Friday, August 27, 2010

Edward Heath and Asperger syndrome

Below is the text of an entry for my enormous list of famous autistic or possibly autistic people that I am going to add some time, whenever I find the time. What do you think? Any errors?

Sir Edward “Ted” Heath KG MBE (1916-2005) former Conservative Prime Minister of the UK from 1970 to 1974, leader of the Conservative Party from 1965-1975, Deputy Chief Whip and Chief Whip of the Tories in the 1950s. As a PM Heath took Britain into the EEC. He has been described as “the first modern Conservative leader”. In 1968 Heath sacked Enoch Powell from the shadow Cabinet following a negative response to Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech. Powell is also in this list. Sir Edward was not a great orator, but he was able to give speeches without consulting notes. When Heath was deposed as the leader of the Tory Party by Margaret Thatcher he was not a gracious loser, earning him the nickname “the incredible sulk”. Heath remained in politics until 2001, but refused to serve in Thatcher’s cabinet. Sir Edward’s political ambitions had an early origin – in an admission interview for an Oxford University college, Heath cited “a professional politician” as his chosen career (Thomson 1980). Sir Edward was a world-class yachtsman and an accomplished musician. Heath never married and one anecdote suggests that he did not feel comfortable in the company of women. According to one source there were women that he was fond of, but they married other men. Like a number of other unmarried men in this list, Heath has been the subject of speculation that he was a closet homosexual, despite a lack of evidence. Heath did not smoke and rarely drank. As a personality Heath has been described as “remote and aloof” (MailOnline 2005), “cool and withdrawn”, “a loner”, “Stiff and awkard (sic) socially” (Thomson 1980 p.248), a politician who did not have the benefit of being able to make small talk, outspoken, “an efficient and unpopular” whip (Thomson 1980 p.250), “a bloody bad-tempered man” (Thomson 1980 p.250) and an “extraordinarily self-sufficient” man who enjoyed people but possibly did not need them (Thomson 1980 p.250). It was argued that Heath might have had “mild” AS in a 2005 letter to the editor of the Independent in response to earlier articles and an obituary of Sir Edward Heath. There has also been online speculation about Heath and the autistic spectrum.

About Sir Edward Heath
BBC News (2005) Former PM Sir Edward Heath dies. BBC News. July 18th 2005.
[includes links to videos and an audio documentary]

Evans, Katherine (2005) Condition can mean a lifelong struggle. (letter) Independent. August 5th 2005.
[a brief counter-argument to the earlier letter to the editor by Patience]

Heath, Edward (1998) The course of my life: the autobiography of Edward Heath. Hodder and Stoughton, 1998.

Heffer, Simon (2010) Tony Blair's memoirs: a strange book by a gifted man. September 2nd 2010.

[This review of Tony Blair’s memoir A Journey makes reference to “the autism of the Heath memoirs”.]

MailOnline (2005) The incredible sulk. MailOnline. July 18th 2005.

Patience, Linda (2005) Signs of Asperger’s syndrome? (letter) Independent. August 3rd 2005.
[a letter to the editor in response to earlier articles and obituary of Sir Edward Heath, arguing that Heath could have had “mild” Asperger syndrome]

Thomson, George Malcolm (1980) The prime ministers: from Robert Walpole to Margaret Thatcher. Nationwide Book Service, 1980.

Link to my big list:

A referenced list of 173 famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum

Ammann was amazing

There's nothing new about the 2004 mathematics journal paper in which the life of the late autistic amateur mathematician Robert Ammann was outlined, but I've only recently found the time to read it through properly, and it certainly was worth my time. I can't believe the paper includes arguments against the proposition that Ammann was autistic. He was very autistic, in my opinion, and he also fit well into some of the established stereotypes of intellectually very gifted children who don't fit into the school system. Ammann didn't even fit into the university system. Below is the longer entry that I hope to add to my big list whenever I get the chance.

Robert Ammann 1946-1994, American amateur mathematician, computer programmer and mail sorter who made important contributions to the theory of quasicrystals and aperiodic tiling. When asked to explain how he made mathematical discoveries Ammann described visual thinking. Amman’s father was an engineer.

At the age of 3 years Ammann as an infant geography prodigy was the subject of a front-page news article. He could add, subtract and read at this age. When Ammann was a young child his mother would leave him in the backroom of a post office while she did her shopping, and the boy loved to look around and ask intelligent questions. Before he reached 4 years he stopped speaking, and slowly began to speak again with the aid of a speech therapist. As a child Ammann was happiest as a solitary learner. Schoolwork and other children bored him, and he didn’t like sport. His school grades were low and but his SATs were almost perfect, and he won maths contests. Ammann was invited to apply for entry to MIT and Harvard, but after interviews the offers were withdrawn. Ammann’s time as a student at Brandeis University was not successful as he rarely left his dorm room. After studying computer programming at a business college Ammann worked in a humble position at Honeywell. When Ammann was laid off from one job as a computer programmer he kept coming to work and was put back on the payroll. After a second layoff Ammann was kept out of the building. Many years later Ammann worked as a mail sorter. In 1976 Ammann was evicted after a health inspector condemned his apartment. Ammann enjoyed watching his 3 TV sets at once.

Ammann initially made contact with the world of mathematicians by writing a letter. When interest in tilings and Ammann’s work grew among mathematicians, Ammann was invited to many conferences but he declined, until he was coaxed out of his seclusion in the late 1980s. In social situations Ammann did not make eye contact, did not make small talk, rarely smiled and seemed to be “far away” and sad.

Two papers published in Mathematical Intelligencer have included discussion of Ammann with regard to AS. The 2004 paper by Marjorie Senechal is a fascinating and touching account of Ammann’s short life and work by someone who knew him.

References about Robert Ammann

James, Ioan (2010) Autism and mathematical talent. Mathematical Intelligencer. vol. 32 number 1 March 2010 p. 56-58.
[a number of mathematicians mentioned as having some degree of autism, including Robert Ammann, Andre Weil, Ronald Fisher, Norbert Weiner, Erdos, G. H. Hardy, William Sidis, Alan Turing and the physicist Paul Dirac]

Senechal, Marjorie (2004) The mysterious Mr Ammann. Mathematical Intelligencer. vol. 26 number 4. December 2004 p. 10-21.
[A fascinating and touching account of Ammann’s life and work. The title of article is sometimes given as “Mathematical communities”.]

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Happiness and happy facial expression -> light, energy synaesthesia/metaphor in everday language

"radiant smile"

"bright smile"

"she is glowing"

"bright and happy"

"shiny happy people"

"my little ray of sunshine"

"sunny disposition"


"glowing with pride"

"warm smile"

"basking in relected glory"

"glowing with joy"

"shine on"

"My future's so bright I gotta wear shades."

"A place in the sun"

Friday, August 20, 2010

Stamp out one weird habit - and another one will surely pop up

Stop the press! Lili Marlene has given up the habit of pulling out hairs that she has had since she was a girl. This habit has a fancy clinical and scary-sounding name - trichotillomania. Sounds bad, doesn't it, like I'm some kind of maniac. This dire-sounding condition is in the DSM, so I guess I'm officially a nutbar, or at least a recovering loon. DILLIGAF?

Anyhow, I'm not popping a bottle of champagne open just yet, as I could revert back to the habit of a lifetime anytime. I don't think it is any coincidence that I've just noticed that I've been rubbing the back of my neck so much of late that the skin has gone all leathery and funny. You really needed to know that, didn't you? I'm pretty happy about this as a leathery neck is easy to conceal, and we must conceal our strangeness, mustn't we?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More than a fine line

“Men who leave their mark on the world are very often those who, being gifted and full of nervous power, are at the same time haunted and driven by a dominant idea, and are therefore within a measurable distance of insanity”

- Sir Francis Galton FRS, English Victorian polymath, anthropologist, eugenicist, tropical explorer, geographer, inventor, meteorologist, proto-geneticist, psychometrician, statistician and racist

According to the Wikipedia Galton’s idea of a link between insanity and genius was based upon his own experience. There has been some speculation regarding Galton and Asperger syndrome, and Galton has also been discussed in the book Obsession: a history by Lennard Davis. Sir Francis Galton was a half-cousin of the world-changing biologist Charles Darwin FRS, and I believe one can observe a family physical resemblance between the two men, who had thin lips and heavy brow ridges. Such masculine facial features are thought to be the result of the action of testosterone on physical development. The leading scientific theory about the cause of autism proposes that the neurological condition is caused by unusually high levels of testosterone influencing prenatal development. Like his eminent half-cousin, Charles Darwin has been discussed in relation to the autistic spectrum. Discussion of Darwin as a possible autist can be found in a number of books and articles, including the books Genius genes: how Asperger talents changed the world by Fitzgerald and O’Brien and Asperger Syndrome - A Gift or a Curse? by Lyons and Fitzgerald. I've got to wonder - if the price of genius is looking like Charles Darwin, are all those smarts really worth it?

These days we understand that being “haunted and driven by a dominant idea” is not insanity, it is autistic obsession, or to use a less loaded term “a special interest”. Autistic obsession is a powerful force; it can be the fuel behind great achievements of intellect and persistence. Autistic people are not insane, but it might appear that way at times, with certain individuals. The difference between madness and eccentricity is an important distinction to make.

More information about Sir Francis Galton FRS:

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2010) Francis Galton. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Another possibly autistic Prime Minister to be added to my MASSIVE list

In early August I wrote about the former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown in relation to the autistic spectrum. I received a comment on the piece from Socrates (who has a blog The New Republic), drawing my attention to another former PM of the UK, Sir Edward Heath. I was aware that there has been a bit of comment on the net about Heath's possible place on the spectrum, but I could only find one published document discussing this, and it was only a letter to the editor of a UK newspaper, with another letter in reply arguing against it. I didn't think this was quite enough documentary evidence to justify adding Heath to my gigantic list of famous autists.

The next day I dropped by my favourite charity secondhand goods shop, an outlet of Save The Children, for a rummage around. There on the shelf was an ancient book about British Prime Ministers, which I would otherwise not have given a second glance. It included a brief chapter about Heath. As I scanned through it, lots of well-known words jumped out at me, as if daubed with a pink highlighter pen "cool", "withdrawn”, “a loner”, “stiff", "awkward", "outspoken", "efficient and unpopular”, “bloody bad-tempered", and “extraordinarily self-sufficient”. I later read more about Heath and discovered that he never married but was most likely not gay, had a very sharp mind and he was also very good at nursing a grudge. I believe that Sir Edward Heath belongs on my list, and as soon as I get a chance I will be updating it, bringing the total of famous names on it to 174.

So kiddies, just because you are a bit of an odd one, a natural loner, or maybe even have an autism/Asperger syndrome diagnosis, that doesn't necessarily mean you could never be a Prime Minister. Many grown-ups don't like to admit it, but your innate level of intelligence is of huge importance in attaining your ambitions. Brains (or lack of brains) really do matter. Autists appear to be over-represented among the intellectual elite. Why this is so we do not know, and autism researchers do not appear to be the least bit interested in finding the answer to this question. Other factors that are very important in realizing career goals are your level of personal motivation and how much support others, including parents, teachers, professional mentors, friends, spouses and family are willing or able to give. Being a bit autistic is not necessarily the brick wall that so many people make it out to be, in fact, it could even be to your advantage.

A referenced list of 173 famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum

Monday, August 16, 2010

Autism brain scan hype - some evidence-based good thinking to the rescue

I've found a piece written by someone who understands stats and critical thinking of the evidence-based medicine type which takes apart the recent media hype about a study of autism diagnosis using brain scans. It pretty much goes over the same points that I made in my blog post on this subject dated August 11th, but Mr Heneghan explains it more clearly and in more detail. I recommend that you read this:

"Why autism can't be diagnosed with brain scans: Using brain scans to detect autism would be a huge expensive waste of money"

by Carl Heneghan
Science Blog

Sunday, August 15, 2010

More rambling from Lili about Australian politics

It was a joy to see two of the untouchables of Australian politics on 60 Minutes tonight - Mark Latham interviewing Pauline Hanson. Actually, I thought Latham's story as a guest journalist might have been the best bit of TV journalism I've seen during this ridiculous election, much less BS than the pretentious and empty chatter that passes for political commentary that I've been recently watching on the ABC's new news channel (channel 24 I think it is). The novelty of that service was worn off pretty fast for me.

"Latham at Large"
60 Minutes (Australia)
broadcast August 15th 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The education of an autistic poet

I've been weeding and dusting among my collection of old and secondhand books, and I've found a quote from an old interview with the famous Australian autistic poet Les Murray which I think illuminates some important aspects of the relationship between many autists and learning.

"The only person who could educate me was me. I did it by reading - I read everything - I learnt to read out of an encyclopaedia, so I wanted to know everything. I still try to know everything. I've realised there are two things I'm not going to master - The only music I can do is the music of words, and the only mathematics I can do is count my fingers if the lights are on."

We have here a description of an autistic autodidact, and a learner who's pathway into learning appears to have been the printed word, more than objects or people or spoken language. I'm sure there are many other autists who's pathway into learning about the world was things: objects, parts of objects, machines, devices or the natural world in general. I guess "hyperlexic" is a label that one could attach to Murray. I like the way this quote smashes the stereotype of the autist as a natural mathematician.

Another thing that I find interesting about this quote is Murray's ambition of omniscience, an eccentrically extreme drive to know about the world. I believe this know-it-all ambition is an autistic trait, and I believe it is all about trying to control and master the world by understanding it and memorizing all of the information that might come in handy while taking on the world. Well, that's my theory.

The quote was taken from page 74 of this book:

Olle, Andrew & Pullan, Robert (1992) On interviewing. ABC Enterprises, 1992.

Other documents about Les Murray:

Alexander, Peter F. (2000) Les Murray: a life in progress. Oxford University Press.
[Les Murray’s autism mentioned on page 25, his heterochromia mentioned on page 27, his son’s autism described in chapter 18]

Baird, Julia (2006) Les Murray: the poet who helped save the Snowy. Sunday Profile. ABC Local Radio. June 4, 2006.

Clark, Sue (presenter) & Koval, Ramona (interviewer) (2009) The Biplane Houses - Les Murray. Life & Times. ABC Radio National. August 29th 2009.
[a repeat of a 2006 interview from The Book Show in which Murray discussed Asperger syndrome, poetry and reading postcode books, and he read two of his poems that are about AS/autism]

Gray, Robert (2010) The omnivorous writer. Weekend Australian. April 10-11 2010 review p.18-19.
[autism mentioned briefly in this review of Taller when prone]

Mares, Peter (2009) Les Murray and the black dog. The Book Show. ABC Radio National, October 8th 2009.
[Interview with Murray to promote the republication of his essay Killing the black dog, in which Murray discusses the impact of depression on his writing, and autism briefly mentioned]

Mitchell, Paul (2006) Paul Mitchell reviews Les Murray. Cordite Poetry Review. Number 24, 1st July 2006.
[A review of the book The biplane houses in which Mitchell discusses the influence that he believes Murray's AS has had on Murray's poetry and personality]

Moran, Rod (2007) Murray’s troubled waters run deep. The West Australian. Weekend Extra, page 4, February 10, 2007.

Murray, Les, with introd. by Potts, Robert (2009) It allows a portrait in line scan at fifteen. Times Literary Supplement. TimesOnline. March 30th 2009.
[The TLS Poem of the Week, which is about the autistic characteristics of Murray's autistic son]

Murray, Les (2009) Killing the black dog. (revised edition) Black Inc, 2009.
[Murray makes reference to his own and his son's autism on pages 22, 32 and 36. The poems Demo and The Averted appear to be about the experience of being autistic.]

Murray, Les (1997) Killing the black dog: essay and poems. The Federation Press.
[Murray claims to be “very mildly autistic” on page 17]

Neill, Rosemary (2006) Songs of experience. Australian. April 8 2006.

Phillips, Juanita (2007) Lunch with Les Murray. Bulletin. March 20 2007.

Potts, Robert (2004) The voice of the outback. Guardian. May 15, 2004.,12084,1216273,00.html

Thompson, Peter (2010) Les Murray. Talking Heads. ABCTV. broadcast June 21st 2010.
[transcript available, autism mentioned a couple of times]

Wootten, William (2006) Salt, land and tears. Guardian. October 21, 2006.,,1927616,00.html

This list of documents is excerpted from the references section of my MONSTER list:

A referenced list of 173 famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum
Lili Marlene was one of the oldest people at the Equal Love rally today. I'm not lesbian or nothing like that, but I do support the cause, (being neurologically weird I know all about the rights of a minority being trampled by the idiotic prejudices of the majority). I don't see why lesbian or gay or atypically gendered people should not have exactly the same rights as anyone else. I don't understand why we have to wait and wait for social reforms that should have happened ages ago. Why can't we just step into the 21st century and leave the dinosaurs and the Jurassic Age behind?

Equal Love

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lili Marlene's Glossary of Useful Terms

Prevision - reading the set texts for a university or school course during the holidays before the start of the term, like revision, but done before rather than after the course. The invention of this term is attributed to Gareth of the Aspies For Freedom activist group. Autistic students, students with Asian ancestry, and intellectually gifted students are especially likely to do prevision.

Excess Brain Activity - our family's term for epilepsy. It sounds so much nicer.

Gilbert and George Syndrome - when two friends of the same gender and similar age wear identical or very similar outfits. This disorder is especially common in teenage girls, young women, and weird gay artists who have autistic tendencies.

Pinkbow – A predominantly salmon-pink coloured rainbow that happens opposite a sunrise or sunset, which is so coloured because pink light is the only available light

Attentional Deafness – There is little point in putting on music to listen to while working on a task requiring concentration, as not a note will be heard. It is a pity that some school teachers do not understand attentional deafness. They reprimand children who do not respond to the teacher’s commands in class, when sometimes the poor kid is only doing what they are expected to – concentrating with head down on their set school work.

Domestic Blindness – When someone in the family angrily demands to know where an item is, and it is sitting there right in front of them. The majority of sufferers of this disability are male.

The Law of Instantaneous Convergence – Whenever Lili Marlene attempts to cross a road by foot or pull her vehicle out or into her driveway, her progress will be impeded by all manner of people, vehicles and livestock appearing as if from thin air, at any time of the day. As I approach our driveway late on a Friday night after collecting offspring from a party, what do I see in my way as I anxiously anticipate getting rear-ended by a drunk driver, but some old lush in shorts and T-shirt weaving his way around the footpath with an esky in hand? There is not another soul in the whole streetscape. I wish to cross the road to go to the shops. Look right, a car there. Wait. Look left. More vehicles. Now a tool in a ute is turning onto our street, screeching his wheels. Watch out, here comes a minibus full of sullen Islamic kiddies in brilliantly white caps and veils on their way to another apparently joyless day at their special school. Oh wait, now a fire engine, with lights flashing and sirens sounding. And the f***ing fire tender. With a police escort.

The Wedding Inverse Law – The length of the marriage is inversely proportional to the amount of money spent on the wedding. I got married in a dress I made myself. We are still together after all these years. Can’t say the same for some friends who got married in a basilica. What was her name again?

The Perverse Law of Employment Conditions – The lower the pay is in a job, the more likely the employee will be mistreated at work. Thus I was making $14 an hour as my grand reward for some of my most unpleasant experiences in the world of paid work.

The Advertising Inverse Law – When a company launches an advertising campaign to sell a specific message, this will be because the reality of that company’s services or products is in fact the opposite of the positive message being sold in the advertisements. An empire of variety stores will promote themselves as the cheapest when they find competition at the bottom end of the market. A junk food empire that lies about how much artery-clogging palm oil it uses in its French fries will show children eating wedges of fresh fruit in its advertising, knowing full well that no one actually buys their healthy product lines. The Advertising Inverse Law is not limited to explicit advertising - it is the reason why politicians have the word "Honourable" in front of their names.

Tongue-assisted Dexterity – When left-handed people do weird things with their tongues when they are attempting a feat of manual or verbal dexterity. Almost by definition lefties do not have dexterity – the word “dexterity” has an alternative meaning of “right-handedness” and the word derives from the word “dexter” meaning “on the right”. This is why the tongue as a counter-balance needs to be recruited for some much-needed assistance when lefties attempt feats of hand-eye coordination. This is a photo of a classic example of tongue-assisted dexterity in a left-handed Australian politician:

The Law of Gravity and Urgency – The most urgently sought after item in a bag will be the most difficult to locate. Thus an umbrella will withdraw to the bottom of a tote as a rainstorm breaks, and a ringing mobile phone will prove most elusive in a crowded handbag.

The First Law of Silence and Inconvenient Truths - The person who has the most to lose personally from the acceptance of the truth of the correct answer to a question will be the person who is the least likely to respond properly, if at all, to the question. (Ignoring my emails again professor?)

The Second Law of Silence and Inconvenient Truths - Questions that have the most disturbing answers will be the ones least likely to attract a proper response. (Journalists who interview politicians will be very familiar with this law.)

Mushroom Cloud - the catastrophic chain reaction and massive explosion that results when two or more autistic people direct their "meltdowns" at each other.

Sheeple – People who behave like a herd of mindless sheep. This word was not my invention, but I do love it so, as it is so widely applicable.

British scientists develop brain scan to detect autism - but don't get too excited just yet

The recent news story about the autistic spectrum, involving a study done by the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College in London is more news and a less bulls*** than most news stories about the spectrum, but it is still seriously over-hyped. Check the last paragraph of the text and if I am interpreting the story correctly, it means that 10% of autists tested will incorrectly come up with a result that indicates that they are not autistic, and 20% of neurotypical (normal) people undergoing this test will give a result that incorrectly indicates that they are autistic. I don't think there are too many non-autistic people who would be happy to take a test that gives them a 1 in 5 chance of being labelled as autistic. And when you consider the meaning of a positive result from the viewpoint of a subject who's neurological status is genuinely unknown, this test looks even more worthless. One must remember that the autism spectrum is an uncommon condition, it affects something like 6 in 1,000 people at a diagnosable level. So I think this means that a vast majority of people getting a POSITIVE result on this test would in fact NOT BE AUTISTIC by clinical standards, if this test was inflicted on the general population, simply because autistic people are vastly outnumbered by the non-autistic, and thus we must assume that by far most of the people taking the test would be non-autistic. When considering statistical matters one must always keep in mind base rates - what one would expect to find normally. Please fell free to correct me if you know more about statistics than me. Add to this reality-check the fact that this study was done on only 20 autistic study subjects, and all of them were male adults. So, like much of the research on autism, we are far from sure of what relevance it has for autistic females, of which I am convinced there are many more out there than the autism experts realise. Back to the lab, boffins! Please let us know when you have a firm grasp on what it actually means to be autistic.

This news story has appeared as a video news story on ABC's news channel, and will probably pop up on TV news broadcasts tonight.

"British scientists develop brain scan to detect autism"

There has been a lot of discussion of this study at the New Republic blog:

Gillard's finger ratio?

I've had a bit of a look at the enlarged photo from this news story linked to below, and I think it possibly shows that Julia Gillard, our current Prime Minister and Australia's first female PM, might not be quite the typical female. True to an apparent pattern in politicians, she appears to have quite a masculine finger ratio, but I'm happy to admit it is hard to tell from this photo. She has left her hand-print somewhere in one of those silly publicity stunts that pollies do. Being a nosey bitch, I'd love to be able to see the print and take some measurements from that. Proper scientist 2D:4D digit ratio researchers work off photocopies of hands. Nosey bastards take note - Gillard isn't the only pollie who has left her hand prints behind in a publicity stunt. Perhaps we should have reserved all the hoo-ha about having a lady PM till we checked that the woman in question had index fingers that are definitely equal to or longer than her ring fingers (like a normal female), but then again, anyone waiting for such a feminine person to make their way to the pinnacle of power might be left waiting forever.

PM accused of stealing welfare policies
By online political correspondent Emma Rodgers
ABC News. August 11th 2010

Monday, August 09, 2010

You may wish to have a look back at Thursday's blog post. It is newly published.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Australian supporters of the people of Palestine are not impressed

I find it hard to fathom the reasoning behind the way many politicians behave, especially when there is an election coming up. Do they really believe they are winning popularity when they front up to show their support to organisations that are unpopular or controversial with large sections of the community? The other day our atheist leader Julia Gillard was kissing up to the Catholics, pledging $1.5 million of our dough for celebrations that are planned for the canonisation of Mary MacKillop, Australia's first saint. Is the Catholic church too broke to foot the bill themselves? When will us atheists get a huge government handout to help further our aspirations? I'd like to have a few grand to buy free copies of Richard Dawkins books to give out to high school libraries that don't stock his works, (some don't, which I find incredible). One of our kids goes to a government high school that has a library that looks like something out of the 1980s, with a laughably ancient operating system on the computers.

Today there was more stupidity of a suckhole nature from our political leaders. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith spoke at the WA launch of the Friends of Israel today, and the Shadow Minister for Justice and Customs Michael Keenan represented the Liberals. A gaggle of WA pollies apparently turned up as well. Julie Bishop sent her apologies.

Some other people turned up too - protesters from a number of different organizations, who demonstrated their concern about the plight of Palestinian people. And you've got to wonder, how many Australians who were not there would be disgusted to know that these political leaders are happy to show support to an organization that is on the wrong side of justice. There is a lot of support for the people of Palestine and anger about the recent actions of the state of Israel among Australians, particularly young Australians. Do these buffoons need a housewife blogger to point out the friggin obvious?

Temple Grandin to be on TV in Australia

The inspiring autist from the US Temple Grandin is apparently going to be on the SBS TV show Dateline next week. It appears that she will be discussing animals and minds. I'm sure no one will be surprised to see that.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Pervasively strange men - what's not to like about them?

In the space of a few days I've met three men who could be all strong contenders for the title of The Strangest Man in the City, on the basis of looks, behaviour or a combination of both. Is it something about me, or is it the life that I lead? I'm left in admiration of the courage of one of these gentlemen, another has left me laughing out loud at unexpected moments (does he mention that to all of the women he meets?). The other man was a lovely person to know for a while. This is not as ordinary as it sounds - remember, I have been a misanthrope for as long as I can remember. He reminded me of a man that I used to work with a long time ago, but truth be told, I never really knew. That's another story, and a rather boring one.

After a while of reflection tonight, I think I can explain to you what it was about this young man that made me feel as though we were actually sharing a little part of our lives this afternoon. Not long into our conversation he shared with me some of his current disappointments with life, and something from his past too. I told him that I had had similar experiences in my past. He also told me a bit about his young relatives, who were having the most wonderful time playing with my child. He told me about a problem that one of those kids had experienced. He didn’t recount these sorrows in a pathetic way or in a way that felt manipulative. It just felt like he was being honest and open. He was an unusual young man who likes to share. In hindsight, the conversation we had was similar to conversations that I have had in the past with other mums, at places like playgroups or children’s birthday parties. He spoke about the kids the way a mother might speak about her own offspring. The difference was that today I was talking with a single, childless teenage man who has a learning disability. He was not another mum, and this personable young man didn’t have that layer of giggling, attention-seeking, social climbing nonsense that so many women seem to wear like a fashion item. I find it interesting that a man who is not able to do arithmetic with single digit numbers has such a beautiful manner of socializing. Our probable thirty or forty-odd points of difference in IQ did not feel like an unbridgeable chasm. I noticed it, but it didn’t seem to matter much at the time. He had no problem keeping up his end of the conversation. With some autists, asking a question is like dropping a rock down a very deep well. You never know how long you will have to wait before you hear a sound. Today’s conversation was not at all like that.

I guess some people might describe the young man that I met as a person with lots of empathy, but I hate that word, it is such a crude oversimplification of a thing that is not at all simple to understand. This man’s style of sharing was not simply a willingness to share information about one’s own feelings and situation. One can share things without evoking any feelings of emotional connection. I know autists who just love to tell people at length about their own problems and problems in the world that they feel bad about, but with my people the sharing is generally not a warm and touching experience. In my experience there is always much darkness and anger when the autists that I know talk honestly about issues and concerns, and the listener is often expected to get a bit dark and angry too, and if they don’t, the speaker might also get angry with the listener. You’re not interested? Well GET INTERESTED! This is not the type of sharing that helps to build relationships, unless you regard an angry mob as being a group of people enjoying a relationship. I do this “let’s get angry together!” autistic thing myself, even though I know well how tedious it can be. Even today, my side of the conversation took on a bit of that style at one point, when I was getting a bit fired up about a perceived injustice. It’s just the way I am.

So, I am certain that this young man was not on our spectrum. He was not an "angry young man" even though he had been bullied when he was a school student, like all kids who are different. I think this man is an even more rare type than our type, but I don’t think he feels isolated. He spoke about his girlfriend a few times. Lucky man. Lucky girlfriend.