Monday, June 29, 2009

More than One Way to Soothe the Savage Beast

One of my loyal readers, a professional music therapist, wonders why not everyone can express or sense emotions well through music.

Music is a very special way of expressing emotions - that's why we have music therapists, among other specialists. Some people can much better learn to communicate with the world and handle their own feelings through music than through, say, explaining things or exercising. In fact, there's a specific part of the brain - the temporal lobes - which handles music. (It also works with memory, which may help explain why putting things to music can help people remember them better. It also explains why so many ads have those annoying jingles that re-appear in our minds at the most annoying times.)

By definition, Aspies' and autists' brains work very differently from NTs'. And that's especially true for communications - we don't get our points across, or understand other people, quite the same way that NTs do. For example, we tend to have great difficulty using hints and euphemisms or understanding them when others use them. In fact, sometimes people call us "tone-deaf" in that regard.

That's a good metaphor. Music is another way of communicating, which some but not all Aspies use well. (In fact, my experience is that some Aspies excel in the arts and others in math and science. I'm one of the latter. I haven't taken a single art course since junior high school, because starting in high school art was purely optional.)

I can "tease out" the meaning of, say, an official form or a set of numbers a heckuva lot better than of a song. Among other things, that's why I do Emily's and my income taxes and I keep an eye on our finances. On the other hand, if our pay stubs were set to music and burned on DVDs, and if I had to submit our tax returns via music video (on YouTube maybe?), things would be more difficult.

Trust me, we've got emotions just like everyone else. We tend to express and understand them in our own ways.

What do you think?

Friday, June 26, 2009

A little knowledge + big mouth = dangerous thing

Roughly 30 years ago, at a flea market with my dad in front of my dad's acquaintance's table.

I see rhinestone imitation German Iron Crosses. And I'm old enough to know about the Holocaust.

I've yet to understand that Nazi Germany (1933-45) is but a small subset of Germany's very long history, represented in part by the Iron Crosses.

Potential customer comes up to the table and checks out the Iron Crosses.

Yours truly points at the Iron Cross he's looking at: "You know, that's an Antichrist symbol!"

Dad leads me away.

Dad is very unhappy with me following news that potential did not become actual customer.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The end of an era

The only entertainer who ever graced my bedroom wall is gone.

When I told my campmates in the summer of 1983 that I had a poster of him on my wall, they laughed and asked just who he was, anyway.

R.I.P., King of Pop.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tenacity Writ Large

If you know any Russians, you might want to wish them a happy anniversary of the Great Patriotic War. 68 years ago today, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa and attacked the Soviet Union, which at the time was benevolently neutral toward Germany during World War II. In fact, Soviet food, oil and other raw materials had helped Germany to circumvent the British sea blockade.

If Hitler had instead decided to stay at peace with the Soviet Union, he would probably have won. The hundreds of divisions which Germany had used - and lost - against the Soviets could probably have kept the U.S., U.K., Free French and other Allies at a standstill.

More to the point, even as it was the war was a very near thing. Within the first two weeks alone, German forces advanced over 200 miles in all directions, occupying Lithuania, Latvia, Belorussia and Western Ukraine and taking - among many others - the cities of Vitebsk and Orsha. Before the summer was out, Estonia and the Soviet north including Novgorod, as well as Smolensk (the gateway to Moscow) and most of the Ukraine were gone. German troops literally got to within sight of the Kremlin in Moscow, besieged Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and entered Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in the Volga River near the Caucasus.

We will never know even approximately how many Soviet civilians and troops died; the official figure is over 20 million and it is widely regarded as an underestimate. (Many deaths in war are due to disease, starvation and other secondary causes.)

As Victor Kravchenko, head of the Soviet Department of War Engineering Armament during the war (and subsequent defector to the U.S.) has made clear in his I Chose Freedom that besides the vast Russian spaces (as it were, a safe space to make mistakes), exactly one thing saved the Soviets, and hence the Allied cause: the absolute will on the part of the Russian people never to give up.

No nation would have had more excuse. The Nazis - who hated the Slavs as much as they hated the Jews - performed unspeakable acts of vengeance on anyone who dared resist. The Soviet people and even the troops often died of starvation, cold or inadequate support in terms of fuel, ammunition, working machinery and other problems.

And let us be clear: many if not most of the Soviet people hated their regime in Moscow with a passion, having suffered through purges, mass arrests and executions - often following unjust and totally unfounded accusations of treachery and other crimes.

For nearly four years, the Soviet people stood firm against one of the most powerful - and most evil - regimes ever to grace this planet. Many more saw the war's beginning than its end. If they had buckled - as had the people of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and France - Nazi Germany would have crushed continental Europe...and gotten away with the Holocaust.

Sometimes sheer stubbornness and a refusal to ever give up really count.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Too Smart for My Own Good Sometimes

For literally about 30 years, I've been interested in economic and financial issues. Even in elementary schools, I was checking out books on money, personal finance and economics.

In 1980, while following the economy closely in the Wall Street Journal, I told my neighbor that the prime rate would go to 20% before it went back down. Which it did.

So, after a detour in college studying Government, I went to graduate school and studied Economics. Among other things, I became very interested in consumer credit (in fact, later on, I would become a debt collector). Meanwhile, I put myself through part of graduate school by working in a bookstore.

One fine day in the bookstore:

Male customer at register, paying with credit card from First Penury Bank (not its real name).

Yours truly (not exactly sotto voce): Wow, I recognize that card. First Penury pioneered the concept of security deposits for credit cards. That makes it possible for people with bad credit to get credit cards. I'm glad you got that opportunity.

Customer: Uh yeah, right.

Because of course, the very fact that I'm especially interested in consumer credit and particularly in developments like secured credit cards means that everyone else is willing to discuss it too. Including their own bad credit which forced them to get a card like that. And in public.

I cringe when thinking about it to this day. If I were the store manager and I heard someone saying that, at a very minimum I would send him/her home for the day - after a good tongue-lashing.

Customer, wherever you might happen to be, if you're somehow reading this: I'm very sorry. I had no intention of hurting your feelings - I just wasn't thinking. I would never even consider saying something like that again.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Going by the Book


Emily and I recently had a picnic at Sandy Point State Park, on Chesapeake Bay.

We were unpleasantly surprised to find a substantial increase in the entry fee over last summer's. Emily also noticed that this summer, we got no discount even though we arrived just a couple of hours before closing.

I responded that the sign showing the fees did not show a late-entry discount either last year or this one. She pointed out that we had in fact received a discount, to which I mentioned that the guard must have broken the rules.

(The following is a rough approximation of the rest of our conversation. And no, we didn't say anything NSFW anyway.)

Emily: "But isn't it unfair that we pay the same amount even though we're only going to be able to be there for maybe two hours?"

Jeff: "Sure it is. Tell that to the Maryland General Assembly."

Emily: "If you were the guard, would you give the discount if someone came within a few hours of closing?"

Jeff: "I would consider it unfair that the price would be the same. But as a guard, I'd have no authority to give personal discounts. So I couldn't do it."

Emily: "You wouldn't treat them fairly?"

Jeff: "I would abide by the ideas of fairness held by the people in charge, who answer to the taxpayers. If they don't think it's unfair to charge everyone the same rate no matter when they come in, I can't circumvent their judgment."

(Guess which one of us is a lawyer.)

What do you think?