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 détente 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.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Sandy Hook Documents

I was writing a piece today about gun violence when news broke that the FBI was releasing 1500+ pages of documents about Sandy Hook. They are available here.

Experts in the case say there's nothing especially new here, but I haven't read them all before. Two things remain clear.

1) There were lots of warning signs and missed opportunities for interventions of all sorts.
2) Without the guns, especially the AR-15 Bushmaster, a lot of kids would still be alive.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Betsy DeVos: Theocratic Vandal

New today at Pacific Standard;
We're just beginning to scratch the surface of the damage that the Trump administration's particular combination of incompetency and vandalism can do. The Republicans have empowered a class of people who either don't understand federal policy or actively resist enforcing federal protections for the people and places in need. The first victims have been those multiply marginalized by factors such as race, class, gender identity, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, and, of course, disability. We've seen this manifest in the actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement as the agency raids hospitals and prevents teenagers from accessing reproductive rights. But there's no shortage of damage to come, and so many of the targets involve disability.
Someday soon there will be elections for local, state, and federal officials in your communities. Progressives need to explain that policy is a matter of life or death, so voters can see the consequences of these disastrous appointments in their lives. Because when a theocratic vandal takes control of the education system in America, no one's access to a safe, high-quality public education is secure.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Ada Palmer and Invisible Disabilities

One of the great joys of living in Chicago was getting to know Ada Palmer, brilliant historian and speculative fiction novelist. I was privileged to interview her at her last two book launches in Chicago (one of which I subsequently published some of).

Last August, she received the Campbell award for best new writer at Worldcon, a major prize indeed, and mounted the stage with a cane and delivered a speech about invisible disability, on which she then expanded at length in this blog post.
I had not discussed this in public before because being public about disability (especially for women) so often results in attacks from the uglier sides of the internet, a dangerous extra stress while I’m working hard to manage my symptoms. I have been open about my disability with my students and colleagues at the University of Chicago, every one of whom has been nothing but outstandingly supportive. In fact, much of the strength which helped me get through last night came from the earlier experience of discussing my disability with my students this past year when I had to explain that I might miss class for surgery. Their outpouring of warmth and support was truly beautiful, but I was also awed by how eager they were to discuss the larger issue of invisible disability, and to hear about how I’ve worked to balance my projects and career with my medical realities, a type of challenge which affects so many of us, and many of them. Thinking of their kindness helped me keep my courage up last night, when having an attack at such a public moment made it impossible to avoid having this same conversation in a much more public and therefore scary space.
Go read Ada's books!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Penn History Department Letter on Right-Wing Attacks on Graduate Student

I have been given screenshots of a letter which I transcribe below. My read is that this is an improvement on the letter from the PR folks, which did not specifically address the issue of right-wing targeting.


Dear History Department Graduate Students,

We want to acknowledge your concerns about recent developments. Please know we stand in firm support of our teaching assistants. We fully recognize, respect and encourage many of the innovative pedagogic methods designed to encourage the participation of marginalized students. We also deplore the ways that social media has been used to target those who seek to further this mission. While we cannot comment further at this time, we are cognizant of our responsibility to make all students feel welcome and included in our classrooms. We remain deeply committed to realizing these goals together.

We hope to have the chance to meet and hear your concerns in the coming weeks.


The document is signed by the Director of Graduate Studies for History, the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, and the Chair of the Department of History.


Last week various historians came to D.C. to talk about the alt-right and their use of crusade iconography.  Eventually, various alt right social media accounts became aware of the event and its hashtag, #altcrusade17, and started tweeting violent memes out. Thus proving the point.

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.