Thursday, October 22, 2009


This blog is now inactive. However, it is being continued in a new blog, the new (not the old) From the Ground.

Friday, May 15, 2009

European influence

I've been working with various major groups of nations of the world in my latest work on the knowledge base, and sometimes I wonder how this is supposed to be interesting. As the saying goes, sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees.
So I've found it useful to step back and look at what large-scale patterns seem to be emerging.

One of them is the huge impact European civilization has made on the world in the past five hundred years or so. While much is made of the eurocentrism of various historians and social scientists, there has been an undeniably huge influence that cannot be ignored. The remedy, it seems, is not to discard Western Civilization, but to give due importance to the other peoples. I've been working with this idea for years, so it seems more or less natural to me now, and I forget that it's still controversial in some quarters. Nevertheless, there are British and American footprints and cultural imprints all over the world. Some of the gaps I'm trying to fill include knowledge of the Spanish colonial empire, or the influence of France, the Netherlands, and so on. It's evident that the coastal nations of Europe had a much larger share of worldwide influence in modern times than, say, Italy or Greece, or Hungary. There have been both virtues and flaws in Western civilization. I'll probably wind up discussing these in more detail in the future.

I love my job

Even though it doesn't pay a dime, and never has.

My principal job, or hobby if you prefer, is a self-imposed one of bringing together a compilation of knowledge in a digestible form. I've been working at least a little bit on the Knowledge Base six days a week for the last couple of years. Although a lot of it has seemed boring and mechanical, there are times when I can glimpse enough of the vision to keep me going.

Recently, on my Independent Learning Blog, I've been keeping track of my work on the base, just in case anyone is interested in seeing what I'm doing. From what I can tell, that doesn't amount to very many people. On days like today, however, I feel like telling the world what I'm doing.

One subject that has absorbed a great deal of my attention is world history. That's from the beginning of humankind to today, and into the future. Even thought he beginning is not clearly known and the future hasn't happened yet. I have it divided into slices, because you can't cover everything at once, but it's really one continuous tale. I have a general outline, and my progress consists of filling in the gaps and the details. Those gaps and details are important, because sometimes a single moment can change a larger part of history than we can predict, so there's always a need for more work.

One of the things that's been holding me back, oddly enough is a self-imposed limitation. I've been adding nations to the knowledge base in fairly strict order of present population, which works well for recent history, but increasingly badly as I go back in time. Just for an example, Greece and Portugal are fairly close in population and fairly far down the list. Neither one is especially prominent in world affairs today. But, go back five centuries, and Portugal ruled the first modern colonial empire, and its absence creates a gaping hole in the 16th century. Go back two thousand years, and you can hardly mention the classical period without discussing Greece. Just getting to the point of including them is an achievement.
(Just so long as you don't ask the Knowledge Base what was going on in Portugal in 1509 or Greece, in 9 AD...I haven't gotten that far yet, which sort of deflates the bubble of euphoria). Just having the link is a big step. As another for instance, I now have an outline of how Western Europe is linked to modern nations of Africa. (Again, just don't ask which African Colonies were French and which were British, and when they became independent, let alone why, I haven't gotten that fair yet).

There have been lots of moments of achievement like this, and there will certainly be many more. Sometimes, just enough to keep me slogging ahead.

I still don't have a clear answer to the question of what this is all good for.
(shsh), But I believe there are answers and I'm getting closer to them.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


One of the reasons I have been slow at updating this particular blog is that I've been busy working on the Knowledge Base. When I observe comments on political themes and major concerns, most of them seem to be silly, many of them based on anecdotes and personal experiences, and few of them based on real knowledge of the world, or part of it, and most of those who do comment on the broader themes seem to be better informed than I am.

For instance, I ventured to post some of my thoughts on Feminism on a Feminist blog, and got pretty much flamed for it by one of the principal contributors to the blog. I've thought of posting the discussion here, and more fully expounding on by views, but haven't yet decided to do it. Perhaps another time.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Library Thing

Around last Christmas, after seeing a couple of comments scattered elsewhere, I decide trying to catalog my personal library using Library Thing. Over half my personal library is still in storage in Nebraska, but I thought I'd try the site out on what I have with me. One of my favorite parts is the recommendations for other books, based on what I have. I've already read enough of those that I like those recommendations. I'm always on the lookout for new books that somewhat fit the taste of the ones I have.

Also, I find that there are some great books that I've read that don't fit in my current preferences, and I'd like to know more like those, so I can broaden my reading. My current library is rather modest (72 not counting the computer and technical works, which I've set aside for now, or the ones I know I left in storage), but there are a great many more that I have and have read, and would perhaps like to get and even reread if I had the room and the money.

I'm getting a bit tired of rereading the same books, and I'd like to branch out and try some more. And maybe I'm showing off a little, and maybe I'm not going to feel guilty about it, since I don't even have to be the greatest reader in the world. One of the top ten thousand in the country will do.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Asperger's thoughts

I was indulging in one of my vices lately, going through and reading some of my favorite web sites. Elizabeth Moon , a prominent author of Science Fiction and Fantasy, whose works include "The Speed of Dark", written from the viewpoint of an autistic man, expressed her opinion of the attitude displayed on the FAAAS web site as not helpful. Since I was diagnosed with Apserger's syndrome about four years ago. I'm naturally interested in learning things about my own condition, so I visited the site. I came away angry and saddened. To quote from it:

Asperger's Syndrome is a neurological disorder on the autism spectrum that has been recognized only since about 1994. It has many features of classical autism, but it lacks the intellectual learning disabilities. Individuals with this syndrome have difficulty with social aspects of intelligence, such as understanding what those around them think and feel. As a result, they often behave inappropriately in social situations or act in ways that appear unkind or callous. Many have difficulty planning and coping with change despite average or even exceptional intelligence in academic or intellectual areas. This manifests itself as a notable lack of "common sense."

Oh yes, do I know that one. I was told that my father once said, (and probably thought, many a time) How can a kid that bright be so stupid? In another conversation I once overheard between former parents-in-law:

She: You should let him use his own judgment.
He: But he doesn't have good judgment.

Ouch. Several years later, I must confess that he was right, but I would still have problems with him leaping in to substitute his good judgment for my poor one. In practical matters like how to complete formal education and get a decent job, mine was nothing to crow about. It still isn't. I don't know how to work around that. But that part doesn't bother me so much anymore. It's the next part that does.

It is the spouses, siblings, children, and co-workers of those
affected with Asperger's Syndrome that experience the emotional pain, especially
when the correct diagnosis has been delayed until relatively late in adulthood.

Don't those who suffer from Asperger's Syndrome suffer emotional pain, too? Of course they do. To have Asperger's is to live in two worlds at once; a private one of your own, which no one else quite understands, and a public one which you do not quite understand. It is to get kicked in the teeth by the rules everyone else lives by. It is to be humiliated and embarrassed when you try to do things everyone else seems to do with ease, and fail. It is living with the consequences of your own ineptitude. It is to be invisibly handicapped in a world where even the visibly handicapped are often ignored, scorned and abused.

These family members are the ones we intend to help. Feelings of rejection and loneliness play a major role in the lives of the family members of an individual with Asperger’s Syndrome. Their feelings are not validated, acknowledged, or even recognized by the afflicted person.

With all due respect to the very real need for someone besides the afflicted to help, there is a snarky response:

"I'm sorry it's so hard to for you live with me. I have to live with myself, and you too. If it's a pity party you want, I bet I can throw a bigger one."
And a more reasonable one: "Yes, sometimes I am oblivious to your feelings. (Those with AS are prone to avoid eye contact, and thus not even see the subtle cues of emotion, and are notoriously prone to mono-focus on one thing and let everything else go hang). Or perhaps, "I do recognize and acknowledge them. I just can't do anything about them. " Those with AS live in an emotional pit; they're in very poor position to help anyone else out.

And still more rationally, since "Aspies" have a hard time with social relationships in the first place, even when they recognize they've hurt someone and try to amend a situation, their attempts to fix it are apt to just muck up their relationships even worse. Once they realize this, there's a tendency to quit trying, or withdraw into the private world instead dealing with the public one. Besides that, if a situation is emotionally charged, an Aspie is likelier than most to either spin out of control or be too busy riding the bronc to deal with the feelings of anyone else.

I've found that the very hardest people for me to deal with are those who view the clinical symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome as acts or failures of will or intent. To that group, there is nothing I can say in my own defense. Anything I do say is taken as self-serving and untrustworthy, and grounds for a further attack.

But Aperger's Syndrome, like the better known classical Autism it is related to, appears to be genetic or at least congenital. Its symptoms are no more a matter of will or intent than having Down syndrome, spina bifida, being left-handed, black-skinned, or female and 6'5", all of which also involve some difficulty to the affected and others around them. It's possible to adapt, it's possible to work around, and it's even possible to learn some of the various social skills that most people use to succeed, but the underlying condition remains.

It would be better if, instead of focusing only on the problems, the site included acknowedgement that AS does have a positive side.

To have Asperger's Syndrome is also to have the ability to think sideways, upside down, and outside the box. It is the ability to ignore distractions and overcome the most formidable obstacles in pursuit of what you love, without external reward. It is the ability to achieve in a short time what others require years to master, by intense, concentrated thought and work. It is to be sensitive to things that others miss. It is the ability to become an expert, and to excel at at something.

For a little more deep philosophy, I found a great truth in a certain remark, "It is nevery easy to have a great gift. Something is always withheld to compensate." And the inverse is also true. I do not believe anyone is born with a handicap without some blessing to go with it. For me, one side of Asperger's Syndrome is indeed a curse, but there's a gift on the other.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Stilll alive

I do have at least one intermittent reader, who observed recently that I haven't updated this blog since November. Really? That long?
Well, I had been been emphasizing political things, and with the election of Barak Obama as President, I got discouraged. There was just too much going on, and too much of it uncertain, at the time. Also, I was getting too incensed at the various forms of stupidity that are becoming predominant in American culture, and lack the tools for effective rational argument.
In essence, I decided that I was going to have to go back to the slow and thorough approach of my knowledge base that I have been describing on the Independent Learning blog, and even that has been going slowly, since I decided that it made more sense if I turned the whole thing upside down. That project has been sort of crawling along. Shortly after making that decision, I decided to switch to what I call a need-driven approach to development. Results of that aren't in yet, but they are starting to look promising.

Today's work touched on the UN, so I think I'll mention something of my opinion of that body. It was created in the aftermath of World War II, and its charter was shaped by the politics of that time. I once encountered an analysis of political power based on the mathematics of voting coalitions, which concluded that most of the power is concentrated in the 5 permanent member of the Security Council, (precisely as intended by its founders). With the changes in in the world during the sixty years since its founding, this is becoming increasingly out of step with current world realities. I am uncomfortable with its clear secularism. Given the vigorous and intense disputes among religions, I can't think of a better alternative, secularism at least gives the pretense of neutrality, although in many ways it gives offense to traditional Christian, Muslim, and Jewish beliefs. The degree of hatred for Zionism in general and Israel in particular that I see in various UN resolutions and proposed resolutions surprises me. Far from being the "last, best hope" for world Peace that John F. Kennedy called it, it has developed a reputation for incompetence, inefficiency, and corruption. While it can claim a few successes, its failures appear to outnumber and outweigh them. In short, I have little trust in or respect for it.