Monday, March 19, 2018

Ohio Down Syndrome Law - Working as Intended

I am continuing to follow these laws. PA is next.

No one explains how they will actually solve the problem they are allegedly intended to solve. The rhetoric is: "Down syndrome is good, abortions after pretnatal testing are bad, so we'll make them illegal!" And too much of even the left-wing DS community applauds wildly, ignoring the way that Down syndrome is being used to undermine reproductive justice without, again, helping anyone with Down syndrome.

I often think that getting overturned by courts is exactly the desired result. The goal is to divide people. The goal is to get people who are nominally pro-choice to agree conceptually to exceptions.

Meanwhile, we're not actually having the tough conversations around the future of human procreation in the age of CRISPR.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Stephen Hawking - Bad Obituaries

I wrote for NBC about the death of Stephen Hawking, arguing:
A life like Hawking’s might easily fall into one of two ableist (discrimination or stigma based on prejudice and misconceptions about disability) tropes: The “supercrip” and the body/mind split. In the former, his accomplishments might suggest he “overcame” his disability. In the latter, his disability vanishes from the story as we emphasize the beauty of his mind.
Not only would either be untrue to Hawking’s own words about disability, it sends the wrong message to others. We need to see the scientist as a whole person with a complicated life story. He was a genius, he worked incredibly hard, he had access to great health care and social support, he had plenty of privilege and received help from countless people behind the scenes.
My editor, widely, advised me to cut a bunch on bad journalism as it becomes seriously naval-gazing for a general readership. But here's on my blog I can kvetch and overthink stuff all I want. So here are two cut paragraphs:
In 1988, a lush profile of the scientist in Time opened with, “Hawking is confined to a wheelchair, a virtual prisoner in his own body, but his intellect carries him to the far reaches of the universe.” Thirty years later, nothing has changed. . The New York Times, USA Today, Ars Technica, The Telegraph, and Science all described Hawking as “confined” to his chair. CNN used the much-loathed phrase, “wheelchair-bound.” For the Los Angeles Times, Hawking was “was chained to a wheelchair... but whose mind soared [beyond] the boundaries of the universe.” The Guardian called him a “Delphic oracle” whose “physical impairment seemed compensated by almost supernatural gifts, which allowed his mind to roam the universe freely.” Obituary writing is a tricky art, but these cliched structures reveal a desire to split the disabled body from the brilliant mind, rather than seek an integral whole person.

Then there were the cartoons. An image of him walking away from his chair into the cosmos went viral. Another cartoon showed him standing at the Pearly Gates, chair nowhere in sight. Hawking, of course, was an atheist. Obituary writing is a tricky art, but these cliched tropes reveal a desire to split the disabled body from the brilliant mind, rather than seek an integral whole person.
Obituaries for famous people are often written long in advance. I wonder how long ago these obituaries were drafted. I hope that when the next famous disabled people die, obituary writers do a little more editing.

There's a better way:
Here's two great pieces to read on Hawking:
Here's some coverage of the bad coverage.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Your own personal inclusion rider

Today news is going around Twitter about a 30 person white male "applied history" conference at Stanford. Here it is, in all its pasty glory.
It's likely most of these august chaps didn't bother to ask about diversity before taking the gig. I can't speak for what the organizers were thinking, though perhaps we'll found out. The one speaker who responded to queries on Twitter, so far, is being smug about it.

My response is this: If you are, like me, a white dude academic and/or writer, diversity needs to be part of your INITIAL response to invitations to speak.

I'm not perfect. The answers aren't always simple (sometimes I'm a lone speaker, then I try to make sure the overall series isn't all white dudes). No single event can incorporate every type of diversity in the cosmos.

But we, the white dudes, can do the work of diversifying events in which we participate. We have to.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Note on Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking, an amazing man, died yesterday.

I plan to spend much of the day being surly about the word "despite," as in, "despite his disability." Watch the tropes ...

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

ICE Targets Local Prof

ICE is trying to deport a local professor at Augsburg, destroying yet another family.

Someday, we're going to have a new government and we will need to have a reckoning. I can't really imagine what it looks like, but at least a very public process where we find out exactly who decided to destroy all these lives. At least.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Higher Ed and the NYT Op-Ed Page

I wrote for Salon: Higher Ed's got 99 problems ...

It started as a jokey, surly, listicle, then expanded into a pretty serious exercise and naming and providing a link to a broader discussion of issues that matter.

Over at Slate, Ben Mathis-Lilley put together a good list of all the NYT pieces on the "intolerant left" over the last few months. They just keep re-writing the same essay. And Jamelle Bouie, also at Slate, wrote a good piece on the real threats on campus. It's like my listicle, but serious and important. And then at Vox, Matthew Ygelsias shows that college campuses are far more supportive of free speech than elsewhere.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Autistic Child Hit by Van Driver

This is my family's school district. I'll be watching closely.
The mother of the student told KSTP she did not want her family's identity revealed publicly, and said her son told her it was the van driver's aide who assaulted him.

"My son has autism, and he can act out at times," she said. "And he told me the van driver's aide warned him to stop doing what he was doing or he would be hit. And my son said she then elbowed him in the chin and backhanded him across his cheek."
The mother said the district was informed of the incident. But she decided to file a complaint with the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office Wednesday when the same van driver's aide showed up to take her son to school.
There's video monitoring on these vans but ... it was turned off.

I am angry. I am also afraid for my son. I worry about the abusers all the time and don't know what I can do to help, other than to keep writing (on a macro level) and keep alert (on a local level). 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

#CultOfCompliance - The Stun Belt

This was new, and ghastly, to me:
Judges are not allowed to shock defendants in their courtrooms just because they won’t answer questions, the court said, or because they fail to follow the court’s rules of decorum.
“While the trial court’s frustration with an obstreperous defendant is understandable, the judge’s disproportionate response is not. We do not believe that trial judges can use stun belts to enforce decorum,” Justice Yvonne T. Rodriguez said of Gallagher’s actions in the court’s opinion. “A stun belt is a device meant to ensure physical safety; it is not an operant conditioning collar meant to punish a defendant until he obeys a judge’s whim. This Court cannot sit idly by and say nothing when a judge turns a court of law into a Skinner Box, electrocuting a defendant until he provides the judge with behavior he likes.”
The stun belt works in some ways like a shock collar used to train dogs. Activated by a button on a remote control, the stun belt delivers an eight-second, 50,000-volt shock to the person wearing it, which immobilizes him so that bailiffs can swiftly neutralize any security threats. When activated, the stun belt can cause the person to seize, suffer heart irregularities, urinate or defecate and suffer possibly crippling anxiety as a result of fear of the shocks.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Suspensions and Minnesota Schools

Yesterday, I wrote about a series of incidents in which disabled children, mostly non-white, whose stories of arrest and abuse in Florida schools have become national news. These stories pair with policies from DC that increase the criminalization in our schools, drive parents to private schools, where they have to surrender their rights. I made it clear it was a national issue, but focused on Florida because lawmakers were pushing more guns into schools and adding more mental health services. The latter are great, in theory, but doing so in the context of mass violence continues the false association of violence with mental illness. It's a tough read, I found (as did some readers), but I tried to make some connections visible around the #CultOfCompliance.

Late in the afternoon, then, I came across a similar story from Minnesota.
Students of color and those with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from Minnesota schools than their white peers or students without disabilities, a new study reveals.
The statewide analysis, released Friday by the state's Department of Human Rights, showed that students of color accounted for 66 percent of all school suspensions and expulsions in the 2015-16 school year, even though they make up only 31 percent of Minnesota's student population.
Disabled students were involved in 43 percent of all suspensions and expulsions, but make up only 14 percent of the student population.
"For some schools, this information was somewhat surprising; they hadn't examined this before," Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said. "I'm hoping, by us raising the awareness, it does stay front and center for people in Minnesota. I think there are a lot of folks in the state who want kids to succeed. Hopefully we'll see the disparities drop."
If this is a surprise to schools, they haven't been paying attention to both state and national trends. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Sherman Alexie and Daniel Handler

Yesterday, NPR broke the Sherman Alexie story. It's been an odd one, even in this moment of "me too," because the allegations went public and then viral long before the story, followed by an Alexie statement that generated more news, and then finally the women's voices were heard. NPR did a great job.

I did a few days' reporting on the story after my Daniel Handler article went live, as people reached out to me. This meant that as the story emerged, but before NPR's story was published, I watched Alexie's statement land and generate news with some tiny inside knowledge. As a result, I had a few thoughts on the journalism issues of taking Alexie's statement as a simple apology.

It wasn't. It said: 1) He did bad things. 2) But not the worst things. 3) And then he smeared the source, a woman with whom he had an affair. That's not an apology and reporting it as such reinforces rape culture.

I wrote a short thread on the issue here:

Ideally, one would take such a statement and describe it more or less as I did, factually, rather than embracing Alexie's "apology" frame.

In my Daniel Handler story, I referenced a series of anonymous comments accusing Alexie. I received a little pushback on that, but felt confident in the appropriateness of citing it. I brought it up because of this twitter thread from Allie Jane Bruce, one of the women who talked about Handler.
Bruce writes, "What you will hear, if you listen, is two cis men who speak the language of liberalism, progressivism, and feminism *perfectly* and are capitalizing on it. Using it to promote themselves and their books."

We have a lot of work to do unraveling patriarchy (more on that in a forthcoming piece). Each field is going to have to reckon with how it promoted abusers to celebrity status and consider how to undo celebrity culture. One of my new mantras: community, not celebrity.

The work continues.