Monday, November 27, 2006

384.5: VLog Revisited! Clearer?

I tried out Blip.TV bec. my friend Brein over at Signcasts claims their formatting is better in terms of compression than YouTUBE. Pls share your opinion if you have a chance - thanks!

VLog'd my Sunday Morning Rant


Sunday, November 26, 2006

384: Sunday News and VLog Rant

It seems Ridor isn't the only one experiencing job discrimination - this gentleman in India is another sufferer. It seems the job market for Deaf people is just dwindling these days. I wrote to Erfo this morning:
In a sense I do think it's okay to ask people questions about how they'd handle situations. But I do think this was discrimination because a) it's a deaf agency; they're supposed to educate, not pamper hearing people's illusions and b) once Ridor got to know people they'd know to call back with relay. Heck, they could program his voicemail to get people to call back with relay. You can get TTY's which automatically respond with PLEASE CALL BACK VIA TTY. A couple people on his blog suggested video relay, but that wasn't, to me, the point. The point is they raised a specious objection to block a perfectly good candidate for a job... and in the process revealed exactly how discriminatory people can be.

Sometimes I think I should just suck it up and be a good Deaf person and go collect my SSI check. But noooooooo, I really love my job, I really think it's possible to be a Deaf person and a professional, so I continue to go out there and fight the good fight... even tho sometimes I have to sit on my hands to keep from saying what's on my mind...

But that's what a blog is for. Here's today's rant, in an experimental vlog - would LOVE comments and suggestions for improvement!

More soon. Back to baby-gazing.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

382: gallaudet, thanksgiving and the future

Tomorrow will be Thanksgiving. I want to mention some things I'm grateful for, and talk a little about the future and some dreams I have.

I'm thankful for my newborn niece Isabella and for the health of my tired sister! I'm thankful I live in a time where technology and unity have given us a powerful sense of connection, creativity, and control. I'm thankful to have lived in a time where twice in a century Deaf people have risen up and blown the lid off their prison and removed gatekeepers who went from protecting us to keeping us trapped.

Have you heard the expression "opened a can of worms?" It means to blow the lid off a situation of true complexity. It comes from the story about Pandora's box. Pandora was the wife of Epimethius, the brother of Prometheus. They lived in a time when the world was without fear or worry. Prometheus stole fire from the gods; Zeus punished him, but he would not submit. In revenge Zeus created Pandora, and sent her to Epimethius with gifts, including a jar. Pandora was gifted with curiosity, opened the jar, and let loose all the evils of the world - but also let loose good things, like hope and love.

The story is similar to my mind to what happened at Gallaudet. We opened a can of worms and exposed a situation of high complexity. We refused to let other people take care of us, and decided we wanted free will. Like Prometheus, we stole the fire from the "god" of the Deaf community, I. King Jordan. Like Pandora, we are gifted with curiosity, and though certainly in our struggle some bad things happen, we are struggling because of hope - hope for our own future as a community.

For now the lid is off the can. What do we do with our freedom? Well, let's look back to some of the problems raised in the protest and I am just going to brainstorm on ideas for how to deal with them:
  • AUDISM: the DPS. The DPS has reportedly had severe communication and cultural relation problems with the community at Gallaudet. They've been declared responsible for the death of at least one student, Carl Dupree. When students die or get tasered at other institutions people go nuts, have you noticed? When someone dies at Gallaudet, they assume that our "gods" have been taking care of us, and it must have been our fault. How do we resolve this? Do we wait for hearing people to solve it for us? Or should one of the points of the next few months be trying to get Deaf people onto DPS? Should DPS be 50% Deaf people? Could Deaf people partner with hearing people on DPS to create a cultural relationship program? It is NOT going to be possible to hire skilled signers on DPS - for one thing, they could probably make more money terping!
  • MEDIA: During the Gallaudet protest, I saw again and again people asking Dr. Fernandes about the viewpoint of her opposition. Why are Deaf people mad at her? she was asked, again and again. It took a while for people to talk to the protestors themselves. How can we change this?
  • AUDISM: other depts. at Gallaudet. We have heard again and again about financial corruption at Gallaudet. I've also heard that the finance/accounting people are almost all hearing. Is this just a rumor? Is this true? How many other depts. are almost all hearing? Does this create an atmosphere of isolation?
  • EDUCATION: I know that sororities and fraternities at Gallaudet do a lot of amazing community work (as well as have their share of fun!) Can they do community projects spotlighting problem situations at the University?
  • EDUCATION: Also, many big organizations like the ACLU etc. are ignorant about the Deaf community - they support minority groups, but Deaf people are a big question mark. I have been working to educate Democrats on - I've had a good response as people easily make connections to issues faced by other minorities. Who else should we be working with? We need to create coalitions so we have stronger political lobbies?
What do you think of these ideas? I know some people have already been doing amazing things. These are just brainstorming ideas. If they inspire someone, please, share yours! Whatever comes out of this blog, one thing is clear: any answers we find, we will be creating. We have opened the can of worms. We explore new territory every time we do.

Oh - and happy tofurkey day. (I'm still a vegan at heart. Sigh.)

Monday, November 20, 2006

381: ASL, LSF, and Native American sign languages

NOTE: still in Ft. Lauderdale. Sister is having so many contractions she doesn't know what to do. I wrote this post yesterday on my blackberry while in the car at night and therefore incommunicado (someone needs to invent a deaf AND hearing-friendly light for the inside of a car. I'll be the first to buy. Enjoy my ramblings, and big love to Moi whose essay inspired this post! -Uncle Rainmound)

I read with interest Moi's post on "So Where Is ASL From Anyway?" itself a response to Carl Schroeder's post "My Ongoing Scholarly Pursuit." I'm with Moi: the evidence is that ASL was derived from LSF, particularly a coded form of LSF developed - and later rejected as a failure - by the Abbe de l'Epee. A lot of relevant information is in Lane's "When the Mind Hears." Here's my own contribution to the discussion, although for me it goes back to Massieu and Clerc, the golden boys of France.

These two famous students of the Deaf institute where the Abbe de l'Epee - and later Sicard - and finally Gallaudet came to work with Deaf people. Jean Jacques Massieu was the rebel who used LSF, coming from a family with six deaf brothers and sisters. Laurent Clerc came later and was the good boy who used "signed French" - a system developed originally by l'Epee and then renounced in his final work on Deaf education. In this final book L'Epee admitted his fake system was a failure, and the best means of education was through LSF, and seemed to hint that all coded sign languages must, because of the necessities of the visual mode, tend towards a natural signed grammar. (A hundred years or so later, we discovered similar facts about ASL and the various "signed codes" - the codes work for communication, but not for education. There's a difference between getting your point across, and becoming a model for understanding a new idea.) Gallaudet, however, preferred the more docile Clerc to the wilder Massieu; Clerc, educated in L'Epee's code, was easier to understand than Massieu, who grew up in a family of Deaf people and used LSF like Pollack used paint. Gallaudet found the code easier to learn than the language. What did he bring back? Clerc. It was Clerc's code that he learned, and what lay behind the code eventually developed into ASL: as I said, all coded languages eventually tend towards ones with real syntax appropriate for the modality of the language itself. As Allison Fanara reports, in a lecture by Paddy Ladd:
"Massieu and Clerc felt that there were two groups of languages - natural and artificial. Natural languages belonged to the Deaf and the savages. Artificial languages belonged to the hearing people. They believed that language was linked to Deaf biology. This was why Deaf people were more of a global group; they were the Sign Language peoples. Therefore, they were among the First Nation people, those who believed that they belonged to Earth, not vice versa."

It is true that, from the perspective of Massieu and Clerc, artificial languages belonged to hearing people - they were continually coming up with "new" ones. (L'Epee used a two-handed manual alphabet, derived possibly from one used in England.)

Another interesting question is: how much influence did Native American signed languages have on the developing American Signed Language? I do not know the answer to this but I suspect it is an answer derived from class. Most of the people at Gallaudet's school needed money to attend, and came from wealthy families; chances are they'd never have had a chance to socialise with Native Americans of any tribe. And look at this: here's a website with some French signs. (note - having problems getting this to work - any help?) Compare and contrast for yourself.

One other point. Does the American sign for "with" use the letter "a", implying a derivation of the word "avec"? This is debatable, but I don't think so - if only because the LSF "code" for the letter A is different from the American manual alphabet's code; in LSF, the thumb is extended in the manual alphabet. We'd need pictures from the time to figure out how it started, an as Carl Schroeder notes, there are few if any visual records from Clerc's time, although there are some alphabets scattered around from the 16- and 1700's.

The question is: is the "a" in WITH the alphabetical A, the handshape "a" (and handshapes are an alphabet of their own only partially derived from written alphabets) - or a derivation of the LSF version of the French "a"? Or possibly even a derivation of a French handshape which has nothing to do with the letter at all? You see the possibilities are endless, and of course they could have changed over time - we could have started with a French handshape that evolved into a French letter that moved to America and became an English letter and eventually turned into an ASL handshape... Language is fluid, and grows, and changes, and we understand it only when we understand the whole.
A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again. -Alexander Pope

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

380: cleaning house

Cleaning is useful for many purposes. For a start, it keeps the hands busy, so I can't talk, and I have nothing to do but think for a while: think, while looking over the stains of the last week, remembering the little frustrations, the big goodbyes. And Deaf goodbyes can take forever. We're a holding-on sort of people, I think.

My eye is cleaned, for example. My cornea was abraded by a contact lens the other week, contributing to the blogging hiatus. It's healed now, but I could barely see across the street for a week. It's the second time this has happened to me: the first was years ago in college, when some stage makeup mixed with sweat to create a potent sticky mixture binding my contact lens to my eye. I stayed in a dark room for three days afterwards, but what I remember most is the ride to the hospital, looking desperately out of the window, muttering to myself, "that's the last color blue I will see; that's the last pink."

This scotomaphobia has always been within me. It extends to everything I do: not only am I afraid of not, physically, seeing, but I'm also afraid of being deluded, or deluding myself. I'm afraid others will be deluded, and not be able to make clear decisions for themselves, and I feel sorrow for those who hide behind a world of fantasy. Blindness became a metaphor for me, for ignorance, for the darkness of a world denied. I think it may become such a metaphor for many Deaf people, as they struggle with various issues - Usher's Syndrome, for example, or various vertigo- and blindness-inducing conditions. There's also the psychological and psychiatric disorders which induce hallucinations. At a whisk any of us could lose our sight, and by extension the language which we so love.

So when my cornea had its dignity so injured, and I was suspended in a hazy bubble of vision, I spent each day and night with rapidly growing fear. I lay awake all of the following night thinking about the 9 buddhist levels of consciousness, trying to will myself into a state of alaya, because theoretically in such a state all communication is possible: you recognize yourself, at the cellular level, as having no difference from any other being, and accept the dichotomy without struggle that, simultaneously, you can be entirely unique. It's a powerful philosophical state which gives the mind an incredible clarity of vision.

A clarity completely out of reach, at least for most of this week. I substituted Pepperidge Farms for enlightenment, then compensated with a day of herbal green teas out of guilt for the processed crap in the chocolate. (You have to apologize to your body for the stuff your drama makes you do.)

Fuller-fed, I managed to find enlightenment another way: working on a play. Just a random one I started for fun. It's funny, but I can see ASL (and yes, BSL) signs in my head now: I don't think I was always able to. I experiment constantly in my head now with alterations, variations in structure between ASL number and grammar... I'm still a baby at it, but I went through this process with English, and I recognize it for what it is: it's the process of learning to construct writing, only with ASL. I'm playing with the guitar and making occasional riffs to see how it sounds.

Cleaning is useful for many purposes. You clean out your mind, when you sift through your memories and pay attention to your life. (This is one reason I hate television: how much meaning can you get from sifting through many hours of watching television? And people do watch such a lot of it.) I struggled to build a picture in my mind, looking for analogues to what I'm doing now, because I really want to improve my script-writing ability, and I want the ASL to be just as good as the English can be - simultaneously. I tried to make my memory into the film reel some writers say it can be.

I discovered, to my amazement, that I could. It took a little while of drifting, yes, but there was the classroom in the English department, and there was Joseph Rainmound, twelve years younger, experimenting with a computer program to randomly make poetry, not aware that, twelve years later, his older self would wince at the naivete that poetry was simply words put into clever places and that there were people with poorer knowledge of the construction of English than his who could write poems which far outstripped any new structural concept he could come up with. Yep, a little playing with BASIC, and a couple of books I found in the library, and all I needed to do was put in a list of random words and I would be Shakespeare. The words just came out funnily-placed, really. And they didn't always make sense. I found myself having to actually write. (I was a lazy bum, and followed Heinlein's theory that the laziest man had to be the most efficient, since he would find the quickest, best way of doing things so they would be done right the first time, and so that first time would be the shortest possible time it could take.)

In some ways it's sad to look back and see myself making fake poems through random word placement generators. In another way there's positive vibes from seeing myself at such a silly project. Remembering the illusions of my early childhood made me feel better about my sight today. I can see, in one way, much more now than I used to, in another. I'm certainly no longer blinded by certain types of naivete, although I suspect I'll have to battle many more. ASL gave me the context and content which a lifetime of study of English alone could not.

The memory also made me regretful... because in many ways naivete, the self-delusion which is innocence and so prized by certain people in this country, is a very comfortable place. But truly: would I rather have the more perfect physical sight of my youth, or the more focused mental sight of today? I know my own answer (although it would be nice not to have to use bloody contacts again.) Awareness of the universe comes from mental attention, not simply the physical strength of the gaze. This is why people close their eyes when they meditate. Awareness, the sixth sense every discipline calls for (yes, even the Buddhist traditions, and the Wiccan), is a sense which transcends all others. It helps to access it when the noise from those other senses is muted. It helped me separate my metaphor from the reality.

The reality: blindness is simply a state, a quantum position, and nothing of which to be afraid. The awareness grew in me, and I began to see how this awareness could be useful for so many other things, how I could master my fear of medium heights, and possibly, one day, confront a cockroach without turning into an insane bloody-hatchet bearing madman...

Awareness is also very helpful, when you're cleaning. I must now go be aware of the floor. Time for scrubbing.