What to take from Comments

For the unfamiliar, Vi Hart makes fabulously fun-entertaining-educational Youtube videos about math & geometry, doodling, food and music. (No, you needn’t have aced calculus to understand them; my 7-year old grandson thinks they’re awesome.)

Once in a while she takes a tangent, such as this episode, Vi Hart’s Guide to Comments, where she explores ideas about why people make different kinds of negative comments, possible reasons for reacting to them, and how best to respond.

I thought one analysis was particularly insightful:

Type #2 DIRECT SHALLOW INSULT
Commenters like these are thoughtless and bored, and obviously don’t have very high self-esteem. They’ve been taught to be normal, so if anything’s different about you, well that’s not allowed in the rulebook they know.

But in the anonymous internet context, I don’t think the usual explanation of them trying to put you down to make themselves feel bigger quite cuts it. They probably don’t see you as a real, live person, and would never make the comment to your face, so it’s not about putting you down.

In fact, their comments aren’t aimed at you at all.

They comment to pretend that they are not just wasting time on the internet, but being active participants, discerning in their tastes. Their commenting justifies their watching, and just like voting in American Idol or tweeting your local news, their opinion further invests themselves into their identity as a judge, observer, consumer. They have been taught to be vocally judgemental by the people for whom judging means watching, and watching means money. Plus, other commenters might reply, refuting their insult, which proves their comment matters.

As with other types of comments, she then proposes ideas for why we react, and what to do about the comment: that is, just let your eyes glide past them and move on.

The whole video is superb! (Also, she has fun playing with wax on her fingers.)

Auto-generated CC has some glitches, as usual.

WE MUST CREATE CHANGE

I was going to call this my “Hope For 2015”, but that is so passive and useless. Anybody can – and lots of people do – post warm, fuzzy notes with Hopes for the New Year, and others click and share. Lovely.

But this is NOT all warm & fuzzy. It’s literally dead serious (with many murdered throughout the year), and quite often blunt, because I am blunt at times. It’s also a call to a change of perspective for some of you.

Deal. Think about it. I’m not a lone voice. Click and share.

MY CALL TO ACTION IS FOR YOU TO READ THIS THROUGH, THINK, AND SPEAK UP. ALL YEAR LONG.

And the next year and the next.

This isn’t about some stranger, or Those Other People, or “That Kind”.

Children with disabilities or other differences are not diseased or broken. The same is true for adults. Yes, those “poor, little disabled children” grow up into disabled adults. Gee, so where’s the concern now? It sure isn’t at work; in the U.S. general unemployment is at 5.3%, but for disabled adults it’s twice that at 10.8%.

Nor are autistic or ADHD children some kind of modern mystery; millions of such adults have been around for decades, just unrecognized for lack of diagnostics. Most of us are profoundly relieved to find out Why. We still have to deal with the details, but that’s easier when you know that not all your difficulties are from some kind of moral failing, or from a lack of trying (and trying, and trying).

WHAT, YOU NEVER HAD KIDS LIKE “THAT KIND” IN YOUR CLASSES? YOU KNOW WHY?

Some were kept at home, because until passage of the IDEA in 1975, US law did not require public schools to teach everyone.

Some were warehoused in institutions, badly treated, undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, and oft uneducated.

But many of us were there; how we struggled through school and life, without accommodations or understanding, and often the target of bullying by peers and even school officials.

Untold numbers of women and men just knew themselves inexplicably “a bit odd”, and did best they could; some succeeding, others not so well.

At worst are those who not only lacked resources, but were shunned by society’s classism, ableism, racism and sexism, and (if still alive) are found among the imprisoned, derelicts, addicts, abused and enslaved populations.

YOUR CHILDREN AND EVEN COLLEGE STUDENTS WILL LEARN DIFFERENTLY, SO YOU MUST ADJUST

We are neither inherently stupid nor incapable of learning. Learning differently means teaching differently. Find what works. Everyone has limits, but a consistent lack of success means you should use another method, as well as more time. Sometimes the learning is highly irregular in pace. Tie learning to interests to motivate your children and students.

Also, be aware that sometimes the “simple basics” may be entirely bypassed by some students who leap to master higher concepts, albeit often forever struggling with those seemingly “simple basics”. People are humans, not robots. Learning is not always linear.

COMMUNICATION IS NOT JUST SPEAKING

Never assume that just because someone is nonverbal they cannot communicate. If you’re not getting their messages, then *you* are doing something wrong. Nor should you assume that because someone is nonverbal that they cannot understand what people say (though the processing may sometimes be delayed). Nor assume that because someone has been nonverbal for years that they’ll never speak. And damn, will you get an earful.

INCONSISTENCY IN DAY-TO-DAY ABILITIES IS FRUSTRATING FOR ALL, AND NOT A CHOICE

Importantly, just because someone is able to speak or do a task one day, that does not guarantee consistent results. It’s the nature of disabilities — regardless whether considered mental or physical – all involve the brain. Brains are funny things, and many of us have a few buggy Beta-version programs in our wetware. It’s frustrating as hell for all involved.

But don’t assume the “could-then-can’t-now” is intentional. “Oh, he can hear me when he wants.” “Well, you could solve those equations just fine yesterday.” I can guarantee that after a lifetime of such, ridiculing people and punishing them for things they cannot help only increases performance stress.

While that stress might increase focus from sheer terror, it often squelches overall functioning. (Do you want me to listen to you, or try to recall yesterday’s process, or slowly figure it out on my own? I can only do one — if my stomach will stay down.)

TRAMPLE THE TROPES

Ignore the media tropes and centuries of religious hype: disabled people are neither inherently amoral, soulless and evil, nor are they infinitely happy, friendly and angelic. People are people. A few will be nasty bits, some will be profoundly good sorts, and the rest are just ordinary folks who get mad, sad and glad, who screw things up sometimes, and who will also serve others selflessly despite bearing more abuse than anyone should.

We are definitely not incomprehensible, incomplete, little autism-puzzle-pieces, unloving, unlovable, or uncaring.

We are whole people with all the same cares, needs and wants as all humans. Beware — disability happens to anyone at any time. We aren’t a Them, and YOU can be among the world’s 15% in just one day. We are all Us.

STOP “TEACHING TOLERANCE”

Because tolerance means putting up with something one doesn’t really like, or that doesn’t really belong. We want full-fledged ACCEPTANCE.

Nor should we only be acceptable if we can somehow “overcome” our differences enough to pass for Normal Real People. Trying to “pass” all the time is exhausting, and invariably breaks down, oft resulting in the [supposed] Normal Real People assuming that one is lazy, stupid, crazy, all the above, or worse.

Training children for hours a day how to artificially perform “acting normal” does not serve to help them learn how to function best in the world. Yes, of course teach good manners, social and work skills. But suppressing every twitch of one’s natural being adds to stress, making everything else yet more difficult. This is especially when performing like a “normal person” means not doing the harmless things that reduce stresses.

STOP THE BLAME

I must call out the terrifying, unaddressed assumption which underlies so much daily trauma: “The reason the disabled [children] are targeted by bullies is because they are perceived as being weird”. Despite the pervasiveness of this social theme in society, most people are functionally unaware of it, all the while instilling in their Normal People children the same message. Normal People children need to act normal, and not act like That Kind. After all, that’s how the Normal People know the others are That Kind, who’s Us and who’s Them.

But it’s the disabled and different who are taught, over-and-over-and-over that not only is it their fault for behaving or looking weird, BUT ALSO if they weren’t so weird, well then they wouldn’t be bullied. “Quit being so weird! Just say No! Just say Stop.”

Just say BULLSHIT. Because this is blaming the victim. The problem is not that everyone isn’t the same, the problem is that there are bullies.

Even worse, blaming the targets actually empowers the bullies, because the social story says it’s the victim is the one who is acting wrong, so it’s not really the bully who is to blame.

Let’s just top off all that existing anxiety and depression with the trauma of trying to seek justice, but being told again that, “Well it’s your fault, you know. Attracting attention by being weird, and bugging people. You need to quit making trouble now. You already take up too much of our time with all of your “special” needs. Quit whining and go deal with it. — But no fighting, because we’ll know it was you who started it.”

By the way, it’s not “just a kids at school” thing that everyone will “grown out of”. It continues on through college, and happens at work, too.

YOU CAN’T WALK IN THE LITTLE BOY’S SHOES;

THEY’RE FLOATING DOWN-RIVER

It is NEVER acceptable to murder disabled children. Nor should these repeated, horrifying events be considered “understandable” or “excusable”, with the murderers being pardoned just because their son or daughter had a disability.

Increasingly more prevalent in social media, the crime becomes insidiously deemed more and more acceptable. Murderers re-cast themselves as martyrs, acquiring champions to their cause. Throughout repeated blog posts and news stories, they bemoan how taking care of disabled children is just too unbearable, they had to take care of them every day of the week, there was never any relief or help. (Even though there was.) Cue the groupies’ hand-wringing and protests upon the villains’ behalf: “Oh but won’t you walk in their shoes, how they’ve given up their lives, this wasn’t at all what they wanted.”

For in true sociopathic fashion, the poor, long-suffering parents revel in the attention, announcing to the world – sometimes ahead of time — what they have done, and all the while describing themselves as the victims. The dead children (young or adult) are unwanted, and deemed unwantable, less than human just because they couldn’t speak, or needed medical treatments, or used a power chair, or didn’t play with their toys the “right way”, or wore adult diapers … No one would want to live like that; the thing’s better off dead. And what of the groupies? Well, where do you think people get such terrible ideas that it’s okay to kill one’s own children?

ENOUGH WITH THE “DISABILITY INSPIRATION PORN”.

Quit using those heart-tugging videos, walk-a-thons, telethons, and other grand-society functions to win your supposed Cosmic Brownie Points for giving us your pity. Please stop dumping upon us the largesse of your unwanted rags (so Victorian, so passé), or creating useless functions requiring us to serve as targets of unwanted helpful-helper-helpiness for your ego-boo.

Get disabled people out of “sheltered workshops”. Yes, people need work they are suited to. But the segregation and token sweatshop “wages” are an embarrassment and humiliation to all.

YES, CHILDREN GROW UP.

YEP, STILL DISABLED, BUT NOW ADULTS

Do not assume your children will remain permanently childish and incapable — they mature on their own timelines. Allow adults to be adults. Support their needs and interests, but neither dress them like children, nor expect them to live their lives in naïve pre-puberty stasis, without adult desires for socializing with adult peers, life-long learning, mastering skills for some kind of job (even if that job is “just socially productive work” rather than traditional work), and yes, having a love life, however that may be expressed.

YES, PEOPLE ALSO NEED ACCOMMODATIONS;

THAT DOESN’T MEAN “CURE”

Most disabled or different people are not looking for cures to magically change them into someone else, some kind of fantasy Normal Real person that their families wanted instead. Our differences may result from physical events, by random mutation, and / or genetics. Your genetics. We are family. I’m Me, and I like being Me. If you somehow changed all the differences in my brain, I wouldn’t be Me anymore, with all my quirks and abilities.

Of course it will be great to find a means for preventing migraines, epilepsy, fatal medical conditions, et cetera. But it’s also a sad fact that some people have been so convinced of their undesirability as disabled human beings that they can only see “cure” as a means to being an acceptable Normal Real Person. (Worst of all, some people commit suicide because they’ve been taught to hate themselves, as useless and unwanted.)

But what’s really alarming is all the fund-raising, talk, research, and work going on today to eliminate entire kinds of peoples. I’m talking about the thousands of selfish individuals and sociopaths who believe that anyone with neurological or morphological differences should not exist at all, because That Kind takes up too much time, money, and resources.

That’s not “looking for a cure” – that’s eugenics and euthanasia, the same ideas that led to the Nazi Aktion T4 program and other horrors. (In my youth, the state hospital was still in the regular habit of sterilizing people. Had I been institutionalized, I might well not have had my lovely children and grandchildren.)

Yes, we want assistance, we want things that help us achieve what we want in life. Getting the things one needs to learn effectively, to move about, attend to their own needs, to work, to play, to be a part of the community, to have lovers or families. These things should not be seen as extraordinary, special, absurd, or a waste of money, just because they aren’t the same kinds of things used by other people. 15% of the people in the world have disabilities. That is a lot of humanity, and many are uneducated, abused, neglected, avoided, or shut away, depriving the world of incredible amounts of untapped abilities and talents.

CALL OUT BULLSHIT. REQUIRE ACCOMMODATIONS. DEMAND ACCEPTANCE.

MAKE IT SO.

More universal than you might think

All those years of spending hours thinking up that brilliant retort to their insults … and instead of that stunned silence of acknowledgement you had anticipated — you just got more bullying.

Again.

*~#~*

Don’t play their game.

Short eye contact, a nonverbal response of incredulity, and then ignore them.

It’s not all strawberry versus chocolate ice cream!

Now, I am a mint-chip ice cream (-loving) person myself, and dismiss vanilla* for being merely useful as an ingredient base for other treats. And of course, I’m entitled to my opinion. In turn, you all are free to express your own opinions about flavours of ice cream, including your total disinterest in eating ice cream.

(* It may be that I lack some kind of flavour receptor[s] to fully perceive vanilla/vanillin, because no matter what sort of sweet or quality of material, vanilla has never seemed to be particularly interesting or tasty to me.)

But there are opinions and there are other opinions, and Patrick Stokes, Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University, teaches his students that they are not entitled to have their opinions.

In a recent article, “No, you’re not entitled to your opinion” he immediately acknowledges this sounds a bit harsh, but explains that the point of a philosophy class  is learning how to create sound arguments, instead of leaning on beliefs, emotions, and misconceptions of what we think we know. Although opinions may be owned or expressed, not all opinions are equally valid.

Stokes skillfully distinguishes between the different things that fall under the vast umbrella of opinion:

But “opinion” ranges from tastes or preferences, through views about questions that concern most people such as prudence or politics, to views grounded in technical expertise, such as legal or scientific opinions.

It’s the conflating of being able to express one’s tastes, preferences, and beliefs — and then expecting those statements to be taken as seriously as fact-based, logically-sound argument — that is the major problem.

It is a major problem in everyday discourse, and in heated debates within and between countries, and it is an especially prevalent problem in various media. There’s the tired trope* of “getting balance” by interviewing “both sides” even though there are often more than just two sides (life is messy that way), and the problem that the opinions of both “sides” do not necessarily carry the same factual value (life is reality-based that way).

(* More on the problems with the news media and “balance” in my earlier post, “Both Sides Now”.)

Not all the information one finds or hears is equally valid. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.”

Stokes further explains:

The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.

Wait a minute — can’t anyone have an opinion about anything? Of course!

Can’t anyone express their opinion about anything? Of course!*

(* Although it really helps if people take the time to ensure their protest signs are properly spelled and punctuated. Otherwise much hilarity ensues and one ends up with derisive and/or dismissive infamy rather than being taken seriously.)

But what unfounded opinion cannot do is carry equal weight when discussions require expertise.

Back to our ice cream opinions:  I know that vanilla bean pods come from a variety of orchid, because that’s a tidbit of horticultural knowledge and I am a horticulturalist. Being a foodie, I have long known that vanillin was synthesized as a less-expensive alternative for use in commercial products, and that it is the primary ingredient in the artificially-flavoured vanilla extract sold at the market.

BUT, I cannot be an expert witness or speaker on vanilla.

Likely, neither can the majority of you.

Not on the cultivars, growing, agri-ecology, processing from raw material to diverse flavouring forms, business economics, grower’s social justice issues, distribution and packaging, artificial synthesis of vanillin, culinary chemistry, historical usage, future trends of natural versus artificial flavouring … none of that stuff. Nor anything else that didn’t come to mind, albeit I was able to come up with a longish list just because I have that horticultural background and was able to extrapolate what accessory topics could be included.

You are entitled to have and to express your opinion, but that does not mean it must to be taken as serious fact; pointing that out is not being disrespectful to you as a person — it means that your opinion is insufficient to the case.

‘Personal Opinion’ is not some cloak of factual immunity that one can wear to suddenly become a creditable expert.

(Oh, and speaking of public persons with opinions but who are not experts, guess who came along to comment upon Stokes’ article …)

“So what would make it better for you?”

Ah, the dreaded “small talk”! Learning scripts to use for small regular transactions isn’t hard (e.g. waiting for coffee to brew or cashier transactions, as described in this post).

It’s the chit-chatting with coworkers and strangers that’s hard.

I like this page because it gives concrete details on how to successfully initiate and participate in chit-chat — not just a bunch of fluffy vagueness. People who understand the fluffy vagueness already know how to chit-chat!

“How to Break Through Small Talk and Turn Strangers into Friends”
http://puttylike.com/small-talk/

Having Fun Pushing Limits

I was on the radio! :: hyperactive bouncing ::  You should listen to the show — there are links below.

Adrienne Lauby and Shelley Berman, co-hosts of Berkeley, California’s KPFA “Pushing Limits” disability program, invited Mike Ervin, advocate and blogger of Smart Ass Cripple and me to talk about “The Wild World of Disability on the Internet.” Is that fun or what?

Broadcasting is always giddy: I get to talk with interesting people I wouldn’t have otherwise, and the experience is recorded to share with all of you!

Between my ADHD and Auditory Processing glitches, I was worried about accidentally interrupting folks, but I don’t think we had too much trouble with that. It’s always curious to go back and listen to it myself, because one’s voice never sounds as low pitched as it does inside your head. But when I’m speaking, I’m on “live” rather than “Memorex”, and it’s cool to be able to rewind life and hear what happened.

Mike Ervin and I were unfamiliar with each other, but when you get four people together who are passionate about the same things (including hosts who can lead out introductory stories) there is no awkward stage — we hit it off quickly, and Mike has a wicked wit.

Of course, we could have easily spent an hour riotously remarking about activism, attribution errors and other topics. We did talk about those, and amazingly, with less than eight minutes apiece, we also talked about accessibility, myths, inspiration-p*rn, othering, home-care, how blogging “levels the playing field” and more. It was great fun!

(Oh, and related to a question on fidgeting, I mentioned an XKCD cartoon, which I’ve included — with descriptions — at the bottom of this post.)

You haven’t missed it — there are 3 ways you can listen now!

1. Click this link: Pushing Limits: The Wild World of Disability on the Internet 

2. Paste this URL into the address box for your mp3 player (iTunes, etc): http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/82157

3. Click on this download hyperlink:

Pushing Limits – July 6, 2012 at 2:30pm

Click to listen (or download)

“RESONANCE” An XKCD.com cartoon by Randall Munroe, in 3 panels.

In the first panel, someone is sitting at a computer desk, and is disturbed by vibrations.

In the second panel, he turns and asks the person behind, “Excuse me, you’re jiggling your leg up and down. It’s traveling through the floor and making my desk resonate.”
The other person apologizes, “Oh, I didn’t even realize! I’ll stop.”

In the last panel, the first person reaches over to hand the second a piece of paper, and asks, “Actually, can you just shift the frequency up by 15%? I think you can get resonance with Steve’s desk instead.”
“Uh huh…” says the second, and the first guy continues, “Here are the calculations. Let’s coordinate and try to spill his drink.”

The mouse-over caption reads, “It’s really hard to control the frequency, actually.”

 

I bequeath the world a neologism, because there is need:

Te·di·a [tee-dee-uh]
noun
1. a plural of tedium.
2. the quality or state of multiple media being wearisome; irksome; tedious.
3. the quality or state of overwhelming tedium resulting from multiple, unrelated sources.

Overcome by the tedia of so-called “news” coverage and inane blather that displaced any real information, she resorted to drawing political cartoons and posting them on the Web.

Lacking sufficient mental stimulation from either of his jobs, and commuting without a working radio, he found himself daydreaming and telling himself jokes to allay the suffocating tedia.

_____

Use it! Pass it on! Post a comment and share.

Cite it with a link-back!  Short link: http://wp.me/p10w9-Kp

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Reasoning for a good cause

“Same thing,” she said, waving off the comment and walking off toward the time-clock to punch out.

“But– no, it’s not …” I protested, and then stopped talking as I saw her leaving not only the the doorway where I stood, but our conversation as well.

If you could call it a conversation; I’ve had longer dialogs with fellow elevator riders.

It was hard to stop my rebuttal. I so wanted to explain, and having to force myself to stop in mid-sentence (hell, mid-mini-monologue) is hardly my style. But I diligently keep practicing social skills, including noticing when others have quit a topic.

Having already clocked out, I gave up, left the building, and even waited to get into my car before expressing my complaints aloud to no one — except a fruit fly uselessly orbiting the fragrant-but-empty lunch bag I had just tossed onto the floor.

And a fruit fly doesn’t give a gnat’s ass about the seemingly subtle difference between reason and cause. No, it is not mere semantics, and they are not exact synonyms.

“So how was your trip?” she had asked as we met in the hallway. We had not yet crossed paths that day, delaying the obligatory Monday morning chit-chat.

“Oh it was lovely, except for missing a connecting flight, so I was only there two days,” I began. And I was proud that I had even mindfully planned ahead to next ask her if she’d ever been to Boston, thus fulfilling my offering volley in the chit-chat process — when she gave me that totally unexpected, inexplicable response:

“Well you know, ‘Everything happens for a Reason’ !” She chirped, nodding sagely.

“You mean a cause,” I began.

“Same thing,” she said, waving off the comment and walking off toward the time-clock to punch out.

“But– no, it’s not …” I protested.* Read the rest of this entry »

One Or More

Do you like odd words? If so, today’s post is for YOU!

I enjoy words. I love learning new words, and now and then feel the need to make nifty neologisms. I take pleasure in playing word games and punning around. I use a vigorous vocabulary for producing prose and programming. I revel in vicious verbiage when needing venomous invective.

Weird words are wonderful. Exceptions excite intrigue. Luckily for us, the English language (in its multitudinous international forms) is known for being an absolute mish-mosh of exceptions to dang near every orthographic rule that has been imposed upon it over the centuries. This is not surprising considering how many other languages have been sources for our vocabulary!

Being familiar with many of those weirdnesses is great when one is an editor, writer or proofreader. (Alas, not everyone shares such passions, so we logophiles must sometimes refrain from exercising too much pedantry.*) It also gives me a number of opportunities for musing …

Today I ran some errands on the way home, which caused me to take a different pathway. En route, I espied a cellular antennae tower array (mobile phone mast), one of those tall poles with transceivers and other prickly bits plated upon them. Several of those tower arrays or television UHF/VHF (Yagi-Uda) sets atop houses are called antennas. But — insects sniff their environments with antennae.

Some words are the same whether you have one or more; not just the same spelling in singular and plural, but also the same pronunciation:

Fish (As children, many of us learned this from Dr Seuss, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish”). Ditto salmon and trout. (I bet readers can inform me of other species of fish.)

Thrips (A small insect that often infests flowers and spreads diseases; especially problematic in greenhouses.)

Sheep, deer, moose.

Bison – pedantic technical note: the North American animal is a bison, not a buffalo, but buffalo is so entrenched in history (i.e. Buffalo Soldiers, buffalo nickel) that the term “bison” seems reserved for ecological/zoological discussions.

The American buffalo has just one species: Bison bison. A single category of interbreeding organism is a species, several are different kinds are also species. “Specie” refers to coins, such as our buffalo nickel. If I recall correctly, one of the new coins the U.S. mint has released in their recent series is a nickel with a bison on one side. Series is another word that is the same in both singular and plural.

Swine (unlike pig -> pigs or hog -> hogs)

Complaint:  people calling plural bovine animals “cows”; the cow is a female that has calved. Call them a herd of cattle. Of course, then one has the problem of knowing if the single animal is a calf, cow, [castrated] steer, or bull. Then again, depending upon where you are, most of the cattle one passes might be breeding or milking cows, or maybe young steers shortly destined to be burgers and roast-beast. But like “buffalo”, “cows” seems to be a common-usage term.

(Except, of course, amongst small children, who invariably call them “moo-cows”, which is odd because I’ve never heard any preschoolers saying “quack-ducks”, “neigh-horses”, “baa-sheep” or “meow-cats”; go figure.)

Interestingly, draft bovine (used for ploughing) are ox -> oxen. There are few words that retain this archaic plural: child -> children, one brother -> several brethren, and hose -> hosen (from when one tied their individual hose onto the hem of a garment). Clothes is one of those words that just comes in single form, except it is by default plural.

When I teach gardening classes, I add a couple seconds pause after explaining, “If you’re making a new garden bed, you can either kill what’s there with glyphosate, or slice off the pieces of turf and re-use them, or compost the turves.” Turves is the correct plural for pieces of turf, but we don’t use the term much, so there’s a bit of a mental speed-bump.

Did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien invented dwarves as the plural for his Middle-Earth race? All other sorts (cutesy fantasy beings, or small-growing forms of plants or animals) are dwarfs.

In Zoology class we learned that the plural of penis is penes. Common usage (when not using one of the many silly slang terms) is penises. But if you are needing to talk discretely over the heads of younger folk, penes will likely be off their radar.

Right now I’m listening to Etta James singing the blues; no one ever sings “a blue” (tho’ you can blow a blue note).

Then there are the pluralisation questions about which only geeks worry: one Mus musculus is a mouse, and several are mice. But what about the computer accessory (um, Mus digitus ?) – computer mouses or computer mice?

One datum, a bunch of data. But when or how the hell does a person have just ONE datum? A single point?  I suppose that’s possible, unlike news. Good or bad, there’s never just one news. A “new”? I tend to get out of the news loop when on holiday; but invariably when I catch up, I find that the news seems more like recycled “olds”!

One spectrum, a wide spectra, as in “spectral analysis” – unless of course, one is doing a bunch of analyses on your spectra data.

How about one index -> two indices. Indexes is a verb: “My program indexes everything for me!” Then of course, it turns around and creates indexes to hold that data. Hmn. Meanwhile, we still have one index -> two indices in science, and on the radio news I hear indices used as indicators of how the world is going.

In geometry, our geometric shapes have sides (planes). Each pair of planes intersect at edge, and several will meet at the corner, called a vertex. A triangular pyramid has four vertices and a cube has eight.

And lastly, Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message,” meaning that what is used to spread the message is important. Newspapers, YouTube videos, and blogs are all kinds of media. So too are my choice of growing medium for my seedlings.
If some yahoo grabs a can of spray paint as their medium of choice, and scrawls a graffito on the side of a building, you can be sure that someone else will want to join in and next thing you know, there will be graffiti everywhere.
My thanks (always plural) to all my readers!
______

*Unlike those grammar mavens dedicated to eradicating excessive and misused apostrophes, whom I heartily encourage to be ever-ready with their jumbo-size bottles of correction fluid!

Also, thank you everyone for your tireless efforts trying to rid the world of misspellings; Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I know that I shall be wanting to face-palm with each sale banner for  Valentines Bokay’s.

That … thing

Dysnomia ‘R’

[ pause ]

the two …

you and me …

er,

“Us.”

Yeah.

“All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

Sergeant Joe Friday of the old American cop show, Dragnet, was famous for asking witnesses — in characteristic deadpan delivery, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

Sounds good to me.  Not just facts (albeit they’re tremendously useful, especially when you have them in variety), but also the focus upon transmitting information, without a lot of accessory fluff.

“I don’t know how to put this,” my ex-husband would hedge.  He was always loathe to break negative news, and would put off doing so for long stretches of time before tiptoeing around the subject and throwing up paragraphs of waffling pseudonyms.

“Then just say it.  Spit it out already!”

Bluntness when it’s simply being straight-forward is not a social crime in my world.

Furthermore, I don’t go inventing insults where none are intended. Unless you are calling me (as some of my students with behavior disorders do) a “fucking bitch” or something equally blatant, I’m not going to assume that speaking plainly is meant to be an affront.

I will confess that (even into my late 40’s) I am still sorting out the reasons why people say the things they do:

  • There’s the “social noise” that is meant as non-confrontational space-time filler, to promote social ease in a sort of verbal grooming behavior or stress-displacement behavior.
  • There’s the exchange of opinions and veiled insults meant to establish or maintain odd social status arrangements. (I understand what those are, but I really don’t understand why they exist, aside from the practical necessities of organisational status for allocating responsibilities.)
  • There are the jokes, compliments, and stories meant to promote inclusion and establish group identity by creating a culture of common experiences, affirmation of values, and recognition of effort.
  • There’s the philosophical or creative exchange of ideas, including word play, humor, and problem solving.

Then there are the murkier forms of communication that I have trouble fathoming, even when I can (after a few minutes or days’ consideration), identify what is going on.  These include the more oblique types of flirting, the affective persuasion of political campaigning (including the sort that happens at work and other organisations), and other mysterious interchanges that involve even less emphasis on word choice, and more upon paraverbal and nonverbal delivery.  (“Paraverbal” is how the words are said, the inflections; “nonverbal” is the accompanying body language.)  I’m actually not sure what these are, but sometimes I can sense that something more is going on, and I’m not sure just what it is that I am missing.

At school, I spend all day surrounded by people who are constantly negotiating with each other to get what they want or feel they need at the moment (what in Functional Behavioral Analysis is described in the dichotomy of providing a means to Get/Obtain or Protest/Escape/Avoid).  A lot of the interpersonal transactions are fairly simple to understand, as most of the students lack subtlety.  At the garden center, the focus of my interactions revolve around the transmission of factual information, and the curious scripts of commerce that combine both “cheerful servant” and “autocratic cashier”.  The latter set is usually easier, and I’m even beginning to pick up on the “Thank you,” that really means, “I don’t need any more information now”.

But after interacting with people for twelve hours a day, I find that my brain turns to mush from the burdens of doing my physical jobs with focusing lots of working memory on perceiving, analysing, and replying to all the heavily-coded and loaded talktalktalk.

Sometimes I miss the simplicity of working in a lab, where one could spend their day simply transmitting facts.

Of course, I later found that even that was a misperception.  There was all the office politics going on just at the edge of my radar, and there was the inevitable problem of others assigning meanings to my para/nonverbals that I was not really intending to transmit, and there was the third problem of others being annoyed or dissappointed because I had not picked up on their para/nonverbals and thus missed a large chunk of what they “really meant”.

Life would be so much simpler if people would just mean what they say, and say what they mean!

Family Traditions

My daughter and son had a long conversation the other day.  They knew what they were talking about, within this twin-like patois built upon years of shared jokes.  It made sense to them, for all that anyone else would have found the banter of movie and TV quotes to be strings of non-sequitors.

“You know, the baby won’t learn how to talk if this is all it hears,” I jested, referring to my future grandchild. “The school will call and say, ‘We think your child is autistic; he just speaks in scripts’!”

I was mostly joking of course; conversing in “scripts” hasn’t prevented either of my kids from being able to speak.   Like in many families, sometimes the scripts imply whole paragraphs of dialog familiar to members.  They can serve as conversational shorthand or crutches to encode the meaningful transmission of information when someone is in a hurry, feeling ill, or just making a joke.

Like all the other forms of communication shorthand we use at home, it’s just one of those traditions that creates part of the family culture. (And what better way to hide things from mum than a secret kid argot?)

Lost in Translation

My daughter brought this quote home from college, as she though I would enjoy it — and I very much do, as I can readily identify with it.  The words had been printed out and tacked on a bulletin board, and it originates from Brian Andreas’ Story People:

There are some days
when no matter what I say
it feels like
I’m far away in another country
& whoever is doing the translating
has had far too much to drink

You just don’t get it

A few summers ago, right in the middle of my graduate programme, I was hit with Mono and Lyme. Taking a shower was exhausting. I kept falling asleep in statistics classes, and in the lab where I tried to work. Putting thoughts together in any of my research analysis or writing, or even learning new concepts, was like stringing beads while wearing heavy ski mittens.

Even after submitting a letter from the doctor to my department head, he couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get things done, and when he did see me around, why I was staggering around and looking like “death warmed over”. He was of course, operating on the Willpower/ Mind Over Matter principle, where all one really needed was just More Determination. (And this was even in a biological science, where you’d think they would have some kind of clue!)

I got over the diseases. A couple of the most important things I learned from that whole experience were tied to Paula Kamen’s lovely book, All in my head: an epic quest to cure an unrelenting, totally unreasonable, and only slightly enlightening HEADACHE”. One important thought is: “There is a difference between getting cured and getting healed.” Another is: “Acceptance is not the same thing as resignation.”

I also got a crash course in how little empathy some people have in real life, compared to the words that come out of their mouths. Of course, it was hardly the first (or last) time I had experienced such in life, just an event when things were painted with such broad strokes.

Weird thing is, the official word is that autistics lack empathy.  That’s the line, but there are plenty of people who beg to differ.

In an NPR interview, Temple Grandin had this to say about empathy:

Normal people have an incredible lack of empathy. They have good emotional empathy, but they don’t have much empathy for the autistic kid who is screaming at the baseball game because he can’t stand the sensory overload. Or the autistic kid having a meltdown in the school cafeteria because there’s too much stimulation. I’m frustrated with the inability of normal people to have sensory empathy. They can’t seem to acknowledge these different realities because they’re so far away from their own experiences.

Unlike someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder (sociopathy) or Narcissistic Personality Disorder who truly does lack much real empathy, the autistic person does not really lack empathy. Rather, they do not respond in ways that demonstrate empathy in typically recognisable fashion. This is in contrast to those sociopaths, bullies and narcissists that may demonstrate a lot of the shallow social-noise that appears to be sympathetic, but on the deeper level is really more about manipulation to gain something for themselves, rather than true empathy.

Just because someone doesn’t respond in the expected manner, that does not mean they lack the feelings we associate with those responses.

The term “empathy” is one of those words that carries several meanings, and is used in different ways. This conflation of meaning results in things like this issue of the Asperger’s/autistic person being described as “lacking empathy”. Plenty of parents, spouses, other family members and close friends will assert that despite diagnostic criteria, their person “really is loving” and “shows empathy” and demonstrates both passion and compassion.

So what’s going on here with this definition, and in the person?  Things like: Read the rest of this entry »

21,059

Holy Shit.

(And no, I’m not going to apologise for taking Shit’s name in vain…)

Normally I love technology.  When human beings mystify me in their endless capacity to engage in rudeness and biases and cognitive fallacies, I know that I can trust machinery to perform sensibly.  Sure, things break down, and sometimes they frustrate us because our mental models are incomplete, or the design is too poor to provide the right information for us to build accurate models. But once you understand how a system works, you can rely upon it to be predictable.

But sometimes the hardware is crappy, and sometimes the software is crappy, and sometimes it’s the “wet-ware” (me) that’s introducing errors, and when things get bad, it’s all of those.  And then I spend literally hours trying to get the simplest of tasks done.  Even ordinary things, like … getting messages.

1.

I have voice-mail messages to listen to during my brief lunch not-hour.  I’m sitting in a desk by the window, hoping that the signal doesn’t break up due to Invisible Wireless Velociraptors or whatever the hell makes the signal erratic from one minute to the next.

The first time around I miss half the message because I’m having trouble punching the mobile button and then getting it back to my ear quick enough to catch the beginning of the message.

The second time I dial back into my voice-mail, all I can understand is that there’s an Important Message from someone.

The third time around all I can understand is that someone whose name sounds like “Spencer Wallace” is calling me, and then two people in the room begin chatting and Mr Wallace’s message gets blenderized with their words.

I clap the phone shut in annoyance and go outside to redial my voice-mail a fourth time, and finally hear enough to realise that this is (A) a recorded message and (B) punching “1” will connect me to a live body … hopefully.

(Granted I have a lot of trouble understanding voice-mail messages because of my auditory processing problems, but you would think that a major mobile phone company could at least make sure their automated recordings were clearer.)

Yes, it’s a live body!  She informs me that No, it’s not Spencer Wallace, but Sprint Wireless. Damn, Live Body is mumbly or has an accent or is required to stick to scripts that aren’t helpful for me right now.  Rather than spend the rest of my break time trying to muddle out the situation, I thank her and return inside to bolt down the rest of my lunch before it gets disgustingly congealed. (The sad part is that microwaved fries/chips with leftover chile and cheese is the best lunch I’ve had all week.)

In addition to needing clearer messages, getting phone service inside of the school buildings where I work would also be a good thing — on one campus, I have to leave the building and walk across the open-air plaza and try facing cardinal directions in hopes of securing a signal.  Sometimes I have to pull up the antenna, hold the phone up to the sky, and stroll halfway to the next building to get signal.  Mind you, I am at a college in a heavily-populated area, not the intersection of Cornfield and Bob’s Road in the hinterlands.  [Name that movie reference!]

2.

Another voice mail was from the department secretary.  Plus, apparently I missed some e-mails from her as well.  Oh heavens, that’s right — I have a staff e-mail account in addition to the other e-mail account I use at the college. I had totally forgotten about getting the password set up a couple of weeks ago, because I was starting two jobs at the same time and both jobs required lots of paperwork and setting up user ID’s and passwords for various and sundry programs.

Yes, I have two e-mail accounts provided by the college.  Not just two e-mail addresses, but two separate systems that run on two different programs.  The secretary kindly reminds me of the URL to access my other account program.

Unfortunately, that is just the sign-in page for the second account.  It runs on Microsoft Outlook, and there are no helpful user links to click for “I forgot my password”.  (Insert Mac user’s rant about Microsoftware.)  An hour later, I have finally noodled through enough of the college’s Web site to have found where to set/re-set my password (and received no less than five unwanted pdf’s that automatically downloaded after clicking on an internal search-engine result).  Finally I can go back to that sign-in page.

Polysyllabic Expletive!

I have 21,059 e-mails.

I shit thee not; apparently the account was set up for me back in September of 2003. I had no idea it was there. I assumed that my other account was “the” account, because that was the address that all of the links and documents contained.

Obviously any e-mails before this year can be deleted.  There are so many because 99.9% of them seem to be list-serve messages sent to everyone at the college.

But Techies, GET A CLUE: it would be a good idea to set up a small routine to flag when you have users who have more than a couple hundred unread e-mails AND who have never sent any e-mails, so you can send them an alert by some means other than their e-mail account.

Crap, do I have some housekeeping to do. I have to read through the past month’s e-mails to make sure I’m not missing anything critical.  Anything else that’s critical, because I already missed something.

Then I have to figure out how to set one of the college’s e-mail systems to automatically forward to the other system.

Of course, that’s in addition to other little things this weekend, like teaching my Saturday class, writing the next three exams, figuring out how to use the grade-keeping program, grading the last two exams, and entering the two-week-point attendance (which information the secretary needs to drop anyone who hasn’t shown up).

3.

Now that I’m at home, I also have to listen to the household voice-mails on the land line.

Oh, and I ALSO need to slog through setting up my voice-mail account with the college as well!

  • Voice-mails on my mobile.
  • Voice mails at the house.
  • Voice mails at the college.
  • E-mails at home.
  • E-mails at the school.
  • E-mails at the college.
  • The other e-mails at the college.
  • The e-mails within class-access program for the two classes I teach (Blackboard, which has its own special set of glitches).

My inner child is now whining, “Do I gotta?”

I could just cry. Were I the prayin’ sort, I would be praying.  But I’m not. Were I the drinkin’ sort, I would be drinking.  But I’m not.  I’m the rocking sort. So I am going to sit here and rock, because that’s what I do when I’m stressed.  At this rate, I’m going to be walking around in circles and flapping too, before the night’s out.

Twenty-one thousand and fifty-nine.  Ye gods and little fishes!

When “Humor” is Not A Laughing Matter

When we watch old movies or programs, read old books, listen to old audio recordings, it quickly become apparent that tastes in humor change, mostly due to evolving senses of what is appropriate for being laughed at. There are racist and sexist and disableist jokes that are only painful to hear, because it is embarrassing to realize that some people find/found their humor in the ridicule of demeaning others. When the “Jokes you cannot tell in mixed company” have turned into “Jokes you wouldn’t even want to tell in any kind of company”, you get some hope that maybe society is growing up … just a little bit.

Or, not.

An upcoming movie is such an example of humor that fails its efforts to parody. Much of comedy has to be “cutting edge” to have the surprise value.  It pushes at the borders of acceptable behavior, and relies on our ability to laugh as a means of dealing with stress.  Treading the edges of propriety can be rich source, but can also backfire if the comedian does not have a good sense of the audience and of the purpose of their material.

Satire is a particular type of humor; by definition it is designed to “make fun of something” — but to a purpose.  It illuminates personal and social problems that we had not really thought about or could not easily discuss, and cleverly uses humor to deflect some of the tension that would have otherwise occurred.  Its tools are heavy irony and sarcasm, puns and wordplay, and parodies and comparisons.  Properly used satire is wit that seeks to improve society, rather than simply demeaning people. But satire can be misinterpreted.  Sometimes the result is more serious than mock-serious, and the audience does not understand that the performer is not really advocating, or believing in what they are presenting.

Comedy can also be misused when poorly-done attempts at humor are sometimes passed off as “satire”. There is a big difference between laughing with someone, and laughing at someone. Attacking someone and then saying, “Oh, it’s just a joke; whatsamatter, can’t you take a joke?” is not true humor. This is “humor” derived from a feeling of superiority, using shame and derision. As I said, satire is wit that seeks to improve society, rather than simply demeaning people.  Parody can be a part of satire, but just parody is not necessarily satire.  Parody can easily slide into snide efforts that not only lack sacred cows, but also lack sensibility and purpose.  Just because you can say something doesn’t mean you should.

And that’s where we seem to be with major parts of this Tropic Thunder movie, that seeks to make fun of many foibles of the movie industry and the whole genre of war movies.  Granted, those are certainly rich sources for parody.

But the line gets crossed when Read the rest of this entry »

The Crystal Ball Crack’d

The Kid recently took the ACT test, which like the SAT, is frequently used by colleges to determine scholastic abilities, and in his case helped place him for which college writing class he needed.  He had to ask his sister what the test was like, and her impressions about its difficulty level.  I could not personally provide any opinions, because I had never taken the ACT or SAT.

I never took them because no one thought I would go to college.

They made massive assumptions about my abilities and my future. So here’s what happened, and something to think about. I welcome you to please post comments, and more links to other positive blogs and sites.

My grades in secondary school grew worse over the years, and I had to re-take a semester in one class (English of all things, which in later years proved to be ironic when I became a freelance writer, with hundreds of items in print).

By this time in my life, my parents had divorced.  My dad lived in another state, and was even more of a non-player in my life.  Alas, my mother had spent years futilely trying to make me more “normal”, from requiring me to learn right-handed penmanship, enrolling me in a “charm school” at the local Sears & Roebucks to improve my feminine graces, and so on.  But as the years wore on, my faults (problems) became more and more apparent.  She no longer described me as “very bright”, but was quick to list all my failures and describe them in damning detail, until I was ready to vomit or pass out from the stress (though I never did, even though either would have been a relief).

By 9th grade it was apparent to all that I was not gifted scholastically, and the general consensus was that I was lazy, stupid at math, not trying hard enough, and acting up just to make her life difficult.  When she was drunk, my failures and interests and personality traits would be compared to her ex-husband’s, “you’re just like your father, the bastard”.  Even as much of a socially-clueless 14 year old that I was, I knew that these kinds of comments were untrue and inappropriate, and the problem was with her attitudes and her drinking.  But they still hurt, terribly.

I would not be diagnosed with ADHD, Auditory Processing Disorder, and Prosopagnosia until I was in my 40’s.  Such diagnosis hardly existed in those days; certainly my difficulties were not considered to be due to anything but my own personal failings.

No way, my family and school officials decided, could I be college material.  I could not keep track of my assignments, I still struggled to learn and remember my multiplication facts into 8th grade, and I flunked or barely passed classes.

Given my social difficulties and subsequent lack of dating, and even my utter lack of domestic abilities (mom warned me off taking a sewing class because doing so would “ruin my GPA” – grade point average), I was obviously not highly marriageable. This was the 1970s, and most people still thought along those lines — an astonishing number of girls went to college to “get their MRS”.

The goal then was to get me some kind of minimal trade training, so I would, as she fiercely reminded me many times, not be a burden on the family. It was made plain to me that once I graduated high school, and then later turned 18, I was to be out on my own.  I should not expect financial assistance from her.

So I was enrolled in typing, which was a miserable experience beyond the whole ordinary ordeal of learning to type on manual typewriters.  The room was a cacophony of noise.  The instructor was adamant about constant attention to task, proper posture, and graded with the intent on us producing perfection — as soon as a student produced a typographical error, then the score was made. (Additionally, the students’ pages were  held up to the light against her perfect copies to check centering and spacing). There were many days when I would produce an entire page that was otherwise perfect but for a typo in the second line, and my grade would be an F because I had such a low word-count.  Given my problems with developing manual speed, tracking text (near-point copying), attention, and transposing letters and numbers, I struggled to get a C grade.

But the clerical work that was deemed best for me also required taking bookkeeping.  Not surprisingly, this was also a very difficult class for me.  My aptitudes and interests were not really taken into consideration, because after all, even if writing and science and art were what I liked best, I had not done well in those classes, now had I?  Besides, clerical work was what my mother knew, so like many parents she expected me to follow occupational suit.

Unlike many such students, my story has a relatively happy ending.  I did manage to graduate high school, to everyone’s relief.  A year later, I even enrolled in an evening class at the local community college.  College classes were not easy, partly from my intrinsic difficulties, partly from not having the necessary study skills, and partly from not having a solid academic background.

But the glory of the American system is that such colleges provide opportunities for adults of all ages to acquire the these things, and to gain higher education. I worked hard, and slowly figuring out how I learned, which was not always in the ways that others thought I should study.  Sometimes I had to drop a class and re-try it later on, to finish it successfully. Later on in my 40’s I was to also get some of my issues diagnosed.

I now have a Master’s of Science. I teach college students.  No one would have expected this based upon my previous performance. (Employers who place near-complete trust in Behavioral-Based Interviewing, please note!)  And this point, amongst all the others about the perils of attribution errors, and learning disabilities, and dysfunctional families, this point is crucial:

A child’s future abilities cannot always be predicted,

when based upon their current abilities.

Many parents of children who have developmental disorders worry that their children will never be able to attend school, or finish school, or go on to college, or hold a job, or live on their own, or be loved by a partner, or have a family, or talk, or be potty-trained, or any number of milestones.  Just because the child cannot do the same things that their age peers can do, or are expected to do.

This is one of the biggest points of contention or discussion between the “autism community” (parents of autistic children) and the “autistic community” (children, teens and adults who are autistic, and many of whom are parents as well).  Even beyond the farcical assumptions that either community is monolithic with regards to attitudes and knowledge and politics et cetera, there are inherent issues that need to be mutually addressed.

One of the best resources for the autism communities are the autistic communities.  If parents go around just talking to other parents, especially those other parents who are consumed by the “Terrible Tragedy and Selfless Suffering Families” world-views, they may fall prey to this easy assumption:  If my child can’t do it now, he’ll never be able to do it, and our lives will be ruined.

Sure, not everyone takes it to that extreme.  Sure, there are a few children who do not achieve many of those life-goals.  But those lack of achievements does NOT automatically mean that their lives are ruined, or their families’ lives are ruined. They do NOT automatically mean that people cannot live relatively happy, healthy, and productive lives.

Please do NOT assume that not being able to use speech as a reliable means of communication is the same as not being able to think, or not being able to communicate, or not having anything to communicate.

Please do not assume that because a child does not learn in a traditional manner that they are learning “the wrong way”, or that they cannot learn at all, or that they must be taught “remedial learning lessons”.

Please do know that even when children have problems, and are slower to acquire skills, they are not doomed.

Please do not give up on them.

“Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot.”

~First words (at age 35) of an autistic man [quote source]

I welcome you to please post comments, and more links to other positive blogs and sites. Kindly see the newly-updated “NOTES TO COMMENTERS” box in the top of the left sidebar for important information. Read the rest of this entry »

Cartoon: “Efficiency”

This cartoon is composed of four pages,

each of which bears a caption at the bottom of the page.

What, weighting scores?

Andrea’s Buzzing About: “Efficiency” A female Geek and older female User are seated at a desk, where the Geek is giving the User some instruction in how to use a program. A male Techie stops by the door. Geek to User: "... so you need to set up a user file with the ID 'foo@farble'; save that before moving onto the next step. --Yes?" Techie to Geek: "Here is the report doc." Geek to Techie: "Did the update load?" Techie replies: "Good-for-go with 3.0; included in the backup." Geek replies: "Excellent, thank you." The Techie leaves without further ado. Geek continues to User: "Now, the next step is to set up the database; you can do this with weighted or unweighted scores, the former being used for --" User: "How rude!" Geek: "What, weighting scores?"


Read the rest of this entry »

Mental Menus

(WARNING: This is one of those posts that starts off tangentially. Sometimes that’s the way communication works.)

If you peruse the books in the travel sections of stores and libraries, you can find pocket-size volumes of useful phrases in different languages. While pantomiming works well for some situations*, there are times when having the actual word is best for all concerned. (For example, being able to ask a shopkeeper, “Tampons?”)

* I believe it was travel writer Rick Steves who noted that one does not always need a phrase book — merely pointing at your injured foot and screaming does get the point across just fine.

Sure, there are plenty of little words of politeness that are great to memorise, please, thank-you, excuse me, and the rest. But these little bits do not a conversation make. And anyway, phrase books are always of limited use; anyone who has tried such can explain the inherent problems that result by being about to make statements or ask questions, but not being able to understand the answers, or know what you are to do with the other person’s reply.

And that’s where we sometimes end up when wandering through the awkward territory of small talk. As I have blogged on before (“Small and Medium-size Talk”), the big sorts of talk, those that are the exchange of real information on subjects of mutual interest are generally rather easy — it’s the medium-size talk that is the social dance of chit-chat which is fraught with difficulties.

But there are days when the very-small talk of passing through and exchanging greetings seems to be a strain. Read the rest of this entry »

Talking to Strangers

So, the Kid is easing into classes at the local community college, with plans for taking the fall semester part-time and working. The inevitable What-To-Take? question came up, with the idea being that a couple of classes should be general-education requirements, and the third something personally interesting. Well, I said, you should see what courses are required for an Associate’s Degree. (A 2-year general education diploma, which can transfer to a four-year degree elsewhere).

This is all well and fine, and various categorical listings are perused until realisation set in: some kind of Oral Communications credit is needed, such as Interpersonal Communications or Public Speaking classes. Oh noes!

Why do I have to have a speaking class? complained the Kid.

To be sure, many people dread taking their college Public Speaking class. Psychologists tell us that a dread of speaking to large groups of strangers is common, right up there with a fears of heights, spiders, or thunderstorms. Then again, the average citizen did not have a preliminary diagnosis of Social Phobia.

I remembered the teacher’s comments on the Kid’s earlier oral presentations in school: Need to make eye contact. Remember to speak up. Use gestures, interact with the audience. Those comments had stuck in my mind, as about that time in history I was beginning to put things together and wonder if my own kid didn’t have a bit of Asperger’s. Sure, there was eye contact with family and the couple friends. But the general hanging quietly around the edges of large family gatherings was long ingrained, and by secondary school the strong reticence for striking up conversations with strangers or for joining school or civic clubs, was both inhibiting and inhibited by social interaction.

I also remembered these same types of comments on my own class presentation grade sheets, back when I was in primary and secondary school. I offered up some personal history, I remember taking Public Speaking when I was just a clerk, and I could not imagine when I would ever have to give a talk, much less who I would give it to, or what I would talk about. Of course, I have since given presentations to groups of hundreds, and been doing public speaking for over 15 years. Life has a way of zig-zagging and putting one in unexpected situations, where any previous skills may suddenly be useful.

But teens don’t find such parent comments to be useful; they’re always stories from Long Ago And Far Away, and have no conceivable bearing on the teen’s own future life. Such are the limitations of teen perceptions of both personal histories and of the possibilities of Life in general.

The Kid looked through the rest of the general education requirements, and under the Social Sciences section, came up with an introductory course in Economics. (I had always considered Econ to be within the realm of Maths, but I wasn’t the one making these lists up.) Econ was full of equations and would be easier for the Kid to digest conceptually than all those inscrutable sociological subjects. Okay, I replied, Econ is good; it will transfer anywhere. And for the personal interest course?

The introductory computer game design class, came the answer.

Of course; silly question. What else has the Kid been focused on for years now, but all flavors of card and video and online gaming, including working up the algorithms, character weightings, and testing of a home-made card game.

Then I had a brain-flash, You know, if you’re taking this class, why don’t you see what Associates degree program it goes with? You don’t have to do the whole program — you can try it and see if that’s what you want. But it would make sense to see what the requirements are for the program, so you don’t take stuff that doesn’t work toward it.

This made sense; who wants to take extra classes they don’t need? We noodled around and found the program, and looked over the requirements, noting that this class was one of the prerequisites necessary before even applying for the program, and —

OH! Hey, look! I pointed out to the Kid — There are no oral communication course requirements!

Someone out there realised that geeks are not going to want to take such classes, and found other courses more suitable to their future careers. Oh, happy day! Further examination of the requirements meant dropping and adding various classes, until a workable combination of time slots and still-open sessions was created. We also toured the bookstore to see how bad the damage to the pocketbook would be, and were delighted to find that the three classes would require no more than $100 of books, which is about half of what most courses require. At last, the Kid had enrolled in classes for the fall semester, and even found a career goal to try out.

And a class in Public Speaking is not even required.

Bits and Pieces

I’ll never earn a Good Blogkeeping Seal of Approval* if I don’t get around to mentioning these diverse pieces of news!

I am remiss in mentioning Greg Williams’ wonderful cartooning work; he does a weekly piece called “Blogjam” for the Tampa Tribune (Florida newspaper), where he illustrates people’s stories as described in their blogs. Recently he did one based up my prosopagnosia page, “I’m Strange, You’re A Stranger”.

There are updates on my Hypermobility page for the curious, including handy-dandy medical information links for those who “Need more input!” (An “Ooh, shiny!” for whomever can name that movie reference?)

The latest Circus of the Spineless is up at the Seeds Aside — my antennae are all a-quiver with excitement. Such great reading for wasting time relaxing after a long day’s work, especially if you are also “feeling sluggish” like some of us.

My mum used to tell the tale that as a mere tot I tried to check out (shoplift) a book of dirty limericks. Of course, everyone assumed that I couldn’t read them … those limericks came back to haunt me when Akusai produced the 87th Skeptic’s Circle: Dirty Limericks Edition.

And just for fun, the connection with Asperger’s has been made before, but A. A. Gill does it best of all.

* No, I don’t think there really is a GBSoA — and I certainly wouldn’t apply for a housekeeping seal with the amount of clutter everywhere from these three dozen ongoing projects!

Maths * Chem = Ranting^2

Why are so many math books poorly written? Even many of the physical sciences books seem to have this terrible dichotomy between the text explaining the concepts, and the text explaining the calculations. I suspect it’s partly because one person is writing the conceptual text, and another person is writing the calculations text. I also suspect it is because both are written by people who are naturally good at the subject, just like most maths, chem, and physics teachers are naturally good at the subject.

Well, you do want people teaching who are good at the subject. But as many of us have noticed, being naturally good at something frequently results in people who cannot understand why others aren’t equally good at it. Once in a while those adepts become snobbish, because obviously the rest of the world just isn’t smart enough to get the stuff like they are. Many of the others simply have little patience with students who “must be stupid because they can’t figure out easy things” and can’t understand the material from having the previous explanation repeated again.

Duh! If it didn’t make sense the first time around, why would repeating the same explanation make any more sense the second or third time around? What we really need is Read the rest of this entry »

You Don’t Say

“How can you not tell me when you are flunking English?!”
“Can’t you ever do anything right?”
“Do you really want to fail 8th-grade math and take it over again?!”

There is no answer that is going to be acceptable to anyone. I mean, would you go up to your parents and say, “I really want to fail beginning algebra so I can sit through units on order of operations and inequalities all over again”?

Of course not! What makes these so hard to answer is that they really aren’t questions at all. They’re accusations: You are flunking a class and didn’t care to tell me about it. (Given that my mom was angry and yelling and all but shaking me in an arm-bruising grip, it’s not surprising that I did not care to divulge the news.)

Because these are not questions, they are not really spoken to elicit answers. Woe to the literal-minded aspie child who tries to make up for the transgressions by actually attempting to answer, “I’m trying—”

“You certainly are! You’re a very trying child.”

What is being demanded is a promise that somehow everything will be made better. You wish that were so, too, and feel even more powerless to change the situation. Beyond feeling inadequate to the task at hand, you also know that attempts to communicate problems will also be met with anger, hostility, contradictory messages, and impossible demands. No matter what you do, you won’t be able to succeed.

How do you answer questions like that?

The answer is that you can’t. These are Read the rest of this entry »

Erudition / Inteligibility Check

I have a question for you all! Shall we take a vote?

So. The other day I came across the following widget on someone’s blog and found it intriguing; you can get your blog rated for its reading level! I plugged my general blog URL in, and got this, which I then posted on my blogroll:

blog readability test

That was well and fine, until Sunday, when I thought to myself, “Gee Self, I sure use a lot of polysyllabic words, and more obscure and technical words, too. That’s pretty erudite for the average high-school reading level.”

So then I typed URLs for specific posts, and got several different stories! My post for Blogging Against Disablism Day (“BADD But Not Rude”) earned a higher level: Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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