Thursday, October 30, 2014

Diagnosis for Taliesin

So we went to the USU clinic today and got the diagnosis for Taliesin.  They apparently had a lot of trouble deciding between selective mutism and autism.  There is a lot of inherent overlap in the symptoms between those two so I can understand that.  They decided in the end that his pattern of rigid routines etc was not typical for selective mutism and therefore decided to diagnose "autism spectrum disorder with features of selective mutism."

Part of me is just elated that since we now have an official diagnosis for him I can try to make his life better than mine was.  I never received any proper services as a child because at the time the diagnosis didn't really exist in a useful way for me.  Another part of me just isn't sure what to think.  The doctors dumped a rather large plateful of suggested therapy routes for him on our plates and part of me just wants to push back and say we don't need that much help.  Maybe its because for me the process of diagnosis was more about re self discovery and self acceptance but not about getting help from anyone part of me wants it to mean the same thing for him, even though that makes no sense.

I wish I felt like I could talk to more people about this.  Since T essentially inherited this from me I almost feel like I can't talk about it without talking about myself at the same time.  And as a general rule I generally don't talk about my own diagnostic situation with just about anyone.  Its something I've been loosening up on quite a bit over the last few years, but only so much.  I spent so long fearing that people wouldn't believe me if I talked about it or would assume horrible things about me that its just still really difficult to talk about it.  But now it seems that I'll have to navigate a new path if I want to act as an advocate for Taliesin.  Perhaps that is what scares me the most of anything.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Police shootings and bigotry

Within the last few weeks there has been a good deal of news reporting about a shooting in Utah where a young man was carrying a decorative sword for cosplay while walking around a mall and was shot by police very quickly after they tried to stop him.  The police say he lunged at them with the sword, at least some witnesses say he was actually walking away from the police when they shot him.  The family says that based on their evidence and autopsy report the police shooting seems unjustified and have suggested that racism somehow played into the police decision to kill their son.  The evidence is apparently complicated by at least seemingly contradictory witness reports.  I don't have any real knowledge of the case beyond what is in the newspaper, so I don't want to take any sides in the issue.  Certainly the case shows that trust in a community between the black community and the police department can break down quickly.  But I wanted to discuss the idea of racism more broadly because people seem to react to the issue as if the only possible way for the police to be racist would be for them to be some sort of evil monsters and since the police aren't monsters then they aren't racist.  Life just isn't that simple.  Racism takes both overt and covert forms and both kinds kill.

Before I get into that I want to break down a little bit more of why I have sympathy for the police in many situation where they kill someone on accident that they wish afterwards they hadn't.  Unfortunately there are many criminals out there who would rather kill a cop than get caught.  For whatever reason this desperation and lack of moral proportion comes into existence, it means that police can be killed by people who they have no relationship with and sometimes when, from the police officers perspective, the encounter with the criminal may not give them any obvious warning of impending violence.  If a police officer stops a desperate criminal during a routine traffic stop to tell them that their tail light was out the police officer can become a target without warning.  Because of this, the rules regarding when you are allowed to kill someone tend to be different for police.

A normal citizen in many jurisdictions has to be fairly certain that they need to kill someone to defend themselves before they are legally justified.  A normal citizen may be required to try to de escalate the situation or flee.  A normal citizen might be required to not use deadly force if only their property is in danger but not their physical well being.  Just guessing that you might be in danger because someone might be drawing a weapon isn't enough of a reason to kill them.  But that is often how it works for the police.  Subject to many training routines and rules and regulations police are often trained to kill people with little provocation just based on the risk that a suspect might be about to attack them.  All of that risk is calculated in split second decisions.  Therefore, tragic mistakes happen on a semi routine basis.  Its part of the reason why cap guns have orange tips on them these days.  With the old ones it was too easy for cops to kill little kids because the cap guns looked like the real thing.  Its a little bit like when someone with PTSD has a violent episode- the fear reactions in the brain can take over resulting in tragedies that are hard to understand afterwards.

Now lets get back to racism.  There are two kinds.  One is overt racism, where the racist individual is openly hateful or disdainful of different racial group and isn't particularly ashamed of it.  These kinds of people can become violent and oppressive just because they are that filled with hate.  There is another kind of racism where the racist individual is conscious that open racism is a bad thing, but still treats people of other ethnic groups poorly based on the assumption that the other group is just inherently bad in some way.  An example would be a judge a few years back that denied giving an interracial couple a marriage license because he "knew" that inter racial marriages were inherently short lived.  This covert racism probably exists in almost every single person who grows up in a culture with a history of racism.  I can still remember the two incidents that helped me became aware of it in myself.

I was with my family and we were walking around the Washington DC area at in the evening or at night.  A group of beggars lined the sidewalk- all black men.  My father gave some change to one of them as he briskly walked past and then mentioned how he was fairly certain he smelled alcohol on the man's breath.  Its been so long I can't remember for sure but I think my parents may have even coached us before we walked past that we were in a potentially dangerous situation.  Fast forward years from then when our family was visiting England and were walking around in the city streets.  We walked past a group of black boys or men and I felt my mind preparing to be afraid of them as potential criminals, but then something about the atmosphere- perhaps their refined sounding British accents- that threw off my sub-mental triggers and I didn't have the fear response I was accustomed to.  I suddenly realized that I had been experiencing a racist fear of black men.  I had never intended to be afraid, it was just part of the cultural world I inherited.  Covert racism poisons your mind when  you are trying to be a good person.  Practically anyone who lives in a culture where racism is part of the history is going to have a certain amount of this poison in their system.  Without intentionally trying to become aware of it and get rid of it this racism poison won't go anywhere just because you have good intentions.  So I openly acknowledge that to my shame I've got a little bit of the racist in me.  Now that I'm aware of it I try to root it out of myself whenever I can identify it.

Now lets flip back to the perspective of any cop facing a black man.  Psychologically, I've read, carrying a gun is a good way to fool yourself into thinking the people around you are also carrying guns.  Cops, because they carry guns, are likely to mistakenly think that others around them are carrying too.  Once they make that mistake, police have to decide in a split second how dangerous they think a suspect is based on their behavior.  And, most police officers in America are going to likely have irrational fears about black men being inherently dangerous.  As a result- we can expect that in tragic situations police can kill unarmed black men based on mistakes of perception of whether a black man is armed and aggressive.  These mistakes of perception can happen in just split seconds, leading to a dead man on the ground a few moments later.  And the police officers don't have to be evil monsters to make that sort of mistake.  They just have to be human.  Granted, some evil monsters do manage to become police officers and act out intentional violence on the community around them.  But in a society that condemns open racism, the accidental or "covert" racism will be more common by far and still kill people just as dead as if they were lynched by the KKK.  So the next time that you hear speculation on whether or not a police shooting was motivated by racism- realize that it might be true even if it wasn't intentional.  That being said, the police are supposed to be trained to minimize accidental killings and if they let their fears overwhelm their training they should be held responsible.  But these situations are frequently anything but black and white.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hurry up and wait

As a sequel to my earlier post I thought I'd write up a little more explanation of what's going on with T's evaluations.  It sounds like the DSM-V has advanced the formality of diagnostic decisions a great deal- either that or my personal experiences were rather primitive for some other reason.  For the initial interview Bonnie Jean had to answer and explain her answers to about 90 questions regarding T's abilities and behaviors, and each answer will eventually be assigned a score which then feeds back into a diagnostic formula which gives them the most likely diagnoses.  Then further testing can be performed to check for certain which of those is actually the case.  They won't be able to give the results of the initial assessment for several weeks and the next diagnostic appointment where more testing might be done won't be available it sounded like for probably at least a month after the initial visit.  This university clinic handles the official government caseload for the entire county and is therefore somewhat overloaded with work.

The speech pathologist who performed the interview said her first impression was that possibly we were looking at selective mutism since T appears to be able or unable to speak based on the social context and several other characteristic tendencies for autism spectrum disorder don't really show up prominently.  For example we've never noticed T to stim or show any particular sensory sensitivities.  But she also acknowledged that she isn't the psychologist so someone else entirely will be making the judgement call.  But it sounded like the speech pathologist was fairly certain we were seeing something unusual going on and that we were on the right track having him evaluated.

On the plus side, we are officially poor enough to get a reduced price on the diagnostic services the clinic offers and will only have to pay 15% of the actual cost.  Given that even the initial interview was supposed to originally cost $250, we're very happy about these savings.  But in the meantime it will be quite a wait till we know anything in particular for certain.  We're glad the specialists can put so much precise effort into figuring this out, especially since it is such a complicated area we've never been comfortable with arm chair diagnosing T as anything and its always possible to inherit just a few quirks without getting the full package.

Monday, September 1, 2014


Over the last few months I've worked myself into a massive knot of stress and nerves.  The thing about me is that I often can't tell when that is happening except by external physical indicators.  My ability to understand why emotionally that is happening is kind of slow- I've only started piecing it together over about the last week.  Now that I've started piecing together what was going on and finding ways to solve it, I'm also looking for new tools to supplement my existing emotional maintenance toolkit.  I think I'm going to add regular meditation exercises to the toolbox.  I've been interested in the idea off and on for several years now and even went so far as to buy a meditation manual that explained the framework.  I've just never felt like I had the time to do it regularly.  Tonight I tried just the basics of what I could remember from getting part way through the meditation manual for just 10 minutes- which I know is kind of on the short side for this kind of thing.  But even ten minutes of intentionally trying to make my mind hold still has just left me so soothed out I can't imagine not wanting to keep up with it.  This is only the second time in my life I've tried this exercise- and the first time left me profoundly moved as well.  I've read that it can take people a long time to get a taste for this.  I don't know if I'm just having a few lucky tries on the first attempts or if my mind is just well suited for enjoying meditation in bite sized pieces every once in a while- which I'm sure is different than enjoying it every day for longer periods of time.  But there is definitely a power in reaching for internal stillness that seems apparent even in just a few tries.  I wish I had done this years ago.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Passing of Genetic Destiny?

Even as far back as when Bonnie Jean and I began serious dating, we talked about the possibility that our kids would be autistic.  It was just part of the package that came with the idea of marrying an autistic man.  I seem to remember Bonnie Jean saying that once she understood me better, she didn't think she'd have a problem with it.

When we got pregnant after a few years of trying, it wasn't too far from our minds.  The medical intake forms for the OBGYN asked if there was any history of autism in the family, and I seem to remember joking that I wondered whether the doctor would be surprised if I told him that yes there was a history of autism in the family because I had Asperger Syndrome.

When Taliesin was born I don't remember how it came up but I took one of my blind leaps and somehow ended up disclosing my autism to one of the nurses at the hospital who was absolutely fascinated by me.  Talking about my Asperger Syndrome diagnosis can be hard even with people that I trust will react well- even to the point that I've had times that the experience leaves me shaking.  But sometimes I just dive in and let it flow.  Fortunately it turned out well.

When Taliesin was late with his language development milestones or broke into sobs of tears because a stranger dared smile at him, autism wasn't far from our minds.  He was so scared of strangers that we had to tell the people who took care of nursery at the church not to pick him up to calm him down when he was upset.  He'd calm down faster if he wasn't also screaming about someone touching and looking at him.  Fortunately they were willing to believe us and reported with some bewilderment that our judgement was right, he calmed down faster on the floor than being cuddled by a stranger.

Some family members have kind of started from the assumption that every one of these signals was a definite sign that our little boy was on the autistic spectrum.  But we never saw enough to consider it a justified assumption.  We've let our pediatricians know our family history and routinely discussed Taliesin's quirks with him.  But until recently our pediatricians had never considered that enough symptoms were falling into place to be taken seriously.  It always seemed a possibility that Taliesin might just inherit a few of my quirks without getting the whole package.  During our last well visit though we explained the severe social anxiety, literal concrete thinking patterns, rigid routines, and ritualistic play patterns that our son was developing.  And now we've got a referral to the University for an autism screening.  While the result isn't certain, we're feeling more settled that they will make an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.

I'm starting to see a lot of my own limitations in my son.  As we were describing how Taliesin literally took months of acclimatization to be willing to talk to the newly moved in neighbor kids because he'd rather just stand there and smile shyly it made me think of myself as an adult at work.  It takes me a long time of adjustment- weeks to months actually-to feel comfortable with a new social group and be ready to do anything much more than just sit there and read by myself.  I'm just happy to have people around so that if I choose to take the effort to interact they'll be there for me.  After a long time maybe I'll find a few people that I can figure out how to talk to on a more chit chat basis.  When changes in seating arrangements force me to sit by new people on a regular basis I quickly become mostly silent and miserable.

Within the last few weeks my son has finally gotten over his initial shyness to try to talk to the new neighbor children.  But somehow they are just feeling confused by his choices of conversation- such as what kinds of shoes they are wearing or whether there are ravens on the roof of the building and what noise they make.  And yes- he knows what ravens look like, along with a number of other birds because his bird obsessed father has been teaching him.  So the little girls he is trying to befriend just ignore him, perhaps just not knowing how to react- especially given his history of not being up to speaking to them.  Just to example how firmly that expectation of his silence has formed, Bonnie Jean saw one of these little girls wanting to play with Taliesin's bike but being stopped by her mom who wanted the little girl to ask Taliesin first.  The little girl burst into tears, crying that Taliesin wouldn't answer.  Fortunately, Taliesin was feeling social and was willing to speak to the girl and answer yes.  And just like me at work trying to figure out how to chit chat with fellow employees, the comfort required to say that much took him months.

When we decided to get pregnant we knew this might be the result.  I've known my life was worth living and therefore worth passing on, especially if I could make it a better life for my son than I had had- undiagnosed and coping with the emotional strain of a sometimes horridly abusive home.  As much as I want to ease the difficulties, I know I won't ever be able to completely make them disappear for him, just like I can't do that for myself.  Like me, he'll be likely to susceptible to episodes of anxiety and depression.  Like me, he'll probably have trouble seeing into his own mind to understand the emotions churning there.

I hope that like me he'll have a passionate commitment to justice, gentleness, and truth.  I hope that like me, he'll be able to take a fierce joy in obsessively enjoying life.  I hope that like me he'll thirst to learn new things all his life.  And I hope that, unlike me, he'll learn much earlier in life to love and understand who he is as he goes through every step of life in his own way.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Forward the Foundation

It might surprise many people who know me today as a bookworm who sometimes can't manage basic conversation skills, but I was a delayed reader.  I didn't read until 3rd grade, when I read "The Hobbit."  Then in fourth and fifth grade I read many of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series.  My parents wouldn't let me read the whole series because of some of its more adult themes.  But that didn't stop by fifth grade book report from being on "Foundation's Edge" which is the 6th book in the series.  I even had a sculpy clay statue of the spaceship from the picture on the front of the book to go along with it.

One of the books my parents banned me from reading was the second of the two prequels, "Forward the Foundation."  The main character's son marries a prostitute in a really non sexy sub plot, but edgy enough that they thought a little boy like me shouldn't be allowed to read it.  As a result, I knew so many of the characters introduced in "Prelude to Foundation" without knowing much about them or what became of them.  And after all these years I've come back and read the missing piece of the story.  And I find myself kind of mourning the characters.  These characters inhabited my imagination from a very young age- and I find myself having misjudged them at times, misunderstood them at others, or simply failing to understand their life's significance.

For example...

Somehow I missed that the main character had married an android robot.  Its only hinted at in the first book, but just enough that maybe I should have guessed.  I was always dissatisfied with Hari Seldon's relationship with Dors Venaboli- but I judgmentally thought that was because the characters were immoral.  To summarize, at the end of Prelude to Foundation Hari is desperately trying to keep his new found love from leaving him and asks Dors if she'd ever really wanted to kiss or sleep with anyone or if she had just done so because she didn't want to disappoint people.  When she confesses that she simply hasn't wanted to disappoint anyone and she finds that she wants him to kiss her, all my prudish teenage brain could come up with was that the relationship had a jarring lack of depth and all I could see was two people whose sexual side was getting the better of them.  The passage is jarring for a reason.  Dors, as a robot, has a somewhat limited emotional vocabulary and that does limit the depth of the relationship.  But when I read the passage where she lies dying- killed by an assassin trying to kill her to allow the government to kill Hari, and Hari has just barely consciously realized that she is a robot for the first time and she thanks him for making her human, my harshness towards her in my past judgements lies exposed.

I didn't read Prelude to Foundation until rather late in my teenagerhood- it originally having been on the banned book list but eventually I was allowed to read it.  So Hari Seldon was someone that I knew only as a hologram that would appear at critical moments to give prophecy and guidance to the future.  I did not know him as a man.  In Prelude to Foundation he spends his time being a puppet on a string to do the bidding of a telepath robot who mind controls him for the good of galactic mankind- so reading it didn't really help me get to know him that well.  Now I know his life story- how he grew old and died, losing almost every one that was dear to him until he ended dead slumped over in a wheel chair- the tools of his equations and prophecy in his hands.  Again, the limited perspective I had of him earlier is painfully embarressing.

And then there is Eto Demerzel.  The problem with diving into adult science fiction or fantasy as a child is that your imagination has to supply the missing parts that you can't understand.  I actually for a time believed that Eto Demerzel was a computerized hologram of emperor Cleon- made to look more handsome and impressive than the reality.  Since then I have read the Caves of Steel books, and I know all about the past and motivations of Eto Demerzel- Robot Daneel Olivaw.  Lets just say that I felt really emotional reading about the robot attending Hari's funeral, giving one and probably the only public thanks if you will to a life that was devoted to the good of the galaxy because of Daneel's vision for the future.

When I first read these books they were simply adventure stories to me.  Now I'm more mature and can read them more in their proper context because I'm filling in the holes in the story where I wasn't allowed to read when I was a child.  Reading them as an adult I can now fully understand the extent to which Isaac Asimov was a master of science fiction, and I'm thrilled to rediscover his writing.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


Because its been a long time since I did anything for fun for myself I decided I'd pick up a WII-U and try to catch up on some games that I had never gotten around to playing.  Honestly I grew up playing nothing more sophisticated than a Sega Genesis and found more recent game systems during attempts to play them at friends houses to be confusing- what buttons did I push and when and what did they all do?  So I never really caught up with gaming.  And honestly I probably never will from the perspective of serious players.  I've got too much of my time taken up by school and work and family to really into things.  So since a lot of what I wanted to do was to play the metroid and zelda games that I missed out on growing up a WII-U was a perfect match.  It could backwards compatible play the older titles and I could catch the more recent ones as well.  All with a new system that was significantly cheaper than the other systems out there unless you want to buy used or older models.  So far I've got a couple impressions.

First is it seems like the WII-U was launched in beta and nobody has thought to make certain that newly manufacturer devices come with reasonably updated firmware.  This is a problem because the firmware updates that have to be installed to begin with run into several gigabytes of data and I only have a 3 mbps internet speed on my home connection.  Looking over the change log- it appears as if Nintendo has been releasing firmware updates every couple months since the system came out and are still promising that eventually they'll fix the lag time the system has navigating its menu or opening new apps.  They also haven't even gotten around to programming in the ability to access multiple hard drives at once or to swap out the drives without rebooting the entire system- despite having come with 4 USB ports.  So apparently the firmware and fine tuned decisions on how exactly the system should work is giving someone a massive headache.

Next comes NintendoLand- a bunch of mini games or demos inspired by prominent titles.  So far I've only played the zelda mini game.  And honestly its kind of embarressing.  Its fun enough, but when the largest reason that I find the game difficult is that I'm given only partial control over where my player walks and when it feels like the demo was whipped together in somebody's spare time to show off the controller instead of the Zelda game series.

Next is the time line of title releases.  Maybe I just have odd expectations of gaming systems or something.  But the WII-U has been out for about a year and a half and they only have just gotten the first Zelda game  designed for the system from the ground up on preorder and there are no new metroid games available unless the Nintendo Land demo counts somehow.  If its similar in quality to the Zelda demo I'm not certain that would make me feel excited about the game system.  That being said the system has managed to release games for other major franchises such as the WII sports, smashbrothers, mario kart, and Super mario's world.  So maybe I'm just blinded by expecting that they'd have gone farther on Zelda.  But they did manage to find the time to port Wind Waker from all the way back from Game Cube over.  But that isn't a new game- its just a port from a system two game console versions ago.

Another impression is that they may have made a mistake by trying to split the remote control usage between their new game pad with its screen and the baton waving WII remotes.  It means that in multiplayer games they have to find something to do with the on remote screen that is interesting but unimportant enough for the secondary players to not be able to do it on their own.  Which basically ensures that the secondary screen is pretty much lame except in single player games.

In the end the system will do exactly what I wanted- play older and more recent games while allowing me a little flexibility to explore other more modern or recent games.  But I think the Nintendo brand is struggling a bit to get their feet under them.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


I like mythology.  I hate mythology.  I don't know that there is any other way to interact with it.  By mythology, I mean the sum total of stories we tell about the world around us to explain it to ourselves and that we assume in some way to be true/useful or that in history at some point someone assumed to be true/useful.

For an example of why I love and hate mythology, take the Greek and Roman mythology.  Much of it provided some way to try to make sense of the supernatural forces that were assumed to pervade reality.  Much of it describes events happening which are frankly brutal and disgusting and gods in general who are capricious and difficult to respect in any kind of normal human moral context.  But the world is a scary place with lots of things happening all the time that are brutal and make no sense in a moral context if you assume someone is responsible for all the random stuff that happens to you, so the brutality and amorality actually probably to many made the myths more compelling- not less.  The myths also provided a sense of common identity, a model for how idealized inter city interactions might take place, and a sense of traditional enemies and how they might be viewed and treated.

Some myths don't have to be believed as real to be viewed as useful.  A long time ago in a website far far extinct a completely fictionalized myth was created for people on the autism spectrum.  While nobody viewed the mythos as "real" in any literal sense, the "Aspergian Island" mythology created a sense of community and a common way of expressing the frustrations of living an autistic life and resonated widely and spawned a whole family of web forums and other communities which were very helpful to many people during a darker time of autism acceptance just not being a very high social priority and where it wasn't uncommon to hear about people claiming poison such as that anti bullying measures weren't needed because autistics didn't have emotions anyways.

So where's the problem?  Well, humans tend to form into tribal groups that want to love the people inside of them and hate the people outside of them.  Myths often are the language spoken to express the justification for these barriers.  Also, myths form the expression of how to punish and how to justify punishing someone who doesn't conform to the in group.  We can limit the needless destruction by trying to make our myths as accurate as possible and subjecting them to revision such as in science.  But as imperfect human beings, our will to punish or exclude traitors or outsiders easily overshadows the usefulness the myths provide. And that is why I hate myths.  Life in its totality is a mystery.  We all, in a sense, live in Plato's cave.  And the more we are sure we have the correct story of how the world works then the more we are willing to justify the emotional and social abuse heaped on ousiders or traitors.  And the more we are sure we are right the less willing we are to open our minds to the possibility of being wrong and needing to make course corrections.

So as I said before, I love and hate myths.  I don't know that it is possible to completely due without them, but to resolve the basic tension between loving everyone and loving only those we are like you a head on attack on the reliability of the myths must be made.

Friday, June 20, 2014


When I got home from work tonight the USU laser beam was going and for some reason it seemed exceptionally brilliant against the night sky.  So I took a picture on a 15 second exposure and wrote a poem.  What else do you do with free laser light shows?  Click the picture to see its full grandeur.


Infinite to the left, Infinite to the right.
The lightning splits the sky.
Endless possibility shines through the heavens,
When lightning splits the sky.

My past to the left, my future to the right.
Transformation splits my life.
Endless potential promised from heaven,
When lightning splits the sky.

The beauty of my past, the hope of my future.
Eternal transformation burns my life.
Endless decay and rebirth promised at the crossroads,
When lightning splits the sky.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Feeling clueless on how to defend the clueless

Having Asperger Syndrome has made me sympathetic to the plight of others who are similarly socially clueless.  So sometimes when I hear others criticizing or expressing awkwardness about dealing with a socially clueless person I want to jump in and defend the reputation of the clueless person.

Years ago while I was at a library a group of my classmates gathered around and started talking about how a woman we all knew had asked one of them out on a date.  The problem was the boy in question was on a date with another girl when this woman asked him out.  They were confused by her lack of tact and expressed frustration that this woman kept doing things like that.  I happened to know that this woman also had Asperger syndrome.  It would have been so convenient to have just said "She's a little mentally disabled when it comes to social norms so cut her some slack."  But this is a sensitive issue and its not good to out someone else especially if you aren't absolutely confident that the results will be emotionally safe for the person you are outing.  So I just said something like "I'd give her the benefit of the doubt."  Since at least some of the people around me knew about my having Asperger Syndrome I think I might have even gone as far as saying "I'd cut her some slack just like you would if I made a social mistake."  I don't know if she ever got her date with the young man she asked out, but I kind of doubt it.

Recently at work I've overheard similar conversations of frustration regarding someone who is socially clueless.  Someone who I know has tentatively self diagnosed themselves as Asperger Syndrome.  Unfortunately, this man often tends to go beyond simply being clueless.  He also tends towards being cluelessly and loudly offensive.  Making sexually judgmental comments about his coworkers daughters, absurdly racist statements, bigoted statements about homosexuals, and other unpleasant things to deal with.

And I just don't know what to do.  He's a nice enough guy once you get past the rougher edges and if he doesn't drive you crazy first with the more absurd things he talks about.  I'd love to step up and say "I'm sorry you feel he was frustrating, but he just doesn't understand social politeness"  Because it often goes beyond politeness in style to issues of offensiveness in content.  And I can't make any excuse for those statements.  They are just there.  But I wish I could do something more.  It makes me feel clueless.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


There was once was a shepherd who had 100 sheep.  One of them tended to wander.  The shepherd didn't like how nervous that made the other 99.  He angrily told the 1 sheep that if it wanted to wander and tempted the other sheep to wander to the shepherd would spray paint it red so that the other sheep would know to stay away from it.  Because its better to have 99 sheep who know its  to avoid wanderers than to have 100 sheep who aren't completely strictly in agreement about everything.  Since the food of the good shepherd is only for good sheep, the spray painted sheep was then forbidden from eating the food in the pasture of the good shepherd.  Because its better to watch one sheep starve to death alone cut off and ostracized from all its fellows than it is to deal with the possibility that the 99 might get ideas.

What a good shepherd.  All good shepherds like to eat tasty sheep, what else do the sheep exist for?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Living with God, without God

In my studies this last semester I ran across a quote from Bonhoeffer that confused me some.  I understood how the quote fit into the bigger movement of history at the time, but not how it would have fit into the life of an actual living worshipful soul.  Here's the quote:

So our coming of age forces us to a true recognition of our situation vis-à-vis God. God is teaching us that we must live as men who can get along very well without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). The God who makes us live in this world without using him as a working hypothesis is the God before whom we are ever standing. Before God and with him we live without God. God allows himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us. (Letter of July 16, 1944.)  Source Linked

I think I understand a little more of how Bonhoeffer might have understood the idea now.  Tonight I've been watching a movie while doing the dishes that contrasts a variety of people who do really idiotic things because they are certain that God told them to do it.  They are so desperate for answers that show up right away that they project their own understandings onto God.  When it comes to trying to get revelation that is I think always the easy way out.  To quote another author, Philip Gulley, that I've been reading recently:

When God is the extrapolation of our highest principles, we are seldom challenged to expand our consciousness, which is why the divine in any culture seldom rises above that society's collective morality.

In prayer, its easy to take the first impression that seems apparent and to run with it as a totally reliable source.  When life becomes complicated and we instead of just asking we wrestle with God in prayer- we are still prone to confusion and reverently echo chambering our own desires back at ourselves.  Reviewing the history of the religious ideas that people have felt sure of that their successors later abandoned as ungodly makes this all too obvious.  It can be easy to be frustrated, feeling that we need to take everything based on our own wisdom alone because when you expect God to give you all the answers they never seem satisfactory- or at least not in any complete and total sense that is impregnable to simply changing your perspective over time.

But what if what God wanted all along was for use to figure it out on our own?  What if instead of praying to be given answers we should pray for wisdom and guidance and recognize that our decisions are ultimately our own because God isn't interested in trying to push us into little boxes of perfection in a perfect plan but is instead interested in our growth?

So does God answer prayer?  Of course, but we should be hesitant to take the decisions and impulses we feel during times of reverence and put them in God's mouth because if we make those impulses God's we may fail to own up to our own shortcomings that may be reflected in those thoughts.  We should expect divine strength and guidance- but not an answer key to all of life's decisions.  As the Father expected Christ to endure the Cross in part alone, we should humbly expect to endure this life at least in part on our own wisdom.  We should be like Christ who on the same cross from which he cried "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" could-without divine hand holding- still say "Father forgive them for they know now what they do."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Two Sacred Cows, only one of which is a Cow...

So there's been some media coverage recently regarding a fight here in Utah regarding sacred cows vs horses that are treated like sacred cows.  Ranchers are accusing horses of eating all the forage for their cows and feral horse advocacy groups are claiming that this is mainly a problem because there are too many cows overgrazing the land in the first place.  With forage levels low from drought conditions the conflict is reaching the point where state and county governments are beginning to directly challenge the federal government to try to force a solution to the problem in favor of the cows.  While you might expect me as an environmentalist ecologist to side with the horses against the cows, I really feel ambivalent about the whole situation.

None of this will make any sense without knowing the background of the situation.  The short and sweet of it is that Federal Law provides really intense protections for feral horses- almost as if they were an endangered species.  Left to their own devices they breed like crazy and eat a lot of forage.  Meanwhile- cows also eat like crazy and are grazing on lands that are no where near economically viable because the federal policy is to graze the lands at far under market prices to sustain ranching as a traditional way of life.  So we as a nation feel nostalgic about feral horses and about ranchers and put in large amounts of support to both in order to keep them at very high levels.  To resolve the conflict between the two of them, the federal government is supposed to round up excess horses and feed them in taxpayer funded pens until they are adopted.  Meanwhile those left in the wild continue to breed like wild- sometimes slowed by contraception treatments but not really for long.  The thing is there isn't that much of a market for adopting feral horses out there- not compared to the supply.  And the federal government hasn't given unlimited funding to the program to keep the horses off the land.  Out of money- the BLM is in the awkward position of writing up land management plans that call for removing the majority of the horses from some areas and then doing nothing about them because they don't have any money to move ahead with the plans they draw up.  The horses in the pens are sometimes poorly cared for.  The law prohibits slaughtering the horses for profit which might get rid of the excess horses and provide funding to help take proper care of the ones that are left.  So the ranchers have a really good point- there are too many horses out there and the government knows it and is doing mostly nothing about it.

But the horse lovers aren't without there points as well.  The time honored tradition of ranching and grazing in the US before FDR decided to regulate everything was for grazing on public lands to be essentially unregulated and unlimited.  Even after FDR the rules more made things orderly rather than tried to stop anyone from doing anything in particular.  Its only been in recent times and with a great deal of protest that the federal government has acted more aggressively to regulate the use of its own land for the public good.  But traditionally over grazing on public land has long been perfectly acceptable. Some Republican appointees have even tried to declare that over grazing is a myth.  So horse lovers have a really good point as well- there are probably too many cows in many areas.

But from an ecological perspective of whether land is overgrazed- it doesn't matter as much what is trampling and over grazing the land as how much it is doing so.  You could destroy the health of land by overgrazing pigs, sheep, goats, horses, cows, elk, deer, or bison.  Different animals have different food preferences etc that make the nature of the damage unique for certain.  But when there are both too many horses and too many cows it is ridiculous to point the finger at either side individually.  Its like cooking dinner for two and then inviting the whole neighborhood over for dinner and then arguing that its the fault of the family next door that there isn't enough food to go around.  Cows aren't native species to North America and neither are horses.  The total stocking of the land of both species combined is ridiculously high and both as a result of nostalgic policies that benefit horse lovers and cattle farmers at the expense of the nation as a whole.  So a compromise needs to be worked out.  I'd prefer one that doesn't encourage local government lawlessness and takes the legitimate needs of all parties into consideration.  But unless Congress better funds the BLM or reduces the protections for feral horses or raises the lease prices of public land to be close to that of private land we are stuck with an absurd situation where the local economies that depend on cattle have every reason to want to take the matter of horses into their own hands.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What does it mean to blaspheme?

I don't like the word blaspheme.  In general I feel too committed to honoring how other people experience or don't experience sacredness to want to criticize people just because they are different than me.  Words that are that loaded with judgement tend to exclude any possibility that sharing or respect can occur.  No matter how bad something is that you are criticizing, when you start making it about whether its wrong to have the wrong take on God people who disagree with you only a bit are automatically unwelcome.  When I used the word in my previous post it kind of surprised me how angry I felt.  So I wanted to define the word.

I don't care about whether the symbols of sacredness evolve.  I don't care that much if they stay the same.  When you think about how much the ways people think about sacredness it would be almost impossible for symbols to stay the same.  Even if they are represented or performed in the same way they will be understood differently by different groups through time.  I appreciate the beauty of how people encounter what they find sacred.  I find people very frustrating in where they find sacredness.  Pick almost any group and there will be losts to disagree with or agree with, admire or dislike etc about how they encounter the most important things in their life.  Those kinds of disagreements don't tend to bother me at a general level.

But what does bother me is when representation of love are perverted into representations of hatred and fear.  Using torture as a baptism defiles the idea of baptism.  Its kind of the same kind of disgusting as turning a cross into a swastika or turning Easter into an excuse to indulge in antisemitism.  When you take away the parts of something that were tied to love and focus on the parts that are tied to evil then you have committed an evil against the sense of sacredness and the people who honor those ideas.  That is what blaspheme means to me.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

God and Country

I grew up on the idea that the US is somehow extra special in God's plan for the world.  I read material claiming that the US somehow was spotless from imperialism, was a land of perfect freedom, that the USA was in some sense a Christian nation where the truth's of God could be favored over other belief systems, and that the USA had some kind of special role to play in bringing about the events leading to the end of the world.  As I became more mature and my understanding deepened  I understood that the United States history cannot be understood properly while ignoring its imperialistic past, that the USA is more important as a place where some ideals of freedom were formed as opposed to where they were first or best realized, that calls for running the government as a "Christian Nation" often are intended to be acted out in violations of the freedoms of those who were not Christians or whose version of Christianity differed from those in power, and that the end of the world predictions I heard in Sunday had often more to do with patriotism than with scriptures.

But, despite all of that the idea of the US being somehow special in God's plan just seemed like a harmless extension of patriotim that could be winked at.

Now I find the whole package kind of frighteningly unnerving.  In all the history classes I had taken up to date I had never understood the religious nature of the world wars.  I had assumed that Europe had secularized because of the trauma of the religious wars of the reformation.  I hadn't realized that it took a lot longer than this.  I hadn't realized that state religions had flourished in much of Europe until the world wars.  I hadn't realized that so many of the state religions had rallied for God and Country- to the point of preaching death to the enemy and often participating either actively or compliantly with the state brutality encouraged by Nazism.  Being in a religion doesn't make you a good person even if it gives you a narrative to explain how and why you want to be one.  After seeing so much killing done in the name of God and Country it makes sense for Europe to back away from state religions just as it backed away from the hyper nationalism of fascism.

But just how did these religious leaders justify to themselves the violence that they condoned?  It made so much more sense when I watched a video of some of them explaining what happened online.

In this film, it is explained how Hitler combined a sense of love of God and country together in a toxic mass of glorified nonsense.  German Christians who experienced his masterful rhetoric often would have viewed that the Nazi party acting through a militant Germany was God's answer to the Godless Atheists of Communism.  It was all part of God's plan for saving the world from the evils of the last days.  But evil is perfectly capable of acting through a theistic Hitler as through an atheistic Stalin.

So why does that matter regarding the USA?  I watched another video

In this video, Billy Graham argues that a militant United States is God's answer to the evils of godless communism, but only if it purifies itself through purer conversion to Christ.  One might argue that surely Hitler and the Christians who followed him were wrong and Billy Graham was right?  I'd argue that the Lutherans who followed Hitler and the Billy Graham's of the world aren't any more right or wrong than each other.  They were both expression a by then traditional form of patriotism by mixing up God in their own political and military goals.  The Lutherans following Hitler were simply unlucky that the traditional association of God and country turned out so sour for them because Hitler was a man of profoundly evil assumptions about the world.  But you might argue that in the US we aren't that depraved and that we would never allow our sense of destiny to override our sense of morality.  To that I'd say watch this clip

When a popular politician who was close to being vice president blasphemously suggests that the US should use water boarding to "baptize terrorists" and the crowd cheers at the idea- we aren't any inherently better than the Croatian Catholics who shocked even the Nazis by their brutality in massacring people whose religion they disagreed with.  We're simply lucky we haven't had a political leader elected who actually asked us to do such things on such a scale and instead get off easy with just a few incidents of Muslim prisoners raped and at least one tortured to death in US prisons.  We aren't magically moral because of our country or our God- but when we link God and Country too closely in our minds we risk assuming that we are and that all our actions are justified because of it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Reformation, and poetry

I've been taking a class on the history of Christianity this semester.  The author of the textbook has done a marvelous job presenting many of the different social movements and the people in history in a very sympathetic light so that I keep reading about a change in history and thinking "Yes Yes that addressed the problems of that era.  I so deeply agree or sympathize with what this person does" and then find myself turning around and saying "That was really sick.  There is so much wrong with what just happened there.  I could never accept that action or that opinion."  The experiments of human society are messy and unpleasant much of the time.  But I can' reject them because I'm human and my own world is subject to the same human imperfections.  This experience of relearning about the reformation led to my writing this poem.


The past is covered in blood.
Food robbed from the hungry
Water taken from the thirsty.
Quarrels broken into pools of blood.

I must escape this pool of blood
Restore food to the hungry
Give water to the thirsty,
And mend the wounds with the gift of my blood.

Sick of gore, the red sunrise beckons.
Come eat without price
Come drink without money,
Come cleanse your soul from blood.

The red mirage transforms to blood
The people are hungry
The children are thirsty,
And through my veins, flows blood.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What do you think, when there's nothing to think about...

Years ago I used to listen to what my family called "Boo tapes."  It was a bunch of audio dramatizations about the scriptures where a talking dog and a tree house full of kids act out and reimagine different stories.  One song that touched me deeply was talking about what must have Moroni spent his time thinking about after everyone that he knew was dead.  It suggested there were many awesome wonders of the world to contemplate and asserted that what you think about when there's nothing to think about defined who you were.  I don't like short cuts to defining yourself or other people, but it is hard to figure out how to handle those times when the emptiness just seems to want to fill up everything.

I'm socially isolated enough and have been socially isolated for long enough that I simply don't handle feeling alone very well.  I get lonely feeling pretty quickly and depression can follow as well, making it difficult to function.  Sometimes things are better or worse at work but it has not been uncommon over the last few months that I've been unable to find a way to consistently interact with anyone that I know.  When I'm dealing with an unstable group of strangers you might say that the engines in my mind that deal with socializing more or less freeze up like a car with no oil in it.  It takes me a long time to be able to function with a group of people, even when I do know them.  When I get home from work its not necessarily much better.  My wife has trouble getting proper sleep with the kids waking up during the night or trying to wake up absurdly early in the morning.  So she's typically about ready to fall asleep somewhere between 8:30-9:30 PM.  I don't get off work till 10 PM and probably won't get home till 10:30ish.  When school is going full swing we see each other during the days mostly for meal times.  Since dishes are hard to do with little boys trying to help sometimes doing the dishes falls to me after I get home from work.  I need to find ways to relax, detox all that work stress, clean up any perishables that might have gotten left out, and make a dent in dishes.

That's a lot of time spent alone.

Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I watch movies, sometimes I listen to audiobooks.  To me, music can be a great way to do an emotional stretching exercise.  I can let the emotions of the music move me around and help get me unstuck from a negative mindset.  Movies are about social interactions between people.  If I'm having loneliness caused depression setting in watching people interact socially in a movie can be a painful reminder of the social skill sets that I don't have.  So I haven't done as many movies recently.  I only sometimes have a good audio book on hand and they are a life saver when I have them.

Mostly these days I have listened to podcasts.  I had decided that many ways in which I viewed the world were just fundamentally wrong and I started information binging to try to help myself sort the world back out again.  On some subjects there are many people who are more than willing to give you hours upon hours of time listening to them babble on about just about any subject you can imagine.  When trying to redefine how I understood the world made me feel alone in even more ways than normal those talking heads in my earphones were a life saver.  At least someone else understood the sorts of questions I was dealing with and I could listen in as they discussed all sorts of research and thinking on the subject that I simply didn't have the time to do.

I could still spend hours upon hours listening to those, but there is a problem.  I've come to a new more or less stable outlook on life.  I'm not driven as much now to answer every new question and examine every new angle on those subjects anymore.  This is good in many ways.  You can only spend so much time staring down the uncertainty of the world without it taking a severe toll on you.  But in the meantime, what do I do now for all those hours that I still am spending alone?  The podcasts no longer meet a deep need for me.  I'm typically too out of sorts to spend the time on homework.  Movies are fun, but I honestly can't enjoy watching them properly late at night like this.  It simply doesn't work.  I could just read books, but paper books are often so enthralling for me that if they were worth it from the stress management perspective I'll end up not being able to sleep because I won't be able to tear myself away from the story. 

I need a better way to not be alone when I'm alone. Unfortunately there is no easy out for an issue like this.  Life is boring sometimes.  When there is nothing to think about you still have to go on thinking.  It's just life.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I love home made pasta

So Bonnie Jean and I purchased a pasta maker to help reduce the amount of money we spend on pasta.  I tend to take pasta to work on a regular basis as my lunch, so even though it isn't all that expensive its still something we were buying all the time.  The basic recipie we were working with turned out so well that I decided I wanted to get a pasta cookbook to help us learn all the other crazy fun ways we could use the machine.  We've gotten one cookbook so far that focuses on how to make the pasta itself and we might get another focusing on how to use the pasta in recipies or how to make sauces to go with it.  It's been a blast.

So far we've made a
basic fettuchini
half whole wheat half white flour pasta
        Either of the above altered by adding in basil, marjoram, or Garam Masalla
Lemon pepper pasta
         served with either a dijon chicken or with a pecan/garlic/olive oil/bread crumb sauce
Lime pepper pasta
         Serviced with basil avacado sauce or with sun dried tomato pesto
Chocolate Pasta
          Served with mole on top
Spinach raviolis with a filling made of feta, ricotta, breadcrumbs, onion, and spices

All of these attempts have been smashing successes.  We also used the chocolate pasta to make a chocolate/strawberry lasagna, but that needs some more work still to get it right.

The lemon pepper and lime pepper doughs are surprisingly strong.  As in strong enough that if you eat them straight the aftertaste will leave your mouth burning.  But just combining it with another sauce mellows it out and still leaves a strong citrus flavor behind.

It does take some time to make these dishes.  If I'm not helping Bonnie Jean will normally make up the noodles the night before for dishes.  But they are also fairly cheap.  For the every day pasta that I will still take to work, the 50% whole wheat dough tastes worlds better than any store bought whole wheat pasta I've ever had.  I love getting to experiment with new cooking techniques and foods.  Even if it weren't going to be so much cheaper, the 60$ or so we spent on the pasta maker was well spent.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Willard Bay Oil Spill and Interstate Pipeline Safety Regulations

This is an essay I wrote on as part of applying for a scholarship that came through.  500$ free for pretty much just reading the newspaper.  Thing is the essay itself didn't seem like that much of something special to me.  But I guess the people who award scholarships liked it.  I just thought I'd celebrate the scholarship by blogging the essay.

Within the past three years there have been three oil spills in Utah.  The most recent oil spill happened near Willard Bay in March 2013.  This spill received attention in part because of the dramatic story of a beaver dam stopping an oil spill from seriously contaminating a wildlife preserve.  But it also received attention because, unlike some of the earlier oil spills which happened as a result of difficult to prevent accidents such as a downed power falling on top of an oil pipeline, the Willard Bay spill happened as a result of lax safety oversight.  Federal law puts the regulation of interstate pipelines under the jurisdiction of the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.  This administration has a limited ability to perform safety inspections because it only has 120 inspectors covering 2.6 million miles of pipeline across the entire nation, about 6,000 of them in Utah.  Most states do not suffer greatly from this lack of inspectors because the law allows the administration to delegate much of its responsibilities to state governments.  As a result most states use their own inspectors and funding from a federal matching program to inspect interstate pipelines.  Utah had not done this, leaving all inspection work to the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration instead.  Because of limited resources the pipeline was not properly monitored or repaired and a lengthwise seam on the 60 year old pipe ruptured.  Chevron spent $21.5 million in cleanup efforts before agreeing to a court settlement to pay the Utah government another $5.35 million in various fees and payments.  Governor Herbert has promised that the state will take a more active role in ensuring the safety of these pipelines by working through the Departments of Commerce and Environmental Quality, but did not propose any new legislation.  Representative Brian King in the Utah state legislature proposed looking into legislation to toughen penalties on oil spills.  In response to previous oil spills Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker proposed advocating for more tough compliance measures, but did not advocate for change during the following legislative session and complained that the Department of Environmental Quality told him that enforcement measures weren't possible.  To date, the only clear response that has happened to improve interstate pipeline safety in Utah is that Chevron paid a large settlement and spent a large sum of money before that on cleanup efforts that may encourage them to be more careful with other pipelines they operate.  As time passes and the matter is considered by the government, it will become more likely that the Utah government may take more authority over regulating these interstate pipelines, especially if significant oil spills continue to happen at a rate of about once a year as they have been over the last three years.