Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Study Humanities; Get a Job

In Pacific Standard, Noah Berlatsky and Ilana Gershon wrote a great piece about how humanities supports you getting a job!

The skills you learn in the humanities are exactly the skills you use in a job search. The humanities teach students to understand the different rules and expectations that govern different genres, to examine social cues and rituals, to think about the audience for and reception of different kinds of communications. In short, they teach students how to apply for the kinds of jobs students will be looking for after college.
This is a good piece. I have made similar arguments and will continue to do so, both as a writer and as an advisor in history.

That said, it's still accepting the premise that the value in what we do is about capitalism. I'm not sure, long term, that's going to work.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Chicago Public Schools Attack Special Ed

WBEZ has a breathtaking scoop about CPS hiring auditors, some of whom billed as high as $350 an hour, with no background in special education, to reshape CPS special ed! The results have been disastrous.

Here's how it worked:

1) Declare CPS is broke.
2) Declare Special Ed is too expensive, especially for black and Latinx boys.
3) Hire auditors.
4) Pay them vast sums
5) Create new systems to make it harder and harder for kids to get benefits.
6) Declare victory, I guess.
In an interview with WBEZ, CPS officials involved with the special education overhaul said if students were denied services, it was because they didn’t qualify under the new criteria.

Yolanda Williams’ daughter was one of thousands of students affected. She has Down syndrome and had qualified for occupational therapy for years, Williams said. But last year the staff at Penn Elementary in North Lawndale suddenly stopped providing it to her, she said.

Williams’ daughter sees an occupational therapist outside of school at the University of Illinois-Chicago. That therapist says the girl still needs the extra help at school, Williams said.

“I am trying to understand what happened and why?” she said.

The UIC therapist is teaching her daughter life skills such as brushing her teeth and tying her shoes, Williams said. But she said her daughter’s handwriting is virtually unreadable and she doesn’t know how to read, which are skills an in-school occupational therapist could work on.
CPS has always depended on some parents not knowing their rights.  Now they have made it worse.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Counting Killings

Over half of all police killings in 2015 were wrongly classified as not having been the result of interactions with officers, a new Harvard study based on Guardian data has found.
The finding is just the latest to show government databases seriously undercounting the number of people killed by police.
“Right now the data quality is bad and unacceptable,” said lead researcher Justin Feldman. “To effectively address the problem of law enforcement-related deaths, the public needs better data about who is being killed, where, and under what circumstances.”

Friday, October 13, 2017

Trawling for Historians?

Historians are receiving a weird email asking for their views on objectivity. Is this a right-wing trawl or a desperate student?

I don't know, but as I said last November:
It has never been more important for academics to speak, to write, to engage, and to push. I actually don't think it was less important a year ago, 5 years ago, 15 years ago, and so forth. It's always critical. But the rise of Trump mandates regular public engagement, while also elevating the risks of backlash.

So be careful out there. Write, tweet, talk, teach as if your words are being tracked by people who want to destroy you. But also write, tweet, talk, listen, and teach as if your words can make a difference guiding us through what I believe will be a difficult slice of American and global history.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tolkien and White Supremacy

New! A conversation with Helen Young about medieval studies, colonialism, fantasy, and white supremacy.
ME: Was Tolkien explicitly a racist, or more just a "man of his time?"
HY: Tolkien is often quoted as having condemned "that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler" in a 1941 letter to his son Michael. But the reason he gives for that condemnation in the same letter is: "ruining, perverting, misapplying , and making forever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to preserve in its true light." The very idea of a "noble northern spirit" is fundamentally a racist one because it's predicated on the idea that the people of northern Europe were inherently different and better than anyone else.

[Tolkien's] statements against anti-semitism and Hitler give "cover." It's the idea that only something overtly abusive or violent is racist. People think that one can't be racist except deliberately, consciously, intentionally. Lord of the Rings and Middle Earth are structurally racist, but because Tolkien doesn't appear to have been personally an extremist, that racism is denied, ignored, and dismissed.
ME: And that has an impact on the whole genre of fantasy.
HY: Ultimately, the structural racism of Middle Earth got built into the conventions of High Fantasy; 19th-century race theory still circulates in contemporary popular culture as a result.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Patrick Harmon - #CultOfCompliance

There is no de-escalation training that can build better policing. There is no video monitoring that can hold police accountable. So long as cops can say, "I was afraid," even when video evidence shows that they are lying, they are legally entitled to commit murder.

Patrick Harmon, a black man with, according to his sister, psychiatric disabilities, was pulled over for biking without a light. As the encounter escalated, he ran away and the police shot him in the back. Later, they said it was a terrifying encounter ... but video demonstrates that this was not the case. No weapon, no threats, just a scared man being non-compliant.

There is no reason to expect justice here, because our system doesn't promote justice. It promotes compliance.

Do not share the video. No one needs to watch it. We know what it shows.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Gun Control and Healthcare

The GOP plan is to blame mental illness instead of guns for gun violence ... while doing everything to end access to mental healthcare. I wrote for CNN.
On Tuesday morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan made his first remarks about the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
He said nothing about guns, but traded easily in false stereotypes linking mental illness with mass murder. He said that "one of the things we've learned from these shootings is often underneath this is a diagnosis of mental illness." He touted the 21st Century Cures Act, which passed with wide bipartisan support in the waning days of the Obama administration.
Let's be clear. Only 3% to 5% of all violent crimes involve people with psychiatric disabilities, including conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. People with such conditions make up more than 18% of the American population. These individuals are 10 times more likely to be victims of violence than those without mental illness.
Talking about mental illness, whether it's relevant or not in a given case -- and it is often not -- is an attempt to dodge talking about guns.
It's long since time to separate conversations about mental health and gun violence.
And then Trumpcare:

Since President Donald Trump took office, every Republican attempt to replace Obamacare has proposed stripping away community and medical supports from people with mental health needs. If the GOP has its way on health care, insurance companies would have the right to raise premiums and potentially even deny care based on pre-existing conditions. People with mental health needs would either have to hide their conditions or go broke trying to pay for care.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Stephen Gayle: Black, Disabled, Dead in Custody

This story, amidst so much horror, has not gotten widespread coverage outside the disability rights world. 
Temple officers responded to a disturbance complaint around 7:30 p.m. Thursday near an apartment complex. They encountered Gayle, believing he was responsible for the disturbance, and said he was uncooperative and appeared intoxicated, according to a police release. During a struggle, the officers tried to handcuff Gayle and put him inside a police car, police said.

The Temple Daily Telegram reports that Gayle's family and people who witnessed the incident are questioning the account police have given. Witnesses who spoke to the newspaper said the officers, who were white, used excessive force to arrest Gayle, who was black.
Some of the witnesses told the newspaper they saw an officer place a knee in the man's back and punch him in the face while he was on the ground.
According to the newspaper, Gayle's sister, Tiffany Nuckols, said he had an intellectual disability and sickle cell anemia. She also said he suffered from nerve pain in his legs that caused them to lock up and kick sometimes.
I feel the need to note that Gayle was not, in fact, responsible for the disturbance. He was just in a non-compliant body watching kids play football near by, so police decided to go for him. Then he responded in non-compliant ways, so they escalated. Then he died.

I feel the need to note that his connection to the "disturbance" is, in fact, immaterial. His death would be an outrage either way.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Disaster Studies - There are No Natural Disasters

I talked to Jacob Remes about Critical Disaster Studies, Hurricane Maria, Imperialism, Trump, and more. New at Pacific Standard:
"At the heart [of the field] is a saying that became common in the 1970s: There's no such thing as a natural disaster. There are hazards, some of which are natural (earthquakes, tornadoes, river floods) and some of which aren't (industrial fires, pollution, dam collapses, nuclear bombings). But what makes them a disaster is how they intersect with individual and community vulnerability, which is socially constructed. Once we understand this fundamental paradigm, we can understand how disasters are political events with political causes and solutions, not just (or even not primarily) technical failures."
"So to think about Puerto Rico, we can see how imperialism (which of course is wrapped up in white supremacy and capitalism) shapes both Puerto Ricans' vulnerability to the hurricane hazard and also the U.S. mainland's response to it. Puerto Rico has been suffering under the Orwellian-named PROMESA Act, which essentially created a federally appointed fiscal control board that ruled the island for the benefit of mainland bondholders, rather than for its citizens. This has been hollowing out the Puerto Rican state for several years and has made Puerto Rico less able to respond to things like hurricanes. And of course, after the disaster, we can see how Puerto Ricans' second-class citizenship—yes, U.S. citizens, but without representation in Congress or a vote for president—means they do not get full access to the American state when it comes to disaster relief."
Please read and share. Your shares mean everything in terms of whether a piece gets read widely.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


NEW AT PACIFIC STANDARD: Ohio uses Down syndrome to attack reproductive rights.
Ohio Republicans are the latest group to seize on Down syndrome as a wedge issue in the fight against reproductive choice. Senate Bill 164 would make it a felony for doctors to knowingly perform an abortion after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.
A few things to make clear: I am the father of a 10-year-old with Down syndrome. Nobody has more concerns about the rights of people with Down syndrome than I do. Yet I stand unequivocally opposed to this bill. It will not help people with Down syndrome. Even assuming it survives legal challenge, it is unlikely to result in fewer abortions. What it will do, however, is criminalize speech between a woman and her doctor. It will intensify the very stigma that drives so many people to terminate otherwise wanted pregnancies after they receive a prenatal diagnosis.
These bills piss me off.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Viking Re-enactors Against Racism

"Vikingar mot nazism är nog mina favoritantinazister" = Vikings against Nazism are probably my favorite anti-Nazis

Image Description: A man in a Viking costume (chainmail, shield, helmet) with Swedish on his shield, translating to "Vikings against inappropriate use of runic script."


This is what not leaving a blank space on which to allow Nazis to project hate looks like.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Humanities and Trump

In Catapult, Kristen Cardozo writes about the written word in the Age of Trump.
Some might say that studying the humanities in the twenty-first century was already a questionable choice before 2016 brought with it the vivid sight of a dystopian future running headlong to embrace us. The future is STEM, we were told. To major in English, many said, was to look backward, probably with unforgivable nostalgia, to a time when the written word was tangible, metal and ink warping paper. A man on the train, upon learning that I study Victorian literature, once told me, “No one has the attention span for that anymore. No one reads.”

But this is untrue. We read all the time. I read for grad school, and the rest of the time I’m reading on Twitter, or seeing texts on my phone, or devouring takes hot, cool, and tepid. Most people I know are similarly engaged with the written word, all day, every day. The STEM-dominated future we were promised is an open maw that needs content—words—and words, in turn, need interpretation and study. Words are only of use when they can be understood.
I've written about our era as both hyperlexic and hyperscribal, dominated by the written word in speed and quantities unthinkable at any other moment in human history.

So we better learn to work with text, huh? Study humanities. Save the world.

As always, READ THE WHOLE THING. Especially at the end where Cardozo talks about the use of passive voice and abstract verbs by SS officers describing murdering Jews.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Save the ADA!

The Americans with Disabilities Act is under attack. I co-wrote a piece for the Washington Post about H.R. 620. It's serious. It has lots of co-sponsors. And it's got to be stopped.
The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 is perhaps the most wide-ranging civil rights act in the world. After decades of political struggle by disability rights activists and their allies, the ADA gave new rights to one-fifth of the population. It was a proud bipartisan accomplishment, passed by huge majorities in a Democratic-led Congress and signed by a Republican president.
But now, in this era of extreme partisanship, the future of the ADA is under threat. On a strict party-line vote, the House Judiciary Committee recently advanced legislation that would essentially make the ADA optional.
The bill, misleadingly called the ADA Education and Reform Act, is about neither education nor reform. Instead, it would make the ADA much harder to enforce, taking away the major motivation that businesses had for complying: fear of being sued.
Much more to come on this bill.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

There Ain't No Normal: Hamilton and Headphones

I wrote about my son's bright green hearing protectors for Pacific Standard. I hesitated to get them at first, badly swayed by the idea that they would more firmly mark him as different and cause isolation.

They do the opposite. They open up the world. Including Hamilton.

Here's the takeaway:
I'm not alone. I know far too many people with disabilities, family members of people with disabilities, and other caregivers who hesitate to meet access needs if doing so involves revealing disability. Hearing aids are expensive because they try to be invisible while containing complex electronics. Some of the most interesting new hearing amplifiers are highly visible, giving the makers more room to embed computers to process sound.
On Twitter, AbbyLeigh C., a 23-year-old woman with Crohn's disease and multiple forms of arthritis, wrote at length about her reluctance to use a wheelchair when in college. She exhausted herself walking, trying not to "give up" by using a chair, and eventually took a medical leave from school. Now working on her last few credits, she says, "Once I stopped hurting myself by pushing myself, and accepted having to use the wheelchair, and got out of bed—I started to get less sick." She told me over direct message that her wheelchair allowed her to get back out into the world, which "was a crucial moment for me getting back to feeling like a real person."

My son's needs are specific, but they are neither special nor abnormal. Whenever any of us encounter disability, we must stop letting our sense of the "normal" shape the choices we make either for ourselves or for others. Best of all, my concerns about people staring at his headphones were completely unfounded. Everyone was too happy watching him dance.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Policing and Disability: Beyond Training

I wrote a piece for The Nation on people with disabilities killed by police over the last week, writing that the number was four. It was, however, actually at least 9 (the information wasn't available when I filed).

My hope for this piece is to push back at the training and registry narrative that gets so much press, and direct attention (and funds! for the love of all that's holy, funds!) to people in communities instead of police departments. There are shifts to training that would help, but they should be baseline, not "special." I wrote:
So what do we do? When incidents like these happen, departments and some advocates often focus on two deeply troubling solutions: training and registries. Both are based on the idea that police just don’t recognize disability when they see it, or don’t know what to do if they recognize it. Instead, we need to reframe policing, decriminalize noncompliance, and remove police from as many situations as possible.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Free Speech is Messy

For Pacific Standard, I write about the free speech complexities of the upcoming "free speech week." First, the organizers didn't even ask the speakers or book the spaces before they started crying oppression. Second, "security concerns" forced the Anthropology department to cancel a long-planned talk.

I write:
"Thanks to "safety concerns," the annual distinguished lecture of the Department of Anthropology at Berkeley was canceled. Dr. Anna Tsing, a leading anthropologist, was going to speak at the Morrison Library. Then administrators told the department that although this lecture had been scheduled many months in advance, the presence of Yiannopoulos on campus at the same time as this lecture would either need extra security (paid for by the department) or else a new venue at the last minute; failing that, they would have to reschedule.. In other words, Yiannopoulos' potentially phony "Free Speech Week" abrogated the very real speech rights of a brilliant scholar. In a joint letter, Berkeley faculty wrote, "If this 'Year of Free Speech' is about giving an equal platform to all speakers, it would seem that it has already failed. Hate speech has taken precedence over academic discourse."

Free speech is messy. One person yells. Another is silenced. These situations require deep thinking and careful investigation of how to defend a core American freedom. What we can't do is promote simplistic, absolutist fealty to abstract rights without exception because that creates the potential for Yiannopoulos' mischief."

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Deaf in Prison: Marshall Project covers HEARD

Glad to see this from The Marshall Project.
Right now, most deaf detainees and prisoners have absolutely no telecommunications access,” said Talila Lewis, volunteer director of the nonprofit Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf communities (HEARD), which has been working to improve conditions for deaf people in prison since 2011. “This completely violates federal disability laws left and right, all day every day.”
All day. Every day.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Milo and the "Livelier Style"

CONTENT NOTE: This post includes many quotes with slurs of all sorts. Please be advised.

Incredibly, there seems to be a debate among serious people about whether Milo Yiannopoulos is actually all that bad. It's easy to forget that most folks aren't spending that much time paying attention to online issues, so are unaware of how internet hate mobs, doxing, swating, rape and death threats, manifest. They don't know what it means to target Milo at a fellow human.

As covered in Inside Higher Education, Dr. Rachel Fulton Brown has called on Milo and his followers as support in a debate about white supremacy. It is my belief that to do so is a solicitation for harassment, likely including violent threats. My belief is based on following Milo, 4chan, 8chan, and the harassment linked to that sub-culture of the internet, made most explicit during Gamergate.

In IHE, Fulton Brown said:
Fulton Brown, who is tenured, said she was confident in Yiannopoulos -- whom she has said she considers a friend -- and his supporters.
“They’re trying to write in a livelier style,” she said. “I trust Milo and his team, and I trust my Facebook followers.”
Let's take a look at what a "livelier style" means with a few examples:
Jones was subjected to incredibly vicious attacks on Twitter, full of racist and misogynistic slurs against the actress, with some comparing her to an ape while others calling her a man.
Many of the attacks, known as “trolling,” came from anonymous users, but not all. Milo Yiannopoulos, one of the most infamous trolls on the internet, was one of them. He is an editor at Breitbart, the conservative news website.
“Trolling is very important,” Yiannopoulos told "Nightline." “I like to think of myself as a virtuous troll, you know? I’m doing God’s work.”
Yiannopoulos proceeded to attack the student’s physical appearance, using an anti-transgender slur and adding, “The way you know he's failed is I can still bang him."
The thing about Milo is that he does not hide his racism, sexism, anti-semitism, incitement to harassment against trans and undocumented students, and other despicable actions. There's no subtext here, just text.

I do not believe that this conduct is "a livelier style." To endorse him is to endorse bigotry. To summon him into a dispute is to ask for escalation.

One can debate the extent to which medieval studies is implicated in white supremacy and what we should do about it. There's lots of room for disagreement of opinion.

But can we agree that - cunt, faggot, media Jew, and tranny, harassing students and faculty from a stage before a large audience, using one's followers to target black men and women with harassment, using one's followers to target female game designers and journalists with rape and death threats - is not, in fact, livelier?

Monday, September 18, 2017

On the Media: Nazis and Medieval Studies

I spoke with On the Media about Taylor Swift and Medieval Studies and Nazis, in response to my Pacific Standard article.

There's a lot going within medieval studies right now, but I don't want us to forget this. White supremacist appropriation of medieval content is ongoing. We shoudn't forget the students at University of Nevada Reno who saw their classmate holding a torch in Charlottesville.

We can debate what the right steps are to take in response, but not the existence of the problem. As Brooke Gladstone likes to say, "Holy cow!" Even medieval history ...

Saturday, September 16, 2017

In Support of Dr. Dorothy Kim

I will be sending the following email to the President of Vassar.

Dear President Bradley,

I am a medieval historian and a journalist, writing in support of Assistant Professor of English, Dr. Dorothy Kim. Dr. Kim is a brilliant scholar and one of the foremost leaders in ongoing efforts to confront both the shameful legacy of racism in medieval studies and the current appropriation of medieval symbols and stories by modern-day white supremacists. In Charlottesville, we saw Neo Nazis holding shields with images lifted from Templar and Holy Roman Empire history. In Europe, anti-immigrant rallies routinely feature people in medieval garb. The mass murderer, Anders Breivik, called himself a Templar. These are just a few of the most recent overt examples, a leading edge of hate that supports a massive and dangerous sub-culture. Dr. Kim has been urging medieval scholars to confront this head on. Our profession is better for it.

Of course, taking public stands comes with risks, especially for an untenured professor and one of the relatively few non-white medieval historians. This week, Dr. Rachel Fulton Brown, a tenured professor at the University of Chicago, launched an attack on Dr. Kim's anti-racist work on her blog. Brown's argument has been widely condemned by medievalists as both racist and, from an evidence standpoint, incoherent. Unfortunately, it attracted the attention of Milo Yiannopoulos and his followers, a group known for targeted harassment campaigns. Even now, I worry that Vassar is becoming inundated with calls and emails criticizing Kim, almost none of them from people familiar with her work. Alas, we have seen too many faculty who dare to take public positions criticized, censure, censored, or even dismissed in the wake of manufactured right-wing outrage. Vassar must do better.

I urge you not only to support Dr. Kim both publicly and within the Vassar community, but to take proactive steps to inure Vassar to the depredations of manufactured right-wing outrage. This is a moment in which your decisions will determine whether Vassar enables both its students and faculty to take public positions on the most important issues of the day. This is a moment that requires affirmative statements of support for academic freedom and public engagement.

Thank you for supporting your colleague.


David M. Perry, PhD

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Bodily Autonomy

It started with a tweetstorm in May.
Grumpy at the "let's stop with identity politics" takes, I offered my thoughts on how we might coalesce different agendas around the principle of bodily autonomy.

Yesterday, The Nation published an essay fleshing out my ideas:
As an advocate for disability rights, I’ve been seeking ways to link my core issues to those of other groups—people who prioritize reproductive justice, racial justice, decriminalization of narcotics, queer rights, antipoverty measures, and so much more. Each of us exists at specific intersections of needs and concerns. To win, we must find ways to unite our struggles without erasing our differences. One place they connect: the need to defend bodily autonomy.
“Bodily autonomy,” as an abstract philosophical principle, dates back at least to the ancient Greek philosophers. Over the centuries, legal scholars and political philosophers have thought hard about the relationship between rights and laws, the individual and the group, and the sovereign state and the autonomous individual. In American activist circles, bodily autonomy is most often invoked around the fight for reproductive rights. But what I haven’t seen is an effort to harness this principle in a way that binds our seemingly separate movements together.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Ableism on Campus: University of Illinois

A professor of Atmospheric Sciences stepped down (he was 70) at the University of Illinois rather than appropriately address accommodations in his classroom. His emails to the student emerged in the process, including one he BCC'd to the entire class saying disability support (and perhaps Graddy herself - I know nothing about how they identify) doesn't belong on campus. 
Michael Schlesinger BCC’d his entire Climate and Global Change (ATMS 140) class in an email with Rachel Graddy, Division of Rehabilitation and Education Services disability specialist.
Schlesinger said that he should not have to give one student an “advantage” over other students in the course.

He added that he offered to pay for the student to have a note-taker in the class.
“Frankly, I think the University needs to rethink having people such as you,” Schlesinger wrote to Graddy.

Due to Graddy’s “coercive emails” about the issue, Schlesinger said he was leaving his position at the University.
“I look forward to spending the remainder of my life in Kona, Hawaii,” he wrote.
This "advantage" language is common. This is an egregious case, but the "advantage" issue spreads widely throughout academia. Please find ways to counter it.

Meanwhile, all the Hawaiians I know are not happy about their new neighbor.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Core of PC: Be Kind

There's a lovely and thoughtful op-ed about "Sex at Wesleyan" written by an alumna with whom I must be roughly contemporary (I graduated in '95). She articulates this:
As much as you may read about the angry cries of “social justice warriors” in current news, today’s students discuss sexual assault in a completely new way. Their primary concern is sexual ethics. Debates about what is consensual and what is not, what type of sex is fair and what is immoral, are essential to life at Wesleyan, I learned during visits to the campus a few semesters ago. “There’s a difference between illegal and unethical,” Chloe, a neuroscience major, told me, firmly. “Life is not about doing whatever you can do. It’s about not doing what is traumatic to another person.”
What few older people see in today’s “P.C.” students is their overwhelming urge to be kind to each other. They may have spent their middle and high school years being bullied, or bullying others; for kids in their low-to-mid-teens, the internet is a bullying machine. But by college, their sense of morality has blossomed. And many adolescents want to sort the world categorically into good and bad, at once eager to draw boundaries and empathize with whatever others might possibly feel.
PC can go awry. It often does. We humans are fallible creature. This viral "excommunicate me from the church of social justice" article from Autostraddle makes some good points about how we flawed creatures in fact function. Social justice easily becomes a new orthodoxy in which the goal is to seek opportunities to tell others how impure they are. Call outs rarely work (but often demonstrate to those watching that they are not alone). Call ins often work, but many alleged performative call ins are in fact public displays of purity (there is no "call in" on a public Facebook thread or on Twitter).
The amount of energy I spend demonstrating purity in order to stay in the good graces of fast-moving activist community is enormous. Activists are some of the judgiest people I’ve ever met, myself included. There’s so much wrongdoing in the world that we work to expose. And yet, grace and forgiveness are hard to come by in these circles. At times, I have found myself performing activism more than doing activism. I’m exhausted, and I’m not even doing the real work I am committed to do. It is a terrible thing to be afraid of my own community members, and know they’re probably just as afraid of me. Ultimately, the quest for political purity is a treacherous distraction for well-intentioned activists.
This is all also true for me.

But we need to tease out these flawed human social dynamics and work on them (and because they are what they are, I cis-male white guy cannot really do much work on them) without losing the core ideas behind the set of behaviors now demonized as "merely PC run amok." Be kind to others. Recognize that words and images have power and try to use better ones that do the least damage. Listen to others. Listen especially to people who are rarely listened to. 

Lee's Autostraddle essay on excommunication gets this - it's about the "church" they propose has emerged. Not about the work.

Back to work.

Monday, September 11, 2017

No More Telethons

A little late now, but Catherine Kudlick wrote a great piece on Labor Day without Telethons.
Paul Longmore would have had a lot to say today, the first Labor Day without telethons and without Jerry Lewis. His deeply-researched book, Telethons: Spectacle, Disability and the Business of Charity suggests that he’d be thinking big picture.
Most obituaries praised Lewis as an entertainer and philanthropist. But surprisingly few touched on the fact that the comedian did more than any other single person to influence the lives of 1 in 5 Americans, people with disabilities. History will show that Lewis’s personal and philanthropic success came at an enormous price.
Kudlick writes that Lewis' pitch was based on stigma:
Imagine hearing yourself being spoken about in such a disparaging way in front of millions, with your parents right there as part of the show. Imagine watching from home, with these yearly programs being the only time anyone ever talked about people like you. And imagine carrying these ideas of being a burden inside as you grew into adulthood.
Certainly the stories that inspired donors to give money to help “the less fortunate” were not ones that would lead them to hire, date, or discover the unique perspective of a person with a disability. By rarely showing adults, the programs ignored the reality that many disabled people grew up to lead rewarding lives.
Pity-based philanthropy never actually solves problems, at least without making new ones.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Forced Institutionalization and Irma

Miami-Dade County has vowed to forcibly institutionalize all homeless people who don't get off the streets.

The temptation will be to say this is for their own good and to look past it, but disasters do not mean that disabled people lose their rights. Moreover, notice how the article (and others like it) only talk to county officials, not people with relevant disabilities who are homeless or have experienced homelessness, nor experts in disability rights/mental disabilities with or without disabilities.

Just as officials are often too willing to overlook disability rights, journalists often overlook basis Journalism 101 principles when reporting on disability.

It's a complicated situation with complicated decisions and implications. Do the whole job. Don't report it simple.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Rewards for Public Historians

Good article at CNN Opinion urging historians to go public.
This is great news for the discipline of history, for history teachers, for history professors, and for public historians who interpret the past for visitors at museums, historic sites and other such venues. But let's not celebrate yet. We have work to do.
Historians need to take their role as public intellectuals seriously. True, op-eds often require a timely response to events that are unfolding. Yet, some events, like historical anniversaries, can be anticipated. We need to pay attention to contemporary conversations that have historical parallels or require a global context.
The author, Karen Cox, is a public historian with tenure at an R1 university [Edit: I misread, she's at UNC Charlotte not Chapel Hill. See the comments]. She, like me (as of 6 months ago), could afford to risk going public. Her analysis of the need is right on ... and now we need to keep moving towards building systems of both defense and reward.
  • Defense: So people who are not R1 profs can take the risk of going public. 
  • Reward: So going public can be molded into our academic value systems of what counts for tenure, promotion, grants, and hiring.
Lots of work to do!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Nazis, Medievalists, and Taylor Swift

Nazis love Taylor Swift, at least in part because she never talks politics, so she's a blank page on which people can project hate.

The Middle Ages has a similar problem.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Tech and Disability: Apps to Solve Human Issues

St. Paul has a new app to help cops.

I'll have more to say this week, but for now let's just know one thing: Tech solutions to human problems are never actually solutions.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Ari Ne'eman - ABA and Behavior Suppression

UPDATE: This article is from 2014. It was circulating through my feeds and I didn't notice the publication date. Still useful stuff from Ari. Happy Friday!

The New York Times has a long feature on "the kids who beat autism." It is the article you expect it to be. They do talk to Ari Ne'eman, though, in order to portray it as balanced. Here's what Ari says:
Ne’eman and others strongly support treatments that improve communication and help people develop cognitive, social and independent-living skills. But they deeply resent the focus on erasing autism altogether. Why is no longer being autistic more of an optimal outcome than being an autistic person who lives independently, has friends and a job and is a contributing member of society? Why would someone’s hand-flapping or lack of eye contact be more important in the algorithm of optimal than the fact that they can program a computer, solve vexing math questions or compose arresting music? What proof is there that those who lose the diagnosis are any more successful or happy than those who remain autistic? 
“We don’t think it is possible to fundamentally rewire our brains to change the way we think and interact with the world,” Ne’eman says. “But even if such a thing were possible, we don’t think it would be ethical.” He and others argue that autism is akin to homosexuality or left-handedness: a difference but not a deficiency or something pathological. It’s a view that was memorably articulated in 1993 when a man named Jim Sinclair wrote an open letter to parents of autistic children, igniting what would come to be known as the neurodiversity movement. Autism, Sinclair wrote, “colors every experience, every sensation, perception, thought, emotion and encounter, every aspect of existence. It is not possible to separate the autism from the person — and if it were possible, the person you’d have left would not be the same person you started with. . . . Therefore, when parents say, ‘I wish my child did not have autism,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘I wish the autistic child I have did not exist and I had a different (nonautistic) child instead.’ . . . This is what we hear when you pray for a cure.” 
Ne’eman says society’s effort to squelch autism parallels its historical effort to suppress homosexuality — and is equally detrimental. He points out that in the 1960s and ‘70s, Lovaas’s team used A.B.A. on boys with “deviant sex-role behaviors,” including a 4-year-old boy whom Lovaas called Kraig, with a “swishy” gait and an aversion to “masculine activities.” Lovaas rewarded “masculine” behavior and punished “feminine” behavior. He considered the treatment a success when the boy looked “indistinguishable” from his peers. Years later, Kraig came out as gay, and at 38 he committed suicide; his family blamed the treatment. 
Neurodiversity activists are troubled by the aspects of behavioral therapy that they think are designed less for the well-being of autistic people and more for the comfort of others. Autistic children are often rewarded for using “quiet hands” instead of flapping, in part so that they will not seem odd, a priority that activists find offensive. Ne’eman offered another example: “Eye contact is an anxiety-inducing experience for us, so suppressing our natural inclination not to look someone in the eye takes energy that might otherwise go toward thinking more critically about what that person may be trying to communicate. We have a saying that’s pretty common among autistic young people: ‘I can either look like I’m paying attention or I can actually pay attention.’ Unfortunately, a lot of people tell us that looking like you’re paying attention is more important than actually paying attention.” 
Indeed, Ne’eman argues that just as gay people “cured” of homosexuality are simply hiding their real self, people deemed no longer autistic have simply become quite good at passing, an illusion that comes at a psychic cost. Autism activists point out, for example, that one-fifth of the optimal-outcome participants in Fein’s study showed signs of “inhibition, anxiety, depression, inattention and impulsivity, embarrassment or hostility.”
And that's all I recommend you read of the article. YMMV.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Internet of Restaurants in the New York Times: Rah Rah Data Mining

Last May I went to the annual National Restaurant Association meeting with Bruce Schneier, a well known technologist, and listened to Internet of Things pitches. Here's what we found:
Some of the sales pitches are compelling: Companies offer to harvest customer data so the restaurant can better track its clientele's needs. They offer to manage every aspect of a restaurant's labor force. They offer to turn every piece of kitchen equipment into an "Internet of Things" device, a phrase now used casually in marketing, as if we all agree on its definition. Turn your restaurant into a panopticon! Schneier isn't surprised, as he's seen this sort of thing before in other industries. "Much of the 'Internet of Restaurants,'" as we agree to call it, "is extractive and disempowering while pretending to be about giving control to employees and owners," he says.
There are basically two models:

1) Extract data from your customers and employees and use it to exploit them.
2) Have your data extracted by your IoT provider and they will monetize it either by trying to dominate the market or by selling it to someone else.

Earlier this week, the New York Times wrote a "rah rah data mining!" piece on IoT in restaurants, largely without skepticism.
The early diners are dawdling, so your 7:30 p.m. reservation looks more like 8. While you wait, the last order of the duck you wanted passes by. Tonight, you’ll be eating something else — without a second bottle of wine, because you can’t find your server in the busy dining room. This is not your favorite night out.
The right data could have fixed it, according to the tech wizards who are determined to jolt the restaurant industry out of its current slump. Information culled and crunched from a wide array of sources can identify customers who like to linger, based on data about their dining histories, so the manager can anticipate your wait, buy you a drink and make the delay less painful.
It can track the restaurant’s duck sales by day, week and season, and flag you as a regular who likes duck. It can identify a server whose customers have spent a less-thanaverage amount on alcohol, to see if he needs to sharpen his second-round skills.
So Big Data is staging an intervention.
Every word choice here is fascinating, because it's staged as "intervention." Big Data is not a healthcare provider or a friend trying to "intervene." It's written from the PoV of the customer here, for the customer's benefit, not from the PoV of a business trying to extract your money. And it's written with no sense of the trade-offs of giving away your data - yours either as customer or or as restaurant.

It's a riveting example of what Schneier calls "surveillance capitalism," hyped up here in the paper of record.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

CRISPR and Down Syndrome

I wrote a piece for The Nation on the Age of CRISPR. I argue we're going to need new approaches both to regulation and to our discourse around "normal" as we develop these new tools. I use the ongoing failures to change how we talk about Down syndrome as my example:
A few weeks ago, two stories crossed paths. In MIT Technology Review, we learned that, for the first time in the United States, researchers had used the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR to modify a human embryo. Several days later, CBS News released a report that through nearly universal prenatal testing followed by selective abortion, Iceland has virtually eliminated Down syndrome.

The CRISPR story shows that we are on the cusp of an enormous leap of capability when it comes to shaping the genetic potential of our offspring. Meanwhile, I’ve contended that the past decades of testing, genetic consultation, and decision-making about abortion related to prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome have served as a kind of test run for the future of human procreation. Can we make informed choices? Can we understand that probability doesn’t equate to outcome when we’re talking genetic makeup? Can we use science to build a more just, happier humanity?

If what’s happening in Iceland is, indeed, a test run, it’s a test we’re failing. Prospective parents are making decisions based on fear and stigma, helped along by the medical profession. As our tools to make such decisions get even more powerful, we have to shift how we talk about genetic diversity.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Portlight - Disaster Relief for People with Disabilities

Today at Pacific Standard, I have an interview with Paul Timmons, co-founder of Portlight Strategies. They provide inclusive disaster response to make sure that emergency responders respect the civil rights of disabled folks, they repatriate people with their mobility devices, and they coordinate relief.

I've been watching on social media as Portlight has been helping to coordinate specific rescues and reached out to Paul to get his take on the issues. Here's the big takeaway:
What do readers need to know about people with disabilities and disasters?

The most important message is for the emergency responders, the emergency management people: There is no disaster loophole when it comes to ensuring the civil rights of people with disabilities. That message drives everything else that goes on in this space.
Donate to Portlight here

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Scarcity Model of Disability Services

In Florida, parents are forced to call their disabled children "limited" or they risk losing effective healthcare in order to fund GOP donors. It's a nasty story, but it's part of a big parent where parents, teachers, and therapists are forced to emphasize deficits in order to preserve access to needed supports. I wrote:
I can only imagine what a person-centered or other positive approach might have been like for us in those earlier years. We should never have had to justify services by listening to others denigrate our son. The tears around my dining room table were, in the long scheme of things, a minor setback on our road to understanding him and learning to advocate for him effectively. Still, I remember the sting. It shapes how I enter every meeting since, always on my guard.

The corruption in Florida, meanwhile, is much more serious. The specific alleged conduct is vile and potentially life-threatening. Anyone involved should be fired, sued, voted out of office, or prosecuted to the extent the law allows. That none of these things will likely happen points both to the routine acceptance of harms done to disabled children and to the specific collapse of decency in Florida's state government. Still, it's a system that forces us to emphasize faults that makes such corruption possible.

All humans have needs. A scarcity model based on support only for those with "special" needs is not the only way to organize society. Demanding proof of deficits demeans people with disabilities and opens the door to corruption and abuse.

Friday, August 25, 2017

AL School Official: Segregate Disabled Students to Help Test Scores

From Alabama:
Is it against the law for us to establish perhaps an academy on special education or something on that order," asked Bell, "so that our scores that already are not that good would not be further cut down by special-ed's test scores involved?"
When Bell's colleagues mentioned LRE, she didn't seem to understand. "It doesn't matter about that. You can make it the least restrictive environment," she said, "I'm trying to see if you can move them out."
The whole testing world drives ableism. Also ableism drives the testing world and its focus on assessing IQ. School officials have long been using various tricks to drive out disabled students from their testing pool. Charter schools are often based on the premise that they can keep out the "difficult" students and crow about testing scores.

So yeah, this woman's remarks are a problem and she should resign. But she's a symptom of a much bigger disaster behind the scenes.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Savannah Leckie

Savannah Leckie, an autistic teenager, seems to have been murdered by her mother. The autistic community, led by ASAN, has long sought victim-centered narratives when such murders happen. This, from Ozark County Times, tells us about Savannah.

Over the next few weeks, we will see increasing discussion of the killer's mental health. We won't see local reporters calling ASAN (or other good groups) for comment, linking Leckie's death to the pattern of murders of disabled people by their caregivers, etc.

But at least there's one story that really mourns the human we've lost. It's something on this bitter morning.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

What's Going On At InBev?

Yesterday, Pacific Standard published a piece of mine on medieval brewing and lack of gender diversity at Google. I mostly talked about medieval history and the Bennett-thesis on patriarchal equilibrium. But as I reached the end of the draft, I started doing a little research into contemporary brewing, tipped off by a friend that there had been a lot of comment about gender and craft beer.

Indeed there has been! Although home brewing codes masculine in our culture, there's been lots of emphasis lately on supporting female-owned craft breweries. At the same time, though, the huge beverage company InBev has been buying up craft breweries, so I went to look at their management team. Its a vast global enterprise, with divisions all over the world. Not a single woman is in charge anywhere. I wrote:
Back to brewing—the craft beer revolution of the last few decades has provided opportunities for women to enter the industry, despite the modern cultural associations of beer with manliness. The Pink Boots society, an organization dedicated to supporting women in the beer industry, has been growing over the last decade. But patriarchal equilibrium is rearing its head in that industry as well, not because individual men are driving out individual women, but because Big Beer is attacking Craft Beer. Right now, Anheuser-Busch InBev, the beer giant, is purchasing craft breweries. There's not a single woman on its management team.
It's important to identify and work against individual acts of discrimination. The gender consequences of InBev offer another way to look at the big picture of gendered (and other forms of) discrimination.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

On Brewing and Google

When the anti-diversity memo by (now former) Google employee James Damore went viral, all I could think of was medieval brewing. In the memo, Damore argued that women as a gender just aren't as mentally fit as men to be good programmers. Appropriately, the rebuttals to Damore have focused on two issues. First, he's wrong on the science. Second, he ignores the specific history of coding and gender. Both critiques are accurate and important. As a historian, though, I'd like us to broaden the discussion away from technology and the last 50 years, and recognize that the exclusion of women from coding fits perfectly into centuries of labor history. It turns out that whenever an occupation becomes profitable, women get cut out....

As the Google story broke, I emailed Bennett to ask for her reactions. She wasn't at all surprised: "This coding story is an old story—in employment and so much else, power moves toward power. The shocking thing about coding-and-gender is that it is such a dramatic version of that old story, and that it happened on our watch." Bennett recalls that, during the late 1980s and '90s, feminist scholars were talking about the rising gender imbalance in computer programing even as it took place. As she wrote to me, "We know this pattern; we can now discern it early; and we've not yet figured out how to stop it."
New from Pacific Standard.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Media and Trump Voter Narratives

Yesterday, two different but familiar stories emerged from the New York Times. In one, a Trump voter said he was sorry, but didn't say what he was going to do about it. In another, Trump voters declared that they would stand with him no matter what, and that they were unpersuadable. At least 60% of Trump voters feel this way.

My thoughts in a thread.
1) No more empty Trump voter regrets without specific plans for restorative attempts to repair harms.
2) Celebrate the unpersuadable and stop trying to persuade them. Knowing they cannot be reached is a gift.
3) Hire people who got it right.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Southern Nationalism = White Supremacy (with Bonus Templar Content)

This is well-known (I gather, not my world) cosplayer Alisa Kiss and her boyfriend at Charlottesville Nazi rally, chanting "Jews will not replace us." Note his Templar shield (which is what caught my interest).

A gif of the white supremacist march in Charlottesville. A white man
holds the hand of a white woman. He has a Templar shield and is shouting
"You will not replace us, Jews will not replace us."

Kiss has claimed she wasn't really at the rally, just tagging along with some "Southern Nationalist friends" for fun. She was 1) lying 2) Southern nationalism is code for people who want to create a white supremacist state and cling to Lost Cause ideology. It is not a neutral word for folks who are fond of the South. If they are your friends, you are pals with white supremacists.

Her career is collapsing. Maybe Jews will replace her after all.

Friday, August 18, 2017

On Naming Nazis

Yesterday, Pacific Standard published a piece of mine on Naming Nazis. Please read and share!

One general theme I'm noting a lot in the Trump era is a question of how we defend our principles. I wrote:
Over the last few days, I've been struck by the ways in which the debate over naming Nazis mirrors other arguments about the limitations of abstract principles. Should Milo Yiannopoulos be allowed to speak on college campuses if his goal is to incite harassment against transgender or undocumented students? Should the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia fight for the rights of Nazis when the Nazis' goal is to move from public speech (clearly protected) to mob violence and even murder (clearly not)? How do we respond in a moment when the norms that allow us a pretense of civil society are being so thoroughly disregarded? Trump, Richard Spencer, Yiannopoulos, and so many others have learned that they can hack our norms in order to spread their agenda, while never being held accountable to the norms themselves. It's an old play. Fascists always want to defend freedom of expression right up to the moment when they can throw you in jail for speaking against them.
When we take a principle and defend it on an abstract or absolute level, that usually means (if one is honest) accepting that other principles, and likely other people, will suffer. The men with guns outside a Synagogue demonstrate the tensions between the first and second amendments, for example. A pacifist recently talked to me about how his absolute pacifism means accepting that people might get harmed. He accepts it as a consequence of his belief.

Which is really what I want. I want people to think about the implications of absolute commitment to abstract principles in a moment when fascists are trying to hack those principles to cause harm.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

ADHD: Not Related to Parenting

Just putting this link up here as I try to find out more. Apparently not only is this ableist in terms of its misconstruction of the causes of ADHD, but it was in response to a question on policing. More to come. Here's a piece on the Town Hall itself.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Race in America and "Both Sides."

Historian Kevin Kruse has an important thread on the way that segregationists linked the Klan to the NAACP.  Trump is pulling an old move here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ban Laptop Bans: A Pedagogy for Tattoo Computers, Eyelid Phones, Fingernail Tablets

I've written against the ableism of laptop bans plenty. I want to add this thought today:

We are barely, barely, still in an era of tech when we can imagine separating the student from the device. That's going to fade soon. Our pedagogy should adapt now, rather than when it's too late.

Monday, August 14, 2017

GOP: In Favor of Running over Leftwing Protestors

As you know, a Nazi killed a protester named Heather Heyer and injured many others. What you may or may not know is that over the last year, many different state GOP lawmakers have been proposing decriminalizing running over protesters. Here's a thread.
In response to BLM, Standing Rock, and anti-Trump protests, the GOP has been trying to criminalize protest and decriminalize violent acts against protesters. The murder of Heather Heyer is the direct result of these actions. The GOP should renounce these efforts.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Disability and Voting Turnout in 2016

Rutgers professors Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse have a new fact sheet on turnout from people with disabilities. Their "key points:"
  • 6.0 million people with disabilities reported voting in the November 2016 elections.
  • The voter turnout rate of people with disabilities was 6 percentage points lower than that of people without disabilities.
  • Employed people with disabilities, however, were just as likely as employed people without disabilities to vote, suggesting that employment helps bring people with disabilities into mainstream political life.
  • The voter registration rate of people with disabilities was 2 percentage points lower than that of people without disabilities. The lower voter turnout was due both to a lower registration rate among people with disabilities, and to lower turnout among those who are registered.
  • If people with disabilities voted at the same rate as people without disabilities who have the same demographic characteristics, there would be about 2.2 million more voters.
Lots of barriers to voting for disabled Americans. Employment matters, though I suspect more of a correlation than causation here. Anyway, the data is useful. READ THE WHOLE THING.

I tend to want to see disability politicized, by which I do not mean made more partisan, but so that people vote based on disability related policy issues. I.e. people who voted to destroy Medicaid should be driven from office.

I previously covered some of Schur's work here.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


I am moving my family to Minnesota. You can listen to an interview and read about it from a good government perspective. I wouldn't expect much in the way of posts for the next week or so, unless I'm furious or happy.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

ACCESS LIVING: Policing and Disability Forum

On August 11, Access Living is hosting a forum on police interactions with people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or individuals with other disabilities. EVENT PAGE IS HERE

I'll have left town by then, but I'm so impressed with the incredible work Access Living is doing organizing around these issues, and especially the leadership of Candace Coleman. I'm thrilled to see them partnering with the ACLU.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"How Can I Help?" - Canada Ponders Mental Health and Policing

Four years ago, a police officer in Ontario shot Michael MacIsaac, who was running naked through his suburban neighborhood. He was allegedly holding a metal chair leg of some sort, and when he didn't drop it, Constable Brian Taylor shot and killed him.

An inquest into the shooting has just wrapped. One of the participants emphasized not just specialized training, but a general approach based on de-escalation.
Jennifer Chambers, one of 18 witnesses who testified at the inquest, is executive director of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health-funded Empowerment Council. The organization has long advocated for improved training for frontline officers who may encounter many different shades of mental illness on the job.

Chambers has made her case at more than 10 different police shooting inquests, including the one for 45-year-old Andrew Loku earlier this month, and says she's noticed some common themes.
"The police see somebody holding something they find threatening and they give the police challenge … When the person doesn't drop it, they just keep yelling," Chambers told CBC Toronto ahead of the release of the jury's recommendations.
Instead, she would like to see officers first ask: "What's going on? Can I help you? Is there something we can do? Let's talk."
I like this framing. It's pretty clear that a case of a naked man running through a suburb in winter might be in mental health crisis, but too many cases are less clear. Specialized training and resources are necessary, but just generally de-emphasizing reliance on instant compliance, absent other threat indicators, will save lives.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Mike Huckabee's "Short Bus" joke: Apology Not Accepted

On Fox News, yesterday, Mike Huckabee said this about incoming Chief of Staff John Kelly:
“If you have four stars on your shoulder, you’re not a slow learner, you didn’t ride the short bus. He will be fine.”
"Short bus" in this instance, is saying that Kelly is not intellectually disabled. In other words, it's an "r-word" type slur, delivered here in the negative (Kelly is not a ...). Huckabee then apologized over twitter.

I find the cultural space occupied by "r-word" type slurs revealing. So many people so casually resort to ableist slurs without even thinking, as Huckabee did here. It's no worse, though, than Obama's "special olympics" joke or Rahm's "r-word" slurs. Both of those men apologized too, of course. Slurs about intellectual disability, then, occupy an unusual cultural space in which widely diverse people use them constantly and quickly recognize that they are in the wrong (Ann Coulter being the notable exception that proves the rule).

Huckabee has also made numerous racist, sexist, anti-homosexual, anti-Islamic, remarks over the years. He thinks of himself as a kind of insult comic (he's not funny), richly sure he's hilarious (he's really not), and richly rewarded in cash from right-wing media. He's having a nice post-government career going on air and insulting people. It's what he does.

I'm glad Huckabee apologized. Ableism often escapes notice. It must be called out. But too often, especially among white parents of people with intellectual disabilities, our work against ableism starts and ends with the "r-word" and related slurs. We don't look for the ways that ableism intersects with other forms of hate, satisfied to know that we've drawn the line around the r-word. That's not good enough.

Huckabee is unfit for airtime. He is a vehicle of hate and division. If you've just noticed now with the "short bus" comment, go back and see his body of work. It's vile.

Apology not accepted.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Joy Policing. Don't do it for a few minutes ok?

No victories are ever total. Today I'm happy we saved Medicaid. It's ok to be happy. It's a meaningful if incremental win. Ignore the temptation to immediately point out all the battles yet to come, at least for five minutes.
In response to this thread, twitter user @feministlib shared a piece on "joy policing" that I found extremely apt.
We celebrate incremental wins, because it energizes us to keep moving toward the next win. Celebrating doesn’t mean we think we’re done; it means our efforts resulted in change in the right direction. 
Let's see what new facts we can help folks learn and politicize today!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Eugenics in Tennessee

In my latest piece, I write for The Marshall Project about the history of incarceration and sterilization, of course just scratching the surface in the short commentary.
Under no circumstances should the courts use their power to shape the reproductive decisions of individuals. But sadly, for over a century, attitudes about individuals convicted of crimes have made incarcerated men and women targets of such efforts.
Whether Benningfield knows it or not, his policy follows a long history of eugenic practices in this country. Eugenics is a pseudo-science which holds that the quality of humanity can be improved over generations through practices that encourage individuals with “desirable traits” to reproduce and discourage the “unfit” from doing so. There's a sense that eugenics is confined to a long-ago history, but coercive eugenic practices crop up constantly in the American criminal legal system.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Academic Freedom: Dr. Jonathan Higgins

Yesterday, I wrote about the adjunct prof fired by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for alleged homophobia. I wrote that we have to pay attention when people with less power are punished for speech, even if their views might be objectionable.

Today, I turn to the case of Dr. Jonathan Higgins, the director of Claremont Colleges' Queer Resource Center. He was fired for tweeting about white supremacy after a right-wing website latched on to three of his tweets and started campaigning for him to get fired. The college caved.

  1. Colleges need to realize that they cannot appease right-wing media by firing individuals.
  2. Professional staff (I'm about to be one) should be afforded the same rights for "extramural utterances" (i.e. Twitter) as faculty. We want our professional staff engaged in public conversations, not terrified of being fired.
  3. College PR depts should learn to write this statement: "We do not let right-wing media influence our hiring or firing decisions. That will be our only comment on the matter." 
There is an industry dedicated to finding people in higher education saying liberal things on social media and concentrating attention on them until they lose their jobs. As Tressie McMillan Cottom was quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education the other day - "If there’s an organized outrage machine, we need an organized response."

Part of that response must involve the high profile Free Speech Warriors shifting their attention away from leftwing protests of rightwing speakers, and working collaboratively with us to protect people like Bonesteel and Higgins. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Academic Freedom: Michael Bonesteel

Michael Bonesteel was contingent faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). I don't know the details of his appointment, but it seems he taught sufficient hours to have healthcare through SAIC and had been teaching about contemporary art and comics for a long time. According to Inside Higher Education, he has "resigned" after some of his classes were taken from him due to student complaints about course content and alleged homophobia. I have no information on the veracity of the accusations. They should be taken seriously. But I need to say a few things about the academic freedom issues.

We need to be clear: Taking away classes from adjuncts is firing them.

My position is this (as I wrote about at the Chronicle in a case of an adjunct making horrifically homophobic statements, but in an extramural context, rather than in class) is that the bar for dismissal of any faculty member based on speech exists, but that it is extremely high. Academic freedom does not mean one can literally say anything in any context with no professional consequences, but that the burden for proving it is impossible for a professor to move forward as faculty falls on the institution. The process should be clear, transparent, and aimed at restoring community if at all possible.

That doesn't seem to be what's happened here. Again, I don't know. What I do know is that I am infinitely more concerned about Bonesteel's rights than I am about Richard Dawkins' recent canceled speech, anything that's happened to Milo, Coulter, Charles Murray, or Peter Singer, or any other fancy featured lecture.

The fight over academic freedom includes defending speech that is repellant to us.

But it takes place in defense of vulnerable faculty, not millionaire right-wing speakers.

I have never (as I've been accused) claimed that only left-wing speech should be defended. I argue that when thinking about free speech and academic freedom, we should pay attention to power and prioritize the rights of the most vulnerable. Hence, I am more concerned with student groups than elite speakers. I am more concerned with politicians demanding profs be censored or fired than profs acting badly (i.e. the case of Melissa Click in Missouri or the whole state of Wisconsin). I am more concerned about adjunct profs being fired than tenured profs feeling unhappy that people don't like them. This case in Chicago is a good example of where people need to work for the principle of academic freedom.

So to all those folks currently polishing their scoldings of a Berkeley radio station for choosing not to host Dawkins, maybe instead you could expend some of your media platform worrying about adjunct rights?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Ozyfest 2017!!!!

I am pleased to announce that I will be appearing with Maysoon Zayid, Victor Pineda, Sinéad Burke at OZYFEST tomorrow in Central Park, New York City. I'm honored to share the stage with these three.

We will be talking about disability rights, and I will focus on parenting and formal journalism, but will hope to talk a bit about universal design, the cult of compliance and the modern expansion of eugenics. Here's the schedule for the afternoon.

Description: The schedule for Ozyfest's "Town Square."
Accessible version at link -
Hope to see some New Yorkers there! Because my co-panelists are amazing, and, well, Biden, Gillibrand, and Bush (who has a strong disability rights record overall) are surely worth your time. And over on the main stage, Samantha Bee is on at 4:20. So that's where I'll be.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Modern Knights Templar Prepare for Race War in Europe

There's an ongoing debate about the extent to which medieval scholars need to be concerned about explicitly fighting racism as medieval scholars. I haven't quite figured out how to write about the issues coherently. But the stakes, to me, are clear. 

Meet the Knights Templar International. Their FAQ wants you to know that they aren't racists.

But there's a coming civil war, says the "Hidden Templar" in the black hoodie.

Description: A screenshot from the KTI page, showing a black hooded figure in the front, ranks of knights in back
Headline - Britain's Coming Civil War 
Other stories include Islamic attacks on Children, the need to defend Syria's Christians. Other details:
Western civilisation is entering a period of existential crisis. A convergence of external and internal catastrophes is leading inexorably to a time when the survival of Christendom will only be secured by dedicated militancy in the teeth of demonic evil.
Demonic evil.
Accordingly, while we are not a ‘secret’ organisation, our collective leadership is discrete and so safeguarded as far as is possible from the hostile attention of the atheist, globalist and Islamist enemies of our sacred Cause.
Globalists means "Jews."

Other pages talk about the threat to white families in Europe.

I learned about them because I was reading the Twitter of a Holocaust denier, and came across this tweet talking about efforts from Italian fascists and others to arm militias against refugees (he's working to make sure boats don't save refugees off Sicily).
At any rate, we have a lot of work to do as medievalists. We have to go into our classrooms knowing this discourse is out there, and at least some people signing up will be partaking of it.