Saturday, October 31, 2015

How Not to Kill Someone in Mental Health Crisis Armed With A Knife

When police shoot someone in a mental health crisis armed with - a knife, a knife, a knife, a knife, a hammer, a screwdriver, a broom handle, or a rock or any number of other weapons that are not firearms - the question arises: What could they have done differently? 

The officers in such case generally, and understandably, reply by saying that the weapon was potentially lethal, which is true, requiring the response with deadly force, which is only sometimes true. Quite often - Kajieme Powell and Donald Wilson for example - police were in spaces where instead of stepping forward and firing, they could have stepped backwards and invested the scene with both space and time, letting things play out differently.

I say this in talks all the time, describing (based on discussions with law enforcement officials and other experts) how scenarios might have played out differently with the prioritization of stabilization over control, for example. Not all encounters with an armed person in a mental health crisis can be resolved without use of lethal force. And in many cases, the resolution would have to be significantly upstream of the encounter (keeping the person from entering crisis, for example). But many can. Now here's a video to demonstrate it.

Posted by Filming Cops on Thursday, October 29, 2015

Despite the inflammatory title of the video, this kind of outcome is possible in the US too. Here's a story from Milwaukee that played out much the same way, we just lack video. Police encountered a person with in mental health crisis and led him on a chase. It wasn't easy. It was scary. But they saved a life.
The officer, who was joined by another, then encountered Martinez, who was shirtless, holding a large butcher knife and threatening to kill them.
Martinez began chasing the officers around parked vehicles as they yelled at him to drop the knife, and one of the officers even indicated that she was "beginning to wear out from the running," before Martinez finally dropped the knife and was arrested.
The officer later told investigators, "that this was the most frightening experience she has had as an officer," and "both officers indicated that they were thinking about the recent incidents locally and nationally at the time of this incident."
The charges against Martinez come against the backdrop of monthslong demonstrations in Milwaukee and throughout the nation by protesters demanding criminal charges against police officers involved in high-profile deaths of unarmed black civilians, including the shooting deaths of Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Disability, Trauma, and the Assault at Spring Valley High

Ever since watching the terrible video of a student being pulled from her desk and thrown to the ground, I've been waiting to learn how disability intersected with this case. I assumed it would, because the data shows that the two groups most vulnerable to violence at the hands of school authorities are people of color and students with disabilities. Disabled people of color are multiply marginalized, and thus highly at risk - see my pieces here and here

Chart from
It shows 22.3% of all suspensions are black students. 18.1% are disabled.
Once we learned that school resource officer Ben Fields was known as "Officer Slam," I knew that if we dug into this officer's background, we'd find disabled victims of his bullying. That's just what happened. Here's a story that describes his violent encounter with an autistic student [my emphasis]:
Richland School District Two Superintendent Debbie Hamm admits that "clearly something did not go right," calling it the most upsetting incident she has seen in her 40 years with the district.
"We will be working with the Richland County Sheriff's Office to clarify our expectations about screening and training for school resource officers," said Hamm.
But one parent had a slightly different reaction.
"I saw his face and my first thought was 'Oh my god, that's the same guy,'" said Wendy Johnson, who says her autistic son was in a physical struggle with Fields when he was a freshman.
Photos she took of her son after the altercation reveal his shirt torn and marks on his arms and shoulder.
Notice how the Superintendent characterizes the assault on the video as out of the norm. My guess is that "Officer Slam" does this all the time, it's just now he's being held accountable. The violence is structural. The violence is systemic. This is not an isolated incident.  

Then there's the question of trauma. There's a major class-action lawsuit in California arguing that victims of trauma should be covered under disability law. It has enormous implications for American education, because up to a quarter of all children, according to Susan Ko of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, will be victims of trauma. If trauma is so common and if should be treated as a disability (both givens that I believe to be true), it may indeed force us to stop treating disability as a deviation from the norm, as a case of "special" needs, but just as needs. We'll have to move to a system of universal design that requires all interactions with students take the possibility of disability into account.

I don't know whether the student dragged out of her desk was a victim of trauma. I don't need to know. Initial reports was that she was a recent orphan, more recent information is that she is estranged from her mother and living in foster care, and now that narrative has been questioned too. We, as a nation, are overly fond of litigating the character of the victim of state violence as a way of determining whether or not they deserved to be brutalized. Such violence is not determined by whether she was a "good victim" or not, but instead whether she was in fact engaged in threatening behavior that merited escalating use of force. Judging by the videotape, she was not. Case closed.

Her lawyer does say that she's a victim of trauma now, in considerable emotional distress. I believe it. The assault looks traumatizing. Having millions of people view your assault, likewise.

In that classroom, the statistics suggest, there surely were people who had experienced trauma, and who had to observe the violence. That's only going to make matters worse.
Many traumatized students live in a state of constant alarm. Innocent interactions like a bump in the hallway or a request from a teacher can stir anger and bad behavior 
The lawsuit alleges that, in Compton, the schools' reaction to traumatized students was too often punishment — not help. 
"They were repeatedly either sent to another school, expelled or suspended — and this went back to kindergarten," says Marleen Wong, who teaches at the USC School of Social Work and has spent decades studying kids and trauma. "I think we're really doing a terrible disservice to these children." 
The suit argues that trauma is a disability and that schools are required — by federal law — to make accommodations for traumatized students, not expel them. The plaintiffs want Compton Unified to provide teacher training, mental health support for students and to use conflict-mediation before resorting to suspension.
We must get these SROs - School Resource Officers - out of the schools. We cannot respond to the prevalence of trauma with more police officers, more violence, or zero tolerance policies. It's counter-productive. Hopefully, the courts will also decide that it violates the ADA.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

#CultOfCompliance - Compelling Compliance for Psychiatric Disability

Here's a disturbing and complex manifestation of the cult of compliance
Starting next week, San Francisco will be the fifth county in the state to implement Laura’s Law, the measure that allows judges to force severely mentally ill people to get treatment.
The measure is targeted toward people who are resisting care and have a history of hospitalization, incarceration or violence. Family members, mental health providers or police officers can petition the court to compel patients into outpatient treatment, though patients cannot be forced to take medication.
The devil, of course, is in the details of how it's regulated and enforced. But a history of hospitalization and incarceration does not mean, by itself, at risk for perpetrating violence. I see this law as spreading fear and stigma, the last thing the mental health community should want.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Disability Journalism: Rose Eveleth on not writing ableist garbage

Rose Eveleth has become one of my favorite writers on technology. Lately, she's been  focusing specifically on prosthetics. It's an area that technology is rapidly transforming. It's great to have deeply thoughtful journalists reporting on both the science and the social implications.

In this blog post, she reflects on what she's learned on her beat and how not to write "Ableist garbage."

1. No Inspiration Porn. (Here's my intro to that topic and disability journalism). Eveleth writes, in regards to prosthetics: "It can sometimes feel like these stories are not inspiration porn, they don’t fit the mold, but they are all about making able bodied people feel good about the world via the application of technology to a person they assume must be struggling and unhappy."

2. Remember what prosthetics are for. It's not just about cool tech saving the world, but helping people who need them.

3. Talk to amputees. "Often, as science journalists, we get really hung up on a particular kind of expert: the scientist, the doctor, the engineer. These people have expertise, sure, but they only have a certain kind of expertise. The patient has another kind, and a kind that is just as important."

Read the whole post!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Peter Singer's Tells - He thinks his radical opinions on disability are just old news.

Peter Singer came to town to talk about altruism for a humanities festival. Local disability activists (sadly not including me), picketed the event, and the Daily Northwestern covered it. In their interview with Singer, he revealed something new to me.

Singer's extreme utilitarian views has led him to argue many things with which I disagree (i.e. -to be an altruist go work for Wall Street so you can get rich and do more good than if you work for a humanitarian organization; which ignores a culture of Wall Street that undoes whatever good rich individuals who happen to be altruistic do). In my community, though, we fix on his remarks about disability. They are, namely:
  • The correct ethical choice is to terminate pregnancies following a diagnosis of disability, because that maximizes "happiness." 
  • This has led him to claims about denying healthcare for disabled infants, to maximize resources for society.
  • And related claims about euthanasia for disabled adults, especially the elderly, being the correct ethical position.
I lost a friend recently over Singer. I criticized him too broadly, she charged into my mentions to slice and dice my critique, I asked her to stop politely, and it went south. I'd rather not lose any more friends. So let me say ahead of time that I know that both Singer and his defenders would say they aren't actively advocating a Nazi-like murder of the disabled, but just thinking through the problem in a philosophical fashion and that philosophy and ethics should have no conceptual limits.

On the other hand, were he endorsing the elimination of other marginalized segments of the population based on his thought experiments, I am fairly sure he would not be lauded and celebrated around the world as the "most influential" philosopher alive.

One of the criticisms of Singer is that he doesn't know anything about what life with disability is like. He makes assumptions about happiness that don't track with reality, and when confronted with the reality of individuals with disabilities who are happy, he makes them exceptions that prove his theories correct, rather than reconsidering his theories.

That may be changing. From the Daily Northwestern [my emphasis]:
Singer later told The Daily that though protesters don’t confront him often, it has happened before.
“Parents ought to have choices if they give birth to a child with a very severe disability about whether that child lives or not,” he said to Hamilton.
The exchange was similar to one he had in 2001 with former disability rights activist Harriet McBryde Johnson at the College of Charleston, chronicled in a 2003 article in The New York Times magazine. When asked about Johnson, Singer said she helped expand his horizons.
“I accepted that maybe the lives of people with disabilities can be better than I had thought,” he told The Daily. “And certainly I think that Harriet was leading a rich and full life. But it is going to vary a lot with circumstances.”
Singer, who said he stands by his former work, is ready to move on.
“I want to find new and interesting things to say,” he told The Daily. “I wrote about the disability movement in the ’80s. It is a very specific problem that affects a very small number of people. The effective altruism movement has a lot more potential to do good.”
If you're interested in Singer, do go read that New York Times piece. It's amazing.

This little quote reveals a few things. First, that he's actually shifted his thoughts on disability a little. That's news to me.

Second, though, he thinks his ideas from the 80s were so long ago that really people should just leave him alone and let him do his new stuff, and that the disabled are such a small segment of the population that it's really not a big deal he suggested the correct ethical position is termination.

But just last year, on the radio (as detailed by Lawrence Carter-Long at the National Council on Disability), he once again suggested that healthcare laws would be best (because of utilitarianism) if we admitted the "necessity of 'intentionally ending the lives of severely disabled infants.'"

So he has he moved on? I don't think so. He just doesn't think it's a big deal and would like protestors to leave him alone.

I, on the other hand, would like academics to treat him as if ableism were as serious as racism, sexism, or homophobia, and stop inviting him to swanky lectures.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Adventures in Universal Design: Handwriting Notes and In-class Exams

Last night I had a long twitter argument about universal design in the classroom. Here's my position:

I do not intend to ever give another in-class exam, even though I acknowledge there is research that being forced to memorize and study may have beneficial results on learning. I will also not ban laptops in the classroom (I have experimented with turning off wi-fi in the classroom, but I'm not convinced that's the right away forward), despite the research suggesting that handwriting is better for learning than laptops.

The problem is that we, as teachers, make these decisions based on surface-level reactions to highly mediated studies. We see - handwriting better! We respond - ban laptops! And since we don't really like our students clacking away on keys and using Facebook, having a study to confirm our pre-existing biases against laptops. And similarly many of us found the process of having to study for exams then sit them in a classroom clarifying and powerful

But there are problems - First, technology is becoming so deeply embedded in our lives that it's increasingly unlikely we can hermetically seal the classroom from it. Sure, we can ban laptops. But not "fingernail computers" or "eye contact computers" or whatever the future holds.

Second, whatever comes next tech wise, right now there are millions of disabled students for whom handwriting is either sub-optimal or impossible. The ADA gives people with clearly diagnosed conditions the power to accommodate, and that's an awesome power indeed, but first it leaves people out, and second it suggests that disabled students are doomed to a "second-best" pedagogy. That's not acceptable to me.

Importantly, I think these studies (if true. Remember the replication issue in psych) do not demand we limit our pedagogy to reward one type of neurotypical student. Instead, these studies say figure out WHY in-class tests have advantages and figure out WHY handwriting and has advantages - then work very hard to achieve those advantages in diverse ways.

For my take home exams, I try to replicate some of the pressures of the in-class exam, because my understanding of the research is that the in-class exam is a useful way to push students to internalize information. For note-taking, I discuss why and how

For note-taking, here's Josh Eyler (a man who knows vastly more about the scholarship of learning than I do):
There's nothing magical about a pen and paper. What happens is that when using a pen and paper, students can write less, so they think harder about what to write, and thus take better notes and begin the process of internalizing what's important. This can be replicated with laptops.

We can do this. We can focus on ends - better learning - and not the means we figured out in eras past to achieve those ends.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sesame Street and #BoycottAutismSpeaks

In April 2014, Sesame Street announced a partnership with Autism Speaks. Autistic indivduals and their allies quickly organized to push Sesame Street to do better, and not listen solely to a group dedicated to perpetuating the worst stereotypes about autism.

The results are pretty good. From an LA Times article on the process:
Children with autism vary in their traits significantly: some can talk, while others can’t. Many of them are sensitive to noise. Some have trouble keeping eye contact, and many of them experience the world differently, so they’ll touch different objects to explore the sensation of texture. Perhaps because of this range, autism is also extremely controversial. While some organizations, such as Autism Speaks, consider autism a syndrome that calls for research to help mitigate its effects, others, such as the Autism Self-Advocacy Network, simply view autism as an alternative way of expressing oneself.
So by stepping into the fray, and by choosing the traits for one character to represent autism, Sesame Street risked facing backlash.
“Sesame can be a great convener of different interests,” Westin said. “We were able to bring people at opposite ends of the spectrum, pun intended, from Autism Speaks, to the Autism Self-Advocacy Network. Those groups see certain things differently, but what they had in common is they wanted to give families and children tools.” Both groups have released statements supporting the initiative...
Ultimately, after working with these groups and experts from such institutions as the Yale Child Study Center, they decided on these characteristics for Julia: She can talk. She cannot make extensive eye contact. And she flaps her arms when she gets excited. “We chose things we thought would be most helpful and most typical,” Westin said. On top of these markers of autism, Julia is very curious and smart.
 It's good to see that Sesame Street was willing to listen to actually autistic people and create a positive, realistic, autistic muppet.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Pay attention to South Africa and the #FeesMustFall movement, where students are protesting higher education costs and are being met with state violence. I've been watching the hashtag (and some related ones). The attempt to raise fees is broadly seen as a movement to exclude poor black students from higher education.

Here's a BBC article, but Twitter is the best news sources.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

November 14: Joliet Junior College Planetarium Hosts Neurodiverse-Friendly Show

One of my regular twitter correspondents reached out to me recently to discuss his plans for a low-sensory-input planetarium show. He already had all the good ideas, but we chatted and confirmed that this would work, and I'm thrilled he's moved forward with the plan.

Here's the announcement. We're planning to go!
We wanted to host a special event before the holidays get in full swing, and especially take into consideration how certain elements of typical movie theatre presentations are not ideal for children with neurodivergent conditions,” said Morrison. “We are hoping to present a show they will enjoy.”
There will be a 35-minute full dome show for all ages, a brief intermission, and then a 25-minute show for ages 8 and up.
Families who attend the show can expect the following arrangements:
-Some lighting will be kept on in the planetarium throughout the show.
– The sound will be turned down from normal levels.
-Anyone can get up and leave (and then come back) at any time during the show if they need to
– Guides will be available outside the planetarium to direct families to where they need to go
-Families are welcome to bring in their own snacks.
One of the things I really like about this is that while the press release mentions autism and Down syndrome, it's not a diagnosis-specific event. I wrote some time ago about a Seattle event for kids with autism. When I queried the museum why "autism" only, they said it had to do with funding and of course any child with sensory needs is welcome. But such titles send the wrong message (and fall within the medical model).

So great work Joliet Junior College Planetarium, and maybe I'll see some of you there.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Upcoming Chicagoland Talks

I'm giving a public lecture tonight, October 20, at Lewis University on disability and diversity in honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA.

I'll also be a panelist at a workshop on disability and journalism on November 2-3, via Access Living and Poynter.

Disability Studies at Toledo!

Kim Nielsen, professor of disability studies at the University of Toledo, has a new blog post up at the Beacon Broadside (note: from Beacon Press, also my publisher) announcing their undergraduate major in disability studies. It's the first such major in the country.
“I’ve never been this excited about my education before,” my student said as we discussed his undergraduate B.A. degree in Disability Studies. Then he laughed at himself with astonishment. Because of his commitment to the topic, he also was working harder in his college coursework than he ever had before; and he’d never imagined that academic hard work and excitement could go together. This student, like all of our students, came to the University of Toledo’s Disability Studies Program seeking a future job (for himself) and justice (for all).

This fall the University of Toledo (Ohio) launched the nation’s first undergraduate, interdisciplinary B.A. in Disability Studies. Enabled by a significant endowment from The Ability Center of Greater Toledo, and with support from our campus leadership, we’ve hired marvelous faculty. We’re drawing in marvelous students. We’re hearing from interested employers who want our students as interns and future employees. Our courses prepare students for employment by enabling them to better understand the world around them, think about the future, and solve problems. We offer courses on literature and poetry, history, public policy, law, health care systems, and sexuality through a disability analysis. Some of our students are disabled; some are not.
I met Nielsen and her colleagues last week. Nielsen attended my public writing workshop, then they hosted me for a talk on police violence and disabilities. I'm thrilled with the work they are doing there, modeling how to center disability studies in an undergraduate context. Congrats to everyone at Toledo!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Guns on Campus - Coming soon to Wisconsin

My thesis - We cannot arm our way to less gun violence.

Unfortunately, in Wisconsin, the GOP legislature will likely try to do just that, by allowing guns on college campuses. Because if you are in thrall to the NRA, there are literally no other ideas to try.

Read Chuck Rybak's moving essay on the disturbing details. Rybak feels powerless, but he's not silent.


Update: I saw Chuck link to this study.
A recent study published in The Journal of Preventive Medicine offers new support for the argument that owning a gun does not make you safer. The study, led by David Hemenway, Ph.D., of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, examines data from the National Crime Victimization Survey — an annual survey of 90,000 households — and shows not only that so-called “defensive gun use” (DGU) rarely protects a person from harm, but also that such incidents are much more rare than gun advocates claim.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday Roundup - Guns and Mental Health

Next Tuesday I will speaking about disability and diversity at Lewis University. Details here. Open to the public.

Last week I went to Toledo to talk about public writing with other academics, then gave a talk on why police kill people with disabilities. Grateful to my hosts and everyone who came.

I was also on NPR's Here and Now this week, talking about Columbus Day. 7 minute segment here.

Blog posts:
I'm getting deeper into my book writing and two other major projects, but should have a piece come out next week on disability and politics.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Why Do Police Kill People With Disabilities - Public Lecture in Toledo

I am very excited to be going to the University of Toledo tomorrow to offer a talk: Why do police kill people with disabilities?

Are you in the area? It's a public lecture this Friday, 10/16. Details: Memorial Field House, Room 1030, 2:00.
Description: A third to a half of all people killed by police have disabilities, but the word "disability" almost never appears in the reporting or policy discussions around police use of force. Instead, we talk about mental illness or ignore the issue altogether. In this talk, journalist and historian David Perry argues that this silence not only leaves people with disabilities at risk of violence, but makes it harder for us to enact effective reforms.
I will also be offering Toledo faculty (pre-registration only, now full) my public writing workshop for academics: Go Public. This half-day workshop focuses on both the conceptual and pragmatic aspects of adapting academic expertise for the public.

Are you at a university? You could bring me to give a talk and/or a workshop too! I hope to talk to lots of people as I work on my book: Disability Is Not A Crime.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Decouple Gun Violence and Mental Health Conversations (Democratic Debate Edition)

Disability continues to be a largely ignored issue in the presidential primaries except for when it comes to gun violence, when the candidates get things entirely wrong. Here's 100% of what Sanders or Clinton (the only candidates that actually might get nominated) said about disability last night.
SANDERS: Let's begin, Anderson, by understanding that Bernie Sanders has a D-minus voting rating from the NRA. Let's also understand that back in 1988 when I first ran for the United States Congress, way back then, I told the gun owners of the state of Vermont and I told the people of the state of Vermont, a state which has virtually no gun control, that I supported a ban on assault weapons. And over the years, I have strongly avoided instant background checks, doing away with this terrible gun show loophole. And I think we've got to move aggressively at the federal level in dealing with the straw man purchasers.
Also I believe, and I've fought for, to understand that there are thousands of people in this country today who are suicidal, who are homicidal, but can't get the healthcare that they need, the mental healthcare, because they don't have insurance or they're too poor. I believe that everybody in this country who has a mental crisis has got to get mental health counseling immediately. 
COOPER: Do you want to shield gun companies from lawsuits?
SANDERS: Of course not. This was a large and complicated bill. There were provisions in it that I think made sense. For example, do I think that a gun shop in the state of Vermont that sells legally a gun to somebody, and that somebody goes out and does something crazy, that that gun shop owner should be held responsible? I don't.
On the other hand, where you have manufacturers and where you have gun shops knowingly giving guns to criminals or aiding and abetting that, of course we should take action.
Sanders needs to stop stigmatizing mental health. He's learned to speak much better about racial injustice (good job activists. And all my white liberal friends who were complaining that BLM activists were unfairly pressuring him, that's why. So he learns). But this stigmatizing of mental health crisis as causally linked to our gun violence, rather than easy access to firearms, when people with mental health issues are vastly  more likely to be victims, has to stop.

I'm delighted to have a candidate advocating for better mental health care - so long as it doesn't involve forced institutionalization or forced medication. But we have to decouple the conversation about mental health from the conversation about gun violence. 

Whatever Sanders' intention, his comments reinforce the notion that gun violence is due to mental illness. We've got to push back hard against that. And Sanders supporters, if they want my vote for their candidate, will need to lead the way. Teach your candidate.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Medievalist Goes Public - Laura Michele Diener writes for Yes! Magazine

Laura Michele Diener is an associate professor of history at Marshall. She works on medieval textile history, and I first met her when she gave a terrific presentation on using textile creation in the classroom. Recently, though, I've become aware of her public writing on contemporary issues.

One of my theories about academics turning to public writing is that we don't have to limit ourselves to writing about our narrow subject areas. Yes, if something directly related to our formal expertise emerges in the news, we really should engage. But the process of becoming an expert, a teacher, a writer, a thinker, builds habits of mind and habits of articulation that can serve in countless endeavors.

Diener's experience exemplifies the possibilities. She's written two terrific pieces for Yes! Magazine  - First on mountaintop removal and second on rural women and domestic violence. In the latter, she writes:
Transformations like Howard’s are not easy to pull off in rural Appalachia, where poor roads, low incomes, and a fiercely traditional culture combine to leave women facing domestic violence in physical and emotional isolation. But a handful of nonprofit shelters and advocates have managed to make progress in this difficult setting.
The secret of their success seems to be listening carefully to the women they serve and then handcrafting programs for those women. The advocates have found that when it comes to domestic violence, a one-size solution does not fit all. It is important to consider community and culture in order to make real differences in the lives of domestic violence survivors, a lesson for shelters everywhere.
I spent much of the month of May visiting some of these rural shelters. Even though I’ve lived in West Virginia for eight years, as I drove into the state’s southern counties I felt like I was entering a different world. The six-lane highways turned into narrow roads curving around mountains. Trucks carrying lumber hurtled past me on the switchbacks. Densely green woods surrounded me with cool, still beauty, and the towns were few and far between. I lost cell service almost immediately. For me, the solitude seemed idyllic. But this kind of isolation can be deadly for a woman trying to escape from an abusive home, especially if she is responsible for children and animals.
I spoke with Diener and asked her a few questions about the process of writing these articles.

DP: How and why did you decide to start writing about contemporary issues in West Virginia?

LMD: I've been teaching Women's Studies classes at Marshall University since I arrived there in 2008. At first I kept those classes focused on ancient and medieval women, which is what I know best, but as I got to know my students, I realized what incredibly rich narratives they had to tell, and how rooted their experiences were in place. Through their stories, I started getting interested in contemporary regional issues such as the impacts of coal on the history and environment of Appalachia. 

Then in January 2014, there was a chemical spill in the state capital that poisoned the water of 300,000 people in nine counties. People were left without water for weeks, and questions about water safety still remain. It was a horrifying situation. I wanted to know how the water crisis affected people differently, depending on their situation--their age, income-level, etc . . . Being someone who likes to research, I started traveling around, interviewing people and taking pictures. It was a way for me to get to know my new state and to make sure that people's stories were being recorded. Each person I met opened up new questions for me and I've been writing about these questions ever since.

DP: How different was the process of writing the domestic violence story from your historical research?

LMD: I started by speaking with people I knew through my work with Women's Studies. We held a Women's Studies conference at Marshall last spring and I listened to a fantastic paper by Mandy Sanchez, a sociologist at WVU, about rural women and domestic violence. Her paper was focused on the positive steps that a shelter in Cambridge Ohio were taking to reach out to rural women. Her research reminded me of some of the shelters we had been working with through Women's Studies, particularly SAFE in Welch, WV, and the idea for the article came to me during the conference. So, I immediately called Mandy, and asked for some references, and then I started calling around to different state coalitions on domestic violence. 

Once I made some contacts, I drove out to the organizations and met people for interviews. In that sense, my process was pretty different from what I do as a historian, because it was all about making connections with living people. One conversation would lead to another, because everyone would say, "oh, you must talk to this person." At the same time, my historical research process is not that different, just with books instead of people, where one book leads to another.
DP: How did you decide on Yes! Magazine

LMD: I went to a rally called The People's Foot that was organized by a number of local environmental organizations that was held to call attention to the environmental and health impacts of mountaintop removal mining. It was really inspiring and I wanted as many people to know about it as possible, so I decided to write an article and just searched via google for a magazine that might be interested. 

After that first article, my editor at Yes! asked if I would be interested in writing a story about Appalachian women. I knew I wanted to write something that addressed pressing issues but also demonstrated some of the positive work that people are doing. 

Go read Diener's work!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Cult of Compliance - Police Officer Grabs Teen Boy By the Throat

This is a video of a school cop grabbing an African-American teenager by the throat for, it appears, trying to walk away. There had been a fight, the officer was telling him something, and the boy was trying to leave.

Unless the boy was making some kind of threat, which no one has claimed he has, there's no justification other than raw assertion of power for this action.

The police officer needs to be disciplined. But won't be. He'll use lack of compliance as a justification for whatever action followed.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sunday Roundup: Readings for Columbus Day

A year ago I published an essay on Columbus Day for CNN - What do you tell your kids about Columbus?
In October 2013, my daughter came home from school excited about Christopher Columbus. He had come to visit her class! During his visit, he told the children that he had figured out the world was round and then bravely led his crew to discover America. Then they all made telescopes.
As a father and history professor, I was caught off-guard. Columbus actually didn't figure out the world was round. He didn't really discover America, either. And telescopes weren't around until about a century after Columbus died. But what do you tell a 5-year-old who has bought into a myth? And how do you do it without constructing an anti-myth, pegging the explorer as one of the most evil people to walk the Earth? What should we tell our children about Columbus?
The essay did well, with over 1000 clicks a minute for awhile on Columbus Day itself. CNN has republished it and promoted on their website, which is lovely to see, as I think it's a good essay.

Tomorrow, I'm scheduled to be on NPR's Here and Now to discuss Columbus, Columbus Day, and what we should tell our kids about messy pasts. If I'm lucky, we'll be able to broaden the conversation to bigger issues about history and memory (and parenting and teaching).

Here's what I'm reading or re-reading.

Tune in tomorrow on NPR!

My writing this week:
Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Autism Speaks - Is Unity Possible?

I have a new piece up at Al Jazeera America this morning on Autism Speaks.
Autism Speaks is the mega-charity of the autism world. Founded in 2005, it has an annual budget of $60 million, is known for its ubiquitous awareness walks and has a handsome array of celebrity backers. In some quarters of the disability rights movement, however, it has long been reviled for silencing and shaming autistic people.
The organization is criticized for the lack of autistic people on its board of directors and among its senior leadership. Its advertising materials also present autism in the worst possible light. One video portrays autism as a terrifying stalker, saying, “I am autism … I know where you live.” Critics claim it spends hardly any money onactually helping autistic people and that it supports abusive therapies. Worst, its mission calls for a possible cure for autism, which for many autistic people is tantamount to a call for genocide.
Autism Speaks disputes all these characterizations, but well defended by its giant piles of money, the mega-charity is usually able to ignore its critics. However, when best-selling author Steve Silberman recently published a high-profile op-ed in the Los Angeles Times criticizing the group, Autism Speaks responded with a call for unity. Could its willingness to engage suggest that it is on its way to becoming a less divisive member of the disability rights movement?
Let's be clear - I am deeply skeptical. In writing this piece, I went to a number of autistic people for comment and quote them in the piece, all of them focusing on similar issues: Center autistic people in senior-leadership, get past this tragedy language, and, as Lydia Brown said, don't just listen to straight white upper class autistics.

That's really what I thought I'd write about. I also got a comment from Shannon Des Roches Rosa, the parent of an autistic teen and senior editor at Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, in order to show that parents' groups can in fact work beautifully with groups run by and for autistic individuals. Because being a parent is complicated and we DO NEED organizations by and for us too, we just can't let those organizations lose sight of bigger issues. Shannon told me:
The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and other autistic-led orgs are very clear on such community-wide matters: "Nothing About Us Without Us." I don't think there can be unity until AS incorporates autistic leadership, and changes their mission and funding to prioritize autistic-led goals. There's no halfway on anything, for me, until that happens. What I think many people don't understand -- because of AS's dismissal of autisticadvocates as "not like our children" -- is that autistic advocacy incorporates disability understanding and accommodations, and does a better job of prioritizing the needs of autistic people of all ages and their families than AS is doing now. If we got AS's funding and marketing power behind the messages and services autistic people actually need, I think that would naturally create more unity.
You might note that this quote isn't in the piece, and that's because journalism happened. I did my due diligence. I called for comment. And then I followed up when, surprisingly, I got one.

The last time I went to Autism Speaks for a comment, I got a call promising one, and then nothing. I wrote this for the New York Times, and then a certain amount of drama broke through. Autism Speaks contacted my editor, denouncing me, claiming they had left me a voice mail, and demanding their own column. I still don't know if they called the wrong number, if spokesperson A was lying to his boss, VP B to cover himself for not getting back to me, or if VP B was also lying. I'd like to believe in human error (wrong number) than lies, but since Spokesperson A had successfully called before and had my email, I'm not sure.

Mostly, Autism Speaks has a reputation for ignoring critics. As I said in the paragraphs above - with their bankroll, they can afford to ignore us peons. When autistic people criticize them, they say that such high-functioning people are "not like 'our' children," and then use that as another opportunity to demonize autism as stalker.

But still, I reached out to Autism Speaks, and I got an official comment. It said, among other things, that lots of autistic people work for AS. I asked to speak with one, and got put in touch with Kerry Magro.
Magro is a motivational speaker, author and the social media coordinator for Autism Speaks. He has autism. He got involved with Autism Speaks through awareness walks in college, received an internship from them and eventually accepted a fulltime job offer. He would be delighted to see a person with autism on the board, but is unstinting with his praise. “Everything I've seen with Autism Speaks,” he said, “is a lot of embracing individuals with autism.”
Then I asked Magro about whether he needed to be cured. His response revealed a pathway forward:
For a long time, when I was a kid, when I was having speech difficulties, when I was having trouble making friends, when I was having a lot of communication delays, I always wanted supports to help me progress. Autism Speaks’ mission is to help in the lives of people who have autism. Cure — in the way I’ve always seen it — is just being able to give supports to people [so that they] can live the best lives possible whether it be physical, occupational, speech therapy, etc. I hope that we are able to put supports in place to help our kids progress.
Notice how Magro isn’t arguing against Autism Speaks’ mission, but he also isn’t using the language of epidemic. If Autism Speaks isn’t going to listen to its critics, maybe it could learn to listen to its own employees.
Will it happen? I can't say. But Liz Feld is stepping down as president of Autism Speaks, so there's a moment here for change. It won't be radical change. It won't turn AS into the organization that I wish they were. But it's possible.

And here's my closer.
Every movement has its center and its peripheries. It should come as no surprise that the most privileged elements — white, monied, neurotypical — dominate the center of the autism advocacy movement, or that such do-gooders find it difficult to accept as valid any criticism of their efforts. 
As a white, relatively monied (in that I have a nice house and a reliable income), neurotypical man ... I think about this all the time, trying to be a useful member on the periphery.

The Liberal Arts, Carly Fiorina, and the Middle Ages

Bruce Holsinger is a medieval literary scholar, a novelist, a public intellectual, and a friend. Here's my review of his novels, political thrillers set in medieval London, with John Gower as the protagonist. You should read them.

Holsinger has a piece in the New York Times today on Fiorina, extending the conversation about her regular invocation of her medieval studies B.A. (for my take, you can read here). Holsinger writes:
How could medieval studies prepare a president for the global struggle against Islamist fundamentalism? Well, Mrs. Fiorina explained, “What ISIS wants to do is drive us back to the Middle Ages, literally.”
And did she mean literally. “Every single one of the techniques that ISIS is using,” she elaborated, “the crucifixions, the beheadings, the burning alive, those were commonly used techniques in the Middle Ages.” She added, “ISIS wants to take its territory back to the Middle Ages.”
Sounds familiar. Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, American political discourse was flooded with this kind of language. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld spoke of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s “medieval vision of the future.” The writer Christopher Hitchens warned of the Taliban’s program of “medieval stultification.” Osama bin Laden himself mastered this medievalist idiom, invoking the Crusades time and again in his polemics against the West.
Mrs. Fiorina’s resort to this sort of garden-variety medievalism represents a failure of historical imagination on at least three levels.
One - ISIS is very, very, modern.

Two - By claiming that non-state actors aren't modern nations, we can torture them and otherwise be as savage as we like.

Three, and here Holsinger makes a point I tried to hint at, but didn't really nail in my own piece, Fiorina has been an eloquent defender of the vitality of the humanities, something so critical in an era with Republicans (and neoliberal Democrats) have so gleefully attacked in recent years.
This came across most clearly in Mrs. Fiorina’s address to the Stanford University class of 2001. The most valuable course she took at Stanford, she told the graduates, wasn’t economics or politics, but a seminar called “Christian, Islamic and Jewish Political Philosophies of the Middle Ages.”
Each week, she explained, students had to distill what they’d read into a mere two pages: “The rigor of the distillation process, the exercise of refinement, that’s where the real learning happened. It was an incredible, heady skill to master. Through the years, I’ve used it again and again — the mental exercise of synthesis and distillation and getting to the very heart of things.”
Rarely has the value of humanistic education been defended so eloquently.
Meanwhile, Marco Rubio is snarking about the uselessness of Greek Philosophy. He, of course, studied Political Science in college, a discipline that traces its roots directly back to people like Thucydides and Aristotle.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Disability Journalism Award - 2015 Winner is ProPublica on School Restraint

Arizona State University hosts the National Center for Disability Journalism, an excellent group doing important work. The NCDJ offers the only annual journalism award for Disability issues - the   Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability - and have announced the 2015 winners.
A ProPublica story that uncovered the shocking ways children with intellectual disabilities are physically disciplined in schools across the country has won top honors in the 2015 Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability...
ProPublica reporter Heather Vogell’s first-place story, “Violent and Legal: The Shocking Ways School Kids are Being Pinned Down, Isolated Against Their Will,” profiled Carson Luke, a young boy with autism, who sustained broken bones after educators grabbed him and tried to force him into a “scream room.” The story underscored the common practice of educators secluding and physically restraining uncooperative school children, sometimes with straps, handcuffs, bungee cords or even duct tape, documenting hundreds of thousands of cases a year.
The ProPublica story is, in my opinion, the most important piece of disability journalism of the year. It's the kind of detailed, data-driven, investigative work that we so need, and it's important that it be recognized by awards like this. I read it when it came out and will obviously be referring to its findings in my book, as it's a terrible invocation of the cult of compliance.

I'm also very pleased with the Honorable Mention - on the legacy of Eugenics in North Carolina. This history isn't known well enough and isn't really in the past. Stories of forced sterilizations in prisons and other contexts keep emerging.

I am less thrilled with the second place winner on "Saving Evan." It's typical mom-vs-autism stuff. Moreover, the format - as you scroll pictures scroll up into your view and then away again - is extremely hard on my not-entirely-neurotypical visual processing centers of my brain. Maybe someone with better eye-brain connections can read it more closely and let me know what you think.

(Note: Of course I apply for this award. I don't expect to get it. Properly, they have always given it to full-time journalists rather than people doing commentary like me. I'd vote for full-time journalists too!).

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Oregon Shooting and Disability

I am still not handling my emotional reaction to the Oregon shooting very well. I'm also troubled by the efforts to focus on everything but the guns. Of course, with every such instance, there's a rush to stigmatize mental illness and, in this case, developmental disability.

It turns out that his mother was - as reported by the New York Times - active in online forums talking about 1) guns 2) raising a child with Asperger's.
Ms. Harper, who divorced her husband a decade ago, appears to have been by far the most significant figure in her son’s troubled life; neighbors say he rarely left their apartment. Unlike his father, who said on television that he had no idea Mr. Harper-Mercer cared so deeply about guns, his mother was well aware of his fascination. In fact, she shared it: In a series of online postings over a decade, Ms. Harper, a nurse, said she kept numerous firearms in her home and expressed pride in her knowledge about them, as well as in her son’s expertise on the subject.Photo
She also opened up about her difficulties raising a son who used to bang his head against the wall, and said that both she and her son struggled with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. She tried to counsel others whose children faced similar problems. All the while, she expressed hope that her son could lead a successful life in finance or as a filmmaker.
The Gun lobby has blamed this killing, so far, on mental illness, autism, loneliness, absent fathers, lack of heroism from the victims, and surely many other things. I'm going to continue to focus on the guns.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Misused Medievalism

I have a new piece at The Guardian on Carly Fiorina. She has a BA in medieval history and philosophy from Stanford in the 70s and has been claiming that it will help her fight ISIS. I write:
Last Sunday, the Republican presidential candidate tried to burnish her national security credentials by claiming that her bachelor’s degree prepared her to fight Isis. She said: “Finally my degree in medieval history and philosophy has come in handy, because what Isis wants to do is drive us back to the Middle Ages, literally”.
I’d like to state unequivocally that my years of training to become a professor of medieval history in no way make me fit to be appointed commander-in-chief of the US military. While the Middle Ages do in fact shape contemporary events all the time, Fiorina unfortunately almost always gets the lessons of history wrong.
When we use the word “medieval” to characterize something we don’t like, be it Isis, the Ferguson Police department or Russia’s driver’s license regulations, we are trying to impose chronological distance between ourselves and things we find unpleasant. Thinking of these distasteful or evil aspects of the modern world as belonging to the past makes it harder, not easier, to understand their root causes and fight them.
I write about the mis-appellation of "medieval" frequently, as the imposition of chronological alterity seems to be a problem leading to all kinds of confusion, denial of responsibility, and sometimes wrong action.

Some examples from the blog.

Trump and the "F-word" - Rick Perlstein

Rick Perstein, a foremost historian on the rise of the American right, has a long piece on Donald Trump and fascism, comparing his emergence to the politics of other demagogues and fascists throughout the 20th century. It's a thoughtful, detailed, assessment of the risks and the process.

When Trump emerged, many folks started to compare him to Berlusconi, but I continued to suggest that Il Duce was a better model. I stand by that assessment. Here's Perlstein:
Trump has now provided more “specifics” about his immigration plan: a forced population transfer greater than any attempted in history, greater than the French and Spanish expulsions of the Jews in 1308 and 1492; greater than theNabka of approximately 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from British-mandate Palestine; greater than the 1.5 million Stalin consigned to Siberia and the Central Asian republics; greater than Pol Pot’s exile of 2.5 million city-dwellers to the Cambodian countryside, or the scattering of Turkey’s Assyrian Christians, which the scholar Mordechai Zaken says numbers in the millions and required 180 years to complete. Trump has promised to move 12 million Mexicans in under two years––“so fast your head will spin.”
Only then will he start building the wall.
But all Republican politicians say stuff like this, right? They all want a wall, they all want to bury criminals under the jail, they all crave war, even if they’re not quite so explicit about it.
Not quite, actually. Previous Republican leaders were sufficiently frightened by the daemonic anger that energized their constituencies that they avoided surrendering to it completely, even for political advantage. Think of Barry Goldwater, who was so frightened of the racists supporting him that he told Lyndon Johnson he’d drop out of the race if they started making race riots a campaign issue. And Ronald Reagan refusing to back a 1978 ballot initiative to fire gay schoolteachers in California, at a time vigilantes were hunting down gays in the street. Think of George W. Bush guiding Congress toward a comprehensive immigration bill (akin to that proposed by President Obama) until the onslaught of vitriol that talk-radio hosts directed at Republican members of Congress forced him to quit. Think of George W. Bush’s repeated references to Islam as a “religion of peace.”
That's right, W. was the responsible one. Trump is much more dangerous. Trump is also not doctrinally conservative when it comes to economics, but rather has grasped the power of economic demagoguery.
Describe Donald Trump to a mid-century social scientist and he would respond: of course he is in first place. And I’m fairly certain George W. Bush would fully understand that he could have further expanded his own massive grant of post-9/11 power were he only to scapegoat all Muslims. It is to his great credit that he did not. He seemed to have understood something the current crop of Republican candidates chasing after Trump do not—something about Pandora’s Boxes, toothpaste that cannot be put back into tubes, the demiurge. Bush was, unlike Donald Trump, unwilling to say anything.
Our notional midcentury social scientist, or better historically informed pundits, wouldn’t be so sanguine. They would recognize the phenomenon that sociologist Pierre van den Berghe in 1967 labeled herrenvolk democracy: a political ideology in which members of the dominant ethnic group enjoy privileged provision from the state, as a function of the economic and civic disenfranchisement of the scapegoated group, to better cement dictatorship. This was why elites feared Huey Long’s promise of a guaranteed income––“Every Man A King.” This was how George Wallace governed Alabama. This was apartheid South Africa.
Read the whole thing. I still can't believe Trump will win the nomination, let alone the election. But a savvier politician, perhaps also a billionaire, will come along who appropriates these pieces and will win. History tells us to be worried about that future.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Kelly Baker on Academia as a "Cult."

One of the principles of this site is that language has power. Language and the world exist in close, multi-vectored, relationships, and the words we use to define the world shape some of the ways in which we act.

I use the word "cult" in the context of the "cult of compliance." I chose the word deliberately because it has a certain kind of pejorative power (as opposed to "culture of compliance" which would be weaker, but less contested). I thought hard about my studies as an historian of medieval religious movements, the "cult of saints," and similar phenomena before coining that phrase. At any rate, the complexities of the word "cult" have long been on my mind.

At Chronicle Review, Kelly Baker has a new piece - "Is Academia a Cult." It may be paywalled eventually (CHR is paywalled but pays authors pretty well, so I've no problem there). Here are a few highlights and comments:

Baker cites lots of examples of people using "cult" to describe academia in her piece, and I won't rehearse them here. The crux of her argument is:
Many but not all of these comparisons are made at least partly in provocative jest by writers I read and admire. But the cult label puts me off because it understates academe’s allures and mistakenly casts academics as passive victims.
Baker is one of my favorite writers on gender in the academy, but I've always known her academic expertise was in "new religious movements," which she informs us is the correct phrase for what we once called cults. "Cult" is pejorative, and while some "new religious movements" might deserve a pejorative nomenclature, not all do. Moreover, cult implies, "indoctrination, brainwashing, charismatic leaders, obedient followers, special clothing, mental and emotional harm, separation from the larger world, and the inability to break free from the system."

That's not accurate for academia.
For all the analogy’s rhetorical cheap thrills, it’s misleading. It also shuts down conversation before it’s even started. It’s a cult, and that’s all we need to know, right? Explaining away the plight of adjuncts as brainwashed dupes ignores the structural realities of the disastrous academic job market. Sometimes, if we love an intellectual arena, all we have are bad choices; brainwashing has nothing to do with it.
Finally, she suggests a better frame - the "total institution."
In seeking a better metaphor, I find myself drawn to Erving Goffman’s vision of the total institution, "a place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals, cut off from the wider society … together lead an enclosed, formally administered form of life." ...Total institutions are in our worlds, but separate from them. They are "training stations" consumed by bureaucracy and chains of command, with a "work-payment structure" different from the rest of society. They untrain us in what we know, so that we can learn their system of being.. Other roles are lost to us because the particularity of what the total institution wants us to be. They treat us as less than adults by wearing down autonomy and freedom of action. There are rewards and privileges for obedience, yet little loyalty from the institution... 
Academe is an all-encompassing institution that comes to define our lives. It is high time to think about what we give up to be a part of it, what we expect from others who do so, and what we might do to reform it. What are we perpetuating by our participation?
When I encounter the "cult" language for academia, I've wanted to argue against it, but as an insider have been reluctant to do so. Mostly, I feel that academia has been filled with choices, often bad choices, since day one. Academia is also often solitary, devoid of the charismatic leadership and clarity of purposes that I associate with religious movements. How can one be in a "cult" if one spends all the time wondering - what am I supposed to be doing? Isn't the whole point of joining a religious movement to be given clarity of purpose?

The total institution, though, makes a lot more sense.

The ways academia totalizes and turns our "jobs" into a "life" has long seemed destructive to me, at least for those who don't in some way achieve the pinnacles of their careers. I am trying to be a full-time non-totalized academic, and to do it publicly. To be both "ac" and "alt-ac" at once (and a dad and musician), a position of privilege to be sure, but also one with both risks and rewards (there are grants and jobs for which, having gone public, I will never be able to compete. And then there's the trolls).

At any rate, I appreciate Baker's thoughtful critique of academic culture here, one not relying on the easy "cult" language, but also not letting academia off the hook.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

We Cannot Arm Our Way To Less Gun Violence

Image Description: Me on CNN. Michigan Ave/Chicago River behind me.
David Perry: Associate Professor, Dominican University
Headline: Oregon Massacre, Campus Shooter Kills 9, Wounds 9
I went on CNN on Friday, 10/1, to discuss the terrible shooting on a community college campus in Oregon. CNN hasn't released a clip so I can't show it to you.

I'm glad to have had the chance to go on the air and say some of the things I believe. I was originally supposed to be paired with John Lott, a man who believes that more guns equals less crime (they don't). The show decided instead to separate us and so by the time I came on, the host wanted to talk about other things. I had about 90 seconds and said three sentences. I described our upcoming active-shooter drill at Dominican, about which I will write next week. I said that I do not want guns on campus.  I said that I do not believe adding more guns in the form of armed civilians will make us safer. Then my segment ended fairly abruptly.

At any rate, 90 seconds is a difficult time to make one's stance perfectly clear. Here are four things I wish I could have said more clearly on CNN.

1. I have no problem with highly-trained law enforcement positioned appropriately near campuses. Some universities are basically cities unto themselves, so they likely need their own armed police. My small suburban campus needs to coordinate its security with our small suburban police, the tactical units assigned to our area, and other highly-trained law enforcement officers.

2. I do not believe that allowing civilians, whether teachers, staff, faculty, or just random visitors, to carry arms on our campus is the right response. First, college campuses are sacred spaces to me, and I do not want to see them further profaned by these weapons of murder. More importantly, though, we cannot arm our way out of this crisis. If we turn every school into a fortress, mass shootings will move to the malls. Arm the malls, killers will go the churches. Arm the churches, then it will be little league games. We can take appropriate measures to defend against copycat killers, but cannot stop gun violence by reacting to the specifics of the last attack.

3. Around the world, there are people who are angry and potentially violent. People hate other people. People get personally slighted. People have mental health breakdowns (though people with mental illness are vastly more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence). It's only in America that these individuals are likely to react to their anger by using a firearm to commit an act of mass murder.

4. The only solution is to find ways to make access to firearms more difficult for people in those moments. There are simple steps - ban assault weapons, close gun show loopholes, expand background checks and waiting periods, share information across state lines, slow down the ability to purchase lots of handguns at once (used to buy from suburban gun shops and bring to illegal urban markets), and remove the Congressional ban on government-sponsored research on gun violence. None of these steps will restrict the ability of Americans to acquire firearms to hunt, for home defense, or even for conceal-carry purposes. But it will slow the flow, and that's what we need right now.

We cannot arm our way out of this crisis.

Some resources on gun violence. on gun violence.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Live on CNN on Gun Control - My Prefutations of John Lott

Today at 10:30 ET/9:30 CT AM I an going to be on CNN, talking about the latest campus shooting. I am being paired with John Lott, who argues that more guns cause less crime. His work has been widely and consistently discredited by much better statisticians than me, both his partisan opponents and non-partisan fact checkers. Here are some relevant prebuttals.
Other important studies
Case Studies
Let's not blame mental health.
Tune in to CNN with Carol Costello to see how it goes. I'm not really one to shout at my debate adversaries, but I do have some things I want to say. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Bruce Rauner and the Destruction of Illinois History

Say goodbye to the Illinois History Museum. Bruce Rauner has pulled the plug.

There's something populist about museums like this. They tend to be free or cheap, they serve school kids from across the state, and they make our history accessible and interesting.

Naturally, Billionaire Bruce isn't going to permit that sort of thing to continue.

Hacks in Human Evolution: Menstruation

This was by far the most interesting thing I read yesterday: Menstruation as a Hack by science-writer Suzanne Sadedin.

She goes through the whole process by which human fetuses operate as parasites on their mothers (as opposed to in other mammals where the mother's control the process), thanks to the "ravenous hemochorial placenta." Therefore, she continues, mother's body needs more control over whether she gets pregnant, so has created an endometrium as a "lethal testing-ground which only the toughest embryos survive. The longer the female can delay that placenta reaching her bloodstream, the longer she has to decide if she wants to dispose of this embryo without significant cost."
The solution, for higher primates, was to slough off the whole superficial endometrium – dying embryos and all – after every ovulation that didn't result in a healthy pregnancy. It's not exactly brilliant, but it works, and most importantly, it's easily achieved by making some alterations to a chemical pathway normally used by the fetus during pregnancy. In other words, it's just the kind of effect natural selection is renowned for: odd, hackish solutions that work to solve proximate problems
 And like most hacks, my friend N. said, trying to deal with the kludge has caused so many more problems than if we had just fixed it in the first place!

So much for intelligent design.