Archive for the Disabilities Category

RIP Ray Harryhausen

Posted in Disabilities, films, prehistoric with tags on May 9, 2013 by David N. Brown


I hadn’t really planned on this, even after hearing about it, but today’s post will commemorate the life of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, whose passing was reported earlier this week.  I won’t be saying much about his work, as I don’t think I have much to say that hasn’t been said.  I will talk a bit about Harryhausen’s impact on me.  Looking back, it feels like Harryhausen’s films “should” have been a formative influence on me, but I really can’t say that was the case.  I was well aware of Harryhausen’s films, but the only one I saw before I was in college was Clash of the Titans and the Kali sequence of Golden Voyage of Sinbad, which was shown in my junior-high English class for ostensibly educational purposes.   I suspect that part of the problem was limited availability and interest in stop-motion films in the 1990s: I went looking for King Kong at the time, and could never find anything on the shelves but the infamous 1976 remake, which I was already forewarned about from Michael Medved’s “Golden Turkey” books.  (Incidentally, I have always preferred reading about “bad” movies to viewing them myself, so I have never watched this or many of the notorious B-movies.)  I distinctly recall discussing it with a video store clerk, and was told that people were only interested in buying the “new” version.

Fast-forward to around 2002, and I was on my own at NAU, with plenty of free time and a Barnes & Noble, Hasting’s and Bookman’s directly adjacent to campus.  I had finally found a copy of King Kong around 2000, and it was joined by VHS copies of Valley of Gwangi, Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers, the Sinbad films, and DVDs of Jason And The Argonauts and Kong animator Willis O’Brien’s The Black Scorpion.   My graduation present to myself was a $50 box set of Harryhausen’s science fiction films, which added Mysterious Island, It Came From Beneath the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon and 20 Million Miles to Earth to the collection. I was never greatly impressed by the films, and often frustrated (I still can’t watch Black Scorpion without wishing I could smack the editing genius who decided to mix incessant shots of a drooling puppet with O’Brien’s animation upside the head), but I always loved the stop-motion creatures.  My favorites were Gwangi and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. In many ways, I was most impressed with Eye of the Tiger, despite its egregious flaws, because of its unusually (comparatively!) focused storyline and the presence of two sympathetic and well-developed stop-motion characters, the prince-turned-baboon and a friendly giant caveman.  I was also intrigued by the occasional fragments of incomplete films, such as Harryhausen’s early Evolution footage, which the image at the head of this post is taken from.

It’s hard for me to say in hindsight how much Harryhausen’s films influenced my own writing.  By the time I saw them, I was already well into writing the “Naughtenny Moore” adventures, and indeed mature enough as a writer to be acutely aware of the films’ flaws.  At the same time, I believe I was especially able to recognize the best qualities of the films, especially the subtle nuances of motion and expression that make the difference between special effects and a fully-realized living creature.  That led to my most poignant memory at all related to stop-motion films.  Right about the time my interest in stop-motion films was in full stride, I was also finding out about my Asperger’s diagnosis, and recognizing the long-standing problems that were associated with it.  These included the quite typical problem of following “body language”, which I recognized as pretty much interchangeable with my equally typical tendency not to look at people when talking to them.  At some point in all my struggling and pondering, I had a true epiphany: “I can follow King Kong’s body language, so why not real people?”  So I decided to try, and I like to think I’m catching on.

One-Shot Week Part 7: Re-Deanimator! Meg and Greg

Posted in Cars, Disabilities, films, one-shot, zombies with tags , , , , , , on March 15, 2013 by David N. Brown

As a bonus for today, here’s another chapter from my “Re-Deanimator” project.  This was my real starting point for the project, and the raw elements were an “alternate history” homage to classic zombie movies, an atmosphere of domestic dysfunction and a single tableau.  I used subtle details to establish a “nineteen-eighty-something” frame of reference, and build up a backstory as I went along.  The part that definitely got a response out of people was actually the least-planned aspect of the scene.  As I commented privately after receiving feedback, I put it in where I did because, by the time I got there, it was what clearly fit these people.  It was also my intent even then to leave  a little ambiguity, which I think is an important aspect of the real issue.  I put up this scene in quite a few places, including a blog that is one of several  created (as was a consideration with this one) expressly to be seen in place of very bad stuff being circulated by a very bad person whom I regard as very much a real life counterpart to the kudlaks.


Meghan lived in the suburbs of a modest city in the desert. Her friends called her Meg, and she lived with Greg. She rose from the couch in the morning, as she had for the last five mornings, and confirmed that the light switch still did not work. She emerged from the den into the living room and went to the kitchen, where she discovered that the faucet did not work either. That was new. She went upstairs, past the photo of Greg, Greg at the office party, Greg at the wheel of his new Audi Quatro, Greg shooting his .454 magnum, and Greg with his big muscular arm thrown lazily around her neck, almost eclipsing her almost-new Chevette behind them.
Meg rapped on Greg’s bedroom door. “Greg,” she called out, “the water’s out.” She opened it. Greg was gone. She glanced at the dresser, and confirmed that the keys to the Audi were there. She stepped back into the hall, and saw that the door to the bathroom was closed. “Greg, I said, the water’s out.” She turned the knob; the door was latched. That was when she heard the thumping.
It was strikingly regular, one thump, a pause, and another thump, repeated, over and over. Meg pressed her ear to the door, and listened. Now, she could hear an unmistakeable swishing between thumps, and a hint of momentary scuffling: “Thump- swish- scuff- swish- thump…” She thought of a pendulum, and at that very moment, she heard the creaking, a sound just like some metal fixture, bending under considerable weight. “Greg,” she said flatly, closing her eyes and pressing her forehead against the door.
Meg’s eyes opened at a change in the rhythm of the sounds: “Thump- swiishh– thump- swishthump– swish- rrriiiiippp…” She lurched back at the crash and jingle of the shower curtains being torn down. The creaking grew louder, and then there was a tearing screech exactly like the shower head being wrenched right out of the wall and a crash exactly like a body falling into the tub. For a moment, she stood completely still. Then she backed up to the bedroom.
She found the magnum and two boxes of ammunition, exactly where she knew they would be. She scooped them all into her old overnight bag, shoved out of sight in the closet. On a whim, she grabbed the key to the Audi. She was gathering things in the den when she heard another crash. She scurried back into the living room and looked up the stairs.
The bathroom door had been knocked open with single blow, forceful enough to splinter the wood and lodge the knob in the plaster. At the top of the stairs stood Greg, in his business suit, with the shower head hanging from Meg’s nylons around his neck. His face was almost black, and his head lolled like a badly stuffed scarecrow’s. Yet, his gaze seemed to turn directly toward Meg, and with strides as stiff and even as a windup tow, he began to descend the stairs. She drew the magnum as she backed up to the door, and took aim, no doubt badly, at Greg’s face as she reached the bottom. She held her aim, as best she could with a gun whose weight alone was enough to strain her wrist, while Greg turned ponderously toward her. He stood there, seeming to stare, with his head lifted just a little higher and straighter. Finally, Meg put the gun back in the bag. “Okay,” she said, “you can keep the Audi.” She cast the keys at his feet, and as she made her exit, she saw him bend over to pick them up.
Meg had to cover some distance to reach the carport where the Chevette was parked, past two cul de sacs of identical two-story, two-unit townhomes and through a little park. On the way, she saw three wrecked cars and a dozen shuffling figures, one of which definitely turned in her direction before she went around a corner and out of sight. She used a shortcut that required vaulting over a low wall and dropping another foot to the asphalt. The only car in sight besides her little reddish-orange hatchback was a station wagon with a crumpled, blood-stained hood and the driver’s-side door torn halfway off its hinges. No bodies were in sight.
Meg dropped her keys trying to unlock her car, at the unset of sudden shakes. Her hands steadied as she put the key in the ignition, but began to tremble worse as she turned the key again, and again, and again. The first time, nothing happened. The second produced an abortive rattle. At the third try, the engine gave an apologetic cough before falling silent. Meg’s hands were shaking hard enough to make the key rattle in the ignition as she turned it yet again. The engine rumbled to life but then died with a protracted wheezing. She looked out the window, at the station wagon, The window frame of the door was bent. Her hand went still. She turned the key, and kept her hand on the ignition as the engine started, began to cough, and then worked back up to a steady rumble.
Meg made a tight U-turn in reverse, scraping the station wagon in the process and bumping into a support beam. Then she accelerated, approaching top (though still modest) speed as she peeled out of the parking lot and around a corner onto the street. She swerved to avoid a shuffling figure, only a child, but there was no taking chances with such a small car. As the car rounded another corner, the child turned belatedly and reached out for where the car had been. Its head lifted, as if staring, but any observer who met its eyes would have seen clouded lenses in no shape to see much of anything.
The Chevette was closing on 80 miles per hour as it roared toward the gates of the townhome complex. It braked and finally swerved for Greg, who stood in the middle. The showerhead was gone, but the torn nylons were still around his neck. His darkened face had lightened to a reddish purple, enough to make his features readily discernible. As Meg gazed out, her hands began to shake. It seemed to her that what she saw was indeed the Greg she knew. It occurred to her that his expression, especially, was the same he had worn on the night she made a discrete trip to the emergency room. As Greg reached for the door handle, the window went down, and a perfectly level gun barrel slid out. “Selfish ass,” Meg said. She had no awareness of firing the gun. She only felt the wrenching ache of recoil, and saw Greg drop with a half-inch red spot on his forehead and a substantial hole in the back of his scalp. As he struck the asphalt, the keys to the Audi tumbled from his hand.
After a moment’s pause, Meg opened the door and scooped up the keys.
David N. Brown

Mesa Arizona

Responding to ANYtown

Posted in Disabilities with tags , , , , on December 17, 2012 by David N. Brown

So, I’ve let this go again for a while, and just when I’m ready to come back, I find a major intrusion from reality, and this time I do believe I have something to say about it that will fit here.


I am sure it would be redundant to do more than briefly recap recent events, and I would prefer to keep it briefer than usual: Once again, someone has committed what is known as a “spree shooting”. As is usually the case, it is reasonably clear that the offender is mentally ill. This time, not for the first time, the possibility has been raised that had an Autism Spectrum Disorder. For the last few days, autism activists have been pushing back against these reports by emphasizing that autistic disorders are not associated with violence, up to and including repeating the long-standing axiom that people who are mentally ill are more likely to be victims of crimes than to commit them. I must say, I disagree with this response. For one thing, I think if the goal is simply to downplay speculations about crime and disability, then the activists might be better off not commenting. Historical precedent would suggest that such comments are most likely to appear early and then quickly fade, especially under low-key communication by concerned parties with the media. For another, I believe that there are real and very fundamental problems here that are overdue for discussion.


While I see no cause to doubt the above-mentioned statistical talisman about mentally ill victims vs offenders, I have always had a feeling that this is missing the obvious, and probably more besides. The most “obvious” problem is that making a talking point out of this comes close to pummeling a man of straw. Given the dissimilar nature of mental disorders, nobody is ever going to claim that all the mentally ill are equally likely to commit a crime: Obviously, individuals as different as an agoraphobic and a clinical pedophile are not going to pose the same (if any) level of threat to others. Nor is anyone likely to make any serious claim that those with any particular disorder are more likely to be violent than not: Even in the prison population, the large majority are considered “non-violent”! The point we are really making the closest approach to is simply that the mentally ill population, and any subset thereof, can and should be approached like any other people group. All of which takes us precisely nowhere in applying what we know or can reasonably deduce about the demographics of crime.


One of the less obvious issues in the equation is what could be termed disproportionate threat. This can be seen at play on two levels. First, even “violent” offenders are not equally prone to violence: Of the subset of “violent” crime, a large majority the offenses are attributed to a minority of offenders (I distinctly recall seeing the very persistent 80%-20% ratio come up). Then there is another consideration, entirely “obvious” but difficult to quantify: Quite simply, some people, even if they are no more likely to offend, are capable of far more damage if/when they do. Spree shooters themselves are among the most obvious examples, and historically they overlap massively with the even more quintessential case and point, ex-military offenders. One of the earliest documented spree shooters and my personal pick for the single most dangerous individual to come to my attention was a decorated World War 2 veteran who committed a rare building-to-building rampage in 1949. (I don’t care to repeat any names in discussing this sort of thing if I can avoid it, but here’s “his” website.)


The same kind of issues can be seen at play for mental illness. Many conditions offer nothing but obvious “outgroups”, as in the already-mentioned example of agoraphobia: People who by definition avoid going out in public are by definition unlikely to harm members of the general public! Other conditions may be said to put the individual “at risk” to offend, but make for a liability in actually carrying out the deed. Schizophrenia is the quintessential case and point: Schizophrenics are characteristically delusional, not only seeing and hearing what isn’t there, but believing it. However, the “classic” schizophrenic is also characteristically disorganized. He might rob a bank because his cat told him to, but even if the cat also dictated one hell of a plan, there’s not much chance he would carry it out successfully. The presumable principle is that this kind of “crazy” is predictably self-limiting, and there’s no shortage of real-life cases to support the point. My favorite is a famous would-be assassin who was still pulling the trigger when his empty revolver was taken from him. The ability to keep track one’s bullets is a key test of the organized criminal, and entirely failing to notice when one is out is a strong indicator that one is not suited for the “job”.


But then, there are offenders who defy these “rules”. The WW2 veteran I mentioned was declared schizophrenic and institutionalized for the remainder of his life. (Reading between the lines, it seems likely that there were people in the right places who wanted to spare him, and/or simply avoid embarrassing questions, on account of his war record.) It’s very unlikely that such a diagnosis would be accepted today, and any appeal for clemency would be denied. While he was by all indications delusional in some sense, his actions showed far too much planning and self-control for the schizophrenia diagnosis (which, significantly, was “tightened” in the early 1970s) to fit at all comfortably. Even more importantly, there was no question that he deliberately targeted at least some of his victims, which under the modern requirements for an insanity plea would be entirely sufficient to establish that he knew what he was doing and therefore could be held legally accountable for it. What is ultimately most significant about this individual is that similar “profiles” can be seen to pop up again with other exceptionally destructive offenders, including the subject in the present incident. Even subtle details, particularly a reported lack of vocalization, can be seen to match up closely.


So, exactly what are we dealing with? It’s my long-standing pet theory (developed with a little help from a couple fictional characters) that there is a significant subset of autistic people who have a combination of “high-functioning” traits and schizophrenia-like symptoms, which I have termed “delusional aspie”. (See “Autism and Overlapping Disorders” and “Conversations with O’Cleary”.) At least some “spree” offenders do seem to fit this description. This could be considered nothing more or less than an example of a “comorbid” disorder, which for schizophrenia in particular has been documented for about as long as both conditions have been known. (In fact, historic controversies occurred over telling them apart!) But then there is another way of looking at it. A psychiatric diagnosis is, first and foremost, a description of a pattern of thought and behavior. If an “overlap” of characteristics from two or more “established” diagnoses is sufficient to produce an entirely novel “pattern”, then at some point one has to consider whether it is, for all practical purposes, a completely different animal. Unfortunately, in the time it takes for the “pros” to sort out this sort of thing, it’s quite easy for whole generations to slip through the proverbial cracks, particularly by a) being “shoehorned” into a clearly imperfect diagnosis and treatment simply because nobody has anything better to do with them or b) simply receiving no diagnosis or treatment at all because nobody will venture to put a “name” to what is wrong with them.


Then there is another, very fundamental issue of criminal demographics. One of the most pervasive problems demonstrated by application of proper statistical analysis to crime is that popular anxieties tend to direct community attention away from serious “inward” problems. 1980’s-era “stranger danger” and its stranger cousin the “satanic panic” flew directly in the face of hard data on parental abductions and homicides (read Coulrophobia– it’s about time someone did). White Americans perenially anxious about blacks have long since been shown that about 80% of murdered whites are murdered by other whites, and even more strikingly, about 90% of people actually murdered by blacks are other black people. Such results of hard data can also be extended to murkier areas of folklore. For example, there can be no serious doubt that any factual nucleus of Medieval and Renaissance “blood libel” legends of Christian children supposedly murdered in Jewish rituals were simply prosaic homicides, and most likely perpetrated by family members of the victims. (Ironically, that very opinion is expressed frequently and vocally in contemporary sources, obviously to no avail against the prejudices of their peers.) It even seems possible that evidently high numbers of Jewish victims in “routine” homicides (ie beyond overtly anti-Semitic mass violence in the “pogroms”), which could be an indication of religiously-motivated or simply opportunistic attacks by (self-described!) Christian offenders, were in fact mainly killed by other Jews.


I believe it shall be “obvious” where this is going. If one accepts the proposition that one can at least attempt to treat crime among the mentally ill like that of any other people group, then the most intuitive conclusion one can make is that the greatest threat to someone with a mental illness should be another mentally ill person! Such a dramatic proposition should by all means be tested. But so far, I have yet to see it even mentioned, and I felt that it was long past time long ago.


Now I invite further consideration for just how this would affect someone’s mental condition, and indeed their entire perception of the wider world. If someone with obviously limited ability to function in society is approached by someone with ill intentions and a condition that is far less obvious, then the former party is the least likely of all people to recognize the latter as anything but a “normal” member of the public. If the more “functional” party then abuses the other, the less functional party has no way to recognize what is truly wrong with the abuser. Instead, the abused party might very well develop the notion that the abusive behavior is nothing more or less than what any “normal” person can and will do given the opportunity. Then the only “reasonable” defense is to withdraw further from “normal” human contact, which will carry with it predictable deterioration in condition and “functioning” and may all too easily make the subject an even more convenient target for the truly predatory abnormal. Sooner of later, the victim might even start to develop a plan for revenge, retaliation or merely self-defense… and we all know where that road goes to.


I don’t think I want to write any more about this now, if ever. I would like to think I have said enough. Call it what life, and my idea of a good story, is like: No answers, jut trying to ask the right questions.


David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

Two-year-old exotrooper?

Posted in Disabilities, Exoskeletons with tags , , , , on August 18, 2012 by David N. Brown


Toddler with an exoskeleton?


I’d run away!

In seriousness, assistive technology for the (physically) disabled is the area to watch for exoskeleton development.  The field lends itself not only to experimentation, but to actual “field” use of even a “one-off” creation.  This particular specimen is very primitive, looking like nothing so much as a “Technic” Lego set (a video on the story actually mentions that it’s made out of the same plastic as Legos!), but a few motors are all it needs to qualify as a powered exoskeleton. On the whole, it’s nice to see the civilian sector outpacing military development.

Photo courtesy Daily Mail

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona