Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Stepping into the unknown…

Not really, but it makes a catchy title.

Today we decided to change power companies. We’ve been with our current supplier for over 15 years and two addresses, and while we have no complaints about their service, we felt that as a long term customer we had been taken for granted and largely ignored.

I don’t know how electricity is provided in your locality, but here in Aotearoa New Zealand, it is a highly competitive market. A quick online search of suppliers in our region revealed we have a choice of 59 suppliers! Other regions of the country have more, while some regions have a little less less. Some suppliers generate electricity from 100% renewable resources, others have a mix of renewable resources and fossil fuels, and a few don’t do any generation themselves, but buy on the spot market. Talk about being spoilt for choice!

To make it even more complex, each supplier provides many plans for domestic consumers. Our old supplier has around ten plans, as does our new supplier. All up, I’m guessing we had a choice of well over 200 plans!

Power charges here are made up of three elements: cost per Unit (a Unit is 1 kilowatt hour); line charge (daily charge for connection to the power network; and Electricity Authority fee (the authority oversees and regulates the electricity market).

The electricity Authority fee is common across all suppliers, but the line charges and price per unit varies by as much as 50% between suppliers. Then there’s prompt payment discounts, loyalty card schemes and happy hour schemes. Some suppliers offer cheaper rates for hot water, or different day and night rates. Some guarantee a fixed price per unit and line charge fees for one or two years, others don’t. The choices are bewildering, which is why it’s taken so many years to actually decide to change.

Have we found the best deal? I have no idea. It would take far too long to crunch all the numbers. But we have found a much better deal with our new supplier. Our monthly electricity bill will be 25% cheaper than what we are currently paying, fixed for two years. We get a $100 credit for signing up with them, plus we get a 10 cents per litre (38 cents per US gallon, 45 cents per UK gallon) discount on petrol through a fuel card scheme we already belong to.

When we have been paying between $250 and $400 per month for electricity (depending on the season) on a household income of around $2200 per month, the savings are not insignificant.

Now that we’ve finally made the plunge, and found a good deal, I’ll need to seriously look at doing the same for our telecommunications supplier. How difficult can it be? After all there’s only about 70 suppliers and 500 plans to choose from.

On second thoughts…


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Three days lost

There are two conditions that conspire to make my life difficult at times. One is considered a mental disorder by the medical profession although I hope that in time this attitude will change. Once homosexuality was considered a disorder by the medical profession, and when I was a child, left handedness was certainly treated as punishable condition.

How times have changed. Today we understand that what is considered “normal” is in many cases, just the bulge in a bell curve of human variability, and one doesn’t need to be “cured” if one tends to be at either end of the curve.

Of course I’m referring to autism. While autism has its challenges, most of those challenges are because of the way other people, in other words “society”, respond to how I exhibit aspects of autism. While I think autism awareness is ideal in theory, I’m afraid that awareness isn’t accompanied by understanding. In Western culture, it seems that it’s being demonised as an epidemic; something that needs to eradicated, even to the point where the desire to  eradicate the person with autism is seen as understandable, although thankfully not condoned. This must change.

The other condition, and the one that has had the most effect on me over the last few days, is considered a disorder, by the medical profession, and with which I heartily concur, is migraine. Having been laid low by a particularly painful attack that has kept me in a darkened room for three days, unable to eat, think rationally or coherent thoughts, I would like nothing better than for science to find a cure, or even to reduce the severity, frequency and duration of attacks. Looking at the Migraine Buddy app on my phone, I see the following statistics for the last 31 days:

No. of attacks: 14
Average attack duration: 32 hrs 25 mins
Attack days: 27
Attack-free days: 4
Pain Intensity
(1 – 10 scale)
Minimum: 3
Average: 6.3
Maximum: 9

The three most common symptoms (apart from pain) are sensitivity to light and noise, and Tinnitus. These occurred in every attack. However following symptoms occurred in at least half of attacks: Aphasia, giddiness, sensitivity to smells, fatigue, blurred vision, blind spots, ataxia, and confusion, with nausea occurring in only six of the attacks. Distorted spatial awareness, hemiparesis, tremors, dysarthria, and facial numbness occurred in five attacks. There are a few other less common symptoms, but I think the list is long enough as it is.

While the frequency and duration of attacks are a little up on a normal month, it’s not by much. Migraines do limit what I can do and it means that I’m not able to make definite plans. Everything depends on my condition at the time. It means that I’m often seen as “unreliable” because I can’t commit to being at a particular place at a particular time.

Even blogging has to go by the wayside during a migraine, as I’m unable to string a coherent paragraph together, and I’m unable to perform even the basics of proof reading during many attacks.

Currently I’m in the postdrome phase of the last migraine. This means that although the throbbing head pain is gone, it still feels like I’ve been hit by a bus, and I’m not sure how coherent my writing is. The postdrome phase can take as long as a day, sometimes longer,  to finally fade away, but at least, that little guy with the sledgehammer who has been so busy inside my skull for the last 3 days has gone for now. For that I’m extremely grateful.


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Three years already?

When I opened my Web browser to the WordPress page this morning, the little notification indicator indicated that there was a notification (there must be a better way of phrasing that, but currently it doesn’t come to mind). It wasn’t a comment, a like, or a follow. It was a message from WordPress!

Screenshot_2017-06-06_11-19-52

Three years already? Surely not. But a quick check revealed that I signed up and posted my first blog on 6 June 2014. As for flying, I think not. Only 130 posts in 1095 days, or one post every 8.4 days hardly rates as flying in my view.

What I find fascinating is the tags and categories that attract the most readers. Mention atheism or religion and the number rise dramatically. Nothing else compares, not even matters related to sex or gender gets readership much above a yawn. If I was looking to maintain a high readership I know what I should write about, and it seems everyone except Kiwis have strong views on religion, one way or another.

Perhaps I should post more often, but I find most of my leisure time on line is spent following other blogs. You’re such an interesting, even fascinating, bunch of folk. Some I relate to almost as if they were family. Others are just the opposite. I follow out of morbid curiousity – can they post something even more idiotic today than they posted yesterday?

I do have a special interest in following blogs related to migraine and autism/Aspergers, but as both play a significant role in my day to day living, that’s probably to be expected. I also follow many blogs related to aspects of social justice, and it’s these on which I comment more than others. It’s also something I want to post on more often except it’s also the topic where I have greatest issues in expressing myself succinctly. I have around 20 articles related to social justice concerns in draft form, but my feelings on the issues seem to get in the way speaking my mind. Even if they never get published the continual rewriting helps clarify my thoughts, so the effort is not entirely wasted.

Where from here? Who knows. I would like to think that I can work up to posting more regularly and perhaps two or three times per week. But for now I’ll settle for an easier goal of one per week. Who knows, I might even make it by this time next year!


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Feijoa Season!

Love them or loathe them, at this time of the year are are unavoidable. We have a short  6 metre long hedge consisting of six feijoa bushes that runs along part of the south boundary of our section (residential property). Every few days we gather several kilograms of the fruit.

Feijoas

An over abundance of feijoas!

Today, our granddaughter picked up 8.5 Kg (about 19 lbs) of the very aromatic fruit in around ten minutes. Harvesting is by collecting fallen fruit from the ground – never by picking off the tree, as picked fruit fails to develop as much flavour and sweetness as fallen fruit.

Thanks to methyl benzoate and similar chemicals, the potent aroma is what makes feijoa so unavoidable. It is very distinctive and during harvest season, which for us is May and June, the house positively reeks of it. It’s one of those smells you either love or loathe. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who is indifferent to it.

The picture is one I took a few days ago. The two bags our grandson is holding contain 5 Kg (11 lbs) of feijoas. Five bags of fruit were gathered that day totalling about 12 Kg (26 lbs). The three grandchildren gathered them in little more than five minutes

For those unfamiliar with the fruit, it tastes a little like guava, a little like pineapple, a little like pear and a little like tart berries. Yep, it’s like eating a very flavoursome fruit salad. Delicious! They are best eaten raw, but are very nice in a cooked desert such as apple and feijoa crumble. It also makes a wonderful aromatic jam.

Inevitably, we give away most of our crop to family, friends and neighbours, as do most people with more than a single bush – they’re such prolific croppers. The rest we consume fresh or it’s frozen for making into desserts or smoothies over the next six to twelve months.

As I have already mentioned, it’s a fruit you either love or loathe. At this time of the year, if you visit someone and the place doesn’t smell of feijoa then in all probability they do not like the fruit, and you can be sure they’ve turned down many offers of feijoas over recent days. Don’t risk harming a friendship by offering them any.


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Batten down the hatches!

Just as I begin recovery from the recent onslaught of a severe migraine attack, I find we are about to face a new onslaught. What was supposed to be the tail end of Cyclone Cook is making landfall about now. Over the last day it has intensified and has now been categorised as the most severe weather event to hit Aotearoa New Zealand in almost fifty years.

On the 10th of April 1968, Cyclone Giselle, the worst extratropical cyclone in New Zealand’s recorded history caused widespread damage throughout the country and the sinking of the Inter-Island ferry TEV Wahine, resulting in the death of 53 passengers.

Everyone has all but forgotten the name of the cyclone. Those like myself who lived through it simply remember it as the Wahine Storm ot Wahine Disaster. It’s an experience few can forget. Lets hope Cyclone Cook proves to be an anticlimax.

The clip linked to below is taken from the evening news bulletin that day. For those of us there it seemd more dramatic as we had the “privilege” of watching the event unfolding through our television screens and knowing that the weather prevented any effective rescue.
https://www.nzonscreen.com/embed/7e15d764847b5b81


Postscript: All very much a let down in this part of the country. The cyclone tracked further east than had been predicted and my side of North Island received only a moderate amount of rain and winds that fell short of being gale force. Other parts of the country did experience gale force winds and torrential rain, flooding, fallen trees, power cuts, block roads etc, here it could barely be described as a storm at all. Cyclone Cook will not go down in history as the second most severe weather event to hist the country in recent history.


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My non-real God

Recently, I’ve been making a somewhat half-hearted attempt to tidy over a decade’s worth of archived files scattered throughout dozens of long forgotten folders on my computer and on CDs and DVDs littering storage space in my home office, and the basement/garage. Yes I confess. I’m a hoarder when it comes to digital data. One of the CDs I came across had a label in my handwriting saying Non-realism in religion. The CD must be pre 2008 as the files had been created by Windows applications. (I’ve been a Linux user since 2008).

The CD was damaged, and most of the files couldn’t be opened, but there was one good pdf file titled Non-realistic Christianity. Inside was this list:

  • Religion is about internal spiritual experiences, and that is all.
  • There is no world other than the material world around us.
  • There are no beings other than the living organisms on this planet or elsewhere in the universe.
  • There is no objective being or thing called God that exists separately from the person believing in him.
  • There is no ultimate reality outside human minds either.
  • We give our own lives meaning and purpose; there is nothing outside us that does it for us.
  • God is a projection of the human mind.
  • God is the way human beings put ‘spiritual’ ideals into a poetic form that they are able to use and work with.
  • God is simply a word that stands for our highest ideals.
  • God-talk is a language tool that enables us to talk about our highest ideals and create meaning in our lives.
  • Religious stories and texts are ways in which human beings set down and work out spiritual, ethical, and fundamental meanings in life.
  • Our religious talk is really about us and our inner selves, and the community and culture we live in.
  • Religious talk uses the familiar language of things that exist outside ourselves to make it easier for us to handle complex and subtle ideas.
  • Faith therefore isn’t belief in a God that exists outside minds.
  • Faith is what human beings do when they pursue ‘spiritual’ ideals.
  • Saying that someone follows a particular faith is a way of talking about their attitudes to life and to other people.

Somehow over the years I had completely forgotten about the use of the terms realism and non-realism in relation to religion, but a quick Google search provided a refresher and the probable source of the pdf file. It seems I’ve done a little editing (bold text) and one bullet point is missing, but otherwise they are the same. And the list does reflect what I perceive religion to be.

While atheism is where my head is, it’s not where my heart is. I don’t live in a purely logical and rational world – I don’t think anyone does, and for me, the reality of what I experience is either denied, described as delusional, or otherwise devalued by much of the atheist community – especially the online one. Delusional or not, I’m required to deny so much of who I am just to be accepted by society (that’s autism for you), that I’m not willing to deny that ‘spiritual’ part of me.

The essentials of non-realistic Christianity have been the cornerstone of my understanding of religion and God for all my adult life, although not as clearly defined as in the list above. In my search for a ‘spiritual’ home, I looked at various Christian denominations and at a variety of other religious and spiritual beliefs. Back in the 1970s and 80s I found small pockets of believers who held similar views to my own in all the mainline denominations, especially within Anglicanism and Methodism, but they were tolerated, sometimes grudgingly, rather accepted or welcomed. That lack of acceptance was a turn off, as was the liturgy and worship practice. Universal Unitarianism and secular Buddhism had some attraction, but, worship, in the case of Unitarianism, and meditation, in the case of Buddhism, were outside my comfort zone.

If I was conducting the search today, I dare say I would have stumbled upon one of the many mainline and independent congregations that welcome or embrace the essentials of non-realistic Christianity. I might well find one that I felt comfortable in, although their forms of worship probably would always be an issue for me. However I don’t doubt that I could find a religious community where I would be welcomed and feel at home in.

Today there are also a large number of secular/non-real/humanist organisations that are non-denominational/pan-denominational/pan-religious such as Sea of Faith New Zealand and St Andrew’s Trust for the Study of Religion and Society where I’d be very welcome and in many ways I’d be more comfortable than within a church community. A major reason for this is that while congregations within the churches embrace the essentials of non-realism, the various churches as a whole haven’t, (although some are getting close). Those darned creeds that they all retain are a complete turn off for me, and there is no way I could honour them. Unfortunately, groups such as SoF and SATRS didn’t exist, or were very thin on the ground when I began my search. Remember, this was well before the arrival of the Internet.

As it turned out, I did stumble upon a religious group that did meet my needs, was non-creedal, and had, over a period of some 350 years, developed an understanding of God that was not in conflict with the essentials of non-realism. That group was the first I had come across that did not have some expectation of how I should understand God, nor did they expect me to hold specific theological beliefs.

That group was the Quakers – the Religious Society of Friends in Aotearoa New Zealand, (Gifted the name Te Hahi Tuhauwiri – “The faith community that stands shaking in the wind of the Spirit” – by the Maori Language Commission). Now before anyone jumps on me and says that non-realism is unchristian, and Quakers most definitely are Christian, I’m going to say hold up a minute, is it important or even relevant? Let’s consider the second part of the statement (Quakers most definitely are Christian)

Are Quakers Christian? There’s about 350,000 Quakers worldwide, and the majority are Christian and it would be very difficult to distinguish them from many other evangelical, fundamentalist Christian denominations. Evangelical Friends can be found in Africa (there’s more than 130,000 in Kenya alone) and the Americas. They have churches, clergy, creeds, articles of faith and believe the Bible is the Word of God. They are hierarchical and (especially in Africa) patriarchal. They are the youngest and most successful (in terms of numerical strength) of the various strands of Quakerism.

There is another strand of Quakerism which is somewhat more difficult to pin down. Often referred to as liberal Quakerism, it can be found in the UK and Ireland, Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Canada and parts of the USA. Liberal Friends have no clergy, creed or articles of faith, lack hierarchical structure and have had a belief in the equality of the sexes since the foundation of Quakerism in the 1600s. They value their Christian roots, but as to whether or not this strand of Quakerism is Christian, depends on one’s concept of what Christianity is. Their numbers are small – possibly 50,000 worldwide, with around 1,400 in NZ.

Personally it makes no difference to me whether or not Quakerism is Christian, but in the context of New Zealand, it fits comfortably in the liberal/post modern wing of Christianity, even if it’s considered somewhat “peculiar”.

Now I come to the reason why I was motivated to write this article. I hear and read far too often, a section of atheists who claim that all religion is harmful. If this is true, then the religion practised by Friends, even liberal Friends, is harmful. Try as I might, I can find nothing in the beliefs and practices of NZ Friends and Christians at the liberal end of the spectrum that is harmful. Of course, it’s possible that being religious myself, I’m blind to seeing the harm I’m causing, and if is the case, is it possible for me to recognise it? I suppose it’s possible…

but unlikely.

On the other hand, it could be an atheist plot to discredit religion and bring disorder and immorality to the world. That’s definitely the claim of some Christian extremists. But I can see no evidence of that. There is no organised atheist movement. In fact, non-theists within religious groups are far better organised than atheists. Perhaps atheists are opposed to particular forms of religion. That, I could understand, but when I have put the proposition forward, I have been knocked back: All religion is harmful.

As I understand it, their argument is that religion and critical thinking are always incompatible. Perhaps, because I’m religious, and take my religion seriously, I’m incapable of critical thinking. It would also mean that I am incapable of seeing what harm my beliefs are doing to me, others, and society as a whole. So, if my religious beliefs and practices, and those of my fellow believers are harmful, can someone please point out to me where they are harmful, or at least point me in the right direction. If on the other hand, my religious beliefs and practices, and those of my fellow believers aren’t harming myself, others or society, the argument that all religion is harmful must be false.

I have no argument with atheists. After all atheism is part of my beliefs. My argument is with those who believe all religion is harmful. I’ve heard argument that religion has evolved along with the development of human thought, possibly as a result of seeking patterns and explanations for what we experience. Perhaps religion also helped in the development of cohesive groups. Whatever the reason, a great many of us still seek some form of religion or spirituality. I’ve heard that it could be as high as 9 out of 10 people. That seems rather high, but what seems apparent to me is that a significant number do desire and seek some form of religion or spirituality.

Census figures show a continuing decline in religious affiliation. What they don’t show is is that the number who hold religious or spiritual beliefs remain fairly constant. While those who believe in a deity have declined in number, other forms of spirituality have increased. Worldwide, the number of religious adherents continue to grow, although not as fast as the total population. It doesn’t appear that religion is going to disappear any time soon. This being so, rather than seeking the disappearance of religion, perhaps a more productive course would be to seek a change in what religion is. Don’t let up on religious privilege where is exists. It has no place in in modern society.

I’m not targeting any one with this ramble. I’ve found it helpful for me to share what I’m thinking with others, as feedback helps in clarifying and modifying my beliefs. Sometimes it’s with family or friends. Sometimes it’s within my religious community, or another community. This time it’s I’ve put it out to the blogosphere.


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Sensory Overload

I’m sometimes asked what it feels like to be an Aspie. I don’t know, as it feels perfectly normal to me. I’ve been one for almost 68 years, and will remain so for the rest of my life. However, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to not being an Aspie, then shudder at the thought. You’re all so strange!

However there is one non-autistic trait I wish I did have, and that is the ability to filter incoming stimuli. This is simply because I am required to inhabit a world dominated by people who take sensory gating for granted. Most people on the autism spectrum are prone to sensory overload to some degree. I certainly am, and I think I might be able to explain it in a way that make sense for those of you who don’t experience it.

email_icon_crystalLet’s imagine that your job is to respond to all email sent to your office. If it takes on average about ten minutes to attend to each email, then over an eight hour working day you can process about fifty emails. So the forty or so that arrive on a typical day is a walk in the park. Sure, there will be times when they arrive in quick succession and some may require more time than others to process, and you may end up with five or perhaps ten in your inbox awaiting attention. You simply prioritise the messages and in quick order you’re back to an empty or near empty inbox.. However…

What you don’t see is all messages that have been sent to the office email address. As well as the forty messages you see, there are another 360 that have been caught by the the Spam filter on the office mail server. What would happen if the filter suddenly stopped working? Instead of processing forty emails per day, you’re now faced with processing 400 per day. That’s an average processing time of one minute and 12 seconds per message if you want to leave the office at your usual time. Sure, some of the messages will obviously be Spam, but a great many will not be so obvious at a cursory glance, and will take a few minutes to check their validity. Are you beginning to feel the pressure?

There’s one other bit of information that will really put the heat on. Your mailbox has developed a software fault and can hold, at most, twenty messages. Any more than that and one of two possibilities happens. Either, the new message pushes one of the existing messages out of the inbox where it simply disappears, or, it merges the new message with one of the existing messages, resulting in absolute gibberish. It’s not possible to predict which message will be pushed out or merged, nor which of the two possibilities will occur. So when your inbox contains nineteen messages and another thirty arrive within one minute, you know you’re in deep doo-doo.

Your sensory gating works in a way similar to the Spam filter. Anything that is irrelevant is stopped at the gate. You only have to deal with the important stuff. There are moments during the day when your “inbox” gets kind of full as you struggle to cope with two kids that won’t stop bickering, while a third has just taken a tumble off the shed roof and possibly has concussion and a broken arm. Meanwhile the dog has just thrown up on the new carpet in the lounge, and you discover the phone’s been disconnected because your spouse forgot to pay the bill last month. But on the whole you cope quite well, knowing that your “inbox” can hold hundreds or thousands of messages at any time.

On the other hand, I’m struggling with no Spam filter and a restricted “inbox”. My partner and I go to a restaurant for dinner. She’s wearing a broach that catches the light every few seconds. Each time it does, I receive a new message in my “inbox”. I ask her to remove the broach. She refuses, The candle on our table and the table on the left have tea light candles. Each time they flicker, I get a new email I blow out the candle on our table. My partner comments that that was very romantic deed. Is she being sarcastic? How does one know?

The table on the right has one of those confounded fake candles with an electric flame. It flickers incessantly. Each time it does, I get a new message. In the background, there’s piped music with a vocal track. Each time I hear recognisable word, another message is sent. At the table behind me there’s at least two conversations going on. Each time there’s a recognisable phrase, I get a new message, The same thing is occurring with the tables to our left and right. Each click of utensils on crockery anywhere in the room creates a new message. And then there’s the constant toing and froing of patrons and serving staff, sending multiple messages each time they cross the floor. And I haven’t even included the stimuli I am receiving from the food or the many messages that result from contact between my skin and the suit I’m wearing. One of the waitresses is wearing shoes that squeak (am I the only person hearing that?) and my partner thinks I’m being distracted by the waitress. She’s right, but the reason for the distraction is most definitely not what she thinks. It’s those darned shoes. The right one makes a different sound to the left. The result is a sort of sqeeeksquick, squeeeksqick, and I get another email with each squick. I sense my partner is not happy with my distractedness, but to what degree I have no idea. My inbox is now overflowing, and I have no clue as to how many of the messages containing her half of the conversation have been lost, but I’m sure some of those messages have merged with the conversations going on around us. How else could “imdemnity clause” occur in the same sentence  as “salted caramel fudge for desert”? Someone is wearing perfume and it’s making my head spin, not to mention my stomach churn. Each spin and churn results in another message. And we’re still deciding what to order from the menu…

All I want to do is run. But stay I must.

I’m wired to process fifty messages a day – just like you. But whereas you only have to process forty on a normal day, I’m faced with processing four hundred! Unlike you, I wasn’t given a Spam filter.