Exorcising Your Right to Vote

I once cheerfully disenfranchised my whole family. We were taking a vote on something trivial: what movie to watch—Mulan vs. Aladdin. My husband and kids voted for one movie. I voted for another. Gleefully, the kids crowed about winning. I doubled down.

“Put your hands down!” I ordered. I pointed to the twins. “You two aren’t old enough to vote.” Then I pointed to my husband. “And you can’t vote in this country because you’re English. Since I’m the only one in this family both old enough to vote and a citizen of the United States, I win!”

See how easy it is to make it hard to vote? There are all sorts of ways that people can try to take away your vote. Gerrymandering is a fun one. We once lived in Pennsylvania. After we left, the district we were in became one of the most gerrymandered in the United States. The press called it “Goofy kicking Donald Duck.”

Goofy Kicks

Donald looks more like Stitch to me, but regardless, the Republicans in Pennsylvania cheerfully created this district to give themselves more seats in the legislature by grouping together as many Republican votes as possible. Here’s how District 7 looked prior to this 2003 gerrymandering.

PA 7

And when we lived there, the district had even more regular boundaries than that! But lest you think this is only a nefarious plan on the part of Republicans, the Democrats are guilty too. Here’s Maryland’s District 3, which a local politician once said looked like “blood spatter from a crime scene.”

MD 3

Of course, gerrymandering is not a recent phenomenon; in fact, it takes its name from a former governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry. Gerry was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and James Madison’s vice president, but he’s most remembered as the governor whose administration enacted an 1812 law that created more senatorial districts in Massachusetts, thus giving his party more votes. Since one of the newly created Boston-area districts was said to resemble a salamander, the press dubbed it a “Gerry-mander.”

Gerry-mander

Elkanah Tisdale political cartoon of the “Gerry-Mander”

But gerrymandering is only one way to favor a particular outcome in an election. If you can’t redraw the map to make it harder for your opponents’ votes to count in the newly rigged district, you could try implementing a voter ID law. Twelve states, all Republican held, now have strict voter ID laws where voters have to show an approved ID to vote. Eight other states (six Republican, a swing state, and a Democratic state) require the ID, but they will allow voters to cast a provisional ballot without it. The problem here is that voters have to return with a valid ID within a certain time frame (usually a few days) for the provisional ballot to be counted. Which ID is valid varies by state. In Texas, for example, you can show your gun permit, but your university ID doesn’t count.

Opponents liken this mandatory voter ID system to a poll tax because the voter usually has to pay for the ID, and it is often inconvenient for voters to get because they have to go to a centralized location. Poll taxes (essentially a fee for voting) began in the late 1800s in the South as a way to keep African Americans and poor whites from voting, although the latter might be “grandfathered in” if they had a relative who voted before the Civil War. The legality of the direct fee-to-vote system was struck down by the 24th Amendment in 1964. So of course, proponents of strict voter ID laws argue that these laws are not a poll tax at all; after all valid government ID is useful in other situations besides voting. But an analysis of the effect of voter ID laws show that, like the poll tax, they disproportionately prohibit minorities, students, and the poor—the very people who struggle most to find transportation to a state-approved ID facility and the money to pay for the ID—from voting.

Poll Tax

While you might think these voter ID laws are a legacy from years ago, they are actually a relatively new voter suppression tactic. Indiana was the first state to pass a strict voter ID law in 2005. The Supreme Court upheld the law in 2008, and additional states have piled on since. Proponents argue these ID laws are important for preventing voter fraud at the polls, but study after study has found there are actually very few instances of impersonation voter fraud—the type that a voter ID would prevent. According to Justin Levitt, a professor with Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, that number is 31 attempts in more than a billion ballots cast since 2000. That result doesn’t even round to a hundredth of a percent; it is basically zero.

If you’re not a fan of looking at terrible voter ID pictures, you might choose to make it physically harder to vote. You can do that by closing polling places or shortening the hours of voting (both in the period leading up to the election when absentee ballots are cast and on the actual day of the election). This tends to create long lines, causes confusion on where to vote, and often forces the voter to have to travel farther to get to the polls. Again studies show this tactic disproportionately affects minorities and the poor. In the South alone, after part of the Voting Rights Act was struck down in 2013, almost 900 polling places were closed in areas that served these populations in the period leading up to the 2016 election.

And if you find it too much trouble to close down the polling places, you can always just drop people from the voting rolls (sometimes without telling them), prevent released convicts who have served their sentences from ever voting again, change the rules about how the voter has to go about registering, or any number of other methods politicians use to keep people from voting—usually in the fear that the masses won’t vote for their candidates and thus the only way to win is to game the system.

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Sure, it feels great for a minute or two to win that election because you suppressed the vote (after all, I still feel sure my favorite Disney movie, Mulan, is superior to Aladdin,* one of  the kids’ favorites [Mulan is literally a kick-ass female lead; what’s not to love?]), but if we disenfranchise other voters, a tenet of our democracy is lost in the process. If the politician (or parent) has to rig the system to win, they aren’t really representing the will of the people. In the years since the movie incident, I’m pleased to report that my husband became an American citizen and the kids are now duly registered voters. Their votes each count equally to mine, and that’s how it should be.

On Tuesday, November 6, voters will once again head to the polls to vote in the midterm elections. As we’ve seen, plenty of people want to suppress your vote. Don’t let them. Please check your local requirements and take the time to let your voice be heard. It belongs to you alone, and it matters.

Text © Rebecca Bigelow
Photos from Wiki Commons

Additional Reading

 

*Hey, Aladdin fans, I like your movie pick. I just like mine more! YMMV.

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On All Hallow’s Eve

 

The artist down the street
Gave delicately iced, arched-back
Black cat sugar cookies.
The people in the castle
Gave homemade popcorn balls
That stuck in your teeth.
The neighbors ’cross the way
Gave gooey caramel apples.
But we always hoped for
Store-bought candy.

And now, you can’t give
Hand-crafted goodies
Because parents are afraid
Of razors in apples,
Or drugs in cookies,
Or worst of all,
Of not knowing
All the people
In the neighborhood.

I guess irony is knowing you
Only wanted Snickers as a kid,
But as an adult, you are sad
That homemade sweets
Have gone the way of the dodo
At Trick-or-Treat.

Text: © 2017 Rebecca Bigelow
Clipart: WikiClipArt

A Bit of Doggerel


It’s Valentine’s Day—at least for a few more minutes. If the checkout line at the grocery store yesterday is any indication, lots of people got stuffed animals and big pink cards covered in glitter (lots of glitter) in my town today. I tend to prefer a more low-key day (because I am too frugal to see much point in buying a card for eight bucks that will be looked at once!), so my day was perfect for me: No grand gestures, just dinner with my husband and son and a chance to Skype with my daughter who is away at the moment. Spending that kind of time with loved ones is definitely my idea of a successful holiday. Whether you celebrated romantically with a partner, as part of a family gathering, with a friend or two, or just enjoyed alone time, I hope your day was as perfect for you as mine was for me.

Although my Valentine’s Day was lovely, there have been some irritants in the last couple of weeks. What better way to slay those dragons than with a bit of fluff and fun? I think I’ll call this collection Poems from Cranky People. Writing them made me feel better. I can guarantee these little bits of verse will not end up on a card you can buy at the grocery (not in pink, not at any price, and they are definitely glitter free), but perhaps they’ll make you smile.  Enjoy the last few minutes of the holiday!


Foreshadowing by Rebecca Bigelow

Each February we pretend
That some rodent can portend
The duration of our wintry state.
But I wish it would prognosticate
Something of more import.
So if, in fact, we must resort
To using a groundhog named Phil
To predict the future, then he should spill
Whether we will suffer, over our objections,
At least six more months of politics and elections.


Lightning Bugs by Rebecca Bigelow

A light glows briefly in the dark.
And like the mating call of a firefly,
Another answers it.
And soon the lights are twinkling.
Everywhere.
Some flashes last mere milliseconds.
But some can be measured
In moonlights and cups of cocoa.
And I wonder why
It is so important
To check your damn phone
In the theatre.


 

One Day at a Time

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How long is a day? Generally speaking, we say a day is twenty-four hours. Scientifically speaking, a day is 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds. When is a day not a day? Apparently when shipping companies are involved.

I recently placed an order with a large Internet company. Let’s call them Yangtze. And I have their annual subscription shipping service. Let’s call that Fibonacci. With Fibonacci you get free two-day shipping on in-stock items. I adore Fibonacci, and I often shop with Yangtze because of the convenience of having my purchases show up at my door in a brown box with the distinctive tape on it that says 0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 . . .

Last week, I placed an order for two mundane items: breakfast cookies (Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk, yum) and a new case for my cell phone. The old one had finally fallen apart, and duct tape was no longer working to hold it together (even duct tape has its limits). The Yangtze interface said that my items were in stock. I put them in my basket and checked out. The shipping information said I would receive my package on Wednesday. The items had said they were eligible for two-day shipping, so I thought that was weird. By my count, they would arrive on Tuesday. But I figured I’d ask Yangtze Customer Care (YCC) about it after I placed the order. It wasn’t a big deal; I didn’t need the breakfast cookies, and the cell phone case and I could limp along for another day. It was just a curiosity thing—after all that’s what this blog is about. I finished checking out and immediately opened a chat window with YCC.

Full disclosure: I’m a night owl. I placed my Yangtze order at 1:45 a.m. on Friday (the hours between Thursday night and the Friday business day). So at 1:50, I asked my YCC person to explain why my package was going to take until Wednesday to arrive. Our (very polite) conversation went something like this (edited for length/punctuation):

YCC: You need to place an order before the cutoff time to receive the order with two day shipping. As the carriers won’t be working on Saturdays and Sundays, it takes time for the package to be delivered.

Me: But even taking that into account, there is Friday and Monday, so it should arrive Tuesday at the latest, not Wednesday.

YCC: The cutoff time is over so if you place the order now, the two day shipping will be considered from Monday, i.e., Monday and Tuesday, so you will be receiving the order by Wednesday.

Me: So basically, even though we are only 2 hours into Friday, with an entire business day left, you don’t count it?

YCC: You need to place the order before Thursday to get the two day shipping by Saturday.

I explain again that I wasn’t expecting Saturday delivery, nor was I counting the weekend in my reckoning of two business days. But if they count Saturday for regular delivery, then shouldn’t my package arrive on Monday? I didn’t even want to ask that!

Me: But there is still plenty of Friday left.

In fact, for those keeping track, there were still more than seven hours before the start of the business day on Friday.

YCC: If the carriers would have been available we would have happily shipped the packages for you. Carriers won’t be working on Saturdays and Sundays.

We went around like an Abbott and Costello routine a few more times, and she offered to pass my feedback along to the higher ups, which I agreed to, but ultimately we ended the chat because we weren’t getting anywhere. And I was still getting my stuff on Wednesday.

When the chat transcript was emailed to me, I noticed that the chat was time-stamped in Pacific Standard Time. It was still Thursday where she was while we were chatting. I briefly wondered when my package would have arrived if she had placed the order, but it made my head hurt.

Then, the next morning (but time-stamped 2:55 a.m.!), I received an email from Yangtze. It informed me if I wanted to order that late and still wanted my package to arrive on Saturday, I’d have to pay for shipping. Otherwise to get Saturday delivery, I’d have to order before the cutoff time on Thursday to get it delivered for two-day on Saturday.

So at least two people at Yangtze agree Saturdays count for two-day Fibonacci delivery if you order before Friday, but Saturdays don’t count if you order on Friday. And Fridays don’t count either if you order on one. It’s a good thing Fibonacci two-day shipping only is valid in the United States. I think Fibonacci shipping across the International Dateline would open a rift in the space-time continuum. Perhaps it is my fault. My whole life I’ve probably been wrong for counting the 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds of Friday in my week. Although, frankly if we have to not count a day, I’d prefer to give up Monday. I think most people would agree with me on this.

And just when I’d resigned myself to Yangtze’s fuzzy math on day counting, my package arrived.

On Tuesday.

Text: ©Rebecca Bigelow; Photo: Public Domain

An Update (2/14/16): A couple of weeks later, I placed another mundane order on a Thursday night, but this time it was a couple hours before midnight instead of after. That package arrived on Monday. I believe I will build a Time Machine in the garage (assuming I can ever get work space in there), because that will be easier to figure out than Yangtze’s shipping policies.


Further Reading/Viewing:

The Tchotchke Two-Step

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At our house we have a semi-annual ritual dance known as the Box and Bin Shuffle. Its start date is not tied to the calendar, nor is it tied to a moon cycle. Instead it occurs when my husband hears these magic words uttered: Chance of accumulating snow. This year, the call came late—in deepest, darkest January—but we both recognized his call to arms when the Weather Channel announced the threat of four inches of the white stuff last weekend: Time to get the cars in the garage.

Now most reasonable people consider the garage to be a place to park one’s car(s) on a full-time basis. After all, this is definition one in any major dictionary. Most reasonable people are not married to my husband, however. We cannot always park cars in the garage because my husband suffers from an affliction known as “I might need that”-itis. In other words, he is a pack rat. After nearly 30 years of marriage, I finally have him on the road to recovery; so the inside of our house is no longer cluttered with stuff, but the garage is one of his last holdouts.

Our garage is where old computers go to die. There are jars of bits and bobs that might come in handy—someday—and boxes of old games and toys from when the kids were small. No one needs or wants to play the Sponge Bob memory game now. My husband even admits we do not need these things; so in the warm months, he pulls them out to sort them. It is excruciating to watch him decide what to keep, what to throw away, and what to donate. We disagree. Sometimes vehemently. To the point that I have now abdicated all responsibility for the garage. Why? I like staying married to him.

This last summer, our very organized daughter (a gene that clearly comes from my side of the family) helped him sort through everything. She placed like items in boxes and labeled them all. There were several trips to Goodwill and headway was made. But then August rolled around and she had to leave for band camp and other college things—although I thought seriously about asking her to take a gap year to finish the job. So, the boxes stayed pretty much where they were through the fall and into early winter. And my car sat on the driveway. Until the battle cry came once again: Snow.

And so he stood in the garage and said he would move things so I could get my car in there. I said, “Some of this stuff could just go back to the shed.” After all we were done mowing the lawn for now, and the kids had moved all their stuff back to college, so we didn’t need the empty camp trunks and such. My husband looked sheepish. “There’s no room.” Now I was gobsmacked. How is there no room in the shed when a bunch of this stuff had obviously come from there? Never mind. I didn’t want to know. Evidently, the pack rat recovery program is a work in progress.

So, he shuffled boxes to one side. Stacked bins on top of one another. “It’s all still labeled from this summer,” he said. “It’ll be easy to sort out next spring.” I didn’t say a word. In the past, I’ve threatened to donate the lot, but he says we can’t just do that. Some of it is important.

And the thing is, some of it is. It doesn’t help that we are at that life stage where our parents’ things are filtering their way to us. “It needs to stay in the family,” my mother says, playing on my sense of tradition and family history. “We knew you liked that stuff,” my sister-in-law said, handing over several boxes of papers from my husband’s side of the family. She was ostensibly here for a visit, but based on the number of boxes she pulled out of her trunk, I suspect she really just wanted her own garage cleared out.

And it’s true I do like this stuff. I like old birth certificates and family pictures. It’s fun to see my husband’s old report cards. I am just not sure I need his siblings’ old report cards or his unlabeled family pictures. Is that Great Grandma Sadie or some random former friend? Who knows! Someday, I may get to put these items in the recycling, but it is a process to get my husband to that point. I tried to instill the “if you haven’t used it or thought of it in two years, you don’t need it” rule. He upped it to five. Or maybe ten in certain cases. Oh, who am I kidding? We still have baby-proofing items in the attic. The kids are turning 21 this year.

And so, here we are. The threatened accumulating snow last weekend never materialized, but it is only a matter of time. He took a few more boxes to Goodwill this week. Baby steps. And I can, in fact, get my car in the garage now.

His still sits on the driveway.

 

Text: © 2016 Rebecca Bigelow;
Photo: Public domain from Wikimedia Commons


Resources:

The Ridiculously Thorough Guide to Decluttering Your Home. The website is for a dumpster rental place, but they actually have a lot of great advice for people who want to organize and declutter. If you live with your own pack rat, your mileage may vary.

 

Ten Things I ♥ about NYC

I grew up in New England. New York City, with all its bustling excitement, was about three hours away. We took several school fieldtrips there. My family would also visit my grandfather—a retired professor at Columbia, who still lived a few steps from that venerable institution.

Twelve years ago this week, the unthinkable happened in the city I love to visit. It hurts to watch destruction and carnage anywhere, but this was particularly painful because it was a place I had visited (I had been to the top of the World several times), so I could imagine everything as it happened. The terrible loss of life and emotions of that day and those following will be forever writ on my heart and that of everyone who experienced that awful day. Yesterday, the anniversary of that horrible day, there were plenty of memorials to those tragic events. But I don’t want to revisit that in this blog. I want to celebrate New York City and what I love about it—then and now.

1. Theatre. I have vivid memories of seeing shows with my school and my family. We saw plays, we saw musicals, and we saw ballet. I can still recall the thrill and awe of the 40-foot Christmas tree rising from below the state at Lincoln Center during George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. It was one of my first theater-going experiences and the pageantry thrilled my seven-year-old heart. How did they get that huge tree to grow in the theatre? It was magic. It still is.

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2. Museums. Fieldtrips are supposed to be educational. Our school day in New York usually included the American Museum of Natural History or the New York Hall of Science. In part, my lifelong love affair with history and knowledge began in NYC: the life-sized blue whale that hung over one of the exhibit halls, the dioramas of Native Americans, the bones of dinosaurs that once wandered the valley where I lived—millions of years separating our existence. All of this and more is on display. New York allowed me to explore King Tut’s tomb at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and modern art at the Guggenheim. Heaven for the girl who would go on to write the blog Curiosity Seldom Pays. (Although I will confess to feeling that I could easily replicate some of the modern art—a canvas that is entirely red? Who can’t do that?)

3. Standing in history’s shadow. New York was the nation’s first capitol. George Washington was inaugurated on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in 1789. You can stand where he stood, and I have! If you’re a history buff, you can totally get your geek on just walking down the street in Manhattan—from the architecturally significant buildings to the ethnic neighborhoods that tell the story of the American immigrant to the literary pilgrimage spots. New York has history in spades.

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4. The Empire State Building. One of those architecturally significant buildings was completed in 1931, and for 40 years the art deco building was the world’s tallest at 102 stories (1250 feet, not including the spire antenna). With observation decks on both the 86th and 102nd floors, you can see all of New York City laid out below you, and on a really clear day, you can see almost 80 miles in every direction—giving you a glimpse of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania as well. History, architecture, and a really great view. What more could you ask?

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5. The Staten Island Ferry. It’s free! In a city where it costs $8.50 to get a small soda (okay, slight exaggeration), free is a miracle. Save your money and skip a harbor cruise; be a real New Yorker and try the ferry. The Staten Island Ferry makes over 100 trips a day during the work week (and around 70 a day on the weekends). The five mile, 25-minute (each way) trip offers a respite from the jostling crowds and some of the best views in New York: the famed New York Skyline, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty.

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6. Ellis Island. A recent addition to my New York favorites, we took the kids a couple of years ago. We were on what I like to call the Great AP US History (APUSH) Tour of the East Coast. I could easily imagine the nervous immigrants treading the stairs in the Great Hall. Some of my ancestors came through the earlier immigration station, Castle Garden, but I guess the feelings and emotions were the same. Freedom. A chance for a better life. The welcome of Lady Liberty’s raised lamp (Ellis Island opened in 1892, and the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886.), which offer the promise of light and hope for the future, is still a powerful symbol today. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum is an excellent chance to recall where we came from and to reflect on where we want to go.

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7. The food. When I was a kid, I loved it when my parents would buy us pretzels from the food carts. I grew up in a street-vendorless college town, so buying food off the street was an exotic experience. Then there were the restaurants: My first glass of red wine was in an Italian restaurant in Little Italy, which was also as my introduction to the antipasto platter. There was prosciutto and unusual cheeses from Zabar’s on the Upper West Side, which was my grandfather’s favorite; the smell of coffee from Chock Full O Nuts, where my dad liked to grab a cup of coffee and a snack; there were deli’s with stacks of meat on fresh rye bread—like at the Second Avenue Deli (which is no longer on Second Avenue!) where we took the kids on the Great APUSH Tour—and there was the fabulous New York pizza. (Note to the so-called NY-style pizza place locally: you’re doing it wrong.) So much good food and so many great memories of sharing it with family and friends!

8. The rhythm of New York. People moved quicker. They talked quicker. They seemed to live quicker. The pace of the town I grew up in was sleepy, so it was eye-opening—and exhilarating—to adjust to the pace of New York. As it turns out, I’m more of a college-town girl, but I still enjoy the periodic foray into an urban playground.

9. The subway. The subway is an awesome tool for an aspiring writer. There are hundreds of people riding with you. Where are they going? What are their stories? Are they happy or sad? Tourist or native? Worker bee or boss? How do they talk, interact, live? The possibilities are endless, the stories infinite. Oh, and it’s also pretty dang fun to practice subway surfing. Look, Ma! No hands!

10. Everything else. It’s impossible to list only ten great things about New York—the resilient people, the fabulous Central Park, the skating at Rockefeller Center, the Christmas decorations, the movie locations, the collective knowledge of the universities, the parades, .… I’m so glad to have some small ties to this iconic city. Rock on New York. I’m delighted you’re there.

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Text ©Rebecca Bigelow
Photos ©Rebecca Bigelow and Ian Brooks

Additional Reading: