Sunday, November 30, 2003
Event images from the last days
a baby gecko, not one inch long, on the taxi stand rail
a taxi driver asking me 'what do you think of our laws here in singapore'?
the Double One noticing how the crescent moon lies at a different angle then when viewed in the home country--just like the flag!
the taste of the very one last guinness foreign extra stout (unavailable in NZ)
brittle lemon saying 'no need' into my recorder.
Hello L (whose been sick for a few days and has had to manage on her own for months), hello mr cheerful T (who is making dad a certificate) hello mr r (who wants to know just how many phone jacks we have in our house). My family, I might add, are currently living with my in-laws. Time to go back to enzone. The last land, the shaky isles.
Saturday, November 29, 2003
Well, what do I think? I'm leaving the university today, plunging into 'unemployment'--but thankfully it's only unemployment as in 'unpaid' work as I still have two books to write on Asperger's with L. So my last post from Singapore is about my work.
I have a number of thoughts about this book. Let's start with the good points: it's good to question the notion that we are blank slates or that all differences are 'socially constructed.' If there are observable differences in the sexes in terms of systemising and empathy then provided we don't immediately jump to essentialism--which Baron Cohen doesn't do--we can accept a certain validity of these findings. In fact, one virtue of the book is that it proposes differences between systematising and empathy that correlate to sexual differences even though a male can have a female brain and vice versa. And Baron Cohen, unlike Pinker, acknowledges sexism and the dangers of stereotyping. But he also wants us to acknowledge than on average men are more aggressive, less caring, more prone to systems, rules, laws, more able to dehumanise others: hence all the rapes and murders that are committed by men.
There's no doubt that this book represents a turning point in writing about autism; that's why I had to read it in hardback. Baron Cohen is a brave writer, he's interested in what's 'going on' and he's not afraid to tackle some very fundamental assumptions and issues (issues which I think we haven't tackled as well as we could). He sees IQ as totally key to the autism debate as many of the features of autism all relate to IQ. Does the person have a high IQ or not? If they have a low IQ then many problems relate to this low IQ. IQ is a highly controversal subject in disability studies and my own frustration at many of the 'social construction' arguments was that they all seem to propose that we are all the 'same' and that the only power-knowledge-discourse 'produced imbecilic subjects': this is only half the story though. IQ really does exist as an evolutionary feature of our gene pool: some people are really more intelligent than others though there is not necessarily any evolutionary advantage in intelligence per se. Accepting this difference as a biological feature means you can't just play the Foucault card in the theory game: the measurement is a constructed but there are differences in what we measure. (And common sense tells us that some people are smarter than others!)
If autists have high IQ then what many of the many 'executive function' problems disappear as executive function relates to IQ! For Baron Cohen, autists have highly 'systematising' brains. He rejects the notion of 'stimming' as pointless behaviours (such as spinning a toy car's wheel for hours.) These brains are wired to finding patterns are not concerned with how others see them; they love structure, maps, directories, tables, slots, numbers, musical notes, etc. They are not concerned with the social so much as they love patterns and systems. Autism is an example of the 'extreme male brain.'
This is a startling argument and we can easily forget as we so easily jump into the nature versus nuture debate--what a radical departure this is for understanding autism. In his earlier work Mindblindess Baron Cohen proposed that the mind is composed of many cognitive modules. One of these modules performs the function of producing a 'theory of mind' (TOM). TOM is the cognitive processes by which I wonder what you are thinking. Or to put it another way, your ability to judge and speculate on what others are thinking and the what they might think of your behaviour depends on your 'theory of mind' module. As autism is characterised by poor social interactions and poor social skills, it seems reasonable to assume that autism must be a result of disfunctional TOM module. In proposing this Baron Cohen followed in the footsteps of his illustrious teacher, Uta Frith.
All this is rejected in the new book. Autism is not a deficit. Nothing is missing at all. People differ in how they empathise or systematise and the previous view of autism as disability is based on a flawed understanding of differences in brain function. There is no neutral measure of how 'social' or 'empathetic' a person should be. In fact, Baron Cohen proposes that less emphasis be placed on 'socialising' kids, especially boys, who don't want to play. He proposes a more holistic view of view of autism than simply 'missing modules' and his theory explains while more males than females are autistic. He implies that we should give up this hang-up about social skills: we should tolerate differences and be more flexible.
Now, briefly, the problems.
Well, aside for the simplicity of the theory I see problems in terms of having no good account for related issues and for not accounting for developmental changes. What about sensory issues? How do you account for these? Why are lights, sounds, textures, smells so often perceived at very intense levels especially by kids? There are other issues at work which aren't related to the empathy/systemising dichotomy. And there's little account of developmental changes here--can someone be born with a male brain and then find that male brain has become a female brain?
And my own anecdotal experience as a parent going to therapies and dealing with schools and support groups is that there are more young girls than Baron Cohen accounts for who are have some form of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) issue. What does it mean to say that they have 'male' brains?
But the patterning argument is a good one & I think that we should at least enteratin the notion that autism could be related to sexual difference rather than just operating on a 'bundle of modules' view of the brain.
So I think that the theory has some merits but it doesn't fully account for autistic diversity--autism, I suspect, is rather like human sexuality: at the heart of all the complexities that make us human.
Now, onwards to enzone!
But what's odd is that he never once checked any of the appliances: tv, microwave, washing machine, drier, air con. Nothing. No need.
Is that odd or what?
I'm coming home I've done my time....
So I also know that soon I won't be seeing the Double One and so we go for a Mee Goring and a beer and I think that at least I met some nice people inside. And I know that the DJ whose going away compilation I'm playing now is really DJ Blog Soon Boy who is not just going to fade due to physical distances but is going to write to cross those distances. (And in the theme song for Brittle Lemon will be 'Suddently everything has changed' by The Postal Service. We live in the post-age & our blogging is never supplemental to our living on.)
Thursday, November 27, 2003
I didn't get shortlisted for a web advisor for the ministry of education and I have to say that not being shortlisted knocked me back a little yesterday. Nevermind, yesterday was pretty shitty all around and I'm glad that it's gone.
I'm rushing around getting everything ready for the move to Wellington on Sunday. It's been tiring--especially with job applications--but it all seems to be going ok.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
It's a holiday here--the end of Ramadan, Stan--so I go to the office very early to send the job application. I'm listening to Tom Robinson's show on BBC Radio Six and he plays The Fall's X-mas song 'Protein Christmas.' It's an astonishing record unlike anything else I've heard. Tom Robinson says "I'm speechless. What can I say after that? Sheer genius." Later, I'm playing the Beeb World service & I catch the end of a singles review show. The editor of the NME describes Bowie's new single 'Never Get Old' as "dreadful, just dreadful" and I have to agree with him that it sounds like a hectoring minister trying to say something profound but reciting hallmark homilies on time and mutability. No, I wont be buying Reality but I will go and see the old codger when he plays Wellington.
Monday, November 24, 2003
Sunday, November 23, 2003
Back here in the land of the pure, 6,000 kids have taken a purity pledge not to have premarital sex and not to become homosexual. For some reason they are planning to have a rally on Valentine's day. I wouldn't want my kids to take *that* pledge--how about a pledge to have safe sex, try to care for others, respect other people? I feel that these kids are just sucked in by all these manipulative churches: so much bullying and cajoling. And the churches get away with promoting homophobia and the kids just don't have the sense to see through the fantatsic lies. This is why I won't be visiting any temples anymore ever. Religion itself seems increasingly to be part of the problem not the solution.
Saturday, November 22, 2003
Friday, November 21, 2003
Here The Clangers, who live on lonely Planet Clanger, go to visit The Soup Dragon. Look familiar? You might have seen the opening titles to The Clangers in the movie East is East.
"Kepler knew only about our solar system. Moreover, he thought that the orbits of the planets should be circles in exact mathematical ratios. Today we don’t expect that. Our Earth traces just one ellipse out of an infinity of possibilities allowed by Newton’s laws–the exact shape is a result of its complicated history and origins. It’s orbit is special only insofar as it allows an environment conducive for evolutions (not getting so close to the Sun that water boils, nor so far away that it’s perpetually frozen.)
Perhaps our traditional perspective on the universe and the physical laws that govern it will go the way of Kepler’s concept of Earth’s orbit. What we have traditionally called “the universe” may be the outcome the one Big Bang among many, just as our solar system is merely one of many planetary systems in the Galaxy. Just as the pattern of ice crystals on a freezing pond is an accident of history rather than a fundamental property of water, so some of the seeming constraints of nature may be arbitrary details rather than being uniquely defined by the underlying theory.”
Our Cosmic Habitat. Martin Rees.
Which I finished today. By ‘seeming constraint’ Rees means the power of the weak and strong nuclear force, the power of gravity, the speed of light and other seemingly ‘natural limits.’ For Rees, our cosmic habitat is the multiverse.
Thursday, November 20, 2003
Site of the day? The fab Planet Quest which features great star maps. I can't remember now if I've seen Epsilon Eridani or not. We're in the middle of a major jump in Astronomy--patience, patience, only 10 years to go before TPF (Terrestial Planet Finder) will be ready to go. Mind you, my Christmas prezzie will be Beagle 2 not crashing onto Mars. I expect, though, that it will find no traces of life from back 4 billion years ago. Just a hunch.
I can't tell you how happy and cheerful and cheeky T. is and how much I miss his warmth. Almost on a daily basis me and L. crack up laughing at something either T or R have said--the lads have a very healthy sense of humour. I really miss that and I'm beginning to really miss L now: her own humour, her face, the shared knowledge that only you and your loved one share. I'm looking forward to having a good long chat with her and also just sitting down one night and 'blobbing out'--that blobbing out that you have when you don't really do anything but relax together. I love that feeling. Not long now.
Bush in London. If I was there, would I protest? Probably not. It's too late now. I mean you've done it already. It's all very cleverly planned as a photo shoot--protesters and all--but really, in the words of The Smiths "what difference does it make?" It makes none.
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
I have to say that my own views on the 'feminist' reading project have also waivered over the years. In NZ, I became somewhat cynical of the project and confess to finding it sometimes tiresome--but it's amazing how much you can learn from Singapore! But this tiresomeness was not just a 'man's experience' as it was also freely expressed by many women friends and was just really a sign of what I--and I am sure many others--see as an emerging maturity or urbane sophistication. (We also didn't trust some of the people pushing the critique as good people, you know?) It wasn't a backlash so much as a sign that we had moved forward and the ground or bedrock had changed: we wanted much more divergence in the orchestra. The 1980s, in NZ, saw a very dominant sort of puritanism and extremism--in all sorts of areas--at work at the university. The 'erotic' and the 'body' were very devalued. I think NZ moved out of that a lot in the 90s. Coffee bars and bistros helped.
And now? Any last words to blog on this subject?
As a critique, feminism is as central as ever to understanding my own micro-research area. I don't respect feminism to be 'nice' or 'pc': the simple fact is that feminism (as a reading concerned with exploring all the issues I have just outlined) contains a whole set of 'knowledges' on nature/nuture/cognition without which the project of 'reflecting on autism' would remain entirely bereft of theoretical ground.
Now let it lie.
I should really get on with my packing.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Bowie on Radio 6 today: talking about accepting the role God has in your life, accepting that certain choices are closed or that within the chaos there is some divine plan. Recovery, to be sure and an end to suffering-- but at what cost? At what end to living on or to a project of interminable readings? At what cost to the work? This recovery we would call recuperation.
Monday, November 17, 2003
empty apartment, white outside
other walls and open windows seen through the filthy
mesh curtain you never wash; now the tiled grid of the floor,
thrown into relief says Welcome to Singapore. You look
over the remains: two chairs, a sofa, a wooden table, a cupboard,
a 16 inch colour television, plates, cups, cutlery.
You check the inventory. Outside the apartments declare their power
In the syntax of every wall and door, the set prescribed
variations engineered by the administration for your comfort.
A lizard screams and the morning speaks white, the white as aspirin
serial recombinations of the neighbourhood. Now you’re leaving
how did you manage to live only in their spaces: furnished room, voiddeck,
front lobby, car park, guard house, mini market, community hall?
How did you manage that face each morning? How
did you manage to read that headline
We’ve set the rules of the game & tuned the tv?
You told yourself it was expedience, a matter of contingency
A hand of Mah Jong dealt before you entered the room
Nothing to do with theft or treachery
After all, you have to look after your needs
People are relying on you. So you nod
& continue to play, you look for the keys.
You put yourself in the game for money, comfort, power
Some semblance of having choice, a life, some time to write
& try not to notice the floor until either they or you decide
that it's time for the players to change or leave.
“No person can deny another’s history; history comes into being as humans endure because all humans remember, and women’s history is remembered and broadcast by the mothers and daughters who have lived it.”
“Well, man is very quick to label his must brutal whim “God’s law.”
“Power in our society is overwhelmingly allotted to men; no matter how socially marginal a man is, the power situation is maintained in all ways when it is at the expense of women. Women are almost always society’s victims, when society deigns to consider them at all—which is rarely.”
Samuel R. Delany (1975)
Which brings me to the movie I saw this weekend Le Divorce or, more specifically, my mindless enjoyment of this movie. I took the film as highly ironic and self-parodic: we are never in France, we are are only in a cinemascape that masquerades as France or we are watching a perfomance of France. And I took this irony in the relations between men and women: St. Ursula is the subject of the painting by La Tour and the American fights against the constraints of the society in which she’s placed.
The massacre of the virgins. The virgins in the painting by Le Tour. The question of a certain game of choice in relation to a society that subjugates you: do you want me to slap you or to chain you? And even if you want me and even if I let you go this has always been my game and never yours. This is what i now think of as power: the rules of the game. Even if you want to play and even if you say the rules are fair and even if you trick yourself that the rules are even yours the story of the rules was always about command, control and exclusion.
History is the story of the specifc choices we are faced with when we walk out of the door each morning.
Delany reminds me that only I, as male, could idly enjoy this film or that nothing could be more dangerous, in a real sense, then my escapist fantasies when confronted with the prison of my daily life. Writing my desires and fantasies can never be a matter of whimsy or doggeral—such a writing can only occur in a future time, another world which has yet to arrive. I see that now. The reality is also a playing out of powerful fantasies—to rework Derrida, There is nothing outside the fantasy or we might say that the fantasy and the processes of exclusion and subjugation form the backdrop to our lives. You will not know nor can ever know that but you see the truth of this evaluation and the responsibility such a reading calls for.
What is the exit strategy for these fantasies and these narratives? The problem with a purely neurological or evolutionary psychology approach to desire is the forgetting of power: In le Divorce, the old politician desires the jeune fille but he’s also a fascist: his programme is death. How are we to leave these narratives of command and control?
First, to pose it as a question or to even allow for this to count as a question as real as any manufactured ‘crisis’ or ‘situation.’ When will ever even arrive at such a time?
Sunday, November 16, 2003
Saturday, November 15, 2003
Friday, November 14, 2003
Thursday, November 13, 2003
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Still, I don't mean to slag him off--he rejects social construction, so he says, but ironically his book also shows exactly why these types of arguments make sense.
The packers have packed everything. I am in a barren apartment with my extremely opinionated father-in-law. Last night's dinner conversation: "but why do gays in Sydney have to have parades?" I wasn't going to get into that--he said that he supported gay rights (ok) but 'why do they have to have parades?' He was tipsy from two double scotches at happy hour (I had beer): so I took an approach: there are two issues here 1) gay rights 2) parades.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
I've been contacted by someone else working on AS and she recomemnded that I read Ian Hacking, so I started reading him last night and just got lost in the text. He's an analytic philosopher writing on all types of 'social construction' arguments: everything from quarks, to numbers, to gender, to autism. It's comprehensive but lacks a certain focus. Will he be able to answer my question?
How do we think beyond the essentialist/constructed dichotomy? This is what we've been wrestling with for years now. So much seems to fall on one side or the other: either autism is socially constructed in 'discourses' and 'practices'and 'regimes' (what would happen if we banned those terms?) or is 'performative' or else it's all the brain, the wiring, the 'modules' so beloved of theory of mind & medicine. Social group theory points to a way out as it touches on the dynamics of identity and difference.
Identity: I'm reminded of a conversation I once had with a good friend (and blog reader) about just this question. He was talking about some gay friends wondered about 'gay culture' as depicted in a particular film. 'I mean' said this guy "I don't know if I go along with all that, you know, this campy gay stuff--I wonder if I am gay?' To which his friend replied "Do you like to suck cock? If you like to suck cock then you are gay." I like this because unlike Foucault it involves recognition, acceptance of a certain group membership, identification but also the possibility of a space of reflection. Membership is not JUST socially constructed by the dominant group who might talk about 'those engaged in homosexual acts' but within the in-group everything hinges on 'do you like to suck cock?' First this question--the question first, the question that lies on the slope of essentialism ("I remember I could only walk that way home, no other way, and when the teacher talked loud here voice just cut through me. The first time I saw a computer, i just looked at it and understood the whole basic system.....") This isn't a 'discursive practice' it's an experience that the individual has...
This story I feel points to a way of sorts through the scylla and chabdris of 'either/or'. These desires are embodied, they are in a sense 'neurological': some of our desires may be 'cultured' but not all. It's like IQ--sure IQ is a measurement, part of the history of measurement, and is a practice of measuring and perhaps even controlling populations but just as 'some girls are bigger than others' some people are 'thicker than others' and this can be quite adequately explained by evolutionary processes such as divergence in the gene pool. In fact, I'm sure that you could formulate a pretty good theory of this variation in certain selected gene pools and that this law in itself is not just as 'narative' (although it could be appropriated and used as a narrative' but is in fact a law.) I'm reminded of Hardings comment saying that Newton's laws should becalled 'Newton's rape manual.' Well, there's Newton's narrative and mythology surrounding these laws--which are even interpretations of these laws--and then there are the laws themselves. These laws aren't culture bound they are evidence bound. These laws work for all cultures, races, classes of beings: same with Kepler's laws unless compelling evidence could be produced to show something else at work. But as Hacking notes, that's highly unlikely. It's hard though to argue through this middle. I'd like to be able to do that some day.
Back to the packers!
Sunday, November 09, 2003
It strikes me as obvious that the invasion of Iraq did nothing to further the war against terrorism. Was this a personal vendetta for the Bush family? Or is it really about building contracts and oil? Bush has twisted this 'war against terrorism' so much that we can forget that the US, UK and many other countries do face a very real threat from fundamentalists. Thinking about 9/11 and that 'axis of evil' speech makes me realise just how far these objectives are from targetting the terrorists. The US missed the target. Why? What motives lie behind that speech and why that response? Now that the US is bogged down in Iraq, there are less resources to really work on dismantling this network and there's now very great distrust of US policy in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Turkey will not send troops and there is no way that the US is going to easily do this without international help. But there was little support for this invasion which never had UN backing. And nothing has been done to sort out a deal for the Palestinians. The whole situation strikes me as extremely dangerous. How did Bush bungle this so badly when 9/11 presented many opportunities for international cooperation?
I see a very uncertain future and increased instability. What will happen to Iraq? What about Saudi Arabia? Today's bombing and deaths show that the war against Saddam has hindered the war against terrorist fundamentalists.
Saturday, November 08, 2003
Celine Dion's makeover. An easy target, I know, but have you seen the video where she rides into the desert sporting her new look as blond short cropped hair 'rock chic' wearing dusty Levis and a short t-shirt that sports her midriff? Nothing in the world could be less sexual than Celine's midriff than perhaps Celine naked. The horror, the horror...a very close second to this is Jodie Foster in her briefs. Gender studies freaks: 'what is negative sexuality?' Are they people that no-one regardless of persuasion or desire finds attractive? The paradox here is that they do not appear to be ugly. This is the great mystery: Jodie and Celine ain't ugly but their video avatars carry a negative sexual charge. Regardless of the viewer's spin no 'big bang' is likely to occur, indeed, a certain repulsive force emits from these bodies.
Evanescent's Ad Yes, Xtian goth rockers 'save me from myself' (and save me from you too) are now the soundtrack for that most god-fearing of corporations Mitsubshi dot fucking we hate the world dot com. The rich will enter the kingdom if they drive those cars through the needle's eye. Hypocrites, of course--but that goes with the territory. Now I know how vile they really are in all their beautific ugliness.
P.O.D Who the hell likes this band? I mean, really? I'm not opposed to people milking the music industry as such--what the hell. But this band is just so bloody dreadful-can't the patriot act be used to incarcerate them? I haven't felt such a two minute hate since Michael Bolton's last contribution to world culture.
Friday, November 07, 2003
the old man's journal
by the window of his study
you take the soft approach
searching for key words
in the old man's diary
using character recognition
coffee & a bundle of hunches
it's a slow process
you have to know the meaning
of each word
he was a character
how he sang the company song
"it cleans, as it sweeps as it vacs!"
at two o'clock in the morning.
remember what he said
to the inspector's daughter?
"madam im adam madam im adam"
over & over again
until she begged him to stop
how surprised you were
to find this file
with an obscure name
in an untitled notebook
you cruised down the drive
each folder a street, each file a house
until you came to the folder less taken
& finally found his secret diaries
clearing this folder was like
emptying his drawers
folding his suits
for the salvation army
seeing the old bugger's gone
you nosey, a vanity
keying command f to see
what he wrote about you
Thursday, November 06, 2003
Then the film maker helped me choose another template but it didn't seem to work so I'm going with this one for now. Once I feel comfortable with the template I'll start tweaking it.
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
Tuesday, November 04, 2003
Monday, November 03, 2003
Give the drunkard his last drink
The junkie wants her needle
she's dying for a fix
that bitch wont stop her craving
give the junkie her last fix
The drunkard's feeling thirsty
he wont sleep without his mix
that bastard wont stop thirsting
give the drunkard his last drink
the stars and suns are burning
through the children of the town
the angels too are laughing
through the tears of every clown
Sunday, November 02, 2003
Before that I'd been reading a research project by the NZ Minsitry of Education on Research into Effective Practice for Children and Young People with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Good idea: I'd like them to examine their own assumptions. What literature are they reading? But the aim of the study is sound. I like the way they state what regions they need input from--God, there is so much work we have to do to build networks--a kind of ASD iwi if you like.
I was going to look at the Autism Resource Centre's work as I need to catch up with them but I started reading and cleaning and in the end finished Neil Gaiman's American Gods which I found altogether satisfying and worthwhile. On the back of the book there's this offer "As good as Stephen King or your money back!" Well, I've never been a King fan--I read The Shining back in the early 80s and while I found it OK I never wanted to read anyhting else by him. His sentences never worked for me--but this novel is tightly written--although some in the SF yahoogroup group centerville2 I sometimes read complained about the novel and found it tedious. I will certainly read more of his work in the future.
I also have to express disappointment at the new BBC science show Explorations which I tried watching before I suddenly felt this urge to leave the house. This is part sponsored by Duracell batteries. I'm not too miffed--a good show for my kids to watch, I guess. But it's sort of very soft science and coporate 'exploration' narrative. Don't get me wrong, I think the 'exploration' narrative is vital and should not be so easily dismissed but it's wrong, I feel, to simplify space exploration in this way: there are so many different reasons behind space exploration and this show is just too 1950s 'in the future we will live on the moon', 'better living through chemistry' for my tastes.
Saturday, November 01, 2003
Suede's Attitude feat. John Hurt. Aside form being a very strong tune, this film is masterfully restrained. Such cool simplicity--and so English! There's more than a nod to Lyndsay Kemp and Anthony Newley as Mr Hurt treads the boards.
Tori Amos' A sorta fairytale is also interesting on many levels--is the guy in the video the block the star of The Pianist?