Review: Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me is quite possibly one of the most demoralizing works I’ve ever read. This feeling is driven home even farther when considering that the book is written as a letter to Coates’ 15-year-old (at the time of its writing) son. Ouch!

I picked up the book for two reasons. First, it’s been on the New York Times Bestseller List for quite a while, and I was sick of looking at it without having read it. Second, I’m always interested in hearing other perspectives, and Coates has a significant reputation as a voice in the black community.

Coates does have an interesting perspective on race. For starters, he writes that “race is a child of racism, not the father.” In other words, race is a classification artificially manufactured by humans, rather than reflecting any meaningful distinctions. Nevertheless, Coates recognizes that black people have formed a community; it is diverse, but black people have come to identify with one another as a result of the oppressive American sorting system.

However, Coates begins to lose me when he begins decrying the education system as a tool of oppression, “a jail of other people’s interests.” To many, including many people with disabilities who have also suffered oppression, education has provided a path to economic freedom and upward mobility. Coates never really answers challenges such as this, except for saying that the individual intentions of educators should be forgotten: “What any institution, or its agents, ‘intend’ for you is secondary.” Later he writes that his “classroom was a jail of other people’s interests.” What a great thing to tell a teenager…

Coates continually engages hypocritical thinking Although he writes that he “raised [his son] to respect every human being has singular,” he refuses to respect individuals, such as the teachers described above or the police officer that shot his friend. Instead, he considers them tools of an oppressive system that cares only about promoting the American Dream. Throughout the book, Coates lovingly discusses past girlfriends, his wife, son is, and friends. But he refuses to grant individual white people the benefit of the doubt or to even view them as individual actors rather than “majoritarian pigs” in some diabolical system of systemic oppression.

Don’t get me wrong – Coates has ample reason to be upset about the way America has treated black people. Beyond slavery and sins of the past, America still makes it difficult for black people to find things like affordable and accessible housing. There are prejudices built into the system. However, unlike Coates, I haven’t given up on trying to improve the system. He tells his son, “Perhaps one person can make a change, but not the kind of change that would raise your body to equality with your countrymen.”  That statement sickens me, as does Coates’ Jeremiah Wright-like reaction to 9/11. I still believe in my country, in all of its people.

Review: Planet of the Blind

In honor of Disability Awareness Month, I decided to read a memoir about disability: Stephen Kuusisto‘s Planet of the Blind. It was a great choice, and I give it two thumbs up.

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As a person with a disability, myself, I’m not a big fan of the disability memoir-genre. Typically, they tend to bemoan lost status (especially those written by authors with spinal cord injuries) or start out from the perspective of wanting to inspire readers. While Kuusisto does expend pages writing of his desire to “pass” in “normal” society, he uses more to show the folly of his attempts. In effect, Planet of the Blind is a story of disability acceptance.

Perhaps what I enjoyed most about Kuusisto’s work is that he is a poet, and his prose is stunning. For example: “My masculinity is fragile, my ego crawls around blindness like a snail exploring a piece of broken glass.” For the most part, readers are free from repeated clichés about overcoming and finding peace; Kuusisto has the vocabulary to invite readers more deeply into his thought processes and emotional responses.

In chart, if you are interested in reading something more than a memoir, consider Planet of the Blind.

Review: A Really Good Day

Yesterday I finished Ayelet Waldman’s A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life. Waldman, a former public defender, acquires a bottle of diluted LSD and studies its effect on her life. More rigorously, she provides daily updates in regard to influences – or a suspected influences – upon her mood, relationships, irritability, sleeplessness, productivity, and pain.

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Waldman’s research is brave, in that LSD was categorized as a Schedule I drug by Congress and President Nixon in 1970. The Controlled Substances Act clamped down on legal access to the drug. It wasn’t until 1994 that the FDA gave approval for human testing regarding psychedelic drugs again. Yet, many are still reluctant to experiment with LSD, even if authorized to do so by the federal government and internal review boards.

The War on Drugs’ propaganda regarding LSD and other psychedelics is noted throughout the book, as is unfortunate consequences. Waldman considers, for example, that MDMA was regularly used by psychiatrists in the 1990s with very positive results. In one experiment, 83% of research subjects that obtained MDMA and talk therapy to resolve PTSD were cured after two sessions. The cure rate for those receiving a placebo? Only 25%. Importantly, the effects lasted long after MDMA was flushed from the subjects’ systems. Presumably, MDMA could be helpful to other PTSD sufferers, including veterans.

Certainly, Waldman notes that drugs are not without negatives. Although LSD has a remarkably low toxicity level, it occasionally led to sleeplessness and agitation. MDMA can indirectly lead to death, if people fail to take proper precautions. Nevertheless, Waldman astutely recognizes that even SSRIs (prescribed to approximately 10% of those in the United States) are not without risks. But not for the law, why not experiment in order to learn more about whether certain Schedule I drugs may offer benefits that outweigh the risks – and the alternatives?

Aside from being uncomfortable about appearing to endorse Waldman’s illegal activity, I found the book fascinating, and even encouraging. No, I would not personally take illicit drugs, nor would I advise anyone to do so. Yet, I would ask that the federal government and researchers be more forthcoming regarding the positives of certain chemical substances and determine whether they could be used for the benefit of those who suffer.

 

Gorsuch & Such

Multiple people have weighed in on the pros and cons of Tenth Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat left by Justice Antonin Scalia. For years, I’ve attended Federalist Society meetings, and am generally in favor of judicial restraint. However, strict constructionist justices have generally jeopardized the status of disability rights. The intent of this post is to evaluate some of Judge Gorsuch’s opinions in order to anticipate how disability rights may fair should he be approved by the Senate.

Adversaries of Gorsuch’s nomination have been outspoken, particularly in the realm of his previous decisions involving IDEA. As the Bazelon Center reports, Gorsuch has interpreted IDEA extremely narrowly, holding that the law merely requires “the creation of individualized programs reasonably calculated to enable the student to make progress towards the goals within that program….” Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P., 540 F.3d 1143, 1155 (10th Cir. 2008). More importantly, Gorsuch writes that the standard is “not an onerous one.” Id. This opinion, and others like them, are concerning because it sets a low standard of achievement for students with disabilities. The bare minimum is acceptable, as opposed to fulfilling the full academic potential of the student.

Titles I and II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (and employment-related provisions of the Rehabilitation Act) are other areas in which Judge Gorsuch has routinely ruled against people with disabilities. Perhaps the opinion most routinely cited by Gorsuch critics is Hwang v. Kansas State University. This case involved a professor with cancer, who took a leave of absence to recover from treatment. When the professor was scheduled to return to work, there was an outbreak of the flu at her University. Her doctor recommended an additional period of leave, so as not to jeopardize the professor’s immune system further. This recommendation was denied by the University. Judge Gorsuch opined that a six-month period of leave policy was more than adequate to meet the needs of qualified persons with disabilities, as opposed to requiring the University to determine the particular needs of each individual with a disability. More troublingly, Gorsuch essentially recommends that the professor receive welfare benefits rather than pursue employment, given her situation.

On the other hand, Judge Gorsuch offers hope to the disability community in another very important area: assisted suicide. In 2006, he wrote The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, in which he avers that “[a]ll human beings are intrinsically valuable.” Although education and employment are important to people with disabilities (as they are for all people), there is a mounting movement toward assisted suicide, which undermines the value of life with disability, in particular. While I am disturbed by some of Gorsuch’s opinions regarding the government’s role in preserving education and employment rights, it is my right to life that concerns me most today.

Therefore, I think the Gorsuch nomination is a mixed bag for the disability community, despite many on the left clamoring for nay votes. It seems to me the calls to block his nomination from proceeding are silly; his reputation, both academic and professional, is impeccable, and his judicial philosophy is within the mainstream of acceptability. Instead, time would be better spent working on disability rights legislation that is less open to judicial interpretation.

Bound and Gagged?

Yesterday evening, a terrible story broke: a white 18-year-old, described as “having mental health challenges,” was kidnapped in a stolen van by four African-American young people and tortured. The victim was sworn at (“fuck white people” and “fuck Donald Trump”), physically assaulted until he bled, and forced to drink toilet water over a period between 24 and 48 hours. It’s difficult to imagine, but for the actual footage the assailants broadcasted on Facebook. Absolutely sickening.

You’d think that organized minority groups, and justice arms of the government, would come out strong against this behavior. After all, these are the entities that clamor for hate crimes legislation and are supporting one another on the eve of Trump’s assuming office. I expected to go on my own Facebook account and see my liberal friends sharing the story, condemning the unjustifiable behavior of the assailants that demonstrably victimized someone on the basis of his disability and his race. To date, only one of my 900+ Facebook  friends registered as a Democrat has expressed disgust at the story.

Okay, I reasoned. My friend who posted the story is a fellow disability rights attorney. Maybe people simply haven’t heard about the victim and his torture. Not so. I believe they simply fail to see the depravity in the actions. Why? CNN host Don Lemon plainly stated – and then repeated – “I don’t think it’s evil.” Police Commander Kevin Duffin stated, “Kids make stupid mistakes.”

So… Because the perpetrators hated Trump, like their liberal comrades, taking a disabled man, binding and gagging him, and torturing him for hours upon hours, their actions might be justified? Or, at least, understandable? Fathomable? Logical? This boggles my mind!

Speak out, liberal friends. Unlike this tragic victim, you’ve not been bound and gagged – use your voice and condemn this violence!

EEOC’s New Affirmative Action Rule

Today the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published its final rule on Affirmative Action for Individuals with Disabilities in Federal Employment. It becomes effective 60 days from publication, and its provisions are applicable beginning January 3, 2018. Indeed, federal employees with disabilities – and federal job seekers with disabilities – have some great things to look forward to!

Most importantly, the rule adds two significant requirements to the administration of the Rehabilitation Act. First, those federal employees with targeted disabilities requiring personal assistance (PA) services for work and work-related travel can receive them from their employing agency as a reasonable accommodation. This is huge! People with significant mobility disabilities may now be able to use the restroom at work, eat lunch, and have someone put their coat on before they leave for the day. Importantly, the EEOC expects federal agencies to even provide PA services outside of the agency’s infrastructure for those individuals telecommuting.

I would feel a bit strange about my employer being involved in my toileting routine. Fortunately, the EEOC specifically notes that when hiring a PA service provider, the agency shall “give primary consideration to the individual’s preferences to the extent permitted by law.” This means, for example, that if a female employee with a targeted disability only feels comfortable with the assistance of another female, the agency must consider this request. I am grateful to those submitting comments to the EEOC regarding the intimacy of the relationship between a PA service provider and the recipient of those services.

Second, the EEOC is requiring federal agencies to take specifically-designated steps toward hiring more people with disabilities, and particularly those with severe disabilities. (It should be noted that the EEOC specifically refrained from using the word “severe,” after a commentor indicated the lack of political correctness. You’ll get no political correctness from this crip; consider my succinctness a reasonable accommodation for exhausted vocal muscles.) Specifically, the final rule mandates that the following steps be taken to increase the hiring advancement of those with disabilities:

  • Programs and resources should be used to identify applicants with disabilities;
  • Contracting with disability organizations, including vocational rehabilitation programs, centers for independent living, and employment networks;
  • Ensured availability of sufficient personnel to answer disability-related questions;
  • Creating a plan of action to ensure that disable employees have opportunities for advancement, including information about training opportunities and/or a mentoring program;
  • Inclusion of disability within the agency’s anti-harassment policy and training materials;
  • Adoption of easy-to-understand and easily-available reasonable accommodation policies and rights to accessible technology;
  • Guarantee that the agency evaluate its entire budget when determining whether a reasonable accommodation would constitute an undue hardship; and
  • Provide applicants or employees with a written notice (in an accessible format) of why a reasonable accommodation was denied, along with instructions on how to file a discrimination complaint and appeal.

How’s that for being a model employer?! Any guesses on when we can expect the private sector to get on board?

Review: Reflections on the Revolution in Europe

Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West isn’t a new book, but it’s one that I’m glad I picked up. In fact, the 2010 tome sheds important light on why Britons Brexited and Donald Trump is the United States’ next president.

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Caldwell suggests that when European nations began guest worker programs in the post-World War II era, they situated themselves, unknowingly, to become “a continent of migrants.” At the time of its writing, the book claims that of 375 million residents of Western Europe, approximately 40 million non-natives are domiciled in the region. Many of these migrants come from Islamic cultures. This is notable, in that “the Islamic and the Christian worlds have opposed one another, violently at times,” for more than a millennium. The book considers whether Europeans and Islamic immigrants can live together peacefully in the years to come, as well as contemporary socio-political circumstances.

According to Caldwell, less than one-fifth of Europeans believe immigration has had positive results for their nations. Before the reader write Caldwell and his fellow Europeans off as racist, xenophobic, or Islamophobic, it is enlightening to objectively consider immigration’s net effects. Caldwell’s book offers that objective analysis.

Indeed, civil liberties have been restricted for all Europeans in the wake of mass immigration. As authorities have placed radical mosques under surveillance, governing bodies have rolled back privacy rights for all Europeans so as not to viewed as singling out those of a particular religion. (Again, no one wants to be considered a “hater” or “Islamophobe.”) To keep from being overwhelmed by the outcome of family reunification programs (noting that practitioners of the Islamic faith traditionally have far, far higher birth rates than those of generally-secular Europeans), Denmark made it increasingly difficult to gain Danish citizenship, making it tough for even for a native Dane to get citizenship for a foreign spouse.

Although some – Caldwell cites European elites, and I’d cite Hillary Clinton in her latest attempt at becoming president – argue that immigrants bring benefits, particularly in economic form, to their home countries, this has been questionable – at least in Europe’s case. Caldwell writes: “Instead of using their benefits to pay for say, food, [immigrants] may use them to pay for, say, Islam. Two-thirds of French imams are on welfare.” Eventually, Europeans determined that immigrants were threatening the sustainability of their welfare economies.

The result was that elites began couching immigration in terms of moral imperatives. We hear something similar in the United States when people claim we have a moral obligation to admit Syrian refugees. The trouble with arguing that the admission of refugees is a moral imperative means that one cannot pick and choose among those asylum-seekers with the best credentials; one is morally obligated to accept all in need, or at least those in the greatest need (i.e., those worst off). It also means that many of the refugees admitted into Western countries are Islamic. “For Europe, the biggest nearby humanitarian catastrophes and the bloodiest nearby wars were either in the Muslim world (Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Eastern Turkey) or on its borders (the former Yugoslavia).” Further, these people are moving to their new land not to do, but to be. This dynamic has created a situation in which immigrants are coming in great numbers – in entire communities. Rather than assimilation, these many communities coexist within their own subculture.

The next two sections of the book – which I won’t spoil for you here – address Islamic and Western culture. Caldwell tackles difficult questions that make Westerners squeamish, including: Is Islam a peaceful religion? Is tolerance beneficial for its practitioners? Is Western culture in decline? Is Islam more sustainable and attractive than Western culture? I found Caldwell’s analysis truly helpful and balanced. Given that “the clash of cultures” is likely to be a hot topic in 2017, I highly recommend this book!