Me First, All Over Again

Many years ago, back when I was a young, believing man, when Jimmy Carter was trying to restore the tradition of F.D.R.’s "fireside chats" by seating himself before a log fire in the White House and talking earnestly to the American people about the nation’s energy crisis, way back then, I knew that the people of the United States were essentially disinterested in having earnestness and honesty in their daily politics.

Our collective inability to address this pathology over the past twenty five years has lead in turn to neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism.  Each of "the neos" is constructed out of cynicism and both have their roots in the economic and social dissolutions that followed the Viet Nam war.  Neo-cons believe that "New Deal" modernism and its associated reliance on federalism is the source of the erosion of traditional values.  In other words: social safety programs will unfairly tax the middle classes and will prevent the poor from developing a work ethic.  Neo-liberals bought into this idea because they correctly understood that, after Reagan, the new "lingua franca" of American politics was going to be religious rhetoric and not the language of the old fashioned American social contract.

Both positions are wrong.  The United States needs strong social programs that can put young people to work in the manner of the Works Progress Administration.  We need such programs desperately. The language of faith and values, with all its glorification of volunteerism can’t obscure the fact that young people need jobs and education at the very moment our nation’s infrastructure needs modernization.  So to be direct about the matter: I want Jimmy Carter back!  I want a President who believes in tackling the nation’s energy problems while championing human rights.  I want a president who has religious values but who believes in the best of F.D.R.’s New Deal.  I believe that the nation will vote for the candidate who is best able to understand that both the neo-cons and the neo-libs are collectively lacking both vision and courage.  I felt like typing these words this morning.  I hope my readers don’t mind.  I just can’t help it.  And one last "dig": both the neo-cons and the neo-libs are respectively concerned with lifestyle choices rather than ethical government.  Lord help me!  I’m starting to feel like Christopher Lasch.

S.K.

Dispatches

What’s funny these days?  I have it on good authority that the French are drinking more beer.  Explanations from the French Ministry of Gastronomic Identity hold that the disgraceful movement towards the hop is merely a reflection of France’s new international culture.  Translation: there are more people inside France who hail from lowly beer drinking countries than ever before.  But of course these people are not French.  Not really.  They just live there and drink beer.  I picture these people sneaking around with their scandalous brown or green bottles hidden under baby blankets in strollers or with cans secreted under their hats.  I pity the French.  What’s next?  Tex Mex food all over the Dordogne.  I guess that would be "Le Tex Mex"?

Remember when the big controversy in France had to do with finding French ways to say "Jumbo Jet"?  They came up with "Le Jumbo Jet"–I’m not making this up.

Other funny things:

Norm Coleman, the senator from Minnesota, who was elected after the death of liberal democrat Paul Weldstone, and who was a car dealer and ran on a pro-Bush bandwangon is trying to figure out how to run against Al Franken.  Polls show him trailing the comedian.  Coleman doesn’t want to distance himself from W’s handling of the war.  That’s a difficult position to be in.  The plot behind this particular senate race resembles something you might find in a Kurt Vonnegut novel.

The other night I watched a PBS series devoted to the "baby boomer" generation.  I suffered through the lugubrious narrative about the boomer generation’s singularity and never once did I hear the word "disability" mentioned.  It was the boomers, and especially the Viet Nam veterans, who launched the national movement that lead to the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  And the boomers are about to become the most physically disabled generation in world history.  How interesting that the subject stayed completely off the self-congratulatory script of this program.

I still think of the boomers as the generation that left all the trash at Woodstock.  They’re now rolling up the largest debt in history.  Leaving dirty stuff behind is their great forte.  That’s a cheap shot of course.  Maybe I should call it "le cheap shot"?

I do wish to conclude today’s post on a positive and serious note.

I want to recommend the book "A Long Way Gone: Memoir of a Boy Soldier" by Ishmael Beah.  I will write about it more thoroughly but suffice it to say that it’s a literary memoir of great distinction by a young man who survived being abducted and who was forced to fight in the civil war in Sierra Leone.  This is a rare book and I heartily urge everyone to read it.

S.K.

Imagine

The difference between a politician and an opportunist is that the former has better clothes. At present you wouldn’t know the difference: both tribes in Washington appear to be equally naked. This morning I saw a Democratic spin doctor and his GOP counterpart square off about the announcement by Rudy Giuliani that if elected he would invite his wife to participate in cabinet meetings.

Predictably enough, the Republican representative said the kind of things that Clinton supporters used to say about the value of having Hillary at the side of President Bill Clinton: remember the "two for one" arguments circa 1992?

And sure enough: the Democrat blathered on and on about how Rudy shouldn’t have said this, implying that the position regarding his wife suggests to the public that Giuliani is weak.

Both politicians and regular rank and file opportunists will speak in the passive public assumptive whenever they are being invidious, but this particular demonstration this morning was in my view a new "low" in Democratic "spinning".

I wonder if just for once we might have a presidential campaign in this country that wouldn’t see the nation pandering to sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, and their associated sub-categories of sub-Cartesian posturing.

"You may say that I’m a dreamer/ But I’m not the only one…"

Thank you Mr. Lennon…

The more I think about it, if we really valued marriage in this country, we would insist that presidents should in fact always have their spouse at cabinet meetings. Think of it! Nixon, had he been forced to invite Pat to his cabinet couldn’t have ranted and raved about his political foes and he couldn’t have used all those expletives.

And if Hillary is elected, she can be sure that Bill is behaving himself at all times if he’s required to attend meetings.

S.K.

More Pink Men

I thought that things were going badly but now I’m not so sure.  I just heard that Donald Trump may shave his head as part of a wager with someone and heck, that’s worth getting excited about.  Why? Because then he’d be another big pink man on TV along with the cast of characters I’ve mentioned below.  In fact, I suspect that "The Donald" would in fact look a good deal like "Daddy Warbucks" if his pate was pristine and maybe even waxed.  Of course I’m a blind guy.  My visual literacy is perhaps a bit suspect.  But I have it on good authority that Trump has a big head and that accordingly there’s the potential for a genuine Warbucks look should the man lose his wager and get scalped.

I don’t know what all the fuss is about concerning Rudy Giuliani’s new wife having been married "twice" before her marriage to America’s Mayor.  She apparently "forgot" one of her husbands when she said that Rudy was her second hubby.  I don’t see why this memory lapse bothers people.  Jeez.  It’s not like she’s tried to take credit for inventing the internet or something like that.

So I’m feeling better about America because it’s entirely possible that Donald Trump will join the Big Pink Men Hall of Fame.

It doesn’t take much to lift me out of my gloom.  I mean, you know, the war, the erosion of civil liberties, the loss of global respect for our nation: all these things are easily forgotten when one can still contemplate the prospect of a very rich man making an ass of himself.  I used to watch "Columbo" for that very reason. If you remember, that was the premiss behind every episode.  I used to love Peter Falk’s criminal adversaries, all of whom were beautifully arrogant and filthy rich.  I remember one episode where Robert Culp played a particularly narcissistic doctor who had murdered his wife.  But like all running dogs of the capitalist system, he talked too much.

I’m giving "thumbs down" to a new murder/suspense thriller called "The Maiden’s Grave" by Jeffrey Deaver (who is famous for "The Bone Collector").  In his newest venture a psychopathic murderer escapes from a Kansas prison and takes a bus load of deaf girls hostage.  Although Deaver has done his homework about the deaf community and though he goes to great lengths to make deafness and deaf culture realizable to his readers, in the end his deaf characters are simply a contrivance of plot: they are unfortunately cast as being brave or timid according to their respective feelings about their deafness, a contrivance that I personally feel is quasi-ableist at best.  I was disappointed by the book because I’ve liked Deaver’s Lincoln Rhimes novels and I think that despite all his research into deafness he has fallen short of the sophisticated portrait of disability that he has offered in these other books.

But back to the big pink men issue: I wonder if all the Presidential candidates had to shave their heads who would win the election?  Rudy has an edge since he’s nearly bald.  Hilary and John Edwards have the best hair and so they’ve got the most to lose in this scenario.  John McCain already looks bald, or so I’m told.  Fred Thompson could easily be another big pink guy.

Hey, does anybody besides me think that if someone from "Law and Order" is going to run for the presidency it should really be Sam Watterson?  Just a thought.

S.K.

 

The Good Old Days

I am not astonished to see that the United States hasn’t signed the United Nations International Charter on Disability Rights, but I am of course disappointed. I will be traveling to Kenya in June and it will be interesting to be in a nation that signed the protocol and have the opportunity to explain why the United States chose not to. I look back fondly to the days when America stood for human rights around the globe. As our current President would say: "Ah, those were the good old days…"

S.K.

Continue reading “The Good Old Days”

Pink Men on Every Channel

So I was depressed. I ate a sub sandwich, you know: "Man World Prozac" and I sat down in front of the TV and did some serious channel surfing. It was the weekend. Outside the birds were bragging about their libidos and miscreant neighbors were playing with a radio controlled "all terrain vehicle" which sounded like a fiercely amplified zipper, and all I could think was "why in god’s name would someone play with a radio controlled ATV?" and then of course I knew the answer: "they didn’t have a sub sandwich; they didn’t have a TV". Or worse: they DID have those things; had "done them"; had concluded that radio controlled toys were a step up.

On TV I had some choices to make if I was planning to watch something. That’s the mind set of someone who grew up in the age of three channels: when a guy with a war limp showed up with the big box of spare tubes to fix the jiggling screen; when they had "test patterns" before seven in the morning…

I took a bite of my sub. It was a middle aged guy’s sub: turkey.

A quick survey of the TV revealed:

"The Hitler Channel" Hitler all day, all night, and forever. I wondered why the other dictators don’t have their own channels. Where’s the Augusto Pinochet channel with cameo appearances by Henry Kissinger? Note to self: must write to Cable Company.

"The Endless Cooking Show": People you wouldn’t invite to your home doing things to food. Where is the show that demonstrates how a good Welsh rarebit can be produced in seconds think even my "All Terrain Vehicle" neighbors could get excited about that.

"The Boob and Butt Makeover Info-mercial Channel": Suzanne Sommers is featured during prime time. Off hours you get more people you wouldn’t invite to your home. They are mostly women–but some men are featured too. All of them did unspeakable things at the Frat house just last year. Someone’s daddy knew someone’s daddy and now they’re parading around in lycra. Blow dried hair. And those "I never get diarrhea" smiles.

"The Terrifying Shouting Men Channel": Turns out there are lots of these channels. They are the same men in different costumes depending on the show. They are mostly white men. Big heads. Very pink. They shout about President Bush and how decent he really is; they shout about how there’s never been a basketball player like insert name here; they shout about automobiles; they shout and shout about how everything in the world that’s bad has to do with some kind of liberal conspiracy, but try as I might, I can’t find any of these liberals on my tv. Just lots of sneering and shouting pink guys. They look like overgrown infants: they shake rattles and wobble from place to place. Note to self: must suggest to one of the junior Kennedys that we need a bigger version of the Peace Corps…

"The Country Music Alimentary Canal Jamboree Channel": People singing through their noses about terrible things that seem to be happening to their "insides". Opera without plot. Sad really. Several of these people could move over to the Butt channel without strain.

"The Corporation T Shirt News Channel": Lots of graphics to package the war, complete with theme music. When CNN first did this during the first Bush’s Gulf War people were appalled by the crass commercialism of music and televised video game montages. Remember those days? It "is" funny in a dark way to see how they’re struggling with the reality principle: the war is going very badly. It’s the Pogo Principle for CNN: "We have met the enemy and they are us…" Or something like that. Now they’re bringing out Donald Trump to say that he thinks W. is the worst prez in history. No wonder the neighbors are outside with their radio toy.

I settle on the "Ancient Movie Channel" largely because people don’t talk as much. There’s silence and you can hear the hiss of the old film sound track. I like that sound of falling rain while the characters stare meaningfully at the carpet. Note to self: remember to live near water…

One last thing: In Ohio there are at least 8 religious fanatic channels available all the time. Again, no surprise:

Big pink men shouting…

Note to self: call Time Warner or WOW and tell them to rename basic cable plan "The Big Pink Men Who Remain Vaguely Infantile" Option. And in fairness to the public, they should point out that this is the only option…

Note to self: eat apple. Play with dogs. Visit website of Copper Canyon Press to read about amazing Arabic language poetry…

S.K.

Halls of Shame?

My friend and colleague, Scott Lissner, the ADA Coordinator at The Ohio State University, sent me the following excerpt and link concerning a student with autism who was so discouraged by his treatment at college that he felt compelled to share his experiences publicly.  I wish that some 17 years after the passage of the ADA that students with disabilities felt better about pursuing a higher education in the U.S. but unfortunately the story below remains all too common.  Many colleges do not see disability as being an important part of campus diversity initiatives.  This is of course ironic since disability as a condition affects one in four Americans.

Steve Kuusisto

Here is a link to a piece written by a 19-year-old CUNY student with aspergers that might be of interest http://www.wiretapmag.org/education/43008/

"As I walked home through Central Park one afternoon — having been expelled from Hunter College’s Manhattan dorms that morning — I was so emotionally drained that even the bare trees seemed vivacious by comparison. During my two months as a resident student I’d lost 15 pounds, slept maybe five hours a night, and had constant, vivid, flashbacks of my many humiliations. I spent my days as tense as a hunted animal, fearing the scornful gazes of students who shunned me like they would a person who’d committed a heinous crime. My self esteem was shattered; when enough people look at you with disgust, it’s hard not to see yourself as disgusting. As for why? The best answer I have is that, in this era of tolerance, on a campus where the mere mention of racism elicits anger, I was guilty of being different from my peers.

My most marked difference from the other students is labeled "Asperger’s Syndrome" (AS). …"

http://www.wiretapmag.org/education/43008/

Assistive Technology, World Wide

News release:

United Nations
MEDIA ADVISORY

UN FORUM TO EXAMINE HOW INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY CAN ASSIST
PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES, 26 MARCH

UNITED NATIONS, 20 March 2007 — The many ways information and communication technologies (ICT) can improve the lives of persons with disabilities will be the topic of a meeting taking place at United Nations on Monday, 26 March.

At the first Global Forum of the UN Global Initiative for Inclusive ICT, disability advocates and leading experts from around the world will come together to assess the status of accessible and inclusive technologies for persons with disabilities. As the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities opens for signature on 30 March (see http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable), participating corporations will showcase their latest innovations in the field of inclusive technologies.

Speakers include Laura Ruby, Director of Policy and Standards, Microsoft; Victor Tsaran, Accessibility Program Manager, Yahoo Corporation; David Dikter, Executive Director, Assistive Technology Industry Association; and Axel Leblois, the Global Initiative’s Executive Director.

Emilie McCabe, General Manager, IBM Global Public Sector, will deliver the keynote address. Prof. Peter Brecke, of Georgia Tech’s School of International Affairs , will present the Digital Inclusion Index for Disabled Persons, which measures countries’ level of inclusion from the standpoint of ICT.

“The forum will examine how best to support the development of accessible and assistive features for ICT products,” said Sarbuland Khan, Executive Coordinator of the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development. “There are core areas of opportunities, as well as specific funding and research and development resources which industry could benefit from”.

Morning panels will examine the scope for ICT industry of developing inclusive products and services, the pervasive impact of ICT on the lives of persons with disabilities, current research to reduce accessibility gaps among common ICT products and successful applications regarding the workplace, home, media, e-government and public services.

Afternoon panels will address how to harmonize and standardize accessible and assistive technologies to make them work on a global scale, as well as the role of the public sector in fostering innovation and compliance through legislation, regulations and procurement rules.

The forum is organized by the UN Global Alliance for Technology and Development and the Boston-based Wireless Internet Institute in cooperation with the Secretariat of the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

For information, please visit http://www.g3ict.com/ and http://www.un-gaid.org or contact Enrica Murmura at the Global Alliance secretariat, tel: 212 963 5913, e-mail: murmura@un.org or Edoardo Bellando, Tel. (212) 963-8275, e-mail: bellando@un.org,. 

S.K.

Farewell to a Friend of Thousands

My wife Connie called me last night from New Hampshire where she’s visiting family to report that she had just read an obituary of Judge Richard Casey in the Manchester Union Leader. Connie and I knew Judge Casey from our time working together at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, in Yorktown Heights, New York. Judge Casey was both a graduate of Guiding Eyes, and a top notch Manhattan attorney when Connie and I first got to know him. He was also in those years an energetic member of the board of directors of Guiding Eyes. Dick Casey was in fact such an extraordinary attorney and public servant that President Clinton nominated him to serve as a Federal Judge in New York.

I will always know Dick Casey as the man who worked tirelessly to promote Guiding Eyes for the Blind. After going blind in mid life, Dick went forward with a dog from Guiding Eyes and found the benefits of mobility and the corresponding confidence that comes with having a professionally trained guide dog. In turn he put his considerable energy into serving the guide dog movement by serving on GEB’s board of directors and he worked tirelessly to help the guide dog school raise funds that will assure that any blind person who wants a guide dog can acquire one "free of charge".

The newspapers will talk about Dick’s extraordinary legal career which saw him presiding over several important cases and that’s appropriate of course. But I want to say in the "blogosphere" that Judge Casey’s philanthropic work on behalf of the blind will always be significant because it will go forward and benefit thousands of lives to come.

We have lost a tough guy who had a secret, soft heart, though he wouldn’t want the word to get out. Our hats are off and our prayers are for Richard Conway Casey and his family and friends.

S.K.

On Writing Nonfiction

A few weeks ago I was speaking at Grinnell College in Iowa and I read aloud from two books of my own creative nonfiction. When I was through with the dramatic part of the presentation I encouraged the students and faculty in the audience to pepper me with questions. One young man asked me if I "minded" being identified as a "disability writer".

I had to admit that I’d never thought of myself in precisely those terms. I could add that I’ve never thought of myself as "a five foot seven inch tall writer" or "a thinning hair writer" though as identity groups these might not be so bad. (I should look up the respective heights and pate conditions of the great nonfictionists throughout history. How tall exactly was Montaigne? What kind of hair did Samuel Pepys have?)

I told the student that in all honesty I don’t think there’s a distinction to be made between literary writing and what he was calling "disability" writing since in point of fact all novels for instance are essentially in some way about the body. I mentioned Hemingway’s "The Sun Also Rises" and Melville’s "Moby Dick" as two major examples of novels that are about deformity and illness. "Can you name a novel that isn’t in some way about the life of the body?" I asked him.

Continue reading “On Writing Nonfiction”