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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Various Things that Have Drifted into My Mind

As sometimes happens, I woke up today without a topic for a Blind Confidential article and haven’t the motivation to go through the piles of articles I keep in folders to search for inspiration.  Instead, I’ll do a random musings piece about topics I’ve found interesting of late and see if anything of value comes out of it.  In my “real life” I have an overdue deadline for a chapter for a book about Assistive Technology that I am contributing to (my topic is audio games) and I don’t feel overly motivated to finish it either.  Thus, it’s one of those days that we all experience where we lack the drive to get started and just want to crawl back into bed.

I think I’ll start with the case of Charles Taylor, the former strongman dictator of Liberia currently on trial for crimes against humanity in Africa.  Taylor had lived in exile in Nigeria since 2003 and, recently, when the Nigerian government negotiated a deal to turn him over to the tribunal, he managed to escape and attempted to leave the country.

  Many years ago, you can look this up; Charles Taylor sat in a prison in the United States, charged with various war crimes, crimes against humanity and some other rather nasty things.  Taylor escaped from his captors in the US and managed to find his way out of the country, back to Liberia and resumed leadership of his outlaw army.  He regained control of Liberia, torturing the citizens in a manner that would make Saddam feel sick.  My question is, how much more competent is Nigerian law enforcement than that in the US?  He escaped from both but the Nigerians recaptured him while the US managed to let him slip through our dragnet, cross an ocean and take control of another nation.  

Moving on, I’ve been reading Kevin Phillips latest book, American Theocracy” in which he describes how the religious right has managed to take control of the US government, electing its leader, George W. Bush, to the white house and, although a minority in the country, has managed also to take control of the congress and many state governments.  Phillips, way back during the sixties, worked for that unabashed liberal Richard Nixon and developed his, now famous, “Southern Strategy” which led to the hegemony of the ex-confederate states.  As he designed the program, his recent books, “American Dynasty,” about the Bush family, and “American Theocracy” about the reign of the religious right certainly fall into his area of expertise.  I just wonder if Phillips also feels that he’s unleashed a monster and feels that, indeed, Prometheus has become unbound.

Recently, I taught an occupational therapy class at a local university.  I talked about my area of expertise, assistive technology for people with vision impairments and various hardware and software products.  Much of my lecture felt like a sales pitch for Freedom Scientific products as I know them better than any of the others.  I did get to talk about some futuristic ideas (like the haptics concept I mentioned yesterday and 3D audio which I’ve written about in previous articles).  I had never taught at the college level before so this experience created anxiety but, when it ended, I felt I had enjoyed it.

After the class, I went into the lab with the forty three students, forty young women between the ages of 18 and 22 and three men set out to learn various things by playing with different assistive devices and such.  One of the young women approached and sat in the chair next to me.  She asked, I swear this quote is verbatim, “Can blind men really tell what a girl looks like just by touching her wrist like in the movie Ray?”

Don’t stand, don’t Stand, don’t stand so close to me…” played loudly in my head.  Thoughts of Lewis Carroll and Cheshire cats played over and over in my increasingly clouding brain.  Nabokov, Lolita, Henry Higgins, Harry and Maude, “Lot’s of chocolate for me to eat…” Rubin, Rubin, my mind flooded with images of wild punk rock parties, chocolate syrup, Oh God!  Better think about baseball!

I couldn’t help myself, wisecracks come built into the DNA of us Jersey guys, I said, “No, we have to touch much more to get a real idea for what a woman looks like.”

She took my hand and asked, “Can you show me?”

At this point, the brain went into overload.  I, a crusty, middle aged, grey haired, middle aged, highly neurotic nerd had received an invitation to grope my way around a young, impressionable coed.  “You can keep your California girls,” I thought, “Florida wins hands down.”  Then, what’s left of the self preservation portion of my cerebral cortex took control, I thought of my career at this institution of higher learning and seemingly low moral standards.  I thought of the harassment suit.  I thought bye-bye PhD and hello, door to door JAWS salesman.  I stuttered out, “No,” my id screamed as loudly as ever before, “but I can describe it to you.”  Thus, I gave my first ever private lesson in the blind guy groping method without actually fondling a sweet young woman.

When I told this story to a female assistant dean at the college, she laughed, suggested that, “as it was in the name of science…” laughed some more and then reminded me that I had a wife of nearly nineteen years.  Poor Susan hadn’t entered my mind during the actual event.  I need to work on this with my therapist.

On the technology front, NPR reported last night that Apple has released “Boot Camp,” a program that will let you run Windows on any of the Intel Macintoshes.  I wonder if I can run JAWS in Windows on A Mac Mini while running VoiceOver on OSX while running outspoken on Carbon while running SpeakUp in the Unix console?  If anyone sees or hears evidence of such an experiment, please tell me about it as this would certainly make the $599 for the Mac Mini (even less with university discount) worth just for the novelty value of having four screen readers running at once.

I got the audible.com new releases and recommendations email yesterday.  Noam Chomsky’s new book, “Failed States” topped the list.  The Phillips book of which I’ve read about half of the 17 hours of audio, although very interesting, can approach a level of density that one can cut with a knife.  Phillips, both a scholar and political scientist, makes providing citations an obsession so the reading gets chopped up by the mention of all of his sources.  Chomsky, listed as the world’s number one intellectual in two recent surveys (one of any participant who found his or her way to the BBC web site and the other of purely academics from around the world) and who came in third (behind Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton) in a BBC survey that asked, “Who would you choose as president of the world?” [George W. Bush did not make the top 50 on the list.] sits atop the list of my personal living American heroes (expanded to worldwide, Chomsky falls behind Mandela and His Holiness the Dalai Lama) writes with intensity and density as well.  Can I possibly survive reading one directly after the other or should I look for some brain candy like a suspense story by Dan Brown?

I’ve noticed an increasing number of blindness related blogs popping up.  Please, send me a note or post a comment if you would like BC to link to you.

I have a few other ideas for future BC articles for which I hadn’t the motivation to write about today.  I’ll list them here and readers, if you feel so inclined, can suggest which you would find most compelling.  I definitely plan on unleashing Gonz Blinko on a number more adventures around the world, some related to AT stuff and some not.  I’ve sketches in my mind for two short stories featuring Samhara (Blinko’s African lesbian attorney) that don’t involve Gonz but I don’t know whose voice I should use to write them.  Yesterday, I thought of a character called James Blink: Secret Agent JJG, but haven’t come up with a story for him.  I have another Carl Hiaasan inspired Florida weird story in mind called, “Sex, Drugs and Explosives” about Floridian blinks who, like everything else in the Sunshine State, is just a little more bizarre than anywhere else. On the research side of things, I’ve tons of ideas I’d like to toss out that maybe someone can pick up and do some tinkering with as a project of their own; academic freedom has loosened my brain a little and I find myself in a near constant storm of concepts.  On the charity side, I’ll probably write something about the first quarter progress of PPO and its fundraising blitz, Ben Weiss and AI^2 have pulled into first place for 2005 and second place overall for helping PPO raise much needed cash money.  I’ve thought of doing a piece on companies whose stupidity put them into bankruptcy but they blamed Microsoft anyway.  I’ve also thought of doing a piece about AT companies who have failed badly or went out of business due to their own stupidity but blamed Freedom Scientific anyway.  Having recently read Humanware’s end of year financials (they are online) I have thought of offering theories as to why they have they results they do.  And, as always, I’ll write about whatever comes to mind and things that come over Blind News (who, by the way, usually repost Blind Confidential for their readers but missed us yesterday) and ideas that come from emails, phone calls and random items from the radio and television.

Have fun…

2 Comments:

Anonymous Jake Joehl said...

Great post. As far as ideas for future articles, I'd be very interested in an in-depth look at the NFB from a philosophical perspective, and members who have gotten expelled from the Federation and why. Undoubtedly this would entail some research, but the Federation's philosophy has always intrigued me, or should I say perplexed me. I know that "People of Vision: A History of the American Council of the Blind" mentions this albeit rather briefly, because I read the book on cassette. I really enjoyed this book too. I thought the authors really put a whole lot of time and effort into telling the story of these two organizations. As for me, I'm in neither of them, but my brother has been an ACB member for a long time and likes it. He has won scholarships to a few of their national conventions, and he has been an active member of the National Alliance of Blind Students. At least he was a member of NABS, but I can't remember if he's still a member. I on the other hand, only went to one local ACB function but I had a great time. So I think that would make a great entry.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Access Curmudgeon said...

LOL, does your wife read this blog?

I would love to read some pieces on AT companies failings and their attempt to blame Microsoft or Freedom.

With regard to Boot Camp, you may have to wait a while to have three or four screen readers running on one box. The Mac Windows boot requires a restart, as does the Mac OS 9 startup necessary for OutSpoken. Also no one has gotten SpeakUp working on the Mac, I am not clear why that has proven to be such a challenge. But not to be a total wet blanket, why not run Virtual PC and have Jaws, Window Eyes, and Hal all running at once?
http://www.parallels.com/en/products/workstation/

6:20 AM  

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