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Self-Contained? Like a Nuke...
Published on July 6, 2004 By Phil Osborn In Misc
Yin Yang
Quiet Bang
Whisper Scream
Mumble Shout
"Carburators, man. That's what life is all about"*

*from Phantom of the Paradise

So, I decided to get a whole lot of work done on the July 4th weekend. Right. The first impediment that I ran into was the fact that I was truly exhausted from the previous week. The previous weekend I received a notice from my landlady that if she saw my motorcycle parked in front of my unit again, I would get a 30-day notice. No matter that I've been there for 13 years, or that my original agreement included a verbal that it was ok to park on my personal concrete landing - that being the only safe place to park in my neighborhood, short of bringing a hot motorcycle inside in the summer and breathing gasolene and oil fumes, etc., which is what I am doing now.

As one of my other articles What Goes Around lays out in my ongoing plaint, the reasons for my being hit with this have nothing to do with the motorcycle and everything to do with the nasty little gang of trailer-trash that moved in a year ago next door and has been escalating their efforts to cause as many problems for everyone around them ever since...

The other problem was that there was no room... I'm a packrat. I collect books, especially, and computer equipment and video equipment, etc., and I've had five Honda 650 Nighthawks since I moved in there, and they're all still around in one form or another, generally as peices, but one of them is still capable of running, barely, having been compressed lengthwise about 20% by a Dodge Ram 2000 a couple years back, and another is in quite good shape, but the motor may have a shift fork problem - hey, I HAVE an allegedly good replacement motor from a 650 I bought solely for parts.

So, that meant that the whole last weekend of June was taken up desperately moving stuff into a new storage unit about 2 miles away, which meant pushing two of the Nighthawks that distance and then up a steep 60 foot ramp - with my bad knees, and meanwhile making about twenty trips on the bike I ride to carry boxes of books, etc., until I finally had enough space to open the doors inward and roll the good bike inside, instantly breaking my Vetter fairing windshield in the process... One bike appeared to have the front brakes frozen, but I still pushed it half a mile that way - far enough to escape the attention of the gang next door. After that horrendous effort, and four hours of sleep, and then going back at five AM with tools and disconnecting the front brakes, I discovered that in fact I had locked down the rear brakes, probably to discourage any break-ins from trying to steal the bike... By the end of the week, my left knee felt like it was down to bone on bone - very possibly the actual case.

That was the beginning of last week, and the rest was not much better. So, Saturday I didn't really get that much rest, because I was too tired. My mind was in a fog and I kept doing stupid things, spilling stuff, etc., I was SO exhausted.

But, by Sunday I managed to get myself in gear and head up to Animation EXPO 2004 in Anaheim. I NEEDED to be there. AND, it's only about 12 miles from my place. AND, I know of a free place to park - until they steal my motorcycle, anyway, that only entails hiking about half a mile to the Convention Center- no further than from the cheapo motels that a lot of con attendees had clearly chosen.

Hoo-boy. Lotta people! Lotta gurls of various ages all trying to look like either Hidden Dragon warriors, anime characters, or Japanese schoolgirls, meaning the really SHORT skirts, so short that you wonder how the topology could possibly even work. Unlike most of the women who wear these UGLY low-slung pants (and truly shouldn't,) ALL of these women fitted their tiny little skirts or shorts (or less) very nicely indeed. And some of them were into this new fad that I think should be encouraged BIGTIME of giving out free hugs. Or maybe it was just me...

I checked out the art area first, but it was sad. If this were an art show at a typical small Science Fiction con, it would get a "D" grade at best. There were a few nice items, but mostly stuff that looked like a slow ten year old had done on the bus to school.

Also, the voluminous plastic con bag was nearly empty. Usually SF cons find all kinds of neat stuff to toss in to delight fans, but this Anime stuff is just really getting rolling, so I'll forgive them.. this year.

AND, there was NO CON SUITE! Every SF con has a con suite, stocked with munchies and couches where you can collapse in exhaustion and plan your next hour. No such thing. Blast.

The Exhibit Hall was rocking, however. There were so many cool products and demos! The struggle was trying to focus on any one thing, like being inside the Small World at DisneyLand. It just went on and on. Well, actually, I managed to see most of it in the three hours I had, which would not even be scratching the surface at SIGGRAPH or E3, but still, this was a LOT of neat stuff to see. Anime on DV, anime games, anime plastic characters, anime posters, manga, software for making anime. Worth the $25 day pass anyway.

I saw Gregg - AGAIN! Gregg is this guy who has been demoing Animation Master like FOREVER... I remember him from the Amiga version of it - "Animation Journeyman" (I think) - from the late '80's, then "Caligari," coming to clubs to show off this incredible program. Hey, if you want a really FUN program that can do just about anything that 3D Studio Max does for one-tenth the price, this is IT! I believe that the same guy - Martin Hash - has programmed every version, so he ought to know what he's doing by now, and it sure looked like it. Nice program!

So, I had just finished lecturing this young Japanese girl at a booth that sold plastic nude dolls and software for dressing them up and turning them into mere 2D Anime about Blender. Check it out. Blender is way cool 3D rendering, animation and game authoring software. AND, it's FREE! Actually, it's owned by the user community, and you can download it for free, and there are all kinds of free tutorials for it, and on-line manuals, etc. So, I'm talking to this girl about incorporationg Blender and The Gimp, which is like a free version of PhotoShop, into their commercial package, and this guy who works on the Army gaming system is standing there listening and nodding his head and finally backing me up, and then I find that he is also an old Amiga user, and he tells me to check out Animation Master, and I do, and there's Gregg, AGAIN!

Whoa. And Gregg is arguing with this kid who is saying, like, "yes, Animation Master is great, but you can do it all in Blender, and it's free, so why should I spend the $200 (show special)?" And Gregg is getting upset, a little.

So, I step in and give my two bits. After praising Blender to the sky a moment before, now I'm discussing the difficult learning curve, whereas Animation Master is really easy to get started and do useful stuff very quickly. Or, the problem of frequent crashes with Blender. Of course, I'm not using the most recent version, so that may not be a valid objection. And, I've only fooled around with it. No time to really get serious.

Blender is great if you are a student or in a 3rd World Country and have limited funds or a hobbiest who enjoys working up a learning curve or a real cheapscate. It can probably do just about anything that either Animation Master or 3D Studio Max can do and it also includes a game development package. BUT, it will take you a serious piece of work to get into.

So, I finally suggest to Gregg that he go after the Blender market. After all, $200 or $300 is not a lot of money for truly refined professional software, which Animation Master is. So, offer a filter that goes both ways and lets you use the free game development package from Blender with the easier-to-create 3D objects from Animation Master. Gregg is dubious, altho he says that they are negotiating with another company for a game engine... We can hope, anyway.

I was also looking around for someone who could connect me with EyeToy development, with little luck, but some useful information, I suppose. See my major article Virtually Real. The word I got at Anime Expo from various developers is that Sony is a notoriously closed shop, which reflects my experience so far. VERY difficult to get development info from. This is especially stupid regarding the EyeToy, as there are a million and one useful little utilities it can be used for. Trying to program all of them in-house is ridiculous!!!

What if I want to spot where the mouse that keeps sneaking around my place and trashing my food is coming from? Eyetoy could potentially do it. You might have an Eyetoy applet that created memory trails on screen that you could track back to where the mouse first appeared and then see all his favorite little paths. Just leave it running, and then place your traps. That's a trivial extension of the Paint system that appeared on Mandala on the Amiga in the '80's.

The Eyetoy software surely has the hooks to support it. Why not give people a super LEGO-like system for EyeToy, so that teachers can author interactive adventures on the fly, pet owners can write programs to teach their parrots new words, etc. Imagine plugging in a neural-net learning system to Eyetoy and letting it learn to control a LEGO Mindstorms robot or one of those cool little flying saucers. Why NOT??

But, then I think to myself... Wasn't Sony part of that idiotic CDI (CD Interactive) venture, in which the consortium poured literally BILLIONS of dollars into a technology that was already out of date, that every knowledgeable person in the business tried to tell them was going to be a collosal failure, but did they LISTEN? Noooo.. So, can Sony learn? We're eagerly waiting to see.

Meanwhile, on July 14th, 2004, I googled on "Eyetoy" and "SDK" and found something else - iCamPlay . This appears to be a fairly substantial package for building videoplace environments on a Win32 platform. I'm awaiting a response from the developer on getting the SDK. Still waiting as of July 18th...

So, after soaking in a mind-rotting display of endless XXX-rated anime and manga, reinforced by endless young cuties in SHORT skirts pretending to be jailbait - or not (pretending), I staggered out of the main Expo hall, feeling much like the guy in "Blow Up" after the famous clothes scene, and went to one of the panel discussions, where I watched several previews of hot new anime, followed by a NEAT display of what I assume is Japanese culture. We fans all got to play Rock, Paper, Scissors against one of the big business/production guys in anime for a series of essentially worthless signed calendars, etc. What a cool way to choose winners! Even if you lost a round, it was still fun to compete. And, since most people lost on each round, you never really felt that much a loser. So, I won some card which I have probably lost, but who cares? (I am getting so infatuated with Japanese culture...)

Then I watched some anime until 10:30 PM or so, and finally headed out to a 4th Furry Party, hosted by Tess TheRedPony. This is a truly cool ongoing party scene that plays out regularly in Garden Grove at Rick and Tess's home - unofficially "Rick's Cafe." Check out their site on Yahoo Groups. There, I ate a bunch of the always great chili made by Tess and wings and salad and watched some more anime, and generally wound down from Anime EXPO, which several other attendees had just come from as well.

Then I went home. Monday, after dragging myself out of bed about 10-ish, and going to see "Control Room," I returned to find that the trailer trash was moving out, apparently finally evicted. The old patriarch, who has a genuine talent for making enormous amounts of trouble where there was none before, shouts at me in a voice to boil steel, "Hey, MF, are you happy now?" Not good. At least six of the gang members are there, and this guy is blaiming me for their eviction. Like completely trashing the entire area for the past year couldn't possibly have had any bearing on it?

Or throwing a power cord over the building (which is still there today, July 18th, and has been there, in plain sight to any passers-by on sidewalk or street for at least six months, now) so they could work all night on six or so vehicles in the parking lot, in complete violation of their lease as well as fire codes? Or tearing their wind turbine off the roof and leaving a gaping hole? Hey, it probably won't rain until October...

Anyway, I needed to get to the spa to shower and so I packed up my clothes, etc and headed back out with my gym bag. From experience, I anticipated trouble and put a little cassette recorder in my pack and turned it on before I went out the door. I also carried a throwaway camera from SavOn. I figured that if these jerks simply left, they would come back for revenge, as this is their style. So, I went around on my bike taking photos of all their car's license plates.

The strange skinny blonde woman spotted me first and ran the length of the building to where I was and started shouting at me. So, I figured that they should know that I had the pics if I needed them, so I pulled around behind their moving van and shot its license plate as well, which brought the whole crew on the run, and the expected confrontation ensued, with one of them finally lunging at me and wresting the camera away from me.

I got off the bike and told him to give it back or I would arrest him. This was the youngest member of the group and did not act like a hardened criminal jailbird, which some of the others definitely were. So, he was trying to show what a man he was. Finally he gave me the camera, after telling me that he would "beat my ass," if I used it again. Sure. So, I left, noticing on leaving that one of the older women of the gang was on her cell phone.

Around the block, at the liqour store, I used the pay phone to call the Santa Ana PD, intending to ask for a few drive-by's just to discourage the gang bangers from breaking stuff of mine or torching the place. However, the dispatcher informed me that the GANG had called them, complaining about ME! As if taking pictures of license plates is a crime. So, no shower. Instead, I spent the next two hours at the pay phone, calling all my friends - none of them close by unfortunately - and finally locating a good criminal defense attorney who advised me on what to do. Then I parked the bike a mile away and hiked back....

What cock and bull tale the woman gave the PD is anyone's guess, and any good police detective should be able to pick apart these idiot's storys in a heartbeat, but I REALLY don't feel like a night in the notorious Santa Ana jail while all that get's sorted out. And what happens to my bike, meanwhile? If it's outside, it will be destroyed with great glee or subtly sabotaged, and I know what kind of job the tow drivers do on motorcycles, and then it's a totally absurd small fortune to get it back, regardless of the fact that if you called for a tow yourself it would be one-tenth the city-mandated fee. And I needed to be at work in the morning, as well, come to think...

Since then, for the past ten days now, the gang bangers have been real quiet. I have this vision of the PD showing up in response to their call and seeing all their junk piled up on the curb and citing them. (One of their frequent ploys over the past year has been to block the public sidewalk, all day long, with various pieces of junk and furniture and then confront me when I needed to get my bike to the driveway.) YES!!! But probably just dreaming. Santa Ana and karmic justice are not on close terms.

I am worried in that the pace of their move-out seems to have slowed to a trickle. Have they found a shill to rent the place for them? That's one probability, I suppose. The kid who snatched my camera - teen-aged, bicycler, Hispanic - is apparently in some kind of relationship with the older women - blond, heavy-set, mother-daughter - who rent to the other side of me. They have been there for several years and have never been the least bit friendly toward me - in fact, actively hostile whenever the chance presented itself, although I have never done anything to them, certainly.

And then they joined forces with the gang a few months ago, and suddenly they were coming and going at 3:30 AM, and grungy looking Hispanics on bicycles were coming and going from their unit with little bags, and every few minutes one of them would walk down to the gang's unit. Their last little stunt was to spray paint some stuff and then lay it out on the sidewalk - instead of their own landing - completely blocking passage. Then the younger of the two women stands there with her hand on her hip, glaring at me. So, I just drove past on the mostly dirt tree/shrubbery area. However, my foot peg still caught the edge of something or other and spun it around as I squeezed between sidewalk and tree, which gave her grounds to curse me. Blocking a public sidewalk is ok, I guess, or whatever one can get away with.

So, last night - Wednesday, July 8, 2004 - and still no break in the trailor trash situation. Somehow one of my windows was broken and I taped some of those heavy duty white trash compactor bags over it until I can get it replaced. Someone keep tearing the plastic off, however. Can't imagine who. Last night, the U-Haul truck was still pulled up and the gangbangers were nowhere in sight, altho their door was open. About 3:30 AM, suddenly there were all manner of crashes and other noises coming from them for about an hour, but this morning I couldn't see any difference. The same trash as usual cluttered up their concrete landing, including the wind turbine that they yanked off their roof, simply leaving a gaping hole. Wonder what the landlady's response to that will be? Will this ever end?

Saturday, July 10th, and I actually got a good ten hours of sleep - like twice! what I've been getting typically. I kept watching my outside video monitor for Trailer Trash activity, but everything was quiet until I stepped out the front door. Within two minutes (as always, as they have some kind of internet-based surveillance system, which the old man boasted of when he first moved in), the old creep who heads up the gang arrived with his older hispanic henchman, and made a point of trying to catch my eye as they walked down the sidewalk past my landing. When I finally returned his stare, he gave me his look of pure hatred and muttered "little piece of s..t." Such a nice little old man.

As I described in my article Living on the Street, this is history repeating itself. Moreover, this has been a pattern in my life from when I was a little kid. When my family moved in 1953 from Milton, Vermont, to Rome, Georgia, four significant things happened in short order which seemed to have either set a pattern or been my first instances of one that has dogged me ever since:

First, at school in the 1st grade, the first day: The sweet young southern bell teacher asked me, "Kin you read and raht?" Except that she ran the words all together at fast forward, "kinyooreedanraht?" It took three tries for me to get what she was saying. Note that Vermonters are among the slowest talkers in the world. They speak slowly; then they pause in the middle of sentences, ... considering what to say ... for many seconds. North Georgia is not a Southern drawl area, but rather a fast-speak cracker-talk region. So, a bad start. Of course, I could read and write, as I had had over a year of kindergarten and 1st grade back in Milton, but I had never seen longhand script.

So the teacher starts "rahtin" in long hand, which might have been sanscrit, as far as I was concerned. Having said that I could read and raht, however, now I was trapped. So I kept asking Billy, my buddy from down the street, who had shown me the way to school, "what's that word?" Etc. Until the teacher called on me and I was found out. "Well, I guess you're just a little lier!. We don't lahk little liers down here"

At recess, I learned about "defending the honor of the South," the hard way. As a proud yankee, I got to refight the Civil War every single recess for the next year or so. I got pretty good at fighting, eventually.

At home, my sister, five years younger, was apparently upset about my getting a separate room to myself. In Vermont, we had had a huge old farmhouse, with tons of extra room. In Georgia, my father had put a nice house in escrow, only to have the real estate company sell it out from under him, challenging him to do anything, in a Southern court as a yankee. So, we arrived with no home, and finally had to rent half of a run-down duplex in a poor neighborhood, the only advantage being the YMCA right accross the street - the pool only about fifty feet from our front steps, where I won several swimming medals a couple years later. (Of course, I was the only contestant in my age range.)

So, one day I got back from school to discover that my entire room had been trashed, as though a hurricane had struck. Everything was destroyed or dumped out on the floor. It was my sister. Up to that point, we had gotten along famously, and I had a very big-brotherly protective attitude. I assumed that my parents would take my side, under the circumstances. Instead, they acted as though I was at fault somehow and demanded that I forgive Joanie and make up. No way!!

For the rest of the time that I lived at home, until I finally escaped to college, my recollection is that Joanie got to do whatever she wanted and usually got away with it, while I would end up cleaning up her messes. It was largely reflective of my father's total sexism. Women were not fully human, in his view, but had to be taken care of by men. You simply had to put up with whatever irrationality happened, because they were not really responsible, being less than human. So I would volunteer to wash the dishes, because if Joanie got that assignment, she would do the most slovenly job possible, deliberately leaving large amounts of food stuck to the plates, knowing that she would not get that assignment again for a long time.

Joanie, or course, continued to portray herself as the innocent victim for as long as I lived with my parents, and pretended mystification at my ongoing anger toward her, when my parents were present. Of course, I did get my own room, while my two younger sisters slept in my parents' crowded little bedroom, I assume until they, too, left for college or marriage. Sad.

Meanwhile, that 1st grade buddy who escorted me to my disasterous first day in 1st grade in Rome, GA, (who, later, in high-school made a dailly point of how tough and macho he was and narrowly escaped being prosecuted for allegedly molesting some very young girls) threw a big birthday party, and my mother, always anxious to fit in to society, made sure I had a big present to bring him. So, without any warning (after I gave him my present, however) he ordered me out of the house. I still have not a clue as to why, except that many of his other friends were "defenders of the honor of the South" who I had defeated on the schoolyard battleground.

I was so enraged that I went home and got my dad's Civil War era hunting sword (only a point, no blade, designed for throwing at wild boar) off the fireplace mantel and then walked out into the middle of the street and shouted in to the party, daring anyone to come out and fight. Up and down the street, mothers were padlocking their doors and peering anxiously out their windows as I marched up and down challenging the world. The police were called, and my mother was called back from work, where she was herself an elementary teacher. I don't think I was arrested, which might have been a first in Rome, GA: "Six-year-old Yankee carpetbagger arrested for terrorizing peaceful Southern neighborhood. Prosecutor asks for death. Lynch mob gathers. Local man argues persuasively, 'Hey, he's a damn yankee, ain't he.' News at seven..."

This, of course, confirmed to my parents that I was a "bad kid," and nothing ever changed that opinion. When my dad had his major heart attack years later and was lying in bed, he told me that "Your mother and I gave up on you when you dropped the kitten out the 2nd story window - at age 2." I have no memory of that, of course. Hey, thanks a bunch for coming clean, dad... Can I just go shoot myself now?

When we moved to the country outside of Rome, into our own house, in 1958, I recall my very first meetings with the local neighborhood kids. On the very first day, I was having what I thought was a great conversation with Jimmy G., a little energetic runt whose dad worked blue-collar at the same GE Medium Transformer plant at which my dad was a senior draftsman, and lived two houses away, when, without any warning, but with a huge grin of delight, he suddenly flung this heavy baseball catcher's glove into my face as hard as he could, and then dashed for home. When we got there, me in hot chase, he threw himself behind his father and begged for protection. Now, it was suddenly I who had attacked him. The father did not have the slightest inkling of a sense of humor, and took "my attack" on his kid quite seriously.

Within months, the neighborhood kids had virtually all allied themselves against me, as Jimmy consolidated his little power base via intimidation or bribes of toys, etc.. It was really useful - and fun! - to have someone on whom to blame everything, and here was this nerdy little damned yankee. Meanwhile, Dale C., a huge guy about four years older than me, began a process of intimidation that ultimately lead to attempted sexual assault on several occasions. He would ask me to come to a "rendesvous," which meant a concealed place in the forest that pretty much surrounded the Rome suburbs.

There, he would pull out x-rated magazines - which were themselves strictly illegal at the time - late '50's - and then start talking about sex, undressing and displaying himself and trying to get me to fondle him, at one point grabbing me and trying to force me into oral sex, which I thought was totally gross, altho I did find the pictures interesting. (Dale apparently did not.) Dale's family had originally owned our land and a lot more, before the Civil War, and his ancient grannie could actually remember the war itself. They kept a large garden for their own extended family use, and frequently shot grazing rabbits with a 22 rifle or shotgun.

Dale thought it would be interesting to shoot at kids as well. We were always doing some kind of war game in the woods that surrounded and permeated that whole area for fifty miles or so, so it was not too difficult for him to convince us - 9 or 10 years old - to play along and hide while he tried to pick us off. I'm not sure who takes the cake for pure stupidity on that one. It was sheer luck that nobody got shot. However, Dale's feats of stupidity or malicious destructiveness or malign perversion or simple bullying never seemed to get him into any trouble at all (I did hear that he got a severe whipping, once.), while the slightest thing could get me restricted to the yard for weeks - one entire summer, in fact, when the neighborhood parents organized into a group to demand that my parents do something about my behavior!

Initially, I was told that the restriction to the yard would be for two weeks. However, each time I left the yard would result in another two weeks tacked on. Naturally, the neighborhood kids then conspired to come up with ways to get me to leave the yard. They would dash in and grab something I was playing with and then place it just beyond the yard boundaries. When I ran after them, they would wait until I had stepped over the property line and then all run to tell my mother. They had great fun all that summer. Finally, I was ordered to spend my time reading religious literature, to cure me of my evil ways, and I ended up reading "In His Steps," which is a good read, BTW, and for a while I was convinced that I should become a minister.

Here's a quote from Hitchhiking through Asperger Syndrome by Lise Pyles, page 151:

(Lise is discussing the various problems that parents of Asperger kids will likely face in when their child goes to school...)


We've heard of the horror stories where a child is bullied by a group at school until one day he snaps, and the next thing you know, we are reading about it in the newspapers. These are the extreme cases, but to a lesser extent this happens to kids with Asperger Syndrome every day. The punks of the school see our kids as an easy mark and start pulling tricks. They know how to stay below the teacher's radar, however, so the teacher is seldom aware or what's going on. The child with Asperger Syndrome doesn't have the same degree of guile. When he acts out in retaliation it is without any subterfuge. He gets caught, of course! The bullies know this and play it to advantage. They tease and tease until our kids lash out, and then sit back and watch our kids be the ones punished. Mission accomplished. Gotcha! It helps to see it for exactly what it is, and to bring it to the teacher's attention in exactly those terms."

Getting out of sequence at bit here in order to underscore Lise's point, I recall very well my two years in an abysmal country high-school - Armuchee High School - after I graduated from Glenwood Elementary with my usual scholastic honors. Of course, my approach had been conditioned by earlier years of fighting every day. When I first got on the big yellow school bus, I immediately spotted one of my nemeses - Dale of the "Rendevous," and then two or three more jerks, so I started whistling various musical themes, and I kept it up all the way to school. Just let anybody mess with me!

I also carried one of those big brown soft leather briefbags that fold together at the top. It was much more energy efficient than the fashion of carrying a stack of books braced against one's body. However, it was different. So, it immediately became a target, and literally ten or twenty times a day, someone would sneak up behind my desk and snatch it away. This made it very difficult for me to concentrate on the lesson, of course.

Another typical incident came in algebra class, where the kid behind me - Milton, much larger than I, thought it great fun to whack me accross the side of my head with a book whenever I became engrossed in the teacher's presentation. And I mean solid whacks. Like BANG!. I knew that he was an associate of several other bullies who hung out in the halls waiting to casually punch out kids who acted the least bit intelligent, and I was afraid of the consequences, but finally I had had enough. I spotted the book coming and tried to stab Milton in the hand with my fountain pen (I used a pen for everything - mistakes were not my style.). As I vigorously stabbed backwards in his direction several times, I failed to note, not having eyes in the back of my head, that the ink was flying out... All over Milton's pristine trademark white dress shirt... After class, of course, Milton challenged me to a fight. I told him where to go and that I would be happy to put him in jail.

To illustrate the unbelievable low-life mentality at Armuchee, here are a three typical examples:

The biology teacher was also the football coach. He had actually played semi-pro for a little while. How he had graduated from college - or even high-school - is still a mystery, even with the free pass that athletes typically get. He informed us that evolution could not possibly work because who had ever seen a bluebird mate with a blackbird. Case solved. End of story. He thought that chickens got pregnant from something in their food, not the usual way, which caused one of the smarter farm kids (not all of whom were dummies, by a long shot.) to almost fall out of his desk in hysterics.

The agriculture teacher thought that teaching consisted of forcing the students to trace hundreds of detailed pictures of plants from their textbooks. He also specialized in physically abusing his students, in fact was famous for it.

At one point, the bullies got into my locker and cut holes in my brand new pant's seats. I didn't notice, of course, and wondered why all the girls were tittering as I got on the bus that afternoon. My mother was outraged, as she had just bought those pants, and went to the principal, who apparently was incapable of listening, as he concluded that the bullies had urinated on the pants, not slashed them. So, he called a meeting of the entire male student body and told us a story about how some guy on a road-work detail in the Army had urinated on him while he was digging a ditch and how he had beat-up the guy. That was it - the entire content of his story and the moral for the meeting...

Because of the problems of which I was a common denominator, the faculty at Armuchee did not even consider allowing me to apply for the Governor's Honors Program. A year later, however, after I finally managed to get transferred to the top public academic high school - East Rome High - I was selected to go in both English and Chemistry. The next year I was Star Student, scoring almost 1500 on the SAT, and graduated near top of my class. So there, you idiots!

And the football coach? My history teacher - Mr. Muschamp - at East Rome was also football coach there; however, he was at the extreme end of a spectrum from the idiot at Armuchee. I suspect that Coach Muschamp was the smartest teacher at East Rome High, in fact. He championed football as a way to get kids into college, but in his history classes, he constantly added interesting content to the required text, and was constantly suggesting really interesting reading to students such as myself who had a real interest in history. At some point, East Rome played Armuchee, and afterwards I found Coach Muschamp musing in amazement over the fact that the Armuchee coach did not even know the basic rules of the game. He had tried to discuss something with him, and could not believe that an actual coach could be utterly ignorant of basic football rules and procedures.

Fortunately, the next summer I was sent up to my grandparents place in Massachussets, which was heaven. (I think that my parents were starting to feel really guilty about the way they treated me. Or perhaps they feared another summer of conflict...) Meanwhile, I got to read all the science fiction in the world - or so it seemed, as my aunt was an aspiring sf author, and owned a huge collection that jammed her closet as well as every square foot of available space in her apartment. Each night I would read a little later, until I was falling asleep at dawn. During the day, I painted the huge old mansion where my father's parents and his brother and sister and several tenants all lived with room to spare, or did odd jobs for real cash. Oddly, my grandparents and my aunt and uncle and I got along famously, without any conflicts at all.

I finally read every single science fiction book my aunt owned, however, and several others, and was getting desperate. There was one huge paperback, however, that I had repeatedly discarded, as it looked like "serious" literature. However, going by the cover blurb, it could technically be science fiction. Finally, I was left with few options and so I started reading.... "Atlas Shrugged."

"Atlas Shrugged" (AS) changed my life, for both better and worse. In any case, I would be a completely different person today, I'm certain, had I not read it. And, of course, this was and continues to be the experience of millions of other people. For the kid on the Asperger spectrum, however, AS poses some real challenges. AS is so-o-o tempting. What the Asperger kid needs is regularity, order, explanations, categories, logic and justice in his chaotic world, and this, above all, is what AS provides. It is a complete worldview - with attitude. Not only do you now feel that you can understand everything, eventually at least, but you also have a built-in cause and crusade about which you can organize your values and thus your life. I.e., it is a religious experience.

Of course, Ayn Rand, the author and philosopher, would be outraged at such a remark, were she still living. However, despite her unyielding focus on reason, rationality, and logic, the very passion with which she presented those ideas lends itself to taking over a kid's life, when that kid has had nothing before. Then we have the people who all spout exactly the same quotes from AS or other writings of Rand, all tending to dress alike, all liking the same art, and all loudly proclaiming their individuality. This subject has been covered in depth many, many times elsewhere, so I won't dwell on it. It is not a criticism of Rand, BTW, although there are certainly grounds for criticizing her. However, all the very worst criticizms of Rand, taken together in their most virulent form and multiplied by a hundred, would still leave her as an enormous benefactor to humanity.

For my part, it took me about a year of arguing every philosophical point internally, in long silent dialogues - on the bus, in the shower, lying awake in bed, before I was willing to accept her general theses. Once I did, there was an enormous sense of liberation. Suddenly, everything made sense. Suddenly, I didn't have to feel guilty or inferior. In my early years, I absorbed the Southern Baptist idea that God was watching you, reading your innermost thoughts and feelings, all the time!. And, until you had confessed Jesus as your lord and savior in church, and let him into your heart, if God should decide to make an example of you by striking you down with a bolt of lightning for having lust in your heart, you would go straight to eternal torment. I was experienced in torment already, and had had quite enough, thank-you. So I lived in hourly terror of immortal peril, and was constantly praying, "Jesus please forgive me for my evil thought."

The hardest thing was to give that fear up. After all, Rand might just be the devil's agent. I was being tempted and if I dared to seriously doubt, hellfire was awaiting. However, I finally summoned all my courage and began doubting, and then disbelieving, and no lightning came. I became, first, an agnostic, and then, a few years later, an atheist. And it wasn't because Rand said that was the path, it was because she demonstrated the logical principles that allowed me to forge that path myself.

I had no close friends in the local neighborhood outside Rome, GA, although I did have good friends at school, for a change. A lot of the kids at Glenwood Elementary were also yankee immigrants whose dads came South to work at the GE plant. They were generally a lot smarter, and much more educated and sophisticated than the local kids, many of whom showed clear signs of basic vitamin deficiencies and often had a contempt for anything intellectual. (Picture the banjo player in "Deliverance.") Some of them, the usual suspects when misbehavior occurred, had been held back for several grades and were much bigger than their classmates, and fell into the role of class bullies, but they had learned caution if nothing else, so the bullying was not serious by today's standards.

Many of my fellow yankee carpetbaggers had had their own experiences of yankee-baiting to relate, and so they were not at all sympathetic to those bullies who adopted that rationale. I was known to the teachers, however (most of them older local women nearing retirement age), as the brilliant trouble-maker. I corrected my 4th grade teachers on their misinterpretations of basic science, for which they had just had a crash course, due to the Sputniks. If it was possible to get anything wrong, they went for it. They accused me of lying when I described the existence of the asteroids, because it wasn't in their cram course.

And I couldn't get them to look at the encyclopeadia article verifying my claim. Instead, I was cited for disciplinary problems and my parents were notified. They, of course, backed up the teacher, even though both of them certainly knew about the asteroids. But both of them were disciplinarians, especially my dad, who told me that I was to obey any order by any adult, regardless of my opinion, or the truth, since I was not qualified to judge the truth, as a kid.

However, this unfortunately stood in direct contradiction to previous parental decrees. My parents both told me on the trip down from Vermont that I would be seeing some people that looked different - with darker skins - but that they were all "God's Children" and I was not to treat them any differently than anyone else. (I had never seen a black person in Vermont.) And if anyone - including an adult, since they were not excluded - tried to make me do something or say something bad about a person with dark skin, then I should just ignore them, as it was all just hatred from the Civil War and losing their slaves.

So, in that case, I was supposed to resist adult authority. And I did. While we were still in our dingey duplex, I would find these old geezers hanging out at the little neighborhood stores, and they would just love to "yankee-bait." So I learned to argue with them about racism, in particular.

Then, at Glenwood Elementary, I had these same teachers telling me that black people were all right, but that they were inherently inferior, almost like children, and if a black person married a white person, then all the children of the that unholy union would be idiots. They were a different species, not quite human (much as my father viewed women). And they got the asteroids wrong, as well. And, they insisted that the stars shone by reflected light from the sun...

So, which times was I supposed to obey any adult and which times not? My parents could give me no guidance and in fact got quite angry when I posed the question to them. After screaming at each other, they compromised on attacking me, of course. This had the great benefit of forcing me to seriously question not just the teachers, but also my own parents, finally concluding that no one could be trusted, a conclusion which has held up remarkably well ever since.

And, I particularly rejected my dad's sexism. Once I began thinking for myself, which was probably the only way to have retained my sanity, under the circumstances, I saw that his sexism directly paralleled the cracker's racism, with just as little real justification, and just as much contrived support.

In the 5th grade, I began a serious revolt against arbitrary authority. I absolutely refused to put suction cups on my homework drawing of a spaceship. The teacher, whose information came straight from the Disney special on space, insisted that spaceships had to have suction cups on their tail fins or they would fall right off the moon, "as the moon has no gravity, because it has no atmosphere." Erkkk... And we all had to draw a spaceship to Disney spec. Of course, for those readers who have not absorbed basic science (for whom I am probably wasting this screen space) suction is a fiction to begin with. It's only the atmospheric pressure on the outside that makes a suction cup work. So, no atmosphere = no possible suction.

And, if you don't understand the actual connection between gravity and atmosphere, and you're over 10 years old, I should pass this tip on: "Osama needs you. Do you know what a virgin is? Yes? Well, this may be your only shot at getting one... Try www.osamabinladen.com or www.imacompleteidiot.com." I got one of my very rare "C's" for my refusal to lie.

At one point around then, I was barred from the lunchroom, as, in response to my growing sense of academic absurdity, I discovered a talent for stand-up comedy, especially as in parodying various teachers. Each lunch period, other kids would vie for the privilege of sitting at my table, and when I would make some especially juicy quip, I would hear it being passed all around the large lunchroom - "Hey, Osborn said ..." - followed by waves of laughter. Finally, the principal had had enough and forced me to eat alone in a separate room.

My popularity only lasted through elementary school, however. Later, in High School, I was the constant butt of jokes and plots, and never once dated. The jocks made a point of singling me out for attacks, in spite of the fact that I was always very physically strong and fit and participated eagerly in PE. Just the fact that I was an intellectual branded me and the rare other intellectual at that country high school, where agriculture was a required two-semester subject, "the enemy".

I did have a number of close friends through high-school, however, generally outcasts like myself. We shared interests like science fiction, which I had read avidly from age 7, or guns, or science, or philosophy. I.e., we were nerds! I graduated with honors, as Star Student and then of course, National Merit Scholar. I even got the local National Mathematics Award. One of my buds went on to become a high-level systems programmer at Motorola.

So (and this is my big revelation for this article, so I hope it was worth it for you) fast forward about 40 years, and I'm listening to this NPR program on Asperger Syndrome, and they start listing the symptoms, and I start taking notes. I had every single symptom! (Although generally on the mild side of the spectrum.) And I wasn't very surprised. I had been suspicious for several years that I might be on the "Asperger Spectrum." I could go to science fiction conferences and find people who were ten times worse, symptomatically, but still functional and successful in life and career, but I could see that their strange behavior was similar to what I could criticize in myself. Now I knew. One social characteristic of virtually all Asperger's kids it that they get blamed for everything, even though they are rarely actually responsible. And, it continues into adulthood.

Basically, the sociopaths, who compose about 3% of the general population, quickly learn, even as little kids, that there are these other people, of a similar percentage, who are natural victims, because, lacking good social skills, they have difficulty defending themselves in a social context. So, the congenital jerks use us for practice for more serious crimes in adulthood and for entertainment. Unlike Asperger's kids, who have trouble reading social signs and body language, sociopaths typically excell in these areas. Ted Bundy, the most famous serial killer of our time, was always the most popular guy in whatever crowd. Everybody liked him and trusted him. Hardly anyone liked me or trusted me, and I never killed anyone.

Here's another quote from Hitchhiking through Asperger Syndrome by Lise Pyles, page 28:

(John's first year back in school in the 6th grade, after being withdrawn from a series of pre-school thru early elementary and then very successfully home schooled by the author, his mother. Note that John is a very bright kid, and not mean or cruel, just different - and this is how other people responded...)

The bullies soon found their victim. Anyone with Asperger Syndrome has a bull's eye plastered on his chest. My son soon found himself ostracized and ridiculed just for being himself. He was poked with umbrellas, stolen from repeatedly, and on and on. The most heartbreaking incident was when John told me that a group of kids had voted that John should kill himself. Another time, an entire busload of kids sang 'Joy to the World, when John is dead.' It was during this year that he was invited to a birthday party (only the second party invitation of his life), only to have the birthday boy tell John not to come - he had invited him only because his mother made him. What a sad night that was, as my son sat at the kitchen table with his present already bought and wrapped, trying to decide whether to go to the party or not.

Clearly John just needed a sword...

Asperger's kids always report having a very lonely childhood, with a desperate eagerness to form bonds with other kids, but only to find themselves used and abused repeatedly. They are the kids who get invited to parties at girl's houses, dress up, buy a present, arrive to find that no party is scheduled - to the shrieks of laughter of the plotters as they drive by the scene. This only makes them bitter as well as more stubborn, of course. One of the typical Asperger faults is the need to be right all the time, which is a reaction, I'm fairly sure, to all the years of pent-up frustration at having no one who would listen to them.

When communicating with an Asperger person, it's important to remember that they have a different idea of what constitutes a real, worthwhile conversation. Because they focus so totally on whatever they're doing, when they engage in conversation, the other parties often become offended at what they percieve as a lecture. The Asperger's person is not really intending to talk forever - unless of course the topic demands it... . In fact, he or she almost certainly has a mental image of a block of information that has to be conveyed in order to achieve a result. But that block is typically several minutes long.

In part, I think that this is because the Asperger's person needs to concretize abstractions. He or she has difficulty in dealing with concepts that cannot be reduced to a real example. In addition, because of a typical Aspergers aptitude for spotting patterns in information that non-Asperger's people rarely notice, the arguments for a position that the Asperger person uses internally for his own thinking are not tidy, premise, premise, conclusion structures. Rather, they bring in data from vastly disparate sources, demonstrating that the intersection of this data produces the solution space.

This is the paradigm of algebra, BTW. An simple algebraic equation of one variable has a single point as the solution space. For two variables, you need two independent simple equations to define a point in 2-space - as depicted by an x/y graph. If the number of independent equations is less than the number of independent variables, then the size of the solution varies accordingly, from point to line to area to volume to N-dimensional solid. So, bottom line, you want as many independent descriptions as possible in order to narrow down possible solutions to any problem.

In the real world, of course, you have to be able to deal with "fuzzy" situations, involving probability distributions, etc. This is the realm of decision theory. My understanding, so far, of the Asperger world, is that Asperger kids have a lot of problems trying to deal with that sort of ambiguity. Fitting into the general Asperger coping paradigms that I've read about might be a set of courses on formal problem solving. I actually took such a course in grad school from Karl Cossack, the head of the math department at the University of Georgia at the time, I believe. The course, "FORTRAN and Statistics," was part two of a two-semester series. Semester one had quite a large class, mainly of ed-school or psych students who needed the basic stat course to graduate.

Semester two, however, saw all of them drop out. We had only two students in the class, so we met with Dr. Cossack in his office, and - as it was already allocated for an full class - we had effectively unlimited time on the IBM mainframe. That was a fun semester. One of my personal goals, of course, was to trick the mainframe into an infinite loop. I'm not sure that I ever succeeded - certainly not for long, as there were the accolates of the machine, in their long white coats, to whom we submitted our punch card stacks, jealously guarding the portals and watching for hacks. Occasionally one would still slip though, like the guy who wrote a routine to simply number pages and print them out. Then he resold the expensive green printouts as paper - hey! already numbered! - to some business for a substantial side income.

Decision theory should be fun for a typical bright Asperger kid, as it brings precision and clarity and concreteness to a fuzzy world. We spent that entire semester trying to write a complete program for determining when a business should farm out typing to an outside service, as opposed to hiring for internal work. This is not a simple problem. There are not only the graphs of expected performance, the graphs of performance versus wages offered, but also the graphs of the uncertainty of the data. The costs of wrong decisions must be balanced against the need to make sure that whatever happens, the work must get done, which brings in catastrophy theory. Fun, fun, and more fun! At least for me... Cossack had just gotten back from the project of writing the complete program to allocate farming resources for the government of India, BTW.

But what are the typical costs to the Asperger kid of not being able to deal with ambiguity in a fuzzy world? For me, it was a kind of moral absolutism. I believed - sincerely - that since we had no prior agreement not to play our stereos as loud as we wanted at any hour of day or night, that that meant that I could do so with moral righteousness. That lead to a war between me and my first college roomie in our dorm room, when, by all rights, we had the kind of complementary personalities that should have made us fast friends for life. I still cringe when I think about all the crap that people had to put up with from me.

On the other hand, logic, by itself, can take you a long ways. It's important to be able to formulate conclusions about life in general and be certain enough about them to act, and you can't do that unless you can convince yourself that you really do know. And you can't justify that confidence in your conclusions unless you understand logic. I
strongly recommend the classic "Fallacy, the Counterfeit of Argument." Google on it and you'll find a world of high praise for this one book. I read it in High School, in 1964 or '65, at the recommendation of my honors English teacher. It really helps to be able to pick apart arguments and demonstrate why they are fallacious. For those kids, however, who are reading this and will run out now and get this book, and maybe "Atlas Shrugged," as well, please keep in mind at least one thing: Fallacy applies to the argument form, not to the conclusion. You can have a true conclusion from a fallacious argument. And, you can have a false conclusion from a valid argument, if one or more of your premises is false.

There's a natural temptation to go wild with a new, powerful mental tool, and demolish other people with your logic. Just remember that the goal is truth. It really doesn't usually matter a whole lot that someone else is wrong or using a faulty argument form. Time will tell. You convince people more by taking the strongest form of their argument and then showing where it leads. So, you can still point out the fallacies in the argument form itself, but not with hostility, just calmly and matter of factly. Then you reformulate their argument to give it every advantage, make it as strong as possible, and then you demonstrate that it leads to another conclusion.

After all, you might be wrong. Being wrong is not to your advantage. Identifying your own errors is a heck of a lot more important in general than correcting anyone else. By treating the other party respectfully, and not calling names or jumping to conclusions about their motives or personality, you will give yourself the best chance to get to the truth for all concerned, and good people will admire you for acting that way. End of sermon. Hey, maybe I should've been a minister!

When two or more Asperger people meet and converse - which frequently happens at Science Fiction conferences and other similar venues that attract them - they typically tell each other stories - i.e., coherent blocks of information that lead coherently, if ponderously, to a conclusion. If a non-Asperger person of similar intellect otherwise, such as the infrequent non-Asperger Mensan, is involved, they often succumb to the temptation to throw the Asperger speaker off track, by making completely invalid objections to a line of argument - objections that still require an answer, of course, which completely bogs down the discussion so that nothing useful whatever is achieved.

To illustrate this point, imagine if I were to try to describe how a living cell functions to someone who knew nothing about biology: Imagine a conscious "robot" (not a "real" robot, as in a device by definition capable only of following orders, but a mechanical being, mentally similar to a human, but constructed out of pulleys, wheels, chips, etc.) from a race of robots, who has never seen nor concieved of the possibility of molecularly-based evolved life. So, I'm communicating over the net to this being, who has logged in today via wireless protocol thru a wormhole, having never seen or visited the earth.

Now, I know what life is and how it works, in considerable detail. But for me to try to convince this robot that such a thing could exist would be virtually impossible. To describe a living cell, I have to assume 99.99% of it at each point of my argument in order to support the .01% that I'm talking about. It all hangs together. And then there's the ecosystem that makes it possible. And no part of it is really functional without the rest. Thus, I suspect that the robot would conclude that I was actually another robot, of course, but either crazy or dishonest, and therefore a potential danger, which might lead to a preemtive strike against the Earth. Not a good outcome.

If I were a person who lived - like many Mensans I have met - to score points off other people in discussions, rather than to work toward truth, then I could adopt the mentality of that robot and simply object to each separate point in a complex presentation, and thereby make the presentation completely impossible and make the Asperger person look like a fool. And I cannot begin to count the number of times I have seen exactly that scenario unfold. What a frustrating waste of time and energy.

More on the above later, when I have time to complete that information block....

So, here I am, now, with a little gang next door who are intent on convincing the landlady to attack me, after they have trashed the whole complex for about a year now. And, they may succeed, because my mental structure makes me appear suspicious. Suggestions?

June 18th, 2004: Today I went to the local Unitarian Universalist Church to hear a member of the Orange County Peace Coalition discuss the way that words trap us into a viewpoint. I had a little pocket cassette recorder in a belt pouch, and when I pulled it out, immediately one of the church women called me into the kitchen and demanded to know why I was taking pictures. Of course, I explained that it was not a camera at all, but later I noticed that several other people were in fact taking pictures or video of the talk, yet they were not approached. Typical. I must somehow look like the perp in whatever situation I'm in.

My case, I have to say, having read a bit now on Asperger Syndrome, is pretty mild compared to many - probably on the low end of the Asperger Spectrum. Or, it may simply be that I had the good luck to be from a family with an average IQ above 130, and so I was able to cope better than most. I suspect that my dad was also affilicted with Aperger. He had the classic sign of talking your head off, but not listening very well. Fortunately, his stories were actually pretty entertaining. And he loved ritual. He turned the local Boy Scout troop - which he started and served in as Scout Master for many years - into something more like De Molay, the junior Masonic order.

Instead of focussing on the traditional scouting skills of camping, etc., or on the moral component of scouting, he created involved rituals for the troop, in which each boy had a set piece to recite at the host church, and a candle or other signifier to hold, and a complex marching sequence to the front of the church. However, he could not begin to hold a candle to my mom!

Asperger girls are much rarer than Asperger boys, likely because the genes involved are probably largely on the sex chromosome, as are most inherited mental characteristics. So a girl has to have a double dose to get it (or else it will tend to be masked by the good copy of the gene) and then she gets it hard! My mom was utterly brilliant. To illustrate, one of the several local radio stations had a dailly contest in which clues were scattered through the broadcast and whoever guessed the riddle and phoned it in got a free dinner at Ozzie's Restaurant for the whole family.

My mom won every single time . Without exception. Finally the radio station issued new rules in which noone was allowed to win more than once a week or month - I forget. So, like clockwork, we ate Sunday dinner at Ozzie's. Unfortunately, brilliance was not my mom's only prominent mental trait. When she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad... My dad's heart attack can probably be attributed largely to her. Anyway, I suspect that she may have also been on the Asperger Spectrum. Certainly the younger of my two sisters shared a lot of symptoms with me. However, Joanie, the older one, didn't have any - which she definitely should have. So, a minor mystery... Now I'm starting to be curious about her kids.

To be continued....

on Aug 18, 2005
This is very sad. How can anyone spend so much time writing such crap into thin air? Honey, psychiatrists are a dime a dozen. Go for it.!
on Aug 19, 2005
Jesus Christ, this was a long article.