“Swim Team”: autistic teens find accomplishment in sports

Lara Stolman’s documentary “Swim Team” aired on PBS POV Monday night, October 2, 2017.

The documentary traces three autistic young men in high school who find themselves in competitive swimming, for a Perth Amboy, NJ team called the “Hammerheads”.  The young men are Michael McQuay, Jr., Robert Justino, and Kelvin Truong.

Along the way, the film explains the rules for how they can graduate from high school.  The state has the responsibility to educate them until age 21.  But Michael gets to graduate at 18.

There is a scene where a female counselor explains to Justino that he is competing in a special Olympics style event because he is a person with a disability.  Justino does not seem to fully comprehend, on his own, that his capability to function as an adult may not be what others would expect.

The film does not particularly stress athleticism; the kids don’t “peak” and there are no scenes involving shaving.  I can recall going to a swim meet at SMU in Dallas in 1982, at the “natatorium”, and the competitive NCAA college students definitely peaked for the event  The crowd was as loud as at a football game.

I never learned to swim very well, although I stumbled through mandatory swimming as an undergraduate in college.  I was physically behind other boys and some people say I have Asperger’s, but then some people say that about Mark Zuckerberg or Alan Turing. I tended to catch up somewhat in Army Basic at age 24 in 1968 (after graduate school) although I spent three weeks in “special training company”.

High schools did not have swimming pools when I was growing up, but the wealthier ones do now.  Swimming is often now required PE for graduation.  (It wasn’t required in Army Basic in 1968 but I presume it is in Navy and Marines.)  There are many reports that African-American students often do not learn to swim. After the film (abridged slightly from its announced 90-minute length) the director did a brief QA.

I’ll note “The Good Doctor” about an autistic (and quite likeable) surgical resident on ABC.  The series was not aired in DC last night because of pre-emption by a Washington Redskins football game.

Name:  “Swim Team”
Director, writer:  Lara Stolman
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS POV 2017/10/2
Length:  90
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS POV
Link:  PBS; official

(Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017 at 2 PM EDT)

The Perils of “Privilege”: does the book make the word a near oxymoron?

I’ve already written my own missives about “rightsizing” and meritocracy, but I have used the “P” word all that much.  So I thought that this new book (mostly written right before the 2016 presidential conventions) by Phoebe Maltz Bovy would consolidate my thinking, even about my own life.  That is,  “The Perils of ‘Privilege’; Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage.”

The basic reason is that of a natural logical paradox.  Those who point to someone else’s unearned privilege are creating a reciprocal unearned privilege for themselves. Of that, she gives many examples.  And in her Conclusion, “After Privilege”, she tries to unwind our thinking, with suggestions like “less awareness” or less hypersensitivity, repudiating the overuse of the word “violence”, returning to a focus on the macro rather than the micro, and making social justice a means rather than an end.

She makes good use of buzzwords, most of all, “YPIS”, or “Your Privilege Is Showing” (I can think of another “P” word), as well as problematic “faves”.  But she tends to go back and forth over the same materials in the five chapters.  The organization of the book seems a bit arbitrary.

She gives many little anecdotes.  One is a narrative of an upper class young man who wants to prove to himself he can hold down a “real job” in a fast food restaurant – to find out if he can work in a regimented environment.  I[m reminded of Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed” (2001). She mentions the conflict of interest problem in whether a social studies professor can ethically write about a “privilege” issue of one of her students.

She also talks about the context problems caused by membership of people in multiple groups in crisscross fashion. She mentions how this affects our perception of the victims of terrorism (against white or well-off civilians, on the one hand, and against religious populations by dictatorial governments, like in Syria, on the other).

In the Afterword, particularly, she explains the irony of Donald Trump’s reinventing the exploitation of privilege by building a voting block of rural white people without college degrees.  But this views elitism (e.g. the Clintons) as another variation of the privilege theme, as fodder for the political Right. It can morph into anti-intellectualism, anti-science, and religious “cultism” as well as a “take care of your own first” idea of charity.

For an individual, the question is, “What am I supposed to do about it?”  I could be viewed as in a marginalized group (gay), which brought considerable consequences earlier in my adult life.  But I was also “privileged” in being brought up in a state, prosperous family as an only child (cis-male).  In ,y working career, my childlessness was seen by other colleagues as a kind of privilege. Later in life, I have benefited from inheritance.  I think that implies some obligation.  Is it to focus less on my own expressive goals and join in to reinforce other people’s social capital?  That could make a difference, for example, in assisting asylum seekers (and refugees), the former having become very difficult to do totally legally and entailing risk. I think the question of “privilege” intersects with that of “fairness”, as my own experience early in my life with the military draft and my use of deferments (ultimately to finish education before service and be sheltered from combat, while giving people grades as a math instructor in graduate school, possibly putting some of them at more risk) now adding to some moral burden.  Maybe the right word to use is “karma”, rather than “privilege”.

Whimsically, I’m reminded of an essay about gays in the military that I authored for Colorado’s “Ground Zero News” in 1995, “The Perils of Rebuttable Presumption“, which I never mentioned again.

Author: Phoebe Maltz Bovy
Title, Subtitle: “The Perils of ‘Privilege’: Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage”
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-09120-8
Publication: New York: St. Martin’s, 324 pages, hardcover, Introduction, 5 chapters, Conclusion, Afterword
Link: authorreview

(Posted: Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 3 PM EDT)

“The Disappointments Room”: genre horror, with a nasty social commentary underneath

The Disappointments Room” (2016), directed by D. J. Caruso, at 85 minutes, seems to be a minimalist genre horror film, but it has big money behind it –Fox, Relativity Media, and “I am Rogue”. (This last company supposedly sponsored a horror screenwriting contest a few years ago.)

And the plot reminds me of some older, better movies:  the British thriller “The Shuttered Room” (1967), “Burnt Offerings” (Marasco’s novel, 1976, with the great line “I know what I do” and the self-healing house) and the similarly conceived “The Sentinel” (1977), set in a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights.

In this new version of the tale, the haunted house is in the North Carolina Piedmont, off the busy I-85 corridor, far from the glitz or intellect of Raleigh-Durham-UNC, and Charlotte, out in the country, where nobody thinks about gerrymandering or bathroom bills.

David (Mel Raido) and his architect wife Dana (Kate Beckinsale) buy the old fixer-upper (quite a mansion) as a way to repair their marriage after Dana lost a baby, and they have the Asperger’s son Lucas, who immediately befriends a friendly feral cat who seems to want to claim him.  But there are other critters on the property, and soon Dana finds it has serious structural problems, like floors that could fall through because of roof leaks.  She incurs the services of a handsome local carpenter Ben, a very smooth and polished Lucas Till  (“Crush”, 2013, as well as X-men).

But she also makes a horrifying discovery, a small room in the attic that causes her to have delusions and nightmares.  Soon, a local soothsayer (or realtor) tells her that old family estates like these kept their hideously disabled children (as if from inbreeding) locked away forever (in “disappointment rooms” indeed), covering up a potential source of shame, from an era that actually believed in eugenics.  The movie reminds us that valuing the disabled is a relatively modern social virtue, compared to how things were even when I was growing up in the 1950s.

Then the old man of the estate (Charles Carrow) appears, perhaps as a phantom, still trying to do away with his hideous child, who appears to have neurofibromatosis.  Dana has to protect her own son from these ghosts who may or may not be real, and keep this from her husband.

The closing credits (rather long) feature a complete three-movement symphony by composer Brian Tyler, with a furious and dissonant disco dance finale that reminds me of the music of British symphonist Havergal Brian.

Name: “The Disappointments Room”
Director, writer:  D. J. Caruso
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2017/4/3
Length:  86
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Rogue, Relativity Media, Fox Home Entertainment
Link:  review

(Picture: near Hickory, NC, or maybe Morganton, my 2016 trip)

(Posted: Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at 10:30 AM EDT)


“Beauty and the Beast”: in the end, “smooth” is still “desirable”

Beauty and the Beast”, directed by Bill Condon, has a simple enough moral:  physical beauty may be skin deep, but real love is soul-deep.  I’ve been there before.  I heard that speech in 1978.

The film is Walt Disney Studio’s remake of the 1991 play of the setting of the Broadway play, about 1990, by Alan Menken (lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. That in turn is based on the fairy tale by Linda Woolverton.  So, we have children’s literature.

When I worked as a substitute teacher, I did an English class (10th grade) where the assignment was to write a fairy tale.  One of the boys wrote a tale starting, “Once upon a time there lived a banana”.  Imagine where that could go.

In fact, for all the artistry surrounding talking teacups and living heirlooms in a dark castle in medieval France, this sort of classic works better for me on stage, like “Wicked”.  Yes, the songs are wonderful.

As for the morality tale, the prince (Dan Stevens) gets transmuted into a beast after he turns away a homeless old hag.  He’s really worse off than “the Rich Young Ruler” in the New Testament.  In nearby towns (or maybe Paris), Belle (almost out of “Days of our Lives” in the past), played by Emma Watson, has to fend off a suitor Gaston (Luke Evans), who warns her about the fate of spinsters – they drop out of eternity.  She runs away to the castle (the climate transmutes from summer to winter without much change of altitude, just like in “The Shack”) and meets the prince, and of course falls in love with him.

So she looks beyond the obvious.  I could just pretend that she is attracted to hairy men (after all, Caucasians evolved in colder climates, where that sort of natural selection of a cis-gender manly-looking secondary sexual characteristic might be logical).  Maybe he just looks Neanderthal (and it’s possible that Europeans benefited from the best Neanderthal genes, as they took over).  Gaston will follow her, with guide Maurice (Kevin Kline), and Josh Gad will play LeFou (sounds like the name of a government teacher).  In the final scene, though, Beast changes back.  It seems that “smooth” (or “thmooth” – that is, immature) is what is “desirable”, even for men, after all.  David Skinner (author of the 1999 essay “Notes on the Hairless Man”) will celebrate in the world of conservatism.

I do recall in the early 1970s, before “My Second Coming” (Chapter 3 of my “Do Ask, Do Tell I” book) a couple of women tried to encourage me to adopt an “alternative” appearance to appeal to them — head shaving, hippy beads, body art — as if I could cover up my physical flaws and get away with it. That confounded my own idea of virtue.

Name:  “Beauty and the Beast”
Director, writer:  Bill Condon
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1  Imax, 3-D
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/3/21, afternoon, small audience
Length:  129
Rating:  PG
Companies:  Walt Disney Studios
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at 9:30 AM EDT)

“The Accountant” : This autistic figurehead for the mob has amazing charisma and personal integrity


Name: The Accountant
Director, writer:  Gavin O’Connor
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, 2016/10/20, evening, good crowd
Length 128
Rating PG-13
Companies: Warner Brothers
Link: official 


The Accountant” (2016), by Gavin O’Connor and written by Bill Dubuque, makes its central character, a 40-year-old man who outgrew his autism with the help of a very determined military father, into a rather charismatic figure.

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) seems to have a lot of integrity, and loyalty to people he loves.  He speaks directly and simply.  He has this narrow focus on what he does.  So he is a genius at doing math in his head (a savant) and a dangerous sharpshooter (“I shoot”).  He lives simply in a house in suburban Chicago and eats according to rituals.  He does a bizarre fitness routine involving rolling a dough bar on his now nearly hairless legs.

The only trouble is how he has made his living: as an accountant for the mob.  Only someone like Christian can grasp the bizarre mechanics of offshore accounts and money laundering. Oh, he got caught once and managed to build friendships in Leavenworth, and then escape, and then set up his own shell companies.

He remains the good guy, protecting his mob-connected younger brother, and building a cautious relationship with a fellow aspie, Dana (Anna Kendrick) whom he meets at a supposedly legitimate robotics company whose books he has been hired to uncook.

Add to the books the childless, single robotics CEO Lamar Black (John Lithgow), and the Treasury agent, resurrected from retirement, to find him (JK Simmons) and his protégé (Cynthia Addai-Robinson).

I don’t think the film really does that much for people with autism, though. It’s popcorn stuff.

(Posted: Friday, Oct. 21, 2016 at 10:15 AM EDT)

“Life, Animated”: How Disney films helped a young man grow out of autism



Name: Life, Animated
Director, writer:  Roger Ross Williams, Ron Suskind (book)
Released:  2016
Format:  HD video film
When and how viewed:  2016/7/16. Landmark Bethesda Row, late show, small audience
Length 91
Rating NA (PG-13)
Companies: The Orchard, A&E
Link: Owen’s own drawings

Life, Animated”, directed by Roger Ross Williams, tells another story of an autistic young person, going into adulthood.

In the end, the young man, Owen Suskind, at 24, seems  communicative enough that you wouldn’t necessarily notice the disability, except for a slight monotone at times in his accent.  He gets a job at a Regal movie theater, and has moved into his own apartment (although there is mention of some kind of regular assistance) at some distance from his family’s home, which appears to be in the Boston (maybe Cape Cod) area if I saw the film right.


Owen’s father is Ron Suskind, a well-known journalist and author  .  Ron wrote the book “Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Austism”.  Owen has a very supportive older brother, Walter, mother.

The early part of the film documents Owen’s sudden decline and loss of speech at about age 3.  But somehow he found a world “to connect to” in Walt Disney animated movies.  There was a particular “aha momenet’ associated with “The Little Mermaid” (1989).  Some of the other films included “Alladin”, “The Lion King”, “Peter Pan”, “Dumbo” (one of the first films I saw, with my parents, as a boy), and “Bambi”.    Oh, remember also Qausimodo in both classic and animated versions of Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (which we spent half a year reading in high school senior French class). Animation seemed to show Owen how to differentiate between fantasy and reality.


Owen gradually took up drawing, “sidekick” cartoon characters rather than the main heroes.  His slogan became “Protect the Sidekicks”.  I wondered if there was any relation to major comic book characters, or if Owen takes any interest in manga (or games with many characters like Danganronpa), or even the Pokemon Go game now

I had some experience with autism when working as a substitute teacher in 2005.  Owen, at the end of the film, functions at a much stronger level than the high school students I encountered.  The film does not cover Asperger’s Syndrome, which is regarded as part of the autism spectrum disorder.

(Pictures: My trip to Cape Cod, Aug. 2015).

“The Fundamentals of Caring”: making comedy out of dire personal need


Name: The Fundamentals of Caring
Director, writer:  Rob Burnett
Released:  2016/6/24
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: Netflix instant, 2016/7/13
Length 97
Rating PG-13
Companies: Netflix Red Envelope, Roadside Attractions(?)
Link: Netflix (subscription required to view)

When Ben Benjamin (Paul Rudd, “The Object of My Affection”) completes a six-week caregiving certificate, his teacher (Donna Biscoe) repeats a couple of inevitable epigrams:  You can’t care for someone else until you’ve taken care of yourself, and you have a right to be yourself, too (or something like that).   That’s how the dramedy “The Fundamentals of Caring” (2016) directed by Rob Burnett, a Netflix original film, based on the novel “The Revised Fundamentals of Caring” by Jonathan Evison, begins.  Note that the title world is “caring” and not specifically “caregiving”, which is less inclusive.

Ben has lost his son in an unspecified tragedy, and a process server keeps trying to contact him with divorce papers from his wife. He takes his first job caring for a most personable young man, Trevor (Craig Roberts) who remains paralyzed from what seems like a congenital problem, and his life expectancy is low.


Ben soon comes up with the idea of taking Trevor on a road trip, where he can feel more like a man for once in his life (at least be able to stand up for a piss).  The “object” will be the world’s deepest pit.  Now, the actual pit scene at the end seems to be filmed at a quarry in Cartersville, GA (a city I visited for one day in 1998 to visit with Sharon Harris of Advocates for Self-Government, while on my own road trip, when living in Minneapolis).

The movie script, however, says the boy lives in Seattle, and sometimes shows some far away shots of mountains in Montana or Utah.  So a copper mine pit at Bingham Canyon or in Butte MT (which I visited in 1981) would have been logical destinations.

OK, let’s get back  to the human side.  They go looking for “Roadside Attractions” (a term used in the script, but not named as a distributor of the film), and start staying in some one-floor motels.  Ben, to be a decent human being, gives a ride to another lost young woman (Selena Gomez), who comes along, and that gives a chance for some romance for Trevor (feels good for some viewers, but maybe not that funny for me). Then to really prove his eusociality, empathy and connectedness to other people. Ben goes over the edge when finding a pregnant woman, Elsa (Jennifer Ehle) with a disabled car beside the road “.  I had my own situation like this recently (story ),  and it’s rather  uncanny that this happens in a comedy movie right after it “happens to me”.  Trevor insists that the crew take her along for the ride to protect her since she’s pregnant (just getting her car towed won’t cut it morally).  What’s funny about it, the possibility or an “instant family?  Well, Ben will get to prove that he can deliver a baby he didn’t make later.

Frederick Weller (“The Business of Strangers”, and “Stonewall” (1996 film) is rather chilling as an auto dealer who had abandoned Trevor pver Trevor’s disability.

The was a documentary “Care” about caregivers at AFI-Docs but I did not see it, and I’ll try to find the video.

By Kolopreshttp://www.toddtrigsted.com/trigsted_photo.htm, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2237031

(Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at 6 PM EDT)

“Me Before You”: a female caregiver falls in love with a disabled man, but is this just manipulative?


Name: Me Before You
Director, writer:  Thea Sharrock, Jojo Moyes (novel)
Released:  2016/6/3
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, late 2016/6/19, small audience
Length 105
Rating PG-13
Companies: MGM, New Line Cinema (UK)
Link: site

Me Before You”, directed by Thea Sharrock, and based on the novel Jojo Moyes, sounds like it’s supposed to sell reassurance, that someone suddenly disabled can find real love anyway.  It’s a notion that some in the writing world have tried to push on me, but that’s a long discussion.

In modern day rural Britain, Lou Clarke (Emilia Clarke) lives at home, struggling to make ends me, with a fit but buffoonish boyfriend Patrick (Matthew Lewis). As with many formulaic screenplays, everything is going wrong, as she loses a job in a failing restaurant.  But she finds a no-experience-needed job as a caregiver (so far, reminding me of “Like Sunday, Like Rain”, June 2, where a young woman takes a job as a nanny).  But this time the subject is a formerly athletic young man Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), who had been struck by a motorcycle and paralyzed from neck down.  He still has his mind, his wit, and his wealthy mother is the boss.

In fact, there is already a male caregiver, so this is a little interesting what the point is.  Eventually, yes, she will fall in love with him.  There is the inevitable tragedy, and a windfall at the end for her.

Traynor actually looks good in the film, not the way a real quadriplegic would look.  The disabled community has been critical of casting an able-bodied actor (Hollywood Reporter story by Rebecca Sun ).

But I’m reminded of my own tendency in the past to cherry-pick, to make sure that anybody I was “interested” in was really perfect enough physically, because I wasn’t.  My capacity for feeling romance was always predicated on “upward affiliation”, the antithesis of what happens in this film (or the film yesterday).

(Posted: Sunday, June 19, 2016 at 10:15 PM EDT)