Sunday, October 28, 2007

The World and I: another look at "Currents in Modern Though" and a Kaplan essay on finding fundamental rights in the Constitution


The World and I (link) has been a meaty, well illustrated, polished and somewhat expensive magazine about international and national cultural issues, with a conservative editorial bent, for many years, published by the conservative newspaper The Washington Times.

Some issues have had a section toward the end called “Currents in Modern Thought,” and the April 1999 issue, still lying around the basement, has a couple of contributions worthy of note today.

Two of them are less important than the other, but I’ll mention all three. The last one is an article about McClures’s (and S. S. McClure) by Linda Simon. The magazine was important as a long-standing example of expository journalism, ruthlessly fact checked, but willing to give writers time and resources, and effective in exposing public scandals in issues in a time long before amateurs could to the same with weblogs.

The first article, by Gerald V. Bradley, is “The Dubious Liberalism of Stephen Carter,” and starts out with the sentence, “I got into law school because I was black.” But, not being a diatribe on affirmative action (and "Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby" (Basic, 1991), the essay is instead an overview of Carter’s books and writings, including “The Culture of Disbelief” (1993) in which, the reviewer believes, the author is trying to build an argument for assimilationism that strands conservativism and liberalism (sounds Clintonian), allows all gripes and somehow doesn’t give in to irrationality. It accepts an incremental approach to abortion and a growing rationalism, which must confront faith-based principles, in gay rights (with some discussion of Bowers v. Hardwick – this issue is pre-Lawrence and pre-Massachusetts).

But the most important, and longest piece, in this issue is W&I editor Morton A. Kaplan, “Tribe and Scalia on the Constitution: A Third View.” Kaplan has a habit of reflecting on his writing as he writes, and that extends his lengths, and he tends to argue with himself. But, in his mind, that will seem necessary. He examines a few important cases, such as the flag-burning case (Brennan’s decision), contraception (Griswold) and most of all Roe v. Wade (abortion). The apparent polar opposites are Justice Antonin Scalia and Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe, although the recent Bush appointments of Alito and Roberts can complicate such discussion today. Kaplan mentions the book " A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law" (The University Center for Human Values Series, Princeton University, 1998), by Scalia and Amy Gutmann.

The core problem is the “invention” by judges of “fundamental rights,” and idea that I discussed at great length in my first two books in the late 1990s (now, those seem like the good old days). Kaplan talks about the problem of “original intent” and the issue that language itself changes with time, and that words (codified into the Constitution or statutes) take on new meanings with time. (For example, the word "person" in the law can include a corporation.) Kaplan argues, however, that any re-interpretation of original rights as written into the Constitution and Bill of Rights (that is, any rights “invented” in the context of the Ninth and Tenth “penumbra” amendments) need to be done so only with a clear direction from the prevailing culture. Since this article appeared in 1999, it’s a good question how Kaplan would react to the Lawrence v. Texas decision in 2003. Privacy has been an important cultural concept in the objection to laws that regulate consensual sex (as with Griswold in 1965), and today the cultural change brought on by the Internet has changed the moral focus away from privacy more to expression, and the idea that one must contribute or share something of emotional substance for what one takes. Kaplan gets into the problem that the law does express moral notions, and almost by definition or tautology, moral determinations will come at the expense of someone; the question is what principles the culture has in determining who makes the ultimate “sacrifice” of some piece of rights or psychological property. He spends a lot of time on the intellectual sequels from various assumptions about the humanity of the unborn child.

Kaplan touches on the complexity of the constitutional amending process, and considers the high barriers to doing so appropriate. A good book that dissects all of this is John R. Vile, "Contemporary Questions Surrounding the Constitutional Amending Process", from Praeger (London), 1993.

Looking further, of course, we see that “moral notions” are important to people as a baseline. In a difficult world, people sometimes want to know that what they did or gave up doing was “right” and necessary. Yet, it’s interesting, as one comes back to the role of religion and faith, that in Christianity, at least, there is more emphasis on the heart, on becoming flexible and responsive to others just as one is responsible for oneself, and this concept of grace goes beyond the idea of morality as we usually express it in the law – as important as the rule of law is to freedom.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Alan Greenspan's memoir: The Age of Turbulence


Author: Alan Greenspan.
Title: The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World.
Publication: Penguin, NY. 2007. ISBN 9781594201318, 531 pages, hardcover, indexed.

The author hardly needs introduction, but to recap, he served as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers from 1974 to 1977 under president Gerald Ford, and in 1987 President Reagan appointed him as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, where he served until 2006. The book has a rather prosaic title give the length and ambition level of the discussions.

Let me digress autobiographically myself for a moment. In July 1981, on my 38th birthday, I had a job interview for a position as a computer programmer analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas. Each district has its own bank, and each bank runs somewhat autonomously. I talked about the need for end-user computing, a concept that probably was not appropriate yet at a conservative institution. I didn’t get the job (although I got one soon at Chilton by resume trading), but Greenspan would probably think my sentiments were right. The spirit of his memoir is that of libertarianism and individualism and self-ownership, even as he constantly recognizes that practicalities trouble us constantly.

Born and raised in New York, he was a decent athlete (baseball) and musician, but got out of the World War II draft because of a possibly incorrectly suspected tuberculosis. Early in adulthood, he would meet Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Brandon and discover the philosophy of objectivism, and the moral justification of “selfishness” and, and a societal level, capitalism.

The book’s middle covers our nation’s economic history from the end of World War II to present day, and it is remarkable, in retrospect, that our system has always been strong enough to overcome serious challenges, such as the Arab oil embargo, the stagflation of the late 70s (which he explains in detail), the stock market crashes (such as 1987), the savings and loan crisis, and so on. In general, deregulation and lifting of over supervision of business has tended to lead us out of these problems and enabled us to produce our way out of trouble, and raise our standard of living. There are, however, a couple of big caveats.

One is that the challenges to our stability seem to have become greater. In retrospect, they have always seemed grave at the time (the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was perhaps the gravest of all). But asymmetric terrorism, global warming, pandemics, and the like provide exogenous challenges of a nature we have never seen. He spends a great deal of space toward the end of the book analyzing these (the last chapter is “the Delphic future”) and is not always reassuring, even as he tries to maintain a general tone of favoring as little government intervention as possible.

Some of the other changes are demographic – most of all, the lower birth rates, the longer life spans, the need to use immigrants to get our work done. The increasing elderly population is an economic problem because the elderly consume a lot, sometimes more than is justified by what they produce or had produced, forcing sacrifices from their children, who may not have as many children (who consume but will soon become productive) themselves to sustain the chain. He avoids social moralizing about these, but simply talks about what the numbers would mean. We are retiring too early, to be sure (as did I, it seems), but even a decade ago companies were encouraging us to with buyouts. Defined pension plans are in real trouble, as are social security and Medicare in the long run. (He discusses the restructuring of social security around 1983 in some detail.) He proposes that social security benefits for the affluent could be rescinded entirely (as have some other libertarians – in fact Harry Browne did so). Obviously, he likes privatization and the idea of carefully conceived lifetime savings plans, but those don’t work for those already retired. If social security benefits were to be means tested, it could affect the kind of jobs people are encouraged to take late in their careers. In general, employers have wanted to use seniors to peddle their wares in lifestyle marketing, a practice for which I have some ethical objections.

Other changes are intrinsic to technology and globalization, the greatest of which is the challenges to old-fashioned notions of intellectual property or “conceptual property.” Copyright, patent and trademark laws have always struck delicate balances between competing public interests. A creator of an idea cannot always “own” the idea the way he or she could own a piece of land. What is fair use seems to depend on the circumstances of both publication or distribution, and consumption – all of which have turned upside down in a global world.

He has a lot to say about education. We are not able to find good math and science teachers in sufficient quantities, because those with technical educations can make a lot more money elsewhere. Relatively speaking, it’s easier to find good teachers for English and humanities. He thinks we should streamline or waive the bureaucratic licensing requirements and required clock hours of education courses (common in “career switcher” programs into teaching) for math teachers, and insist that math teachers actually have the academic credentials in mathematics (which I would have). One problem that he does not consider is that technical people sometimes have weaker “people skills” and have less interest in working with non-intact children who may need personalized attention.

That all brings me to the “second caveat,” which might have been summarized in an article by Naomi Klein, “Thanks a lot, Ayn Rand, for setting the greedy free: the beloved trickle-down theory of Greenspan and his ilk is less a philosophy than a handy excuse for avarice,” an article that appeared in The Nation and in the UK Guardian. (Link). Klein is promoting a book “The Shock Doctrine” (Metropolitan Books) which I have not yet seen. In her essay, she writes :

“Of course, the flip side of this is the cruel disregard for those left behind. ‘Undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment,’ Greenspan wrote as a zealous new convert. ‘Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.’”

Now it is the “left behind” (itself a book title from the religious right – Tim La Haye) that is a core concern. The political left has always dealt with need as a matter of group social justice – issues of wealth redistribution and ending discrimination against suspect class groups. That means more regulation that, in the long run, is not good for stable democratic capitalism, in Greenspan’s view. He does not go into this, but the obvious question is what every individual owes back for what he or she “takes” beyond what is expressed in a monetary market economy. I talked about this on my main blog on Oct. 9 as “psychological economics.” The culture war over family values figures into this – the truth is that people are wired very differently as to some basic emotional values and often impact persons different from themselves in ways that they do not see. Greenspan, even in his libertarian economic views, finds himself getting into some seeming moral contradictions (one of the sections of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957) was called “non-contradiction”; a film of this book is due from Lions Gate Films in 2008; Greenspan also talks about The Fountainhead). The changing demographics, it seems to me, will lead us into new debates about the personal moral choices regarding having or not having children.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rachel Ehrenfeld expands the "Book the Saudis don't want you to read"


Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of the American Center for Democracy in New York City, has become a test case for a new legal controversy with her book that “the Saudis don’t want you to read.”

The book came out in 2005 in an expanded edition including a new Preface, explaining the legal situation, as well as an Epilogue. It had been originally published in 2003.

In early January 2004, she writes, she received an email from a law firm in London threatening to sue her for libel in British courts for allegations she printed in her 2003 book about the activities of Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz. The Wikipedia entry, as factual as possible perhaps, for this person is here.

It’s pretty unusual for lawyers to contact anyone by email first. Usually they send a cease-and-desist letter by certified mail, and if necessary to litigate, use a sheriff or, more frequently, private process server to actually serve papers (they can be sent by registered mail in most states). But in this case an American author was to be sued by a foreign businessman in Britain about a book never published in Britain but merely ordered by some British subjects, probably in a deliberate campaign to justify litigation. There are more details on my International Issues blog here about this new problem of “libel tourism”:

I won’t repeat the specific allegations about the businessman here, but just say that the facts in her book and extensive detailed references and notes seem to speak for themselves to the customer who orders the book (as I did from Amazon).

The book is titled “Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed – And How to Stop It,” published by Bonus Books in Chicago (296 pages, paper). There is a foreword by B. James Woolsey.

One of her basic points is about the culture of Islamic society. She talks about the “House of Islam” and the “House of War” – as everything outside of the mosque. It’s odd to describe a structure like this, because, unlike the Catholic church, Islam has no formal priesthood, is formally decentralized, and ought not to be as susceptible to corruption. But she describes corruption as a normal way to do business, as equivalent to “economic growth” in other countries. Islam, with its anti-usury laws and informal financial processes (hawalas) that transfer money indirectly without moving it, as well as a patriarchal culture that demands family loyalty (and financial support) from everyone even when they emigrate to the West, can pretend to be a society without fiat money, and only “Allah economics” despite the fact (as the extravagance in places like Riyadh and Dubai attest – with the manmade “Palms” and “archipelago” that could go under global warming) that it seems to take as much advantage of world extreme capitalism as any culture. The confusion culture makes it easy to "launder" money through all kinds of schemes that she lists in many places with dot points.

She spends a lot of space on narco terror (especially Hizballah), as if to suggest that drug users are, with their demand, contributing to terrorism, although one can also say that criminalizing drug use invites the problem.

Check a related review of a book by a man who spent a year working for an Islamic "charity" on this blog on Aug. 25.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Jack Cafferty: It's Getting Ugly Out There


Author: Jack Cafferty:
Title: It's Getting Ugly Out There:
Subtitle: The Frauds, Bunglers, Liars and Losers Who Are Hurting America.
Publication: John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 978-0-14479-4, 269 pages, hardcover, with Preface, Prologue, 13 chapters, Epilogue, index.

You might get a sense of what CNN journalist Jack Cafferty’s tome is all about from the title of his Prologue, “This Isn’t the America I Know,” and the title of his first chapter, “The Boy in the Bubble.” The latter title refers, of course, to the second President Bush, Daddy’s son, and his general failure to lead. What do they call it for teachers, specifically, “poor classroom management.” Oh, that’s misleading, because that phrase in Bush’s “no child left behind” world talks about discipline.

No, with George W. Bush, Cafferty finds a pathological disconnection from real people, a mental laziness that can miss the point and languish on vacation at his sheltering Texas ranch for a day while the dikes fail in New Orleans.

That is, President Bush would make a good mark for the Dr. Phil show. “I want you to get excited about your life. This is a changing day in your life.” Bush seems to have a self-servedness that gets into his gratuitous use of executive powers with the warrantless wiretaps and electronic searches, the whole FISA issue that form the substance of many libertarian high-tech blogs, although many of these "diaries" miss the real constitutional problems.

He seems to do what he feels like, making himself look righteous but, with the help of his alter brain Karl Rove, finding adolescent rationalizations for doing what he wants. Dr. Phil would key in to that. He (Bush) panders to special interests, and through his own bureaucracy cozies up to the health insurance companies and pharmaceuticals, explaining why we, among all major countries, leave so many people one hospital visit away from bankruptcy. (Of course, there is another side to this, getting into personal responsibility; but that has to start early in one’s working life.)

Indeed, there is a serious issue with the speech. His people “hire” writers to make something look good; money is made by manipulating appearances and people’s emotions, not by telling the truth. But, isn’t that what the whole K-Street lobbying world is all about? It’s hard for most people to make enough money to support their families without selling their souls and giving up any public integrity about what they say.

That’s one reason why bloggers have become effective – they have fewer loyalties to honor. Yet, that’s the other side of the discipline issue – our “America” is declining because we as individuals take it for granted, don’t pay back what it takes to keep our way of life. Cafferty does take up what a "real World War III" means, if we take keeping our way of life seriously. After bashing the “back door draft” in Iraq, he says, in the Epilogue (not the kind of music that Arnold Bax closed his symphonies with), “It was a huge mistake when we did away with the draft in the 1970s” (p 244); “we ought to bring it back.” A few sentences later he modifies it and argues in strong terms for mandatory national service, at least 18 months, for those age 18 to 25. He suggests that we all owe something for what we have, that we shouldn’t take it for granted, and that we ought to learn to care about people, or at least not live in such a way as to lowball others.

He runs through all of our nonsense – our carelessness with port security (turning ports over to companies in Dubai), the dishonesty and incompetence behind the war in Iraq, the letting Afghanistan slide back into Talibanization. He talks about the bankrupting of our social safety nets with tax cuts for the rich, usual stuff. He talks about the scandals of various conservative public officials, including Mark Foley and the Congressional pages. In the Epilogue, he runs through the 2008 candidates, and gives some support to more moderate and progressive ones, like Obama. It’s hard to tell his political affiliation; he may be more like Ross Perot in 1992. Eventually, it gets down to discipline of individual Americans, and accepting that there may be sacrifice and personal dues paying.

Cafferty is not afraid to use expletives in his writing, or to call people names (even the son of Rudy Guliani). He may be hinting, toward the end, that ethical reform is a grassroots, bottoms-up operation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Joe Steffan's "Honor Bound" -- 1992 book is one of the most important life stories on military gay ban




"Personal honor is an absolute -- you either have honor or you do not. No one can take it from you; it can only be surrendered willingly. And once it is surrendered, once it is compromised, it can never again be fully regained."

This powerful statement of principle appears on p. 145 as a description of the Honor Code at Annapolis, the United States Naval Academy. Many universities have a similar honor system, and when I started college in 1961 at William and Mary students signed on to a similar academic honor code. In 1996, I would write an essay (originally intended as a chapter in my first book) in which this principle would become “Morality’s Third Normal Form” (following a metaphor in software engineering). I can add right away that a more inclusive moral concept may be “Integrity”. Honor seems to imply zero tolerance of dishonest acts by one’s peers. Integrity is an even more inclusive term. Stephen Carter writes, “Integrity requires three steps: discovering what is right from wrong, acting on what you have discovered even at personal cost, and saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong.” (] Stephen Carter, “The Insufficiency of Honesty,” Atlantic Monthly, February, 1996, pp 74-76.). A more general concept might be something like “karma” as I developed on my main blog (and in a review on this blog in April). There is a general meaning of earning what one has in life, and sometimes that involves responsiveness to others and their needs, beyond one’s own performance.

But, to come back to this book., Honor Bound: A Gay American Fights for the Right to Serve His Country. (Amazon: ISBN 0679416609). In 1992, I came in to Lambda Rising in Washington on a drizzly September Wednesday evening, to Joe Steffan’s signing of this book. I got there late and missed his reading, but got an autographed copy and met him in the signing line. He said he was working on defeating Oregon 's Proposition 9 (scary at the time, for example this; all of this was still more than ten years before Lawrence v. Texas.) The original was published by Villard, an imprint of Random House. Avon printed the paperback about two years later. It seems that the title changed slightly (“American” became “Naval Midshipman”: Honor Bound: A Gay Naval Midshipman Fights for the Right to Serve His Country. ISBN 0380715015 ). The original had a full front uniform view, whereas the paperback has only a headshot. I somehow mislaid the original in my move back to the DC area in 2003 and I picked up the paperback from an Amazon reseller. The internals of the two versions appear to be identical.

The book chronicles Mr. Steffan’s four years at the Naval Academy, where he would have graduated near the top of his class in 1987 had be not been “outed” by another midshipman who had failed. The details of the investigation and of his decision to answer honestly are moving. But so is the story of everything that leads up to it, such as Joe’s career in the Academy choir, his singing the National Anthem at an Army-Navy game, and his summer on a submarine cruise, where the forced intimacy created no issues at all. (He even talks about chess games.) He also discusses his experience in a chapter in Humphrey, Mary Ann (editor). My Country, My Right to Serve: Experiences of Gay Men and Women in the military, World War II to the Present. New York: Harper Collins, 1988 pp. 235-242, where there are some small “confessions” about “conduct” off-base. (See also: Steffan, Joseph C., Wolinsky, Marc, and Sherrill, Kenneth. Gays in the Military: Joseph Steffan versus the United States. Princeton University Press, 1993.) It seems likely that there has always been a small gay, very closeted subculture at the service academies that only a closed circle knew about. The overwhelming majority of actual disciplinary incidents in service academies (including the Naval Academy) over the years have been with heterosexual conduct among the midshipmen or cadets.

Steffan wound up litigating, losing in the circuit court but winning on a three-judge panel in the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. Then the court reheard his case en banc (I went to the oral arguments in May 1994) where he lost.

The night I bought the book (remember, still Sept. 1992) I recall reading the first several chapters (there are ten) at a local restaurant on 17th Street over dinner, taking it home and finishing it that evening. I knew that the ban was going to be a big issue. Candidate Bill Clinton had already “promised” to try to end the ban, Keith Meinhold had already come out on ABC, the first president Bush was already failing in the polls, and Perot was moralizing about the American people. The following spring, in April 1993, while the debate (that would lead to “don’t ask don’t tell”) raged on, we would have the great March on Washington, with the Metro stations filled, and with The Washington Times carrying an overhead shot of the Mall the next Monday. I May, I would share the book with the then Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Washington DC, where I had gone to church as I grew up.

This book has great storytelling, and has the definite “beginning, middle and end” of a movie. This is the most compelling of all of the stories of gay people who have fought the ban, even though it occurred “pre don’t ask don’t tell”. It’s a no brainer that it could make a great movie, along the larger independent films that show at Landmark Theaters or AMC Select. It inspires some ambition: imagine mass scenes like his sing at the Army Navy game, or the 1993 March. The Touchstone film “Annapolis” (Justin Lin) simulates Annapolis but condescends to genre military film stereotypes. No, the filmmaking style demanded would be more in the line of “In the Valley of Elah.” I can imagine Casey Affleck playing Steffan, with Tommy Lee Jones and maybe even Brad Pitt himself as Academy cadre. If some outfits like Participant, 2929, The Weinstein Company, Lions Gate, or even the MGM Lion took a look at this, I think they could be very tempted. A film like this, well done and properly promoted, would stir a lot of controversy. Six months later “don’t ask don’t tell” might well be history.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Time: Global Warming


Time is now selling a special issue “Global Warming: The Causes, The Perils, The Solutions, The Actions, What You Can Do,” 122 pages, paper, heavily illustrated, heavy paper, edited by Kelly Knauer; Writer and Researcher Director: Matthew McCann Fenton.

There are many sections. The book says that global warming is a “theory” in the sense that gravity or relativity is a theory; reputable scientists accept man-abetted global warming since the start of the industrial revolution because of increased carbon dioxide emissions as fact.

The book ends with fifty-one tips about what can be done about this. Some of them are progressive, such as paying bills online to avoid paper waste. But many of the tips question the personally autonomous, labor-saving lifestyles of many people. One tip suggests hanging clothes on a line rather than machine drying. Another is to exchange hand-me-down clothes (sorry, Details and GQ, no more expensive jeans and silk shirts for your models, although doing away with the prudish male necktie is a welcome idea.) Telecommuting sounds like a great idea, but that could confound the physical security of consumer data in some companies. Car pooling has been suggested for years, but some people are on-call and must be able to go into work at any time. The last tip seems to go back to the New Testament. “Consumer Less, Share More, Live Simply.” Even “get to know your neighbors.”

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

John Elder Robison: Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's


Author: John Elder Robinson.
Title: Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's.
Foreword by Augusten Burroughs,
Publication: New York: Crown, 2007. ISBN 978-0-307-39598-6. 288 pages, hardcover.

A few years ago I traveled to a large city in New England and sat down to dinner in a plush chain restaurant with a filmmaker. Almost at once, he said something like, “.. the lack of body language. You have Asperger’s.”

Since I have met with more than one film person in more than one New England city in the past few years, I need not identify the person or city. I wasn’t really shocked by the statement. It all made sense.

I see that I’ve covered the topic before, on a Nightline review in April and in a speculative discussion of whether Asperger’s has anything to do with GLBT issues, here In that latter posting, also in April, I gave some clinical discussion. Asperger’s is considered to be a mild form of autism, in a spectrum of “pervasive developmental disorders.”

The author, in fact, was not formally “diagnosed” until age 40. He mentions, on p. 235, a clinical text, Asperger’s Syndrome, by Tony Attwood. (Amazon shows two books, a recent one in 2006). There is even a book “All Cats Have Asperger’s Syndrome” by Kathy Hoopman.

What is interesting, of course, is how he explains his own experience of his own social interactions. In fact, most of the book is a narrative (sometimes a bit jumbled and out of sequence) of the author’s life experience: how he was shunned by teachers, developed an interest in mechanics and games, played pranks, dropped out of school, rebuilt his life as an engineer and eventually specialized car dealer. His narrative incidentally provides some account of how computer games and music devices developed. He married and had a son, something that many people with Asperger’s will not be able to do.

His younger brother (Robison appears to have been born in 1957) is well-known as Augusten Burroughs, the eccentric writer whose story was told in the Tri-Star film “Running with Scissors” (dir. Ryan Murphy) in which the writer was presented as an articulate youngster in a sea of dysfunctional adults. Burroughs provides a brief foreword, in which he expresses some surprise that his brother, a natural storyteller, became a busiessman rather than writer – but the two should not be mutually exclusive. Robison’s life does seem much more troubled.

The expression of the syndrome might be summarized with the command, often repeated to him as a boy, “Look me in the eye, young man!” That’s the first sentence of Robison’s own prologue.

Asperger’s is usually perceived as a lack of responsiveness to other people, an indifference, and a lack of emotion and empathy. Robison, early on, talks about empathy, and analyzes the idea that people really don’t have much emotion over the plight of strangers like they would their own flesh and blood. He says he does have emotion for his own family, and indeed later in life he did create a family. He feels that people are “acting” when the show emotion about distant people. That’s not exactly true, either.

My own experience, as a boy, was that of a certain preoccupation with my own welfare, a tendency to demand attention (particularly in grade school). Like Robison, I was teased for my clumsiness and inability to fit in (always the last one picked for a team). But my own conversational responses were not as disjointed or as inappropriate as the examples he gives from his own boyhood. By third grade, my musical talents were apparent, and by sixteen or so, I could identify most major classical compositions upon hearing only a few measures. I chronicle some of this in my main blog in August, here:

My perception of the Asperger experience is more a desire to create one’s own world, and live within it. (Indeed, full blown autism seems to be a total lack of any response to the outside world, and a satisfaction with internal stimulation.) When one is productive from that world, one can attract the people that one wants. (This would be true in a heterosexual or homosexual context). I find myself resisting both frivolous social contact (as disruptive) and intimate contact on terms other than my own. That (hyper-introversion), in the modern western world, sounds like a fundamental individual right, but within the context of the family or local community many people still expect more cohesiveness and openness. I can recall my parents’ demanding that I fulfill certain expectations of social deference that seemed “illogical” or “irrational” and seemed to pamper the emotions of others without much real need or justification. The way I performed certain things was not so important for the immediate situation as it was to prove that I could respond to the needs of others in a way that might be morally demanded of me.

My perception of emotion and empathy may differ from his. I find some of the display of emotion often seen in families as gratuitous. Familial emotion cannot replace my own need to succeed in life according to my own rules, and this observation disturbs some people, and takes on a moral tone -- one is supposed to respond to the real needs of others and just not on the basis of what is already in someone's mind. But I agree that emotion and empathy can drive political movements. Sometimes there is political pressure to help the members of a certain identifiable group because of the obvious need of these members, and emotional appeal may overcome the willingness to look at political demands more objectively.

Update:
The Attwood reference is indeed The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, Jessica Kingsley, Philadelphia, 397 pages, hardbound, indexed, ISBN 1-85302-577-1.
This is a clinical text, that deals with the science of "pervasive developmental disorders". He talks about the "little professor" behavior, a desire that the world be perfect before relations make sense. One proverb on p 31, "I am not defective; I am different."