On Presuming Competence

There is a phrase I recently learnt of for people who interact with the disabled and the non-neurotypical.

Presume Competence

Presuming competence means “believing that a child, regardless of disability, is intellectually capable and has the skills and motivation to manifest just as anyone in daily life.” Also, that just because someone can’t demonstrate competence doesn’t mean he or she isn’t competent.
On Respectful Insolence I recently faced a rather obnoxious antivaxxer named Stewart. After I responded to a few of his comments, he flat out declared that he didn’t believe I was on the spectrum. According to him, I was forceful and arrogant, among other things. Infuriated by his rudeness towards me, other RI commenters tore into him.
This is not the first time I’ve been told online that I’m not autistic. Apparently, being a very articulate and eloquent writer is impossible for autistics. Never mind that I’ve been blogging for almost eight years now. And never mind that I have learnt a technique to structure my writing in an elegant and coherent way. Nope. My condition should make that impossible, according to some.
People who don’t know me personally don’t know how it really is for me. They don’t hear me talking bluntly because stress has caused my filters to fail. Or my physical coordination and fine motor control being reduced after a long day. Or my focus and concentration going out the window because thoughts I didn’t want crowded my head and I couldn’t get them out.
Dismissing autistics as incompetent, or accusing them of not being autistic when they show a level of ability one wasn’t expecting, simply exposes doubters as ignorant, patronising and obnoxious. It also belittles the challenges we face in day to day life.

Posted in Autism Awareness

Rabies has broken out in KZN

There is an outbreak of rabies in KwaZulu-Natal.
At least 5 people have died.
If you are in that area, please keep safe.

Posted in Anti-antivaccination | Tagged ,

When “advocacy” isn’t

A word of advice for those who wish to advocate for groups they are not members of: before saying or doing anything, first talk extensively to members of that group. Failure to do this can result in “advocacy” that is useless or even harmful. Examples include the misguided Communication Shutdown in support of autistics, and in a recent article I saw on the Health24 section of the News24 website.
The article was about how to teach your child how to talk to a disabled person. It seemed to give quite sound advice. But then it recommended person first language. Concerned, I scrolled down. There was a grid of what to say to people. And sure enough, it recommended saying “person with autism”, and not “autistic person”.
I was annoyed and exasperated. The majority of us prefer to say “I am autistic” and not “I have autism”. This is a textbook example of what happens when people assume instead of checking. When it came to autism, the article recommended the exact opposite of what it should have.
I was sufficiently unhappy to upload an article to MyNews24 outlining my objections to the article. I uploaded it on Wednesday. It is Saturday now, I have just checked News24, and my letter still isn’t up.
If you would speak for us, first listen to us.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged ,

Mbeki gave us Zuma

At just before 11 PM on the 14th February, Jacob Zuma announced his resignation as President of South Africa, bringing to an end the most rotten and corrupt Presidency in South African History.
The move was typical Zuma. Just like he did in the Court Cases about the reinstatement of charges he faced and the Public Protector’s Report into upgrades at his home in Nkandla, Zuma fought and stalled as long as he could, only to submit before he would inevitably have lost. In this case, the ANC had decided to support a Motion of No Confidence put forward by the EFF. Knowing that this time he would be voted out, Zuma decided to forestall things at literally the eleventh hour.
I have no sympathy for the ANC. It shielded Zuma for years, as it has consistently done with delinquents in its own ranks. While it finally did the right thing, it took far too long to do it.
Thabo Mbeki is probably feeling a great deal of schadenfreude over Zuma’s resignation, given that he himself was made to step down from the Presidency by Zuma. Yet he shouldn’t gloat too much. Mbeki, through his actions, gave us Zuma and gave him the tools to rob the country.
Andrew Feinstein is a former ANC MP. According to him, when SCOPA (the Standing Committee on Public Accounts) was instructed to investigate the Arms Deal, Mbeki interfered with SCOPA’s investigation, rendering the committee unable to do its job. Zuma followed this precedent with the Seriti Commission, a laughable whitewash.
In the 1997 ANC Convention where Mbeki was chosen ANC President for the first time, Cadre Deployment was introduced. Cadre Deployment is the ANC policy of appointing ANC members to key posts in State Owned Enterprises and the Civil Service. It violates the separation between Government and State and Political Party and State, and has been declared illegal by the Courts. It also helped Zuma no end in his capture of the State. By appointing people he knew would do his bidding, he ensured that contracts would go to the Guptas, the family who were paying him off. He also wrecked the investigative capacity of the SAPS and SARS among other institutions.
When Vusi Pikoli, the then National Director of Public Prosecutions, laid charges against then National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi, Mbeki ordered him to drop them. Pikoli refused. Mbeki then demanded Pikoli resign, and when he refused, suspended him and appointed the pliant Moketedi Mpshe in an attempt to protect Selebi.
Zuma again followed the template laid out by Mbeki. When Mxolisisi Nxasana proved to be an independent and competent National Director of Public Prosecutions, Zuma used chicanery, forced him to accept a Golden Handshake, and replaced him with Shaun Abrahams, who so far has been an absolute joke in the position. A recent Court Case ruled that the removal of Nxasana and the appointment of Abrahams were illegal and set them aside.
Mbeki was, and is, a very intelligent man. Unfortunately, like very many intelligent people he was and still is a very arrogant man who assumed he knew better than everyone else, even the experts, and disregarded evidence that refuted his beliefs. Shortly before the 2007 Polokwane Conference, he decided he would run against Zuma. Because he had surrounded himself with sycophants who told him what he wanted to hear, nobody told him just how unpopular he was and just bad an idea that was. A wiser, humbler man would have realised just how ominous this would have seemed to everyone else, and stood down.
Not so long ago, I learnt that in 2007, shortly before the Polokwane Conference, people approached Mbeki to persuade him to step down and have a compromise candidate run against Zuma. Mbeki refused, believing that he was the only person who had a chance at challenging Zuma.
Mbeki’s arrogance on this can not be overstated. The claim does not stand up to even rudimentary scrutiny. The thought that he was the only person in all the ANC who could overcome Zuma, given the number of card holding ANC members at the time, is astounding. Even if Cyril Ramaphosa was unwilling to put his name forward, it is unthinkable that people like Tokyo Sexwale wouldn’t have.
It is typical to look back to the past with rose tinted spectacles, but frequently unwise. Zuma built a monument to corruption, but Mbeki laid its foundations.

Posted in Segue | Tagged , , ,

Dear Liquid Telecom – An open letter from an unhappy customer

You and your predecessor Neotel are the most unreliable, inconsistent internet service “provider” I’ve ever had the misfortune of using. Regularly, I get a “No Internet” message while connected to your “broadband” at my home. Even more frustrating, it consistently happens in the evening. But it has happened at other times of the day.
Another inconsistency is with your network speeds. All too often, I check the throughput rate in my Task Manager, only to find that it is not even 15 KB/s when a Page is loading.
My employer gives its employees permission to work from home two days a week. Your erratic performance has jeopardised this for me. Yesterday, I was hard at work when all of a sudden the dreaded yellow triangle signalling a loss of internet displayed. I disconnected and reconnected. The yellow triangle still showed. Frantically, I activated my backup device – a Mobile WiFi from a different provider – and was able to continue.
All the times I’ve used my mobile WiFi device, not once has it failed to provide the internet. Nor has it given ludicrously inadequate throughput. Ditto for my cellphone network (a different provider from the WiFi Device). I have relatives who use another ISP for their home internet. Whenever I connect to it, no dropped signal, and high data rates. In other words, out of four internet service providers I use, you come fourth.
You really need to jack up your act, Liquid Telecom. You are very much like the little girl with the little curl in the Nursery Rhyme. When you’re good, you’re very very good. But when you’re bad, you’re terrible.

Posted in Segue | Tagged , ,

Two Rabies Cases, two different outcomes

There were two recent events involving children getting infected with rabies.
Brazilian Mateus dos Santos da Silva, 14, was one of three children from the same family who contracted the disease in November last year after vampire bats bit them. His siblings, Lucas and Miria, died. Mateus underwent the Milwaukee Protocol, and is now one of the few people to ever survive Rabies.
On the 14th of January in Orlando, Florida, six year old Ryker Roque died from rabies. His father Henry had found a sick bat and put it in a bucket outside the family home. Henry warned Ryker not to touch the animal but Ryker disobeyed him and was scratched. His parents wanted to take him to the doctor but chose not to when Ryker cried about possibly getting vaccinated.
Mateus was admitted to hospital the same day his sister died. He was already starting to have symptoms and treatment began immediately. That evening he had a seizure and the Milwaukee Protocol was started. He spent 40 days in a coma. Although he survived, he is currently being closely monitored.
A week after he was scratched, Ryker developed symptoms. At the hospital, when Henry mentioned the bat to the doctors they became alarmed. They explained to the family just how dangerous rabies was. As with Mateus, Ryker underwent the Milwaukee Protocol. Sadly, in his case it was unsuccessful.
While it was understandable that the Roques didn’t take Ryker to a doctor immediately, their decision almost certainly cost him his life.
Rabies has a highly variable incubation period. Symptoms can develop in a week or take up to three months. The standard treatment for rabies is a series of four vaccinations administered over two weeks. If the course begins before symptoms show, the odds of survival are excellent. If treatment hasn’t started by the time the first symptoms show, it is almost always too late.
The Milwaukee Protocol was invented by Rodney Willoughby, Professor of Peadiatrics and Infectious Diseases at the Medical College of Wisconsin. It involves placing the patient in a medically induced coma to slow the progression of the rabies and giving him/her large amounts of serum. It is a “Hail Mary” play, and fewer than half the people who have undergone it have survived. Several years ago I posted about Graeme Anderson, who also underwent the Milwaukee Protocol and died.
When it comes to rabies treatment, speed is of the essence. The delay in getting Ryker treatment likely cost him his life. Any and every case involving possible rabies infection must be investigated and treated as quickly as possible.

Posted in Anti-antivaccination | Tagged , , , ,

On Climate Change and Science Denialism

Last week, three major climate-related events occurred.
South Africa’s interior suffered under a heatwave. Australia was struck by a heatwave so intense that flying foxes fell out of trees dead as the heat had literally cooked their brains. In addition, the Great Barrier Reef underwent such severe bleaching that biologists fear the damage may be irrecoverable. And California battled a wildfire so intense that it cost the State 40% of its entire annual budget for fighting wildfires.
You may be wondering why I’m choosing to write about Climate Change. The answer is, I see many of the same tactics used by the antivaccine lobby also used by those who deny or diminish Anthropogenic Global Warming.
Because of extreme variance, it is necessary to examine a time period of no less than 17 years to see if and how the climate is changing. Many denialists cherry pick. They take a shorter period than that, or start with anomalous years like 1998, which was an uncommonly warm year, or point to extreme cold weather events, ignoring that weather is not climate.
Another tactic the two have in common is the use of nonexperts or pseudo-experts. I have often seen articles in the newspaper from people presenting the other side. One such article was written by Christopher Monckton.
Monckton is not a scientist, let alone a climatologist. He claimed to be a member of the UK House of Lords, but without the right to sit or vote. On at least one occasion, the Secretary of the House of Lords has sent him a “Cease and Desist” letter telling him to stop making that claim as it is false. To summarise, Monckton is neither qualified to comment on the matter, nor an honest individual.
When the above two tactics fail, goalpost shifting comes into play. Instead of denying that changes are happening, the argument is used that climate has always changed so there is nothing to fear. This is a disingenuous argument for two reasons.
Firstly, humanity is changing the climate at a rate and speed that have never before occurred. And secondly, when the climate reached certain tipping points before, there were ecological collapses and mass extinctions. Already some scientists are warning that unless we act to reduce man made climate change, the future of our species will be placed at risk.
The last tactic I have seen is attacks on actions to mitigate Climate Change. Biofuels are derided as threatening food security. This not only ignores that expired food, used cooking oil, wood chips and grass clippings can be used to generate biofuels, it overlooks recent research. Switchgrass has been used to brew propanol and can be grown on marginal soil not rich enough to grow crops.
Similar claims are used against renewable electricity generation. I recently saw a comment that solar panels take more energy to make than they generate over their lifetime. This has been false for years, if it was ever even true. Decades of research and innovation have made solar panels so effective that they now return their investment in a few months, and recent discoveries in phytoplankton may lead to modifications that makes solar panels more efficient still. In South Africa, electricity generated by Independent Power Producers using solar panels is now far cheaper than electricity from coal fired power stations.
A final throw of the dice is that electricity from renewable resources is intermittent. This ignores that solutions to this issue are readily available. Even when all South Africa’s electricity came from coal fired power stations, there were often sudden drops in demand. To make sure power did not go to waste, the spare capacity was used to pump water from one dam to a dam higher up. If demand suddenly spiked, water was released from the higher dam to drive hydroelectric turbines. This is known as “pumped storage”. Last year, Tesla installed a giant battery in Australia. In testing, it came on line in 140 milliseconds.
We can no longer deny that human actions are warming the climate. We can no longer wish away the damage that it is inflicting. And we can no longer lie about the actions we can and must take to stop it.

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