I encountered something revolting yesterday. Going along Eltham high Street, I encountered a stall for the Brexit Party. Naturally I stopped to tell them what I thought of them, but it soon became clear that the main guy running it had no idea what he was talking about. He tried to tell me that the party advocated things it blatantly does not, and that it had nothing to do with Nigel Farage. The revolting thing, though, was that one of the former students I used to work with at Charlton Park Academy was also manning the stand. She had quite severe learning difficulties, and would have had no idea what she was advocating: the Farageist p’tahks were obviously using her to make their party appear inclusive. I tried to explain my concerns to them but they weren’t listening. Can those scumbags sink any lower?
I was rather bewildered this morning when I rolled into my usual voluntary session at school to find everyone wearing pyjamas. I was nonplussed: had I wandered into some strange, alternative reality? But then I was told: this pyjamafest was for Children In Need. Now everything made sense! Had I been warned I’d have gone in my onesie. Mind you I could have pointed out that if we had a properly funded social care system such bizarre events would be unnecessarily, but that would have been far less fun.
A week or so ago I came across a post on a Facebook page for communication aid users which I found utterly insulting. It was a picture of a dog sat by a mat covered with coloured buttons. The person who posted it was insisting that the dog was somehow using the buttons to communicate, like many communication aid users do. I was appalled. It’s no secret that I do not like dogs; I probably inherited that dislike from my dad, who referred to dogs as Mobile Crap Droppers or MCDs. They are foul selfish creatures that people have, for some reason, taken to projecting thoughts and emotions onto, in the fanciful pretence that they are the moral and intellectual equivalent of human infants.
I find that notion repugnant for various reasons. Dog owners seem to think that they are on a par with parents, claiming a social cache they have no right to. Raising a child to adulthood is a honourable, worthy process which takes years of hard, patient work; feeding a dog, walking it and picking up it’s shit barely compares. Yet the way in which some dog owners seem to want to infantilise their pets, talking to them like children, carrying them around and even – believe it or not – pushing them around in prams implies a kind of anthropomorphisation which I find perverse. Dogs should be treated as dogs, not children; and caring for a dog does not make you equivalent to a parent. Or, to put it another way, some dog owners seem to use their pets as surrogates for relationships with other people – probably children – in a way which I doubt is psychologically healthy.
Moreover I object strongly to the noxious, intellectually baseless insistence that dogs can use aac, firstly because it essentially states that communication aid users such as myself function at the same level as an animal. The dog in the link I found was clearly just pressing random buttons to get rewards; any emotion or significance people might derive from that is projected onto it. It was clear in the video I saw that the dog was not pressing buttons in order to trigger a word or message, as some AAC users to; it was simply walking over the mat, sniffing the buttons and walking on. To truly be said to be attempting to communicate the dog would have to consistently press the same button to get the same response: it obviously was not doing so.
Some contend that every ‘social’ animal is capable, at some level, of communication. Of course, all animals usually have some way of expressing basic needs, but the operative word there is basic. When it comes to abstract thought and the expression of abstract ideas, that requires a level of brain function only we humans have. For starters, it requires knowledge of an extensive lexicon of sound symbols, and their meanings: as the relationship between a symbol and what it symbolises is arbitrary (de Sasseur), and this requires a degree of cognitive flexibility dogs simply do not have, they can only be said to have the most basic understanding of words. In Pavlov’s famous experiment, the dogs salivated when the bell rang because they remembered food usually followed; you cannot then claim it functioned like language.
More to the point, to try to claim this video showed a dog trying to communicate and should therefore be considered on a par with an AAC user is a form of anthropomorphism which is insulting to AAC users like myself. What I found offensive was that this link appeared to claim that the only thing preventing dogs communicating at the same level as humans was a lack of a communication aid, implying that communication aid users in a way function at the same level as household pets. I might drool, but I assure you, using my communication aid – understanding what is said to me, and then composing sentences in response – uses a lot more brain function than a dog has.
The pretence that dogs are equivalent to communication aid using children is an insult to all AAC users, many of whom have had to struggle with all their/our might for the right to express ourselves. The fact that the link in question would go as far as to cite Rosemary Crossley herself made it clearer still that they had no idea what they were talking about, as if they were carrying on the work of that great pioneer of facilitated communication in helping the voiceless to communicate. A dog sniffing randomly at coloured buttons on a mat is not the same as a child with cerebral palsy trying with all their might to hit the right button on a tray to ask for a drink or be taken to the loo. (presumably a dog would just sit by it’s bowl or bark at the door). This is another instance of dog-loving balm-pots claiming things for their animals they have no right to; only this time they have gone too far, and they have really pissed me off.
Having just watched Bill Tayor’s quite lengthy testimony at the Trump impeachment inquiry, I just need to say, it will be absolutely absurd if Trump hasn’t resigned by the ten o’clock news. Taylor just spent a couple of hours detailing what happened when; everything he said was backed up by evidence. Surely it is beyond all doubt that Trump was willing to withhold support to Ukraine (the importance of which Taylor made clear to me) unless it investigated Muller. It could hardly be clearer: trump was willing to put his own objectives ahead of his country. How the hell can they or any sensible country not just boot that criminal scumbag out of government?
Problem: flicking a large spot of coffee onto your glasses after Dom has left, and having no PA around to clean them until six this evening.
Solution: whizz to Specsavers on Eltham High Street, explain the situation, and ask the kind lady there to clean them. Problem solved – boom! What’s more, she assured me that I could always go back if my glasses needed cleaning again.
One of the things I like most about using London public transport, especially the busses, is the range of languages you hear on them, from Panjabi to Polish to Russian. As a large, multicultural metropolis, it’s what you would expect. One of the tongues I’ve recently been introduced to, mainly by my new PA Alistair, is Jamaican Creole. I heard him speaking it the other day as he was cooking my dinner, and again just now spoken by a lady on the bus. Most of the words in the creole are English or English in origin, but the grammar and word order stem from languages from West Africa, so you get an intriguing evolution of english, spoken by slaves and their descendants in the Caribbean and now being imported back into London. That, I must say, fascinates me: I’ve always liked words and writing, and the way in which languages change over time as they are exposed to all kinds of influences. I also think the cultural melting pot that London is make it a perfect place to watch such evolutionary processes in action.
This has been a very interesting weekend for me on the film/cultural front, largely thanks to John. Firstly, late on Thursday night, he suggested going up to The Barbican on Friday to see Midnight Traveller. I had never heard of it, but from the online reviews it looked very interesting indeed.
That turned out to be an understatement: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more powerful, compelling piece of film. It tells the story of a family from Afghanistan trying to make it to Europe. It’s a documentary shot entirely using mobile phones, so it feels very real and raw. The hardships the family had to endure, shipped from refugee camp to refugee camp, paying off shady contact after shady contact, made me think just how lucky I am. There is a lot to be said about this film. It’s very gritty and gruelling, yet shot through with moments of humour which give it a humanity which I found utterly compelling. I was also fascinated by the way it was shot: It clearly used mobile phone footage, but the editing is so proficient you do not notice it. It has a solid plot structure and editing style. I could say a lot about it, but I need to watch it again first.
After the screening, there was an audience talk with the producer and one of the men in the film. How cool is that? We got to ask them questions and congratulate them on making such an outstanding, astounding film.
That, however, wasn’t all.. Yesterday I had another filmic treat. Our initial plan was to go to Peckham to see the sequel to The Shining, but because of the busses we got there too late, so instead we saw Official Secrets, a dramatisation of how a whistleblower called Katherine Gunn tried to expose the fact that our then government was trying to deceive the UN over the legitimacy of the war in iraq, and the disgusting lengths the government went to to try to stop her. It was another incredibly moving film, and I left the cinema disgusted that such things could still happen in this country. Mind you, I did raise an eyebrow at the fact that a film about Labour’s stupidity would be released just at the moment when the Tories are trying to deflect attention away from theirs, but that aside, this is a powerful, important film which I think everyone should see – the second of the weekend.