None Of The Above
the motive-hunting of motiveless malignity
Sunday, March 21, 2004

Cannot. Stop. Laughing.

More BBC fun and games!

Doctor Who is returning in 2005. BBCi - the BBC's website, which is a separate entity from the BBC News website - has a whole site about it. A couple of days ago, the new Doctor was announced - Christopher Eccleston, who was in 28 Days Later, which I've still not seen. BBC News break the news, appropriately enough.

That's the BBC News website, and not BBCi. BBCi didn't know, and found out along with the rest of the public.

BBCi, in response to this, replace their Dr Who banner with this image. Just briefly, but long enough for someone to get a screenshot.

There are times when I truly do love my country.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Yet more rain

Last day of the course is over, thankfully. The general uselessness of the bus service on a Sunday meant that I had to walk to the train station this morning. It was raining so heavily that the puddles on the road merged together into one long and very shallow swimming pool, and cars sprayed water every time they passed. I would have dodged out of the way, but I was so drenched anyway that there wasn't much point.

It took half an hour to walk to the station, by which time I was completely waterlogged. My winter coat was soaked through, and since it's ankle-length and wool, I could physically feel the extra weight of all that water. The train was full of equally drenched people, including Mail Thief Boy from yesterday.

Who said hello to me. And suggested we walk together to the nursing home where the course was held. I made vague "Um, I have to go and do something over there now" gestures, which I hope to God didn't come across as "Um, no, because I'm probably going to talk to the police about you, and small talk would make me feel a bit icky."

My coat still wasn't dry by the time the course finished, and it was starting to rain again. I decided that this wasn't so bad as I could just drape it over a radiator when I got home, and anyway, no matter how ominous the clouds had looked for the past few hours, no weather could possibly be worse than what I'd walked through that morning.

In Scotland, the weather can always be worse.

Once, when I was in Florida with my family, it rained so hard that all the cars on the road had to pull over and wait. The rain was like a wall of water, so heavy that you couldn't see more than a few feet ahead. We marvelled, because it's the kind of rain you can only get that far south. Or so I thought.

It took me ten minutes to walk back to the train station, through weather that was exactly like that Florida rainstorm, only with sleet. Coat drenched, hair drenched, clothes drenched, soaked through to skin and freezing cold. I slumped down in the waiting room in a little puddle of water, and felt very sorry for myself. The next train wasn't for 45 minutes.

On the bench opposite me, a group of five or six boys aged about twelve were arguing about their train times. From what I could gather, they lived in Linlithgow and had gone to Falkirk for the day. I have never met anyone from Linlithgow before, and heaven only knows what kind of place it must be if somewhere like Falkirk counts as a special day out. Twelve-year-old boys from Linlithgow seem just like twelve-year-old boys everywhere else, except for a rather odd tendency to tapdance in the waiting room.

I listened to them talk for a while. They were arguing about train times in that way that only twelve-year-olds can, pausing to pummel the one they'd nominated to organise their journey every so often when they realised their train wouldn't arrive for another hour. Then, a British Transport Police officer wandered in to speak to the person at the ticket office.

Hushed silence from boys, then whispering - "Is that the polis? Is it?". Then, when they'd plucked up a bit more confidence - "Hey, mister! Are you a policeman?"

I don't know what it is about Scottish kids that makes them call people 'mister'. It always makes them sound like bit-part characters from a Dickens novel, only with Burberry caps.

The officer confirmed that, yes, he was a policeman. He seemed to have some time to kill, and it was still raining outside - so hard that the automatic doors kept flinging themselves open - so he stayed around to answer their questions. This was the funniest thing I've seen for weeks.

"Are you a real policeman?"
"I am."
"Why are you here? Are you here to arrest someone?"
"It's confidential. If I told you, I'd have to kill you."
"Are you here to arrest us?"
"I don't know. Have you done something wrong?"
The boys whispered madly to each other, and the officer pretended he couldn't hear. "I haven't, but my wee brother once peed in Tesco!"
The BTO officer bit his lip. "Yes. Well. I'm not here to arrest your brother."
"Are those real handcuffs?"
"They are."
"Can you try them out on me?"
"Er, no."
"Have you got a gun?"
"Of course I've -" The officer paused. "I'm not allowed to tell you," he said, patting his pocket.
They broke off for another mad whispering session, this one featuring the word 'Gun!' quite a lot. "What's your name?"
"PC."
"No! What's your secret police name?"
"Sir."
"Really?"
"Yes."

It went on like that until the train came and the transport officer wandered off again. He looked like he was bored and killing time, but me and those boys knew the truth - he was secretly Falkirk's very own version of Don Johnson in Miami Vice.

I got a seat to myself on the train home, where I could wring out my hair and smell vaguely of wet wool in peace. Mail Thief Boy was a few seats down. I tried to peer at him when he wasn't looking, but I am so completely useless with faces that it wouldn't have been much use even if I could get a good look at him. I think it is him, though. The Dilemma is still there. I spent the train ride home hoping he wouldn't stalk and kill me for shopping him to the police, and listening to the woman in the seat opposite me, who kept frantically hushing a baby that never cried.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

"And if you do it this way, his arm will fall off!"

Day One of the dreaded Moving and Handling course is over. Moving and Handling is not as interesting as it sounds. It's a requirement for people who want to work in the care industry. Wait, that makes it sound rather like a production line, doesn't it? Fine. 'Industry' it is, then.

Moving and Handling courses teach you vastly impractical ways of dealing with the people you care for. This consists, mainly, of telling you that every single conceivable way to lift someone is cruel, illegal, and probably will lead to you being paralysed for life due to a back injury and the person you're lifting having a stroke, and then either you or them deciding to sue your employer for it. After that, the people running the course teach you about three ways of lifting people which are acceptable. These methods do not even work when you're trying to lift the other people on the course, and can only lead to failure and getting punched in the face should you try to use them on sweet little ninety-three-year-old Gladys.

Apart from the utter uselessness of all Moving and Handling training, the day wasn't too bad. But now I have a Dilemma.

I blogged a while back about someone stealing letters and credit cards and so on in the place where I live. There's about fifty students in the same building, so it took a little while to work out who was doing it, but the culprit was caught. Seen on camera buying clothes and jewellery with someone else's credit card, found to have stolen around £4,500 in total, arrested, got away with a fine for some reason, then was kicked out of university. After that, we don't know what happened to him, and none of us much care.

We didn't know what had happened to him, that is, until today.

I thought this guy on the course looked vaguely familiar. Then, in the obligatory Humiliating Introductions, he said his name, and I realised why. Then, he said he was a first-year PhD student at my university, and... well, you see where this is going, right?

The Dilemma arises here: If this is indeed our mail thief, I should say something to someone. He is obviously not the sort of person you want working for a home-care agency and looking after Grandma. The agency does carry out a criminal records check and make you show extensive proof of ID before hiring you, but he may have found a way around this, and presumably he did if he was there today. (In-between the clothes-and-jewellery sprees, he got in trouble with the university for applying for a job, putting his supervisor down as a reference, giving his supervisor's address as his own, and intending to reply as if he was the supervisor. Supervisor found out.)

Only, well. See. I don't know that it's him. He's a Nigerian student with quite an unusual name, and there can't be that many Nigerian students with that name claiming to be a first-year postgrad at my university and all looking the same. On the other hand, though, my facial recognition skills are practically nil. Seriously, I cannot recognise faces, especially of people I don't really know. I am a dream come true for celebrities who are always getting stalked ("Sorry... you're Orlando who?"). I did think I recognised Mail Thief Boy, but I also thought Jerry Orbach was sitting next to me on the bus this morning.

It is likely that it is him. If it is, then he's already giving false information - he said he'd spent the past year in the US when he hasn't, and he said he was still a student when he isn't - and the agency would presumably not be too happy to hear about that, even without the whole criminal records thing. However, it is strange that if it is him, he's managed to find some way around the agency's criminal records check. So, maybe it's just a coincidence, and I shouldn't say anything. I can't exactly prove I'm telling the truth about someone I don't even recognise.

Dilemma.

The second and final day of the oh-so-thrilling Moving and Handling course is tomorrow, so I will try to pay more attention to things he says, and see if I can establish whether it's him or not. But he probably recognised me, and therefore isn't going to give too much stuff away.

Erk. There's a thought. If he recognised me - and he did seem to be avoiding me for most of the day - then he might know I know about what he did. Oh, hell.

Tricky one, this.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Ow.

The people talking behind me are making me feel ill. It isn't the subject, which I'm not listening hard enough to make out, but something about the sound of their voices, like chewing tinfoil or scraping nails down a blackboard. It makes everything inside me squirm and curl up, and it makes my back hurt, although anything can make my back hurt.

My back is not very good. I'm too young to grumble about having a bad back in a socially acceptable manner, but it hurts nonetheless. I've been hit by a car once and had a horse fall on me another time, and I've fallen off the same horse in a whole variety of painful yet oddly impressive ways, so I suppose I must have damaged it at some point. It doesn't hurt in the same way that I imagine other people's bad backs hurt, though. It's a pain that starts right between my shoulders, then spreads out across my shoulder-blades and over the top of my arms. No amount of rubbing, hot baths or deep heat gel can affect it.

So, you know what I think it is? I think I'm growing wings. Any minute now, they're going to burst out of my skin in some gory shower of blood and feathers.

I wonder if that'll make those people with the annoying voices stop talking?



Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Rain person

Simon Baren-Cohen, the British autism specialist, offers a new theory about the possible causes for autism. You might not know his name, but you'll have probably taken one of his online 'Do you have a male brain or a female brain?' tests, as they bounce around the Internet with some frequency. His hypothesis on the causes of autism is linked to his belief in such things as a 'male brain' and a 'female brain', which is not a great start for anybody, Cambridge or not.

He believes, in short, that human brains broadly fall into two categories - type-E (for 'empathizing') and type-S (for 'systemizing'). The former is usually associated with women, and is therefore described as a 'female brain'; the latter is a 'male brain'. Type-B, for 'balanced', exists but is relatively rare. Autism is the outward manifestation of an extreme male brain. Since these brain-types are hardwired before birth, autism is due to receiving an exceptionally high level of testosterone in the womb. This is his current working hypothesis.

Autism's status as a primarily male condition is used to support a link to testosterone. Males make up the 'vast majority' of people diagnosed with autism, according to the article. Those are the words of the reporter rather than Baron-Cohen himself, although it dovetails so well with Baron-Cohen's own hypothesis that it's difficult to believe he would disagree. If autism is, in fact, a condition where normal male-ness is exaggerated, then it had better be either exclusive to boys or almost so.

The article quotes the common statistic that one in ten cases of autism is found in females, and this is when discussing a researcher who doesn't buy into Baron-Cohen's hypothesis due to its failure to account for autistic girls. This statistic is inaccurate. Although boys are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls are, the ratio drops sharply when random samples of children are tested for the condition. Autistic boys make up the 'vast majority' of children whose ability to function is impaired to such an extent that they're professionally diagnosed with the condition - they do not, however, make up the vast majority of autistic individuals as a whole. One paper on the epidemiology of Asperger Syndrome, a high-functioning variety of autism, finds that:

"All school children in an outer G-teborg borough were screened. Final case selection based on clinical work-up showed a minimum prevalence of 3.6 per 1,000 children (7-16 years of age) using Gillberg and Gillberg's criteria and a male to female ratio of 4:1. Including suspected and possible Asperger's syndrome cases, the prevalence rose to 7.1 per 1,000 children and the male:female ratio dropped to 2.3:1."

If Baron-Cohen's hypothesis fails to explain a ratio in which 10% of people with autism are female, it is a long way from explaining the reality of the condition. On the possible reasons for autistic girls being far less likely to be diagnosed than autistic boys, Tony Attwood, another autism specialist, says:

"The profile can include special interests in animals, classic literature and acting rather than transport, computers and electronics. Girls may be more able to learn social skills by observation and imitation than boys and be less conspicuous in the classroom as other girls may 'mother' and protect them and they are less prone to anger and being disruptive."

I have an axe to grind already about the idea of biologically hardwired 'male brains' and 'female brains'. Although Baron-Cohen is at pains to state that this is not "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus," he's not a million miles away from such beliefs, and this is very much not helped by the appeal against political correctness contained in the article:

"In America, academic attitudes "are much more PC," he says ruefully, so the book may still be "more shocking to an American reader" because "in some ways what I'm saying is not a PC argument."

Perhaps this is my overly-empathizing brain kicking in, but an appeal to I'm Not Politically Correct, Go Me! usually equates to saying "The following argument will be flawed and offensive, but in hopes you don't point either of those out, I'm going to pretend that I'm a champion for the cause of being politically incorrect. That way, if you object, you're just being PC. Ha."

According to Baron-Cohen's tests, I have an 'extreme male brain' myself. (I'd be sceptical of the academic value of any such test done via multiple-choice questions on the Internet, unless it's telling me which Lord of the Rings character I'd be, but these are the same tests he publishes in his book.) I've also taken his autism spectrum test, which says I'm up there in the No-Empathy-Whatsoever category with most people who have some form of autism. If I had been born ten years later, and my parents had been more concerned about such things, I can remember enough about my behaviour as a child to know that according to current diagnostic criteria I'd be considered to have Asperger's Syndrome. Now, the weirdness is less pronounced, but I still have a great many of the features which usually go along with autism although aren't considered diagnostic in and of themselves - a very fast reading speed which means everyone accuses me of 'skipping bits', a complete inability to recognise faces. Yes, I know it's weird. I still can't do it.

As the proud owner of a 'systemising' brain, then, I feel qualified to say Baron-Cohen is a long way off the mark, although perhaps not to evaluate his feelings. This critical review at Salon.com (usual free-day-pass rigmarole required) highlights a few of the less scientifically compelling arguments used in his book, The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male and Female Brain:

"When Baron-Cohen does get to the biological evidence, he starts out weak, citing a study that finds that male monkeys "play-fight" more than females of the species, which he says could be "a sign of males' reduced social sensitivity to others" as well as an early awareness of a social order, or system. Female monkeys, meanwhile, show a stronger interest in babies, which "may be a marker of their increased emotional sensitivity to others, especially vulnerable others.""

This is a long way from providing supporting evidence for any scientific argument, even a 'non-PC' one. Going on to argue that studies of male and female rats in mazes 'provides marginal support' for his assertion that women aren't as good at reading maps as men is even worse. This is neither groundbreaking nor science; this is about as compelling as claims of a generation or two ago that girls were just less intelligent than boys, as proved by their lower achievements in school. (Now that the position has been, in British schools at least, reversed, the opposite is not being claimed. Odd, that.)

We are a long way from discovering any one cause of autism, although articles such as the above which talk about a possible cure already seem to be outdated: this is not something which can be fixed. We should, however, be at the stage where any possible hypothesis takes current knowledge into account, rather than going for a Mars- and Venus- style of pop pyschology. If you have little support for your assertions, then attempting to build a theory out of them is doomed to failure, and ignoring significant facts about the condition you're investigating - such as the male/female ratio of sufferers - is pretty much conclusive proof that the failure is pretty much imminent.

Tidying

"Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday's home page. When nobody's around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you to go bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up there is twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.

No one can win against kipple, except temporarily and maybe in one spot."
(Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?)

In the book, whole apartments are 'Kipple-ized', abandoned in a nuclear winter and subsequently overrun with kipple. You can't fight it, either. Dick's first law of kipple is that "Kipple drives out non-kipple."

This is what my room is like.

At some level, I like to have things tidy. I am a lot happier living in a place where everything is neat and folded away. I go to sleep smiling. It never lasts for long, though, before the kipple takes over, and anywhere I live always ends up more kipple-ized than anywhere else I've seen. I never do anything to cause it, really. I do tend to hoard things, although the kipple itself is stuff that even I would throw away normally, and hoarding can't explain the way it breeds.

My mother's favourite tidy-your-room-NOW comment was "How can you live like this?" I can't. I hate it. I spend as much time as I can out of my room, thereby allowing the kipple even more time to grow, and when I return I want to curl up in a corner and sob. And yet, I still can't get around to tidying it - it drives me to despair instead of productivity. I'm a lazy enough person to start with, and I know the kipple will just return, so what's the point?

You can't win against kipple. I think I'll just nail the door shut and move elsewhere.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Jesus He Knows My Sleeping Patterns, #2

Crazy Girl Who Sings About Jesus has been quiet recently, due to an angry notice from me and a direct confrontation from someone else a lot braver.

Look, honestly, I don't mind telling noisy neighbours to shut up. I've had screaming arguments at 3am before now with idiotic drunk singing people. But the religious aspect of this scares me, especially since recently she's been doing what I think is speaking in tongues. (Rapid babbling, sounding freakily like conversations in The Sims where they talk about sports and jump up and down, interspersed with the odd request in English for God to come down and bring victory.) She also chants, claps her hands and stamps about. Even without the story about the girl who was doing the exact same thing (minus the Jesus part, I'm assuming) in the exact same building a couple of years ago and turned out to be sacrificing small animals in the bathroom, I am not dealing with that.

This, weirdly enough, means that my sleeping pattern is all screwed up again. Before, I woke up at bright and early times in the morning, and muttered that I'd had hardly any sleep due to Crazy Girl. Now, I get a whole night of blissful quiet, lie awake until 4am and get up at noon with the vague feeling there was something I should have done that morning. Gah.

D'you think she'd start the singing again if I asked her?

Friday, February 27, 2004

Ann Winterton's joke was:

"Two sharks were fed up with tuna, so they thought they'd nip over to Morecambe Bay for a Chinese."

With thanks to my dad, who's been claiming that Ann Winterton is a nutcase even longer than I have.