Monday, March 31, 2014

#CancelColbert and Taking Offense

This is my rule about taking offense:
You do not get to decide whether I should be offended by something you do or say; you only get to decide whether you care.
I wrote about in the context of the Washington NFL obscenities, as well as Barilla's homophobic comments, the ethicist Chuck Klosterman's use of the word "retard," as well as Richard Cohen's attempt to make himself the victim because people got mad at his racism. It was a good blog post and a useful rule, I thought.

A caveat might apply as follows. If you think someone has fundamentally misunderstood, it's important to explain. For example, you might tell me that you actually were just saying ritardo, an Italian musical notation signifying a slowing down of the tempo (often at the end of a piece or a musical figure). But in general, my rule applies. If someone is offended, they are offended. You don't get to tell them not to be offended. All you get to do is decide whether you care.

I write this because I see far too many people reacting to offense - disability, gender, race, ethnicity, etc. - by claiming that the offended person is wrong to be offended. Then the apologies that follow are expressions that "I am sorry you were angry," not, "Forgive me, I did wrong." My own struggles in this arena tend to be around the use of words like retard, triso, and mong. But the general principle applies more broadly.

I am writing this today in the context of the #CancelColbert issue that emerged over the end of last week. Colbert's official account tweeted something offensive about Asians as a way of satirizing the Washington NFL team, its racist name, and the insensitivity of the owner.  Colbert himself said it on his show live, but it was more offensive in the permanent space of the twittersphere, it seems.

My first reaction was dismissive. "Satire," I told myself, "and damn effective satire at that." But then I thought - what if he had said the Mongoloid Foundation for the Improvement of Disabled Americans, or something, I'd be pretty outraged. I have, in fact, gotten outraged when comedians have used people with Down syndrome and the intellectually disabled as a tool in their comedy.

Here's a thoughtful piece (more focused on hashtag activism) on the issue from The New Yorker:
I called Park on Friday to ask her about how #CancelColbert got started. She said she saw the offending tweet while eating dinner Thursday night and decided to respond to it. Despite her online profile—and the forceful, yet sometimes decidedly academic, tone of her advocacy—Park does not consider herself a “full-time” activist and claims that she does not particularly enjoy hustling along a hashtag. Her degree of involvement in a hashtagged cause, she said, depends on how much “free time” she has at the moment, and whether a particular issue piques her interest. “It’s not like I enjoy missing ‘Scandal’ to tweet about ‘The Colbert Report,’” she said.
But really I just want to make this point.

If someone is offended by Colbert's remark, it doesn't necessarily mean that they don't get the joke. It means they were offended. You don't get to decide whether or not they should be offended. You only get to decide whether you care.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Roundup

I was out of town this weekend, so here's a late Sunday roundup.

Kind of a grim week: 

From the academic side:

I looked at faculty vs admin discourse, said I didn't like it, then employed it by talking about the use of disability waivers for UCLA Deans to spend millions of dollars on first-class living. It irks me. I also talked about the cult of compliance at UVA. I also looked at some recent work in Queen Victoria and the reason I study history and memory, in Queen Victoria: Working Mom. Finally, the angry medievalist in me noted that anti-vaxxers are not medieval savages, but terribly modern.

On the crime and "justice" side, two grim stories:

The shooting of a mentally-ill homeless man was well-covered by blogs and major media, but I wanted to note it in the context of the cult of compliance and disability.

But the worst, and least covered, story that I wrote about this week is about the intersection and rape culture and disability in New Jersey. A woman with MS was allegedly raped, and she has accused the police of both slut shaming/victim blaming and not pursuing the culprits. So if you don't mind, share this story on your social media feeds and help me raise the profile.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Living with the past

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting Andrea Tarnowski, a professor of medieval French literature and a some-time public writer. I am at a conference all day today (on medieval French things), so I'll just offer you her thoughtful piece on how we engage with the past, from Huffington Post.
Forging a resolution -- on New Year's Day or any other -- requires knowing history, understanding context, and keeping both close. But our favorite phrases of the moment -- "I'm moving on" and "I'm done" -- suggest we haven't learned that lesson.
We use these ubiquitous expressions as stand-alone nuggets of intent. Embroiled in difficulties at work that require time and attention to sort out? Declare "I'm moving on." Overwhelmed by tangled emotions in your love life? Just move on! Any problem or conflict will resolve itself, we think, if only we apply the magic moving-on formula. Even more dismissive and less engaged is the close-faced announcement "I'm done." "I'm done" creates a void. It cares for nothing but itself.
 She then moves through some of the ways this attitude operates in our culture, suggesting its limitations, interrogating language - closure, done, and so forth, before finishing.
To be sure, the cultural horizon has room for every attitude and its opposite. To all the language that values motion, we can oppose two other expressions currently in vogue: "We are where we are," and its close cousin, "It is what it is." Both evoke stasis, or at least pause; you might think they invited reflection on a challenge, or assessment of a difficulty. Not so. They are circular expressions, which, like "I'm done," point to nothing beyond themselves. They are lazy. Like "moving on," they allow those who use them to skirt discussion. They foreclose dialogue or participation. They recall Gertrude Stein's more poetic "a rose is a rose is a rose," but lead listeners to conclude about the speaker that, as Stein also once said, "there's no there there."
For the new year, let's recognize what is there, and take it with us into 2013. Let detachment become engagement, and dispersion meet focus. Let surface skimming give way to exploration, and the urge to dismiss be replaced by the will to persevere. Perception and memory bring us to a sense of fullness; "moving on" maintains us in a blank. Our resolutions won't definitively resolve things, and we will never, in fact, be done -- but neither should we desire to be. We can do better than that.
Happy weekend, and let's do better than that!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cult of Compliance - University of Virginia Edition

Not a case of beer
The blog Police State USA does a fantastic job of tracking and writing up incidents of police brutality, overreach, abuse, and other nefarious conduct. I continue to focus on the cult of compliance. This story is from the summer of 2013:
  • Three female college students went to the grocery story and bought bottled water.
  • Two plainclothes police on beer patrol (for the ABC - Alcoholic Beverage Control) thought the water might be beer, so came at the car. Demanding the women stop and open the car windows.
  • The women panicked and tried to get away, alleging they didn't know the armed men were police. And in order to open the windows they would have to start the car, and one the driver started to start the car, the officers got aggressive, jumping on the hood, banging on the windows, and calling lots of backup very quickly.
  • The women drove away, calling 9-1-1, only to learn that their assailants were actually police. 
  • The police charged  the driver with felonies (since withdrawn), and the driver had to spend the night in jail.
  • Public outcry has followed.
You can read the post at Police State or the original UVA newspaper article here. Jonathan Turley, another of my favorite bloggers, hosted a piece on it here.

I want to focus on the explanation of what happened that ABC posted to their Facebook page (my emphasis):
Agents were working in the area, concentrating on underage possession enforcement. An agent observed what appeared to be an underage person in possession of what appeared to be a case of beer, and approached her to investigate. The agent identified herself as a police officer and was displaying her badge. Other agents did not join the incident until the subject refused to cooperate. Rather than comply with the officers’ requests, the subject drove off, striking two officers. She was not arrested for possessing bottled water, but for running from police and striking two of them with a vehicle. 
The agents were acting upon reasonable suspicion and this whole unfortunate incident could have been avoided had the occupants complied with law enforcement requests. We take all citizen complaints seriously and the matter is currently under review by the ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement.
That's the line, folks. None of this would have happened if the occupants had just complied. Frankly, the women are lucky no one fired at them.

That's the cult of compliance.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Queen Victoria - Working Mom

Last May, I began an essay on gender norms and my daughter this way:
When the rocket scientist Yvonne Brill died in March, The New York Times celebrated her as the maker of a "mean beef stroganoff" and "the world's best mother." When my 4-year-old daughter, Ellie, a wildly creative and interesting girl, finished a year of preschool last week, her teachers gave her an award for being the best dressed.
I am interested in the ways that women have a hard time escaping gender labels so that no matter their accomplishments, "mom" or "wife" or "daughter" have to provide the lede or at least the qualifier - especially mom. The modern entangling of identities for women, and the challenges for men who'd to entangle (or perhaps integrate) their domestic and professional identities, remain a significant issue in contemporary discourse.

As a historian, of course, I like seeing ways in which some of these issues also functioned in the past. Here's a  recent op-ed on Queen Victoria and the mangling of historical memory so that her maternal nature was first diminished and later maligned.

Julia Baird writes in the NYT:
We interrogate powerful and successful women about their families, and are swift to judge, evident in headlines like “Margaret Thatcher: ‘A Great Prime Minister But an Awful Mother”’ and “Golda Meir: Mother of a Nation, But Not Much of a Mother.”
The Germans call them “Rabenm├╝tter”: a pejorative term for mothers who act like ravens, abandoning their young in nests while they flitter off to work.
She then turns to Queen Victoria, on whom she is currently writing a biography:
In the 113 years since her death, a powerful myth has taken root: that Queen Victoria disliked her children — even, some say, all children...
Now a remarkable and clever new book, “Censoring Queen Victoria: How Two Gentlemen Edited a Queen and Created an Icon,” by Yvonne M. Ward, documents how the historical record was warped by the two men who edited Victoria’s official letters and defined her as subordinate queen — in the words of her biographer Lytton Strachey, a “mere accessory” to the men who surrounded her...
The man given the task was Viscount Esher, an adviser to King Edward VII; he hired the Eton housemaster Arthur Benson to edit it. Both were gay. Both found the editing experience overwhelming and onerous.
Both also, crucially, viewed Victoria as ancillary to the men around her. They wrote in their introduction: “Confident, in a sense, as she was, she had the feminine instinct strongly developed of dependence upon some manly adviser.”
Only 40 percent of the letters in the volumes of her letters are actually hers: Most of the others are written to her by prominent men, and the correspondence with female relatives and friends is scant.
“The small number of women’s letters in the published volumes,” writes Ms. Ward, “cannot be attributed to the editor’s ignorance of their existence.”
There's more and it sounds like Ward's book is one I should read. Here's a review from The Guardian that is worth a read. The reviewer writes:
This isn't just biographical gossip, says Yvonne Ward, it actually matters. It is her contention that Benson and Esher's shared attachment to a particular kind of male pedagogy had a striking effect on how they fashioned the young Victoria for readers. In their selection of her letters from accession in 1837 until marriage in 1841, they turn the plump, plain Miss into a lovely young boy in need of tutelage from an older man. Step forward her prime minister, Lord Melbourne (yet another Etonian), whom, by diligent editing, they turn into a sort of sexy housemaster. "I am so glad that you like Lord M. I adore him," trilled Benson to Esher early in the project as they set about making their man-crush the most important person in Victoria's life.
Before reading these reviews, my image of Victoria was of a stern, unamused, un-maternal, and distant queen. I should have known that the mother vs worker dichotomy is a false one, imposed by a patriarchal society that pushes women into the domestic sphere and de-feminizes the women who choose other paths.

And it's not that Benson and Esher set out to reinforce patriarchy intentionally, but that's the result on historical memory of their predilections, biases, boredoms, and infatuations.

And that's why I study the shaping of historical memory. Because it distorts and it matters.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mindless Anti-Medieval Mythography; Anti-Vaxers are not medieval - they are dangerously modern.

I am perpetually fascinated by the way that "medieval" is code for barbaric, backwards, savage, and the like. The phrase "get medieval" seems to have originated (or at least moved into widespread use) as a result of Pulp Fiction, in which Ving Rhames' character, after being freed by Bruce Willis' character, tells his rapist that he's going to "get medieval on [his] ass." From there, the phrase moved comfortably into mainstream use.

For example, here's a St. Louis football writer criticizing the Rams for not getting involved in Free Agency. He describes free agency as:
This was the NFL’s version of Black Friday, when roaming gangs of berserk shoppers invade department stores to dive on laptops, have MMA brawls over the trendiest toys, blitz the video-game aisle, and go medieval over the dwindling supply of flat-screen TVs.
I like to point out that the twentieth-century was, by far, the most brutal era for human-on-human violence in the history of our species. Medieval people tortured, but were not more inventive about torture than we are now, especially given the clever things we can do with modern tools and electricity. Medieval people were not more savage than the ancient Greeks and Romans (look up the real meaning of the word "decimate," or follow through on all the massacres in Thucydides). And yet, the myth persists. It's useful.

Here's an example that genuinely upset me. I am an anti-anti-vaxer. Which is to say I have critiqued the anti-vax movement for The Atlantic and CNN and I write about it on the blog. I am particularly interested in the ways in which the anti-vax movement reveals attitudes about disability, as well as more general questions of epistemological processing behind fear-based parenting. So I like this essay, "The Vaccine Battle Is Not Part of the Mommy Wars," because it's trying to push conversation about vaccines away from parenting philosophies and into the world of public health policy. But then I came upon this paragraph (emphasis mine):

We cannot place the blame for the anti-vaccination nonsense solely at the feet of “crunchy” or “natural” parents, though there are many in that community who delay or completely withhold vaccinations. Being a somewhat crunchy parent myself (natural birth, cloth diapers, exclusively breastfeeding, cosleeping, etc.), I encounter the sentiment “I feed my kids only organic and non-GMO foods, so I feel safe not vaccinating them” quite frequently. These parents seem to believe that several hundred years ago, before GMOs or pesticides existed, there were no communicable diseases. Other groups of parents, like ultra-religious Jews in Brooklyn, also withhold vaccinations, as well as some Christians. And then there are the former MTV stars like Jenny McCarthy and Kristin Cavallari, who have been public about their fears over vaccines causing everything from autism to asthma to allergies. This diverse group of parents has one thing in common: they are all putting us at risk for a return to the Middle Ages.
No. They're not.

Medieval people were, overall, relatively savvy about healthy given the context of the era. They didn't have germ theory. Neither did the Renaissance. Neither did the 17th century. Neither did antiquity.

Anti-vaxxers are rejecting an effective, well-tested, well-explained, set of preventative treatments. The knowledge is there for them, but in this rejection of science, they are deliberately rejecting the best available information.

This is not medieval. It's also not classical, baroque, renaissance, or furturistic.

It's dangerous. And very, very, modern.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rape Culture and Disability - New Jersey Edition

According to a report from NBC New York (also covered in Jezebel, and thanks to my friend K. for the story tip), a woman with Multiple Sclerosis was gang raped in a warehouse in New Jersey. 

She fell asleep on the bus (she is on a narcotic for pain), woke up in Trenton, left the bus, got disoriented, and was gang raped. The details of the assault are upsetting. Her medical care was allegedly sub-standard. And as happens far too often, things got worse when she went to the police.
She told [the police] that she was a multiple sclerosis patient on a medical pain patch prescribed by her doctor in part for a spine injury she suffered from an MS-related seizure. Her longtime doctor confirmed to NBC 4 New York he'd prescribed a narcotics patch, Fentanyl, due to the injury.
Kris says she gave a detailed account of what she remembered about the rape, but says the detectives began a hostile form of questioning and that they treated it like "it was a big joke and a waste of time."
“When he asked his partner if there was one question they would like to ask, the one and only question he could come up with, out of everything in the book, was: ‘Did you voluntarily pull down the man’s pants before he raped you?’" said Kris.
“They tag-teamed," said Kris. "'Was I out there soliciting? Was I out there buying drugs? Why did I get off the bus at that spot?'"
Kris’s mom said the detectives kept pressing her about her daughter’s illness.
“'You sure about her MS?' That’s all they kept asking me," said Kris' mother. "'Are you sure she didn’t fall and this isn’t MS?' They wanted to turn everything around, make her the victim all over again, and it was crap. Plain and simple crap. They didn’t want to do their job.”
Records show Kris has no criminal history for drugs or prostitution. She had one past shoplifting case where charges were later dismissed.
Let's parse this. First, of course this is only the victim's side of the story. I find it credible because it falls into the same patterns of experience as so many other women. The police feel that they have to work hard to make sure that the victim isn't to blame for her assault, and then they are reasonably likely to eventually process the evidence and try and find the rapists, although rape kits often sit in evidence lockers, ignored, as serial rapists continue their crimes.

Rape culture is, among other things, police who start with the assumption of doubt in rape cases, despite at least 50% of all rapes going unreported, and false rape claims falling between 1%-6% of all reported cases.

But here's my real point - this case is only news because of the victim's disability. Because she has MS, the media has a neatly packaged explanation for why her story is credible and why she's likely to be sympathetic to their readers. It's the same kind of story as my piece for CNN on Jane, a woman with Down syndrome who was raped. I wrote (and commented on this quote here, pointing out people with disabilities DO have sexual agency):
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. 
We know she wasn't asking for it. We can't blame her for staying in the house while Dumas got drunk. We know she didn't encourage him, then change her mind the next day. 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.
But as the next trial unfolds, 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.
The same goes for Kris. She needs justice. The forensic evidence needs to be processed and the rapists arrested. But deserves justice because she was raped, not because she was a woman with a disability who was raped.

The story here is about rape culture. Disability intensifies the story and provides a tool with which to cut aside the usual excuses, defenses, and denials that rape culture generates, because Kris' experience with the police gets played again and again in police stations across the country.

Cult of Compliance - Albuquerque Cops Shoot Mentally Ill Homeless Man

This is my 200th post on the blog. It's not a happy one.

As long-time readers know, my work on the Ethan Saylor case led me to coin the phrase the "cult of compliance." This phrase allows me to link diverse moments in which authority figures respond to non-compliance with egregious acts of violence and place them against the backdrop of normalized veneration of compliance in our culture.

Flash-bang grenade at Abq park
We only get the stories that make the news, often when a person with disability (which excuses the non-compliance in our eyes) gets hurt. These events are serious, often tragic, and deserve media attention, but the bigger picture of the non-news matters just as much, because recognizing the disease, over the symptom, is critical to effect change. Individual authority figures, whether police officers or principals, need to be held accountable for their actions, but we also need the broader context to understand why the stories keep occurring. Hence, the cult of compliance.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, police shot and killed a mentally-ill homeless man named James Boyd. Here's the story:
A week ago, APD officers found a 38-year-old man camping in the foothills. A man in mental crisis, he first threatened officers. Then he agreed to surrender, gathered his things and began to walk towards officers as instructed.
That’s when an officer shouts “Do it!” and officers targeted him with a flash-bang grenade normally used in SWAT assaults. He drops his things, steps back from the blast and pulls out two small knives he previously put away at officers’ request.
Then he turns away and they open fire with live rounds and a police dog. He later died.
So the man complies, they throw a grenade, he panics and reaches for knives, but is retreating. Again, he is retreating (follow the link and you can watch the video. I choose not to re-post it here).

We have videos like this because of lapel cameras and car cameras. A fair criticism of the concept of the cult of compliance is that it's nothing new, that it's not linked to the militarization of police or any other cultural shift - it's the way human nature mixes with authority - only now we have video to prove it.  I think technology has played a role in raising awareness about this kind of abuse, and surely specific populations have long been subjected to mandatory compliance. African-Americans call it "the talk," a conversation in which they tell their children to obey police instantly and completely in order to keep them from being shot.

I think the cult of compliance is spreading, not retreating, not even in the face of greater access to police video and the near-universal presence of cell-phone cameras in most situations. And maybe as it becomes a white suburban problem, white suburban Americans will take notice and push to effect change that can help protect those minority families and people with disabilities (my specific topic) that are so endangered by the cult.

But not so far in Albuquerque. ProgressNow reports that the Albuquerque police have, since 2010, shot more people than the NYPD, despite the relative size differential between the two cities. The DOJ is investigating.

Meanwhile, the local police chief has ruled on the killing. "Justified."

Monday, March 24, 2014

UCLA Deans Spend 2 Million $ on First-Class Living; Cite Disability

Emirates Airlines First Class Cabin
I don't like falling into the admin vs faculty dialectic. My administration may not share the perspective of an individual faculty member, but that's by design. I trust them. I have a brother who has been the chair of a big department at a big public university and is currently an acting Dean. In graduate school, one of the most dedicated teachers I have ever met was a Dean at the time and later went on to direct a major center. The admin vs faculty dialectic does not, I think, serve to further discussion of how to fix the challenges that we do all face.

But there are problems. I've cited this study before, but it's worth noting again that the increase in money spend on administration is among the factors leading to a rise in tuition.
You can’t blame faculty salaries for the rise in tuition. Faculty salaries were "essentially flat" from 2000 to 2012, the report says. And "we didn't see the savings that we would have expected from the shift to part-time faculty," said Donna M. Desrochers, an author of the report.
The rise in tuition was probably driven more by the cost of benefits, the addition of nonfaculty positions, and, of course, declines in state support. [emphasis mine]
Now why have the numbers and costs associated with administration risen? Some of this is regulatory - the federal government demanding new assessment regimes, for example. Other positions are discretionary, loosely covered by the citation of "best practices," a term derided by Ginsburg in the Fall of the Faculty, the most thorough book of which I am aware about the managerial takeover of the university. One elite-university administrator adds some new officers and administrative divisions and new titles, other admins copy, then less elite universities look up to the big shots and say, "oh, these are best practices!" So they copy too.

With this in mind, I'd like to raise your outrage about practices at UCLA. This story is from last August, but it made social media rounds yesterday (I believe because it was linked to in this piece about a strike of graduate student workers which was then called off), and it raised a few issues that I thought were worth exploring.

From the Center for Investigative Reporting:
Thirteen years ago, the University of California changed its ban on flying business or first class on the university’s dime, adding a special exception for employees with a medical need.
What followed at UCLA was an acute outbreak of medical need.
Over the past several years, six of 17 academic deans at the Westwood campus routinely have submitted doctors’ notes stating they have a medical need to fly in a class other than economy, costing the university $234,000 more than it would have for coach-class flights, expense records show.
The article details all the flights and hundreds of thousands of other expenses which the deans have linked to "need." Here are a few examples:
  • With a medical waiver granted by UCLA, however, [Dean Judy Olian] has an expense account that regularly includes business-class travel. She spends more on airfare and other travel expenses per year than any other UCLA dean or the chancellor, and she also far outpaces her counterpart at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
  • For all six deans with medical exemptions, UCLA spent $486,000 on 130 business- or first-class airfares from 2008 to mid-2012, university records show. UCLA could have saved at least $234,000 by purchasing economy-class tickets based on an analysis of typical fares from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the Airline Tariff Publishing Co., which provides fare data.
  • Unredacted travel records obtained by CIR said “medically diagnosed back issues” made it impossible for Teri Schwartz, dean of the university’s School of Theater, Film and Television, to fly coach.
  • In all, UCLA paid $45,000 to book or reimburse business- and first-class flights for Schwartz from July 2009, when she started the job, to May 2012. She also used the medical note to justify flying first class on shorter flights, such as an hourlong hop from Los Angeles to Las Vegas that cost $543.
  • UCLA has paid $75,000 for premium flights for School of Nursing Dean Courtney Lyder since his tenure began in August 2008. Lyder used a doctor’s note – redacted by UCLA – to justify nearly half of these trips. Other times, he skirted the restriction because he said he needed extra rest on the plane before a busy schedule of meetings.
  • For most of those flights, Rosenstock used a doctor’s note that allowed first-class travel for flights of more than two hours.
  • After Rosenstock stepped down, her successor, Dr. Jody Heymann, quickly obtained her own medical note justifying premium flights. She has used it at least once since she took the reins in January to fly business class to London for meetings.
  • Franklin D. Gilliam Jr., dean of the Luskin School of Public Affairs, has billed UCLA for roughly $17,000 in premium airfares since September 2008, when he started the job. His doctor’s note cites a medical disability that requires business-class accommodations for extended travel – including trips to the East Coast, Midwest and Australia.
  • Gilliam also has used the note to justify using a car service. An expense report for 2009 limousine rides between Gilliam’s home and the airport said that “because of Dean Gilliam’s disability, it is recommended that he travel with business class arrangements to allow change of positions.”
It just goes on and on.

I have a close friend with fibromyalgia who travels for business. She frequently spends the extra $70 or so to get some extra legroom to keep her legs from being sore, and who would gainsay her that. I know many academics with back issues, a chronic hazard for those of us who sit too much and hunch over our keyboards (I'm leaning back right now!). There are jobs for which extensive plane travel is necessary and physically painful. I believe in reasonable accommodations for disability. I am sure some of these extra expenses are reasonable.

But I am skeptical. I am, in fact, propelled rapidly into that admin vs faculty dialectic that I find unproductive. I view these Deans as management - as executives - not as people who administer FOR the faculty but who MANAGE their instructional labor pool, cutting costs, letting wages stagnate, killing tenure-track lines, and hiring contingent faculty just below a level that might require paying benefits. THESE ARE MY OPINIONS. I could be wrong. Each one of these medical issues might in fact require business class, first class, limousine, spending the night in posh hotels rather than going home 20 miles at the end of a day, and more. 

But I am skeptical.

Moreover, the kind of abuses that I suspect are taking place here make it harder for people experiencing workplace hardship as a result of their job to receive their reasonable accomodations. Will the person who tries to just get the $70 extra legroom be denied because a Dean has been busted for flying first class? 

And so I plunge into a kind of class-war dialectic in which the academic 1% sip champagne in first class as we drink ... well, I drink water most likely. Maybe coffee. My university no longer allows us to expense alcohol while on business travel as a cost-saving measure.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday Roundup

Happy Sunday! Last night I played a fun show at the Irish American Heritage Center in north Chicago, and this morning I have homemade quiche for breakfast a nice cup of coffee. Life is good. Let's review the week.

A lot of the talk this week focused on my essay in the Chronicle and the reaction piece I posted here. I'm going to have to stop engaging in comments, which makes me sad, as I like debate and discussion - but anonymous comment threads just lead to trolling. It's clear that the university does include transactional relationships, but after a week of discussion, I remain convinced that we emphasize them at our peril.

The most read piece this week - especially gratifying because it was a Friday (and the stats support the "Friday News Dump" concept) - was my essay on the limitations of cute in the representations of people with Down syndrome. We can be more than "happy." It seems to have touched a nerve with some, but for many (in the self-selected group who read it) articulated a concern that other parents have too. Next week, I will write about the way that the abortion issue drives the DS community towards "cute" and "happy." So that will be uplifting!

I also wrote about a jumbled post about Nazis in Minnesota (re-enactors), with the conclusion that these people mostly view Nazis like cartoon or comic-book badguys, so dressing up is a form of cosplay, and that's terrible. Other posts considered history and famine in Ireland and the power of celebrity in changing attitudes (for better or worse) about public health.

If you haven't, though, here's the piece I would like you to read and, if you're willing, share or RT on twitter. I wrote about all the hate mail I have received for writing about rape culture for CNN. I didn't know that by the end of the week TIME would run an opinion piece by a right-wing group trying to take-down the whole notion of rape culture (I guess because they would rather have unchallenged patriarchy?), so I think my CNN essay that demonstrates the consequences of rape culture as clearly as I can possibly write is important in that context. But this post is about gender and online discourse and makes a point that I think men mostly don't get. It's hard for us to hear the dogs that don't bark.

As always, thanks for reading a commenting.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Celebrity and Vaccination

""It is amazing what celebrity can do if you do it with 100 percent good intention and heart."
- Jenny McCarthy on Oprah.

In 1956, the Polio Vaccine was new and controversial. Then the March of Dimes decided to make the vaccine a major part of its campaign and leveraged its celebrity connections to the cause. This happened.

It's been a lively few weeks in the anti-anti-vax movement, a movement I support with my own writing (mostly as it intersects with disability and representation. The way that Jenny McCarthy and her ilk talk about autism as a disease to be cured is problematic. Not that the public health issues aren't also problematic, I just don't have authority as a writer there).

Measles is surging. Mumps is back. The wife of the Chicago Bears QB (Kristin Cavalleri - I understand she's a reality TV "star," but I confess I had never heard of her until now) went on Fox Business and made anti-vax statements. And #JennyAsks would be hilarious - except that I don't think it persuades anyone in the anti-vax league. I still sometimes get anti-vax emails (I delete them). 

Jenny McCarthy is right. It /is/ amazing what celebrity can do. But intentions and heart matter a lot less than results.

And Elvis?

Elvis is still The King.

Friday, March 21, 2014

World Down Syndrome Day - The Long Game. Or why cute and happy is not enough.

Today is World Down Syndrome Day, chosen because 3/21 reflects the three 21st chromosomes that mark the genetic condition Trisomy-21, also known as Down syndrome. It's a day about awareness and you will, if you're lucky, see lots and lots of cute pictures of kids and adults with Down syndrome. Here's a cute picture of my son hugging a stuffed alligator at the zoo. I love cute pictures of kids with Down syndrome.

Cute, right? Do you feel more aware? 

You might see people wearing funny mismatched socks, not, I think, because people with DS are funny and mismatched (though I feel there's an implication here I'm not comfortable with) but as a conversation starter.

I am wearing black socks. They are not funny. They do match. Even more unlikely, they don't have any holes in them.

When it comes to the cutesy and commercialized elements of the Down syndrome internet, I am a curmudgeon.

My basic argument is this. Cute pictures are nice. You know what, my son IS cute. Most kids are cute. Cute is what kids do. But they render our children as objects to coo over, and the labels of cute and sweet persist past the delicate phases of toddlerhood and infancy, defining even the perceptions of teenagers and adults. What about the moments in which humans, real, complex, three-dimensional humans, are not so cute? What about pain? Violence? Sorrow? Poverty? Rape? Murder? My fear is that because there's so much emphasis on cute and on children, that cute makes it hard for other stories to emerge.

Cute is the low-hanging fruit. If we in the community employ it, we must do so as a tool to open the door and start the conversation, not as an end to itself. Otherwise, cute just becomes "sweetness porn." It makes you feel good, but it doesn't do anything - except perhaps shut out the non-cute. At best, it promotes a nice feeling of passive awareness, because it's easy for people to be aware of something cute.

But as I've said before, I'm playing the long game. I want inclusion (and not same-ness). I want resources. I want justice. I want to change perceptions.

Disability scholars use the phrase "inspiration porn" to describe ways in which people with disabilities are leveraged to inspire others, losing their own agency, losing their wholeness as a complex person, and often sending messages that if you aren't inspiring as a disabled person, you're letting the side down. I argue that our focus on cute, sweet, and happy in the Down syndrome community does the same thing.

And so I write about death and rape, I write about violence and enforced compliance, and I question the utility of things that make me feel good about people with Down syndrome and the world. I question the value of letting kids with DS score uncontested touchdowns, even if it makes them happy. I question the significance of voting kids with DS as homecoming kings and queens - yes, it makes everyone happy and helps the typical kids feel good about themselves, but tomorrow are they going to go out and advocate for reinstating respite care for struggling parents of kids with disabilities? Or is it just patting themselves on the back for showing how great they are. I am a cynic; a curmudgeon; a writer about difficult topics - and I grateful to CNN and others for letting me have that surly voice on a national stage.

Again, if you post lots of cute pics and blog or publish heartwarming stories, thank you. You are doing a lot for awareness.  I believe in our community and am so privileged to be a part of it. I believe we are all trying our best and trying to make a difference. And again, cute opens the door. But it just can't stop with that.

Here's one example.

Below is an amazingly heartwarming video called #DearFutureMom. It features people with DS from around the world describing life with Down syndrome, trying to ease her fears. Frankly, it makes me a little teary at the end when they talk about love and hug their parents. Over 2.6 million people have watched it at the time of this posting.

The moral at the end: "People with Down syndrome can live a Happy Life."

And they can. 

But happiness isn't enough for me. There's so much more work we have to do.

Happy World Down Syndrome Day.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Nazis (re-enactors) in Minnesota

Updates below including a comment that the whole concentration camp thing is just "water under the bridge.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in Minneapolis, a group of people held a Nazi-themed dinner at a German restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis. It turns out that they were German-themed WW2 re-enactors. 

A member of the group, Jon Boorom says:
He also maintains that members of the German WWII re-enactment groups are given extensive background checks and no neo-Nazis or "political racists" are allowed to take part in the events.
"If you wear a German uniform or a Nazi uniform, it's not like you're saying, 'I think Hitler was super cool' or 'I hate Jews' or 'I hate gays' or 'I hate democrats,'" Boorom explains. "You're not there because you believe in what Hitler stood for -- you're there to educate people about history, and a lot of that is so people don't forget. It's the same as wanting to be the bad guy when you're playing cowboys and Indians. There's an attraction to the bad side."
This claim interesting, given the Nazi tattoos on the organizer of the dinner, Scott Steben. On his right arm, he has tattoos of the Nazi SS bolts and the official SS skull on his right arm, and perhaps the eagle and swastika above that.

Steben responded to inquiries from the City Pages, which broke the story, with:
We are a historical reenactment and professional actor society dedicated to promoting understanding of World War II. In no way are we or any of our members affiliated with groups that promote the subjugation of anyone. All our members value education, equal rights and the complex relationship between good versus evil. These values shine through during our frequent public, Re-enactment Society-sanctioned reenactments of historic WWII battles and events and nationally released movie, Memorial Day. Sadly, these values were not captured in the photographs taken of us during the private dinner.
I guess once you tattoo the double bolts on your body, not drawn on for an event or something, but permanently embedded in your skin, you've kind of crossed a line. It's not to say that there aren't perfectly benign reasons for re-enacting as Nazis.

We could probably have a conversation about Nazi symbols vs the Confederate symbols in Civil War re-enacting, and I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on that. Are they the same? I'm sure there are confederate parties and dinners all over the country, though concentrated in the South of course.

But here's my other question:

What the hell is the restaurant owner, Mario Pierzchalski, thinking (other than about money) as he bedecked his restaurant with swastikas? Did the staff have a choice about working the event or not? What did they think about going to work surrounded by those symbols of genocide and evil? I see the staff in this picture, hugging the Nazi officer, flags on the wall behind them. What's on their minds?

More photos of the dinner here, like this one:

So now what, Minneapolitans and others? Is it fair to be upset at a business that takes money for a bunch of re-enactors who want to play Nazi? Because I'm upset.



UMN Faculty, including one of my professors, respond, weighing in on the meaning of historical memory in this case:
We wonder what exactly the mostly male participants in this Nazi-themed dinner party were re-enacting. A militarized, fundamentally antidemocratic and ethnically cleansed community? A supremacist fantasy of conviviality stripped of its underlying genocidal violence and passed off as nice and normal? To witness fellow Minnesotans entertaining themselves in this fashion, no less at a restaurant named “Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit” — German conviviality inn — is nothing short of obscene.
Update on the staffers:
The Jan. 20 party drew concern from a Gasthof staff member, who was one of three working that night. The staffer shot at least five photos with his cellphone that show people milling about in German army uniforms with four Nazi banners hanging in one of the restaurant’s dining rooms. Another photo shows a black T-shirt adorned with a Swastika that the staff member was given by someone at the party.
The photos themselves were shown to a Star Tribune reporter by a friend of the staffer. Neither agreed to be identified.
The staffer was fired Friday after he admitted to Gasthof’s owner Mario Pierzchalski that he took the photos and shared them with friends.
More updates on the details of working the event:
He told us that during an event, one of the group members asked him if he was German. When he told the group member he was Polish, he was asked if he had any family in the war.
"I said, 'Yes, my grandfather was in a Nazi concentration camp.' And they said 'Oh, well, water under the bridge then,'" the source says.
The group in the photos visited Gasthof's at least once each month and was given a private room in the back of the restaurant, according to another former employee who worked at Gasthof's for eight years before being terminated in December for unrelated reasons.
The former employee chose to opt out of attending the events, but heard about them from co-workers, he says. Only longtime servers and staff members were told the details.
"They would always ask people if they were German," the source says of the guests. "One of my wife's friends who was actually a server at the time, I think she was asked because she was German, they said, 'Oh we can make the perfect babies together because you're German and I'm German.'"
There was also a T-shirt with the swaztika and eagle and "tour dates" on the back to commemorate Nazi conquests.

The most important line here is, "water under the bridge." Atrocities? Meh, just water under the bridge according to this Nazi (re-enactor).

I am having increasingly difficulty writing about this dispassionately.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hate Mail and Rape Culture

Last week I published a CNN essay on rape culture. It was reasonably widely read - some tens of thousands of people at least, 1000 comments, 7400 shares, hundreds of tweets. I think I did a pretty good job. And then I braced for impact.

When I wrote about Jenny McCarthy last summer, I got some of hate mail, disagreement mail, conspiracy theory mail, and so forth. When I wrote about Pope Francis, I got some anti-Catholic mail and covering-up-pedophilia hate mail. It's never been too bad though.

But when people write or speak about rape culture, they get hate mail, death threats, rape threats, and more. So yesterday, I decided I would share all of the hate mail I got in the wake of my CNN piece.

Of course, I am a guy. A straight, white, married, man.

It's not that I want threats or hate mail, it's that I think the lack of them in my case is significant of the broader problem faced by women online or women speaking in public in western culture more generally.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Management vs Administration - Reactions to my latest in the Chronicle

A few weeks ago a friend alerted me to a job ad for a Renaissance/Early Modern English professor at Texas A&M - Kingsville (TAMUK). The job summary read: PROVIDE EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE. I reacted (with some hyperbole) with a blog piece about why the retail model of customer service, in particular, didn't serve the students very well.

Today the Chronicle of Higher Education published an expanded and, hopefully, refined reaction to the job advertisement. There's plenty to complain about the way such a model treats faculty (and, as I'll say below, the negative consequences for administration too!). But I focus on students and learning.

Here are a few followups:

1. Someone is going to get this job. Given how many early modern lit grad students I know, it could even be a friend of mine. It's a solid, if busy, job (4:4 is hard, especially with research requirements). I wish all my friends the best and hope whoever gets it will thrive there.

2. I have reached out to TAMUK for comment, sending to both HR and faculty (and promised the latter anonymity). I asked HR, both over the phone and email:
I am writing a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education on the use of business or corporate language throughout higher education. I've come across your job advertisements and the inclusion of the phrase, "Provide excellent customer service" in nearly all of them, including in positions for professors, administrative assistants, coaches, etc. I was wondering if you, or someone in HR, might be willing to comment on what you mean by that phrase in the context of academic hiring? Who are the customers? What does service mean in this context? In what ways is the significance of that phrase conveyed to job candidates and new hires? Finally, to what extent is customer service used as a category for weighing tenure and promotion?
They have not responded. I'll let you know if they do. Are these the right questions?

UPDATE 3/18 6:00 PM: I received a voice mail with a comment about Customer Service from someone in Human Resources. The comment is:
"We put [the phrase about customer service] in every job because we consider outside people, our students, as customers, and if they weren’t coming here they wouldn’t be our customers, so we want to express our excellence of service to them."
I'm not quite sure what that means. I've asked for clarification. 

3. Based on the comments, I think there's room to expand with some additional thoughts about administration. I was called out for using the phrase, "administrative bloat." It's pejorative and I think I will drop it. There certainly has been a rise in the number of administrators. This has both cultural and financial costs. A recent piece from the Chronicle notes that the faculty:admin ratio declined from 2000-12 by 40%, now at 2.5:1. Thus the savings from shifting to the adjunct model have largely been spent on hiring new admin. But at least some of this has happened because of new regulatory models (assessment assessment assessment), and "bloat" suggests that the university did this on purpose, rather than having no choice. It's an issue to consider.

4. More importantly, though, is the management vs administration shift which I articulated as follows:
Faculty members respond to the student-as-consumer by teaching defensively, fearing the management that we formerly referred to as administration. But administrators administrate on behalf of the faculty. Employees delivering customer service get managed.
These lines compress a lot of issues.

First: My argument is that once you move to the student as customer model, the faculty shift into the employee role, and administration shifts to management. It's bad for everyone. It's bad for education.

Second: I am fortunate to be surrounded with administration in my job who work collaboratively with the faculty. They do administrate us (I don't think the verb works that way, but whatever) and for us. I do not feel managed. This isn't to say that I agree with every decision or that sometimes I don't feel the gap between the faculty perspective and the admin perspective. This gap is by design and wholly appropriate. Admin must look on a macro level. Faculty should concentrate on the classroom, department, advisees and scholarly-field level. A well-functioning university finds ways to empower both of these fields of vision. When we disagree, which we will, the goal is to let the different perspectives lead us towards a useful synthesis rather than hostile division.

Third: Academics don't want to think of themselves as labor. In many ways, academia embodies precisely the kind of relatively high-status occupation for which collective organization and bargaining works very well. But despite the pressure from above, academics are loath to think of themselves as employees needing to organize. I assume it's cultural, but haven't really studied this issue. As the landscape of higher-ed changes, as more and more faculty work as contract labor (adjuncts), the labor model is going to be increasingly important for us to adopt. Collective organization, however adversarial, is the only way that a managed workforce with increasingly smaller shares of the financial pie and increasingly smaller roles in governance can change the dynamic.

I've reached out to a business professor and wonderful teacher to tell me what I get wrong about customer-service in my piece. I'll be back with more later as it comes up.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Irish Famine and the Discourse of Poverty; or Why Paul Ryan should study history

As many of you know, I am not just a father, husband, professor, columnist, and blogger - I'm also a musician. I play in two Irish pub bands: The Tooles and Mulligan Stew. As a result, the last few days have been busy, with more shows to come.

Last summer, I played the Iowa Irish Festival in the town of Waterloo. There, I met Derek Warfield, a famous Irish musician, and a partisan for the Republican movement (about which there was some controversy, some decades ago). He and his band, the Wolfe Tones, wrote some of the great Irish rebel songs. Those that they didn't write, they certainly sang and with gusto. But in the last decades, Derek has spent as much time working as a historian. At the festival, I heard Warfield give a talk on the great famine in 19th-century Ireland, the famine that drove so many Irish to come to America. His thesis: The famine was an act of genocide by the English against the Irish.

The standard definition of genocide, a definition that emerged out of WW2, remains, "Genocide is the systematic killing of all or part of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group." While intention doesn't matter in terms of the crime, I'm also interested in why the systematic killing takes place. Does it happen because of perceived identity differences?

Warfield's basic argument is this:

1) The Irish were starving. They were starving because of a shift to monoculture (potatoes) that left them susceptible to blight. This was, at least in part, the fault of English landlords.
2) The English in power knew their Irish subjects were starving. [This is debated]
3) The English had plenty of extra food in storage, including in the major estates in Ireland. [This is debated too]
4) The English debated sending food relief to Ireland, and explicitly discussed the risk of wide-spread suffering and death due to inaction.
5) They chose not to help for both philosophical and racist reasons. [Hey, this is also debated]

Hence, the Irish who died or had to leave (ethnic cleansing) did so because of English inaction.

There does seem to me to be a categorical difference between marching groups to a field, having them dig graves, then shooting them as opposed to letting a "natural" event take its course without interceding. If this is genocide, it is a passive genocide, but that statement isn't intended to let the specific 19th-century English bastards who allowed the Irish to starve off the hook. They definitely made their choices and the repercussions of those choices have resonated across American and British history ever since.

I'm writing this up, in part, as a reaction to Timothy Egan's op-ed in yesterday's New York Times. He wrote a scathing response to Paul Ryan's exhortations about poverty by linking Ryan's speech to the speech of those very English bastards who decided to let Ryan's ancestors starve.

Paul Ryan, after relating an invented story about a poor child who didn't want a free lunch, said:
On Wednesday, he went further, using the language of racial coding. This, after he told a story of a boy who didn’t want his free school lunch because it left him with “a full stomach and an empty soul.” The story was garbage — almost completely untrue.
We have this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” [Egan] In other words, these people are bred poor and lazy.

“We have this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” In other words, these people are bred poor and lazy. 
Where have I heard that before? Ah, yes — 19th-century England. The Irish national character, Trevelyan confided to a fellow aristocrat, was “defective.” The hungry millions were “a selfish, perverse, and turbulent” people, said the man in charge of relieving their plight.
This is not the most damning quote from Trevelyan, who also said, "The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated. …The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people." Trevelyan was concerned that if the government gave relief, people would be come dependent on that relief, and develop the habit of not working. 

Interestingly, and not in Egan's piece, when Ryan was confronted over the racism implicit in his comments, he responded that rural areas also have poverty because of a lack of jobs. Note: Urban - no culture of working; Rural - no jobs.

At any rate, although I think Egan's prose is a little overblown, I find the correlation between nineteenth-century right-wing attitudes about poverty and the modern right-wing movement to be fairly apt. In both cases, we have white elites looking at the poor of another race (the Irish were judged by the English to be severely "other") and thinking it a fault of character and breeding, not economics or government policy. Tough love is their solution (and tax cuts). All government aid is characterized as habit-forming handouts.

I write the historical parts of this blog to think about the way that history does and does not inform and infuse contemporary issues. That's my question - how did we get into this mess? In this case, it seems to me that in the West we remain bitterly divided about the proper response to poverty, the causes of poverty, and the duties of the government to its people.

The 20th century was the century of genocide. Whenever people say mean things about the Middle Ages, I like to note that there has NEVER been a century as brutal for human-on-human violence as the 20th. 

But as we seem to be entering this age of severe weather and environmental catastrophe - whether from cold, flood, drought, fire, storm, earthquake - we may well see more passive acts of genocide in the 21st century if those who believe that the poor need to be protected - not from poverty, not from disaster, but from habit-forming governmental assistance.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Roundup

On Sundays, usually, I try to round-up my week's posts and maybe draw attention to something that people missed. I naturally spent a lot of time on my CNN piece on rape culture and Down syndrome. I have received a lot of great feedback, did a radio interview, wrote a blog post on sexual agency among people with DS, and another on how I see the facts of the case (once again, let me re-iterate, I am neither lawyer nor law enforcement professional. That said, the lawyers who talked to me have more or less agreed with my reading of the case, often with scathing commentary about the ineptitude of the judge).

I'm very proud of the CNN piece. I've written plenty of pieces about gender and male feminism before for mass media, but never about rape. I wanted to get it right and hope I did. Some of the professionals working both in law enforcement and for organizations dedicated to ending violence against women have said nice things, so I'm feeling good.

The under-read piece of the week was about "Talking to Girls about Sex." It was really a plea to help fund Scarleteen, a site that does this important job better than anyone else I know of. Please help if you can.

I also wrote a post on code-switching and white male privilege in the classroom that got a lot of readership, mostly because Inside Higher Ed tweeted it out (I was responding to two of their essays).  One interesting response: A friend suggested that he was tired of the phrase "white male privilege," not because he didn't believe in it, but because it was too soft. White male privilege, he argued, should be called racism and sexism. I'm not quite sure. I think racism and sexism are the causes of white male privilege, and maybe we could emphasize that more clearly. Another friend and colleague wrote that she wanted to erode my privilege. Me too, me too! I wrote another post in the wake of an internet hubbub about Nazareth College rescinding a job offer on "fit" as a way to conceal bias - even to oneself!

For International Women's Day, I wrote about the discovery of Trisomy-21 and the all-too-familiar tale of a man stealing a female scientist's work. Down syndrome also featured in yesterday's piece on the challenges of inclusion, in which I thought about the difference between help and friendship. Reciprocity is the key, as is my continued mantra that inclusion is not same-ness.

It's been a year of public writing for me and a busy week on the blog. Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing.

And if you are looking for something new to read - try this on the origins of college rankings. It's Galton's fault, of course!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Challenges of Inclusion (not same-ness): Friendship vs Help

My son rides the regular school bus, a step that we decided on this year. The system has been supportive. Nico's aide meets us at the bus stop and facilitates the ride. On the rare days when he takes the bus home, she's there (she has to take the bus anyway to get back to her car).

But there's also a girl named G. who is in Nico's class, and she's an outstanding helper. I discovered this the first time the aide wasn't able to make it (thanks to the terrible winter we've had here). So I brought Nico onto the bus and G. popped up from her seat, smiling at Nico, holding out her hands, and sitting with him. I've rarely been so deeply moved (although there was another girl, H., early in the year, who I wrote about. She's great too). Over the past month, Nico's independence on the bus has improved dramatically, and I think G. has a lot to do with it.

Lately, some behavior issues in transitions (running mostly) have been ameliorated by having peers, mostly girls, walk with Nico from place to place, holding hands, helping.

And yet, yesterday the Twitter user @think_inclusive linked to a fascinating article on inclusion called, "HELL-BENT ON HELPING: Benevolence, Friendship, and the Politics of Help." It comes from a pair of educational consultants and counselors focused on disability issues, and although the piece is from 1994, it instantly raised alarms about what I've been seeing at my son's school. It also, though, offers useful terms and categories of analysis to think about inclusion and its possibilities. In the end (spoiler alert), I think Nico and his peers are doing alright.

Here's the introduction of the article, opening with the social and policy changes that moved through schools in the 80s and early 90s (emphases mine throughout)
The move toward cooperative and inclusive education is part of a larger move out of social oppression for individuals with disabilities. It is part of a groundswell movement of social reform that holds as a central tenet the belief that all children, including those with disabilities, are capable of learning and contributing to their classrooms and communities.
This is the first generation of children with and without disabilities to grow up and be educated together. Consequently, within inclusive education we have come to entertain a cheerful optimism that the generation growing up now will be different than those of the past. We are hopeful that greater contact between children will begin to break down the barriers of misunderstanding and dispel the myths that have created society's response to disability.
It was a good hope and authors note some genuine progress:
At first glance, this change might seem to be taking place. Individuals with disabilities are more visible and increasingly involved in community life. If we believed that greater proximity led to greater acceptance, it could be argued that we are successfully participating in the creation of a new social order. Unfortunately, this is only partly true. Instead, we are finding that increased visibility and "presence" alone do not necessarily ensure that those with disabilities are fully included.
True inclusion is dependent on the development of meaningful and reciprocal relationships between children. As classrooms become increasingly diverse, new strategies are being developed to ensure that the new students are more than simply present. Friendship circles, school clubs and special buddy systems have been implemented as formalized attempts to foster interaction and develop relationships.
Meaningful and reciprocal relationships. That's such a simple but powerful phrase. I've been thinking about my son's relationships. There are typical kids who clearly like him, hang out with him, and indeed help him (like G.). Are the relationships reciprocal? That I'm not sure.

The piece then expands to thinking about agency, or lack thereof, by focusing on "help."
Our society still perceives those with disabilities as perpetual receivers of help. Descriptors like "less fortunate" and "needy," telethons, and tear-jerker journalism all continue to perpetuate this view.
Unfortunately, there is still a distressing tendency in some schools to base interactions with students on these broader societal misperceptions, despite a sincere desire to end the isolation experienced by so many children with disabilities. Friendship clubs and buddy systems based on stereotypical beliefs risk perpetuating prejudices and myths and even exacerbating the problem.
Obviously, it is essential that students be provided with opportunities to interact. Formalized friendship and support circles may be effective ways to building relationships. However, an over-emphasis on the "helper/helpee" relationship can easily skew the delicate balance of giving and receiving that is the precursor of true friendship. It is critical, then, to regularly and carefully examine the nature of the interaction we facilitate and the attitudes that inform it.
Finally, an example:
Consider the following scenario:
Four third grade children from a local elementary school have come to speak to a room full of adults. They've been invited, with their teacher, to talk about friendship. 
Three of the four children in the room can speak, one of them can't. Three of the four children in the room can walk, one of them can't. The three walking, talking children are here to tell us about their relationship with the young man in the wheelchair. 
Adults in the room begin to smile as the first classmate talks. Approving nods accompany the child's words, "He's different on the outside, but inside he's just like me." 
The conversation whirls around the boy in the wheelchair as he scans the room, looks at his communication board and sometimes watches his classmates. 
"We take turns being his buddy," offers one young girl. "Everyone has a turn."
As the children talk and answer questions, it is interesting to watch the interplay between the subject of the discussion and the girl to his left. She has one arm around his shoulders, and in the other hand holds a washcloth. She wipes his mouth repeatedly. At one point, he appears to lose patience and struggles a bit. One hand jerks forward. His friend seizes his and holds it still. He makes a noise of clear irritation, and attempts to pull his hand free. 
His classmate smiles fondly at him, continuing to restrain his hand, and wipes his mouth again. 
We heard the boy's three classmates being called "the hope for tomorrow" and "exceptional kids". All over the room, adults were beaming. After all, this relatively new phenomenon seems to hold out some hope for an end to discrimination and distance between those who have disabilities and those who do not. 
However, as the presentation continued, it became increasingly apparent that while both adults and children thought they were talking about friendship, much of the discussion taking place was really about help. While there was undeniable warmth between the children, most of the comments and non-verbal interactions reflected a "helper/helpee" relationship, not a reciprocal friendship.
The whole article is worth reading as it moves from laying out the problem to potential solutions, ways to build reciprocal relationships, and the challenge of empathy. Empathy, in fact, lays at the core of this discussion - to move from a mechanical relationship of helper - helpee / active - passive - into one of mutual understanding and reciprocity.

Is this what's going on with Nico? Warmth. Helping. But in a way that denies him agency? I don't think so, not yet, but it's a fine line to walk and one I'm going to watch.

Here's something that sounds hard: I do not think Nico has any typical friends other than his sister. He has not been invited to a birthday party (Ellie has an invite practically every weekened). He doesn't get invited to playdates. But that's only if we define friendship in a typical way as experienced between neuro-typical children

I don't. My principle is inclusion, not same-ness. Here I turn back to this useful article and think about "meaningful and reciprocal relationships." Those I see forming all around Nico, I see Nico actively shaping them. I see them occurring in his classroom, at his after-school program, and in the neighborhood. It's a long slow process. The results may or may not look like typical friendships. 

And that's ok. Reciprocity and empathy will do just fine.