He lapsed into the passive voice

Aug. 17th, 2017 07:33 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

Mark Landler recently published an article in the New York Times under the headline "Where Predecessors Set Moral Standard, Trump Steps Back." Unlike his predecessors, he notes, the current president has rejected the very concept of moral leadership:

On Saturday, in his first response to Charlottesville, Mr. Trump condemned the violence "on many sides." Then he lapsed into the passive voice, expressing, as he has before, a sense of futility that the divisions between Americans would ever be healed.

"It's been going on for a long time in our country," he said. "Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time."

This incompetent, floundering president, who has never previously had to run an organization and is revealing that he is no good at it, is guilty of so many things that could have been mentioned. But passive voice?

Asking whether "the divisions between Americans would ever be healed" is passive voice, but that's not Trump, that's Landler, who's the accuser here. "It's been going on for a long time in our country" is not in the passive voice. Mark Landler is one more case (I have literally lost count) of someone who writes for a major print source and pontificates about other people's grammar but doesn't know the difference between active and passive.

It's exasperating. Even if Trump were to use the passive voice, that would not be a criticism: the statements in style books telling you to avoid it are written by clueless idiots who haven't spent even an hour seriously studying well-written prose; their licenses to pontificate should be taken away. If you're writing in anything like a normal way, about 12 percent of your transitive verbs (plus or minus five) are likely to be heading passive verb phrases. In academic writing (and much of the writing about style that denigrates passives) passives are typically about twice as common.

This stuff is not some arcane secret. I published an article about it for a general audience of educated non-linguists, and you can read it here. There's nothing wrong with passives, everyone who knows how to write uses them, their structure is well known to grammarians, and hardly anything people say about them in general sources like newspapers and magazines and popular grammar websites is true.

Yet even people who write for The New York Times don't know this grade-school elementary grammar, it would seem, and obviously the editors don't either, or they would have caught Landler's mistake.

It is a profoundly weird situation: most educated people in America think there is a crisis about native speakers using the language ungrammatically (there isn't) and imagine that they know enough about grammar to make such judgments (they don't). So you get this situation of the blind warning the blind about a danger that isn't there. It makes you weep.

Thanks to Philip Miller for pointing out to me the reference to passive voice in the final sentences of Landler's article.

Worldcon 75, Part 2

Aug. 16th, 2017 12:07 pm
[syndicated profile] book_view_cafe_feed

Posted by Jeffrey A. Carver

Thursday through Saturday were good days for me at Worldcon.

But first, congratulations to all the winners of the Hugo and associated rewards! You can see the full list on tor.com. Women once again dominated in the trophy winning, which might have made some people unhappy, but I thought it was great. It’s about time some of our fantastic female writers got their due. And I’m also glad to see lots of young fans, from many nations, of all and sundry genders.

The convention ran into problems with serious overcrowding, because attendance wildly exceeded expectations. Tons of people registered at the last minute, or showed up without preregistering or hoping for day passes, which they had to stop selling. Combined with this, the local authorities strictly enforced the fire laws, so that no standing room was permitted in any of the rooms. The result was crazy long lines, lots of folk not getting into panels they wanted to see, and plenty of hair pulling. The con committee rallied, worked with the convention center, and got some of the more popular events moved to larger rooms, and even added additional panels at the last minute. It was a tough recovery, but I think they did a good job under difficult circumstances.

My own panels over the last few days included one on keeping yourself motivated in writing, a topic that drew plenty of interest. Friday we were on for writing space opera and writing collaboratively, and both were well attended and fun discussions. I was moderating both, so I was revved up keeping things moving.

Today I had two big panels that I was not moderating, one on the future of physics, and one on world building. Both were a lot of fun.  Here’s a sort of blurry picture of the world building panel, with (from left to right) Jon Oliver, Alex Acks, me, and George R.R. Martin. The audience for this one was huge, as you might expect. It was a lively and interesting discussion, I thought.

There were lots of camera flashes out in the audience, so if anyone out there has a clearer picture and would like to send it my way, please do!


[syndicated profile] book_view_cafe_feed

Posted by Judith Tarr

One of the things I love about the way the fantasy genre has evolved in the new millennium is how it plays with its tropes. Every genre has them, and cherishes them. Tropes are what make a genre what it is.

But since they are tropes, that is, common and repeated themes, they can turn all too quickly into clichés. In swords and sorcery, that would be the brawny swordsman, the bawdy tavern, the wicked bandit, and of course various forms of spellcasters and their magics. If you see all those together, you know what you’re getting. Special bonus points for a clever sidekick and snarky dialogue.

I grew up on Conan, Elric (oh, the moodiness! ah, the Angst!), Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and the women, too: Jirel of Joiry, Red Sonja. They were fun, they were exciting, they fought on all fronts with verve and gusto.

I was going to say they’re out of date now, but mostly they’ve been superseded by comics and superheroes. But they’re still a part of me, even while I’ve moved on with many of my fellow writers.

We’re woke now. We see sexism, racism, culture-ism, all the casual assumptions that used to pervade the genre. Still do, in too many parts of it. Worlds that consist entirely of males, most of them white. “Strong female characters” that add up to a single token “Smurfette,” while all the rest of the crew are male. “Diversity” that means the white guy is in charge, The Girl backs him up, and the black guy might as well be wearing a red shirt, because he’ll be gone before the final credits roll.

These things get called out now. Writers are noticing, and so are readers. We see what people did there for so long and so automatically, and we think about ways to change it.

So I was cruising along on social media, a year or two back, and people were talking, as they used to do before everything was all politics all the time, and someone—alas, I forget who—said, “What about realism in fantasy? Won’t the barbarian swordsman have to do his taxes?”

Why, so he would. And there’s an assumption in that, too: that he’d be male.

Time passed. Conversations rambled as they will. We talked about genderbending, and about shifting away from forced binaries. And somewhere in there, an editor observed that omniscient point of view has gone far out of fashion, which is too bad because it can be really effective when it’s done right.

All of that came together in my head, and suddenly there it was: Bron the barbarian swordswoman/tax accountant, trying to get her taxes done on the absolute last day, under literal combat conditions. Nevertheless, she persisted. And the rest is story. A story. With beloved fantasy tropes, tilted somewhat sidewise.

When the writers of Book View Cafe began to talk about an anthology in honor of a certain persistent Senator, I realized my odd little story might have found a home. I submitted “Tax Season” to Nevertheless, She Persisted, and editor Mindy Klasky allowed as how she had laughed aloud in public when she read it—and that was an acceptance. Bron and company have not only found an anthology-home, they’ve joined eighteen other excellent stories by most excellent (and persistent) authors. And that’s a happy ending.


[syndicated profile] haddayr_wp_feed

Posted by haddayr


I forgot to post here that my essay “Move Like You’re From Thra, My People” about disability and The Dark Crystal has gone live at the kickstarter for Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction!

Please enjoy.


Filed under: Uncategorized

What We Both Saw

Aug. 16th, 2017 08:04 am
[syndicated profile] rollingaroundinmyhed_feed

Posted by Dave Hingsburger

Zero tolerance for bullying! I hear that so often, and when I hear it, it is said with determination and there is fire in the eyes of the speaker. They say it. They believe it when it's being said and they know it's the right thing to say.

But that's the problem with all of this isn't it?


Sometimes they have meaning.

Sometimes they don't.

I was watching kids playing in a pool, it was a summer camp activity. I knew this because there were camp staff with them in the pool. I could easily identify them as camp staff because they all wore singlets with the words 'camp staff' on them.

Right in front of me I saw a bully standing under a devise that, when full, dumped a blast of water on whoever was below. He was centered directly under the dump bucket and was taking, to his delight, the full impact of the water. There were kids around him, pushed in close, who were taking the left over splash. The brave ones tried to get closer and the bully elbowed them hard and they moved back. This was his and he was keeping it.

This was seen.

I clocked three of the camp counselors notice this.

But nothing happened. They made no move. Two shook their head in disapproval, but that was the extent of their action.

But there was a boy, with a disability, who was in the pool, several feel away, who saw what I saw. A bully using force and entitlement to take from other kids the experience of a direct blast of fun. His elbows and his attitude were his weapons, his expectations of inaction by the staff was an integral part of his strategy for domination of that area of the pool. The kid with a disability saw all this.

He was accompanied by a staff. He got their attention and he pointed. It looked, from my viewpoint on the other side of the glass, that he didn't use words to communicate. He pointed, they saw and looked away, he pointed again, and they looked away again. He was getting frustrated and it showed.

"Tell the staff,""Tell someone in a position of authority" is one of the strategies we teach children, people with disabilities, and each other. It's a common sense strategy. If you see or experience bullying, or violence, or abuse, report it.

But bullies, and aggressors, and abusers, know that 'zero tolerance' often means 'zero acknowledgement' that people will simply 'not see' what they 'don't tolerate.'

That child, the one with the disability, was the one kid in the pool that did what needed to be done. He clearly took responsibility and because he did he SAW what was happening and he took action.

But that's where the action stopped.

Then, the whistle blew and the kids clamoured out of the pool.

I saw the bully standing, smiling from the fun he had. I'm not sure if that fun was the water bucket or the fact that he had it to himself.

He won.

Everyone else lost.

And he knew it.

Zero tolerance doesn't exist if there is zero determination and willful, purposeful, refusal to see what won't be tolerated.

And maybe we need a new strategy.

Maybe we should be promising something different, not 'zero tolerance for bullying' but 'zero tolerance for inaction' to the issue of bullying, abuse and social violence.

That's what I'd like to see.

That's what I'd like to experience.

That's what may make the world a little bit safer.

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

Aug. 16th, 2017 07:00 am
[syndicated profile] strangehorizons_feed

Posted by Gautam Bhatia

In Elias Khoury’s Sinalcol, a novel set in post-civil war Beirut, someone observes that the surest sign of the end of a revolution is “when those who had struggled started writing their memoirs” (Sinalcol, p. 357). If that is true, then does 2016-17, which saw the publication not just of Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue but also Omar Robert Hamilton’s The City Always Wins, mark the end of the Egyptian Revolution? Both Aziz and Hamilton were among those who “struggled” in the Revolution that began in 2011, the time and manner of whose ending—and the question of whether it has ended at all—continue to be disputed. Their works, although not memoirs but novels, are nonetheless deeply personal accounts of a time of extraordinary upheaval.

Both Aziz and Hamilton's novels possess a dirge-like quality, with the sense of loss—and of defeat—quite palpable, hanging over the words like a shroud. But there is also a desire to use words, and the novelistic form, to make sense of what happened; that, now freed from the “terrifying ambiguity of the present”, it is possible to look back and discover meaning in a past that was too chaotic while it lasted—or, if there is no meaning to be discovered, either to invent it, or to accept the Revolution’s meaninglessness. Perhaps it is overstating the case to say that, when those who have struggled take up the pen, all they can write is an obituary.

While The City Always Wins and The Queue are unmistakably written in response to the Egyptian Revolution, their manner of engagement is very different, and almost complementary. Hamilton’s novel, a thinly-disguised memoir, is set in the streets of Egypt between 2011 and 2014, where fictional characters mingle with real ones, and fictional lives intersect with historical tragedies, both individual and collective. In complete contrast to Hamilton’s concreteness, Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue is a novel in which the real world has been pared back into abstraction, events have lost their names, histories, and any identifying markers, and all signposts to the familiar have been conspicuously removed. It is almost as if a relapse into the concrete would distract from the novel’s primary theme, summed up aptly in the blurb: “the way that absolute authority manipulates information, mobilized others in service to it, and fails to uphold the rights of even the faithful.”

The Queue is set in an unnamed country, with only the names of its characters acting as geographical signposts: Tarek, Yehya, Nagy—all names redolent of the Arabic-speaking Middle-East. The country is ruled by the “Gate” (i.e., an actual, physical gate, which issues orders and directions through its proxies, and maintains discipline through a militia called the Quell Force). The Gate has assumed power after the internal disintegration of a successful popular uprising against the prior regime, referred to as “The First Storm,” and consolidated it by violently putting down a second uprising known as “The Disgraceful Events.” Now, all human life is subject to the rhythms of the Gate, which promises to open, but never does. And because nothing can be done without the sanction of the Gate, citizen-petitioners must queue before it until it opens, and their paperwork is processed. Over time, this queue—which gives Aziz’s novel its title—swells to monstrous proportions, creating its own mini-society and proliferating little economies—and continues to expand. Life is the queue, and the queue is life, with brief interludes elsewhere.

One of the queue's inhabitants is Yehya, a sometime student radical injured during the course of The Disgraceful Events. He is taken to the nearest hospital, where he has an X-Ray taken. The doctor, Tarek, realizes that there is a bullet lodged in Yehya's body, which can only be removed by surgery. Before Tarek can take action, however, The Gate decrees that no surgeries may be performed without prior clearance. As Yehya begins the long task of waiting in the Queue, and as his condition begins to worsen with each passing day despite the ministrations of his friend as well as his partner, Tarek struggles between the desire to stay safe and the call of the Hippocratic oath. When news begins to filter through that The Gate is denying that any shooting ever took place during The Disgraceful Events, and those who were injured with bullets to show for it are simply disappearing, Tarek is faced with a decisive, agonizing choice: to forget all that happened, or to treat Yehya and face the consequences.

There are many obvious models for The Queue. In The Gate’s totalitarian control over citizens’ lives, upheld through a combination of brute force and propagandistic doublespeak, and married to the unending bureaucratic nightmare that it constructs, Aziz’s novel sometimes seems like an obvious cross between 1984 (1949) and The Castle (1926). However, the novel that it is perhaps closest to in terms of form, method, and imaginative content, is Kossi Efoui’s recent, dystopian nightmare, The Shadow of Things to Come (2013).

In both The Shadow of Things to Come and The Queue, the writer’s response to the unspeakable horrors of reality is to embrace an austere, abstract minimalism. Both novels are set in nameless countries: although Efoui is responding to Togo’s violent transition to independence, the thinly apocryphal events of his novel could fit the post-colonial disintegration of any African nation; and similarly, although Aziz is very obviously writing in and about Egypt, The Queue would make sense if transposed into any Arab country, especially those in which the Arab Spring failed. In both novels, terrible events are reduced to cloudy euphemisms that deliberately mask what happened: the “Time of Annexation” and the “Frontier Challenge” in The Shadow of Things to Come, and The First Storm and The Disgraceful Events in The Queue. In both novels, a core feature is the regime’s weaponisation of language to construct an alternate reality. The rhetorical question in The Shadow of Things to Come, as the postcolonial regime prepares to clear a forest of its own indigenous population, is: “Haven’t the armies of Occupation left, taking the reviled word “war” with them?”  In The Queue, “the Gate” constructs an impersonal power that makes the very possibility of conceptualising resistance futile (how do you rebel against “The Gate”?).

Ultimately, in both The Shadow of Things to Come and in The Queue, the very form and shape of the novel is moulded by its subject matter: authoritarianism succeeds when it strips its subjects of context, robs experience of its concreteness and reduces it to a set of slogans, and achieves such a synthesis between language and reality, that there remains no space within language to conceptualise an alternate reality. In The Queue, this last point is driven home with particular forcefulness through an abortive resistance movement (labeled “the Riffraff”), which achieves initial success, but fails because it cannot “offer any convincing alternatives, so everyone in the queue—those behind the barriers and the rest—refused to give up hope. No-one was ready to leave without receiving the resolution they had come for” (p. 90). This passive acquiescence, that is moulded by a gradual closure of any possibility of action (what do you do when The Gate simply does not open?), represents the frightening way in which totalitarianism gradually takes over every aspect of life.

Aziz’s is an updated totalitarianism for the twenty-first century, where a private telecom company cooperates with both The Gate—to impose a mass surveillance regime upon the citizens of the Queue (originally achieved by offering free phone calls)—and a religious figure called “The Sheikh,” who justifies the regime and its depredations to the public. Even though all of this remains at a high level of abstraction (“the Sheikh” is never named, and neither is the telecom company), it is a clear indictment of how business and organized religion both find a ready home in a State that is turning itself totalitarian.

And what of the Queue itself, the eponymous lining-up of the novel? Here again, it is quite instructive that Aziz’s is not the first novel where queues play a central, almost constitutive, role; they do as well in Ngugi wa Thiongo’s The Wizard of the Crow (2006). Both queues are vehicles of heavy irony: “you are in the waiting room of history—so wait a little longer” was the standard justification that European colonizers gave to colonized nations when denying them independence throughout the twentieth century. Colonialism is over, but the wait continues; the logic replicates itself. This point has been made often by journalists and scholars. Aziz makes it in its own powerful way, through an SF novel that is both disturbing and unusual.

Chinese, Greek, and Latin, part 2

Aug. 16th, 2017 01:45 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

[This is a guest post by Richard Lynn.  It is all the more appreciated, since he had written it as a comment to "Chinese, Greek, and Latin" (8/8/17) a day or two ago, but when he pressed the "submit" button, his comment evaporated.  So he had to write the whole thing all over again.  I am grateful to Dick for his willingness to do so and think that the stimulating results are worth the effort he put into this post.]

James Zainaldin’s remarks concerning the Lunyu, Mencius, Mozi, Zhuangzi, and the Dao de jing, his frustration by the limits of grammatical or lexical analysis, that is, the relative lack of grammatical and lexical explicitness compared to Greek and Latin texts, is a reasonable conclusion — besides that, Greek and Latin, Sanskrit too, all are written with phonetic scripts — easy stuff! But such observations are a good place to start a discussion of the role of commentaries and philological approaches to reading and translating Literary/Classical Chinese texts, Literary Sinitic (LS). Nathan Vedal’s remarks are also spot on: “LS is really an umbrella term for a set of languages. The modes of expression in various genres and fields differ to such a high degree that I sometimes feel as though I'm learning a new language when I begin work on a new topic.”

This last jogged my memory, a conversation with Achilles Fang 方志彤 many years ago, when he made three remarks that seem pertinent to this discussion (I paraphrase):

(1) Studying premodern Chinese letters is equivalent to learning the entire corpus of ancient Greek and Latin literature, including medieval Latin texts, plus all the early European vernaculars, from the earliest written versions up through the modern languages.

(2) When dealing with any Chinese text, one should gather every known version of it so, by comparing differences in wording, one might more accurately punctuate the version used for study and translation, bridge ellipses, and better establish contexts.

(3) If commentaries for texts existed, it would be unwise not to take full advantage of them, whatever their biases and limitations, for, if nothing else, interlinear commentaries can help with delimiting syntactic units.

As I said, this was a long time ago, but I think I remember the essentials rightly.

Now, as for the value of commentaries in interpreting texts, this varies enormously, and when multiple commentaries exist, say, for the Zhouyi (Classic of Changes), one is faced with the problem of deciding which one to trust, which one is “right,” etc. One way is to cherry pick from several or more of them:  Richard Wilhelm’s Classic of Changes was done this way, whereas my The Classic of Changes: A New Translation of the I Ching as Interpreted by Wang Bi is restricted to one commentator; I attempted to integrate original text and commentary so that each defined and clarified the other. I did the same with my Wang Bi version of the Daode jing, and I am now (2/3 complete more or less) engaged in a similar project, the Guo Xiang version of the Zhuangzi. This is not to say that Guo Xiang is “right”—for with such early texts they are often so opaque in places that the meaning can be seen to differ with each different commentary.

Peipei Qiu (Vassar) is doing a Zhuangzi with the commenary of the Song era Neo-Confucian Lin Xiyi, so her translation will be very different from mine — as it should be. Text and commentary are inseparable, so it would be nonsense to tack on a new translation of a commentary to an earlier translation of the original text (benwen 本文), as one particularly inept reviewer of my Dao de jing book thought I should have done.

The Lunyu, Mencius, Mozi, Zhuangzi, and Dao de jing are all pre-Han and thus full of eccentric, irregular, erratic syntactic forms and peculiar terminology. With the Han era, syntax and vocabulary become far more regular, which, while helping considerably in some ways, presents problems in others, for the great majority of texts from the Han through the Qing, two millennia later, do not have attached commentaries, are not even punctuated, and when they do have commentaries these often are usually factual and not interpretive.  This is especially true for poetry, where, for example with Du Fu, commentaries identify people, places, and allusions, but provide no help in explaining what particular lines mean.

Of course, in most recent times many such texts now exist in modern annotated editions with full punctuation, the annotations including baihua (modern Chinese) paraphrase (dayi 大意) interpretations — but beware, a paraphrase is not a translation! And this brings us to another problem:  the continuity between LS and modern Chinese certainly seems much closer than, say, between Latin and Italian, ancient Greek and what one reads in an Athenian newspaper. I have always (as a non-native speaker of Chinese) found my ability in putonghua, such as it is, to be a great help in intuiting meaning in LS texts, for there often is much bai in old wen texts (and wen in modern bai texts, by the way). But as a non-native Chinese I have little trust in such intuitions, so tend to verify (or abandon) them after what a native speaker might regard as excessive philological investigation. I know I just need more help.

So then an enormous battery of Sinological sources is brought to play: dictionaries, leishu [VHM:  encyclopedias; premodern reference books with material taken from various sources and arranged according to subjects / categories], background searches through local histories (difang zhi), global searches for comparable contexts in such resources as the electronic / digital Siku quanshu [VHM:  Complete Library in Four Treasuries], Christian Wittern’s 漢リポ Kanseki Repository, http://hanji.sinica.edu.tw/, etc., etc. , as well as all the guidance provided by modern Chinese scholarship and pre-modern and modern Japanese Sinology (Kangaku 漢學) (I wish I knew Korean!).

I have been at this stuff for more than 50 years now, so experience and ever wider familiarity with texts seems finally to be paying off. Göran Malmqvist (b. 1924) once told me about a visit he made to his teacher Bernhard Karlgren (1889-1978) in hospital a few weeks before Karlgren passed away.  Karlgren was propped up in bed reading the Zuozhuan, surrounded by other books. He said to Malmquist, “You know, Göran, after some 70 years I am finally getting the hang of these things!” I can hardly wait.

Hei, Helsinki! Worldcon 75!

Aug. 15th, 2017 12:08 pm
[syndicated profile] book_view_cafe_feed

Posted by Jeffrey A. Carver

This is a catch-up series of reports, so set your Wayback Machine to last Wednesday, and join my ride, starting with lift-off:

We arrived in Helsinki, Finland, early this morning for Worldcon 75, this year’s World Science Fiction Convention. At the moment, sleep deprivation and jetlag are making things somewhat of a blur. (Finland time is seven hours earlier than Boston time.) I think half the people on our flight from Iceland to Helsinki were on their way to the con. My daughter arrived a few days earlier, and to my immense relief, she was able to straighten out an issue with the hotel, so we’re not paying an extra thousand for days of an empty room! 

Tomorrow, I start things in earnest, with a signing session at noon, and a panel on how to motivate yourself when writing is tough at 15:00. (Everything is on the 24-hour clock here.) The hotel is a brisk 15-minute walk from the hotel, which is good. I need the exercise.

Friday I’ll be moderating a panel on space opera, and another on writing collaboratively. Saturday, I’m the one non-physicist on a panel on the future of physics (I guess I’m the wild card in the deck), and participating—in my last panel—on one on world-building, a panel that might or might not include George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones, depending on what listing I believe.

Once the worldcon is over, we’ll be taking a few days to see Helsinki and Finland, and then a couple in Iceland on our way home.

I’m looking forward to seeing many friends!



All the sluts at once

Aug. 15th, 2017 07:03 am
[syndicated profile] book_view_cafe_feed

Posted by Jennifer Stevenson

Sounds like some guy’s dream come true, doesn’t it? Well, it’s also mine. I’ve spent three years working on this series, and today the omnibus edition launches at Book View Café: All the Coed Demon Sluts under one cover, for a terrific price, done and dusted, whew.

Coed Demon Sluts: Beth by Jennifer StevensonFor the past year I’ve worked twelve to fourteen fourteen hours a day, no days off—on one memorable occasion back in January, forty hours out of forty-eight.

I’ve lived and breathed this series so intensely that sometimes when I was half-asleep I actually expected to get a visit from Delilah myself, take the offer, do something radical with my life and my body the way these women do…maybe not quite yet…but someday…

I’ve really loved writing these books. They’re funny and feminist and fantastical and finally off my desk, featuring succubi, shoes, and shopping, massive quantities of food and controlled substances, boots-on-the-ground empowerment, all-girl hot tubbing, riot-grrl rage, rollicking, revenge, renewal, rejoicing, and six women who find out what they’re made of by making themselves into something totally other.

Coed Demon Sluts: Melitta by Jennifer StevensonBy the end of the series they’ve turned a corner. They’ll have to make a plan.

Good time for the author to do a quick sneak.

So what do I do with myself now?

Coed Demon Sluts: Amanda by Jennifer Stevenson(After the longest hot shower ever and a bottle of wine.)

Additional coed demon sluts will be on the knees of the gods. (There’s a sentence.) The Hinky Chicago series is missing its final episode, which sits half-written in my hard drive. Four contemporary romantic comedies about exceptionally sneaky people, ditto.

Coed Demon Sluts: Pog by Jennifer StevensonOr this four-fat-book series of apocalyptic magical realism that’s been brewing since I wrote Trash, Sex, Magic, universe-building slowly through Hinky Chicago and Slacker Demons and Coed Demon Sluts…oh, man. I don’t know if I have the energy to destroy the world yet.

Sheesh. Take the rest of the summer off, Jennifer. Take up yoga. Breathe.


[syndicated profile] book_view_cafe_feed

Posted by News Editor

Coed Demon Sluts Omnibus
Coed Demon Sluts: Books 1-5
by Jennifer Stevenson

Aren’t you tired of doing everything right?
Wouldn’t you like a second chance to go back and do it wrong?
Coed Demon Sluts: There’s always room on the team.

This series of feminist women’s fiction novels features shoes and shopping, massive quantities of food and controlled substances, all-girl hot tubbing, riot-grrl rage, rollicking, revenge, renewal, and rejoicing. Six women find out what they’re made of by making themselves into something totally other.


The Coed Demon Sluts Series:

Coed Demon Sluts: Beth
Coed Demon Sluts: Jee
Coed Demon Sluts: Melitta
Coed Demon Sluts: Amanda
Coed Demon Sluts: Pog
Coed Demon Sluts: Omnibus

Buy Coed Demon Sluts Omnibus at BVC Ebookstore



Savage Love

Aug. 16th, 2017 04:00 am
[syndicated profile] savagelove_feed

Posted by Dan Savage

Woman's husband did a political one-eighty and is now a Trump supporter. by Dan Savage

I've been wondering: Since there are lesbians out there who occasionally crave cock, does the reverse also happen? Are there gay men who occasionally crave pussy?

This Possible?

There are gay men who watch football—hell, I have it on good authority that some gay men play football, TP. So anything is possible. (Also, there are lots of lesbian-identified bisexual women out there, a smaller number of gay-identified bisexual men, and a tiny handful of bisexual-identified football fans.)

I've been seeing a lot of articles in the media about men "dropping out of the dating-and-marriage game," and the conclusions always point to porn as the culprit. This seems like a simplistic explanation. Do you have an opinion on the effect of porn on men?

Pondering Porn

I dropped out of the forming-opinions-about-porn game—far too busy consuming porn these days, PP. It's the only way to keep myself sane here in Trumpsylvania.

I'm a 26-year-old woman. I started dating a fantastic guy a month ago, blah blah blah, we've already talked about marriage. The problem is that his dick isn't up to par size-wise or staying-hard-wise. He was aware of this before I came along, and it made him an enthusiastic and skilled oral performer to make up for it. So for now everything's great, plenty of orgasms, and we're lovey-dovey. But eventually I'll need that filled-up feeling and I'll have to ask for some dildo/extender/strap-on action. The question is when to ask. He's a secure guy, and we've both been honest about our flaws. If I wait too long to ask, it might make him think I've been faking the whole time. And if I ask too soon, I could scare him off or make his performance anxiety worse! How do I know when the right time is?

Half Full

If you were talking about marriage after a month, HF, odds are good this relationship is doomed anyway. So go ahead and ask for dildo/extender/strap-on action now. Don't say, "Circling back to your subpar dick, darling, I'm gonna need some compensatory dildo action soon." Instead say, "I'm into penetration toys, and I'm looking forward to getting into them with you—getting them into me, getting them into you. Anything you want to put on the menu, darling?"

Two friends can hook up with a girl or two girls from a bar and have a threesome or a foursome. But can two brothers—with opposite sexual preferences—hook up with a girl and a guy from a bar? Would this be considered wrong? No touching between siblings would occur.

Basic Bros

It would be considered wrong by some—but those people aren't you, your brother, or the girl and guy you hope to pick up together. Personally, BB, I can barely get an erection if one of my siblings is in the same zip code; I can't imagine getting one with a sibling in the same room. But if you're comfortable doing opposite-sexual-preferencey things in close proximity to your brother, go for it.

I am a bisexual man and recently divorced my wife of 30 years. I am currently seeing a very beautiful lady. I satisfy my bisexual desires by going to sex clubs and I always practice safe sex. I don't have an issue, I just wanted to tell you I remember one time when you had a column about two guys performing fellatio on another man at the same time. I found it to be such a turn-on and even fantasized I was doing it to you. Hope that doesn't offend you.

Loving Life

Um, thanks for sharing?

I'm having an extremely difficult time getting intimate with my boyfriend of four years. I'm in recovery for an eating disorder, and part of my treatment is Prozac. It's working great and helping me make healthier choices. However, the Prozac is severely affecting my sex drive. I have little to no desire to have sex. And when we do have sex, I rarely orgasm. This is frustrating and, frankly, harmful to my recovery process. I'm already dealing with my shitty eating disorder telling me that I'm fat, ugly, and not good enough for anyone, anything, or even a decent meal. Now it's taking sex away from me, too? I also feel terrible for my boyfriend, who is endlessly patient and understanding but wants to have sex. I've suggested opening up the relationship for his sake, but he doesn't want to do that. I feel guilty and sad and frustrated. Any thoughts?

Prozac Lover/Healer

If the benefits of Prozac (helping you make better choices and aiding your recovery process) are canceled out by the side effects (leaving you so sexually frustrated, it's harming your recovery process), PLH, you should talk to your doctor about other options—other drugs you could try or a lower dose of Prozac. If you doctor dismisses your concerns about the sexual side effects of the drug they've got you on, get a new doctor.

I have only one concern about Donald Trump getting impeached: Do we get Mike Pence? Is he not just as bad? Or worse? On a more personal note: I don't think I've gotten a good night's sleep since Trump got elected. I wake up every morning next to an avid, Fox News–watching Trump supporter. I'm married long-term (35 years!) to a man who pulled a political one-eighty. This is about to make me crazy. Really. I'm not kidding. Do you have any suggestions for me? I don't want to DTMFA. Although after a most nauseating discussion over dinner, I did actually give it some thought.

Liberal Grandma

Mike Pence, as awful as he is, oscillates within a predictable band of Republican awfulness. The reason no one is getting any sleep these days—not even folks who don't wake up next to Trump supporters—is because no one can predict what Trump will do next. Not even Trump. That's what makes his presidency such an existential nightmare.

As for your husband, LG, your choices are binary and rather stark: Either you divorce his ass and spare yourself the grief of listening to his bullshit, or you stay put, learn to tune out his bullshit, and cancel out his vote in 2018 and 2020.

What's the best dating site for a slightly cynical, tattooed, fortysomething woman looking for a guy?

Tattooed Lady

It depends on the kind of guy you want. Closet case? ChristianMingle. Fuck boy? Tinder. Trump voter? Farmers Only. Compulsive masturbator? Craigslist. Unfuckable loser who is now and will always be a socially maladapted virgin? Return of Kings.

On the Lovecast, Dr. Samantha Joel on the psychology of ending relationships: savagelovecast.com.




[ Comment on this story ]

[ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]

A Story Unprompted

Aug. 15th, 2017 07:28 am
[syndicated profile] rollingaroundinmyhed_feed

Posted by Dave Hingsburger

My father joined the Canadian Forces when he was 19 and served overseas during WWII. This was something he never really talked about with me, even though, as you can imagine, I tried. I was interested in where he'd been and what his experiences were and he was interested in not talking about it. I understand many vets were reluctant to tell their stories and my father was one of their number.

During his time in the hospital he did talk a little more about being in the war. I had brought up the movie "Dunkirk" and he said that it was good for people to remember. Then he talked a little more about his experiences, not much but more.

I want here, in this last post I'm going to write about my Dad, for now, I want to remember a brief conversation I had with Dad about the war when I was just becoming a teenager.

First though, let me say that I never heard my father utter a racial epithet. I'm not saying he never did, I don't know that, I was a boy and know only how he spoke around children, I no nothing of how he spoke around other men, but I never heard him. This is noteworthy because, of course, I heard those words elsewhere and I heard them used unchallenged. It was somewhere around 1964 when I was about twelve that I had a conversation with Dad that I have always remembered and in a sense, it has guided me.

We were speaking about a report on television about racism. Out of the blue, and without any of my persistent questioning, Dad told me a story. He said that when he enlisted he expected to find camaraderie amongst his fellow recruits. He did. This was a war with Germany. His was a German last name. He found himself expelled from the social life of his unit. There was another fellow experiencing the same thing. A black man, also Canadian, also enlisted, also excluded. They hung around with each other at first by chance and necessity and then by choice. They liked each other. But my dad notice that while he was socially excluded, his friend experienced exclusion accompanied by force. Dad never felt endangered, but he knew that his friend did. He hated that.

My dad said that the saw first hand what prejudice did to people. He had tasted it but he'd seen the full measure of its cruelty inflicted on someone he cared about. 

That was it.

I wanted more.

I didn't get more. I don't know what happened to this man. I don't know what his name was. I don't know if he made it through the war.

I did know, though, that war changed my father. Both on the battlefield and in the barracks my father got a glimpse of the various kinds of horrors that humans do to humans.

I'm not sure why he told me that story that day.

But it mattered to me.


And now. 

Bad Chinese

Aug. 15th, 2017 03:19 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

Sign south of the demolished Pfeiffer Bridge on Highway 1 in Monterey County (photograph taken on August 12, 2017 by Richard Masoner while on a Big Sur bike trip, via Flickr):

Bad machine translation

This is not Chinglish.  It is the opposite of Chinglish:  English poorly translated into Chinese.

The sign says:

Zhǔdòng gōnglù bùyào zǒu zài zhōngjiān de lùxiàn bǎochí bái xiàn de quánlì

It's difficult for me to make sense of this sign.  Chinese friends to whom I show this sign are also totally confused by it.

Forced translation into English:

"Active highway.  Don't walk / ride in the center line / lane.  Keep / maintain the rights of the white line."

Word for word translations:

zhǔdòng 主动 active; initiative; driving

gōnglù 公路 highwayroad

bùyào 不要 do not

zǒu 走 walk; ride

zài 在 in; at

zhōngjiān 中间 between; inside

de 的 of

lùxiàn 路线 route; lane

bǎochí 保持 keep; maintain

báixiàn 白线 white line (perhaps signifying "fog line" here)

de 的 of

quánlì 权利 right(s); legal right; droit

I think what they're trying to say is something like this:

Busy highway.  Don't walk / ride in the center lane.  Stay to the right of the white line.

Translated into Chinese, that would be something like this:

Fánmáng de gōnglù. Bùyào zài zhōngjiān chēdào shàng zǒulù/qíchē. Qǐng kào bái xiàn de yòubiān.

Of course, there are many other possibilities, depending upon exactly what the original English was.  For those who are interested, here I'll give half a dozen other versions suggested by respondents, but only in Chinese characters with Hanyu Pinyin:

Chēliú fánmáng. Jìnzhǐ zài zhōngjiān chēdào (or maybe jīdòng chēdào?) shàng zǒulù/qíchē. Bǎochí zài bái xiàn yòufāng xíngshǐ.
车流繁忙。禁止在中间车道(or maybe 机动车道?) 上走路/骑车。保持在白线右方行驶。

Fánmáng lùduàn, xíngrén hé fēi jīdòngchē yánjìn zhànyòng zhōngjiān chēdào, qǐng zài bái xiàn yòucè xíngzǒu huò qíxíng.

Gōnglù fánmáng, qǐng wù yú zhōngjiān chēdào xíngzǒu/xíngshǐ. Xíngzǒu/xíngshǐ shí qǐng kào yòu, wù chāoyuè bái xiàn.

Gōnglù fánmáng, qǐng wù zhànyòng zhōngjiān chēdào, qǐng kào bái xiàn yòucè xíngshǐ.

Gōnglù chēliú liàngdà, fēi jīdòngchē qǐng bǎochí zài bái xiàn yòucè, wù zhànyòng zhōngjiān chēdào.

Gōnglù chēliàng duō. Qǐng wù zài zhōngyāng chēdào shàng xíngzǒu huò qíchē. Xíngrén qǐng zǒu bái xiàn yòubiān.

They all mean roughly the same thing as what I proposed above in English and Chinese (they were basically following my lead [mine was considered correct, but too colloquial for a sign]).

[h.t.:  Martin Delson; thanks to Maiheng Dietrich, Melvin Lee, Yixue Yang, Jinyi Cai, Fangyi Cheng, and Jing Wen]

[syndicated profile] book_view_cafe_feed

Posted by Marie Brennan

Diana Wynne Jones is the reason I became a writer.

For those who aren’t familiar with her work, she was a British writer of children’s fantasy who passed away a few years ago. One of her odder and more difficult works is the novel Fire and Hemlock, which riffs on the Scottish border ballads “Tam Lin” and “Thomas the Rhymer.” The friendship of the heroine and the hero, Polly Whittaker and Thomas Lynn, is built partly on the epic fantasy story they are writing together, sending chunks of manuscript back and forth in the post as each of them adds a new section.

I read that book when I was nine or ten years old. And I distinctly remember putting it down and thinking, I want to tell a story.

In Reflections, a collection of DWJ’s essays and speeches, there’s a piece called “The Heroic Ideal: A Personal Odyssey” where she discusses Fire and Hemlock in depth, tying it in with her childhood reading and thoughts on heroism and gender. Naturally, given my love for DWJ’s work in general and that book in particular, I devoured this essay. It discusses Odysseus quite a bit, and in passing says this about his wife:

In the Odyssey, Penelope can only stay good by tricksy passive resistance which doesn’t do much to get rid of her suitors. But at least she was using her mind — like her husband.

I’d never thought about Penelope as a trickster before. But isn’t it by deception that she fights against her enemies? She tells them she must weave a funeral shroud for her father, but each night she undoes her work, stalling for time. The essay made me see her actions in a new light.

And then one day I thought, hmmm. Is there any way I could reinterpret Penelope to make her more active?

The story fell out of my head in a single sitting while I killed a few hours at an airport, waiting for my flight. Because of course what is weaving associated with, in Greek mythology? With fate. With the three Fates, to be precise — who in some theogonies are said to be the daughters of the goddess Ananke, “Necessity.”

What if, with her weaving and unweaving, Penelope wasn’t just trying to stop something? What if she was trying to make something happen? And failing, again and again, but she keeps on trying, because she has a gift, even if she can’t fully control it.

“Daughter of Necessity” is one of my favorite stories I’ve ever written. And I owe Diana Wynne Jones thanks twice over for it: first for making me a writer, and then for writing the lines that brought this story into being.


The Eclipse Is Coming

Aug. 14th, 2017 05:59 am
[syndicated profile] book_view_cafe_feed

Posted by Diana Pharaoh Francis

The full eclipse will happen next week. There hasn’t been another in my lifetime and I’m incredibly excited. It doesn’t hurt that I live in the path of totality. I’m super excited to see it. I’m less excited about the influx of people. It’s not that I begrudge people this opportunity. I would certain come hundreds of miles to see it. It’s just that it’s going to be almost like a midwestern blizzard in terms of the need to stock up on supplies and stay home. In my town alone, they are expecting around 500,000 visitors. Restaurants are worried about employees getting to work since the roads will be packed. All business are worried about credit card transactions, because they think the system will be overloaded. Emergency response people are worried. Part of the reason is that there’s a river bisecting the city and only ONE bridge. If something happens there–like an accident or suicide attempt (which in fact did happen)–then no one crosses the river, and if you’re not on the side of the hospital, you’re in trouble.

The city is opening all the city parks to overnight camping, which could be interesting. I’m hoping they’ll have at least some bathroom facilities. Oh, restaurants are also figuring they are going to be running out of food.

My plan is to grocery shop this Weds. and Thursday, and the hunker down and plan not to do any driving if I can avoid it. Oh, except I ordered a bushel of fire roasted hatch chiles, (a local market here does the fire roasting and so they will be super fresh). It will be in this Saturday. Luckily we have friends coming in for the eclipse and will press them into service helping can the chiles. Speaking of which–I don’t have to skin them, do I? I planned to de-seed and stem them, chop them up, and then can them. If you’ve advice, I’d like to know. I plan to can in water, not oil, because that’s very much like the store bought fire roasted chiles that I get.

Also, we picked blackberries today. Lovely, fat, juicy blackberries. I’ve frozen at least three gallons so far, and have probably ten or more gallons left. There will be pies, and then there will be more freezing until I can get around to making jelly or something else. Oh, and I picked two quarts of blueberries off one bush yesterday. A bush I’d already picked. I have another six bushes to pick.

Anyhow, back to the eclipse. I’m planning my menu for my friends and planning on enjoying the weekend and staying out of businesses as much as possible. Also keeping cash on hand as they’re saying with the credit transaction issues, cash will be critical.

Anybody else have plans for the eclipse? Are you as excited as I am?




[syndicated profile] cal_montgomery_feed

Posted by montgomerycal


Please don’t read this.


If you’re here, you probably know me.  You already know the gist of what I am going to say.  So reading it is not the best use of your time.  Instead, use your time to click on the links I have included.  Listen to real experts you may not have heard from on the issues I am about to discuss.  Some of these videos are uncaptioned and all are undescribed, and I apologize for that:  I’ve done my best to make this accessible and I have fallen short.  But although I am often ignored in face-to-face contexts, when I write on the internet, people read what I have to say.  The voices in the links need to be heard by the people who read what I write – and I don’t think that’s happening. 



On 5 April, VOR (and if you need to ask what that stands for, Google it;  I’m not typing it out because the name contains a slur for the people the organization claims to be the “voice of”) sent a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  I’ve just seen it;  you can see it here.


The letter claims that VOR is advocating for the rights of all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, that there are “degrees of disability” and that a significant number of people with severe enough disabilities want and require institutional care – so that care should be provided.  In fact, they claim that the best possible chance certain people have for community integration is institutionalization in intermediate care facilities.


None of this is new;  promoting the institutionalization of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is VOR’s whole purpose.  They do it in the name of “degrees of disability” and of “safety.”  Even if institutionalization, done well, were, in fact, a safer option than community integration, done well – it’s not – what they are essentially saying is that certain people with disabilities should be treated like children.  We limit children’s freedom to protect and guide them.  As children grow toward adulthood, we must gradually empower them;  as adults we should be free.


VOR wants to treat adults with disabilities like children;  but adults are not children.  “We thought these were childlike people,” advocate Gunnar Dybwad said.  “This concept of the mental age, that ‘he had a mental age of six’ and therefore would behave like a child of six, which was nonsense, because no child of six weighs 122 lbs. and has lived twenty-two years.  And living twenty-two years makes you a different individual than living six years.”


Moreover, as a federal court has already acknowledged, unnecessary institutionalization is a form of discrimination.  Even institutionalization widely agreed to be both coercive and unnecessary continues today;  as a result Congressman Sensenbrenner and Senator Schumer have introduced the Disability Integration Act (D.I.A.), a bill designed to give people with disabilities a chance to live outside of institutional settings, in their own communities.  It is time to reject the VOR approach to people with disabilities, pass the D.I.A., and take another step forward in the long march toward full equality and meaningful justice for people with disabilities in America.


Rights and Representation


As writer Mel Baggs said when I brought up the letter, “You would think that if you wanted to make any claim toward being a group of people’s voice, then you would maybe – just maybe – not use a word to describe that group of people that 99% of that group of people experience like a knife wound to the gut.”


“I have been called ‘r*****ed,’” says an unnamed member of the self-advocacy movement from New Jersey, “and I never liked that word at all.”


The word “makes me feel like being put away, not wanted.  Like I’m not a person,” adds another self-advocate.


“It’s not nice to call other people names” adds a third.


I believe firmly that “the disability community” necessarily includes both disabled and nondisabled people who are speaking on behalf of people close to them, people who by virtue of age, denial of services, or the inadequacy of the current technology cannot effectively speak for themselves.  When those speakers-for are speaking from a disability rights perspective, that’s “the disability rights voice” too because that is the best voice some people with disabilities have.  But that doesn’t mean that just anyone in the vicinity of a disabled person can “speak for” them.  To be concerned with disability rights is to be concerned with – well – disability rights;  and from my reading in the various strands of the movement, this appears to be what we pretty much all agree disability rights are:


(1)               Survival.  This means survival as individuals – we need the basic supports to stay alive – and as impairment groups – so, for example, the current move toward the eradication of people with Down Syndrome is off the table – and as communities, so suppressing the language and culture of the Deaf community (which does not, as a whole, consider itself to be part of the disability community, but which I include because the critiques of “ability” and the basic approach to rights are so similar to the other strands) is also a violation of disability rights.  Obviously a right to survival is not absolute;  we are not immortal.  But we insist that we have the same right to survival as anyone else.


(2)               Self-definition.  We define who we are:  our values, our dreams, our ideas our role models, the way we describe ourselves and our identities.  Take a look at the neurodiversity movement, which is doing some fascinating work these days on difference as opposed to deficit;  or at the Deaf community’s response to the Congress of Milan back in the 19th century (I am no historian so I make no claims, but the Congress of Milan is as far back as I have been able to trace the specific constellation of disability rights ideas we work with today) and their insistence that, for Deaf people, signing is better than speaking;  or at the development of “crip culture” in spaces informed by the independent living movement.  One major attack on self-definition today is the applied behaviour analysis (A.B.A.) “therapy” for autistic people, which focuses on getting them to act as if they had neurotypical brains rather than minds of their own.  “I am a person first.  My disability is second,” people with intellectual disabilities have been saying for decades now.


(3)               Self-determination.  Every single strand of the movement insists, “We speak for ourselves.”  Moreover, all of the major populations that get institutionalized, including those represented by the sub-traditions in the self-advocacy, independent living and neurodiversity movements as well as the complex groups of people interacting with the psychiatric system and intersectional groups like Deaf and people with disabilities of colour, undocumented people with disabilities and disabled LGBTQIA people insist that freedom is a core disability right.  And of course it is:  human beings are born with a drive to be uniquely ourselves, to make personally meaningful lives.  Disabled human beings are no different from anyone else in this respect.  That requires freedom.  Beyond this, we have as much right to shape our own lives as anyone else.  Again, this is not an absolute right to control the environment:  we are not dictators.  But we ought not to be any more limited than anyone else – and that includes people with limited communication systems, who can nonetheless convey what they enjoy and what they do not to support people who are paying close attention.  “I want to be in charge of my own life,” the great disability rights leader Roland Johnson said.  “I want to be in charge…. I want to be in charge over my own life.  Not you telling me what to do.  I want to be in charge of my own life.”


(4)               Access.  Barrier removal is a huge issue.  The blind community, for instance, has fought together for coming up on 80 years to address the limitations that the sighted place on the blind;  the Deaf community has fought for access to communications;  the independent living movement has fought to access to physical spaces;  the self-advocacy movement has fought for physical and cognitive access;  people who identify as having mental illnesses and those involved in the psychiatric system have fought to address barriers based on preconceptions about them as well as barriers based on the expectation that everyone will be cognitively typical;  the neurodiversity and psych survivor movements have fought for the freedom to go places and do things without anyone intervening;  the parents’ wing of the movement has fought for access for their kids.


(5)               Supports.  Many of us require supports that nondisabled people don’t.  It’s not that they don’t have support needs – as social animals, humans are brimming with support needs – it’s that their support needs are quietly and invisibly met by society (although some in society get their support needs much better than others) while ours are not.  Some of us need assistive technology;  some need financial supports because of the additional costs imposed on disabled people that enabled people do not bear;  some need medical or psychological care;  some need support workers and personal attendants.   People with disabilities – all people – should have access to the tools we need to make meaningful, good lives for themselves just as the most enabled people do.


(6)               Inclusion.  And finally, we want a voice, a place at the table, meaningful integration, a chance to influence our society in the direction that we want it to go – just like everyone else.


These rights play out in very different ways for different impairment groups because we face very different barriers.  For example, the independent living movement fought hard not to be forced into segregated education;  the Deaf movement fought very hard not to be forced out of programs designed to meet the particular needs of manual communicators and into a mainstream not prepared to welcome them.  But the underlying principles seem consistent to me from everything I have read, and to me the critique of equal ability being required for equal status in society plus the demand for those six rights is what characterizes the disability rights movement.


VOR is opposed to self-definition;  their very name flies in the face of what people with intellectual disabilities have been saying in almost complete consensus for decades.  As Valerie Schaaf said more than 40 years ago, “it’s terribly cruel that we are spoken this way, labelled this way.  To me, if you gotta label something, label words, label jars, label streets.  But don’t label persons.  You put ‘em down in the hole.”


VOR is opposed to self-determination, with its insistence that some people, simply by virtue of who they are, belong in institutions.  It is opposed to meaningful inclusion because meaningful inclusion cannot happen from an institutional setting.  It is not a disability rights organization and it has no place pretending to represent the rights of people with disabilities.


Degrees of Disability


On one hand, the claim that different people with disabilities are different and have different needs is fairly straightforward.  On the other, VOR completely ignores the role that institutionalization plays in limiting the capacities of disabled people.


35 years ago, the television show St. Elsewhere ran a truly horrible – even by the standards of the day – episode dealing with Down Syndrome.  In it (see 15:49-19:05), a couple pregnant with a long-awaited son is told that the fetus has Down Syndrome.  A conversation follows in which, in brutal ignorant terms, the life of a child with Down Syndrome is described.


“How r*****ed will the baby be?”


“It’s hard to say exactly.  Some Down’s children live well into their twenties.  But they are children forever.  The average mental age is about seven years old, though some do considerably better.”


“Will the baby be deformed?”


“There’s a high risk of some sort of deformity: arched palate, slanted eyes.”


This prognosis, let alone this idea of “deformity,” seems absolutely ridiculous today.


“Some people call Down Syndrome a serious handicap, but it’s not,” says a woman on a BBC3 clip about “Things People with Down Syndrome Are Tired of Hearing.”


“We can all live amazingly active lives, can’t we?” says another.


“She can be anything she wants to be,” says the mother of a small child with Down Syndrome.  “Unless she wants to play for Liverpool, in which case…” – she shakes her head.  “Everton.”


What happened?  Down Syndrome is a chromosomal condition;  the human potential of people with Down Syndrome hasn’t changed in the last 50 years.  What’s different is that the person being described in the St. Elsewhere episode, although the screenwriter never makes this clear, grew up in an institution.  That description is based on an institutionalized population, people with 100% hepatitis infection rates, people denied educations, people who were, for all intents and purposes, denied futures even though they were allowed to physically survive for as long as they could hang on.  People who grow up free, in families, with adequate education and supports, are completely different.


And even people who have already been institutionalized long-term can benefit from moving out.  At a national conference, self-advocate Roberta Gallant reported, “I am a former resident of the Laconia State School and Training Center in Laconia, New Hampshire.  Now I live in Concord, New Hampshire.  I have my own apartment.  I made some friends where I live.  For 25 years I lived at the Laconia State School and we should have not ever gone through this situation, no.  Do any of you agree with me?” she asked, to calls of “Yes!”


The “Need” for Institutional Care


I have never met anyone who wanted institutionalization.  And I have known a great many people with disabilities.  We don’t want it.


“I was there for ten years,” says Richard, a survivor of Woodlands School in British Columbia, “and it was – no, it’s not worth living in there at all, because the institution itself was so much abuse going on and it was just horrific and we should not have gone through that.  Because now I’m out and living in the community and I’m glad I moved out of there … and it’s just, just incredible.”


Perhaps the most visible anti-institution activists with disabilities are ADAPTers, whose chant “I’d rather go to jail than to die in a nursing home!” has been echoing across America since before I understood there was such a thing as a disability community, but the disability community is all but unanimous on this point.


In the film Hope Is Not A Plan, Brian Tardiff, who supports people with disabilities, reports, “There were six people, all of whom had lived in one of our institutions for many years [and] with the help of many people in the community were able to move out.  So I wanted to know how they would feel if, for some reason, they had to go back there.  The first person to respond to my question said, ‘I’d probably kill myself.’  And then, that was what you heard from everybody who was part of that conversation.”


I have, on the other hand, known plenty of people who have made their peace with institutionalization because they thought they had no option.  I have known people who thought it was the only way to get the supports they needed without arduous work they felt unequal to.  I have known people who thought institutionalization was the least bad of a set of lousy choices.  I have known people who have given up.


Dick Sobsey has spoken about experiments on dogs who are shocked by electricity through their cage floors.  “What they discovered was that if the dog was in a situation where they really couldn’t escape from an aversive stimulus for a long enough time, they would just basically stop trying and effectively they became extremely passive and just allowed themselves to be shocked.


“Now, for people with disabilities who have been in institutional settings, etc., we also see the development of learned helplessness, and in the most extreme circumstances it actually bears an amazing similarity to the experiments that they did with dogs in the 1970’s.”


VOR suggests that these responses to institutionalization are choice.  But we know betterWe have been doing this for decades and we know better.


“In order to change the old attitudes, we gotta get out in society,” independent living leader Ed Roberts once said.  “We’ve gotta be seen.  We gotta be the neighbours.  We gotta be the lovers.  We gotta be the friends.  We’ve gotta be seen in a very natural way.  Disability’s a part of life, and some of us are going to have it.  And some of us are gonna have it young, and some of us are gonna have it older.  But whenever it comes, our job, you and I, is to make sure that we know that we don’t have to put somebody in an institution.  That we can have high expectations of them and their future.  And that by helping them begin to take control of their own lives, they can go back to work, or go to work, or do – dream what they want to dream and make their dreams come true.  Like we all do.”


There was a time when state schools like Willowbrook and Pennhurst and Fernald were considered the best places for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and VOR was there to defend them as they fell out of favour.  There was a time when Intermediate Care Facilities like the ones VOR is currently defending were considered the best.  There was a time when small group homes were considered the best place.  Today “intentional communities” are in vogue.


What all of these settings have in common is what Roland Johnson, himself a survivor of Pennhurst, got at all those years ago:  “Who’s in control?  I want to know … are you in control?  Are staff in control?  Well, I understand that you need to be in control.  Some of [you] are not in control because staff tells you what to do….  I don’t believe that you are in control over your life….  You … are supposed to be in control of your life.”


Whatever the advantages of institutionalization may be – and there are institutions with some positive qualities, places where dedicated staff do their best – human beings are meant to be self-determining individuals.  The presence of impairments that make self-determination harder means we must work harder to support that most basic of human rights, not that we may turn our backs on it and institutionalize people.  Institutions by their very nature negate freedom and self-determination.  They are not good for people, as Jensen Caraballo’s story reminds us.


Caraballo was admitted to a nursing home when he was fifteen, “only … for a month,” and ended up staying close to six years.  “I just sat in my room for hours, not knowing what to say or do.  All I kept thinking to myself was, ‘I can’t wait to get out of here.’”  It wasn’t until he was 18 that Caraballo “realized I had other living options after talking to a friend of mine that worked at the Center for Disability Rights.  That’s when I decided to fight for my freedom.”  Not only would he not choose to go back, but he now spends his time fighting to get others out of institutions.


Furthermore, while there are some positive features of some institutions, any support that can be provided in an institution can also be provided in a free setting.


VOR specifically mentions people with “challenging behaviour.”  In video from the same conference where Roberta Gallant spoke, self-advocate Bryon Murray reports, “You know, when I travel, I hear a question: ‘what happened to people with the really bad behaviour?  What happened to people who hurt themselves or hurt others?’  Supports!  If you take the Bryon that you see today, 11 years ago I’d be slamming my head towards the wall.  I’d be biting people because I feel trapped.  I’d be running away.  Run.  Don’t understand.  Don’t understand what traumatic brain injury does.  Don’t understand disabilities.  Not accepting it, denying it.  Then when I got my supports, this is who I am.  You know what?  Instead of asking that stupid question, ‘What happened to people with behaviour?’ –  okay, what kind of supports do they need?  What do we need to come up with?  What is the plan that needs to be done?  You know, figure it out. Don’t just sit there on the problem.  Find the solution!”


Like Roland Johnson, a one-time President of Speaking For Ourselves, the great disability rights leader and Olmstead victor Lois Curtis, an artist with an intellectual disability, was one of the people who paved the way out of institutions for so many, by filing a lawsuit protesting being held in a psychiatric institution even after she had been approved by her treatment team for a more integrated setting.  At a press conference later, she told people her address over and over again:  having a home, having an address was that important to her.  VOR filed an amicus curiae brief opposing Curtis;  they were wrong then and they are wrong now.


The independent living movement provides us with clear evidence that highly trained specialists are not required to support people with disabilities.  Only a small amount of that training is needed for any one individual, and there are highly competent people without extensive medical training doing that work every day for members of the community.  In fact, as service users point out, it’s better to start with someone with no preconceived ideas about disabilities and train them.  People steeped in the medical model of disability – as medically trained workers are – have preconceived ideas.  They tend to view people with disabilities in terms of deficits rather than just as people, and that viewpoint is one of the biggest barriers people with disabilities face.


Again, as Roland Johnson so powerfully pointed out, in institutional settings, the staff – the people who take the deficit approach – are in charge and in control.  That’s not how it works in independent living.  Jesús, a personal attendant, reports that “Definitely you have to understand independent living philosophy when you have this kind of job.  You don’t have to be a doctor, or a nurse, you don’t have to cook well.  You just have to know that you are a service to the user, so it’s as he says.  We can talk about it, right?  We’re people.  But if he likes it that way, I just do it.”


We don’t need to shelter people in institutional settings under the command of a medicalized staff.  “I truly believe each person’s different,” Jesús says. “So in personal assistance, training should be provided by the user, right?”  We need to better connect people with intellectual disabilities with the independent living specialists who already exist and are already ready to serve the entire disability community, so we can figure out ways to adapt the process of hiring, training, managing and firing personal assistants so that it works for a much wider group than already has access to it.  We need to do that now, because people are dying on waiting lists to get into the community.  People are dying waiting for freedom.


To answer that most fundamental human need, we need to change the system of support provision.




VOR talks about the importance of surrounding people with disabilities with a highly trained and professional, caring staff.  Geraldo Rivera, who brought the conditions at Willowbrook – at state institutions for people with disabilities in general – to public attention, later said, “There is no place where you can mass-produce care, compassion and concern for people.  It is impossible.  It is fundamentally unsound.  The assembly line works for cars, it does not work for people.  People need humanity….  They need to be able to fulfil their potential, whatever their potential is.”


Two important criteria for fulfilling one’s potential are the presumption of competence, or the basic default assumption that you are a capable person who can and will benefit from the same things as anyone else as opposed to a basic default focus on you as a person with deficits, and the dignity of risk, or freedom from protective systems that attempt to ensure you will never get hurt.  Nobody is completely competent in all settings, and sometimes people do get hurt.  But these are things the enabled population so take for granted that they do not even recognise how important they are, and their absence hurts us far more deeply than the people who wish to strip us of them can possibly imagine.  VOR’s “degree of disability” argument is a presumption of incompetence for some people with disabilities;  its safety argument is an imposition of the indignity of protection.


It’s easy to look at some people with disabilities and think, “They’ll never be able to direct their own lives.”  But people will surprise you.  Properly supported people are capable of more than anyone ever thinks they are when they are unsupported.  And some people are capable of truly astounding things.  The presumption of incompetence, or the basic default assumption that it’s not worth trying because of the extent of a disability, is itself what produces the incapacity VOR is using to defend not trying.  Protection, too, when it is imposed from the outside on the basis of low expectations, becomes a prison rather than a haven.


Moreover, the protection doesn’t work.  Institutional settings are rife with abuse.  Jennifer Msumba’s powerful story of being at the Judge Rotenberg Center (J.R.C.) is unique only in that she was subjected to aversives, which many institutions avoid, and in particular the G.E.D., a skin shock device used only at J.R.C.  The behavioural control and dehumanization – and the resulting trauma – Msumba describes are repeated in many places.


In the film Hope Is Not A Plan, Tim Stainton from the University of British Columbia Social Work Department says, “Well, I think the evidence about abuse in institutions is pretty strong from a couple of perspectives, that … you can go back as far as the earliest institutions and really, pretty well, any time anybody has bothered to look deep enough or scratched the surface, they have found evidence of abuse.  And that goes right back to the very first institution for people with intellectual disabilities in Switzerland, in a place called Abendberg, back in the mid-19th century.  And that pattern has been pretty consistently repeated across countries, across eras, across jurisdictions, and across populations.  It’s nothing particular with disability, but it does seem to be something inherent in institutions themselves, whether they’re for the elderly, people with disabilities, for children, residential schools.  So I would say the evidence is pretty compelling that there is something in the nature of an institution that tends to engender abuse.”


As I was beginning to write this post, two stories happened to come across my newsfeed.  The first concerned a man who had been neglected in a group home to the point that he had an infestation of maggots in his throat.  The second concerned an overwhelming pattern of abuse in state institutions in Washington State.  “The 2016 reports read like documents from the 19th century when people with Down syndrome, autism, or other disabilities were isolated in asylums and often neglected,” reports Tacoma, Washington’s The News Tribune.  That’s not that surprising.  Each generation of institutional survivors is told that things have gotten better and there is no more need to worry.  It happened to members of the self-advocacy group Project Two in 1979 when they investigated the alleged abuse of Jonathan Allen, then age 10, at the Beatrice Developmental Center;  it has happened to me for years;  it happens to everyone.  But the abuse and neglect continue.


The stories of abuse I saw this week are not isolated.  In fact, there is story after story after story of neglect and abuse, story after story of huge patterns of neglect and abuse, in institutional settings – and this despite the fact that reporting rates are incredibly low and privacy laws prevent most of the stories that are reported from ever becoming known.


There is no way to guarantee that someone won’t be abused, but there are things that can be done.  You don’t build a small enclosed environment and try to make it safe.  You introduce the people you want to protect to other people.  You make sure they are known.  People hurt objects rather than other people, so to protect someone you support them to meet and socialize and live alongside others;  you ensure they are known as fully human beings.  You protect people best by integrating them into the community and making sure they have relationships with others who care about them.


Community Integration


Finally, VOR suggests that institutionalization provides the best route to community integration.  The argument they are making is that a fairly large staff associated with a fairly large group in congregate housing is best positioned to take people on regular outings into the community.


But regular outings in your self-contained group is not community integration;  it’s community tourism.


Community integration is relationships.  It is reciprocal, equal friendships, which are simply not possible with staff.  People need to be able to get out into the community with support workers and make human connections with people who have things in common with them, and to do that, they need their own, not shared workers.  They need to be able to connect one-on-one with the people in their communities, and to do that they need to be able to go out into the world on their own, without dragging four roommates along with them.


Judith Snow told a story about a 14-year-old boy named Peter, a young man who could not predict much about what was going to happen around him and who was beginning to understand that the world held few possibilities for him.  He was withdrawing.  Because his parents had the resources, they hired a support worker named David for him, and together the two of them began to explore their city, Toronto.


“There was some direction to their travels but not much. They created a list of friends’ homes to visit on a frequent basis. They tended to follow the subway line because David doesn’t drive. They often dropped in on coffee or doughnut shops or grocery stores because there their presence wouldn’t be remarkable and because Peter likes food. Here and there they found jobs that they could do for neighbours like sorting stuff or stowing boxes. Often they seemed to be just wandering.”


Together they looked for places for Peter to be.  They began to find people who would welcome him and to whom he responded.  They found an alternative school, where Peter participated in a mainstream sound poetry class.  And as Peter grew into a man, David supported him in making a community for himself.


When Peter was 17, he and David left the school, and Peter began to volunteer at various community organizations, and then joined a church, where his presence slowly affected the congregation and its approach to disabled people.  It began to actively work to prevent people from being forced into group homes and nursing homes.


“All this is the result in good part of the presence and participation of Peter,” wrote Snow, “a young man who has never spoken and who is labeled by health professionals as severely mentally r*****ed. Yet within the space of less than 6 years and while still in his teens Peter’s impact on his community rivals that of most mature, active, capable and able-bodied, adult citizens. Peter has been a poet, food handler, odd-job man, messenger, neighbourhood organizer, peace activist, community builder and evangelist. He has never acted alone but few successful people do. David and others have been key to every development, but the impetus has come from Peter.”  Reading Snow’s story, it is clear that the supports Peter’s family offered him have enabled him to have a meaningful, integrated and free social life despite significant communication difficulties.


Not only is community integration an emotional need, it is protective.  The more people who know you and care about you, the more likely someone is to notice that you are being harmed, and if you are, the more likely people are to take action to stop it.


What’s Next?


We know what good supports look likeWe do.  We need to put these supports in place for every person with a disability.  Every single one.


“The anxiety and fear that families feel for the future of their family member with developmental disabilities is real,” Amber Smock, who leads the Advocacy team at Access Living in Chicago told me, “and [it] should not be brushed aside.”  But she also pointed out that “pro-institution advocacy has taken away funding and attention that could have been invested in improving the community setting.”


In the absence of the strong supports in the community that funding and attention could have built, people are forced into institutions and are unable to leave all the time – the absolute opposite of good support.  That needs to change.  It’s time to reject the VOR approach to people with disabilities.  One step that is important right now is to pass the Disability Integration Act (D.I.A.) and get people out of institutions and into integrated, free settings – with supports – where their access to housing is not dependent on their acceptance of services they may not want.


Thank you.


People with disabilities exist throughout society.  If you are a nondisabled person, you still have disabled family members, friends, neighbours, classmates, and co-workers.  You meet people with disabilities in stores and at restaurants and in the public parks.  We could use everyone’s support on this one. 


Here is a longer Canadian film that addresses very clearly the experience of being institutionalized.


Here is TASH’s fact sheet on the D.I.A.


You can track the progress of the D.I.A. at this site.


Take action.


If your organization would like to support the Disability Integration Act, click here.

about me

jesse_the_k: mirror reflection of 1/3 of my head, creating a central third eye, a heart shaped face, and a super-pucker mouth (Default)
Jesse the K

hot topics

style by

expand cut tags

No cut tags

sub filters