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Won’t ride ‘em cowboy: This is my final column

 Note: The following is the text of my February, 2011 column at Voices where I announce the end of my From Where I Sit column. The hard copy text, complete with a phograph of me, is available at newstands in Centre County. I am reproducing it here for two reasons. First a reader insisted that I was required to explain my rationale more fully or, in her words, "face a grilling."  I therefore intend to call my next blog Grilling in which I not only explain but provide the reader with reassurance that the issues of the elderly and disabled will continue to be covered at Voices--only not from me. Not within the context of this From Where I Sit monthly column. Writers interested in covering such subjects are requested to get in touch with me at the email address below.] <?xml:namespace prefix = o />

 The handler applies the fully-charged cattle prod to the rear of a bull bred for ferocity. The cowboy—Slim really is his name—holds onto his hat with his left hand. In his right hand are the reigns, two strips of leather held on tightly at first, but capable of falling apart to help the rider jump away from the bucking bull to safety after the regulation eight second ride is complete.

The maximum score is 100 points; 50 for the rider and 50 for the bull. A mean angry bull is the most desirable because he gives the rider the opportunity to make the most money. This bull is mean. When the bull jumps higher after the cattle prod, Slim smiles with optimism. The gate leading to the ring fails to open. Historically, when the gate sticks, a confined maddened bull has been known to break both legs of a rider. Slim, who attended rodeo schools, is aware of the danger.As a reporter at the World Series of Rodeo at Oklahoma City (before it moved to LosVegas),  I am sitting next to the handlers on the inside wooden planks of the chute. It took considerable effort to get permission to be this close to Slim—close enough to watch his pupils dilate into huge ovals displaying a fear he cannot disguise. The lead handler asks Slim if he would like to wait 20 minutes before beginning the ride. Slim nods him off. The gate opens.

 Sometimes it is prudent to know when to give up. I have been writing this column since October, 2009. One reader observed that my columns made her suspicious because of their apparent clarity, establishing a formula where I said clearly what I was going to write about and wrote it. She asked if I were hiding something amid this seeming clarity. I have been hiding my overall intention; namely, the necessity for the physically disabled, regardless of age, to achieve independence—independence for those of us whose bodies may not work, but whose minds do. The requirements for getting a good job include the tools to do the job, the income necessary to get off public assistance, and the opportunity to develop our talents so we can improve the nation’s economy. This is a complex set of tasks and does not fit neatly onto a piece of paper affixed with a magnet to the refrigerator.    

For those of us unable to walk, hear, or see the first task of necessity must be to rid ourselves of anger or at least pretend it isn’t there. Whatever the virtues of expressing how I feel, I have learned that when I am angry in public, I am on the express lane to defeat.

The Roman poet Catullus wrote, “I love and I hate. Do not ask me why I do so, but I am in torment.”  Often when I write this column I am overwhelmed by the fluctuations  (depending on my mood over the day) of love and hate projected on to a specific person or situation. Often I write multiple drafts of the same column, each thousands of words long until the emotion subsides and I can describe calmly a discrete 800 word section of my overall objective.Today’s current political situation leads me to despair that independence for individuals with physical difficulties will not come in my lifetime. It will not come because Democratic and Republican leaders do not regard it as a priority given our country’s other pressing problems.

Fortunately, I have the opportunity to leave my anger with the present and work on a training program at the virtual reality lab where Dr. John Messner has been creating 3-D programs showing how to construct accessible buildings before workers even begin to dig the foundation. Specifically, I am working with Sonali Kumar on what she calls “the bleeding edge” of technology to design models for independent elderly housing.

I am providing advice based on my experience as a disabled person who lives in independent elderly housing. Instead of maintaining the self-destructive illusion that I know more than everyone else, I am returning to a land of technology where what I don’t know fills the air like the thick steam on the top bench of a Turkish bath. There is so much to learn and all of it will help my people—individuals with disabilities. It is time for this cowboy to stop riding. I do not have the energy to both write this colum and plunge into the future.

When I am sufficiently trained, I will report to Voices on what the future will be like.

 —Joel Solkoff, author of The Politics of Food. Contact him at



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Well that new stuff you are working on sounds cool

3d modeling is a pretty interesting methodology to apply to access, I wonder what tools they are using and how it's intended to be integrated into the rest of the design process. 3d modeling is fairly common various stages of architecture now I gather.

What is this bleeding edge stuff you speak of?

Sounds like hellacious fun. And you are getting paid? You lucky dog, I'd do it for free. Well, for a little while, then I'd have to make some money to pay ceasar.


Sadly, I agree with you that the political climate is about to become much much worse for the disabled - hell for everybody who isn't already among the elites.

We took the wrong turn about 40 years ago, and have trapped ourselves in a dead end from which there is no easy escape.

Soon our economy will have to dump another 10 million workers.

It's hard to imagine what the politicians think they are doing, and where they are going to get the money they need to stay in power.


Reply to Bill's comment on the economy, plus innovation and INS

As usual you are a comfort
I will comment more fully on your description of the current political climate on another occasion. However, it is worth noting that President Barack Obama delivered a brilliant State of the Union Speech in which he made innovation in sciences and engineering a centerpiece.
His concern about our trained scientists receiving green cards was vastly reassuring. Former President Clinton noted on Meet the Press that this is the first recession in his experience where there were many jobs available, but that our domestic unemployed workers do not have the mathematical and computer education and training to fill these jobs.
These jobs are essential to the economy and they are filled largely by foreign born individuals, many of whom are in the United States and are at risk of deportation by overeager INS folks who are incapable of recognizing their value.
One story will suffice for now, and I will talk to you about virtual reality later.
When my 20-year old daughter Amelia was in elementary school, her best friend was Katya. Katya was everywhere in Amelia life. I went to her birthday party, drove her around to various events, and so on.
Katya’s father was a computer scientist at Northern Telecom. He was permitted to live in the United States on a limited visa which after 5 years could be extended to a green card if his employer decided that Katya’s father’s stay in the United States was in the best interest of the United States.
After 4 years, his employer foolishly told the INS that he was terminating the visa.
Katya’s father was deported and not only did Amelia suffer at the loss of her best friend, so did the economy.

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