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.