Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Auckland to be renamed Orcland

Just Kidding.

But Auckland will be the home of  orcs, hobbits and many more LOTR (Lord of the Rings) races over the coming months, and perhaps years. Amazon Studios has chosen Auckland in Aotearoa New Zealand to be the production location for its multi-billion dollar Television series based on the Lord of the Rings.

The series is anticipated to be the most expensive TV series ever produced and will explore new story lines that precede The Fellowship of the Ring. It will bring thousands of jobs to the local film and entertainment sector. Although this country has been home to a number of major film productions, the small size of the local industry means that making a living in the film and television sector can be somewhat precarious – a boom and bust scenario. If the first year proves successful, it could make the lives of those in the film industry here just a little more secure than it has been.

Pre-production has been under way for a number of months and filming is expected to begin next year. Like all major screen productions it will be eligible for the standard NZ tax breaks available here. That means somewhere around NZ$100 of the hard earned taxes I pay, and every other Kiwi pays will go to Google so that the world can see this country in all its fantastic beauty.

Unless an Internet provider includes a free subscription to Amazon Prime Video (my current provider includes Netflix as part of its Internet package), it’s unlikely that I’ll get to see the series. Which is a shame, as I am a fan of fantasy and sci-fi stories.

As an aside, Kiwis pronounce Auckland and Orcland the same. Does the same apply in your part of the world?

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Unlike the writer of the post below, I am verbal, although somewhat clumsy at times, especially prior, during, and after a migraine attack. Sometimes during an attack, I’m unable to comprehend the speech of others as well as being limited in my ability to express myself. At such times my cognitive skills are limited and I have no idea whether or not I find such situations distressing.

However, there are times where I am fully aware of my surroundings and can fully understand those around me, but due to migraine induced ataxia, my ability to communicate is compromised. Fortunately these occurrences are infrequent and short lived – typically no more than a few hours, but they are extremely frustrating.

At such times, I know what it’s like to be talked about, to be treated as though you have limited mental capacity. In my case, this may be understandable, as outwardly I guess I appear that same as when my cognitive skills are limited.

However for many people who are non-verbal, and in particular autistic people who are nonverbal, their mental capacity is not compromised, only the ability to express their thoughts in a way neurotypical people demand. To make matters worse, their very attempts at communicating are written off as non-consequential.

Ido in Autismland challenges neurotypical people to “experience”, even for a short while what people who have communication difficulties must face every day. After reading through the terms of the challenge, do you think you could do it?

You work with autistic people. You have an autistic relative. You are adventurous and into new experiences. If you fall into any of these groups, my… 912 more words

via The Autism Experience Challenge — Ido in Autismland


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Is Jonathan Franzen wrong?

Having observed neurotypical (non-autistic) behaviour for than more than half a century, as much as I hope Jonathan Franzen is wrong, it’s an option we should discuss. I feel that while we can probably develop the technology to avert a Mad Max like apocalyptic world, I’m yet to be convinced the the combined will of humanity will form in time to effect real change. By the same token, it’s unlikely that we can work together to effectively manage a transition to “the inevitable”, especially when many of the climate change deniers are in positions of power.

Quakers, social justice and revolution

There has been a lot of criticism of Jonathan Franzen’s recent article in the New Yorker, “What if We Stopped Pretending the Climate Apocalypse Can Be Stopped? The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it”. Some of that criticism relates to choosing, specifically, a 2 degree Centigrade rise in atmospheric temperature as a limit we should not cross if runaway heating of the planet is to be avoided. No one seems to argue, though, that there is a threshold of warming beyond which runaway heating will occur.

Another interesting criticism relates to Franzen being an old white male, who is privileged to have his work published when people of color and/or women’s writings are not selected.

Then there is the criticism that he is not a scientist.

Not everyone thought Frazen’s arguments were completely off base. In an article…

View original post 555 more words


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The beginning of history

Why is it that so many people believe their understanding of history to be accurate and fixed for all time, rather than being an interpretation of events based on social attitudes that are in a constant state of flux. Even when the “facts” aren’t in dispute, one’s understanding of history will vary depending on many factors.

One simple and obvious example would be the Crusades, long thought of by the Christian West as a noble and honourable campaign and by the Muslim East as  being a murderous and barbaric one. The recognition in the West that the crusades were neither noble nor honourable is not because the “facts” have changed but because we have a different understanding of the significance of those facts.

During my primary school education in the 1950s I was fortunate in that for two years I was taught by a teacher who had a keen interest in North Taranaki history (the region where I lived at the time), and especially in the period of its early European settlement through to what are now know as the New Zealand wars, but in the 1950s were known as the Māori wars (you can smell the colonial bias from the very name).

Unlike the prevailing attitude of the time, which was that colonialisation brought civilisation and enlightenment to the indigenous Māori, by force if necessary, the teacher presented us with a Māori perspective. Although I now realise that the presentation of that perspective was highly idealised, especially when it came to the motives and morality of the Māori on one hand and the Pākehā settlers on the other, what he taught us was more in line with the prevailing understanding held by historians today than that of  (Pākehā) historians and public opinion in the 1950s.

The reason for bringing up the topic at all is because the government has decided that the teaching of New Zealand history is to be made a core part of the primary and secondary school curriculum – long overdue in my opinion. Up until now the teaching of New Zealand history has been entirely optional, usually not covered at all, and when it was, it was from a colonial perspective, and the teaching of pre-European history was conspicuous by its absence.

Of course, the decision to teach NZ history brings up the question of what to teach. Already arguments have begun, some of it rather acrimonious. I’m quite confident that we’re unlikely to reach a consensus. My take is similar to the one taken by Matthew  Wright in his article Why history must be taught in New Zealand schools:

[I]f we’re to understand New Zealand’s history, we also need to teach how history works – how we think about it, and why it’s always going to be a discussion, broadly shifting with the generations.

I think this is true of all history, not just that of Aotearoa New Zealand.


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The Debate over an Autism Cure (7 min read)

Autism is not the problem. Hate, ignorance, and stubborn resistance to reflection, education, and self-improvement are the problems

I see the debate over a cure for autism similar to that with regards to a cure for homosexuality in the mid to late 20th century. Personally, I see no reason why I need to be “cured”. Sure autism does cause some difficulties for me – my hyper sensitivity to external stimuli and my hypo-awareness of nuances of language and non-verbal forms of communication. But I am who I am because of the way I process and interpret the world around me.

The following article is by patrickmagpie published over at THE ASPERGIAN. Unlike Autism Speaks, which does not speak for me, the article does speak for me, and is well worth the read…

Few things cause more feverish reactions in the autism community than talk of a cure. While the majority of autistic people hate the C word, some cling to the idea of a cure as if it’s their only hope. Meanwhile, parents of autistic children are often the most vocal about finding a cure for autism.…

Source: The Debate over an Autism Cure7 min read


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Multilteralism: Time for a Revamp?

The Rt Hon Helen Clark was the keynote speaker at this year’s Peter Fraser Lecture where she posed the question that is the title of this post: Multilteralism: Time for a Revamp? It’s not a quick read (approximately 3,500 words) but I feel it’s worth the effort. The link to the lecture is at the end of this post.

For small nations such as Aotearoa New Zealand, A working system of international multilateral agreements is necessary for survival, as it is for all smaller countries and for most of the world’s population. A handful of large nations can bully their way to wealth and “success”, and I would class Trump’s MAGA one such example, but at what cost to the rest of the world? If a powerful nation unilaterally decides to pull out of an agreement it freely entered into and then attempts to punish others for continuing to honour said agreement, the consequences for international cooperation can be profound.

Here, for example, is what Helen Clark had to say about the US withdrawal from international nuclear agreements:

The UN is also a bystander as key parts of the nuclear weapons control architecture is dismantled. The most egregious example is that of the Iran nuclear deal which was endorsed by the Security Council. The US withdrawal from the agreement was a direct challenge to the authority of the Council which all Member States are bound to uphold. The expiry of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and what is now Russia is a major threat to peace and security, but one the multilateral system in its current state is not equipped to address.

The hypothesis presented by the former Prime Minister’s talk is that the multilateral system is struggling for relevance, that the world it seeks to function in is not that of 1945, and that its core institutions, like the UN Security Council, have been unable to adapt.

Her talk covers:

  • the successes the multilateral system has had
  • the pressures it is now under
  • the importance of continuing to engage constructively with it
  • examples of the development of more inclusive forms of multilateralism

I appreciate, that many Americans have little concern for what goes on outside their borders, and the US has practiced isolationism in the past, and is fast retreating into a new form of it, but for the sake of the whole world, it’s the wrong choice in my view.

While the US isn’t the only player causing a breakdown in international cooperation, it’s clearly a significant, if not the most significant, player. I know most thinking Americans already understand this, whereas Trump supporters will blame the rest of the world, so perhaps this post and Helen’s talk might be a case of preaching to the converted.

Helen Clark’s talk can be viewed in its entirety at Rt Hon Helen Clark: “Multilteralism: Time for a Revamp?”. Annual Peter Fraser Lecture, Wellington, 12 August 2019.


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Spring has sprung

Apparently.

Yesterday (Sunday 1st of September) marked two (insignificant) milestones in the yearly calendar of Aotearoa New Zealand:

  1. The first day of spring
  2. Fathers day

I hardly noticed either.

What I have noticed is a sudden dearth of ads recommending  everything from male grooming products through to luxury cars as suitable gifts for one’s father.


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Herd immunity: we have lost it!

Countries around the globe are beginning to loose their elimination status with regards to measles. Aotearoa New Zealand has not lost its elimination status – yet. But according to the director of Public Health, Dr Caroline McElnay, we have lost our herd immunity. For measles, a 95% immunisation rate is required to maintain herd immunity. We are no longer have the rate of immunisation. This doesn’t bode well when it comes to eliminating the current outbreak, which is reaching epidemic proportions.

So far this year, around 850 cases have been reported, most occurring in Auckland. In the last fortnight, there have been 10 new cases reported outside of Auckland, but within the city there have been 230 new cases.

Child immunisation is free in this country, so why are fewer parents immunising their children than in the past? Complacency is possibly a major reason. We have been officially measles free for such a long time that some parents simply don’t see the need to make an effort. These parents simply ignore or fail to understand the herd immunity concept.

I wonder how the anti-vax movement has formed opinion in this country? A Pew research poll in the US indicated that anti-vaxxers were almost evenly distributed between conservatives and liberals, Christians and non-Christians, rich and poor. I don’t think there’s as many conspiracy theorists here as in America, but if there is, they hide themselves better.  Has there been any research into identifying what sections of the community have lower rates of immunisation, and have there been any programs targeting those sections, particularly where immunisation rates are lower than that required for herd immunity?

While there have been no deaths attributed to the current measles outbreak, health officials have stated it’s only a matter of time, before someone succumbs – probably where age or a medical condition that prevents him/her from being vaccinated and who must rely on herd immunity for protection.

What really makes me angry is those parents who avoid vaccinating their children because they believe there’s a link between vaccinations and autism. For goodness sake, even if there was a link, which there isn’t, is the death of your child (or someone else’s due to that lack of herd immunity) or a life time of problems resulting from a serious infection a better option than your child being autistic?

What is so terrible about being autistic? While it’s true that we experience the world differently, that in itself does not make our life a burden nor should it be one for a parent with proper resources. Our struggles as autistics are due to society being unwilling to accommodate our needs. If the tide was turned and non-autistic people were a tiny minority in an autistic world, they too would find life very difficult at times.

If you believe we are facing an autism epidemic, you’re wrong. I’m not convinced that autism is anymore prevalent today than it was a century ago or even a millennium ago. I did not become autistic when I turned 60. I have been the same all my life. I was not misdiagnosed as not being autistic when I was a child. The thought never occurred to those who loved me. If I had been presented for an autism diagnosis I would not have got one when I was a child. The reality is that the clinical definition of autism has changed. Turn it back to what it was in the 1950s and bingo! The “epidemic” will disappear overnight. Would that be wise? Hell no! It would be turning the clock back to the bad old days. We’d still be the same, but our difficulties would be ignored, punished, or hidden away in institutions

On the other hand, the measles epidemic is real. It’s not something that has been created with smoke and mirrors. Isolation wards are real. Herd immunity is a real phenomenon. It relies on everyone who is able to play their part. That means being immunised. If you or your children haven’t been immunised, do it! Now!


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Why did I say?

I have at any one time, a number of unpublished posts on WordPress (currently 23 29). Some of these may eventually be published, but the majority are used by me as sounding boards where I write down and develop thought and feelings that exist in my mind but lack words or visual context. In a way, I’m translating my thought processes into a form that I might be able to use in dialogue with other people.

Outside of the blogosphere, I do exactly the same, except the thought processes are kept in small mental “notepads” where concepts have been converted into streams of words at various levels of completeness. During most of my waking hours, I’m constantly moving from notepad to notepad revising the content so that I can recite it should a need to communicate with fellow human beings arise. I find speaking “off the cuff” difficult at the best of times times, even with friends and family. I rely to a large extent on finalised or nearly finalised notepad scripts. I can really put my foot in it if the only appropriate script hasn’t been well prepared.

Quite simply, I don’t think in words or images, yet I’m unable to communicate with fellow humans without making an effort to convert “thought blobs” into strings of spoken or written words, otherwise known as sentences and paragraphs, or larger objects such as a blog post or opinion piece. I struggle with conversations because of the necessity to convert incoming words into “thought blobs” and then to reverse engineer my thoughts back into word streams. Social interactions require almost instantaneous conversions in both directions and although I can convert incoming word streams into thought processes reasonably quickly (providing there are no other word streams within earshot, or some other distraction) and with moderate accuracy (providing there are no other word streams within earshot, or some other distraction), reversing the process is much more difficult, not to mention exhausting.

While most of the unpublished WordPress articles start out with the intent to publish, the process of putting words to what I wish to express, exposes a “weakness” in the way I process ideas. That is I find it very difficult to put forward an argument in a way that is meaningful to those who don’t process thought in the same way as I do.

Some articles simply stop part way through, waiting for the moment where I can add flesh to the bare bones of what I have written. Sometimes, the effort of translating thought into words reveals flaws in my logic, but not necessarily providing me with a solution. These articles will sit there until either I realise the premise is not worth considering and I delete the offending article, or I find a solution and publish after considerable revision.

Most posts languish because I realise I’m unable to do the translation from thought blobs into meaningful dialogue. A bit like running an automated translator over some complex idea presented in a language that has absolutely no relationship with your own. For example here’s the previous paragraph after it was translated into another language and back into English:

Part of this information is just waiting for conversion at any time period beyond the quality of the bone with different answers. Sometimes, someone wants to understand the cut word, but does not provide a solution. In this approach, Until I understand this data, I will pull the information or find a solution after a constructive publication.

Sometimes, when I review what I have previously written, especially if it’s largely abstract, philosophical or religious in nature, it makes about as much sense as the translation above. There’s a few unpublished articles which currently are about as understandable as the example above, but a few days from now those article might make sense and others might appear as nonsense to me. What others might make of them is another matter.

Even this post, which I’ve published as a consequence of something I did a few hours weeks ago, consists mostly of content for an unpublished post about how I convert the way I translate my thought processes into English, and the fact that even though I’ve just recently turned 70, I still struggle with the process.

Perhaps my biggest issue is that language is linear – within sentences, within paragraphs, within stories. While perhaps the best communicators are those who are linear, I struggle with the whole concept of linearity. For me, there is no beginning, middle or end: there’s just a whole, (or if I’m confused about something, there’s just a hole).

Another issue is that I don’t see anything in absolute terms. This gives rise to some people interpreting what I say/write as being vague. Ashley of The Boastful Blasphemer is convinced that I’m “the most wishy-washy, waffling, non-committal, vague, imprecise, escape-hatch-leaving ‘debater’ I’ve ever talked to“. While I completely disagree with the “escape-hatch-leaving” part, there might be an element of truth in the rest. There are no absolute truths. Every fact is open to interpretation (even if we don’t realise that is what we are doing).

I have at times stated that I have no notion of time. This is probably somewhat inaccurate. I understand the notion of time – I am unable to experience time. Most people seem to remember events in terms of chronological distance. They seem to instinctively know approximately how long ago personal experiences occurred. I have absolutely no idea. I’m only able to remember the relative significance of various events. Important events are close while less important events are distant. This even applies to the present moment.

For example when experiencing a migraine, everything occurring in the “now” is distant and may be further away than events that occurred even decades ago. In such circumstances the past is more “real”, and certainly more immediate than the present. After the migraine is over, everything I experienced during the attack remains distant. A good example of this might be the first time I saw my first grandchild. I had a migraine at the time. I have absolutely no memory of the actual event. The only “memory” of the event is the description provided by my wife and daughter several years later.

This brings up another factor: With a very few exceptions, I have no visual memory of past experiences, nor can I create a visual picture of an event. For this reason, I find it difficult to distinguish between events I experience directly and those described to me by other means. The above incident with my first grandchild is one example. For a while I thought I was able to describe the incident from my own experience. Later I realised that there were discrepancies in my “recollection” that turned out to be the way I interpreted the event as described by my wife and daughter.

Here’s another example. My daughter’s home has tall picket fence at the front, about as tall as I am, nearly as old, and unpainted. Now you know as much about her front fence as I do. I probably could not identify it from a photo lineup of similar fences any better than you could with the description I’ve provided. Oh, there’s a row of trees and bushes on the property side of the fence. So if only one photo matched that description, and one of the photos was definitely a picture of my daughters fence-line, then that would be the photo I’d pick. But then knowing the facts that I’ve just provided, you would be able to do exactly the same thing. And you’ve never seen the place.

Fortunately there’s no other property in the same block that matches the description above, so finding it is not difficult. If there was a similar fence-line, I’d have to memorise a different set of parameters that made the daughter’s property uniquely identifiable.

What some of you might be able to do is create a mental image of the fence-line I’ve described. While it’s very unlikely to be an accurate image, it’s something you can “see” in your imagination. I can’t. I rely on the information I’ve specifically set out to remember. Specifically, there is a thought blob that when translated into English indicates last block in street, on left, picket fence, my height, my age, unpainted, trees behind. There is no picture associated with that description.

In the local New World supermarket milk products are located on shelving at the back left corner of the store. It is the south west corner of the store and diagonally opposite the entrance, which is at the front right, north east corner of the store. Now you know as much as I do, and if I were to place you in front of the supermarket, you could find your way to the milk section just as easily as I can. What I can’t do is describe what my eyes have seen when I visit.

This lack of visual memory can lead to potentially embarrassing moments such as the one recently described in I wonder what she wants? I learnt a long time ago to be careful of relying too much on distinguishing personal features. It’s rather embarrassing to discover the person you’ve been talking to for the last ten minutes is not who you thought she was, but a total (but friendly) stranger.

I’m not even immune from failing to immediately identifying my wife, and we’ve been together for 48 years. When we go out, I make a note of what she’s wearing. Remembering that information, along with the fact that she’s likely the shortest oldish person of Asian appearance is usually sufficient for a visual identification. While that description is reasonably reliable here in Aotearoa New Zealand where approximately one in eight people are of Asian descent (and around one in twelve in our hometown) , I discovered it wasn’t so helpful in Japan where the ratio is more like 999 in 1000 are of Asian descent, although she is still significantly shorter than average, even in Japan.

A further visual clue is her gait. It’s rather reminiscent of how a cowboy might walk after a week in the saddle. While it’s not exactly what could be described as elegant, it’s a godsend when it comes to identifying her when in this country, but again, in Japan not so much as many women of her generation, especially from farming families, walk in a similar manner

So how do I recognise people? Mostly by voice. I’ve found that to be the most reliable for me. In fact, as there are no other forms of distraction, I can usually recognise someone on the telephone faster than in a face to face situation. If I happen meet someone I know while I’m out and about, there’s a good chance I won’t recognise them unless they speak to me, and even then, the distractions of sights and sounds might be enough to delay recognition for some time. At home or in the office, there’s much less distraction, and I can usually recognise the caller before they’ve identified themselves.

As I was diagnosed as having a 90% hearing loss when I was seven years old, I wonder why I am able to recognise voices so well. But that’s a conversation for another time.

I know face blindness is more common in autistic people than is the general population, and I wonder if a lack of visual memory and thought without words or images are also more prevalent. To date I haven’t seen any discussion of this, but perhaps its something other autistics experience and haven’t realised that it’s not what most people experience.


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Secular education

Following on from yesterday’s snippet on Pastafarian rights, I note the US state department comment on religion in NZ schools:

The law provides that “teaching in every state [public] primary school must, while the school is open, be entirely of a secular character.”  A public primary school may close, including during normal school hours, for up to one hour per week, up to a total of 20 hours per year, to devote to religious instruction or religious observance, to be conducted in a manner approved by the school’s board of trustees.  If a public primary school provides religious instruction or observes religious customs, it must allow students to opt out.  Religious instruction or observance, if provided, usually takes place outside normal school hours.

This has been the rule since the 1870s. It’s a pity that a few boards of trustees seem not to understand what closed means in this regards.