“Funny Numbers” with Robert Osserman, Steve Martin and Robin Williams

A goal of The Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at University of California, Berkeley, is to communicate its love for mathematics and the mathematical sciences. Professor Robert Osserman (1926-2011) held a series public conversations on how cultural matters relate to mathematics. One of those conversations, entitled “Funny Numbers”, was with Steve Martin (actor, play-writer, author and musician). The San Fransisco Chronicle’s Jonathan Curiel described the December 15, 2002 event as

“Martin taking out a banjo and playing the instrument like a country music star; Osserman saying some things as wittily as his famous guest; and — halfway through — Robin Williams suddenly walking onstage, where he bantered, imitated, cajoled and gesticulated (about math, Trent Lott, French people, etc. ) as only Robin Williams can do.”

I laughed. Three incredibly intelligent people playing with conversation, Osserman helpless with laughter at times, held the public in the palms of their hands.

 

Assigning gender and “experts”

From Hverdagstoy
From Hverdagstoy
From Hverdagstoy

My daughter is a woman, yet was assigned male at birth. She has given permission to tell this part of her life.

Here in Norway, even now, anything that does not involve penis-hatred, makes you a person who is not a true transgender. Until the law is changed (in the works) a person cannot legally change their gender without a full surgical change of every single gender identifying body-part. That also goes for intersex people. (This law was changed July 2016 and you no longer need a physical transition for change of legal gender) In addition, hormone treatment cannot start at the onset of puberty – even to delay puberty. Unless, you get the diagnose “F.64.0 transseksualisme” at Rikshospitalet, you will be referred to psychological services instead. So people lie about how much they abhor their bodies. Without dysphoria, no treatment.

Through most of her life my daughter has presented as female. From she was about five years old she grew her hair out. It stayed long until a hair-dresser took it into her hands to cut it off. Never went back there again. When she was about ten years old, she came to me and very clearly told me she no longer wanted to be a boy. We sat down, talked about it and figured out exactly what she meant. I said I would see what information I could find and if there was a place we could turn for help.

I called around and said something like, “I have a daughter who is experiencing …… Is there any person there who can help her.” Norway is a small country (5 mill) and our access to specialists on gender in children is small. One place that is supposed to provide such expertise is Institutt for klinisk sexologi og terapi. Its founder is considered one of Norway’s foremost experts on sexuality. His name is Thore Langfeldt. This is the person we went to, and we thought we were in safe hands.

The short and simple of this acquaintance was that Sophia needed to work through her bullying and all would be well. By “well” it was understood that Sophia would be comfortable being a boy. I am Aspergers. Eleven years ago I was leaving Mormonism and had no clue about what gender really was. I’d always (and still do) presented as non-conformative as female. The idea of gender has confused me for as far back as I can remember. Some people call that gender queer. Me, I call it me. All three factors led me to accept Langfeldt’s verdict, and Sophia’s went through many years of unnecessary identity-struggles.

How life would have been for her, if Langfeldt had listened better and been a bit wiser is impossible to say. Perhaps better. Perhaps worse. Prejudice exists everywhere. What we can know is what did happen. Because Sophia was female in all but clothing (we aren’t exactly very fashion/gender-conscious) the boys would not accept her. But neither would the girls. All because of an initial. Things got dark in periods. Suicide was often thought of and planned by Sophia. During a two-year period she even tried presenting as male. All of the symptoms of depression were there.

Finally, the autumn of 2014, Norwegian TV2 showed a documentary series called “Født i feil kropp“. She once again went to Langfeldt who claimed she was “just gay” and to not tell us. Sophia knew she was very much into women. Thankfully, she found a better shrink. One who claimed that she was one of the most obvious cases of trans-woman that he had met. She told us. No problem. Here she is, one year after starting hormone treatment, and her hormone levels are well within female levels. She looks, sounds and behaves more like the world views women than I do.

Investigative journalism threatened by commercialization

I have noticed a greater tendency toward what I call copy-journalism. Facts aren’t checked, and people are taken at their word. Some time ago I wrote a post on another blog about a person whose self-presentation did not fit the facts. Yet her narrative was the one media used. Even though the case was small, it mattered a great deal to all parties involved. For the first time a post of mine was shared in large numbers.

This article is about freedom of the press and how commercialization and the powers that be are threatening it in the US. The US is not the only country where that is the case. Norwegian press is being influenced by the demands of clicks. We need a free press, a press that is willing and able to investigate and dig for information. If not, our future looks bleak.

‘If we can’t have faith in press, we’ve lost’: Snowden on failing journalism

Published time: 11 May, 2016 18:24

Former US intelligence contractor and whistle blower Edward Snowden. © Lotta Hardelin / Dagens Nyheter
Former US intelligence contractor and whistle blower Edward Snowden. © Lotta Hardelin / Dagens Nyheter / AFP

Journalism as a weapon has never been stronger, but has never been less willing to serve the public good, says whistleblower Edward Snowden. The former NSA contractor has called for a reassessment of the public’s relationship to the media.

Journalism as a weapon has never been stronger, but has never been less willing to serve the public good, says whistleblower Edward Snowden. The former NSA contractor has called for a reassessment of the public’s relationship to the media.

He outlines his views on the present state of journalism and the increasing role that those in power play in controlling it in an interview he gave to the Columbia Journalism Review.

One of the most challenging things about the changing nature of the public’s relationship to media and the government’s relationship to media is that media has never been stronger than it is now,” Snowden says. “At the same time, the press is less willing to use that sort of power and influence because of its increasing commercialization.

Part of the reason is capitalistic greed and the 24-hour news cycle, according to Snowden. There is a conveyor belt of information that is aimed more at competition and staying afloat than at questioning the official line or writing a story that would set a source apart from competing outlets.

One example of this is writing counter-narratives to somebody’s exclusive coverage instead of spreading a good story. When the reporting of facts takes a back seat, the media isn’t doing its only job.

Snowden specifically calls out the New York Times as an offender.The Intercept recently published The Drone Papers, which was an extraordinary act of public service on the part of a whistleblower within the government to get the public information that’s absolutely vital about things that we should have known more than a decade ago,” Snowden remembers. But the majors – specifically The New York Times – don’t actually run the story, they ignore it completely.

The former intelligence contractor now living in exile in Russia believes that in the post-9/11 world the media has increasingly drifted away from its primary purpose as a public service to becoming an instrument for the promotion of the government line and the strengthening of its elites.

If it involved the word ‘terrorism,’ these were facts that wouldn’t be challenged. If the government said, ‘Look, this is secret for a reason, this is classified for a reason,’ journalists would leave it at that,” Snowden said, referring to major US news outlets.

However, he also believes there’s no better time to strike back at this monopoly over information, especially with all the new technological tools we have at our disposal. Revelations such as the ones relating to NSA’s blanket-spying PRISM program deal a strong blow to the establishment.

When the government is shown in a most public way, particularly for a president who campaigned on the idea of curtailing this sort of activity, to have continued those policies, in many cases expanded them in ways contrary to what the public would expect, they have to come up with some defense, Snowden says.

The exiled whistleblower talks about media as both a threat to the hegemony of the surveillance state and as its strongest weapon.

The public’s relationship to it changed in the post-9/11 world. New models of journalistic delivery emerged, including the proliferation of social media as a formidable reporting instrument.

This is actually one of the ways that you’ve seen new media actors, and actually malicious actors, exploit what are perceived as new vulnerabilities in media control of the narrative, for example Donald Trump, Snowden warns.

An added danger of social media, according to Snowden, lies in people’s inherent trust that they’re getting a better deal than with established corporate media. And a further drawback shared by both social and corporate media is that he who has the loudest voice and the biggest viewership always has a bigger chance. Even a good, honest investigation can get smothered if only one source dares to report it.

The director of the FBI can make a false statement, or some kind of misleading claim in congressional testimony. I can fact-check and I can say this is inaccurate. Unless some entity with a larger audience, for example, an established institution of journalism, sees that themselves, the value of these sorts of statements is still fairly minimal, Snowden explains.

This has a flipside in the form of a large interplay and valuable interactions that are emerging from these new media self-publication Twitter-type services and the generation of stories and the journalist user base of Twitter, Snowden believes.

So, what has changed in the information sphere since the 2013 NSA leaks and was there really a loss of innocence for the public? Why was there such surprise at the revelations that the NSA was running a blanket-spying program? Snowden remembers past revelations, but sees a key difference. If before there was reasonable anger that specific far-reaching government capabilities existed, the NSA leaks of 2013 took that to the next level by claiming that this technology was actually being used.

…What happened in 2013 is we transformed the public debate from allegation to fact. The distance between allegation and fact, at times, makes all the difference in the world, Snowden says.

One markedly different thing now was that the US government had to start using lawfulness as a concept. If before it was protected by a veil of secrecy and could carry on with its activities unabated, [it] suddenly needed to make a case for lawfulness, and that meant the government had to disclose court orders that the journalists themselves did not have access to, that I did not have access to, that no one in the NSA at all had access to, because they were bounded in a completely different agency, in the Department of Justice, Snowden explains. …

You may read the rest of the article at RT Question More

How Autism Awareness Goes Wrong

I am not a fan of Autism Speaks and their tactics. There is not enough autism and too much speak in their club. So much of their work goes toward demonizing autism and terrifying parents into supporting them and their “cure” theories. Really. Folks. Stop patronizing us.

Remember to put the person first! It’s a “person suffering from allism” not “allistic person” no matter how many times they try and tell you otherwise. It’s disrespectful to allow them their own choice in how they’d like to be referred.” (Tone it Down Taupe)

The word NO written in capital letters from a pile of blue and orange jigsaw puzzle pieces with a gray cardboard back. Pictured separated on a white background. Can also be turned upside down to spell ON.
flickr/Horia Varlan

April 18, 2016 | by

Friends, I want to talk to you about autism awareness awareness. We are, I fear, on the verge of an autism awareness epidemic, a veritable tsunami of awareness. Once a relatively rare phenomenon, the ailment, which is most commonly characterized by non-autistic people engaging in public handwringing about autism and/or feeling inspired by those tragically touched by neurodevelopmental disorders, has become increasingly common over the past decade. Some speculate that, within the next few years, as many as 1 in 2 people could have an awareness of autism.

In theory, more people knowing more about autism spectrum disorder would be a good thing. Autistic people, like me, could certainly benefit from the general public having a greater understanding of what our lives are like, and maybe even some genuine acceptance of those lives in whatever form they take. Increased awareness would be an excellent first step toward those goals. But the kind of autism awareness that is currently celebrated in day (April 2) and month (the rest of April) form was never made for people like me. I’d argue that it was never really made with anyone on the spectrum in mind at all.

The most nefarious incarnation of autism awareness is the kind espoused by Autism Speaks, which treats autistic people as little more than props in its various campaigns. The prominent charity’s simple and dishearteningly effective message—autism is bad and it must be stopped—misrepresents a complex condition and identity as a sinister looming specter that can and should be cured. It reduces the people who have autism to damaged, voiceless zombies bringing suffering to everyone who loves them, when in fact we are disabled human beings who might require treatments and accommodations unique to our circumstances. And Autism Speaks’ ends might actually be worse than its means, given that so little of its budget goes toward helping autistic people and their families……………………

The rest of the article may be read at The Establishment

How We Talk About Women And Sex

As I said in a previous post, I have been raised Mormon. Their ideas surrounding women and sexuality are, as most conservative religions, are detrimental to sexual well-being. Sex before marriage is a no-no. If that rule is broken, and a leader finds out, a person loses privileges. It is a girl’s/woman’s responsibility that boys/men are not tempted. Language in the Mormon faith is patriarchal and male privilege laded.

Christene’s article about linguistic patterns specific to women’s roles in sex and relationships exemplifies how we, both men and women, nurture these patterns and speaks of how we might learn to listen and read more carefully. Once a person becomes aware of just how patriarchal English (and Norwegian) is, that genie is out of its bottle forever.

5151276537_7c33fd41dd_b
Lead image: Flickr.com/José Manuel Ríos Valiente

April 16, 2016 | by Christene

In February, I wrote a piece on having been raised by a sex-positive mother. It was a topic that had been stirring in the back of my mind for a while, as my mom’s parenting style largely cemented my belief that open communication about sex, relationships, and reproductive health is crucial among families and in schools.

One of the many reasons I’m glad I was brought up with a sex-positive outlook is that I developed a clear sense of sexual agency and bodily autonomy. Or, as Emily Heist Moss worded it, I grew up with the understanding that “expressing sexuality is not the same as being sexualized.” As the male gaze continues to pervade everything from music to advertising, we must reframe the choices that girls and women make as their own and not “for” their male counterparts.

Much of this, in my view, has to do with the language we use to reference women’s sexuality. Linguistic patterns hold over time with repeated and widespread use, contributing to our culture in ways that often fly under the radar. For example, our common use of the “male default” when referring to creatures of unknown gender (animals, deities) or groups of both men and women (“mankind,” “policemen,” and the insidious “you guys”) enforces a standard with myriad far-reaching effects. Women are not only categorized as “less” or “other”—they are defined relationally.

Here are a few linguistic patterns specific to women’s roles in sex and relationships that, as part of our modern vernacular, rob women of their agency. ……

The rest of the article may be read at Role Reboot

Documentary on bi-polar disorder

Some Aspergers/Autists have no co-morbid conditions. Like the general population, many of us do. One of these is Bi-polar Disorder. As with so many disorders, I wonder how people survive being bipolar and how people survive living with a person with BPD. PBS sent a one-hour documentary about highly accomplished US individuals who are diagnosed as bipolar. Not all who struggle with this disease are able to be what society considers highly accomplished. Treatment is required for a person to live an average and healthy life.

Zeitgeist: Moving Forward, 2011

Dispelling the myths surrounding the outdated concept of nature vs. nurture is part of the documentary Zeitgeist: Moving Forward from 2011. “I have watched humanity set the stage for its own extinction. I have watched as precious finite resources are perpetually wasted and destroyed in the name of profit and free markets. I have watched the social values of society be reduced into a base artificiality of materialism and mindless consumption. And I have watched at the monetary powers control the political structure of a supposedly free society.” (from 7:45)

Loving each other

“It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the Devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui.”

Helen Keller; The Story of My Life; New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1905

Equal rights

Often when I use the words “equal rights”, there is an assumption that I am going to say something negative about men. Granted, there are a few men out there I would like to rant and rage against, #Drumph being the most obvious one at this time. However, equal rights means equal rights: that whoever/whatever I choose to fight for gets to have the same rights I would accord, if I could, to any person I like. I have chosen to fight for equal rights for people and animals. I do that one post, one individual, one conversation, one mail at a time. A militant attitude towards any kind of life doesn’t work for me. My Aspie mind becomes confused at the rhetoric that often lacks logic and has a one-sided view of the world.

I might have been that militant some years ago. Aspies are probably more susceptible to being manipulated into that kind of thinking. At least I am. But once I confronted my own deep-held beliefs about many topics (yes, including religion), I discovered I had been wrong. Admitting to being wrong sucks royally. But once I understood the psychological processes involved, it somehow became easier. Now I know that most of my understanding, opinions and knowledge is flawed. I also know that is true for the rest of the world. So, I seek to inform myself. For each new understanding, I see that there is so much more I do not understand. I guess that is kind of a dream condition for my type of Aspie. Digging into information and understanding the human mind is a need for me. Understanding the human mind is my “interest”, insofar as Aspies have special “interests”.

Poverty is an area of the human condition I would like to see reduced, even if that means I must give up something. Cause that is what equal rights is all about. The have’s (whether it be power or wealth) must share with the have not’s. A thanks to “Max Waller” who shared this youtube video on his Twitter. One part of fighting against poverty means fighting consumerism.

Disability vs accessibility

I have a mobility disability. Currently I am planning a trip with my husband and daughter. Having me along makes the holiday much more expensive. This is why:

  1. I need to bring my wheelchair along. That means leasing a car. My wheelchair does not fit into most cars due to its solid frame. It has that frame to make it lighter so I can lift it in and out of cars. When it comes to cars, that means I will need a car with a fairly large boot. Environmentally, I feel guilty because my imprint is much larger than a person without mobility issues.
  2. The places we stay need to have access to parking (obviously). They also need to have an alternative to stairs. It’s not that I cannot walk up stairs, but after a day of sightseeing it will be intensely painful. In fact, everything will be more painful, so I do not wish to make it worse than it will be.
  3. Some places are inaccessible to me. I am fortunate in that I can walk, so getting my chair in and out of places is a simple matter if I have a person with me (read husband/daughter/son). But once I am inside, the chair has to be accessible. That is because I cannot sit on many surfaces. It hurts too much. My wheelchair is adjusted to my body (as much as possible) and I can deal with that pain. Guided tours usually do not work for these reasons.

Being disabled is expensive. Both economically and environmentally. But I have the feeling that compared to a huge percent of the population our impact is very little. That is because we generally have to put quite a bit of planning into what we do. I would guess that is the case for most disabilities to a greater or lesser extent. This article about the twitter discussion on Lazy vs Disabled vs Environment is highly relevant and thought provoking.

So there’s a debate going on, on Twitter right now between disabled people and people who either claim to care about the environment and or just want to complain about “lazy people”

The tweet that started it all

orangegate cropped

Image Description: tweet with a picture of peeled oranges in plastic containers on a grocery store (whole foods) shelf. Tweet reads “If only nature could find a way to cover these oranges so we didn’t need to waste so much plastic on them”

The original tweet has been shared over 70,000 times. Whole Foods has apparently agreed to remove the prepeeled oranges from their stores. Environmentalists and those who hate laziness rejoice!

The problem is that this discourse completely ignores how preprepared food impacts people with disabilities. The most common complaints about the sale of these oranges is either the wastefulness of the additional packaging (which is true but somewhat misdirected as I’ll discuss later) or that anyone who buys this must be incomprehensibly lazy.

As a person with limited hand dexterity, I look at this and see an easier way to eat healthy food. I actively avoid eating oranges, not because I dislike them (they are definitely tasty) but because I have so much difficulty peeling them. Any attempt to peel an orange is likely to result in an unappetizing mess because I’ve squeezed the orange to hard while trying to maneuver it for peel removal.

I don’t have access to peeled oranges from my grocery store though I’d probably take advantage of them if I did. I do buy precut vegetables all the time because it is more convenient and safer for me to do so.

Preparing food with limited mobility is both hugely time consuming and potentially dangerous. While adapted cooking tools do exist to help offset those issues they are really expensive (I wrote about thathere).

Anything that helps make my regular acts of daily life safer and more convenient is always a plus. So I was one of a number of disabled people who pushed back against the wholesale shaming of preprepared foods. The responses I got were informative in looking at how nondisabled people disregard and try and shut down discussions of accessibility. Rebuttals to inserting disability and accessibility into the conversation included what I consider the most ridiculous attempt to maintain the moral high ground. It was,

I mean accessibility is nice and all but you know that wasn’t the thinking behind this product. It wasn’t designed for disabled people.

You know what, that’s probably entirely true. Whole foods was probably trying to cater to the convenience aspect. This is supported by the fact that the protest against the product on environmental and anti-lazy grounds was so successful.

The thing is this argument is hilariously irrelevant. In fact it shows that things don’t need to be directly conceived as accessible products to function that way. In many way things that are accidentally accessible are better than things that are specifically designed to be. This is because things that are accidentally accessible are marketed and available to everyone and are thus likely to be more easily available that an accessible product which is likely only sold in specialized stores. Seriously, accessibility that requires no thought to implement is the best.

Other arguments I got were,

Peeled oranges have a shorter shelf life so how convenient are they really?

This is true and it indicates just how much planning has to go into living while disabled. I have to plan my meals around the fresh produce I buy more strictly that others because I buy some things precut. This can be inconvenient but it pales in comparison to being forced to rely more heavily on canned or other processed foods that have a longer shelf life. My disability doesn’t disappear just because a whole head of cauliflower will last longer in my fridge than smaller prepared florettes.

and

Peeled oranges are certainly going to cost more than unpeeled and isn’t that a barrier?

Also true but here’s the thing, being disabled is expensive and costs for accessible products can be prohibitive. It is however easier to budget for the extra dollar or two that prepared fruits and vegetables are going to cost every couple weeks than the dozens or hundreds of dollars buying adapted cooking equipment will cost up front. This is a case where the cost should be the cause for protest not the cost being used as an excuse to protest the product. I’m all for my life being more affordable.

Other disabled activists dealt with other arguments. The person who argued most ardently with me was actually pretty tame and seemed more clueless than anything as they clearly didn’t think their arguments through and went away quietly when I calmly rebutted their arguments. Others were not so lucky. Things got a lot messier and ableist as Twitter user Ana Mardoll learned as she systematically tore apart those arguments (for a full view of this thread click here)

Issues arose when protesters prioritized the environment over the experiences of disabled people. Though as Ana points out those plastic food containers are hardly new. They are a ubiquitous sight at any grocery store deli housing things like artisanal cheese, salads and mac & cheese. Yet how is it that the wastefulness arguments crops up over something that is accessible, rather than the widespread use of plastic containers generally. Not to mention at least these look like the could be reused or repurposed. Where is the protest over bags of prepared salad? I guess peeling an orange is to easy but the convenience of salad in a plastic bag is to much to be denied.

Ana further points out that disability inherently comes with a greater need for product consumption. Disabled people need mobility aids and other tools that inevitably have an impact on the environment. Many of the people she encountered appeared to suggest that in the fight for the environment, disabled people are too inconvenient and should not be accommodated………

The rest of the article may be read at Crippled Scholar