Temple Grandin, Autism and Humanity

Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be.”  –Temple Grandin

I was recently blown away by the new HBO movie Temple Grandin, the biopic of the woman by the same name.  The film illustrates Ms. Grandin’s (Claire Danes) struggle and perseverance with autism in the face of ridicule and isolation during a time when autism was less understood than it is today.  Aided by the quiet, unwavering strength and dignity of her mother (Julia Ormond) and an empathetic science teacher and mentor (David Strathairn), Ms. Grandin became Dr. Grandin, professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, advocate for the humane treatment of livestock and noted speaker in the field of autism and Asperger Syndrome.  Nearly half of the slaughterhouses running today in North America use Dr. Grandin’s design.  “We raise them for us,” she says, “that means we owe them our respect.”

In the history of film, we have enjoyed many incredible and poignant portrayals by actors, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Claire Danes’ portrayal of Temple Grandin should be included near the top.  Her transformation was riveting and complete; heartfelt, respectful and imbued by pathos that was as devastating as the catharsis was uplifting. 

For many years, I’ve had a theory about disorders like autism and Asperger’s.  I’ve kept the theory to myself, writing it off as science fiction, but watching this film seemed to validate these thoughts.  In a nutshell, the theory is this:  What if autism and Asperger’s aren’t disorders at all, but, in reality, the first steps onto a new, human evolutionary path?  The exact opposite of a “disorder;” a “hyperorder” perhaps.

Even if you don’t believe in Evolution (with the capital “E”), you can still acknowledge that our bodies and brains evolve (small “e”) and adapt to accommodate the world in which we live.

Rarely do we recognize genius in our time.  It almost always appears in the rear-view mirror as we contemplate the road that delivered us to any given place.

In the interest of fairness, my wife and I are not parents, let alone parents of a child with autism or Asperger’s, so you would be well within your rights to say that I’m naïve, but it seems to me that the “disorders” exhibited by those with autism and Asperger’s are more cosmetic and social than they are indicative of any kind of deficiency.  In the words of Temple Grandin’s mother:  “Different, but not less.” 

For instance, to an autistic child, the world is a very loud, confusing avalanche of stimuli.  I’d say that’s an accurate assessment.  Of course, as “normal” people, we accept it, ignore it or filter it.  But is it “normal?”  We may not rock or spin, but we do tune it out; albeit in more socially acceptable ways.

Autistic children lack a “normal” grasp of language, and, instead, see the world as a series of images and pictures.  There is a Chinese proverb that says:  “One picture is worth ten thousand words.”  To “normal” people, this is quaint and romantic; to a child with autism, it is quite literal.  And is it a great stretch to say that our vernacular is slowly becoming a series of images?  As anyone with a Twitter account knows, the rules of communication are morphing and contracting every day.  To many, a text message can be as foreign as a series of Egyptian hieroglyphs, but to others, it is succinct and efficient.  According to the “rules” of blogging, I’ve already gone on too long for today’s abbreviated attention spans, and I thank you for staying with me this far.  But which should we consider “normal?”

My intent is not to whitewash the challenges faced by children with autism or Asperger’s and those of the parents who love them.  Rather, just as those with autism or Asperger’s experience a “different but not less” perspective, perhaps “normal” could do with a different perspective of that which we consider “disorder.”  As the film Temple Grandin (and Dr. Grandin herself) has shown, often times, in “disorder” there is genius.


Defining “Liberal”

I have a confession to make, and after 40 years of drawing breath on this planet, I think I’m ready to come clean.  I am a liberal.  There, I said it.  I’m prepared to face the repercussions. 

I decided that I am a liberal when I looked up the definition of the word and found this:

Liberal (adj):
1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
2. (often initial capital letter) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.
4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers. 
6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners. 
8. open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.
9. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal donor. 
10. given freely or abundantly; generous: a liberal donation. 
11. not strict or rigorous; free; not literal: a liberal interpretation of a rule. 
12. of, pertaining to, or based on the liberal arts.
13. of, pertaining to, or befitting a freeman.

This is the established, traditional definition of “liberal” so you might even call it a conservative definition.  Or so I thought.  Turns out the Conservative definition of “Liberal” is as follows:

Liberal (Noun) (profanity):
1. valueless individual, Hell-bent on the destruction of our Republic.
2. of or pertaining to hating Freedom.
3. God-hating Hippie bastard.
4. hates Government or loves Government; whichever is the opposite of what is right.
5. treasonous, flag-burning, arugula-eating, know-it-all so-and-so.
6. lover of taxes, Europe and N.P.R.
7. can’t have enough abortions; would hand out two-for-one coupons if possible.
8. unpatriotic, non-supporter of troops.
9. trust-busting, monopoly-fearing and Free Market-destroying; anti-business.
10. tree hugging espouser of Climate Change; anti-business.
11. wants to kill old people with socialized health care; anti-business.
12. hates marriage; refuses to acknowledge the “Gay Agenda.”
13. believes in the need for Public Schools despite the copious number of poor people contained therein.

Synonyms:  “Leftist,” “Lefty,” “Lib,” “Socialist,” “Marxist,” “Bolshevik,” “‘Bout to Get His Ass Kicked by Toby Keith.”

I guess if you control the language, you control the debate.  I’m going with the first definition.  And let the healing begin.


The Only Holiday Recipe You’ll Ever Need

I don’t know about you, but I love Irish Cream.  This time of year, I add it to nearly every liquid I ingest.  What follows is the greatest recipe for home-made Irish Cream that I have ever known:

Add the following to a blender in this order:

1 cup bourbon or whiskey (this recipe works best with “Windsor Canadian Whiskey”)

3 whole eggs

¼ tsp (teaspoon) coconut extract

1½ cups whipping cream

1½ Tbs (Tablespoon) chocolate syrup

1 can (14oz) Eagle Sweetened Condensed Milk

Blend for 1 minute, refrigerate and enjoy.

Before you enjoy, do me a favor:  This recipe was passed down from a man by the name of Tommy Pietrzak.  Tommy was one of the kindest, gentlest, coolest guys ever to walk the Earth.  Before you take your first of many, many sips, give a little toast to Tommy; he’ll hear it.  And if you pass this recipe on, please include these final instructions.

Here’s to you, Tommy, and God bless us, everyone.


The Pre-Thanksgiving Root Canal

*This is dedicated to the hygienist and Dr. Taito, DDS who were worried that I might use this experience in one of my “bits.”  I am.

First, some exposition:  For over a month I’ve had a wicked pain on the left side of my head.  Various doctors have prescribed antibiotics and pain killers to temporary results, but the pain always returned.  Then I thought the source of the pain might be an un-erupted wisdom tooth that, by laying low, avoided the fate of the other three which, after they were pulled, I turned into buttons for a rather Gothic cardigan. 

That suspicion took me to my wife’s dentist.  In a matter of moments he diagnosed the pain that had plagued me for weeks.  “Well, I don’t think it’s the wisdom tooth,” he said, “I think the problem is that you have an enormous cavity in that tooth right there.”  He pointed to the X-ray and a convex area of black among my mouth’s ghostly white, picket fence.  It was tooth #19; the “Robin Yount Tooth.”  He knelt down beside the chair.  “I think this is going to require a root canal.” 

My first cavity ever, and it required a root canal.

Now if you’re anything like me, just the term “root canal” is enough to make you break into a cold sweat.  I know it does me, despite the fact that I’ve never had one.  I considered asking if for another option like perhaps two .38 slugs to the back of the head, but the doctor assured me that he knew a great Endodontist (root canal specialist).

Two days later and one day before the most celebrated mouth holiday there is, I was to receive a root canal.

Here’s what it would look like if my mouth was a cartoon:

Anyway, on the day of the big procedure, I shaved my body smooth, and anointed it with goat’s milk and Lavender.  Then, I kissed my wife goodbye and drove to Dr. Taito’s office singing I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing by Aerosmith.

When I arrived at the office, I checked in at reception.  I gave them my name and the staff became very furtive, like they were trying to get a look at me without looking like they were looking.  I felt a bit like Harry Potter when he first arrived at Hogwarts. 

Later, talking to the hygienist, I learned that some of the staff knew my name from WKLH and wondered if I was the same guy.  This is actually pretty common when people put a face to a radio voice.  (The strangest comment I ever received was:  “I thought you would be blond.”  How do you sound blond?)

When Dr. Taito came in, he informed me that he had done a Google search on me, and he seemed impressed by my prolific on-line presence.  Now, you’d think this would be a good thing, being recognized and all, but I immediately thought:  “Crap.  Now I can’t be a wuss.”

I mean, who wants to later be a character in the doctor’s story:

“So get this.  You know that Dylan guy from WKLH?”


“Total wimp.  Cried like a kitten.  We ran out of Novocaine; had to borrow more from another office.”

So every time they asked me if I was okay, I tried to wink like John Wayne…despite the fact that it would cause a single tear to roll into my ear.

Anyway, turns out that Dr. Taito and Advanced Dental Specialists are pretty incredible.  His chair-side manner was a lot like I imagine Oprah’s Dr. Oz.

So I’m finally on the mend.  For the first time in weeks, and on Thanksgiving Eve, I couldn’t be more thankful that I’m now pain-free.  Of course that could be because of the meds.  But I prefer to think that it’s because I’m spooning a unicorn in a chocolate hammock.

Did you know unicorns could purr?  Me neither.


To “Be” or Not To “Be”

As mentioned in an earlier post, I’m something of a word nerd, which is why I was a little confused when I came across a colonial recipe for Thanksgiving turkey in a coffee table book.  It said:

“Behead the foul ‘ere you pluck a feather…”

Now, I had heard the term “behead” before, but, for some reason, reading it, it struck me as strange.  I couldn’t put my finger on why for the longest time, and then I saw a commercial for the BeDazzler, the item that will make a plain old denim jacket look like a fishing lure for just $19.95.

Surely the prefix “be-” couldn’t be correct for both, could it?  It’s commonly accepted that to behead something means to remove its head, yet in the case of the BeDazzler it means to add…dazzle.  So I looked it up and, sure enough, the prefix “be-” means: 

“1.  Completely; thoroughly; excessively.  Used as an intensive:  Bemuse”

By this definition, to behead a turkey would mean a) to make sure the turkey has plenty of heads, or b) to kill it via several sharp head butts, which, let’s face it, would be a hilarious way to kill a turkey.

But if “behead” does mean “to remove the head,” what happens to someone who is “beloved?”  Do you remove their love?  Are all those Valentine’s Day cards really meant as aggressive threats?

So I say we “dehead” our turkeys, and by all means DeDazzle your denim jacket; for God’s sake, you look like a Lumberjack Disco Ball.


Carpus Delicti

They’re heeeeere!

Folks, I don’t want to cause a panic, despite how good it is for readership, but the invasive Asian Carp is making its way north and threatens to destroy the delicate Great Lakes ecosystem.  As you know, destroying ecosystems is our job, and this latest invasion is another example of irresponsible outsourcing to Asia.

You, like me, have probably heard of the Asian Carp but didn’t know much about it.  When we say “Asian Carp,” we’re referring to a couple species in particular:  The Silver Carp and the Bighead Carp.  What makes these fish so dangerous?  They are voracious eaters, occasionally reaching upwards of 100lbs.  They are also insatiable breeders.  The concern is that they will force out the Great Lakes’ native fish.  But with the Silver Carp, there is another worry:  When agitated by boat motors, they tend to leap out of the water like cannon balls, bludgeoning boaters and other maritime enthusiasts like Carp-A-Kazis.

In order to prevent the wiley carp from entering the Great Lakes, the Army Corps of Engineers built a $9 Million electric fish barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  Well, it seems that the barrier has been breached.  How?  Based on some exhaustive research on my part, I’ve determined that the carp have been engaging in some “engineering” of their own; specifically “human engineering.”

I should warn you:  What follows may not be suitable for young readers! 

A Bighead Carp seducing an Army Corps Engineer

A Bighead Carp seducing an Army Corps Engineer (Photo courtesy of fishingfury.com)

That’s right, folks, despite our love for our Great Lakes, it can’t compete with our love for the perfect figure:  12-65-12.  Later, as the guard slumbered, the fish, along with several of its school, crept past the barrier and continued on to Lake Michigan.

God help us all.



I’m a word nerd.  You might say I’m “a Werd.”  Then again, if you said that, people would probably assume that you were saying “word,” and just be confused.

That’s how I know that the New Oxford American Dictionary has recently unveiled their 2009 Word of the Year.  Oxford Dictionary doesn’t reveal the process by which it’s chosen.  The highly-secretive, Mason-esque event occurs behind closed doors, and the results are only known when white smoke is released and two people at a sidewalk cafe request a different table.

Maybe you know the winning word, but if you don’t, let’s play a little game:  I’ll list the word and a definition with 4 of the other nominees and you see if you can guess.  Ready?

“Unfriend”-to remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.  I prefer “Unface.”  It implies some real conflict and and the chance of violence.

“Tramp Stamp”– a tattoo on the lower back, usually on a woman.  And trust me, ladies, it only gets sexier when you’re 40.

“Choice Mom”– a person who chooses to be a single mother.  Or chooses to get a Tramp Stamp at 40. 

“Death Panel”-a theoretical body that determines which patients deserve to live, when care is rationed.  I love this idea!  Please see:  “To the Sponsors of the Heath Reform Bill”

“Intexticated”-distracted because texting on a cellphone while driving a vehicle.  Okay, now they’re just making up Sniglets.

And the winner is:                Unfriend

They’ve already begun updating our culture.  Instead of “‘Til Death do us part,” wedding officiants are instructed to say:  “‘Til Life unfriends you.”  In the literary classic Lord of the Flies, Piggy is now “unfriended” by the boulder.  And Ken Burns has been ordered to alter the voice over in his highly-acclaimed P.B.S. series, The Civil War  to include the new word.  From now on, the Civil War is referred to as:  “A Nation Unfriended.”

Sadly, spell check has yet to catch up to this newest trend.

So welcome to the lexicon, “unfriend,” and may we be “unfriends” forever!


Nikita Khrushchev, Build That Wall!

A lot has been made lately of the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

But never let us forget the fateful day that oppression planted the seeds of future freedom.  Let us also celebrate August 13th, 1961.  That is the day the border was closed…and just 12 days after, Six Flags opened in Texas.

And what a wall!  From a humble wire fence at the beginning, to the Stützwandelement in 1975.  A masterpiece of wall technology, the Stützwandelement was constructed from 45,000 separate sections of reinforced concrete, each 12 ft high and 4 ft wide, and cost $3,638,000 U.S.  The top of the wall was lined with a smoothpipe, intended to make it more difficult to scale.  It was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, dogs on long lines, beds of nails under balconies (the “death strip”), over 116 watchtowers and 20 bunkers.

Now that’s a f@#%ing wall!

So while we celebrate the day that Ronald Reagan ordered and David Hasselhoff delivered, let us never forget the day that made it all possible, August 13th, 1961, Oppression Day.

Raise a glass to oppression that we may later be free!


Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign: Bay View Trick or Treating

It’s Bay View, nighttime Trick or Treating time again.  When I was a resident of Bay View, I was happy to participate, and gave myself over 100% to the event, even going so far as to dress up myself.  There was a real sense of community about it.  Unfortunately, I no longer live in Bay View.

The thing is, I haven’t moved.  Believe me, if I had moved, I’d have mentioned it here.  In fact, I didn’t know that I no longer lived in Bay View until one day, when I was out walking my dog, I came across this spray-painted on the sidewalk:

I live on the upside-down side.

Trust me, this took some getting used to.  From then on, when people asked me where I lived I said:  “I live in Bay…(sigh) I just live in Milwaukee.”

But here’s the thing:  Come Trick or Treat time, Bay View graciously extends their border to include the home where my wife and I live.  Never mind that I now have to participate in both Milwaukee’s daytime Trick or Treating AND Bay View’s nighttime Trick or Treating.  Such is the bane of being a Bay View Ex-patriot.

I have a question however:  Who decided this?  I mean, Bay View is not an actual city like Wauwatosa, Shorewood, Whitefish Bay, St. Francis or Cudahy; it’s a community, a made up construct like, say, Riverwest.  When you call the Fire Department in “Bay View,” it’s a Milwaukee truck that shows up. 

And the criterion of “Bay View” is certainly not a “view” of the “bay;” that would be a narrow strip of the city roughly two blocks deep.

But it’s apparently official enough to spray paint it on the sidewalk.  Believe you me, I’d get arrested if I spray-painted this on the sidewalk:

And it would be a Milwaukee cop doing the arresting.

I guess nothing says “Bay View” like spray-painting the sidewalk to let others know that they aren’t.

Stay classy, Bay View.


Worst Halloween Candy EVER

As promised, here’s the short list:

First, there are Circus Peanuts.  Thankfully, Circus Peanuts are hard to find.  If you’re not familiar, they are basically marshmallows molded into the shape of a large peanut.  Most people never experience the horrible taste because the color is enough to keep it from being consumed.  Much like many insects have bright coloring to warn predators that they are poisonous, the unhealthy, fleshy color of the circus peanut provides a similar defense.  They look like the benign polyp of a Florida retiree that rubbed off and fell into a puddle of spray-on tan.

Second, we have the Good and Plenty.  For kids anyway, the reason that there are Plenty is because they aren’t very Good.  Sure we adults might appreciate the many subtle flavors that comprise black licorice or, as the Italians call it, Anisette, but to kids, it tastes like tree bark coated in WD-40. 

In a similar vein is Number Three, the Mounds bar, not to be confused with Almond Joy.  Almond Joy’s got nuts, Mounds don’t.  As kids, we laughed ourselves silly at the fact that Almond Joy was clearly the boy candy and Mounds was the girl candy, and I know I run the risk of sounding sexist, but the Mounds bar is a far inferior candy…although I do think it deserves equal pay for equal work.  The problem with the Mounds bar is the shredded coconut.  Watch a child eat a Mounds bar for the first time and you’ll see what I mean.  They dive in with the appropriate youthful gusto, but then they experience the texture of the shredded coconut.  At first, they’re confused, but then the confusion gives way to disgust, and, finally, that look of utter devastation.  As if, twenty years from now, they’ll be discussing the Mounds bar incident with their therapist.  Even as an adult, I have trouble with coconut.  The only time I truly don’t mind it is when it’s mixed in with batter, wrapped around a shrimp and deep fried, but it’s not recommended that you pass out coconut shrimp for Halloween.

Fourth is candy corn.  At first, I didn’t understand this.  Personally, I like candy corn, but the more I thought about it, I discovered that I liked candy corn more as a decoration than a confection.  It’s like that dark green leaf that occasionally appears on your plate at a restaurant.  Not lettuce, but that other thing.  Sometimes it’s got some red in it.  It’s never included in the description of the thing you’re ordering, so you probably shouldn’t eat it.  For instance, the menu description never says:  “Baked, honey-glazed chicken, a twice baked potato, green beans almandine…and a dark green leaf of some sort.”  Anyway, that’s like candy corn.

The fifth and final candy on my incomplete list of horrible Halloween candies are the heinous things in the black and orange wrappers:   The Peanut Butter Kiss.  Not since Judas Iscariot has a “kiss” been associated with so much betrayal. The only redeeming quality of the Peanut Butter Kiss is that if your child accidentally eats one, you can give him a second Peanut Butter Kiss to induce vomiting.  If you’re considering handing out Peanut Butter Kisses for Halloween, save yourself the money and just clean up after your dog with black and orange baggies and hand those out.  At least it’s more sincere.

Happy Halloween!