Tag Archives: New Jersey

Voting Rights and Wrongs

There is much to be said about voting, and not all of it is pleasant. Because I am neither a political scientist nor an attorney, I do not pretend to any specialized knowledge. Because I want people to be able to vote twice you can vote in my poll now that you have had, or soon will have, the opportunity to vote at your polling place in the United States. Unless of course, for a variety of reasons, you are disenfranchised, which means you do not have the right to vote.

Because I don’t want to read anything offensive, and because I doubt that many of the other folks who follow or visit my blog wish to read anything offensive either, please keep your comments civil in tone as well as language. I will moderate comments.

Nobody thinks much about the voting age here, but in some countries, it is as young as 16.

Nobody thinks much about a woman’s right to vote in the United States, but not all of our grandmothers had that right. Women were only given the right to vote in 1920 in the United States, when the Senate voted to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Speaking only of the industrialized Western World, fantastically enough, Switzerland did not give women the right to vote in national elections until 1971, and in some cantons (they are like states or provinces) women were not given the right to vote in local elections until 1990. The right of all people to vote is called universal suffrage, but the term doesn’t really mean everybody, there are many exceptions. Historically, the term universal suffrage applied only to men.

We are mistaken, if we believe that universal suffrage exists in the United States. Anyone who has seen the news or read a newspaper thinks a lot about voting rights and race because our legal system has disenfranchised a huge segment of the population: In most states, previously convicted felons, who have served their time, commonly known as having “paid their dues to society,” can do just about anything but vote. Why might that be? Well, it might be because you are an African-American male in Virginia where 1 out of 5 African-American males do not have the right to vote, and politicians do not want you to vote. Why might that be? To my knowledge, felons who have served their time can only vote in the states of Vermont and Maine.

Is the disenfranchisement of a large segment of the population by race and gender fair? What do you think? Why? If you decide to answer, please let me know whether you are from Virginia and whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, an Independent, or a member of another political party. Virginia has been a Republican state in recent years, but that may be changing, possibly as soon as this very evening. Again, my statistics are not based on my own research. Please check the Pew Forum, Gallup Poll, or some other similar organization, for what might be considered authoritative statistics.

In New Jersey, we are voting on whether to raise the minimum wage. On behalf of all “hard-working” minimum wage workers and their families, I have voted to raise the minimum wage, even though it will still not provide a true living wage in a state with a high cost-of-living. And, by the way, I think even those who don’t work extremely hard–who is the judge of who is working hard and not working hard?–should also benefit from a small increase in the minimum wage in New Jersey from the current minimum wage of $7.25 to “at least $8.25 an hour.” What is all this rhetoric about working hard, anyway?! Are people supposed to suffer to earn the minimum wage? Why not work the right amount, not work when overtired, not work when sick, and be healthier and happier? Here’s to a healthier, happier, more equitable world! That’s why I vote. Do you vote?

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Big, Yellow Bouncy Ball by Circespeaks

Big, Yellow Bouncy Ball by Circespeaks

True confessions of the erstwhile politically correct blogger: I love sports. I watch NBA basketball. At this very moment I am sincerely hoping that the Golden State Warriors do “mess with Texas” and the San Antonia Spurs and win game 5 of this playoff series. Once again, we have young, male, mostly black or brown bodies, as a commodity. NBA players are well paid, and probably doing what they love best, but these players are a commodity nonetheless. At some level we all are commodities. The Alzheimer’s patient in a nursing home, unaware of her surroundings, unable to recognize anyone, provides work for those who care for her. So, for now, I am just going to enjoy this game. Unrealistic role models another day.

Some confusion arose on Mother’s Day during game 4 OT of GSW vs. Spurs when someone wanted to know who the GSW are. Adding to the confusion, I explained in all sincerity that the “Garden State Warriors” are a lesser known NBA team. As Recently as Sunday, Oakland was firmly planted–as firmly planted as possible in earthquake territory–in California, the Golden State.

It is half-time now, and I am confident (sports talk…really, I don’t know, but the Spurs are in more foul trouble) that the younger GSW team will win. The rock is not the only bouncing ball I love. Why do I love the pink playground balls of my youth, fuzzy green tennis balls, and, yes, big, yellow bouncy balls? I don’t know. The inflated, thus spherical truncated icosahedron, the soccer ball, has played the biggest part of my life (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truncated_icosahedron.) Not the traditional “soccer mom,” I also played myself and have the scars to prove it. The ball I once loved best was a tiny red rubber football I named “Fifth,” my transitional object at the age of four or five.

The big, yellow bouncy ball was a recent purchase. I miss having little kids in the house. There are still big, bouncy boys, but they don’t go with me to Target and plead for toys any longer. This time, I thought, I will buy the one that I like best. It just so happened to be a very large yellow ball, shot through with streaks of orange. My favorite colors!

I brought home a toy for a two-year-old and suddenly every male who entered the home, from 18 to 50ish, behaved just like a two-year-old. Glass ceiling lamps have rained down, inflicting injury requiring Steristrips. A ceramic candlestick, the last of a wedding gift set has been twice-broken and twice-glued since I brought that ball home. It has narrowly missed paintings, a plaster cast bust on the fireplace mantle, and other objects more of sentimental than monetary value. Given all the destruction this object has wreaked, I probably should have taken it outside, or popped it, and put it in the trash. Common sense does not reign. Shards of glass and ceramics continue to rain.

Thanks to a successful ACL reconstruction, I had a great time chasing fuzzy green balls on the Community Park tennis courts today. A student of tennis in New Jersey (where adult soccer is not readily found) I too, have been commodified. The instructor was inspired; I was inspired. It was a good day on the tennis court. My favorite strokes, the backhand and overhead, were favored in today’s group lesson and play. It was magical. That last steal and transition basket was magical, too.

Despite the teachings of my late and esteemed Professor Otto Maduro, at times I do my best to misrecognize the power and politics behind sports, and to simply enjoy the human spirit and body in action. My mom and I also enjoyed bouncing that yellow ball back and forth. And we didn’t break a thing šŸ™‚

The Raw and the Cooked: Boxers in Gym Class, Oh My!

The Raw and the Cooked, an iconic work in linguistics and anthropology by Claude Levi-Strauss, demonstrates the oppositional categories that we firmly hold in our minds. The mind/body conundrum is one with which I have wrestled a bit here. Why does this matter? Ignoring the entire grey scale, or should I say “brown and beige scale” in between black and white, is a relevant example. Categorizing people as either black or white, as either male or female, without recognizing intermediate positions, is a widespread form of social oppression.

Naked and covered, or naked and dressed, is also such a category. Why does this matter in the Western world? At a time when many of our young people are being criminalized for nonviolent, victimless crimes it does. The widespread incarceration, largely but not exclusively, of minority youth, damages the fabric of our society. No youth of any race, ethnicity or skin tone is immune to this all out for-profit war on the young. Privatized prisons profit from the captive bodies of our young people–primarily black and brown males–slavery of our times. A new book on this subject is The new Jim Crow : mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. (I am in line to borrow a copy at the local library, so have only heard parts and read reviews to date.) The facts, not just statistics, but facts, are appalling: we are the most incarcerated nation in the world. Not so many years ago, young male bodies were a commodity sent to Vietnam. Today, there is an illusion that those serving in the armed forces do so by choice: some do; some don’t. Those of low socioeconomic status may have no other option, and gamble with their very lives when they “voluntarily enlist.” The voluntary enlistment of guardsmen and women, forced to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, is most certainly a fiction.

Today my subject is not quite as dramatic, but may, nonetheless, severely impact the future of a high school student. If hearsay is correct, a young man changing in the gymnasium of our public high school has been charged by police with sexual harassment. If these charges are upheld, he will become a registered sex offender. I know nothing about this student other than that he is 18, and will thus be charged as an adult. If he must register as a sex offender, his prospects of future employment, not to mention his reputation, are at stake.

This is the sort of overreaction to any minor infraction that makes it nearly impossible for young people to negotiate the world today. The offense this young man committed was not one of public nudity, but of changing from pants to gym shorts while wearing boxers. Boxers and men’s bathing suits cover the same areas of the body. Police involvement in a high school student’s efforts to get to class on time and be changed for PE so as not to lose credit, is yet another symptom of our societal need to control every minor nonconformist act of the young.

A recent New York Times article by Erik Eckholm reported that criminologists agree that police presence in high schools does not prevent crime, but does funnel many students into the courts (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/education.) Student behaviors typically brought to the attention of the principal or vice principal are now matters for law enforcement, and high school students are caught early in the dysfunctional loop of our criminal justice system.

My older son, who graduated from the local high school six years ago, reports that he routinely changed from shorts to pants in the gym, and that there was neither reaction nor repercussion. We must turn down the spotlights trained on non-violent behaviors of young people, occasionally trying to scramble over the virtual barbed-wire fence that education has become. We must save that energy to pursue corporate offenders whose actions have systemic, adverse social effects. There is no one too small to fail. Let us concern ourselves instead with the corporations above the law because they are too big to fail. Much effort is being put into anti-bullying campaigns, and rightfully so. These efforts are focused on preventing harassment and sexual assault among students. Yet adults, and a criminal justice system spiraling wildly out of control, bully an even greater number of young people.

Let us hope that the person “harassed” by the sight of a young man’s boxer shorts recovers in short order. Let us also hope that any person harassed by this sight never turns on the television, watches a movie, or opens a newspaper or magazine, wherein young men seductively attired in tight underclothing routinely appear. Let us hope that this nonsensical incident has already been laid to rest, and that this young man is able to pursue his post-graduation plans without interruption or blemish on his record.