Grannies Get Off!

I’m still very busy and my hands hurt from typing too much earlier in the week so today’s Blind Confidential will be another republishing of an article I got from Blind News.  Sunday is also the last day of snook season so I’ll be on the water a lot in the next 48 hours (weather permitting).  Although they have a legal season, I rarely take a snook home for dinner because, this far north, they are pressured and their habitat is threatened by million dollar condominiums with a lovely view of a mud flat.  I wonder if the realtors only show these places at high tide as on a full moon, very low tide, and these mud flats have a certain primordial aroma which one needs to learn to appreciate to avoid feeling disgusted.

Those very low tides present some of the most productive times to fish.  The large predator species that we outdoors types target cannot move very far and tend to bunch up in deep holes during low tides.  If you know where the holes lie, which is pretty important if you are walking across a mud flat at low tide so as to avoid falling in, you can toss your lure to the far edge of the hole, reel up your slack, “pop” your lure so it jumps like a real shrimp or acts like the phony rubber creature you have on the end of your line, let it fall into the hole only using your reel to keep the line tight, when you feel it hit bottom, twitch it a little so it looks alive, reel in a little, twitch and so on.  When you feel the tell tale strike of a game fish, reel hard to set the hook, let the fish run a bit and enjoy the fight.

So many people who come to Florida and claim to have an interest in fishing freak out at the mucky bottom you need to walk across and the smells at low tide and have no idea what they miss.  Typically, birds of prey do their fishing on low tide, pretty much for the same reasons many humans do; the fish have less water into which they can escape.  Thus, humans enjoy a much higher probability of seeing a bald eagle at work on a low tide.  Also, the filter feeding birds, including the beautiful pink spoonbill, come wading out at low tide.  Scientists say that the spoonbill gets its bright pink coloring from the billions of microscopic shrimp it sucks in from puddles on tidal flats.  Even the most optimistic environmentalists gave the spoonbill, still on the endangered list, little chance of surviving when they surveyed the population back in 1970.  Although people had stopped hunting them for their feathers (they were quite a fashionable accessory to a lady’s hat at one point) the DDT that ran off into their eateries killed the species slowly.  Today, while they haven’t fully recovered, one can enjoy their company fairly frequently.  For us blinks, they make distinct sounds and our sighted friends enjoy their pretty colors.

As you could probably tell from the headline, our favorite grannies were acquitted.  The following is the story from the New York Times about the event:

‘Grannies’ Charged in Peace Protest Are Acquitted


They came, they hobbled, and they conquered.

Eighteen “grannies” who were swept up by New York City police, handcuffed and jailed for four and a half hours were acquitted today of charges that they blocked the entrance to the military recruitment center in Times Square when they tried to enlist.

After six days of a non-jury trial, the grannies – who said they wanted to offer their lives for those of younger soldiers in Iraq – and dozens of supporters filled a cramped courtroom today in Manhattan Criminal Court to hear whether they would be found guilty of two counts of disorderly conduct for refusing to move, which could have put them in jail for 15 days.

The 18 women – gray haired, some carrying canes, one legally blind, one with a walker – listened gravely and in obvious suspense as Judge Neil Ross delivered a carefully worded 15-minute speech in which he said that his verdict was not a referendum on the Police Department, the anti-war message of the grannies, or, indeed, their very grandmotherhood.

But, he said, there was credible evidence that the grandmothers had left room for people to enter the recruitment center, had they wanted to, and that therefore, they had been wrongly arrested. He then pronounced them not guilty, concluding: “The defendants are discharged.”

The women, sitting in the jury box at the invitation of the judge, to make it easier for them to see and hear, let out a collective “Oh!” and burst into applause, rushing forward, as quickly as elderly women could rush, to hug and kiss their lawyers, Norman Siegel, the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Earl Ward.

“Listen to your granny, she knows best!” crowed Joan Wile, a retired cabaret singer and jingle writer who was one of the defendants.

Outside the courthouse minutes later, the women burst into their unofficial anthem, “God Help America,” composed by Kay Sather, a member of a sister group, the Raging Grannies of Tucson, Ariz., which goes, “God help America, We need you bad. Cause our leaders, are cheaters, and they’re making the world really mad.”

The trial was extraordinary, if only because it gave 18 impassioned women – some of whom dated their political activism to the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg – a chance to testify at some length about their anti-war sentiments and their commitment to free speech and dissent in a courtroom that attracted reporters from as far away as France and Germany.

Despite the judge’s protestations to the contrary, the verdict was a rare victory for protesters at a time when they have faced uphill battles in other forums. Hundreds of people who were arrested and detained for demonstrating at the 2004 Republican Convention are still embroiled in federal litigation charging the police with false arrest and violating their civil liberties. And the police continue to arrest bicycle riders on charges of disorderly conduct when they participate in monthly group rides called Critical Mass.

“I was sure we were sunk,” said Lillian Rydell, an 86-year-old defendant. “I love everybody!”

Essentially, Judge Ross had found himself with grandmotherhood on trial for seven days in his courtroom.

The defendants were on trial for, as Judge Ross put it in a casual aside, “protesting,” and more specifically, protesting the war in Iraq, by sitting outside the Times Square military recruiting center last October.

But the defense tried to portray the trial as a referendum on grandmotherhood itself, and milked that all-American concept to the hilt, almost as deftly as the defense in “Miracle on 34th Street,” the 1947 feel-good chestnut, milked the American belief in Santa Claus.

The prosecution’s case consisted of testimony from police officers about how the women blocked the door of the recruiting center, impeding entry for anyone who wanted to sign up, although the evidence suggested that the only people who wanted to enlist on the afternoon of Oct. 17, 2005, were the women themselves, who said they wanted to give their lives for those of younger soldiers. But they were not allowed in.

The defense consisted of putting the 18 women on the witness stand, one after the other, to explain just what they thought they were doing that day in Times Square. Their lawyers, Earl Ward and Norman Siegel, former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, carefully asked a series of questions intended to elicit what Mr. Ward called the credentials of each defendant.

Mainly, these credentials consisted of the women’s ages and the number of children and grandchildren they have. Only one, Vinie Burrows Harrison, an actress, took the Fifth on the question of her age.

Carol Husten’s reply was, “Seventy-four. Two kids.”

Judy Lear’s was 62, with “three adult children and two granddaughters.”

Diane Dreyfus answered “Fifty-nine and three-quarters,” with “one stepchild, no grandchildren.”

And so forth, up to Marie Runyon, who is 91, with one daughter, two grandchildren.

But even without the cold hard numbers, the granny-ness of the defendants was hard to miss. They were not resort grannies, with dyed hair and manicures. For the most part, they had let their hair go gracefully, defiantly gray. Some carried canes; others used walkers. Ms. Runyon, whom the judge allowed to sit next to the witness box so she could hear, wielded the white cane of the blind.

They were also women of accomplishment. Ms. Husten testified that she had a master’s degree in guidance, plus 60 credits, from Hofstra, and had worked as a guidance counselor “for truant and dropout children” at James Madison High School in Brooklyn.

“I was very, very rarely a truant, Ms. Husten,” Judge Ross interjected. Then he added sheepishly, his face reddening: “For the record, I was not a student at James Madison High School.”

Ms. Rydell testified that she graduated from high school in 1936, and that instead of college, “went to the school of hard knocks,” to which Judge Ross observed: “I see that your education in that school is ongoing?”

Judge Ross frequently looked mortified, squirming in his seat as if wondering how in the world he, of all judges, had the bad luck to be chosen to rule on the grannies’ fate.

Like the unfortunate Judge Harper in “Miracle on 34th Street,” Judge Ross clearly recognized that ruling against grandmothers – like ruling against Kris Kringle – could be political suicide, or at the very least make him a villain to grandchildren everywhere.

The prosecution was represented by two fresh-faced assistant district attorneys, Amy Miller and Artie McConnell, who, unlike the grannies, declined to give their ages. They have been taking cues from a supervisor in the front row.

To the prosecution, this was a case of disorderly conduct. To the defendants, it was a test of the constitutional right to free speech, and the morality of war. One of them, Ms. Wile, testified on Wednesday that her group had even had a demonstration permit, although she had not noticed, until Mr. McConnell pointed it out, that the permit was for Duffy Square, two blocks north.

In the end, it came down to more prosaic questions, like whether the grannies had been inches or feet from the recruitment center door.

Isn’t it true they were blocking traffic? Ms. Miller asked, cross-examining Ms. Lear. Ms. Lear replied that if someone had wanted to go through, she would have moved over. “I’m a very polite person,” she said.

“I’m sure you are,” Ms. Miller agreed.

Wasn’t their real objective to get publicity by being arrested? “Did you personally believe you were going to be allowed to enlist?” Mr. McConnell asked Ms. Dreyfus.

“I wasn’t sure,” she replied. “I do have a skill set.” She is a facilities manager and “could be used to deploy equipment,” she said.

But, the prosecutor insisted, was she prepared to go to war?

“Yes,” Ms. Dreyfus replied. “I was totally prepared. I had just recently gotten divorced. I was ready.”

The grannies burst out laughing, and a red blush spread, once more, over Judge Ross’s face.

“The defense rests,” Mr. Siegel said Wednesday after the last defendant testified, and the grannies seemed to collectively sigh.

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Tourist Season Ends Monday

I have a hectic week with a handful of deadlines coming due, a new project kicking off and, finally, next Monday is the official end of tourist season and I haven’t bagged my limit yet.  So, to make up for my poor progress during this season, I think I will pack my 12 gauge and Glock 9 and head over to Orlando with a spotter to take a few shots at whackos wearing floppy eared, Goofy hats and stupid smiles on their sunburned faces.  I might go for a few with those dopey mouse ears or duck bills too.

Orlando, Florida, owned by the mouse and corrupt politicians always provides one with plenty of targets during tourist season.  These people come to our state, drive gas guzzling SUV type trucks that both pollute and destroy the view, they use up our fresh water, and the only people who profit from their activities are the mouse and his stockholders.  Sure, the resorts employ a lot of people but mostly at crappy wages and dead end jobs.  I would venture a bet that most people employed due to the mouse’s attraction can qualify for the earned income tax credit.

The corrupt politicians who made room in Central Florida for the giant mouse hole didn’t tell America that the jobs it would create pay minimum wage and provide little or no health benefits.  Most employees involved with the resort itself and the surrounding hotels, restaurants and junk stores are never seen by the tourists.  These aren’t the pretty, smiling white people who take tickets or entertain on Main Street USA but, rather, the dark skinned people who haunt the catacombs beneath the theme parks, collecting trash from below or, on occasion, popping out among the tourists to wipe up some snot nosed brat’s puke caused by over stimulation on Space Mountain.  The people lucky enough to have the crappy jobs at the resort itself do much better than the poor people who need to work in the cheap motels that line the highways approaching it as these people are probably not documented and are, therefore subject to all kinds of abuses.

Anyway, if you are a Floridian, remember, the season ends on Monday so go out and get your limit.

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Grannies in Court

I have an especially busy schedule for the rest of this week and my RSI problems make my hands and shoulder ache a bit so I will avoid typing too much to let the body rest and so I can complete other items on my task list.  Recently, I published three items about people with vision impairments taking matters into their own hands and standing for their beliefs.

In Blind News this morning, I received an article from the New York Daily News titled, “Grannies are grand on stand” that describes some of the highlights from the item I posted called, “Grannies With Guts.”

The short article quotes Marie Runyon, the 91 year old granny who walks with two canes and has a vision impairment, who walked all the way from Harlem to Times Square to participate in this peace rally.  With dedication like that, she may have become my favorite elder and I’ve never actually met her.

The article follows:

New York Daily News
Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Grannies are grand on stand


They may have trouble seeing, hearing and walking, but three grandmothers on trial for an anti-war protest had no problem standing their ground in a Manhattan courtroom yesterday.

The members of the so-called Granny Peace Brigade – who have more than 250 years of life experience among them – testified in their own defense and against the war in Iraq.

Molly Klopot, 87, of Brooklyn had a pretty good excuse for not being able to estimate her distance from the door of a Times Square military recruiting center she and the others are charged with blocking.

“I’m legally blind, so I’m not going to be too good at that,” said Klopot, a retired social worker, mother of two and grandmother of four.

Marie Runyon, 91, testified she tried to get inside the locked recruiting center to enlist, but said she would not have physically blocked any aspiring soldiers.

“I wouldn’t trip anyone or punch anyone,” she said. “I banged on the door for a while and carried on. I’ve been known to do things like that.”

Actress Vinie Burrows Harrison, 77, who has three great-grandchildren, admitted she heard the police order to disperse and ignored it.

“I felt very strongly that my being there was saying something about how deeply I felt that our invasion and occupation of Iraq was wrong,” Harrison said.


I will try to follow up on this and the other stories of blind activists as I receive information about them.

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The 1st Annual BC T2 Hacker Slam

The concept of technology transfer, one of the recurring themes in Blind Confidential articles about electronics, continues to excite me and remain at the core of many of the ideas that I come up with for products that we blinks can use in the future.  Recently, I visited our local Circuit City and Best Buy and did a bunch of Internet searches regarding various consumer electronics products that might have some future value for people with vision impairments.

A lot of truly excellent pan-disability work on technology transfer happens at U. Buffalo, home of the T2 RERC.  One should check their web site for many of the best ideas to emerge from the theory that using mainstream products for people with disabilities will both cut costs and increase the speed at which technology advances.  Fundamentally, this is the theoretical boundary between using a screen reader versus proprietary, blind guy ghetto software.

Recently, in addition to buying some cool toys like a LinkSys Wireless G Music Bridge to attach to my stereo, a pair of $70 Blue Tooth GPS receivers for some of the PPO projects currently going on and a really cool Logitech “Force Feedback,” flight simulator joystick, I have been dabbling with writing some actual prototype programs using the free “Express” series of compilers from MS and realizing that making accessible tools using off-the-shelf consumer electronics products is actually a lot easier than I had previously thought.

My first experiment in this area included finding and downloading the Visual C# Express and the Visual C++ Express systems from the Microsoft web site.  I had gone to the MS web site in hopes that they might have a demo but, much better, their “programming for fun” section provides lightweight but very usable versions of their development environment and compilers.  Including the not insignificant amount of time it took to download the Express editions of C#, C/C++, Windows 32 SDK, MSDN and Direct X, I was able to put together a development system that included all of these parts and, within a couple of hours, write a C# program that could access Direct Sound and made a little simulation of a ball bouncing around a cube with the auditory point of reference at the center of the big box.  Not to boast but I had never looked at the C# programming language before that afternoon so learning the language (not hard) and a bit about Direct Sound (very well documented) well enough to make a little program went far more smoothly than I could have guessed.

Since then, I’ve accessed the joystick and taken input from it as well as sent tactile feedback to it.  I’ve received GPS information through Blue Tooth and was able to compare the results and calculate things like the direction (North, South, etc.) between two points or average out a trend of a bunch of points into a straight line.  The GPS stuff is essential to PPO but, whether I’m just screwing around with an API or doing something of moderate practicality, I find all of this to be pretty darn cool.

I think the biggest boundary between many inaccessible items and their convenient use by people with vision impairments might just be a general lack of creativity and an overall assumption that we cannot do something because we’ve never been able to do it and we probably never will be able to do it.  In the case of my LinkSys Music Bridge, my sighted wife helped me through an installation routine where JAWS only says, “graphic,” and we attached it to our stereo.  Then, I fired up the controller application and found it was totally inaccessible.  This shouldn’t be too hard.  The desktop application only lets you select which Wireless Music Bridge you want to address (how many of these items does LinkSys expect to sell per household?) and whether it should be “connected” or to use the PC speaker for output.  After “connecting” the device, one then uses Windows Media Player, Real Audio, WinAmp or whatever media player you favor and, instead of coming from your PC speakers or headphones, the audio comes out of your stereo.  I think this item is very cool as it gives me access to almost every radio station on Earth and an enormous amount of audio content played through my Bose stereo rather than my laptop squeakers.

To make the desktop application accessible, I sat with my wife, asked her to place the mouse pointer on the control of interest, got its X, Y coordinates and wrote very, very simple JAWS scripts that would click in the appropriate spots.  I have keystrokes for connecting, disconnecting, raising or lowering the volume and shifting the balance.  All of the scripts took a combined fifteen minutes to write (they are all virtually identical except for the coordinates, their name and keystroke.  Thus, with a little help from a sightie, I could make an otherwise unusable piece of hardware entirely accessible in a single sitting.

The thing that makes this device especially useful is that the LinkSys Wireless G Music Bridge has no user interface on the hardware itself.  It does, I am told, have three LEDs that inform a sighted user whether it is powered up, whether it has an Ethernet connection or whether it is attached to a wireless network.  In our house, the power and wireless lights are always on, shining but ignored.  Most other products in this category require some fiddling about with a touch screen or remote control that does something with a front panel user interface which is, of course, completely inaccessible.

With the LinkSys Music Bridge and my handful of JAWS scripts (write to me if you’d like a copy) I can, with total independence, play almost any digital audio accessible to my home network through my stereo.  This is pretty damn cool if you ask me.

The other projects I’ve been doing are less practical in the short term.  Sitting in a cube and listening to a ball bounce around you demonstrates that I can make API calls and do a little arithmetic but has little practical value to anyone but me who will use the learning experience in other more useful tasks in the future.  Taking input and sending feedback to a joystick is equally simple and, unless applied to an actual task, is pretty useless.

I believe I am pretty creative for a hacker/engineer/management type so, when I hear of a mainstream technology, I put on my blink patrol hat and try to figure out how it can be applied in a manner useful for people with vision impairments.  I do not, however, have the capability of thinking up every possible idea.  Nor do the ideas I have always please others.  I feel strongly, though, that the enormous supply of electronics products, appliances, software, hardware and the panoply of SDK and APIs available for use by Windows hackers, not to mention the ability to configure JAWS extensively, opens up a vast number of possibilities for creative use by people in our community.

So, the DIY in me pours out this morning.  I consider anything under $100 “cheap” when it comes to products that a blink can use for some positive purpose.  I also believe that “free” (as in “without cost” rather than “as in freedom”) makes the choice of the Microsoft Express line of development tools a favorite for creative hacking on the Windows platform.  Finally, most of the SDK and API software from third parties provide demos that you can use until you distribute anything you make at which time you need to pay royalties, so making prototypes has only a minimal cost burden.

I can’t speak to Window-Eyes or screen readers other than JAWS where it comes to making configurations to make the hopelessly inaccessible somewhat to entirely useful, but, JAWS users have a ton of flexibility to create a custom world that provides access to all kinds of devices, software, hardware, etc. available to our community.  Mobile Speak Pocket also has the Lua language at its core and can also be highly customized to make applications and devices more accessible on mainstream PDA units.

I, therefore, toss down the accessibility gauntlet and challenge the hackers among us to come up with the coolest application of a mainstream device (appliance, consumer electronic, toy, video game controller or other product not traditionally considered accessible), write a Microsoft Windows or Windows Mobile program (I use the term “program” very loosely and include JAWS and MSP scripts in the category) or, for those who are technically savvy but aren’t actual hackers, write up a practical proposal that someone else can follow to make a program that solves this same problem.

In the coming week, I will think up prizes for a few different categories.  Maybe, best proposal, best compiled program and best script or configuration set, will do it.  I’ll try to come up with worthwhile prizes (donations will be graciously accepted by any kind souls out there who want to participate in this little contest) and I’ll try to come up with a team of judges who agree that the technology transfer idea is basically a good one but who will also bring perspectives that differ from my own.  Once we post a deadline, the first Blind Confidential Technology Transfer Slam will commence.

I’ll develop and post a set of rules fairly soon.  People interested in becoming judges should send me an email.  Anyone interested in entering can start hacking today as I don’t think the rules will govern their programming activities too tightly but should also email their idea to me so we can use a time/date stamp to judge a tie if an excellent idea comes from two separate entrants and results in software of a very similar quality.

Any participants should be aware of the following (incomplete) rules of the contest:

  1. The purpose of this contest is to evaluate a creative use of an item that is not designed for use by blind people nor has an existing analogue in the AT world today.  Thus, OCR, bar code, GPS and other programs that have already come to market are not acceptable unless used in a more complex and new manner.

  1. All entries should work with a device that costs less than $200.  

  1. No current employees of any blindness related AT companies can participate without a note from the CEO of the company for whom they work.  We don’t want anyone getting themselves in trouble with their boss nor do we want to find BC under legal attack from a company claiming ownership of a technology entered in this contest.

  1. Regarding rule 3: all entries are the responsibility of the person who enters them and, in the event that someone else claims ownership, it is up to the contest entrant to fight the power.

  1. The $200 limit on the appliance to be put to use for a person with a vision impairment does not include the cost of a PC or PDA or any “standard” peripheral.  Bar code scanners and thermometers are examples of non-standard peripherals.  A PDA camera or WiFi on a PC are examples of standard peripherals.

I’m sure there will be a few other rules and we’ll let the panel of judges serve as the rules committee.  Bribing the judges, especially me, is highly encouraged.

So, be creative.  Write a program or describe one that can be practically written and enjoy the slam.

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Gifts of Blindness

Throughout the years since losing my vision, I have gathered a number of advantages that that having a vision impairment provides.  Today, I will share some of them with you:

  1. When I first moved to Florida, I had a neighbor from the UK named Eleanor.  She drank cheap wine to excess but, otherwise, she spoke with great intellect, wit and, even when thoroughly intoxicated, she maintained a level of dignity (until, of course, she passed out).  One day, Eleanor and I walked across the street from our apartment complex to the local Win Dixie grocery store.  In her very British manner, she said, “Day-glo running shorts, lime green halter top, three hundred fifty pounds, you Americans have no shame.”

While her description made me cringe, I did realize the benefit of not seeing this myself and, perhaps, living with the psychological scars forever.

So, advantage one:  Blind people do not need to see the really ugly people in the world.  This comes in handy more often than one would think as, especially at beaches that fill up with tourists raised on junk food; one never needs to see anyone named Max who, although massively overweight, chooses to wear a Speedo with his belly hanging over it and about a dozen gold chains to adorn his extraordinarily hairy chest.  If Max has a date, undoubtedly, the first thought that crosses one’s mind is, “Money can buy anything…”

  1. Blind people never need to insult their significant others by answering those difficult questions like, “How do I look in this outfit?”  By choice, everyone in my world (unless described by a sightie who just insists on ruining my picture of the world) is good looking.  All of the women are pretty and the men are all looking sharp.

  1. Blind people have far greater opportunities to grope and fondle people whom they find attractive.  We have a built in excuse for bumping into people, accidentally placing our hands on parts of another’s body that our society insists we avoid and, when we say, with some false shock in our voices, “I’m sorry…  I didn’t mean too…” the typical response tends to tell us not to apologize and, when we’re especially lucky, we get a laugh and encouragement to continue groping.  

Sighted people, especially men, very rarely avoid being slapped for such actions. In this case, I think such behavior is actually part of leveling the playing field. Sighted people, men and women, gay and straight, married or single, look and sometimes even leer and drool at others whom they find attractive.  I think, therefore, it is our right as blinks to receive an accessible, tactile view of those whom our sighted friends might leer at.  I also think that “adult entertainment centers,” should be tested for accessibility to ensure their blind patrons are receiving the full Braille version of the content their sighted counterparts are getting.  Nudie bars are, after all, places of public accommodation.

  1. Following the concept in item two, blind people never need to say that a bride, baby, child or puppy looks as truly hideous as anyone but their mother or owner whose opinion, colored by unconditional love, cannot perceive what the rest of the world thinks.

I once attended a wedding in Westchester County between the daughter of some very rich guy and the friend of the woman who brought me as her date.  We of course, sat in the groom’s side of the room.  

The invitations for this wedding, sent out by the bride’s family, engraved clear Lucite plaques with a silk rose attached, the most extravagant party invitation I can imagine, was received by what seemed like a thousand people.

The menu, which came along with the invitation, in case any of the guests, may have dietary restrictions, started with fresh strawberries in Dom.  The meal grew more elaborate from there.  I couldn’t refuse this date as I really wanted to witness an event of such overt decadence.

After the ceremony, outdoors and brief, performed by a local Rabbi, we went under the tent to our assigned seats.  The people seated with us had also come from the groom’s side of the pair and none had previously met the bride.  The gentleman, maybe named Max, seated beside me said, through a very Jewish/New York accent, “No wonder he’s spending so much, he had to buy the bride’s gown at a camping supply store.  Damn, that girl could get a job working at the carnival.”

I could say that I thought the bride was beautiful and didn’t have to lie.

  1. Sometimes, a person, out of unnecessary charity, will do something nice for a blind person that also benefits the people around him.  Last night, for instance, my wife and I went to hear Chick Corea at a local theater.  The usher, noticing I carried a white cane and looking up at the long staircase to the seats in the back we had that our tickets said belonged to us, decided, instead, to bring us into the seats held for guests, right down in front.  I could have enjoyed the music from any part of the room but Susan got to enjoy a great view too, just because of the bizarre belief that some sighted people have that blindness effects one’s feet as well as our eyes.

  1. A friend of mine described an evening when he had drunk a lot of beer at an Atlanta nightclub.  As will happen to anyone who has consumed a large volume of a fluid, he had to pee really bad.  When he entered the men’s room, a two seater, and discovered that both the stall and urinal had patrons already, he realized he couldn’t wait any longer and started to pee in the sink.  As the other two guys started to emerge, one started to say something but was silenced by his buddy with, “It’s ok, he’s blind.”

Hence, we can do things that others cannot because they don’t understand us at all.  It’s kind of like having the “Get Out of Jail Free” card when playing Monopoly.

  1. Blind people get lots of cool stuff for free.  If you go to your local public library and compare its catalogue to that of NLS, RFBD or other audio books for the blind organizations, one, unless they live in the Boston area or use the main branch of the New York Public Library, will find that our selection is much larger and, unlike our sighted friends, the tapes will be delivered right to our front door and we can mail them back for free.  To one who loves literature, this service seems incredible and, often, especially here in Florida, I find that my library access is often the envy of my friends.

8.  I don’t know if this practice only happens at the Empire State Building but the last time I entered the great edifice, my friend Steve and I were there as purely tourists.  The employee n charge of running the place wouldn’t let us pay for tickets, brought us straight to the front of the line and sent us to the top.  I couldn’t see the view but Steve got a free ride and had no complaints.  Actually, this happened to me at the United Nations too.  Maybe it’s a New York thing.

  1. One perk I appreciate greatly is that often, just because I am blind, airport personnel let me wait in the first class lounge where I can enjoy free beverages, snacks and Wi Fi and, often, if there is an available seat, bump me up to the first class section on the flight.  This is really nice if I am flying to India or Singapore or some other really distant part of the planet.  They also encourage me to board before everyone else so I can get extra pillows and blankets, if you have a boney white ass like mine and you will be in the air for many hours, the extra padding saves one from days of feeling numb from the buttocks down.  The extra blankets are nice as I always find I feel cold while flying and, for no reason apparent to me, airline blankets seem to have been designed for dwarfs.

  1. Although I do not drink nor use illicit drugs anymore, no one ever asks me to be the designated driver.  In fact, no one ever asks any blink to stay sober so his friends can party down while they sit forlorn, drinking diet cokes and listen to his friends get increasingly stupid as the night goes on.  I can only imagine that “designated drivers” get bored when the old argument about natural versus artificial turf and its relative effects on the game of baseball comes up for the millionth time.  I guess, though, that the designated driver is far less likely to end up with his head shaved or with a tattoo the following day but one can only assume that avoiding such hazards cannot possibly make up for the boredom of sitting with one’s intoxicated friends.

So, this is the top ten list I came up with this morning.  Please send me your favorite gifts of blindness so we can assemble a comprehensive list.

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The End of the World: Right, Center and Left

As always, I have spent some of my leisure time recently in the company of audio books.  My last two selections from discuss politics and provide very gloomy visions for the future.  One, from the centrist Kevin Phillips, “American Theocracy” describes how the United states has entered its period of decline because of the peek oil theory, the overwhelming influence of evangelical, fundamentalist and Pentecostal religions on the White House and that the nation, its citizens and businesses carry so much debt that the economy can no longer handle the burden.  The second book, “Failed States,” by Noam Chomsky, a leftist, one of my all-time heroes and, according to two recent international surveys, the world’s leading intellectual, describes, using mostly government documents as source material, how the US due to its arrogant foreign policy and economical hegemony has lost the following it once had outside our borders and, like many empires before, will soon crumble.

From the religious right, we have the “Left Behind” series which have been described by no less than the influential Reverend Jerry Falwell himself as, “The most important books published since the Bible.”  These novels, very popular among the Pentecostal, evangelical and fundamentalist community have sold more than 65 million copies in the US alone.  Their author takes the relatively difficult and cryptic reading of the Bible out of its ancient and arcane language, moves the prophecies (as he interprets them) to our current era and, in a manner watered down so Wal-Mart shoppers can understand him, describes Armageddon and the Rapture set in the 21st century United States.  I haven’t read any of these novels, not due to lack of interest but because the handful of passages I have seen didn’t approach the literary standard I require as a minimum.

So, are there any optimists left?  While I will sometimes use Blind Confidential as a forum to describe problems we blinks endure, I also suggest things like rallies, leadership and organization and, hopefully, don’t project too much of a dark future.  I understand that the people who believe in the rapture concept actually see the End Times as a positive but, as the prophecy suggests, no one can know if they appear in God’s book and will, therefore, rise into heaven to join Jesus as the war between good and evil takes its toll on those left behind.  

Garrison Keeler, a practicing Lutheran, once ponder the question, “What if the rapture comes and God only lifts up the Unitarians?”  He answers his own question, “Well, there will be piles of organic clothing, Birkenstock sandals, coffee pots and Volvos and a lot of very angry Christians left behind.”

At least the apocalyptical descriptions professed by the fundamentalist, evangelical and Pentecostal faithful affords a possibility of escape and also tells us that the war between good and evil will end in a decade after which Jesus will return to Earth to rule the world in peace and happiness for the next millennium.  I don’t adhere to any of these religions but I do have many friends who do and respect the commitment they have for their belief system, faith and spirituality.

Kevin Phillips, if you don’t know of him, started his career as a political advisor to Richard Nixon.  Phillips invented the Republican southern strategy by correctly recognizing that the secular humanist liberals, in the fifties and sixties, had completely underestimated the average Americans’ commitment to their religion.  In the 1968 election, he could use George Wallace as the foil for the hard-line, racist, segregationists throughout the south and by appealing to the more traditional values of the church going faithful and traditionally Democratic preachers who felt the Civil War had yet to end, that Nixon could wrench a few southern states and win the election against the very liberal, northern liberal Hubert Humphrey.

In “American Theocracy,” a seventeen hour talking book that, due to Phillip’s excellent scholarship and citation of references, is choppy and goes beyond “dry” into downright “arid,” he seems to apologize for his version of “Prometheus Unbound” without going so far as accepting blame for the economic and strategic mess he feels that our nation is in.  Phillips states the thesis that the downfall of the American “empire” will result from the same kinds of events that brought down the British just after World War I and the Dutch a century or so earlier.  He assembles the three factors, citing many events from the historical record, as: the loss of a dominance over the primary source of energy, the financial transition from building and selling actual goods and a philosophic drifting from scientific, fact based, empirical, enlightened thought to one based in religion.

The Dutch dominated the trade in whale oil, and the use of hydro and wind power for energy.  Whale oil cost far more per gram than petroleum has ever been and when coal became the fuel of choice and factories run by air and water power could no longer compete with the more efficient fossil fuel, a major portion of their economy collapsed.  Simultaneously, the Dutch economic system moved from one based upon trade and manufacturing to one centered in finance, they became the bankers to the world as the empire crumbled and the majority of their nation fell into a long period of poverty.  Finally, as their empire crumbled, the Dutch turned toward their version of nationalist Protestantism which ensured them of their superiority and, therefore, permanent dominance of the world’s economy.

Then, with the advent of coal burning machines and their ample supply of coal mines, the British, bent on rising to primacy in the global economy and unhappy with their dependency on foreign sources for many of the goods they enjoyed, started the first fossil fuel based economy, built countless factories, kicked off the industrial revolution, dominated the oceans and global trade and rose to the position of most powerful empire in the world.  The Brits, according to Phillips, rode this success for quite a long time but, as they grew fat and happy, they lost their manufacturing sector to the hard working, immigrant filled United States who, slowly but surely, had taken the lead and, by 1900, housed the worlds largest economy.  Meanwhile, the British financial services industry grew in size and wealth beyond its manufacturing sector and London became the paper shuffling capital of the world.  Finally, like their Dutch cousins, the English moved to an increasingly nationalist form of Christianity and, from the pulpits of the Church of England, congregations throughout their land learned that God would save the king and that there would always be an England.

With this religious fueled assumption that the hegemony of the British Empire could not be challenged, “”Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, for God is on our side,” became a popular hymn as the young soldiers marched into the greatest destruction the world would have witnessed in its previous history.

When WWI came to a virtual stalemate and God’s chosen British military could do no more than kill, be killed and never move in either direction, they called upon their cousins from across the pond and the now oil fueled, manufacturing based United States came to the rescue.

Thus, Phillips shows us two very distinct examples from history and then describes the current state of our nation.  He demonstrates that, following Dr. Humphrey’s theory of “peak oil” that the US based oil supply peaked in the 1970s and production has dropped ever since.  He shows , citing oil company reports that the untapped oil in US held territory is actually very small and will be very expensive to extract.  Finally, he cites geologists from oil companies and academia as saying that the Saudi oil fields are depleting rapidly and that Iraq probably sits atop the largest untapped oil supply remaining on Earth.  Coincidence, Phillips thinks not.

Phillips then brings us to the language used by leaders of the religious right in the US.  Saddam Hussein, a bad guy in everybody’s book, has appeared in widely distributed Christian publications as the antichrist and, in some, if he isn’t the actual antichrist, he’s on his payroll.  They continue with Biblical references to ancient Babylon and Saddam’s intention of building a resort for himself and his inner circle on the spot of the ancient city.  Finally, he cites references to the constant war between Israel and its neighbors as they appear in fundamentalist literature as being the kick off to Armageddon.

Finally, Phillips shows us that the year 2004, for the first time in American history, the financial services industry had become the largest in America, passing both manufacturing and technology.  He also demonstrates that in 2005, the financial sector’s lead grew faster than ever before and now outpaces all others in both size and growth as percentage of GDP.  His last real stab at American civilization as we know it comes in the form of a little publicized fact that appeared in a report issued by Alan Greenspan and the Fed, in 2005, also for the first time in our nation’s history, our citizens spent more than we saved.  

Phillips, through a very well researched and detailed text, doesn’t see much of a light at the end of the tunnel that doesn’t require radical action and the collapse of the American global hegemony.  Near the conclusion, Phillips reminds us of the old Harry Truman quote, “The only new things are the history we haven’t learned.”  

Having lived through the malaise of the seventies and emerged pretty well, I have difficulty accepting that all is doom and gloom.  

Then, of course, I went ahead and read Chomsky’s latest, “Failed States.”  Phillips, having come out of that whacko liberal Richard Nixon’s shadow, tends toward the center much more than the leftist linguist from MIT.  People who love Chomsky, People who hate Chomsky and the few that fall between the two poles, agree that his scholarship and intellect are beyond question.  For those who don’t know of Noam Chomsky, he first entered the eye of the academic world when, as a graduate student, he published the short but profoundly influential, “Semantic Transformations.”  This little book changed the life of the intellectual community and, by proxy, almost everyone else nearly overnight.  Virtually everything humans understood about linguistics and how language and our brains work went away.  Chomsky had handed us the keys to the future.  When he is not working as the world’s most influential linguist at MIT, he writes and speaks on topics of social criticism and his latest book falls into this category.  [Author’s Note:  Although I respect Chomsky and place him on the short list of my intellectual heroes, I cannot read any of his books on linguistics published after the ground breaking first entry in the fifties.  I’m sure that linguists and other scholars who work in closely related fields can understand them but I simply do not have the education in that field and cannot, therefore, grasp those works.]

In an interview on Amy Goodman’s very left wing “Democracy Now!” Radio program, Chomsky said that “failed Nations” was one of the simplest writing endeavors he ever sought to do.  He explained that virtually all of his citations came from Bush Administration, US Federal Government documents.  Some of the others came from official publications of the British government during the Blair regime and recent official publications released by the Israeli government.  

While also somewhat dry and choppy (due to all of its citations) “Failed States,” seems like a romp in the park after reading Phillips’ long and arduously detailed text.  Chomsky, who makes no secret of his leftist leanings, comes to conclusions nearly identical to those of Kevin Phillips.

To me, one who has spent his life following politics the same way others follow sports, one who has read most of the important texts on political economy of historical significance ranging from Marx to Smith and Weber to Keynes to Friedman, one who has read many important works of religious significance from the Bible to the Gita to Lao Tse and students of the Buddha Gauthama (I admit, my knowledge of the Koran is sorely lacking), to works of political and military philosophy from the ancients to Gandhi to Malcolm to Martin to Mandela to Abbie Hoffman to Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Malcolm Forbes, various generals, civil war historians, Russian Revolution historians (from works like, “100 Days That Shook the World,” to “Gulag Archipelago”) and all sorts of other works from this category, I still cannot claim to be an expert in the humanities or social sciences.  I am a very well read dilettante with a blog where I express my opinions.

This morning my opinion is one of shock, Kevin Phillips, architect of the Republican Southern strategy that has led the GOP to its dominance of all three branches of government and Noam Chomsky, the outspoken, white tower citizen of the People’s Republic of Cambridge, anti-war, left wing activist and philosopher have published books within a few weeks of each other that reach the same conclusion.  Nixon philosophy and Chomsky agree?  Dare to think the unthinkable.

Intellectually, taking this train of thought a step further, we have the liberal Nixon people siding with the leftist Chomsky and Howard Zinn types in agreement and, from the Christian right, we see stories of end times, Armageddon, Apocalypse and rapture.  Am I the only person who finds that it feels pretty weird hearing the left, center and right, all with radically divergent sources (Phillips draws heavily on history and financial information, Chomsky draws on many official documents published by governments around the world and the “Left Behind” series draws from the Bible, faith and theology), coming to the same conclusion?

Whether socialist like Chomsky, center/right like Phillips and far right like Falwell, Robertson, et al, all of our leaders seem to agree that the end is approaching fast.  They, of course, have different conclusions on how to prepare for such an inevitability but they all seem to agree that the poop will hit the fan any day now and there is little other than divine intervention or extremely radical action that can offer a way out.

So, where have the optimists gone?  Where is the Clinton “Bridge to the Future,” the feel great to be an Americanism of the Reagan years, Carter’s certainty that good would prevail, Ford’s belief that we could whip inflation now, Nixon’s courage to support the “silent majority” and, when his time came, to resign rather than disgrace the nation, Johnson’s hope for a “Great Society,” Kennedy’s near legendary presidency of hope, youth and future, Eisenhower’s baby boom never say die America of the fifties, Harry Truman’s courage to say , “I would rather be right than president,” FDR’s belief that, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” and Hoover’s “chicken in every pot.”  I stop my walk backward through history as I don’t think I can think of anything Calvin Coolidge did other than be born in Vermont, Warren Harding only seems famous for his scandals and I know little of his message.  But, before them, Presidents like Wilson with is dream of world peace and a League of Nations, Teddy Roosevelt’s continuous optimism and certainty that Americans could go where others have failed (Panama Canal for instance) and the general optimism of his youthful presidency.  Going back to our founding fathers, great intellects like John Adams, Samuel Adams and John Hancock actually participated in acts like the Boston Tea Party and were present and holding fire arms when the “shot heard around the world” was fired.  These patriot founding fathers had the confidence and optimism to take on the most powerful military on Earth with a band of untrained farmers with guns, a band of pirates as their navy and the philosophy of the enlightenment.

I must have been asleep or working too hard the day that America lost its optimism somewhere since Y2K.  All of the presidents I mention above felt that America could and should be fearless.  Now, as I said above, our leaders, from every wing of the socio-political spectrum, describe doom and gloom.  I have tickets to hear Chick Corea play live tomorrow night, maybe his piano will play a hopeful message.

What does this have to do with blindness?  Well, two thirds of it comes from audio books.  Hell, it’s my blog and I can cry if I want to.

Also, in the text above, I state that Noam Chomsky is a citizen of the “people’s Republic of Cambridge,” perhaps, the most liberal/left city in the nation and certainly the capital of the intellectual world.  This is not, in fact, true.  Chomsky works in Cambridge at MIT and, unlike Alan Dershowitz, his Harvard, cross-town, less smart rival, he doesn’t actually live there.  Noam lives in a lovely neighborhood in Brookline, Massachusetts (which tries to go as far to the left as Cambridge but never seems to succeed), often opens his home for fundraising events for all sorts of causes and rides the Green Line to Park Street where he switches to the Red Line to get to work.

I think the “leftier than thou race” between Cambridge and Brookline ended about ten years ago.  Brookline was first with a woman mayor, Cambridge was first with a black woman mayor, Brookline was first with a gay mayor and Cambridge pulled out the trump card, a gay, black mayor.  Cambridge was also first to require that all bar rooms open to the public must have coin operated vending machines that sell latex condoms in the rest rooms.  Brookline would follow a couple of years later with its own condom ordinance but, by then, they had fallen too far behind to truly catch up.  

One night, while in a drunken stupor, my friend Steve and I stole the condom machine from the men’s room at the Cambridge Brewing Company.  We brought it to my house.  My wife looked at it with wonder.  I returned it the following day as I couldn’t come up with a reason for having such a device in my living room.

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Blind African Student Causes Trouble

It still hasn’t rained here on the Gulf Coast of Florida so, while I continue to enjoy the lovely aromatic orange, grapefruit and jacaranda trees, I continue to suffer from exploding skull syndrome.  In addition to the feeling that pressurized air pumps into my head through some invisible hose, I also feel as though someone has inserted a Buck knife just above my left eye.  So, I have few, if any creative thoughts this morning and, like yesterday, will republish an article that came across Blind News about a troublemaker.

An article that ran in, titled, “Ghana: Student Politics At Legon: Blind Student Stirs Up Controversy,” describes the efforts of a blind student to get himself elected to a student government office.  I think the article demonstrates how far the “troublemaking” of an individual can go to raise awareness and of the value of proportional rather than winner-take-all balloting.  The run-off election was to occur yesterday and I haven’t seen anything about the results yet but, whether he won his race or not, he has certainly educated a university.  Also, I feel that any blink with the nickname “wicked scorpion” should be a friend of mine.

Ghana: Student Politics At Legon: Blind Student Stirs Up Controversy

By Sulemana Braimah

Ghanaian Chronicle (Accra)

“I WANT to prove to all that disability does not mean inability.” This has been the crusading philosophy of Mr. Jacob Adongo, a blind third year Political Science student of the University of Ghana, Legon, who is leaving no stone unturned to capture a key student leadership position for the next academic year.

Controversial as he may be, the blind student put himself up to democratically battle against two able-bodied ladies and a male, for no other position than that of Secretary to the Students’ Representative Council (SRC).

When he launched his campaign for the position, many students described him as a joker since, they wondered how he could dream of becoming a secretary while he was still completely blind.

But after a few days of campaigning to students from lecture hall to lecture hall and from one residential hall to the other, his oratorical skills, confidence and exposition of visionary policies for the enhancement of students’ welfare, caught the hearts and admiration of numerous students.

Sooner than one could fathom, Mr. Adongo, known among his supporters as “Wicked scorpion” had become the sweetheart of many and virtually a student political czar.

To many, it therefore came as no surprise when, after the counting of ballots on Wednesday evening, it emerged that the Wicked scorpion had dribbled and displaced two of his competitors, a male and a female and denied the leading contender, Pearl Adaku Asomaning, a long-time crusader for the position, of the mandatory 50% plus one vote, that she required to snatch the position, thus forcing the election into a run-off.

Pearl, as Adongo’s competitor is popularly called, is an affable third year student of Mensah Sarbah Hall, who maintains that she is the right material for the job and has intensified her campaigning. She is riding on her campaigns and the near-win support that she garnered for the first round.

Mr. Adongo told The Chronicle yesterday that he loved to be presented with an opportunity to cause surprises and prove a point. He said he was glad that his competitor for the second round of polls, slated for tomorrow, got more votes than him in the first round since the situation has created an opportunity for him to cause a surprise by, as he put it, “snatch it from her.”

“I have had the opportunity to get my message clear to the students since I had a very short time to campaign during the first round. I have now been able to clear all misconceptions and doubts that people had about my capabilities to do the work of a secretary,” he confidently told the paper.

Asked about what he had done differently from his campaigns for the first round, he said he was now going to prove the cynics wrong by practically demonstrating from lecture hall to lecture hall, how the computer can be used to take minutes of meetings.

“In fact, I told them in my campaigns that I will be resorting to the modern technology of using the computer to take minutes but many were those who thought it is not possible. Thanks to the run-off, I have had time to prove it. In fact, on Tuesday (today), I will be demonstrating that from lecture hall to lecture hall to the students free of charge. You can also cease the opportunity to witness and watch my exclusive, free-of-charge demonstration of the usefulness of modern technology,” he boldly said and comically added, ” you don’t need any special shades like the eclipse shades to watch my wonders, my brother.”

He again pointed out that, apart from proving to all, his ability to take minutes or write for that matter, he had also referred students to Article 22 of the SRC constitution.

This article, as we found out, mandates the Executive Officers of the SRC, that is the president, vice president, secretary and treasurer, to appoint a vice secretary at the first meeting of the General Assembly (Students’ Parliament) whose responsibilities shall include taking of all minutes of meetings, being in charge of all internal correspondence of the SRC, writing letters to invite members of the General Assembly for all meetings and acting in the absence of the secretary.

Mr. Adongo’s message has caught up with most students who have now been certain about his ability to do the work. Most students who spoke to the paper said they did not vote in the first round but they would be voting tomorrow because of Adongo.

“In fact, we will want to prove that as an intellectual community, we respect the rights and abilities of the disabled in society. We will also want to be the first to set this record of showing respect for the disabled in consonance with our status as the premier University of Ghana,” most students suggested in their comments.

Mr. Adongo was the boys’ prefect of Wa Methodist Junior Secondary School, Entertainment prefect at Wenchi Senior Secondary School and a member of the Committee that drafted the National Youth Policy in 2003.

Last semester, he contested for the position of Organizing Secretary of the Junior Common Room (JCR) of the Akuafo hall of the University and lost narrowly. Later on, the JCR awarded him for being the most active participant in student activities of the hall.

Meanwhile, the race for the presidency was also forced to a second round after the young and diplomatic Sammuel Awuku of Commonwealth Hall managed to deny the popular and politically experienced Lord Hamah also of the same Hall, the opportunity to have a first round victory.

Other two contestants from the Commonwealth Hall and another two from the Legon Hall were thrown out of the race in the first round.

Mr. Hammah, who rode on the wheels of justice to get himself back to the institution after an Accra High Court nullified his dismissal from the University, appears to be ahead of his counterpart with his philosophy of radicalism as opposed to diplomacy being preached by Awuku.

Rumours about attempts by “some powers that be” do disqualify Hamah from the race have generated some concerns among students but the real interest is in the race between Adongo, the blind positivist and Pear, the optimist.

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Grannies With Guts

Springtime in Florida brings out a broad collection of colorful and fragrant flowers.  Just taking a walk around our neighborhood, I can enjoy the heady perfume that comes directly from the reproductive systems of our local flora.  For the most part, the sensations of spring delight the senses; the aromas and weather seem perfect.  This year, though, the rain seems to avoid us so St. Petersburg seems more like a desert oasis than a sub-tropical sandbar.  The tourists love years without April showers, we locals, though, would like rain for our lawns, trees and to help our general shortage of drinking water.  Those of us, like me, who suffer from pollen related allergies feel the effects two or even three times as badly as in typical spring seasons.  One must take the bad with the good and the springtime pleasures of Florida do remind me of the parts of Cambridge that I will never miss but the fact that my head feels like someone has inserted a hose and pressurized air pumps in to keep it inflated to double its normal size is the payment for enjoying our pleasures.

Thus, with my cranium feeling like it might explode at any moment, I bring you an article that came across Blind News this morning from the Village Voice (once my neighborhood weekly newspaper with the terrific pedigree of having been founded by Norman Mailer) called, “Grandmothers of Invention.”  The Voice, to those of you who grew up with it, has gone through very significant changes lately, mostly in reaction to competition from the Internet.  The print edition of the paper is now free and supported entirely by advertisements and the web site has become the paper’s primary presence.  

Most of the writers who made The Voice so famous (Nat Henthoff, Alex Cockburn, Mark Alan Stamatey and others whose name cannot find there way through my headache), including Mailer himself, have moved onto other publications or have started their own.  The Voice still presents a somewhat alternative view of the city but challenges authority much less vigorously than before.  Their investigative work has almost no funding and they seem very cautious about not offending advertisers.  If you read the Voice twenty years ago, you would remember that the advertisements alone would offend the readers of some of the more prudish New Yorkers and now the content feels a bit watered down.

Nonetheless, I liked this article and I think it makes a good follow up to the “Fight the Power!” piece I published on Monday.  I found two of the grannies particularly inspiring.  One, a woman with a vision impairment, walked with two canes from her home in Harlem all the way to Times Square (no less than sixty city blocks if she lives right on Central Park North which, due to its recent fashionable status and appeal to the rich and famous, doesn’t seem likely).  The other, a woman who uses a walker to get around, strolled all the way from the Lower East Side (my old neighborhood that today is usually called the fashionable East Village), no less than sixty blocks north and five blocks east of Times Square to attend a civil disobedience action at the midtown military recruiting center.  These grannies, with their varying disabilities, show real guts and, whether you agree with them on this particular issue or not, you have to give them credit for taking to the streets, getting their message out and not worrying about going to jail.  These women inspire me as I would probably have taken the RR line from the Lower East Side or the A train down from Harlem to attend a protest in midtown or, even more likely, would have taken a cab.  Any person with low vision who needs two canes to walk and is willing to go more than sixty blocks to end up getting arrested definitely fits my definition of courageous.  

Grandmothers of Invention

By Kristen Lombardi

Older is bitter-when it comes to the war in Iraq. A peek inside the granny-power movement.

Two weeks before going to trial in Manhattan Criminal Court for disorderly conduct, Joan Wile was stirring things up again. The founder of Grandmothers Against the War-better known for being one of 18 grandmas who got arrested last October after trying to enter the Times Square Recruitment Office-Wile had just taken center stage at a recent luncheon for 1199/SEIU retirees.

Dozens of retired union members, most grandma types themselves, had come to hear Wile speak about the plight of the New York anti-war grannies, who face prosecution this week. But Wile, a former TV jingles writer, didn’t do much talking. Instead, she seized a piano, tickling the keys and belting out a tune.

“Grandmas, get offa your tush,” she sang, her glasses perched on her nose so she could read the lyrics she’d written for her own anthem to anti-war grand-mothers. “We’ve got to go after Bush.”

“That’s right!” someone yelled, instantly lightening the mood. The retirees stomped their feet and clapped their hands to the snappy beat. Wile, meanwhile, let loose:

Grandmas, let’s unite
While we are still upright
Let’s protest that parasite
Watch out! We’ve just begun to fiiiiiiiiiight!

At 74, Wile still moved like a spring chicken, working the crowd, winning converts. The room erupted in applause, with audience members calling for an encore. Instead, Wile announced her next gig.

“We’re going to trial on April 20,” she told her newfound fans, who listened as she relayed how she and her 17 aging colleagues tried to enlist on October 17. How they were arrested and hauled off to jail. How the Manhattan district attorney’s office has yet to drop their disorderly- conduct charges.

“We would like to pack the courtroom,” she added, “so if you can come, please do.”

One person requested a flyer so she could remember the date. Another asked if she should wear her union T-shirt to court. And from the back of the room came this show of support: “I’m with you! See you there!”

It’s the kind of response that Wile and friends have become accustomed to these days. City prosecutors may think it’s worth pressing their case against 18 gray-haired women who range in age from 50 to 91. But the eclectic bunch-women accomplished in their own right, who’ve worked as counselors, teachers, actresses, politicians, and therapists, and who still keep busy with all kinds of activism-has already triumphed in some quarters.

Wile is savvy enough to know how the word grandma plays in the court of public opinion-indeed, she has even encouraged the New York anti-war grannies to hand out cookies on the street. She first got the idea to organize older women against the Iraq war back in the fall of 2003, when the death toll among U.S. troops and Iraqi citizens began rising. “Grandmother struck me as a powerful word,” she says, thinking that someone seen as wise, nurturing, and loving could appeal to people’s consciences like no one else. So, as Wile explains, “I thought that to see grandmothers on the street would impress people with the gravity of the situation.”

At the very least, the anti-war grandmas are getting noticed in ways that younger protesters aren’t. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, some 20 Grandmothers Against the War stood on Fifth Avenue outside of Rockefeller Center, where they gather for a weekly vigil. They displayed the standard messages-the signs that read, “Thousands of Iraqi children are victims of this war,” the pins that said, “Bush lies.” They shouted the standard lines-“Bring the troops home now!” Plenty of passersby didn’t give the grandmas the time of day. But plenty of others did. Tourists snapped photographs of them. Shoppers stopped and stared. Even those who support the war were nonplussed. One middle-aged man walked along the vigil line, shaking his head but smiling as he told the grandmas, “God bless you! I disagree with you, but God bless you for getting out here.”

These grandmothers may be filling a void in the anti-war movement. Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of U.S. history at New York University, notes that campuses have yet to become the epicenter of the anti-war scene as they did during the Vietnam War. One reason is obvious. “The draft created an imminent and urgent reason for young people to protest the Vietnam War,” Zimmerman says. Most of his students oppose the war, he says, but none of them are in danger of being sent to Iraq or even know people who are there now.

The Granny Peace Brigade, as the 18 grannies now call themselves, has captured attention far beyond New York, generating buzz on the Internet, on progressive websites and political listservs. Media outlets have covered the grannies with fawning fascination, playing up the images of little old ladies clutching their walkers and hanging onto their flowered hats, flanked by beefy cops. Carol Huston, a veteran peace activist and granny brigade member, tried to enlist at the Times Square recruiting center to protest the Iraq war three years ago. Not one reporter showed up. This time, as she puts it, “the press went nuts over us like I’ve never seen before and all of a sudden-zoom!-this action takes off.”

Similar granny groups have popped up across the country, staging their own protests at military recruiting centers, fueling the larger anti-war movement. Now there are as many as 38 anti-war granny groups in the United States, from Pittsburgh to Detroit, Berkeley to Sarasota. Just last month, three of the New York grandmas flew to Berlin, where they gave speeches to hundreds of people on why they’ve hit the streets to protest the Iraq war.

Canadian filmmaker Magnus Isacsson calls the trend “granny power.” At least, that’s the title of his current documentary, which will feature the local grandmas on trial. “It’s an idea that spreads like a contagion,” he says.

But the idea isn’t new-indeed, Isacsson focuses his film on the Canada-born Raging Grannies, a decades-old grassroots group promoting peace and social justice. Likewise, the Grandmothers for Peace have existed for 24 years, boasting members all over the world, including in New York.

Still, it didn’t take hold in this country until last July, when a feisty bunch of grandmas in Tucson, Arizona, arrived at a local recruitment center. The Tucson Raging Grannies had been marching outside the center since the start of the Iraq war. But they took a different tack on July 13. Inspired by their Canadian counterparts, eight grannies marched into the facility and demanded to enlist.  

“We read our statement of how we want to change the world,” Pat Birnie, 76, the head granny, recalls. She and her colleagues were promptly arrested. The charges were later dropped, but not before the grannies made international headlines.

When Wile, a Manhattan grandma of five, heard about the Tucson event, she grew inspired. By then, she had formed Grandmothers Against the War and had organized the Rockefeller Center vigils. Yet the attempted enlistment seemed fresh, provocative, the kind of protest the average person would notice.

“It was obviously the thing to do,” says Corrine Willinger, 78, a local Raging Granny who heard about Tucson through the grapevine and who attended Wile’s vigils.

Willinger and Wile got cracking, sending out word to the Gray Panthers, the Raging Grannies, and Code Pink, calling any activist in their Rolodexes. To grandmas all over, they made their pitch to enlist, thus symbolizing a desire to spare kids-their grandkids-from a senseless war. It wasn’t an especially tough sell.

“I said, ‘Sure, see you there,’ ” recounts Marie Runyon, the oldest of the New York brigade at 91. Runyon is legally blind and walks with two canes, yet she trekked from Harlem to Times Square. “I thought it was a great idea to get the message through to that son of a bitch in the White House,” she explains. “Our men are dying and the Iraqi people are dying and for what-for that idiot Bush!”

Betty Brassell, 76, of the Lower East Side, decided to shuffle uptown with her walker after spotting a leaflet on the enlistment. She didn’t know the grandmas who would become her fellow defendants. Simply put, she says in a soft Southern lilt, “the flyer said Grandmothers Against the War and I’m strongly against this war.”

By October 17, 18 grandmas had committed to enlist. They convened in Times Square across the street from the recruiting center, where they met their attorney, veteran New York civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel, who was serving as a witness, not to mention dozens of senior supporters draped in “RAGING GRANNIES” signs and signature floppy hats.

When the anti-war grannies approached the station, the door was locked. No one appeared inside, though Wile says she saw someone peek from behind a desk. Evidently, the military had foiled the grannies’ plan, so they improvised what occurred next. “I was so angry,” Runyon recalls with a chuckle, “I started banging on the door, singing, ‘If I had a hammmerrrr!’ ”

The grandmas took over a building ramp near the station door and, one by one, crouched to the ground. “That was the hardest part,” Wile confides, “all these old, beat-up broads with arthritic problems getting down on the ground.”

Eventually, a police officer warned the grannies to disperse or face arrest. Minutes later, a half-dozen cops were gingerly escorting them to a midtown precinct, where the grandmas remained for four hours.

For the granny brigade, the entire action lasted six hours. Their court proceedings, by contrast, have dragged on for six months. City prosecutors tried to offer the grannies a plea-no arrests for six months and the charges would be dropped. But these anti-war protesters didn’t want to stay silent and off the streets. In court, Siegel has tried to argue for dismissal, to no avail.

“I never thought we would go to trial,” Siegel observes. After all, he has represented thousands of peaceful demonstrators who, like the grannies, cooperated with the police. He argues that the 18 grandmas didn’t do anything illegal-they sat outside the recruiting center, he notes, not in the street or in front of the doorway. In these instances, he says, things rarely make it this far.

“I don’t know why the district attorney’s office is prosecuting grandmothers,” he adds.

Calls by the Voice to the Manhattan D.A.’s office were not returned by press time. In any event, these grandmas are having a whale of a time, using the trial as a chance to highlight their continued opposition to the war. Many have already prepared statements to read to reporters, friends, and anyone else who will listen to them during breaks. They’ve sent out a flurry of alerts to allies in attempts to pack the courtroom, even securing a promise from Cindy Sheehan to be there.

“I’m not too worried about the trial,” Wile says confidently.

Jail time doesn’t faze some of the more experienced types. Huston, 74, of Brooklyn, has decided she’d rather spend time behind bars than accept any other form of punishment-such as community service or a $250 fine.

“Oh hell!” says Runyon. “I would go to jail if I had to just to make the goddamn point! You’ve got to make a statement.”


Of course, the New York grannies have done more than make a statement. They’ve sparked something of a movement. When Marjorie Lasky, 66, of Berkeley, read the headlines about the local grannies, she recalls, “I said to myself and to a group of women friends, ‘We could do this.’ ”

By November, she and dozens of other grandmas had formed the Bay Area Grandmothers Against the War, in honor of their New York counterparts. By February, they had designated Valentine’s Day a national enlistment action day, prompting 15 anti-war granny groups to try to enlist in 15 cities from Oakland to Cleveland and Baltimore to Barre, Vermont. Last Monday, the Bay Area group spearheaded another action around tax day, with anti-war grannies hitting the streets in Philadelphia, Madison, Detroit, and naturally, New York City.

“Our numbers are growing,” Lasky says. Her group has plans to host a national gathering of anti-war granny groups some day. “Cool, huh?” Lasky enthuses. “Isn’t it cool?”

So why are all these little old ladies taking to the streets? Simple, says NYU’s Zimmerman. “These grandmothers come out of a political context in which vivid and loud protest was the norm,” he notes. Ask the grannies, and they will likely tell you that they took to the streets to end the Vietnam War and segregation and a myriad of other causes that defined the 1960s and ’70s. By contrast, Zimmerman says, “it seems to me that young people haven’t engaged in that kind of mass protest. It isn’t part of their political experience.”

Maybe that’s why the 18 members of the Granny Peace Brigade remind their own lawyer of the good old protest days. As Siegel has it, “The grannies remind me of the whole ‘We Shall Overcome’ movement. They’re very positive and upbeat and warm. Recently in New York, I have not found that spirit.”

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Fight the Power!

I’ve heard complaints from blind people about the lack of political activism, too much activism and almost any point on the spectrum between these two points.  Some folks take a radical, Malcolm X approach, others a more moderate Martin Luther King view and still others a “work within the system” Thurgood Marshall set of tactics to affecting civil rights improvements for people with vision impairments.  I still don’t know if the BPP is real or a hoax so there might even exist a group even more radical than the Malcolm types.  

I’m not sure where I fall on the spectrum.  I like to think of creative ways of protest like purchasing a few shares of stock in a business that has a horrible accessibility record (Intuit comes to mind) and then showing up with a bunch of loud mouthed blinks at their annual stockholders meeting.  I sort of like the “Hall of Shame” that the Jodi awards people have started to list really offending inaccessible web sites but, on other days, I feel that blame and shame might just cause organizations to take a defensive stance rather than taking action to make improvements.  One thing, of which I am absolutely certain, though, is that Thurgood Marshall was able to use existing law to win Brown v. Board of Education and, throughout the fifties, more and more Constitutional matters were settled in the courts.  Then, in the sixties, Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had the will to enforce the laws on the books and, in spite of Governors like George Wallace of Alabama (“segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,”) and Lester Maddox of Georgia, public institutions started to open up to minorities.

For people with disabilities, the story changes quite a lot.  As a group, we with disabilities do not have full Constitutional rights.  Officially, we have had our Fifth Amendment right to due process taken away and, unlike any other minority group, cannot, in many cases, take legal action to fight discrimination.  While many states have passed and enforce ADA and 508 like legislation, others do not.  Alabama, for instance, sued the Federal government stating that ADA does not apply to state agencies as it takes away one of the state’s rights.  About 146 years ago, Alabama took more radical action because they saw human bondage as a state’s right so things haven’t changed much deep in the heart of Dixie.

Now, we have a President who either lacks the courage of Kennedy and Johnson to enforce laws like ADA, 255 and 508 or, perhaps courage isn’t the issue, maybe he and his Justice Department prefer working against the rights of people with disabilities.  The Ashcroft/Gonzalez track record certainly suggests that the latter holds true as, in their five plus years in office, the US Attorney General’s office has, in cases which it chose to participate, supported the defendant in all ADA cases.  Justice O’s record on the Federal Circuit Court in cases involving people with disabilities is even worse so I doubt this administration will do much for us anytime soon so, perhaps, more creative measures will be required to achieve our goals.

In early March, in a land far, far away, blind people took to the streets to demand their rights.  The March 5 edition of the Katmandu based Nepal News ran an article titled, “Over 100 arrested from visually-impaired persons’ rally in Katmandu, Nepal.”  If this headline suggested that 100 anarchists were arrested in Seattle, 100 migrants were arrested in San Antonio or 100 peace activists were arrested in London, I’d not have thought twice about the matter.  Anarchists, migrants and peace activists have historically rallied to their causes and, on many occasions, have spent time in jailhouses for their actions.  Blind people, though, may act and talk angry but never seem to have the will, even here in the land of the free and home of the brave, to participate in direct, civilly disobedient actions.  Nepal, a nation known for having an oppressive royal family that kills demonstrators seems even less likely a location for such an event to occur.

The article starts, “More than 100 visually-impaired persons were arrested and several others injured as police intervened into their protest rally, demanding employment, in Katmandu on Sunday.”

“The group has been demanding that the government offer jobs to 500 visually-impaired persons at the earliest and provide a monthly ‘unemployment allowance’ of Rs.2000 to others.”  I can’t even remember the name of the Nepalese currency but I can’t imagine this even approaches a lot of money.  Also, in today’s Nepal, begging and prostitution are the most likely professions for blind people so any kind of job that can take them off of the streets or pension that can let them live with dignity will be a major step forward.
I can only imagine the courage these people must have as the article continues, “Police ruthlessly beat up the demonstrators, injuring a number of participants. Two injured persons – Bhakta Gautam and Pratibha Lama – have been taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.”  I am more neurotic than most but I know that many blind people, including me, grow highly anxious when a crowded situation gets overly chaotic. Now, imagine being surrounded by your blind brethren in a huge crowd as police reminiscent of those Martin faced in Alabama swam into the crowd, swung sticks and beat your comrades.  Would you have returned the following day?

The March 7 edition of The Himalayan Times, also English language and based in Nepal’s capital city, featured an article, “Visually impaired hold rally” that simply states, “Blind people, protesting against the recent police intervention in the capital, staged a plate rally in Pokhara on Tuesday. The rally, organized by Blind Unemployed Struggle Committee (Kaski), started from the gate of Prithvi Narayan College and converged into a corner assembly at Mahendrapul chowk.”  To me, this demonstrates a level of dedication to a cause that, in the US, I’ve only witnessed as a child when Martin and Malcolm still led their movement and, as an adult, among the pro-life people fighting to end abortion.  I have difficulty imagining a large crowd of blinks gathering in Washington to rally for our civil rights and I find it beyond any reasonable fantasy that American blinks, after getting beaten down by the boys in blue, would gather again two days later to continue their calls for employment, civil rights and dignity.

On March 10, in an article titled, “Protests by visually impaired continue,” The Himalayan Times reported, “After an inconclusive meeting between the State Minister for Labour and Transportation Rabindra Khanal and the joint front of the Nepal Association of the Blind (NAB) and National Self-Help Organization of the Blind yesterday, the visually impaired groups continued their protest programmes today.”  I cannot count the number of times that I’ve heard about one or another group of US citizens with disabilities holding “high level talks” with government agencies, corporate leaders and transportation departments only to walk away and lamely state, “Well, at least they listened to our issues.”  

Let’s recap: This is the United States, a nation which rarely injures protestors and almost never kills one.  The people in Nepal, a few days after being brutally attacked by the police, sat down with a government official and, unsatisfied with his response, took to the streets again in a country where the police will shoot live ammunition into a crowd.  Is Nepal truly the home of the brave and are we US based blinks, with a few minor exceptions, a bunch of cowards?

Reminding me of the demonstrations against the Viet Nam War the article continues, “Protest programmes included a rally from Baneshwore to Maiti Ghar, burning of the Disability certificates issued to them by the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare.”  Americans have burned draft cards, ostensibly have burned bras and, on the nasty side of our country, have burned crosses but have you ever heard of a blind person burning his social security card in protest over the 70% unemployment rate among blind people in the US?

The article concludes, “They demanded the government fulfill their demands regarding employment and urged human right activists, National Human Rights Commission, journalists, teachers, civil society, professionals, political parties to back them. Protest will continue till March 12.”

I go through every article posted on the Blind News (link above) list every day.  This means up to twenty articles about all topics related to blindness and vision impairment from all around the globe.  Most of the articles from US publications describe heart warming stories about how some blink got a new guide dog who is now his best friend or how some blind person inspired an audience by playing the piano nicely.  These articles sometimes can be so sweet that you want to puke.  My role in this life is not to make sighted people feel warm and fuzzy and say things like, “Look at BlindChristian, he can play blues harmonica and is working toward a PhD at the same time.”  I’m inspired by these highly impoverished Nepalese blinks tossing safety to the wind in order to stand up for their rights and of the other blind people in Nepal who didn’t come to the rally.  I’m doubly inspired that they didn’t walk away smiling after a bogus meeting with a government official.  

About two years ago, the RERC on Wireless Communication at Georgia Tech. featured a short speech and question and answer period with some schmuck from the FCC.  I sat beside two friends from the AFB and, when the questions started, Janina, who the previous day sat on a panel with me, jumped straight in and asked why, after the law has been on the books for a number of years that the FCC, then chaired by “Fat Boy” Powell Jr., had done absolutely no enforcement of Section 255.  This was, after all, a disability and rehabilitation conference so the FCC spokesman should have been ready for the question.

He replied with the most condescending voice tone stating that they had done a lot of research into the matter and would take action when appropriate at some undisclosed time in the future.  Janina, not a person to take lightly, fired back, “Then how come you were so quick to react to Janet Jackson’s tit?”

Unscathed, the bureaucrat responded, “We had over 250,000 calls about the unfortunate Super Bowl incident.”

Janina, “What about the more than a million people who cannot properly access cell phones, caller ID and most features of home and office telephony devices?”

FCC:  “As I said, we are researching the accessibility issues.  The Super Bowl had a greater sense of urgency.”  He then moved onto another, friendlier, questioner.

During the coffee break after the FCC fellow gave his bogus presentation, I asked him if he knew how long Janet Jackson’s breast had been on the screens of the beer swilling, loudmouth, American football fans who have never before seen that portion of a woman’s anatomy?  He said he didn’t know.  Then I asked him to the name the performer who came on two acts before Ms Jackson.  He said he couldn’t.  I can’t remember the performer’s name either but I can say that he is a gangster rapper who refers to himself as, “The greatest white pimp in America.”  I asked him if he felt that a couple of seconds of a breast is more harmful to family values than a three minute internationally broadcasted hip hop tune by a guy who does rhymes about selling women and killing people.  He walked away.

Thus, I got to talk to an FCC official, state my position supporting Janina’s line of questioning and, like the rest of we soft Americans, I felt a bit of anger and returned to Florida, went to work the next day and let it slide.  If blinks in Nepal have the courage to stand up to a dictatorship, why don’t I have the wherewithal to try to organize a rally at the FCC, Department of Transportation, Justice Department or any other government agency that is charged with enforcing laws and regulations to protect my rights and those of other people with disabilities?  Beyond that, why do so few people in advocacy roles ever call for such action, I’m a nerd, not an organizer or leader.


Sometime today, I am going to disable anonymous comments on Blind Confidential.  At first, I had it set to entirely unmoderated and started receiving spam posts.  Then, I switched to moderated but continued permitting anonymous posts.  Yesterday, I finally got to the point that I had received more emails from spammers trying to post to this blog than about anything else, something like fifty or so.  I can’t dismiss the anonymous posts automatically without throwing away actual comments that people want to post anonymously.  Fortunately, few real comments are made anonymously so I think we can live with this new rule.  Of course, anyone can create a Blogger name whenever they like with near total anonymity so this shouldn’t prevent anyone from making a statement they don’t want attributed to them.

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Sex and Drugs and Explosives and Florida Blinks

Many of the most bizarre events that occur anywhere in the world, on any given day, happen in Florida, the state where I live.  Someone told me of a radio program which has a daily trivia question where the host reads a really strange story from the news and the listener has to guess whether the event happened in Florida or Germany.  I’ve detailed a few of these strange events in Blind Confidential (the Nazis who couldn’t even agree on who they were trying to kill and other stories).  Blind Floridians do not behave any less strangely than the sighted population so, today, I thought I’d write a few Florida anecdotes, mostly about strangeness involving blinks.

The first story, however, involves a sighted DEA agent.  I found this story so funny when I heard it on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” that I just had to write it down.  A video of the event accompanies the story on the NPR web site; follow the links to “Wait, Wait” and you should have no problem finding it.  This DEA agent gave a talk to an auditorium filled with school children.  His topic, gun safety, something in which he had some expertise and, just as he said, “I’m probably the only person in this room who knows how to properly handle this weapon,” he shot himself in the leg.  Really, his weapon discharged and he shot himself, right there, on a stage while giving a talk about gun safety.  This is part of what makes Florida so fun, any day the news, local, statewide or national may contain a bit about one of our residents doing something really strange.

Because of the position I held at FS and from various other events, I know quite a lot of blind people.  Thus, when I heard that Howard Stern’s show had hosted a “Blind Girls Show Their Breasts,” beauty contest on his program, I gave it a laugh and thought little more about it.  I don’t get the satellite radio system from which Stern broadcasts but a friend of mine and I went out for lunch and he told me about the program.  It didn’t surprise me to learn that I knew of the woman who came in second place as, as I said, I have met a lot of blinks.  It did, however, surprise me that I didn’t just know her but that we had worked together and that I got to know her a bit.  Few things feel stranger than learning that a past colleague had participated in a radio topless contest.  Again, I assume that it has to do with Florida.

When I first moved here, I lived on the first floor of a building in a large apartment complex.  A young blind couple lived upstairs from me and I often shared taxi rides with the male of the pair.  Two things struck me as strange about him.  First, he would brag about having sex with his own wife.  I can see bragging about having an affair with Liv Tyler but marital bliss should stay in the home.

Secondly, this couple, both blind from birth, seemed to hold the irrational belief that because they had no vision they must, therefore, also be invisible.  Thus, they took the concept of “public display of affection” quite a few steps past what the vast majority of reasonably sober adults would find acceptable.  So, one day, when the husband and I rode in a taxi together somewhere, he started bragging about the sex he had with his wife the night before.  I tried to tune him out until he said, “Yeah, we did it in the apartment complex hot tub…”

“The public hot tub over by the pool,” I asked, somewhat in disbelief.

“Yes and we’re going back tonight,” he replied with great pride in his voice.

I know the chlorine in the hot tub should keep it relatively sanitized but the thought of relaxing my back in a tub where this couple shared bodily fluids disgusted me.  So, in the name of cleanliness and for the sake of my neighbors and me, a bottle of Joy dishwashing detergent seemed in order.

The following night an O&M instructor with whom I had grown friendly burst into my apartment, laughing hysterically while I was watching Lou Dobbs.  I asked her what had amused her so.  After about five minutes of her trying to calm down, she said, “I know you did it!”

“Did what?”  I asked with my most innocent look on my face.

“Soaped up the hot tub.  The couple upstairs said they went to use it last night and there was a four foot high mountain of bubbles atop it,” she continued breaking into laughter between words.  “They said some teenager did it but I know it was you.”

I insisted that I had nothing to do with such a childish prank.  So, I lied to my friend.  We’ll let this blog entry serve as my public apology for the dishonesty and I’ll assume that the apartment complex won’t hunt me down for the cost of cleaning the mess up.

Blind people shouldn’t, in my personal opinion, work too close to explosives.  Blind people who smoke a few packs of cigarettes per day really shouldn’t keep explosives in their home.  Remember, though, we are talking about Florida.  As in many other states, Florida has a vender program in which blind people can set up a kiosk and sell various items to earn a living better than just SSI.  Some blind people sell more than just the inventory they buy from the state in order to make some additional money.  Most of these people sell legal items like greeting cards, candies and other nice things that one might purchase when in a hurry.  Others, however, see greater profit potential in contraband (you have to credit them for the initiative) and sell marijuana and other high profit items to supplement their income.

One of the more entrepreneurial types, a very heavy smoker, got hold of a large supply of the sort of explosive firecrackers that can blow off a limb.  The Fourth of July was approaching so he figured selling explosives from his kiosk would do him rather well.  To recap: we have a blind person who smokes sixty cigarettes per day walking around a house filled with quarter sticks of dynamite.  Another happening that would only go on in Florida.

I know of at least two blind guys in the marijuana business.  I’m not talking about nickel and dime dealers but, rather, experts in horticulture, cultivation and wholesale distribution.  One grows the hydroponic chronic with a regional reputation for having the greatest potency in the land.  The other has about a dozen greenhouses and has done his own cross breeding to come up with a well known (among certain circles) brand name reefer known for very special properties that its consumers enjoy.  

I just wonder a bit about these guys, how do they know if their customers (not known as the most honest people in the world) have given them actual money or some random paper that feels like it?  Do they keep a copy of OpenBook and BuckScan nearby just to check that they’re holding real legal tender?  How do they know if the person with whom they are talking is holding a weapon and may be prepared to kill them for the enormous value of their inventory?  How do they defend themselves against rival dope dealers?  How can they tell if the police have arrived?  Wholesale drug dealing is a dangerous profession for anyone but it seems like it would present problems for blinks that may be impossible to overcome.  But, Florida is the land of sunshine and opportunity and these guys seem willing to take the risks to achieve the American Dream.

I’m actually happy to hear some of these stories.  While weird, they do show that some adventurous Floridian blinks have moved beyond the stereotypical behaviors and into areas previously unforeseen as things blinks might do.  Lewd, lascivious public nudity, big time pot dealing, stripping on the radio and selling explosives show great progress for our community, previously thought to be so reserved.


I do not recommend any of the behaviors mentioned above.  These people are professionals and such actions should not be tried at home.  I wonder, though, if someone could start a web site about “Alternative Professions for Blinks,” that include some of these and other non-traditional career choices and where one can find training to pursue such vocations.

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