Thursday, September 28, 2017

Humanities and Trump

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Save the ADA!

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

There Ain't No Normal: Hamilton and Headphones

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

Policing and Disability: Beyond Training

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

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

Friday, September 22, 2017

Free Speech is Messy

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Deaf in Prison: Marshall Project covers HEARD

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Milo and the "Livelier Style"

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

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

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

In IHE, Fulton Brown said:
Fulton Brown, who is tenured, said she was confident in Yiannopoulos -- whom she has said she considers a friend -- and his supporters.
“They’re trying to write in a livelier style,” she said. “I trust Milo and his team, and I trust my Facebook followers.”
Let's take a look at what a "livelier style" means with a few examples:

Jones was subjected to incredibly vicious attacks on Twitter, full of racist and misogynistic slurs against the actress, with some comparing her to an ape while others calling her a man.
Many of the attacks, known as “trolling,” came from anonymous users, but not all. Milo Yiannopoulos, one of the most infamous trolls on the internet, was one of them. He is an editor at Breitbart, the conservative news website.
“Trolling is very important,” Yiannopoulos told "Nightline." “I like to think of myself as a virtuous troll, you know? I’m doing God’s work.”
Yiannopoulos proceeded to attack the student’s physical appearance, using an anti-transgender slur and adding, “The way you know he's failed is I can still bang him."
The thing about Milo is that he does not hide his racism, sexism, anti-semitism, incitement to harassment against trans and undocumented students, and other despicable actions. There's no subtext here, just text.

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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

On the Media: Nazis and Medieval Studies

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

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

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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

In Support of Dr. Dorothy Kim

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

Dear President Bradley,

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

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

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

Thank you for supporting your colleague.


David M. Perry, PhD

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Bodily Autonomy

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Ableism on Campus: University of Illinois

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Core of PC: Be Kind

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

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

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

Back to work.

Monday, September 11, 2017

No More Telethons

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


Friday, September 8, 2017

Forced Institutionalization and Irma

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Rewards for Public Historians

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Nazis, Medievalists, and Taylor Swift

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

The Middle Ages has a similar problem.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Tech and Disability: Apps to Solve Human Issues

St. Paul has a new app to help cops.

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

Friday, September 1, 2017

Ari Ne'eman - ABA and Behavior Suppression

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

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