Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Make Vinland Great Again

The Portland killer posted "Hail Vinland!!!" a few days before his rampage. For the Washington Post, I argue that this fetishization of an imagined Viking pure white past presents a huge challenge to historians and other humanists.
"History has never just been “the past.” As a historian, I study the way that groups have always tried to assert control over their story, seeking to mold legend, myth and reality into a useful narrative about identity and destiny. Stories like this have power, and we’d be foolish to ignore the threat.
As we mourn the martyrs in Portland, care for the wounded and support the women who were initially targeted, we shouldn’t ignore the danger that racist appropriation of the medieval past presents. American white supremacists want to make Vinland great again, laying out an imagined past in which Vikings are the rightful conquerors of North America, locked in eternal battle with the Skraelings, the Viking slur for indigenous people. We must inoculate ourselves against this hate by telling a better story, one that recognizes the many errors of our past, but also lays out a vision for a more inclusive future."

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Flying Coach

I used an extended airline metaphor to talk about limitations of "choice" in today's piece at Pacific Standard, then tweeted with an @Delta in the promo tweet. Oops.

But I liked my metaphor.

Students Are Not Customers

NEW at Pacific Standard. Please click over and share!

Betsy DeVos and the GOP more generally say that we need to treat students like customers. Three responses.

1) What's so great about being a customer if you're not a billionaire?

2) The student's relationship to their educational institutions and the people who work there cannot be characterized as simply transactional.

3) When students are treated as customers, as Tressie McMillan Cottom show in Lower Ed, the extractive nature of the industry doesn't serve them well.

Also I wrote the first draft in an airport lobby:

"Education can be an engine of social change, a vehicle toward equality. McMillan Cottom makes it clear, though, that the wrong framing, policies, and financial models can turn education into an engine for inequality. To me, DeVos' false insistence on "choice" and on students as "customers" drives us toward the latter outcome. As a billionaire, she's going to fly in a private plane or at least in first class. As a white, cis-male, middle class professor and writer, I get a cramped middle seat in the back. More vulnerable Americans, meanwhile, will be left behind entirely on the ground."

Friday, May 26, 2017

Neil Gaiman on Syria - "They'd Like to Go Back."

For some reason Sara Benincasa has convinced Neil Gaiman to do a live reading of the Cheesecake Factory's menu if they can raise $500,000 for refugees, sending the money to the UNHCR. I love Neil's voice. I love the way he reads. I can think of many things I'd like him to read other than that menu, but hey, RAISE THE MONEY!

A few days ago 68 children, and over 110 people total, were killed in a bombing in Syria. It happened after the Manchester bombing and, of course, received relatively little coverage. Each horror is a horror, but I thought of those dead children in two very different parts of the world, and I wept a little that morning.

When I interviewed Gaiman for my American Gods essay, I spent awhile asking him about Syria and refugees, but couldn't fit it into the piece. But it moved me, so I offer it to you here (edited slightly to make sense as paragraphs):
The last time I saw figures, which was before the latest round of madness, there were over 6 million people had fled Syria, and more were internally displaced. We’re 6, 7, years into a nightmarish civil war. 
People should know that each of the refugees, each of the people who have made it out of Syria, has gone through a nightmare in order to get out. Making their lives worse helps nobody, making their lives worse is inhuman.

The UNHCR [UN Refugee Agency] was never built to handle a world in right now there are more displaced person than there were even at the end of World War 2. It was set up to be there for refugees, for local crises, in the assumption that it normally takes about 1 to 2 years in order for people to go home.
The other thing that people should know is that they want to go home! They like Syria. They love Syria. If there were a civil war in America … and there was no food and people were shooting at you for sport and you decided to get out. What you’d like to do is come back again, because it’s a nice place and your home.

They really just want to stay there [in Syria] and eat and educate their children which no one has been able to do for 6 years in Syria. They’d like to go back.
DONATION LINK IS HERE. Support the UNHCR if you can.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Disability Stereotypes Aren't Cute Marketing Tools

This is not a big deal requiring massive internet outrage spirals, but I do want to make this point very clearly: Disability stigma and stereotypes aren't funny memes you get to use in marketing. OCD, for example, is a serious condition that can play a major role in the structure of the lives with people who have it. Stigma about OCD is not trivial. Your "detail oriented" nature is not OCD.

Which brings me to this:

Image Description: Two male Tufts students walk by a big elephant. The headline reads: Do you have Jumbo-sized OCD? Do you sweat the small stuff? Then there's an ad for production managers for Communications at Tufts, reading in part, "University Communications and Marketing is looking for production managers. If you are totally Type A and care about getting the details 100 percent right, this could be just the opportunity for you."

Source: Linked In post from a Tufts Communication manager, now removed.

I emailed the author. He wrote:
Thank you for your message. I sincerely apologize for this and the offense to folks who suffer with this or any other disability. The last thing I would want to do is to hurt anyone who already suffers from or knows someone with a disabling condition. In my hope to garner attention and excitement to this job posting, I didn’t think about how it sounded.  Upon internal and external feedback, I now understand how I sounded and regret offending or hurting anyone.  I have removed the post and will revise the description for the position. This lack of sensitivity is entirely a reflection on me and not a reflection on Tufts University, which has a well-earned reputation for respect toward people from all backgrounds.  Here is the Tufts non-discrimination and separate ADA policies, which includes the university’s support for recruiting and hiring people with disabilities:

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Inspiration Porn Watch: Mom Gets Degree, Disabled Son Erased

A classic piece of inspiration porn. A disabled young man wants to go to school. The school has no way to help him, so his mom takes him to every class. School rewards her with her own degree, and that story overshadows the following.

  • 1) Mom was required to help the son instead of him having appropriate accommodations provided for him.
  • 2) The son finished school and it was HIS BIG DAY.
But now everyone is just talking about the great mom.

Inspiration porn buries analysis of ableist societal structures under a mountain of awwwwwwww.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Lead Poisoning: Environmental Justice, Economic Justice, Disability Justice

Before Flint's water crisis hit national news, I often wrote sentences that read something like this: lead poisoning is the most critical disability story that not enough people are talking about. Then Flint's crisis became visible, and suddenly people talked about this issue a lot more often, but mostly just about Flint. 

Lead poisoning is a national crisis. It is a factor of environmental racism and classism. It's not a coincidence that poor black neighborhoods are so subject to this problem. In the disability rights movement, we need to adopt the mantra that environmental justice and economic justice are necessary for disability justice. And, of course, vice versa.

Vann R. Newkirk III, at The Atlantic, has written an outstanding long read on "The Poisoned Generation," on lead and other toxic exposure for poor black families in New Orleans and the lawsuits seeking recompense. Newkirk writes:
For people living in precarious financial, environmental, and social conditions, black skin often carries with it a life of additional traumas. Strata of segregation and exclusion manifest in the most fundamental factors of life—from the air people breathe to the water they drink—and even when they don’t kill outright, they often exacerbate existing issues. For those in the poisoned generation and beyond, blackness is a tightrope, and lead poisoning is just one of the ways to fall.
I strongly recommend reading the entire piece and getting up to speed on these issues.

Friday, May 19, 2017

#CultOfCompliance: Tasing and Handcuffing Fails to Stop Meltdown

Yosio Lopez is a 7 year old boy with ADHD and other emotional disabilities in a Dallas school. Sometimes he has behavioral meltdowns when overstimulated and an aide helps him through the process. 

As reported on CNN:
Yosio Lopez was handcuffed, Tased and bruised by Dallas Independent School District (DISD) Police after the boy started banging his head against a wall in class, the Lopez family lawyer, David Ramirez, told CNN.

He has experienced similar outbursts in the past but has always had a trained school aide nearby to help calm him down.

Last Tuesday, the aide wasn't there and Yosio didn't have his "safe place," Ramirez said.

The boy told his mother, April Odis, that he was put on a desk with his arms cuffed behind his back while the school principal put her elbow on his neck and choked him to restrain him, the family lawyer said.
He was taken to a mental health facility and forcibly institutionalized. He and his mother were kept separated for two days under the claim that he was a danger to himself and others.

So here we have a child who becomes distressed and bangs his head against a wall. That is, indeed, a moment for intervention and then post-incident assessment of the triggering behavior - so as to fix the context, not the child. Instead, the school (allegedly) creates a traumatizing situation, then intensifies the trauma through temporary medical incarceration.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Terence Crutcher's Killer Acquitted: The Disability Context to the Killing

Betty Shelby, a police officer, shot and killed an unarmed black man who was complying with orders. There's video. Yesterday, a jury acquitted her of all charges.

There's lots to say here and others are writing importantly about the case, but I just want to focus on the disability issues. Terence Crutcher had a prosthetic eye and hearing loss.
  • Video of his sister talking about his disability.
  • Transcript of the relevant section
    • Tiffany Crutcher (5:31): That's their side of it, and I just don't believe that. And one thing that people don't know about my brother, my brother has a very severe hearing issue in his right ear and a prosthetic eye. And I know my brother was scared, and people don't know that. All they know is that he's a bad dude, but my brother was disabled, and he was just trying to get his life together. So I can't say that's true, I was not there at the scene. But you know these things tend to be scripted, case after case after case, he didn't comply. They didn't comply. But the video tells it all. His hands were up. And that's what we are fighting right there. The fact that everybody saw his hands up and at that moment there was no need to execute him at all.
A third to a half of all people killed by police are disabled. Most of them are multiply marginalized, generally by race or class. If you fight for disability rights, you fight against police violence.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Arnaldo Rios - His trauma matters

Arnaldo Rios is the autistic Latinx individual who was shot at by a cop when he was sitting still in the street holding a toy truck. The bullet struck Charles Kinsey, his therapist, who was lying on the ground next to Rios raising his hands in the air. Kinsey has recovered physically. Rios is now institutionalized as a result of the trauma.

The cop who shot Kinsey and shot at Rios was charged with attempted manslaughter, but initially just for shooting Kinsey. Rios' experience was erased from the charging documents.

That's been fixed.
After months of investigation, prosecutors concluded that Aledda was not justified in shooting from more than 150 feet away. Among the reasons: Other officers had already radioed out that Rios did not have a weapon, and two cops within 20 feet did not fear for their lives.
In arresting Aledda, prosecutors initially charged him with one felony count of attempted manslaughter and one misdemeanor count of culpable negligence. During the Friday hearing, they officially filed two felony counts of attempted manslaughter, one for Kinsey and added one for Rios. The autistic man was not hit, but the shot fired at him “could have resulted in death,” according to the formal charges.
Emphasis mine. See more coverage of the case in the site tags.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Public Writing Workshop

I'm heading to Macalester College to teach a public writing workshop today. Hey, I could come to your college or university and teach one! I offer them to both faculty and graduate students, or both together!

Image Description: A flyer with pictures of me and some keen stock photos. Accessible info
at the "Speaking" page above.

Monday, May 15, 2017

RESOURCES: Eugenics and Institutionalization in Wisconsin History

I am giving a talk today at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. A few resources:


Images from Reske's article: 1) Men with pro-eugenics signs. 2) Women posing with gambling machines.

How do we reckon with this history?

Resources assembled with assistance from Kit Mead, my RA for this project.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Trump and Mental Health Discourse, Part 4392

So Comey said Trump is "crazy," but before that George Will said Trump is "disabled" by Hubris. Will, of course, is the famous father of a man with Down syndrome, so this is particularly disappointing.

One of my critiques of the mental health discourse is that by all accounts Trump has spent his life acting in perfectly consistent ways and has been incredibly rewarded for it. He's always been a liar. He's always been an abuser. He's still a liar. He's still an abuser. This is not a narrative of progressive mental health transformation.

Evan Osnos, with the New Yorker, has more on hubris as disability.

First "Hubris syndrome:"
In February, 2009, the British medical journal Brain published an article on the intersection of health and politics titled “Hubris Syndrome: An Acquired Personality Disorder?” The authors were David Owen, the former British Foreign Secretary, who is also a physician and neuroscientist, and Jonathan Davidson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, who has studied the mental health of politicians. They proposed the creation of a psychiatric disorder for leaders who exhibited, among other qualities, “impetuosity, a refusal to listen to or take advice and a particular form of incompetence when impulsivity, recklessness and frequent inattention to detail predominate."
Although they say that the Greeks warned as about this, I think the lesson of the Greeks is that hubris is a core aspect of human neurology, not a pathological abnormality.

Second, does it apply to Trump? The creators aren't so sure:
When I asked Owen if Trump meets the threshold of hubris syndrome, he replied that Trump was a hard case, because he reigned over a family business for so long before entering politics. “He has obviously got hubris, but did he acquire it in his business? What was he like when he was twenty? I refuse to put a label on him because I don’t know enough.” Owen added, “Watch him very carefully. It’s a phenomenon that needs to be analyzed, but it will not be very revealing to put labels on it that are inappropriate just because you desperately want to say, ‘He’s crazy.’ ”
This I like, of course. Regardless of the truth of Trump's mental health, it will not be useful to label Trump crazy. It will, however, spread stigma.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

#CultOfCompliance - Punching doesn't stop meltdowns.

The video linked here shows an aide hitting a 6 year old autistic child in the face. The school's excuse - the child spit on the aide. There's plenty to be said about the lack of training of aides, lack of standards, the rise of video surveillance in school and the potential problems (video can be used against disabled children). I just want to emphasize this one point:

The use of force and other forms of coercion can never, will never, force a child out of a meltdown. You cannot scare or hit a child neurotypical.

But authority figures keep trying. That's the Cult of Compliance.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Rape Culture and Stock Photos

I hesitated to write this blog post, because it jeopardizes a potential outlet for coverage of disability-related stories. Being a freelancer means that criticizing anybody threatens future income streams.

Tonic, the health page at Vice (and thus a disability venue) has a good article on the failure of colleges to teach consent. It looks at sexual education trainings that take place early in Freshman careers, and notes a lack of clarity or a brevity of content around consent, in particular:
Every administrator contacted for this piece stressed that they have a robust sex ed plan for freshmen. But while learning about how to put a condom on is great, the more pressing issue might be a more extensive conversation about knowing when to back off a sexual situation that isn't clearly consensual, regardless of how intoxication can blur boundaries. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, there are approximately 327 active sexual assault investigations on campuses across the US.
Good piece.

The piece features a stock photo of an apparently female body clad in jeans and a bra, her back seductively bare and curvy, on the lap of another individual (likely male) clad in a gray shirt and green rugged trousers, his hands on her upper thighs. It's an erotic picture, chopping bodies into parts without heads, emphasizing the skin of the female on top. I'm deliberately not inserting it into this post, because I don't want this post on consent to include an erotic image.

And Tonic should have made the same decision.

Associating stories about rape and consent with sexy images perpetuates rape culture. It's an editorial mistake, and I can't speculate about why Tonic chose to do this. But as the piece was shared throughout social media, this sexy image kept popping up. It's the wrong message.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

"Genetic Basis for Criminality" - Racism and Ableism

I'm always interested in tracking the ways that hatreds intersect and magnify. Here's a classic one, still vibrantly alive among American racists. The New Yorker published a long article on the racists behind the mustard-based South Carolina BBQ sauce. The family that developed it has a long history of racism, and the man behind "Piggie Park" is pretty extreme. He died, can the family adapt? 

"High" is the founder of the Southern Carolina Barbeque Association and he thinks all that racism stuff was overblown. My emphasis:
High spoke favorably of the Piggie Park’s new management—“Paul and Lloyd, and he’s got a daughter whose name I forget, cute girl. They’re real dedicated.” He had also thought highly of Maurice, who, he said, was always friendly and insisted on top-of-the-line ingredients. “He and Strom Thurmond were talking about all-natural thirty years ago,” he said, which seemed a bit like remembering Oswald Mosley for his advocacy of brown bread. I asked whether he thought Maurice’s political legacy posed a problem. “It wasn’t nearly as bitter as modern day makes it seem,” he said. He went on to talk about the trouble with racially interbred societies, the genetic basis of criminality, and his belief that the South should secede. After a disquisition that touched on everything from slavery (“It’s been around since Day One, and they talk about it in the Bible”) to Trump (“I happened to see him speaking to a crowd before he declared, and I came into the kitchen and I said, ‘Lovebug, that man’s gonna be President’ ”), he returned to the Piggie Park. “This is the most taken-for-granted barbecue house in America,” he said.
The assertion of a genetic basis of criminality is a core principle of eugenics, used to discriminate against disabled folks everywhere. It also informs "scientific racism," newly in vogue, but never really gone.

And here's a recent appearance of twitter from a man who works for PA Corrections and used to work for PA Probation.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Augustine and Insanity Discourse

Every time there's a new interview with Donald Trump, my social media feeds pop with people speculating about the president's mental condition. For example:
Here's a great essay I've been meaning to share by Jessica Wright in Eidolon on "Crazy Talk," the rhetoric of mental illness.
What is the effect of the “crazy” talk that permeates our public forums and our political discourse? We have a very long history of using words such as “crazy” and “mad” in casual polemic. The Greek orator Demosthenes used the word mania sixteen times in his extant speeches, and never to offer a “medical” diagnosis. Some two-and-a-half centuries later, Cicero employed the Latin word insania and its related verb insanire on over seventy occasions.
Authors such as these were the models of polite speech and rhetoric throughout the Roman Empire, and were enormously influential in literary culture and education in modern Europe and its imperial reach. As Caroline Winterer has shown, Greek and Latin models were fundamental to political oratory in antebellum America. Frederick Douglass, as David W. Blight has described, studied rhetoric from a book called The Columbian Orator, which included extracts (translated and imagined) from Greco-Roman oratory.
It is perhaps unsurprising that similar rhetorical moves structure our own polemic, their figural quality all but invisible. That is not to say that we are unaware of the effects of our words. Disability rights activists and disability theorists have long highlighted the normative and “ableist” assumptions that underwrite discourses of “crazy” in contemporary culture. Using mental disorders as insults shapes our way of thinking about mental disorders and our mode of engagement with people who experience them.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Divide and Conquer vs Single Payer Now

Alabama GOP congressman Mo Brooks said that people who make "good choices" deserve better healthcare, thus framing the sick as morally inferior, as culpable. It's not a new argument.
“It will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool that helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy."

The natural retort will be to hold up other members of the worthy sick, people struck with cancer in infancy or wounded by the actions of others. My first instinct was to talk about my son, who is not sick, but whose pre-existing condition (Down syndrome) happened when his cells divided in the first moments after conception, copying an extra copy of a chromosome into each new cell.

But the GOP is ready for this. Their messaging on health, disability, and poverty is to divide the worthy from the unworthy. To say to me - oh we're gonna take care of your son, we're just going to divide out the fraudsters. We're going to take care of the "good poor," but not "those people." 

And for many, it will work. We have seen this around social security, medicare, medicaid, welfare, and so much more. Americans are far too willing to believe that they deserve the government supports they would deny to the less deserving. To signal our virtue, rather than espouse a philosophy of universal support and basic human rights.

We cannot play the GOP game of determining who is and isn't worthy. A just society provides healthcare to all.

Single payer now.

Monday, May 1, 2017

"Free Cookie" - Security Guard Trainer Maces Autistic Man

A man who trains security guards sprayed pepper spray in the face of an autistic man who was taking a free cookie.
He was the training director of one of St. Paul’s largest security companies — a man certified on when and how to use Mace.
Which left police mystified as to why Timothy Knutsen would pepper spray an autistic man in the face for eating a cookie from a Cub Foods sampler tray.
Knutsen, 53, of St. Paul, has been charged with two counts of fifth-degree assault and disorderly conduct for an incident in Roseville last month.
According to an incident report, in early March, Knutsen was a customer at a Cub Foods at 1201 Larpenteur Ave., when he saw a man eating “a doughnut or a cookie” from the bakery. He told an employee at the store’s service desk, but she said she didn’t see it and there was nothing she could do.
“(Knutsen) was not satisfied with her response,” the complaint stated. He asked to speak to the store’s loss-prevention personnel — people he later claimed he was responsible for training. Statements from his (now former) company, American Security, as well as Cub Foods, dispute that.
The cookie eater — a 20-year-old Roseville man who was not identified because he has autism and is classified as a vulnerable adult — paid for his groceries and began making his way back to the deli/bakery area again. Knutsen fell in a few steps behind, the complaint stated.
Trying to find out more about this story. It's weird. I am suspecting other forms of bias (i.e. racism) are intersecting here, but that's just speculation.