Friday, May 29, 2009

Department of Corrections


StatMom posted recently...OK, not so recently - call this part of "The Best of StatMom" - about, among other things, correcting people in authority.

I have strong views on this myself. I believe that, 99+% (not 100%) of the time, the truth is a morally good thing to say. It doesn't always benefit you personally, but then again we don't send kids to school to teach them to be more selfish, or have public service announcements urging people to put themselves first.

First off, it's good for the other person. Let me illustrate that point by taking an occasional event from my own experience. Let's say I'm about to head out the door. Someone else there knows I intend to take my umbrella, because it may rain.

S/he helpfully asks "Do you have everything?"

I respond "Yes, I do," because as far as I can tell, I do.

S/he says "Are you sure?"

I respond "Yes, I'm sure!" If I weren't sure in the first place, I would have said something different in the first place.

I then walk out the door. A few hours later, soaking wet, I stagger back in, wipe my dropping shoes as best I can, and shut the door.

I said "I forgot my umbrella."

Someone: "Yes, I noticed that in the first place."

I: "Then why didn't you tell me?!?"

Someone: "Well, you said you had everything, and you seemed like you knew it all. I didn't want to upset you or start a fight...."

Well, you failed at the first goal, and your prospects for the second don't look too good either right now.

Now let's rewind and rewrite:

I: "I'm outta here?"

Someone: "Wait a second! Do you have your umbrella?"

I: "No, come to think of it I don't. Thanks for reminding me."

I walk over, grab the umbrella, then exit stage left.

A few hours later:

I walk back in, dry as a bone. I shake out the dripping umbrella and put it away.

Someone: "So how was your day?"

I: "Not too bad - and thanks for reminding me about the umbrella. Unlike half the class, I didn't turn my seat into a puddle today."

Now, why does Ending One tend to predominate? Because this happens all too often:

Adam: "I'm outta here!"

Steve: "Wait! Do you have your umbrella?"

Adam: (Embarrassed) "No, and I'm sure I don't need it anyway. Keep your worries to yourself!"

Adam slams the door on a flabbergasted Steve.

Steve learns to let people make mistakes in the future, even when he can easily help them avoid that.

I'm embarrassed to say that once in a while, I've played Adam in this scenario. I haven't got any drug addictions, impregnations or gambling to regret, but I certainly regret this.

Secondly, it's good for society. We need to emphasize truth as a virtue, especially if we're to trust one another. And in an interdependent society, we have to trust each other so much it can be a little scary to think about.

To illustrate, I've also played Steve, including from a very early age. True story from fourth grade:

Teacher, reading aloud while all the students read to themselves: "And so-and-so called..."

I, paying close attention to the book: "Said."

Teacher: "I was waiting for that."

Teacher makes Jeff put away his copy of the book. Jeff is bewildered.

"Is" is the operant term here. Decades later, I'm still bewildered as to why the teacher (1) seemed to have intentionally used the wrong word and (2) didn't use this as an opportunity to teach [a] the class the importance of careful listening and attention to detail and [b] me, later on in private, a more polite way of addressing a superior, such as "Excuse me, but did you mean 'said,' or does your copy say 'called'?"

The schools are indeed an important place to learn right and wrong, as well as respect for authority. We spend a good deal of time devising curricula to teach the students good ways to behave; I see - both in my own schools and the schools of today - much less time and effort devoted to making sure the teachers and school officials set the right example.

Some students may take the following lessons:

(1) It's considered more important for the Indians to be good and to be courteous. The chiefs go by different standards - especially when dealing with the Indians.

(2) Therefore, right and wrong are relative - it's just a matter of whose ox is being gored and how powerful the various sides are. It's OK for people in power to do what they want as long a sthey can get away with it; only the little people pay taxes/toe the line.

(3) Truth is also relative. Teachers are supposed to replace the students' mistakes with truth, but whatever the person in power says is (accepted as) true.

(4) People in power punish people below them for their own personal reasons, no matter who's right or wrong. All their statements about truth and fairness are so much B.S. Truth and fairness has nothing to do with how people in authority act, and nobody - certainly nobody else in authority - cares. Why should we respect authority?

I think we can all agree that these are bad moral lessons for any student.

And there are people in power who will stamp out any mention of any facts they don't like. That's why we have sayings like "Don't kill the messenger" in the first place.

Some people may say that students should be prepared for the real world, and that includes conforming to social norms like cooperating with bosses you disagree with and who may be disagreeable. I couldn't agree more.

There is a difference between personal quirks and moral wrongs. And suppressing truth is a great moral wrong. Students should not be taught that punishing subordinates who correct them - even if it's a little embarrassing - is any more permissible than, say, groping subordinates or lying to them about the status of their 401(k) investments in the company. And if schools are to teach virtue, they need to lead the way in this respect.

The great political philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote in his Leviathan in 1651: "For I doubt not, but if it had been a thing contrary to any mans right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, That The Three Angles Of A Triangle Should Be Equall To Two Angles Of A Square; that doctrine should have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of Geometry, suppressed, as farre as he whom it concerned was able." In other words, there have always been some folks who won't tolerate even the most indisputable facts if said facts are any skin off their nose.

Hobbes could have predicted Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's regime three centuries later, in which ideology poisoned even the realms of science, including genetics and linguistics. George Orwell, who understood the Soviet (and Nazi) dictatorships well, had his protagonist in 1984, Winston Smith, say "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows." And when it's not granted - in a dictatorship where no one can correct the person in charge - evil and death follow.

Soviet Communism is gone. But the need for truth remains.

For example, closer to home, in the worst aviation accident in history, 583 people lost their lives on the Spanish island of Tenerife (one of the Canary Islands) on March 27, 1977 in part because Captain Jacob Veldhuyzen van Zanten of KLM Flight 4805 thought that he had been cleared for takeoff - and crashed into Pan Am Flight 1736. The KLM flight engineer had expressed concern that the Pan Am flight may not yet have cleared from KLM's path, but Captain van Zanten peremptorily overruled him and proceeded with the takeoff.

KLM ultimately accepted responsibility for the disaster, and paid compensation to the victims and their families.

In the wake of the disaster, among other things the commercial airlines worldwide (and the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard) adopted Crew/Cockpit Resource Management (CRM). Under CRM, subordinates such as the co-pilot, flight engineer and others are trained to directly inform the captain of an impending problem. Subordinates are specifically encouraged to respectfully question authority where necessary, and superiors are trained to embrace what could be life-saving warnings.

In fact, the principles of CRM have been successfully applied to air traffic control and aircraft design and maintenance, too.

For example, Captain Al Haynes of United Airlines Flight 232 has credited CRM (he refers to it as Command Leadership Resource, or CLR) with saving lives - including his own - in the Sioux City, Iowa plane crash of July 19, 1989:

Up until 1980, we kind of worked on the concept that the captain was THE authority on the aircraft. What he said, goes. And we lost a few airplanes because of that. Sometimes the captain isn't as smart as we thought he was. And we would listen to him, and do what he said, and we wouldn't know what he's talking about. And we had 103 years of flying experience there in the cockpit, trying to get that airplane on the ground, not one minute of which we had actually practiced, any one of us. So why would I know more about getting that airplane on the ground under those conditions than the other three. So if I hadn't used CLR, if we had not let everybody put their input in, it's a cinch we wouldn't have made it.

(Emphasis in original.)

Encourage open and honest communication in all directions. The life you save just might be your own.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Semester Update


I had a good semester this spring.

Specifically, in February I joined Students Organized for Disability Awareness (SODA) at my local community college. Technically, I'm not currently a student, but I took a course there a year and a half ago so they just said I couldn't be an officer.

I'm not the only Aspie in SODA. There are at least two other Aspies there - one of whom is an officer despite also dealing with several other issues - and also a brother of an Aspie.

For that matter, we have people with a wide variety of disabilities: among other things (legal) blindness, systemic lupus (which makes it very difficult to walk around, let alone upstairs, more than a short distance at a time and also causes short-term memory loss, among other issues), epilepsy, cerebral palsy and of course certain conditions requiring a wheelchair.

I learned quite a bit about accommodating people. For example, I took two of our wheelchair-bound members to an event on campus; I was humbled to see how well they had to know the campus in general and the locations of the flat areas, ramps, accessible entrances and elevators in particular. And I thought I knew the campus pretty well.

I navigate most areas physically with the same ease and confidence with which NTs navigate most social situations. Note to self: Don't be so quick to assume that NTs understand Aspies' distinctive needs.

Meanwhile, for our Community Health Fair earlier this spring I devised, and then co-wrote with several other members, a two-person skit on communication differences. The idea is to show how easily any two people (we do this skit with any two passersby who wish to participate) can misunderstand each other when one has extra "scripts" that the other doesn't (like an NT and Aspie respectively, of course).

For Disability Awareness Day, we had Jesse Billauer (a quadriplegic surfer) speak on campus. Along with a couple of other people, I helped to persuade - including by speaking before - the student government to allocate $1,100 for Billauer's appearance.

I also did a few other things, including helping put up flyers for Billauer's event and sitting at a table to do things like help promote a Multiple Sclerosis benefit and represent SODA as a whole.

I wish I'd been more consistently active in things like this when I was in college full-time.

A few things for students and activists to keep in mind:

1. Reliability really helps. To get things done, especially the way you think they should be done, you need people to trust you. That's a lot easier to achieve after people see you show up when you say you will.

And if you can't - as I found myself unable to help at a community service expo due to my new job - let the appropriate people know right away. The sooner they know, the sooner they can change their plans. An explanation wouldn't hurt, either, just so they know that you do care about what they're doing and are sorry you won't be able to help after all.

2. Grunt work is for everyone - including you. Anyone can come to meetings and parties, especially when food is served. Pretty much anyone can hold opinions and then spout off. You show you're a true believer in the cause by sacrificing a bit of your time and effort doing sometimes tedious and boring but necessary things like posting flyers, contacting others who may be able to help promote events, sitting at tables and talking to passersby, meeting with people to work on projects and the like.

3. That includes getting along well with others. You can't accomplish much by yourself. You need other people's ideas, labor and pointers to resources, among other things. Aspies may find it more difficult to get along with others, just as people with spina bifida may be confined to wheelchairs and find it more difficult to get around. That means that we need to do things like recognize our own limitations, disclose our situations where practicable and meet others halfway, just as people confined to wheelchairs need to go the extra distance and locate and use the disabled-friendly parts of campus.

What do you think?

Monday, May 18, 2009



Emily and I had a lovely "24 hour vacation" on Maryland's Eastern Shore, including Ocean City. Ocean City is kind of Maryland's answer to Atlantic City, minus the gambling.

We visited several different eating places, including a "no shirt no shoes no service" pancake house in Ocean City. (No, I didn't see any pantsless would-be patrons testing the policy.)

Anyway, you know I'm not always big on banter with waitstaff. And at Annie's, the more formal atmosphere dictated a kind of restraint on the staff. Not so at this pancake house....

Waitress, leaning over to talk with family behind our booth: You know men are good for only one thing, right? (Laughter from their booth.)

To accentuate her point, she has her hand on my shoulder and applying noticeable pressure while she's saying this.

She turns to us. I widen my eyes to show surprise and a little consternation at what she just said.

Good morning. So, do you want a drink, or you want a moment to recover?

(Complete with heavy rural accent)

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who banter well on the spur of the moment no matter what the topic, and those whose impromptu repartee works best within a given range of topics. We Aspies tend to lean very strongly toward the latter, and I'm no exception.

I don't like curveballs - especially when breaking that word in two summarizes what they're about. Nor do I appreciate explicit probes into my emotional state from people I don't know from Adam.

As an Aspie, I have difficulty with on the spot sensitive stuff, because I have a hard time knowing the general rules (which differ from milieu to milieu), recognizing appropriate cues and predicting where each conversational turn might lead. So I restrict it to a very small circle of people. A large proportion of which - namely Emily - was with me at the time.

I put a damper on it - not exactly my toughest decision that day. My watch shows just before 12:30pm, so:

Good afternoon to you, ma'am. I'd just like some water without ice, and a straw, if you please.

She nods to me:

Good afternoon to you, too.

and then turns her charm on Emily. More honey than a beehive, and if darlin's were twenties she wouldn't need to work. Meanwhile, my metaphorical eye rolls just need a dab of cream cheese to be complete.

Emily asks for a coffee. (Emily:Coffee::I:Chocolate)

Then she goes to the ladies' room.

Waitress comes back with our drinks.

Now, you tell your young lady that this coffee is bottomless - all the refills she wants for free. And she can also take one out the door, no extra charge.

Thank you, ma'am. I'll certainly let her know.

Which of course I do when Emily gets back. We Aspies believe in faithfully transmitting knowledge unedited.

Just before taking our order, the waitress turns to Emily and explains that anytime she wants more coffee, she can have it for free, plus she can have one to go, all for not a penny more. Inwardly, I furrow my eyebrows: doesn't this sound a little bit like what I just said to someone, at someone else's explicit request?

Anyway, she's certainly a helpful waitress. After I ask whether a certain container holds blueberry syrup, she not only confirms that it does but also offers to bring out the strawberry syrup - which I gladly accept.

Afterwards, she brings out the check and hands it straight to me - winning me over further.

To Emily: And this is for your gentleman.

I say: Thank you, ma'am.

So she turns to me:

I always thought checks are a he-thing, not a we-thing. Ladies first, men paying. My daddy always told me: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

On the one hand, I find her kind of conversation - not to mention direct and deliberate bodily contact - rather annoying.

On the other hand, I know how hard she's hustling to make a living.

If she's closer to Emily's age than to mine, I'm a monkey's uncle. If her tattoos are any indication, she hasn't led a soft life.

And waitressing (as distinct from waiter-ing), especially in "no shirt no shoes no service" places, is not kind to the no longer young.

What she lacks in charm between her bosom and her bottom, she has to make up between her larynx and her lips. And I'm sure much of her clientele are much more receptive than I to what she's dishing out - otherwise she'd change her tune. After all, it's her (and her children's?) food on the table at home that's at stake.

Not only do I inhabit an NT world 24/7, I happen to be among a very different set of people at the moment, who appreciate very different kinds of manners, from what Emily and I are accustomed to.

I go to the cashier and pay the check, plus a 20+% tip.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

New Job


My humble apologies for my silence. I've been more active in the last several months than in quite some time.

Among other things, I have a new full-time (if temporary) job. I grade essays on standardized tests. This requires much attention to detail and willingness to interpret rubrics and follow strict rules. Also, our office is kept as quiet as possible so we can focus on our work.

I've "come out" to the site manager, and she's been helpful and supportive so far. In fact, she finds many aspects of AS - like our willingness to actually answer a yes-or-no question with "yes" or "no" - to be strengths. As of now, it's likely that I'll be called back for subsequent assignments.

So, I like my work - and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Emily and I are going away for the weekend. When we get back, I'll post more on what I've been doing this semester.