On Freddie Gray, the Washington Post, and Journalistic Ethics

The Washington Post has published a report based on a leaked document. We don’t know who leaked it to them. In it, a prisoner who was placed in the police van some time after Freddie Gray was restrained, claims that he heard banging from Gray’s compartment. At no time did this anonymous prisoner see Gray.

That’s news. A prisoner heard banging. That ought to get published.

Unfortunately, WaPo decided to go with a reiteration of the prisoner’s suppositions.

A prisoner sharing a police transport van with Freddie Gray told investigators that he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle and believed that he “was intentionally trying to injure himself,” according to a police document obtained by The Washington Post.
The prisoner, who is currently in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal partition and could not see him. His statement is contained in an application for a search warrant, which is sealed by the court. The Post was given the document under the condition that the prisoner not be named because the person who provided it feared for the inmate’s safety.
The document, written by a Baltimore police investigator, offers the first glimpse of what might have happened inside the van. It is not clear whether any additional evidence backs up the prisoner’s version, which is just one piece of a much larger probe.

I just wrote about questioning narratives. Here’s another case where the narrative must be taken apart.

First, notice all the hypotheticals and room for doubt: “might have” “not clear” no “additional evidence” “written by a police investigator”  “could not see him” – there is literally no evidence here except that Prisoner A heard banging.

But instead, we get in the lede, the headline, and crawling across cable news channels, the message that Freddie Gray broke his own spine. It’s not going to persuade many, but it will introduce enough doubt to keep pro-law individuals and policy-makers from vigorously pursuing justice for Gray.

Moreover, imagine this prisoner, now caught up in the Freddie Gray story. The police interrogate him about what he heard. I can imagine a scenario in which the investigator says, “You heard banging?” “Yes.” “Like he was trying to hurt himself?” “Yes.” And then writes down, “Prisoner A says Gray was trying to hurt himself.”

Did that happen? No idea. And the Washington Post also has no idea either.

There is a good story to write about this leaked document, a necessary story even. Banging could mean an attempt to self-injure in an effort to get a big settlement (the implication here), but also could be the last pleas of a dying man for help, unable to call out anymore. Banging could be a lot of things. All we know is Prisoner A heard sounds.

The people who wrote this piece are journalist pros in a way I will never be, sludging through the day-job of it all for one of the great papers in America. But I believe the way this piece was written reflects poorly on the ethical decisions made by the writers and the editors. It serves the agenda of the leaker and those who want to introduce doubt to the investigation of the death of Freddie Gray.

Because when there is doubt, time and time again, in front of juries, the media, and the public, law enforcement officials receive the benefit of that doubt. And the Washington Post has made it easier for Gray’s killers to escape justice.

UPDATE: Let’s imagine that the BPD had reliable evidence beyond this one prisoner that Gray’s injuries were self-inflicted. They would have released that within 24 hours of his death as an attempt to forestall unrest, rather than letting the investigation play out. This leak is a sign of the weakness of the investigation to exonerate the police, rather than a sign of Gray’s culpability.

The Shooting of Jeremy Hutton and Law Enforcement Narratives

In 2010, Jeremy Hutton, a 17 year-old-boy with Down syndrome, was shot by a police officer who claimed Hutton was driving right at him. That claim held up in the post-incident review.

Here’s a video showing that’s untrue (original source), the officer was safely to the side.

A video of police shooting a car driven by a boy with Down Syndrome. The video contradicts police narratives that the boy was deliberately driving straight at the deputy.
Posted by David M. Perry on Wednesday, April 29, 2015

We cannot trust police narratives, even if 99% of them are true, because the other 1% involves life and death. Moreover, all video must be made accessible to all parties in a case.

More to come on this case.

How Apologies Work – Phil Plait Apologizes for Transphobic Comments

Remember my lessons for apology:

Lesson 1: When you screw up, and you will screw up, own it. Apologize. Try not to do it again.
Lesson 2: No one is entitled to have their apology accepted.
Lesson 3: On the other hand, one mistake (rather than a pattern of repeated bad behavior) can become an opportunity for dialogue and strengthening community, rather than sundering it.

Over the weekend, Phil Plait, the Slate columnist and well known public intellectual (as an astronomer), said something transphobic. Then he apologized. Here’s a key bit from the piece.

In one part of the episode, I’m talking about how Venus is really pretty when you look at it from Earth, but up close, it’s an awful place. As I spoke about Venus being pretty, we put up a cute animation of Botticelli’s famous The Birth of Venus. But then, when I say Venus up close is awful (and say, “Yikes!”), we zoom in on the drawing and it turns out Venus has my face on it.

I thought this was pretty funny, a bit of humor poking fun at me. So we OK’d it.
Well, it turns out that wasn’t so OK and funny with a lot of viewers. We got some comments that the joke was transphobic, making fun of transgender people.

 That’s why my editor had texted me. I called her, and she told me what had happened. As soon as she told me, I had a forehead-slapping moment. Of course this could be seen as transphobic. In retrospect it was obvious. The good news is that the team felt the same way and had already re-edited the video to remove that part, and had re-uploaded it before I had even called.

Let me be clear: I apologize for myself and on behalf of the team to anyone offended by the joke. None of us would knowingly make a joke at the expense of a group of people, especially one already marginalized and so often mocked in society. That wasn’t at all the intent, and it didn’t occur to us it could be seen that way when we put it together. I hope you forgive us, and we’ll try to do better in the future.

So to clarify, the episode had a picture of Botticelli’s Venus, they zoomed in and said, “Oh no, it looks like Phil” (so like a man).

This is a pretty good apology. He doesn’t put the blame on people for feeling offended, but on himself for doing the wrong thing. He fixes it. He apologizes clearly. He does acknowledge intent – and I think intent matters. It’s not an excuse, but offensive speech by accident is NOT THE SAME as intentionally offensive speech.

In the disability community, for example, calling someone with Down syndome by the r-word is different than saying, “that TV show is so r……” Right? Intent matters. It’s not an excuse, but it is a sign of whether lesson 3 is appropriate, whether there’s a pathway towards restoring community. I’ve spoken to a few people in the trans community, they are good with Phil Plait, while clearly not speaking for everyone.

But the piece continues:

Unfortunately, there’s more. In the comments to the (re-uploaded) video, some people are complaining that we are under the thumb of the PC crowd, and the phrase “social justice warrior” is used derisively. Let me address those commenters now:

You’re wrong. First, it’s not up to you to decide what offends or does not offend a group of people you are not a part of. You may feel that this was not an offensive joke, and you are welcome to that opinion; certainly the joke wasn’t intended that way.

But what you don’t get to decide is what offends others, especially in a group you’re not a part of. You may think that offense is undeserved, or that they are overreacting. You have the right to think that, but you cannot dictate it to those others.

I love the “You’re wrong.” I write about this too – that you don’t get to decide what is or isn’t offensive, only if you care.

So good for Plait and Slate and everyone who has learned from this mistake. It’s good to have models of what apologies can look like and how they can work.

Crowdsource: Adjunct Hiring – Best Practices?

Dear Adjunct, Part-Time, and/or Contingent Faculty,

I’d like to know how you were hired. Was there a public call for positions or were you just contacted by someone in your network – a friend, a patron, a colleague, a mentor? You can let me know through comments here, on social media, or via email.

I’m writing a piece on this issue for the Chronicle and so please email me and offer me a pseudonym or ask for anonymity if you don’t want to disclose your identity.

I’m writing in the context of a new book that links the mistreatment of adjuncts to informal hiring practices, and argues that we need to re-professionalize systems of hiring. It’s a good book and more on that later, but for now I’d like to hear from adjuncts about their thoughts.

My questions are:

1. How were you hired for your last adjunct job? Was there any formal process? Was the job announced and open?
2. How would you like adjunct hiring to work?
3. Do you think there is a relationship between the informal hiring of adjuncts and their mistreatment?

Thank you!

Sunday Roundup: School to Prison, Dan Savage, Starbucks

Welcome to Sunday. I had three essays and five blog posts published this week. I filed an essay for the Chronicle, sent out a lot of pitches, and am waiting on edits for a feature. I’m also revising a book proposal and, someday, hope to be able to announce something about that.
I’d like you to read my post – Love Song for a Neoliberal University: StarbucksU
The Atlantic magazine has a big feature on the first crop of Starbucks employees to go to college under their widely publicized plan, and while it’s overall a fair and well-written piece, there are implicit anti-intellectual biases in the description of what a university is for. As my friend Professor Matt Gabriele says, we allow others to define and describe the university at our peril.
My published work:

I also wrote two pieces of cultural criticism this week, one on disability in Daredevil, and the next on a terrific new novel by medievalist Bruce Holsinger.

My other blogs:

Thanks for reading! 

Stagger – I would like to sell you a CD!

From the Department of Shameless Commerce:

I am in a band. Many of you supported our Kickstarter to make our first CD (THANK YOU!), which was an amazing experience. The idea that just by asking, people would give us nearly $6000 to make some art (it’s whiskey-infused art, but still art), is extraordinary.

The Internet Era is a hard time for mid-level professional creators like freelance writers and non-famous touring musicians, but it’s also a time in which some of the pressures of patronage have eased. Instead of needing a few rich backers (whether a lone millionaire or a corporate label), we have crowdfunding. At our level – a solid regional band with a nice but not giant following – crowdfunding works. I’m so grateful and I love the CD.

Image: Wood paneling with Whiskey glass.
Words: The Tooles – Stagger. Live at the Irish American Heritage Center



Our website has been re-designed. Check it out. Listen to clips from the band, and if you can afford it, please consider buying a copy of the CD.

Or, if you’re in Chicagoland, come to our CD release tonight (or another show) and buy an autographed copy.

Thanks for all your support.

Medieval (Dan) Savage

Dan Savage, famous sex columnist, featured a letter from a medievalist that echoed many of my complaints about lax medieval discourse. The letter is in response to Savage calling a conservative religion “medieval.” This anonymous medievalist explains why it’s wrong, then writes:

The reason why this matters (beyond medievalists just being like OMG no one gets us) is that the common response in the West to religious radicalism is to urge enlightenment, and to believe that enlightenment is a progressive narrative that is ever more inclusive. But these religions are responses to enlightenment, in fact often to The Enlightenment. As such, they become more comprehensible. The Enlightenment narrative comes with a bunch of other stuff, including concepts of mass culture and population. (Michel Foucault does a great job of talking about these developments, and modern sexuality, including homosexual and heterosexual identity, as well—and I’m stealing and watering down his thought here.) Its narrative depends upon centralized control: it gave us the modern army, the modern prison, the mental asylum, genocide, and totalitarianism as well as modern science and democracy. Again, I’m not saying that I’d prefer to live in the 12th century (I wouldn’t), but that’s because I can imagine myself as part of that center. Educated, well-off Westerners generally assume that they are part of the center, that they can affect the government and contribute to the progress of enlightenment. This means that their identity is invested in the social form of modernity.

So that’s all pretty great, especially as the anonymous medievalist signs off, “And sorry for such a long letter, but it allowed me to put off my grading for a while.”

Yesterday I also read a long essay from John Gray in The Guardian about the problems with Steven Pinker’s “the world is getting more peaceful” rhetoric. It’s a wide-ranging piece with lots of arguments, but one is again about the Enlightenment and the way we construct it as a sole source of positive results. Here are two key paragraphs.

Among the causes of the outbreak of altruism, Pinker and Singer attach particular importance to the ascendancy of Enlightenment thinking. Reviewing Pinker, Singer writes: “During the Enlightenment, in 17th- and 18th-century Europe and countries under European influence, an important change occurred. People began to look askance at forms of violence that had previously been taken for granted: slavery, torture, despotism, duelling and extreme forms of punishment … Pinker refers to this as ‘the humanitarian revolution’.” Here too Pinker and Singer belong in a contemporary orthodoxy. With other beliefs crumbling, many seek to return to what they piously describe as “Enlightenment values”. But these values were not as unambiguously benign as is nowadays commonly supposed. John Lockedenied America’s indigenous peoples any legal claim to the country’s “wild woods and uncultivated wastes”; Voltaire promoted the “pre-Adamite” theory of human development according to which Jews were remnants of an earlier and inferior humanoid species; Kant maintained that Africans were innately inclined to the practice of slavery; the utilitarian Jeremy Bentham developed the project of an ideal penitentiary, the Panopticon, where inmates would be kept in solitary confinement under constant surveillance. None of these views is discussed by Singer or Pinker. More generally, there is no mention of the powerful illiberal current in Enlightenment thinking, expressed in the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks, which advocated and practised methodical violence as a means of improving society.
***
Like many others today, Pinker’s response when confronted with such evidence is to define the dark side of the Enlightenment out of existence. How could a philosophy of reason and toleration be implicated in mass murder? The cause can only be the sinister influence of counter-Enlightenment ideas. Discussing the “Hemoclysm” – the tide of 20th-century mass murder in which he includes the Holocaust – Pinker writes: “There was a common denominator of counter-Enlightenment utopianism behind the ideologies of nazism and communism.” You would never know, from reading Pinker, that Nazi “scientific racism” was based in theories whose intellectual pedigree goes back to Enlightenment thinkers such as the prominent Victorian psychologist and eugenicist Francis Galton. Such links between Enlightenment thinking and 20th-century barbarism are, for Pinker, merely aberrations, distortions of a pristine teaching that is innocent of any crime: the atrocities that have been carried out in its name come from misinterpreting the true gospel, or its corruption by alien influences. The childish simplicity of this way of thinking is reminiscent of Christians who ask how a religion of love could possibly be involved in the Inquisition. In each case it is pointless to argue the point, since what is at stake is an article of faith.

These arguments matter to me. I’ve frequently written about the way that loose appellations of “medieval” impose a chronological alterity between the thing we dislike and ourselves (most recently here, in a review of Bruce Holsinger’s latest historical novel).

I am similarly frustrated with loose praise for modernity, given that the genocides of the 20th century are at least as much a factor of the modern age as are the advances. I wrote, in response to a piece on the Jewish victims of the First Crusade:

And so this is the problem with Jacoby’s closer. She says that ISIS shows us what the world might look like had there never been the great leaps forward by white folks in the West, ignorant of the catastrophic violence those leaps brought to the west itself, the world, and indeed the very Jews she mourns in her essay.

The 21st century is a different world. A more connected world. A world with weapons and technologies unfathomable to our ancestors. But the belief that we are more advanced, and thus relegate people who are nasty to other eras, is something we say only to comfort ourselves. It’s a lie.

Anyway, kudos to the anonymous Savage Medievalist for making the argument.

Love Song for a Neoliberal University: StarbucksU

The May edition of The Atlantic has a long article on the first batch of students to go to StarbucksU (I wrote about it for CNN last May, troubled by the notion of employment-based education). Overall, it’s a solid article in terms of reporting and structure. It tells the stories of people struggling to finish college. Starbucks comes off pretty well here, trying to do its part while getting good PR and not spending too much money. So far, about 1500 people have enrolled, and some will undoubtedly finish, and good for them.

And yet, the article has a kind of casual anti-intellectual and pro-corporate voice. In short, it’s an advertisement for the neoliberal university.

Here’s an example.

We assume that people drop out of college because of the cost. But that’s only part of the explanation. Listen closely to former students, and you’ll hear them tell stories about bureaucracies losing their paperwork, classes running out of spots, nonsensical tuition bills, and transcript offices that don’t take credit cards. The customer service is atrocious.

Simply put, many Americans fail to finish college, because many colleges are not designed to be finished. They are designed to enroll students, yes. They are built to garner research funds and accrue status through rankings and the scholarly articles published by faculty. But those things have little to do with making sure students leave prepared to thrive in the modern economy.

Notice the slash at scholarship. Here’s another.

“Arizona State still relies upon many standard college practices, and some faculty members remain more focused on winning grants and publishing than on teaching. But over the past decade, the university’s leadership has gotten unusually creative about circumventing these models and finding new ways to reach students.”

Those damn faculty members who want to do research. They are the problem, not a bureaucratizing corporate system that extracts wealth from students in exchange for the lowest possible standard of education that for-profits like ASU Online can provide. Yes, there are lots of problems with our system. Yes, I think the ways in which our prestige economy rewards research over teaching is an issue. But I am quite sure that faculty members pursuing grants is not what’s threatening higher education in America today.

Moreover, the forces driving the kind of quantitative assessment of scholarly productivity, where all that counts is what can be counted, are the same forces that create massive over-bureacratization, the for-profit wings of ASU, drive college costs ever higher, and otherwise contribute to a world in which StarbucksU looks like a solution. It may be, but it’s coming out of the same world that created the problems in the first place.

But no fear, the university is creative.

“ASU Online is a profit venture,” said Goldrick-Rab. “And basically, these two businesses have gotten together and created a monopoly on college ventures for Starbucks employees.”

  • For example, ASU spent last December trying to exploit its NTT faculty even more by preemptively raising their teaching load to 5:5, though they backed off a bit under pressure
Creative! You think you’re getting an ASU education, but what you really get are Pearson functionaries and incredibly overworked instructors. Welcome to the future of Neoliberal University.
This article speaks to a number of problems, but I want to focus on this one. We, as a profession, have failed to explain (and keep explaining and keep explaining) why having professors who do research matters. We need to work on that, and by we, I mean everyone, especially people who do more specialized research than I do. 
In the meantime, we have this

Since Starbucks announced the program in June, 20,000 people who have applied online for jobs at the company have cited the college benefit as a reason for their interest. One barista I interviewed had quit her office job in Dallas and taken a $4-an-hour pay cut to attend college for free through Starbucks. The company does not have data yet on whether employee retention has increased, but so far, it has spent very little and received significant PR and HR returns.

That’s a failure of our national system, and something I wrote about for CNN in my piece. When we make college contingent on employment with a certain company, as we do now with healthcare, we limit mobility, we limit choice, we limit career development, we limit risk-taking and entrepreneurial spirit.

So, the challenges are clear.

  1. Articulate why specialized research is not in opposition to good teaching, but is in fact complementary.
  2. Resist linking college to employment (in the way that linking healthcare to employment has been a disaster).
  3. Continue to fight the development of a two-tier college education model, in which elites get access to individuals and ideas, thus being prepared for tomorrow’s jobs, while everyone else is offered training only for yesterday’s.

Writing: 59 Weeks, 64 Essays

Since 3/11/2015, about 59 weeks from today, I have published 64 essays. Most of them were at mainstream media sites. About 95% were paid (I haven’t written outside unpaid work in a long time now, but sometimes, rarely, I send someone a blog post that might resonate with their audience. If they edit it and make it an independent essay, I might put it in my publication list, just for record keeping).

I often wonder how many different humans those 62 essays represent. My most viral piece was published almost two years ago now (May 2013 – on my daughter’s “Best Dressed” award and gender norming in pre-school). I really started writing for public audiences in February of 2013, and wrote about 30 pieces over the course of that year. In March 2014, though, I decided to really dedicate myself to public writing, and this last year is the result.

This morning on Twitter, I’ve been having a wide-ranging conversation about the economics of writing. It’s based on this article that lists only one in ten writers as being able to make a living as writers. I fall well into that 90%. I have a day job as a history professor that includes time and the expectation to write among its perks, and enough flexibility within my institution for my public work to count. It’s a problem, though, that it’s increasingly hard for writers to make a living as writers. Freelance rates have fallen or are stagnant.

At the same time, we are in a hyperscribal and hyperlexic golden age of text. Probably a few million, maybe two? – people have actually read my work. Thousands of you come to my blog – my blog! – every week. These numbers boggle the mind. There is no way that I could write enough at my current rates to make a living (it would take about 450 essays a year), but I do seem to be able to sustain one a week. Thank you all for reading.

Lately, I’ve been branching out into media criticism (Marco Polo, Game of Thrones, Daredevil, the historical fiction of Bruce Holsinger, and more to come). I do this because I think representation matters, I enjoy it, but also as a break from all the pieces about violence and death. There was a good piece in TNR on how writing about trauma causes trauma. I don’t do the kind of close journalism – interviewing families, living in war zones, seeing bodies and bruises – that would cause trauma, but I do get very upset when I just read horrible story after horrible story. Breaks are vital.

I have a lot more to say on academics and public writing. You could bring me to your campus to talk about it! More on that later. For now, it’s back to work.

Here are the 64 essays from the last year+.

  1. Daredevil and Scenes of Ordinary Disability (Vice.com, 4/20/15)
  2. “The Net is the Meat:” Bruce Holsinger’s Medieval Fiction (Tor.com, 4/20/15)
  3. Autism and RFK Jr. RFK owes a lot of people an apology. (CNN.com, 4/16/15)The
  4. Telescoping History of Game of Thrones (Vice.com, 4/14/15) 
  5. Sheehan vs SF: A Chance to Reduce Police Killings of People with Disabilities (Al Jazeera America, 3/22/15) 
  6. Bruce Rauner: Picking on Society’s Most Vulnerable (CNN.com, 3/18/15) 
  7. “Daddy, What’s Down Syndrome?” (Yahoo! Parenting, 3/17/15) 
  8. Dear Student? How about Dear Provost? (Chronicle Vitae, 3/11/15) 
  9. Why Write a Book? (Chronicle Vitae, 3/3/15) 
  10. To assess LAPD shooting, look past the moment of gunfire. (CNN.com, 3/2/15) 
  11. Information, Not Inspiration: How to work against the fear of Down syndrome (CNN.com, 2/18/15) 
  12. Conservatives want to rewrite the history of the Crusades (The Guardian, 2/7/15) 
  13. Kristiana Coignard Did Not Have to Die (CNN.com, 2/2/15) 
  14. Airlines Break Too Many Wheelchairs – But We can Fix It (Al Jazeera America, 1/31/15) 
  15. Associate Dean of What? (Chronicle.com, 1/26/15) 
  16. Anti-Choice Legislators Try to Force Wedge Between Reproductive, Disability Rights Activists(Reproductive Health Reality Check, 1/16/15) 
  17. Who Will Teach All the Free Community College Students? (Chronicle.com, 1/15/15) 
  18. Harsh Critics in Public Spaces, Judging Only What They See (NYTimes.com, 1/12/15) 
  19. Police Violence Sparks Disability Rights Movement (Al Jazeera America, 12/22/14) 
  20. University Presidents and Public Engagement (Chronicle.com, 12/18/2014) 
  21. Academic Freedom and Repellent Speech (Chronicle.com, 12/15/2014) 
  22. Marco Polo Would Be Better Without Marco Polo (Vice.com, 12/11/14) 
  23. Should I Let my Boss Friend Me on Facebook? (Chronicle Vitae, 12/9/14) 
  24. Eric Garner: The Intersections of Race and Disability (CNN.com 12/4/14) 
  25. Playing Politics with the Disabled (Al Jazeera America, 11/26/2014) 
  26. #FergusonSyllabus (Chronicle.com, 11/25/2014) 
  27. For Parents of Children With Down Syndrome, ‘Abortion vs. Hardship’ Is a False Binary (Reproductive Health Reality Check, 11/18/2014) 
  28. No Longer “Falling off the Cliff” – College for People with Intellectual Disabilities (Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/11/14) 
  29. The Death of London McCabe: Child Murder & Discourse of Disability (CNN.com 11/10/2014) 
  30. Save the NEH (from itself) (Chronicle Vitae, 10/16/2014) 
  31. Down Syndrome – Getting Beyond “Cute” (Al Jazeera America, 10/15/2014) 
  32. Fictionalizing Your Scholarship (Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/13/2014) 
  33. What To Tell Your Kids About Columbus (CNN.com, 10/10/2014) 
  34. Fix the Hiring Process (Chronicle Vitae, 10/6/2014) 
  35. End the Conference Interview (Chronicle Vitae, 9/23/2014) 
  36. Kanye West and Questioning Disability (CNN.com, 9/16/2014) 
  37. Review: Disability and Technology in John Scalzi’s Lock In (Huffington Post, 8/29/14) 
  38. Fighting Gender Norming One Backpack at a Time (Huffington Post, 8/26/14) 
  39. Psychiatric Disability & the Police: The search for reasonable accommodations (CNN.com, 8/26/14) 
  40. Save the Dissertation! (It saved me) (Chronicle Vitae, 8/25/14) 
  41. Don’t Speak Out: The Message of the Salaita Affair (Chronicle.com, 8/21/14) 
  42. Pope Francis did NOT call for a Crusade against Isis (CNN.com, 8/20/14) 
  43. Ferguson and the Cult of Compliance (Al Jazeera America, 8/15/2014) 
  44. The problems with telling jokes about Down Syndrome (CNN.com, 8/6/2014) 
  45. Why John Walsh’s Plagiarism Matters – It’s not what you think (Chronicle Vitae, 7/25/14) 
  46. Never Alone – Our Story of Down Syndrome Diagnosis” (BLOOM Magazine, 7/21/14). 
  47. Catholic Universities and Undocumented Students (Chronicle.com, 7/21/14) 
  48. A Thousand Neil deGrasse Tysons! (Chronicle Vitae, 7/21/2014) 
  49. Eden Foods – Ethics, not Politics (CNN.com, 7/11/2014) 
  50. A Medievalist on CNN (Inside Higher Ed, 7/2/2014) 
  51. The Learning-Centered University (Chronicle Vitae, 7/1/2014) 
  52. Sustained Public Engagement – “But Does it Count?” (Chronicle.com, 6/23/2014) 
  53. College, One Latte at a Time? No thanks. (CNN.com, 6/17/14) 
  54. The Most Interesting Adjunct in the World (Chronicle Vitae, 6/11/14) 
  55. All Faculty are Labor (Chronicle Vitae, 5/22/2014) 
  56. Do we need Trigger Warnings in the Classroom? (CNN.com, 5/20/2014) 
  57. An Academic “Working Dad” (Chronicle.com, 5/19/2014) 
  58. Police Violence and Disability, with Lawrence Carter-Long (TheAtlantic.com, 5/6/14) 
  59. Forced Baptism, Blood Libel, and Sarah Palin’s Militant Christianity (CNN.com, 5/1/2014) 
  60. Why Should Secular People Care About Saints? (CNN.com, 4/27/2014) 
  61. Adjuncts and the Language of Labor: Part I (Chronicle Vitae, 4/24/14) 
  62. Frozen vs Little Mermaid – Two Anthems for Two Generations: (Good Men Project and Business Insider 4/13/14) 
  63. Faculty Members Are Not Cashiers: Why the ‘customer service’ lingo in academe is bad for students (Chronicle.com, 3/18/2014) 
  64. Rape Culture and Disability Intersect in Georgia (CNN.com, 3/11/2014)

    Daredevil is Blind

    Foggy Nelson: “A blind old man taught you the ancient ways of martial arts. Isn’t that the plot to Kung Fu?” (Marvel’s Daredevil, Netflix, Episode 10)

    I’ve got a review of “Scenes of ordinary disability” in Daredevil coming out later today from Vice. Edit – Link is here!!

    In today’s blog, I want to say a few more things about the nature of Matt Murdock/Daredevil’s disability. Yes, thanks to his heightened senses, he can create a full map of his space in real time, helping him with Kung-Fu, knowing if people are nodding or flicking him off, and otherwise navigating the world just fine. He’s a superhero. He can do things that real humans, blind or not, cannot do. In the show, it’s his hearing that gets the most play – he tracks a car based on the music inside it while running over the rooftops of Hell’s Kitchen. He hears Kingpin talking on a radio inside a truck from some distance away. These are cool superpowers!

    But what he can’t do is read a license plate.
    He can’t read a digital alarm clock.
    He can’t read a message printed on his cell phone.

    I emphasize this because I think it’s easy to miss the ways in which Murdock is in disabled. And if you miss that, you also miss the ways in which he’s got little bits of assistive technology that help.

    He uses a refreshable Braille display.

    Image: Refreshable Braille display. From Wikimedia Commons

    He uses a screen reader (a program that reads words on computer screens as well as provides other kinds of command information. It’s why I put descriptions of images on my page, as I know I have some blind readers. And honestly, all websites should do it all the time).

    His cell phone talks to him. “Karen calling. Karen calling.” His alarm clock talks to him. “It’s 7 o’clock.”

    These are just small little bits of assistive technology that make independent living more possible for blind people.

    And so while Murdock is a superhero, he’s still blind. He still has a disability.

    And that’s why how Marvel/Netflix represents his blindness matters so much to me and to so many people in the disability community, because however you count it, he’s one of the two or three most prominent disabled characters in comics history (Professor X – his legs, not his mutant powers, Daredevil, and Oracle/Batgirl).

    Previous item: Comics, Disability, and Race.

    Edit: Updated to correct assistive tech terminology.