Tom Mulcair’s voice

Canada’s New Democratic Party recently ousted Tom Mulcair from his post as its leader. Which gives me an opportunity to tell a true, if not very grand, story.

The first time my wife, Mrs Acilius, heard Mr Mulcair’s voice, she was very excited. She’s all about inclusion of people with visible disabilities (which is why “Disability Visibility” is a topic on this blog,)  and she was thrilled that someone using an electronic voice synthesizer was the leader of a major political party. I hated to tell her that he just talks like that, but I had to- she was so happy about it, she was on the verge of calling up friends of hers who do in fact use voice synthesizers and sharing the good news with them.

She refused to believe me. He was on TV, not the radio, so she came into the room where I was watching him and saw for herself. Here’s a video clip that may show you why she was so convinced:

Anyway, far be it to me to kick a man when he’s down, even if I suspect he may be at least part robot. Best wishes to Mr Mulcair for success in his future endeavors, whatever they may be.

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The Nation, 26 September 2011

James Longenbach contributes a surprisingly sympathetic review of a collection of letters by the young T. S. Eliot.  Longenbach argues that Eliot’s Unitarian family made a fetish of doubt and complexity, and that the aspects of Eliot’s life and thought that puzzled them came from a rebellion against this fetish, against “the Eliot Way.”  Eliot rebelled against what he called “the Way of Doubt” by time and again taking actions that entailed an irrevocable commitment.  As Longenbach puts it:

In retrospect, all of the momentous events in Eliot’s life were determined by a moment of awful daring. In 1933 he left Vivien as abruptly as he had married her, and his decisions to enter the Church of England and, many years later, to marry his secretary, Valerie Fletcher, were similarly nurtured in complete secrecy and subsequently revealed to a world in which even close friends were baffled by Eliot’s behavior, left feeling as if they had never known him. To Eliot’s Unitarian family, a conversion to Anglo-Catholicism seemed as explicable as an initiation into a cult.

Considering this disposition of Eliot’s, and in view of his time and place, it is nothing short of amazing that he did not join the Blackshirts.  When Longenbach provides this excerpt from an unpublished essay of Eliot’s, it becomes amazing that he didn’t murder anyone:

In Gopsum Street a man murders his mistress. The important fact is that for the man the act is eternal, and that for the brief space he has to live, he is already dead. He is already in a different world from ours. He has crossed the frontier. The important fact that something is done which cannot be undone—a possibility which none of us realize until we face it ourselves. For the man’s neighbors the important fact is what the man killed her with? And at precisely what time? And who found the body?… But the medieval world, insisting on the eternity of punishment, expressed something nearer the truth.

The man’s neighbors, in their fascination with the details of the crime, might easily fall into a psychological or other scientific explanation of the killer’s motivation, which would in turn reduce the crime itself to the ordinary level of everyday life.  The medieval view insists that murder, like other sin, is not ordinary, that it is a thing set apart from the created world around us.  Eliot may not have craved murder, but he did crave that sort of setting apart.  For him, it was a lie to say that the whole world is one thing and that it can be reduced to one set of laws.  Eliot’s onetime teacher Irving Babbitt was fond of quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s lines, “There are two laws discrete,/ not reconciled–/ Law for man and law for thing;/ The last builds town and fleet,/ But it runs wild,/ And doth the man unking… Let man serve law for man,/ Live for friendship, live for love,/ For truth’s and harmony’s behoof;/ The state may follow how it can,/ As Olympus follows Jove.”  These lines come from a poem Emerson dedicated to W. H. Channing.  W. H. Channing was the nephew of Unitarian theologian William Ellery Channing, and like Emerson was himself a Unitarian preacher.  The Channings, Eliots, and Emersons were all related to each other, so Eliot likely perked up when he heard Babbitt quote these lines.

While Emerson may have concluded that the “Law for Man” is best observed by general friendliness, Babbitt drew a more sobering conclusion.  In his first book, Literature and the American College (which takes the lines from Emerson as its epigraph,) Babbitt explained that he called himself a “humanist” rather than a “humanitarian” because the former word suggests a more selective sympathy than does the latter.  One can see the humanitarian impulse, in Babbitt’s sense of the word, in the neighbors’ insistent focus on the practical details of the murder, in the implication that the act of murder can be reduced to those details, that it can therefore be put on a level with other acts a person might perform.  The humanitarian impulse thus reduces even murder to one form of behavior among many.  In an age dominated by humanitarianism, murder loses its terror.  The word “mystery” comes to mean, not that of which one may not speak because it lies outside the ordinary realm of our experience, but that of which one must inquire until it can be reduced to the ordinary realm of our experience.  The “murder mystery,” a story in which investigation reveals that a murder was of a piece with the ordinary life around it, thus emerges as the signature genre of the humanitarian age.

Longenbach doesn’t mention Babbitt, through the study of whom I first became seriously interested in Eliot.  Nor does he mention Eliot’s Royalist politics, one of the aspects of Eliot’s thought that kept Babbitt from taking his former student seriously.  However, I was thinking of Eliot the Royalist earlier today, when I offered a comment on the website Secular Right.  A post there complained about a speech Prince Charles had made about global warming.  As rightists, the authors of the site aren’t much interested in speeches about global warming; as secularists, when they hear such a speech from the heir apparent to a throne which sits at the center of the established Church of England, they are quick to attribute it to a yearning for the apocalyptic.  For good measure, the post threw in an identification of the prince as an “aristocratic idler.”  I suggested in reply that this yearning might be a sign that the House of Windsor is an unsatisfactory sort of monarchy:

It might be better if Prince Charles truly were an “aristocratic idler.” As it is, his handlers set myriad tasks for him each day, among them the delivery of public statements that reassure various groups that their concerns are being taken seriously at the highest levels of the state. This frees the people who actually exercise power at the highest levels of the state to ignore those concerns. If the prince and his immediate family were relieved of this chore and their other public functions, they would have an opportunity to withdraw into seclusion, appearing only on those occasions when they might strike awe into the natives. Then the UK might have a proper monarchy, distant, godlike, surrounded by an aura of high majesty and cold terror. Then there would be no need for the heir apparent to repeat warnings about the end of the world; the sound of his name would suffice to fill the people who find such warnings emotionally satisfying with the dread they crave. Failing that, you might as well have a republic.

Walter Bagehot said that there can be arguments for having a splendid court and arguments for having no court, but that there can be no arguments for having a shabby court. I’d say that there can be arguments for having a terrifying king and arguments for having no king, but that there can be no arguments for having an unrelentingly ordinary sort of person as king.

I call Charles “an unrelentingly ordinary sort of person,” not only because his statement is a pack of cliches, but also because of his busy-ness and because he is so familiar a figure.  Irving Babbitt criticized the cult of busy-ness in his own time as something that robbed life of depth; today, the same cult has gone to such extremes that it has reduced people to interchangeability.  By the end of the day, virtually anyone who had completed Prince Charles’ schedule would be indistinguishable from Prince Charles.  And his constant presence in the public eye makes it impossible to accept the prince as a figure embodying any kind of mystique.   As humanitarianism has made murder an ordinary act, albeit a costly one, and murderers ordinary folk, so too it has made kingship an ordinary job and kings ordinary fellows.  I don’t disagree with the Secular Right crowd that there is an unwholesome yearning for the apocalyptic afoot in our time; though perhaps that yearning is in fact simply a yearning for an event that will cast ordinariness aside once and for all.

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The Norwegian Association for the Blind is an even funnier group than their name might suggest

A couple of years ago, Believer1 embedded a short video here from the Norwegian Association for the Blind.  It was hilarious, as is this video, produced around the same time, making it clear why people shouldn’t bother service dogs while they’re on the job:

The Believer’s service dog is an important part of our family; when the three of us are out on the town, people sometimes ask me when it’s appropriate to pet him.  I tell them, first, that the key thing is to ask her permission before paying any attention to her dog.  I then compare him to a dentist.  If a dentist was drilling your teeth, you wouldn’t want someone to wander into the room and start rubbing your dentist’s head and shoulders, exclaiming “What a good dentist!”  If you can understand why it would be wrong to do that, you should be able to understand why it is wrong to interrupt a service dog on the job.

Pictograms taking care of business

 The other day, Ingrid Piller’s “Language on the Move” blog showed a number of signs that are posted in restrooms in Australia.  The purpose of these signs is to explain, without text, how to use a Western toilet.  This is a harder task than those of us who are accustomed to such devices might assume.  The international symbols for “Men,” “Women,” and “Wheelchair Accessible” that often mark public restrooms appear on these signs in a variety of non-self-explanatory positions.     

I’ve always been intrigued by these international symbols, or pictograms.  I’m not the only one.  Here‘s a “Flickr Hive Mind” thing of images of the “Wheelchair Accessible” pictogram.  For example, here‘s the wheelchair pictogram carrying a flower; here is the same pictogram some distance from a family group; here are two of them, apparently in an embrace; here are two about to go their separate ways, though still facing the same direction.  Also on Flickr, we can see a sign that appears to invite women accompanied by tiny people using wheelchairs, and one that appears to invite men accompanied by tiny people using wheelchairs.

I’ve found the same pictogram having still other adventures.  For example, here‘s the accessibility symbol shouting through a megaphone:

Here‘s the international symbol for falling out of your wheelchair:

If it bothers you that the accessibility pictogram is unisex, you might like to see this on the Paris Metro:

The other pictograms are livelier than you might think, as well. 

Here‘s an argument against unisex restrooms:

Here, Mr & Mrs Pictogram put on some clothes.  If this is a fair representation of their fashion sense, I can see why we are usually shown only their silhouettes:

This picture has a similar esthetic to the one above, but makes its statement more bluntly:

Perhaps these “branded” women could benefit from the sort of sisterhood illustrated in this image

Here‘s a crowd of men’s symbols:

I wonder which direction they’re facing.

This fellow seems to be in trouble:

Perhaps he’d envy this kinsman of his:

This one seems to be having a better time:

Here, a mosaic of international symbols makes up a giant face:

This is the international symbol for Muslim prayer room.  I think it needs work.  The woman’s headscarf looks like a device that’s keeping her head taped to her shoulders:

Disability Visibility, again

From The New York Times, 30 November 2009:

The fashion world may be the last bastion of prejudice, a field that overtly discriminates against people because of their looks. So there is something both bold and troubling about “Britain’s Missing Top Model,” a reality show that begins on Tuesday on BBC America that pits disabled women against one another to compete for a photo spread in the U.K. edition of Marie Claire magazine.

One thing never changes in the beauty industry, however: an ounce of fat is a greater hurdle than a missing limb. “Rebecca’s disability didn’t cause me any problems,” a photographer says after shooting Rebecca, 27, a stunning brunette who was born with a deformed hip and wears a prosthetic leg. “It was just the fact she’s not really in shape. Most models are pretty toned, slimmer, more agile.”

In other words, this is pretty much like any season of “America’s Next Top Model,” except when it’s not. This series comes with a paradoxical premise: it’s a contest designed to raise the profile and confidence of disabled women but makes a spectacle of their hunger for acceptance. “Missing Top Model” tries to bolster self-esteem yet revels in the piquancy of physically imperfect women competing in a profession that demands physical perfection, which one judge defines this way: “It’s what 99 percent of the population do not have and never will.”

The show wants to enlighten viewers and also keep them amused; it tries to be considerate, yet reality shows are by definition cruel.

These conflicts pop up in almost every scene, and are captured best not by the judges or the aspiring models, but by two passers-by in London who stare through a lingerie store’s window at a disabled model posing in a lacy bra and thong. A young man in a fleece cap says he is impressed that she is not scared to show her stump, “because she’s beautiful at the same time, so she’s got nothing to hide.” A middle-aged woman agrees, but worries about using amputees to appeal to prurient tastes. “Personally I think it should be emphasized,” she says. “But if it’s to sell something like lingerie I think people are going to be troubled.”

The women themselves, though, are delighted by the exposure. “I don’t know if people were really looking only at my arm,” Debbie, a 22-year-old who lost an arm in a bus crash, says, noting jubilantly that everyone was looking at her breasts instead.

I find it creepy when people have a fetish for amputees, and I suspect that many amputees find it creepy as well.  But if the premise of the project is that it’s empowering to be a model and stimulate men’s prurient interests (“everyone was looking at her breasts”,) how can you justify excluding amputees from lingerie ads?

The Necessary Room

Mrs Acilius and I have had this “Crankshaft” strip on the door inside our bathroom since 22 February 2008:

Crankshaft

The missus is a sociologist with an interest in what happens among people when they label each other; she also has a mobility impairment.  So this strip has both an intellectual and an emotional resonance for her. 

Here’s today’s “Beetle Bailey”:

beetle bailey

I read “Beetle Bailey” mainly because I keep trying to figure out what the Walkers would rather be doing than producing it.  Here they tell us.  This joke would make sense if the strip were about someone with a mobility impairment who has trouble finding usable restrooms and who has a service dog.  Mrs Acilius meets that description.  The Walkers should meet her, they could base a strip on her life.

Sign Language in Comic Strips

Here’s an old Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  Notice the speech balloon rising from the signing fingers:

smbcspeechballoon

In this comic, a thought balloon rises from signing fingers:

thought balloon

I suppose a cartoonist could also gloss sign language with a note in the caption space, but my lunch break wasn’t long enough to find an example of that approach.

Cheesus

Handicapped parking

Slate‘s “Dear Prudence” answers a letter from someone in a category I’ve been thinking about for years: people who do need handicapped parking spaces, but who look like they do not need them. 

http://www.slatev.com/index.html?bcpid=988092926&bctid=20980628001

Troubled adults and the children who love them

cerrie_385

Imagine how embarrassing it would be to be the child of one of these parents.  Here’s the BBC article.