Monday, August 31, 2015

How I Spent My Sabbatical

Last December, I finished teaching and went on sabbatical. Tomorrow, I go back in the classroom again. I worked very hard, and these last nine months mark a major career transition for me. I suspect I produced well over 100,000 words, and it could be a LOT more if you count each blog post, talk, the book proposal, and more. I woke, I addressed the needs of my kids, then I wrote.

Today, I'm back in the classroom, and thrilled to be there. I'll be running undergraduate research at Dominican University, teaching a class on the Silk Road, and teaching the senior history seminar.

Here's what I produced:

BOOK:. I worked very hard developing a book proposal. I sold it to Beacon Press and am thrilled to be working with them on Disability Is Not A Crime. I hope to deliver the manuscript in a little less than a year. Had I sold it faster, then that's all I would have done during my sabbatical. As it was ...

MEDIEVAL/ACADEMIC:  I wrote and gave a medieval conference presentation based on my book, Sacred Plunder. I also gave a talk on shifting registers as a public medievalist, a version of which was published by postmedieval. I did some work on the Fourth Lateran Council, celebrating its 800th anniversary in November. I have a final thing to say about the Fourth Crusade and Fourth Lateran, which I shall deliver at a conference in Rome just after Thanksgiving. I'm also just finishing edits on a 5000ish-word book review on a sampling of recent higher education books.

BLOG: I wrote a couple hundred blog posts. Some of them were read by thousands of people. Some of them weren't. Some were mostly just links and others rambling, disorganized, essays 2000-3000 words long. Thank you for reading all the thoughts and links and everything I share here.

GOOGLE: I was hired by Google to write and help edit their awesome site commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the ADA. Really proud of the biographies here. Also this project ate much of June and July. I traveled a bunch, met some outstanding people, read books about the disability rights movement I've been meaning to read for years, and learned a ton. The best projects are those where you both learn and teach.

ARTICLES: Mostly what I did, though, was chase my journalism. More interviews, more in-depth pieces, new venues, longer pieces. Disability writing on all sorts of topics, lots on state violence, TV criticism, and of course higher education. I've published 40 pieces or so since the beginning of the year. I wrote some hot takes, some TV criticism, but also many pieces that took me weeks of research and hours of interviews.  Those latter are harder to accomplish during the semester.

There's going to be fewer articles in the next 12 months or so as I work on my book and go back into the classroom. Some though. Upcoming topics include: Disability and politics, Westworld and other sci-fi/fantasy shows for Vice, and some pieces on academics turned journalists.

In the meantime, here's all the pieces from 2015 so far.
  1. A "Bechdel-Wallace" Test for the Disability Community (Al Jazeera America, 8/30/15)
  2. Westworld: The Robots Are Coming! (Vice.com, 8/25/15)
  3. Stop Politicizing Down Syndrome and Abortion (CNN.com, 8/24/15)
  4. The Surprisingly Simple Future of Assistive Technology (Al Jazeera America, 8/17/15)
  5. The Outrage of Handcuffing Children in Schools (CNN.com, 8/5/15)
  6. I am a Working Dad (Father's Day 2015) (Al Jazeera America, 6/21/15)
  7. US schools must stop excluding children with disabilities (Al Jazeera America, 6/16/15)
  8. The Controversies and Success of Season 5 of Game of Thrones (Vice.com, 6/12/15)
  9. What Kids Learn When Adults Aren't Inclusive (Washington Post, 6/11/15)
  10. Where Have All the Good Bad Guys Gone? (Vice.com, 6/10/15)
  11. Speaking Out Against Autism Speaks (NYTimes.com, 6/4/15)
  12. Inspiration Porn Disables the Disabled (Al Jazeera America, 6/3/15)
  13. Jon Snow: The Only Hero of Game of Thrones? (Vice.com, 6/1/15)
  14. The World's Reserves of Game of Thrones are Running Dangerously Low (Vice.com, 5/28/15)
  15. Low Cost College Isn't Enough (CNN.com, 5/20/15)
  16. 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Is the Feminist Action Flick You've Been Waiting For (Vice.com, 5/13/15)
  17. Zoo Camp for All (Belt Magazine, 5/12/15)
  18. A Medievalist on Savage Love (Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/12/15)
  19. Save Academic Conferences! (Chronicle.com, 5/6/2015)
  20. DC Super Hero Girls - My Daughter Wants Heroes That Look Like Her (Salon.com, 5/1/2015)
  21. The Corrosive Cult of Compliance in Our Schools (Al Jazeera America, 4/22/15)
  22. Daredevil and Scenes of Ordinary Disability (Vice.com, 4/20/15)
  23. "The Net is the Meat:" Bruce Holsinger's Medieval Fiction (Tor.com, 4/20/15)
  24. RFK Jr. owes a lot of people an apology for his comments on autism (CNN.com, 4/16/15)
  25. The Telescoping History of Game of Thrones (Vice.com, 4/14/15)
  26. Sheehan vs SF: A Chance to Reduce Police Killings of People with Disabilities (Al Jazeera America, 3/22/15)
  27. Bruce Rauner: Picking on Society's Most Vulnerable (CNN.com, 3/18/15)
  28. "Daddy, What's Down Syndrome?" (Yahoo! Parenting, 3/17/15)
  29. Dear Student? How about Dear Provost? (Chronicle Vitae, 3/11/15)
  30. Why Write a Book? (Chronicle Vitae, 3/3/15)
  31. To assess LAPD shooting, look past the moment of gunfire. (CNN.com, 3/2/15)
  32. Information, Not Inspiration: How to work against the fear of Down syndrome (CNN.com, 2/18/15)
  33. From Grad School to the Atlantic (Chronicle.com, 2/11/15)
  34. Conservatives want to rewrite the history of the Crusades (The Guardian, 2/7/15)
  35. Kristiana Coignard Did Not Have to Die (CNN.com, 2/2/15)
  36. Airlines Break Too Many Wheelchairs - But We can Fix It (Al Jazeera America, 1/31/15)
  37. Associate Dean of What? (Chronicle.com, 1/26/15)
  38. Anti-Choice Legislators Try to Force Wedge Between Reproductive, Disability Rights Activists(Reproductive Health Reality Check, 1/16/15)
  39. Who Will Teach All the Free Community College Students? (Chronicle.com, 1/15/15)
  40. Harsh Critics in Public Spaces, Judging Only What They See (NYTimes.com, 1/12/15)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Roundup: Disability and TV/Movies. What I Left Out

I have a new piece up at Al Jazeera America today on disability and upcoming television shows that have, in the past, done a good job with disability issues. None are perfect shows, but it's ok to admire the good even while criticizing the bad:
Since the emergence of the newly renamed Bechdel-Wallace Test, which is used to judge women’s representation in Hollywood films, other groups that feel marginalized in the media — sadly, everyone except white men — have searched for a similar short-hand as a means to communicate what they would like to see change. In the disability community, these efforts have coalesced around two basic principles: Cast disabled actors whenever possible and tell better stories.
Too often, disability only appears as an obstacle to be overcome or a tragedy to which a non-disabled character can react, both forms of inspiration porn.
“How many times must we be subjected to the same kinds of hackneyed, overwrought and, let’s face it, lazy storytelling?” Lawrence Carter-Long, an expert on disability and film, asked during a recent email interview. “The best writing about disability focuses on character. Not a rehash of the same two-dimensional tragic or heroic movie-of-the-week stillness we’ve all seen a hundred times before.”
Here’s the good news: in the past year, a number of TV shows did a much better job telling stories about disability. I will focus on four of them, which are slated to return this year: “Empire,” “Daredevil,” “Game of Thrones” and “Switched at Birth.” Despite the flaws in each show, their depictions of disability offer successes worth celebrating.
The biggest issue I cut from the piece was about behind the scenes work. I understand that disabled actors can't always be cast, for one reason or another, but I think we focus a little too much on the on-screen talent anyway. I'd like to see Hollywood and TV work on developing a cadre of highly-skilled, disabled, directors, producers, camera operators, writers, casting directors, agents, and so forth, all the way down to Key Grip Operator and Best Boy. To me, that's at least as important as the actors (my disabled actor friends may disagree).

I deliberately chose shows that deal with all kinds of disabilities, but left plenty out. What are your favorite shows?

Here's the roundup from a very busy week of writing.

Other Published Pieces

Blog Posts:

Friday, August 28, 2015

Katrina and Disability - The Work of Claudia Gordon

One of the great pleasures of my summer was meeting and interviewing Claudia Gordon. She works for the labor department now, but ten years ago she was at the Office of Homeland Security, her attention focused on people with disabilities in the aftermath of Katrina.

Her video, shared below, talks about her development in the wake of the ADA in developing a cross-disability identity and consciousness. It's a fantastic video.

My piece that I wrote about her focused on Katrina. You can find the full bio here, by clicking over to "Claudia Gordon." If you do, pause and read the others, as the people they profile are all amazing. I write against inspiration porn, in which we claim that disabled people doing everyday things (eating, breathing, tying shoes) are inspirational. But it's ok to be inspired by people doing transformational work. If you can't be inspired by Ed Roberts, as I said to Judy Heumann (who also inspires me!), something is wrong with you.

Here's some of what I wrote about Gordon, Katrina, and disability after disaster.
It’s three weeks after Hurricane Katrina has hit New Orleans and Claudia Gordon is worried. From her perch at the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, she and her colleagues are working frantically to coordinate the emergency response for people with disabilities who were in the path of the brutal hurricane. But on the ground in Louisiana, there’s just too much one-size-fits-all thinking. People with disabilities are being abandoned, forgotten, or isolated from their families.
So Gordon -- who is Deaf -- and her sign-language interpreter, is deployed to Baton Rouge to spend approximately the next three months working with the response and recovery team out of the Joint Field Office. For Gordon, it’s all about making sure that people with disabilities have access to the same services as everyone else. She insists that contractors, NGOs, and local officials understand that people with disabilities “aren’t asking for favors, they’re asking for the same thing as people without disabilities.”
The problems she encounters are many. For example, Deaf people in the shelters can’t hear announcements, such as those telling them where to go to register for disaster-relief benefits. The travel trailers being transported in aren’t physically accessible for individuals who use wheelchairs or who might use walkers. For example, some are being installed on gravel, or are too narrow for someone in a wheelchair to turn around in, or have steps that are not wide enough for someone who uses a walker. They need ramps, larger mobile homes instead of the compact trailers, accessible sites on level ground, visual smoke alarms for Deaf individuals and audio alarms for the blind, and so much more.
Homed matter. No one with a disability should have to stay in a shelter or nursing home longer than those without disabilities. Alas, people without disabilities just don't tend to think about these kinds of issues when planning for disasters. Or didn't, anyway.
So Gordon gets to work. If a contractor promises to work 24/7 to build accessible mobile home sites, she makes a surprise visit to the work-site at 1 am. She explains the need for key accommodations. She uses diplomacy, data, reason, and, most of all, personal anecdotes to explain what has to happen and why. It’s the stories of specific families, rather than the abstract discussions of disabilities and needs, that persuades and motivates the relief workers.
The effort required for those 1 am visits to the job sites and the ruffling of feathers pays off. Gordon watches as the first five families in need leave the shelters for newly accessible mobile homes. A little girl in a wheelchair rolls up to an accessible sink, turns on the water, and smiles. Remembering that day, Gordon says, “We celebrated small victories as an indicator of progress.”
Gordon won an award for her service and, perhaps most importantly, participated in a process developing a set of regular procedures for how to serve people with disabilities in the face of disasters. In fact, that process began after 9/11, but wasn't installed yet by the time of Katrina. It is now. Emergency management must include disability in their plans, and Gordon's a big part of why the Federal government is doing better today, though surely there's more work to be done.

Here's her video.



Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rape Culture and Down Syndrome

Content Note: This post does not describe rape, but does describe the way our justice system embodies rape culture. 

In March, 2013 - I wrote about a rape case involving a woman with Down syndrome. Her rapist was convicted, but the judge threw out the case because "she didn't act enough like a victim." The Down syndrome community reacted as if this was an attack on disability rights, which it was, but it's also a standard manifestation of rape culture in our society.

Her rapist was re-convicted yesterday. This time the conviction was upheld.

Here's my piece. I'm going to quote it at length. But you can just click over.
The Georgia appeals court judge, Christopher McFadden, argued that the verdict went "strongly against the weight of the evidence" because, in his judgment, the woman in question -- I'll join other writers in calling her Jane -- didn't act like a victim and the man didn't act like a rapist.
Jane has Down syndrome and the growing national outrage to this case has focused, with reason, on her disability. But Down syndrome is only part of the story.
The outrage is not only because this judge didn't understand Down syndrome, but that judges frequently impose their perceptions on cases of sexual assault, reducing sentences even for convicted rapists on the grounds that the victim didn't act "correctly." Jane's troubling case reveals the intersections between rape culture and the way we strip agency from people with disabilities.
So in the first place the judge didn't think Jane acted correctly. He doesn't know anything about Down syndrome. But the problem is so much bigger.
Down syndrome may be a reason this judge decided that Jane's words carried less weight when measured against his perception, but many nondisabled women, women of all social classes, races, sexual orientations, and levels of ability, have experienced precisely the same kind of dismissal.

Here are a few examples that do not involve disability.
Last year in Montana, a judge reduced a former teacher's rape conviction to 31 days because the victim, a 14-year-old girl, was "as much in control of the situation" as her rapist and, in his opinion, "older than her chronological age."
In California, a judge reduced a sentence of a convicted rapist because the woman didn't fight hard enough. The judge said, "If someone doesn't want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down. The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case. That tells me that the victim in this case, although she wasn't necessarily willing, she didn't put up a fight."
In Arizona, a judge reduced a sentence of a police officer convicted of sexual abuse to community service and probation, instead blaming the victim for being in a bar. The judge said, "If you wouldn't have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you. ... When you blame others, you give up your power to change."
In Alabama, a judge structured a 40-year sentence for rape so the rapist would serve two years in a community program for nonviolent criminals and three years of probation at home. The judge, much like McFadden, argued that the victim just didn't behave correctly. He said, "You didn't hear the evidence. The original allegation was that both of these crimes were forcible. But then you have to believe that although she was forcibly raped twice, she continued to come back and have a social relationship (with the rapist)."
Other women have been prosecuted for false reporting of rape because they didn't "act traumatized." Rape convictions have been vacated entirely because the victim didn't fight back, such as in Connecticut, when the state supreme court freed a rapist because his victim, a woman with cerebral palsy and a mental age of 3, with no ability to speak, didn't bite, kick, or scratch her attacker.
As disability blogger Sarah Levis has commented, all of these stories should push our attention to this aspect of rape culture in the courtroom. Rape culture creates the myth that victims of rape must react within a predictable set of norms or raise doubts about the legitimacy of the rape. All of these women, including Jane, behaved in a way that judges didn't understand, so they overturned convictions or reduced sentences.
And here is where disability comes back into play. Because of her Down syndrome, Jane is relatively immune to the kinds of victim-blaming endured by other women who are assaulted or abused...All of the myths about false reporting of rape don't apply to Jane because of her disability, and for that at least we can be thankful. Jane's experience points to the offensive way women's behaviors are interrogated when they seek justice.
Finally, I said:
Do not focus on Jane because she is a woman with Down syndrome. Focus on Jane because she is a woman who says that she was raped. Focus on Jane because she's joined the ranks of other women, women of all races, classes, sexual orientations, and levels of ability who have said that they were raped and then had their testimony disregarded by a judge on the basis of not acting enough like a victim.
There is no one correct way to respond to being violated, but there are so many ways that our justice system can make it worse.
I'm glad Dumas is convicted. But there's so much more work to do on our justice system and to fight rape culture.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Power and the Limitations of Public Medievalism

Richard Utz has a great piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the ways that medievalist can more intentionally link what they do to popular expressions of ideas about the Middle Ages.
There is now a manifest discrepancy between the large number of students who request that we address their love of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and medieval-themed video and computer games on the one hand, and the decreasing number of medievalists hired to replace retiring colleagues on the other. We are no longer protected by our involvement in preserving European heritages, an involvement often joined up with primordialist, jingoist, and colonialist mentalities discredited in the Western world by the 1970s. And we are as endangered as the rest of our humanities colleagues by the advent of new areas of scholarship, the intimidating popularity of the STEM disciplines, and politically motivated cuts to the liberal arts.
What can we do?
Perhaps we should begin by admitting that in enjoying the splendid isolation that allowed us to learn a lot about medieval culture, we have failed to share that knowledge with the public. As a result, a single 178-minute movie, Braveheart, could wipe out what 150 years of scholarship had established about the Right of the Lord’s First Night (a feudal lord’s rumored right to take the virginity of his serfs’ newlywed daughters). Meticulous source study since the Enlightenment about the horrific crimes committed during the medieval crusades hasn’t stopped schools from naming their teams Crusaders. And tens of thousands of learned books and articles about medieval knighthood have had no influence on white supremacists’ appropriation of allegedly chivalric virtues. It is clearly time to lower the drawbridge from the ivory tower and reconnect with the public.
I'm all for this. I don't believe there is an ivory tower (and there probably never was), but I like what he's saying here and am glad it's being so widely shared. I've obviously, I hope, tried to model just this kind of engagement in my public writing about history. I also do it in my classroom. I am the choir. If Utz is preaching to me, I am ready to sing. Go read the piece and think about it, please.

Here's my problem: Implicit in the article is an idea that if (medieval) professors take these steps to more intentionally engage with popular culture, we'll be in better shape as a profession. 

I think that's basically not true.

The Middle Ages is popular. Our classes tend to enroll well. It's vastly easier to fill a "medieval" class than one on the "long 18th century" or even the "early modern" era (though Shakespeare still beats Chaucer, and the Renaissance is doing fine). Medieval conjures images in our students' minds and we must, and I think we largely are, capitalize on that. In fact, everyone should capitalize on these kinds of things. Do 17th-century historians get pressured to invoke the Three Musketeers?
Disney's Cinderella Castle

The problem is that the profession is being restructured in ways that, legitimately, de-emphasize period-based and geography-based fields; and, less legitimately, propose a false dichotomy between skills education and liberal education, with the money and attention going heavily towards the skills side. These attacks on the nature of higher education are not enrollment-dependent, but structural, designed to steer students away from courses in the humanities and arts. We can embrace modern medievalist expressions all we want, but our power is limited. Change has to come from deep structural work, not individual bootstrapping.

What we can do is this: Have fun, write for bigger audiences, make new connections with our students, sometimes get paid, and perhaps use those connections to guide our students from their entry point - King Arthur, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Renn Faires, the SCA, whatever - to our actual goals in a given class or curriculum.

And that's enough for me.

Still not re-watching Braveheart.


Impact Post: CNN Piece on Down Syndrome Ban in Ohio

I wrote a piece for CNN opposing the Ohio Down Syndrome Abortion Ban. Read it here

It's been picked up and quoted by some interesting folks. I like to track impact of my writing on other journalists.

I gave this quote to Mic directly:
"But beliefs in abortion rights and disability rights are not mutually exclusive. David Perry, a journalist in Chicago who has a child with Down syndrome, says he can't stand to see pro-lifers co opt the cause. "As a father of a boy with Down syndrome, I do not want my son being used as a wedge issue in the abortion wars," he told Mic. "Politicizing births just helps the radical anti-choice fanatics play divide and conquer with the disability rights movement."
Here's one from Reason:
David Perry, a freelance writer and father of a son with Down Syndrome, accused Ohio Republicans of using children like his son as "a wedge issue." A "blanket ban isn't going to help at all, but even if it's enforced somehow, it could just lead women to lie about the reasons they aborted, or make Down syndrome code for poverty, when only poor people are forced to give birth after a diagnosis," writes Perry. He argues that "the best way to get people to choose to carry a fetus with Down syndrome to term is to make the words 'Down syndrome' less scary" and "get to work building a more inclusive society." But, "that's hard. It's not politically useful. So instead, we've got bills like HB 131 in Ohio."
Here's The Daily Beast. Allen followed the links back to my previous writing:
Other parents of children with Down syndrome, like journalist David Perry, think of the proposed ban as a “wedge issue” and a disingenuous attempt on the part of the pro-life movement to “garner sympathy from moderates.”
If you want to help people with Down syndrome, don't politicize their births,” Perry wrote for CNN. “Instead, get to work building a more inclusive society.”
Advocates like Perry prefer a strictly “pro-information” approach, in which women receive updated and less stigmatizing data about Down syndrome in the event of a prenatal diagnosis. The Ohio legislature unanimously passed a pro-information law in 2014, the seventh such law passed since 2012.
But, as Perry noted in a January RH Reality Check op-ed, pro-information laws have also become politicized by anti-abortion groups. Passed in 2014, Louisiana’spro-information law requires that any information given to women “does not engage in discrimination based on disability or genetic variation by explicitly or implicitly presenting pregnancy termination as a neutral or acceptable option.”
In other words, instead of presenting women with all options and allowing them to choose, the Louisiana law mandates that abortion cannot be discussed at all in the event of a diagnosis unless it is presented as unacceptable.
I love the close of the Daily Beast piece:
As for the Ohio bill, Democrats and other abortion rights supporters are questioning the stated intent behind the bill. Ohio Democrats attempted to attach several amendments to H.B. 135 that would increase special education funding, paid parental leave, and sick leave—amendments that were ruled as not being germane to the bill, and probably appropriately so, legally speaking.
But still, the bluff has been called: Do abortion opponents care about Down syndrome or does the debate merely suit their purposes?
Also, anti-choice Down syndrome groups are mad at me. As a loving father, I undermine their whole narrative. I can live with their anger.

Update: Aggregation failure here. Read the first paragraph.

Update 8/28: Jessica Valenti at The Guardian
But these aren’t policies that help marginalized communities. Instead, they’re part of a larger effort to chip away at abortion rights by making the procedure more difficult to obtain by putting up hurdles like waiting periods and mandating ultrasounds. They are also perverting causes around the very real issues of racism, sexism and ableism.
David Perry, a freelance journalist whose son has Down syndrome, wrote in CNNthat bills like the one in Ohio run counter to the work that disability rights advocates have been doing.
“Around the country, we’ve been making real progress in attacking the misconceptions built within the prenatal testing regime. When people receive a prenatal diagnosis, they are often told things that aren’t true, and this misinformation can naturally shape their choice of whether to terminate a pregnancy.”
Perry says instead of trying to force women to carry pregnancies, we need to focus on a “pro-information” movement that ensures women who undergo genetic testing while pregnant have access to all of the facts they need to make their own decision. But to the anti-choice movement, women aren’t capable of making decisions - they need the government to do that for them - and available information should be limited or just plain false.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Robots vs Zombies

I have a new piece on Vice about Westworld. It's a new show coming from HBO and could be pretty awesome. Or, it could just re-tread the "robots become sentient" stuff from Battlestar Galactica and Humans and Ex Machina and whatever.

Here's my hope:
Because Westworld is set in an amusement park, the movie deliberately invokes clichés. You might roll your eyes if a show presented a duel at high noon or a tavern brawl replete with a body sliding down the bar, but that's precisely the point here. The tourists want to participate within those clichés: stabbing Caesar, playing poker with Wild Bill Hickok, or commanding armies in a great medieval siege. HBO, via Rome, Deadwood, and Game of Thrones has been providing its own takes on these archetypal events and settings, so Westworld has the chance to get very meta.
My fear is that it'll drag into endless repetitions of other stories about robots. That's not actually what's interesting about the film. What I liked so much is the commentary on genre, then the twists on genre when the robots don't play their parts "correctly" anymore.

Then again, I'm a genre nerd, go figure.

I also started watching Humans as I begin my own particular robot revolution television binge. Zombies are fine, I guess, but in Zombie shows, the interesting protagonists are all humans dealing with the collapse of their world. In Robot shows, on the other hand, you have the potential for more interesting interaction on both sides of the human-nonhuman line (rather than an implacable hungry deadite).

I am Legend (the book and one of the alternate movie endings) is interesting precisely because the "zombie/vampire/things" clearly are developing culture and identity, rendering them not identity, and turning the protagonist into the "monster." Just as a counter example.

Also, in any battle between robots vs zombies, robots win.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Resources: Down Syndrome and the Abortion Wars

Over the weekend, the New York Times had a front-page story on the Ohio GOP's plan to pass a ban on abortions based on prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. It got a ton of social media play and was the top story on Huffington Post for some hours yesterday, in part because John Kasich, Ohio's governor, is the "moderate" running for the GOP nomination.

I wrote a piece for CNN on the issue. I would appreciate you sharing it within your social media networks. 

As a parent of a child with Down syndrome and a pro-choice man, I have this to say.

1) The Forced Birth movement does not actually care about disability rights.
2) The right-wing is very good at playing divide and conquer with disability rights.
3) We have a lot of actual work to do. This isn't helping.

Some excerpts.
I'm the father of a boy with Down syndrome. I spend much of my life trying to make the world a better place for him. In doing so, I find common cause with liberals and conservatives from around the country, as we focus on issues like education, employment, and fighting stigma.
I'd like to be able to continue to find common cause. But ...
Here's the most frustrating thing for me: There is so much to complain about regarding our prenatal testing regime, the way we talk about Down syndrome, stigma against all kinds of people with disabilities, the lack of educational and employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and more. There's lots of work to do. The best way to get people to choose to carry a fetus with Down syndrome to term is to make the words "Down syndrome" less scary. That's hard. It's not politically useful. So instead, we've got bills like HB 131 in Ohio.
Right now, people with Down syndrome are shattering our biases. It's not just high-profile feel-good stories about models, or superficial inspirational stories about prom queens and athletes "allowed" to score goals. Every day, I'm seeing people with Down syndrome learn, work, form relationships, perform service to others, set goals and surpass them, and generally accomplish things that 20 years ago would have seemed impossible.
That's where our energy should be going. If you want to help people with Down syndrome, don't politicize their births. Instead, get to work building a more inclusive society.
A few resources I link to in the piece.
Last January I wrote a piece about these right-wing efforts to force a wedge between Reproductive Rights and Disability Rights Activists. We can't let them succeed.

Thanks for reading and sharing.

Brief Book Review: Reading The Martian during The Hugos

From Damien Walter at The Guardian on The Hugos:
A snapshot of today’s sci-fi publishing industry – as opposed to the fandom that ultimately underwrites the industry’s business – does not show a diverse picture. Both bookshelves and cinema screens are currently dominated by the Matt Damon/Andy Weir vehicle The Martian and its archaically old-fashioned (and vastly overrated) SF.
I am less celebratory than Walter and many others about the victory of No Award and the sarcastic use of the asterisk. I feel that everyone's biases have been confirmed. The Puppies believed that they were being discriminated against and so forced the issue. The issue, forced, confirmed to them that they cannot win even when literally they are the only things on the ballot. I don't especially care how they feel, but I'm also not kidding myself that this is a victory.

On the other hand, I am pleased to see those folks committed to more diverse stories get organized, the E Pluribus Hugo proposal passing, and the decision to refuse to let a group of bigoted fans - and yes they are fans, despite being bigoted - hijack the awards. The No Award binge was the best of a bad situation. It's not, to me, a victory.

So I don't know that it's necessary to trash The Martian (and similar books). If you like it, you like it. But fandom depends on the assertion of taste against counter-assertions, so it's not a surprise or a big deal to see Walter slam it as archaic and overrated. Except that on Saturday, I started listening to The Martian as an audiobook on the way home from DC, got engrossed, got home, bought an e-book, and read the rest of it that night before going to bed (during the Hugo ceremony). Clearly, I liked it.


As others have said, The Martian is basically an entire book that works like this scene (which Weir even references in the text at one point). The good news, for me, is that this was one of my favorite scenes of the movie, so I was pretty happy with the book. Over the course of some large number of pages, square pegs get fit into round holes repeatedly. Despite being pretty sure the protagonist would survive, it being that kind of book, it still kept me in suspense and engrossed as I sped through it.

At the very end, it kind of fell apart for me. Without spoiling anything, the situation requires complex decision-making within a few minutes. The pace of the book - predicated on spending days thinking hard about problems - accelerates in ways I found non-credible. People assess situations and come up with split-second innovative decisions to try and save the day. Then there's some treacly waffling about how great humans are. Meh.

But over all, square pegs, round holes, people being clever, some diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity, and eminently readable.

Update:

On Facebook, Brilliant Reader Nicole says:
I enjoyed *The Martian* too! We don't have to choose between *The Martian* and *Ancillary Sword* and The Kingdoms Trilogy; I can read Andy Weir and Ann Leckie and N K Jemison all in the same year. The Puppies don't seem to get that; I'm surprised to see this writer falling into the same mistake from the other side, as it were.
I agree. I liked The Martian. I didn't like it as much as Three Body Problem, Seveneves, Aurora, or End of All Things, which was the last batch of novels I read before And I expect to like the Ancillary Justice series - my next pleasure read - more. But I also didn't consume those previous books all in one night, like a big bag of potato chips which you decide to eat all of, as a special crunchy treat. Crunch crunch. Mmm, The Martian.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Round-ups

Still blogging. But mostly - I am writing a book: Disability Is Not A Crime

I'm home from DC. Amazing time at the NARPA Conference: Beyond CIT Training session I helped run, but mostly honored to meet so many advocates and experts doing the work in the trenches. Special thanks to the folks at Bazelon who co-presented with me (and for everything else they do).

One other key post  - I wrote a long post on How Not To Advocate. Too often disability rights folks - especially white, upper class ones, advocate by saying, "what about my issue!" instead of "here's how our issues overlap and intersect." It doesn't work.