Friday, December 15, 2017

Bad Historical Metaphors: Galileo

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to come.





Thursday, December 14, 2017

Texting 911

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dominionists and Jerusalem

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

On Police Reform

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

Monday, December 11, 2017

Disability and Arrest Rates

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

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

Friday, December 8, 2017

On Franken

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

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Humanities and Work

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

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

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Accessibility and Ed Tech

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

Monday, December 4, 2017

Lessons from South Carolina

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

Adventures in Inspiration Porn

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

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