Monday, November 28, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

The brief review sounded like a good bet for our 18th anniversary dinner-and-a-movie celebration -- plus it was at the cheap-theatre, which also sounded good after the spendy restaurant we had in mind!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
In this funny, tense and fascinating film, a researcher (James Franco) raises a young chimpanzee uniquely affected by his experimental brain-repairing drug. Here's a movie where you can almost forget you're watching special effects, and simply fall into watching a great story.

The dinner was savory, leisurely, lovely. The movie -- was beyond tense for me. After the first half hour I was knotted up with such a strong emotional reaction that I nudged JoyDad and told him I wanted to leave. He was all in favor.

So here's the deal with the Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and be warned, this is spoiler-filled, at least about the first part of the film!

The film is a prequel to the famous Planet of the Apes, a post-apocalyptic fantasy in which apes have become ascendant and humans have become slaves. Rise of the Planet of the Apes creates a contemporary groundwork for the apes' ascendancy. The "experimental brain-repairing drug" alluded to in the review is to be a block-buster cure for Alzheimers, and potentially a whole raft of other conditions. The researcher who raises the young chimp is also caring for his own father at home -- his father who has Alzheimers, and is simultaneously deeply impaired yet still physically strong, such that he'll need institutional care very soon (there's no evidence of the family receiving any services that would help him remain at home, by the way.)

The researcher treats his father illicitly with the super-drug, which works amazingly for a while. The young chimp Caesar, meanwhile, is the offspring of a mother who received the super-drug in the lab, and the son ends up with beyond-human intelligence, in (of course) a powerful chimp body, able to communicate via sign-language. The researcher and his father become dad & grandpa figures to Caesar, who eventually falls afoul of the law while attempting to defend his "grandpa" in an Alzheimers-related altercation with a neighbor. It was at the point soon after, when Caesar is locked away for the good of society, that I felt the need to walk out.

The institutionalization of poor Caesar is a devastating betrayal by society, enabled by his researcher-father, though the researcher does try to go through channels and get it reversed. It was just too much for me to watch Caesar, a more sympathetic character than the humans around him but with no place in human society due to his chimpanzee form, comprehend what was happening to him (and the "institution" was far worse than the researcher-father realized.)

Perhaps you can see where my reaction might have come from. Institutionalization for people with disabilities is not just part of our history -- we're living in a state here that has frozen enrollment for programs that help frail elders and people with disabilities live in their communities... except that if there's a crisis, they'll fund emergency institutional care.

On top of that, the film was raising issues of genetic meddling to "cure" disabling brain conditions -- there was one scene where the researcher was pitching his drug for approval for testing on humans, and in his presentation the word "autism" floated across the screen among the conditions that were going to be... fixed. There have been other fictional explorations of this kind of thing: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, and The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon (an autism-specific tale).

Issues, our society has issues. If you want to see them explored in a tense action drama, you might want to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes -- it tells an effective story and the CGI-animation is pretty impressive. But if you've got a personal stake in disability issues, don't be expecting to fall happily into to a funny story. There's a whole lot more at stake than that.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Come, Ye Thankful People

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

Happy Thanksgiving from the JoyFamily - hold your loved ones close!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Recall Walker!

You won't hear about it in the national news, because they didn't care to cover it. Not a single national news truck was there; the only national news figure was Ed Schultz, and he was there to march with the firefighters (though I'm sure he'll report on it in his Monday show.)

Besides, there was no riot. In fact, there wasn't a single arrest.

Somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000 protesters converged on downtown Madison Saturday to fill the Capitol Square -- and the Capitol Building -- with a determined reprise of our gatherings this past February.

The occasion was this week's launch of the signature-gathering drive to recall Governor Scott Walker, who bulldozed into office this past January with a secret agenda, heavily-funded by ultra-wealthy out-of-state corporate string-pullers.

That secret agenda has since marched forward in lock step with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), that secretive organization where corporate representatives and Republican state legislators get together to write legislation to the benefit of the corporations. Then the legislators take the agreed-upon texts back to their states and we get waves of cookie-cutter efforts at:
  • privatization of activities funded by tax dollars, such as education and health care -- corporate profiteers want those lovely other-people's-tax-dollars to redound to their own benefit, while paying as little as possible in taxes themselves
  • consolidation of political power -- union-busting is a two-fer, as they get workers disempowered both on the job and in the political sphere. But power-grab is also at the heart of the Voter ID laws, which seek to disenfranchise groups that tend to vote Democratic: African-Americans, the poor, people with disabilities.
  • rolling back environmental protections -- after all, what corporation wants to pay for that sort of stuff?
  • tax cuts for the wealthy and -- of course -- corporations.

ALEC's secret database of agreed-upon cookie-cutter legislation was laid bare this summer by the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy, at the ALEC Exposed web site. The legislation templates are no longer secret -- it's no use to deny the extent to which this legislative assault on the average American (the 99%, if you well) is coming directly from the corporate string-pullers via ALEC.

I've had rather a dry spell of political writing since the summer senatorial recalls here in Wisconsin. That long, exhausting effort did not manage to change the majority in the Wisconsin State Senate, though we flipped two seats such that the Republican majority is a single vote, 17-16. The slightly-swingy nature of that single vote majority has at least curbed a few of the worst proposed excesses, but isn't enough protection against the overall Walker juggernaut.

Since the summer recalls, the Medicaid slashing that I wrote so much about in February has rolled forward toward predictable devastation. The Wisconsin budget bill set the terms -- over $500 million in cuts, to be specified later, and the the full legislature wouldn't vote on the specifics of the cuts even if they went against current law. Those cuts have now been specified and voted in by the Joint Finance Committee, along party lines of course. The proposal agreed to by the JFC is projected to result in nearly 65,000 people losing Medicaid coverage, due to things like changed eligibility or income limits, or higher premiums, or if their employer offers insurance (even if it's expensive and crappy and they can't afford it -- I'm looking at YOU, WalMart.) To go into effect, though, the plan needs to get approved for an exemption/waiver by the feds, because it falls afoul of some current federal requirements. If that approval is not forthcoming by December 31 -- an entirely arbitrary, self-imposed deadline -- they'll implement instead a plan that kicks off a different 53,000 people.

It didn't have to be this way. There was an alternate state budget proposal, called the Wisconsin Values Budget, that called for a much narrower Medicaid cut. And as an alternative to the proposal passed by the JFC, a Madison organization called ABC for Health proposed an alternative called the Pathway Plan for 2012, seeking a sustainable solution that actually expands the health-care safety net instead of devastating it.

Contrary to my initial personal fears, Joy's current services have remained largely unscathed. Her funding through the Children's Long-Term Support waiver has been frozen at current spending levels but not reduced; her Katie Beckett MA funds that cover diapers and co-pays were not cut either. The two-year freeze on enrolling new participants in the Family Care long-term care program may have an impact on her future, but whatever is up with that reality when she needs it is a long ways down the road for her.

But that doesn't mean that I had no reason to take Joy and testify at a Medicaid hearing at the Capitol the other Thursday. (The Joint Finance Committee declined to hold a public hearing, so the only option was to testify before sympathetic Democrats who aren't "in power" right now.) On the one hand, I didn't have personal testimony of impending healthcare disaster. On the other, "then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me..." In addition, I could bear witness as a member of my congregation, who have signed on as members of the Save BadgerCare Coalition (yes, we can do that -- it's issue-based, not party- or candidate-affiliated.) So I spoke my opposition, with my daughter on my lap.

And on Saturday, our whole family took to the streets with tens of thousands of our closest friends!

This was Joy's biggest rally so far. It wasn't until after the largest of the protests in February that we figured out a routine to get Joy downtown with her jogging stroller to protest and lobby. Now we're old pros, and so was she. We drove from our house right up to the edge of the rally within minutes, finding free parking just a couple of blocks off the Square! Then into the jogging stroller with Joy, and off we went, well prepared with stimmy-toys and snacks and Kleenex, along with food-drive donations ("Can" Walker!) and protest signs and camera. And warm clothes, of course. Would it be a Wisconsin protest without coat and mittens?

I had already signed the recall papers on November 15 (Day 1) for both Walker and Lt. Gov. Kleefisch -- if we don't recall them both, there's the possibility that Walker could resign before the election and Kleefisch would move up. Can't let that happen! However, JoyDad hadn't signed yet, and was looking forward to the opportunity. Lo and behold, there were signature gatherers right at the corner of the Square, so we could take care of that crucial business immediately.

Then it was off to circle the Square with the marchers, and revel in the energy and creativity. For example, we made sure to be on the State Street corner at 12:30 to catch the flashmob dance to "Forget You" (I see you causin' lots of trouble in the state I love, and I'm like, FORGET YOU!)

Then there were the signs, from the familiar...

to the artistic ...

... to the potty-humor!

My sign had two sides. I've gotten so experienced at hand-lettering, I don't even need to draft in pencil anymore!

And then there was Rose's sign:

Joy didn't carry a sign, but she did carry the whole event off with class. The entire hour and a half we were out there, she rode uncomplainingly, playing with Mardi Gras beads or pine needles and observing all the ruckus. The few times she tried to reach for someone's long hair or beaded fringe, folks were gracious.

The highlight of the event for Joy was encountering one of her favorite school staffers, along with two of last year's staff. You should have seen her face light up! And then she wanted to go right into playing some of their favorite games. Just a delight to see Joy welcome someone out of context and bring the context right along for the ride.

Overall, it was a remarkably satisfying event. And when we got home, we learned there'd been an announcement at the rally: from Tuesday to Friday, 105,000 recall signatures had been turned in, out of the 540-some thousand needed (though we'll be collecting 700,000 or more to have a cushion.) That's in just four days of the 60-day window, and that's without a weekend!

I think we're going to make this recall happen, and I can hardly wait. Recall Walker!

Monday, November 14, 2011


My older daughter Rose and I watched the movie Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes as Temple, on DVD the other night.

Temple Grandin may be the best-known person with autism in the world. She's a professor of animal science, a wildly-successful designer of livestock handling equipment, and also an author & lecturer on autism. I had the privilege of hearing her speak in the spring of 2010 at the Autism Society of Wisconsin annual conference. (And I got to meet her and get her autograph!)

Rose was fascinated. Very impressed to see Temple's signature on my copy of The Way I See It, inscribed "To [JoyMama]." Amazed at how Claire Danes, whom she'd seen as Beth in the movie Little Women, could become this completely different person. (Temple was amazed too -- as she said at the conference talk, "Claire Danes became me in a way that was really weird!")

Joy wandered in and out of the room as we watched, but Rose was engaged with the movie all the way.

She wondered whether Joy sees the world in any of the picture-flashes that portrayed Temple's thinking, or the superimposed architectural designs.

In the scene where Temple's mother is told of the autism diagnosis and advised to put her daughter in an institution, Rose asked questions and then made the connection with the Where's Molly? story we saw on TV a year ago.

She was distressed by the way Temple's classmates treated her, and shared that she'd seen kids make fun of Joy at school a couple of times. But she allowed as how she gets teased from time to time herself. I pointed out that when Temple was in school, and even when I was in school, kids with developmental disabilities simply didn't get to go to the same schools that typically-developing kids attended, if they even got to go to school at all.

Rose thought about that. "It's so lucky..." she said...
and I expected her to go on to say how lucky Joy is that she gets to go to school with everyone else...

"...for Joy's class that they get to know her and have her in school with them!"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Princess Adventures

I started out as one of those moms who was going to take a stand against the whole princess-i-fication of little girlhood. No Disney-princess videos or clothing or toys or other assorted stuff for my money, thanks! We tried to hold off on the Barbie thing too. But the culture is persistent. There are ads and Happy Meal toys and sweet relatives who give Christmas gifts, and Rose's first Barbie that came when she broke her arm (by way of an emergency-room staffer)! So the princesses have encroached, and I kinda learned to live & let live.

And this year, the princesses saved my bacon for Halloween.

For some reason, Halloween costume ideas didn't flow freely this year. We've had some really cool themed-costumes where we dressed the girls in a coordinated way, like last year's pirate wench (Rose) and hook (Joy). Last year's Halloween post took a trip down costume memory lane, as I perused old photos with my college classmate whose daughter Elizabeth is our regular trick-or-treat companion.

We'd sort of settled on costumes whereby Rose would be a soccer player -- just wearing her soccer gear -- and Joy would sport a soccer ball on her sweatshirt. But then Elizabeth's mom made an offer we couldn't refuse. She just happened to have princess dresses from two of Elizabeth's previous Halloweens, a magnificent home-made Snow White dress and an elegant dress from a couple of years later. Would these possibly fit our girls?

Oh yes, and perfectly.

The Snow White dress was comfy cotton, just the thing for a kiddo who gets distracted by too many furbelows. Though at first glance Joy doesn't look just thrilled in the above pic, she's actually mugging for the camera here. That grimace is her current "cheese" smile! (I love it that my daughter should have figured out a "cheese" smile!)

Our trick-or-treat group was a large one, between the Joy-family, Elizabeth and her mom, J-Cat and his sister and parents, and two of this year's LEND trainees who are doing a family-mentoring experience with us to get a glimpse into what it means for our family that Joy is who she is. The noisy crowd didn't seem to bother Joy, though. She was remarkably chipper and cooperative as we traipsed up one side of the dark street and down the other, making a fine effort to convey candy from the proffered baskets into her plastic pumpkin, and ringing the doorbell with minimal prompting when it was her turn. Of course it took a parent keeping a solid hold on her hand and guiding her with the group every step, but she didn't protest a bit.

In fact, she didn't even protest when the clock struck midnight, and the prince pursued her down the flight of marble stairs leading from the palace, and her glass slipper fell from her delicate foot...

You may think I've got the wrong fairy tale here, but bear with me.

As JoyDad shepherded our princess toward the second-to-last house we were going to take her to, he suddenly looked down and noticed that Joy was missing a shoe. It was hard to catch in the darkness, because she was wearing dark pants under her dress, and dark socks, and the little velcro tennies were a dark brown. But somewhere along the line she had stepped out of a shoe, and trotted on entirely uncomplainingly!

You can perhaps imagine how it looked then, as our large party suddenly began to retrace the route. It was only up and down one block, but we didn't know how long the shoe had been gone, we didn't have flashlights (duh), and there were nice brown autumn leaves all over the place. We ended up back at home with a single-shoe princess, and even two more search party forays with flashlight did not find the elusive footwear.

Well, Joy ended up playing back indoors, cheerful as could be, while I chatted a while further with the LEND trainees. Rose and company went on trick-or-treating -- she eventually brought home a HUGE stash of candy, apparently having told at each house the sad story of how her sister-princess had lost a shoe and had to stop trick-or-treating and so could I please have extra candy for my sister?

Then after the trainees had gone, and the house was still, the doorbell rang once more. It was the prince! And the royal grandma! Well, OK, it was one neighbor each from the two houses in between which we had discovered that the slipper had been cast. The two of them had gone out in search of that elusive little shoe, and had found it for us!

And it fit perfectly, and we all lived happily ever after.