Saturday, November 15, 2014

This Article About the JRC Is Very Enlightening, If You Can Stand to Read It

"Prisoners of the Apparatus": The Judge Rotenberg Center, by Quentin Davies of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network

The article is very long (though very much worth reading in full, if you have the time and concentration for it), so I'm going to excerpt the section at the end that talks about what the best avenues for shutting the place down permanently would be:
Policy Recommendations
The Judge Rotenberg Center's abusive behavior is a civil rights concern, and should be addressed by policy at the federal level. As the New York Psychological Association Task Force said, the use of shock aversives on the students at the Judge Rotenberg Center would be considered corporal punishment and would be illegal if the nondisabled people were treated the same way in a school setting. Regulations that selectively allow abusive punishment for disabled students that are not allowed for nondisabled students is not only a terrible allowance of abuse, but also is a discriminatory action on the part of the United States and Massachusetts governments, regardless of whether we call this "corporal punishment" or "aversive behavioral intervention" (Ahern and Rosenthal 27). Additionally, the lack of actual instruction within the Judge Rotenberg Center, the social isolation, the food deprivation, the use of restraints and seclusion as punishment and for long periods of time mean that preventing the Judge Rotenberg Center from using shock aversives, while it would be a step in the right direction, would not be broad enough to stop the abuse at the Center. The Judge Rotenberg Center (formerly called the Behavior Research Institute) has tortured disabled children and adults for over forty years, and it needs to stop now. 
This policy must be passed at the federal level. The Judge Rotenberg Center has been located in three different states over its history, and there is a real possibility of the JRC moving again if protections were only ensured on a state level (Méndez). Currently, there is some federal policy that is applicable to the Judge Rotenberg Center, but much of that legislation has been weakened by court action. For example, in 1975, Congress passed the "Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act" (DD Act), which states, that "the Federal Government and the States have an obligation to ensure that public funds are provided only to institutional programs, residential programs, and other community programs, including educational programs in which individuals with developmental disabilities participate, that  ... meet minimum standards relating to provision of care that is free of abuse, neglect, sexual and financial exploitation, and violations of legal and human rights that subjects individuals with disabilities to no greater risk of harm than others in the general population ... and prohibition of the use of such restraint and seclusion as a substitute for a habilitation program" (Ahern and Rosenthal 29). However, in the case, Pennhurst State School and Hospital vs. Halderman, where a former Pennhurst resident alleged that the hospital was unsanitary, inhumane, dangerous, and used cruel and unusual punishment, the US Supreme Court ruled that the DD Act did not create any new legal rights or protections and [that] the language of the DD Act was "hortatory not mandatory." That court opinion, written by William Rehnquist, stated that "[t]he Act does no more than express a congressional preference for certain kinds of treatment" (Ahern and Rosenthal 30). Consequently, new legislation that has similar goals but expresses them in a way that is clear about the mandatory nature of the legislation is necessary. 
Although the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health has said that "restraint will be used only as safety interventions of last resort, not as treatment interventions" and the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration has said that restraint and seclusion are "detrimental to the recovery of persons with mental illnesses" (Ahern and Rosenthal 12), no federal legislation has enforced these goals. Restraints and seclusion are still used in almost every state in the United States, and no federal law limits the use of restraints within schools (Ahern and Rosenthal 28). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that alternatives to aversives should be considered, but does not explicitly prohibit aversives (Ahern and Rosenthal 29). None of these recommendations have protected the students at the Judge Rotenberg Center from the torturous treatment they have experienced. 
Federal law could draw from the state laws of California, Connecticut, Florida, North and South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, and Colorado, all of which have taken steps to ban or limit the use of aversives on disabled children and adults (Cobb 9). A US Court of Appeals found in Bryant vs. New York State Department of Education (2012) that bans on aversive interventions did not violate IDEA as was alleged by the plaintiffs. The decision reads "[w]e conclude that prohibiting one possible method of dealing with disorders in behavior, such as aversive intervention, does not undermine a child's right to an individualized, free and appropriate public education, and that New York's law represents the State's considered judgment regarding the education and safety of its children that is consistent with federal education policy and the United States Constitution" (Bryant 2). Federal law prohibiting aversive interventions would provide protection throughout the US for disabled children and adults subjected to aversive techniques, including the students of the Judge Rotenberg Center.
That was a lot of densely written text, so I will attempt to paraphrase: To close the Judge Rotenberg Center, we need legislation that is 1) federal, not state; 2) comprehensive in what types of abuses it prevents (i.e., not narrowly focused on the skin shock devices); and 3) unmistakably binding and mandatory.

It needs to be those things because the JRC's own history shows that it can survive measures that do not meet all three of those criteria. If you outlaw what they do on a state level, they move. If you call attention to the barbarity of one particular method of punishment, they switch to others. If you say, "This is not a school and we will not give you a license to operate it," they re-incorporate, changing their paperwork but not their methods. If you sue them on the grounds that they violate an existing federal law (like, say, the DD Act), a court might well rule that the law is not absolute. And, finally, if you threaten to ban the device they use to administer the infamous skin shocks, on the grounds that it's not safe, they will stop using it -- but only on new students. Students who have been living there since before 2011 will continue to be shocked as before. 

It needs to be torn out, root and stem.

Carthago delenda est.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Cartoon Versions of Glycolytic Enzymes - Part I

Cross-posted from my Tumblr

Someone on Tumblr asked for help understanding glycolysis (along with a lot of other things, but I decided to focus on glycolysis first), so I had the brainwave of drawing cartoon versions of all the glycolytic enzymes.

Here are my cartoon interpretations of the enzymes catalyzing the first five steps of glycolysis:

1. Hexokinase
Hexokinase, drawn as a pair of interlocking jaws with a space for glucose and ATP
I drew this one to look like a huge snapping alligator jaw that fits together like a jigsaw puzzle, except for a small space near the back for glucose and ATP to fit into. (See the links at the bottom of this post, and also this blog -- particularly this post -- for more realistic images of hexokinase).

2. Phosphoglucose isomerase
Phosphoglucose isomerase, drawn as a stylized pair of interlocking hands
I have functional as well as structural reasons for choosing this way to represent this enzyme; besides the fact that its structure really is two identical subunits shaped roughly like twin blobs with long arms wrapped around one another — arms that remind me of thumbs sticking out from fists — I also figured that, since its function is to break the ring that makes up glucose, change a few things around and then let the ring re-form into fructose, a pair of hands looks like something that could do that. Like I drew hexokinase — whose function is to clamp itself around glucose — as a pair of jaws, I drew this one thinking to evoke some everyday-life analogy for what it does. The analogy that occurred to me was cracking an egg, which I do with two hands, using my thumbs to pry the shell open. (See the links at the bottom of this post, plus this one*, this one, and this one, for more realistic images of phosphoglucose isomerase).

3. Phosphofructokinase
Phosphofructokinase, drawn as a pinwheel with a smiley face in the middle
I drew a pinwheel to represent phosphofructokinase. I chose that shape because most of the drawings and computer models I found of its structure seemed to show a radial symmetry, of either 90 or 180 degrees depending on which image I was looking at. (See the links at the bottom of this post, plus this one, this one, this one and this one, for more realistic images of phosphofructokinase).

4. Aldolase
Aldolase, drawn as a pair of butterfly wings
I chose a butterfly for aldolase because in most of the drawings and computer models I could find of its structure, it looked like it had mirror symmetry. (See the links at the bottom of this post, plus this one and this one***, for more realistic pictures of aldolase).

5. Triose phosphate isomerase
Triose phosphate isomerase, drawn as a barrel with a face
I drew this one as a barrel, to reflect the "beta barrel" that makes up its interior structure, and contains the active site. (See the links at the bottom of this post, plus this one, this one and this entire blog -- particularly this post -- for more realistic images of triose phosphate isomerase). 

As you can hopefully see if you've been clicking on the links, I've tried to anchor all of my cartoon avatars of these enzymes in some element of their actual structure.

Here are some general links where you can see some decent representations of the structures of all ten of these enzymes:

Glycolysis (enzymes of the preparatory phase)

Glycolysis (enzymes of the payoff phase)

The Glycolytic Enzymes (PDF)


*The linked image is an illustration from an evolutionary biology textbook -- Evolution, by Nicholas H. Barton, Derek E. G. Briggs, Jonathan A. Eisen, David B. Goldstein, and Nipam H. Patel. The book has a website, where you can see some of the content -- including all the illustrations -- for free. 

This particular image is not original, though -- the ultimate source is a paper from 2006 by Christopher W. Wheat, Ward B. Watt, David D. Pollock and Patricia M. Schulte. It was published in Molecular Biology and Evolution and you can read the full text here.

**The linked image is Figure 2 from this article in Biochemical Society Transactions


Mitternacht, S., and Berezovsky, I. (2011). Coherent Conformational Degrees of Freedom as a Structural Basis for Allosteric Communication PLoS Computational Biology, 7 (12) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002301

Perica, T., Marsh, J., Sousa, F., Natan, E., Colwell, L., Ahnert, S., and Teichmann, S. (2012). The emergence of protein complexes: quaternary structure, dynamics and allostery Biochemical Society Transactions, 40 (3), 475-491 DOI: 10.1042/BST20120056

Wheat, C. (2005). From DNA to Fitness Differences: Sequences and Structures of Adaptive Variants of Colias Phosphoglucose Isomerase (PGI) Molecular Biology and Evolution, 23 (3), 499-512 DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msj062

Saturday, August 16, 2014

More Pictures of the Tiny Sketchbook for Drawing Tiny Things

It occurred to me after I'd made this post that it would've been a good idea to include pictures of the notebook itself along with the pictures of the things I've drawn in it.

So here they are now!
A shot of the cover of my jeweled pocket notebook. It looks like a game of Bejeweled or something ... and it sheds glitter. But it makes me happy to look at it.
Here are some pictures of it in my hand, so you can appreciate just how tiny it is.
Here's a sideways shot of the notebook, with me holding it half open. You can see a little bit of my drawing of a Christmas ornament peeking out from behind the cover.
Here it is sitting on my flat, open hand. This is my favorite shot of it. I like the natural light on the jewels.
Here it is again, engulfed by my hand. It is perhaps an average sized hand overall, though it is pretty large and meaty for a woman's hand.

It's a Tiny Sketchbook, for Drawings of Tiny Things

One of my uncles gave me this sketchbook a few years ago -- I just measured the pages, and I found out they are three inches wide by three and three-quarter inches long. Very small!

I have adapted to this notebook's extreme smallness by deciding I'm only going to draw still lifes of very small objects in it.

So far, everything is proceeding according to plan!

I have two drawings done, and I think they turned out really well!

The top one is of a Christmas ornament, a shiny round ball with a sort of swirly design painted on it with glitter, and the bottom one is of a ring I have in the shape of a scarab beetle.

I really like the bottom one. I tried using primarily stippling to shade it, and I think that was the right choice.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Prudent Blogger Never Titles a Post 'Part One' ...

... because, once you do that, you have all but guaranteed that the mother of all cases of writer's block will descend on you as soon as you hit "Publish" on that first post.

Probably at least half of the posts that I've written with the intention of having them be part of a series ended up as stand-alones.

Friday, July 18, 2014

More Game of Thrones-Themed Art

This is a super quick watercolor portrait I did of Tywin Lannister from "Game of Thrones." He's all purple because I intend to do a bunch of these, choosing one character to represent each of the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Heavenly Virtues.

They will all be painted monochromatically, in the color traditionally associated with their sin or virtue.

Tywin is Pride, so I've painted him purple. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Fairly Silly Art Project I've Been Working On

It's Robb Stark from "Game of Thrones" reimagined as a comic-book superhero!

I made these because someone on Tumblr was asking for fan art of Robb Stark and Jon Snow dressed in revealing superhero costumes, and I figured I could do that.

I made up aliases and powers for them, too, to go with the costumes.

Robb's superhero alias is Grey Wind, and he can fly and control the wind. (Possibly he flies by calling on the wind to carry him?)

I'm still pretty jittery about my skill with watercolors, so I made sure to scan this in stages, so that if I screwed up irreparably at any point I'd still have the linework to fall back on.

(The finished picture is mixed media -- outlined in ink, the figure colored with colored pencils, and the background colored with watercolors.)

Here are the other places I've posted these pictures on the Internet:

On my Tumblr: Stage One Stage Two Stage Three All Together

On my Deviant Art: Stage One Stage Two Stage Three

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bizarre Things Purported to Cause Autism: Glyphosate in Pesticides

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: This is the first of two posts dealing with the claim by MIT researcher Stephanie Seneff that a chemical found in Monsanto's RoundUp herbicide is implicated in the increase in autism prevalence rates in recent years.

This post does not address the claim itself, but evaluates whether Dr. Seneff is a credible source.

She does appear to have credibility and standing in the field of computer science -- particularly the subfield of natural language processing -- and has a lengthy publication history and an impressive array of citations within that field. But in public health, she mostly seems relegated to fringe conferences, the Internet and one not particularly selective journal.

Sometimes I wonder if I should even be bothering to write about some of these autism hypotheses, because they're so fringe, and most people haven't even heard them, much less believe them to be true, but since I mostly write about these for my own amusement, and to satisfy my collector's instinct, the feeling soon passes.

Anyway, on Tumblr I came across a link to this article on some bogus "alternative health" website, about a senior research scientist at MIT who's been going around giving presentations (at conferences of dubious repute, like AutismOne and this anti-GMO symposium hosted by this day spa/alternative medical clinic in Groton, Massachusetts) about how pesticides --- specifically, pesticides containing glyphosate --- are turning everyone autistic.
This was one of the ads in the sidebar of that article

I will address the specifics of Dr. Seneff's claims in another post, because right now I see a golden opportunity to talk about source evaluation, and I'm taking it.

Every news article I could find on this topic had a headline along the lines of, "MIT researcher says chemical in RoundUp linked to autism." That's true as far as it goes (Stephanie Seneff is a researcher at MIT, and that is indeed what she says), but it also has the unfortunate effect of giving the reader the impression that MIT says those things, when really it's just her.

The closer you look at her background and publication history, the more red flags you see.

Her position at MIT is Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; she's a computer programmer, Jim, not a doctor!

Her advanced degrees are in electrical engineering and computer science, and her undergraduate degree --- the closest she gets to having any background whatsoever in biology or medicine --- is in biophysics.

Biophysics is a perfectly fine field of study --- it's an interdisciplinary melding of biology and physics --- but it's very broad, and it seems to me like it isn't so much a specialty in itself as it is a collection of specific research topics that require study from both biological and physics perspectives. 

Parts of it deal with atomic-level interactions between molecules: figuring out, in exacting detail, how any particular grouping of molecules fits together; how an enzyme or receptor forms a complex with its target molecule; how proteins arrive at, and maintain, their three-dimensional shape. Parts of it deal with electrostatic interactions between those same atoms and molecules, as in the study of ion channels, or the difference in electrostatic potential that exists across cell membranes.

Parts of it are more purely mathematical or computational, dealing with mathematical modeling and computer simulations.

That actually all sounds super interesting and cool, but the point is that most of those areas of inquiry are things that would benefit from investigation by very carefully chosen teams of experts in diverse fields, not one person, and it also seems to me like a bachelor's degree in biophysics (where the option exists -- it looks like biophysics is more often a graduate degree program) involves a fairly solid grounding in basic physics, chemistry, and molecular/cellular biology (as distinct from organismal or population biology, I mean) and then your choice of advanced courses in a very wide range of topics.

Here are some lists of degree requirements for a B.S. in biophysics from various universities that offer it, if you want to look at them yourself: Johns Hopkins University (PDF); York University in Canada (PDF); Arizona State University; Wake Forest University

The point of all the foregoing is just to show that someone could have an undergraduate degree in biophysics that is weighted more heavily toward the physics or chemistry ends of things, with only cursory attention paid to cell biology and little or none to metabolism or physiology. 

Anyway, it looks like most of her research over the years has been concerned with speech and language, and improving computer recognition of human speech. Her Ph.D. thesis, according to this webpage, was a computer model of how the human brain processes language.

She seems to have only pivoted to medical research in recent years.

What's worse, she seems to be writing about a very wide range of unrelated topics in medicine: the heart, the brain, the gut, epigenetics, nutrition, toxicology, epidemiology ... how much can one person understand of so many disparate fields, especially when that person is trained primarily in computer science and has only just (2011-2014) begun to publish about any of them?

Also, when you look at her CV, you notice a striking change in the nature of her citations, corresponding with the change in subject matter.

Following her pivot to writing about public-health issues, more and more of her writing is either self-published (on her website) or published in a single journal, Entropy, which has been called a "pay to play" journal -- one that will publish whatever you send them, regardless of merit, as long as you pay the fee.

For comparison, when she was writing about natural language processing stuff she would be getting published in peer-reviewed journals* published by prestigious academic and professional organizations like IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), the Acoustical Society of America, the European Association for Signal Processing, the International Speech Communication Association, and the Association for Computational Linguistics.

The same holds true for her speaking engagements. 

In the past, she's spoken about natural language processing stuff at international conferences in various fields relating to linguistics and computer science --- the International Conference on Spoken Language Processing in 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2010; the Conference of the International Speech Communication Association in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011; the European Conference on Speech Communication and Technology in 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2003 and 2005; the International Conference on Computational Linguistics in 1996; the Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing in 2009; the Special Interest Group on Discourse and Dialogue in 2010; and the IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing in 1991, 1992, 1994, 20002008 and 2012 --- whereas her presentations about glyphosate seem to be given mostly to small gatherings of laypeople or at crank conferences, like the Weston A. Price Foundation's Wise Traditions Conference. (She's spoken at five of those!)

Given all of this, the logical thing to do is take whatever she has to say about medicine with a huge grain of salt.

* This is as good a place as any to point out that peer review isn't 100% effective at screening out dodgy science; even The Lancet managed to let Andrew Wakefield's fraudulent research slip past their vetting process. And just recently there's been a huge scandal over a "peer review ring" through which a few authors were able to fabricate favorable reviews of their submissions to make sure they would be published.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Doing this drawing made me really excited about drawing people riding comically enlarged animals, so I've decided I'm going to take commissions.

If you want a picture of yourself riding a comically oversized animal -- any animal, even a specific individual (like, if you want a picture of yourself riding your cat), with whatever other specifications you might care to make (what you'd like to be wearing or doing, like if you want to be carrying a banner or aiming or brandishing a weapon or something, or if you'd like to be riding your animal in a specific setting, like up a mountain or through a snowstorm or over the ramparts of Helm's Deep or whatever), PayPal me ten dollars and send me a message (in comments here, in my Tumblr askbox, on my DeviantArt profile page, in an email ... whatever) describing what you'd like me to do.

(Obviously, if I'm going to draw you, I need to know what you look like, so you'll need to send me a picture or a link to someplace where you've posted pictures online.)

My email address (which is also the address of my PayPal account) is, if you want to take me up on this offer. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bring Me One Large Enough to Ride!

A drawing of myself riding a huge Norwegian Forest Cat, inspired by this post on Tumblr

Only Some of These Really Bother Me

(A version of this post has also appeared on my Tumblr)
Article header from "10 Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing"
There's an article on listing ten words/concepts from various fields of science that are commonly misused by laypeople, so I had to look at it and see if any of my pet peeves made it onto the list.

There were a few:
3. Quantum Uncertainty and Quantum Weirdness
[Astrophysicist Dave] Goldberg adds that there's another idea that's been misinterpreted even more perniciously than "theory." It's when people appropriate concepts from physics for new agey or spiritual purposes:
This misconception is an exploitation of quantum mechanics by a certain breed spiritualists and self-helpers, and epitomized by the abomination, [the movie] What the Bleep Do We Know? Quantum mechanics, famously, has measurement at its core. An observer measuring position or momentum or energy causes the "wavefunction to collapse," non-deterministically. (Indeed, I did one of my first columns on "How smart do you need to collapse a wavefunction?") But just because the universe isn't deterministic doesn't mean that you are the one controlling it. It is remarkable (and frankly, alarming) the degree to which quantum uncertainty and quantum weirdness get inextricably bound up in certain circles with the idea of a soul, or humans controlling the universe, or some other pseudoscience. In the end, we are made of quantum particles (protons, neutrons, electrons) and are part of the quantum universe. That is cool, of course, but only in the sense that all of physics is cool. 
4. Learned vs. Innate
Evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk says:
One of my favorite [misuses] is the idea of behavior being "learned vs. innate" or any of the other nature-nurture versions of this. The first question I often get when I talk about a behavior is whether it's "genetic" or not, which is a misunderstanding because ALL traits, all the time, are the result of input from the genes and input from the environment. Only a difference between traits, and not the trait itself, can be genetic or learned — like if you have identical twins reared in different environments and they do something different (like speak different languages), then that difference is learned. But speaking French or Italian or whatever isn't totally learned in and of itself, because obviously one has to have a certain genetic background to be able to speak at all.
6. Gene

[Synthetic biologist Terry] Johnson has an even bigger concern with how the word gene gets used, however: 
It took 25 scientists two contentious days to come up with: "a locatable region of genomic sequence, corresponding to a unit of inheritance, which is associated with regulatory regions, transcribed regions and/or other functional sequence regions." Meaning that a gene is a discrete bit of DNA that we can point to and say, "that makes something, or regulates the making of something". The definition has a lot of wiggle room by design; it wasn't long ago that we thought that most of our DNA didn't do anything at all. We called it "junk DNA", but we're discovering that much of that junk has purposes that weren't immediately obvious. 
Typically "gene" is misused most when followed by "for". There's two problems with this. We all have genes for hemoglobin, but we don't all have sickle cell anemia. Different people have different versions of the hemoglobin gene, called alleles. There are hemoglobin alleles which are associated with sickle cell diseases, and others that aren't. So, a gene refers to a family of alleles, and only a few members of that family, if any, are associated with diseases or disorders. The gene isn't bad - trust me, you won't live long without hemoglobin - though the particular version of hemoglobin that you have could be problematic. 
I worry most about the popularization of the idea that when a genetic variation is correlated with something, it is the "gene for" that something. The language suggests that "this gene causes heart disease", when the reality is usually, "people that have this allele seem to have a slightly higher incidence of heart disease, but we don't know why, and maybe there are compensating advantages to this allele that we didn't notice because we weren't looking for them".
Those were the ones that resonated with me the most; others were only minor peeves or didn't actually bother me at all.

Misused Word #1, "Proof," was only a minor annoyance for me in that I'm almost never talking about mathematical proofs, and even if I were the sort of person who does use them routinely, it still seems to me like most things people talking about "proving" colloquially are impossible to express in mathematical terms.

It just seems to me like there wouldn't be very many circumstances in which mixing up the technical and colloquial meanings of "proof" would be an issue that would even arise.

(I have found that the most annoying sources of confusion in scientist/layperson conversations about proof have to do with standards of evidence, or also degrees of uncertainty. You can be more unsure of one thing than you are of another, even if you're not 100% certain about the thing you are more sure of.)

Similarly, "theory" also doesn't annoy me that much because I don't usually have much trouble adjusting to different usages of words in different contexts.

I can see how it would get really old having to explain the technical meaning of "theory" over and over again, though.
It seems like those are more about the meaning of specific words than they are about whole networks of ideas, so they are easier for me to adapt to when they surprise me in conversation.
The ones discussed in the quoted text above, though? Misuse of ideas derived from quantum mechanics, misinterpretations of evolution and natural selection, or the idea that genes are "for" specific things? Those come with so many other ideas connected to them, so many wrong things tacitly accepted as premises, that I feel like I need a ball of yarn to slowly pick my way back to the start of the conceptual maze.

Cognitive Styles, Stereotypes and Collateral Damage

(Cross-posted from my Tumblr)

I saw a really interesting post on Tumblr about, among other things, different disability stereotypes and some of the less-than-perfect ways different subsets of cognitively or developmentally disabled people cope with them.

The part of the post I'm responding to:
You know how there is a subset of badbrains people who are like “ACTUALLY, our BADBRAINS MAKE US SMARTER. We are not disabled, we are the NEXT EVOLUTIONARY STAGE, we are BETTER. There is us on the top, then normals in the middle, then unsmart r-word badbrains people on the bottom. Given time they will see.” And I was attracted to that subset of badbrains people for a while before I realise they were assholes (And also stopped being academically smart.) And there was a subset of the subset who said “the unsmart r-word badbrains were just expensive useless people who should die, I NEVER thought that (not that I deserve some kind of “not a murderer” cookie) but those people existed and exist. 
But I feel like there is also a subset of badbrains people who are like “ACTUALLY, our BADBRAINS MAKE US KINDER, we are a PURER  type of human, more whole and loving and sane, more Hufflepuff, than the normals. There is us on top, normals in the middle, and the evil heartless non-sensory, abstraction-based, heartless badbrains people on the bottom, they probably all worship Richard Dawkins and watch my little pony and are racist and rape everyone they meet. They are all just like Elliot Rodger, we should probably kill them before they kill us.”
The bolded parts ring true for me too.
I know that both types of “badbrains people” — the ones whose minds handle abstract concepts well, but don’t really get emotions or people*, and the ones whose minds don’t handle abstract concepts or words well but are good at empathy and perceptual, sensory stuff** — exist and have to deal with ableism from NTs, and have various ways of coping with that and saying, no, actually we have value and are good at things.
And I know that those coping mechanisms can turn into ways of hurting other DD/MI people — the ones whose cognitive styles are as different from our own as they are from the norm. We might think we’re trashing a stereotype but actually be trashing real people who share traits with the stereotype. 
I actually overlap a bit with both of the subsets of people you’re describing — most of the mockery I got in grade school was of the “look at the stupid R-word, she believes whatever you tell her” variety; I do live primarily in a world of sensory information and sometimes I’m not exactly within reach of words; I sort of straddle a line between very concrete, literal thought and more abstract, logical, analogy- and metaphor-based thought; I think very slowly and sometimes speak haltingly; but at the same time I’m very good at academics, including STEM subjects, I can be pretty far removed from my emotions (like, it took me until my 20s to even realize I was capable of certain emotions, or to express them), and I am ridiculously insensitive to nonverbal cues and emotional subtext in conversation.
The latter set of traits make me very much a stereotypical “Aspie” that autistics who don’t have those traits have been bashing as non-representative of what actual autism is like. I’m not really bothered by it because I know they’re right. My observations do tell me I’m in the minority in having those traits, especially the lack of affective empathy
The stuff I’ve seen from other autistic people has been more along the lines of “this type of autistic person doesn’t really exist” than “this type of autistic person is evil,” though.

(From NTs, of course, I've seen a whole lot of "this type of autistic person is evil" stereotyping. It's almost coming to replace the autism stereotypes I remember more from childhood, the ones that imagine us as having no inner life.)

*Continuing with the Harry Potter Sorting Hat theme in the quoted passage, it would probably make the most sense to associate this cognitive style with Ravenclaw, and maybe Slytherin.

**Probably more likely to be in Hufflepuff or Gryffindor

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kansas City, Don't Get on This Bandwagon

Just this past weekend I read something that upset me very much: the City Council of Kansas City, Missouri is considering making it illegal to give food to homeless people without having a permit from the city to do so.

You can read the proposed ordinance here (PDF).

Because it's a couple pages long and legal writing is dense, I'll also excerpt the relevant bits of it here:
Section 8-301.11 of the 2005 Food Code is amended to read as follows: A PERSON may not operate a FOOD ESTABLISHMENT without a valid PERMIT to operate issued by the REGULATORY AUTHORITY. A PERMIT is required to apply for and obtain and pay for a separate FOOD ESTABLISHMENT PERMIT for each of the types of FOOD ESTABLISHMENT operations listed in subsections (1) through (13): 
(13) Food Sharing Permit: issued to a not-for-profit granted tax-exempt status under any provision of Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code ... that is distributing food free of charge for the sole purpose of impacting food insecurity in Kansas City, Missouri. Food sharing permits are not intended to cover food sharing taking place within permitted food establishments. Any already-permitted food establishments shall not need a food sharing permit to offer food free of charge to the public within the confines of the already-permitted establishment. All potentially hazardous food shall be prepared in a permitted kitchen and any processed foods must be pre-packaged. All food shall be labeled with the name or identifier of the permittee and disposed of four (4) hours after being removed from active temperature control. On site food preparation is prohibited with a Food Sharing Permit. Permit holders shall provide waste receptacles if none are readily available or if on-site receptacles are not adequate to collect the waste generated, while distributing food pursuant to the permit and when necessary, shall collect and remove any food or container waste. Food sharing permittees shall not distribute food within one block of a school on a day in which school is in session during the 30 minute period preceding school or the 30 minute period after adjournment. All other Food Code requirements shall be followed, including the obtaining of food handler cards. Re-inspection fees shall be those as set for catering permits. There shall be no cost for the initial food sharing permit or for any routine annual renewals.
It's not clear from this text whether any of this applies to a single person handing out food on their own. (At least, it's not clear to me.)

I'm also not clear on what the implications are for a group that's not a formally recognized nonprofit, like a social club, that might want to distribute food.

The ordinance itself, and City Council member Melba Curls in comments to the public at a protest rally held June 4 at City Hall, cite public health as one of the reasons why the ordinance was drafted.

Intuitively, that makes sense. By making a city-issued permit a requirement to distribute food, the city can keep track of who is distributing food and periodically inspect the kitchens where they prepare it. They can make sure that those kitchens are clean, and that the food that passes through them is not carrying any disease-causing microorganisms.

I'm not sure it would really play out like that, though.

First of all, I'm not aware of any recent outbreaks of food-borne illness here originating in soup kitchens; all the ones I remember reading about originated in restaurants, or on farms or food processing plants.


Other example.

Other example.

Other example.

(It's true, if the contaminated food items end up in grocery stores, they could find their way to a soup kitchen or food pantry's shelves. But it seems like the most efficient way to catch contaminated produce before it makes someone sick would be to do your screening as each shipment reaches the stores, not at whatever secondary or tertiary destination the food is actually eaten.)

So I'm not sure how helpful this measure will be in reducing the number or extent of outbreaks of food-borne illness, and at the same time I'm sure this will have a chilling effect on efforts to feed the city's hungry people. 

(How could it not? It's adding red tape where before there was none. Also, some of the people who are doing that work showed up at the protest rally and said that the ordinance would make it harder for them to operate. So this isn't just me coming up with hypotheticals; this is a thing that people who work at feeding the homeless say will probably happen.)

I'm also aware of a larger pattern around the nation of criminalizing either homelessness itself or ordinary citizens giving food to homeless people.

And I also know that Kansas City is currently hustling to market itself as a cool, happening city to attract the wealthier members of my generation. 

I am made very cynical about what it means to do that, largely by the spectacle of San Francisco all but waging open war on its poor people to curry favor with the Silicon Valley professional classes. 

Return of the Arty Aspie

I started drawing this a ridiculously long time ago --- like fourteen or fifteen years ago. I drew all the black chessmen, and the closest two of the white chessmen, and shaded less than half of the squares when I abandoned it.

I don't remember why I didn't finish it then; either I got bored of it or I didn't think I could draw the smaller chessmen in the background. 

I've gotten better at working on a small scale since then, so they were fairly easy when I finally came back to it.

Being on Tumblr has inspired me to do a lot more art, so I also made a Deviant Art account.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Gardenblogging Part VI

Leaves starting to unfurl on a shrub we planted maybe three years ago? I think it was either the same time as we planted the viburnums or a few months to a year after. Either way, this shrub has not grown anywhere near as much as the viburnums have; the viburnums are taller than me now, and this guy still doesn't come up to my knee.

Wildflower Blogging

I've been posting a bunch of pictures of flowers from my garden --- lilacs, viburnums, bleeding hearts, vincas, and whatever this red thing is --- so now I want to change it up by posting pictures of a flower my mom and I did not plant.

We get a lot of violets growing in the shady parts of the yard --- under the deck, in the grassy zone adjoining the flowerbed, and under the maple tree with the red flowering bush next to it --- and I'm always very happy to see them, so this year I thought I'd take some pictures.

This is also the first time I've noticed that they are in fact blue, not purple!

(So the old verse is true, it's not just that nothing rhymes with purple ...) 
Look at the way the color seems to be coming from veins in the petals. (Also, the flower is a little battered --- I probably should've taken its picture when I first noticed it, instead of waiting until later).

Finally, since I mentioned verse, I want to quote a poem I like that mentions violets.

    She dwelt among the untrodden ways
    Beside the springs of Dove,
    A Maid whom there were none to praise
    And very few to love:

    A violet by a mossy stone
    Half hidden from the eye!
    Fair as a star, when only one
    Is shining in the sky.

    She lived unknown, and few could know
    When Lucy ceased to be;
    But she is in her grave, and, oh,
    The difference to me! 

Gardenblogging, Part V

Like the first couple pictures in my vinca post, these were actually taken last year. This plant flowers early, and I didn't get a picture of it in time this year.
I don't know what this thing is --- it's a woody shrub that's growing practically right on top of one of the maple trees in our yard. It's very sparse --- only a few branches --- compared to all the free-standing shrubs we have.

Here are some pictures that show more of it, and how it leans against the trunk of the tree:
We also didn't plant this --- either the people who lived here before us did, or it volunteered, grown from a seed misplaced by a bird or squirrel or something.

It's my favorite of all our plants. I'd like to paint it sometime.