Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


14 Comments

Thanksgiving

No, it’s not celebrated in Aotearoa, although Black Friday is now firmly on the retailers’ calendar, replacing Boxing day (December 26) as the day with the highest retail turnover. Besides, it celebrates a myth and a whitewashing of America’s colonial past.

Before ill health forced me into early retirement 15 years before I anticipated, I worked for the New Zealand subsidiary of a multinational information technology company. The managing director of the NZ subsidiary was typically (but not always) a foreign national – often American. In the early years of the 1990s an American was appointed to the role of managing director, and in his wisdom, he decided that as the parent company headquarters were located in the US, the NZ subsidiary should follow the American tradition of Thanksgiving. Staff located in Auckland where the NZ head office was located were “treated” to a luncheon with turkey and speeches that were mostly meaningless to the attendees. Staff in the fifteen or so branches scattered across the country were “less fortunate”, as all we were “treated” to was turkey sandwiches that had been couriered to each staff member in every branch.

I hate to think what it cost the company, as turkey was almost unknown here at the time. I presume it was imported specially for the occasion. The six staff members in the branch I was based at took one bite of a sandwich, and instantly tossed all their sandwiches into the rubbish. None of us had tasted turkey before, and not one of us liked the taste one tiny bit. The same occurred in every branch, and apparently most of the turkey served in Auckland had a similar fate. It’s not something the Kiwi palate could easily accommodate.

No one had the courage to inform the managing director what they thought of the whole Thanksgiving fiasco, so he decided to celebrate Thanksgiving the following year. While many Auckland staff found excuses not to attend the luncheon, the branches hatched up a plan of their own. Every sandwich package delivered to the branches was carefully repackaged, addressed to the Managing director and sent by overnight courier back to Auckland. There were about 80 staff members across all the branches, so when he arrived at his office the following morning, the managing director found 80 packages of stale turkey sandwiches waiting for him.

We never heard mention of Thanksgiving again.


5 Comments

Musical Monday (2022/11/14) – Bliss

Being autistic, I’m unlikely to venture into places where this song usually heard. Pubs and loud people are a form of torture for me. Bliss has become something of an iconic cult song in Aotearoa – our unofficial national drinking song. Performed by the Kiwi band Th’ Dudes, it’s kind of ironic as it was written as a satirical comment about the many drunken audiences they played to while performing on the Sydney pub circuit in Australia. Any evening when large quantities of alcohol is consumed in this nation, you can guarantee the song will the night’s anthem.

Originally this song originally referred to piss, which is slang for alcohol, especially beer, but their recording company balked at its use, hence the word piss being replaced by bliss, including as the title. The music video was recorded in a well known Wellington watering hole – The Cricketer’s Arms. The song was released in May 1980 and climbed to a ranking of 25 on the New Zealand Music Charts. It has since been voted 50th best New Zealand song of the 20th century.

While I’ll never be able to participate in rendering this song in alcohol induced revelry, I find it somewhat liberating when I hear it played at a moderate volume level. Enjoy.

Bliss – Th’ Dudes (1980)
Bliss

Yah ya ya ya ya
Ya ya ya ya
Yah ya ya ya ya
Ya ya ya ya

Drink yourself more bliss
Forget about the last one
Get yourself another
Drink yourself more bliss
Forget about the last one
Get yourself another

Drink yourself more bliss
Have a stiff one all night
Everything is alright
Try and reach the bar
Coppers took the car
Offers from the sidewalk

Drink yourself more bliss
Forget about the last one
Get yourself another
Drink yourself more bliss
Forget about the last one
Get yourself another

Yah ya ya ya ya
Ya ya ya ya
Yah ya ya ya ya
Ya ya ya ya

Think I'm at full speed
Get it up the Coogee
Hello Sailor cruising
Buy some Spanish shoes
Think I need a refill
Get it at the Cross

Drink yourself more bliss
Forget about the last one
Get yourself another
Drink yourself more bliss
Forget about the last one
Get yourself another

Drink yourself more bliss
Forget about the last one
Get yourself another
Drink yourself more bliss
Forget about the last one
Get yourself another

Drink yourself more bliss
Forget about the last one
Get yourself another


3 Comments

Empathy

Like many, perhaps most autistic people, I am suspicious of a lot of the work and research that Simon Baron Cohen is involved with, however sometimes he hits the nail right on the head. I recently watched a 2012 TEDx presentation by Cohen and he made some comments regarding empathy and democracy that are surely relevant today. Let me quote starting from 10:35:

10:35 “Empathy is vital for a healthy democracy; it ensures that when we listen to different perspectives, we hear other people’s emotions and we also feel them. Indeed without empathy, democracy would not be possible.”

11:46 “Empathy is our most valuable natural resource for conflict resolution. We could wait for our political leaders to use empathy – and that would be refreshing – but actually we could all use our empathy.”

If I was asked for one word to describe what is lacking in American society and politics at this time, I think I would choose the word empathy.

If you wish to watch Simon Baron Cohen’s presentation in its entirety you can find it on YouTube: The erosion of empathy | Simon Baron Cohen | TEDxHousesofParliament.


7 Comments

The trouble with flowering trees and shrubs…

…is flowers.

They look lovely when on the trees and even look quite pretty when the dropping petals first land on the footpath, but…

They stick like glue to the footpath making them almost impossible to sweep away unless…

Someone walks over them, where they stick like glue to the soles of shoes or to Frankie the cat’s fur, again making them almost impossible to remove, unless…

The aforementioned shoes or cat come in contact with the carpeting in the car or the house entry points where those damned petals stick like glue to said carpet and become impossible to remove even with the vacuum cleaner, unless…

I pick up each decaying petal one by one where they stick to my fingers and I find them impossible to remove, unless…

Please let me discover another unless

HELP!


2 Comments

An upside to the overturning of Roe v Wade

For America and Americans there isn’t any, but for us in Aotearoa there is an upside. Especially when it comes to women’s health. The reality is that in America, and especially in the conservative south, many professionals working in women’s health live in fear – fear of being shot, fear of their work places being bombed, fear that their families might become targets for anti-abortion extremists. Who would choose to live like that? If enquiries from American health professionals to New zealand recruitment services are anything to go by, many have chosen to seek safer pastures.

For many decades, Aotearoa, like many smaller nations have have been the happy hunting ground where large American and European health organisations poach health professionals by offering eye watering salaries way beyond our capacity to pay. We simply don’t have those resources. As a consequence this country is critically short of medical staff in practically every field. And covid has only made thing worse with staff often working beyond the point of exhaustion. But perhaps the tables are about to be turned.

While I have the deepest sympathy for American women who have had their bodily autonomy stolen, I’m grateful that as a consequence of Roe vs Wade, many qualified and experienced health professionals are looking for alternative places where they can practice what they have been trained to do without fear of imprisonment and without fear for their safety, the safety of their families, safety in their place of work and safety for their patients. Many are seeking to make a new, safer and more balanced life for themselves and their families here in Aotearoa. We benefit by a reduction in our critical shortage of health professionals. Everyone wins (except for America and its women).

The YouTube video below is from Sunday, a weekly documentary series shown on TVNZ’s ONE channel. This episode describes the plight of American women seeking abortions in the south of America and also the plight of their health professionals. I can’t imagine living like that. I suspect this outside perspective of what America has become will be unsettling to many of its citizens, but I also suspect that those who should see it will be the last to even consider watching a foreign documentary. That’s what religious and political intolerance does.


7 Comments

Scary stories

Halloween was a few days ago. It’s an event I ignore. It didn’t exist in Aotearoa when I was growing up and personally I’d be happy if it remained so today. Thankfully, our current home has not been visited for Trick or Treating since we moved here 16 years ago. Perhaps it’s the unlit, tree lined zig-zag path that leads to the front door that puts kids off. Whatever the reason, it means I don’t have to pretend that Halloween is fun.

Halloween has brought up the topic of how folk with aphantasia (the inability to visualise mental images), such as myself, react to scary stories. Apparently we don’t. It might explain why I had no interest in sharing scary stories as a child. According to a Royal Society Publishing article the fear induced while reading or hearing a scary story relies on being able to create a mental image of the situation/event being described. No image, no fear.

The study measured skin conductivity of subjects while being presented with a scary or frightening story such as being in an aircraft as it crashed, or being trapped in a room full of spiders that then begin crawling over you. It’s well established that strong emotions are linked to skin moisture – the stronger the emotion, the wetter the skin becomes, lowering its electrical resistance. The control group showed significant increases in skin conductivity during the presentation of the scary stories but the aphantasiacs “flatlined” showing no change in emotions.

To check whether aphantasiacs lacked emotional responses, subjects were also presented with scary images. Both the control group and those with aphantasia showed identical responses. The study indicates the there is a close relationship between visual imagery and emotions. Both the control group and aphantasiacs presented the same emotional reactions when presented with real images, but only the control group did so when no images were presented as they were able to create the mental image of the story whereas those with aphantasia could not.

Around 2% – 5% of the general population have aphantasia, while it’s estimated that 20% – 30% of autistics are also aphantasiacs. Most people with Aphantasia don’t realise that they have it unless they are tested specifically for it. I only discovered I have aphantasia in my mid 60s – around six or seven years ago. It might go someway to explain why I have difficulty identifying faces –even of those nearest and dearest to me. Perhaps it might also explain why I find little to no attachment to fictional situations, but slightly more so when I see it on a TV or movie screen.

Aphantasia is another one of those neurological differences where those with the condition are frequently described as suffering with/from the condition, in much the way autistics are often described as suffering from autism. If you are guilty of this, just stop it! Neither autism nor aphantasia cause suffering in and of themselves. Any suffering comes from how others disbelieve, devalue, ignore and gaslight the experiences of those with these conditions, and worse when we are punished because others perceive our responses to our experiences as being wrong.


Leave a comment

Musical Monday (2022/10/31) – Victoria

One of my all time favourite songs and ranks at number 8 in New Zealand’s Top 100 songs of all time. The song tells of a real life person known as vicky who used heavy makeup to hide the bruises inflicted by her then boyfriend and pimp. Often she used makeup and unusual clothing to hide the bruises on her body, arms and legs as well. It tells of the life of many caught in the sex trade before it was decriminalised in Aotearoa in 2003.

Victoria was the debut song of the Dance Exponents when they first appeared live at the Hillsborough Tavern on 15th October 1982, making this song 40 years old at time of writing. It was written by band member Jordan Luck, who as a naive eighteen year old didn’t at first realise why Vicky wore such heavy makeup. The song is just as valid today for many people (mostly, but not always women) who find themselves in an abusive relationship but unable (or unwilling) to escape from it.

Victoria – Dance Exponents. Song writer: Jordan William Hunter Luck
Victoria

She gets glances since they first greeted
Sent salutations that can't be repeated
She's become a social institution
Prepares her prey like an execution

Victoria
What do you want from him, want from him?
Victoria
What do see in him, see in him?

She's up in time to watch the soap opera
Reads cosmopolitan and Alvin Toffler
Meeting in the places that she's never been to
She's got a mind but it's the clothes they see through

Victoria
What do you want from him, want from him?
Victoria
What do see in him, see in him?

She lives with a man who sees her as money
Laughs at his lines that aren't even funny
She's in bed but she's not sleeping
is he a customer that's really worth keeping?

Victoria
What do you want from him, want from him?
Victoria
What do see in him, see in him?

There's no such thing as romance blooming
Sundays are for washing and doing the hoovering
Talking to her friends on the telephone
Another jerk rings up who won't leave her alone

Victoria
What do you want from him, want from him?
Victoria
What do see in him, see in him?

Victoria
What do you want from him, want from him?
Victoria
What do see in him, see in him?

Victoria
What do you want from him, want from him?
Victoria
What do see in him, see in him?


3 Comments

Just another statutory holiday

Today, being the fourth Monday of October, is for most Kiwis these days little more than a public holiday known a Labour day. For most its history is unknown, and the reason why it’s commemorated at all is forgotten.

Labour Day commemorates the struggle for an eight-hour working day in Aotearoa New Zealand. It seems that no matter what date Labour Day or its equivalent is commemorated in numerous other nations, there seems to be an individual who is acknowledged as being the catalyst for the occasion. In Aotearoa it is an individual by the name of Samuel Parnell.

Samuel Parnell. Wright, Henry Charles Clarke, 1844-1936 :Negatives. Ref: 1/1-020462-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23133932

Parnell, a carpenter from London, emigrated to New Zealand in 1840, and amongst his fellow passengers was George Hunter, a shipping agent, and on arrival in Wellington, Hunter asked Parnell to build him a store. According to Kiwi folklore, Parnell responded “I will do my best, but I must make this condition, Mr. Hunter, that on the job the hours shall only be eight for the day … There are twenty-four hours per day given us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleep, and the remaining eight for recreation and in which for men to do what little things they want for themselves. I am ready to start tomorrow morning at eight o’clock, but it must be on these terms or none at all.”

Hunter had little option but to concede to Parnell’s demands as skilled labour was critically short in supply. Parnell with the help of other Wellington workers set about making the eight hour working day the standard, informing all new immigrants that the eight hour day was the “custom” of the new settlement. In October 1840, Wellington workmen made a ruling that the working day was between 8am and 5pm, and according to legend, anyone found guilty of breaking this “commandment” was tossed into the harbour for their efforts.

The first Labour Day was celebrated on 28 October 1890 when thousands of workers participated in parades across the country. Government workers and many others were granted a day off work to attend. By this time the majority of workers enjoyed an eight hour day, but it was not a legal requirement. The fledgeling union movement wanted the Liberal Government of the day to legislate an eight hour working day, The Liberal Party was reluctant to upset the business community, and Kiwis had to wait for the arrival of the first Labour government which introduced the 40 hour week.

However, the Liberal government did introduce an industrial conciliation and arbitration system in 1894 – a world innovation at the time, and in 1899 made labour day a statutory holiday, with the date set as the second Wednesday of October. Ten years later it was “Mondayised” to the fourth Monday of October.

Over the following decades, the celebratory nature of Labour Day declined and certainly from my earliest memory of the 1950s Labour day parades were all but forgotten and the day had become “just another holiday”. It’s now late evening and as the day draws to a close, I wonder how many of my fellow Kiwis realise how much our way of life, has been influenced by the those early unionists who understood better than many of us today the importance of a proper life balance.


4 Comments

Migraines in spring – October 2022

Blogging has almost become a way of life. While I don’t spend all that much time creating posts of my own, I do spend considerably more time reading and commenting on other blogs. Over the past month or so I have spent much less blogging time than has become the norm. The most significant factor for this is a semi-persistent low level migraine.

But if you prefer I not go into details. stop reading any further and simply enjoy a few of the flowers on display in our front garden at the end of September and beginning of October. This year the spring equinox weather has been more varied and extreme compared to the typically variable and fickle weather and strong winds usually experienced at this time of the year, ranging from the extremes of winter to typical summer weather with the space of a few days and then back again! Our garden has suffered as a consequence, but still there is much to enjoy:

Spring flowers in our front garden

Migraines are funny things. One can look up textbook definitions of the various types of migraines, but in reality few migraineurs fit tidily into such definitions. In this regard, I’m no different. My migraines have been described at various times as migraine with aura, hemiplegic migraine, chronic migraine, acute migraine, vestibular migraine, complex migraine, migraine with brainstem aura, acephalgic migraine, and atypical migraine. But from personal perspective, it’s what I experience rather than what others observe that really matters, and in this regard, they are are all much the same, varying only in the intensity of various aspects of the disease.

The one thing I am grateful for is that as I have aged, the extremely painful throbbing headache that is often associated with migraine has become infrequent as have bouts of nausea. I appreciate that many people assume a migraine is just a painful throbbing headache with some nausea thrown in for good measure, and for some people that is what a migraine is, but for a significant minority of migraineurs these are the least significant aspects of their many symptoms. It is for me.

So what have I been experiencing over recent weeks that have kept me out of the blogosphere?

Brain fog

While not a particularly “scientific” term, brain fog does describe what I experience with most migraines. It affects cognition. It’s hard to describe precisely as it affects the very skills one needs to be able to accurately recall one’s experience. Perhaps it can be described as feeling distracted continuously, being unusually forgetful, and finding it difficult to complete even simple tasks. I may find it difficult to recall what a word means or being unable to locate the correct word to use. Sometimes I might be able to understand individual words but not be able to comprehend a sentence made up of those words, and at times I may not be able to string a sentence together that is understandable to others.

Brain fog often results in short term memory loss. I can start reading or writing a paragraph, but by the time I reach the end of it, I have forgotten how it started, and have to read it again. In a worse case scenario, I simply give up as I’m unable to get the gist of a single paragraph, let alone several in sequence.

Not being entirely in the here and now means that some tasks such as driving are particularly dangerous. Being unable to concentrate may mean I do not detect potentially dangerous circumstances until too late., and even then, may not be able to choose the most appropriate (or indeed any) action to take. At least these days I am aware that I have brain fog – something that didn’t always register only two decades ago. Mindfulness training has helped in this regard. So I do know when I shouldn’t drive, much to the Wife’s frustration as she prefers being a front seat passenger even though she can drive.

Visual disturbances

Every migraine I experience affects some aspects of my vision. One of the most frustrating aspects is the inability to see clearly. It’s rather difficult to describe, and while sometimes what I see can be blurry, as in being out of focus, sometimes it’s not a focusing issue, but the inability to process what I see. One way for you to grasp what I mean is to fix your gaze on one word in this paragraph and while doing so try to read the words above, below, to the left and right of it. Difficult, right? And words even further away get progressively more difficult to read, and outside a very small window become impossible to read even though you know they are there. Well, for me during a migraine the best I can see is that word one or two away away from the one you have fixed your gaze onto.

Other common visual disturbances I experience can be seen in this next video clip where, through a virtual reality headset, others experience realistic simulations of what a migraine with aura looks like to the sufferer:

What Does a Migraine Feel Like?

Other visual disturbances include blind spots. By this I don’t mean small areas that are blank, but a functioning area of the brain “fills in the details” for another area that isn’t functioning as it should. For example I may check the time by looking at a wall clock, but the clock appears to have vanished. All I see is the wall and there doesn’t appear to be any blanks spot at all. However if I move my eyes away from there I expect the clock to be, it suddenly appears, as if by magic. What has actually happened is that I do in fact have a temporary blind spot, but another part of the brain recognises the pattern on the wall and reconstructs it to fill in the blind spot. We all have a small blind spot where the optic nerve leaves the eye, and we all have the neurology where a part of the brain fills in the missing details by “filling in the gap”, but usually we’re unaware of it occurring at all.

Motor disturbances

These are many and varied. They go from the simple such as finding it difficult to write legibly or tie shoelaces (hence most of my shoes having velcro fasteners) through difficulty with speech and balance (giving the appearance of being drunk) to hemiplegia where the right side of my body, especially the face and arm, but to a lesser extent my leg, lose strength and fail to respond unless I make a conscious and determined mental effort to control them, and then only clumsily.

Over the past month none of the aforementioned symptoms have been at their worst. In fact each symptom has by itself has been barely noticeable to others, but when so many conspire to be present at once, even in “mild” forms, the net result is a person who is unproductive, however that term is understood, and unmotivated, and when pushed to do something, performs it badly. Such is life.


11 Comments

Spirituality, is it “woo”

Over on Nan’s Notebook, Ark wrote in a comment[T]hey love to include bullshit terms such as spirituality and other ‘Woo’ words“. To Ark there’s no doubt that it’s woo. I’m not persuaded that spirituality is “woo”.

Twelve days ago I attended a pōwhiri at a marae about an hour’s drive from home. The experience, as has every other pōwhiri I have been part of, is indeed intensely spiritual. Before I continue, here’s a brief description of a pōwhiri:

A pōwhiri usually begins with manuhiri (guests) gathering outside the meeting grounds. An older woman from the host side performs a karanga (call) to the manuhiri. This is when the visitors start moving on to the marae. A woman from among the visitors will send a call of response and acknowledgement. The visitors walk onto the marae as a group, slowly and silently with the women in front of the men. They pause along the way to remember their ancestors who have passed on.

Once on the marae grounds, the guests and hosts sit down facing each other. When they are all seated, speeches are made and a song is sung following each speaker to support their address. Customarily, the final speaker for the visitors will present a koha (gift) to their hosts.

To finish the ceremony, visitors and hosts greet each other with a hongi (the ceremonial touching of noses). After the pōwhiri, kai (food) is shared, in keeping with the Māori tradition of manaakitanga (hospitality).

What is a pōwhiri? Understanding the traditional Māori welcome

In total there may have been fifty guests and hosts, perhaps a few less. All the speeches during the pōwhiri were in Te Reo Māori, as were many of the speeches during the sharing of kai. I struggle in crowds. I find them overwhelming and I mean in a negative way, even in large family gatherings. Yet when I move onto a marae I feel “at home”, in much the same manner as I feel when attending a Quaker Meeting. I feel embraced, becoming one with those present. It seldom happens elsewhere.

I cannot speak Te Reo, and the few words of Māori I do know did little to help me understand the speeches, but even so I could detect the speakers’ connectedness through their pepeha. More importantly I felt the connection. It’s the being connected, being one with something beyond self that makes one’s experience spiritual. That connection enabled me to stand and speak, and for the first time in a long while I didn’t need to rehearse what I wanted to say.

Morning rain

I felt the same type of connection this morning, not with people or a community, but with nature. I stood on our balcony while steady rain fell, hiding the Ruahine and Tararua ranges and the Manawatu Gorge that separates them. The rain muffled the sounds of Feilding traffic below As I stood I felt I became one with the environment. I noticed a slowing of my breathing and of my pulse. There was a sense of belonging, a calmness that I don’t usually experience.

I noticed too that I stopped scripting. For those who don’t know what scripting is, it’s a bit like learning lines of a script for a play. I’m not really able to create sentences on the fly so my head is always shuffling words around to make intelligible sentences, memorising them and then storing them away for moment when it might be useful to pull it out and recite. It’s a process that seldom stops while I’m awake, and at times it becomes so distracting that I lose concentration on whatever task I’m undertaking at that moment. But this morning it wasn’t there – silence, serenity, being one with nature, or perhaps the universe? It then hit me that in the ceremony of the pōwhiri I wasn’t scripting either.

If I had been living several centuries ago, I might have attributed the “being one” with some type of agency – a spirit or mystical force or energy, as that is certain how the experience feels. At a time when the existence of such agencies were taken for granted, I would have had no reason to suppose it was anything else. But I live in a “rational” secular world with a better understanding of how the mind functions, so I can attribute the experience of “oneness” to the marvel that our brain is. Knowing it’s caused by chemical and electrical circuitry in the brain doesn’t make it any less an awe inspiring experience.

Dismissing such experiences as “woo” diminishes what it is to be human. I don’t know if Ark has ever fallen in love, experienced the euphoria of a crowd of spectators when their team wins a sports event or the satisfaction that comes when a difficult task has been completed. I haven’t. I can’t even imagine what those experiences feel like. But I’m certainly not going to call them “woo” simply because I don’t understand or experience them. I’m not usually aware of emotions, mine or anyone else’s. I’m not able to predict what people might do in a second’s time let alone in a minute or an hour, so I’m always of an uncertainty when around people. But in the environment of a pōwhiri or a Quaker meeting everyone becomes part of a whole which is predictable. There’s a routine created by custom fashioned over centuries.

A similar predictability applies to nature. Seasons come and go regularly as does day and night. Clouds tell me when rain is likely and how much will fall. Wind changes direction over hours as does its intensity. In one sense nature and ritualised social occasions talk to me, informing me what will happen next. There is no need to rehearse what I might need to say in the next moment, minute, hour, nor predict what might happen.

Being autistic is a little like taking part in a play where you have been given the script to Sound of music (even though I can’t hold a single note in tune) while everyone else is working to the script of Hamlet. It’s disorientating, confusing and stressful. So spiritual experiences take on even more significance whenever they do occur. It’s a sense of calm, peace and euphoria all at once, and unless you’ve experienced it, you have no idea what it is like. It is, literally, indescribable.

Woo? I think not.