Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Monday, December 22, 2008


To the shops to get meat thermometer. Panic: is it too short to reach the the radius of a large turkey? I get a (longer-shafted) pizza oven thermometer which does, however, cover many more degrees and thus has much less accurate fine gradations.
Also kitchen thread, needle, and boning knife.

With global warming, John, the question is surely not "Is 2 degrees plus global warming if we do nothing certain?" but rather "Is there more than a 5% chance that 2 degrees plus global warming is coming if we do nothing?"
In view of the unequal balance of pro and con in the scientific community I'd find very it hard to say that the chance was less than 5%. If it's at or over 5%, that's warrant for strong action. In any case, I think the first step in any dispute over this is for some kind of numbers to be applied to statements of probabilities. What's your estimate?

Friday, December 19, 2008


There is a theme in the articles on Madoff of people asking where the 50 billion went to. With no actual knowledge on the details, isn't a classic Ponzi scheme largely redistributional, the money from new customers going out to old customers? You get the finagler's cut not so much by taking a percentage off the top as by heading off to Rio in the middle of the enterprise. A quick Excelling of a scheme where investors are paid 10%, there are no investment profits, there are no administration costs, and there's a constant flow coming in every year shows that the business goes into deficit in year 20. Anybody who's been in Madoff's funds for more than ten years has already broken even.

And on the financial front, isn't the problem with the boom pundits the same problem that comes up with Rudd's climate plans - the systematic downplaying of the possibility of low-probability catastrophic events in the belief that any such catastrophe is most unlikely to come along before the manager has taken his rewards and moved on? The chance of a total wipeout isn't factored in to anybody's structure of incentives.

Melbourne and Sydney may be lucky: we can always put a dyke across the heads. If we were Dutch we would have done it already.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Miller time

Has there in the history of the world been a worse decision than the choice of Frank Miller to bring The Spirit to the screen?

Though, to be fair, the Rudd decision to shoot for only a 5% carbon cut must come close.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Valentina Harris

The recipe I always use to sell people on the cookbooks of the incomparable Valentina Harris is this one, from Southern Italian Cooking;

Zucca Gialla alla Calabrese
Yellow Pumpkin with Mint and Capers

750g orange or yellow pumpkin [actually, what other colours of pumpkin are there?]
4 tablespoons coarse sea salt
500 ml (2 cups) sunflower oil [I generally use olive]
10 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons salted capers, well rinsed, dried, and finely chopped [but capers from a jar also work]
5 cloves garlic, chopped into slivers
5 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
8 tablespoons fine dry breadcrumbs

Arrange the pumpkin in a colander, sprinkled with salt. Put a weight on top and leave it to drain for an hour. [You can skip this bit, at a pinch]

Rinse and pat dry the pumpkin slices. Heat the oil till a small piece of bread dropped into it sizzles instantly. Fry the pumpkin for about four minutes on both sides, working with batches if necessary, then drain well on kitchen paper (paper towels).

Mix the olive oil and the vinegar with the capers, garlic, mint, and half the breadcrumbs. Arrange half the pumpkin in a dish and cover with half the dressing. Cover with another layer of pumpkin then cover with the remaining dressing. Press down firmly with your hands and cover with the remaining breadcrumbs. Leave to stand for a hour before serving.

This is classic Valentina because
1) it's reasonably easy;
2) it's very forgiving;
3) it's not something you would have thought off yourself, in a fit;
4) people are impressed by the improbability factor;
5) everybody likes it.

The strong flavours merge and blend till you can hardly pick them individually.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Zombie demography

Come to think of it, Zombie movies are surely inaccurate in their portrayal of flesh-eating mobs. When the graveyards gape and give forth their dead there must, actuarialy, be a higher proportion of the very old than is usually rendered. At least in the early days of the epidemic, there must be a near-majority of octogenarians, which you would think would be easier to deal with.

Other unanswered questions are
* what is the signal that inhibits zombies from eating other zombies?
* Could we synthesize it, thus enabling us to walk unhindered through the mob?
* Why doesn't the zombie effect affect animals? Except police dogs?
* given that what zombies actually want is brains, how do they get them without tools? I couldn't bite a skull open, and I'm not sure anybody could. It would be like trying to bite your way into a coconut (and have you ever tried to put two canine teeth marks on a person's neck? You have to practically dislocate your jaw).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ideas for Movies that Need to be Recorded at the Exact Time You Think of them For Copyright Reasons

Zombie movie in which the dead are rising to attack the living. Set in an abortion clinic.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

All Palin All the time

One comment has chiacked me for being obsessed with Sarah Palin, and having gone as far as looking at the teasers on Hustler's "Nailin' Palin" site I suppose I have to plead guilty. But in my defense (though this doesn't actually cover Hustler, to be sure) she is a character, in the Dickensian sense (or at least the Ricky Gervais sense) and those are rare, in politics or elsewhere. It's a combination of perkiness, verbal core dumps, and complete lack of consciousness of any limits.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Beckett on Palin

According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, Ms Strozzi, who was nominated for an Emmy award for her makeup work on the television show So You Think You Can Dance? was paid $US22,800 for the first two weeks of October alone - more than the foreign affairs adviser, Randy Scheunmann.

Well, that brings up one of Samuel Beckett’s better jokes;

An Englishman, needing a pair of striped trousers in a hurry for the New Year festivities, goes to his tailor who takes his measurements. "That's the lot, come back in four days, I'll have it ready." Good.

Four days later. "So sorry, come back in a week, I've made a mess of the seat." Good, that's all right, a neat seat can be very ticklish.

A week later. "Frightfully sorry, come back in ten days, I've made a hash of the crotch." Good, can't be helped, a snug crotch is always a teaser.

Ten days later. "Dreadfully sorry, come back in a fortnight, I've made a balls of the fly." Good, at a pinch, a smart fly is a stiff proposition.

(I never told it worse. . . I tell this story worse and worse.)

Well, to make it short, the bluebells are blowing and he ballockses the buttonholes. "God damn you to hell, Sir, no, it's indecent, there are limits! In six days, do you hear me, six days, God made the world. Yes Sir, no less Sir, the WORLD! And you are not bloody well capable of making me a pair of trousers in three months!"

"But my dear Sir, my dear Sir, look—

—at the world—

—and look—

—at my TROUSERS!"

Yes, the beautician gets more than the foreign affairs adviser, but then Sarah Palin’s looks are getting a lot more favourable press than John McCain’s foreign policy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

That's what Sarah Palin's comments remind me of:

they "leave the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea; sometimes these meandering words would actually capture a straggling thought and bear it triumphantly, a prisoner in their midst, until it died of servitude and overwork."

Senator McAdoo on President Warren Galamiel Harding. I could have sworn it was Menken.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Some of the mistakes that you make as a child do stick. I was a fast and voracious reader, bleeping over any word (and any subtlety) that got in the way; and today I had a very hard time working out the spellchecker wouldn't give me the right spelling for indefagitable. I had to go to the thesaurus to find that the word was (logically enough) indefatigable and that I'd been spelling (and probably saying) it wrong for some sixty years.
And I'm still not sure how many dids to put in Thuycidididides.

Friday, October 03, 2008


Someone on The Reality-Based Community speaks of the power Obama may get from having mobilized a mass movement.
Like Oliver Cromwell, Barack Obama is more conservative than his core supporters. (Cromwell was originally against executing, or even deposing, Charles I.) An electoral sweep, backed with a movement that can still be mobilised against a recalcitrant Congress, would give President Obama an authority greater than any of his predecessors since FDR. In this scenario a more vindictive politician could get away with putting Bush and Cheney on trial for treason: fortunately for the republic as well as White House malefactors, this won't happen. Obama clearly has the moderate temperament of Augustus or William the Silent rather than the hubris of Julius Caesar or Napoleon III.

They do know that Augustus got to rule as a peaceful old uncle by dint of having had (as Octavian) everybody who could possibly look crossways at him executed on day one? Think Cicero.

That was what pissed me off about Gladiator. Roman generals didn't get thrown into paroxysms of revenge when people massacred their families; happened all the time, something you could have a good laugh at over a cleansing ale next time you met over the negotiating table, something you'd done yourself to the families of your conquests after you'd had them march behind your chariot in chains at your triumph. No biggie.

Listen to Octavian and Anthony in Anthony and Cleopatra haggling over the proscriptions - ok, you can kill my uncle, but only if I get to kill your brother - Shakespare didn't make that mistake.

I knew that, 86

Actually, no; 99 and the Chief.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I knew that, 86

For no particularly good reason I ended up seeing the new Get Smart, and it's as inexplicable as everybody says. The whole joke of the TV show - 100% - was that Max believed himself to be James Bond and was in fact utterly incompetent (in fact, as near as dammit George Bush). The new Max believes himself to be a nerd, with occasional small vanities (closer to Al Gore) and is in act a nerd with occasional ups and downs; and that really doesn't amount to a funny.

That's what McCain/Palin evokes; Get Smart, only with 99 being dumber than Max.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Hellboy II
The absence of epic, because the absence of tragedy, because no main character can die. The last Batman got its hit from Heath's having died.

Old Boy
How extraordinarily Jacobean. I mean, revenge drama. So literal.

In Bruges
A Wildean comedy of manners. Though sister Sally tells me it's unsound on the Walloon question.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

In the wars

From Jasper Ridley's Palmerston:
Next day the newspapers confirmed the news of Waterloo...It was the last of the 182 engagements in which the British Army had fought since the first action at Valenciennes in July 1793. Palmerston, with his usual methodical habits, tabulated all the battles and losses sustained in each; in the twenty-one years of war, including the war against the United States of 1812-1814, the British Army had suffered a total of 920 officers and 15,214 other ranks killed, of whom nearly one-sixth had fallen in the last week in Belgium. In the Navy, the total losses were 3,662, the combined losses in both services of twenty-one years of war being less than one-third of the number who fell in one day's fighting at the Somme in 1916.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Memories, memories

It's so exactly the kind of fantasy that occupied so much of our lives between the age of eleven and eighteen. where by 'our' I mean 'us boys'.

In the Age, 13/08/08
Bound and gagged teen feared for her life
IT WAS a warm Tuesday in March when a Gippsland teenager and her boyfriend set out for a romantic picnic. He picked her up from her parents' house and they began the drive to a waterfall on his family's land.

Not far past the gates their attention was drawn to the carcass of a deer. The young man got out of the car to look around and was gone for a few minutes.

"I started to get worried that he hadn't come back yet," his girlfriend later told police in a statement."Then a guy came up from behind the car … wearing a grey-and-white-coloured balaclava and blue latex gloves."

What followed was an eight-day struggle to survive in some of Victoria's remotest terrain. Bound, gagged and blindfolded, and not knowing what had happened to her boyfriend, the 17-year-old was shoved into the back of the car and covered with a blanket for a long drive.

"When he pulled me out of the car and when he was tying me up, he was shaking more than I was," she said. "The man didn't say anything the whole time. When I tried to talk he put his hands over my mouth to stop me."

She told police: "I was extremely scared. I kept wondering where he would be taking me, why he had taken me and I was trying to think what I or my family may have done to cause someone to kidnap me."

She lay in the back of the car trying to imagine how to get free.

"I thought that I was going to be killed during the drive. When we stopped and I was dragged out of the car and my clothes cut and ripped off me. I also thought that I would be raped before I was killed."

But the mystery abductor disappeared. Her boyfriend, who told her he had managed to free himself, untied her and removed her gag. She was terrified, naked and lost, but together they set out to find their way home.

They took with them a sleeping bag she believed was left behind by their attacker and some food and water.

"During the week that I was with (him) we ate very little … The third day … (my boyfriend) caught a snake. He killed it with a stick, but we were unable to make a fire and therefore we didn't eat it as we didn't want to eat it raw," she said in a statement to police.

"The fourth day I ate blackberries and raw fish. (My boyfriend) was walking in the river and a fish jumped between his feet, (he) grabbed it and killed it. Again we were unable to make a fire so we shared the fish and ate it raw."

The ordeal ended on March 11 when they were found by farmer Ian Minchin on his way home to Wulgulmerang, 130 kilometres from Bairnsdale.

Leading Senior Constable Raymond Moreland said in a statement that the young man had told him he was "hit on the head a number of times" when he got out of his car to check on the deer and had been put semi-conscious in the rear of his own car. "I gained consciousness and located a knife and freed myself and then freed my girlfriend."

After being fed, checked by a nurse and questioned about their abduction, the pair were taken to a motel for the night.

But the next day police charged the young man, alleging that the 22-year-old had staged the abduction to persuade his girlfriend to have sex with him and later marry him.

He appeared in Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court this week charged with seven offences, including kidnapping, abduction with intent to marry and abduction for the purposes of sexual penetration.

The young woman said in a second statement that her boyfriend had asked her repeatedly to marry him and have sex for warmth while they were lost in the bush.

"Basically he told me that if we had sex it would keep us warm and we would have a better chance of survival and that we would be married before God, as we had had sex," she said. "I think that most days he would say it was getting colder and maybe I should reconsider having sex with him to keep warm."

In another statement, she said that for some time their relationship of almost two years had been strained because he wanted to get married, but she would not agree.

Detective Sergeant Rodney Arthur told the court that the man was charged after inconsistencies in his statement were revealed during a visit to the bushland where the pair had allegedly escaped.

The man has reserved his plea and is contesting all charges.

It's such a note-perfect adolescent fantasy. We worried endlessly at weaving these extraordinarily complex scenarios that could conceivably be made to terminate at a point where a girl would fuck us without our having to expose ourselves to the possibility of ridicule inherent in having to ask her. As one might imagine, necrophilia came in quite a lot - the dead can't giggle - but something like this wasn't far behind. Very unusual to carry it through, though - and even then, the poor bugger didn't actually get laid.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Flashback: McCain joked about how much women love to be raped.»

The blog Rum, Romanism and Rebellion pulls out a 1986 Tucson Citizen article recounting a joke about rape told by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Speaking to the National League of Cities and Towns in Washington, DC, McCain allegedly said:

Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, “Where is that marvelous ape?”

McCain was swiftly criticized by women’s groups. A spokeswoman for NOW in Arizona said the organization’s members were “incensed by his cruel and sexist remark.” McCain said he did not “recall” telling the joke. More recently, the McCain campaign scheduled a fundraiser with a Texas oilman who compared rape to the weather while running for governor. “As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it,” said Clayton Williams in 1990. After public outcry, the event was “postponed.”

Update - Huffington Post's Sam Stein spoke to reporter Norma Coile, who wrote the original article. Coile told Stein, "I'm not sure exactly what the wording was of the joke, but something was said. Some joke involving a rape and ape was said."

The 'joke' as given makes no sense; no punchline, no funny.

I think I can identify the actual joke; Near enough,it's

There were these two little old ladies visiting the zoo. As they lingered around the gorilla cage, the biggest male of all the gorillas reached through the bars of his cage, grabbed one of the little old ladies, dragged her through the bars of his cage and began having sex with her right there in front of God and everybody!

Well, the zookeeper came and sedated the gorilla, the paramedics came and sedated the little old lady and her horrified friend, and they took the little old lady to the hospital.

The little old lady's friend was shaken and embarrassed by the incident, and she didn't know what to say, but after a couple of days finally got the courage to go see her friend in the hospital. "Are you hurt? Does it hurt?" she asked.

"Does it hurt? Am I hurt?" repeated the teary-eyed little old lady. "Goddamn yes, it hurts. It's been two days -- he doesn't write, he doesn't call!"

Which is more or less the way I happened across it first some decades ago.

What is odd, though, is that that version comes a fair way down google; the top ten or so are on racist jokes websites - that is, specialist anti-black 'white pride' type websites, or at a pinch jewish jokes.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


When mother was a girl before the family went bust the family property was Collendina,up on the Murray. It reappears again today in the context of a fraudulent land scheme - "a proposed retirement village scheme at Collendina, near Ocean Grove." There may even be a family connection, Ocean Grove being near Barwon Heads, where the family moved after the bust, grandfather being the golf club secretary and everybody living at Portrush, the house I love.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Saw Hancock last night. A mess, as reported; possibly not as bad as I expected: unrealistic not because it postulated the existence of superheroes but because it copped out [even before the happy ending copout] - the superheroes re basically nice people (that is, people whose interests are the same as ours) in a basically nice society (where the only real problems are used by holdup-levelcriminals). We shall have to wait for Watchmen to get the real lowdown.

And how do you get to qualify as a criminal mastermind if you make an attack on a superhero that could only possibly work if a completely unpredictable mysterious loss of powers comes upon him?

And sexist; the male hero must save lives, the female hero has apparently no obligations beyond being a good wife.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

These Names Make News

A crapshop up at North Melbourne has a stack of old Time mags, raising the question of why one would ever buy a new Time when the old ones are available as competitors. Take yesterday's purchase - a cover story on Martin Luther King and the Montgomery bus boycott, review of the new Camus, a story on the new Israeli occupation of Gaza:
Now that the Israelis (who controlled Gaza in the days of King David) have driven the Egyptians out, as their ancestors once expelled the marauding Phoenicians circa 1000 B.C. The Israelis are determined to stay - first to make sure that Nasser's suicide raiders shall never return to resume their over-the-border raiding from Gaza against Israel's desert settlers, but also because they think the place belongs historically and economically with Israel. They have decided that they cannot now annex the strip, if only because that would mean absorbing the refugees and so increasing their Arab minority to an unacceptable 30%. Their long-term plan: keep administrative control under U.N. supervision, press the U.N. to resettle the refugees, and meanwhile, run the strip so progressively that both the Arabs of the area and the world will some day see that Israel should keep the place permanently.

Well, that worked out.

More to the point, the wisdom of hindsight being what it is, it sounds self-contradictory from the off; make it so nice that the Arabs will like it, while at the same time getting rid of the Arabs. Never workable, never rational.

Onward and upward

For some reason I have trouble checking in to this blog frequently: and believing that there's no problem so big or so small that it can't be run away from, I started a second blog, unimaginatively called A Second Live Toad every Morning, or Any completeness freak should look at both.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Indiana Politica

Having seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull thought it very poor stuff, interesting only as an obvious commercial for John McCain - the grumpy older man, the hero getting on a bit who can still show the younger folk who think they know it all a thing or two, confronted by a castrating communist bitch. Obama is I suppose the La Beef boy, at the end trying to put on the hat but reminded that no, this is not your time, perhaps next election.

Trying to get into the spirit of it all I bought a a party supplies shop what I registered as an Indy hat;

only some while later did a more accurate perception kick in and I realised it was in fact a Freddy Krueger hat, a switch in semiotics across the entire width of the spectrum.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Iron Man

Toys for the boys movie, yes. But the only interest for non-boys is its take on the US military.
Stark is of course the most government-friendly Marvel hero (next to Nick Fury), and the film does credit the army for assistance.
After going to Afghanistan and seeing his weapons being used against American soldiers (and civilians) he comes home and says he's getting out of the weapons business.
At the end we know that the Afghan baddies had Stark Inc weaponry because they'd been given it by bigbad Stane - presumably, though this was left a little hazy, as a bribe for killing Tony Stark, since the actual income capacity of Taliban types is presumably rather limited.
Anyway, the point is that he's not shocked by the use of US weapons by the US army, which is the actually frightening thing about US weapons tech.

Anne said "Militarism posing as pacifism" and gave it a 4 out of 10 (but she's not a boy).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Just so I don't forget, here's an idea that came to me in a nightmare this week. A film project. A combination of marple-cozy-murder mystery and slasher flick. All the suspects dying off one by one, as usual, only with their heads sawn off. Perhaps zombies could come in somewhere.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Age bin

Danny Lam attacks Antony Loewenstein and Peter Slezak for claiming that Israel is "not the state of its citizens but only of the Jewish people", but then seems to assert just that, saying that “Hamas and Hezbollah …maintain a fanatical commitment to destroy the state of Israel. This would deny the Jewish people's right to self-determination.” This means, if it means anything, that the Jewish people, whether or not they actually live in Israel, have some rights to be taken into account in Israeli politics that aren’t held by Arabs, whether or not they actually live in Israel; or, to put it another way, that Israel is not the state of its citizens but only of the Jewish people.
There, when you come to examine it closely all sides agree. Peace is at hand.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

William Buckley dead

And, as Unfogged reminds us, let us not for an instant forget his role as alternate-history thrillerwriter; of which the undoubted tour de force was his description in Saving the Queen of his CIA hero bedding the (alternate) queen -

"He rose, extended his hand, and brought her silently into the bedroom. She pulled away the covers, dropped her yellow gown, and lay on her back as with her left hand she turned off the bedlight. The flames from the fireplace lit her body with a faint flickering glow. She arched back her neck and pointed her firm breasts up at the ceiling, and he was on her, kissing her softly, saying nothing. Her thighs began to heave, and she said in a whisper, "Now." He entered her smoothly, and suddenly a wild but irresistible thought struck him, fusing pleasure and elation—and satisfaction. He moved in deeply, and came back, and whispered to her, teasingly, tenderly, "One."

And a second,

And third,



Sixth—her excitement was now explicit, demanding, but he exercised superhuman restraint—


Eight—she was moaning now with pain—

and, triumphantly, nine!

As the Unfogged comments pointed out, anyone who thinks six strokes constitute superhuman restraint may have issues, but the really flamingly odd bit was that - and the fact that I remember this from reading the book in the early sixties says something - the irresistible thought in question was a recollection of being caned with nine strokes by a sadistic master at his English boarding school. Buckley presented it as the Yank finally getting an appropriate revenge on the Brits, which is one way to think of sex. I suppose that there are some other interpretations which are even nastier.
After Saving the Queen his thriller universe dropped pretty well back into the usual one, which I suppose makes it more likely that the alternate universe bit was added in specifically to let him write that scene.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Skepticism gone septic

“Autistic Teen Finds Voice “ the ABC news program reported. “Carly Fleischmann has severe autism and is unable to speak a word. But thanks to years of expensive and intensive therapy, this 13-year-old has made a remarkable breakthrough.” Two years ago, working with pictures and symbols on a computer keyboard, she started typing and spelling out words. There’s online video of her typing completely unassisted.

The program was popular, and positive. “Therapists say the key lesson from Carly's story is for families to never give up and to be ever creative in helping children with autism find their voice.” No, they don’t. The letters page at the ABC online site brought out the experts’ voice, and it was unremittingly negative.

“This looks a lot like facilitated communication to me. Unless her ABA therapists taught her to communicate by typing, one should be skeptical about her sudden ability to do so. Every instance of sudden and unexpected communicative ability in individuals without any previous functional language skills or instruction, should be taken with a serious dose of skepticism.” one said.

“I agree. Facilitated communication was proven to be -- though well intentioned--- bogus. I'm curious why the article does not provide details on how this communication is happening. It's not clear. Is she writing in words, symbols, pictures? Did she ever show any ability to communicate (type/write/draw) before? If I were a parent I would be hopeful, but extremely skeptical without more info.”

We in the facilitated communication training community are used to this kind of thing, of course, but that’s not where Carly is coming from. Until now, Carly and her parents have been members in good standing of the ABA – Applied behaviour Analysis – community, and I’d expect that this kind of attack came as something of a shock.

“Hello everyone --this is Tammy, Carly's mom …. What Carly is doing is not, and has never been FC or facilitate communication. What she has learned to do has been the result of years and years of effort, starting with a Dynavox machine, moving to a Springboard and then a lightwriter. She just prefers the laptop because it makes her look like everyone else who has a laptop. Even before the Dynavox, we had binders and binders of laminated sheets with Mayer Johnson picture symbols on them and the words below. We have always gone under the assumption that she was understanding and since she was so good at navigating her communication binders, we knew she was heading in the right direction from early on --we just never knew it would lead to such a sophisticated level of output. For the record, we may be sitting beside her when she types, or she sometimes kicks us out of the room when she wants to be alone, but we NEVER guide her hand over the letters --what would be the point of that? FC was debunked years ago. Independence for Carly has always been the goal in everything she does, from getting dressed to feeding herself to communicating to us. I hope that clears up any confusion.”

Sorry, Carly's Mom, you’ve rather underestimated just how much the psychological profession has invested in its beliefs. In the words of Jacobson, Mulick, and Schwartz

"general delays or deficits in language function are closely related to general delays or deficits in intellectual development ... the everyday facility with which people with autism or mental retardation use a language (e.g., spoken, written, or pictorial) is an accurate depiction of their ability to do so ...there is no clinically significant phenomenon that inhibits the overt production of communication and "masks" normative [sic] communication skills (i.e., actual production is representative of "internal" speech skill...) That there is a strong presumptive relationship, in general, between overt production and actual ability is a cornerstone of psychological assessment methodology, statistics, and psychometrics." (Jacobson et al., 1995: 755)

The attacks (from professionals; letters from parents and the public were invariably laudatory) continued unabated.

“I am skeptical that this communication is genuine. It looks just like facilitated communication (FC) to me. With all that work and training over the years, did anyone ever do a double-blind test of authorship? I don't see anything about that anywhere in any of the reports I've seen or the mother's response. Once done, were the validity tests repeated periodically to make sure that cueing did not develop accidentally as things progressed. Periodic probing of skills, including testing for prompt dependency, would be a standard element of a well-designed ABA program. Moreover, the parents' apparent awareness of the problems associated with FC makes the apparent lack of testing for influence and control even more puzzling. It doesn't matter if there is no touching. Influence can and does occur even without the facilitator touching the person. With everyone hovering over the girl as she types, as shown in the videos on ABC and CTV, there is ample opportunity for exactly that kind of influence to occur. Now that Carly supposedly types independently, does Carly type extended output while completely alone? Does she sit by herself and email people? Can she read without someone reading to her? Does she engage in intellectual activities consistent with someone with her apparent intelligence level--buy books from Amazon and surf the internet, for instance. I am afraid that everything I see so far points to this being FC. I'd be willing to be proven wrong. But at this point, what we see in the media just points to this being more FC….” said a commentator who called themselves behaviordoc.

That’s a claim that someone without any inherent language skills can be cued to type without physical contact.

"As for influence, the facilitator doesn't have to touch the subject to influence the output. Years of mutual interaction could easily create a cued performance of the necessary complexity and subtly to look like real communication but be essentially undetectable without an empirical test. This is why we still teach about Clever Hans in our intro psychology classes--although FC is actually starting to take the place of Hans in our discussions of unconscious influence and the need for good experimental control and double-blind tests. I used to do a "mind reading" magic trick involving card guessing that involved subtle cues provided by a confederate. With practice, 52 cards can be done--that's twice the number of cues needed to type a whole alphabet. The real trick was finding who in the audience was giving me the cues. No one ever did."

That’s a claim, it has to be said, with no experimental basis whatsoever. Clever Hans, the example generally brought forward to support this view, was a case of a horse who could choose from a list of numbers when given visual cues. It’s possible to conceive that method working with a mode of communication like that shown in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, where the communication runs through a list of letters and waits for a signal. Typing independently, however, is several orders of magnitude more complicated, and cuing can only be done, if it can be done at all, if the person being cued has a strong structure of language to work with already – in the same way that behaviourdoc had ability in reading card cues.

“Carly's mom here again --- a few things --… --to behaviordoc -- I would be happy to provide you with all kinds of documentation and proof that this is not FC. Carly will often kick us out of the room --especially when she is writing to one particular friend of hers in California. She can and has sat by herself and emailed people. When I am sitting with her also and she is on MSN for instance, with her dad who is at work, we never read the responses to her --she reads them and responds. She surfs the net with assistance --she will ask to look up certain things that interest her and she is doing academic work at grade level. A psycho ed assessment from 2 years ago had her receptive language above her age level. She does not always need us to be by her side when she types but she has trouble keeping focus sometimes so having us there does help that. Have you ever watched Autism is a World, or read Strange Son by Portia Iversen. I have no incentive for making this up or embellishing her accomplishments and neither do the huge team of doctors and other professionals who have seen Carly over the years. You are implying that we are facilitating her ability to type telepathically.... not sure how that would work but an interesting theory...”

Carly’s mother did what she could to explain that the procedures used to reach independence did not involve any bargains with Satan.

“Carly's mom one more time in response to questions about what she used before she got her laptop? When she was 2, we starting with PECS --did picture exchanges for every imaginable item under the sun. Many of the games I bought her had to do with reasoning and logic and were highly visualy in nature - memory games, sequencing, matching -- these were with pictures, words, numbers, etc. We had visual schedules (with the words underneath) for everything she had to do --gettng dressed, using the bathroom, tidying up, meals, going outside, etc. The whole house was also labelled -- my son went crazy with the label maker. Every item was stickered. We then moved to communication binders --we started that by category --food, acitivities, clothes, weather, feelings, etc. She never got to do what she wanted until she used the communication binders to show us. These were laminated sheets we made up with the mayer johnson picture symbols in them as well. We kept that going for a long time and all this time her ABA programs were also teaching her how to spell and read. We created stories for her using the mayer johnson software and didn't just read them to her --she was looking at the pages as well.We kept the binders for ease of use and portability but we were also learning about augmentative communication devices since it was clear her apraxia was so severe. We also taught her some sign language but realized that while we understood the signs, most of the world did not and so that was not going be to a functional option for her. The first machine was a Dynavox, the second was a Springboard and the third was a lightwriter which we used in conjunction with her laptop. We thought she would like the lightwriter better but she preferred the laptop even though it is more cumbersome --but it is what other kids have and that is a concern to …. Hope that helps.”

The situation wasn’t helped by all the people who posted replies without noticing the embedded videoclips.

“Is she typing everything unassisted, or does someone have to help "guide" her hands to the keys? There have been other "breakthroughs" where an assistant guides the hand and there is doubt if it is the therapist leading the person, or the person themselves.”
"Writing ability and the understanding of grammatical rules takes an amount of formal learning that seems beyond this girl's reach, exposure, and instruction. This sounds more like a projection of the professional working with her (or fantasy of the parent), a situation that marked another therapeutic hoax that occurred in the population during the early 1990's. Many hopeful parents were devastated by it and never recovered. I think that it is irresponsible of ABC to present this without the requisite scientific safeguards afforded by a scholarly environment. This is so unbelievable that I would have to see video proof of her actually writing the material. Respectfully, Dr Jeffrey Titcher, Malibu, CA"

To which one can only retort LOOK AT THE BLOODY VIDEO, YOU MORONs!

And if those commentators were morons, Behaviourdoc was something worse.

“Thank you for responding to my questions.I am not suggesting telepathy at all, just cuing. I have seen "Autism is a World" and read "Strange Son." Your mention of these two items is puzzling. "Autism is a World" is about FC. Thus, I don't understand why citing it is supposed to allay my skepticism about this being FC. Sue Rubin did not communicate independently in that movie. She never has. She has not offered to settle the question of her abilities with real double-blind testing. Portia Iversen’s "Strange Son" is also about FC—disguised as "Rapid Prompting." If you are saying that "Strange Son" parallels your situation, my doubts are only increased. In "Strange Son," we read that Tito can write characters by himself--but not intelligibly unless his mother is present. There are indications throughout that his native abilities are more limited than what is claimed about him. He can't answer questions about things his mother doesn't know about. He completely failed the one valid message-passing test that was done. His mother's response was not to investigate further, but to avoid further testing and make sure she only asked Tito about things she had already supposedly taught him. In "Strange Son," we also find out that Iversen's son can’t provide answers about things his mother doesn't know. On her website, Iversen hardly tries to hide the fact that she’s doing FC: would be happy to look at your materials. I have some expertise in this matter, and your CTV friends can get you in contact with me. I think the only way to answer these questions is to do so directly with double-blind and message passing tests such as are done with FC. As an applied behavior analyst, I would love to see ABA work as well as you suggest it has. But, what is reported so far raises too many questions. Thus, I am not only completely willing to have my suspicions proven wrong, I would be willing do the tests myself.”

Somehow the ideal of replicability has been twisted into the demand that must Carly go through any set of procedures anybody wishes to suggest, and do them over again for everybody who asks, over and over.

“I think the skepticism comes from the fact that this story so closely parallels all those accounts of FC in the past that turned out to be nothing. Carly may communicating independently. But this is not a case well made. … As for money, I can assure you that no one around here is getting rich doing ABA for autism. It costs as much for a school to have a one-on-one facilitator as a behavior analyst. Less, really. In a couple years, if all goes well, the ABA child is doing better and the behavior analyst moves on. FC, in contrast, is forever--and you don't get any of those cool functional independent living skills the behaviorists are always teaching. Getting back to the present case, the questions about Carly could be easily answered with tests of independent authorship. As for FC in general, we see a dangerous fad that is dwindling in popularity but still has the potential to cause immeasurable harm by preventing access to empirically validated treatments …”

That’s behaviordoc again, and it can be seen that their fear is that Carly's case will be seen as giving aid and comfort to FCT. Another supporter, Cameraman, made it even clearer:

“Is this ABCNEWS inflating a poorly researched and poorly stated story? Kind of loose with the facts and not very aware of the history of FC and the people it ruined. Behaviordoc, maybe you’re right, maybe this is the market that FC always dreamed of having. To be functional enough to express oneself using something like FC? It isn't the panacea they once predicted. I think it is Syracuse university I think that released FC on the world. I hate to empower them. If this is FC in another form then shame on ABCNEWS. If this is potentially therapeutic to some and not others, then it should be tested too. What is wrong with anecdotal information? Ask a scientist.”

Science, what crimes are committed in thy name! These people seem to believe that their initial assessments are laws of nature rather than poorly educated guesses. Anyone who hadn’t had their brains addled by a higher degree in psychology would be prepared to accept the evidence of, well, someone typing in front of their very eyes as evidence that the person could type. Empiricism used to mean that the scientist (Galileo, say) believed the evidence of their own observations over the speculations of the textbooks; now it seems to be the other way round.

Carly’s mother kept trying, but anyone familiar with the FCT debate could have told her that these kinds of appeals to individual circumstances are red rags to behavioural professionals.
“To Behaviourdoc --my daughter knows about all kinds of things we have not told her about and she writes spontaneously about them --perhaps those two examples were wrong by your standards but Carly writes about so many things and we say how did she know that? For instance, we told her we were taking her to New York to see a Dr there and she wrote she wanted to see Ground Zero and the lady with the torch. We have no idea she knew these things... I just found out she knew about Aids and she asked one of her therapists recently is she (the therapist) was afraid of dying. Recently on the Sunday morning after her Bat Mitzvah, she was sitting our friend's kitchen table with her laptop in front of her and there were all kinds of people around for brunch and she spontaneously wrote "I want to thank everyone for coming" I told her to take to her laptop around and show the screen to everyone and then she wrote, "Mom, you do it". There were witnesses by the way... I don't know why you doubt her so much… why don't you have CTV send me your contact info and I can talk to you in private. The producer of the segment is Elizabeth St. Philip. We are clients of the Behaviour Institute. Feel free to talk to Dr. Walton Allen or Dr. Hundert about Carly.”

No, that’s not what they’re looking for. If Carly does tests and passes them, that’s simply proof that they must be insufficiently rigorous tests. Only tests that confirm the diagnosis of failure can be accepted. What behaviourdoc is saying is that he will believe any experimental procedure that is intrusive enough to prevent Carly communicating, and nothing else.

"Several individuals have been concerned that Carly's skills are not independent and are being directly influenced in suble ways by parents or teachers. Readers need to know that this has been the case with so called 'breakthroughs" (one false hope was called "facilitated communication") in the past. … Carly and her parents could perform a great service to other autistic individuals by allowing her to participate in a carefully designed scientific study, conducted by university professionals trained in applied behavior analysis, education, and psychology, who would determine exactly what her current abilities are and if they are independent of the influence of others.”

The sheer arrogance of these researchers is breathtaking. They, and only they, will grade people with autism; they, and only they, will allow someone to pass as normal. Tell me again why Carly should be willing to participate in unnecessary experiments that are designed on the basis that she is a passive dupe and her parents a fraud?

To Carly's Mother--Thank you for the additional response. I have already been in contact with CTV. I can also say that Nicole and Joel have been friends of mine for many years, going all the way back to graduate school. In a spare moment, Nicole can tell you how we met at an ABA convention at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. Please know that I am full prepared to believe that Carly's skills are genuine. But, I think this would be best established by direct testing rather than relying on indirect evidence. The concern arises from the manner the story is being told. The CTV and ABC reports read almost exactly like all those stories about instant literacy from the FC world. The various emails I have gotten have the same feel. This has caused a substantial amount skepticism about Carly’s case among behavior analysts--who worry about such things--and should be your allies. They would obviously love to see this kind of success arise from applied behavior analysis done patiently and well. … it becomes important to take great care in how we deal with such things. The bar for accepting autism “breakthroughs” is now so low that just saying so has become more than enough to “prove” almost anything: from FC to detoxifying shoe inserts. …Given that there are real stakes involving real people, I think it behooves all of us who promote empirically validated treatments to also promote empirically sound standards of proof, even on TV.

It’s impressive. Carly’s mother is, as I say, a paid-up member of the ABA team in good standing, Carly is typing without any support, and she still attracts hostile suspicion from behaviourist anti-facilitation freaks.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Camberwell; Age bin

Isn’t progress wonderful? Looking at the before-and-after comparison pictures ((only the after picture online, unfortunately; blunts the point)) in the Age of the new Camberwell development it can be seen that the After picture promises that the new building will do away with all that clutter along the roofline of the buildings next door, have all the overhead tram wires removed (wifi, doubtless), and widen the intersection to something approximately the size of Red Square, only with more trees. Even the cars look more expensive. Spin city 3124.

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