Monday, December 26, 2011

Tech support

I continue to marvel at how technology can help people. (Never mind for the moment, during this joyous season, how it can harm people.) Take my DynaVox, for example - the speech synthesizer I have written about several times here, which I use via a camera that follows a silver dot stuck onto the bridge of my glasses and which I now call Dyna. Incredible!

Dyna was outdone, though, when I attended a P-FLAG meeting earlier this month in Los Angeles. This was my second time at this meeting. I wrote here about my experience going to this meeting for the first time in October, saying I missed going to these supportive meetings after the one in Claremont faded out years ago.

One thing I didn’t write about at the time was that there was a transgender man at the meeting, accompanied by his mother, an American visiting him from Quatar.

The young man was at this month’s meeting. The mother had long since returned to Quatar, but she was there, with her son and us, at the meeting. Literally. The son plugged in his laptop, and there was his mother, on Skype, able to see as well as hear us, for the entire hour and an half.

That’s what I call support - through the wonder of technology. Like I said, incredible!

And all I want is my parents to just go to a P-FLAG meeting.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Season's reason and reasoning

Things are getting plenty scary in this season of peace and joy. I read yesterday that Newt Gingrich, the new favorite among the Republican presidential candidates, declared that, if he is president, he will ignore court rulings that he doesn’t agree with and perhaps do away with some courts. He maintains that it’s time to end the tyranny of “activist judges.” (Interestingly, when asked if President Obama can ignore the Supreme Court if it outlaws the national healthcare law, Gingrich demurred.)

More timely, if not even more frightening, is that Rick Perry, another viable GOP presidential candidate, recently said that “there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” He went on to say, “As president, I’ll fight against Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage...”

There’s something wrong, terribly wrong, in this country when these utterances aren’t from a Saturday Night Live skit, when these guys are for real and are taken seriously, when one of them may well be our next president. I’d like to think that it’s less likely that the unpopular Obama will lose if up against one of these men rather than the less outrageous Mitt Romney, but, given the rabid Tea Partiers and evangelicals and the Democrats’ (arguably unfair) disappointment in Obama, I’m not sure if this is a real hope or just wishful thinking.

I don’t want to end with a bah humbug! To make these holidays a bit saner, if not merry and bright, check out these videos:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

America can't take a holiday

My family lived in London for a year when I was 15, and Christmas was on Saturday that year. The next day was designated “Christmas Sunday,” a holiday, and Boxing Day, a holiday usually celebrated on the 26th, was observed on Monday. (Never mind that a couple centuries ago, celebrating Christmas was heresy to some in Britain.) This meant three days off, and when I say off, I really mean off. There wasn’t even a newspaper published for three days.

This drove my father crazy. As he said, a nuclear bomb could be dropped somewhere in the world or our house in California could be destroyed in an earthquake, and he wouldn’t know. (The news was on the BBC, but my dad has never been one for television.)

He didn’t mind the stores being closed; he just couldn’t stand there being no newspaper for three days. My father - and anyone in my family - has never gone to a sale on “Black Friday,” the all-important shopping day in America on the day after Thanksgiving - and definitely not at 5 a.m.

This year, in addition to the market again being open on Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday crept into Thanksgiving, with many stores opening at 9 or 10 that evening.

So much for Thanksgiving. So much for taking a day, a whole day, off. In America, it’s all about “for your convenience.” It’s all about having every chance to cash in and for someone to make a buck.

There was a woman interviewed on the news on T.V - PBS - saying that “this is what’s wrong with this country.” As hysterical and right-wing as she sounded, she is right. To paraphrase, America is going to Hell in a shopping cart.

Pretty soon, stores will be open on Christmas Day, so there will be another shopping day “for your convenience.” After all, isn’t there a wall between church and state in this country?

There are those who argue that all this shopping is a good thing - and not just because it helps the economy and, as George Bush said, defeats the terrorists. In an Op-Ed piece published on Black Friday in the Los Angeles Times, James Livingston, a professor of history at Rutgers University, statement that “consumer culture is good for your soul.” He argues that “it is a part of leisure, not work” and goes on to explain, “Whether you’re purchasing food for a family meal, buying someone a drink or getting in line to buy a gift on Black Friday, you’re spending time and money to create new circuits of feeling among friends and family.”

So, in this essay, titled “Spend for your soul” and which was paired with an article titled “Stuffing ourselves” condemning Black Friday and the consuming it encourages, Livingston, who most recently authored “Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, the Environment and Your Soul” (really!), is positing that we need to spend money to find community and get love (“create new circuits of feeling among friends and family”).

To paraphrase again, something is indeed rotten - and terribly sad - in these United States.