Saturday, October 24, 2009

Jim Carrey, I want to ass you a question: are you a doctor?

I just read Amy Wallace's article in Wired on the anti-vaccine movement. Many parents of autistic children believe that vaccines caused their child's autism. The movement has gained legitimacy due to such high-profile medical experts as Jim "Ace Ventura" Carrey and Jenny "Centerfold" McCarthy.

I am interested in the issue in part because my son has Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. There is indeed a spectrum of autism, and I understand that there are many families with children whose condition is more desperate than my son's. He is "mainstreamed", in the sense that he goes to regular elementary school and is thriving and learning and making friends.

I can also understand the bewilderment and guilt that parents of autistic children feel -- what could I have done differently to prevent this? why is this happening to him/us? It must be very comforting to channel all that anger and confusion into an external source for their pain. No matter that there is no scientific basis for their choice of target.

We had concerns about our son when we lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but the doctors did not diagnose Asperger's. After we moved to the Twin Cities, he started exhibiting some additional behavior that concerned us, and doctors here -- three independent ones, in fact -- diagnosed Asperger's. Parents beware: St. Paul causes autism! I can see it now... after my blog becomes the #1 Google hit for "St. Paul causes autism", I will become the leader of a grassroots movement. Mayor Chris Coleman will issue clumsy press releases: "There is no evidence that St. Paul does not cause autism." AHA! It can only help that I can put a "Dr." before my name. Can you do that, Jim Carrey? Just don't tell anyone what I'm a Dr. of. I'm investigating the claim that geometry causes autism.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Human connection, on my terms

Yesterday I listened to Terry Gross's interview with Michael Chabon on the Fresh Air podcast. Chabon was pimping his book Manhood for Amateurs, a collection of personal essays about being a father and a son and a husband.

I've read Wonder Boys a couple times and tried to get through Kavalier and Clay a couple times. I'll try again. Chabon makes me jealous -- he makes it seem so easy that I think I can do what he does. My desire to assume his identity is compounded by the fact that he seems to have a similar mentality to me: he said that what motivates his writing is a desire for human connection, and that he has neither the motivation nor the facility for those connections in real life. His stories become an idealized form of human interaction, a fantasy world in which the reader gets all his jokes and shares all his arcane interests.

I suppose that's why I've resurrected this blog after a long hiatus, why geocaching appealed to me, why I like teaching mathematics, why I like -- with some embarrassment -- online role-playing games like World of Warcraft, why I read tech blogs and listen to podcasts. They are all forms of connection with other humans, but it's all abstracted. Topics and facts and silly achievements give us something to talk about, without really talking about anything.

So, thanks, Mike, for getting me back on my blog horse, even if only for one time. In exchange, maybe I'll go buy your book and talk about it on the internet. I'm pissed that it's not on the Kindle yet -- I'll have to interface with a physical book. That makes me slightly uncomfortable.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

That's entertainment!

Raising children requires sacrifice. Among the things my wife and I have set aside in the name of parenting: watching movies, having conversations with adults, trying to keep the family room clean, eating vegetables, etc.

When I say we haven't watched movies, I am discounting the 50 showings of Cars, Finding Nemo, Curious George, and Barbie Something Princess.

I have not seen a movie in a theater since moving to the Twin Cities in July 2007. I remember seeing Borat in a theater in Ann Arbor. That may be the last movie I paid to see.

The stars aligned last night. After a day running around in the 50-degree sun and an early bath, the kids were in bed by 8:30. Partner in parenting suggested that we watch Baz Luhrmann's Australia, so we sat down in front of our budget 32" HDTV and our budget home-theater-in-a-box, obtained precisely for this moment but up to now used only for showings of Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! and Sid the Science Kid.

The movie could have been Porky's Revenge, and I would have enjoyed it. Still, I finished the movie Australia transported and refreshed. I have not seen Moulin Rouge, but Luhrmann is a director you're willing to forgive. Forgive him the flourishes and the shameless heartstring tugs, and give in to the spectacle. We have a new appreciation for Nicole Kidman, after loathing her in Eyes Wide Shut (also seen in a theater in a previous life... I'm still recovering), and a reinforced reverence for all things Hugh Jackman. We were suckers for the plot line involving the mixed-race boy, noting parallels with Dance with Wolves, kindly white folks swooping in and making everything okay.

At the 1.5 hour mark, this movie could have been over, but I knew it was far from over -- an entirely different war movie within the movie started, with death and misery and crying and reunions and happily-ever-after and the inevitable "Let the Imperialists off the Hook" moment at the end.

No matter. I was somewhere else for two hours 45. We stood up, stretched, and headed upstairs to peek at our sleeping kids for a while.

Monday, January 19, 2009

But I did catch a catfish in Mississippi when I was 12.

I got the urge today to type "firstbass" into Google search. No, Google, I did not mean "first bass". But they gave it to me anyway. Aside from links to bands named First Bass and a couple things about a geocacher named firstbass, there were many, many posts addressing the questions "What was the first bass guitar you owned?" and "When did you catch your first bass?"

I can tell you the first bass guitar I owned: it was a black, left-handed Cort bass guitar that looked exactly like the one in this picture that I found on eBay:

Cort made or makes inexpensive training basses, and in about six months I could recognize the limitations of the instrument. At that point I purchased a white Fender American Standard Jazz Bass that looked exactly like this, except left-handed:

I loved that bass, and it got me through two bands and various other gigs. When I was in grad school in Urbana, IL, it was stolen out of my apartment.

Now, here are my twins, of the non-human variety:

I bought the one on the right in the aftermath of the theft and have used it for almost 15 years. It's a Carvin with a koa body. I bought the fretless one on the left about two months ago from Capitol Guitars in St. Paul. I don't show favorites with my human twins, but I don't mind hurting the feelings of the fretted Carvin.

I have never caught a bass.

Friday, January 9, 2009

New frontiers in mathematical sadism

I've realized that I did not fully explore the opportunities to terrorize geocachers with my Plato's Five Gems series of puzzle caches.

Maybe these tools of torment will make an appearance at Plato's Five Gems: The Event.