Friday, May 25, 2018

Cracking the code on sibling rivalry

"Sibling rivalry" is a weak phrase for what I've actually experienced with my kids.  My brother and I had a "rivalry."  My children fight to the death.

Over the years, I've tried a lot of things from "let them duke it out, eventually they'll find it wasn't worth it," to "leap to intervene asap" to "punish both kids."  The trouble with options one and three is that the kids already don't like fighting, they simply don't have the knowledge or maturity to avoid it.  And the trouble with option two is that I'm only one person and after the first few dozen times dragging children apart, I get exhausted.

But things have gotten a lot better recently, and I feel like I have some level of a handle on the reasons they fight and how to prevent them.  Don't get me wrong, part of the reason things are better now is that my children are older.  It is possible that any family with an autistic four-year-old, a two-year-old, and an infant is going to involve a lot of kicking and biting, because none of the children has the self-control not to behave that way.  But I'm going to take credit for at least some of the improvement, because I notice it quickly when I implement my ideas.

Basically, my system is to stop waiting for fights to break out, and start orchestrating positive interactions ahead of time.  I used to think micromanaging children's interactions was too helicoptery, but given the amount of conflict we had, it really is necessary.  I am starting with the assumption that my children want to get along with each other but don't know how.  So I need to be very involved, at least some of the time, to teach them directly the many skills that go into getting along with a peer.

I mean, what are the reasons for conflict among children?  One of the biggest reasons is a lack of understanding.  One child thinks his sister is going to push him, when she was just trying to get by.  Or she thinks the comment her brother made was specifically intended to upset her, when it wasn't.

Another reason is the lack of self-control; a child quickly escalates from "someone offended me" to smacking without a whole lot of thought going into it. 

A third reason is that a child is rankling over something that happened earlier, and is seeing a sibling as an enemy till further notice.

The last reason that comes to mind is that children don't know how to negotiate for compromises, so they assume that anyone who isn't doing exactly what they want is going to do nothing they want.

So, watching their interaction, I can often intervene at the point when trouble first starts to brew.  For instance, Michael says "I'm a lion" and Miriam starts to shriek because she thinks this means no one is going to play princesses.  I can quickly jump in and say, "Michael, Miriam wants to play princesses instead.  Can this be a princess game with lions in it?"  Often this is all it takes.  Or, "Marko, Miriam isn't going to hit you, she was hoping she could hug you, is that okay?"  Or, "Michael is pretending we're in the North Pole, he's not saying wrong things on purpose to upset you."  That helps a lot.

Another thing, which I've mentioned before, is making sure kids are aware that I will intervene quickly.  When I physically stop fights as soon as they start, or before the first blow falls, they stop being so hypervigilant and seeing conflict everywhere.  And when I verbally scold or give a timeout to the aggressor, the victim gets over their offense a lot faster.  They want to know that something has been done to ensure it won't happen again.

Last of all, and this is something that can be done at any time, is to just take over and organize positive interactions among the kids.  Very often they would like to play together but can't think of a game they all like.  Or they'd like to play together but don't know how to start.  Or sometimes one kid is feeling crabby at another, so getting just those two together and suggesting some fun things they can do goes for a lot.

All of this is especially important in our family, because Marko is the oldest and frankly terrible at the leadership skills other oldest children often have.  But it helps all the kids.  They're learning, bit by bit, that if they want to play with their siblings, or they want to feel that their siblings like them, they have to start something.  Sometimes Marko thinks the others don't like him, so I encourage him to do something nice for them.  Sure enough, they are happy about that and do it back to him.  They give each other thumbs-ups and hugs and offer to share favorite toys.

I have had this fear, ever since the boys were three and one and started fighting over everything, that my kids were going to grow up hating each other.  So far, that isn't so.  But it does take a heck of a lot of work to manage.  I'm hoping as they grow in social skills and self-control, it will slowly take less.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Appropriating victimhood

In the progressive movement, there tends to be a sharp division between victims and allies -- if you are a victim of something, the rules are different for you than they are for allies.  Likewise if you are an oppressed minority, the rules are different from someone who is more privileged.  Privileged people are supposed to do all the work to understand those who are oppressed; they can't speak for them; they're supposed to listen.  Intersectionality is the understanding that people can be privileged in some ways while oppressed in others.  For instance, a white person may be privileged due to skin color, but oppressed due to poverty.  So because of that, they are supposed to listen to black people on the subject of racism, but they're allowed to be central in a conversation about poverty.

I don't really have a problem with all that.  I learned early in life that a good joke punches up -- that it's funny when someone respected or powerful is the butt of the joke, but when you pick someone disadvantaged, it's just mean.  But there's a new trend that's beginning to worry me.

See, in a competitive culture, everyone wants to be powerful.  You hide your weaknesses and try to be brave, because peers will be merciless.  Ours is more about a preferential option for victims -- we try to be extra nice to people with an obvious disadvantage.  But the problem is, soon everyone wants to be a victim.  After all, that's how you get sympathy.

And that's how this new trend got started when everyone started claiming to a victim.  Men?  Victims.  White people?  Victims.  Christians?  Victims.  It doesn't matter that these people have (in our country at least) the vast majority of both political and economic power.  They can always point to some disadvantage they have.  Men, for instance, commit suicide more often than women.  White people are accused of being racist sometimes.  Christians get mocked in ways that, in our country, polite people never joke about Muslims.  Basically people from dominant groups are arguing that political correctness -- the protection of "victim" groups -- has turned them into the new victims.

I find it pretty infuriating, because the hidden assumption throughout is, "We are being oppressed, so in order for things to be fair, we need more power than we have."  Which is a reasonable thing for a group that is actually being oppressed to say -- I mean, yes, black people could stand to have more money and women should hold more public offices and people should harass immigrants a lot less.  But if you're not being oppressed, it raises the question of what you actually want.  If you are speaking for straight white males and you claim that your group is being oppressed, what can possibly be a corrective that will satisfy you?  You already have most of the government and the CEOs of most Fortune 500 companies and most judges and most police officers and on and on and on.  What do you want, one hundred percent straight white males?  Or are you just concerned that some straight white males care too much about women and minorities, to the point of ever hiring them or awarding them custody?

I guess I have three main points here.

First, it actually matters whether or not you are being oppressed.  Microaggressions like jokes or wearing your culture's clothing are no big deal generally if you're not being oppressed.  Irish-Americans generally can laugh at St. Paddy's Day jokes because they're not meant seriously; but one hundred years ago those were dead serious and Irish people would never have laughed at them.  The difference is that when you're denied jobs, service in some businesses, and a position in respectable society, those jokes hurt a lot more.  So I don't think it's hypocritical to say that you shouldn't make black people the butt of jokes, and at the same time say that white people should have a thicker skin if they hear an occasional joke about themselves.

Second, suffering and oppression are not the same thing.  Oppression suggests that something is unfair, that the oppressed person has a lack of power which needs to be rectified somehow.  So I will freely agree that a man who identifies as incel is probably suffering.  I empathize with it.  But I can't agree that he is oppressed, because he has everything reasonable for him to have: a free shot at convincing someone else to love him.  We all have that, but we can't have anything more without encroaching on another person's freedom.  To call himself oppressed suggests that he doesn't want women to have freedom, and obviously women feel threatened by this.

Third, maybe it would be better if, at least when talking with the general public, we phased out all this talk about victimhood, oppression, and privilege and talked instead about fairness.  Everyone should have the same things, and any small differences should be about making up larger differences.  If we talk about fairness, it soon becomes clear that fairness is the last thing (for instance) that MRA's want.  They want every situation where things are unfair for them to be rectified (no domestic violence shelters for women unless men get one too!  equal custody!) but they generally want to keep any inequalities they benefit from.  That's a distinction that can be lost when we're busy arguing about privilege (a word many conservatives find offensive) or who the real victim is.  It's possible that men are victims of some things -- weaker friendships, poor mental health, a lack of role models -- and women are victims of other things, like rape or discrimination.  So it's not a matter of victims and oppressors, heroes and villains, as it is about rectifying things in our society that cause unhappiness -- preferably without taking away anything from anyone else.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Body horror and alternative medicine

I've been thinking lately about how the emotions of disgust, horror, and fear lead people to reject conventional medicine and sometimes to turn to alternative cures.

All humans have a disgust reaction.  It keeps us from pooping where we eat, among other things.  But I've noticed there's a wide variety in the things people feel disgusted by.  These can be personal or mediated by our culture.  For instance, people in my culture are generally disgusted by the thought of eating bugs, because we don't eat them.  However, people in my culture usually are fine with the thought of eating clams or shrimp, while I can't make myself put those things in my mouth. 

Disgust goes beyond eating, though.  Feelings of disgust may underlie some of our moral choices, such as sexual rules.  There may be reasons why we think incest is wrong, but those reasons are strongly reinforced by a feeling of, "incest, ick, that's just wrong."

For me, the thing I have the strongest disgust reaction to is what I've heard called "body horror."  You know, blood, guts, and gore.  But violent injury is not as disgusting to me as medical scenes - like that scene in House where they trepan a lady's skull with a rock drill.  *shudder*  The thought of the body out of place or invaded, or foreign substances inside the body, makes my skin crawl.  It's the worst.

I don't think this stems from any particular trauma; I had very little contact with doctors as a child since I was in excellent health.  But I have always hated having to take medicine ... the thought of the foreign substance inside my body, changing it, switching functions off and on ... brr!  I have slowly, with effort, gotten used to ibuprofen, but cough medicine still requires a little pep talk.  Needles are worse.  But, given the choice, I'd rather have blood drawn than anything injected.  If you get blood drawn, the second the needle is pulled out the horror is gone, but when you get a shot, that foreign substance is still inside you.  I get all kinds of psychosomatic reactions to shots; I always feel like I am going to get sick from them, though I never have.

People in the 18th century worried vaccines would turn them into cows

Anyway, I can say, with the wisdom of hindsight, that a lot of why I didn't want to get vaccines for my kids stemmed from this emotional reaction.  Shots are scary and feel dangerous to me, so why would I get them for my kids?  And any book or article that confirmed that they were scary and dangerous felt very believable to me.

So why, after all this fear and disgust of doctors, would people turn to alternative providers?  Well, I think alternative providers are well aware of who they're dealing with, and so they're very careful to avoid provoking the same reaction.  Look, it's just a plant!  So basically it's like drinking tea or eating salad.  Look, you don't even have to eat this one, just diffuse it in the air or rub it on the skin!  See, I'll just give you a special massage and your own body will heal itself!

But sometimes, these providers play with that reaction in a way that's more sinister.  What is grosser than having to take medicine?  Parasites.  And that's why so many of these weird made-up diseases that alternative providers claim to treat are parasitic -- worms, tick-born diseases, fungal overgrowth.  Stuff that's so icky that people will take literally any medication -- turpentine, bleach, IV antibiotics -- to get rid of it.  I struggled even to study parasitic diseases in middle school because they're so gross, and I would always feel like I was getting symptoms of them.  There can be no actual evidence that the person has any parasites, but as long as they're thinking of parasites, they feel awful and want someone to treat them.  And that's my theory as to why people who believe in chronic Lyme often claim to have any number of other tick-born diseases.  If you rule out Lyme, why would your next idea be a more rare illness also transmitted by ticks?  The answer is, ticks are super gross.  I have been scared of ticks long before I found out about Lyme disease because they are horrifying.  It's easy to convince people they are basically biological time-bombs waiting to go off.  And if it has the side effect of making parents paranoid about ever letting their children play outside . . . who cares?  The quack still gets paid.

Medicine is a really difficult field, in part, because of all this subjectivity.  If you feel like you're sick, you can convince yourself you're sick.  If you think you're taking a cure, suddenly you stop noticing your symptoms.  And, of course, people spontaneously fall sick and get well all the time.  I've been reading about medical history lately, and it's just fascinating how many crazy cures people strongly believed in -- because they had tried them and the person had gotten better.  Only in the past 200 years ago have we really gotten serious about controlling those results by seeing if people get well more or less often on their own or with the treatment.  Without that, it really is a mess.  I remember thinking for months that Marko had food sensitivities because of his random screaming and refusing to nurse.  I cut out basically everything and it seemed to help ... or else he grew out of that stage.  Who can say?  I eventually added everything back in and he was fine.  And then like a year later he had night terrors and I tried doing it all over.  But after awhile I decided that I'd never be able to sort out the different foods it could be when the behaviors I had an issue with were intermittent anyway.

Alternative medicine throws out the whole model of control groups and random studies and instead says: just try the thing and see if you get better.  If you do, that proves it works!  They're basically working on all our biases and inability to generalize, as well as our fear and disgust of medical procedures, so that we'll buy their products.

It's funny that I should turn from being so crunchy to writing posts against alternative medicine, but I just get mad realizing how easily manipulated I was.  I really needed to believe that only what is natural is good, that my body could heal itself of anything, that if I ate right I'd never be sick.  My one salvation was that I was too cheap to buy any of the expensive cure-alls.  I stuck to elimination diets and fermented vegetables (which I still believe in, though they probably won't cure cancer) and never going to the doctor.  There are worse things.  Some people spend fortunes on natural treatments.  Some develop such food anxiety that they pour every ounce of their energy on making sure no white flour passes their children's lips.  Some miss serious illnesses because they won't see a real doctor for them.  And some have serious reactions to the supposedly "safe" medicines they've taken.  And that really upsets me.  It's taken thousands of years for medicine to get to the state where it finally does more good than harm, and people want to throw it away and go back to the good old days where one in three children died before five.

What should be done?  Well, I could certainly wish that mainstream doctors were more considerate of people's feelings.  I often feel that they find patients' emotions a burden they don't want to deal with.  Maybe it has something to do with med school being so grueling that it weeds out patient, empathetic people early on.  Or maybe they just have to see too many patients a day.  Doctors should take the time to explain risks and benefits of everything, and make sure the patient feels like the agent of his care rather than having it forced on him.  I also think people should be better educated about biology, so that kids graduate from high school knowing how to read a study and differentiate a high-quality study from one that isn't.  Everyone should be taught in school about the history of medicine -- how common diseases were before we found out how to cure them, and how we managed to prove the germ theory of disease.  (Even today there are people insisting it's "just a theory.")

And for me, I have learned to accept that my reaction of horror to a treatment tells me nothing about whether that treatment is any good for me.  Luckily my kids don't seem to feel the same.  They're scared of shots, but when the shot is over, they like to think of their cells making antibodies to fight germs.  I'm glad they haven't got my hangups.  For me, it's all I can do to drag myself to the doctor more often than never.

Friday, May 18, 2018

7 quick links

I don't have a lot to say, and my keyboard wants to type nothing but L's at the moment, so I'm going to use this post to clear out my browser tabs.  I see this stuff, think it's so good it must be shared, but don't want to harass my facebook friends who are really there to see pictures of my kids.


"I was part of the problem," Pope Francis tells Chilean abuse victims

When I heard Pope Francis had called abuse victims' claims that Bishop Juan Barros knew about their abuse "calumny," I was really upset.  He claimed he was going to do better, but this is the same old attitude everyone has: "Sure, I'm totally zero tolerance on sex abuse, I just never believe it actually happened or that anyone could possibly have stopped it."  So this new update, that he has apologized and promises to do better, is somewhat reassuring.  But Barros is still in his see, so .... we will just have to watch and wait.


Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds

There are a ton of things in our culture that have taught men they have a right to women's bodies.  Obviously most men don't commit mass murder because of this entitlement, but some do.  That's  . . . well, obviously pretty scary.


Separating Fact from Fiction in Maternal-Fetal Medicine: Anti-D Immunoglobulin for the Prevention of Hemolytic Disease of the Fetus and Newborn

Years ago someone sent me an email saying that, as a crunchy person, they assumed I passed up the RhoGam shot, and did I have any advice for how I avoid health problems in my babies due to my negative blood type?

The answer was "get the dang RhoGam."  I was very anti-doctor at that time and the medical establishment sure did justify my dislike of them by the runaround I got trying to get RhoGam, but I did get it.  There just isn't an all-natural solution to Rh sensitization.  And I have seen the teeny tiny sick preemies born to sensitized mothers.  To me it was a real no-brainer, even while I passed up many other standard interventions from flu shots to ultrasounds.


"Call from God": American prolifer's role in Alfie Evans battle

I don't mean to defend the doctors who decided to remove extraordinary means of life support from Alfie Evans.  But I was disturbed by how quickly people in the US seized on his story to drive a narrative of fear of government and the evils of socialized medicine.  In reality, even when medicine is private, insurance companies can choose to stop paying, and that leaves the sick in exactly the same boat, only with less recourse.

And now it turns out that there was someone actually driving this narrative at the very outset.  I have been told lots of times that only parents should ever have a say about their child, they know best, but sadly many parents are taken advantage of by people with one agenda or another, telling them their terminal child can be cured.  Is that really the parents' love and parental instincts speaking, or manipulation from outside?


Everyone Has an Identity, Even Sam Harris

I think everyone should read a bit of Charles Murray's debates with his critics.  Murray believes that black people are, on average, genetically dumber than whites, and that social programs to help them are just going to encourage them to reproduce more, so we should get rid of those.  A lot of people get mad about this because, well, it's super racist, but unfortunately that type of criticism is able to be written off as "just political correctness."  That is, Murray and his defenders say, "People are just calling us names, when really it's not racism if it's true, and they're just attacking us because we're not hiding the truth like everyone else is."

The trouble is, Murray is almost certainly wrong.  If there's interest, I'll gather a bunch of the sources I've read that address the factual problems in his work -- that stuff is out there to find.  And painting himself as "the logical one" who "hasn't got a bias" is just his way of skewing the argument in his favor.  It is true that his opponents have a strong motivation to disagree with him -- because his opinions have consequences, and have had very dire results in the past.  But it's possible that Murray and his defenders have made errors in reasoning as well, and they may have their own biases driving those errors.  Maybe it is easier to think blacks are dumber than to think our country has oppressed them so badly as to drive down the IQ results of black children.  Maybe a belief that black people can't benefit from any government help meshes better with Murray's small-government beliefs.  Who knows?  The point is that you can't just assume you don't have biases.  Science, including the social sciences, is about trying to go beyond your own biases by checking and doublechecking your work with other scientists.  The rest of the scientific community almost universally agrees that Murray's work is bunk.  So perhaps we should entertain the possibility that it's just bunk.  No matter how good it feels to believe something that you think everyone else is just too biased to entertain.  It's like the endorphin rush you get from believing a conspiracy theory.


Antiscience and ethical concerns associated with advocacy of Lyme disease

I don't believe in chronic Lyme disease.  People who claim to have it fall into a few groups: those who had Lyme disease, have been treated for it, but have lingering symptoms though the germ itself is gone; those who are chronically ill with something else and have been told it's Lyme from a tick they never saw; and those who are not even sick but want a diagnosis that explains why they are often tired or why their child throws temper tantrums.  The really upsetting bit is that "Lyme-literate" doctors and a few specialized labs have subverted testing processes and medical treatments to make it look like they are diagnosing people accurately.  So the patient will tell you they know they have Lyme, they tested positive for it . . . but the tests used haven't been demonstrated to show the presence of Lyme bacteria.

Since these treatments can have dangerous risks, and they cost thousands of dollars, it's a horrible way to take advantage of the chronically ill.  I'm really furious about it, but every time I open my mouth about it online, someone has to say "well, I have it, and you're a terrible person for doubting me and my doctor."


How America Went Haywire

On that topic, here's a really long article about conspiracy theories, relativism, and Donald Trump.  Takeaway: facts actually matter and people should care about them a lot more than they do.  These days, I am less likely to trust someone based on their religion, party identification, or other belief than I used to be.  Instead, I find myself wanting to know their epistemology: do they even have a system for deciding what is true, and what is it?  Is it simply finding out what the "establishment" says, and picking the opposite?  Because, anti-authoritarian as I have been and still am, I do believe that way lies acres and acres of woo, crackpottery, and bosh.  And those ideas have consequences.

How has everyone been?  Want to talk about any of these links?  Or anything else?

Saturday, April 21, 2018

7 quick takes

It's been awhile since I've done one of these, so why not?


Spring is being disappointingly slow to arrive.  We'll get a nice day or two and think this is finally it, but nope, high winds, freezing temperatures, or pouring rain come back the next day.  Oddly the plants don't seem to be held back from it--the pears blossomed and now have leaves, there's a green haze on all the underbrush, and the cherries and redbuds are looking good now.

Through the window.

Because we can't go outside.

My peas have sprouted and I planted broccoli seedlings, but everything else is still biding its time.


Both boys have had their birthdays.  Marko is EIGHT and Michael is SIX, can you believe it?  Marko pointed out that it doesn't make any difference to him, because he feels exactly the same.  Michael is jumping out of his skin with joy because he finally has a day that's about him.

I tried to have a party for them, because I've never actually hosted a children's party.  First I was going to invite all the boys from both their classes, but that seemed like way too many.  So I invited all their outside-of-school friends, but only one came.  If I'd known the refusal rate would be so low, I'd have gone ahead and invited 30 kids!

Then again, I had a stressful day that day so that by the time the party came around, I hadn't had any time to clean and I didn't really want to socialize much, so it wound up being perfect.  I chatted with my one friend and my kids treated their one friend like a celebrity.

But next time I have a party, I'm . . . well, I don't know.  I'll figure out SOMETHING to make it work better.


I'm still submitting my book from NaNoWriMo.  It's quite a process.  You can't just send the whole manuscript to a publisher.  No, you have to obtain an agent first.  And you can't send them the manuscript either.  You send them a query letter and sometimes a few sample pages.  So I've been doing that.  I've had 20 rejections, all form letters.  But!  I've also had two of them request the whole thing, and one request 50 more pages.

That's very heartening to me.  Sure, more are rejecting it than requesting it.  But it's actually getting into the hands of some agents!  And I'm really hoping they get into it and realize it's super exciting and interesting.  Then they'll email me begging to represent me.

I keep reminding myself that maybe I'll just get more rejections, and those will hurt more because I'll know they've read the whole thing.  If that happens, I can't let that stop me.  I have to revise and keep submitting.  And, worst case, just move to submitting the next thing.  Because I've made up my mind that I am going to get published and I just have to keep trying.  And now is the time to do it.  I've waited, and waited, and practiced with book after book, but at this point, I feel that I'm ready to be published.  Or rather, to start the lengthy process of getting published.


Meanwhile I've started another story.  It's called (so far) The Witches of Salem College and it's inspired by Christendom even more than the previous novel was.  I know I had a lot of other exciting stuff on my "to write" list, but my attention span and time to write is still limited, so I figured I'd stick with YA at present.  Imagine Buffy and Harry Potter mixed together.  It's a paranormal story on the campus of a tiny liberal-arts college.  So there's normal college woes, but also fighting vampires and werewolves and stuff.

Except, not.  Because vampires and werewolves are both kind of overdone.  So my idea was to use paranormal creatures from Hispanic legend, because one of my main characters is Mexican.  But the research has been harder than I expected.  So far all I've got is the Tlahuelpuchi, which is basically a vampire, and the Nahual, which is suspiciously similar to a werewolf.  Apparently there are some motifs that are just so popular you can't get away from them.  OH WELL.


Miriam remains delightful.  She's oh so girly, and I am trying not to get in the way of that even though I dislike pink and makeup and so on.  She wants pink nail polish, and pink earrings, and pink everything.  Then again, she also wants a pink toy chainsaw and a pink dump truck.  When she grows up, she and Jackie are going to be "girl 'lectricians" and climb on pink ladders to fix wires that are broken.  So it's not like she's absorbing any toxic ideas about being a princess who exists solely to be beautiful.  She wants to be beautiful and badass.  And there's nothing the matter with that!

She's so incredibly sweet though.  She's always telling me I'm the best mama ever, that she loves me so much she can't ever stop loving me, that she wants to hug me forever and ever, that she loves her sister more than anything, and so on.  If we have a grown-up friend over, she asks me, "Is it a he friend or a her friend?"  If it's a "her friend," Miriam loves that person before they've even met.  She'll monopolize my friend the entire time, prattling on about whatever is on her mind.  And then for weeks after, it's "where is your her-friend?  You should invite her over again."  One time she saw a lady with a beautiful dress at school pickup, and she said that we should invite that lady to be part of our family.  I was like ... I don't even know who that person is!  Haha.  And to think the first time we visited school, she hid behind me and got upset if the office ladies talked to her!

She is dying to go to preschool next year.  We didn't really have any plan to do that, but since she's so interested, I'm looking into it.  What I'd love is a program that was one afternoon a week, or something.  Just a little break from her constant demands for attention for me, and a chance to meet other kids her age and play with new toys for her.  But we'll have to see what there is, and what it costs.


Jackie is fifteen months now and very, very charming.  She still doesn't talk much, but she communicates excellently.  That is, she can say "Mama" and "yes" [ssss] and occasionally Miriam [Meemaw], but most of her communication is with gestures and pointing.  She can sign water, more, and all done, and she nods and shakes her head.

She's napping later and later in the day, which is screwing with her bedtime more and more.  I foresee there aren't more than a few months of napping left in her future.  Which is fine, really.  Her needing a nap is a big monkey wrench in our day, because if we go anywhere early in the day, she falls asleep on the way home and wakes up when we get there, but if we wait for her to nap first, she won't nap till one or two p.m. and then we don't have time to go anywhere before it's time to pick up the boys.

But while she does nap, I'm going to enjoy it.  Yesterday Miriam was watching a show while Jackie napped, and when Jackie woke up crying, I went up and lay down with her.  Jackie and I both fell back asleep and didn't wake up for another hour.  Bliss!  And Miriam, when she got tired of watching her show, just quietly crept up and didn't come in till I told her it was okay.  She's actually old enough to be quiet during a nap!  Space your kids, cats and kittens.


It's been about three months since Christendom's scandal broke, and so far they have .... hired some lawyers and a new VP.  What we said they should do was stuff like hire a full-time nurse who could do rape exams, partner with a local nonprofit to do awareness training for the students, and post flyers around campus.  But they haven't done that.  And I can't understand it, because that would be a lot cheaper than what they're doing.

Meanwhile Steubenville has had a similar scandal break.  The big difference here is that Steubenville does (at least in theory) comply with Title IX, so people are taking it as proof that Title IX is worthless.  Well, I don't think it's worthless, but it certainly isn't sufficient.  The next step for a college would be to actually follow Title IX instead of just saying they do.

But really, I think the most important thing is for people to be aware that rape happens everywhere -- that Catholic colleges aren't a perfect world where nothing that bad could possibly happen.  I certainly thought that back when I was there.  I never spent a single moment considering my own safety when I was with Christendom guys.  Outsiders, sure, but I assumed anyone who had chosen Christendom was a good person.  Now, I think people are more aware.  Hopefully more parents will talk to their children before they head off to a Catholic college -- about things like risk awareness, consent, and reporting.  They can't trust the college to mention it, and they can't assume it's not going to happen because it's a Catholic campus.

How have you all been?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The perfect is the enemy of the good

It's April, which means Autism Awareness Month.  Most people who observe it follow campaigns put out by Autism Speaks -- "Light It Up Blue," the puzzle-piece ribbon, and so on.

Problem is, Autism Speaks isn't a great charity.  A lot of autistic people hate it because its marketing material dehumanizes them, and because they spend their money on advertising and "awareness" rather than helping autistic people.  When they do spend money, it's on research.  Sounds nice, but since autism itself is probably incurable, people are concerned it's going to end up where Downs research is -- prenatal testing and eugenic abortion.

So, I find myself in a dilemma.  Do I "light it up blue" and possibly offend autistic people who feel marginalized by Autism Speaks?  Or do I do nothing, and let people think I don't care?  It would help if people could agree on what color is supposed to mean autism acceptance, but I've heard colors from red to beige.

Of course what I've chosen to do is write 1000 very nuanced words on the topic, because blue-or-some-other-color-or-nothing is a very brief and easily-misunderstood message.  But yesterday, at school, I saw a lady with some blue streaks in her hair.  I complimented it, of course (it looked fab) and she told me it was for Autism Awareness Month.  What should I say?  Should I try to explain the complex reasons why blue is attached to Autism Speaks, and why AS isn't a great charity?  Or should I just say that it's great, because it is great that she knows and cares about kids like my kid?

Well, I said it was great.  Because I am pretty positive she didn't put blue in her hair because she wants autistic babies to be aborted.  She put blue in her hair because she's worked with autistic students and likes them and wants to start conversations about the topic.

It's the same issue when I see people with disabilities on TV.  Ideally, disabled characters should be written and/or acted by disabled writers and actors.  They should be ordinary characters, neither angels nor villains.  They should be allowed to show their true abilities, and the difficulties of their disabilities should be neither overestimated nor erased.

That's a tall order, guys!  No matter how you do it, someone isn't going to like it.  Some people don't like the autistic character in Parenthood.  Some people don't like the autistic character in The Good Doctor.  Some people don't like Sheldon Cooper (who isn't diagnosed with anything in-show, but who has the signs of autism) on Big Bang Theory.  To which all I can say is, isn't it better that there are autistic characters, rather than having disabilities left out completely?  Friends is a show with 100% white, straight, abled main characters.  Is that better?  Because if every time writers make a show with a disabled character, it causes furious outrage from everyone, they're going to quit doing it.

I'm afraid the internet age kind of contributes to this.  A blog post that says, "I love Sheldon Cooper" doesn't get much traction.  A blog post that says, "Big Bang Theory is nerd blackface" gets a lot more.  Outrage gets clicks, and sometimes what makes most sense to drive traffic is to find ever-smaller things to get outraged about.  And I wonder if this is really seeking after perfection -- will our posts somehow fine-tune everything to get rid of smaller and smaller problems -- or if it's so condemnatory of things that are merely good, that we will soon have no more good things.

Let's broaden this out from the topic of autism, because this is happening everywhere, all the time.  I hear complaints of it mainly directed at progressives, because there definitely is a subculture within progressivism which does this incessantly, but the right does it too.  It's where you define an in-group and an outgroup, and then you tighten the in-group more and more until almost everybody is out.

Take the March for Life.  It was about one issue, abortion.  That works, and it drives a lot of attention.  But if it's about fighting abortion by electing Republicans, or fighting abortion and also the death penalty, or fighting abortion and also contraception, it becomes a much smaller, more niche kind of movement.  If pro-life gays want to march with a rainbow flag, and they are told, "no, we are pro-life AND conservative AND religious," the net result is fewer people marching.  Ditto with the Women's March -- if pro-life women aren't allowed to participate, then suddenly it's not really just about women.  It's about pro-choice women, and that's a smaller group.

It ends up being the cult tactic I've written about before.  I think I'm going to call it "forcing a jump."  This is where groups demand a higher level of commitment than some members are giving, and require them to choose to jump in or out, over this new tightened boundary.  So when Paul says, "If Christ is not raised, then your faith is in vain," we can see he must have been addressing some disciples who believed Christ was not raised.  He wanted them to jump--either believe that Christ was raised, or get out.  The hope is that they will jump his way, but if they don't, that's fine too--let the group be smaller, so long as it is purer.

I've watched a lot of groups expand their causes and tighten their circles, and the net result is that the group gets smaller but the people within get more radical.  The members inside get extremely polarized--you agree with them on every particular, or you aren't really allies.  Hate Nazis, but don't agree with "punch a Nazi"?  You're not really anti-Nazi enough.  In fact you're part of the problem.  You're like those people who sat back and let Hitler get elected.  Perhaps we should punch you next.

Personally, I find it terrifying when one of these internet mobs closes in around someone.  It happened to me when I asked a bunch of pro-vaxxers for good sources to research vaccination.  It also happened when I said, in a crowd of pro-choicers, that abortion is a difficult moral issue which isn't easy to answer.  It happened to Simcha Fisher when she talked about Charlottesville but didn't condemn racism strongly enough--silly her, she thought that, as a Jewish person, her anti-Nazi credentials would speak for themselves.

And I kind of get it, because I've watched threads where someone came in asking an innocent question and 200 comments later, it turned out they were already an expert on the topic and were just trying to draw people into a contradiction.  I've seen the "I'm on your side really but I'm afraid of what other people might think" opener, and the "admirable people on both sides" false equivalance, and these are sneaky little tactics which can look a lot like innocent bystanders.  But.  If the enemy disguises itself as innocent bystanders, we still can't shoot anything that looks like an innocent bystander.  The result winds up being that in some spaces, you have to run in with your hands in the air shouting "ALLY!  ALLY!  100% CONVINCED OF EVERYTHING YOU THINK ALREADY!" or else you're going to get piled on.  Heck, even after years in some of these groups, when everyone "knows" you are an ally of theirs, the second you question anything, you can still get the same treatment.

I guess I'm talking about way too many things in here.  I'm talking about negativity, and about extremism, and about tribalism.  I guess I just dream of a world where baby steps are appreciated, instead of declared Not Good Enough, where a nuanced position is admired rather than demonized as Not Really On Our Side.  I thought when I got out of the right wing, I'd arrive at a land flowing with milk and tolerance.  I have been disappointed.  I still can't find anybody who's willing to take people where they are.  Alas, both the left and the right have serious issues and the center, if there is any such thing, seems to be mostly full of people keeping their heads down and their mouths shut.  Online, of course, these problems are all magnified.  The one place I know of where people are really rational and avoid these fanatical purges . . . is overrun with the alt-right.

I don't know what steps to take.  I guess I would like it if more people would commit to a few basic points:
*appreciate the good in a person or initiative when it agrees with you partially, before nitpicking the places where it doesn't agree;
*found movements based on a few core issues, and encourage people from a wide variety of viewpoints to participate;
*take anything that looks like it might be good faith, as good faith, and wait to be proven wrong before attacking;
*practice nuanced, careful consideration and explanation, rather than polarization, and praise others who do;
*take the time to find people who disagree with you who are willing to reach across the divide in good faith;
*criticize even movements and groups you are part of when they behave badly, instead of only criticizing opponents.

I think if we try to do these things, we might not get any more perfection, but we might encourage a bit more goodness.

Monday, April 2, 2018

7 things to be aware of this Autism Awareness Month

So, April is autism awareness month.  I imagine everyone is pretty well aware by now that autism exists.  But there is still a lot of knowledge that people aren't aware of, so I thought I'd put together a post of things I wish people knew.

1.  Autism is a spectrum.  What that means is that there is a wide variety in how severe people's delays are -- and even what delays they have!  This is even more true today than it used to be, since Asperger's was redefined as a subtype of autism.  If you know an autistic person, try not to make assumptions of what all autistic people are like based on that one person.  Some autistic people can speak, for instance, while others can't.  Some have excellent fine motor skills, while fine motor skills are Marko's biggest struggle -- he can barely write at all.  Because of all this, there's no secret to dealing with autistic people in general, except perhaps to be patient and adaptable while you find out how that particular person can communicate with you the best.

2.  Autistic people grow and change over time.  I was reluctant for a long time to admit Marko had autism because I thought it meant he'd never grow out of the behaviors we were struggling with at the time.  I didn't want to give up hope that it was just a phase.  And you know what?  It was autism and it was a phase.  Autistic children may reach some milestones later than other kids, but it doesn't mean they will never reach them.  Some autistic people finally grasp a key concept or skill in their twenties or thirties that opens whole new opportunities for them.  An autistic person will always be autistic, but with patience and hard work, they can achieve things others thought they never could.  A child who was completely nonverbal till five or six might grow up able to live independently and start her own business at thirty.  So never assume what someone's going to achieve based on what they're able to do now.  And never, ever assume an autistic adult -- even one with very obvious delays -- is like a giant child.  Adults, regardless of disability, are still adults.

3.  Autism can coexist with high, low, or average intelligence.  It's wrong to assume that autistic people are retarded or dumb simply because they are struggling in specific areas -- they might be perfectly intelligent and simply have trouble communicating their thoughts to you.  On the other hand, it's also wrong to assume that all autistic people are super-geniuses like in the movies.  It's very difficult to test an autistic child's IQ at all because of this.  Marko tested at 104, but we were told this result was completely invalid because his vocabulary was so high and his scores on a shape-rotation test were so low.  Is he a genius or not?  Well, does it really matter?  Like the rest of us, he has strengths and weaknesses.  And it's best never to assume based on a person's performance in school or on an IQ test -- those may or may not assess the person's strongest skills.

4.  Autism isn't an epidemic, and it isn't caused by vaccines.  Diagnostic criteria have expanded hugely over the years, so more and more kids qualify for a diagnosis, but that doesn't mean more kids have a disability than before.  What it means is that more children who before were labeled "difficult," "disorganized," or "retarded" are now able to access specific help for autism.  I wrote about the vaccine-autism thing before.  Suffice it to say that Marko had autism before he got a single vaccine.  He inherited his autism from his dad and me, who were carrying the genes for it.  If we really wanted to prevent autism, I suppose we should prevent nerds from dating each  other . . . but what kind of terrible world would that be?

5.  Autism Speaks is controversial, and a lot of autistic people don't like it.  I heard it compared to an organization called "Women Speak" which was run by a board made up of only men.  Because they're not letting autistic people advocate for themselves, they've blundered into some really offensive statements, and the money donated doesn't necessarily go to support autistic people.  A better charity is the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.

6.  Another controversy is what sort of therapy is best for autistic kids.  Some people insist ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) is absolutely essential, while many autistic adults say it was traumatic and unhelpful for them.  The real question is, should the goal of therapy be to extinguish all external signs of autism -- training kids to stop any behaviors the rest of us find annoying, such as fidgeting -- or to help the child overcome any barriers between him and his own goals?  This is extra difficult when a child can't communicate what his goals even are.  As a parent trying to navigate this with my child, there's a lot of listening and empathy required . . . and sometimes some tears, either mine or Marko's, as he struggles with something that's difficult for him.  The important thing, as I see it, is to equip him for his own life -- trying to give him all the tools he'll need to graduate school, live independently, and achieve any dreams he has.  If he does all this while remaining quirky and obsessed with fantasy . . . all the better.  That's part of who he is.

7.  My kid isn't badly behaved, and he's not defective.  He's dealing with bigger feelings than the average kid, with less emotional regulation, and he's doing pretty well.  He's got lots of talents and a ton to offer the world -- not that his worth would be any less if he didn't.  Sometimes I worry that people will look at our family and think I'm too permissive, that I need to somehow make my kid look like their mental image of how a kid his age should be acting.  But more often than not, people take the time to engage with him, to listen to his obsessions, and to make an effort to enter his world.  And I love every single person who does it.  I know they have to put a little extra work into getting to know him, but they are rewarded with a chance to know a sweet, quirky, intense kid.  Getting to know autistic people is always worth it, just like being the mother of an autistic child is worth it.  I wouldn't trade him in or send him back.  I love the trip he's taking me on, and every person who joins us for the ride is very welcome.

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