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Saturday, August 07, 2004

History Lesson

Earlier today, my family visited Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In addition to the greenery, the Gardens feature numerous works of sculpture and I think this one is my favorite:

The piece by artist Bill Woodrow is called "Listening to History." I liked it a great deal.

As I remarked to my family, it reminded me of graduate school.

The Gardens are best known for "Leonardo Da Vinci's Horse: The American Horse" by sculptor Nina Akamu.

Basically, Da Vinci intended to make this horse, but a war forced him to abandon the project because of the scarcity of metal. Over the past few decades, a number of people have worked to bring Da Vinci's work to fruition based on the surviving notebooks and drawings. The horse stands 24 feet tall and the same castings were used for the horse in Milan, Italy as well. It's an interesting bit of history...

But the history lesson I really learned in Grand Rapids came from my visit earlier this week to the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

And no, I'm not talking about the cultural milieu of the mid-1970s, which is the subject of one of the better rooms in the museum, or even Watergate (the museum has the original burglar tools).

So what did I learn?

Well, remember, Ford was the only US President who was neither elected to be President nor Vice President. He is a true oddity, selected to be Vice President once Spiro Agnew resigned the position and elevated to the top job when Richard Nixon resigned (the anniversary is August 9).

But this post isn't a history lesson about "selected" rather than "elected" presidents.

Towards the end of the pathway through the museum, one finds a display featuring a hodge-podge of photos and artifacts from the Ford era. On the wall just before the exit, one finds a 1970s vintage ATM, or automatic teller machine.

So what?

Well, it was manufactured by Diebold, a company still in the ATM business.

Yes, this is the same Diebold that now manufactures electronic voting machines.

The same Diebold with all kinds of connections to the Republican party and right wing political causes. The same Diebold subject to somewhat reasonable paranoid suspicion.

The same Diebold that says it would cost too much money to add printers to their voting machines so as to provide a hard copy of each vote.

When ATMs were first introduced, many people refused to use them because they didn't really trust the machines. Indeed, my parents have never used ATMs. I don't think my mother-in-law does either.

To reassure their customers of the safety of the transaction, banks had to issue paper receipts for all transactions.

So here's the bottom line history lesson: Diebold has been making machines for decades that allow individual users to walk away from their transaction with a hard copy receipt.

If it was necessary for bank customers, it is essential for voters.

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