Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Peter Singer: The Milo of Philosophers

Thanks to Louise for alerting me to the Journal of Practical Ethics doing a glossy Q&A with Peter Singer. Singer is a bigot. Philosophy embraces him as a titan of the field, letting his ableism slide merrily by under the glamor of robust debate. Yes, yes, #NotAllPhilosophers

At any rate, this is a long "20-questions" feature with Singer, and I, too, have some questions.

Singer says, among other things, this incredibly damaging response (there's more in the whole article, but I want to zoom in here):
I was assuming that there are other couples who are unable to have their own child, and who would be happy to adopt a child with Down syndrome. If that is the situation, I don’t see why it is selfish to enable a couple to have a child they want to have, and for my wife and myself to conceive another child, who would be very unlikely to have Down syndrome, and so would give us the child we want to have. For me, the knowledge that my child would not be likely to develop into a person whom I could treat as an equal, in every sense of the word, who would never be able to have children of his or her own, who I could not expect to grow up to be a fully independent adult, and with whom I could expect to have conversations about only a limited range of topics would greatly reduce my joy in raising my child and watching him or her develop. 
“Disability” is a very broad term, and I would not say that, in general, “a life with disability” is of less value than one without disability. Much will depend on the nature of the disability. But let’s turn the question around, and ask why someone would deny that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being is of less value than the life of a normal human being. Most people think that the life of a dog or a pig is of less value than the life of a normal human being. On what basis, then, could they hold that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being with intellectual capacities inferior to those of a dog or a pig is of equal value to the life of a normal human being? This sounds like speciesism to me, and as I said earlier, I have yet to see a plausible defence of speciesism. After looking for more than forty years, I doubt that there is one.
Unpack: 1) He wouldn't love a child less intelligent than he is. 2) He wouldn't be able to have good conversations (Berube took this apart a decade ago). 3) Disabled people are like dogs and pigs (using ableism to attack specieism).

I may do some longer writing around this essay and its problems, but my real concern isn't with Singer, but with Philosophy. I think of Singer like Milo, saying inflammatory things for attention, protesting "free speech" when called out on his hate or when people advocate to no-platform him.

Imagine if Singer - which he surely would have in another era - was using his academic status to push for race science. Can't you imagine him using this argument, based on assumptions of black inferiority, to work for animal rights using racism? I mean, the suffragists famously demanded white women get the vote because black men did. Would race science exile Singer from the halls of respectability?

My son's full humanity is not a position that is worthy debate, any more than my full humanity as a Jew is. Some positions do not deserve platforms.

Perhaps this is not a person who merits your keynotes, features in the press, adulation in the profession. No matter how edgy he is.

Monday, February 27, 2017

URGENT: Tell Education to Keep Publicizing Civil Rights Data

The U.S. Department of Education collects and publicizes vitally important data on civil rights in U.S. Schools. It fuels both policy and journalism. Without good data, we can't tell the big stories and we can't make good decisions. I'm asking you to provide a clear brief comment about why it's important, to let the Department of Education know this program matters. It's not a panic situation. It's not a BREAKING THREAT AHHH! But it is important.

For example, here's last week's piece from NBC News on "kids in cuffs." Behind that story, the Civil Rights Data from Education.
Due in part to tragic school shootings like the Columbine massacre, police and security officers are now a regular presence at schools. But the handcuffing of Kalyb Wiley-Primm is one of many incidents across the country that have led to calls to examine the role that police play in schools, and change how discipline is meted out — particularly to minority students and students with disabilities.
Read it. And here's a thread of numerous other stories I've written on the same topic over the years, all dependent on data collection.
Right now there's a call for comment about changing the way that the information is collected and disseminated. People in the know have suggested it would be a good time to go to Regulations.gov and offer a thoughtful, but brief, comment.

There's no evidence that Secretary DeVos wants to stop collecting and disseminating this data (I have a request in for comment), but it would be useful to make it clear that any attempt to do so in the future will be noticed and met with resistance. Just take a few minutes and say something like (in your own words):
"The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) provides much-needed transparency and information on key education and civil rights issues in our nation's public schools, including for students with disabilities and those from other marginalized or disadvantaged backgrounds. This data helps the U.S. Department of Education achieve its mission of ensuring access to equal educational opportunity for all students. Secretary DeVos should please preserve, expand, and publicly share the results of the CRDC."
Then you enter some information, if you want, and you're done! Select "individual" or "academic" or whatever.

Here's another example of comment.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Unspeakable Acts: Annals of American Fascism

Americans have always been willing to put on uniforms and perform unspeakable acts. The Trail of Tears, those who hunted down slaves, internment, participation in lynching, ignoring lynching, policing minority communities, etc. Americans have always been willing.

Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil" is a useful way to consider these acts of evil, but we can't deploy her brilliant commentary as a way to alienate the U.S.A. from that evil, to deem it a thing of Nazis, of others. America does have Nazis (they like to yell at me for being Jewish), but the #CultOfCompliance is as American as it gets. So reading Arendt is very useful, so long as you read her next to James Baldwin. Or DuBois. Or follow the native writers on #NoDAPL. Or ... there's a lot to read.

When the Muslim Ban went into effect, Chris Edelson, a professor at American University, wrote for the Baltimore Sun a piece on the "inhumane acts" carried out by ordinary Americans.
A week ago, men and women went to work at airports around the United States as they always do. They showered, got dressed, ate breakfast, perhaps dropped off their kids at school. Then they reported to their jobs as federal government employees, where, according to news reports, one of them handcuffed a 5-year-old child, separated him from his mother and detained him alone for several hours at Dulles airport.
At least one other federal employee at Dulles reportedly detained a woman who was traveling with her two children, both U.S. citizens, for 20 hours without food. A relative says the mother was handcuffed (even when she went to the bathroom) and threatened with deportation to Somalia.
At Kennedy Airport, still other federal employees detained and handcuffed a 65-year-old woman traveling from Qatar to visit her son, who is a U.S. citizen and serviceman stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. The woman was held for more than 33 hours, according to the New York Times, and denied use of a wheelchair.
The men and women who work for the federal government completed these and other tasks and then returned to their families, where perhaps they had dinner and read stories to their children before bedtime.
Since then, immigration raids have revealed new depths to which Americans in uniforms are more than willing to casually go. Here's two more unspeakable acts. Notice the disability context in the first, the violence in the second. Multiple marginalizations magnify vulnerability.
Americans have always been willing to do this. Their targets are expanding. And the president and Attorney General are providing the fuel to intensify such cruelty, performed with banal thoughtlessness, in the name of compliance.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

There's Nothing Medieval about Trump

Columnists keep wanting to distance us moderns from Trump, but he's as modern as it gets. 

GUEST POST by Eric Weiskott

In an interview for The Guardian last week, philosopher Daniel Dennett was asked whether “deep thinking” is what’s needed in the current political climate. He responded:

Yes. From everybody. The real danger that’s facing us is we’ve lost respect for truth and facts. People have discovered that it’s much easier to destroy reputations for credibility than it is to maintain them. It doesn’t matter how good your facts are, somebody else can spread the rumour that you’re fake news. We’re entering a period of epistemological murk and uncertainty that we’ve not experienced since the middle ages.

These are the words of someone totally unacquainted with the Middle Ages. It’s not just that the picture of the medieval period as an endless cycle of ignorance and repression is wrong (it is), but the picture itself is a modern one. It’s an effect of the Enlightenment and secularization, which retrospectively created premodernity. Ironically, by describing American politics as a regression to a medieval past, Dennett is reifying the very ideology that created ‘the Middle Ages’ in the first place. There’s no there there—no real confrontation with the past and no meaningful comparison.

Dennett isn’t alone. Lou Mastriani writes for NorthJersey.com that “Donald Trump has taken us back to medieval times.” David Brooks thinks the Trump administration “is more like a medieval monarchy than a modern nation-state. It’s more ‘The Madness of King George’ than ‘The Missiles of October.’” (Note: George III reigned in the nineteenth century!) Katty Kay opines for the BBC that Trump’s White House “acts like some medieval court.” Louis RenĂ© Beres at Arutz Sheva, describing Trump’s presidency as “forged in an atmosphere of determined unreason and anti-thought,” identifies it with the prediction of what he terms “resurrected medieval darkness” in W. B. Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming.” And this is just from the past week.

These statements are historically ignorant. They’re also a window onto modern liberal subjects’ sense of the world. 

The real payoff of assigning current politics to the distant past is to protect the notion of a just society, ruled by reason. The notion of a society ruled by reason stands in need of protecting because, well, it keeps bumping up against reality. Indeed, this notion has always been a fantasy, a way of papering over the violence and imperialism of modernity.

You don’t get Hume without the transatlantic slave trade. You don’t get Kant without the Holocaust. The just and rational world projected by Enlightenment philosophers turned out to be a space of whiteness called “Europe,” cloaked in universalism. Enlightenment has winners and losers across the world in 2017.

None of this is to say that the various ideas and practices we now call the Enlightenment were a bad thing. Historicism teaches us that transhistorical judgments are problematic, in any case, since there exists no position outside history from which to judge. The crucial point is that the Enlightenment inculcated new forms of hegemony even as it promised new forms of liberation. If you are sure enlightenment has been good to you, that is because you live in the historical alleyways opened up by enlightenment. You are the product of enlightenment and its beneficiary. One of the minor exports of Enlightenment thought was the idea of the Middle Ages, the negative mirror image of secularist modernity.
A quote in black and white: If you are sure enlightenment has been good to you, that is because you live in the historical alleyways opened up by enlightenment

So when Dennett makes an offhand reference to “the middle ages,” all that historical baggage is packed in yet goes unacknowledged. He means, approximately, ‘a period of epistemological murk and uncertainty that we’ve not experienced since what I imagine my rationalist, secularist self would feel in the Middle Ages.’ So stated, the sentiment is obviously devoid of historical content. Ultimately, Dennett’s appeal is an appeal to whiteness, scientism, secularism, and related ideological formations. Any of my colleagues in medieval studies will recognize this rhetorical move. It’s the same move that made Anglo-Saxons and West Africans appear primitive to nineteenth-century white Europeans. (Notice how modernity transects both space and time.) Medievalists have learned to disarm this line of reasoning by asking, “‘Primitive’ to whom? On what grounds? For whose benefit? At whose expense?” The idea that Trump is making America medieval again deserves to be greeted with the same skepticism, and for the same reason.

Dennett’s historical attitude is bound up with his own reflexive disdain for religious belief and religious institutions, a habit of thought characteristic of secularist modernity. (Every medievalist has been asked by a friend or family member, “How can you study such a religious period?”) Tellingly, Dennett remarks that “the rise of theocracy in America” is one of the few threats that can spur him to political activism. He admits to resenting politics in general, because “I simply must take time out from what I’d really like to be doing to think about the political near future.” Needless to say, the luxury of escaping politics is only afforded to those with substantial privilege and security. Dennett’s comments on organized religion suggest what’s at stake for him when he does choose to drop the pretense that his work is apolitical. Like Stephen Greenblatt, Dennett is invested in anti-religious polemic, in vindicating secularization as absolute social progress.

Like racial slavery, the scientific method, ISIS, the automobile, and phenomenology, Trumpism is an irreducibly modern response to modern conditions. Trump isn’t taking us back to the Middle Ages because history only points in one direction. We can learn much from the violence of the past, but not by wishing away the violence of the present.

Eric 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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Milo and the University of Chicago Medievalists

There's been a lot of coverage (in my little slice of the world) of a medievalist at the University of Chicago who has been writing quite outrageous things about Milo the Professional Bigot. There's more to say about Milo, but lots of folks are already saying it. Here's my thread on the context surrounding Fulton.
I am pretty much an absolutist when it comes to protecting "extramural utterances," like tweets and blog posts, by academics. We've got to protect the right of academics like Fulton to compare Milo to Jesus (really!!!) without threatening their jobs. That said, it troubled me to see someone using their academic status to craft a nonsensical defense of Milo as a Christian visionary.

Julie Orlemanski, a brilliant medievalist (in English) at the University of Chicago, sent a letter on Sunday, February 19 (so post-Maher but before the pedophilia scandal went viral) criticizing a publication decision by Sightings, a University of Chicago Divinity School online publication focusing on "religion in public life from an academic perspective." Sightings published an essay by Fulton, "Why Milo Scares Students," praising his truth-telling and Christian virtue.

Orlemanski emphasizes that this essay is not  extramural, but is rather a university publication with a set of standards, and publishing this material there has consequences.

I re-post the letter here, in full, with permission:

Letter to Dean of the Divinity School, to the Director of the Martin E Marty Center, and to the editor of Sightings:

I am writing as a colleague in the English department disturbed by the decision to publish Professor Rachel Fulton Brown’s article on Mr. Milo Yiannopoulos, as the Divinity School's “Sightings” platform did on February 16, 2017 (now partially republished on Breitbart with the lede “An article published by the University of Chicago’s Divinity School....”) My objections are twofold. First, the piece falls short of the editorial standards laid out on the “Sightings” website; it fails to live up to the basic tenets of academic integrity that make our university a meaningful intellectual community. Second, the manner of publication shows no sensitivity to the inflammatory content of the article and the effects of this content on the university committee.

On this second point: It is a statement of fact that Mr. Yiannopoulos expresses xenophobic, racist, and transphobic ideas and carries out discursive violence by doxing (intimidating individuals by dumping personal information into the public domain) his critics as well as persons he identifies as undocumented immigrants or trans. The Anti-Defamation League refers to him as “a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, transphobic troll

Faced with publishing an article in support of Mr. Yiannopoulos, what are the responsibilities of a University of Chicago platform? 

My claim is that it – is that you – have a responsibility to the university community of current students, faculty, and alumni and to our broader political world to reflect on the likely effects of publication. There are not only two options here. This is not a stark decision between so-called “free speech” and censorship. For instance: observing the controversial and obviously offensive nature of the contents (an offensiveness thematized in the article itself), those responsible for this publication might have decided to solicit a couple of other faculty members’ responses to Mr. Yiannopoulos, or to our campus climate in the current political moment; these articles might have been framed with an editorial introduction, to aid the university community in grappling with your decision to publish the piece. Instead, as a junior faculty member who works in medieval studies at this university, I have spent more than a dozen hours since the article’s publication three days ago responding to appalled graduate students, faculty at other institutions, and faculty here. Speaking personally, I feel angry and disappointed that “Sightings” did not take up any of this intellectual, institutional, and affective labor in advance and instead left it to me and others.

I would add that I invested time last week reading the 2016 Climate Report and the recent report of the Diversity Advisory Council so as to participate in one of the “Campus Conversations” about diversity, inclusion, and equity. 

I assume you have read the report, so you know that among respondents who identify as Black, 40% perceive the overall institutional climate as racist, and among respondents who identify as transgenderqueer-agender, 41% perceive the overall institutional climate as sexist. 

These numbers show that, already, the university is not a space of free and equitable access to “speech.” If, as Provost Diermeier wrote on January 24, “The University of Chicago is committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive campus that enables individuals of all backgrounds to thrive,” then “Sightings” and the Divinity School have an obligation to work to ameliorate the university’s racist and sexist climate. This may mean changing policies and practices so as better to balance commitments to antiracism and antisexism with intellectual inquiry. As it is, I find it an unpleasant irony following the “Campus Conversation” to find the university’s imprimatur on an article in support of a racist transphobe and to spend hours dealing with the fall-out from that.

My first point above – that Professor Fulton Brown’s article fails to live up to the basic tenets of academic integrity that make our university a meaningful intellectual community – seems to me straightforward. The “Sightings” mission statement asserts that you publish “rigorous analysis of, and research-based opinions about, religion in the news.” The article does not meet this standard. To justify her account of who Milo Yiannopoulos is and what he stands for, she refers her readers to articles from Breitbart. But Mr. Yiannopoulos is a senior editor at Breitbart, and Professor Fulton Brown herself is listed as an author there; the site itself (as I’m sure you’re aware) is known for far-right opinion and commentary; it is not a credible source. The logic and historical basis for her claims regarding Christianity and the university are also poor. Given the straightforwardly inflammatory content of the article, “Sightings” might have insisted on a high standard of argumentation and evidentiary support, and I am disappointed that they did not. Instead, my colleagues and I are compelled to spend our time producing “more free speech” pointing out basic failures of journalistic and intellectual discourse.

To reiterate: I am writing with a sense of profound disappointment and frustration regarding how Professor Rachel Fulton Brown’s piece was published. It is my hope that “Sightings,” the Divinity School, and the university as a whole will act differently next time, by taking action to balance commitments to antiracism and antisexism with the values of intellectual exchange.

Thank you in advance for your response.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Right Wing Attacks on Academia Continue: Iowa Law Mandates Political Affiliation

Amidst all the furor over Milo and UC Berkeley, in which non-students staged an action to shut down a speech, the GOP keeps doing its thing - using money and access to power to try and overthrow public universities. I wrote about this most recently here for Pacific Standard and on the blog.

Latest examples:
The law in question has been proposed in Iowa, requiring "political balance" among professors. It comes shortly after another bill ending tenure was proposed.
A bill in the Iowa Senate seeks to achieve greater political diversity among professors at the state's Board of Regents universities. Senate File 288 would institute a hiring freeze until the number of registered Republicans and Democrats on the university faculty fall within 10 percent of each other.
"I’m under the understanding that right now they can hire people because of diversity," said the bill's author, Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa. "They want to have people of different thinking, different processes, different expertise. So this would fall right into category with what existing hiring practices are."
Three notes:

1) Using coercive power of the states to force ideology into public universities is the standard conservative move.

2) The couching of in the frame of "diversity" is relatively new (last 5 years or so). Of course they are actually opposed to diversity in all other contexts.

3) Legislators propose all kinds of ridiculous bills for the sake of political posturing, but such proposals don't happen in a vacuum. It may not make it through Iowa. It might not make it through the courts if  it was passed. But it will in some states. ALEC and the like help draft these bills and pass them around. This is a garbage law, and unworkable. But any hint of forcing people to declare party affiliation for hiring is a totalitarian move.

Meanwhile, I'm sure the high visibility writers with all the diversity of Chait, Haidt, Kristof, and Soave are super focused to see how the next big threat to free speech is coming from Oberlin students.

UPDATE: Also NC. I smell ALEC's legislation-writing folks at work.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Disability and M. Night. Shyamalan (SPOILERS)

In the wake of Split, disability rights folks have been grumpy about the ways that the show depicts
Dissociative Identity Disorder (aka Multiple Personality Disorder). It's one of the most stigmatized, and broadly misunderstood, disabilities, especially in the context of creating fictional killers.

But Kim Sauder, one of my favorite writers on disability and culture, went first on a tweet storm and then a blog post on M. Night Shyamalan's consistent use disability as a shortcut to "bad."
Split is actually (as it is revealed in the end) a sort of sequel to Shyamalan’s 2000 film Unbreakable. Unbreakable is another film that relies on a disabled villain. Elijah Price AKA Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) has Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a condition that causes brittle bones. Price is inspired to villainy by comic books (Isn’t Shyamalan Meta he creates a superhero universe where the villains are inspired by comic books *sigh*). He makes it very clear that his disability is a catalyst for his villainy. He reasons that if he is so fragile then there must be someone is as impervious to injury as Price is prone to it (because logic I guess). He goes around causing disasters with mass casualties until he finds his opposite. He discovers David Dunn (Bruce Willis) after Dunn is the sole survivor of a train wreck.

Disability is so linked to villainy in Unbreakable that the hero is literally impervious to injury. He can never become disabled.
By linking Split and Unbreakable, Shyamalan has essentially created a superhero universe in which disability is synonymous with evil.
Shyamalan’s use of disability is not limited to these two films. It is also a theme in his biggest success The Sixth Sense (1999). The initial meeting between Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) and Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is set up as Crowe being Cole’s psychiatrist. But fear, not Haley Joel Osment is not another Shyamalan supervillain. He is not mad. He can actually really see ghosts. The film does not, however, avoid the insinuation that mad is bad. In the scene where Cole finds the evidence that a child–who had presumably died of some unknown prolonged illness–had been murdered by her mother through long-term poisoning. The film subtly suggests that the mother has Munchausen’s by Proxy and was carrying out the prolonged poisoning not for the direct goal of killing the girl but rather for the attention having a sick child provided her.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Euphemisms Spread Stigma - Study on "Special Needs"

My son's love of music is known across the multi-verse, specifically Hamilton and the band Flogging Molly (though yesterday he chose and danced to Alan Jackson's, "5:00 somewhere").  But before those were his favorites, he spent years delighted by the music of Laurie Berkner. She's on twitter, sometimes we briefly exchange a few words, and I saw her calling for "special needs" kids for a video the other day, leading to this.

This was on my mind as I read about a new study by Morton Ann Gernsbacher (et al.) on:
“Special needs” is an ineffective euphemism (open access link to the full article). The article takes a long-held assessment by activists and scholars alike that "special" isn't helpful, despite its popularity, and tries to form a quantitative analysis.

In a blog post on the study, Gernsbacher writes:
In addition to its negative connotations, we argued special needs is imprecise; it can refer to groups as unrelated as minority and bi-racial children in the realm of child adoption; middle-age adults and persons without personal transportation in the realm of disaster preparedness; and pregnant women and people with nut allergies in the realm of airline travel).
Special needs also connotes segregation. Most special programs (e.g., Special Olympics and special education) segregate persons with disabilities from persons without disabilities. Special needs also implies special rights. In our research article, we pointed to an OpEd in The Chronicle of Higher Education that misconstrues legally mandated disability rights as special rights, as well as similar misconstruals observed in common vernacular.
We concluded that special needs has become a dysphemism, similar to lame (e.g., a lame idea), crippled, blind (e.g., blind to evidence), and deaf (e.g., deaf to reason). Our research did not explore whether non-disabled people’s use of special needs is intentional (although some instances clearly imply negative intentionality). Perhaps, as Simi Linton suggests, non-disabled people’s ambivalence about disability rather than sharp repulsion underlies their use of the term special needs. Regardless of speakers’ and writers’ motivation, our research recommends not using the euphemism special needs and instead using the non-euphemized term disability.
So: People associate it with negative things, it's imprecise, it connotes segregation, and it's used as an insult.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Trump on Vaccines

Anti-vax advocates are as emboldened by Trump as the neo-Nazis are. Good round-up of the threats from Vox. Not long ago, Republicans believed in evolution, believed in climate change, believed in vaccines. The first two are gone, now. The third is coming. In fact, as I wrote in early November, anti-vax is one of Trump's most consistent positions.

More to come on this.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How to Write Inclusive Job Descriptions

STEP 1: UNDERSTAND ESSENTIAL JOB FUNCTIONS The essential functions of a job are not synonymous with all the functions of that job. A disabled person’s inability to perform a nonessential function is not a valid basis for disqualifying that person from employment. It is important that essential functions be defined and job descriptions be prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants. A description written later will not be considered as evidence of essential functions in the case of a discrimination charge.
Context: Every faculty job add at Holy Cross. a school in Notre Dame, IN, comes with the current statement:
Physical Demands
  • Repetitive movement of hands and fingers – typing and/or writing; occasional standing, walking, stooping, kneeling or crouching; reaching with hands and arms; talking and hearing.
  • Ability to lift and carry up to 20 lbs.
Despite the EEOC "NOTE," this statement is arguably discriminatory. So I wrote about it for Pacific Standard. HCC spoke to me on the phone, asked for written questions, and then told me they had a lawyer at the ready. Instead of engaging with how they might pursue a more just work environment, they are ready, I fear, to fight.

But I hope they think hard about how a disabled applicant would read those phrases. And I hope they read the work I've done on this before. Because no professor in face is required to walk. And no professor in fact is required to hear. Hands and arms - optional. Normal, sure, but that's the point. Norms discriminate. Moreover, writing an inclusive job description doesn't seem that hard to me, but does require more than a cut/paste CYA mentality. And according to experts, this stuff won't really CYA if there's a job claim. 



I have written about this kind of clause before. It's common - especially the "lift 20/25 pounds" clause - and needs to stop. I focus on Higher Ed, but it's also an issue in the tech and non-profit worlds, to name two.
In the meantime, if you are disabled and wish to apply for a job with these clauses, you can contact the EEOC website and file a charge.

And if you see a job ad like this, you can either call them yourself and show them my work, or contact me and I'll do it for you.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Ezell Ford is Still Dead

Ezell Ford is still dead. The family has been given some money. The officers remain undisciplined and certainly won't be charged.

This is the pattern. Disabled people - especially but not exclusively black men, especially but not exclusively people in mental health crisis - get killed by cops. No one is held responsible.

But sometimes the department has some meetings and announces new policies
While Beck and police union leaders called the shooting justified, it and the national uproar over policing prompted a series of changes at the department. In a rare move, the department required all nearly 10,000 cops to go through a ten-hour training that focused on four areas:
  •  Building public trust by partnering with the community and recognizing your own implicit racial biases on the streets.
  • Use of force and de-escalation techniques, including taking cover and creating distance from suspects to buy time to talk to them and call for back-up.
  • How best to identify and approach mentally ill people.
  • Basic laws of arrest, including reasonable suspicion and probable cause. 
De-escalation was always taught, but its emphasized more now, said Dr. Luann Pannell, a psychologist who is director of training and education at the LAPD’s academy. “De-escalation can come in many forms – its not always just slowing things down. Sometimes, its best to move in on a person quickly to end a situation before it escalates.”
That's all fine. Maybe even useful. But Ezell Ford is still dead and the officers are suing the LAPD for even the hint that they might have been culpable.

If I seem angry, it's because Quintonio Legrier and Bettie Jones are still dead and the officer who killed them won't be charged.

Meanwhile, Ezell Ford is still dead.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Humans on Campus: Washington before and after Milo

The other day I suggested that a person being shot at a Milo protest in Washington deserved at least as much coverage as, say, Oberlin students arguing about sandwiches ... or even the property damage and action at Berkeley. Because someone was shot.

Now The Chronicle of Higher Education has (paywalled, but this link might work) a detailed, humane, story by Steve Kolowich on Washington. It's exceptionally well reported, tries hard not to reveal the writer's biases (I don't really believe in objectivity, but I do believe that the objective voice is something people can achieve), and lays out the perceptions of the major individuals ON CAMPUS - not Milo - who have to live there before and after he descended.


  • Milo is free. Breitbart pays his way. That's why the campus GOP invites him.
  • The story does not get into the Campus GOP threats post-Milo, where it promises to use violence at other protesters. That's likely a factor of when it was written and filed, not an omission.
  • The people who experienced doxxing and violence were anti-Milo protesters. 
There are lots of stories to be told. The ability of a news organization intent on profiting from division and hate to place speakers on college campuses is a complex one, and protecting free speech matters (it remains a subject for debate whether targeted harassment of vulnerable students is protected speech). But seriously, Milo's speech rights ARE BEING WELL COVERED!

I'd like every news outlet that publishes a story about Milo's speech rights to also spend at least 5 minutes considering the speech rights of his targets. I don't feel like it's too much to ask. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Inconvenient Metaphors: DeVos Confirmed! IDEA Website Down!

UPDATE: A spokesperson for the Department of Education sent me this (I updated the title as well)

We were made aware of the problem with the site early this morning and  we are actively working to resolve. There have been server issues relating to this site going back to at least Jan. 27.

We're actively working to resolve right now and hope to have the site up and running any ASAP.

The site was not taken down.


We have an IEP this morning and I wasn't planning to blog anything, as I have two stories being published today. But then I was alerted to this.
The IDEA website is not loading. The connection times out, so it could just be some kind of glitch, but we'll see (yes, technies, I know it's not a 404). There's some archived information if you did through search results, but tons of the material is not currently accessible.

The Department of Education Office of Special Education and internet publications around disability law are not political. There is nothing especially partisan about IDEA, though there are debates around enforcement and the degree of education required (with a big SCOTUS decision coming down about it). It's a bizarre thing to do.

Would a new Secretary of Education with a new head of OSEP want to revise pages? Sure. But to simply take them down, the morning after Devos was confirmed, especially given her wild incoherence around IDEA specifically ... it's a very odd decision.

Some of this stuff may be FOIAable, but I'm not an expert on that. Time to learn new research skills. I'll dig.

But in the meantime, we really do have an IEP. It's not just ironic timing.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Media: Mental Illness and Violence

A good piece on media links between mental illness and violence: Mostly done pretty badly. It's from last June, but I post this in light of liberals making lots of "mentally ill with guns" comments in the last few days. Here's a great quote:
Dr. Joshua D. Lee, an associate professor in medicine and psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, also emphasized that most mass shootings, contrary to many media reports, are not the result of a flawed mental health system.
"These mass shootings are more often than not just like any other violent crimes," he told CBS News. "There tends to be quite a bit of forethought and planning that would seem to demonstrate that it's not a mental health system or treatment system or screening problem so much as it is an ability to stockpile incredible amounts of firepower."
There are cases in which mental illness is involved. Journalists have to get better at telling these stories without stigmatizing the many Americans who are mentally ill, but not violent, and who need to not be driven into the closet (metaphorically) or institutions (not metaphorically) by societal fear.

Monday, February 6, 2017

#Gorsuch On Disability - ACLU Statement

I blogged the other day about the Hwang v KSU disability rights case. Here's an actual disability rights lawyer, Claudia Center, for the ACLU on the case and others.
Under established disability rights laws, a request for leave due to a disability must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to decide whether the request would present an undue hardship to the employer. This is a factual determination. Yet, before any evidence could be presented in the case on whether such an accommodation might present a problem for KSU — a federally funded, multi-million-dollar employer — Judge Gorsuch ruled that Professor Grace Hwang’s request for an additional leave of absence was simply unreasonable.
Overall, Gorsuch shows that he wants to defend institutions against individual needs. Center writes:
One of the primary principles underlying disability rights laws is the idea that there will be times when we need to level the playing field to give people with disabilities an equal opportunity — an opportunity to get an education, to get or keep a job, to be productive members of society. The Americans with Disabilities Act and other disability rights laws recognize financial, practical, and administrative burdens. But the laws also emphasize the individual nature of each situation. An accommodation that works for one person might not work for another. Similarly, what would be required for one employer might be a hardship for another. The court needs to look at the facts, not draw arbitrary, bright-line rules.
I'll do the IDEA case tomorrow.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trump Draft EO would Ban Disabled Immigrants

This is from a leaked executive order, published here. The Arc has an excellent statement on the disability implications. 

Text reads: "To propose for notice and comment a rule that provides standards for determining which aliens are inadmissible or deportable on public-charge grounds, and that specifies that an alien is inadmissible as a public charge if he is likely to receive, and is deportable ... if he does receive, public benefits for which eligibility or amount is determined in any way on the basis of income, resources, or financial need.

Commentary: As I read it - I AM NOT AN IMMIGRATION LAW EXPERT - it will exclude any disabled immigrant who might need financial support, which is most of them. That might not be their goal for this rule, but it's the effect. Such laws are common around the globe.

UPDATE: A twitter user pointed me to current law which is already difficult on disability and immigration. This seems like an intensification.

#Gorsuch on Disability Law: Forced Timeouts Are Ok!

This decision was NOT written by Gorsuch, but he did concur. It was written by Michael McConnell, a Bush (W.) appointee and an interesting guy.  When it comes to disability cases that Gorsuch heard, this finding stands out to me, as it plays into the broader patterns of the #CultOfCompliance that I study. Forced seclusion is one of the standard techniques that show up in school abuses cases, especially when used to force compliance, rather than as part of a planned, behavioral management strategy (due to violence, etc.).

So, in Couture vs Board of Ed. of Albuquerque, Jennifer Couture was suing about her son being placed in the "timeout room," a euphemism for forced seclusion, in order to coerce behavior.
In 2002, when he was six years old, he was placed in a special education program at the Governor Bent Elementary School.   School officials worked with his mother, Jennifer Couture, to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).   The plan included a “behavior management system” designed to teach M.C. to control his dangerous outbursts.   In addition to implementing clear and strict rules, the system permitted teachers to place M.C. in supervised timeouts when his behavior became disruptive.
Despite the small class size and personal attention M.C. received, his behavior did not improve, and, at times, it deteriorated.   M.C. frequently interrupted class and often made it impossible for the teachers to instruct the other students.   When they could not control his behavior, the teachers placed him in timeout until he calmed down for a period of at least five minutes.   The appropriateness of these timeouts, and the characteristics of the timeout room, are the central issues in this suit.
This is a 4th amendment case, principally, as I read it. Seclusion is often used within behavior management plans, but they are also often abused to just force a child to behave in a given way. That's what the plaintiff was contending here. The judges overturned a ruling in her favor to argue that the school was fine. Here's the paragraph that bothers me the most:
There is some factual dispute over the factual basis for the timeout:  whether M.C.'s refusal to follow was the sole cause of the seizure that day.  
Was it an appropriate use of seclusion as according to the plan (not a plan I'd agree to in most contexts, but still), or were the teachers just mad he wasn't obeying their orders? The judge seems to say the latter, but then says it's still ok to seize the child and seclude him.
We resolve that dispute, as did the district court, in favor of the plaintiff.   Nonetheless, the seizure was still justified at its inception.   The Fourth Amendment does not hold that ensuring the safety of the class is the sole permissible reason for sending students to time out.   M.C.'s own IEP suggests that timeouts may be useful as a technique to obtain cooperation and participation and to teach M.C. to “do what is asked of him.”   App. 466.   If corporal punishment is a constitutionally acceptable form of discipline for a student's defiance, it is implausible that timeouts are not.   See Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 97 S.Ct. 1401, 51 L.Ed.2d 711 (1977).  
When M.C. refused to do his school work, it was not unreasonable for the teachers to send him to a five-minute timeout in the hope of obtaining his cooperation in the future.
This is the Cult of Compliance. Obey or be punished.

I've read too many cases of kids placed in seclusion because they wouldn't comply with directives. Also, corporal punishment may be constitutionally acceptable, but it's also wrong.

I'll continue this series as I have time.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

#Gorsuch on Disability - Hwang v Kansas State University

I plan to blog some of the cases that new SCOTUS nominee Gorsuch has ruled on or concurred in regards to disability. The record is mixed. He has the typical conservative skepticism about federal regulation, disdain for class actions, and protection of corporate over individual interests. Beyond that, we'll need to look at specifics.

Note: I am not a lawyer, just a close reader of texts. Smart comments from lawyers on stuff I get wrong will always be welcome.


In Hwang v KSU, a professor (listed as assistant professor, but reading as if she's on a one-year contract, which might just be her pre-tenure contract) got cancer. She received 6 months paid leave, was still sick and asked for more time, and was instead fired (with disability benefits). She sued. Lost. Appealed. Lost.

Here's the nut paragraph from Gorsuch's ruling:
Still, it’s difficult to conceive how an employee’s absence for six months — an absence in which she could not work from home, part-time, or in any way in any place — could be consistent with discharging the essential functions of most any job in the national economy today. Even if it were, it is difficult to conceive when requiring so much latitude from an employer might qualify as a reasonable accommodation. Ms. Hwang’s is a terrible problem, one in no way of her own making, but it’s a problem other forms of social security aim to address. The Rehabilitation Act seeks to prevent employers from callously denying reasonable accommodations that permit otherwise qualified disabled persons to work — not to turn employers into safety net providers for those who cannot work.
He's an accessible, sharp, writer. I can see why people like him. His position here, as I see it, isn't unreasonable. If an employee can't work due to disability, the employer isn't obligated to provide social security, that's what social security is for!

Of course: Republicans also want to gut social security and shred the safety net.

More to come in this exciting new series!