Once again, the lives of autistics are diminished

A few things before the main event.
Pro-vaxxers have two new celebrity allies. Kristen Bell and her husband Dax Shepard are not allowing their friends near their children unless they’ve been vaccinated.
Cracked has an article on why anti-vaccine lies work so well.
And now the story that has me shaking with rage. THIS.
That article is straight up apologetics for murder. Matt has a much more accurate view.
For more information, please go to Respectful Insolence and search on “Alex Spourdalakis”.
This is just downright evil. It’s the same “autism is a tragedy” lie that devalues my life and the life of every single other autistic. Spourdalakis’s caregivers are not good people. They were offered help and they refused. Then they violently murdered Alex.
This just makes me want to scream “STOP DEVALUING US!!!” Because that is precisely what it’s doing.

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The stupid, it burns

Sometimes you read something so patently ridiculous, you wonder what the authors/writers/researchers were thinking.
The first stupid thing I read was a proposal to change the law in South Africa reduce the blood alcohol level of drivers to 0%. No alcohol whatsoever. This has been put forward to lower the shockingly high death rate on South Africa’s roads.
This has been mooted in several other countries and invariably shot down. Fresh fruit, freshly baked bread, amasi, and rum and raisin ice cream all contain small amounts of alcohol or other substances that can trigger positive breath readings. Diabetes and other medical conditions can do the same.
We don’t need ever stricter laws that will sweep up loads of innocent people, we need proper enforcement of the existing ones. Not once in my ten years of driving have I been stopped and checked for sobriety. In fact, we could probably go back to the old limits if proper enforcement was used.
The second stupid thing I read was an article by someone accusing her paediatrician, who is now refusing to take the children of vaccine refusers on as patients, of violating the Hippocratic Oath. Suffice to say, the paediatrician is totally in the right. If a child is too young to have received vaccines, or immunosuppressed as a result of receiving chemotherapy, or anti-rejection drugs for a transplant, then an un- or under- vaccinated child poses a grave risk. Paediatricians have a responsibility to all of their patients, and if a family endangers the other patients by refusing to vaccinate and thus increasing the other patients chances of catching diseases, then as far as I’m concerned the practise has a right to refuse the refusers.
And now, last but not least, the stupidest thing I read last week.
Some reports say that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is an Aspie. No, really. They say he is.
Putin was a member of the KGB before communism ended in Russia, President for two terms and now (officially) Prime Minister. If you have trouble believing that an aspie could achieve those things in a dictatorship, so do I.

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Was Alan Turing autistic?

Strange, isn’t it, how you’re reading something and a phrase catches your eye.
The film The Imitation Game went on cinematic release in South Africa yesterday. It’s about Alan Turing’s life, his work at Bletchley Park as a cryptanalyst, his homosexuality and his death. The local newspaper printed a review of The Imitation Game written by Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post.
While reading the review, several things jumped out at me. The first was that, according to the film, as a boy Turing would separate his vegetables “into compulsively arranged colour-coded piles.” The next is that Turing found it “so difficult to break the signs and social codes of his colleagues”. The third is that he suggested the rest of the Bletchley Park team be fired so he can make better use of their salaries, and that by way of atonement, he brought them apples.
Admittedly, films are notorious for “exaggerating” things, but those foibles are signs of autism. Was Turing autistic?
Out of curiosity, I went to the Wikipedia pages for The Imitation Game and Alan Turing. The Imitation Game’s page didn’t really have anything, but Turing’s page mentioned Jack Good quoted by Ronald Lewin.

“In the first week of June each year he would get a bad attack of hay fever, and he would cycle to the office wearing a service gas mask to keep the pollen off. His bicycle had a fault: the chain would come off at regular intervals. Instead of having it mended he would count the number of times the pedals went round and would get off the bicycle in time to adjust the chain by hand. Another of his eccentricities is that he chained his mug to the radiator pipes to prevent it being stolen.”

Who wears a gas mask to stop hayfever? An autistic, that’s who.
I realise that none of this constitutes proof that Turing was autistic, and that it’s not wise to retrospectively diagnose historical figures, but I’m going to do just that.
I believe that a strong case can be made that Alan Turing was autistic.

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We’re winning the fight

A lot can change in five years. Five years ago to the day, Andrew Wakefield’s GMC hearing was still underway, Jenny McCarthy was supporting antivaccine lies, and people were seriously doubting the safety of the MMR vaccine. How things have changed.

You’ve probably heard about the measles outbreak that occurred at Disneyland. At the time of writing, there are over fifty cases.

This may sound like bad news, but the pro-vaccine side is winning. Outbreaks like these have shown that the antivaccinationists are wrong, and that vaccines work.

And now for some more evidence that we’re winning. A notorious US antivaccinationist named Sherri Tenpenny was going to tour Australia giving seminars. Thanks to the efforts of Australian pro-vaccine advocates, her tour is now in pieces. Reasonable Hank has the details.

Update

All of the venues originally booked by Tenpenny have cancelled on her. Details.

What interests me is that a number of venues claim that they were misled. Tenpenny’s seminars were under the guise of “Get rid of SIDS”. This references the antivaccine lie that vaccines are responsible for SIDS (they aren’t). That’s a good sign.

If Tenpenny had to lie to get bookings, that means that once again, antivaccinationists are being regarded with the revulsion and contempt they deserve.

And that is excellent news.

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Autism Rights in South Africa: an opportunity lost

This essay was written in 2013, but not accepted for publication.

Autism Rights in South Africa: an opportunity lost

South Africa is a nation with a Constitution hailed as one of the most progressive in the world. It states that discrimination on the grounds of Race, Religion, Gender, Sexual Orientation and physical and mental disability is prohibited. With that, one would think that Autistics in South Africa are quite well off in comparison with other countries. Sadly, that is not the case. The state’s capacity to uphold the rights of the disabled has been undermined by historic factors, bad recent choices and current realities.

In 1948, the then South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts lost the General Election to the National Party. The National Party had been opposed to South Africa joining World War 2 on the Allied side, and introduced apartheid. This was a system of laws intended to discriminate against non-white South Africans. Skilled, highly paid jobs were reserved for whites only. Non-whites were given inferior facilities, treatment and education. Black South Africans had it the worst but Indian South Africans and Coloureds (mixed-race South Africans) also faced discrimination.

In the 1960’s the international community began placing sanctions on South Africa to force the government to abandon apartheid. Economic, sporting and cultural boycotts were applied. Companies disinvested, sports teams stopped touring South Africa, South African sportsmen and women were banned from the Olympics, certain films and plays were not shown here and research and technologies were no longer shared with South African scientists and institutions. Despite this, apartheid persisted until F.W. De Klerk became president in 1989. In 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison and in 1994 he became South Africa’s first ever democratically elected president. In 1996 Mandela signed South Africa’s Constitution into law.

As the Constitution proclaims the rights of the disabled, the state is supposed to enforce them. Due to our racist past, the priority has been to rectify race based inequalities. This has often been at the expense of the rights of other marginalised groups, particularly the disabled. A newspaper article that I read claimed that disabled job-seekers in South Africa were being overlooked for jobs. The overwhelming focus on race meant that discrimination against the disabled was able to continue without proper intervention to stop it.

After 1994, there was a concerted drive to eliminate past inequalities. White government employees were offered retrenchment packages and non-whites were actively recruited. Transformation was rushed, and this was the first mistake. The resignation and early retirement of large numbers of skilled and experienced civil servants eroded the institutional knowledge so vital to any organisation’s proper functioning. Many retrenched government workers had to be hired back at great cost as consultants to train their replacements. Despite this, the civil service still hasn’t recovered completely. Recent audits by the Auditor-General’s office still reveal massive irregularities and inefficiencies. This has affected the state’s ability to deliver services to all people, including the disabled, and to protect everyone’s constitutional rights.

Because of the sanctions applied during apartheid, a lot of research into autism did not reach South Africa. In addition, technologies that could have helped autistics were prevented from coming here. Apple briefly had a presence in South Africa before disinvesting. It returned after the end of apartheid and has a full scale presence now. This is fortunate, as Apple products, especially the iPad, have been used in teaching autistics.

In 2007 the subprime crisis began, triggering a global financial slowdown. In South Africa, tight restrictions had prevented local banks investing in toxic assets. Many bankers who had previously griped about the laws thanked their lucky stars for them. Despite this, the slowdown has still had a negative effect. Exports have fallen and this has seen the South African economy contract and shed large numbers of jobs with a corresponding drop in tax revenues. Consequently, government funding to charities and non-governmental organisations (including those providing training and support to autistics) has been cut.

Civic Society in South Africa has taken a role. South African golfer Ernie Els has an autistic son and began the Els for Autism Foundation. In 2009, it held the first Els for Autism Pro-Am tournament in Florida. The event raised money for The Renaissance Learning Center, a school for autistic children.

The Key School, founded in 1973, is the oldest school for autistic children in South Africa. In 2011, it pioneered the use of iPads as aids for autistics in South Africa. In 2012, it nearly had to close down due to a lack of funding. The National Lottery Fund initially refused help, then reconsidered. The Els Foundation and Oppenheimer Memorial Trust also gave funding. Currently, Scott Allen and David McAlpine are travelling from Casablanca to Johannesburg using only public transport to raise R100 000 for the Key School.

Autism South Africa (website http://www.aut2know.co.za/) was founded in 1989 in South Africa. It has a National Executive Committee. Pleasingly, Craig Thompson, one of the current committee members, is an adult autistic. The organisation recently launched a poster campaign that inadvertently caused an outcry. Posters were hung mentioning myths about autistics, like “Autism is for violent people”. The posters refuted the myths, but most people saw the massive slogan, not the small print refutation. The posters have been withdrawn, but a television advert that also corrected the myths went ahead.

One of the downsides of South Africa’s reintegration into the world community is that antivaccination propaganda has begun springing up. An increasing number of comments making false claims about vaccines (including the nonexistent correlation between vaccination and autism) have shown up on local news websites. Some have repeated the “Bill Gates admitted that vaccines are to depopulate the world” lie. Disreputable sources of “information” like Natural News have also been cited.

The situation of autism awareness and accommodation in South Africa is the story of an opportunity lost. When I think back to my childhood, I know that things are far better now than they were then. However, I am also keenly aware that they are not nearly as good as they could have been.

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Here’s to 2015

Well, happy 2015 everyone.
From about August 2013 to 2014 I was financially in a hole, though not a big one. That’s now behind me and I’m feeling much more secure.
At work, I left the client I’d worked for for four years, then returned after a week, then left again after a few months, this time for good. The entire situation was a comedy of errors, but less amusing. When I returned, the process to revoke my accesses had been begun and nobody sent through a message to stop it. I was unable to log on to the client’s systems for around a month and had to use a special access to do work. Eventually it was sorted out and I was able to log in normally again. Then my contract ended and I left for good. Amazingly, I wasn’t properly offboarded and I was contacted by both the timesheet managers (who asked why I hadn’t submitted timesheets for several months) and the client’s emergency contact system to confirm my details. I’m currently on a project for a multinational client that’s scheduled to run until early 2016.
I’m looking forward to 2015 in a way that I haven’t looked forward to a new year in a very long time.
“Big Hero 6″ and “The Boxtrolls” were the last films I saw in 2014 and the most enjoyable. “Interstellar” was good, but the exposition near the end felt contrived.
The most disappointing film was Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine”. The film is about Jasmine (Cate Blanchett, who won an Oscar for the role), who after exposing her philandering husband as a Madoff-like fraudster and losing everything has to move in with her sister, who was one of the husband’s victims.
In a character-driven film like this, the main character needs to be likeable, relateable, sympathetic or interesting, and Jasmine is none of those things. She is self-absorbed and vapid (a point the film beats you over the head with), and ultimately tedious. If “Blue Jasmine” is typical, then perhaps Allen should concentrate less on releasing a film a year and more on writing his characters better.
Some celebrity news that made me smile was that Robbie Williams intends to quit music to become a car mechanic. His reason was that he’d been in music for over half his life, and he was tired.
Personally, I wish Williams all the best in his new career, and I also wish that I had the money to do whatever I want.
The most shocking celebrity news of 2014 for me involved another Williams. On August 11, comedian Robin Williams was found dead. He had hanged himself. I’ve seen Williams in numerous roles, from “Good Morning Vietnam”, to his turn as the Genie in “Aladdin”, and his Oscar winning performance in “Good Will Hunting”. He was a brilliant performer. It’s a shame that possibly his last role was in the final “Night at the Museum” film, which has been slammed by critics as a pallid rehash.
Williams was in a category that is known as a suicide risk: white male nearing the end of his career, and starting to develop health problems. The most popular article on Cracked for 2014 was “Robin Williams and why funny people kill themselves“. If you know someone who is a clown, please read the article. If you have considered committing suicide, I ask you to please read “I Want To Live” by Erika Moen, who was abused as a child. I also beg you to pick up the phone and dial a suicide hotline. Lifeline South Africa’s number is 0861 322 322. Other numbers are listed here.

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Cadre Deployment must go

I’m on leave. I don’t usually talk about politics, but since this is my blog, I’ll write what I want to.
We’ve had load shedding. A lovely euphemism that means that power had to be cut to areas in rotation to ensure that the entire grid didn’t go down. What made it even worse is that Tshediso Matona, CEO of Eskom, denied that there was a crisis.
If the emergency generation capacity (diesel generators) was being fully used and power still had to be cut to prevent the grid from going down, then yes, there is most definitely a crisis. Hiding behind semantics won’t change that, and will just annoy everyone.
The courts threw the case against Shrien Dewani out. For the benefit of those who don’t know, in 2010 Shrien Dewani and his wife Anni were honeymooning in South Africa when Anni was murdered in what was thought to be a random criminal act. Then strange facts started to emerge about Shrien, like he was bisexual and hitting up gay dating sites during his honeymoon. When the accused were arrested, they claimed that Shrien had been forced into the marriage, and had asked them to set up a hit and disguise it as a robbery gone wrong. Eventually, after years of wrangling, Dewani was returned to South Africa and put on trial. After the prosecution put forward its case, the defence team applied for a discharge. High Court Judge Jeanette Traverso granted it.
I’m not a lawyer, but as I understand the discharge, after the prosecution put forward its preliminary case and before the defence had a chance to attack it, the judge was asked to assess the case and, if the case at that point was insufficient to secure a conviction, the discharge would be granted and the accused set free.
What is annoying is that for years, the authorities insisted that Shrien did it, and that they would prove it in court. Yet they were so inept at investigating and assembling their case that when the time came for them to present it, they failed utterly. Shrien is back in the UK and it looks like there won’t be a second bite of the cherry.
SARS is in the middle of a huge fight. Two high-ranking officials were suspended and have had their suspensions overturned. There are claims that the reason for the suspensions is that a large amount of excise duty was not paid for the importation of shirts bought by the ANC and branded with that party’s colours.
There is one thing that links the three things above together: political interference. More to the point, the illegal action known as cadre deployment. That’s the policy of making political appointments to non-political positions. The courts have declared it illegal, but our “don’t give a damn” government has persisted with it.
The problems with cadre deployment are obvious. Firstly, because political considerations trump professional ones in filling the role, the deployee is frequently incompetent. We have seen this over and over in state owned enterprises. Secondly, and far more dangerously, political concerns trump professional ones in the actions taken. The result is choices are made to benefit the ANC, not the country as a whole. There have been claims that areas that voted against the ANC experienced service cuts; claims I find plausible.
One of two things needs to happen. Either the ANC needs to accept that cadre deployment must be abandoned; or it must be voted out.

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