Saturday, January 27, 2007

There are none so deaf as those who will not hear

Brian was kind enough to alert me to this recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by I. King Jordan, President Emeritus of Gallaudet University, on the furore surrounding Jane Fernandes' hiring as his successor, and then removal after sustained and angry protests at the college, as well as on Deaf culture's issues with inclusion and exclusivity. (See my thoughts on the protests and the outcome.)

Brian, who is a brighter-than-average person, commented that "[n]ot being immersed in the issue, I thought he sounded sensible and reasonable". Yes, well, he would think that, as would anyone who is smart and fair. And not Deaf. But Dr. Jordan speaks some hard truths, to some prickly people, which is doubtless why the Deaf blogroll has been savaging him for the piece all over the net. Some of the words I've read describing Dr. Jordan in general and the piece in particular include "hostile", "patronizing", "bitter", "absolute propaganda", a "smear campaign", "absolute bullshit" - and worse.

The Deaf community has a long, long way to go to understanding its own hard-headedness and culture of "cultural superiority" (within which, the community's faint protests to the contrary, the deafer you are, the Deafer, hence better, you are, and ASL absolutely trumps all other communication methods). It is certainly their right to take this position; I have the luxury of having artificial hearing and of only having a small degree of identification with Deaf culture, so I don't feel particularly hurt at the understanding that I am culturally inferior in their eyes. What does pain me is the fact that if the Deaf could get past their cultural biases, they could create a true coalition and community that is many times larger than their current political base, and our power - and ability to effect change - as a group of people would be increased by several orders of magnitude.

(Why couldn't I have acquired a disability that threw me in with a gentler group of people? Blind people, say? Blind people are nice. I never met a single blind person I didn't like. You don't see them freaking out in the streets and throwing mud at each other in blogs. No, they're at home petting their seeing-dogs in front of the fire and listening to Descriptive-Audio-Enhanced versions of Masterpiece Theatre.)



Thursday, January 25, 2007

So a deaf guy walks into a comedy club...

Quite a good article in a small UK paper today about the only deaf comic in Britain - "or if there are any others, he hasn't heard them".

His interpretation of the "big-D" "little-d deaf" conflict is a bit simplistic, as it's not really degree of hearing loss but identification with Deaf culture that sets up the dividing line. I am profoundly deaf, but consider myself "deaf" not "Deaf" because I am not culturally Deaf. I know people with vestigal hearing who are Deaf because they have signed all their lives, and relate intimately with Deaf culture.

That mild correction aside, it's a nice little article. I can't decide if he's brave to go out there and plough through when he can't hear the heckling, or stupid. Either way, he's a happy lad, so let's say brave. And funny.



Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Web site documents deaf experience during World War II

Web site documents deaf experience during World War II
Democrat and Chronicle - January 23, 2007
Patricia Durr

Guest essayist

(January 23, 2007) — A Web site to help make the experiences of deaf
people during World War II better known is now available through the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college of Rochester Institute of Technology.

This site,, which features videotape clips, testimonies, articles, scripts, artwork, books and related links, explores an area of deaf studies that until now has lacked information.
More from the story here.

Shocking, horrible stuff I'd never thought about before. From the site, which in this section draws heavily from Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany, by Horst Biesold:

"As a result of the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring, 200,000 to 350,000 disabled Germans are estimated to have been sterilized, 17,000 of whom were Deaf. The numbers of disabled people who were 'put to sleep' in the secretive T4 program is estimated at 70,000 people." Many pregnant deaf women underwent forcible abortions.

Deaf schools informed on their students, alerting the authorities they should be sterilized.

If you were a good non-Jewish deaf person and agreed to be sterilized, you could join - in fact, would be pressured to join - the Reich Organization for the Deaf of Germany.

Deaf Jews, gypsies, homosexuals or criminals, of course, had no hope. No hope at all. 162 Deaf Jewish children from the Israelite Institute for the Deaf were summarily executed.

Wow. I'd never thought of myself as a target for eugenics.

It's not like I needed any more reason to hate the architects of the Third Reich, but the knowledge that they would have sterilized me (often without anaesthetic) or murdered me, personally, does add a kind of final punctuation mark to my feelings on them.

It's not all bleak. The site has some interesting information about the experiences of deaf Canadians, Americans, Brits and Asians during the war, too, including their contributions to the war effort. A very worthy site that I'll spend some time exploring.



Friday, January 19, 2007

My new hero

It is an insult and an irritant to every Canadian citizen that not only did the United States deport one of our citizens to a foreign country to be tortured, but that the gentleman in question now having been cleared by Canadian authorities of terrorist ties, that same United States refuses to take him off their no-fly and terrorist watch lists, much less apologize for destroying his life.

Yesterday, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who noted that he lives near Canada and knows something of its ways and its people, finally took his government to task for their actions publically. In a public flaying of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, he demanded some answers on the case.

The blame for the appalling incident lays partly with Canada; a public inquiry into the affair found out that the RCMP had given the US erroneous information about Arar that contributed to his deportation to Syria. (The then-Commissioner of the RCMP resigned in disgrace after the Commission's report was released.) However, even after being told that the Canadian evidence was bogus, the US stubbornly insists it has other information that makes him worthy of suspicion. (The same information, presumably, that Antonio Gonzalez promised to have available for Patrick Leahy "next week".)

Well, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said outright yesterday that "[Arar] should not be on a watch list", adding that Canadian counter-terrorism officials had been shown the U.S. dossier and found "nothing new" in it.

It will be extremely interesting to see what, if any, public reaction Leahy has to the information Gonzales has promised to show him next week.

Of course, for Maher Arar, a victim of torture, a man whose career was destroyed (he is still unemployed), a man branded with the blackest label that exists in the 21st century, a man whose family suffer the ripples of this nightmare, it's all academic now, really.

There's no window where you go to get your life back.

But for making me feel, for just a few minutes, like someone down there gave a goddamn, really gave a goddamn about what happened to him, Senator Patrick Leahy is my newest hero.


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Snow Day

We're getting our share of the general queer winter weather here in Freddie. Up until Christmas it was unseasonably warm. The last few days saw a nasty cold snap that brought temperatures as low as -29c.

Today sees the first really heavy snowfall of the winter. Schools are closed, dozens of meetings and events cancelled. This photo was taken minutes ago by the Lighthouse Adventure Center webcam. (The bridge in the distance is the Westmoreland Street Bridge connecting the north and south sides of Fredericton, which is bisected by the Saint John River. As you can see, the river is has finally frozen and is snow-covered. The larger dark shapes in the river closer to the camera are the piers left from an older bridge, since dismantled.)

Husband says driving is treacherous. Yet I just ran some errands and people are in a great mood, laughing and smiling everywhere you looked.

It revealed something to me about the nature of Canadians and our ambivalence towards our dominant season. We hate cold. But we love snow!


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Closed-Captioning Cock-up of the Week: Special Royal Wrestling Edition

From a CTV Newsnet story about Prince Harry's unit being trained for possible deployment to Iraq:




Friday, January 12, 2007

What I got for Christmas, by Ronnie Cat

Back when I was miserably sick with the flu, had just started to stop worrying about an illness in an elderly relative, and my computer was broken, I promised that there'd be a post that wasn't quite so irritable and which pointed out some of the joys of this past Christmas.

This painting of a forest stream was a gift from my sister, who's taken up oil painting in the past year or so. It was a really delightful surprise because I've never gotten a painting from her before. The photo doesn't do it justice at all, for two reasons - I couldn't use a flash as it's under glass, so the colours aren't properly represented, and as you see there is some reflection on the glass from objects in the room. So forgive me, Sis, but I did want to share it with the people who drop by the blog.

Art was big this year, and my niece and Goddaughter also sent us an original framed artwork. "Diane" is 10 and this was done with oil pastel sticks. It's a fox chasing a rabbit and, as with Sis' picture, the photo doesn't begin to do it justice. One of the things that I found remarkable was its resemblance to a particular style of Australian aboriginal art called "X-Ray Art", in which the artists depict the internal organs of the animal (you'll see she has drawn patterns on the animals' bodies). I don't know if this is a type of art she's studied in school or if it comes from her imagination but I love this, too, and I think it's beautiful.

My best friend in Ontario always sends neat gifts to Husband and me, and this year he got a pair of robots. I think they're battlin' robots but Husband proved decidedly resistant to my characterization and decided they were instead dancing robots.

Actually, he's got a point - they look pretty happy for battling robots and they do dance in the cutest fashion, actually swinging their hips back and forth.

So those were some of the notable gifts this year... the kitties got some treats, some mice, a neat pom-pom-on-a-spring toy from their cousins in Newfoundland, and new leopard-printed leashes.

My luckiest and/or most inspired find this year was via Ebay - a miniature remote-control ZipZap PT Cruiser identical to our real one in every way, right down to the tiny sunroof, for Husband. I also got him, on Brian's recommendation, a copy of Moondust, which he is enjoying very much. Brian and Husband are both big space buffs; they're both just the right age for the space race to have added a real magic to their childhoods.

I got a water dispenser for my office (yay!), and two kick-ass PC games (Half Life 2: Episode 1 and F.E.A.R.). The latter crosses a straight first-person shooter genre with a horror backstory and paranormal experiences. It's, how can I put this, not a game you play at night with the lights off.

So we got lots more stuff than any of us deserve and will be amusing ourselves to death for some time to come.

Hope you did as well!


Thursday, January 11, 2007

My Favourite Sound, by 180 of my favourite people

Every year the good people at Advanced Bionics remind me that I've got them under my skin by sending me a Bionic Buddy calendar. Bionic Buddy is a CI-wearing stuffed monkey that the company gives children receiving an implant. He's got his own battery pack and processor and kids practice using the pack and putting the processor on his ear in preparation for using their own processors.

Bionic Buddy isn't the only creature featured in the calendar - the real stars are the 180 implanted children whose photos decorate each month.

It was a very timely arrival, in light of my recent post on the possibility of selecting embryos to ensure deafness. This year's theme has implanted youngsters being asked to identify "My Favourite Sound".

A lot of the kids said their favourite sound was music; many said siblings' laughter; quite a few said the sounds of their pets were their favourite. Motorcycles were a surprise hit. But some were much more profound or poignant.

Emily said, "Hearing Mommy and Daddy cheer me when I play soccer."
Aliyah said "Hearing the door open when my dad comes home from work."
Marina said, "The sounds of happiness."
Becca said, "My daddy's voice calling from Afghanistan."
And Billy said, "All the sounds in the world."

I admire Deaf people who are proud and strong in their identity and their sense of themselves as whole, complete people. But to select a child on the condition that it never hear the sounds Emily, Aliyah, Marina, Becca, Billy and the 175 other kids in the calendar cherish, I now know I could never, ever do.



Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Little Mosque on the Prairie

Watched the pilot episode of "Little Mosque on the Prairie" last night. I was pleased to discover it was consistently funny throughout (one sometimes suspects that new programs tend to shoot their wad of funny moments in the pre-airing promotion) and featured a charming mix of self-deprecation on the part of the Muslims (while bickering about when Ramadan really starts, an argument I've personally witnessed more than once, "I don't think the Prophet had a telescope from Costco"; "Oh, why don't we just go to and see what they say?") and gentle needling of non-Muslims (Town local on line to "Terrorist Hotline" after witnessing Muslims praying: "There was bowing and moaning, just like I seen on CNN!") And note to young Muslim males: do not say to your Mom, on your cellphone, "I don't care if Dad does think this is career suicide, this is Allah's plan for me!" in the airport check-in line if you expect to make your flight.

There are an interesting mix of characters, including Canadian-born Muslims, immigrant Muslims, a new Imam (a young, handsome Canadian-born Muslim from Toronto [spit!] who left his father's successful law firm to follow his calling), the town's Christian Reverend and a formerly-Christian convert to Islam (Sarah, played by one of my favourite Canadian actresses, Sheila McCarthy) who is married to a Muslim in the series.

Imams across Canada encouraged their flocks to watch the program in the days before it aired (with a positive, "enjoy it" spin, not a "look for insult" spin). Interestingly, a BBC story (the series has gotten international coverage) erroneously describes the program as being about a "a Muslim community trying to assimilate in a small prairie town". We don't assimilate in Canada. We integrate. I suspect the subtle difference is why Imams in Canada were comfortable encouraging their congregations to watch the series and enjoy the humour. When you do not feel threatened, you can laugh at yourself.

Reviews today at the office among Muslim staff: overwhelmingly positive. Riots in the streets: none. Lessons which will be learned by our Western neighbours who still frown on "multiculturalism" and think assimilation and "melting pots" are the answer? Probably 0.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sh-boom, sh-boom.

Husband was in the elevator with a couple of co-workers last week when the following exchange took place.

Co-worker One: "Did you see that documentary on spontaneous human combustion on A&E last night?"

As she's speaking another Co-worker enters the elevator.

Entering Co-worker: "Oh! Are you discussing simultaneous human ignition?"


Co-worker One: "Ummmm... no. That's a... different topic. No."


Friday, January 05, 2007

"Designer Deaf" babies?

An ethical minefield: Some ponder ‘designer' babies with Mom or Dad's defective genes
By Lindsey Tanner

CHICAGO - The power to create "perfect" designer babies looms over the world of prenatal testing.

But what if doctors started doing the opposite?

Creating made-to-order babies with genetic defects would seem to be an ethical minefield, but to some parents with disabilities - say, deafness or dwarfism - it just means making babies like them.

(The rest of the article can be read here.)

I understand that this is going to seem completely and totally incomprehensible to people who don't understand at gut level that there are Deaf (and, apparently, dwarf) people who do not consider themselves broken in any way.

To them, their condition is simply a different physicality, just as difference in skin colour is.

But if you knew how many Deaf people I've either read about or who have said to me personally or via email or forum that if they had a child they would want it to be deaf, you'd probably be surprised.

Would they make the child deaf? I've only heard one person say they would do that if they could, and that was in the highly emotional documentary The Sound and the Fury, required viewing for anyone who wants to understand Deaf culture and cochlear implants' controversial relationship to Deaf culture.

And are these people making their children disabled? Arguably not - they are just choosing to keep existing embryos to develop into children who share their physical characteristics, be it deafness or dwarfism.

In other words, it's too complex for me to sort out. I can't condemn it outright, I've gained too much understanding of disabled culture to do that. I can't condone it - I know what losing hearing took from me, and what regaining it gave me. How could I advocate denying hearing to a child? How can I condemn a child being chosen to have a Deaf life from birth when I don't know how that compares to going deaf?

But sometimes I think we're not nearly smart enough for the technology we've developed, I'll tell you what.



Tuesday, January 02, 2007

These are the days of miracles and wonder.

Well, there we have it. Another year over, and a new one just begun.

It was a very strange and at times challenging Christmas. It was the first without my Father-in-Law in his customary chair at the head of the table and there was a great deal of care taken by his sons and daughters-in-law to make sure that Mom O was taken care of and surrounded by family and kept busy through the holidays.

We thought that was going to be our biggest challenge this Christmas.

There is a Jewish saying: "Man plans, God laughs". Life has a way of mocking the plans of mice and men, and what we could not foresee was another extremely serious health crisis in her family arising on Christmas Eve. (She is one of several elderly siblings, each with their own elderly spouses.)

It made for an unsettled holiday, trying to keep up the planned family breakfasts and dinners, group gift-openings and traditions, playing on the floor with the little ones and opening gifts addressed to Haven the cat, while shuttling Mom O back and forth to the hospital for extended periods of time, our family gatherings punctuated by sudden disturbing calls for the family to gather there when things took a turn for the worse. The jollity and frivolity of Christmas juxtaposed with the shadow of mortality.

These are the days of miracles and wonder, however, and by Boxing Day things took a turn for the better and Mom O's relative was much improved. That took some of the pressure off Husband and his two local brothers who had been sharing hospital duty. By that time a nagging sore throat had blossomed into a full-blown, nasty winter cold and by December 30 I was flat on my back in bed. I crawled out long enough to meet C. for a drink to ring in the New Year but I think I was out like a light by around 9:30 New Year's Eve.

I've been back at work just a half-day since.

Just to put a cherry atop the sundae, my laptop is broken and our internet was out from New Year's Eve until Tuesday.

None of which matters in light of the fact that Mom O's relative is going to make it, for now anyway, and be here for awhile longer for the family. And we were together for another Christmas, and the children continue to grow like weeds and they're all beautiful and healthy, and all the families made it through another year intact and solid. Watch for a post about all the wonderful things that made this Christmas not just challenging, but joyful.