Sunday, January 30, 2011

New addition to famous synaesthetes list: Piet Mondrian

I've just added Piet Mondrian to one of my popular lists of famous people. He has been in my list of famous autistic people for quite a while, and now I've added him to my list of famous people who are or were or might have been synesthetes. Mondrian was the artist who painted that unforgettable picture with a black grid type pattern on white, with rectangles and squares of red, blue and yellow. This style has been applied to all types of things: furniture, dresses, a car, shoes, a house. Mondrian also created pictures that cleverly evoked the sensation of jazz rhythm, and it appears likely that he had the type of mind that tends to personify things that aren't actually persons, based on his ideas about horizontal and vertical.

I must apologise that I've still not found the time to add a swag of new names to my famous synaesthetes list. The zany artist Paul Klee appears to have also been a personifier (of vegetables), and the respected movie producer Val Lewton appears to have had OLP. The left-handed Lady Gaga sees coloured music, as do many other synaesthetes, and the novelist Siri Hustvedt is a most interesting case of synaesthesia. So much work to do, so little spare time!

56 famous synaesthetes or possible synesthetes: a list with references.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Doco about "The Vaccine War" coming up on SBS 1

On Tuesday night at 7.30pm SBS 1 on Australian TV will be screening an American documentary about the unnecessary controversy that surrounds vaccines "... on one side sits scientific medicine and the public health establishment; on the other a populist coalition of parents, celebrities, politicians and activists." Sounds like interesting viewing.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rather amusing blog about Julian Assange

Things People Say About Julian Assange

What have I learned from this blog? I have learned that there are two mega-famous grey-haired Australians who are believed by some to be Tintin. It's a strange world.

Monday, January 24, 2011

WARNING! Oxytocin the xenophobia drug!

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has published online ahead of full publication a science journal paper with the title

Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism

See the abstract of the paper yourself here:

In case you were not aware, oxytocin has been hyped and researched as a potential "cure" for autism. According to Canadian researcher Michelle Dawson, there is a "growing epidemic of trials" of this "treatment". So, is oxytocin the love drug, or is it the hate drug? I would say that anyone who thinks love and hate are such simple things that one could pop a pill to increase one's quotient of either love or hate is a simple fool! And autism isn't a lack of love! I find it incredible that any respectable university researcher could buy such a primitively simple theory about autism.

Love and hate happen within complex social contexts. In situations of hate and conflict, it is often the social context that is more pathological, not the people involved, although it is true that there are features of neurotypical psychology that make "normal" people especially vulnerable to some irrational and evil ways of thinking. Neurotypical people are more likely to fall victim to the framing effect than autistic people (DeMartino et al 2008). Thus neurotypicals would be more vulnerable to being sucked-in by arguments that use framing to manipulate the target audience. This is exactly the type of argument that is the engine that powers much xenophobic rhetoric. When an Australian politician describes refugees in boats as "illegal immigrants" rather than using the alternative term "asylum seekers", this is the use of the framing effect in xenophobic rhetoric (feel free to argue with me on this point, I enjoy arguing).

Anyone who has a basic understanding of history will be aware of the dangers of xenophobic rhetoric. Messages of ethnic and race hate often find a receptive audience in times of hardship and in particular social-political contexts, and the vast majority of people have minds that are vulnerable to this type of manipulation. This is how wars happen. This is how war crimes happen. This is how genocides happen. The people who herded the Jews into the gas chambers weren't all autistics - we can safely assume that the membership of this group was overwhelmingly those wonderful empathetic neurotypical people, gushing with oxytocin and with fully functioning mirror neurons. Ditto the thousands of people who made Pol Pot's genocidal vision a reality. Ditto the people who set up and ran the rape camps in the Balkans. Do you believe that I and all other autistic people should aspire to have this type of psychology? Really? I'm not arguing that autistics are morally perfect or are saints, I'm just saying that the idea that neurotypical people are by definition naturally empathetic is a sad, sick joke that reflects an incredible ignorance of human history.

The theories that promote oxytocin and mirror neurons as miracle cures for autism are psuedo-science. It is the type of hype-powered research that happens as the result of a feast of funding for anything related to autism, and in time it will be exposed as hype or pure rubbish. Mirror-neuron theories of autism have been the subject of sophisticated criticism from other researchers, and many people have seen the flaws in the hype. If you care to read a fair number of science journal papers in the many areas of research related to autism you will start to notice that often the conclusions don't reflect what the study actually found, and that conclusions that assume that autism is pathological are amost always favoured even if one or more other explanations for the results are possible. It is not hard to find junk science and questionable conclusions related to autism research in science journals.

One rewarding aspect of trawling through research papers about autism is that one can sometimes find unacknowledged evidence of cognitive advantages of autism buried within the results, and often misdescribed as pathology. I believe this is the type of thing that researcher Michelle Dawson often finds, and I recently discovered an example myself of a distortion in visual processing that normal people typically fall victim to but which autistic study subjects appear to be immune to.

Back to the subject of the much-hyped and much-researced oxytocin. Consider this - every time you have a w*** or a f*** your brain apparently becomes naturally awash with the "social" hormone oxytocin. Tell me, do you become a completely different, better person every time you have a w*** or a f***? I don't think this happens with me. For sure there is no long-term "improvement" in my personality. I'm the same old argumentative bitch that I've always been, despite decades of sexual activity, and this is one fact that I don't need to back up with a lengthy argument.


Carsten K. W. De Dreu, Lindred L. Greer, Gerben A. Van Kleef, Shaul Shalvi, and Michel J. J. Handgraaf (2010) Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Published online before print January 10, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015316108

Benedetto De Martino, Neil A. Harrison, Steven Knafo, Geoff Bird, and Raymond J. Dolan (2008) Explaining Enhanced Logical Consistency during Decision Making in Autism. Journal of Neuroscience. October 15, 2008, 28(42):10746-10750; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2895-08.2008

Welcome Trust (2008) People with autism make more rational decisions, study shows. October 15 2008.

The Autism Crisis (blog by Michelle Dawson)

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2011) Framing effect (psychology). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Paul Offit's new book reviewed in New Scientist

Three new pro-science books are reviewed in a recent article in New Scientist magazine, one by Paul Offit (much hated by the anti-vax ratbag crowd), another by Seth Mnookin, and the third by Robert Goldberg.

The new book by Offit:

Offit, Paul Deadly choices: how the anti-vaccine movement threatens us all. Basic Books, 2010.

Irrationality vs vaccines: Fighting for reality.
by Chris Mooney
New Scientist. online 12 January 2011. Issue 2795 January 15th 2011 p.46-47.

Lili's thought for the day

Some autistic people are synaesthetes and apparently some are not. Any theory that is presented as an explanation for autism needs to explain or at least be compatible with this potentially very important fact.

A quote from the United States

Thorazine's not helping me very much.

- January Schofield, a young intellectually gifted Californian girl who has been given the diagnosis of "child-onset schizophrenia".

A Quote from Australia

Never be afraid to laugh at yourself, after all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century.
- Dame Edna Everage

from my collection of fave quotes:

Lili's thought for the day

Don't sit around waiting for that gold-edged invitation.

Friday, January 21, 2011

You'd have to be crazy ....

I've said it before and I'll say it again - you'd have to be crazy to take psychiatric drugs. See here an article about a confrontation between American psychiatrists and Robert Whitaker, the author of the most shocking and important recent book "Anatomy of an Epidemic"

Special Report: Do Psych Drugs Do More Long-Term Harm Than Good?
by Carey Goldberg
January 19th 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

"Have one for mum, one for dad and one for revenge."

- Lili Marlene's advice for adult autistics of child-bearing age who are considering reproducing themselves.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A word or two from Craig

"I was really obsessive about it, and I think you’ve got to be that way to make an impact or do anything that is going to get recognised."

I always say, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing obsessively. That was a quote from a recent interview with Craig Nicholls of The Vines. Read it here and listen to their new single.

Jolly, Nathan (2010) The Vines' Craig Nicholls: Unfiltered. Music Network. January 17th 2011.

Lili's supplemental thought for the day

There is no "N" in capsicum.

Lili's other thought for the day

Do hard ears = hard attitudes?

Lili's thought for the day

Why does someone always have to die in Nick Cave songs?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Stop the Press! Lady Gaga a synaesthete!

It appears that the very famous Lady Gaga is a synaesthete. Have a listen to what she says at around 2.20 into the video clip. She has coloured songs, just like me! I'm agog and agaga!

This is how your average synesthete dresses. We are all very creative people.

A lot of people have been working for years to spread the word that synaesthetes are pretty much normal, sensible, functional people. It all seems rather pointless now.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Julian Assange – International Man of Mystery

Julian Assange b.1971, Australian journalist, publisher, Internet activist and spokesperson, cryptographer and editor in chief and founder of WikiLeaks, a whistleblower website and repository for news leaks. Previously Assange was a computer programmer and a hacker. In 2010 Assange was described as “the most famous man in the world” (Rintoul et al 2010). Assange has received a number of human-rights-related awards. November 2010, WikiLeaks and media partners began publishing secret US diplomatic cables causing great embarrassment among leaders of many nations. In the same month Interpol placed Assange on its list of wanted persons, wanted for questioning about alleged sexual offences. Assange voluntarily surrendered to the London Metropolitan Police Service in December 2010. Assange denies the accusations made against him. There have been calls for Assange to be prosecuted for espionage and even calls for his assassination. Assange has had a falling out with some WikiLeaks collaborators, and has been accused of being a dictator with an oversized ego. WikiLeaks is a secretive organization, and Assange has been living an itinerant, secretive life travelling the world.

Assange spent most of his youth living on beautiful Magnetic Island off Queensland. His family had an unconventional lifestyle. Assange was homeschooled and he had his own horse. The family home burnt down. His step-father described Assange as a very intelligent child with a strong sense of morality "He always stood up for the underdog,... he was always very angry about people ganging up on other people." When Assange was 11 years his mother took Assange and his half-brother into hiding for 5 years during a custody dispute over his half-brother, in which the family moved homes and schools. Assange was homeschooled, also self-taught, a voracious reader citation-surfing in libraries, did some study by correspondence and also studied informally with university professors (Khatchadourian 2010). Assange started computer hacking at 16, joining a hacker group. This set has been described thus: "These were gifted kids who the system really couldn't accommodate and so they had exited - mentally, emotionally, physically." (Suelette Dreyfus quoted by Rintoul et al 2010). According to Wikipedia, in 1991 police raided his home and Assange pleaded guilty to hacking in 1992 and he was released and fined. According to another source (Wilson 2011) five years passed between the hacking and Assange being sentenced. Court documents from the 1996 sentencing portray Asssange as a lonely computer geek kid who had an unsettled family and educational life who failed his year 12 exams (Wilson 2011). One needs to consider that such documents would have a bias. While awaiting trial Assange reportedly became depressed and briefly booked himself into a hospital (Khatchadourian 2010). When Assange broke up with a girlfriend whom he had “married in an unofficial ceremony” (Khatchadourian 2010) he became involved in a custody battle over his own son, resulting in Assange and his mother creating a database of legal records related to child custody issues in Australia. An important internal manual was leaked by a child protection worker. According to Assange’s mother, this was the stressful time when Assange’s hair turned grey. Assange was involved with starting one of Australia’s first ISPs, and he has developed free software, becoming a key figure in the free software movement (Barrowclough 2010). Assange also co-invented the Rubberhose deniable encryption system. Assange has reportedly attended six universities at various times but has never graduated, studying maths, physics, philosophy and neuroscience. Assange became disenchanted with studying maths because fellow Australian students were working on projects for the US military.

Assange’s voice has been described as a “droning bass monotone” (Hosenball 2010). He has a pale complexion and hair that has gone completely grey before the age of 40. An account of a former housemate describes Assange’s lifestyle as one in which he would forget to eat and sleep, and would work through the night on his computer. Assange is capable of intense concentration but can also be absent-minded in practical matters (Khatchadourian 2010). Assange has been described as “brilliant and charming one minute but insufferable the next” (Hosenball 2010). According to one report Assange “has described himself to collaborators, only partly in jest, as "somewhere on the autistic spectrum."” (Hosenball 2010). There has also been some online speculation about Assange and autism.

Some quotes from Julian Assange

''I live a broad intellectual life. I'm good at a lot of things, except for spelling.'' (Barrowclough 2010)

"That is my temperament. I enjoy creating systems on a grand scale, and I enjoy helping people who are vulnerable. And I enjoy crushing bastards."

“How is it that a team of five people has managed to release to the public more suppressed information, at that level, than the rest of the world press combined? It's disgraceful.'' (Barrowclough 2010)

“The austerity of one’s interaction with a computer is something that appealed to me,” he said. “It is like chess—chess is very austere, in that you don’t have many rules, there is no randomness, and the problem is very hard.” (Khatchadourian 2010)

“We were bright sensitive kids who didn’t fit into the dominant subculture and fiercely castigated those who did as irredeemable boneheads.” (Khatchadourian 2010)

"I'm a combative person. So I like crushing bastards. So it is deeply, personally, personally, deeply satisfying to me."

“When a judge says, ‘The prisoner shall now rise,’ and no one else in the room stands—that is a test of character.” (Khatchadourian 2010)

“If it feels a little bit like we’re amateurs, it is because we are; everyone is an amateur in this business.” (Khatchadourian 2010)

"Real bastards are people who have power and abuse their power to afflict people who are weaker than they are.”

“When it comes to the point where you occasionally look forward to being in prison on the basis that you might be able to spend a day reading a book, the realization dawns that perhaps the situation has become a little more stressful than you would like.”

“It has given me enough anger to last me 100 years.”

References about Julian Assange

Barrowclough, Nikki (2010) The secret life of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Sydney Morning Herald. May 22, 2010.

Cadwalladr, Carole (2010) Julian Assange, monk of the online age who thrives on intellectual battle. Scot Network. August 5th 2010.
[“At times, he can seem almost autistic, although “he doesn’t lack charm””]

Carrick, Damien (2010) Julian Assange. Law Report. ABC Radio National. December 14th 2010.

Cjb (accessed 2011) Things People Say About Julian Assange. (blog)

[good for a laugh]

Dreyfus, Suelette & Assange, Julian (researcher) (1997) Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier. Reed Books Australia.

Fowler, Andrew (2010) Truth or dare. Foreign Correspondent. ABCTV. Broadcast 22nd June 2010.

[about WikiLeaks, includes a link to video and a transcript]

Hosenball, Mark (2010) Special Report: Julian Assange versus the world. Reuters. December 13th 2010.
[includes a claim that Assange has described himself only partly in jest as somewhere on the autistic spectrum]

Kenber, Billy and Whitworth, Damian (2010) Pied Piper Julian Assange brooks no dissent in land of WikiLeaks. Times. December 18, 2010.

Khatchadourian, Raffi (2010) No secrets: Julian Assange’s mission for total transparency. New Yorker. June 7th 2010.

Rintoul, Stuart, Parnell, Sean, Elks, Sarah, Rout, Milanda & Owens, Jared (2010) Julian Assange, wild child of free speech. Australian. December 11, 2010. Weekend Australian. December 11-12 2010. p. 1, 8.

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2010) Julian Assange. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Wilson, Lauren (2011) Assange 'addicted' to computer as a boy. Weekend Australian. January 15-16th 2011. (The Nation).

Copyright Lili Marlene 2011.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My fave Led Zep tune

If it keeps on rainin' levee's goin' to break ....

Robert Plant evidently used to dress to the left. It's hard not to notice. I mean it's difficult not to notice.

Lili thinks she is a political commentator

I have reviewed the recent book by "faceless man" Australian union leader Paul Howes at my other blog, in which I consider political matters in Australia.

Blond Ambition

Lili's thought of the day

Does Tony Abbott still think climate change is "crap", while a large chunk of Queensland and some of NSW currently lies inundated in what is the worst flooding in living memory?

More about the floods

I believe the floods in Australia are now affecting the northern parts of New South Wales. I have heard that land-line telephones in affected areasare not recommended for non-essential use, but people are communicating through texting and internet-based communication such as Facebook and Twitter etc.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bad news comes in threes

I'm so glad that I don't live in any of the parts of Australia that are affected by the devastating floods or bushfires that are currently threatening people. A major flood disaster is currently unfolding in Queensland, with vast areas of the state already devastated and the capital city Brisbane preparing to go under. I believe the authorities are advising to avoid making unecessary land-line phone calls to Brisbane.

Nine people are already confirmed dead in Queensland, and it looks like the worst flooding ever in most of Queensland, maybe the worst ever in Australia. After a major flood in the 1970s a dam was built to protect Brisbane, but still they are expecting flooding just as bad as the last disaster. Banana-benders have a heart-breakingly beautiful type of timber home built on stilts called a "Queenslander" that is apparently hot in summer and cold in winter, and a good meal for termites I would expect, but built to withstand flooding. But these floods have gone beyond the floorboards of many homes. Some homes have been just washed away. If you can do anything to help, please do!

Perhaps it is best not to live in a place that has a name that means "swamp" in the local Aboriginal language. I am so much over my envy of river-front real estate.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

My condolences to the people of Arizona

I've only just heard about the shooting involving the US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in which a number of people have been killed. I'm shocked and saddened.

You Americans have too many guns! The more guns that are owned by private citizens, the less safe everyone is. I hope that one day my friends in the US will have a leader who is able to take decisive action to reduce gun ownership, as was done in Australia in the 1996, in response to a massacre in Tasmania.

Ramachandran has a new book out - oh joy

The author of this review of V S Ramachandran's new book suggests that V S Ramachandran is "perhaps too highly regarded". I'll drink to that mate! The reviewer goes on to guide the reader to a different book about the mind and brain, a book by Iain McGilchrist. Ramachandran is still enthused about mirror neurons. What can I say that I haven't already said, loudly?

The Tell-Tale Brain: Unlocking the Mystery of Human Nature by V S Ramachandran: review
Nicholas Shalespeare

January 7th 2011

Friday, January 07, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

Why is this blog so popular in Germany? Hello to my German readers!

Beware those headlines

If you are a regular reader of New Scientist magazine, you might have seen an article in the Christmas / New Year edition titled "Autistic ability falters in real world" about a recent UK study. Michelle Dawson has scrutinized the same study at her academic/science blog The Autism Crisis. How is it that one educated and dilligent woman can do a better job of reviewing a study than a major international science magazine?

Are autistic people lost in space?
Michelle Dawson
The Autism Crisis.
January 3rd 2011

Autistic ability falters in real world.
Andy Coghlan
New Scientist.
Number 2792/93 December 25th 2010 - January 1st 2011
Online 20 December 2010

Thursday, January 06, 2011

We all used to be schizophrenics, in the badder old days

It's official - autism used to be "Schizophrenia, childhood type" and "schizoid personality", and it used to be just for kids. And if that isn't confusing enough for you, next year a bunch of personality disorders are going to just disappear. That's how the science of psychiatry works, superseding one debacle with another possibly less disastrously wrong mistake. I feel so inspired!

Inside the Battle to Define Mental Illness
By Gary Greenberg
Wired January 2011
online December 27, 2010

Lili considers a trip to the flicks, then reconsiders

I've been fascinated for a long time by the story of the stuttering, left-handed King George VI of England, one of many left-handed English royals. I've noted that the new biographical movie about the king, The King's Speech, has been given many good reviews, and has a favourite actor of mine, Helena Bonham-Carter, in a leading role, and it also has a respected Aussie actor playing a real Australian in a main role. But now I'm not so sure about this movie. I get the impression that this will be another sentimental movie that depicts a neurological condition as a psychological disorder that can be cured by psychological counselling. In fact, there was no miracle cure of the King's stutter. King George improved under the care of the Australian elocutionist Lionel Logue, but accounts of the time suggest that the King still had an underlying problem.

I get so annoyed when faced with nonsense about miraculous psychological cures for neurological conditions and disorders. That type of feel-good, touchy-feely mythmaking gets in the way of real progress, in understanding neurological conditions and the people who have them. Stuttering is not a psychological or a psychiatric disorder. It is something to do with the way the brain is wired up (it is no accident of chance that the case that this movie is based upon had a combination of stuttering, maleness and left-handedness) and many of the therapies and interventions that have been offered for stuttering to date have had little or no scientific justification. Autism is not caused by cold mothers, stuttering is not caused by a timid character, Tourette's is not a form of madness, and I think I'll wait till the movie goes to the telly.

"Performer from Perth Lionel Logue gave voice to a king."
Helen Trinca
Online: The Australian January 01, 2011.
The Weekend Australian January 1-2 2011. p. 5 Inquirer.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Steve Biddulph autistic? Really?

Today I was listening to a repeat program on the Life Matters radio show and the popular Australian pop psychology author Steve Biddulph was saying something about having Asperger syndrome in his past. I was too busy to listen closely, so I hope he was only speaking in a general, flippant and cutesy manner about being socially awkward in his youth. If Bidduph goes around calling himself autistic, I'm going to find another diagnosis. Seriously.

Some quotes from the Life Matters website:

"The book went on to achieve international fame with its invitation to all men to escape their 'prison of self'."

Please, someone fetch me a bucket!

"And now it's back in an updated version, as a handbook for 'a new kind of man'."
Well I liked the old kind of man! I hope there will still be plenty of old type men available.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

If you are becoming disheartened with dating because every man that you meet seems to be overly preoccupied with socialising, and chatty in a way that seems a bit effeminate, perhaps it is time to consider the possibility that the man of your dreams is not so normal after all.

Lili Marlene's Little List of Mega-Famous Grey-Haired Australians

In order of number of hits when Googled:

1. Julian Assange

(only fifty-three million hits)

2. Kevin Rudd

(recently described by one columnist as still the most newsworthy person in Australia

3. Julia Gillard

(despite having a former hairdresser and sales rep for a hair products company for a boyfriend, Gillard made a number of public appearances in December 2010 sporting very noticeable grey roots.)

For more of my prattling on about politicians, see my other blog Blond Ambition