Friday, December 10, 2010

It's a modified world after all

[Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2010 edition of Ferndale Friends] 

It’s a modified world after all
In mid-November our family visited the new Harry Potter Park at Universal Studios in Orlando.  While waiting in line for one of the rides I noticed a sign that read, “Modified seating, row 3.”
Modified seating?

I searched the internet with my new Droid X (great device) for an explanation.  As expected, we weren’t the first people to notice the sign.  The Orlando Examiner’s Seth Kubersky noticed it, too.  
“Author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter fiction franchise is the biggest cultural phenomenon to hit the literary world in a decade.  But Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the groundbreaking headliner ride at (the park) ran headlong into another major cultural development: the rapid expansion of America’s waistlines.”
For safety reasons, seats that might accommodate “modified” persons are unsafe for “unmodified?” persons as the latter may slip out.  

At 6’4”, I might be considered “non-standard.”  Though the restraints at the rides easily secured me safely in my seat, I noticed none of the head-rests on the rides were high-enough to guard against whip-lash, and my knees frequently knocked the sides of whatever vehicle I was riding in.  But tall people rarely, if ever, invite sympathy.  Tall people can’t blame their height on McDonalds, soft drinks, saturated fats, low metabolisms, or thyroid conditions.  

I was reminded of Universal’s “modified” seating—and the reason for it, when our family hopped on Disney World’s “It’s a small world” ride.  As our boat floated past the 289 animated dolls, 147 toys, and 36 animated props, I made another observation: none of the dolls is fat, or short, or tall. They’re all a uniform height.  In fact, due I’m sure to Disney’s meticulous attention to detail, none of the dolls were handicapped or otherwise not operating according to design.  They’re probably all equally educated and from similar socio-economic backgrounds as well.  Sure, they had different color skin, different clothes, different hairstyles, and the British dolls were easily identified by their bad teeth, but those are superficial differences.  That’s lip-stick diversity.  But it is the kind of diversity that’s easier to promote, accept, and include on questionnaires than diversity of opinion.

But it is a children’s ride after all, and children shorter than 42” can’t be expected to appreciate how superficial the diversity we see is compared to the diversity we hear, read, speak, or write.

But we’re adults.  We shouldn’t think we’ve conquered Everest when the only mole hill we’ve climbed is how people look.  We’ll have arrived at a much better place when we’ve overcome the xenophobia of opinion.

Overcoming that fear doesn’t mean we patronize those we disagree with.  In fact, it means quite the opposite.  It means we engage them in discussions, debates, and yes, even (civil) arguments.

But don’t expect that achievement to be celebrated by others, reported on the news, included in school advertisements, or recognized by advocacy groups.  It is truly its own reward.

Happy Anniversary!

This article marks the anniversary of my first “consolation” column published after Scott Galloway shellacked me in the 2009 election by 78 votes, or 3%.  Not as bad as the pounding Covey gave me two years earlier when a 318-vote margin separated us by 9%.  The good news is, if anyone believes the charter amendment’s success was a reflection of my political sway, it only passed by 2%.  

I’m not a mathematician, but I think this phenomenon (9%, 3%, 2%) is similar to exponential decay: an equation that may approach zero but is forbidden by the laws of mathematics, habit, or handicap from ever crossing the finish line.  If you’re not convinced, grab a calculator and see how many times you can divide any positive number by 3 until it actually reaches zero.  If you’re not sure, keep dividing it until it reaches zero or goes negative.  Write me when you get there.

I bring that up not only because of the anniversary, but because Ferndale was a stand-out when compared to the state election results.

Republican Ruth Johnson beat Democrat Jocelyn Benson for Secretary of State by 5.5%, but lost in Ferndale by 35%.

Republican Bill Schuette beat Democrat David Leyton for Attorney General by 9%, but lost in Ferndale by nearly 34%.

Finally, Republican Rick Snyder beat Democrat Virg Bernero for Governor by 18%, but lost in Ferndale by 19.5%.

Now, Michigan is pretty much a “blue” state, meaning it normally leans toward Democrats.  Though the state as a whole went in the opposite direction, Ferndale stuck to its guns and is so far out of the mean to be bordering on becoming not just a statistical outlier as much as a statistical outcast.  This lopsidedness is reflected in our city council as well.  While many voters may interpret the council’s many 5-0 and 4-1 votes as evidence of what council person Kate Baker describes as collaborative, others see it as uniformity, homogeny, or monotony of thinking.
Essentially, Ferndale’s council may have straights, gays, males, and females, but is otherwise absent of diversity of opinion.  Which is to say, it reflects the hegemony of its voters.

We’ll see in January if city council appoints a council person to replace the resigning Mayor Covey that will give it the “new dynamic” it claims to want.  That would be an act of leadership, and that, too, is its own reward.   

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