A Prequel to Gattaca?

The 1997 film Gattaca, written and directed by Andrew Niccol, portrays a futuristic society where babies are genetically engineered according to parental references.  The film features a society that consists almost exclusively of such artificially built individuals, with those who are born in the archaic, natural manner occupying the fringes of this society.  In order to protect the rights of what are referred to as the “valids” and thereby keep out the inferior “invalids,” each individual’s genetic material is constantly sampled and monitored.  Every person’s DNA is stored in a database, making multiple scans and random genetic sweeps in the workplace very efficient.  The story follows an “invalid” who has a dream of becoming an astronaut, a job open only to the genetically enhanced elite.

But my intention here is not to provide a synopsis of the film, which is very good and is certainly well worth the time it takes to watch.  Rather, I wanted to Continue reading

Parent Bullies: Homophobic Parents Protest Making Schools Safe for ‘Gay’ Kids

The Anoka-Hennepin Independent School District 11, located just north of Minneapolis, changed its policy of neutrality regarding questions of sexual orientation in favour of active affirmation of the dignity of all students regardless of their race, disability, or sexual orientation.  The New York Times reports:

 In response to conflicting pressures, Anoka-Hennepin officials had devised an unusual policy, directing teachers to remain neutral on any questions involving sexual orientation. But some teachers said that this hampered their ability to support gay students and that the overall climate was still hostile.  Last month, the district rescinded the neutrality policy in favor of a requirement to “affirm the dignity and self-worth of students” regardless of race, sexual orientation, disabilities or other factors. In addition, according to the new agreement, the district will strengthen measures to prevent, detect and punish bullying based on gender or sexual orientation, hire a full-time “harassment-prevention” official, bolster mental health counseling and identify harassment “hot spots” on the campuses of middle and high schools.

However, the Anoka-Hennepin Parents Action League (see their website here) complained that  “[m]aking schools safe for ‘gay’ kids means indoctrinating impressionable, young minds with homosexual propaganda” (see The New York Times).  The Parents Action League website states that

Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations.

Two things are quite striking here and both are examples of narrow-minded groups making students worse off by making themselves vocal.  First, and most obviously, the reported statement that “[m]aking schools safe for ‘gay’ kids means indoctrinating impressionable, young minds with homosexual propaganda” is outrageous in itself especially since it implies that what I take to mean the majority (that is, the heterosexual kids) are better served if ‘gay’ kids are not protected from bullying.  I am not sure whether the parents who agreed on such a formulation in their e-mail were appealing to some seriously misguided utilitarian calculation or whether they were just expressing their support for bullying based on sexual orientation?  Either way, the statement represents an unusually ugly thought!

Second, the statement on the Parents Action League website is a further testament to the dangers of giving narrow minded and aggressively fearful groups power over the education of future generations.  Statements like: “[t]eaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations” is reminiscent of burning the “Satanic” Harry Potter Books (see the 2001 BBC News Story).  All such practices will do (practices of withdrawing educational content from the curriculum and relegating it to the home), and I imagine that this is the hope of the Parents Action League, is to perpetuate discrimination based on sexual orientation precisely because homophobic parents seem to want to shield their children from any statements that confer dignity and self-worth upon homosexual students.

Parents should certainly play a greater supportive role in their children’s education.  Having had teaching experience at the secondary education level, I have seen my share of too much resentment toward teachers for the low achievement of their child and too little active participation in the child’s education.  Of course, this is not descriptive of all, or even most, parents.  However, participation in a child’s education should not come in the form of lobbying to truncate the educational experience of students.  If schools are to teach only the core subjects (math, social, science, and english), and remain silent (since being neutral in this context just means staying silent) on all other issues, then the quality of citizens leaving the school system will be poor indeed.

Fortunately, the Anoka-Hennepin Independent School District 11 went ahead with its new policy.  Perhaps once they eradicate bullying based on sexual orientation in their hallways, they will start to fight the source of bullying, namely the opinions and beliefs of homophobic parents!

Obesity and Naturalness

High profile anti-obesity activist Meme Roth writes on her blog: “Let’s finally recognize obesity as abuse—abuse of our children, abuse of ourselves—and together take action.” Roth has recently trademarked the term “second-hand obesity”, playing on “second-hand smoke.” She writes that second-hand obesity is passed along from parent to child and from citizen to citizen. Roth makes numerous television appearances every year and continually underlines the association of fat with sickness, death, and unnaturalness.

New research by Dr. Arya Sharma is beginning to break the elision of fat and sickness with his new research:

“The back-to-back studies come as more evidence emerges that a significant proportion of overweight people are metabolically healthy and that the risks associated with obesity do not make for a one-size-fits-all formula.” More can be found here: http://www.canada.com/health/Heavy+healthy+formula+slims+down+definition+dangerously+obese/5257089/story.html

If the risks associated with obesity are less dramatic than once believed, then what is feeding this culture of obesity panic that aims to “blast away fat” and “burn belly fat” away in 10 days or less?

What surprises me about much of the writing on obesity, like Roth’s and Richard Carmona, the Surgeon general of the United States who compared the obesity epidemic to terrorism, is that Continue reading

Scope Discrimination Survey 15 May 2011

Deteriorating attitudes towards disabled people

New poll commissioned by Scope shows the alarming levels of discrimination disabled people face in daily life

• More than half of disabled people say they have experienced hostility, aggression or violence from a stranger because of their condition or impairment (56%)
• Half of disabled people say they experience discrimination on either a daily or weekly basis
• More than a third (37%) said people’s attitudes towards them have got worse over the past year.
• 58% of people thought others did not believe that they were disabled and 50% of people said they felt others presumed they did not work.

Scope Discrimination Survey 15 May 201

CBC News – Edmonton – Alberta’s sex sterilizations re-examined

from CBC Edmonton, last night, with stacks of comments already.

CBC News – Edmonton – Alberta’s sex sterilizations re-examined.

Philosophy TV. Really.

Philosophy TV. It’s new. It’s real. It’s coming … actually, it has come … to a computer near you. Be scared. Be very scared. Congratulations to Brynn Welch et al. for getting this off the ground, and to Tamar Gendler and Eric Schwitzgebel for taking the first, brave steps. To infinity … and beyond.

Tamar Gendler and Eric Schwitzgebel on Implicit associations and belief.

Coming up on Philosophy TV next week or so: Peter Singer and Michael Slot.

Disability on Television: Family Guy

The following excerpt is taken from an article that was published on August 27, 2010.

The National Down Syndrome Congress of the U.S. is taking Emmy organizers to task for nominating the song Down Syndrome Girl for an award for outstanding original music and lyrics.  The song was sung by Baby Stewie on the satirical animated show Family Guy in an episode broadcast in February.  There was outrage when the episode was shown, and Down syndrome advocates became more concerned after the song picked up still more viewers on YouTube. The Emmy nomination added to the insult.  “It goes through a litany of stereotypes that people with Down syndrome have been fighting for years, and so self-advocates stood up and said ‘we’ve had enough,’” Carol Bishop Mills, a member of the board of the National Down Syndrome Congress, said Friday in an interview with CBC’s Q cultural affairs show.

To read the rest of the story, go to the CBC site here or at this url: http://www.cbc.ca/arts/tv/story/2010/08/27/down-syndrome-girl-emmy.html

You can also listen to the relevant segment of the episode of Q referenced above right here or at

http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2010/08/27/should-the-song-down-syndrome-girl-from-family-guy-win-an-emmy/

You can watch the video for Down Syndrome Girl immediately below

Next is a video that displays the lyrics fairly clearly: Continue reading

“The Ashley Treatment” has been done to a dozen of children, Ashley’s father says, but who sent the email to him?

In his third anniversary update of January 13, Ashley’s father writes “About dozen parents all over the world who are successful at providing the treatment to their Pillow Angels (boys and girls) are in contact with us.” He also mentions an email from “an attending doctor of a panel on Growth Attenuation at the pediatric conference held in Hawaii in May 2008” that says “when we asked for a show of hands, about half of the room said they had been approached by a family seeking growth attenuation, and about a dozen raised their hands when asked if they had offered it to a family.”

Claire wrote a great post here about this shocking revelation, pointing out that the growth attenuation is being justified for children with far lighter disabilities than Ashley’s for caregivers’ convenience. I appreciate what she has been writing on this issue. I agree with her 100% and share her sorrow at this new information.

Here, I would like to raise a question. Who is “ an attending doctor” who sent the email and reported to Ashley’s father about how the conference had gone?

The American Academy of Pediatrics had an annual meeting in Hawaii May 3-6, 2008. I found the program of May 4 here. The program 4195 titled “The Pillow Baby: Growth and Puberty Attenuation in Children with Profound Developmental Disability” seems to be the panel mentioned by Ashley’s father. Continue reading

Ventilator rationing guideline

A guideline is being prepared by US health care officials to decide whose ventilators will be disconnected in case of swine flu pandemic. It is based on what is called the New York protocol, which “calls for hospitals to withhold ventilators from patients with serious chronic conditions such as kidney failure, cancers that have spread and have a poor prognosis, or ‘severe, irreversible neurological’ conditions that are likely to be deadly.”

Dr. Carl Schultz at the University of California at Irvine says, “The problem with lowering the standard of care is where do you stop? How low do you go? If you don’t want to put any more resources in disaster response, you keep lowering the standard.”

Read the ProPublica story below for details.

http://www.propublica.org/article/flu-nightmare-officials-ponder-disconnecting-ventilators-from-some-pat-923

Human Kinds–The Categories of Sexual Orientation in Law, Science, and Society–Part 1

The first part of Ed Stein’s talk at the Human Kinds symposium on sexual orientation, especially in equal protection under US jurisprudence.

Did Governor Richardson get it roughly right about sexual orientation, as Ed claims?

Schrödinger’s Cat & Donation after Cardiac Death

Quantum Ethics: Schrödinger’s Cat & Donation after Cardiac Death

Recent discussions of transplanting hearts from so-called DCD (Donation after Cardiac Death) patients into others (for example the recent Baby Kaylee saga at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children) raise serious questions that seem to only have explainable answers in the field of quantum physics. I don’t know if physicist Erwin Schrödinger actually had a living, breathing cat but the hypothetical cat that he proposed to illustrate a paradox back in 1935 to illustrate a paradox has certainly achieved fame. Continue reading

My doctor, my child: The response of the medical community to a mother who chooses to have a child who might be born with a disability

[This is the second post in a series highlighting a public dialogue heald at the University of Alberta on October 23rd, 2008, titled The Modern Pursuit of Human Perfection: Defining Who is Worthy of Life. The dialogue was sponsored by the What Sorts Network, in conjunction with the Canadian Association for Community Living and the Alberta Association for Community Living. This series will bring forward the videos made of this event twice a week, roughly every Wednesday and Saturday. For further context, please see the introductory post in the series, which can be found here.]

The story you are about to hear you may find surprising in a number of ways; I know that I certainly did when I heard it on the night it was recorded. The contrast between the adversity faced by Wendy MacDonald and her family from the medical community upon making the decision to keep her baby early in the pregnancy and the support they received once it was finally time for Kyle to be delivered struck me as a very unfortunate demonstration of the power of linguistic framing. The shift in language from “miscarriage” to “premature birth” is a small one (the addition of one word, one syllable, and three letters), but it made all the difference for this family and the ability of the medical personnel involved to support them. I also found the adamant stance of her family doctor a bit perplexing, the sort of chilling paternalism that so often arises out of a misplaced belief that we alone have access to the knowledge of what is best for others. Perhaps even more than this I was surprised that this story had, and continues to have, a happy ending. For every Wendy MacDonald I am sure that there are many, many women who would be mothers and men who would be fathers that are bullied into conforming with the system because the system “knows best.”

Perhaps this video will make you a little angry, but it should also give you a little hope. Enjoy. Transcript of the clip beneath the fold. Continue reading

Keith Olbermann on California’s Proposition 8

We’ve been under the cone of silence over the many propositions passed as part of the US election season. But this one pretty much speaks for itself (though apologies that I have not found a version of this that is captioned–if anyone knows of one, let me know and I’ll link to that version.)

h/t Feministe

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: The Body as a Site of Discrimination

The Body as a Site of Discrimination: A Multidisciplinary, Multimedia Online Journal

The Body as a Site of Discrimination will be an interactive, educational, multi-disciplinary, high quality, critical, and cutting edge online journal. This creative project will fulfill the degree requirements for two Master’s of Social Work students at SFSU.  This is a call for submissions to explore the following themes, but other interpretations are also encouraged.

– Disability and Ableism
– Fatphobia or Size Discrimination
– Ageism
– Racism
– Gender Discrimination, transphobia, non-conforming gender identities, sexual assault, sexism, and reproductive rights Continue reading

NY Times article: For Paralympians Around World, Assistance Varies

 By JOSHUA ROBINSON and ALAN SCHWARZ

Published: September 5, 2008

Every nation, because of how sports programs and health-care systems are structured, has a different method of financing its national-team athletes for the Olympics and the Paralympics. A sampling: Continue reading

Paralympic Athletes Add Equality to Their Goals

Published: September 5, 2008

AURORA, Ill. — When he rolls to the starting line for the 1,500-meter wheelchair race at the Paralympics, the Olympics for disabled athletes that begin Saturday in Beijing, Tony Iniguez will wear his Team USA uniform with pride. He will compete for the United States’s Olympic program. He is also suing it for discrimination.
Paralympic athlete Tony Iniguez worked out at the East Aurora High School track in July.
photo by Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times

Iniguez is one of many Paralympians who criticize the United States Olympic Committee for providing less direct financial assistance and other benefits at lower levels to Paralympic athletes than to Olympians in comparable sports. The committee awards smaller quarterly training stipends and medal bonuses to Paralympic athletes. Benefits like free health insurance, which help athletes devote more hours to training, are available to a smaller percentage of Paralympians. Continue reading

What Sorts of Paralympics? A Disabled Swimmer’s Dream, a Mother’s Fight

Its about a swimmer with cerebral palsy and developmental differences. An excerpt

“Mr. Kendall Bailey, an athlete who is a citizen of the USA and eligible to represent the USA in international competition, is inappropriately classified to compete in International Paralympic Committee (IPC) swimming competition. Mr. Bailey is intellectually disabled. The intellectual disability classification for swimming (S14) is not presently recognized by the IPC; nor is an intellectually disabled swimmer eligible to compete under the IPC Swimming Functional Classification System.”

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What sorts of people get jobs?


The employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector can be described as a rare phenomenon, since persons with disabilities are perceived as needing accommodations that are either too expensive or too time consuming to put into place. In order to dispel some of the myths associated with employing persons with disabilities, AccessAbility has produced a manual titled “Employing the Disabled,” which covers everything from where to place job advertisements so that they can be read by persons with disabilities to how to conduct accessibility audits of office premises. Free download is available at 
http://www.accessability.co.in/files/Employing-the-Disabled.pdf