March 31, 2011

Dear Abby

Well, there's always something new to try. Today I wrote to Dear Abby in response to this letter:

DEAR ABBY: Can common sense be learned or taught? Some people seem to be born with it. Others have "book smarts" but struggle with everyday common sense.

I fail to grasp simple connections, and I sometimes ask questions that have obvious answers -- for someone else. I know other people who share the same problem, and I admire those who simply seem to "get" what's happening around them.

Is there any way to improve? I'm 38 and married to a man who has strengths in both areas.


DEAR ABBY: This is in response to "Bookworm in Montana," who can't grasp simple connections and obvious answers in spite of her high intelligence. I'm a kindred spirit, and I may have the answer.

I'm pretty smart—people comment about it sometimes—but I miss "obvious" clues all the time. It drives me crazy, and I used to wonder what was wrong with me. I have learned that, really, nothing is wrong with me. I think differently because I have Asperger Syndrome.

I can't remember names, including my own mother's once, for the life of me. It is not just a matter of not having the right system or not trying hard enough; it is a synapse misfire. Given enough time, I can do it—but that might be minutes to hours. I read fiction and with rare exception I am unmoved. Give me a book about astrophysics and I am over the moon with excitement about what I've learned.

I've learned to tell colleagues and friends to be direct with me; I will not pick up on subtleties at all. Hinting around will not lead me to act, because I need a concrete "do this, please." My friends grin at my uniqueness, but I have to explain sometimes to those I must work with anew.

"Bookworm" wants to improve. I want her to know she's just fine as she is. We all have strengths, and she can use her intelligence to learn about this different kind of thinking. I love who I am and try to help people understand me. "Different" doesn't mean "less than equal."


March 22, 2011

Rookie Lobbyist

Today I drove down to the Indiana Statehouse and spoke to my state senator about the bill coming up for vote tomorrow. It will attempt to embed marriage discrimination in the Indiana constitution. Stay tuned for the newbie report on Bilerico.

Update: My post is up on Bilerico.

Update II: Our very own Blobby commented on the article, and that comment has become its own post! Great conversation around an interesting subject: do politicians vote their conscience or the opinion of their constituents? Follow the discussion here.

Image from Wikipedia.

March 17, 2011

March 10, 2011

Florida Everglades: River Of Grass

I landed in Ft. Lauderdale on a Saturday evening, and I spent Sunday cruising the coast as the clouds gathered. Late that afternoon my daughter Sheba joined me for her "mental health break." The next day was warm and sunny as we headed down
to the original Tamiami Trail for an airboat ride in the Everglades.

I had spent a few hours online trying to find an airboat experience that would be the memory of a lifetime. Most of the businesses offering rides would put two or three dozen riders on a huge flat-bottom boat and spend thirty minutes out on the grass. Then they would bring us back to their reptile petting zoo and a show with a man wrestling an alligator. It sounded awful.

But I found a site for a business that apparently was staffed by a local airboat owners' club, each owner a licensed captain. They matched us with a man who owned a small boat that zipped through the grass and would fit into tight spots. This two-hour tour (¯ two-hour tour ¯) wasn't cheap by any means, but it was worth every penny.

Our captain Robert took us out on a ramp in Coopertown (population: 0008, according to the sign) and zipped through a lane in tall sawgrass. He stopped for a moment later in the ride to show us the grass. About four feet high, if you pinch and zip up the blade it's slippery; if you pinch and zip down, however, it has thousands of little teeth and you'll get a paper cut the likes of which would be memorable. Keep this in mind for a story you'll hear later.

The water had been siphoned off recently for some unnamed need in a nearby municipality, so it was only six inches deep. That was deep enough to glide through, although water level was usually twelve to twenty-four inches. The muck beneath the water was anywhere from six to twelve inches deeper, as Robert demonstrated with his long boat hook.

This is the "river of grass," as the word Everglades means. As you look out over the sawgrass, anything that emerges above the horizon is an island. They form wherever debris stops and collects. Seeds from birds and wind take root, and eventually an island forms. On one of these tiny islands is a cabin built in 1920; it's still in use today, but you can reach it only on an airboat.

The animals knew for the most part to stay off the lanes that the boats followed. Some alligators still chose to sun on the edges.

We're still trying to undo the damage created by the Army Corps of Engineers back in the early 20th century, when they wanted to use the water for human consumption. So little of the Everglades is left. But canals created by the Corps still crisscross the 'glades.

It's common to find alligators sunning on the warm side of the canals. Apparently they need the heat to digest their food.

Robert has been on the Everglades all his life. He knew the places to find the wildlife, and some of them came to know him. He stopped at a place on a canal and rattled the wrapper of some peanut butter crackers. Out stepped three Purple Gallinules, who jumped up on his cooler for a treat. One of them was trusting enough to step on his hand.

My pictures don't do justice to this bird that looks like a technicolor coot. I nabbed this image from Wikipedia.

Further down the canal, Robert knew where to find a mother alligator (ten years old, eight feet long, he says) that also likes peanut butter crackers. He rattled that plastic wrapper again and she came out from the sawgrass for her treat. You can't see them here, but her two broods were wandering and beeping in the short grass near her. Apparently baby gators stay with mom for two years, and she had two broods six months and eighteen months old with her.

This gallinule was a pretty cool customer trotting amongst the baby gators.

On the way out and back we saw egrets, herons and other birds roosting and taking flight. This is a white egret.

The next time you watch "CSI: Miami," take note of the scene in the opening credits where the egrets fly up from the sawgrass into the sunrise. The camera that took that shot was on Robert's boat.

And if you watch that idiot show "Jackass," Robert and his airboat club were involved in one of the stunts. They dressed a couple of guys in leopard speedos and—well, let me tell it like Robert did: "We drug 'em on skis threw th' sawgrass, poured rubbin' alcohol on 'em, and watched 'em dance like fahr ants!"

I told that story to Ben and a friend, and his friend said, "I'd do it."