Category Archives: blaming

Ableist Word Profile: Crazy (to describe political viewpoints or positions)

  • Ableist Word Profile is an ongoing FWD/Forward series in which we explore ableism and the way it manifests in language usage.
  • Here’s what this series is about: Examining word origins, the way in which ableism is unconsciously reinforced, the power that language has.
  • Here’s what this series is not about: Telling people which words they can use to define their own experiences, rejecting reclamatory word usage, telling people which words they can and cannot use.
  • You don’t necessarily have to agree that a particular profiled word or phrase is ableist; we ask you to think about the way in which the language that we use is influenced, both historically and currently, by ableist thought.
  • Please note that this post contains ableist language used for the purpose of discussion and criticism; you can get an idea from the title of the kind of ableist language which is going to be included in the discussion, and if that type of language is upsetting or triggering for you, you may want to skip this post.

We just ran an ableist word profile on the word “crazy,” written by the lovely guest poster RMJ, who discussed how the term is used in a variety of contexts and situations. This follow up is sparked by what I’ve seen as a recent resurgence here in the United States in use of the term in a political context, to describe or characterize an individual with a particular set of political views. Every time I see it, it grates on me, and I thought it was worth a focused discussion here at FWD.

Before I begin, I should make clear that I personally identify as “crazy” sometimes. Not always, but when the depression gets overwhelming and I can tell my thoughts are getting tangled, or especially when I’m in the grips of a manic episode. (More accurately, I identify as a “crazy bitch,” but that’s neither here nor there.) I’ve also been consistently described by others as “crazy,” in contexts ranging from affectionate to outright hostile and dismissive. So when I see this term tossed around in the media, it feels personal to me.

And it’s been tossed around a whole lot lately, largely by traditionally liberal or progressive media outlets. I first started seeing it show up at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall’s blog that combines “breaking news, investigative reporting and smart analysis.” Marshall doesn’t mention it on the site, but it also contains a big heaping spoonful of ableism with that political analysis. Here are some recent examples:

This is just a sampling of the posts with headlines including the term “crazy” and is not at all comprehensive. Even within this sample, we can see that the term is used to describe viewpoints with which TPM does not agree (like revising history textbooks or arguing, like Gaffney, that the Pentagon logo indicates a secret plan to subject the United States to Shariah law) and thinks are biased, bigoted, racist, or otherwise offensive (such as the protests about Obama speaking to schoolchildren or the racial laws in Arizona).  None of the posts, though, engage or critique those viewpoints or speakers in a substantive way – simply describing them as “crazy” is seen as self-evident and no further discussion is needed to demonstrate these views or people should be excluded from reasonable political discussion.

There’s been an even more recent explosion of use of the term to describe Rand Paul and Paul’s views, after he won a Republican congressional primary in Kentucky.1 Paul favors the free market and freedom of private business, to the extent that he seems to believe that anti-discrimination laws are an unreasonable restriction on businesses. Now I am no fan of Mr. Paul – and wrote about my problems with him previously on FWD – but that doesn’t mean I approve of political cartoons like this:

A political cartoon portrays Rand Paul as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Added to the original Tenniel illustration are a 'Don't Tread on Me' flag, a Rand Paul button, and an I Heart BP button.
A political cartoon portrays Rand Paul as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Added to the original Tenniel illustration are a 'Don't Tread on Me' flag, a Rand Paul button, and an I Heart BP button.

To my mind, characterizing Rand as “mad” or “crazy” and not saying anything further is a lazy way to dismiss him and his ideology without actually having to engage with it. There is a lot to say about Rand’s ideas: how prioritizing private business over human rights preserves existing institutional structures that will continue to perpetuate racism, sexism, ableism, and other oppression if not checked by a larger force like the government; how the line between private and public realms is a lot fuzzier and less distinct than Paul implies it to be; that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and BP’s seemingly inadequate safety protections and near complete inability to effectively respond are strong indications that business will prioritize profits over public goods like environmental safety; how an attitude of business before anything else will influence Rand’s views on everything from the minimum wage to immigration policy to climate control to internet neutrality. Those are all important discussions to have, discussions where we can’t assume that everyone in the audience will come down on the same side, but calling him “crazy” or “mad” and leaving it at that elides all of those complicated issues. Even more strongly, it implies that those discussions are not even worth having because it is so evident that the views or person being dismissed are wrong and absurd and laughable.

In Newsweek, Conor Friesdorf made an interesting observation about the policies and people who are dismissed as “crazy”:

Forced to name the “craziest” policy favored by American politicians, I’d say the multibillion-dollar war on drugs, which no one thinks is winnable. Asked about the most “extreme,” I’d cite the invasion of Iraq, a war of choice that has cost many billions of dollars and countless innocent lives. The “kookiest” policy is arguably farm subsidies for corn, sugar, and tobacco—products that people ought to consume less, not more.

These are contentious judgments. I hardly expect the news media to denigrate the policies I’ve named, nor do I expect their Republican and Democratic supporters to be labeled crazy, kooky, or extreme. These disparaging descriptors are never applied to America’s policy establishment, even when it is proved ruinously wrong, whereas politicians who don’t fit the mainstream Democratic or Republican mode, such as libertarians, are mocked almost reflexively in these terms, if they are covered at all.

What I conclude from that is that the media doesn’t consistently use “crazy” and other ableist terms to refer to absurd policies or those that lack rational support, but instead reserves those terms for people outside of mainstream politics. Which in turn implies that the term is used primarily to further marginalize and dismiss people who don’t fit expectations of what a politician is or what are common or popular political arguments. To me, this is even more evidence that the implicit subtext of terming a person or policy “crazy” is “shut up and go away, or start blending in better.” Which, again, is exactly the message leveled at people with mental illness when they’re called “crazy” or “loony” or “unhinged” or any number of synonyms.

This selective usage is even more reason the term “crazy” shouldn’t be used in the political context – partly because it’s a lazy out for commentators who refuse to engage with the actual policy issues or political ideas being proposed on a substantive level, and partly because it fiercely underlines and reinforces marginalization and dismissal of people with mental illness. It reminds me that when people call me “crazy,” what they really mean is “stop existing in my consciousness – either disappear or become normal.” To see progressive writers and organizations rely on the marginalization of people with mental illness to score easy points against unpopular politicians is upsetting not only because of their perpetuation of ableism, but also because it puts me in the extremely uncomfortable position of defending people like Palin and Paul against this kind of criticism.

  1. An earlier version of this post had stated, in error, that Dr Paul won the Republican congressional primary in Virginia. Thanks, Katie, for the catch.

Science Says ‘Go Outside and You’ll Feel Better!’

I recently came across a Reuters story on a University of Essex study discussing the impact of spending time outside on mental health. ‘Five minutes in the green can boost self esteem,’ the title says. Now, this is actually a study supported by my own anecdata: When I go outside, I do indeed experience a mood improvement, and I know a lot of other folks who feel the same way. So this post isn’t about picking this study apart.

It’s about looking at the framing of the study, because that’s what I think is interesting.

What the study showed is that spending five minutes in a green area, especially if it has water, can have mental health benefits for people, although young folks and people with mental illness experienced the most significant changes. And the way I’m seeing the study reported, the burden is being placed solely on the individual. You need to go outside. You need to spend more time in green spaces. You need to make improvements in your mental health. It only takes five minutes! Get with the program! (P.S. It would be nice if you exercised while you were at it because otherwise you might get fat.)


Are there maybe some obstacles to spending time in green spaces? Let’s explore some of them, shall we?

What about accessibility? Let’s assume you’re a wheelchair user living in an urban area. Can you access a park via public transit? If you get to a park, are the paths navigable? Are you a scooter user? Is it possible for you to get to a park on your own, or do you need a buddy to manhandle your scooter onto a bus for you since a lot of buses are poorly equipped for scooters? Do you use a service animal? Are you going to get hassled on your way to/while in the park?

What about time? If you have odd working hours or you’re caring for children or you’re relying on public transit in a city with poor transit? How are you going to make the time to get outside if the nearest park is a 30 minute trip?

What if you have multiple chemical sensitivity and a park is using pesticides?

What if you have social anxiety disorder that makes it difficult to leave your home?

What if a park is in an unsafe area?

What if…?

The framing of this study kind of exemplifies the medical model of disability; it’s all about things you, the individual, need to do. You are disabled by yourself, not by the world around you. Here in the US, there’s an especially strong emphasis on personal responsibility that I see coming up in disability narratives a lot. It’s that emphasis that says we should cut funding to social programs for people with disabilities because, well, they should take responsibility for themselves! It’s that emphasis that says that accommodations are too much of an obstacle for businesses because, well, people with disabilities should be able to sort it out on their own! The burden is on the individual to figure it out.

What I highlighted when I discussed some of the obstacles to ‘just’ getting into a park for five minutes is the social model. These are failings of society, not you as a person. Being told to ‘just’ go to the park for five minutes a day isn’t enough. You may already be a fan of trees and green spaces and be unable to get to the park because society has decided to make that difficult for you. What we should be concluding from this study is not ‘hey, people should go to the park more!’ but ‘hey, we should make it possible for people who want to go to the park to do that! That would be awesome!’

And what the reports I’ve seen on this study remind me of, over and over, is that we live in a society where disability is deemed to be your fault and your responsibility. Accommodation is not viewed as a social responsibility, full inclusion of people with disabilities is not regarded as a priority, and making spaces welcoming and friendly to as many human beings as possible simply isn’t important. What is important appears to be looking for yet another way to remind people that their disabilities are their own responsibility and that if they just did more maybe they wouldn’t be so disabled.

If you’re the park-going type, what obstacles do you experience in your community when it comes to accessing parks and other green spaces?

Social Campaigns Based on Ableism

Via Information Aesthetics, a blog I read because i am obsessed with data visualizations and charts and graphs, I read about a new campaign designed by “eco-design consultancy Giraffe Innovation.” They’ve created a website where a user creates a humanoid form to represent themselves. The site then tracks the person’s environmental impact – things like home energy use and waste creation – and represents their individual environmental impact by modifying the humanoid form that represents them.

It’s when we get to the specifics of how the representative form is modified that I start to get uncomfortable. As the site describes:

The website shows the environmental impact of a person by using humanoid forms with body parts distorted relative to the environmental impact of common activities. Each part of the body is allocated to a different type of environmental burden: the feet correspond to the transport footprint, the hands to home energy, mouth to water, stomach to consumption, bottom to waste and the eyes and head to electrical consumer products.

Here is a sample image demonstrating some of the distortions:

A group of humanoid figures, seemingly sculpted from grey clay. The center figure is a "normal" man. The surrounding figures have distended bellies, exaggerated hands and feet, larger skulls, and protruding lips.
A group of humanoid figures, seemingly sculpted from grey clay. The center figure is a "normal" man. The surrounding figures have distended bellies, exaggerated hands and feet, larger skulls, and protruding lips.

The whole purpose of the website, the underlying assumption that makes this a meaningful exercise to convince people to reduce their environmental impact, is that when people see these “distorted” human forms that represent themselves, they will be so horrified that it will motivate them to reduce their impact so they can again be “normal.”

There’s got to be a way that we can encourage and motivate people to be more environmentally aware without drawing from, relying on, and reinforcing these ideas about “normal” bodies.

The full site for the project is available here.

Go educate yourself (please!)

Image description: A shocked-looking cat perches on a chair, staring straight at the camera. Text reads: Concerned cat is just looking out for your best interests when she says that your tone might be alienating well-intentioned potential allies who just need a little polite education.

[Image via Tlönista in this comment thread at Flip Flopping Joy. Description: A shocked-looking cat perches on a chair, staring straight at the camera. Text reads: “Concerned cat is just looking out for your best interests when she says that your tone might be alienating well-intentioned potential allies who just need a little polite education.”]

One unfortunately common response to marginalized people saying that there’s a problem is the “Educate me NOW” demand from “well-intentioned allies” who totally mean well, but they just lack education on these issues and so just can’t understand what the fuss is all about.

I am using the following example not to appropriate from the awesome anti-racist work that Jessica Yee and the fabulous Racialicious crew (and countless bloggers around the web!) do on a daily basis, but rather for two specific reasons: 1.) I have already talked about my personal relationship with this oft-used derailing tactic rather extensively, and could probably talk about it ’til I’m blue in the face; 2.) anti-racist activism and disability activism are not completely separate, independent social justice strains — many of us who are involved in these activist projects are, in fact, fighting similar (though NOT completely analogous) battles. For me, claiming an identity as a feminist disability activist has entailed doing my best to fight racism and white privilege alongside fighting for disability rights. This is because disability and race intersect in many, many ways — sort of like how disability and gender, and race and gender, intersect. In other words, this is not just a disability issue, or a feminist issue,  or a trans* issue, or an anti-racist issue; it affects many of us in the social justice blogosphere, if in differing ways.

The “educate me now because I want to learn, marginalized person!” response played out, yet again, fairly recently in the comments to a post on Bitch authored by Indigenous activist and writer Jessica Yee. [Full disclosure: Some of us here at FWD guest blogged for Bitch as the Transcontinental Disability Choir.] Jessica had written a post on white hipster/hippie appropriation of native dress and why it’s not only ridiculous, but racist. Makes sense, right? (If it doesn’t, you might be at the wrong blog. Or go read this. I don’t know.) Overall, this piece seems like it would fit right in on a website for a magazine that is dedicated to showcasing “feminist response[s] to pop culture.”

And then the comments started rolling in, and so did the “but you have a responsibility to educate people who mean well!” trope:

I’m sure this is in fact extremely annoying. However, you might consider that when people bring that up, they’re not saying, “Hey I’m just like you and I totally understand what you deal with,” they’re trying to make a connection and learn something. Ignorant people are a pain in the neck, but they’re mostly not trying to be ignorant on purpose.

I‘m merely suggesting that if this is a cause you deem worthy of championing, then you should have a prepared source of information for them—be it this blog, book titles, or documentaries. Encourage them to learn more about THEIR history and perhaps you’ll draw a new soldier to your army.

It seems somewhat contradictory to put stickers on your laptop that indicate a Mohawk heritage and then rudely dismiss a stranger who expresses an interest in your advertisement. Perhaps a better way to accomplish your agenda (whatever it is) would be to engage in polite and open-minded conversation with those who mistake your stickers for an invitation.

Thea Lim at Racialicious pretty much nailed it in her recent post on what went down, entitled “Some Basic Racist Ideas and some Rebuttals, & Why We Exist” (which I highly recommend that you read in full, by the way). An excerpt:

This kind of hey-let-me-help-you-achieve-your-goal-by-suggesting-you-be-more-radio-friendly response totally misunderstands (and appears disinterested) in the anti-racist project, because it assumes that anti-racism is all about convincing white people to be nice to people of colour.   In other words, it assumes that anti-racism revolves around white folks.  Like everything else in the world.

Anti-racism and people of colour organizing is not about being friendly, being appealing, or educating white folks. While individual anti-racist activists may take those tacks to achieve their goals, the point of anti-racism is to be for people of colour.

I completely agree with Thea here — and I believe something similar applies to disability activism. That is: Those of us with disabilities are not here to make abled people feel comfortable, to hold their hands as they have a Very Special Learning Experience (most often, it seems, at our expense), or to make them feel good about themselves. I, personally, don’t care how “good” your intentions are, or that you reallllllly wanna learn, or if you think I’m being mean by not dropping everything to educate you when you demand it.  While I definitely don’t want to speak for Jessica, Thea, or any of the Racialicious contributors — or for people of color who do anti-racist work — I suspect that they may feel similarly about white people who come into PoC, WoC or other anti-racist spaces and demand that whoever is doing the activist work must halt whatever discussion is going on and educate them, now, because they are good “liberal” white people and have such good intentions, and you PoC want white people like me as allies, right? And if you don’t drop everything and rush over to educate me, well, you’re just a big meanie who must not want my support after all (such “support” is often conditional, and based upon whether the marginalized person can make the non-marginalized feel comfortable at all times), or you just want an excuse to be racist toward white people! Or some other ridiculous thing.

For me personally, the willingness that I “should” have to help well-meaning folks learn is also an energy issue. I am a person with disabilities, several of which I have written about at length on this website — and one of which is a pain condition subject to flare-ups. Thus, I have to manage my time and energy extremely carefully. Having to explain basic concepts over and over again to strangers on the internet because they’ve deigned to tell me that they “want” to learn — and some of whom may think, by extension, that they are somehow entitled to my time and energy — takes work. Writing takes work; additionally, a lot of bloggers do the blogging and responding to comments thing for free, on their own time.

And sometimes, those of us with conditions that intersect with our ability to do this work end up burnt out, frustrated, or we lose our patience. Though these end results are often nothing personal, they might read like it, and we end up paying the price energy-wise only to have that person who realllllly wanted to learn petultantly respond with something like, “You must not want to educate me, then, if you’re not up to answering all of my questions!” and leaving in a huff. But they reallllly want to learn. . . that is, if someone else does the brunt of the work for them and/or gives them good-ally cookies for just wanting to be educated about all this social justice stuff. Merely wanting is not enough; you have to actually follow through for your good intentions to matter.

There is, thankfully, a solution to this problem: those people who say, or comment, that they realllly want to learn must take responsibility for their own learning. There are several ways that this can be accomplished, among them lurking on blogs for a while before one starts commenting, reading a site’s archives (and most sites have them!), picking up a book (or two), reading some articles online or off. Certainly, there are a lot of things that are privileged about this assertion; of course, not everyone has the time to read about social justice, lurk on blogs, or take similar steps. But what is also privileged is the putting the responsibility for your own 101-type education onto someone else — someone who might not have all of the energy, time and patience that you might.

[A slightly different version of this post has been cross-posted at ham blog.]

This Terrifies Me

Here in the U.S., there’s been a lot of buzz about a new immigration law passed in Arizona (including on meloukhia’s tumblr, where I first saw it). Their state legislature just passed a bill that “makes it a crime to lack proper immigration paperwork and requires police, if they suspect someone is in the country illegally, to determine his or her immigration status. It also bars people from soliciting work as day laborers.”

This is a big change from the current situation. Because immigration is a nationwide issue, the federal government makes the immigration laws. There is a federal Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services that administers applications for immigration status. There is a whole department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement with quasi-police enforcement agents that put people in quasi-jail immigration detention facilities. It’s a whole federal system that runs parallel to the police and sheriffs who work for individual cities and counties.

For a long time, not only were local police not solely responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws, it was a longstanding rule that state and local police did not have the authority to enforce those laws. State and local police actively tried to distinguish themselves from immigration enforcement so that community residents who were immigrants would continue reporting crimes and helping the police with investigations. The split between responsibilities serves an important purpose in protecting overall public safety.

This is why it’s a big deal that this new law would require local police to determine the immigration status of anyone they suspect to be in the country illegally. Given the vague description of what would be an acceptable reason to suspect someone to be undocumented, it’s extremely likely this is going to translate to “check the papers of anyone who is Latina/o.” “A lot of U.S. citizens are going to be swept up in the application of this law for something as simple as having an accent and leaving their wallet at home,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

Certainly a police officer fulfilling their requirements under this new law might in fact discover that someone is undocumented. But this law also gives every police officer carte blanche to insist on immigration paperwork from anyone they want – another tool for harassment and intimidation that will surely be deployed selectively. It warns not only undocumented people, but all immigrants and anyone who might appear to be or resemble an immigrant in any way – stay inside. Disappear. Vanish. We do not want you here and if we see you we will hassle and interrogate and judge you.

This law just used the official voice of the state to tell this whole group of people – most of them people of color, most of them legally present in the U.S. – that they are not wanted.

That message of not being wanted, that directive to become invisible and disappear, that clear desire that a whole group would just go away and stop being a bother. That’s the same feeling I get when reading articles like this one in the Fresno Bee bemoaning an effort to get local businesses to provide accommodations for people with disabilities. Just think of the economic effect on local retailers! They’ve been open for 20 years! How dare the PWDs file lawsuits instead of just asking the proprietor who I’m sure is very nice and would just love to help out voluntarily! The message is the same – having PWDs here is too expensive. Too much work. Something to be given only out of the generosity of those in charge, not demanded. If only the PWDs would just go away our local businesses would be fantastic!

In one instance, popular opinion and the business community are telling PWDs to go away or be invisible. In the other instance, the state government is telling immigrants to go away or be invisible. Both are premised on the acceptance of the idea that it’s ok to look at a minority group of people and reject them, as a group. That’s why I reacted negatively to both those news articles – it is not ok to oppress people as a group. If it’s ok to treat immigrants that way in Arizona, that legitimizes treating PWD that way in Fresno. And this law is such a big step in the wrong direction that it makes me worried about similar erosions for other groups – including PWDs.

Dr. Drew – Stop Policing Other People!

Dr. Drew enrages me. The way his whole empire is built on callous exploitation of the pain, suffering, and need of others makes me very suspicious of his motives and goals in treating people. But even more than that, his eagerness to observe people through tabloid reporting and unsubstantiated rumors and then make unfounded assumptions about whether they’re experiencing substance addiction or abuse issues and/or mental health issues is, frankly, repugnant.

He’s been targeting Lindsay Lohan recently, and has said some absolutely outrageous and unacceptable things about her in recent days. I saw this reported by the Onion AV Club and they respond so nicely I’m just going to quote them:

Dr. Drew Pinksy, of Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew, Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew, and Dr. Drew’s Ol’ Fashioned Healing Vapors & Hair Tonic, is obviously a great doctor. He can diagnose life-threatening drug addiction just by listening to unsubstantiated rumors. He knows which cameramen will help the most in each individual addict’s recovery. And he is great at uncovering and broadcasting an addict’s childhood trauma—which is the only reason anyone becomes addicted to anything ever.

In fact, Dr. Drew is such a great doctor, he diagnosed then officially cured Lindsay Lohan via an interview with the always reliable gossip website RadarOnline.

First, Dr. Drew detailed his recommended course of therapy for Lohan:

“If she were my daughter, I would pack her car full with illegal substances, send her on her way, call the police, and make sure she was arrested. I would  make sure she was not allowed to get out of jail. I would then go to the judge and make sure she was ordered to a minimum of a three year sobriety program.”

I’m sure Dr. Drew already emailed this interview to the head of development at VH1, because in addition to being a terrific treatment plan for an addict (and also a morally sound thing to do), Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Frame-Up & Jail For Addicts Featuring Dr. Drew would also make a great reality show.

But after pitching his new show/course of therapy for Lindsay Lohan, he added this:

“I would say it’s less than a 1% chance of her making the decision to go to rehab. I have said this many times before, I believe that Lindsay will make a wonderful sober person, someday, if she survives this. I absolutely wish no harm to her, but I just have a feeling that something awful is going to happen to her, like she is going to lose a limb. I hope Lindsay gets help before something terrible happens.”

Something terrible like having a celebrity doctor diagnose you on a gossip site, or tell you what you need to do, or plant drugs in your car then call the cops on you?

It is easy to imagine the same kind of “logic” and “help” being applied to someone with a mental illness. Dr. Drew might suggest calling the police and saying that an individual had threatened suicide – even plant a weapon or suicide note on them to be sure the police would take them in for psychiatric commitment. He would publicly judge and shame that person for not seeking what Dr. Drew considers to be appropriate and beneficial treatment and imply that if his proposed treatment plan isn’t followed, any harm that befalls the person is their own fault.

This is not ok. It is dangerous, and is unfounded judgments and shaming. And it is utterly inappropriate and unacceptable from a medical doctor.

By 16 April, 2010.    blaming, media and pop culture, shaming, television   

All Those Healthy Eating “Rules” are Just Guesses, Really

File this under “Who Even Knows, Anymore?”

s.e. smith recently posted a photo of a “5 a day” tag that came on some asparagus she bought. She felt, and I agree, that those tags are a form of food policing – instructing people what they “should” eat. The corollary, of course, is that if people do not follow these food guidelines, their unhealthiness is their own fault.  s.e. explored some of the problems with these educational campaigns over at This Ain’t Living, but I want to highlight another problem here.

That problem being, namely, that NOBODY KNOWS WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT. From a recent article at Scientific American:

The recommendation that people eat at least five servings (about 400 grams) of fruits and veggies each day, espoused by the WHO since 1990, was based on studies that found a link between higher intakes of these foods and lower risks for cancer and other diseases.

Since the 1990s, however, evidence from large studies has been mounting that the protective effects of these foods against cancer in particular might be modest—if it exists at all.

The results are in line with other findings both in the U.S. and abroad that suggest the protective effect of fruits and vegetables is “much smaller than had been believed 10 years ago,” Harvard School of Public Health’s Walter Willett, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, noted in an e-mail to People who eat more fresh fruits and vegetables are also more likely to make other healthful lifestyle choices, such as exercising more and drinking and smoking less, which the researchers noted “may have contributed to a lower cancer risk” overall.

So this “5 a day” rule – which has been adopted as healthy eating dogma all over the world – may not actually be based on much of anything and there’s virtually no evidence to support the assertion that eating more fruits and veggies will automatically lead to better health.

But watch – it will still be used to shame people, and to blame them for their own health problems, regardless of the lack of scientific support. This strongly supports the argument that these healthy eating rules, and other rules about what people “should” do to be healthy, are much less about scientifically proven relationships between eating and health and much more about shaming people for their health problems.

(h/t The Awl for the link, and the suggestion that You Are Going To Get Cancer Anyway, So Have The Steak)

Criticism and the Vatican, Part One: You Really Want To Go There?

As I suspect many of our readers are well aware, there’s an ongoing abuse scandal in the Catholic Church which really exploded when news broke that Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) could have intervened in some cases of abuse and didn’t. I’ve been following the ongoing issues with the Church and child abuse for years, and the situation became especially disability-relevant when it was revealed that a priest at a school for the Deaf engaged in systemic abuse which went ignored by the Church despite numerous attempts on the part of students to report it.

Curiously, the Church chose Holy Week, which is I understand an especially sacred time for Catholics, go to on the defensive about this. It looked pretty bad, especially when Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa preached:

Holy Father, on your side are the people of God, who do not let themselves be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment, by the trials that sometimes strike at the community of believers. (emphasis mine) 1

And added:

The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.2

Yes, that’s right. Criticism=Antisemitism. Let’s reduce reports of abuse to ‘petty gossip.’ That’s fantastic. Sure, Rev. Cantalamessa apologised after the fact, but he certainly thought those particular lines were a good idea when he got up to preach, and I suspect that a part of him still believes it. Still believes that it is entirely appropriate to compare criticisms about institutions which tolerate child rape to the persecution of the Jewish people.

April happens to be Sexual Assault Awareness month, and the Vatican’s defensive and determined reactions to the discussions of sexual assault perpetrated by Catholic priests highlight some especially relevant issues, like the fact that people reported abuse in pretty much every way they could think of, expecting the adults around them to do something, and nothing happened, a common problem for victims of sexual assault which manifests even more in the case of people with disabilities who are sexually assaulted. The Church pretty clearly suppressed reports of abuse and attempts at investigation, as though ignoring them would make the problem go away, and even left priests known to be molesters in charge of young children. And now, the Church wants to pretend that it wasn’t complicit in abuse, just like other institutions which tolerate or even promote abuse attempt to sidestep responsibility.

Which is just not ok on so many levels. And the form the denial is taking is so very horrific and awful. The Church wants to evade criticism by likening it to Antisemitism? Especially when Pope Benedict was a member of the Hitler Youth and certainly has a murky past in regards to the Nazis?

This is a classic tactic which is also taken in response to criticisms in general which involve social justice issues; it seems like Godwin’s Law comes up in pretty much any discussion in which pop culture is criticised, in which language use is challenged, in which any group of people is trying to address and break down a systemic problem like abuse, violence, or discrimination. I don’t quite understand why it is that people think that arguments can be dismissed by comparing them to something utterly horrific, but it’s extraordinarily common and it never ceases to disgust me.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that the Church is doing the same.

Finally, a Dear Prudence column that isn’t rage-inducing!

In the most recent Dear Prudence live chat on Slate, a reader asked the following:

Negativity: I have had a bad couple of years—intermittent employment,
moved twice, lost a sibling. I’m a pretty positive person, but I’m
having trouble keeping my chin up, since that mainly results in me
taking it on the chin.

I have a friend who asked if I was feeling a little down, and when I
admitted it (something that is hard for me), she basically said it was
my fault, and my negative energy was attracting negative events. I
would not find happiness or get my old lucky life back until I could
learn to accept what fate was trying to teach me.

I don’t know what’s worse, her idea of comfort or the idea that she’s
right. She didn’t used to be crazy, but this New Age stuff has been
her reaction to being unemployed and living on credit cards. What
should I have said?

I could do without the mental-illness shaming (“She didn’t used to be crazy…”), but does this sound familiar to anyone who’s had to endure similar “well-meaning” advice from people who think you can — and should — just “buck up?” And oh my god, SCARY NEGATIVE ENERGY! I’ve covered the fallacies of The Secret and related pablum before here on FWD, so let’s take a look at advice columnist Emily Yoffe’s response:

Emily Yoffe: The Secret and other garbage of that ilk suggests people
abandon friends with problems so that they don’t get “infected” by
their negativity. So you could have said you understand her new set of
beliefs mean you two have to keep your distance and that you wish her
all the best.

I actually think the disease metaphor works well in showing just how ridiculous the notion of an “infection” of negative energy really is. To sum up: The flu is something you can get “infected” with, and it’s not fun. As for negative “energy,”  — if “positive thinking” works so well in combatting anything that’s not sunshine and rainbows and unicorns pooping glitter, why do positive thinkers and Secret devotees insist on dumping people who don’t fit their exact super happy worldview? Either the super POSITIVITY!!11 worldview is incredibly fragile and therefore must never be questioned, or there’s some major cognitive dissonance going on — perhaps both?

Am J Cardiol concern-trolling: “But mobility aids will stop them EXERCISING!”

So I stumble across this at Mobility Scooters Can Increase Your Risk of Developing Daibetes and Heart Disease

“O really?”, thought I, “I wonder how well-controlled that scoldy little piece of disability panic was?” So I read on.

However, recent research suggests that mobility scooters can do more harm than good by heightening the risk of diabetes and heart disease .

“More harm than good?”, thought I, “I wonder who measured that? How did they decide which effects outweighed which in the goodness vs. badness stakes?” So I read on.

Astonishingly, a study of scooter users in the U.S.A discovered that almost one in five developed diabetes after buying one to get around.

“Huh”, though I. “One in five, eh? Hm, that doesn’t sound all that different from the baseline prevalence in the population, let alone the older/ill/disabled population.” So I read on.

The research, published in the American Journal of Cardiology, highlights how multiple benefits to patients’ health from being able to get around more easily are being erased by the effects on the cardiovascular system.

“Erased?”, thought I. “Completely wiped out? Huh. Was it the people concerned who decided this, or someone else?” So I read on.

Researchers are urging doctors to consider the risks of scooter use before making recommendations to patients invest in a scooter.

“*Doubletake*”, thought I. “Doctors should consider the risks? Doctors? Not, say, people with disabilities? Just doctors? Doctors should weigh up the risks before offering any options at all? Doctors should decide?” So I read on.

[…] There have even been incidents when scooters have killed individuals.


Moving on.

They recruited 102 patients, with an average age of 68, who had obtained medical approval for a scooter and monitored their health over six years. Even though patients stated that they felt better physically and mentally, tests demonstrated that 18.7 per cent developed diabetes during the follow-up period.

“Erm”, thought I, “Right then. Sure enough, it was an older population- nearly seventy years old on average. The prevalence of diabetes in the population older than 60 in the USA is 23.1%, and that’s not people who are already ill and have other risk factors. That’s not really a surprising number.”

“I wonder,” thought I, “I wonder how that control group did, the age- and disability-matched control group, the one who didn’t get scooters at the same time?”


Yeah, there wasn’t one. No control group.

Just a group of elderly people with cardiac failure, neurologic disease, disabling arthritis, and chronic lung disease. Just a group of people with disabilities trying to eke out a life and getting used as a Lesson To All Of Us about the dangers of sloth.

The abstract is here, in the American Journal of Cardiology. Effect of Motorized Scooters on Quality of Life and Cardiovascular Risk, Brian W Zagol and Richard A. Krasuski, Volume 105, Issue 5, Pages 672-676 (1 March 2010).

This sterling little doctor-centric chastisement does contain one really useful piece of information:

[…] significant physical and psychological improvements in all quality-of-life categories (p <0.001) [...]

I’ll say that again, ‘cos they buried the lead. After getting a scooter, people experienced:

[…] significant physical and psychological improvements in all quality-of-life categories (p <0.001) [...]

But the authors decided to slap a big ol’ “DESPITE” before this statement about how the lives of people with disabilities were improved by appropriate mobility aids, and instead go on to list the way several laboratory parameters became “worse” over time in this group of ill elderly people. In a study with NO. CONTROL. GROUP.

We have absolutely no idea how these laboratory parameters would have fared had the people concerned not obtained mobility scooters. All we know is that their quality of life improved significantly in all domains.

What the study fails to recognise – among other things – is that the alternative to getting about on mobility aids isn’t a day of jaunty strolling; it’s immobility. The alternative to going out sitting on a scooter isn’t a doubles tennis match and a brisk swim followed by a bootscooting class; it’s sitting at home.

But the quality of life of PWD, the lack of alternatives, is dismissed by these concerned medicos as a relatively trivial aside; as just one factor for doctors to consider before deciding whether to withhold their blessing – and their financial rubber-stamp – to mobility aids:

In conclusion, interventions, such as scooters, that improve self-perceived quality of life, can have detrimental long-term effects by increasing cardiovascular risk, particularly insulin resistance. Physicians should carefully weigh such risks before approving their use, as well as ensure healthy levels of activity afterward.

Dudes. Newsflash. You’re not the ones who should be carefully weighing this hypothetical “risk”. We are. And you sitting there planning to deliberately withhold mobility aid funding to the poorest people in the population because you think they might – not will, only might – see their blood glucose tweak a few points? Not ok.

You don’t get to dismiss the importance our self-perceived quality of life (“self-perceived”? Who do you think is the best person to assess our quality of life? You?) with a parenthetical “Despite”. What is important to us is important to us; you don’t get to override that with your misinformed concern-trolling. You don’t get to decide on your own, then inform us what’s important in our lives. You don’t get to exclude us from the conversation. You don’t get to tell us which risks are worth taking.

You don’t have the moral right to immobilise us based on your imposition of your own value system on our lives. You wouldn’t even have that right if this was good research. When it’s fucked-up hand-waving? Put the journal down, and start seeing real people. The people right in front of you, who are looking for independence, the ability to shop, the ability to socialise, the ability to go to the fucking doctor, the choice to have a better life. The life you’re planning to say “no” to.

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