Happy 10th Blogoversary to me!

In late January 2010, I was googling news about autism when I came across a story from the U.K. A gastroenterologist named Andrew Wakefield had been found guilty of misconduct relating to a study he’d performed on 12 autistic children. Curious, I followed the story. I soon found two fields of thought. One was that Wakefield was a liar who had written a fraudulent case study involving 12 autistic children to implicate the MMR vaccine in causing autism. The other was that Wakefield had stumbled on to a dangerous truth and had been silenced by the establishment.

As I read more and more over the next few weeks, it became clear that Wakefield was indeed a liar and fraudster, and that those supporting him had an axe to grind. It also brought to my attention that there were people who were opposed to vaccinations and wrongly believed that they caused all sorts of harms, including autism. As I continued down this path, I became angrier and angrier. Eventually, I realised that I could no longer remain silent, and so I went to the iBlog website and created African Jungle – my first blog.
3655 days ago, on the 29th June 2010, I wrote the first of what is now 368 posts. In it, I outlined what I intended to blog about.

I am going to blog about my work, about autism events and news, about the lunacy that is the anti-vaccination movement, and about other things that may take my fancy. This blog, however, will focus primarily on Autism Self-Advocacy as that is my main interest.
“Nothing about us, without us.”

Well, that didn’t turn out quite the way I planned.

The majority of my posts are tagged Anti-anti-vaccination (143), with Life (140) a close second and Autism Advocacy trailing at third (125). Segue (76) and Background Data (73) are far behind, with other categories having far fewer posts.

A bunch of my earliest posts had to do with MMR and autism. That Wakefield was hired by lawyer Richard Barr to build a case against MMR; how Brian Deer became suspicious of him and first uncovered his conflicts of interest, and later his misrepresentations; how, taken in by Wakefield’s lies, thousands of families approached Vaccine Court in the U.S. for compensation over their children’s autism; how the Omnibus Autism Proceedings ended with the Special Masters ruling against the Test Cases, and the families of Michelle Cedillo, Yates Hazelhurst and Colten Snyder unsuccessfully appealing the verdicts; that the U.K.’s General Medical Council found Andrew Wakefield and study co-author John Walker-Smith guilty of gross misconduct and sentenced them both to be struck off; and that The Lancet, which published Wakefield’s study, retracted it.

Other things I have blogged about include my work, my life, films I’ve seen, my car crash, attending cricket matches, voting, autism quackery, people from history who may have been autistic, Special Interest Group in Software Testing (SIGiST) meetings, and escaping a hijacking attempt. Most heartbreaking of all have been several posts about autistic children murdered by their parents or caregivers.

Early in October 2010, I came across an initiative to shut down social networking for 24 hours on November 1st in support of autistics.

It was an exemplar of what happens when people fail to talk to those they are supposedly advocating for. In response, Corina Becker and Kathryn Bjornstad set up Autistics Speaking Day. Social networking is a boon to many autistics. The Communication Shutdown petered out, while Autistics Speaking Day has become a yearly event. Because I live in South Africa, I was the very first blogger to post for Autistics Speaking Day in 2010. Since then, I have posted for it almost every year.

Some people were unable to access iBlog as it is a South African based domain. Some commenters on other blogs I frequent expressed unhappiness and asked me to set up a new blog on a different domain. I chose WordPress as iBlog is based on the WordPress framework, and created Autism Jungle.

Up till November 2011, I signed off my blogposts as “Jungle”. Then something happened that led me to decide to unmask. An autism parent named MJ accused me of devoicing his children by advocating. I found his argument so offensive that I revealed my true namehttp://africanjungle.iblog.co.za/2011/11/06/no-i-will-never-shut-up/. Since then, I have fought against attempts to devoice me and people like me from well-meaning but sanctimonious individuals who wrongly claim we can’t advocate for autistics.

Increasingly, I’ve been writing about politics. From Black Tuesday and the Secrecy Bill back in 2011 to some of my most recent posts, more and more I’ve become concerned with the actions of the politicians in charge. I’ve also blogged about low times I’ve been through. In 2016, I went through a particularly bad phase, and decided to stop blogging altogether. Some of my acquaintances talked me out of it, and I’m still blogging.

My blogging has become less frequent over the years. From typically once a week or more in the early days to once every two weeks. Life has a way of slowing you down.

Will I be celebrating the 20th blogoversary ten years from now? Probably not, but even if I choose to stop, I’ve had a good ride.

Posted in Background Data, Life

Significant Anniversaries

Three significant anniversaries occurred in the first full week of May. A fourth occurred on the 21st – the fortieth anniversary of the theatrical release of “The Empire Strikes Back”, widely regarded as the best of the Star Wars film.
Fifty years ago this month, the Beatles released “Let it be”. Paul McCartney had a dream where his mother Mary came to him and said to him “let it be”. She is the “mother Mary” who “comes to me” in the opening lines. It is my favourite Beatles song.
On May 8th, the 75th anniversary of VE Day was celebrated. VE (Victory in Europe) Day was not the end of the War, but the ending of hostilities in Europe was a significant matter.
The third anniversary celebrated was by far the most significant. On the 8th of May 1980, smallpox was declared extinct in the wild. The last case of smallpox had happened in England in 1978. Victim Janet Parker died on 11 September 1978. A disease which had killed hundreds of millions was gone for good. Smallpox and rinderpest are the only two diseases confirmed eradicated so far. Both were eliminated by vaccination.

Posted in Anti-antivaccination, Background Data, Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The longer you refuse to face a painful truth…

It is disturbing just how willing people are to deny a painful reality. Especially politicians.
Pravin Gordhan, South African Minister of Public Enterprises is trying to stop SAA’s Business Rescue Practitioners Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana from proceeding with its liquidation. The two announced that SAA would halt all operations on Friday as there is no money to cover costs. Gordhan is dead set against liquidation, saying:

At the moment, it will not serve the business rescue process and that is also a matter of contention between the shareholders and the business rescue practitioners.

Gordhan is wrong. The Practitioners answer to SAA’s creditors first. They are in charge here, not anyone else.
And he’s farting into a hurricane. Last month Matuson and Dongwana approached Government for funding to cover SAA’s expenses, only to be refused as the money isn’t there. They also warned that if their plans weren’t supported, they would have no choice but to go to Court to take SAA into liquidation.
At this point, SAA’s liquidation is little more than a formality. Late last year, when Matuson and Dongwana were appointed, the airline was already in severe financial difficulty. Its staff complement was too high for its revenue, its management undermined by politics and Cadre Deployment, and its expenses skyrocketed by corruption. Even then, saving it was a long shot. In the current situation, where several airlines in a much better financial position than SAA are asking for government help and even going into receivership (like Virgin Australia), its end appears inevitable. Earlier this week, the privately-owned South African airline COMAIR went into Business Rescue. Prior to 2020, COMAIR regularly paid dividends to investors. If even COMAIR is entering Rescue, then the odds for SAA are now in “snowball in hell” territory.
As I said in my last post, it is flying in the face of reality to imagine SAA can be saved. Gordhan, SAA’s employees and Government now need to accept that there is no way to save SAA, and that any talk about founding a new airline from the remains of SAA is impossible, and will be for years.
Another politician who refuses to face facts is Gauteng CoGTA MEC Lebogang Maile. In March, he placed Tshwane Municipality under Administration. Nine days ago, a full Bench of the Gauteng High Court set aside his decision in a unanimous verdict and awarded costs against the Gauteng Provincial Government. The Judges rejected each and every argument raised by the Provincial Government’s lawyers and severely criticised Maile for not disciplining ANC and EFF Councillors who failed to show up to caucus meetings. A remote sitting to elect the new Mayor of Tshwane is scheduled to go ahead tomorrow.
Late on Thursday afternoon, the Gauteng Provincial Government held a press conference at which Maile announced he would be appealing the High Court’s ruling at the Constitutional Court. He also proclaimed that while the appeals process was underway, the Administrators would remain. Also, in typical ANC fashion, he accused the DA of racism.
The DA had anticipated Maile’s move. Shortly before the Provincial Government’s press conference, it held a press conference of its own where its mayoral candidate for Tshwane, Randal Williams, said:

We can bring a Section 18.3 application to ask the judges that the judgment must be implemented while there is an application for leave to appeal and also if the application is successful while the appeal process is ongoing.

Maile is living in fantasyland. A Section 18.3 Application would almost certainly be granted, meaning the Administrators would be removed. With regards to his appeal, that is almost certain to fail.
As mentioned above, the verdict by the Gauteng High Court was unanimous and fiercely critical of the action. When a verdict is unanimous, it’s a good sign that it’s solid, and thus exceptionally unlikely to be reversed by a higher Court.
One last thing. The scuttlebutt I’ve heard is that the ANC’s own Councillors in Tshwane were furious over the Administration decision, as it meant they lost their jobs. If it’s true, then Maile would likely face a rebellion if he proceeded with his appeal.
Like with everyone and SAA, Maile needs to accept the reality on the ground and realise that what he wants is a nonstarter. The longer you refuse to face a painful truth, the more painful it will be when you finally do.

Posted in Life | Tagged , , , , , ,

Lockdown – Bad News from South Africa

The hard lockdown will be ending in the next few days. Since it started, several things have happened.
First, and on a sad note, Gambit the dolphin passed away at uShaka Marine World. He was 48, and widely believed to be the largest bottlenose dolphin in captivity.
I saw Gambit a few years ago when I went to Durban on vacation. I also saw him decades ago when he still lived at the Durban Aquarium. I was in primary school at the time. Good times.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Business Rescue Practitioners for SA Express applied to liquidate it. Recently, a consortium approached them to purchase SA Express. This must have fallen through because today the Practitioners applied to the Court for a Provisional Liquidation. It looks like it’s the end for the company.
The Land Bank has defaulted on a payment. What will happen next, I don’t know. Will it be forced to go into Business Rescue? Declare Bankruptcy?
Last of all is the absurdity and denial of reality around South African Airways. The two Business Rescue Practitioners began the process of liquidating SAA after their request for more money was refused. Both the unions and Pravin Gordhan have rejected this. The rejection is as delusional as Geocentrism.
It is understandable that Gordhan and the unions want SAA to continue, but at this point, it’s not happening.
Even before the COVID-19 Lockdown, SAA was in dire straits. Decades of Cadre Deployment and the corruption of the Zuma years had hollowed it out. Its staff complement was too big and the management hostage to vested political interests and incompetent. There was a good possibility that it would have failed anyway even had the outbreak not occurred. Now, with the outbreak, several airlines including Ethiopian Airways are in danger of going under. Many of them were in a stronger position than SAA going in to this. The unions and Gordhan need to accept that SAA can’t continue. It is very sad that SAA, founded in 1934 and one of the oldest existent airlines in the World, will cease, but under the circumstances it is flying in the face of reality to imagine SAA can be saved.

Posted in Life | Tagged , , , , , ,

Qui custodiet ipsos custodites, power, and corruption

Yesterday, I saw the news that Australian Catholic Cardinal George Pell’s conviction for sexually assaulting a minor has been voided.
The Catholic Church has been embroiled in scandal for a very long time. Years ago it was revealed that priests had been sexually molesting minors for decades, and that the Church, instead of acting against them, shuffled the offending priests off to different parishes and sometimes even different Dioceses. Massive sums have been paid out to victims over the Church’s shielding of miscreants within its own ranks. But this is a common problem among authority.
The latin saying “Qui custodiet ipsos custodites?” is usually translated as “Who guards the Guards themselves?”, but a better translation for meaning is “who monitors the Monitors themselves?” Although often rhetorical, in my experience, far too often those in authority aren’t properly held to account, even when clearly abusing their power. Several people have been assaulted by Police during the quarantine, for instance.
One of the examples that comes to mind is former Cricket Umpire Darrell Hair. One of the most controversial umpires of all time with a string of questionable decisions, he finally came to grief after penalising Pakistan for ball-tampering in a match against England at Lords. Infuriated, the Pakistan Cricket Team refused to retake the field after lunch and were disqualified. When the allegedly tampered ball was independently examined, no damage was found. Hair wrote a letter to the International Cricketing Council (ICC), offering his resignation in exchange for a sum of money. He later tried to play it off as a joke, but the ICC was done and fired him. Hair then threatened a lawsuit that came to nothing. When the ICC then offered him what was effectively a demotion, he refused. Since then, he has been in retirement.
The ICC should have sent Hair packing long before they did. As I mentioned, prior to his downfall, he had made a string of highly questionable decisions. Further to that, most if not all of the questionable decisions were against India, Pakistan, and South Africa. Hair was biased, which is the absolute last thing any umpire should be. His favouritism was so blatant that after he umpired a match between South Africa and Australia, even the great Sir Donald Bradman felt it necessary to call him out in print.
There is a quote by Lord Acton, ironically a Catholic, that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power to corrupt absolutely.” But I’ve found that in reality, it mainly goes the other way. Bullies and the corrupt seek out power to abuse.
A few years ago, I saw an article that listed careers with an above average proportion of psychopaths. Among the careers were Priests, CEOs, Law Enforcement Officers and Politicians. All jobs with significant amounts of power.
There is a noted reluctance by many fields to properly hold their own to account. Surgeon Wynne Lieberthal was notorious for ordering too many items through his own medical supply company (huge COI right there) and using them in operations. Several of his patients suffered lasting harm from the too many screws and other thing he used. It took far too long for him to be brought to book. The “Blue Wall” in Law Enforcement is well known. Terry Pratchett made reference to it in his Discworld novel Night Watch.
It seems to me there are three reasons why those in power aren’t properly held to account. The first is because corrupt people like power and protect other abusers. The second, I believe, is because of a misguided sense of cameraderie. People who have gone through the same training and work alongside each other are likely to be forgiving of improper conduct, even when they shouldn’t. And the third is a belief that authority is always right. While authority should be respected, this should not be allowed to cover abuse.
So, what should be done to prevent abuse of authority? Firstly, any shortlisted applicants for a position of power must be thoroughly screened to stop abusive personalities from getting through. Secondly, monitoring bodies for professions must include non-members. For Andrew Wakefield’s fitness to practise hearing, two of the panel were ordinary citizens, not medical practitioners. Thirdly, those who shield their own must also be disciplined. Finally, proper independent monitoring of those who hold power.
I know that these are not silver bullets, but adopting these practises throughout will go a long way to lowering abuses of authority.

Posted in Life, Segue | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

It begins

The Lockdown is underway, South Africa has had its first coronavirus death, and things are feeling surreal.
Today I drove to the shops to buy my weekly groceries. It was shortly before 9, yet very few cars were on the road. This was a new experience for me. Greenstone was almost deserted. I was able to park very close to an entrance. Pick ‘n Pay’s main entrance was its only open one. The two side entrances were closed. As I entered, a worker with a bottle of sanitiser sprayed my hands. The store was almost empty of customers. Several items I wanted were out, thanks to earlier panic buying. The wine section was barricaded off and the Pick ‘n Pay Bottle Store was closed. Alcohol and tobacco will not be sold until the Lockdown ends. Any smokers who wish to quit thus have a great opportunity.
Normally from 9 o’ clock on a Saturday and after, Pick ‘n Pay is crowded. Not today. I only had one person in front of me in the checkout queue. All in all, I was back home less than an hour after leaving my flat.
My complex has restrictions during the Lockdown. The recreational areas are all closed. Children are not allowed to have parties. If we have to be out our flats (putting rubbish in the bin area, picking up our mail) we are to maintain social distancing. No congregating outdoors. As I write this on a Saturday afternoon, it is eerily quiet. Only a hadeda calling in the distance.
An Mbombela man wanted permission to go to the Eastern Cape to attend his grandfather’s funeral. He was refused. The Court ruled that an exception could not be made, sad though the situation was.
The Business Rescue Practitioners for short haul airline SA Express have applied to liquidate it. They concluded that the extra losses that will be caused by the Lockdown are too great for the airline to survive. Also, Moody’s has downgraded South Africa’s investment rating to junk.

Posted in Life, Segue | Tagged ,

The myths of “Not Autistic Enough” and high vs. low functioning

One of the most enraging attitudes I have confronted is the belief that autistic self-advocates can’t really advocate, because they are too high functioning, or not autistic enough. I’ve had it directed at me personally, and more recently felt compelled to call out Doctor Matthew Belmonte for dismissing Ari Ne’eman as not autistic enough to advocate for autistics. It is extremely offensive, and mindblowingly ignorant to boot.
Several neurotypical colleagues have commented on how well I write. One emailed me after reading my blog and wrote “You write brilliantly.” Others have mentioned how articulate I am. You likely know how good a writer I am because you’re reading my blog right now. But that’s my public face.
What you do not see is the effort I put into my written communication.
What you do not see is me carefully plotting out what I want to write, sometimes using pen and paper.
What you do not see is me going through every email, blogpost, report etc. I’ve written, then editing it relentlessly to be as clear and unambiguous as possible before transmitting it.
What you do not see is me writing out several paragraphs, only to delete everything because what I’ve written isn’t saying what I want it to say.
In addition:
You see someone who lives on his own, goes shopping for groceries, works out at gym regularly, enjoys going to the cinema and can function in public.
You see someone who can hold down a steady job testing software and was employed at the same company for over 12 years.
What you do not see is me staggering after a hectic day, because the stress has caused my fine motor control to fail.
What you do not see is me having to shout or play loud music to blast intrusive thoughts out of my head. (When autistics get intrusive thoughts, they are REALLY damned intrusive.)
What you do not see is me frantically rubbing my hair because a story on the news infuriated me.
What you do not see is my executive dysfunction, which means I often can’t get started on something, even when I know I really should, and fixate on things I really shouldn’t.
What you do not see is me being unable to watch most sitcoms, because the characters’ stupidity gives me such acute secondhand embarrassment that it’s actually painful. The later seasons of Frasier were particularly excruciating.
I can guarantee you that, were you to speak to any autistic self advocate, they would tell you similar things about the problems they face, problems that do not occur to neurotypicals.
Somebody (not me) once wrote about the dangers of using the labels “high functioning” and “low functioning”. To paraphrase: “High Functioning dismisses our problems, Low Functioning dismisses our abilities.”
Another problem with “high functioning” vs. “low functioning” is that one person can be both.
An autistic wrote this.
Read it and grok it.

Posted in Autism Awareness, Life | Tagged