readers in Iraq.  We had a great time.”

“How’s her business going with the invasion and all that?” I asked as I pulled items from my toiletry case.

“Excellent, she says war does great things for the blindness business.”

“You are a very sick lesbian, really, you are very sick.”

Samhara replied, “What other sort would accept you as a legal client you foul mouthed, loose cannon blink?”

I had to agree with her assessment and hopped in the shower.


After a hair raising race across town from the hotel to The Los Angeles Forum (or whatever corporate sponsor forum it’s called now), we tossed the keys to the valet, showed our press credentials to the large, imposing Mexican watching the VIP door and headed up to the press box to watch the fight.  A lard butt blabbering about some kind of electronic kayak project got in my way so I stuck him in the ribs with the .22.  “As your attorney,” Samhara started again, “I recommend you don’t pull the trigger.”  The fat boy got out of my way and we started toward the buffet.  

An overly drunk reporter for the Florida Blind Citizens Daily World puked onto the floor and a handful of guide dogs fought to lick it up.  “Jeez,” I blurted, barely holding down my breakfast.  “I thought that Moroccan jail you got me out of was pretty nasty but this crowd…”

Samhara slapped me, “Just don’t take out any guns.  Let’s go downstairs to the press table.  I bet Nicholson will be there and you can talk about your paranoid conspiracy plots with him and Sharpton.”

I agreed that this idea had many benefits over shooting up a room filled with assistive technology and blindness journalists and we headed down.  Samhara, as usual was correct, Jack and Al had already taken their spots in their ringside seats and I, coffee in hand sat beside them.  Al addressed me first, “Gonz, you can’t believe this punk, he really believes that Bill Clinton is from Araganola a planet in the sixth dimension when everyone knows he is a bot built by Ross Perot to keep America entertained while the corporate elites really run everything.”

“Jack,” I said, “I gotta go with Al on this one, Clinton’s definitely a bot.  Dole, on the other hand might be an alien.”

Our conversation continued like this until the place was filled.  Michael buffer, the legendary fight announcer, climbed into the ring and, speaking into the microphone suspended from the ceiling, yelled, “Now for our main event!”  The crowd cheered and then fell nearly silent.  “We have in the blue corner, coming in at 185 pounds at 5 feet six inches tall, from Havana, Cuba, with a record of 45 and oh Andres “The Giant” Garbanzo.  Garbanzo handed his prosthetic eyes to a beautiful girl at ringside and I whispered to Jack, “They don’t call him the Spanish fly for nothing.”  As Garbanzo danced about the ring.

Buffer returned to his microphone, “And in the red corner, coming in at five feet ten inches and weighing 175 and one half pounds, fighting out of San Francisco, California, Mike “The Streetwalker” Pedestrian!”  The California crowd went wild for their home state hero.

“They’ll be disappointed,” I said to Al.

“I’m sure,” said the right reverend, “it’s ludicrous to even think that a white boy can take out a guy as tough as Garbanzo.  If he does, I want to get out of LA quick as this might be worse than the Rodney King debacle.”

Buffer yelled, “Are you ready to rumble?”  The crowd went into near hysteria as the referee told the fighters some rules which we couldn’t even hear from ringside.  The fighters returned to their corners and we heard a loud Ding!

The fighters started toward each other, slowly at first and then faster.  Pedestrian grabbed on and the referee separated them.  Garbanzo led with two left jabs, Pedestrian took a step back, Andres pursued, and jab, jab, jab and a right cross to Mike’s jaw that caused blood to spurt from his mouth.  “How do you like that?”  Asked Nicholson as he started to dab at the blood on his tuxedo shirt.  “I always get the fluids on me.”

Pedestrian took a standing eight count and Garbanzo returned to the attack.  Jab, Jab, jab, Andres could hit The Streetwalker at will.  Finally, with a right uppercut, Pedestrian went down.  The referee counted to ten and it was all over.

“He might hang out in the Castro,” exclaimed an exuberant Garbanzo, “but I fought Fidel and came out on top!”

The stunned crowd shuffled out and Samhara and I headed for the valet to get our rental.  We screamed back to the hotel with the same rap CD playing, I gave Ricardo another hundred and we sat for coffee.  When our bags reached the front and Ricardo pulled the car around, we hopped in and headed back toward the airport.  “I think we’re early enough for the last flight out,” she said.

“Flight to where?”  I asked.

“Do you really care?”


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