Sunday, May 13, 2012

POLL CATS: One Voter's Story

      They say ignorance is bliss.  If so, I'm not too happy.  You see, I'm an information addict.  Each morning I have to have my fix.  To get it, I immediately turn on the iPad to obtain newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, and anything else the web has to offer.  So when I voted in the April 2012 primary, I entered the polling station as an informed voter loaded for bear.
      I arrived at the polling station realizing that allowing people to vote was an extremely radical move by the Founders after the Revolutionary War.  Even they didn't have full confidence granting the franchise, or right to vote, to everyone.  Consequently, they restricted that right to white male landowners.  And you can be sure that the Rush Limbaugh dittoheads of the time opposed allowing anyone to vote.  They would have preferred a King George Washington leading a monarchy.
      Gradually, progress was made as the franchise was expanded to include all white males, then all males, then women, then eighteen-year-olds.  The conservatives, of course, were unnerved by each expansion of the franchise.  They have tried to limit voter access to the polls by enacting poll taxes, reading tests and downright intimidation.  Their latest effort in Pennsylvania is the enactment of a voter ID law, which will cost our cash-strapped Commonwealth millions of dollars since IDs must be provided free of charge to people needing them.  Charging for IDs would constitute an illegal poll tax.
      Voter fraud is practically nonexistent.  We Americans, who supposedly value democracy, have one of the poorest voter turnouts of any democratic country.  Half the people do not bother voting in major elections.  In primary elections, up to 70% of the people do not turn out to vote.  This, despite efforts to increase turnout through voter drives and motor voter registration.  The voter ID law is just the latest attempt on the part of conservatives to limit the franchise, an effort they have been engaged in since the founding of the Republic.
With this information in mind, I   unblissfully entered the polling station.  I placed my signature in the book as I have always done.  And then it started:
      "Do you have any identification," asked the election lady.
      "I don't wish to show any identification," I replied.
      The curiosity of the poll cats working the election was immediately aroused.  Such protests just do not occur in our election district.  People quietly enter the polling station, place their signature in the book, enter the booth and vote, after which they schmooze a bit with friends and neighbors before heading home, their civic duty complete.  A civil conversation ensued.
      "You cannot enter the voting booth unless you show identification," said the lady working the poll.
      "That would be incorrect," I said.  "The new law says that you may request identification during this primary election, but the voter need not produce such identification."
      "Sir, I just completed a training session, and we were told that Montgomery County requires identification before one can vote."
      "Montgomery County laws cannot supersede state laws," I responded.  "ID will be required for the fall election, but it is not necessary for this primary election.  Now, if I may, I would like to cast my vote.
      "I can give you a provisional ballot," she replied.  "You may fill out the provisional ballot, after which I will give you a receipt.  The receipt will allow you to find out whether your provisional ballot was accepted."
      Now our polling station is located in a multipurpose room.  On the other end of that room is a polling station for another district.  I walked over to that polling station and asked officials if they were allowing people to vote without requiring ID.  They said they were because the law said no ID was necessary until the fall election.  I walked back to my polling station and informed the officials that the polling station across the room was allowing people to vote without an ID.  That failed to impress anybody at my polling station, and so I left after filling out a provisional ballot.
      My wife and I returned home a few hours later after having run some errands.  Checking the answering machine, we listened to a message from the lady at the polling station.  She said she had made a mistake, that I was indeed allowed to vote without showing ID, and could I please come back to the polling station and cast my vote in a voting booth.
      So back to the polling station I went.  As soon as she saw me, election lady began to apologize all over again.  Forget it, I said.  It was just my way of fighting the latest effort to suppress voter turnout.  Most of them appeared to be unaware that this was an issue at all.
      Again, I left the polling station, not in triumph, but with an air of sadness.  Most voters are actually unaware, or just indifferent, about this latest assault on voting rights.  No matter, at least they are happy.
The phrase "ignorance is bliss" was penned by English poet Thomas Gray.  The complete quote is as follows: “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.”
      Anybody want to buy a used iPad?

Thursday, March 8, 2012


WARNING!!! Those whose lives are based on emotions and beliefs that override facts and reality may be agitated by the content of this blog. Those, on the other hand, whose lives are based on reason and fact will find this blog to be both amusing and informative.  Because it is aimed at those who dare to think and draw conclusions based on facts, this blog will only agitate those who viscerally react to events and ideas, those who beliefs remain unshaken in the face of contradicting facts.  After all, if you truly believe the earth is flat, no globe or Apollo photo will change your mind.

This blogger chooses to laugh not only at the joy of life, but also at events that reveal the sad reality that is a part of everyday life.  So, for example, at a blogger meeting when we were asked to introduce ourselves, I gave my name and explained that I was shaking, not from nerves or the cold, but from Parkinson's Syndrome.

Sad?  Not really.  I went into my Parkinson's schtick, pointing out that it was now much easier to shake hands or put salt on a steak.  I was trying to get Parkinson's groups to adopt as a theme song the Jerry Lee Lewis classic "Whole Lot of Shaking Going On." Furthermore, I was working toward eliminating the word "jerk" from acceptable usage because it was offensive to people with Parkinson's.  I was even trying to get Steve Martin to change the name of his movie "The Jerk."

Well, you get the idea.  Instead of feeling sad, everybody was laughing.  And why not?  It sure beats crying or being consumed by anger.  This blog will always seek to stir up (agitate) laughter.

If you enjoy observing life through an uncommon lens, this blog is for you.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

POVERTY: Food for Thought

After reading in the Mercury that the Sly Fox was opening a microbrewery on Circle of Progress Drive in Pottstown, I had only one question: where the heck was Circle of Progress Drive?  A map check showed it to be near the airport off of Glasgow Street.
Next time I was in the area, I drove over to check it out and was stunned by what I saw.  It was a business/light industry park with mostly empty buildings surrounded by empty parking lots.  The only real activity was at the microbrewery where workers were busily preparing for opening day.  The empty buildings reflected the down economy our area is experiencing.  The road should have been called Circle of Regress Drive.
Empty buildings lead to empty stomachs.  There are more job seekers than there are jobs available.  Many of the jobs that are available do not pay a living wage.  Money is tight, while food, and fuel get more expensive by the day, thus leading people into lives of quiet desperation.  Eventually, pride is swallowed as people do something they never thought they would have to do: go to a local food bank.  During hard times increased traffic at the food banks soon results in empty shelves. The call goes out for food donations to replenish supplies, blah, blah blah.  You know how it goes because you have heard this story before.  You are not alone.  Let's, for a moment, examine the reactions to the poor and to poverty.
Mr. ObliviousHe isn't reading this article.  He is into himself and his immediate circle of family and friends.  Life is good.  He tries to stay positive and avoid negative subjects like poverty.
Archie Bunker:  Known today as a Dittohead, he claims that "those people" (code for minorities) are just too lazy to work.  If you say "welfare", the first word that comes to his mind is "queen" (more code).  If you were to present him with facts like the majority of people on welfare are white, or that close to half of welfare recipients are children, he would denounce these as liberal lies.  If you point out that the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States is medical bills due to an unforeseen illness, he would say, "That's the way goes".  Of course, there are some deadbeats in the system, as there are in any system.  Archie isn’t all wrong, just 95% wrong.
Mr. and Mrs. Average American: They have a compassion that Archie totally lacks.  Their motto is, "There but for the grace of God go I."  They will donate food if they see a collection bin.  They might donate through a service organization or their church.  They might even drive to a food bank to drop off supplies.  Others go even further and volunteer their precious time serving meals or find other ways to help the down and out.  For them it is just the right thing to do.
Mother Teresa:  These people are really into Jesus, I mean really.  In Matthew 19:21 Jesus says, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  While this is far too radical for most of us, there are some in our community who have done just that.  Perhaps certain members of the clergy have done this, but I'm thinking of the leaders of the local Salvation Army.  They own neither house, nor car and have dedicated their lives to helping the poor and the downtrodden, whoever they may be.  They are the polar opposite of poor Archie.
A few final thoughts on poverty in America: Government money that goes to help the poor is called welfare.  Government money that goes to help the middle class (home mortgage deduction) and the rich (tax dollars to oil companies) is called a subsidy.  1% of the federal budget goes toward public assistance for the poor.  12% of the federal budget goes toward subsidies for the middle class and the rich.  Yet, strange as it may seem, the Archie's of the world get far more steamed by welfare payments than they do by subsidy payments.
I know that the people in the Boyertown area are generously supporting both the Salvation Army and the Multi—Service food banks.  I hope the same is true in other area towns.  The Mercury's leadership in the current food drive and the volunteers who are assisting in the effort will ensure that no family in our area goes truly hungry.  For that we can all take pride.  Who knows, Archie himself might mischievously donate a can of outdated vegetables.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


            What is more peaceful than a drive through the towns and farmland of beautiful Lancaster County?  The very name sparks visions of country roads, covered bridges, Amish buggies, Mennonite churches and peaceful people who often say "blessings" upon departure, instead of "goodbye".  The  county is the home of a 7,000+ member mega-church with branch campuses in Ephrata, York and Harrisburg.  People of faith permeate this land.  And, somewhat surprisingly, people of no faith.

            I learned this while reading my newspaper on the iPad one morning .   I came across an article about the Pennsylvania legislature passing a resolution declaring this the year of the Bible in Pennsylvania.  This action had spawned immediate controversy regarding the separation of church and state.  According to the article, one protesting group was PAN, or Pennsylvania Non-Believers.

            Being ever curious, I immediately googled the name on the iPad and discovered that PAN was an atheist organization based in York, Dauphin and Lancaster counties.  What?  An atheist group in Lancaster County?  It jarred my image of that serene land, agitating my curiosity to learn more about this group.  How better to achieve that than attending one of their meetings, which I did.

            What a hoot?  Ironically, there were twelve members present sitting around a table.  I was the thirteenth.  When people were asked to introduce themselves, I was tempted to say that my name was Judas Iscariot, but I refrained.  The average age of the membership was 55+.  Many were retirees who felt they could only come out now because had they done so earlier, they might have faced workplace discrimination.  Most came from religious backgrounds, but claimed reason had triumphed over their faith.  There was a degree of underlying anger in this group that resulted in a somewhat aggressive posture toward believers.

            Thus, the business agenda discussion included the manning of an atheist booth at the Lancaster PrideFest.  (What?  There are gay people in Lancaster County??)  Atheists and gays are among the last social outcasts of American society, a group that once included the Irish, Jews, Mormons, Catholics, blacks, Asians and Native Americans, to name a few.  Let's not forget women whose social roles were extremely limited.  Some of these groups still have not entirely escaped the social outcast label, though inevitable progress will eventually free them of their current stigma.
It was announced that the York chapter had rented billboard space in Harrisburg to protest the Year of the Bible Resolution.  We were told that the billboard would depict a slave in chains with a Bible verse (Ephesians 6:5) "Slaves, obey your masters!"  There was no discussion; it was presented merely as a point of information.  I pictured in my mind, a white Spartacus-type slave.

            About a week later I learned that the billboard had been put in place with a devastatingly opposite effect than PAN had intended.  They depicted a black slave in chains on a billboard located in a "diverse" neighborhood.  It read like a message from the Ku Klux Klan.  The billboard was almost immediately vandalized and soon thereafter taken down by the company that owned it.  The PAN chapter leader in York apologized profusely.  Is this a great country or what?

            By the way, one of the York chapter's premiere events is a pub crawl held every time the end of the world is announced, such as this December 21.  Some believe that when the Rapture occurs, people will be sucked out of their clothes and ascend to heaven, leaving nonbelievers behind.  Thus, the pub crawlers set up lawn chairs in front of the establishment they are visiting, positioning clothes and shoes on the lawn chairs to represent people that have risen to heaven in this current Rapture.  Meanwhile, in the bar drinks are ordered, including one for Jesus.  And what drink is ordered for Jesus?  A glass of water.  Why water?  Why pay for a glass of wine when Jesus can turn water into wine himself?

            Now I realize that many people of faith might be agitated by the above paragraph, while others may find it amusing.  If this were about Mohammed, somebody might try to blow up the bar.  Hopefully, we are little more laid-back, realizing that this is all part of that wonderful fabric we call America.

            It was also reported that buses from York and Lancaster counties were booked for the Reason Rally to be held on March 24 in Washington DC.  Atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others would be gathering to hear speakers and celebrate the triumph of reason over faith that they had experienced.  Music would be provided by, among others, a band known as Bad Religion.  Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Pete Stark are scheduled to address the rally.  They bill this  rally is as the largest secular event in world history.  Take that, Super Bowl!

As people stood up at the end of the meeting ready to depart, I blurted out, "Nice meeting you all.  God bless you and have a safe trip home."  Some looked at me strangely, some laughed and off we went.
But wait!  There's more.  As Christians have splintered into many diverse churches, so the nonbelievers have also split.  While the PAN group appears to consist mostly of atheists, another group of nonbelievers, the Lancaster Freethought Society, is a home for agnostics and humanists as well as atheists.  I returned to Lancaster County to visit one of their meetings.

These freethinkers were more cerebral, well-versed in the Bible and had a speaker as the main feature of their program.  The speaker was a former divinity school student who had lost his faith.  This group was younger and more dynamic than the PAN group.  They were less interested in trashing religion, and more interested in using positive works to show that the ever-growing number of secular people is just ordinary citizens like you and me.  They just want to be accepted as part of the rich fabric of the American scene, you know, like an Amish buggy clopping through the beautiful farmland of tranquil Lancaster County.  I wish them godspeed.