Sympathy Vote Department

As you can see from my wife Connie's post below Scott MacIntyre is currently a contestant on American Idol. Connie's post covers the basics: Scott MacIntyre is a professional musician with a solid following "out there" in the world of music loving people and heck he just happens to be visually impaired owing to a rare genetic form of vision loss that our friend Dr. Ed Stone is working to cure right here at the University of Iowa. As a music lover and as an advocate for people with disabilities I always poke my ears up when I hear that there's some very exciting new talent in the world and I get even more excited when I learn that the "talent" also happens to have some kind of a disability. This isn't because I think that pwds are heroic or that they're part of some kind of "overcoming" narrative but simply because I think that physical challenges are invariably incorporated into art–that is, I believe that disability is a deep and abiding form of emotional and imaginative intelligence for human beings. That this is hugely fascinating for me and for people who are interested in what is coming to be called "neuro-diversity" makes lots of sense.

So I was thrilled to hear of Mr. MacIntyre's current role on American Idol and even more fascinated to learn of his multiple accomplishments. He's a classically trained musician; a former Fulbright Scholar; he graduated from college at an age when most teens are still in high school. The man has lots of horsepower under his hood.

Connie's post points out that there's a sour comment on a blog having to do with American Idol that trots out the usual hoary bromide  that should Mr. MacIntyre win the whole shebang on American Idol this will no doubt have to do with "the sympathy vote". In her post Connie wonders what I might have to say about the matter.

First I should point out that the remark is essentially "ableism" and its no different from the casual racism that opines that so and so just got her or his job because of affirmative action. We've all heard that stuff over and over again. The late North Carolina Senator, Jesse Helms used that affirmative action gambit to get himself re-elected –his commercials would intone that "you needed that job but it went to affirmative action" etc. etc.

As it becomes harder to overtly dismiss people in strikingly racist ways I think its fair to say that bigots turn their gazes to people with disabilities. After all: someone somewhere must be getting something they don't deserve and which should be going to (insert your own group of privileged malcontents here).

Obviously if a person who has a disability also happens to have skills and talents then it surely must be the case that he or she gets the (insert item here, job, bonus, game show victory, parking space, etc.) only because there's a "sympathy vote".

What's funny about this is that only bigots believe this. If you ask a person with a disability or a member of their family or one of their friends if pwds receive unthinking and compensatory advantages in their lives they will laugh and laugh and likely fall over.

70 per cent of pwds are unemployed despite their levels of education and their evident individual talents. No sympathy vote seems to be apparent in the employment sector.

One quarter of people with disabilities graduate successfully from colleges and universities. That obviously means that three quarters don't make it through. Clearly there's an overwhelming sympathy factor working in our education system, eh?

I just have to laugh. Look on TV for successful images of pwds. You will find very few. NO sympathy vote there either.

Turns out that the sympathy vote exists only in the minds of bigots who have turned to ableism to keep their bigotry credentials active. One suspects that there's a "Bigotry General" who monitors how active the bigots are. She or he must be keeping score.


Scott MacIntyre and the sympathy vote? I don't THINK so!

It's been a very long time since I (Connie) have done any blogging but tonight I stumbled on something and as a result, I just couldn't resist…

Honestly, I never watch American IdolDancing with the Stars?  I love it!  It appeals to the aerobic instructor I once was…the music, the movement, the exercise…when I watch Dancing with the Stars it makes me want to get off the sofa and MOVE!  But I digress…

So it wasn't through American Idol that I happened to discover Scott MacIntyre.  I learned about Scott, and his family, by accident while researching an inherited eye condition called Leber congenital amaurosis.  It just so happens I work at the John and Marcia Carver Nonprofit Genetic Testing Laboratory at the University of Iowa where, with the help of baseball great Derrek Lee, and basketball great, Wyc Grousbeck, Project 3000 was launched.  One of the main objectives of Project 3000 is to find the estimated 3000 people in the United States who live with this form of inherited blindness and offer genetic screening as a means of learning as much as possible about this potentially treatable condition.  This evening I decided to do a little surfing in the blogosphere to see what information I might find about LCA.  Until this evening I had never heard of Scott MacIntyre.  I've since learned he sure can play piano.  Oh, and he can sing.  Randy and Paula and the new lady and whats-his-name – Simon – they all say so.  Scott is now a contestant on American Idol.

Congratulations, Scott!

I must confess, curiosity got the best of me and I did a little more "surfing".  I found a video of Scott's audition.  Where did I find it, you ask?  Would you believe I found it on a site called "Worst American Idols"?  I kid you not, there is a site devoted to this topic.  It's where I found this appalling statement:

"Scott Macintyre — the blind singer — auditions in Phoenix for American
Idol 8. This is a bit dangerous — if he makes it to the Top 36, he will
get the sympathy vote for sure. In fairness, he is a very technical
singer! His notes were very precise."

So let's see.  He is a major musical talent.  "He is a very technical singer!  His notes were very precise." 

Scott has got so much going for him and yet people are going to vote for him out of sympathy?  And that would be because….?

Oh, wait until Steve hears about this.

UPDATE: read Steve's most excellent response: Sympathy Vote Department

One of Those Days

My retired guide dog Vidal has cancer. I learned of this last night when my friend Barbara (who adopted Mr. V as a family pet) called to say  that my old buddy is in the vet hospital with some serious problems.

More exactly he has one problem, a big one. He has a tumor that’s constricting his urethra. This is apparently limited to just this location and presumably the tumor can be surgically removed but the issue has to do with the enormity of that operation. To get where they need to go they will have to break his pelvic bone and with an 11 year old dog there’s no telling whether he would recover from that.

So right now we’re waiting to hear whether they think they can just shrink the thing with meds or what.

I know that Vidal has become an inseparable family companion for Barbara and her daughter Zoe. They have been loving him like the prince he is (though he’s naughty and likes to steal food whenever he can grab it) and they’ve learned to love his bark and his eagerness for walks and for romps in the backyard.

I’m just sitting in the University of Iowa library feeling a horrid gray net fall over me. I need to accomplish several tasks today and doubtless I’ll get them done but I want to weep openly and I’m putting the majority of my energies into holding my face tight as a screw.

Vidal I love you.



I Can't Hear You I've Got My Fingers in My Ears Department

Governor Blogo resisted the invitation to do his Nixon impersonation on yesterday’s broadcast of The View. That’s of course his own affair.


You can watch me make a different choice over at the Prairie Lights Bookstore site.


See Kuusisto Does the Kennedy-Nixon Debate just for the sheer brio of the enterprise.



Sorrow and Pity Department, Part Two

We were sleeping and then we were awake. We saw the governor of Illinois declaring he was Jimmy Stewart although owing to our sub-lucid condition we could not remember a film wherein Mr. Steward played a souped up criminal narcissist with a Beatles wig atop his noggin but we tried to remember. We recalled successfully that Jimmy Stewart wasn’t a progressive guy off camera. We faintly remembered that Mr. Steward liked airplanes. He played a bad guy once or twice but not very convincingly–a fact that stands in unambiguous opposition to “Blogo’s”situation, that of a bad man trying to play a good guy.  

We were only half awake. We tried to recall the F.B.I. planting evidence on innocent people and we could remember lots of stuff but we couldn’t recall the F.B.I. doctoring wiretaps of politicians who were trying to sell a senate seat.

We imagine such things are possible. Maybe “Blogo” is wondrously innocent.


But we think he has to get a better story. Here are some suggestions:

He needs to hire Oliver Stone. Stone can craft a conspiracy theory that will make “Blogo’s” innocence or guilt completely irrelevent because we will be forced to conclude that anything destructive in the governor’s life is just more cultural pressure. See “The Doors” for example. 

He should hire Karl Rove. Rove will put out the story that the F.B.I. is in league with the Taliban and make this pronouncement stick by claiming to be shielding a Fox news personality who he can’t name. This actually could work.

In the meantime we think the only actor the governor reminds us of is Robert Blake. Its the hair and the talk. The unfaltering and aggrandizing declarations of pure innocence while reeking of powder burns. You don’t need Frank Capra for that.


S.K.  .

Hooking Kids with Commodity Junk Department

Emmanuelle Goodiern has an excellent editorial over at Mothering Magazine about the biz of hooking little kids with “Brats” dolls and other useless junk. Her main point is that anorexic fashion plate girl dolls create what we in the disability studies world call the “social construction of normalcy”–in other words, they promote a destructive fiction about human bodies.

“Why,” you might ask “is Steve Kuusisto reading “Mothering Magazine”?”

Because I think children are our future. Because I care about kids with disabilities. Because I was one of those kids once. Because I care about culture.

No. I’m not in the market for a breast pump.

Kidding aside, the commodity fetishism of anorexia and hooker fashions is relentless and you can check out the link on this blog to Gigi Durham’s excellent book “The Lolita Effect” for a deeper read into the industry that stands behind this social travesty.

When four year old girls come home loaded down with “Brat” gear and are swept up into the egregious and demeaning semiotics of pathetic misrepresentations of real bodies then its time to talk back to the damned culture.

Of course you can talk back and often nothing much happens right away. But things do eventually happen. Consciousness is impossible to stamp out. Gandhi said that first and he said it better. He was also a better dresser than I am.

I think I tell better jokes than Gandhi.

Still the commidification  of childhood is no joke.



Disability Discrimination and the Numbers Game

If you visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s ADA website you can read the followingdisclosure: 

In Fiscal Year 2007, EEOC received 17,734 charges of disability discrimination. EEOC resolved 15,708 disability discrimination charges in FY 2006 and recovered $54.4 million in monetary benefits for charging parties and other aggrieved individuals (not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation).


So I admit it’s early in the morning here in Iowa and I’m likely to be insufficiently caffeinated for the looming day and I have never been much at arithmetic (though I do know the difference between arithmetic and mathematics) and I therefore have a very primitive sense of scale.

Okay. But one thing leaps out at me: its estimated there are 54 million people with disabilities in the United States. The number is not solid and in truth its nearly impossible to know how many pwds there really are. But I think this is a good guesstimate.

So if you’re still with me this means that 1 million dollars was awarded for every person with a disability but of course the money went to something like 15,000 claimants.

Now I know and you know that the money is linked to penalties and damages–fines, governmental recovery costs, attorney’s fees, box lunches, cab rides in the rain, postage due, etc. 

But 54 million divided by 15,000 comes to 3.6 million per claimant.

I will argue for the sheer glory of it that for 3.6 million you could employ all the unemployed people with disabilities here in the state of Iowa.

Now we all know this isn’t real money.

Or is it? 



I better get a cup of coffee.



Lordy, Lordy: U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Special Education Case


The Supremes those enlightened and humane arbiters of civil rights for all have agreed to hear the case of an Oregon teen’s family vs. the Forest Grove school district–a case concerning the lower courts badminton over whether the public schools should have to pay for a private education when  they have failed miserably to accomodate and educate  a student with a learning disability. There are several features to this story that are achingly familiar: the public school officials who blame the student for her failures by pointing out that she was a marijuana user. The loud insistence that despite their failures to help the student get properly diagnosed and accommodated, they are just terrific at what they do. Its an old story.

Sometimes in creative writing classes I point out to students that the hardest story to write is the one in which everyone is a villain. I also suggest that these types of stories are quickly “dated” like those anti-heroic movies from the early 70’s that no one watches anymore. (Remember Ratso Rizzo?)

All stories about really bad people behaving badly and then more badly are always about money. I like to call this “the Bleak House Effect” and you can call it whatever, say something like “The Uncle Johnny Effect” or whatever you like.

The Supremes actually heard a case like this one back in 2007 and the creeps couldn’t come to a decision on the matter, splitting 4-4. But now they have their “Ken doll ultra conservative plastic   hair right wing Stepford husband Chief Justice who Can’t Administer the Presidential Oath of Office” so we can count on a ruling against the student and for the school district.

You can count on Judge Scalia to say: “Why doesn’t this student just drop out and go work in a lead mine?”

You can count on  Alito to say: “I’m not certain, but I believe I read in the Bob Roberts Medical Journal that marijuana causes learning disabilities…”

You can count on Clarence Thomas to snooze. When he wakes up you can count on him to doodle on his blotter.

The real crime here is that local school districts are often permitted to underfund their special education programs. Real lives are in the balance as we like to say over here at the POTB.

The fact that the Forest Grove school district had to pay for its failures is justice and you can count on the 5  clowns to administer the coup de grace. to our old blind lady.

P.S. I smoked marijuana in high school and it made the miserable hours spent in quasi suffocation go more gracefully upon the cherished inner life where the meanings are.



Philistine? Yes. That's Me


I was thinking about poetry for lack of anything else to do a matter which is almost always a mistake and I realized that I don’t like much of what’s passing for the art in today’s university writing programs. I am in no way remarkable for holding this view but what’s somewhat revealing is that I’ve arrived at the position over the past ten years. I didn’t feel this way two or three decades ago.

I have a suspicion about curmudgeonliness. People used to be branded over the hill at 30 and 50  is the new 30I’m told so perhaps my approbation about contemporary poetry is related to my age and my obvious irrelevance  viz the youth culture.

But then again I have suspicions about easy thinking and I’m forced to reject the subjectivity of my age: I’m called to admit that I find poetry writing is mostly for shit in today’s university creative writing programs.

What has happened?

Two things are fairly certain: we have decadent new formalist poets who are teaching young poets to write even more decadent  rhymie dimey stuff  and we have decadent language qua language poets who are teaching students that poetry is entirely about language. Both groups rely on life support systems of their own making–theories of verse and theories of linguistic aesthetics–for indeed the professor poets have to pay their mortgages somehow. 

For the sheer hell of it I’m now going to make up two examples of these respective modes. I am doing this ex cathedra and in true spontaneous fashion. Here’s the neo-formal poem as sanctioned by the academies:


Jesus in the Desert


However he got there, he was a darkling bird

Half man by turns, open to wind

As any wing though driven fast his word

Was no longer sure, the mind

Was there a fickle thing.


Blah blah blah.


Here’s the second major category:




Always the mirror stems


Culled from sand

And together

They are the book.




I can scarcely go on. As you can see both these examples are without ardor. There’s nothing of the man or woman who was drawn to write words on a page and there’s nothing of human love or the instincts of or pertaining to love.

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.

For the sake of argument here are some opening lines by a Finnish poet, Turkka Suominen that I’ve translated into English, lines that have swing:


Columbus: what were you thinking?

I was the one who found India.

Odysseus: I’m the only one who got home.


There’s a human being there. She’s playing. In a few more seconds she’s going to riff on what its like to be a working class woman in a dark country. She’s going to write about sweeping other people’s floors. She’s going to fantasize about heaven. She is daring to be a singular loving chancey brash someone on a bleak day. And by the end of her poem she’ll be lighting a cigarette with a lover.


I need to feel the human price of language to call the thing a poem. Here are some lines from a first rate prose poem by Robert Bly entitled “Visiting Emily Dickinson’s Grave with Robert Francis”–the human price of their visit and the poet’s appreciation of the life that is inadequately memorialized by physical facts comes forward to us: .

Robert Francis has moved, since his stroke, into town,

and he takes me to the cemetery. A black iron fence

closes the graves in, its ovals delicate as wine stems. They

resemble those chapel windows on the main Aran island,

made narrow in the fourth century so that not too much

rain would drive in …. It is April, clear and dry. Curls of

grass rise around the nearby gravestones.

The Dickinson house is not far off. She arrived here

one day, at fifty-six, Robert says, carried over the lots

between by six Irish laboring men, when her brother

refused to trust her body to a carriage. The coffin was

darkened with violets and pine boughs, as she covered

the immense distance between the solid Dickinson

house and this plot…

The distance is immense, the distances through

which Satan and his helpers rose and fell, oh vast

areas, the distances between stars, between the first

time love is felt in the sleeves of the dress, and the

death of the person who was in that room…. the dis-

tancebetween the feet and head as you lie down, the

distance between the mother and father, through

which we pass reluctantly.


Though this is a prose poem the whole thing “swings” and we’re caught in the crazy Gnostic dance that is performed where sunlight meets the shadows. I could say more but I won’t because if you can’t see it you can’t afford it. Nor will I say who are the leaders of contemporary university sponsored decadence. I myself can’t afford it. Of course the more singular question is why our teaching poets are so afraid to write about any damned thing that relates to what they used to call depth psychology. My suspicion is that both the groups I’ve mentioned are all too convinced that human feeling is simply quaint. Feeling is the resort of uncomplicated people. That’s what they invariably say though the terms are disguised. If your writing expresses ardor then you’re not avant garde enough. That’s how its bruited about in the corridors of the MFA programs.

This is why I’m standing on the outside. Some of the best poetry that’s happening in the United States is located in neighborhood venues where the slams and hip hop are found. And of course wherever you have some proximity to the humbling matters of physical struggle or working class endurance, there you will find it.



Even Julie Andrews Isn't Julie Andrews Department

Our friend The Goldfish writes with dignity about the pervasive and daily effects of ill health. Lots of us with disabilities as they’re collectively known are the people or persons of The Goldfish  Tribe. I have a friend and colleague here in the creative nonfiction writing program at the U of Iowa who has a serious chronic illness and she’s often exhausted and unable to leave her house. I told her how blindness leaves me wiped out and that sometimes I feel like one of Mario Puzo’s characters in The Godfather who has gone into hiding by “going to the mattresses”.

We Pwds “go to the mattresses” and we rise from them again with a helluva lot of brio and steadfastness. We raise kids and attend meetings and we take longer to clean the house but we feel the drifting and incandescent seconds as joys without easy analogies and we get on with our business.

This is the irony of disability: the ableists imagine Pwds as being child-like when in fact we’re the older people, the ones who still remember that hourly or minute by minute steepness remain central parts of life.

I was talking in my writing class on Thursday about Thomas Jefferson who as  a comparatively young man fell and broke his wrist while traveling in France. The crude local doctor made the break even worse and in turn Jefferson never regained full use of his hand. And we know that the hand never stopped hurting. And we know that Jefferson never spoke of the matter. He gave up his beloved violin and that was that. Stoicism vanishes with the commercial advent of aspirin in the 20th century. People seem to think that a 0 degree of pain is what its all about.

Well you can’t fool the People of The Goldfish Tribe. We have night sweats; aching joints; asthma; burning eyes; dizzy spells; skull ripping headaches; jitters; snapped bones; paralysis; Rococo fatigues; grasshoppers in our pillows; crickets in our milk.

Sometimes we just sneak away from the party, the dinner, the convocation, the whole damned dog show and we go to the mattresses.