Category Archives: Things That Are Inexplicably OK

Hostile Environment; or Stained Glass What the Fuck?

For generations, African-American employees and students have had to eat in the dining hall of a residential college — named, then and (stubbornly) now, for slavery advocate John C. Calhoun — and stare up at this stained glass window:

{Image: stained glass window showing a man and woman, both with dark skin, in 19th century clothing, standing in a cotton field, each with a basket of cotton on their head.}

It simply defies comprehension that this was allowed to remain.   The thought of trying to work, learn, teach, or even eat in the presence of this rights-erasing, humanity-denying decor makes me disgusted beyond words.  It would be like having a stained glass window of a gas chamber, torture device, or sanitarium.

I have previously blogged about Things That Are Inexplicably OK, like tenured Princeton professors advocating infanticide of disabled kids or a sports team in our nation’s capital named after a racist epithet.  This is way up there with all that.  Another respected institution of higher learning, this one decorated with a depiction of slavery.

Until today!  Yale dishwasher and civil rights action hero Corey Manafee stuck a broomstick through it.  Window smashed; problem (at least the decor problem) solved.

“I took a broomstick, and it was kind of high, and I climbed up and reached up and broke it,” he said. “It’s 2016, I shouldn’t have to come to work and see things like that.”

“I just said, ‘That thing’s coming down today. I’m tired of it,’” he added. “I put myself in a position to do it, and did it.”

Damn right you shouldn’t have to come to work and see things like that.  My view is: every African-American who has had to work or study in that space has a hostile environment claim.

But Corey Menafee enters my personal Civil Rights Getting Shit Done Hall of Fame, along with Bree Newsome, who climbed up a flagpole and took down the Confederate flag, and the mayor of New Paltz, New York, who started issuing marriage licenses to gay couples (for a brief time until he was ordered to stop) in 2004.

Don’t wait for permission to do the right thing; just get shit done.

White/class/athlete privilege at its most vile.

Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman.  He got a six-month sentence.  That’s enough white privilege right there:  how many people of color are serving 5- and 10-year sentences for non-violent crimes?  Actually, how many working class people?   How many stoners of all colors?

That wasn’t enough, though.  With the lowest sense of self-awareness outside the Trump campaign, Turner’s father argued in a letter to the Court that

incarceration [was] not the appropriate punishment for Brock [because it would be] a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.

Seriously?  Let’s count up the other crimes that can be committed in under 20 minutes that will still get you a significant sentence.  Stealing a car?  Burgling a house?  Hell, you can kill someone in less then 20 minutes — a gunshot takes under one second.   Who will stand up at the next murder trial to argue that life in prison is a steep price to pay for 0.20 of a second out of 20 plus years of life?

The letter goes on to parody itself by complaining that Brock no longer enjoys eating “big ribeye steak[s]” . . . or “his favorite snack.”  Seriously?  We have represented a class of inmates in solitary confinement.  They are no longer enjoying ribeyes with their dads.  Shall we calculate how long their crimes took and let them out?

I have no words.  OK, maybe a few.

 

 

‘Imbeciles’ and ‘Illiberal Reformers’ – An NYT Book Review Mini-Rant

‘Imbeciles’ and ‘Illiberal Reformers’ – The New York Times Book Review

Trigger warning:  The review contains a discussion of “eu”genics.  May lead to depression at the unlikely prospect that the American elite will ever be anything but entitled assholes.  May also cause excessive swearing and the urge to vomit.

The book under review examines the people and law behind the notorious Buck v. Bell decision, in which Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for an 8-1 majority, endorsed the practice of sterilizing people perceived to be of lower intelligence — called, in the law and in his decision, “imbeciles.”

The tone of this review is that not only is forced sterilization wrong but that it is somehow shocking to find support for it amongst the progressive elite of the turn of the 20th Century.

“Imbeciles” examines one of the darkest chapters of progressive reform, and “Illiberal Reformers” looks at the perils of intellectual arrogance in dealing with explosive social issues.

The review concludes in the future warning tense:

Buck v. Bell “has never been overturned.” In a world where the Human Genome Project is currently mapping heredity at breakneck speed, that fact alone should send shivers down the spine.

No, dear readers, the intellectual arrogance that puts people’s life at risk based on their cognitive and physical abilities does not live in a dystopian future of genomic discrimination.  It has tenure and a chair with a name at Princeton — endorsing the murder of infants with disabilities — and is currently at work in many state legislatures around the country, trying to pave an easy path to physician-assisted suicide for people with disabilities.

Image: Cartoon showing woman in a wheelchair looking at two entrances to a building: on the left, a door labeled "Suicide Prevention Program" that is up a set of steps; on the right a door labeled "assisted suicide" which is up a ramp with the international symbol of accessibility.

Cartoon credit:  Amy Hasbrouk, Toujours Vivant/Not Dead Yet.

Why is it so easy to see now that Buck v. Bell was wrong and evil, but not to come to the same conclusion about Peter Singer and the urge to make suicide easier for people with disabilities?

 

 

Dignify THIS!

I’m done. I’m done being polite.* I’m done shutting up about good liberals who seem to get every sort of civil rights and civil liberties except the equality of rights, respect, and dignity of our brothers and sisters with disabilities. I’m done with disability rights as a “when we get around to it” right. I’m done with people who are willing to use respectful terminology except — *big sigh* — avoiding using the word “retard” is just one step too far toward thought control.  And I’m done with “civil rights” law firms in inaccessible offices and “civil rights” lawyers who don’t hire interpreters. I’m done.

What pushed me over the edge was this voicemail, from a fellow attorney who would, I believe, describe himself as favoring civil rights. I suppose it’s my one last shred of not-yet-quite-doneness that leads me to keep him anonymous.

But who he thinks he is and who his words and actions show him to be should not be anonymous. It needs to be out there for good liberals — chock full of self-righteousness and non-disabled privilege — to observe and perhaps see themselves.  And become real civil rights lawyers by according people with disabilities the same rights and respect you accord other groups you work so hard for.

First let’s play the “protected class switcheroo” game. Imagine I got this voicemail:

Hey Amy, [Name Redacted] here. Trying to get in touch with you and/or Tim. I’m working with a group that is sponsoring legislation to increase penalties for disrespecting police officers. They got bogged down because of some African-American, ah, community concerns – said it would be used as a sword instead of a shield. Um, I think it’s miscommunication. I think the African-American community should be absolutely in favor of it and I wanted to hook up with folks, the right folks, in the African-American community and I thought you would know the behind the scenes politics of who best to contact. . . . .

Pretty gross, eh? No good liberal would talk that way, at least not in public in 2015. This is, in fact, the voicemail I received. Verbatim.

Hey Amy, [Name Redacted] here. Trying to get in touch with you and/or Tim. Um, I’ve done work in the past through when I was at the ACLU with the Hemlock Society; they’re now the Compassion and Choices organization and they sponsored some legislation about right to choose or to refuse treatment. They got bogged down because of some disability, ah, community concerns – said it would be used as a sword instead of a shield. Um, I think it’s miscommunication. I think the disability community should be absolutely in favor of it and I wanted to hook up the Compassionate Choices people with folks, the right folks, in the disability community and I thought you would know the behind the scenes politics of who best to contact. . . . .

And here is my response:

[Name Redacted] –

Thanks for your voicemail.  I think I can say with a fair degree of confidence that there was no miscommunication on the disability rights side.  The position of CCDC, Not Dead Yet Colorado, and a long list of prominent disability rights groups opposing physician assisted suicide is well thought out and thoroughly researched.  I can’t possibly improve on the information on NDYCO’s website, so I’ll provide a link:  http://www.notdeadyetcolorado.org/.

To be clear, Colorado’s bill was not about refusing treatment:  anyone can do that at any time without the proposed legislation.  It is also not about choices:  we can all choose to buy a gun and shoot ourselves; to drive in front of a train; to stop eating and drinking; etc.  Instead, the discussion revolves around getting a doctor to assist you in killing yourself to avoid — tracking the title of the bill — an undignified death.  What is characterized as “lack of dignity,” however, are conditions that many people with disabilities live and thrive with every day:  the need for a vent; a feeding tube; colostomy; urostomy; assistance with activities of daily living.  Statistics from Oregon, for example, a state that has legalized assisted suicide, demonstrate that people do not chose assisted suicide to relieve intractable pain — the purpose for which it has been sold to the public — but rather to address perceived loss of autonomy, inability to engage in activities of daily living, and loss of dignity.

These perceptions and the urge to kill oneself over them result directly from a society that does not value people with disabilities — and such perceptions are (circularly) reinforced by bills like these and the rhetoric that surround them.  Assisted suicide is urged in an environment in which people with disabilities do not have universal access to attendant care in their homes and communities, to assistive technology and mobility devices, to accessible vehicles or modifications, or to home modifications — hell, to accessible homes to start with.  These are all things that people need to continue to live — with dignity — in the community.  In the absence of this sort of support, many disabilities fit the bill’s definition of “terminal,” making it the worst sort of health care rationing:  cheaper dead than disabled.

A bill proposing that it was “undignified” to live as an African-American, an LGBT* person, or — to take an historical example — as a Jew, thereby justifying easy access to death would be rejected with horror.  Yet good liberals appear completely at home with providing a cheap and easy path to death for people with disabilities.

Furthermore, the concerns of people with disabilities reflect a great deal of thought and considered analysis; it is patronizing to suggest that they result from miscommunications.  I can’t imagine any other group active in the civil rights dialog that would be the subject of a voicemail like this.  When LGBT* groups oppose civil rights rollbacks, are they perhaps just victims of a miscommunication, which can be corrected by identifying the “right” groups?  How about African-Americans calling for law enforcement reform?  Shall we identify the “right” groups to support our men and women in blue?

The debate over physician assisted suicide has been plagued by this sort of condescension, as liberal and radical disability rights groups are accused of being pawns of religious conservatives, as if incapable of independent thought.  This infantilizing of our movement underscores our fears that disability is so stigmatized that ostensible civil rights champions would rather be dead than disabled.

Ultimately, if the ACLU is devoted to nondiscriminatory civil liberties, it should support a universal right to assisted suicide.  Anyone, anytime, can request a lethal dose, not just those in circumstances defined in terms of a protected classification.  This I would support, though I believe other members of the disability rights community are more compassionate than I am.

I would be happy to put you in touch with any of the groups on this list to help with any miscommunications:

  • Access & Ability Colorado
  • ADAPT
  • ADAPT Colorado
  • Assn of Programs for Rural Independent Living
  • Autistic Self Advocacy Network
  • The Center for Rights of Parents with Disabilities
  • Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition
  • Disability Rights Center
  • Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
  • Justice For All
  • National Council on Disability
  • National Council on Independent Living
  • National Spinal Cord Injury Association
  • Not Dead Yet USA
  • Not Dead Yet Colorado
  • Patients’ Rights Action Fund
  • TASH
  • The World Association of Persons with Disabilities
  • The World Institute on Disability

Sincerely,

Amy

********

* Yes, I know, there is clear and convincing evidence that I was done with politeness, as a general matter, a long time ago.

Peter Singer and the TERFs: We Know You Better Than You Know Yourself

And we want to make pejorative, exclusionary and — in Singer’s case — homicidal* decisions based on our superior knowledge of your inner state.

I had just written my random thoughts on the importance of trans* [**], Autistic and other former others rejecting the default setting, and my view that this made it easier for all of us “to be who we are and find or create our own cubbyhole, or none, or multiple,” when the New Yorker published “What is a Woman?” by Michelle Goldberg, an article describing the anti-trans* faction of “radical feminism” called, variously, Radfems or — more pejoratively but accurately — “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” (“TERFs”).

But what truly reminded me of Peter Singer was the TERFs’ certainty that they know the inner life of trans women and trans men. One Sheila Jeffreys has written a book, “Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism,” in which she proclaims her knowledge of and judgment on the inner life of trans men and trans women by seeing them entirely through the political prism of male-dominated society. A man, per Jeffreys, can never appropriate the experience of being a woman. Accordingly, Jeffreys “insists on using male pronouns to refer to trans women and female ones to refer to trans men.” To her, trans men are simply trying to “raise their status in a sexist system” while trans women, well, “when trans women ask to be accepted as women they’re seeking to have an erotic fixation indulged,” or — according to the psychology professor on whose work she relies — trans women have “‘autogynephilia,’ meaning sexual arousal at the thought of oneself as female.”

So Jeffreys and other TERFs — cis women all — have decided that they know the inner life of trans people better than trans people themselves do, and not only pontificate about this in writing, but ultimately reject trans women as women, refuse to use their preferred pronouns, and in some cases exclude them from women-only spaces.

This is rank Singerism. Peter Singer is a Princeton professor who believes that, well, I’ll let Harriet McBryde Johnson describe it:

Applying the basic assumptions of preference utilitarianism, he spins out his bone-chilling argument for letting parents kill disabled babies and replace them with nondisabled babies who have a greater chance at happiness. It is all about allowing as many individuals as possible to fulfill as many of their preferences as possible.

In other words, privileged white male Princeton professor asserts that he knows with such certainty the inner life of people with disabilities that he advocates killing them as infants. To me, Singerism means making policy — usually negative — based on the facially impossible premise that you can know and pass judgment on someone else’s inner life. Singer can never know how happy any particular person is or will be, much less disabled infants he’s never met. Jeffreys and the TERFs have no idea how trans women experience their lives and their identities.

Where the fuck do they get off deciding to kill, insult, and exclude people based on these arrogant and patently impossible judgments?

Jeffreys claims that cases of “regret” — people who have physically transitioned and later regretted the move — “undermine[ ] the idea that there exists a particular kind of person who is genuinely and essentially transgender and can be identified accurately by psychiatrists.” Well, it might undermine that idea for the person experiencing regret but how it undermines the self-knowledge — often hard-won — of everyone who has ever transitioned is hard to see. More Singerism.

The New Yorker article describes one TERF group, Deep Green Resistance, as holding the view that “a person born with male privilege can no more shed it through surgery than a white person can claim an African-American identity simply by darkening his or her skin.” I suppose that may mark the far outer boundaries of my “Free to Be You and Me” approach to identity, that is, that we should credit people with knowing themselves and defer to the identity each asserts. Could a white person declare himself black in the same way a person born with female parts can declare himself to be male? Can I decide to be disabled without actually having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities? When does the assertion of identity become appropriation? I think we avoid Singerism by saying (1) we don’t know; and (2) we have no business killing, insulting, or excluding people based even on identities that push the boundaries of credibility.

It is reassuring that TERFs find themselves marginalized in feminist and academic circles, though frustrating that Singer is not similarly ostracized. It is apparently more acceptable to mainstream academia to advocate killing disabled infants than it is to advocate excluding trans women from all-female music festivals.***

I conclude with this quote from the New Yorker article:

Older feminists . . . can find themselves experiencing ideological whiplash. Sara St. Martin Lynne, a forty-year-old . . .

Hold on! “Older” and “forty-year-old” do not go together!  But assuming that “older feminist” would accurately describe this 54-year-old, I experience no whiplash, but only a deepening appreciation for each way we let people be themselves, and each mind-opening step we take away from the default setting.

Update: Here is an excellent response to the New Yorker article, in Bitch magazine.****  TERF War: The New Yorker’s One-Sided Article Undermines Transgender Identity by Leela Ginelle.  Lots of good points about the the TERF problem, though I disagree that the original article undermined transgender identity.  I thought it was fair, and that the TERFs were portrayed as the narrow-minded troglodytes that they are.

Update 2:  Julia Serano, who is mentioned in Goldberg’s article, has an informative rebuttal in The Advocate.  Here is my comment:

This is an excellent rebuttal to the New Yorker piece, but reading this & the rebuttal in Bitch made me wonder whether we read the same original article. First, though, I agree that Julia Serano has every right to feel personally pissed. But while Goldberg clearly skates over the surface of a complex issue, and probably did sensationalize the feminist catfight angle, I thought the TERFs came off in her article as deeply misguided, insular, and hateful. Specifically the reference to “autogynophilia” seemed to me like a self-evidently hysterical use of scientific-sounding Greek word roots to disguise abject quackery. All that said, Serano’s response adds a great deal of useful detail; would be great if The New Yorker published it.

*******

* I was going to say “life-threatening” but Singer doesn’t just want to threaten the lives of disabled infants, he wants to permit people to kill them. Let’s call it what it is.

** “Trans*” is a way of indicating a wide variety of trans ways of being. As Slate explains, “the asterisk stems from common computing usage wherein it represents a wildcard—any number of other characters attached to the original prefix.”

Image: Graphic that reads, "Trans*. I recently adopted the term 'trans*' (with the asterisk) in my writing. I think you should, too. If it's new to you, let me help clarify. Trans* is one word for a variety of identities that are incredibly diverse, but share one simple, common denominator: a trans* person is not your traditional cisgender wo/man. Beyond that there is a lot of variation. What does the * stand for? *Transgender, *Transsexual, *Transvestite, *Genderqueer, *Genderfluid, *Non-binary, *Genderf**k, *Genderless, *Agender, *Non-Gendered, *Third gender, *Two-spirit, *Bigender *Transman *Transwoman" Poster created by online LGBTQ educator Sam Killerman.This can get confusing here, in light of the fact that the ThoughtSnax Style Manual calls for asterisks for footnotes.  We’ll muddle through.

*** The article noted that violence and threats have been directed toward TERFs, which is of course deeply offensive and wrong . . . except the graffiti “Real Women have Dicks,” which is just the sort of smartass, mind-opening civil disobedience I love.

**** Of course I read Bitch Magazine — it’s my trade publication!

 

Dog Bites Man*

Justice Scalia Makes Epic Blunder In Supreme Court Opinion.

“This is not the first time EPA has sought to convert the Clean Air Act into a mandate for cost-effective regulation. Whitman v. American Trucking Assns., Inc., 531 U. S. 457 (2001), confronted EPA’s contention that it could consider costs in setting [National Ambient Air Quality Standards],” Scalia wrote in his dissent, which was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas.

The problem: the EPA’s position in the 2001 case was exactly the opposite.

More or less epic than basing an entire judicial career on the fallacy that he can accurately interpret the intent of the drafters 100% of the time and that, coincidentally, it favors the desired conservative legal outcome 100% of the time?

************

* No dogs were harmed in the drafting of this post, though a number of them may have been insulted by the unfortunate comparison to Justice Scalia.

Many Obamacare Critics, Including Koch Brothers, Accepted Its Subsidies

Many Obamacare Critics, Including Koch Brothers, Accepted Its Subsidies.

File under “R” for Republican Hypocrisy, though by now you may need a larger filing cabinet.

I continue to wonder what their plan is for people who are not millionaires.  The free market will magically deliver cancer treatment at the local Wal-Mart?

Clearly they (Kochs; Republicans in general) are not opposed to Obamacare purely on principle, because of course they’d never accept subsidies, right?  What does that leave?  The pure political battle, in which they attack a policy that has provided insurance coverage — and related benefits like health, peace of mind, and the ability to leave an old job or start a new business — to millions of their fellow Americans simply to win the football game that is modern American politics.

This was, in fact, the theory of leading Republican pontificator William Kristol in 1993:  no negotiation; no compromise; no health care plan.  Let’s not figure out how to help people (i.e. govern); just kill it in an attempt to harm the other team.

So to my various conservative friends & family members who are likely to unleash the hounds in the comments — what’s the plan?  How are we going to pay for cancer treatments for minimum-wage workers?  How are we going to delink work and health care so that people — even those with pre-existing conditions — can have the freedom we hope all Americans have to innovate, to leave old jobs and start new businesses?

What is the plan?