Saturday, January 31, 2009

Public and accessible?

My frustrations with governmental bureaucracy have escalated since recent visits to the Guilford County Courthouse. I can empathize with the paper trails and the fact that these folks have to deal with the "general" public so my complaints are not typical. My disgust is focused on the maze of navigating entry. The architect designing this place should be shot and the idiots that approved the plan should be sentenced to navigating the facility daily sans use of "employee only" doorways.

Herein is my saga. According to county ordinances, my mother needed to file my father's will within one year of his death. He passed away in November and she wants to get these types of needling tasks out of the way. Everything they owned is either in her name or jointly titled. She is the sole heir and executrix - very tidy and uncomplicated.

Mom has COPD and has a handicapped parking identification tag. She drives as little as possible and I have been taking her on these more complicated excursions. The day we went happened to be the coldest for our area this year (around 19 degrees by mid-day). I concede that it was a poor choice of days in relation to her health but I can't help the weather didn't cooperate with my schedule.

The Estates office is in the Guilford County Courthouse which shares a courtyard with the Greensboro Municipal building. I've bounced around in both buildings and can get around fairly well. This was my first trip trying to navigate with a physically challenged person since 9/11 and Homeland Security.

We parked in a "wheelie" spot in the shared parking lot and walked to an entrance about 50 feet away marked "Handicapped." This entrance went into the municipal building but I knew we could go through the building, up an elevator and easily cut across the courtyard.I pushed a speaker button to gain access to the building. The woman asked where we were going. I responded and she said, "I'm sorry but I can't let you in this door. You have to go over to the courthouse entrance." I quickly explained mom needed to get out of the cold ASAP and the courthouse entrance was up a huge flight of stairs. The unidentified voice apologized, refused our entrance and said we could enter the courthouse on the street level through their handicapped entrance.

We turned around and walked across the parking lot, the entire length of the county building (about a half a block), turned the corner and walked another 50 feet to a wheelchair ramp. At the bottom of the ramp were two sets of darkly tinted doors. One set had signs "NO ENTRANCE" and the other set were marked "EMPLOYEES ONLY." The employee entrance was unlocked so I went in prepared to spout ADA regulations if we were refused access. Inside the lobby, a glass wall separated the two sets of doors. The security guard on the "no entrance" side started yelling and came around to our side. She was mean, ugly and yelling: "You can't come in this way. You have to use the main entrance" I retorted, "We're not leaving - she's disabled and we can't navigate the steps. Where's the handicapped entrance?" Ms. "Beulah Balbricker" instructed us to come into the "no entrance" side which is the handicapped entrance. On that side, they had the security scanners and walk-through. I said, "We didn't know we could come in here because it says 'no entrance.'" Beulah said they don't mark it as handicapped because if they did, everyone would suddenly become handicapped. I didn't say anything - I COULDN'T say anything - my jaw was hanging open. I think God had a hand in it, too because if I had been able to speak, the words that would have come forth would have caused my certain arrest. Mom needed a ride home so I stayed out of jail.

We passed one set of non-public elevators located next to the handicapped-marked-no-entrance-entrance and walked through a labyrinth of hallways to get to the public elevators which are adjacent to the courtyard entrance on the far side of the building. Then we walked back through the halls to get to the Estates office, which is located directly above the handicapped-marked-no-entrance-entrance.

Thankfully, the folks in the Estate office are very kind, helpful and maintain the atmosphere of a funeral home - very unlike the scallywags wandering the halls around courtrooms and paying fines at the clerk of court's office.

We worked our way back downstairs and I told mom to wait by the door. I dashed out to the lot to retrieve the car. Looking at my watch, the meter was going to run out any minute. Looking across the lot, the officer was already writing a ticket. I approached and started a futile argument. 1) We're in a handicapped spot so getting back on the dot might not be possible, especially with the maze that takes longer to navigate; 2) the meter JUST ran out; 3) accessibility is pathetic meaning they take advantaged of disabled folks by charging more for parking or issuing tickets knowing it will take them longer to get into and out of the building.

The meter maid (or meter male in this case) apologized because 1) he didn't know when the meter ran out since he was just coming back from lunch 2) once he starts issuing a ticket, he can't stop.

Again, I mumbled under my breath to avoid arrest.

We filed the will but there is debate over what type of letter we need for one insurance company. One document will cost around $60 the other only $30. I went back on my own (using the stairs which were unkind to my asthma) but there is still debate, so after clarifying between my mom and the insurance company, I will trek up there for a third trip.

I treasure the fact that I can be of help to my mom. I do not mind the files, documents and other red tape. I'll empty my purse, show that my camera is really a working photographic device, demonstrate that my penlight has dead batteries, walk through scanners and let the guard "do me with his magic wand." What I do mind is the hodgepodge of locked doors, barriers, yellow tape, and obstacle courses established for taxpayers to gain entry into a "PUBLIC" building.

Below - the view is of the courthouse steps. The county building's handicapped entrance is hidden and unmarked behind these stairs. Currently, the entrance of the courthouse is sloppily cordoned off with yellow tape and everyone must go to the opposite side of the building.

View Larger Map

Below, the view of the parking lot shows the city's handicapped entrance (straight ahead) with the handicapped parking just to the right. If you navigate the view a bit, and look behind the tree on the left,you can see the steps that unchallenged pedestrians are supposed to climb in order to access the county building.

View Larger Map

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Twitter tweets

A recent blog regarding Twitter protocol stimulated my small literary repertoire. To re-tweet or not to re-tweet was the question. 'Tis nobler to recognize the author than to forsake the attribute, in my most humble of opinions. Some believe the full statement should be re-posted and others believe the mere mention of said Tweet should satiate the appetite of those that ache to dine on others' crumbs. Though I believe it is wise to not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for I am crunchy and good with ketchup, the stir over retweets can be likened to a tempest in a teapot. As a gesture of homage, I dedicate the following parody to Twitter.

by Iris Carter

based on
Say over again... (Sonnet 21)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Say over again, and yet once over again,
That Tweet thou dost love. Though the words repeated
Should seem "a cuckoo-song," as thou dost tweet it,
Remember, never to the Mac or PC,
iPhone or SMS, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes Twitter in all her text completed.
Followers, I, amid the tweets greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt’s pain
Cry, "Speak once more—thou Tweet!" Who can fear
Too many posts, though each in sequence shall scroll,
Too many following, though each shall read and cheer?
Say thou dost Tweet, Tweet, Tweet—toll
The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear,
To Re-Tweet me also with honorable intent and toil.


Say over again... (Sonnet 21)

Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated
Should seem "a cuckoo-song," as thou dost treat it,
Remember, never to the hill or plain,
Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.
Belov├Ęd, I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt’s pain
Cry, "Speak once more—thou lovest!" Who can fear
Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,
Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me—toll
The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Grammar Slammer

I've always been a stickler for grammar. The English language is a treasure for me and I love to manipulate words and sentences. I now have a new part-time job teaching composition at a local community college. In fact, getting organized with a new schedule has put me behind on my blogging but I think I am getting back on track, now!
Editing one's own writing is difficult because we often see what we intended to write, not what is actually on the page. I'm sure there are errors in my blogs as well as other works but I do try to proofread as much as possible.
In my first classes last week, we discussed the important of writing well. I contended that if everyone could write, I wouldn't have a career - both as a teacher and as an editor. When I questioned the class about reading something that is written poorly, they stated that it reflects on the writer. The person is perceived as less intelligent and non-credible.
A friend emailed a link to me for a blog that focuses on blog tips. My immediate reaction was, "great concept!" Unfortunately, the writing is full of errors with changing tenses and mismatched subject/verbs. I hope someone will pass along a tip to this poor soul that obviously had good intentions. Maybe I will go back myself and offer some friendly advice. In the meantime, heed my warning here lamb chops: Baaaad writing = baaaaad reputation!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Twitter Litter

Twitter Litter
1. Scattered rubbish posted by tweeters on Twitter
2. A condition of disorder on Twitter caused by useless tweets
3. Propaganda spread on Twitter by egocentric tweeters

I follow a variety of people on Twitter. Some folks follow me in return, some don't. Some have thousands of followers, some have only a few. Some tweet often, others go days without tweets. I often find great links to much needed information or enjoy a friendly "hello" from someone I've met online.

As I perused tweets one evening, I came across a comment by someone ranking high in their number of followers. It seems they had gotten some unkind remarks from another tweeter and were goading more reaction. I followed links to responses and figured out the tiff between egos. Admittedly, I got voyeuristic pleasure from watching the public lobs yet I also realized I was following someone merely because they are a noted guru of social media. This person has not provided any useful information for me yet I follow because others continually comment on his popularity and knowledge.

Why are we compelled to follow the herd instead of our instincts? I suppose I fear missing some great epiphany from this almighty and powerful tweeter however if he did happen to drop a morsel worthy of nibbling, I'd miss it because I don't do anything to track his tweets. Maybe I follow, assuming that thousands of others must have a valid reason that I am overlooking.

Whether it's Twitter or other networking sites, we should consider our own needs and not those of popular opinion. If someone is leaving an abundance of Twitter litter on your page, toss them in the trash and avoid the litter bugs. Follow someone that is going to lead you in a positive direction.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Gah-gah over Gaza

The news of the latest middle east bombings has me mounting my soap box like so many others, yet I hesitate because the whole mess is so confusing. Everyone wants to claim a piece of that area of the world and so much transition has occurred over thousands of years that it is difficult to discern where the lines should be drawn. Take ancient history, mix in geography with a hefty helping of foreign language and most Americans will cross their eyes and run the other way. The subject is one that most people recognize but lump all the victims and criminals into one recycling bin. When the topic resurfaces the reaction is, "Oh, it's you again."

Why should Americans care about what happens over there? How does it affect us? Let "them" figure it out, right? Wrong! Some "experts" will probably cringe at my descriptions here, but I'm hoping to fly under the radar and share on a level that has been overlooked.

We hear reference to the West Bank, Palestine, Israel, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Gaza, the Gaza Strip and other areas. Look at the map for a moment. Zoom in, zoom out, see where you are, see where "they" are. Keep in mind, the colorization I did is not perfect, but close enough to give you a general idea of the land mass for each area.

View Larger Map

The West Bank (in blue) and the Gaza Strip (in red) have changed hands over the years with rulers swapping hands like chess game players on crack. From 1965-2007 Israel controlled the Gaza Strip but backed off returning the government to a Palestinian leadership. Israel may have withdrawn from the strip BUT they control the borders and airspace. If they get PO'ed (or in this case PLO'ed) they can put the squeeze on supplies going into the strip. As for the West Bank, it's never been a state. The United Nations considers the West Bank and Gaza Strip "Israeli-occupied." Israel will not recognize the territories as independent until it can reach an agreement with the Palestinians.

To scramble the borders even further, there are people that say, "I was born in "XYZ" city and that is my home!" Others say their ancestors were from "ABC" town and they should be able to settle there. Then there are the ones that are living in the territories determined by the governments with which they are aligned. Israeli communities are popping up in areas of the West Bank where residents literally "take over" an area that was primarily Palestinian. Both believe they have rights to be there and they don't live in peace. Mix these folks up and there is conflict within the borders as well as tug-of-war on the borders.

Imagine New York City being invaded by Canadians. (no, seriously) Folks are milling about and suddenly the Canadian Mounties are roaming the streets claiming military power. Canadian builders take over Central Park and build massive home sites for their citizens. Then, as New Yorkers get frustrated and leave like refugees (generally heading south to my home state or to Florida) Canadians begin taking over entire buildings. The New York merchants are still trying to maintain their ground but the Canadians start looking out from their windows above, throwing trash and rocks onto the streets below. Okay, it's far-fetched on the local level (I hope) but maybe it brings the ideas closer to home? A friend recently visited the West Bank and returned with photos of these instances happening in the West Bank.

Back to the Middle East - let's not forget that the Palestinians have TWO sects vying for control. In 2006 there was a legitimate election of a legislative governing body for ruling Palestine's West Bank AND Gaza Strip called the Palestinian National Authority. "Fatah" controls the West Bank and their military rival "Hamas" has taken control of the strip. The president of the Palestinian National Authority fired his Prime Minister in the strip (who was supporting Hamas) and put a new guy in charge of rebuilding that government. The first Prime Minister thumbed his nose at the president and said (of course paraphrased) "We're not budging, in fact, we have control of all Palestinian territories and WE are the Palestinian National Authority." Hamas has been called a terrorist regime and there are reports of brutality against anyone opposed to the Hamas rule within the Gaza Strip.

Hamas and Fatah have been fighting with occasional missile fire between the two. Israel is smack in the middle and has been needling Hamas with border invasions and restricting incoming supplies. Hamas is irritated and is firing on Israel.
Now consider the fact that Gaza is the largest city in the Gaza Strip with a population close to a half-million and 1.4 million live in the metropolitan area. Israel's capital is Jerusalem with a population of around 750,000 but the population of the entire country is about 7.2 million. With a larger land mass and more cities, Israel's people are spread out more than Gaza's. When a bomb hits Gaza, more people will get hurt than when one flies into Israel, which would account for the 460 dead and 2,700 injured Palestinians with only four dead in Israel.

For me, a factor in the equation is President G.W. Bush's backing of Israel's actions. Regardless of who started needling who, where the lines in the sand are drawn and what religion anyone is, if Bush says he is "for" something, then the whole idea is probably wrong. He also managed to put his foot in his mouth once again (has it EVER been removed?) saying, "By spending its resources on rocket launchers instead of roads and schools, Hamas has demonstrated that it has no intention of serving the Palestinian people." This statement could just as easily be read with the U.S. in mind ... "By spending resources on rocket launchers instead of roads and schools, Bush has demonstrated that he never had the intention of serving the United States people."

We're seeing protesters and demonstrators, those for Israel and against Israel, for Palestine and against Palestine, Hamas and Fatah and many bloggers are backing up different perspectives. Compelled to follow the intended nature of my blog, I am not saying which way the lambs should go, but before you pick a side you should be well-informed. I merely hit on the proverbial tip of the mammoth iceberg (which is shrinking due to global warming - but that's another blog).

I will, however, insert my personal opinion that in this conflict there is no "right" side other than human rights. People who are suppressed, subjected to military control, and unable to get basic supplies are being denied their simple right to "be."