Today's Topic



September Notes

Natalia J. Garland

Print Version

Today is the first day of autumn. In my section the desert, that means the temperature goes down to a cool 80 degrees in the early morning and increases only to 103 degrees by 11:00 a.m. In the scorching heat of mid-summer, it is not unusual for the temperature to reach 132 degrees. There will not be total relief from the heat until November when, happily, I will need a cozy sweatshirt to keep me warm. Until then, I have jotted down some notes from the air-conditioned cocoon of my living room.

Computers and ageism
A recent campaign tactic has been to criticize Senator John McCain for not knowing how to use a computer. I heard on a couple of T.V. news programs that McCain's war injuries prevent him from typing. Whether or not this is the reason, I doubt the opposition was aware of the extent of McCain's physical limitations. The intent of the criticism seemed to be to portray McCain as old, feeble, and out of touch with reality. My reaction is that the criticism is an example of ageism: unfairness toward senior citizens. In other words, modernity rather than a lifetime of experience is what matters when measuring competence.

Computer literacy should not be the standard for evaluating an individual's ability to understand and relate to the world. There are probably many senior citizens who do not use computers, or who use them only to send e-mail. The library in my area is filled with senior citizens using the computers for one purpose: to send e-mail to family. They have managed their entire lives without computers, but they have learned to appreciate the convenience of e-mail communication. Many of those e-mails probably go to grandchildren who have grown up with e-mail and never written a letter on paper.

There are various reasons, outside the job, that people use computers. Students need to do research and type reports. Some people shop on the internet because they can find products without fighting the mall traffic, and sometimes there are special internet-only deals. And, some of us seem to be gatherers and organizers. We enjoy reading worldwide newspapers and magazines without paying for subscriptions (which we cannot afford), as well as finding citizen journalists who have something worthwhile to say and who would otherwise remain unknown. We can create our own reference files of trusted 'outsiders' who are sometimes more impartial and perceptive than some professional writers.

The important thing for a presidential candidate is not whether he uses a computer, but whether he acquires knowledge--books, newspapers, and magazines are just fine for that purpose. What was the last book McCain read? How many books does he read per year? How many magazine subscriptions does he have (this is more important than how many houses)? These questions should be asked of both candidates: because the more time you spend on the internet, the less time you have to read.

Only 43 days until the 44th president
President Obama? President McCain? In another four years, one of those men's presidency will possibly be scrutinized more closely than any other president's term in office. There is much at stake, and much history yet to be written. Will the Iraq War be brought to an end, with democracy established? Will America produce more high school graduates? Will the U.S.-Mexico border be secured? Will we have begun offshore drilling? Or will we be struggling with the same issues in 2012?

Favorite things
(1) This has been an exciting political year. I watched the national conventions on T.V., listening to the speeches and news commentary. And, I delighted in the visual aspect of funny hats and dances. Although it may appear to be silliness, that energy motivates people to embrace another four years of the difficult tasks of government. Our national conventions give people a sense of renewed pride and belonging. Political themes are constructed from the work that needs to be done, and the world is prepared to meet the next U.S. President. Although some attendees probably use the conventions for corrupt dealings, I believe others are hardworking and dedicated.

(2) There are only a few shows on T.V. that I watch with any interest, including the reruns from years ago when the stories were better written and the actors were more talented. Lately, however, I have been watching Animal Cops and with mixed feelings about it. Generally, I am fascinated by what other people do to make a living. And, I think it is important to prevent cruelty to animals, to rescue animals from those conditions, and accordingly to educate or prosecute the people responsible. I am glad the animal rescuers are there to do a job for which I would be unsuited.

My uneasiness surfaces when I see some animals--dogs and cats, maybe even a duck--provided with expensive surgery or other medical procedures. You probably already know what I am going to say next. There are people who need medical care in the U.S. and throughout the world, and who do not have access to the same care which is given to dogs and cats. But, I suppose people need to do what they feel called to do. Some people are gifted to care for sick and injured animals. Insofar as animal shelters are funded through donations, they are certainly within their rights to try to save as many animals as possible. It is an indication of affluence when a society can give medical care to pets and strays.

On my bookshelf
Occasionally, I like to browse the sale racks at a local bookstore. I found a new copy of An Even Better Place for $2.99, reduced from its original price of $25.00. It was written by Richard Gephardt in 1999. Gephardt ran for president in 1988 and 2004. He is an old-school liberal of the Democratic Party. While reading his book, a pre-9/11 publication, I formed a retrospective awareness of how the Democratic Party converted to its current hardcore-liberal base and then used the Iraq War as its official rallying point. By the time Barack Obama arrived on the presidential scene, the Democrats were open to a 2008 reproduction of its golden Kennedy era and a faux civil-rights movement.

This is probably why men like Richard Gephardt and Joe Lieberman were left behind in favor of Al Gore, Howard Dean, John Kerry, and Barack Obama. The old Democratic Party, the one that I grew up with, no longer exists. I understand more clearly now, why in the mid-1980's, I began to identify as a Conservative Democrat. As of 2008, the opinions of a Conservative Democrat carry the same importance as Gephardt's $2.99 book. So, I can no longer avoid changing my Party registration. In terms of a political or group identity, this is a painful decision.

Some of Gephardt's words are still true today. He wrote, "Ultimately, it's up to every man and woman in the nation to sustain our democracy. To do this, we must reassume the full mantle of citizenship--as active participants, supporters, reformers, and creators, not just of government but of all our institutions--of our neighborhoods, of our schools, of our health system, and of our businesses." (p. 16.) It is too bad these goals were not accomplished before 9/11. Now, Bush's management of the Iraq War is enmeshed with America's other unresolved problems of education, healthcare, and the economy. But, unlike in 1999, it is no longer a matter of sustainment or reform of government, but of post-9/11 national survival.

By the way, if you have difficulty understanding N.A.F.T.A., start reading on p. 89 of Gephardt's book, "Fair Play and the Rights of American Workers." His viewpoint is worth consideration.

Men and women I admire
Here are a few names that come to mind when thinking about some of the men and women who are trying to make the world a better place. Ladies first.

BRIDGETTE GABRIEL: Born in Lebanon, she is a Christian who hid in an underground bomb-shelter for seven years while Lebanon was being attacked by Muslims (beginning in 1975). She was wounded in the attack, and her youth was lost to Muslim invasion. She moved to America in 1989 and tries to inform and warn Americans of the very real threat of terrorism, especially after the attack of 9/11. She is the author of two books on Islamic terrorism, Because They Hate and They Must Be Stopped. She also speaks four languages: English, French, Hebrew, and Arabic.

IRSHAD MANJI: Born in Uganda, her parents were of Egyptian and Indian (Gujarati) descent. As a child in Islamic religion school, she was expelled because she asked too many questions. She moved to Canada in 1972, and she wrote The Trouble with Islam Today which has been translated into 30 languages. She advocates for Islamic reform and has received death threats as a result.

AYAAN HIRSI ALI: Born in Somalia, she sought political asylum in the Netherlands in 1992 in order to escape an arranged marriage. She was elected to Dutch Parliament, but resigned due to political circumstances which put her at risk of losing her Dutch citizenship. After 9/11, Ali renounced Islam for atheism. She made a movie, critical of Muslim fanaticism, with Theo Van Gogh who was killed for his views. Ali is an advocate for women and speaks against genital cutting. She wrote an autobiography, Infidel, although she currently lives hiding.

SOMALY MAM: Born in Cambodia, she spent her teen years (from the age of 12) as a sex slave, having been sold by her grandfather. She survived rape and torture. She advocates for the women and children throughout Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos who are forced into prostitution. She currently lives in Cambodia and France. She wrote The Road of Lost Innocence.

Here are a few men whom I especially respect.

REV. JESSE LEE PETERSON: Born is Alabama, he now lives in Los Angeles and has worked as a talk-radio host. He promotes responsible fatherhood among black Americans, and he has spoken against illegal immigration. As a political conservative, he has often experienced harsh criticism from other blacks. He wrote How Black Leadership Exploits Black America.

GARY SINISE: Born in Illinois, he is an accomplished actor on stage, in films, and on T.V. In 2004, he founded Operation Iraqi Children which has donated more than 200,000 school supply kits. These kits are given out to the children by America's military men and women. He also created the Lieutenant Dan Band which entertains America's military.

JOSE COMPEAN and IGNACIO RAMOS: They have been called America's first political prisoners. After an incident involving the shooting and wounding of a Mexican man who had illegally crossed the border, Compean was sentenced to 12 years in prison and Ramos to 11 years. They thought the Mexican man had a gun. The man had abandoned a van containing approximately 800 pounds of marijuana. There is ongoing controversy over how the prosecution conducted their investigation and presented 'evidence' to the jury.

BILLY GRAHAM: He preached a simple message of salvation for many years, and there was never any scandal in his life. In 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. preached with him in a revival tour. In the 1960's, he bailed King out of jail. Graham preached in places such as communist Soviet Union and North Korea. He also refused to become a part of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, preferring only to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Among his publications he wrote an autobiography, Just As I Am.

Fashion for everyone
Fashion can be cruel, or fashion can be liberating. We tend to judge others by how they dress, because clothing can be a form of self-expression as well as an indication of financial status. Nowadays, fashion is becoming more democratic and individualistic. Various types of clothing are acceptable, and different regions--beyond New York or London or Paris--can produce their own designers and create their own particular look. Some classic styles are always considered appropriate, perhaps with a little updated modification. Fashion has also become more affordable to the average person, with some designers contracting with department or discount stores.

Why is fashion important? Foremost, fashion should represent beauty. This might vary culturally, but we all have a vision of what is beautiful, pretty, lovely, chic. Why should this matter? The opposite of fashion or beauty, in my opinion, would be the enforcement of the head-to-toe burqua. Oppression. When women are completely covered in unattractive garb, they lose personality and being. This may sound extreme, but depriving women of fashion is somewhat akin to depriving them of education. Both are forms of oppression and reduce women to functionary, dependent, interchangeable objects.

No, I would never pay $400 for a blouse or $800 for a pair of ripped jeans, even if I could afford it. It is a matter of principle. What other people do with their money is up to them. I would spend $50 on a blouse and donate $350 to charity. Or, maybe I would spend $350 on seven blouses at $50 each. In reality, I would make a car insurance payment. Anyway, I think an important aspect of an open society is creativity, ingenuity, and choices. Some people design clothing, some rescue dogs and cats, some protect children from slavery, and some write essays on the internet. We do what we can to make life fairer, safer, more beautiful, and more loving. (Written 09/22/08)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

Find More Topics in the Table of Contents

Return to Homepage


Copyright 2008 Natalia J. Garland