Monday, July 15, 2024

Worldview stuck in the past, self-called "progressives" walking blindly into failures.

For many reasons, I'm removing my participation in Twitter.  This includes looking at and deleting old messages.

Looking over older messages from 2022, I noticed something that I wanted to highlight: The same discussions are ongoing in 2024, with predictable outcomes.

There was an Ontario provincial election in 2022 where there was so much talk from partisans about how "critical" that election was (like nearly every election in my lifetime), and how a specific "bad leader" needed to be kept out because of the damage this individual could do.

I fully expect Trump to be elected as President of the United States again, and for the Conservative party of Canada to win sufficient seats for Pierre Poilievre to become Canada's next Prime Minister.

For those who think this will be disastrous, who should they be trying to change the minds of?

I believe the problem lies with the alleged "opposition" party partisans (often who call themselves "progressives") who remain only concerned about their corporate brands winning.  They are largely uninterested in (or actively opposed to) putting policies into place that would make our democratic institutions less vulnerable to corruption. (Example policies include: ranked ballots, ensuring leaders are decided by caucus members and not people who buy a ballot from a corporation, ensure party affiliation is deemphasized as being only one demographic trait of candidates, etc).

Hyper-partisans wanting party lists (or proximations to Party Lists using their Gallagher index) continue to block attempts to make parliament less corrupt(able).

"Just vote for the other guy" is never a valid answer to critical discussions of systemic flaws in democratic institutions.

Discussion of NATO expansion and the ongoing proxy war in Ukraine.

When the USA violated the UN charter multiple times (Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, etc), it opened the doors to Russia to do the same in defense of ongoing NATO expansion.  NATO expansion is seen by Russia and several other nations as a threat to basic rights of self-determination of any non-Western nation since NATO was created as part of the launch of the cold war after WW2.

Discussions of the clearly racist nature of how Ukrainian land defenders are discussed in Western media and by Western politicians compared to any of the other ongoing global conflicts (including how Indigenous land defenders are covered).  This was also seen in the racist coverage of refugees.

There was quite a bit of talk about Zionism, and how Zionism continues to be used to justify violence against the existing inhabitants of Palestine since the 1920's.

Contrary to those who believe history started on October 7, 2023, I was reading in 2021 and 2022 from many people of a variety of Indigenous nationalities on this continent how familiar the colonial techniques Zionists were using against Palestinians are.

There was related talk about how Zionism has been at the root of many antisemitic views/actions as well, and how Zionism has made all Jewish peoples less safe since its formalization in the late 1890's.

Then there was the related and far to common denialism by Canadians about the historical and ongoing genocidal policies of the settler-colonial Dominion of Canada since it was imposed by the British Empire in 1867.

In 2022, representatives of the Roman Monarchy (Absolute Monarch of Vatican City, Pope Francis) and the British Monarchy (Charles, then Prince of Wales, and Camilla) visited land claimed by the Canadian Crown.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

The Kernel of the operating system branded "Canada".

I am a network administrator, systems administrator, and software author.  I regularly write about how I apply my technical experience to understanding questions in the social sciences such as law.

I have noticed that I have a very different understanding of what "Canada" is than other people, and how much influence individual people (or even groups) have on the laws that apply to us.  What seems to be missing is understanding the structure of the systems: not all software in a computer is equal, and just because you can write an app does not mean you have full control over a computer.

Wikipedia offers some description and a simple diagram to help.

Kernel Layout.svg

This is a simple example where there is one space where applications can run.  Real operating systems, such as Android (the most popular mobile operating system) are more complex.  They offer separations such that some types of applications can do some things, and others can do different things.

What is "Canada"?

That term is used to mean so many different things, rendering the word almost meaningless.  I don't think of Canada as a place or group of people, but a set of policies and related institutions.

To understand the structure of the systems of Canada (law, governments, courts, police, etc), the importance is the installation and execution of the first version of the Kernel of these systems: The Constitution.

The 11 British North America Acts document the first version of this Kernel, as well as a series of patches. This Kernel was installed and maintained by the British parliament, up until they promised to no longer apply patches in Canada Act 1982.

I discussed in an earlier article discussing the first amendment to the Canadian Constitution that the Canadian Department of Justice maintains a list of enactments which people think of as amendments to the Canadian Constitution.  To think back about software, these are more like pull requests (See GitHub documentation).  They aren't patches to what is installed and run as the kernel, merely a suggestion to the primary maintainers (in this case, the British parliament, with installation being done by their Monarchy).

I started drafting this in February 2022 in the context of the Ottawa Siege, but never finished. I felt I should publish what I had started.

I'm cisgender : Inclusion vs attempted erasure of the diversity of the human experience.

I’m an Autistic white cis-heterosexual male settler, claimed as a citizen by the Dominion of Canada at birth in 1968. I have lived on lands of Anishinaabe peoples my entire life.

I say all of this as an introduction for a very specific reason, which is to offer myself as a SAFE person for people who are ostracized by this society (some to the point of reduced lifespans, such as #MMIWG). I have been granted unearned privilege in this society because of many of those demographic traits I have (all but being Autistic).

Some of my traits are visible and some are not. Suggesting people to try to hide any normally invisible traits (neurotype, gender, sexual orientation, etc) is in my mind no better than saying out loud that being non-white is a bad thing that people should try to hide if they can.

The tendency to prejudge people negatively if they don’t match specific hierarchies of demographic traits is a feature of specific cultures. It is not universal, and not part of “human nature”. That negative judgment is something that needs to be corrected in specific cultures, and making people realize that this isn’t universal (by outing yourself as a safe person) is a critically important tool in ensuring that this type of conversation happens.

If we hide the reality of diversity and intersectionality, those who want to crush diversity or impose social hierarchies where they put themselves as superior will always win (white supremacy, Androcentrism/misogyny, etc). Only by recognizing and embracing who we actually are as intersectional and diverse beings can we move forward.

I feel it is important to point these issues out. After trying to erase someone for discussing their being nonbinary, claiming caring about “labels and differences” of demographic traits shouldn’t be a focus, the person in the above exchange wanted everyone to focus on their gender and age to try to claim that calling out their behaviour was a form of bullying. It feels obvious that what they meant is they believe their demographic traits matter, and they are part of “shared humanity”, but other demographic traits are not part of shared humanity and should remain hidden and never mentioned. It is unfortunate that those who uphold such divisive ideologies will regularly claim it is those who are inclusive that are focusing on what divides us.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Autistic Adults, Autism Parents, and why we seem to be arguing

I recently read I Will Die On This Hill: Autistic Adults, Autism Parents, and the Children Who Deserve a Better World by Meghan Ashburn and Jules Edwards.

I am a late diagnosed Autistic Adult, and not a parent. While I can’t understand the experience of being a parent, I do have memories of my own childhood and interacting with adults that have only made sense in recent years as I've learned about Autism (and Allism).

When I heard about the book in July 2023 I added it to a goodreads list. I had what turns out to be a misconception that the book would be a debate between an “Autism Mom” (Allistic parent who thought of Autism as a disease that took their child, and who wanted sympathy for themselves and their hardships) and an “Autistic Mom of Autistic Children'' (who can remember how it felt to be treated as diseased by others). 

As an Autistic Adult I was going to read feeling like I was rooting for one of the "sides".

Spoiler: I was wrong!

I will keep this strong book recommendation as brief as I can, given there are many ways this book intersects with other learning I have been doing in the past few years.

My journey

My understanding of my own autism came in a very fortunate and privileged way. Starting in 2020 I started what I have come to understand as a “special interest” when I recognized I didn’t actually understand what Racism was.

Learning about Racism led me to learning about Anti-racism (Ibram X. Kendi), anti-colonialism/decolonization and intersectionality. I am a systems person, so I wasn’t stuck on individuals and individualism (and the myth racism is about individual racial prejudices) once I had done sufficient reading.

I had opportunities to learn, but being White has the privilege of racism being academic as real racism (as opposed to individual prejudices) will privilege rather than target individuals included in “Whiteness”. I am now aware so-called “Reverse Racism” isn’t a real thing.

While I have been in a so-called "mixed marriage" since 1997 (different races, different genders, etc), that lived experience does not in any way ensure someone understands what Racism is.

I had quite a bit of unlearning to do.

When I started to learn about Autism and other neurotypes I immediately recognized it as fitting within an intersectionality lens.

I do not accept the “medical model” around Autism any more than I accept the “medical model” around Race (IE: the pseudoscientific beliefs around scientific racism, eugenics, etc), gender or sexual orientation. (Note: Conversion Therapy for gender or sexual orientation was only outlawed under Canadian law in 2022, but similar techniques are still the most common alleged "treatment" for Autism) 

Depending on the audience, I see value in discussing two different models of understanding Autism.

  • The Social model of disability. I don’t see my Autism as what disables me, but how my differences aren’t accommodated in a society that incorrectly presumes there is only one “correct” way of being a human. This is what reduces my ability (dis ability) to participate.
  • Neurodiversity Paradigm, which sees neurotypes as being as a natural form of human diversity. Problems are generated by supremacist societies who "other"/exclude individuals and groups with different demographic traits.

The Authors

I believe intersectionality and specific lived experience meant that while these two mothers seemed to disagree at first, that neither actually represented the “Autism Mom” which I have observed online.

While one of the authors is a White Allistic mother, she is a mother in a mixed race family and knows what it feels like to be extra worried about police and other “authority” interactions with brown and black children. She taught elementary school for six years, and was already well-versed in developmentally appropriate practices. The other author is Anishinaabe, and has lived with cultural teachings that are quite different from Eurocentric colonial teachings.

Both authors approach this topic with an intersectionality lens.

Why the disagreement?

The book brings to the foreground something that everyone, regardless of their neurotype or if they are parents, should become aware. The problem isn’t that one of these mothers was Autistic and the other was Allistic, and that this would suggest they had different goals.

The problem is that everyone in society, but especially parents, are inundated by special interest groups (political and economic) who have ideological biases towards the Medical model of Autism. They will frighten parents into believing that there is something wrong with their children (and sometimes themselves) that needs to be fixed. As with the Medical model of Race, otherwise known as scientific racism and eugenics, there are even those looking for measures to prevent additional births of Autistic people.

I believe once we recognize the common problem, that we can all work together to make the lives of Autistic children better. This will allow them to grow up without the trauma some Autistic adults constantly live with.

Eternal September

“Eternal September” is a slang term I’ve been aware of since the early 1990’s. In the early days of the Internet (and Usenet, that I participated in using UUCP) it was filled with technical people and students, where new batches of students would join in September and would need to learn how to (appropriately) interact online. In the early to mid 1990’s (depending on location), the Internet became available to the general public and thus there were “newbies” joining all the time and the need to bring these new people up to speed on how to use the tools and interact was needed.

This is going to be a fact of the Autism community for the foreseeable future. New parents of newly diagnosed children, newly diagnosed adults, and fairly often both in a short timeframe (parents learning they are autistic because of their children) will always be finding the Autism community. They will most often be coming with harmful misinformation they have been offered by the medical profession and the horribly wrong and harmful information from The Autism Industrial Complex.

We need to remember they aren’t the enemy, even if they will use words that will be very hurtful to Autistic people. As hard as it will sometimes be, especially for us Autistic members of the community, we need to help them unlearn misinformation in as welcoming a way as we can.

I continue to see similarities between affirming Autism advocacy and support, and similar supports in gender affirming, sexual orientation affirming, and even Anti-Racism work. In fact, it all feels as if the problems come from the same place: vested interests in creating a hierarchy of humanity that puts specific (often extremely arbitrary) demographic traits above others.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

An acquisition means a new job, not merely a different name on paychecks.

I wish to be open about a mistake I have made in my career, in case it helps someone else avoid something similar.

For most of my career I was brought into organizations (as an employee or contractor) by someone who knew me, what I could do for them, and how I worked.  An exception was when I was part of an acquisition. The new management team didn’t know who I was, only what was written in my job description.

I have had many job titles and descriptions, and none of them have been very meaningful. I work by trying to figure out what the project needs to get done, and then apply any skills I have towards whatever is the highest priority goal.

While I had the title of “Lead Systems Engineer” at the pre-merger organization, I was also actively involved in managing an OAIS preservation system (lead developer, support, data and metadata manager, etc), and lead developer of the metadata management system (we called it the “metadata bus”) for's Access system.

After the merger I was told that I should continue the work that I was already doing, but I should not have taken that literally. I should have ceased any software development, data management, metadata management, or anything else not explicitly understood by the new management team as part of my job.  While the previous employer encouraged me to help anywhere in the organization I could, the new employer focused much more on social hierarchies, organization charts, and jurisdiction described in job descriptions.

At the time of the merger I had been given a choice:  Do I want to accept the reduced scope of this *new* job, or resign and look for a better matching job.

Instead of making an informed choice, I pretended nothing had changed. This only generated confusion and conflict between my style of working and the corporate culture of the new organization.

I eventually resigned, but only after I had been pushed into Autistic Burnout. I have learned from this mistake, and I hope other people can as well.

(Reposted from LinkedIn)

My Autism Burnout story

Embrace Autism is creating an "Ultimate Guide of Autistic Burnout", and asked their online community for their Autistic Burnout stories. This was limited to 350 words, and I focused on what lead up to my burnout.

In later posts I will likely discuss what I have learned to help reduce Autistic meltdowns (autonomic storms) and hopefully avoid future Autistic Burnouts (crossing fingers, toes, etc, etc).

See also: Embrace Autism articles on Burnout

I’m a white cis-gender heterosexual male born in 1968, formally assessed Autistic in 2024. 

I have been part of the high-tech sector since my teens. In 2000 I was told there was quite a bit of Autism in the sector, and I should look into it.  I saw the ways Autistic people were alleged “defective”, so assumed that had nothing to do with me.

My mother’s death in 2018 caused me to see a psychotherapist, and after seeing me for several months I was asked if I had considered I was Autistic. I had doubts, partly because of the concept of an Autistic mask. I was bad at acting.

I never had regular job interviews, and was brought into organizations because someone knew my skills and way of working.  An exception occurred when I was part of a merger in 2018 of an organization I had been at for 7 years. The new employer was a strict hierarchy with a strict chain of command, which saw job titles as exclusive jurisdiction.  While I was focused on trying to get high-priority work done, working the way I had at the previous employer, all some people saw was me violating a social hierarchy.

In summer 2022 I contracted Lyme Disease. Fatigue meant I didn’t have the energy to mask, and thus I finally accepted I had been masking. Accusations of being rude and condescending to an allistic coworker were made. I would respond explaining Autism, and with logic and data, but that only made things worse.

By spring 2023 I was accused of workplace harassment and placed on sick leave. That threw me into a full-on burnout, unable to manage regular life tasks. I lost all personal doubt I had about Autism. When sick-leave ran out at the end of the summer I resigned, not seeing any room for me in that organization. 

As I write this in summer 2024, I’m much better, but still recovering. I believe learning I’m Autistic, and learning about spoon theory, will help me avoid similar situations in the future.  Learning about Autism includes learning about Allism.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Observations about (a review of)^2 Autism Employment

I am very thankful for articles by Jim Hoerricks. The latest is: A deep dive on the Buckland Review of Autism Employment: report and recommendations.

While I don’t live under the British Crown, I do live under the Canadian Crown which is a fork in the code (laws, worldviews, etc) that is a quite similar constitutional monarchy based on similar worldviews that grew from the unique history of Britain.

I started to make some personal observations from nearly 4 decades in the job market, having been one of the lucky 3 in 10 Autistic adults that had until recently been employed.

I noticed a problem.

Several of my observations can’t be attributed to the “executive dysfunction” that is regularly discussed as part of the neurodivergent experience, but “executive dysfunction” relating to the corporate culture at a specific workplace. This made me think of the article Executive Functioning as Ideology by Robert Chapman.

While I may no longer work there, the information silos, strict adherence to a chain of command, job title and description issues, Peter principle, and other failure patterns more specific to technology projects within the organization remain. While I may have been a “whistle-blower” or “canary in the coal mine”, my exit didn’t solve any problems other than removing the warning sounds.

Labour Market Barriers:

I have never had a regular job interview, so never faced that particular barrier fellow Autistic people face. I have thus far been approached by people who knew why they wanted to hire me from previously hearing about me and my specific skills and ways of working.

I know I would do poorly in a job interview as I’m aware my open manner of thinking and communicating doesn’t come off well as a first impression for some people. For some people, it always makes them uncomfortable and they never get used to it no matter how long they have known me. If I’m asked a question, I will offer as open, honest, and correct an answer I possibly can. I am aware that “honesty is the best policy” is a social lie, and that mismatch is a barrier to trying to survive in a neuronormative culture.

There was one important exception: I was an employee brought over as part of a merger, and the new employer didn’t really know why I was there. I wasn’t brought into the organization because they were aware of my skills and ways of working, but kept over a merger because of a job description of “Lead Systems Engineer”.

That job description didn’t describe what I did, but what a previous manager felt they would need to hire if I was no longer working at the organization. I generally don’t fit into any silo, and one of the reasons I have been hired over my career was specifically to collaborate across silos (including across organizations within the Free/Libre and Open Source Software movement).

I had recently been asked to vacate the "Lead Systems Engineer" job description to allow someone else to no longer feel they were in my shadow. This was in a corporate culture with a strict chain of command that treated job descriptions as exclusive jurisdiction, but what I was being asked to do (or rather, no longer do) somehow wasn’t seen as problematic by management.

Managers (mine and others) were complaining I wasn’t doing “my” job, and even more loudly claiming I was stepping in other peoples exclusive lanes. While Jim’s article discussed the need to “replacing woolly job specifications with focused, jargon-free descriptions“, I was in a situation of obvious stress where I had no job specifications at all. All I received were indecipherable complaints.

I was placed on "sick leave" for being Autistic at Work (apparently not the way they saw it), and less than 2 weeks later when I was still on "sick leave" the role was renamed to Senior Systems Analyst and assigned to a coworker.

Lesser barrier: interruptions.

While I regularly noted the cost of being interrupted (a 1 minute question actually costs a 30 minute context switch), I didn’t seem to have problems with the cubicle farms or inappropriate lighting. This situation improved after 2020 when remote work became possible, and I was able to work more efficiently in an office environment I created in my home (appropriate lighting, quiet, scheduled synchronous meetings rather than random interruptions).

Skill Mismatch and Underemployment:

This was partly discussed above in relation to “job descriptions”. I had skills and experience that were not being harnessed as most of my experience was being claimed to be the exclusive jurisdiction of other employees. While I am very much an “open source” type of person who wants to share knowledge, knowledge transfer was regularly blocked as allegedly being “rude” to suggest another employee didn’t already know something.

There were situations where I was the only employee remaining from the pre-merger organization that had specific corporate memory, but I wasn’t allowed to share. I was the author of software, but wasn’t allowed to describe how it worked or how to use it. I was told not to write documentation to describe processes in other departments, and then reprimanded that this documentation didn’t exist.

I was allowed to be on an 80% contract as I had a wide variety of reasons to not want to be full time. Whenever I was allowed to work on solving a problem I easily gave more than full time hours, but also had considerable stress generated from organizational blocks to being able to work on solving technical problems.

From the report:

e.5 Autistic people have far more negative experiences of interviews, group tasks and psychometric tests. Autistic jobseekers must navigate vague, generic job descriptions, ambiguous interview questions and challenging sensory environments, often with an emphasis on social skills rather than job skills. Many feel they must mask their autistic traits to succeed.

In the case of this employer, job skills (in my case, technical skills) were not valued, and differences in social skills were a constant source of complaint and periodic formal reprimand.

Policy and Practice Gap:

I discuss this earlier in the context of workplace harassment policies.

Harassment policies should be applied in an intersectional way, but the more I read the more I notice they are not. The discomfort of some individuals who represent a “majority” being faced with “different” ways of being is prioritized over the reality or even existence of other employees.

In the case of this workplace, my Autistic Dialect was being misinterpreted as being “rude” and “condescending”, which demonstrated a lack of some pretty basic autism awareness. Individuals who felt uncomfortable with my dialect then complained to management that I was “harassing” them.

In one case it was someone whose manager was blocking knowledge sharing. The coworker would regularly notice a mismatch between how they expected our technology to work and how the technology actually worked. They would ask what went wrong, but any attempt to explain how the software worked was claimed to be “condescending”.

We would be discussing data and data management software that I had been managing or co-managing for 9 years, but they and their manager felt I should be deferring to them on how to manage data which they hadn’t seen yet as they hadn’t learned the management tools yet (tools which I authored the bulk of the software for). I was regularly told they didn't believe I had the relevant skills and experience (because of incorrect job titles and job descriptions), even though I had been doing that specific type of work already for 9 years.

Workplace policies and practices that weren’t neuronormative would have tried to facilitate communication between employees, rather than constantly claiming that any use of neurodivergent speech patterns at work was worthy of reprimand or claims of violating workplace harassment policies. Workplace harassment policies were in effect being used to harass neurodivergent employees.

For most of my career it was not a problem for me to ask “why” and get clarification on what was being asked of me (and what priority, etc). This was not allowed in that most recent workplace.  My asking "why" was regularly misinterpreted as a challenge (to authority, hierarchy, etc).

Awareness and Inclusion Efforts:

I find many Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policies are performative, and never adequately seek to understand “inclusion into what”. I’m not thinking narrowly about neurotypes, but all forms of diversity.

I’ve observed “inclusion” interpreted narrowly as anyone being able to join an organization. Once hired, employees are expected to behave like every other employee, and never make so-called “normal” employees feel uncomfortable with any differences. Employees are expected to leave who they are as complex intersectional people at home.

I knew this workplace was aware of legal obligations in relation to “disabled” employees (Autism is still treated only as a disability under Ontario law), but there was no indication management attempted to learn what Autism was. There was only the all too common “there are other neurodivergent employees, and they aren’t having a problem at this moment” dismissal of the reality of equity seeking people.

While I wasn’t fired, I also didn’t have a job to return to after being forced on sick leave for being Autistic at work.

Long before I accepted I’m Autistic, I knew one of my skills was in analysing and trying to improve systems. While I was regularly hired as a systems administrator where it was understood I would try to understand/improve/manage computer systems, I do the same for any type of system whether it be government structures/policy or corporate structures/policies. I read articles on common failure patterns for technology and other businesses, and try to help in my workplaces to avoid them.

While my skills related to systems could have been harnessed, at the most recent workplace it was harassed. Any attempt to discuss business culture and patterns were misinterpreted as a critique about individual people. It essentially meant there was a mismatch between my skills and what was expected of me, as I was intended to silently follow a chain of command and arbitrary information silos, and to never to discuss or seek systemic improvements.

P.S.: If the subject doesn't make sense to you, read it as "Observations about a review of a review of Autism Employment". It is nerdy humour -- sorry :-)