Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas



Merry Christmas, everyone.

I'm not much of a holiday person but it's still a good time to think back on the year and consider everything that I (each and every one of us, really) have to be thankful for. I particularly want to recognize and thank all of you - readers and members of my online community - for making me welcome, and for giving me your support and encouragement. At the same time, I try and forget all the miserable stuff that makes me depressed . . . . and I hope for a brighter year in 2010 . . . .

I was going to put up an online form where people could sign up and join my Christmas Card Mailing list but I just did not get it together in time. Therefore, for those of you who missed my annual Christmas card by mail, I have here a hi-res downloadable version . . . And i promise to have the sign up form online in plenty of time for Christmas 2010.

I like to use my own photos for cards. This card depicts an old Buick Invicta at the Hemmings Classic Car Show which was held in Vermont in July 2009 I chose it for the vivid red and blue, which was almost as Christmasy as vivid red and green, which I did not have in my image library.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A walk in the desert

It all started with an old airplane, baking in the New Mexico desert. It could have been a scene from a movie . . . crashed and presumed lost; miles from anywhere . . . I looked at the mountains in the distance and wondered if I could have crossed them on foot . . .



Being what I am, I decided to try . . . As I got closer it didn't look so rough . . .



But as I got into it, the ground got rugged fast



Most alarming, everyone else walking the old mule paths had snake leggings and sticks. And of course there were warning signs . . . and I had sneakers and nothing else. You can see the leggings on this guy, retreating downhill . . .



Moving into the high country, I ran into last week's snow. Good thing, because I didn't have any water . . .



The road wound ever higher, and as the air got thin I imagined prospectors leading mules over these same tracks 150 years ago



I finally walked through the pass at 6,200 feet, and it felt like I could see 100 miles . . .





I was very lucky to have a guide. Here he is . . . Hal Ettinger



After walking back down, I took a cable car to the top of another set of mountains, just in time for purple sunset . . .



I loked down over the US-Mexico border. The border fence is the squiggly line through the upper right; the right lights ar eMexican, the left are Texan.

I'm short on cash. Should I rob that convienience store?

You are down to your last twenty bucks, and people are streaming in and out of the convenience store across the street. There’s money in the register and a gun in your pocket. Should you rob the store?

Most people would listen to that question, laugh, and say, Of course not! That’s because most people have enough empathy to realize that robbing someone will cause them great distress. The ability to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes – and an appreciation that other people have rights too – is enough to curtail most of our worst impulses.

We may not articulate such thoughts consciously, but they run through our minds at moments like that. We might also consider risk to ourselves or the possibility of jail, but for most people empathy stops us short. We just don’t do really bad stuff to other people, most of the time.

We say, It’s wrong to rob people! I just would not do it! And that’s probably true for most of us, but it has to be based on something. That something is empathy. You might even say empathy is the neurological foundation of the Golden Rule we all heard as children.

So did empathy take a back seat to logic, or is empathy just a “sometimes” thing?

The person standing in front of the store with a gun clearly has alternatives to robbery. He could get a job, seek a meal from a soup kitchen, apply for emergency public aid, or even panhandle. The thing is, none of those options provide the quick cash fix that walking in and grabbing the till delivers.

Empathy may act as a subtle mental push – it may even push hard at times – but we have to be willing to listen. All too often, we allow ourselves to be subsumed by greed, laziness, and the dream of winning it all without any work.

If you doubt that, look at the success of state mega-millions lotteries. Everyone who flocks to the lottery hopes for an easy score.

Our brains seem hardwired to support the empathetic moral choices. We talk about “working hard” for something, and “feeling so much better in the end.” And I think that’s true. I know it has been, for my own life. Yet the temptation of easy fixes is strong. That’s why society constructs barriers. Marriage and property division laws make it hard to blow up a relationship in the blink of an eye. The threat of prison deters some from robbing stores.

Sometimes people ask if those of us with Asperger’s are blind to such things, because our empathy isn’t triggered by the same factors that work on nypicals. In situations like those I described, I actually think we Aspergians may act more empathetically, because our social blindness – our difficulty reading other people – often causes us to consider our moves more carefully and logically, and that gives more chances for us to make a good or right choice.

We are also more likely to be swayed by logic, and in most cases the logical arguments for getting a job over robbing a store are strong. Sometimes, the same is true for keeping the guy or the girl.

There is no doubt in my mind that Asperger’s has helped develop my sense of right and wrong, because I am such a reflective and logical person as a result of it. At the same time, I acknowledge that my morality may have been slow to develop because it took many more years for me to develop a true awareness of other people, due to the Aspergian weaknesses in my sensory apparatus.

Will society and your mind’s barriers hold you back this holiday season, or will you go robbing and shattering? This holiday season, I hope for the best for you. Think carefully before you act and be mindful of the increased stress at this time of year. January will be here before you know it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Brain Plasticity and TMS



Here I am in the TMS lab at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, with Lindsay Oberman, Phd holding the TMS coil over my head. I'm wearing a cap that has 32 EEG wires in it for brain wave monitoring. And the wires on my hand are picking up tiny electrical signals from the nerves in my thumb and forefinger. It looks kind of nasty but it's actually not uncomfortable at all. There are no holes drilled in me.

You can see the TMS machine behind Lindsay. There's a camera system and monitor out of sight in front of us, telling Lindsay exactly where to place the TMS coil. Behind us there is another computer monitoring brain wave activity throughout the test. In the corner there is a wet or dry shop-vac, in case my head explodes.

Yesterday I went to Boston to participate in this new TMS study. TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) uses powerful focused magnetic fields to induce tiny signals in the brain. These TMS signals can cause permanent changes in our brains by showing us new paths between the neurons in our heads. TMS is currently used to treat depression, and it shows tremendous promise for autism, epilepsy, and a number of other conditions.

Perhaps one day it will even fix me. However, today’s study was not aimed at repairing the way I think. Rather, the goal was to evaluate the plasticity of my brain by measuring the circuits that operate my hand. That may seem mundane, but it’s actually really important. Studies like these are showing that people on the autism spectrum have more plasticity than neurotypicals, and that difference may be instrumental in shaping our lives.

Plasticity is the brain’s ability to form new paths. You might say it’s an essential component of learning any new skill. For example, when you learn the way up the stairs and down the hall to your room, you are using plasticity to make a path in your brain that tells your legs what to do to go from the front door to your nest.

The scientists in the TMS lab believe unusual plasticity is the reason I can learn things so fast. There have been many times that I’ve focused intently on some bit of arcana and become an expert so quickly that other people thought it was unbelievable. It’s kind of neat to hear an explanation for that, because I lived so much of my life with people dismissing my abilities as “lucky guesses,” or “getting away with something,” just because they could not relate.

To hear that greater-than-usual brain plasticity makes that possible is kind of neat. But I’m afraid it’s not the whole story. Sure, if I get fascinated by something I devour all I can about my new interest overnight, but there are plenty of topics that don’t interest me much, and plasticity does not help me one bit if I have to study them. Is plasticity a kind of fair weather friend, something that only helps with things I like?

Maybe. I don’t know, and I’m not sure that anyone else knows either.

It’s also not clear why plasticity would give me a great gift – speedy learning – while totally disabling other people on the spectrum. The scientists theorize that excess plasticity may leave some autistic people in a state of permanent confusion because the paths in their heads are constantly shifting. Nothing stays the same.

Why would some people be disabled by this, and others gifted? No one knows. Perhaps we’re totally wrong, or perhaps there are other factors at work. The more I learn about this work, the more I see how unfathomably complex even the simplest brains are. Today's science is far from unraveling the mental secrets of a mouse; they are just scratching the surface with creatures like me.

All brains have some amoount of plasticity, since it's essential to learn new skills. It's just a matter of degree. It’s possible that some parts of my brain are exceptionally plastic, and others aren’t. So maybe the distribution of plasticity makes a difference or explains why some parts of me are really smart wile others are pretty oblivious. Future studies may help answer that question.

Until then, we can just ponder how it is that plasticity can confer both genius and profound disability, perhaps even in the same person. I told you how scientists at the lab attribute much of my learning ability to plasticity. At the same time, they blame my social blindness in part on plasticity too. Dr. Lindsay Oberman – the scientist conducting this study – explained.

Neurotypical people might have one path in their heads to recognize facial expressions. By the time they grow up, that path is well worn and familiar. People with high plasticity (referring to me) might have a hundred paths, or a thousand, and they are all smaller. So plasticity has put a lot more options inside our heads, but they are so complex that they don’t run fast like an NT person. The result – a social disability.

What a paradox.

And now we get to the good part . . . plasticity may be changeable. Some brand-new studies have suggested that TMS can change the plasticity of parts of the brain. And other studies are exploring the possibility of using drugs to change plasticity. So we may be on the brink of being able to reduce plasticity in people who have too much.

But what will that mean?

If plasticity is the explanation for my social disability and exceptional focus and learning, I’d stay just the way I am, thank you. However, not all autistic people share my gifts. If I saw myself as more disabled than gifted, I might well make a different choice with respect to plasticity. If I could take a pill and watch my disability fade as my brain build strong pathways that would be almost magical. But would it play out that way? No one knows.

It’s possible we’d have to change plasticity in early childhood to make a dramatic difference. In that case, parents would have to make a life-changing treatment decision before they really knew the extent of their child’s future gift or disability. And by choosing less plasticity, they might be saying “NO” to the possibility of exceptional skills or creative genius. Or maybe not. Again, no one knows.

Parents and doctors may be facing some really tough choices soon, if these drugs and therapies pan out. For the only way to know what will happen is to try them on kids. Are you ready to line up?

That’s got to be a really hard choice to face. Especially when no one fully understands what may change. I guess that’s what science is about; hunting the answers to these questions.


Here are some of my other TMS autism stories:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The School Bell Rings!



I’m pleased and proud to announce details of my first class at Elms College in Chicopee, Massachusetts. This course will be held on campus from 8:30-6 in one long day on Saturday March 20. Save the day!

My classes will be under the umbrella of the College’s graduate autism program. The course number is ASD671 for continuing ed or professional development credit, or ASD771 for grad students. Costs are $175 for continuing ed or $294 for graduate credit, plus a $20 registration fee.

Here’s the catalog description:

In this course, participants will explore the three essential components of Asperger’s syndrome – social impairment, speech affect, and physical issues. Participants will learn how minor brain differences lead to unique and even alien thought processes, and how they shape the lives of people with Asperger’s. Differences can be disabling or empowering; participants will get a sense of this scope and discuss how young people can be helped to see their gifts in the face of sometimes significant disability.

Participants will learn how individuals with Asperger’s evolve over time, seeing how Asperger’s presents in children, in adolescents, and in adults. Within each of these four components both lecture and discussion will take place. Embedded in the lecture and discussion will be concepts from Look Me in the Eye and Geeks Rule, two books written by John Robison. Participant will be required to read Look Me in the Eye prior to the course in order to be prepared to engage in productive discussion. An out of class assignment will be required.

Participants will receive both teaching guides for Look Me in the Eye as part of the course material. Recommended for speech pathologists, teachers and mental health and counseling professionals who deal with young people with Asperger’s. This is a standalone course that is also recommended for parents and family members seeking insight.

I know that quite a few of you have asked about online courses. We are working on an online version of this class right now, and we are also working on online and classroom courses for the use of Look Me in the Eye and its sequel in middle and high school classrooms.

The material in this class is based on my own study, my life experience as a grownup with Asperger’s, my experience parenting a now-grown Asperger kid, and my exposure at workshops and speaking engagements nationwide.

Elms College The online registration is not up yet but you can sign up by phone at 413 265-2314

Woof!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A visit with my bankers . . .

Meet Bill Wagner, the president of Chicopee Bank. Readers of Look Me in the Eye will know Bill and the bank from my stories. Today's I've photographed him so you can put faces to the names . . .



Things were tough in 1990, when Bill and I first met. I had quit my last real job to start a new business fixing cars in my driveway a few years before. Unfortunately, it took more money that I realized to start a company, and I’d lost all my savings getting going. Then the economy tanked, and the cars I had for sale were suddenly unmarketable. At the same time, I had a wife and a new baby to support.

But I had a plan. And it was working. My business – Robison Service – had grown from zero to several hundred thousand in revenues. But the question was, could I sustain the growth, or would it fail?

More than 90% of new businesses fail in the first few years. The odds were against me. Yet I had some unique traits, unproven though they were. I also had a bank breathing down my neck.

My home had been purchased with what was called a “balloon mortgage” which the bank was supposed to renew. But the bank was bought by a bigger bank, and the bigger bank failed and was taken over by a still bigger bank, and now they had sent me a notice asking for $45,000 I did not have. I applied for a new loan at the bank, and they turned me down. So did the folks at BayBank, the other big bank in town. Like many people, I assumed the big banks were the best place to go, and they have declined. What now? I had no idea . . . .

I asked everyone I knew for advice. I’d recently made friends with an aspiring accountant – Gene Cassidy – and he suggested his friend Bill Wagner, at a place called Chicopee Savings. I had never heard of them; they were certainly not a household name like Citibank, nor did they have branches in every shopping center, like BayBank. But I called him anyway, and he said he’d come see me. This is Gene, seen tonight. He's the guy on the right. The fellow on the left is Bob Greeley, one of the Kings of Springfield Real Estate. We're all a bit older. Gene runs finance now at the Eastern States Exposition, one of the biggest Fairs in the country. And I am still here at Robison Service. And writing stuff like this, of course . . .



I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s how commercial lending works. And that’s what I was – a guy with a small business is a commercial customer, no matter what he wants to borrow. Consumer loans are decided today by formula; by machine. Commercial lending is all done personally, by bankers like Bill.

He drove out to see me, and he looked at what I had. He looked over my list of customers, and he looked at my operation. I thought it was pretty impressive, and he said he was impressed, but looking back . . . it was just a tiny two-bay garage, me, and some tools.

Yet at the end of his visit, Bill said, “Welcome to Chicopee Savings. It will take a little while for paperwork, but you are all set.” In the space of a brief visit, I had been measured up, evaluated, and approved. I was amazed. I had a new mortgage for my house, and a small loan for my company. Just like that.

Successful commercial lenders rely on the ability to judge people. And I guess he saw my drive and determination. Whatever he saw, it was enough. I’ve been with the bank ever since.

In the 20 years since, I can’t tell you how many businesses I’ve seen ruined by big banks. The bank gets into trouble, and they start calling commercial customers and saying “Pay up or else!” Banks can’t do that to consumers, but most commercials loans can be “called” in that manner, and if it happens, it can be ruinous for small business. But the big banks don’t care about their communities. They may say they do, but their actions belie their words.

Banks like Chicopee are what really support our communities. They also keep America’s small business running, through good times and bad. The big banks got greedy and sank billions into questionable mortgage securities, leading to the biggest government bailout in history. Smaller banks like Chicopee were wise enough to stay clear of those securities; they were not blinded by greed like the big banks. As a result, most small banks are fine today. They did not take those risks, and they remain strong. I’m proud to be a customer of Chicopee Bank.

Every year, the bank has a Christmas Social for its friends. It’s become the “in” Christmas party for greater Springfield. I almost missed this year’s event, because I had a speaking engagement at the Wilton Library in southern Connecticut today, and I have to speak at noble and Greenough in Dedham tomorrow. But I swung through Chicopee out of respect for my old friend Bill Wagner.

Hard times have come to my town again. But I’m still here, and so is my bank.

I’ve put a gallery on my Facebook page; I hope you’ll stop by and leave a comment or two . . .

My Bank's Christmas Gallery

Monday, November 30, 2009

Are computers making us dumber as they get smarter? Maybe it's part of the master plan . . . .

I can still remember how impressed I was with my father’s academic friends. Whatever I said to them, they always had an answer. I’d point to a ship in my book, and they’d tell me about the Bremen, the Lusitania, and the United States . . . all the great passenger liners. I’d talk about elephants and they answered with stories of Africa, Asia, Hannibal’s warriors and the Indian Maharajahs. I was so impressed with their vast knowledge.

I read books all day long, and it seemed like I didn’t know a fraction of what those grownups knew. Of course, they were thirty and I was seven, but I wasn’t old enough to take subtle points like that into account.

My grandparents didn’t know nearly as much. I’d ask my grandmother about helicopters, and she’d just say, Honey child, I don’t know a thing about helicopters! When I asked why she didn’t know, my grandfather had the answer. Those college people know a little about everything, but nothing about anything. I doubt any of them could plow a field!

I never did get the chance to see if my parents’ friends could plow fields. But as
I got older, I realized folks who could talk intelligently about many topics were pretty rare, and the ones who knew more than the most superficial tidbits were rarer still. I was just lucky to have a bunch of them in my life early on. So it was a neat thing, finding new people like that as I got older.

By the time I was eighteen, I knew a few good places to look for people who knew something about everything. The Umass Science Fiction Society, for example, was full of geeks with an overabundance of esoteric knowledge. As time passed, I found more and more pockets of arcane understanding throughout the Pioneer Valley, where I lived.

The knowledgeable people I found were always rare and special. Consequently, I grew up believing knowledge was something to be treasured. Not anymore. Any fool with a Blackberry or Iphone can look up life’s answers at the drop of a hat, provided there’s cell phone service. So where does that leave the knowledgeable geeks of yesterday? I guess what was special has become ordinary, at least on first glance.

What happened? Did the pocket Internet make everyone smarter? Or does it just facilitate snappy comebacks, with a sixty-second web browser delay? I used to think the Internet was a tide that lifted all boats, knowledge wise, but now I wonder if the opposite is true. I think the Internet and information technology in general makes us dumber, in some key ways.

When I was a kid, you had to actually memorize and know the capitals of foreign countries if you wanted to talk geography. And you never knew when that might happen. Even today, I know Ulan Bator is the capital of Mongolia, and Quito is the capital of Ecuador. I can point them out on a map.

So what, today’s young people say. The iphone will tell you more about Ulan Bator in sixty seconds than I could possibly remember. That’s true, but by relying on the computer, we stop training out minds, and we stop filling our memory banks. By doing so, I believe we diminish our ability to solve life’s problems unaided, and we become more and more dependent on machines. When the machines give us answers, we seem superficially smarter, but we really are dumber, because we’re not building the networks in our brains to solve a whole host of problems.

Want another example of this? Think navigation. I went my whole life looking at maps and finding my way. I have a long, long history of reaching my destinations, whether on foot, by boat, or by car. I looked at a map, related it to the world around me, and found my way. All too often, navigation today is handed off to a machine. Many motorists can’t make sense of a basic road map, or estimate the distance between two points on a printed page. They are lost if their machine loses touch with the satellites.

Most of the time, technology works as it should. People get to their destinations faster thanks to computers. But people who rely on machines have given up something vital yet intangible. They’ve lost the ability to think it through a navigation problem themselves. They have become slaves to machines out of intellectual laziness, and the laziness makes them less smart. The brain wiring that solves navigation problems allows us to solve other problems too. Computers don’t have that flexibility, and neither do we when we abdicate our thinking to machines.

I think this point is lost on many young people today. After all, if they have not developed certain processing abilities in their minds, how can they know what they are missing? I know, because I see what I lose when I rely on technology and it fails. I think of my frustration when my car gets lost, and I recall all those times when I solved my own problems and found my own way, uneventfully albeit a bit slower.

For many people, web browsing has replaced book reading. Recent studies suggest that their attention spans are reduced as a result. When we rely on a computer to look up facts, instead of our own memory, the price may not be obvious. But I believe it’s there, and it real.

It’s a point to ponder for sure. Easy answers aren’t always free.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Some fall flowers . . .

A famous writer once said, "You can lead a Horticulture, but you can't make her think." How true that is. And it makes you wonder who grows plants like these . . . .

The closer we get to winter, the more the New England countryside reverts to black-and white. It's like the saturation dial gets turned down, day by day. But you can still find spots of color. One place I look is the greenhouses at Smith College. When I was a kid the Smith girls were superior and snooty, and they sneered at the likes of me. Now, though, they admit me to their institution and are even friendly, especially when I pay to get in. These are some of the plants from their fall mum show, which runs through the 20th:



I am told they have live bees, snakes, and rats to pollinate and disseminate the plants. So you have to watch your step but it's worth it.



I am not sure how they get their mums to grow in a ball, but they do . . .





Some of the colors are quite delicate.







If you like these, there are more over on my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/johnelderrobison























Monday, November 9, 2009

John Elder Robison - upcoming appearances

In the interest of keeping stuff together and up to date I have set up a new blog for my appearances. If you follow the Look Me in the Eye blog I'd suggest following the appearances blog too. It has one post - the calendar - which I edit whenever I add or change a date.

You can go to it directly at:

http://johnelderrobison.blogspot.com

You can subscribe to the feed here:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/JohnElderRobison

I mirror this blog on my Facebook and elsewhere. I add events every month, and if you follow, you'll know where they are. I hope to see you on the road . . . .

Friday, November 6, 2009

What is Smart? Is intelligence like beauty, merely in the eye of the beholder?

"He's such a bright little boy!" My mother and her friends said stuff like that all the time, as they pointed to me when they thought I wasn't paying attention.

Now that I'm grown, I can let them in on a secret: There was never a time when I didn't pay attention to grownups as a kid. I watched them really close, all the time. I may not have understood everything I heard, but I surely took it all in.

But what did it mean? I got a new bike, and my mother said, "What a pretty red bicycle!" Everyone who saw it said the same thing. It was a nice, red bike. The attributes didn't change. It was always a bike, and always red. No one ever called it blue or green, because colors were absolute. Something was either red or green; it didn't change at your whim or mine.

Unfortunately, phrases like, "Bright little boy," didn't work that way. I went to school as a "bright boy" only to have bigger kids say, "You're a retard!" Grownups got in their kicks with lines like, "How can you act so stupid?"

I may not have known much in elementary school, but I knew bright, retarded, and stupid did not go together.

Something was wrong. I began watching those grownups who said I was so smart a little closer. I noticed something pretty quick: When grownups talked about kids, they were always calling them clever and smart, and the other moms always agreed. No one ever said, "John Elder is really smart, but Freddie is dumb as a rock!"

The grownups said, "John Elder is smart," and then Freddie crawled into the cage, and they also said, "Freddie is so clever and smart!" To moms, we were all cute and smart and clever. Yet I'd go to school, and lots of kids said Freddie was dumb. None of them said he was smart.

So who was right? You heard moms call kids smart, and they never called kids dumb. Yet I knew you couldn't have smart kids without having less-smart ones too. If we were all smart, we'd be the same, and there would be no such thing as smart or not.

So I learned to discount what the moms said. I did the same for most of the kids who called me a retard, because I realized they called everyone they didn't like a retard. Also, after close observation I began to doubt the mental prowess of the name callers. If they were subnormal, how could they possibly diagnose me?

After a lot of watching and thinking, I finally figured out what was happening. People said I was smart because they thought I sounded smart. Sound was the giveaway. My choice of words announced my intelligence, or so they thought.

It took a long time for me to figure that out because it didn't work that way for me; I had to deduce what was going on from observation. You see, I could never really tell who was smarter even when I knew someone pretty well. Sure, I knew who had better language skills. Me. But so what?

I have always spoken really precisely and clearly, and that gives listeners the impression that I am really smart. But that didn't make me smarter. Butch Fornier talked rough, but he was an artist with carburetors in auto shop. I could talk circles around Butch, but when it came to practical skill, he had me whupped. So I knew how deceptive fancy words could be.

Pretty is something you see. Stinky is something you smell. Smart is something you hear. That's how it works for most people. What a disappointment! I always thought "smart" was an absolute, and maybe it is on an IQ test. But in the popular perception, smart is just as much in the eye of the beholder as beauty and body odor.

People who listened to me had no way to know if I was really smart or not. They didn't say, "Quick now! Multiply 4,722 by 381. What's the answer?" They never said, "So you think you're smart . . . who's the King of Mongolia?" Those kinds of questions might have given people some real insight into my intelligence. But they never asked. They just listened to me talk, and jumped to a conclusion.

They were making a big mistake, as it turned out.

I did have really good speaking skills. That part of my brain is "smart." But there's more to being smart than the ability to talk a good game. There's also math smarts, history smarts, and smarts for everything else they teach in school. And finally, one big smarts is social smarts. That's the ability to figure out other people, and what they really mean when they say and do things. Unfortunately, I am pretty dumb in that area.

When I was twelve, I had the language skill of a college professor and the social skill of a toddler. That was a formula for disaster, and it totally explains all those people who cried out, "How can you be so smart and do such dumb things?"

Today I see how exceptional language skill can combine with poor social skill to create a terrible invisible handicap. A person whose social skills and language are poor is cut some slack, because he sounds like he needs some help. A person like me is torn to pieces because I sound so good that I'm held to an exceptionally high standard; one I often fail to meet. Quite a few of my fellow Aspergians share this predicament.

And the worst part is . . . I often don't even know when I've made a gaffe, because that social blindness is central to the whole thing.

That's something to ponder the next time a "smart kid" does something "really dumb" in your presence.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Looking through the window at holidays

Most of the time I feel like I’ve blended in to nypical society pretty well, but the holidays always come to remind me that I’ll always be an outsider in certain ways. This Halloween was no exception.

One problem with holidays is that it produces millions and millions of images, many of which by the poses and expressions serve to remind me of my own differences. I’d like to pose and smile like the people in the photos, but I can’t quite do it. Most of the time, I hardly notice how I look and carry myself relative to others, but at times like this I can’t miss it, and it kind of hurts.

Now that Halloween has passed and the parties are over, I see photos of people bunched together in groups, cheek to cheek and smiling big smiles, and I think . . . that is something I could never do. Not for lack of desire, mind you; I just don’t know how to accomplish it, or perhaps I don’t know how to get away with it without offending everyone horribly or making a fool of myself.

Here are two examples from the stream of pictures that passes my Facebook account every day. My apologies to the people depicted in these shots as I’m sure you never meant them to be used in this way . . .




How do you smile on command like the females in these shots? When people ask to take a picture of me, this is the usual result:



I felt like I behaved just fine with the photo of me and Kevin was taken. I think he was okay too. But look at the difference between me and those three females, or even between me and Kevin. Such a difference of expression, and I know I'm weak in this area so I was trying to compensate!

We all smile on command to some extent. I smiled for Kevin, but it’s barely recognizable when held up against the females. Some people smile so naturally. I thought I was smiling when my picture was taken, and indeed you can see a hint of it on my face. But I can’t do those big smiles on command, no matter how I try.

And the expressions aren’t the only thing that sets me apart. There’s also the posing. I look at photos like the one of Jackie pressed up against her friends and I ask myself, how do you know when it’s appropriate to pose like that? When, and for how long?

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a photo of myself like Jackie’s, even when I was a kid. I just don’t know how to get that close to someone else and pose. I think other people must have an instinctive sense of how to hold themselves and act; whatever it is, it’s missing in me.

What feeling is conveyed in Jackie’s pictures? Perhaps the fact that I don’t know explains why I can’t imagine being in shots like that, even though I know millions of other people posed just like her lat weekend, and had fun doing so.

Most of the time, people say I’m a serious looking guy, and that’s okay. But there seem to be times when others lighten up in appearance, and I don’t seem to have that figured out. I think I’ve learned how to fit in really well, and then I see images like these, that show how different I really am in some ways, and I know it will never change.

I’m glad I’ve at least earned the respect of many people, and my serious demeanor is acceptable 99.9% of the time. The pictures will fade, and I’ll still be here just as I always am. I don’t know where I’d be without that knowledge . . .

Still, I sometimes think I’d be happier in a world without cameras. I cringe to think this is only the beginning. We have Thanksgiving coming, then Christmas, and finally New Year’s. Two months of stress, at the worst possible time – when the days are dark and cold. I can’t wait till it’s all behind me.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A few book reviews . . .

Two Tankers Down: The Greatest Small-Boat Rescue in U.S. Coast Guard History Two Tankers Down: The Greatest Small-Boat Rescue in U.S. Coast Guard History by Robert Frump


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this well-researched story of the breakup and loss of two WWII-surplus oil tankers off Cape Cod fifty-some years ago. It gives a real insight into what rescue service was like before the advent of helicopters and electronics, but after the end of the age of sail.

View all my reviews >>

Twenty Million Tons Under the Sea Twenty Million Tons Under the Sea by Daniel V. Gallery


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The author of this book commanded the US Navy ship that drove U505 to the surface during World War II, and then successfully siezed the sub and towed it back to the United States.

The Road to Woodstock The Road to Woodstock by Michael Lang


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this book because it took me back to people and places from when I began in the music business, a few years after Woodstock.

View all my reviews >>

Riding Toward Everywhere Riding Toward Everywhere by William T. Vollmann


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have read a few other stories of riding the rails, and I've ridden a number of freights myself, so I've always got a sort spot for these stories. If I have any criticism of this book, it's that there are two many "literary diversions" and not enough current storyline. That said, it's still an enjoyable tale of modern day train hopping; a subject about which little exists.

View all my reviews >>

Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life by Neil Strauss


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Follow Neil as he moves from skeptical reporter to survivalist to defender of his community. That sounds sarcastic but it's not . . . it's really a commendable journey and something many could benefit from, me included

View all my reviews >>

You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas by Augusten Burroughs


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
You might say I'm biased because I appear in many of my brother's stories, but I will say this . . . the last two stories are by far the best and most meaningful.


View all my reviews >>

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One more way to be rude



Thanks to modern technology, I now have one more way to seem rude while actually paying close attention. I made this discovery when my friend Jan invited me to the annual meeting of the Connecticut River Watershed Council. Come on, she said, It will be interesting. I’m feeling more social these days so I decided to go . . .

The first part was kind of neat, because free food was involved. We started on a big outdoor patio that contained several tables covered with edible treats. I didn’t know any of the people except Jan, but I did recognize chocolate strawberries when I saw them, so I went at it. A few minutes later I was sated and it was time to go inside to listen to the speakers. Five years ago I’d never have gone near such a thing, but now I resolved to give it a try. I went in and sat down with Jan, her friend, and a table full of strangers.

I nodded politely and sat fairly still as I waited for the program to begin. I can do that, as long as I don’t have to wait too long. Within a few minutes, the crowd settled down and things got going. I wasn’t sure what I was going to hear; I just hoped it would be interesting. I was not disappointed.

The first speaker worked for an outfit called Covanta. I didn’t know who or what Covanta was, but I paid attention as she began to speak. She said her firm was in the business of converting trash to energy. How do they do that, I wondered? In the past I’d have sat there and listened and pondered, but now I can be pro-active. I whipped out the iphone and went on the hunt.

The speaker’s voice faded to the background as I began reading, though I looked up from time to time to make sure she and I were still in the same places.

My first search took me to Covanta’s website, where I learned who they were and what they do. Moments later I was reading about the Bristol trash-to-electricity facility. Being a geek, I was captivated by the descriptions of the burner and boiler installations. That sent me on yet another Google search. . .

As I searched at 100MPH the speaker plodded along at a walking pace. I continued to glance up, but very little was happening. The speaker droned on, and the audience sat quietly. I was quiet too, but inside my mind was churning. Luckily the mental clatter was contained by the flesh around my head and ears.

I sifted through her spoken words for phrases to Google on the iphone. Within moments a description of the latest high efficiency burners was waiting for me on the screen. I read it and had a new appreciation for Covanta, a company that I’d never even heard of a few minutes before.

I looked back up in plenty of time for the speaker’s concluding remarks. When the time came for applause I joined in as enthusiastically as anyone else, fortified by my enhanced understanding.

That’s when I realized how my tablemates perceived my behavior. That’s awfully rude, to just ignore the speaker and work on your computer. But is that really what happened? I think not. The speaker was there as a representative of Covanta, and her job was to inform the public about her company and make them feel good about it. I’ll bet she succeeded better with me than most anyone else in the room, thanks to my little iphone.

I’ll give you some examples . . .
I learned what Covanta does, and where they are based.
I now know what a waterfall furnace is.
I know Covanta’s Hartford plant runs steam turbines at 880psi
I am even familiar with the inspection standards for boilers that run at those pressures.

Do you know any of those things? And how many other people in the room got that out of her talk? I would argue that our speaker achieved her goals better with me than with anyone else there (unless there was another geek with an iphone.)

I have always gotten restless in situations like that because my mind moves faster than any speaker’s voice. Knowing that, I don’t usually go to presentations. But the iphone changed everything for me. Instead of sitting there with questions in my mind, I was free to search and explore while generally guided by the speaker’s words. It was great.

If the purpose of a lecture is to impart knowledge, iphone enhanced listening is a great success. Unfortunately, the other people in the room don’t see it that way. They see me looking at a pocket computer and imagine all sorts of things. Some believe I’m looking at Russian Dream Girls. Others think I’m playing Donkey Kong. No one guessed the truth.

A few people in the crowd might have seen me and thought . . . he’s acting a bit autistic. And maybe I was. But if that’s true, it’s catchy. More and more people are bringing iphones to events, and it’s one more way in which technology is making all of us act a little more autistic at times in exchange for enhanced productivity.

Every time we answer questions with a pocket browser we miss the chance to raise our hands and engage another human. Every time we write an email we lose out on a face to face conversation. At the same time, the benefits of “electronic augmentation” are undeniable. But where does it lead?

Friday, October 16, 2009

The road goes ever on

Some of you asked for more pictures from the road. Why? I don't know, but here they are . . .



I left the Dams of Potsdam behind to start my journey home. I hoped to make the whole trip in daylight but I was defeated by navigational error. I actually started off on the wrong foot, taking the wrong road out of town. Luckily, I only went 22 miles on the wrong road. It's desolate enough up there that a person could go a lot farther than that with ease. I got turned around and headed for Lake Placid. As I climbed the weather went from cold to cold and snowy. I was glad to be running the road in daylight, though that did not help my direction finding. I made yet another error and ran a ways toward Plattsburg before swinging back to my course at Sarnac Lake.



Driving got a bit dicey as the road was went in spots and dry in others. So you'd roll into a corner and hope for the best. Driving this road in daylight it's easy to see how motorists just vanish. In this picture you can see they've lost so many vehicles into the lake that they have placed concrete barriers where the shredded guard rail used to be.



The road in this spot does not twist too much but the up and down parts will put you right into the air if you get some speed behind you. I suspect that's how the cars before me made the transition from road to lake. After a fast run I stopped at the world famous Tail O The Pup for some traditional bar-b-q. Fortified, I set out again.



This picture really gives a good sense of the mountains up there.



There were other spots where the road straightened, and you could run fast for ten or fifteen miles without seeing anything but woods. Not a car, or a house, or even a telephone pole. Nothing but empty road. The woods up there grows fast. They say hunters still stumble on undiscovered crashes from the fifties and sixties, and I can believe it.



I was glad to make it home. An old Mercedes, a camera, nine hundred miles, a thousand college students, and three days.
It's a lot of stuff to pack into a half-week.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A drive in the country



When I heard I was booked to speak in Potsdam, New York, in mid-October, I thought, That’s great! I’ll drive there. It will be a scenic trip through the foliage.

That was an innocent but foolish notion. Potsdam is 350 miles away. Mostly north. I also decided to drive a twenty-some-year-old convertible. That was another foolish notion, though it turned out ok.

Departure day dawned cool and rainy at my home in Amherst, Massachusetts. But a quick look at the Weather Channel brought good news – skies were clearing, or at least they were supposed to. You can take the old convertible, I said to myself. It will be a fine day for top down motoring.

I set out for work in a steady rain. From my office in Springfield I watched it pour all morning. Then the Weather Gods smiled on me. The rain stopped, and the skies cleared. I began to feel good about my vehicular choice, just as the choice began to malfunction.

We are in the business of servicing automobiles, so it should not surprise anyone that we serviced my own car before leaving. Oil was filled. Headlights were adjusted. And most important – the cigarette lighter power outlet was repaired. After all, we can’t take a trip without Portable Devices!

I topped the tanks with fuel, and I was off. I drove through the toll booth to the Mass Pike West as I pushed reset on the trip odometer. The old car gathered speed as we rolled around the on-ramp. It was indeed a fine fall day as I climbed the hill to Westfield and made the run up the mountains at Blandford.

The edges of the steep road were littered with overheated vehicles, but my car purred like an old dog as we motored through the Berkshires. Things changed when I reached the top. Up there, at sixteen hundred feet, the air should have been thin. But it wasn’t. It was actually thick – some would call conditions cloudy; and it started to rain.

By the time I reached Albany, there were traffic jams in addition to the rain and clouds. But I persevered, and rode them out. Finally I found clear road as the Northway opened up past Saratoga. Traffic picked up speed. I was finally on my way!

There was even fine fall scenery. I knew it was there because the signs on the road said so. Unfortunately, I did not actually see any scenery, because it was now dark, thanks to the delays from rain, traffic, and construction. Still, I was in a good mood as I listened to tunes on the iPod with my new Bose headsets.

Whenever I take a long trip by car I play music from the seventies, and it makes me wish I had stayed in music production back. Where would I be today, if I had? Would I be on top of the world making records or movies in L.A.? Or would I be in prison in Mongolia? There’s just no telling.

I had those thoughts as I passed Lake George, Ticonderoga, and Champlain. In no time at all, it was time to turn off the Northway onto country roads for the final leg of my trip. That’s where things got interesting. I had no navigation system, I was far from any cell phone coverage, and I’d never been there before. Nonetheless, I had some printed directions, which I began to follow by the light of a pocket flashlight.

Alone in the dark, I climbed into the mountains on a twisty two-lane road. I’d encounter the occasional unpaved patch, which made me wonder if this was really the right road to Potsdam, but there weren’t any alternatives visible in the dark, so I hammered along.

It started to rain, and as the elevation increased, the rain turned to snow. Top down motoring was now a distant memory. The temperature had dropped from 65 degrees at departure to 25 degrees in the mountains. There was not a single light to be seen out there, with the exception of my headlights. Not a house, or a car, or even a streetlight. Nothing.

That’s what it means to drive in the country.

As the pavement got slippery I began to notice occasional holes in the string of guardrail that lined the road at every corner. I realized those were spots were more aggressive or more foolish or simply less lucky motorists had found their destiny in the abyss below. My lights did not reach down there, and I made a special effort to avoid that fate.

As you can tell, I was successful.

As I got farther into the wilderness creatures became visible in the dark, at the fringe of my lights. I was in country where moose and bear cavorted in the road, and Wendigo hunted in the forest. Needless to say, I did not stop to play with them. The Adirondack wilderness is not a place where my position at the top of the food chain can be positively assured.

The first sign of civilization was Lake Placid, where I passed drunken revelers eating and throwing the season’s first snow. I made it through town without tangling any of them in my undercarriage. Signs for Potsdam began to appear, so I knew I was on the right path.

The weather began to clear, and I picked up speed. Now there were only occasional ice patches to turn me sideways. It was no longer a struggle to keep the car pointed forward the other 99% of the time. I reached a long straightaway where the headlights seemed to get dim, and I looked down to see the speedometer nudging the century mark. For the first time in 100 miles, I was making good time.

I arrived in Potsdam by nine, only to find the town rolled up for the evening. I battered the door of the hotel until I was admitted, and that’s where I am right now.

But I am about to venture out, to explore Scenic Potsdam. I will report more later.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Some medical advocacy groups fight FOR the cure. We autistics are unique - we fight ABOUT it.

Our society is confronting many serious, chronic medical issues, including AIDS, diabetes, obesity, cancer, Alzheimer’s, MS, heart disease, and autism. What do all those conditions have in common? Every one is something you live with for a long period of time; in some cases all your life. Furthermore, every one has one or more strong advocacy organizations who speak for people affected by the condition.

What makes autism unique?

I’ll tell you. Autism is the one medical condition I can think of where no one can agree on the legitimacy of any of its so-called advocacy groups. Why is that, and what does it mean? The recent Autism Speaks video debacle and the continuing controversy over neurodiversity and a “cure” makes me think this is something worth talking about.

The problem starts with autism itself, and how people see it. Unlike cancer and most other medical issues in the news, autism is a stable neurological difference. It’s not a progressive disease. At the same time, autism’s impact on people varies tremendously. Some people are totally disabled which others are merely eccentric. It’s no surprise that the individuals at the two extremes would have totally opposite views of their condition.

The “High Functioning” autistic group says, “We don’t need to be cured. We just need tolerance and understanding.”

The Highly Impaired group says, “Enough with the understanding! We need some cures, fast!”

Parents of affected kids say, “I want my kid to have a good life, whatever that means or takes.”

To a large extent, those points of view are mutually exclusive. HF people tend to see the HI desire for a cure as an indictment of their very being. “Get rid of autistic disability” morphs into “get rid of people like me,” in their minds. From the HI perspective, the desire for tolerance and the HF statement that, “we are fine the way we are,” seems to be a callous dismissal of their very real disabilities.

Unfortunately, each person who’s touched by autism thinks his autism experience is representative of everyone else’s. And why wouldn’t he? That’s how it is with most other medical conditions. Within reason, my broken leg is like yours. So’s my flu, or even my bypass operation, should I ever have one. Some of us have complications and we do better or worse, but there is indeed a common shared experience.

Autism, by virtue of its diversity, is totally different. Unless he makes a point to study nonverbal autistic life, a high functioning Aspergian will have no concept of life at the other end of the spectrum. And of course the opposite is true too. This misunderstanding is compounded by autism itself, as one characteristic of our condition is an inability to put oneself in another person’s shoes. So conflict is bound to arise.

And then there’s the conflict with the parents. They say, “My kid has this terrible condition,” and high functioning adults see that as an indictment of themselves. After all, they live with the so-called “terrible condition” every day.

What can we do to resolve this strife? I have a fairly simple solution.

First, stop talking about a “cure for autism,” and, “getting rid of autism.”

Second, talk about finding fixes for specific components of autistic disability, like speech impairment.

We should all be able to agree that the ability to talk is a good human trait. So is the ability to eat whatever you want, without getting sick. Therefore, we should be able to agree that therapies that allow autistic people who couldn’t do those things in the past to do them in the future are good. We'd get a long way if we tackled each disability component of autism in this way. Not every one of us is affected by each thing, but the sum total would touch us all in some way.

It seems to me that one change in focus could go a long way to resolve the controversy.

The other thing we all need is some tolerance for differing views. For example, I may see some benefits and some disabilities to my own high functioning autism. There are other people who see zero benefit and much handicap to autism in themselves. Both of us deserve the right to hold our differing opinions and live our lives in peace. There is no reason that can’t happen, though you’d never know it to read many of today’s blogs and articles on the topic.

I certainly recognize the solution is more than my simple two steps. There are still some major ethical questions remaining. For example, who should decide if a treatment or therapy should be given to a person who can’t advocate for himself? Those are the issues our advocacy groups should tackle together, rather than fighting with each other. That's one question; there are many more.

There are also some emotion-charged controversies like the vaccine question that can only be solved by the advance of science. Of course, both sides will say, “The question is solved, my way!” but the lack of consensus suggests it’s far from resolution. That said, it does not have to tear the community apart the way it does today.

When you count the autistic population, plus our families, teachers, and caregivers, there are many millions of people affected by autism in the United States alone. Most of us are just individuals, with little ability to advocate for ourselves regionally or nationally or in some cases, even locally. We NEED strong advocacy organizations to play this role; organizations we can all embrace and get behind.

Can today’s autism advocacy groups embrace this concept? Time will tell.

Until they do, I am sorry to say, none of them speak for me. I know I am not alone in that somewhat cynical view. And that’s a sorry state of affairs for advocacy groups who are supposed to look out for the interests of all people on the spectrum.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Some thoughts on the Autism Speaks video

I finally watched the infamous Autism Speaks “I Am Autism” video. I had to hunt to find it, because so many parodies have popped up that the Google search was overwhelmed. The first part takes as its theme, “I am autism, and I will take your money, your marriage, your family and I will ruin your life.” That’s an awful lot of intent to attribute to a neurological difference in the brain.

For those of you who didn't see the video here is a link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDdcDlQVYtM&feature=channel

I cannot recall any similar instance where legitimate scientists ascribed malice or forethought to a disease, difference, or human condition. Cancer kills you, and so does heart disease, but no one says, “I am cancer. I will take your money and take your life.”

Come on, folks.

Autism can be a serious disability. I don’t know any knowledgeable person who would disagree with that statement. But the disability comes about by natural action. Autism can cause serious problems, but they are not the result of malicious action on the part of an “evil force” as depicted in the film.

Frankly, it’s shocking to me that an advocacy group would countenance the production of such a thing.

Suggesting an autistic child is “possessed” by some malign force is something I for one would never do. I want to get rid of the disability aspects of autism as much as anyone, but the mindset depicted in the film does not get me there. I hope Autism Speaks rethinks this campaign and comes up with some different video.

The fundamental problem with the video is that it says, in essence, “autism is bad.” That moral judgment is then inevitably applied to people with autism. That’s wrong, and an organization that purports to exist to help autistic people should know better. It has the same corrosive effect that calling me a retard had, forty years ago. I don’t like it; in fact, it makes me pretty angry.

I have no problem saying, “autistic disability is undesirable.” I believe that statement is true.

Moral judgments such as those in the Autism Speaks video have no place in the description of disabilities, diseases, other health problems.

So how do I think we should attack “the problem?”

First of all, we should recognize that the autism spectrum is very broad, encompassing individuals who perceive themselves as totally disabled and disadvantaged by autism to fully functional people who believe the exact opposite. We must accept that both points of view are valid, for those individuals. My gift can indeed be your disability, if it affects you in different ways.

That is the key to agreement on how we may address the problems posed by autism.
We can say, I want to solve the problem of autistic speech impairment. Or we can say, I want to find out why some people with autism have serious gastrointestinal issues. Those are specific problems which can and will be addressed through research.

That’s the right way to go about this. Pick a specific component of autism, and figure it out. Then find out how to remediate the disability it causes. Having done that, the people who feel disabled by that particular thing will have a solution at hand, which is wonderful and empowering.

Complex problems are always solved one step at a time, and autism is one of the most complex medical puzzles science has ever tackled. We’d all do well to recognize that, break our work down into manageable steps. Then we can put the sensationalism, moral judgment, and showboating aside in pursuit of a common goal.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Is the bible obsolete?


In medieval times, people managed by decree and threat. The King made a proclamation, and said, “Fear this, and tremblingly obey!” You ignored the King and his nobles at your peril, as most anything could be a capital offense. Stealing a loaf of bread, or murdering your neighbor – either could send you to the gallows. In a world like that, the bible’s threats and dogma seemed right in line with the way of the world.

Today, things are different. Managers manage by motivation. Instead of saying, “Do this or we will have you executed,” they think of ways to make people want to do things. Bosses talk endlessly about self-motivation and actualization. The goal today is to make people want to work for The Man. Parents have even jumped on the bandwagon. Today’s kids must want to cooperate. Threats and spankings are out the window.

It seems to work. People stay at work sixty hours a week at times, with no threat of transportation or execution. Some would say we have lifted behavior or at least motivation to a higher plane. Others would say its just brainwashing but that’s a subject for another post.

The fact remains, threat and dogma are passé when it comes to management in most of the Enlightened Western World. But through it all, the Bible has remained the same. Do as I say, or feel the wrath of a vengeful God.

I didn’t give that dichotomy much thought until speaking with Boston University psychology professor Catherine Caldwell-Harris. At a talk last winter, she said, “Why do you think Aspergians tend to reject the Bible and religion more often?”

“More often than what,” I asked? She directed me to Asperger sites Wrong Planet and Aspies For Freedom, where the prevailing sentiment when spirituality is discussed is indeed the rejection of Western religion. I got that impression from a quick perusal of the forums, but she knows it for sure, based on statistical analysis.

She’s done some follow on studies where people are interviewed in more depth; in fact she has one here that you can check out and participate in:
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=7eHrc2JY6Wj8_2b7A_2faRzrag_3d_3d

The studies so far suggest that high functioning people on the spectrum – those who participate in studies like hers and online in forums – are significantly more likely to reject religion than nypicals. I meet quite a few people myself, and my observation tends to confirm Catherine’s. But what does that mean? I’ve thought about that question quite a bit.

I’m not a follower of any traditional American church. Yet I consider myself a spiritual person. Furthermore, I think I have a good and solid moral sense, and a reasonable grasp of right and wrong and how to behave. I know from experience that many adult Americans would describe themselves the same way, be they Aspergian or nypical.

Do I reject traditional American religion? Upon reflection, I guess I do. I reject the “Do what we say or you’ll suffer damnation!” I don’t need a priest’s threats to stop me from looting the neighbor’s house and ravaging his females. The idea that I’d go to a church to hear those kind of threats just isn’t very appealing, no matter how subtle they may be. When you add a priest with his hand in your pocket and all the diddling scandals certain churches have, the picture is even worse.

The reason I do not go looting and pillaging is that I believe it’s morally wrong to do so. Since I already believe that, threats will do nothing more than annoy me. And that’s not all. The bible is full of passages that say, in essence, “Believe this or else!” Why? I’m okay about believing many things, but I want a more solid foundation than, “Because I say so.” I had a problem with my father saying that forty years ago, and I have problems when preachers say it today.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized rejection of organized religion is very different from rejection of spirituality or the concept of a God. I began to wonder . . . do Aspergians like me tend to reject religions like Catholicism because we are exceedingly logical people, and the Church’s threats and dogma are anything but?

We reject lots of things in life because they aren’t logical. Why not the bible? Why indeed. Maybe we Aspergians are just on the cutting edge here, because of our predisposition toward logicality.

I wonder if the time has come to update the language of the bible to reflect modern times and customs. Perhaps if we toned down the threats, more people would embrace it. Maybe if we added a little more logic, it would find wider acceptance. We’ve done that with every management tome, and most parenting tomes. What is the bible if not the pre-eminent “how to behave” manual for society. When all the lesser works have been revised should we not revise this one too?

Or maybe I’m just nuts, and it’s perfectly good the way it is to 99% of the world. What do you think?

I will say this. I’ve visited a number of churches, in small towns and inner cities. This is what I have seen: The rougher and meaner the environment, the more the successful and popular preachers focus on practical life matters. Threat and dogma are virtually ignored in favor of logical sensible living advice. Are they onto something, those inner city Baptists?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Three Appearances this week and next . . .



For anyone near Madison, Wisconsin, Lawrence, Massachusetts, or Grand Rapids, Michigan . . .

This Wednesday, I'll be speaking to the Special Education group, Department of Public Instruction for the Wisconsin Public Schools.

Then, on Thursday Sept 24, Join me at Northern Essex Community College from 12:30 to 2. I’ll be in the Louise Haffner Fournier Education Center, 78 Amesbury Street, Lawrence, MA Room LA-101 (White Fund Room) This talk is free and the public is invited.

Finally, on Sept 28, I'll be the keynote speaker for the Michigan Primary Care doctor's association's annual conference. That's in Grand Rapids, MI. Find them online at: http://www.mpca.net/

I hope to see some of you this week. I've got quite a few events scheduled this fall and winter. Check the whole schedule at http://johnelderrobison.blogspot.com/

Are you putting together an event now? Sally Itterly at The Lavin Agency can arrange for me to participate. sitterly@thelavinagency.com

See you soon . . .

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The British Invasion. Day Two

I awakened to a crisp, cool Vermont morning. The fires from the previous night’s bacchanalian debauchery had burnt themselves out, but the smoky smell lingered in the air. It was a pleasant odor for anyone whose house or car had escaped destruction, and I was pleased to be part of that group.

Walking outside, I saw that the Stowe Inn had come through the night without a scratch, as had my car. The bridge to town was open, and the police had gone. There was nothing to be seen in the road but some shattered glass and a few trampled party favors. I started the Beast and stepped back as the exhaust popped and rumbled as the engine warmed up. A few minutes later, I was off.

I arrived at the show field early, but the scene was already mobbed. Hundreds, thousands, maybe tens of thousands swarmed through the gates of the Show Field on Weeks Hill Road in Stowe. I parked my car among others of its kind, and set out to wander the field.



Within minutes, three Guardsmen showed up, parked near me, and emplaced a fifty-caliber machine gun to survey the field. I ducked and passed as they shot off a test round or two. Everyone was well behaved after they arrived. I was lucky to pass when I did, because I heard they began collecting tolls from passerby but I didn’t pay a cent.



Their actions reminded me of some City Parking Lot Attendants who worked a lot down the street from me when I worked at Pink Floyd's sound company in Long Island City. After watching them all one summer, I was surprised to arrive at work one day to find them gone, and the lot chained up. It turned out they had not been City Employees at all. Instead, they were Enterprising Lowlifes with Bolt Cutters who had seen an opportunity and seized it. I wondered if the same thing might be occurring today, but I declined to mount a challenge.

Most of the cars were privately owned, but there were some Corporate Entries. Representatives from Jaguar were there, hawking a new sedan for $599 a month. With new car sales in the tank, what else can they do? Maybe next year it will be $399.

Right next to Jaguar I found the Breitling tent, which contained some fine watches, many of which cost considerably more than the Jaguar. Of course, they are made in Switzerland where labor costs are high . . . And some were Certified Chronometers, a point that cannot be made with any Jaguar.

I don’t want to sound like I’m speaking ill of Jaguar; I have one myself. Yet I can’t help but wonder how long they’ll be with us, at least at this show. If production moves to Delhi or Mumbai will they still be admitted here? I suppose the old British models will be allowed, and the problem of the Indian-built latecomers will fall to the next generation. By that time, we may be a province of India, rendering the whole thing moot.

There were some noteworthy entries. Some deviant with a welder had shoehorned a blown Hemi into a yellow MINI Cooper. The idea seems shocking at first, but upon reflection, you realize that’s exactly what every MINI dreams of turning into, when it grows up.



I saw a genuine Elva, yellow with a red stripe, parked near a fine red TVR. Out behind the cars, revelers sat, drank, and told stories, and I stumbled and bobbed my way through their midst.

At one point, I encountered a six-hundred-horsepower supercharged Aston Martin, an authentic Morris Moke, and two Norton Commando motorcycles. This year, a 1959 Land Rover won the concours. I don’t know if the judges were drunk, bribed, or what, but there was some heavy competition out there today.

I remembered Michael Jordan’s words from another event last week. There’s no I in Team, he said, but there is one in WIN.

I left as the bikers were fighting over tent poles for the Motorbike Joust. I did not get to see how it turned out, but I’m sure the details will be in tomorrow’s Police Log. We had a dinner reservation for 6:30, and I had to hurry if I expected to download my 800 pictures in order to upload the thirty or so you can see tonight.







That is the Curse and the Blessing of digital photography. The advent of Large Memory Cards makes it possible for any Chimp to render Award Winning Images, simply by taking thousands of shots. Editing was easier when there was film, and it cost forty cents an image.

We dined at the Olde English Pub, where I had Bangers and Mash followed by a Spotted Dick washed down with tea. All in all, a respectable British feed. Alex had a problem with the concept of Spotted Dick, but I introduced him to Patrick O’Brien’s excellent writing, including his cook book which includes the Dick, and he calmed.

He became agitated again, when we returned to the hotel. Alex and Dave descended to the basement, where they got into a game of foosball after an unsatisfactory altercation on the ping-pong table. He (Dave or Alex; take your pick) expected to win, but things did not go as planned. In addition, the cigarette machine in the corner was empty. There is nothing worse than an empty cigarette machine. A working machine can be used. A broken machine can be robbed. But an empty one . . . you are just out of luck. Things began to escalate, so I slipped out the door before they grabbed pool cues in order to write you this report.

Darkness has fallen. I can hear the shouts, and the light of torches is flickering through the drawn shades.

Until next time,
I remain,
John