Friday, December 29, 2017

Best Pieces: Medieval, Cult of Compliance, Personal, Disability Rights

I had 93 essays published in 2017. Whew. I published 55 in 2016, so it's fair to say that things have escalated dramatically. I am still developing as an essayist, but am grateful to my editors, collaborators, interlocutors, and especially the folks who read me. Thank you.

Here are a few pieces of which I am especially proud:

  • How to Teach a Cyborg (The Atlantic). I'm hoping this one helps change the laptop debate. Because even if you believe the studies are proof positive that laptops are bad, banning tech is a short-term solution. Let's collaborate on long term ones.
  • Bodily Autonomy will Unite the Left (The Nation): Our issues, whatever they are, intersect around the principle of bodily autonomy.
  • How Florida Criminalizes Black and Autistic Children (Pacific Standard): My longest reported feature of the year on the ways Florida schools are threatening the future of two (and many more) disabled kids. 
  • Make Vinland Great Again (Washington Post): My intro primer to white supremacy and medievalism in the age of Trump.
  • Donald Trump ain't no Henry II (CNN): This piece explores a core facet of the Trump administration. He's got a court, not a bureaucratic modern government. 
  • Disability and Death Row (Pacific Standard): How many prisoners on death row are disabled? Pretty much all of them. Death penalty abolition is a disability rights issue.
  • Down syndrome and Storytelling (Pacific Standard): I made J.K. Rowling cry with this piece on how my son tells me stories and teaches me to presume competence. 
  • The New Blood Libel (Pacific Standard): On being Jewish, and a medievalist, in the age of Trump. 

Thanks y'all. See you at This Mess in 2018.

(Edit: 92 pieces, not 91. Had one go live today).

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 in Review

The stats: 93 published columns.

66 at Pacific Standard
9 at CNN
5 at The Nation
4 at Washington Post
2 at The Ladders
1 at The Guardian
1 at The Atlantic
1 at Newsweek
1 at Eater
1 at The Establishment

Writing is very different as a column. I'm grateful to Pacific Standard for bringing me on board and already filing for January. Over the next days I'll highlight a few pieces you might have missed.

Still writing a book, writing a little work-for-hire piece, and a thousand big projects after that.
  1. Yes, there were People of Color in Pre-modern Europe (Pacific Standard, 12/29/17)
  2. Wil Butler's Disco Town Halls (Pacific Standard, 12/28/17)
  3. Feature: Disability and Disaster in the Age of Climate Change (Pacific Standard, 12/21/17) 
  4. Facebook won't fight blood libel (Pacific Standard, 12/15/17)
  5. Al Franken has Resigned (Pacific Standard, 12/7/17)
  6. Here comes Austerity to Kill Us (Pacific Standard, 12/7/17)
  7. How to Teach A Cyborg (The Atlantic, 12/6/17)
  8. The CFPB Protects Davids from Goliaths (CNN, 11/29/17)
  9. The GOP Tax Bill Attacks Graduate Students (Pacific Standard, 11/21/17)
  10. Franken Should Resign (CNN, 11/20/17)
  11. States of Neglect (The Nation, 11/14/17)
  12. The GOP Tax on Disability (Pacific Standard, 11/7/17)
  13. It's always been the guns (The Nation, 11/6/17)
  14. Indoctrination on Right-Wing Campuses (Pacific Standard, 11/3/17)
  15. Immigration Rights are Disability Rights (Washington Post, 10/28/17)
  16. Bump Stocks and Sandy Hook (Pacific Standard, 10/27/17)
  17. Betsy DeVos Attacks Special Ed (Pacific Standard, 10/24/17)
  18. Stop Using Cannibalism to Justify Columbus (Pacific Standard, 10/13/17)
  19. White Supremacy and Medieval Studies (Pacific Standard, 10/9/17)
  20. Paul Ryan Pretends to Care about Mental Health only after Mass Shootings (CNN, 10/5/17)
  21. There are no Natural Disasters (Pacific Standard, 10/4/17)
  22. Ohio Politicizes Down Syndrome to Attack Abortion (Pacific Standard, 10/3/17)
  23. The ADA is not Optional. (Washington Post, 9/26/17. With Lennard Davis)
  24. Headphones and Hamilton (Pacific Standard, 9/25/17)
  25. A Week in Policing and Disability (The Nation, 9/22/17)
  26. Milo's Phony Rally (Pacific Standard, 9/22/17)
  27. 5 Ways for Liberal Arts Majors to Get Jobs (The Ladders, 9/21/17)
  28. Do Not Involuntarily Commit The Homeless During Hurricanes (Pacific Standard, 9/15/17)
  29. Bodily Autonomy and the Left (The Nation, 9/13/17)
  30. Nazis Love Medieval Studies. What Now? (Pacific Standard, 9/6/17)
  31. We're Failing Our Test for the Age of CRISPR (The Nation, 8/29/17)
  32. Portlight Fights to Save Disabled People After Harvey (Pacific Standard, 8/29/17)
  33. Florida Demands Parents Call Their Kids Limited (Pacific Standard, 8/28/17)
  34. Google Bros and Medieval Beer Bros (Pacific Standard, 8/22/17)
  35. Why We Need to Name Nazis (Pacific Standard, 8/17/17)
  36. Are Internet Standards Hurting Accessibility? (Pacific Standard, 8/3/17)
  37. 5 Ways to Talk about Disability on the Job Hunt (, 8/2/17)
  38. Sterilizing People with Disabilities in Prison (The Marshall Project, 7/26/17)
  39. Feature: The Internet of Restaurants is Coming for your Data (Pacific Standard, 7/25/17)
  40. The History of Dyslexia (Pacific Standard, 7/21/17)
  41. The GOP Plan for Healthcare is Obamacare (7/19/17)
  42. Racist Misinformation about Medicaid (Pacific Standard, 7/14/17)
  43. Why I won't raise my son in Illinois (Pacific Standard, 7/6/17)
  44. Support Lisa Durden (Pacific Standard, 6/27/17)
  45. Block Grants: A History (Washington Post, 6/26/17)
  46. ADAPT takes the Senate (Pacific Standard, 6/22/17)
  47. Feature: Police Killings: Being Black and Disabled in America (The Guardian, 6/22/17)
  48. Can Trump's Disability Commissioner Be Trusted? (Pacific Standard, 6/22/17)
  49. The Worst Juice Commercial Ever (Pacific Standard, 6/21/17)
  50. Medicaid Works. (CNN 6/20/17)
  51. Interview: Seanan McGuire (Pacific Standard, 6/15/17)
  52. Feature: Seraph Jones and Ashton Gelfand - Criminalization of Autistic Kids (Pacific Standard, 6/12/17)
  53. Donald Trump: You Ain't No Henry II (CNN, 6/9/17)
  54. Restaurants Haven’t Lived Up to the Promise of the American Disabilities Act (Eater, 5/31/17)
  55. Make Vinland Great Again (Washington Post, 5/31/17)
  56. Lower Ed vs Betsy DeVos: What's So Great About Being a Customer? (Pacific Standard, 5/30/17)
  57. Colorado ADAPT: Saving Medicaid through Direct Action (Pacific Standard, 5/25/17)
  58. Jim Hines: Funny and Serious about Gender in Sci-Fi (Pacific Standard, 5/24/17)
  59. Uber's Deregulated Business Violates Disability Rights Law (Newsweek, 5/17/17)
  60. Why Read a Utopian Novel in 2017? (Pacific Standard, 5/16/17)
  61. ACLU sues New Hampshire for Disenfranchising Disabled Voters (Pacific Standard, 5/16/17)
  62. Disability Misunderstood as Bad Behavior (Pacific Standard, 5/10/17)
  63. How Many Death Row Prisoners Are Disabled? All of them (Pacific Standard, 5/9/17)
  64. In Autism Arrest, Only Thing New was Video (CNN, 4/22/17)
  65. Disability Rights on Death Row (Pacific Standard, 4/21/17)
  66. "I thought I understood America." Talking American Gods with Gaiman (Pacific Standard, 4/20/17)
  67. What should you do when your favorite celebrity gets autism wrong? (Pacific Standard, 4/19/17)
  68. Stop Sucking: Environmentalism vs Accessibility (Pacific Standard, 4/11/17)
  69. After San Bernardino, We need Fewer Guns, More Empathy (April 10, 2017. CNN)
  70. How to Break Ground for Deaf Actors in Hollywood (April 2017, Pacific Standard)
  71. Day of the Dead Languages (March 2017, Pacific Standard)
  72. The Supreme Court Sets a New Precedent on the Death Penalty and Disability (March 2017, Pacific Standard)
  73. Can Disability Rights Stay Bipartisan? (March 2017, Pacific Standard)
  74. Disabled Americans: Stop Murdering Us (March 2017, Pacific Standard)
  75. Stop Calling Some Needs ‘Special’ (March 2017, The Establishment)
  76. Feature: Meet the Radical Disabled Americans Fighting the GOP Health Care Bill (March 2017, Pacific Standard)
  77. How Disabled Americans Are Fighting the GOP Health-Care Bill (March 2017, Pacific Standard)
  78. The Shows Shaking Up Disability Representation on Television (March 2017, Pacific Standard)
  79. Wonder the Goldendoodle and SCOTUS (Pacific Standard, 2/24/17)
  80. How to Debunk Myths About Autism (Pacific Standard, 3/6/17)  
  81. Academic Jobs Screen out Disabled Candidates (Pacific Standard, 2/14/17)
  82. Don't Turn my son's Dancing into Inspiration Porn (The Establishment, 2/8/17)
  83. The Wisdom of Science-Fiction in the Age of Trump (Pacific Standard, 2/8/17)
  84. Milo and Right-Wing Attacks on Free Speech (Pacific Standard, 2/2/17)
  85. Advocacy Groups Confront Trump Dilemma (Pacific Standard, 1/30/17)
  86. Interview: Maria Town (Pacific Standard, 1/26/17)
  87. Betsy DeVos and Special Education (Pacific Standard, 1/18/17)
  88. Down Syndrome and Stories (Pacific Standard, 1/13/17)
  89. The Obama Era is Over (Pacific Standard, 1/10/17)
  90. How a Prosecutor used Disability to Claim Sexual Assault was just Bullying (Pacific Standard, 1/10/17)
  91. Use Streep to Get Real on Disability (CNN, 1/9/17)
  92. The New Blood Libel (Pacific Standard, 1/7/17)
  93. Facebook Live Attack and Violence against Disabled Americans (CNN, 1/6/17)

Will Butler: A Rock Star Organizes Local Politics

New interview at Pacific Standard with Will Butler, one of the stars of Arcade Fire. Highlights:
What have you found so far?
I'm trying to preach to the choir and radicalize them a little bit, not push them farther left, but make them a little harder. Part of it is a community-building exercise. You came to the show, and now you're here, and now we're talking about something important. I try to introduce a little bit of flour, a little bit of thickening, to the music-goers in that city. I will never be more influential than having just gotten off a stage with a show that people liked.
How do you organize these local events? Do you just call up and say: "Hi! I'm a famous rock star and want to put something together!"
Some of it is cold-calling! I live in New York. I wanted to do the the afterparty for the campaign to close Rikers Island jail. I like to have activists and politicians together. I literally just cold-emailed my city councillor: "Dear Mr. Lander. I am a constituent. I play in a band called Arcade Fire. We're playing Madison Square Garden. Would you like to talk at the show after?"
Universally, every assistant in a progressive politician's office knows our band. That's our constituency.
Read the whole thing!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


Google did a big study to see what teams worked well and which ones didn't.

Turns out, STEM skills (by which they mean Technology and Engineering, not basic science or abstract math) are the LEAST important for success. Here's the post:
In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.
Those traits sound more like what one gains as an English or theater major than as a programmer. Could it be that top Google employees were succeeding despite their technical training, not because of it? After bringing in anthropologists and ethnographers to dive even deeper into the data, the company enlarged its previous hiring practices to include humanities majors, artists, and even the MBAs that, initially, Brin and Page viewed with disdain.

Project Aristotle, a study released by Google this past spring, further supports the importance of soft skills even in high-tech environments. Project Aristotle analyzes data on inventive and productive teams. Google takes pride in its A-teams, assembled with top scientists, each with the most specialized knowledge and able to throw down one cutting-edge idea after another. Its data analysis revealed, however, that the company’s most important and productive new ideas come from B-teams comprised of employees who don’t always have to be the smartest people in the room.
Or, maybe the "best scientists" are necessarily equivalent to "smartest."

More on this to come.

Friday, December 22, 2017

More on Disability and Disaster Response

Yesterday, a piece on disability and disaster response was published at Pacific Standard. I opened with Angela Wrigglesworth's story of rescue as the Hurricane Harvey waters rose.

By chance, Disability Visibility Podcast, one of my favorite podcasts, also had Wrigglesworth this week, along with Alecia Deon. They shared their stories. Must listen! (Transcript here).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Disability and Disaster

I wrote a long feature for Pacific Standard about disability and disaster response:
There are four basic different types of needs related to disability that emerge in the aftermath of disasters: health maintenance (medicine, electricity, medical care), ability to move in and through physical areas, effective communication access, and what the experts call "program access." Some of these needs are obvious: People who depend on dialysis or oxygen need power. Diabetics need insulin. Chemotherapy patients need hospitals that work, and so forth. A wheelchair user might well not be able to cross flooded areas, climb stairs to escape rising water, or access a shelter. Shelter space might also be inaccessible because messages about locations aren't communicated in sign language or Braille. Such spaces might be too loud or chaotic for people with sensory integration needs (as would be true for my son, who has Down syndrome, many autistic individuals, and many others).
Needs can overlap. Many people fall into more than one of these categories, and access to the resources required to meet these needs is never distributed evenly. The consequences of a natural disaster for any individual will be intensified not only by specifics of the disability, but also by other forms of inequality and marginalization such as race, class, gender or sexual identity, and legal status. Disabilities can also be temporary or changing, especially when disasters bring injury or new health risks. Disability disaster response therefore requires understanding all the varieties of disabilities and the inequities of our society—and too often requires fighting against governmental structures built without disability in mind.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Gene Therapy to Cure Blindness - Only For the Rich

There's a new super fancy gene-therapy that can cure a certain kind of blindness. It's super cool science. It's also going to cost a million dollars or so.

It's part of what I call "Our GATTACA future," in which many kinds of disability code even more intensely for poverty and lack of access to modern medicine, enhancing stigma and divide. To be clear, this is already the case with many kinds of disabilities today. It's just going to get worse and worse, thanks to capitalist medicine for profit.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sister Clemente Davlin (March 6, 1929-December 19, 2017)

I just heard the sad news that Sr. Clemente Davlin, OP, my friend and former colleague, died today. She was not a young woman and the news is not unexpected, but it's hitting me hard.

I met Clem in 2007 when I started teaching at Dominican. She was technically retired, but so Present in the campus community in both formal (teaching, showing up to meetings, mentoring) and informal ways. She was a brilliant medievalist. She knew Piers Plowman like no one else I've ever met, regarding it not only as a literary text to study, but as a devotional text for a modern Catholic. I heard her give many scholarly talks, but she also wrote Journey into Love, a collection of meditations for the modern devout on the poem.  I have, of course, known other good colleagues and friends, wise people (many of faith), dedicated teachers, and great scholars. Still, Clem was unique.

The word I have always used to describe her is this: holy. Clem was holy. It's not a word I use lightly. I study holiness and sanctity in other periods, always taking it seriously as a phenomenon despite (or perhaps because) being a secular Jew. Clem had a kind of depth to her holiness, her clarity of vision, and her patience with us lesser beings as we stumbled along. She knew we needed to find our own paths, but was willing to take whatever time she had and help us along the way.

Holiness doesn't mean reserved or ascetic, either. My favorite memory of Clem, bar none, is the day she walked into my backyard for a Memorial Day bbq. My daughter and her friends were throwing around a beach ball and it went flying towards the octogenarian nun's face. She caught it, beamed, and tossed it back, before coming over to the party.

These few paragraphs do no justice to the person we've lost, as words never really do. She blessed my children. She told me to work hard in the classroom. She wanted to make sure every student had every opportunity. She had no pretension about her but never concealed her light.

I miss my Dominican family. I miss Clem. The world is a lesser place without her.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Online Hate

I wrote about Facebook, Twitter, Google, and ISPs for Pacific Standard. Hate proliferates and they claim they can do nothing.
But they can do something. If these accounts somehow game a system to avoid violating Community Standards, you have no community.  Read the whole thing.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Bad Historical Metaphors: Galileo

I am tired of powerful men worrying about "due process" by comparing great historical iniquities such as lynching, witch hunts, the Inquisition, Internment, and the death penalty to the social scorn and professional consequences of men being outed as bigots and abusers.

It happens constantly and I'm going to start blogging them. Here's todays.

One:  Sam Altman, bigshot Silicon Valley dude, has a  recent whine about free speech in Silicon Valley (see Anil Dash take it apart here). In the piece, he makes a very mixed up historical metaphor. Follow along with these quotes:

 It seems easier to accidentally speak heresies in San Francisco every year. Debating a controversial idea, even if you 95% agree with the consensus side, seems ill-advised.
This will be very bad for startups in the Bay Area.
It is bad for all of us when people can’t say that the world is a sphere, that evolution is real, or that the sun is at the center of the solar system.
Note that the world is a sphere, evolution is real, and the sun is the center of solar system.

This is uncomfortable, but it’s possible we have to allow people to say disparaging things about gay people if we want them to be able to say novel things about physics. [1] Of course we can and should say that ideas are mistaken, but we can’t just call the person a heretic. We need to debate the actual idea.
Heretic. Heresy implies the existence of an empowered orthodoxy.
I don’t know who Satoshi is, but I’m skeptical that he, she, or they would have been able to come up with the idea for bitcoin immersed in the current culture of San Francisco—it would have seemed too crazy and too dangerous, with too many ways to go wrong. If SpaceX started in San Francisco in 2017, I assume they would have been attacked for focusing on problems of the 1%, or for doing something the government had already decided was too hard. I can picture Galileo looking up at the sky and whispering “E pur si muove” here today.
Note that 1) Galileo didn't actually say this. 2) Galileo was on trial. 3) Neither Satoshi nor Musk are in danger of being put on trial for hating gay people also they don't hate gay people (do they?) and hating gay people has nothing to do with whether their projects are viable.

This easy conflation of historical persecution of knowledge by religious authorities with social scorn by rich liberals against other rich liberals in San Francisco is breathlessly bad, historically illiterate, and a gorgeous defense for a hugely wealthy caste that wants to imagine themselves victims.

More to come.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Texting 911

St. Paul finally has implemented the ability to text 911. The disability accessibility implications here are enormous, of course, but like most systems that improve accessibility, everyone will benefit. One example, people in a dangerous domestic situation who can't make a phone call, but who need to call for help.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dominionists and Jerusalem

Two posts on medievalism, apocalypticism, and the Jerusalem decision.

By Matt Gabriele:
As Trump “spiritual adviser” Paula White said, “Evangelicals are ecstatic, for Israel is to us a sacred place and the Jewish people are our dearest friends.” John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, responded to Trump’s announcement by noting its precise “biblical timing” set out in Leviticus. Michael Evans said that America is “in the middle of prophecy right now” and compared Trump to King Cyrus, a pagan king who nonetheless was an instrument of God and helped Israel. At a rally for the president in Florida, state Sen. Doug Broxson excited the crowd by declaring: “When I heard about Jerusalem — where the King of Kings (applause) where our soon coming King is coming back to Jerusalem, it is because President Trump declared Jerusalem to be capital of Israel.”
Such statements are important because they shift the frame with which listeners are asked to consider what happened. They position Trump’s statement within sacred, rather than secular time. In other words, they show that they think the Jerusalem decision was part of God’s plan for the world, a step on the way to the reunification of the holy city (still considered occupied under international law) and the restoration of the ancient Israelite Temple. In other words, a step on the way towards the apocalypse.

By Cord Whitaker:
Trump’s decision, likely born of the influence of current and former advisors such as Steve Bannon, aligns with Alt-right ideology’s strange and rather disrespectful view of mainstream Christianity. Alt-right ideology is supersessionist, but not in the usual way—in which Christians view themselves as having replaced Jews as God’s chosen people. Alt-right thought owes a great debt to early twentieth-century Italian thinker Julius Evola. Evola, whose thought influenced Mussolini and who has been described as a “prominent icon of fascist idealism,” argued that medieval knighthood represented a spiritual order that superseded devotional Christianity. In other words, endeavors like chasing the Holy Grail and engaging in mystical rites, as did the Knights Templar (who were headquartered on the Temple Mount during the Crusaders’ medieval occupation of Jerusalem), were holier and more spiritually important than the Church. That alt-right protestors showed up in Charlottesville carrying medieval-style shields is connected to Trump’s decision. Both events indicate the current White House’s attempts to trump Christian faith.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

On Police Reform

Worth re-reading: How to talk about police reform (by Marianne Kaba):
Ultimately, the only way that we will address oppressive policing is to abolish the police. Therefore all of the ‘reforms’ that focus on strengthening the police or “morphing” policing into something more invisible but still as deadly should be opposed.
All reforms involving MORE, BETTER, policing should be avoided. Reforms must aim at less policing.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Disability and Arrest Rates

From the great s.e. smith, a new piece at Tonic (VICE) on disability and arrest rates:
As conversations about disparities in police killings and incarceration rates hit the news, one researcher wanted to answer a simple question: What’s the demographic profile of people being arrested? “I was looking for data and I was unable to find it, so I went out and I made it,” says Erin J. McCauley, the author of a new study on disability and arrest rates and a doctoral candidate in policy analysis and management at Cornell University.

Her work appears in the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health, and it provides valuable insight into the demographic profiles of people arrested across the US. Specifically, McCauley found that disabled people—including people with emotional, physical, cognitive, or sensory disabilities—are much more likely to be arrested before age 28 than nondisabled people, and that these statistics are even more dramatic for disabled people of color.

Friday, December 8, 2017

On Franken

It's time to shift to the politics. The next piece I am writing is about the need to start repeatedly calling for Donald Trump to resign, explicitly, on account of the credible allegations of serial sexual assault, abuse, and harassment.

But for another minute, let's remember that getting serial sexual harassers (Franken) out of power matters. It matters for its own sake. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Humanities and Work

On the myth of the "English major Starbucks barista." From 2016, but in my feed last night and I missed this the first time around.
What are we to make of this new old joke about the English major? Why did barista replace fast food worker? The fact is that English majors are not particularly likely to end up as baristas or as workers in the food service industry in general. Plenty of data is available to disprove this idea, so what does its persistence mean? The English major barista is a myth in the sense of being untrue. It is also a myth in the deeper sense of that word: a story that a culture tells itself to explain wishes or fears. In this case, fears.
I think about this with history a lot, too. We know that historians in fact go on to do great work in myriad fields and generally feel pretty good about their history majors. But no one believes it coming into my office as a student. Their parents, moreover, don't believe it either. And data (SEE THIS WONDERFUL DATA) isn't persuading the story.

In my scholarly work, I often turn back to the anthropological definition of a myth as a "story with a purpose or function." The function of the barista myth is:
[it] reflects negative attitudes about the English major itself rather than the realities of an English major’s likely employment. Since coffeehouses are places for reading, writing and talking, spending time in a coffeehouse is a lot like spending time in the study of English. Naturally enough, English majors like to hang out in them. STEM majors have their labs; English majors have their Starbucks. The joke about the English major barista implies, however, that unlike the science done in a lab, the study of English, whether pursued in coffeehouse or classroom, is without value. What better punishment for wasting this time than being sentenced to work at a coffeehouse rather than enjoying its pleasures, serving those who presumably chose some more valuable and lucrative major?
More on this to come.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Accessibility and Ed Tech

Lawsuits work.
Failure to provide accessible technologies for learners with disabilities can have serious consequences for universities. Many institutions have been sued in recent years for noncompliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, ratcheting up pressure around accessibility issues. As a result, some universities are thinking about how they might work together to test the technology they buy and make sure it is accessible to all.
What would have been nice is if universities had cared about accessibility without being sued. Even nicer if Congress wasn't threatening to take this tool away

Monday, December 4, 2017

Lessons from South Carolina

Finn Gardiner writes that "zero tolerance" policies disproportionately affect students of color, disabled students, and especially disabled students of color.
Spurred by a violent altercation between a school resource officer and a Black student in 2015, South Carolina’s Department of Education introduced guidelines in the Safe Schools Taskforce Report in 2016 to reduce the likelihood of students being punished by school resource officers for disciplinary infractions that are not legally defined as crimes (Spearman & Cooper, 2016; Perry, 2016). These guidelines include clearly defined roles for school resource officers, comprehensive training programs for SROs, clear communication between involved stakeholders and stipulations for proportionate disciplinary actions. South Carolina should additionally include further mechanisms for ensuring that individual school districts adhere to the set guidelines, including both internal and independent oversight.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Adventures in Inspiration Porn

I see it's time to refer back to the This Mess rules.
1. Don't take pictures of disabled strangers without their consent.
2. Don't share the pictures you shouldn't have taken to the internet without their consent. Their story is not your story to do with as you see fit.
As always, inspiration porn uses the experience of a disabled person to evoke feelings in the viewer, usually by praising the heroism of an abled person. If one were going to report on this story, the correct journalist practice would be to inquire about the lack of support structures leaving vulnerable people at the mercy of the kindness of strangers. But first - get consent. Ask disabled people if they want their lives shared.

AND ALL YOU FACEBOOK TYPES WITH YOUR CAMERAS: Respect disabled people's privacy. Be a better human.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

What is Education For? - To Kill a Mockingbird and Medieval Literature

Guest Post by Eric Weiskott. Weiskott teaches medieval English poetry at Boston College; he's working on a book about the division of the past into medieval and modern periods.

Last month Biloxi School District administrators pulled Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird from the junior high curriculum. “There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable,” explained Kenny Holloway, vice president of the school board. The book remains in the school’s library but will no longer regularly be taught to 8th graders. (Administrators later backtracked slightly, permitting interested students to read To Kill a Mockingbird if their parents sign a permission slip.)

The Biloxi School District’s decision to ban the novel, and their partial reversal of that decision, bring to the surface urgent debates about what education should do and whom it should serve. These debates transcend the particular merits of To Kill a Mockingbird or any other school text. As a professor and a specialist in medieval literature, I know that institutions of education historically have struggled with the choice between reinforcing the status quo and imagining a better future. In this, they resemble society at large. By banning To Kill a Mockingbird, Biloxi administrators caved to a pernicious vision of the social mission of education, in which comfort trumps justice. That vision, and its utopian opposite, have histories, reaching all the way back to the Middle Ages.


In late medieval England, grammar school was an experience reserved for boys. The sons of some poor families had access to free or subsidized grammar schools—an early but limited version of public education. Higher education at Oxford or Cambridge was beyond the means of most.

Strong bonds existed between educational and religious institutions in this period. Grammar schools often fell under the purview of bishops, and theology was the jewel of university curricula. The connection between education and religion did not simply enforce subservience to church and state authorities, as we might assume today. On the contrary, the spiritual mission of education could provoke students to contemplate new and better futures for society.

One medieval Englishman dissatisfied with the state of contemporary education was a cleric named William Langland. In Piers Plowman, an allegorical religious and political poem of the late 14th century, Langland indicts the educational institutions of his day for serving the interests of the powerful. In one memorable scene, the narrator Will finds himself at a feast with Reason, Patience, and a fat doctor of divinity. The menu is mostly scripture, though soup, stew, and wine are also on offer. In this psychedelic scene, the doctor stuffs his face and bloviates on theology. Will remarks to himself that the university man is “a selfish glutton with two big cheeks— / He has no pity on us poor people; he misdoes / What he preaches and does not demonstrate compassion.”

Langland offers Piers Plowman itself as an alternative to actually existing institutions of learning. The poem takes the form of a spiritual education, an extracurricular exercise in envisioning a just society. It is supposed to make you uncomfortable. Will (at different moments, a given name or a personification of the will) discourses with Holy Church, Clergy, Theology, friars, and a host of other authoritative ‘persons.’ In building this educational/spiritual itinerary, Langland drew on the texts and skills that he encountered in grammar school: most obviously, literacy itself, but also Latin biblical commentaries and the moralizing aphorisms of the Latin Distichs of Cato, then a popular school text.

Late medieval English schooling had many problems, but banned textbooks were not among them. The era of book-banning in England got going in the 16th century. Henry VIII issued a list of banned books in 1526. Eight years later, he declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England. At this time, formal education was still largely the privilege of the sons of the wealthy.

If anything, the English Reformation further entrenched the division between the powerful and everyone else. Church and state were now officially one. When the Puritan poet John Milton argued against state censorship in his treatise Areopagitica (1644), he made an exception for “Popery and open superstition.” Still taught today in law schools as a foundational text of free-speech libertarianism, Areopagitica places severe restrictions on what counts as free. Milton’s ideal public sphere excluded explicitly Catholic ideas. In the same year, Milton published Of Education, in which he proposed a course of study in a slew of subjects daunting even by 17th-century standards. Milton was working as a schoolmaster in London at this time.

The story of public education as we know it begins in the 19th century, with the establishment of national primary, secondary, and higher educational systems in Britain and the United States. Viewed from one angle, this is a story of liberalization, of the democratization of learning. This history can be recounted in firsts. Yale College graduated its first black student (Richard Henry Green) in 1857, its first women students more than a century later, in 1971.

Viewed from another angle, these changes in the constituency of schools highlight the uncomfortable dissonance between ideals and reality. Richard Henry Green graduated into a United States that still had not “in its whole system of reality evolved any place for” him—to quote James Baldwin’s famous comments on American blackness in 1965, delivered in a debate with William F. Buckley at the University of Cambridge. (In 1951, Buckley had published God and Man at Yale, attacking what he regarded as the arrogant liberalism and secularism of the curriculum.) Yale College would not award a degree to another black student until 1874. In 1971, the first women graduates of Yale College still had a year to wait for Title IX.


To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in a fictional Alabama town and depicts a legal confrontation between Jim Crow and true justice. The state of Mississippi has a shameful record on public school desegregation. Lee’s novel appeared in 1960. Two years later, white segregationists rioted at the University of Mississippi over the court-ordered matriculation of James Meredith, a black man. Ironically, Biloxi was the first school district in the state to nominally desegregate, which it did in 1964.

The curriculum of a Mississippi middle school matters because the social and ethical mission of education is not—has never been—settled and complete. The goals of education continue to be partial in both senses of the word: biased by the current inequitable distribution of social power, and not yet fulfilled. Present-day religiously affiliated institutions of education may be in a position to understand this better than some others. Boston College, where I teach, is a Catholic Jesuit university committed to “the pursuit of a just society”—notice the word pursuit—an objective that I try to live up to in the classroom.

For many who took to social media to condemn the initial decision of the Biloxi administrators, the scandal was precisely that education should “make people uncomfortable.” Holloway’s assurance that “we can teach the same lesson with other books” rang hollow because Harper Lee’s representation of overt racism, including use of the word “nigger,” is essential to the book’s ethical project. To Kill a Mockingbird  even thematizes the connection in an after-school scene. “Do you defend niggers, Atticus?” “Of course I do. Don’t say nigger, Scout,” Atticus responds. “’s what everybody at school says.” “From now on it’ll be everybody less one—” “Well if you don’t want me to grow up talkin’ that way, why do you send me to school?” responds the precocious Scout. This question gets to the heart of the matter.

The administrators’ compromise solution is something of a cop-out. It puts the predilections of parents in between students and Lee’s text. That the political imagination of To Kill a Mockingbird has, after all, certain limits, characteristic of mid 20th-century Alabama, only underlines the irony of a Mississippi school declaring the novel out of bounds in this century.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Murder of Disabled Family Members

This tweet is a small thread of resources on filicide in response to a recent story from PA. In Chicago, of course, folks are discussing the suicide of a woman who murdered her autistic son. I choose not to link to her story, as the press coverage is full of sympathy for her.

Let's instead think about a society so ableist in which a disabled adult and her mother are "never seen."

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

When Assistive Tech Goes Obsolete

Gizmodo reporter Jennings Brown wrote a great article, "The last of the iron lungs" last week. It's very well done, with good interviews, a sense of the history of polio, and this:
Understandably, Lillard lives in a constant state of anxiety over the functionality of her iron lung. But she said the company responsible for servicing the device, Philips Respironics, hasn’t been much help. She recalls one time when a repair person disassembled the machine to make a repair, then tried to leave before putting it back together. Another technician took it apart and couldn’t figure out how to fix it, so Lillard had to call another mechanically skilled friend, Jerry House, to help.
Brown added, later:
When I met with the Randolphs, Mark gave me photocopies of old service manuals and operating instructions. He filled me in on little-known history about the Emerson iron lung and its inventor, whom they met at a Post-Polio convention. I realized what each of these iron lung users have in common are the aid of generous, mechanically skilled friends and family. And that’s probably the main reason they’ve been able to live long and full lives, despite the hardships and anxieties of depending on aging machinery to survive.

But also read this amazing thread by Maria Town, who engages the broader issues of when tech for people with disabilities goes obsolete.

This example struck close to home.

Monday, November 27, 2017

GOP Plan for Higher Ed

The GOP tax plan is intended to limit the potential for higher education to enable class movement.
The GOP tax plan is calculated not just to shift wealth upward, but also to remove some of the educational tools that make it possible for people to shift their own class status. It's not just tuition waivers. As detailed in The Atlantic, spread across undergraduate and graduate education, the GOP plan would strip funding from all fields, and sow chaos. For example, Republicans also want to eliminate student loan interest deductions and force students who don't graduate to repay Pell Grants. Overall, according to Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation, the cost of education would go up by $71 billion over 10 years.
The Republicans have crafted a vision for American higher education in which only the already-elite can chase their dreams, study deeply, develop new ideas, and become the creators of tomorrow. The GOP tax plan is what class warfare looks like.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Al Franken

I wrote about Al Franken. I don't think I could vote for him.
I'm an American citizen, a Minnesotan, and I have one vote. When I look at the ballot in 2020, I won't use it to support Al Franken. Not now. Possibly not ever.
But the GOP can shut the hell up until they clean their house:
Despite living in a glass house built by men accused of sexual harassment and assault, Republicans are eager to throw stones. They want to talkHillary Clinton and Harvey Weinstein, the accusations against Bill Clinton, and now Franken.

The hypocrisy is staggering. Right now, there's a president, a Supreme Court justice (Clarence Thomas) and the GOP candidate for Alabama senator who face or have faced credible allegations of vile actions. The victims in these narratives were all vulnerable by reason of age, job, race or other forms of status. These men allegedly exploited their power to abuse and have never been held to account. The GOP doesn't seem to care, so long as they get their votes.
Howard Kurtz, on Fox News, questioned any call to talk about Trump because after the allegations came out, "We had an election ... and he won." Alabama Republicans have effectively acknowledged that even if Roy Moore's accusers are believable, getting Moore's vote on GOP policies is worth electing another predator. As for Clarence Thomas, the only person being held accountable for his alleged abusive actions seems to be Joe Biden, who as a senator presided over Thomas' confirmation hearings. When even Donald Trump, of all people, dared to tweet about Franken's misconduct, I found myself shaking with anger at the President's smug audacity.

In the face of the GOP resistance to taking responsibility for electing known predators, it's easy to want to circle the wagons around Franken. What Franken is accused of doing is not nearly as destructive as the allegations against Moore or Trump. What's more, being principled on Franken won't shame GOP members into changing their ways. Anyone who watched the "Access Hollywood" tape and supported Trump is likely beyond such shame.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Florida and Criminalizing Autism

Last April I wrote about the arrest of John Haywood, a ten year old autistic boy, who sobs as he's taken to the police career, his mother filming it. The video went viral, as well it should, because it's awful. I wrote:
If the video shocks you, and it should, imagine how often children with autism or other disabilities are being arrested in situations where there's no video, no parent present and no viral outrage. If teachers, administrators, and cops continue to criminalize children for violating what I have come to call a "cult of compliance," punishing them for acting in ways that come naturally, how can we decriminalize disability?
Seven months later, despite the media outcry, the boy still faces charges, isn't in school, and nothing has changed.

Viral videos aren't enough.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Diplomats with Disabled Kids

In the endless litany of horrible things that the Trump administration is doing to disabled folks and their families, I missed this one. According to Foreign Policy, the Trump State Department is slashing funding for diplomats who have disabled children.
On Thursday, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sent a letter to the State Department questioning the department’s “troubling” plans to cut support for foreign service officers who have children with disabilities.
The Washington Post first reported on Oct. 29 that the State Department had quietly cut support for families with disabled children, including therapy, extended education, and one-on-one school aides. The Post also reported the State Department has suddenly barred some children from going abroad with their families.
“We ask enough of our diplomats,” the senators wrote in a letter addressed to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. “Our actions should demonstrate the value that they bring to the State Department and the nation — not make it harder for them to serve.”
Foreign service officers typically take their spouses and families with them as they bounce between posts around the world. The State Department has provided allowances and other forms of support to foreign service officer families with disabled children so they can receive care and education comparable to what they would receive at home.
As I read this, basically diplomats have the right to fully access the benefits of U.S. special education and U.S. medicine when stationed overseas, should their families require it. That makes sense.

Naturally, it's being cut.

You can read the Washington Post report here.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ohio Abortion Ban

It's happening. Ohio is going to pass an anti-choice bill that criminalizes speech between a woman and her doctor. I wrote about the ban here. Kasich will surely sign it. I'm pretty livid.

This won't help people with Down syndrome. It's not intended to. It just keeps spreading stigma on the one hand, while serving as a vehicle to restrict reproductive rights on the other.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Red States and Disability

My latest in The Nation:
Mostly buried beneath early November’s onslaught of news, stories from Oklahoma, Iowa, and Maine reveal the ways that state governments, through both apparent incompetence and maliciousness, are failing disabled residents and their families. In the first two examples, disability programs are being cut as a result of self-imposed budget crises. In the third, the governor is using disability as a shield to ignore the will of the voters, while at the same time not serving disabled Mainers.
Oklahoma is the worst of the three. At the beginning of November, agencies received letters stating that the “ADvantage Waiver,” a program funding home-based care for disabled individuals and seniors, would lose funding as of December 1. About 21,000 Oklahomans will lose the care that enables them to live independently. About 10,000, according to the Department of Human Services, will be forced to move into nursing homes—except that the state doesn’t have enough beds in nursing homes. So disabled Oklahomans are caught waiting to find out what will happen: Will they be trapped in their homes without services? Will they be forced into nursing homes or Hospitals? Will they be abandoned?
The problem, of course, is money. The conservative state has stripped awayits tax base in a wave of Tea Party glee. Now it’s broke and, rather than raise taxes (a budget just failed to pass in special session), it is closing nursing homes and slashing Medicaid.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Intellectual Disability and Vietnam

This is an incredible article on, as they were called at the time, "McNamara's Morons," people with intellectual disabilities drafted into the Vietnam War.
One morning in the summer of 1967, I was among about 100 men at the Armed Forces induction center in Nashville. It was the height of the Vietnam War, and I had volunteered for the Army. A sergeant walked into the room and announced that all of us would leave soon to begin training in Fort Benning, Ga. Then he asked, “Is anyone here a college graduate?”
I raised my hand, and he motioned me to follow him. He took me down a hallway to a bench where I was introduced to a young man I’m going to call Johnny Gupton, to protect his privacy. Gupton was also assigned to Fort Benning. “I want you to take charge of this man,” the sergeant told me. “Go with him every step of the way.” He explained that Gupton could neither read nor write, and would need help in filling out paperwork when we arrived at Benning. Then he added: “Make sure he doesn’t get lost. He’s one of McNamara’s Morons.”
I had never heard the term, and I was surprised that the sergeant would openly insult Gupton. But I learned quickly that “McNamara’s Morons” was a term that many officers and sergeants used to refer to thousands of low-I.Q. men like Gupton who were taken into the military under a program devised by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
There's also a documentary.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Conservative Students at Wisconsin Are Happy

Dominant Narrative: Conservative students on liberal campuses are ostracized and marginalized and it isn't fair and there should be balance.

Data: Conservative students at UW Madison are doing fine.
Politically conservative students instead were more likely to report feeling safe, respected and like they belong than students holding other political views.

Conservative students also were more likely than liberal students to say they feel comfortable approaching faculty members with their concerns, according to a report on the 2016 Campus Climate Survey released last Wednesday.

And conservative students said they felt less likely than liberal or moderate students to be expected to represent their point of view in class, but felt more positive about doing it than the others.
Good! They should feel comfortable. But the dominant narrative must go. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

ASU and Disability Studies

Arizona State University regents (via a committee) rejected a disability studies major (while approving a slate of technical and business majors). Majors get rejected all the time, but this one was telling, because the regent quoted clearly didn't get the humanities. Amy Silverman wrote about the decision.

Here's the reporting on the actual decision.
Searle said the degree in disability resources was a combination of arts, humanity, social science and looking at the issues that people with disabilities face.

Regent Larry Penley challenged the report ASU presented, stating that while addressing disability resources was important, he struggled with the learning outcomes presented.

“I struggle with whether those learning outcomes really articulate something students or prospective students can legitimately understand,” Penley said.
The degree was described as a combination of theory and practice to prepare students to address injustices, exclusions and misapprehensions regarding disabilities through advocacy, education, knowledge of the law and historical awareness. Those seeking the degree could pursue careers in business, policy and advocacy, social work, education, government, community and non‐governmental organizations, according to the presented learning outcomes.
“The demand in this space is quite intense in terms of interest and opportunity for students,” Searle said in defense of the program.

Penley said he could not vote for a degree he did not fully understand.
The actual learning outcomes are pretty typical. One could make similar outcomes for similar degrees.
This regent, a former business school dean, needs to take some humanities courses.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

It's the Guns

Trump’s comments on mental health are typical of Republican response to violence. He characterized the killer as a “very deranged individual” who has a “mental health problem at the highest level.” This was also his and Representative Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) response after the Las Vegas shooting. Republicans (and some Democrats) have been making comments like this for decades. On Monday in Japan, though, Trump added, “We have a lot of mental health problems in our country—as do other countries—but this isn’t a guns situation.”
That middle clause, “as do other countries,” is quite the tell. Trump regularly runs his mouth freely, revealing the subtext that lies beneath the usual GOP talking points. Trump isn’t wrong. Many countries have not adequately met the mental-health needs of its population. But linking acts of violence to people with mental health is gross stigmatization that belies the data. People with mental illness are vastly more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.
Still, let’s take Trump at his word here and agree that around the world other countries also have people with unmet mental-health needs. And yet among 171 nations of the world, the United States is the clear leader in mass shootings. It’s the guns. Of course it’s the guns.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Jack Greene and Arkansas Death Row

Arkansas is set to execute Jack Greene this Thursday. He is mentally ill, with intense delusions and a long history of self-harm and violent ideation.  He committed murder, but there's reasonable debate about the extent to which he understands reality.

The prison director decided he wasn't sufficiently mentally ill to be spared due to disability. The prison director has no disability, mental health, or medical expertise. Appeals are pending for an independent evaluation and I will be following the case this week.

1) The case seems to violate recently (and less recent) Supreme Court decisions. This isn't a shock, as states seem to ignore such decisions at will and SCOTUS seems to let them.

2) Arkansas executed multiple disabled men this spring.

3) In May, I wrote a piece arguing that basically everyone on death row was disabled. It's a tool used only to kill disabled criminals.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Mandatory First-Year Classes and Orientations: Flags and Guns vs Kindness

In my latest Pacific Standard essay, I talk about the ways that some right-wing schools enforce indoctrination and homogeneity, even as our free speech on campus discourse focuses on left-wing schools.
In response to National Football League players protesting state violence against African Americans, the College of the Ozarks, a small, Christian liberal arts institution in Missouri, is ordering its students to pick up a gun. The 93 percent white school now makes all first-year students take a Patriotic Education Fitness class. According to the Miami Herald, the course includes, "lessons on American politics, the military, and flag norms." Through their studies, "students will learn rifle marksmanship, map reading, land navigation, and rope knotting. Students also must be able to run a mile and will engage in other physical education activities." It's unclear how such activities will foster the college's mission of making students more "Christ-like."
This course is pure indoctrination. In fact, schools such as the College of the Ozarks explicitly demand homogeneity and fealty to religious and nationalistic ideologies. They punish divergence, and they aren't alone. There's a whole class of schools, some wealthy and influential, that demand obedience and conformity. And we are in a national moment when far too many influential voices are characterizing liberal arts institutions as hotbeds of politically correct intolerance. It's true that many schools do push students to think about diversity, but the "Patriotic Education Fitness Class" ought to give us a little perspective.
I, of course, had mandatory orientations at Wesleyan as an undergrad. I write:
As an undergraduate, I went to Wesleyan University. It was lampooned in the 1990s, when I attended, as PCU. There was no single core class that everyone took, per se, but I've never forgotten the early mandatory orientations. We were pushed to talk about diversity. Within a few days, new friends came out to me as queer. I learned about what we now call affirmative consent. We had long discussions about culture and power. In many ways, my ongoing work of self-improvement that still pushes me today began during those opening weeks. I'm told that these efforts continue. Last August, Vanessa Grigoriadis, a fellow Wesleyan alum from the '90s, returned to campus to find out what students are saying now; she subsequently wrote a reassuring report in the New York Times about the way today's "'P.C.' students" have an "overwhelming urge to be kind to each other." It doesn't mean they always get it right, but the driving force is to pay attention to vulnerabilities and then do no harm. If this is the scourge of political correctness on campus, sign me up.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Study Humanities: Save the World (At St. Olaf)

I'm looking forward to going back to Northfield today. I spent a year and a half there while writing my dissertation, a difficult and glorious time in my life. I struggled. I thrived. I wrote. I taught. I had brilliant encounters with students. I had challenging ones where I just didn't know what to do.

Life is no less fraught now than then and I'm no more sure of myself, but at least I have a body of work to remind me what I think I think.

Image description: A picture of the world with the title STUDY HUMANITIES: Save the World over the globe. To the left is this text. "Over the past five years, David Perry has transformed from a mild mannered medieval history professor to a widely-published critic of police violence, anti-disability discrimination, racist appropriation of history, gun violence, and the literal future of the human race. His secret? A liberal arts and sciences education. In this lecture, Perry will use his own experiences to illustrate the power of the humanities to help us confront the most pressing issues of the day." In the upper left, it says the place and time (CAD 305, Nov 2, 5:00)

So yes, St. Olaf, we have a lot to talk about.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Drawing Speech Lines

This letter from the English faculty does a nice job of parsing how to talk about free speech while considering how to protect the vulnerable.

They write:
We wish to reaffirm that our role as scholars and educators centrally includes the fostering of a culture of inclusiveness and mutual respect that prizes our diversity rather than seeing it as a threat. Such a culture depends on a willingness to listen carefully to other viewpoints, and to engage critically with them, in ways that respect norms of reasoned argument and the use of evidence. Particularly in the context of emotionally and politically charged issues, it is crucial to respect the right to freely express and argue for one’s views, especially when they are controversial or run counter to popular opinion.
This is good and necessary. They continue:
But when disagreement takes such forms as bullying, racially charged attacks, and the glorification of violence against those with whom one differs, then speech is no longer primarily a matter of the expression of ideas, viewpoints, or opinions, and an invocation of the right to free speech is a distraction from the real issue. There is a crucial difference between speech that makes claims and articulates ideas, and speech that demeans, intimidates, or harms others.
We all know this. Even the free speech absolutists know this, they just feel the trade-offs of abusing the vulnerable is an acceptable price to pay for absolute free speech. Most people, whether they admit it or not, are free speech relativists, debating where to draw the lines.

This is a good place to draw such lines.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Risotto is Magic


1) sautee the shallot and fennel in olive oil and butter and salt until nice and soft. Clean the shrimp while you wait. Also make dinner for the kids and pour some whiskey. Put a box of pre-bought seafood stock [DO NOT JUDGE ME] on to warm up. 

2) Throw in some garlic. Mmmm, smells like garlic. It takes a minute.

3) pour in the rice and stir it until it sounds like you've got rocks in there. That means it's absorbed the oil. Probably 2 minutes but I lost track of time because we were decorating for Halloween. Anyway, it sounds crunchy.

Description: A bowl of risotto, shrimp, and fennel in a black bowl. 
4) Add, I dunno, a cup of wine per cup of rice. Cook down. Stir a lot.. shrimp and save the shells and tails, then put on with some water to serve as shrimpy backup. You should have done this yesterday and made actual shrimp stock, but you don't have a time machine, so it is what it is. Don't use too big a pan as you'll just need a few cups and want to get shrimp flavor in fast.

5) Figure out what the kids are eating cause they ain't eating this.

6) Hey my wife bought a nice Italian cheese. I should eat some of that.

7) Add the seafood stock a few ladles at the time. Stir regularly. Not too regularly. Keep cleaning shrimp. Eat more cheese. Drink whiskey.

8) When the seafood stock runs out, use some of the shrimpy water.

9) When it's almost done, add some lemon juice, black pepper, and salt. Taste a lot. Have my wife taste too as her palate is better than mine.

10) Then throw in arugula and stir until it wilts. Chop the shrimp. Toss in a bit more shrimp water.

11) Check with wife if we are adding parmigiana even though it's shrimp. We are. Parm adds depth and salt. We're not actually Italian. Add parm.

12) Add chopped shrimp and cook until just done, maybe 2-3 minutes.

13) Then serve and top with fennel fronds.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Las Vegas, Bump Stocks, and the NRA

NEW at Pacific Standard
On the day after the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responded to questions about gun control legislation by telling reporters that "there will certainly be a time for that policy discussion to take place, but that's not the place that we're in at this moment."
If there is a "place" and "moment," are we there yet? And if not now, when?
In the weeks since a gunman fired more than 900 rounds into a crowd of concert-goers, killing 58 and leaving over 500 more wounded, we've re-learned the key lesson about reducing gun violence in America: We still can't do it.
To be clear, the right wing is perfectly willing to use violence to make a political point, but only when it allows them to dehumanize already vulnerable people. Sanders, for example, concluded that press conference by talking about Chicago—which is to say gun violence among black people in Chicago. (In the interest of fact-checking: Chicago's gun laws fail because right-wing states like Indiana and Missouri allow individuals to purchase weapons and traffic them into the city.) Speaker of the House Paul Ryan always responds to questions about gun violence by talking about mental health. And people with unmet mental-health support needs are vastly more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it. Sanders, Ryan, and their partisans are uninterested in such details, of course, because the goal is to derail the conversation onto any topic except how to keep killers from getting powerful guns.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

"Medieval" Madagascar

"Medieval" Madagascar: Plague and Inequality 

The Current Outbreak of Plague isn't a Throwback, But a Sign of Modern World 

A guest post by Monica H. Green. 
Dr. Green is Professor of History at Arizona State University. 
Follow her on Twitter @monicaMedHist 

I see dead people. That’s my job. I’m a historian.

But in the past five years, I have seen many millions more dead people than I ever thought I would as a historian of medicine. In the past five years, I have had the experience of slowly realizing that the Black Death—the massive outbreak of plague that struck in the middle of the 14th century—likely affected many millions more people than we ever imagined in our wildest nightmares.

In most of the maps we see when we study this period of history, in most of the texts we read, we are usually taught to think of the Black Death as a pandemic that struck only the Mediterranean and Europe. We teach the Black Death through the stories of Boccaccio, telling us of social breakdown from the perspective of elite Florentines who could afford to escape the city, leaving others to their fate. We learn of the Black Death from manorial records in England, which show tenant after tenant having to pay the heriot, a kind of death tax, in order to inherit land from their deceased relatives. We cringe with horror listening to Ibn al-Wardi, writing from Aleppo, recount the terrifying progression of the plague across the Middle East and into North Africa.

But what we haven’t seen or heard, what we haven’t previously perceived, are the many millions of people beyond the Mediterranean who may have also been struck by the disease. Geneticists now talk of a “Big Bang” in plague’s history, a sudden branching out, an explosive expansion of the causative organism of plague, Yersinia pestis, sometime in the late 13th or early 14th century. This expansion of plague created four new branches in plague’s evolutionary tree. One “branch” went westward, reaching the Black Sea and then the Mediterranean. Two branches likely stayed fairly local in central Eurasia, and may have affected wild animal populations more than humans.

Minimum spanning phylogenetic tree of 133 Y. pestis genomes, with major historical events marked. From Y. Cui et al. 2013, fig. 1A, with additions by M. H. Green. Reproduced with permission.
But the fourth branch spread out just as widely as the first. Strains called by scientists 2.MED and 2.ANT can now be found across almost all of Eurasia, from Jilin Province in northeast China to Turkey and even Algeria, from Russia and Mongolia to Tibet and India. Perhaps as much as two-thirds of Eurasia, and maybe even major parts of Africa, were affected by this pandemic, which spawned continuing outbreaks for centuries.

How do we know this? Because strains of plague initially created in the 14th century still exist in the world today. The evolutionary history that I have just given has been made possible by the fact that this organism still persists on four of the five inhabited continents of the world. Plague outbreaks are not a routine experience for most of us today, but that is not because we ever “conquered” the disease. Plague has never been eradicated, and it won’t be. Rather, we have established an uneasy d├ętente with the organism. We know where it lives, we know how it behaves. And we watch it. Closely.

And that’s why those of us who know plague are watching the situation currently unfolding in Madagascar with increasing alarm. The current toll of 1192 cases and 124 deaths already makes this one of the largest outbreaks in years. Equally alarming is the fact that, of the 22 administrative districts in Madagascar, 14—two-thirds—are reporting cases. This is a plague outbreak out of control.

Why is Madagascar suffering from this “medieval” disease? Because it’s part of the modern world. I live in “medieval” Arizona, a state—like most of the American West—where plague has also insinuated its way into the wild rodent population. Plague arrived in Madagascar and the American Pacific coast about the same time, around 1900, and for the same reason: it was being transported all over the world in the holds of steamships coming out of Hong Kong’s harbor. In both Madagascar and America, it spread inland, finding new hosts and taking up permanent residence.

Plague has changed very little in the past 700 years. It hasn’t had to. We control plague nowadays by using insecticides to get rid of the fleas that transmit the disease from host to host and by controlling rodent infestations. But plague never went away. Only our daily awareness of it did.

What is happening in Madagascar shouldn’t be happening. We know how to monitor this terrifying disease and we know how to control it. We know that a standard arsenal of antibiotics can halt an infection, if it is given very quickly after exposure. We also know that, if not controlled, plague has one of the highest mortality rates of any disease in history.

What we have not yet learned is a lesson the microbial world has been trying to teach us since the 14th century: we’re all connected. Madagascar is suffering now not because it is trapped in its medieval past. Madagascar was indeed connected to a larger world in the Middle Ages, but we have no evidence that plague reached it then. Rather, Madagascar is suffering from plague now because of its connections to the modern global economy. The mining, the textile production, even the very vanilla we use everyday has made Madagascar part of this global economy.

I see dead people in the past. And I cannot save them except by recovering their stories. The people of present-day Madagascar, however, are not beyond our reach. Or beyond our responsibility. We are all connected.