A Whisper Past: Childless after Eugenic Sterilization in Alberta by Leilani Muir

Leilani Muir, eugenic survivor has written her biography and launched it at the Alberta Gallery of Art on May 24, 2014. The event was hosted by the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada (http://eugenicsarchive.ca/). Leilani was the first person to file a successful law suit against the province of Alberta, Canada for wrongful sterilization under the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta.

Muir lived in several small towns in Alberta until she was sent to the Red Deer institution. The education she received there did not prepare her for life on the outside, but after she left the institution and escaped from her mother’s custody and at the age of 20, she learned quickly and worked in several cities in Western Canada as a waitress, a retail sales person, and a baby sitter, caring for as many as six children at one time. Only when she married did she learn the awful truth about the sterilization. After winning her case in court, her story was featured in a documentary by the National Film Board of Canada. She spoke at several public forums in Canada, The United States and France, and she ran for election to the Alberta legislature for the New Democratic Party. Recently she was designated a Game Changer on the CBC radio show The Currents, and her story was dramatized in the play The Invisible Child at the Edmonton Fringe theatre festival. She now serves as a governing board member for the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada, a Community-University Research Alliance project at the University of Alberta. Leilani’s story educates us about Canada’s eugenic past and raises awareness about the on-going discrimination against people with disabilities.

You can get a copy of Leilani’s book “A Whisper Past” online at: http://www.friesenpress.com/bookstore/title/119734000013125148/Leilani-Muir-A-Whisper-Past

cropped book cover

Watch for “Surviving Eugenics in the 21st Century: Our Stories Told” a film highlighting the experiences of eugenic survivors, featuring Leilani and others including several local people with disabilities. The film and reception will be held at the Metro Cinema, in Edmonton on Monday October 20, 2014 as part of Alberta Eugenics Awareness Week 2014. For more details about AEAW 2014 and the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada go to our website: http://eugenicsarchive.ca/#events-section

Interdisciplinary history of sterilization in 20th century Canada by Erika Dyck

An interdisciplinary history available for pre-order (to be published in November) from the U of T Press is University of Saskatchewan medical historian Erika Dyck’s


Cover art by Nick Supina III

Cover art by Nick Supina III

Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada team members, Professor Erika Dyck (author) and Nick Supina (artist) demonstrate their skill and years of work in this upcoming publication.

For more information about the book and how to order go to the original posting here: http://osgoodesocietycanadianlegalhistory.blogspot.ca/2013/06/interdisciplinary-history-of.html

The Importance of Being Innocent: Why We Worry About Children


Joanne Faulkner's new book

The Importance of Being Innocenct: Why We Worry About Children

Joanne Faulkner’s recently published book on childhood, The Importance of Being Innocent, was the topic of an Australian Broadcasting Corporation talk show segment today. You can here the interview here; here is the url directly:


A chunk of the book can be read at the Cambridge UP website:


Dr. Faulkner is a member of the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada team.  She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in philosophy at the University of New South Wales, and formerly held a Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Alberta.


Why Women Shouldn’t Marry

From my good friend RR at Chicana on the Edge, some reflection on mother-daughter team Cynthia and Hillary Smith’s recently revised book of this title (it’s an update of their 1988 book). Even her pic for this one is too irresistible not to steal, with the book being read on her recent belated honeymoon …

Cover of the book Why Women Shouldn't Marry

Cover of the book Why Women Shouldn

On the first day of our honeymoon, my husband and I wandered into a bookstore. I happened to notice one title, Why Women Shouldn’t Marry: Being Single By Choice and I picked it up. I was a spinster for too long to not find this book irresistible. My new husband indulgently carried it to the checkout counter for me.

I appreciate Cynthia S. Smith and Hillary B. Smith’s book. It acknowledges all the great reasons to get married, but asserts that too many women marry for bad reasons. With chapters like “The Soul Mate Myth,” “Why Divorced Women with Kids Shouldn’t Marry” and “Why Widows Shouldn’t Marry: You’ve Been Through Enough,” they have a lot of opinions I agree with. Their book rips into the cultural beliefs that a woman who isn’t married is less valuable and that marriage improves every woman’s life. I love the numerous stories of women who live independently, staying true to what they want out of life and refusing to let a man ruin their balance and stability. Continue reading

The Criminal Brain

Cover of Rafter's The Criminal Brain showing two head shots

Cover of Rafter's The Criminal Mind showing two head shots

Criminologist / sociologist Nicole Rafter has a new book out, The Criminal Brain: Understanding Biological Theories of Crime, with NYU Press. The flyer here will give you a spanking 20% off, and I’d be happy to send it to anyone who needs one. Rafter has written extensively on crime, science, film, and, most relevant for me and many readers of this block, on the history of eugenics. Her White Trash: The Eugenic Family Studies: 1877 – 1919, which is surprisingly hard to get now (our library, with over 5 million volumes, doesn’t have it …) collects the now classic “white trash studies”, starting with Dugdale’s “The Jukes”, which provided the core of the scientific basis for eugenic sterilization policies in North America, including here in Alberta. You can get heaps more information about Rafter from her website. And for a special 20% discount … Continue reading

Knowing Thine Enemy?: a book to look out for

cover image for Enhancing Human Capacities by Julian Savulescu

cover image for Enhancing Human Capacities by Julian Savulescu et. al

Some of you — and especially philosophers on the ‘what sorts’ team — will know of a controversial Australian ex-pat ethicist who likes to provoke debate about what sorts of people there should be … No,this time it’s not Peter Singer (although Singer was his PhD supervisor), but rather Julian Savulescu of The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. Savulescu’s chief interest is the use of biotechnology for what he presumptively calls ‘human enhancement.’

When he worked for the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute Savulescu wrote a piece called “In Defense of Selection for Nondisease Genes”.* As this community knows well, others have argued that it is defensible to engage in postconception selection against diseased genes, where the term diseased genes refers to:

a gene that causes a genetic disorder (e.g. cystic fibrosis) or predisposes to the development of a disease (e.g. the genetic contribution to cancer or dementia)

This argument in itself is highly contestable, given that it is reasonable to feel that a ‘diseased’ life of one with, say, cystic fibrosis — let alone one that down the line ends with cancer or dementia — is worth living… and more pertinently, that there are grave social consequences when that decision is made on others’ behalf as a matter of course. Savulescu, however, offers a far more radical thesis than this. Continue reading

Fatal Misconception: Family Planning and Population Control

Last week I read Matthew Connelly’s Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (Harvard UP, 2008). It’s a critical look at the population control movement focussed largely on the second half of the 20th-century, and discusses some of the early heroines of that movement, such as Margaret Sanger, as well as the role of major Western-led organizations, such as the UN. It’s well worth a read, even though it gets more bogged down in conferences, meetings, and deals than many will have time for. You can read Nicholas Kristof‘s review of it from the New York Times Sunday Book Review right here, which I’ll turn to in a minute.

To many, the term “family planning” will call to mind individual choice and rational decision-making about when to have children, as well as how many to have. To perhaps others, “population control” will send a shudder down their spines as they recall forced sterilization and even extermination, and the control of their lives by others. The “many” referred to above are, by and large, the affluent, the white, the Western (or all three), while the “others” are the poor, the not-so-white, and the non-Western (and often all three). In the course of the 20th-century, family planning and population control became two-sides of a perceived crisis in the growth of population, a putative crisis especially for The West as they saw themselves usurped by The Rest. Continue reading

Cripple Poetics:A Love Story

A love story for crip culture! By turns playful, unsettling, raw and moving, Cripple Poetics: A Love Story is an immersive and sensual correspondence that builds and heats by accretion—one keystroke at a time. Cripple Poetics is e-mails, IMs and letters between lovers; poetic rumination/invigoration; and disability arts manifesto. Reader Ann Fox (Davidson College) writes: “As lovers/poets/performance artists Petra Kuppers and Neil Marcus court each other, they woo us as well. We are seduced by their great love of each other, crip culture, and a fierce, revolutionary dynamism that makes us want to whirl with them, through pleasure and pain, into the maelstrom of the possibilities for joy and expression the body—and this life—offer.”

by Petra Kuppers (Author), Neil Marcus (Author), Lisa Steichmann (Photographer)

Available directly from Homofactus Press or Amazon.

A new bibliography is now hosted in the library of the Independent Living Institute:

This annotated bibliography lists a selection of 130 novels, short stories, biographies, autobiographies, materials from philosophy, anthropology and folklore, and literary criticism, in which disability, deafness or mental disorders play some significant part, from East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and Africa, available mostly in English or French.
more here

Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism, and Technoscience

Tactical Biopolitics

Tactical Biopolitics

In this period where biological facts, research, and worldviews carry enormous weight, what role does the lay-person, artist, activist, and academic play in engaging with these biological debates? This is, perhaps, the central question that guides the series of chapters in a book, just hot off the press, Tactical Biopolitics. The collection includes interviews with biologists, a piece by the Critical Arts Ensemble, among many others. There are too many interesting topic to list of here but they include the ethics of experimenting with living tissue, the biopolitics of the human genome project, and a piece I wrote on psychiatric survivors among many others. You can see the full table of contents and access some of the sample chapters here

Where is our thinking about people thinking located?

Over at The Situationist there is a recent post on the work of Rebecca Saxe , a cognitive neuroscientist at MIT, on the brain localization of thought about the minds of others, and about moral reasoning that involves the attribution of mental states to others. They basically cut and paste an article on Saxe from the MIT News office, but there’s much in this of potential interest to What Sorters (perhaps including the pattern of female descent in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences) here. I heard Saxe give a mighty fine talk (on prosody and listeners’ representations) at the Society for Philosophy and Psychology annual meeting last week in the City of Brotherly Love. A little more on the work itself on folk attributions, its location, and where it seems to be heading vis-a-vis work on autism and moral cognition, two current hot topics at the interface of philosophy and psychology. Continue reading

So Goeth the Autism Epidemic

Kristina Chew, over at Autism Vox, has an interesting recent post with this title. It nicely supplements Biella’s post on What Sorts last week around the related issue of the new autism rights movement, and with the same focus on Roy Grinker’s book Unstrange Minds. Chew closes her post with the following reflection on the book and the issues it covers:

The book provides much needed historical and cultural background and context behind the current interest—some might say fascination—-with autism. Personally, the main reason I like the book … is for the story of the diagnosis, education, and growing up of Prof. Grinker’s daughter, Isabel, and for his own account of the effect of all this on himself and his family. Much as I strive to know as much as I can about research, treatments, and the latest issues regarding autism, it’s the personal stories of autistic individuals, parents, teachers, and others that I’m most drawn in by. Whatever you might think about the “autism epidemic” and about vaccines, Prof. Grinker’s account of his daughter is more than worth reading. Theories commeth and goeth, and good stories about great kids growing up endure.

Go and check out the whole post over at Autism Vox if you’re interested.

Ray Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil has received some attention recently. His latest book The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology was published in 2006. Besides the June 3rd New York Times article, Kurzweil was featured in the April 29th episode of “Ideas”, on CBC Radio, which unfortunately is no longer available for download.

Ray Kurzweil is someone who is particularly well known among blind people primarily because he invented the first machine to translate text into speech. That original model, which debuted in the mid-seventies, was the size of a washing machine, yet while attending the 2006 National Federation of the Blind convention, I saw him demonstrate his latest cell-phone-sized model. Kurzweil says a couple of things about the advancement of technology that I think members of the “What Sorts” team might want to consider.

1. The advancement of technology follows an exponential, as opposed to a linear, trajectory.

For reasons related to our evolution, he argues, we make our predictions about the future — including predictions about technology — under the assumption that progression occurs linearly. This leads many to make overly cautious predictions about what will be possible in the next fifteen or twenty years.

2. Radical changes in the way we live occur as the result of many small incremental steps, each one of which is in itself a conservative change.

So while the idea that humans will be uploading their consciousnesses into computers (what Kurzweil calls the “Singularity”) might cause us to respond with disbelief, disgust, or horror, he would argue that our responses are such because we have not actually taken each incremental step. When the time comes, something like the “Singularity” will seem perfectly reasonable.

I think these points are relevant to the “What Sorts” project. If he is right about the exponential trajectory, then it will be very difficult for us to imagine what the world will be like in twenty years. If he is right about the incremental process, then it highlights the need to pay more attention to each step along the way rather than focusing only on the end result.

Book Launch: Curveballs

There is a new book by the attorney Catherine A. Mardon, Curveballs, published by Golden Meteorite Press. The book is memoir-ish, and draws on Mardon’s experience in taking on the leader of a white supremacist training camp, and the price she has paid for that. There will be a book launch at the Vantercor Business Centre in Edmonton on Monday, June 9th, 5.30 – 7.30 pm, which is at 8232 – 118 Avenue–that’s close to the Coliseum LRT stop, and directly west of Catholic Social Services on the north side of 118th Avenue. Refreshments will be served, and all are welcome. Come if you can. For more info, email aamardon@yahoo.ca, or telephone 780-378-0063.

The New Autism Rights Movement

Over the last decade, New York Magazine has run some excellent articles on mental health, Big Pharma, and now disability. They recently published this piece on The New Autism Rights Movement and you can get an overview of the article at the The Huffington Post. For those interested in the topic, I also recommend Richard Grinker’s new book Unstrange Minds, which examines the dual life of autism as a disease and cultural phenomena (among many other topics).

update: a comment below alerted me to this blog entry by Stanley Fish on the question of normalcy and difference, sparked, in part, by the debate over autism.

Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs

not sure whether there description is right as the other book after this here also does only from the point of view of the one raised
Here the description of “Love You to pieces”
“The first literary collection—fiction, essays, and poetry—on raising special-needs children
The first collection of literary writing on raising a child with special needs, Love You to Pieces features families coping with autism, deafness, muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome and more. Here, poets, memoirists, and fiction writers paint beautiful, wrenchingly honest portraits of caring for their children, laying bare the moments of rage, disappointment, and guilt that can color their relationships. Parent-child communication can be a challenge at the best of times, but in this collection we witness the struggles and triumphs of those who speak their own language-or don’t speak at all-and those who love them deeply.”


Here a book I was part of

What Adults with Disabilities Wish All Parents Knew, Reflections from a Different Journey

see here
I start on page 18

Edited by Stanley D. Klein, Ph.D. and John D. Kemp

Pinker on human dignity and the President’s Council

Cognitive scientist, public intellectual, and (more importantly) inspirational member of the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists Steve Pinker has a piece of interest out in The New Republic, May 28th, 2008, “The Stupidity of Dignity“, which some What Sorters will find of interest. It concerns the use of the concept dignity in thinking on public policy in the realm of technology, enhancement, and human futures, and responds to the President’s Council on Bioethics recent release of a 555-page report, entitled Human Dignity and Bioethics, out in March 2008, and whose table of contents you can find here.

There will be many places on the web that you will be able to find discussions of this, in due course. Hat tip to The Neurocritic for catching my eye, who in turn picked it up from Jason Rosenhouse’s EvolutionBlog .