Feeling sluggish

A close-up image of a brown snail slowly crossing a wooden plank

BADD But Not Rude

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2008

I did it!

Today I actually put into action my previous plan. It wasn’t long* or eloquent, but it was polite. A student made a remark about doing something “retarded”, and I asked in a sympathetic tone,

“Please don’t use that word. You can say you’re doing something foolish, or that you’re tired, or even just being human. We all have moments like this.”

This post is a part of the annual BADD, Blogging Against Discrimination Day, which is being hosted at Diary of a Goldfish. I spend a lot of blogging time discussing various disability issues, but for BADD I wanted to do something outside of the usual analyses. Like in my example above, I thought it would be useful to offer some alternatives to disability- or difference-related words that are frequently used not just as insults but also as disaparaging terms e.g. retard, retarded, tard, moron, cretin, lame-brain, spaz, mong, lame, having two left feet, cack-handed, blonde, gay, queer, psycho, schizo, short-bus, gyp, et cetera ad nauseam.

Note that I said as disparaging terms; saying someone is gay to mean homosexual, or that your cat is lame because it has a leg in a cast is one thing, but dismissing something as “That’s so gay,” or “That’s a really lame excuse,” is quite another. (I will confess that I have used “lame” in this way because I wasn’t really thinking about it, but I’m not going to any more.)

In any regard, the acid-test is simple: when you are using a word that describes a group of people, or a characteristic of [a group of] people, and are using it as an insult, that is rude. The reverse is also true: if you are using an insulting term and ascribing to everyone in a group, that is stereotyping and rude. These negative words perpetuate social stigmas and stereotypes against people with disabilities. Using them continues to dehumanise people. If the characteristic or attribute is something that a person cannot [easily] change, then insulting it or using it as an insult is wrong. (Meaning, it’s always open-season on ugly neckties, barring describing it with these sorts of words.)

It is not enough to sit around and kvetch about what’s wrong in the world; we must also offer things to do instead. So, here’s a starter-list of other words to use. Not only do they not reference the negative stereotypes, but they are also less hurtful words — they take the event and keep it within the realm of ordinary human fallibility: things we all do. In this way, we don’t distance ourselves from other people as being other people — we just comment upon their actions.

  • inattentive
  • foolish
  • unwise
  • ill-considered
  • rash
  • silly
  • impetuous
  • foolhardy
  • reckless
  • clumsy
  • awkward
  • inept
  • sorry
  • flimsy
  • implausible

I would also like to direct your attention to The “R” Word Campaign.

* Not long? Shocking, I know. I’m not always as loquacious in real life as I am in print.

Clonal antibodies

“Clonal antibodies” was the phrase that came to mind. Which really had nothing to do with the news image I was seeing, it was just my brain doing the AD/HD-randomizer trick again.

Or, maybe the words did have something to do with the photograph. I was looking at an AP Photo by Tony Gutierrez, one of many recent photographs of the mothers from the The Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as they stood in front of the courthouse:

Clonal was in a sense true. All nine of these white women are garbed in nearly identical frocks, a rather loose-fitting style that the press is referring to as “prairie dresses”, made of plain pastel blue, lavender, teal or green fabric, with long sleeves pleated at the shoulders, bodices buttoned all the way up to the collars, and reverse-pleated ankle-length skirts. Not only that, but Read the rest of this entry »

Skeptic’s Circle #85: Looking under rocks

It’s amazing what you can find if you start looking under rocks. You can find isopods, fossils, a spare key to the front door, ant colonies, Hitler Zombies … and of course, the inevitable proof of physics (F = m*a) if you stumble and “OW!”

Today the Skeptic’s Circle meets out on the rocky plain to see what we can dig up. We are sure to not be disappointed. Of course, the whole Expelled nonsense is fresh in our minds and as we unpack our gear. Blake Stacey pauses to point out, “Open your mouth about evolution around the wrong people, though, and you can find yourself harassed, ejected from your job and even beaten in the street.” The long list of instructors and others mentioned is alarming.

Before our expedition falters, Joe Dunckley lightheartedly shares Read the rest of this entry »

In which I am Stiff

It is morning after some afternoon yard work (a couple hours spent lopping back a shrub by 2/3, and then cutting down those branches for pickup), and I am waiting for arthritis medicine to kick in.

Then I realise that it has. Enough time has passed, and this is “better” (at least for the medicinally-mediated improvement). Which-all leaves me wincing, and wiping wet corners of my eyes on my shoulders. I am tearing up less from pain than frustration-with-pain. When I see my rheumatologist in a few weeks, I will have to explain that pain meds are not working so well, as even post-medicated I am in pain much of the time. I cope with it and “keep on truckin’ “, which is not to say that it doesn’t affect me. (I haven’t even been tracking my blood pressure, which I should be doing now that we actually have a mini-clinic on campus.)

Today I am not just creaky and feeling nauseous before breakfast and after breakfast + meds, but I am also stiff. It shows in the halting progress of my first foray down the stairs and the bumbling around the kitchen. (Thank you, hubby, for making the coffee! Again.) I fumble, and more than once drop things, and then in Slow Motion must bend over to retrieve them from the floor. Knees locked, legs straight, I reach down with my fingertips straining to touch the floor and pick up my sock.

Now, you would think that Read the rest of this entry »

New season, eternal science illiteracy

Well, it’s spring for sure because the frogs and toads have been singing, the daffodils and dandelions and forsythia are blooming, and it’s impossible to keep my nails clean. Earlier today I was able to get this shot of the chief noisemaker from the backyard pondette; it’s the American Toad (cleverly named Bufo americanus, which means American Toad).

Seeing him trilling reminded me of an incident just a few years ago when I was at a gardening function. A group of us were touring some gardens, one of which had a little pond. All of a sudden, one of the Teetery Old Garden Club Ladies* let out an agitated squeal and began dithering around in circles, begging others for assistance.

She was pointing to Read the rest of this entry »

Bugs in the System

I’m exhausted and permanently chilled, dunno why; hopefully I’m not coming down with some “bug”. But here are some great images from around the Web:

Bug Dreams has a fabulous closeup-shot, partially described as, “A Sawfly larva dwarfs an adult fly in this demonstration of a Vulcan mind meld.”

I can haz LOL Invertebrates? The ROFLBee makes me smile every time!

The Royal Mail has just put out a new series of ten stamps, with gorgeous insects on them.  One of the purchases even entitles you to 2-for-1 tickets to the upcoming butterfly exhibit at the Natural History Museum in London. (Please, someone go and enjoy it for me, because I can’t afford to go abroad, so even mere philately is beyond my means.)

Meanwhile, here’s a recent shot from my garden, a multicolored Asian Lady Beetle (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae Harmonia axyridis).  This is an exotic species introduced in the 1970s for biological control of aphids and scale.  That must be hard work, as this one appears to be sleeping on my bag.


12 Ways to Annoy Your Asperger’s / Autistic Pal

(Not in order of importance.)

1. Make chit-chat about events in the news related to sports, celebrities or other obscure pop-culture subjects before the first cup of tea or coffee.

2. Insist on eating out at Chuck-E-Cheese or a similar place full of flashing lights, competing noises, and crowds of loud, shrieking children running around.

3. Serve them a meal composed entirely of new, unfamiliar dishes.

4. “Hey– hey– space cadet — snap out of it!”

5. Schedule a trip with social events all day and evening long.

6. Announce that anyone who can’t tolerate certain kinds of fabric or clothing styles is just being picky

9. Install a major software update (or change other settings on their computer software) because you think it will “make their life easier”.

10. Give them a surprise birthday party after a long day at work (school).

7. Put things out of order.

11. Dismiss their special interest as being stupid.

12. Deprive them of internet access.

Odd One Out

Don’t say that word

I am fetching one of my teaching props, or retreating to the whiteboard to make a quick diagram … just doing something besides speaking at the moment, when one of my students accidentally knocks over her soda can.

“Sorry! Just a retarded moment there,” she apologises into the sudden quiet, snatching the can upright and then grabbing some tissues from her purse to blot up the dribbles.

I freeze. Suddenly at a loss for words. Not for a lack of things wanting to say, but for having too many things to say, and everything getting into a verbal logjam.


All the momentum of being in my teaching-presenting groove evaporates. It literally evaporates, leaving my skin all clammy, and a chill jolts up from my tailbone, snapping my head and shoulder back in one big tic. My hasty breakfast curdles in my gut as I have visceral flashbacks of childhood abuse.

The R-word.

Omigawd I hate the R-word. I hate being called a Re-tard.

To retard means to hinder or delay. Various of my scholastic and social achievements have been delayed, but that never made the word appropriate. In the vernacular it’s meant as a slur, an insult, an assertion that someone is of subnormal intelligence. It’s the N-word of special education. Once-upon-a-time the word acquired a specific diagnostic meaning; someone who was “mentally retarded” had an IQ of less than 70. But whether or not the term is, or was, applicable to me or anyone else present is not the issue. Not even, and especially not, people with cognitive impairments or learning disabilities want to be called Retards.

She had not called me retarded. She hadn’t even directed the comment at anyone else. I would be extremely upset if she had.

But all of my responses are clogged up together in my verbal output buffer: Read the rest of this entry »


The last time I posted my Weird Search Terms as dada-ist poems, I thought to myself, why should I have all the fun? This time I’m posting my WST in a list for you to enjoy.

Make some poems of your own (as many as you like), and post them in the Comments section! For convenience, I have separated these into rough categories of queries/statements, subjects, verbs, objects, et cetera. Do NOT limit yourself to using them in this order! TIP: It’s fun to turn gerunds back into verbs.


(contemplating how butterflies can have “pointy ears” when they don’t really have “ears”; some moths have tympanal membranes on their thorax or abdomen … maybe they’re Vulcan butterflies…)


  • what is the things hurt your brain
  • i dont care if she is a tape dispenser i
  • what happens if my child swallowed a leg
  • does weather effect on us when we have
  • how to prove if a robot is or not
  • how to remove phlegm in young childre
  • problems faced by the children who hav
  • how to stone sidewalk
  • how come my daughter has a difficult tim
  • is tolerance a good thing?
  • “ooh! shiny”
  • why do butterflies have pointy ears
  • Read the rest of this entry »

Shucks, not Disabled

Of all the people in the world, my eldest would be the least likely to be dismayed by becoming a “wheelie”. Every time we visited the science museum in Denver, dad and I could always count on at least a solid hour of book-reading time as the kids played with the wheelchairs in the Discovery Zone.

When a staph infection on one knee got especially nasty (round, red and swollen, requiring repeated expulsion of alarming amounts of pus), we scheduled a visit to the doctor. In addition to getting antibiotics and analgesic, there was a good-natured enquiry by the patient if this might not earn the doc’s permit for a wheelchair? After all, mobility was definitely impaired — hobbling between bedroom and bathroom was difficult — and definitely meant unable to hike around the hilly campus. Well, replied the doc, were it both knees he would.


So, time to take the semi-disabled student back to college. I packed up the “Bug of Holding” with the overnight luggage, and we went back to the campus. The swelling made it difficult to bend the knee as well as to put weight on it, which meant that any footwear with laces, zippers or heels was extremely difficult to put on or use. Well, that was essentially all the footwear currently owned, so we stopped by a Target store to get some sandals. Hobbling inside, we espied three wheelchairs lined up near the shopping carts (buggies, trolleys), one of which was motorized.

I was surprised to hear some initial concern about whether the store would allow someone who wasn’t Officially Disabled use one. We were just borrowing one of the regular chairs, not the motorized one, of course they would, I answered. Besides, if anyone gave us grief, they could always be shown the big nasty, which by this point was doing a rather disturbing impression of a mammary gland, “nipple” and all.

So we went down the shoe aisles, and I noted with relief that the aisles were not only wide enough for the chair to get around easily (including U-turns), but also that the store did not have the sort of display clutter at the end-aisles or within the aisles that some stores feel compelled to put everywhere. This is one of the reasons why I prefer shopping at Target (compared to K Mart, or the big-bad-bully of retail, Wal-Mart); the stores are relatively free of excessive visual complexity or navigational hazards.

My eldest quickly realised that some half-gloves would be really helpful if there was going to be much wheelchair usage. That wasn’t the only accessory that would have been required, either. Read the rest of this entry »

More “Trap Bias”

Whenever I read statistics about the “increasing rates of autism”, I heave a big sigh. Those statements invariable contain a whole number of assumptions, many of them flat-out wrong, or at least unexamined. In the epidemiological data, there are diagnostic issues and census issues and statistical issues and of course, the inevitable agenda issues in the reportage of the census results and analyses. I’ve previously discussed a number of these problems, including incidence versus prevalence, and correlation versus causality in the post, “Epidemics of Bad Science vs Epidemics and Bad Science”

What I would like to address today is a related issue with diagnostics and perceived prevalence, meaning, “How do we know who has autism or AD/HD or a learning disability, and how many such people are out there?”

In entomology (and in other zoological branches) we have a concept known as “trap bias”. There are a number of ways of taking a census of an animal population, including using traps. A “trap bias” means that the kind of trap you use to census a population will limit the responders to your census, and thus create unintended biases in the results.

Now, if a few synapses in your brain just fizzled from that wordy definition, let’s try a simple example. Read the rest of this entry »

Coming soon!

The next Skeptic’s Circle (#85) will be hosted right here on Thursday, April 24th. Kindly send me your submissions by posting links in the Comments (preferably by Tuesday the 22nd).

Just in case you haven’t read it yet, the current edition is over at Achaeoporn (SFW despite curious name). There are lots of interesting goodies to feed your brain.


Escape from red tape

One in the crowd

Look at all those honeybees, buzzing around the hive! One of them is named Kathleen. (Can you tell them apart? I sure can’t — they’re all sisters.) So where’s Kathleen? “Yoo-hoo! Which one of you is Kathleen?”

“I am Kathleen!”

“I am Kathleen!”

“I am Kathleen!”

“I am Kathleen!”

Expect to see a lot of blogging bees styling themselves as Kathleen, a la “I am Spartacus.” (Or check out the LOLcat by DKMNOW.)

Due to scholastic issues, I am late making this post. If you’ve not already heard, a blogger, Kathleen Seidel of the Neurodiversity.com weblog, was recently served with a subpoena by a lawyer in a current case. Kathleen has long blogged about the lack of scientific credibility of the vaccines-cause-autism idea, and the court case deals with such. As a citizen-journalist, Kathleen has commented upon this case and others like it, and her posts are copiously annotated with the supporting references from public domain documents. Other bloggers with legal backgrounds have commented that this kind of legal action seems to fall into the category of a “SLAPP”, Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation:

This form of litigation is frequently filed by organizations or individuals to intimidate and silence critics or opponents by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense so that they abandon their criticism or opposition.

Walter Olson of the Overlawyered blog calls the subpoena a “fishing expedition” and “intimidation”. Not only are the demands in the document incredibly broad and laboriously demanding, they are simply irrelevant to the case. Kathleen asserts that she is not involved in the case, and she does not have any special information relevant to the case.

As she stated in her reply (a “motion to quash”),

9. The subpoena commands production of “all documents pertaining to the setup, financing, running, research, maintaining the website http://www.neurodiversity.com” – including but not limited to material mentioning the plaintiffs – and the names of all persons “helping, paying or facilitating in any fashion” my endeavors. The subpoena demands bank statements, cancelled checks, donation records, tax returns, Freedom of Information Act requests, LexisNexis® and PACER usage records. The subpoena demands copies of all of my communications concerning any issue which is included on my website, including communications with representatives of the federal government, the pharmaceutical industry, advocacy groups, non-governmental organizations, political action groups, profit or non-profit entities, journals, editorial boards, scientific boards, academic boards, medical licensing boards, any “religious groups (Muslim or otherwise), or individuals with religious affiliations,” and any other “concerned individuals.”…

15 … Plaintiffs and their counsel seek not only to rummage through records that they suspect pertain to themselves, but also through my family’s bank records, tax returns, autism-related medical and educational records, and every communication concerning all of the issues to which I have devoted my attention and energy in recent years.

This is an incredible amount of documentation. Who would even keep all of these kinds of records? Many sorts of library searches do not give you “receipts”. And, as originally cited in the subpoena, what sort of search engine is “Lexus Nexus”, an automotive dealership? They probably mean LexisNexis(R), as Kathleen properly refers to it. (Spelling error or Freudian Slip?) And what’s with the “religious groups (Muslim or otherwise)”? Her religious affiliations (or lack thereof) have no bearing on the lawsuit.

The subpoena itself lists in those requested documents, “written or verbal communications” between her and a very, very long list of people or groups, which reading through is quite quickly apparent simply her blogroll, meaning all the 100+ blogs that she has links to on her sidebar. Mine is one of that large number, probably because my blog is listed in the Autism Hub feed. Mind you, I have never even mentioned anything about this particular court case on my blog.

So, disclosures: I have no special information about this court case, and I don’t even know any of the people involved. I don’t even know Kathleen personally, and have never met her. I do not work for her or for Neurodiversity.com, and have never even been to New Hampshire. I’ve probably made a few comments on her blog, as I’ve made comments on all sorts of blogs across the World Wide Web, but her blog is not listed on my blogroll. I do have a family member diagnosed with an ASD. I work in school settings with students who have various educational needs, including ASDs. I do not work for a law company, for a pharmaceutical company, or for a medical company.

Asking Kathleen for the least crumb of communication between herself and the numbers of people mentioned simply because they are on her blogroll is absolutly nutz. Can you imagine how many endless pages of paper all those requested documents would be? (What if you printed out every e-mail you had ever sent or received? Do you keep every e-mail you have ever sent or received? Neither do I.)

The responses to this action in the blogosphere have been incredible; big names like Pharyngula, Orac, and Steven Novella have taken time to comment upon action. Liz from I Speak of Dreams is keeping a running list. I too think the legal action is absurd.

One bee from the hive stops to turn over. Instead of being able to look at the viewer, she is displaying her underside, and we have a great shot of a bee’s ventral abdomen, essentially her rear end. Yeah, check out THAT waggle dance, folks.

Thrown a curve

(“Thrown a curve” is a phrase from baseball, meaning when someone throws you a curve ball that is difficult to hit; it can also mean running into something unexpected.)

Halfway through the semester of Gen Chem I, we had just gotten another exam back, and things were grim. On the first day of class, the prof had told us that, “Half of you are going to drop out or flunk,” and he hadn’t been kidding; as we neared the last day to Withdraw from class, the students were dropping like flies. Those of us still remaining were struggling mightily. The students were bitching about the teacher, and in turn the teacher was complaining about “the kind of students nowadays” (and this was back in the early 1980’s).

Of the several dozen who hadn’t given up and were slumped through the lecture hall staring at their exams dripping with red ink, only two had done well, meaning had correctly answered at least 70% of the questions. (Hallway discussions after lecture would yield the fact that both of them had taken chemistry in high school, so this wasn’t their first experience with the concepts.) As the instructor skimmed through and told us the correct answers to the test, the grousing turned to arguing, and then to deal-making.

“Do you grade on the curve?” pleaded one student. Everyone turned expectantly towards the prof, who as usual, looked annoyed and cross. His utter fatigue with teaching had been apparent from the first week, and had disimproved steadily with the succeeding weeks. His answer, like all other quantitative answers, began with a sigh audible all the way to the back of the lecture hall, and then he rambled on in a rush of words as to how such a calculation would work, and then why it wouldn’t change anything on today’s exam because of the two students’ A and B grades in the 90+ and 80+ percentiles. After giving them an earful of arithmetic, the energy of the protesters was worn down, and he returned to reciting the answers we should have gotten. Why we had not gotten them was not an issue he discussed.

Later on that day I was more puzzled by grading curves than by acid-base reactions. (The conceptual part of chemistry was fine, I had simply gotten tangled up in the calculations. Again.) Not yet having the awesomeness of the World Wide Web for looking things up, I flipped through some maths books at the library until I found mention of the Normal Distribution Curve in a statistics book.

I understood grading by percentile; a score greater than or equal to 90% was an A, 80% was a B, and so on. And I understood how the normal distribution curve worked as far as describing how most of the members in a set were in the middle range, and successively fewer were at the lower and higher ranges. But trying to apply that normal curve (a mound that looked like a sand dune, or slice of bologna after my dad had cooked it in the pan) to distribution of grades left my brain itchy.

Everyone knew that a C grade was “average”, and that C’s were common, and A’s and F’s were rare. That should then mean that the Normal Distribution Curve was being supported as a pedagogical concept. But something didn’t seem right. I figured that “mental itch” feeling meant there was something wrong with my understanding; after all, it was obvious that I had major problems with calculations.

In later years I studied statistics, and learned that not every data set would follow a normal distribution curve. Some of them followed asymmetric curves with their central tendencies over to one side or the other, some of them were two-humped (the Bactrian camels of statistics), and some data sets didn’t make any particular sort of curve at all. I also learned about statistical circular arguments, whereby creating a measurement algorithm that would result in survey scores with a normal distribution curve did not prove that a population set naturally fell into such a curve — the curve was simply an artifice of the algorithm.

I have since learned that the “mental itch” feeling does not necessarily mean I am being stupid; more often it means that something else is Not Right.

Weird things happen when people try to force students’ grade into the curve. It’s not that the scores cannot fall into a curve. Rather, it’s that people try to use curves when they shouldn’t.

With the standard grading scheme, a student has to achieve a certain percentage to be considered as having mastered whatever was being assessed. (Whether or not that assessment accurately reflects the learning objectives is a whole ‘nother story.) But if we instead impose the normal distribution curve to sort out the A, B, C, D and F grades, we then say that the top grades are A’s, the bottom grades are F’s, and the median (and frequently mode) grades are C’s. There are a couple of problem with this. Firstly, it requires that some students get bad grades. Secondly, the distribution of letter grades from the curve does not guarantee that the students are succeeding in meeting the required competencies.

In addition to the problems that can be created by imposing curves, we have an essential problem in assuming that grades should even result in a normal distribution curve. There’s that algorithmic artifice issue, where exams can be created that will (when given to a large number of students) result in a grade distribution that creates a normal curve. This is the rationale for the argument for using grade curves. But it’s a circular argument, because not all assessment methods will yield such score scatters, and they should not have the normal distribution curve imposed upon them.

Furthermore, we have to ask ourselves if demanding a normal distribution curve really reflects our educational goals. Do we really want to have certain percentages of students getting bad or mediocre grades? When we ask individual teachers what they want for their students, none of them say that they want lots of average students, a few really good ones, and a few really poor ones. When we read the mission statements for school districts, we find that every district has Lake Wobegon dreams, where they want all their students to be “above average”.

Another concern people have is with “grade inflation”. Because of the pedagogical bias or expectation that grades “should” fall into that fabulous normal distribution curve, when we get lots of students getting B’s and A’s (and hardly, if any, getting D’s and F’s), then people start fretting that something is terribly wrong. Why, there must be grade inflation going on. Obviously, if so many students are getting good grades, then that must mean that the work is too easy!

On the other hand, if most of our students are not only passing tests and courses, but are even doing very well, maybe that just means that the teachers and students are both succeeding in their educational goals. Don’t we want all of our students to pass subjects and succeed? Education is not a zero-sum game, where every winner must be accompanied by a loser. Likewise, if most of the students are doing very poorly, it does not necessarily mean the students are just lazy or stupid.

Buzz Off!

No, “buzz off” does not mean that I am being grumpy and telling everyone to Go Away. There are apparently a lot of other people out there who are grumpy about Mosquitos, but not the insect kind. The story (like most) gets complex very fast.

So. There are some young people who hang out in front of shops or public areas and are annoying, even to the point of committing misdemeanors. This is hardly a new problem of urban settings; doubtless ancient Greek and Roman shopkeepers complained about much the same thing. In addition to the primary problems of what the yobbos / chavs / hooligans (pick your fave term) may engage in, there’s the secondary problem of their presence intimidating customers and driving away trade.

Of course, not all young people act like this. In fact, very, very few do. And young people, like people of other age groups, like to get together with their pals and socialise. Of course, when you’re young you don’t have your own place, and not everyone wants to hang around the living room where dad’s watching Top Gear or yet another history programme about some war or another. So kids hang around in parks, on sidewalks, in malls, and other public areas. And then people complain because shockingly, there are kids hanging around. Well, duh; few can afford to spend lots of cash at movie theatres or pool halls or video game parlors, and if you’re not spending, they don’t want you there.

Back in 2005, Howard Stapleton realised that he could use teens’ better hearing against them. In theory, young people can hear up to 20 kHz (20,000 Hertz), but as people age they lose this ability due to presbycusis. Although most older adults can pass a basic hearing exam with flying colors, such exams only test up to 8,000 Hz, because audiologists are concerned with how well people perceive common speech and environmental sounds. (This concept also assumes that those targeted have not had any hearing loss due to listening to loud music in vehicles, headphones, and / or concerts.) Thus, the Mosquito device was born.

According to a distributor’s description, these speakers broadcast a 17.5-18.5 kHz tone at 75 decibels. Although not damaging, the whine becomes very annoying after a couple of minutes, and those who can hear it usually leave after a few minutes, although the unit runs for 20 minutes before shutting off. It can be heard 15 meters / 50 feet away, with stronger models audible as far as 90 meters / 300 feet away.

The Mosquito device proved popular with a number of shopkeepers and other business owners; some 3500 units have been installed around the UK, to prevent young people from congregating outside of stores, rail stations, car parks, industrial areas, city parks, and even school grounds (used after hours). Now it’s being sold in the U.S. and Canada as well.

Naturally, there were protests about the use of the devices. The prototype was banned in its place of inception, Newport, South Wales. Although legal elsewhere, other groups have taken up complaint, and not just young people:

Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Children in Scotland, and the Scottish Youth Parliament fully support the campaign launched today in England against the use of the Mosquito device.

So too is Liberty, the National Youth Agency, the Children’s Commissioner for England, which is spearheading the Buzz Off campaign.

Frankly, I find the whole idea of using sonic deterrents as weapons (attack devices) against young people to be abhorrent. These things target and punish all young people present for the actions of a few. You get what you give, so how is being deliberately obnoxious supposed to encourage better social behavior in others? We don’t like it when people go around playing their music too loud, so why is it okay to broadcast high-pitched whines that are meant to get on people’s nerves?

Furthermore, the manufacturers and users assume that only young people can hear these sounds, and that simply isn’t true. I’m 47 and I can hear such frequencies (despite the tinnitus), and a 75 kHz noise is also pretty damn loud, even if it’s not technically at the damaging threshold. If I came across a shop that was using this sonic attack, the shopkeeper would certainly get an earful from me! There’s too much noise as it is, without adding gratuitous noise.

It’s not that I don’t sympathise with business owners and other citizens who are dealing with the effects of antisocial or criminal behavior. But this kind of antisocial retaliation hurts everyone, and is blatant discrimination.

“Oh, hail!”


Budget Issues

There are a lot of difficult things with getting used to a condition that causes regular pain or chronic fatigue. Part of it is just getting used to the idea that there is no quick fix, that this is the New Normal in our lives.

Part of it is realising that medication and treatments will alleviate some of the pain, but that they don’t always eliminate it. Even if we’re not feeling horribly crappy, that doesn’t mean we can just blaze through the day like we used to. The reductions in overall capacity from tiring and/or painful conditions create additional problems that are not always easy to anticipate.

There are the social issues, of not wanting to sound whiney, but also of needing to advocate for ourselves, and either forgo doing some things or request accommodations for others. Meanwhile, everyone else is still working on the idea that relieving pain means making-it-go-away, and that “if you’re not in pain, then you can do everything just like normal”.

There are weighing issues of prioritising things. When we don’t fully adjust to this new normal, it can be partly denial, and partly not realising just how much the condition permeates things in life. It’s one thing to say, “I’m hurting, I’m not going to do this right now,” or “Doing that causes me too much wear and tear so I’m going to do this instead.”

But it’s quite another to realise that we can’t keep putting things off until “I have more energy” or “I have more time” or “When I’m feeling better in the afternoon”. In reality even though there are better times of day or just better days, and even though we find alternative means, what we find is that we still can’t do all those things.

We can do them, but we can only do some of them. When we’re having a good afternoon or a better day, we then find that we have a backlog of Things To Do. In truth, there was no way we could really could do all of them previously in our lives, which is why everyone has those long To do Lists in the first place!

There are budgeting issues of allotting energy. In the new normal, we not only can do less because we have fewer good time periods, but also because we have to pace ourselves. If we push ourselves too hard, then we crash and feel worse than we would have otherwise, and will just get even behinder. (And both the crashing and the getting behinder result in being grumpier, making us and everyone around us miserable.)

What makes pain such a bastard is not just the direct issue of hurting — a lot and frequently, or variably and all the time — but also the secondary issues of pain causes stress and stress aggravates pain and the dreadful feedback loops.

Chronic stress-pain loops can result in not having much appetite (so not eating regularly or nutritious foods), being more sensitive to the ordinary incidental pains in life as well as the chronic issues, getting more easily stuck in anxious, obsessive or depressive states, having depressed immune responses, and of course, it can create the whole horrible pain-bad sleep feedback loop. There’s nothing like chronic pain to make one realise just how inter-related psyche and soma really are.

Chronic issues mean not having much in the way of energy reserves. It can be really easy to fall into a bad habit of “cheating” the budgeting or pacing by relying upon crisis energy. Lots of people (especially those with AD/HD) rely upon the “salvation by deadline” to get them energised to do or complete a task. But this kind of crisis energy is really hard on the body because it relies upon the adrenaline from the sense of crisis. Once that adrenaline rush is past, we crash. It’s a way of pushing ourselves that is counter-productive in the long run.

People who are able to integrate the new normal successfully throughout their lives are those who do best with chronic issues. The novelty fades and the issue is simply another part of their life. Acceptance is not the same thing as giving up. We can accept that we have problems without abandoning efforts to find new ways of improving things.

Prioritising and budgeting energy are important components of the adjustment, just are various therapeutic approaches and regular stress management. Energy prioritising and budgeting are especially important because they are less about what we cannot do, and are more about enabling ourselves to do things that are important.

Whatever “important” gets re-defined as.

“But pain… seems to me an insufficient reason not to embrace life. Being dead is quite painless. Pain, like time, is going to come on regardless. Question is, what glorious moments can you win from life in addition to the pain?”
~Lois McMaster Bujold