Call for Support – Rally May 15 from Noon – 1 pm

42 million in cuts to services for the disabled in Alberta!

Over the past several months you may have been aware that Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) has been directed, along with many other social programs, to make arrangements for budget cuts. These cutbacks are happening alongside an effort by PDD to better regulate funding models for people. These changes, unfortunately, make what we need to present at this time more complicated. Administrative changes around assessing support needs is co-mingled with the severe funding cutbacks being experienced across the province of Alberta.

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What sorts of academics should there be?

from Carl Elliott, “How to be an academic failure: an introduction for beginners”, The Ruminator Review, but also:  whitecoatblackhat.com/academicfailure/

Carl visited us up in Edmonton a few years ago, courtesy in part due to the work he was doing at the time on big pharma and also as a member of the What Sorts Network.  In addition to enjoying and learning much from his public lecture, we also had a great informal, roundtable session with about a dozen people that was focused on his then-developing work on a particular case in psychopathology that involved a senior professor who had murdered his spouse.

I also had a fun dinner with Carl in which he confessed his slight ill-ease with me.  This was caused by the fact that every time I started speaking, I managed to disappoint his expectation that I would sound just like The Dude.  “Damn it, how can that be?” he wondered aloud, almost with sufficient pathos for me to consider peppering our conversation with some of the many lines I know from heart from The Big Lebowski.  But despite the short-term fun this would have involved, I thought that this might actually exacerbate the problem in the long run, so I resisted the temptation.  “But that’s just like, your opinion, man.” I still hear a small voice inside my head say.

Here’s how his recent article, with all its sage advice on academic failure, begins:

How to be an academic failure? Let me count the ways. You can become a disgruntled graduate student. You can become a burned-out administrator, perhaps an associate dean. You can become an aging, solitary hermit, isolated in your own department, or you can become a media pundit, sought out by reporters but laughed at by your peers. You can exploit your graduate students and make them hate you; you can alienate your colleagues and have them whisper about you behind your back; you can pick fights with university officials and blow your chances at promotion. You can become an idealistic failure at age 25, a cynical failure at 45, or an eccentric failure at 65. If failure is what you’re looking for, then you can hardly do better than the academic life. The opportunities are practically limitless.

Call me arrogant, but I like to think I have a knack for failure. Having started and abandoned one abortive career, participated in the dissolution of a major bioethics center, published dozens of articles nobody has read and given public lectures so dull that audience members were actually snoring, I think I have earned my stripes. It is true that I am not an alcoholic yet. I do not have a substance abuse problem, and no university disciplinary proceedings have been brought against me so far. I am still a novice at failure. Many other people in my own field have succeeded at failing in a far more spectacular fashion than I have, some of whom are rumored to be living in South America. But I am learning. And I think I have something to contribute.  Read more

Here we go again… population panic and the blame game

Last month the United Nations announced that we’ve arrived at a human population of more than 7 billion people, sounding a call for alarm to provide targeted reproductive services for the 215 women worldwide that do not have access to reproductive services, according the UN Population Fund.

 Population panic is not new. In the early 19th century, Anglican clergyman Thomas Malthus claimed that the dangers of population growth would put human civilization in jeopardy. Malthus did not support keeping the poor alive through charitable means and protested the Poor Laws of the time, which provided food aid and support for poor citizens and set the groundwork for the modern welfare state. Despite the fact that Malthusian population theory was proven to be erroneous- his work has been tremendously influential, most importantly, in evolutionary biology. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich’s bestselling book ‘The Population Bomb’ once again raised alarmist, doomsday predictions about the danger of population growth causing crises of apocalyptic proportions.  His predictions were also inaccurate.

 There is no question that we are facing a wide range of environmental and financial crises and far too many women lack access and choice in reproductive medicine. However, in the face of doomsday fears of scarcity, targeted population control of specific groups based on class, medical status, race and other social determinants has been a troubling historical trend. The question is not ‘if’ population is a problem; but ‘who’ gets targeted in population control programs.  Since the 1920s, targeted and eugenic population control in marginalized populations has been present across North and South America, Australia, the Middle East and Europe.  Anecdotally, we can estimate it to be happening, or have happened all over the world. This past summer at the 9th Annual Conference in Ethics in Development in Pennsylvania, a medical researcher from Nigeria approached me following presentation of my paper on sterilization in the Americas, to say that forced sterilization surgery in tribal communities in South and Western Africa has been happening for many years and went on to describe a personal account. Belief that these incidents of reproductive abuse represent collateral damage in the more pressing fight for contraception access has cloaked the deeper Malthusian ideology that lives who cannot provide for themselves are ‘fertility liabilities’.

 The Reuters humanitarian news service, Alertnet, recently quoted Parvinder Singh, of ActionAid India on the relationship between fears of scarcity and population: “the issue of population cannot be seen divorced from the aspect of resource or energy footprint,” However, Singh continued to note that: “the largest drain continues to be in the West which have traditionally consumed, and continue to, massive volumes of resources because of a life-style and purchasing power that far exceeds that of so-called high population poorer countries.” Research has demonstrated that raising quality of life for women and their families leads to a drop in fertility- so much so that the world’s richest countries are fearing a further ‘drop’ in their national populations. The recent US recession has created a record low in fertility, leading to fears that there will be ‘not enough’ children born to sustain the national economy. So, not enough of one group- but too many of another? On what basis are these determinations made? On relative value to the economy?

 If we are to make progress against this historical trend of using population panic to make authoritarian determinations over which lives have value for reproduction, we have to own up to the pervasive Malthusian ideology that views fertility in the developed world as a valuable resource and developing world fertility as a global liability

Disturbing Portrayal of Blindness

I’m used to bad portrayals of blindness and blind people—portrayals that fail to recognize the huge extent to which the challenges associated with blindness are created by negative attitudes, misconceptions about blindness, and badly designed products, services, and institutions. What I’m not used to is such a blatantly offensive and exploitative representation of blindness. This is truly one of the worst of recent years.

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I Hate “Special Needs”

Of course I don’t hate so called people with “special needs”; I hate the label “special needs”.  I’m no fan of other forms of “politically correct” language (for example, visually impaired, partially sighted, or people with disabilities).  But at least I can understand the motivations behind employing these terms.  The word blind (to the uninformed) connotes the complete absence of sight.  I would rather expand the widely-accepted meaning of the word blind, but I get the motivation behind introducing a term that suggests an inability to see very well without being completely blind.  Similarly, I understand the desire to want to emphasize that the physical variation isn’t the entire person.  I don’t like the way the phrase “people with disabilities” implies that the person possesses the disability rather than it being imposed by social factors, but we do wrong if we fail to acknowledge anything more about a person than the physical variation that results in disability, and “people first language” is trying to address that wrong.

That said, I can’t find worthwhile motivations behind the use of the term “special needs”, and I strongly reject the sentiment expressed by the term.  What it implies is that there is a group of people who possess a set of needs that differ from… differ from whom? From those who are normal I suppose.  What is overlooked by this attitude is the ways in which social factors (e.g., power and status) can shape needs and determine which ones get marked off as “special”.

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O cursed spite/ That ever I was born to set it right!

I recently had a chance to listen to a question and answer session posted on the What Sorts blog. This Q&A session followed a lecture by Martin Tweedale about the removal of John MacEachran’s portrait from the conference room in the Department of Psychology. MacEachran was the first head of what was then the Department of Philosophy and Psychology and was later Provost of the University of Alberta. He was also a major proponent of sexual sterilization and was the Chairman of the Alberta Eugenics Board from the Board’s inception in 1928 up until he resigned in 1965. In the late 1990s, a portrait of MacEachran in the Department of Psychology conference room at the U of A was removed. In the words of Douglas Wahlsten, a psychology professor who instigated the motion to remove the portrait, “We decided to remove MacEachran’s name from our conference room because we felt that the questions raised about his conduct were inconsistent with the honours the university had previously bestowed on him.”

After listening to the exchange between Professor Griener and Professor Tweedale, I started thinking more closely about how we ought to address issues of historical injustice. I think one of the more challenging aspects of the debate is the idea that by removing the name of an important figure in history from an award we are guilty of a kind of moral self-righteousness. As William Graham wrote in a letter to the Folio in 1997, “Although most in society today would consider compulsory sterilization abhorrent, the view was apparently different a couple of generations ago.” By wiping away MacEachran’s name, we have bowed to current ideas of acceptability (or so the argument goes). Continue reading

Inclusive Post-Secondary Education

Alberta is a Province of contrasts. While Alberta’s role in sterilizing people with Developmental Disabilities as late as the 70s is infamous, Alberta also deserves kudos to for providing the world’s first inclusive post-secondary education program for people with developmental disabilities in the 1980s, and the On Campus program continues today, 23 years later at the University of Alberta. Alberta now boasts inclusive post-secondary education programs at 17 colleges and Universities across the Province and maintains an international leadership role in the field. Unfortunately, these programs sit precariously on the chopping block today as Alberta faces financial difficulties. Continue reading

Does anyone remember “lobotomy”?

Picture of brain surgery

The New York Times recent Surgery for Mental Ills Offers Both Hope and Risk raises, for me, one big question: why the enthusiasm for bringing experimental brain-fu*king to the public’s attention right now? As the article reports but does not underscore in the name of balance, the history of psychosurgery is one of moral and medical failure, though failures recognized only in retrospect. What could be so different now? That we’re not considering lobotomies (which sever the frontal lobes) but cingulotomies (which sever into the anterior cingulate) and capsulotomies (which sever the connections between the cortex and the medulla that make up the internal capsule)?

h/t to ARPH’s Psychosurgery promoted by the NYT: Here we go, again; for a more optimistic take on this, see also Mind Hack’s Psychosurgery : new cutting edge or short, sharp shock (the only comment up there gives some pause, however).

The Fragility of “Normal”

This week’s print edition of Maclean’s features an article by Mark Steyn blaming gay rights advocates for the “imminent threat” of legalized polygamy in Canada. Once you make one amendment to what is normal, Steyn claims, you won’t be able–or even justified–to prevent further changes.

The article is interesting for two reasons. First, naturally, there is no mention of what relevant differences there are between the two forms of marriage. Steyn ignores a vast body of literature on the subject, which is more than a slight oversight for a journalist. Second, Steyn’s underlying attitude appears to be that we should fear any departure from normal, where the definition of normal he uses is typified by the pretty, white suburbs of 60 years ago.

I recommend reading it, and perhaps writing a letter.

What Sorts of Children’s Television Hosts?

 

Cerrie Burnell, To frightening for preschoolers?

Cerrie Burnell, Too frightening for preschoolers?

BBC Children’s TV has a show for preschoolers called CBeebies. The show includes a lot of interesting animated, puppetry, and other fictional characters as well as human presenters…  Alex, and Cerrie. Cerrie, however, has become the target of serious public campaign that claims she is frightening children.  

According to the Daily Mail:

 the decision to hire her has prompted a flurry of complaints to the BBC and on parenting message boards, with some of the posts on the CBeebies website becoming so vicious that they had to be removed.

Incredibly, one father said he wanted to ban his daughter from watching the channel because he feared it would give her nightmares.

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Texas Turkeys in Iowa

About a month ago Spirit of the Time posted a piece on Whatsorts by Cindy de Bruijn called ‘Does Alberta’s “Minimum Wage Exemption” violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?’ Now an incredible news story from Iowa provides a chilling example of just how far wrong such an exemption can go. It starts with 21 Texas men who were described as mentally disabled and  receiving SSI (US Supplemental Security Income that the government describes as”designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income”) income from the government.

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Medical “Ethics”?

I have to share the following true story.

Not too long ago, I attended a talk on medical ethics. The speaker was presenting a number of test cases for discussion. One of the test cases imagined a 32-year-old woman who had an accident that left her with quadriplegia and requiring ventilator assistance. 10 weeks after her injury, she asks her doctor to disconnect the ventilator. The speaker argued that the doctor should respect the patient’s right to self-determination and disconnect the ventilator. There was no subtlety expressed by the speaker about whether 10 weeks was long enough for the person to know what her life could be like after disability. There was no awareness expressed about objections to these sorts of right-to-die cases that have been expressed in the disability literature. There seemed to be no awareness about worries that have been discussed in medical ethics since at least the 1980’s that people who become dependent after such accidents may express a wish to die as a response to concerns about being a “burden,” and to the larger society’s implications that it wishes to be “rid” of such “burdens.” In other words, whose desires are people in such situations who say they wish to die really carrying out: their own “autonomous” desires, or the larger society’s desires to be “rid” of them? Such questions should give us pause as to whether people in such circumstances are really making autonomous decisions and engaging in self-determination when they ask people to help them die.

In a discussion afterword that was somewhat critical of the speaker’s position, Continue reading

Saving the World with Viral Eugenics

Randall Gordon, a character from Paul Chadwick's Concrete series, points his finger at the audience a la Uncle Sam with the following speech bubble "I'm completely serious, and I repeat my appeal. You, out there. Somewhere. Sexually transmitted; no undue harm; infertility. Go save the world.

Randall Gordon, a character from Paul Chadwick's Concrete series, points his finger at YOU, a la Uncle Sam, with the following speech bubble: "I'm completely serious, and I repeat my appeal. You, out there. Somewhere. Sexually transmitted; no undue harm; infertility. Go save the world."

And so a tale already fraught with controversy unleashes an ethical bombshell… Continue reading

the mustard seed presentation

Way back in 1990, three of us agreed to do a presentation at the TASH (Association for the Severely Handicapped) Conference in Chicago. I’d done a lot of presentations but this one was different. All three of us had been the parents of kids with severe disabilities, and all three of those kids had died. That was basically what our presentation would be about, three sad stories. Continue reading

Longmore on Singer’s “Tribute” to Harriet McBryde Johnson

The New York Times magazine recently (Becember 28, 2008) carried Peter Singer’s Tribute to Harriet McBride Johnson as covered in a previous What Sorts Posting. Some people, however, were horrified at Singer’s contribution for a number of reasons. For one, Paul Longmore, wrote passionately about what was wrong with publishing the Singer piece. Continue reading

Petition to cancel humanitarian award for Jerry Lewis

Every year, disability activists in the US protest the annual Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon because of the stereotypes and prejudice that Lewis and his annual escapade promote about people with muscular dystrophy and other disabled people. The Academy of Motion Pictures Art and Sciences has announced that it will award Lewis its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at next month’s Oscar awards ceremony. American disability activist and author Laura Hershey has written a petition which will be delivered to the Academy. An excerpt follows: Continue reading

Animal Rights: Gorilla Sued for Sexual Harassment

[This post is the sixth in our new series of Thinking in Action posts, the series being devoted initially at least to discussion of talks at the Cognitive Disability conference in NYC in September.]

In a two previous post I argued against Peter Singer’s position that humans with profound intellectual disabilities should be considered nonpersons without moral status or fundamental rights. In this post, however, I want to support his concern for about the treatment of nonhuman animals and endorse his view that some fundamental rights should be recognized for nonhuman animals. In supporting his view that nonhuman animals deserve greater respect and better treatment, however, I do want to suggest that the arguments that he presents against respecting the moral status of humans hurts rather than helps progress in improving the status and treatment of nonhuman animals. Here are five reasons why. Continue reading

Disability Rights Organizations Express Outrage Over Attacks at McCain-Palin Rally

Note from ST: Here, at last, a national disabled people’s coalition in the US has publicly decried the repeated invocation of the expression “special needs” in the discourse about disabled people that has surrounded the upcoming election.  Disability activists and members of the disability studies movement internationally have long eschewed this expression, arguing that it individualizes and depoliticizes disabled people’s entitlement to social resources and medicalizes their disenfranchisement.  What follows is a recent press release from the US National Coalition for Disability Rights:

ADA Watch.org
National Coalition for Disability Rights
1701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20006

 NEWS RELEASE:
 October 31, 2008

 Disability Rights Organizations Express Outrage Over Attacks at McCain-Palin Rally

 

(Washington, DC) The National Coalition for Disability Rights (NCDR) pushed back today against the McCain-Palin campaign for ridiculing the legal rights of people with disabilities. News reports describe McCain-Palin campaign representative Senator  Kit Bond (R-MO), joining Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin at a rally in Rush Limbaugh’s hometown of Cape  Girardeau, Missouri, mocking Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama for stating that he’s looking to nominate judges who empathize with “disabled.”

 

“It’s Halloween and it seems that Sarah Palin’s mask of support for people with ‘special needs’ is slipping.  Despite past pandering to people with disabilities, McCain-Palin are actually opposed to vital disability legislation like the Community Choice Act and they want to appoint judges who will further roll back the civil rights protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” declared NCDR’s founder and president, Jim Ward. Continue reading

Positively Autistic

Autism Awareness icon

Autism Awareness icon

CBC News has just run a special, Postively Autistic, that many will find of interest–the link to the site is beneath the fold below as well as a transcript. The video runs 19 minutes, and features Amanda Baggs, Ari Ne’eman, and Michelle Dawson, amongst others. The site for the special also contains a lot of other information. General drift: representation of autism as a positive human variation that stands in need of social acceptance, and links this view to the disability rights movement and the idea of neurodiversity. It’s a bit more choppy than I would have liked, and has very articulate autistics (like Baggs and Ne’eman) speaking for auties as a whole. Maybe this is a good way to start with introducing the idea of autism as a form of natural human variation, but we might push further and represent more of this variation, some of which folks will find more disturbing. (Here having Dawson in here is a bonus, since while she’s incredibly articulate, she also conveys a few more clues about the kind of variation one might find on the spectrum. Sadly, there’s not an extra piece on her, only on Laurent Mottron, whom she works with in Montreal, on the CBC website. I suspect that was a personal choice of Dawson’s.)

To be sure, this is not a way of saying Continue reading

“Let’s Talk About It”: Contemporary Eugenics for Louisiana and the Problem of Intergenerational Welfare

Famous picture of The Kallikaks

Famous picture of The Kallikaks

Republican state representative  John Labruzzo has recently suggested a sterilization program in Louisiana to solve the problem of “intergenerational welfare”. Labruzzo’s proposal derived from a “brain-storming session” (which makes me kinda wonder what sort of brains were involved). Labruzzo represents himself as prepared to go–on the bold ideas for the 21st-century front–where no man has gone. Readers of this blog, however, will know that the idea is all too familiar in the history of eugenics. The core proposal was to pay (say) women who are deemed to be in a situation of “intergenerational welfare” $1000 to undergo tubal ligation.

I don’t know whether Labruzzo has also had the bold idea of making this compulsory, or working actively in ways to make the economic plight of such women even worse than it is now so that they would be more likely to accept such a “voluntary” program of sterilization. Both might be ideas that Representative Labruzzo’s brain-storming team missed, but both would be natural extensions of the eugenics program he is just kinda throwing out there for people to consider. The proposal derived, it seems, in part from Labruzzo’s reflections on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the more recent hurricane activity in the Gulf of Mexico.

I wish I were making this up (as can sometimes happen …). But I’m not.

What do New Orleans, or Louisianers, or Americans more generally, think of this, one wonders? Some vids and other links on this beneath the fold, where you can see Labruzzo in action defending the idea and a few ways in which it has been picked up in the media already. Continue reading