Building Blocks

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”
~Noam Chomsky

Every now and then I run into a word that sounds like a good thing. “Tolerance” is one such word, which I’ve blogged on before. Surprisingly, consensus can be another. Mind you, it’s not always, just sometimes. Groups of people try to reach consensus so they can agree upon a plan for accomplishing something without anyone being left out of important decision-making, or without missing good ideas to be gleaned from a variety of viewpoints.

But “consensus-building” exercises can sometimes have the terrible effect of watering everything down to the lowest common denominator, and eliminating novel ideas in favor of mediocrity. Other times they just result in the dread ‘paralysis by analysis’. In worst-case scenarios, they can “railroad” decisions through an unsuspecting group, leaving individuals feeling slightly queasy and dissatisfied at the results, but not understanding why that would be because they seemed to have reached that consensus from a lot of thoughtful group effort.

I’ve sat through a lot of meetings in my life. Usually they begin with lots of carbohydrates & caffeine, useful additions to the social grooming-behaviour necessary to boost bonhomie and settle the humans down to coöperative activity. After the pleasantries, we start off with a positive programme goal, the sort of thing that everybody can agree upon. That’s cool. We now begin with shared vision and collective purpose.

Then at one meeting I felt like everything went sideways and inside-out, a sort of seminar-vertigo. Worse, no one else seemed to be experiencing it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Attendance Required

Earlier this week I had to sit still in one place and pay attention for a longer period of time than I’ve had to do in ages. Man, I’d forgotten how utterly difficult that is to do! I had to not just sit, but “sit appropriately” on a hard wooden pew, and stay seated for three hours solid, and also pay attention to what a bunch of people were saying. I was part of a panel of jurors that had been randomly selected to go through voir dire for jury selection. Of the 24 people who showed up, 8 were finally selected to be the jury. However, all of the extra panel members (including myself) had to pay attention to all the voir dire questions to have our own answers ready in case any of us were to replace a dropped juror.

Sitting there all that time made me aware of how frequently I had little shoulder or head tics. And how much I wished I had a “fidget widget” to have something to do with my hands. And how much I jiggled my foot, and repositioned myself. And how much I wanted to sit there and rock from side to side, but feel inhibited to do so in public (even though I probably do rock a bit when I’m not aware).

There were some expected bad parts and unexpected good parts to the experience. Read the rest of this entry »

Slices (Episode 2)

The best definition of “poetry” I’ve ever encountered is, “Poetry is life condensed”. In a similar way, cartoons condense a slice of life into just a few panels. All of these cartoons are about navigating our way through the day.

I meant to do another episode much sooner (back in June) but then Stuff Happened. The summer was full of tutoring chemistry, and microbiology. We squeezed in some vacation, and then just hours after our return, wham! school started up again.  Here are  four fun cartoons: Read the rest of this entry »

Syd

This sucks. It’s one of those problems that has gone from intermittent to nearly-constant. There’s really nothing to be done about it. I ask my doctor every few years, just in case. But no, there is no cure. There’s not even much to do about tinnitus. When at home or in the car, I mask it by playing music. At school, our students are generally noisy enough to drown it out.

My tinnitus is usually a high-pitched squeal, about 14-17 kHz, like a mosquito that whines for long periods, seemingly next to my left ear. The whine gets louder or softer, but rarely goes away. When it does, it returns with a sudden *pop*, as though someone turned on a radio. Once in a great while it’s stereophonic buzzing static in both ears, or even a fluttering sensation like a butterfly stuck on my left ear, but those are pretty rare. I know that I’m not just hearing actual machinery because I’ve heard it when standing surrounded by hectares of prairie, without a single operating machine in sight or earshot.

The good news is that I have no reduction in my general hearing. The problem did make itself known after I’d been working in noisy labs for several months. Well, I thought they were noisy labs. Read the rest of this entry »

Accommodating the Normals

In your place of business, educational institution, or public service area, you will have to make certain accommodations for the “normal” (“Temporarily Able-Bodied”) patrons. (Please note that within Normal culture, it is considered appropriate to refer to them as “normal people” rather than as “people with normality”.) Normal people will usually succeed in schooling, and will apply for jobs that they can do, presuming that they are given accommodations. These needs are diverse, and such accommodations include, but are not limited to, the following items: Read the rest of this entry »

Mitigating measures

“Ms Andrea, please explain to the Court how being homosexual substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

“What?”

“Your case to the Court is a discrimination case, claiming the defendant made homophobic remarks. Please describe to the court how homosexual you are.”

“I … what, no. I never said I’m a lesbian, or bisexual, or even heterosexual. I’ve never made any kind of formal statement about my sexual orientation. This isn’t about whether or not I’m gay. This is about the slurs, threats, and homophobic remarks at school. It’s about sexual harassment.”

“Ms Andrea, do not waste the Court’s time. You cannot make a case for discrimination unless you can prove that you are a member of a group that has been discriminated against. Now please explain to the court how being homosexual substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

This is satire, of the dark sort. I have never really filed a court complaint. My actual time in a court process is limited to paying a minor speeding ticket (lesson learned: cruise control is a good thing).

I have been at that ugly social place (repeatedly so) where complaining about homophobic remarks simply sets one up for further sexual harassment, because everyone assumes that complaining about such means that you are gay, and that because you’re gay you “deserve” whatever abuse happens.

The point to this bit of theatre of the absurd is that a person need not be a particular sort of person to have been harassed or discriminated against. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Nothing

“I don’t know what to do with my son. You don’t understand what it’s like. He CAN’T LEARN. He’s been in school for FIVE YEARS and has learned NOTHING! I’ve been to all these meetings. It took him MONTHS of therapy to teach him how to sit down! He’ll NEVER be able to talk. He’s severe.”

This is a made-up letter. It’s a highly shortened version of letters I’ve seen a number of parents post on various discussion boards. It’s alarming on several fronts: the parent is stressed beyond their limits, and is of the belief that their son has not learned anything and cannot learn anything, and not surprisingly, has all but given up on the school he’s been attending, and also that because the child cannot [reliably] speak at this age that they will never speak or never be able to communicate by other means. The parent is certain that the child is DOOMED and will never mature into a capable, happy adult. (The grammatical and attributive errors of “he’s severe” also make my brain hurt, but that’s another issue.)

Judging by the complaints of parents who blog about their frustrations with schools or with their children, there is no lack of bad pedagogical examples.

You try something. It doesn’t work. You tweak it, and persist at employing Instructional Method X for a semester. For an entire year. New IEP, with a few tweaks, new room, different teacher. Still pretty much a variation upon Method X for another semester and another year, because X is the method that the teachers learned when they went to teaching college, and the tweaks were what the SpEd specialist learned from when they went to teaching college, picked up at a seminar, and heard from another SpEd specialist that worked on another kid who was also diagnosed with “A”. By all accounts, it should work.

Let’s work on that some more. Read the rest of this entry »

Adore-a-bowl

The perfect bowl.

Neither too shallow, nor too wide. The matte glaze is neither too rough nor too slick. Both the shape and dimensions are just right to hold in my large hands. Lovely to hold when eating, and even warming my hands.

It’s the very quintessence of “bowl”.

Any kind of food looks more attractive contrasting against the black glaze. It’s big enough to hold an adequate amount of food for one meal. Because of its appropriately semi-spherical shape and ceramic composition, it keeps the food warm while I’m eating it. The sides are steep enough to collect tidy lumps of rice with my chopsticks. The curvature of the bottom perfectly matches that of my Lexan tablespoon. (Like lacquered wood, this high-density plastic don’t annoy my teeth the way metal flatware does).

It’s a pleasure to eat from. I look forward to using it every day at lunch time.

Any meal is automatically better with my bowl, be it curry, chile, or cold cereal. I care for it and guard its well-being, as my first one got chipped on the rim from careless handling through the dishwasher. I don’t leave the bowl knocking around the countertop at work, where it can risk being damaged, broken, or permanently “borrowed”.

Doubtless this seems over-meticulous to some people; to them it’s “just a bowl”. For those inclined to labelling, it borders on Read the rest of this entry »

Need … coffee …

Must go to market. After I wake up fully, bathe, and take some Naproxen.

Meanwhile, a video of someone else in need of coffee (no closed captions needed on this advert, homage to M.C. Escher).

Asking questions

Well, it’s horribly hot outside, which means that the classrooms are either quite stuffy and humid-sticky, or due to HVAC design errors, uncomfortably cold for 95% of the personnel using them. The faculty, staff and students are all yawning from screwed-up sleep schedules, and from being bombarded with mind-numbing amounts of new information, masses of new people to become acquainted with, and multiple changes in their schedules. In other words, it’s once again the first days of school.

Once we get past the obligatory, “Here’s what we’re gonna learn, and here’s the class rules” lecture, we get to finally sink into the actual teaching-learning part of the class. Alas, there is a definite sinking feeling in the classrooms, as for the first few periods of the day many of the students are still half-asleep (a few gave up and have totally succumbed), are often suffering from low blood-sugar levels because they skipped breakfast, and/or just generally cannot rouse enthusiasm for studying biology, algebra, government or whatever subject was given to them for 7:40 a.m. (Omigod, these are teenagers — if pedagogy actually followed research-based practice, none of them would have class until 10 a.m. when they would physiologically be ready to be awake. But of course, that would –godforbid– mess up the sports practices.)

So the teachers are desperately trying to keep their charges engaged by encouraging dialog. You say, “Let me know if you have any questions.” Judging by the general lack of responses regarding the lecture topic, the blank stares, and the mass confusion when given labwork and projects, the students should be asking questions. Or, should be asking more appropriate questions.

But actually, this issue is not the proximate question of, Read the rest of this entry »

Things that bug me

No cheese with this whine, please; I’m out of crackers. It’s HOT — we went from 24°C/75°F weather in the mountains to 40°C/104°F weather back home. It’s humid, too. Weeds grew outrageously in my absence, but I’ve no energy for tackling them when I get home from work. Nor do I have any energy to cook dinner, and no one has any ideas on what they want to eat, either. I need to buy groceries, but don’t know what to get beyond the inevitable milk & toilet paper. The heat saps our appetites. The heat has melted all of my blogging ideas from my brain, and staring at the snippits in my drafts folder doesn’t jog anything.

Boy starts classes tomorrow, and at my school, the students return. I have no idea why it is that Read the rest of this entry »

10 things to do ^DIFFERENTLY when on holiday: Redefining vacationing

“Hey, this is the first vacation you haven’t gotten sick,” declared hubby cheerfully. I wanted to protest that I don’t always get sick, meaning coming down with something prolonged and viral, but then I realised that he meant that I wasn’t out a day or two feeling crappy from something or another. Indeed, aside from accidentally eating some fudge made with wheat flour (whoda thunk?!), I have been in good shape. A lot of that comes from more careful diet, and the rest from knowing how to pace myself.

David is in charge of the next Disability Blog Carnival, and he came up with the theme of “Top 10 Lists”. After having read everyone’s vacation experiences here in the previous post, it occurred to me that a lot of us are quite conflicted about taking trips. Too often they seem more trouble than they’re worth. Okay, when people dread doing something that’s supposed to be fun, you know that things are really Screwed Up. Something has gone terribly wrong. We need to take our assumptions and dump them, like icemelt from the picnic cooler.

You are hereby relieved of having to follow “scripts” about what people are “supposed” to do regarding vacation activities. Real life is not a sitcom or a Hallmark greeting card. A vacation is meant for fun, relaxation, and a break from the daily grind. There’s no “right” way to have a vacation, because people have different interests and needs. So here’s my Top 10 List for how to actually enjoy a vacation: Read the rest of this entry »

“ON HOLIDAY!” : Disability Blog Carnival #20

Ah, the crowd’s starting to build up … the hurry-up-and-wait part of events makes me nervous, and there’s only so many times I need to check my To Do list, or line up the dishes and flatware on the serving buffet (but look, I lined up the napkins in rainbow order!)

Over in the bandstand, Shiva of Biodiverse Resistance is putting the final tweaks on the “Top 10 Unintentional Disability Anthems”. I had the pleasure of listening to audioclips to all of these on iTunes, and found some new pieces I really like. Shiva has eclectic tastes in music, so the selections are sure to have something for most everyone.

“Ooh shiny! A hummingbird on the hummingbird mint …”

Ah, the crowd is filling in, passing through the buffet and staking out spots in the shade or a place to soak up some of the abundant warm sunshine. “Do try some of the brownies — I got the recipe from Gluten-Free Girl and they are fabulous — even if (unlike me) you don’t normally eat gluten-free food.” After the usual nattering about trifles, we finally settle down to the topic of the day. If there’s a constant about being on holiday, it’s that one frequently needs to take a vacation after having taken a vacation — we need to rest up from having fun. Or trying to have fun. Or trying to get to the place to have fun. Or trying to find something you can eat at the fun place. Or funning with trying people… Read the rest of this entry »

New tools you didn’t even know you needed!

For all of the philosophic ruminating about words and language and the uses of signifiers, there is yet a power to creating words, to naming things. Once we create a word, we now have yet another handy mental place-maker for retrieving that information. Once we create a word, we can share it with other people, thus giving ourselves a tool for introducing ideas and discussing them. Naming is a kind of power, for it can help create something de novo, and “give flesh” to nascent ideas.

When we find or create and use words, we can spread these new ideas and discuss them. Just as disciplines need their specialised jargon, and new disciplines need new specialised jargon, other fields of human endeavour need their jargon. Although the jargon of a group can be used badly to outgroup, it can also be used constructively to serve as a tool for unifying dissimilar people and sharing ideas, and it can also “legitimise” groups by giving them something of a more “real” or “solid” presence.

Sometimes I make up words because they don’t exist, but I still need them. Frequently I borrow somewhat obscure words from various disciplines. And sometimes people borrow words from other languages. One of my favourite word-nerd books is, They have a word for it: a lighthearted lexicon of untranslatable words & phrases by Howard Rheingold.

As we endeavour to create new paradigms in the world, we need extra tools and new tools in our toolboxes. So here’s my first installment for you (I’ll add some words of my own eventually-soon). Here’s a list of words you didn’t even know you needed, many with my own (necessarily briefer) definitions, and my own pronunciations: Read the rest of this entry »

Things that make my brain hurt

I’ve been busy running bunches of errands and painting walls prior to going on holiday. So here’s some randomness from my mental OMFG drawer:

  • The Really Stupid Things people say. Such as, “Gee, why is it always in the last place you look?” Er … because once you find it, you quit looking.
  • Seeing ” 1 comments ” at the end of a post. Not the fact that someone has commented — that part thrills me — but the plural “comments” after the number one. (Once a proofreader, always a pain in the tuchis.)
  • When my mom used to say, “You know Andrea, all children rebel, but you’re rebelling the wrong way.” Because you know, there’s a right way to rebel.
  • More Really Stupid Things people say. Such as, “Why is the soap dispenser always so dirty? It’s soap.” Er … because people use it when their hands are dirty.
  • The Xtreme Packaging on my migraine medication, as described here. Because when I’m falling faster than 9.8 m/s^2 into a migraine, I really want to chip through TWO layers of cardboard and heavy-duty foil to extricate a pill.
  • Being asked if I want to do This or That, and answering I want to do This. Then a little while later being asked again if I want to do This or That. I reply again I want to do This. Then a little while later being asked AGAIN if I want to — for crying out loud, why keep asking? Do you think that asking me repeatedly is going to change my mind? Why would I want to do That and then say I want to do This? If you heard the first time, why keep asking?
  • The super-bureaucratic allergen warning on a bag of roasted peanuts. Ingredients: peanuts, peanut oil, salt. Warning: contains peanuts. No shit!
  • More Really Stupid Things people say. When I worked in a Customer Service department, one of my co-workers complained, “I could get my work done if it wasn’t for all these customers!”

Feel free to add some of your own in the Comments section.

Small Comforts

“You know when you have a few good days and you begin to wonder whether the bad days could have possibly been as bad you imagined they were and then you have a few bad days and wonder how on Earth you ever were able to do the things you did on the good days? No? Well, I do.” ~ The Goldfish

It’s a pain. No, it’s many pains.

I’m getting over a migraine, which makes me just generally tired and gives me brief flashes of visual auras, pain twinges, inconsistent light sensitivity, and word retrieval problems when speaking. This rather much overshadows the arthritis business. I’m also trying to get a bunch of errands done and phone calls made prior to packing for a trip, which unto themselves are stressful activities. I also forgot to take my ADHD med this morning, so I’ve been in a what-was-I-going-to-do? fog all day long as well, above and beyond everything else. “Ain’t we got fun.”

But after I tracked down two cats and took them to the vet (putting the suddenly-hexadecimal cat into the carrier is always entertaining — picture here ), I went for my semi-annual tooth cleaning. I have no idea if I’ve had this particular dental hygienist before, having no memory at all for faces not seen daily, but she was nice enough to shut the window blinds for me on account of my migraine “hangover”. I was also due for some dental x-rays (roentgenograms), so the she draped me with the lead apron. Although having the bite-wings stuck inside my mouth is less than fun, I always enjoy the comforting pressure of the lead apron.

In fact, years ago when I realised that a lead apron was such a fabulous deep pressure aide, I got one from a retired dentist. When I stagger to bed with an incipient migraine, I compose myself in the dark room and drape it across my thorax. I’ve also used it on nights when I just can’t seem to settle down because I feel twitchy on the outside. The lead drape is one of several small comforts that I have found useful. Everyone deals with stress in their life, both the eustresses (the good sorts that help “push” us in beneficial ways) and the distresses (the bad sort, which need no further introduction). But we all differ in the things we are stressed by, and how those stresses affect us. My distress-reduction is accomplished by several means. Read the rest of this entry »

Go hunt down

the invertebrates at the latest Circus of the Spineless.  It’s a crunchy feast for the eyes! Our intrepid host, Roger, is posting from super-soggy South Yorkshire where they’ve been having the worst floods in living memory …