Saturday, December 24, 2011

Watch this space

I expect that this link will have changed by boxing day into something other than a picture of a boozy beggar enjoying a pint of German beer in the middle of Brum.


http://larry-arnold.net/Scenery/wales.htm


Thursday, December 01, 2011

The world does not know what it is missing

It is with a shared sadness that I repeat this email that was distributed to the disability studies list by Colin Barnes (professor of Disability Studies at Leeds University) today.
"Dear All

It is with great sadness that I have to report the death of Vic Finkelstein, arguably the most important figure in the history of the ongoing struggle for meaningful equality for disabled people both in Britain and the rest of the world.

As a disabled activist and writer since the 1960s in South Africa and Britain, Vic’s   contribution to our understanding of the oppression of disabled people is unprecedented. In many respects we are all living in Vic’s shadow..

Vic was admitted to Stoke Mandeville hospital on Monday with pneumonia and died peacefully yesterday evening with his immediate family around him (30/11/2011).

On behalf of everyone here at CDS (Centre for Disability Studies) at Leeds may we express our deepest condolences to his daughters Anna and Rebecca. "
There is nothing on Google news about this, indeed the passing of the truly great goes without the faux celebration that the nonentities of this world are showered with. The titled and the rich get their sycophantic obituary pages in the broadsheets. People you have never heard of get knighthoods and silly awards simply because they did the job they were paid to do and were lucky enough to do it in a world of privilege we can only watch and throw up at. Vic did more, he is truly the inspiration for a movement.

We who are aware of Vic's legacy will not forget and we will continue to change the world in order to bring justice to all the "dis enabled."

Friday, November 18, 2011

In 1649, To St. George's Hill....

I thought it was about time I commented on contemporary events and the crisis in capitalism, but as usual I will chose to do so from a historical perspective. Leon Rosselson wrote the song and I am sure given his political persuasions he will not mind me posting the lyrics, and Billy Bragg (amongst others sang it)



The video I include is from Kevin Brownlows film about Winstanley and the Diggers, who inspired the song I reproduce below. The times maybe different but the spirit is the same. The action may no longer be taking place in green fields but in paved squares and busy streets of London and New York, but the response of the authorities is the same. Shame on them today as it was shame on them yesterday!
"In 1649
To St. George's Hill,
A ragged band they called the Diggers
Came to show the people's will
They defied the landlords
They defied the laws
They were the dispossessed reclaiming what was theirs
We come in peace they said
To dig and sow
We come to work the lands in common
And to make the waste ground grow
This earth divided
We will make whole
So it will be
A common treasury for all

The sin of property
We do disdain
No man has any right to buy and sell
The earth for private gain
By theft and murder
They took the land
Mow everywhere the walls
Spring up at their command

They make the laws
To chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven
Or they damn us into hell
We will not worship
The God they serve
The God of greed who feed the rich
While poor folk starve

We work we eat together
We need no swords
We will not bow to the masters
Or pay rent to the lords
Still we are free
Though we are poor
You Diggers all stand up for glory
Stand up now

From the men of property
The orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers
To wipe out the Diggers claim
Tear down their cottages
Destroy their corn
They were dispersed
But still the vision lingers on

You poor take courage
You rich take care
This earth was made a common treasury
For everyone to share
All things in common
All people one
We come in peace
The orders came to cut them down"

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Interconnections

Never mind the internet, never mind the "modern" or if you prefer "post modern" world. We all have connections.

Last night while searching for something else I came across Nasa Begum's dissertation. "the burden of care"

The reason why I have a copy is because Nasa was a courteous and responsible researcher and made sure that those interviewees who contributed to her study had a copy. One of them was my mum, and so in turn I inherited that with her papers.

It is sad in many ways, not only that she did not even live as long as my mum did, but for me to be confronted by what was in that research. I had never bothered to read it before, but last night I did. For all the conventional anonymisation I knew which interviewee was my mum, and what is worse I knew she was talking about me. It's one of these times when I count autism as a blessing, and I think there is even a hint at my autism in there, for whilst she describes things that were difficult and embarrasing for her as a recipient of care she says that I would not "bat an eyelid"

Indeed I wouldn't but I have some retrospective emotions to see how much it bothered her to have to receive the kind of personal care that she needed. She was not born a "disabled person" and that's the difference between us, a difference she once pointed out to me. I can accept so much more because I learned so much from her. Then again it's what they call a "two way street" I think quite possibly that I taught my mum a few things about the acceptance of "difference" anyway.

However to get back a blog or two, the one thing where my mum and I are perhaps closest is that never mind all that serious stuff in Nasa's study we laughed together. Pain is such a strange phenomenon that I don't know whether I have more, the same, or less than she did now. She was not a neuroscientist nor a philosopher and I have pretensions to both so that gives me even more to laugh about I suppose. One thing is very clear from my reading and it was painful in the psychological sense. That is the reading in Nasa's study of  psycho-social element of disability. My mum learned in a harder way than I did because I have benefited from her learning.

Before I leave the topic entirely I'm going to generalise a bit, no doubt i'll get four years in jail if I caught doing this, but I have to say this, and turning the subject towards the conventional narratives of autism from a parental perspective, you will often read the "pain" of the mother because the child supposedly "cannot" or does not say "I love you mummy"

Damn it all, I may never have said those words, but did I never demonstrate it?!!!!!!

 The "burden of care" was difficult for us both because it oscillated in different directions, towards the end of her life she understood more, those complications. I did what I did because it was necessary and would for all the world that others would do so and cut the social crap and embarrassment over it.




Harvard Referencing

I do not doubt that I have had a grumble about the necessity for this in the past, however I was recently reminded of a time when it would have been useful.

I was responding to a post in a research list and referencing my memory of an article I had referered to in a report which in turn had referred to a study, all this back in 1987 before google and the internet mind you.

Now that is vague if you want to find the original. My first fault, though I cited the publication back in my 87 report, was that I did not give the issue number nor the date, which means that you would have to search perhaps a year prior to the date of my report in order to get it. Of course it was an in house journal, and whilst I certainly did have copies of it back then, I have long since consigned them to the trash bin to make room for more journals. (I do not live in a library though it sometimes looks like it)

Next problem, whilst the journal referred to a study, did that give a proper citation in turn? Much googling has failed to turn up the original study, but suffice it to say it was undertaken in Los Angeles, sometime before 1987 and it was an investigation of the measures that the transit authority had put in force to ensure that drivers of the adapted buses did not make excuses to leave wheelchair using passengers stranded (lift not working etc.) There was a fair amount of activity in the States regarding accessible transport back then, and it showed the way for us in the UK.

That study is out there somewhere, my memory will not be faulty on that subject. Failing a copy of the journal which cited the study, I could hunt it down in a library if I really needed (I probably will)

But all that would be unnecessary if I had adopted the academic rigour that is forced upon me nowadays. Perhaps I have protested too much.

It's an anecdote that is not irrelevant to world of peer reviewed journals, science and the citations game, because the further back you go, the less rigour there is, it's not just me. What I wrote was adequate at the time for the joint local authority/health group who commissioned the report, it passed muster for the Department of Transport hearing where my mum presented it, and the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive committee where I subsequently presented it.

The "facts" are that a lot of poorly referenced material has entered the mainstream through such means and anecdotal evidence has been incorporated into later fact without data checking. Not everyone who has referenced something in a paper that has then gone on to be cited again and again has had as reliable a memory for facts as I do and of course I could cite an example of that. I already have elsewhere :)

Oh well, I'm off to Autscape again, and I will be presenting there. It's not so much of a paper, and certainly not academic, as a number of supporting arguments for a general discussion. I will no doubt be making all manner of ad hoc references. They will all be there somewhere to google I expect as I'm not breaking new territory.

Some of the people who have written on the subject before me, have hardly been original either, they can't cite accurately because to do so would expose plagiarism, that is the way our utterances, in the blogosphere, in advocacy mailing lists and I dare say even in off the record private conversations, have been claimed, by the sociologists and historians who have been carefully colonising our autistic world.

I don't even know exactly what I am going to say, I only have a rough map, and I certainly don't know what the responses will be. Exciting isn't it..




Thursday, August 11, 2011

Disability Assessments and stuff

Yes I can hear the sirens howling even now that I am one of the intellectual elite studying at a fancy University and I ought not to grumble, but when did that ever stop me. Yes I know my blogs get more esoteric by the bushel (whatever that is?) but heaven forbid I should write anything about "les evenements" and be thought of as a would be looter if I could just get it together to start a "riot" in this rather forgotten neck of the woods where there isn't much left to burn down anyway since the pub went up in flames ages back.

Anyway my sermon for today is taken from Student Finance England. 

Earlier this year, that august body assumed responsibility from the Local Authority for my Disabled Students Allowance.  It's been a bureaucratic nightmare ever since, what with lost papers to begin with, then lost identity numbers and finally not coughing up for the goodies in terms of paying for support that I had arranged and finding excuses not to pay for whatever post grad development course they considered I did not need to go on to the extent that I had to find alternative funding to do the most recent one (I picked up the certificate for completion of that one just today).

So it was decided that the best strategy for me, since things had changed so much since I started Uni (briefly) as an undergrad for what was at the time a rather different kind of course to the PhD I am pursuing now, was to go for a completely fresh assessment, which I had rather late in the summer for convenience, but what the heck.

I thought that would be an easy enough process and it would become much clearer as to what I needed but was it? I have to confess I wasn't any happier with that assessment than the one I had back in 2006 when I was still at Hereward College in rather different circumstances. It still seemed to be rather menu driven and concentrating on equipment and software rather than human support and the additional transport costs I have been struggling with.

Anyway with the aid of my key support worker at Uni (paid for out of the allowance) I was able to amend the initial report and yesterday I got a letter from Student Finance England to say that they had agreed everything ...  but I should be aware that the total amount allowed to post graduates was lest than the full cost of my agreed support. uh-oh :(

Never mind that had I looked more closely at the letter I would have seen that it referred to the academic year 2010/2011. It just so happens as I reported in my last blog that I have registered for the new year starting in October (although the first instalment of my fees has gone from my bank account already) which is the year 2011/2012. So I am mystified now, was that letter referring to what was left over from the budget for last year or what?

Adding to the complications, I had a letter from them today to tell me that I had not even applied for funding for 2011/2012 as they had rejected my form, being as it was the wrong one. Well to begin with I was referred to the website. (which I had trouble logging onto, technical blunders) for a form on line, but the only one I could find was for full time students only. So I asked them (via the interminable phone menu system) twice to mail me out the proper from. The first time they did not respond, the second they sent me the paper version of that same wrong form. Perplexed as to what to do next I sought advice from my key worker, before she went away on holiday and she was able to email me another different form. That was the one they rejected, as it is apparently only for students who are also eligible for a student loan, which I am not. So eventually I got the correct form this morning, which the person on the phone assured me did not need countersigning by anyone else. Wrong again, on checking it, it needed verification from the Uni as to what kind of course I am on. Fortunately I was going into Uni today anyway, so I was able to get that and my car park permit renewed at the same time.

It looks like I'll never see the end of this. It won't be the first time I have spent more time pursuing finances than actual research. I failed to get a competitive scholarship that would have covered my fees for this year, earlier on this summer despite having a very strong case, there is always someone with a stronger one.

And when this is all finally authorised, I am going to have to sort out a lot of paperwork to actually claim particular expenses for which I will have to furnish more proof than any MP ever has done to verify a mortgage on a second home, crooks the lot of them!


And now for something completely different.

This is going to be a long blog isn't it I've not even come to the trial PIP (Personal Independance Payment) assessment that I voluntarily underwent yesterday.

I could say a great deal about this insidious benefit which seems to me to be a ruse to do away with life time awards that could not otherwise be overturned by replacing one form of benefit with another which is purposefully much harder to get.

It won't effect me in reality until after 2013, and probably given administrative delays and legislative drag after 2014 in my estimation, so I hope the assessment will have changed by then. I really cannot say it takes account of autistic needs outside the home very well at all, never mind inside the home as it is oriented mostly towards physical capacity and only if you are too far gone with Alzheimers to know the day of the week. (although when signing the form I had to check both the month and the year eeek!) will you get it on mental incapacity grounds methinks. Trouble is I anticipated that I would be asked to subtract from a hundred in sevens, and told the assessor that was the next question that would be asked. I was correct, I then said it is simple you take away ten and add three and keep going, I may not know what the date is but I am not that daft.

As far as physical incapacity goes, well you might say I am lucky I have a few of those to throw into the equation. (lucky to have physical difficulties, that's my black humour and I did not spare the assessor any of it either) Well it's not much advantage even if the questions are slanted that way as the trick is if you can do whatever task, be that opening a packet, a jar, getting into the bath, with the aid of equipment then you are capable, never mind how you fund that equipment in the first place. Unfortunately I have bath rails, and use tools to open things, equipment left over from when my mum died that I had kept against the day I might need it myself. So despite the fact that I had an unequivocal letter from the Dr (left over from my DSA assesment) detailing certain physical impairments it will probably be score zero.

Other parts were more difficult for other reasons. Answering honestly was difficult when it came to talking about suicide and self harm, because the assessor, although she said that all the information was confidential and would be destroyed after the researchers collate it, she still had a duty of care to ensure that I came to no harm, that made it a little difficult to talk about the plans for suicide and self harm I have made, but in such a way as to put off either event from the immediate, as a coping strategy in fact even if a little bizarre to some folks way of thinking. She even talked about help available from the NHS to deal with my anxieties, but I had to tell her the truth there, if you are autistic it does not apply, you wait months to see a psychologist who then tells you that they cannot offer anything and then stands well back while you rage! I am too well acquainted with the realities, never mind the theory.

Other than that I think it was still important that I did volunteer even if it gives me little hope for myself as to where and how I will be able to get support when I am told by SFE that I need more than they can pay for!!! I think it was a good thing for me to do because afterward I was able to point out some of those things that are difficulties for autistic people in terms of communication and negotiating social networks that non autistic people take for granted. The fact that I have been non verbal under stress and close to being totally unable to understand language written or spoken, even that won't count for anything because it does not happen all the time, nor the fact that I have been so anxious time and again that I have taken myself to hospital emergency.

Well perhaps I won't be able to contain the desire to self harm much longer, because before the next year is out, I will face yet another assessment one I am also bound to fail because I am alive and can still breathe. Yes that is the dreaded ATOS one we all must face unless by some miracle the Government collapses first and takes the remainder of the Civil Service with it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cat Watching

As I walked back from the local shops this evening a cat strayed across my path. I watched the cat watching me. Cats are naturally set up to notice the smallest deviations in their environment and to see that as either a potential danger or a source of opportunity. I have never known a cat to miss a source of opportunity.

And so it is today that after some little local difficulty over fee levels I have registered again at the University. Two years left now and time to think about the end game.

It gets tougher as time goes by, not because of the diminishing time to complete my work, there is no objective reason why I should not be capable of it. No what worries is what former Tory Prime Minister Harold MacMillan called "Events"

For sure some of those "Events" are coming home to roost upon our current Tory Prime Minister and his end game may be closer than he would like, but it is the financial rigour of his party and their allies vendetta against "the poor and disabled" who have been scapegoated in the Murdoch press for the sins of Murdoch and Cameron's class allies, that will do for me in the end I fear.

Personally I would like to line them all up against a wall and have them shot, though whether that is more economical than hanging them from lampposts I don't know. Forasmuch as I would like to do that to them I am sure they would equally like to send me to a penal colony picking peanuts to feed to the other monkeys like me.  I still think they have a better chance of achieving the latter than succumbing to the former, worst luck.

So it is that the greatest threat to the completion of my degree is financial, and then after that what? If I get that far I will be 58 and that is rather an advanced age to be considering a career change. It was at that age my dad made his final career change from this world to the next, and my mum did not live that much longer after either.

One thing is fairly certain, I cannot expect this government or the next to provide for my old age, not being entitled to anything more than a derisory state pension which would be less than I have to live on now.

Realistically speaking, just as there was someone else who had superior "qualifications" to succeed to the chair of the NAS, there will be a plethora of younger, more agile and "able" people to fill any academic posts that may be available locally, notwithstanding the future for academia is itself uncertain, given the potential fallout from the disastrous fees rise starting this year, I'd have as much chance of going the Grayling route and setting up a University of my own as of getting any secure teaching position.

Likewise the paper chase after a post doctoral fellowship or research post may be unachievable in terms of having to uproot myself from Coventry and chase after something even more distant than Birmingham. Too much shuttling between Birmingham and London has been both economically and physically crippling on me already, I don't have the wherewithal and I don't have the stamina any more.

It leaves the third option, which is to set myself up as an autism/disability consultant, and I have been spending an intense 6 weeks recently on a course designed specifically for that. I have no illusions how difficult that will be either, it is not as if I have never been self employed before to know the challenges, and without the capital behind me this time that I had from my mum's legacy.

I suppose then it would really suit me to go out into that great goodnight at the same age as my dad then, having achieved as much as I was able, and facing nothing but poverty and mental and physical decline if I go on.

Who knows? Only God, but this train is travelling on to whatever destination the rails confine it to.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Chiasmus

I am oft reminded of a phrase spoken by the fool in twelfth night:
"Wit, an't be thy will, put me into good fooling!     
Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft       
prove fools; and I, that am sure I lack thee, may        
pass for a wise man: for what says Quinapalus? 
Better a witty fool than a foolish wit"
That might be taken as a general truism that wisdom is found in unexpected places, and not necessarily in the sayings of the experts.

One can also play the academic game and try to discover the source of Feste's appeal to the authority "Quinapulus", what in rhetoric is termed an appeal to authority or "argumentum ad verecundiam" if you want to be all pompous and latin, which brings me to that erstwhile Elizabethan authority Francis Bacon,

Now I am not going to argue from any authority that Bacon wrote Shakespeare, indeed I feel that in Feste's occasional resort to cod latin and faux authorities, Shakespeare is sending up Bacon's essay's in some reconnaissance word play totally obscure to the current mind.

Anyway I cite Bacon rather than Quinapulus, because Bacon is often taken to be one of progenitors of the modern "scientific method". Indeed the following quotation has been paraphrased by many since including John Henry Newman because of it's self evidence in the latter day perspective.
"Another error that hath some connection with this latter is, that men have used to infect their meditations, opinions, and doctrines with some conceits which they have most admired, or some sciences which they have most applied, and given all things else a tincture according to them, utterly untrue and improper. So hath Plato intermingled his philosophy with theology, and Aristotle with logic; and the second school of Plato, Proclus and the rest, with the mathematics; for these were the arts which had a kind of primogeniture with them severally. So have the alchemists made a philosophy out of a few experiments of the furnace; and Gilbertus our countryman hath made a philosophy out of the observations of a loadstone. So Cicero, when reciting the several opinions of the nature of the soul, he found a musician that held the soul was but a harmony, saith pleasantly, Hic ab arte sua non recessit, &c.

But of these conceits Aristotle speaketh seriously and wisely when he saith, Qui respiciunt ad pauca de facili pronunciant. "
In sum what he is basically saying is that some pundits tend to emphasise there opinions by appeal to whatever authorities are their particular favourites, which is something you can see in the writings of many "experts" on autism. It's another way of saying nobody is unbiased, or as I like to say, if I want to know something of the validity of a paper, I want to know what is on the authors bookshelf.

The joke of course is that Bacon is playing the same game himself with the obscure Latin, for as Quinapulus might well have said "Quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur" (whatever is said in Latin sounds lofty)

Maybe the Latin was not so obscure to the average Elizabethan schoolboy (Shining morning face, small Latin and less Greek, whatever) and in fact a little research will indicate the source and meaning of the quotations without much foreknowledge of Latin

The first being a truncated version of "He adhered steadily to his system and yet he said something, the nature of which, whatever it was, had been detailed and explained a great while before by Plato"

And the second "He that takes a narrow view, easily makes up his mind"

Of course anyone who cares to look up what Chiasmus means, will see the joke is on me here, for what am I doing in this post but infecting my meditations, opinions, and doctrines with some conceits I have most admired, mine being literary rather than scientific?

The moral to this tale, for there has to be a moral, is that playing the citation game is not enough, the enemies of "science" can play it well enough by appeal to the authority of their fellow pseudo scientists. We have seen this with the mercurian persuasion, The discredited Geir's and Wakefields who tend to review and publish each others papers in a distorted mirror of the "established" academic press.

On the other hand we see it all too often amongst the establishment, particular amongst those insecure academics who seem afraid to hold an opinion of there own and have to wrap everything up with a citation from previous literature. Alas the joke is on them too, for often those citations are no more valid than the customary appeals to the classics in Bacon's time.

When I cite, I like to do so from as wide a number of sources as possible, not the tired favourites, for that way if any cares to follow them up they will be sure to be extending their knowledge outside of their narrow field.  

"But of these conceits Aristotle speaketh seriously and wisely when he saith, Qui respiciunt ad pauca de facili pronunciant" :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

An opportunity not to be missed.


Chair





The National Autistic Society (NAS) was founded almost 50 years ago by a group of parents who were passionate about ensuring a better future for their children. Today, with a turnover of nearly £90 million and over 3000 staff, the Society has 20,000 members, more than 100 branches, and provides information, advice and specialist services to 100,000 people living with autism every year.

NAS’s vision is that everyone living with autism will: get the support, education and training they need; live with dignity and as independently as possible; be a part of their community and wider society; be understood by all professionals who support them and be respected for who they are by a knowledgeable public.

The current Chair is due to step down this year and NAS is now actively seeking a successor to lead the Society’s agenda. The role is unremunerated and travelling expenses will be reimbursed.

For further information and details of how to apply, please visit www.odgers.com/34634.

Closing date for applications is 13th May 2010.

The Role:
  •  Take the chair at meetings of the Board; attend
    meetings of Council; and attend meetings of Board
    sub-committees and of other stakeholder groups as
    required.
  •  Ensure that the charity plans strategically and that
    management effort is effectively directed within a
    framework of clearly stated strategies and key tasks.
  • Act as a key spokesman for and ambassador of the
    charity.
The Candidate: 
  • Board level experience in a large/complex/changing
    environment.
  • Proven leadership, organisational, and management
    skills including fairness, impartiality and openness to
    new ideas.
  • Understanding of and passion for the issues
    confronting people with autism and their families
    and carers, and the impact of those issues on them.
11 Hanover Square,
London W1S 1JJ
0845 1309005
www.odgersberndtson.co.uk
Executive Search
51 offices in 24 countries

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

African Dictators and all that

Little did I know that shortly after I had posted my little recollection of times past with former African heads of State that a new scandal was about to break loose.

Had I lived a little later and gone to the LSE instead of Warwick I might have rubbed shoulders with the scion of the Gadaffi family instead of General Gowon.

Well whatever I don't know what is more scandalous, that unlike the likes of me, he did not have to work hard for his doctorate, or the fact that there are academics up to their necks in it, caught with their pants down who just don't know how to do the decent thing and admit they were corrupted by the money and scared of the Gadaffi regimes propensity to employ roving assassins armed by courtesy of the diplomatic bag.

No the real shame is not that there are academics who are quite prepared to justify this current scandal but that there remain those who justify the even more bizarre convention of the honorary doctorate awarded to wannabe's and celebs who don't even have to employ a second rate ghost writing hack to earn their honorific.

Well Mr Vice Chancellor of Birmingham, you know I do not approve of your proposal to raise undergraduate fees to the max. (because I replied to your general email on the Browne report to say so) I'll bet you didn't know this, I was on the point of applying for your current job when it fell vacant, went so far as acquiring the forms and all.

I regret I did not go through with it now as I had not enough confidence to realise that it's not all foreign travel and dinner parties with the rich and influential, it is integrity that counts. Straight forward academic integrity, and that cannot be bought, for a £9000 annual fee, a VC's salary or some wealthy foreign potentates endowment.

When (if) I graduate with the coveted 666 mark of the shiny aspie, I will have earned it. Never mind the extent to which it will have been devalued by all the base currency of honorary doctorates and the degree mill antics of Universities who ought to have known better.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

A little interlude from my interesting past

I was thinking today about all this turmoil in Egypt and what I expect will be the imminent departure of Hosni Mubarak, but does anyone wonder what ever becomes of such past bĂȘtes noir when they have been ousted?

I am going back now to an incident in my history when I was a student at Warwick University. It was considered in terms of the student body to be a rebellious and a revolutionary body, there was the famous occupation of 1969, and the occupation of 1975, still recorded as the longest in student history and I was part of that and so was Brian Deer. (Yes that one)

Well Brian Deer and his ignominious later career excepted I am taken back in my memory to a Christmas party in  75 I think. Earlier in the day I had been on a field trip organised by Lincoln Allison (now retired I believe) which included a little tour around those parts of Warwickshire I was well familiar with but my fellow politics students not being natives were not. Anyway forgetting the Dassets spattered with snow, and the journey back in a rickety car with a failing alternator (what is new there) I can recall ending up in one of those Victorian Villas in Leamington, inhabited by my personal tutor Prof. Malcolm Anderson. That was a curious situation because everybody was there, and it was there I met with General Yakubu (Jack) Gowon. This was indeed an odd situation because the student's union had vehemently protested against his presence at the University, yet this was a politics department party, and everybody was there, lefties included, protesters and all. (yeah me too)

How does a twenty year old rebel react to being face to face with a bogey such as Jack Gowon? Well it I don't know, I am glad I have never met George Dubya or Tony Blair because they might scare me.

There is much said about the banality of Evil and I can well ask is my MP a guy I know quite familiarly as  Bob Ainsworth any more evil than Jack Gowon? Who has brought about the greatest body count? We just don't know do we? Bomber Harris of WW2 fame maybe, and where does that morality leave us?

For that matter before we heap on the guilt consider, you and I will never know our own body count when the final judgement comes. Should I never have eaten Cadbury's chocolate, and ought I not to  bank with Barclay's you might guess the score....

I guess Jack Gowon was civil and a gentleman, how could I hate him? I cannot imagine what our encounter might have been in  circumstances other than those in which we met. Never mind that you cannot imagine in those days can you? I was dressed for a "civilised" party and I  was wearing my combat fatigues, very Fidel Castro. I can recall Jack helping me on with my coat at the end of the party. He picked up my jacket and found it heavy and he said to me "what have you got in your pockets gold bars?"  It makes you wonder doesn't it?

Apart from that I did have a keen political debate with him, he was at the time a Freshman and I was in my second year. That was an amazing debate that I recall, me a working class nobody talking to this guy who had headed a nation and been involved in a controversial war, and I lectured him about politics, and he listened and said that he had a lot to learn. In retrospect I didn't know a lot at all but there I was in conversation with an international pariah of the time and I was introducing him to new concepts he was not aware of as a de facto head of state. I mean what does that feel like, I was heavily into Hobbes at that time, very relevant.

Hey Jack where are you now? It is easy to write him off as a monster, but when I met him he was a human as anybody else, there was no aura of evil, if anything there was an aura of naievity. I cannot make a judgement and say he was/is any more evil than Tony Blair, or Colonel Gadaffi or Larry Arnold.

And where is he now? Well believe it or not he has been and is in the latter days involved in what would generally be considered humanitarian causes, so we might consider nobody is beyond redemption, hey even me.

I do not think by any means Jack Gowon was the most evil person I ever met, he may have been involved in decisions and acts that killed thousands, but your next door neighbour may be filled with a hate that given the opportunity would do as bad, is there really any moral difference?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Owning Autism

I guess the fact that my Supervisor and I have just submitted an abstract for a poster at the 2011 IMFAR is enough to put the wind up some, but having got that out of the way I shall now be working up a proposal for something much closer to home. I enclose the call for proposals below. Out of respect for Autscape I am not accepting any comments on this.

AUTSCAPE 2011: OWNING AUTISM

Monday 22 August to Thursday 25 August 2011  West Yorkshire

C A L L   F O R   P R O P O S A L S

Deadline for submissions: 18 February 2011 Submission form: http://www.autscape.org/proposals/proposalform

Please distribute widely.

____ Contents ___________________________________

1.                What is Autscape?
2.                What we are looking for 
3.                Theme 
4.                Audience 
5.                Examples 
6.                Non-verbal workshops 
7.                A few notes of caution 
8.                What do we expect from you?
9.                What can you expect from us?
10.            How to submit your proposal

____ What is Autscape? ____________________________

Autscape is a conference run by and for autistic people. Non-autistic people are also welcome, but the environment and content of the event are centred around autistic people's needs, interests and sensitivities.
Lectures are about autism. Workshops and leisure activities do not need to be specifically about autism, but do need to be suitable for autistic people. 

____ What we are looking for ______________________

We are now accepting proposals for lectures and workshops to be presented at Autscape 2011.

PLEASE SUBMIT YOUR PROPOSAL BY FEBRUARY 18th 2011

Suggestions and proposals for informal activities will be called for in the near future. These may include leisure sessions and discussion groups.

____ Theme ___________________________________

The theme for this year's Autscape is Owning Autism.

Autism Spectrum Conditions (including Aspergers Syndrome) can be
officially diagnosed by clinicians. They are examined, thought about, and commented on by academic researchers, journalists and parents. These people contribute to defining what autism means in society. However, autism is experienced from the inside by autistic people.

We want to examine who currently "owns" autism and how ownership is
expressed. We invite consideration of the ways autistic people own our
condition.


Presentations which seek to develop this theme will be given priority however any suitable topics will be given consideration.

We wish to explore a broad range of perspectives on being autistic in many different ways. This can be through formal presentations or workshops, and may be theoretical or practical. Many different types of input are welcome: traditional lectures, creative expression,  physical activity, interactive workshops and more.

____ Audience _____________________________________

Although we welcome non-autistic professionals and family members, this event is primarily for autistic people, not about us! Workshops geared towards parents and professionals may be accepted, but must be positive in their support for autistic people and our right to be different.

____ Examples ______________________________________

For some examples of what has been presented at Autscape in the past, see last year's presentations at: http://www.autscape.org/archive/2010/

We are also likely to enjoy similar workshops to those that have been  presented at Autreat, in the USA. See: http://www.ani.ac/

____ Non-verbal workshops ___________________________

Although many of the autistic people who are attracted to an event such as Autscape are highly verbal, others may have difficulty with an event centred around language. We want to welcome and fully include all kinds of autistic people, including less 'wordy' ones. Therefore we are also seeking workshops which are not primarily focused on the spoken word. (Presenters may still use speech; it is just not the main content of this type of workshop). Examples: dance, relaxation, music, art, construction of some kind. These workshops are different from casual leisure sessions in that they have more structure, preparation (from the presenter), relevance to autism and  the event's theme, and duration.

____ A note of caution ________________________________

Cures: Workshops about curing or preventing autism are likely not to go over well at all and are best avoided altogether, unless it is from an advocacy standpoint.
Personal Experience: We all have personal experience of autism. If your presentation is primarily based on your personal experience, think carefully how it can help attendees to find new understanding of their own situation. Please let us know what you're hoping those present will gain from your presentation.

Suitability: Every workshop, no matter who it is targeted towards, should be suitable for autistic people to attend without feeling objectified or put down.

____ What do we expect from you? __________________

* Reliability: You need to be able to assure us that except for unforeseen circumstances you will be there to present as agreed.

* Presentation materials:  Please send copies of any handouts and computer presentations (e.g. powerpoint) by the date requested (to be confirmed, approx 2 weeks before Autscape). These will be made available for download and printing by Autscape participants. In addition we can printed a limited number of pages for handouts.

* Your details and presentation summary:  We would like to include your presentation summary, biography and any electronic handouts you provided in our website's archive area.

* Permission to record: Please allow us to video or otherwise record your presentation. These records may be made available to others by Autscape. Some participants may also audio record presentations for their own use. If you submit a proposal we will assume you are happy with these expectations. If you have any questions or objections, please let us know so we can discuss it.

* Presenters are encouraged to run a discussion group on their topic later in the day, for those who would like to explore the issue further. If you may have problems with this we will try and find a volunteer to help.

____ What can you expect from us? ___________________

* For Presentations: You will receive a day’s attendance at Autscape free of charge. Presenters will be accommodated on-site for the day of their presentation including the night before or after. Only one such place can be offered for each presentation, regardless of the number of presenters. Unfortunately, due to the funding situation we cannot offer free attendance at all of Autscape this year. Whenever you are not presenting you can enjoy the event, including other workshops and the setting, just as any other participant.

(Please note, this does not apply to informal activities such as leisure sessions however for these we will pay reasonable expenses for materials required)

* Involvement:  One thing you can expect by joining us is the opportunity to shape an emerging self-advocacy event and autistic community. There will be opportunities at the event to get involved in the future of Autscape.

* Audience: A rare opportunity to be heard by a significant number of autistic people. A chance to have some influence and get some feedback from the people who matter most in the field of autism.

* Respect and consideration. We will let you know as soon as possible if your proposal has been accepted and will try our best to accommodate you at a time that suits you.

____ How to submit your proposal ___________________

 To submit your proposal, please use one of the following:


Please include the following information:

ABOUT YOU
Name
Country
At least one way to contact you of:
- Email address (preferred)
- Phone number
- Postal address
Experience (a summary of your relevant experience, including presentations/education/advocacy, and the nature of your interest in autism and/or in general disability issues)

INFORMATION FOR THE PROGRAMME
Your name or alias (for public use)
Biography (50-100 words)
Presentation title (1-12 words)
Summary (50-150 words)

ABOUT YOUR PRESENTATION
Type of session (choose one):
-        Lecture (audience mostly listens)
-        Workshop (audience participates verbally)
-        Hands-On (audience participates physically)
-        Other (please describe)

How does your presentation relate to this year’s theme “Owning Autism”?

Please describe your presentation or activity for the decision makers.

OTHER COMMENTS NOT ADDRESSED ABOVE

All proposals must be received by 18th February.

What happens next

The committee will decide which presentations to accept for autscape and will inform everybody who has made a proposal of their decision by 23 March



Friday, January 07, 2011

A beautiful Mind

No the author is not talking about himself here he is talking about the movie.

I have recently been re-watching the movie, and a few things have struck me about it. I don't intend to do the obvious here, play Lili Marlene's game and attempt to slap a dx of my own on the guy, but there are parts of the Russel Crowe's interpretation of the part that reminded me of myself at Uni as a loner not knowing how to engage people, and fearing that nobody liked him. Well to be honest I have not changed a lot there..

However John Nash  himself is not a part played by a famous movie actor, he is a real person and in person quite different. To some peoples chagrin he might well make a good recruit to so called Neurodiversity's "cabal" given his real views on mental illness, which are somewhat different from the movie portrayal and from which I quote here:
“When there are large populations and behavior of a complex structure, it observably turns out that the individuals of a species can have quite varied forms of behavior and that they may serve the interests of a nest or family or tribe in quite varied fashions,”  
and ...

“It is conceivable that the susceptibility of humans to depression or to bipolar disorder may correlate positively specifically with the composition of poetry,” 
And there's more ...
 “One thing about diversity in natural species that is well understood by evolutionary biologists is that the natural phenomenon of mutations serves to prepare a species for adaptation to changing conditions or for improved adaptation to an existing level of environmental circumstances,” 
 leading to: -
 “So a possible, but perhaps questionable, inference is that humans are notably subject to mental illness because there was a need for diversity in the patterns of human mental functions,”
Ok so I have cherry picked here, the full article can be found elsewhere: -

Nash Suggests Schizophrenia May Serve Adaptive Function.

Thing is, I have met John Nash and conversed with him. We met at the 2005 Warwick University Economics Summit, when I had the good fortune to be a VIP Alumni guest (chosen by lot from ticket applicants) and so had the opportunity to share some time with him and the other speakers.

I can tell you he was a lot more impressive than the majority of autism academics it has been my misfortune to have to correct in the middle of lectures. During his lecture (where he had his back to the audience throughout) one had to submit written questions, and if he thought that the question was rubbish he would say so and go onto the next.

I therefore felt privileged that he accepted my question as a worthy one, where I dared to suggest that his asymptotic ideal money, (The subject of his lecture) was essentially a self referring definition prone to error because of the variables chosen (a concept one gets quite familiar with when one reads the dross that passes for autism research) and to my surprise (because I was aware I was up against a formidable brain  here, that, whose considerable knowledge of mathematics could easily be insulted by my scraping the bottom of the barrel of my undergrad economics and shaky maths), he conceded that I had a point, but that he felt the concept was better than any other in terms of a new "gold standard" (gold standard in the literal sense here, not the metaphorical sense it is used when speaking of diagnostic schedules.

Anyway having asked him a question gave me the opportunity to follow that up in a lengthier conversation later where the subject turned to Post Modernism.

It was there that I realised that although we have the same desire for there to be certainties, I am more comfortable in seeing that no such exist and that even mathematics is a relative subject dependent as much upon human psychology and biology as any real platonic existence. Qv that Bogey of mathematicians  "George Lakoff"

Well we did not talk about "mental illness" at all, as I recall, but is interesting to see in the article I have referenced that he does indeed share similar views about that to mine, especially the notion coming out more and more in research that Schizophrenia and Bipolar are not too nosologically inseparable biologically determined absolutes, but that they live together in a more complex relationship.

Now whilst people can (and do) accuse myself and colleagues of a like mind of romanticising Autism as a 'difference which has it's positive aspects', I do not think anyone can accuse John Nash of the same romanticisation of his condition, and get away with it. For here is a man who has clearly suffered the unfortunate consequences of his own negatively nuanced difference, yet come to terms with it in a particular way, something that exists for all it's confusion and chaotic appearance, in a rational framework.

Apart from anything else, John Nash is relevant to our autism blog world, in another way, in terms of his Game Theory. It is quite clear that there is a middle ground to be found amongst our rival fraternities if we play rationally. Alas we seldom do.