Monday, October 13, 2008

Never Underestimate the Power of the Individual

Conversations lately have identified a lot of confusion, ambivalence and ennui in the American public regarding the November 4 General Election.

In English: either you don't know who you're going to vote for, you think neither party will provide what the country needs or you don't care who wins because it will make no difference in your life.

That is where you are wrong.

First of all, we think there are only U.S. Presidential candidates on the ballot. (Vice presidents are part of the ticket and are not elected separately. Probably a good idea: what if the top two winners weren't of the same party? Could be interesting, could be disastrous.) Contact your local General Registrar and see who and what all is on the ballot. In my area, there are elections for U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. These people are equally important. If you don't think so, find out what those two branches of the legislative government do, then reassess this opinion.

Get educated: visit the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan resource for election and candidate information.

Now, for those who think their vote is not important: remember way back in the new aught? The 2000 presidential campaign was so close there were arguments over what was a hanging chad (which still sounds dirty). If nothing else, that very close election proved a very important point in our lifetime: individual votes matter.

What do you think designates the Electoral College votes? Yep, my vote. And yours.

A special note to my sisters: remember, women have had the vote in the United States for only a few generations. Many of us have grandmothers who were not allowed to vote. Women were imprisoned for attempting to participate in the electoral process. Don't ever take this privilege for granted.

Okay, so you don't like either of the main party candidates. Well, have you checked your ballot? There are more than two names on the ballot for the U.S. presidential race. If you don't like either of the major party candidates, look to see who else is on your ballot and see if you like any of them — then vote accordingly. There also is this really cool thing called the "write-in" — that lets you write in a name if you think someone not on the ballot deserves to be there. Use these tools wisely: Mickey is fictional, as is Rambo.

Finally, those who choose to not vote: shame on you. I won't use the "people in China would like the chance to vote in a democratic election" line because it didn't work when your mom wanted you to finish the gummy okra on your plate. People are starving for freedom and control of their government, and you throw away those very things.

If you don't vote, I don't want to hear it.

If you do vote, thank you.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Poem, Just Because I Like It

I needed a dose of poetry today. I hope you enjoy it, too.

The Scientist

Other fathers might cuss out a lawnmower
that wouldn't catch. Or kick the car.
Mine would simply stop. A physicist, he'd stop
and think awhile, his breath wheezing
through his nose-hiss and hiss, mechanical
until, abruptly, a solution clicked.
Then, step by step, arranging parts
in the sequence they'd come loose,
he'd direct at our lawnmower a logic
even that sullen machine could not refute.
Then, just as systematically, refit
each wrench upon its pegboard silhouette,
re-index every drill bit, every nail—
this small, half-German intellectual
who, although he'd own no gun himself,
let me wear twin Lone Ranger cap pistols
on each hip. You couldn't tell
just what he thought of you. Had he hated
us, he wouldn't have shown it. When,
in that reasoning, mildly troubled tone
of his that meant he might
be disappointed in his son, he once explained,
In war, people hurt with tools,
I shuddered. You couldn't imagine what
he might invent. He was a patient man.

by Jonathan Holden
from The Names of the Rapids. © University of Massachusetts Press, 1986.
Courtesy of The Writer's Almanac.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Banned Books Week: One Way to Choose a Book

This week is Banned Book Week, a recognition of books challenged or banned in American libraries and schools. The American Library Association keeps track of these statistics, and compiles a list every year. I'm always amazed at what makes the list.

In honor of the freedom of expression, and because I want to know what all of the fuss is about, I read a challenged book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

I loved it so much, I made Alicia read it.

Frankly, I can see why some people might be uncomfortable reading it. The storyline included drug use, physical abuse, a tense marriage, familial squabbling, teen sexuality, homosexuality, abortion, masturbation, sexual abuse, suicide. Heck, it starts with teen suicide.

The narrator was a 15-year-old boy named Charlie who is writing a series of letters to "a friend." In these letters, he discusses everything happening in his life. He's reading some great literature, meeting new friends, dating, falling in love, watching his sister get slapped by her boyfriend —

Wait, repeat that?

Yes, Charlie sees some pretty incredible stuff. He has to relate to it — a challenge presented to him by his young, enthusiastic first-year English teacher. Charlie can't just watch life. He has to live it.

And when he does, he finds friends, examines his love of his parents, thinks about his dead aunt Helen, discovers he can beat the stuffing out of just about anyone. And cries. He cries a lot. By the end, you understand why.

Stephen Chbosky's compact novel, published by MTV (really!) in 1999 is an incredible book, and one I highly recommend.

No matter your age when you read it, you probably want to discuss some of the content with someone you trust. It can be a little intense, and there are a lot of things characters do that you've been told to not do. Once Alicia finishes it this weekend, we will discuss it.

When you read it, and I hope you do, let me know what you think.

And if you find it's not your cup of tea, find another book. I've read most of the books on the most challenged list, just by chance. Perks was a wild choice, and one I'm glad I made.

Perusing this list is one of the ways to choose a book, and it has always yielded interesting results for me. I think you should give it a try.