In 1947, Forbes magazine declared Lancaster, Ohio the epitome of the all-American town. Today it is damaged, discouraged, and fighting for its future. In Glass House, journalist Brian Alexander, born and raised in Lancaster, gives readers an unparalleled look inside one town, an avatar for many American towns, to show how seeds sown 35 years ago have sprouted to give us Trumpism, inequality, and an eroding national cohesion.
The iconic Anchor Hocking Glass Company, once the world’s largest maker of glass tableware, was the base on which Lancaster’s society was built. As Glass House opens, Sam Solomon, an African-American man born in rural North Carolina, arrives in Lancaster – reputed by locals to be “the whitest town in America” — to take over as CEO. Hired by the private equity firm that holds the majority stake, Solomon immediately realizes the company is in deeper trouble than he expected. Bankruptcy looms.
Inside the glass plant, Brian Gossett, erstwhile skatepunk and the fourth generation in his family to work for the company, is operating an H-28, a huge glass forming machine. But Brian has doubts about his career, the town, the country he’s supposed to love.
Across town, a young heroin addict hears a knock at the door of the house where she’s staying – another customer come to make a drug buy. A local football-hero-turned cop named Eric Brown has made it his mission to stem the drug plague. But Brown is wrestling with the realization that he can’t ever arrest Lancaster’s real problems.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the Lancaster Festival announce the hiring of a new executive director, Joe Piccolo. Piccolo doesn’t realize it, but he hasn’t been hired just to run a music and art fest; he’s expected to help save the town.
As these and other stories unfold, Solomon’s fight to rescue Anchor Hocking provides an unprecedented look inside a company in trouble, and explores a little-understood facet of the American economy that has helped wreck companies and towns while enriching those who understand how to play its game.
Compelling, heart-breaking, evocative, Glass House is a must-read for anyone trying to understand what’s happened to many American communities and the people who live in them.
One of the world's leading social neuroscientists and an award-winning journalist team up to give readers a grand unified theory of what drives us to do the things we do when we do love, sex, and human bonding.
Provocative and entertaining. Popular science writing at its best!
Baltimore Sun, WYPR Radio
Listen to the NPR interview
...One wild and entertaining ride. The prose in The Chemistry Between Us is lively and fun – and provides a fresh and unapologetically pointed analysis on what understanding the neurobiological correlates of love may mean for both our relationships and our culture.
New Scientist Magazine
"Dr. Young is one of the science world's most respected authorities on the chemistry underlying the most complicated and beloved interactions of our species. The insight and candor he and Mr. Alexander provide in this simultaneously entertaining and compelling book will impress both novice and scientific aficionado alike. What an intellectually and emotionally satisfying exploration!"
Dr. Mayim Bialik, Ph.D, CLEC
Actress on CBS' The Big Bang Theory
Author of Beyond The Sling: How to Raise Confident Loving Children the Attachment
"Nothing fascinates us more than why we fall in love and what makes us choose that particular person. The Chemistry Between Us sheds light on just this mysterious phenomena with a thorough look at the neuroscience and psychology of the process. Whether you have a desire for better intellectual understanding or a personal curiosity as to why you or your partner do what you do, this book is a super enjoyable class in love, sex and all its dark mysteries. A fascinating and stimulating read!"
Gail Saltz M.D.
NBC Today Show contributor and Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry The New York
"This lively book by a great neuroscientist and a savvy science writer is the first popular account to tie together what we have learned about the chemistry of sex, love, and family bonds. Progress in this field has been nothing short of breath-taking, and Larry Young is recognized as its leading pioneer. The way our brains react when boy meets girl determines the stability of marriage and the future of the human family."
Frans de Waal
Author of The Age of Empathy
"If you've ever been curious — and let's face it, we all have — about the intricate dance of biology and behavior that both brings men and women together and pushes them apart, then The Chemistry Between Us is the book for you. Authors Larry Young and Brian Alexander explore questions as gentle as parenting and as edgy as sexual addiction with consistent style, humor, and insight. The result is a story that's fun, fascinating and, finally, insightful."
Pulitzer Prize winner, author of Sex on the Brain, Love at Goon Park, and
The Poisoner's Handbook
"A swift, smooth, contemplative and frequently hilarious travelogue
through America's surprisingly mainstream nether regions."
Arthur Salm, Books Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune
"Scintillating. The author's thoughtful observations on the need for contact at all costs in an increasingly virtual society ring true."
The Washington Post
"For anyone curious about the state of sexuality in America, this smart, intriguing tour will scratch your (intellectual) itch."
"A clear-headed and open-minded look at the sexual revolution's final stage."
"Eye-openingly smart... Picking up where Sallie Tisdale's TALK DIRTY TO
ME left off in the '90s, Brian Alexander's AMERICA UNZIPPED appreciatively
unpacks our culture's last remaining sexual taboos. (Apparently, we've
still got a few)."
Genevieve Field, co-founder of Nerve.com
"... with both humor and reflection, Alexander sees exhilarating
liberation but also a kind of 'kitschy banalty': Where's the excitement
when our thrills are no longer taboo?"
Matthew Hutson, Psychology Today
"[Alexander's] voice is sensible, humorous and largely unbiased, even
when he is aghast."
"Alexander himself is at least as interesting as the people he
observed and interviewed...America Unzipped is entertaining. Alexander
has a gift for narrative, and he' s not afraid to put himself in the story."
"Written for the lay reader, this exploration of the fringe science of
biotechnology is alternately spooky, silly, and scintillating."
"Though sympathetic to his subjects and their work, Alexander casts his
tale in shades of gray rather than in black and white, and the result is
a nuanced portrait of the intersection of idealism, capitalism, politics
and science on the frontiers of biotechnology that will leave readers
eager to see what the future might hold."
"Funny, bizarre, yet always fascinating."
"Well-reported and dense with insight."
"This interesting popular history of the trans-human movement is an
important statement of an evolving debate in modern American society."
Roger D. Launius Curator, Planetary Exploration Programs, National Air and Space Museum
"Alexander has the same gonzo style, the same wicked humor and, most of
all, that Mambo Chicken sensibility -- a combination of ironic detachment
and sheer bafflement at the hubris of these over-the-edge scientists."
Carl Elliott, The American Prospect
"In Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion, journalist
Brian Alexander provides a fascinating and funny travel guide through
the cutting-edge world of genetic engineering."
James Pethokoukis, US News and World Report
"With RAPTURE, Alexander has become the voice of biotechnology for the
Glenn McGee, author of BEYOND GENETICS
A Few Selections
The Secret Science of Novak Djokovic's Training Pod
Polly Crawford is in a happy snooze, utterly knocked out, her head lolling, her mouth an ambiguous smile, her chest rising and falling in slow rhythm as the industrial-noise whoosh and whir of a motor pumps air in and out of the enclosed pod she has crawled into—a ridiculous-looking contraption straight out of Woody Allen’s Sleeper.
War on Drugs Redux: Welcome to the War on Doping in Sports
Substance Use & Misuse, Early Online: 1–4, 2014
Copyright C. 2014 Informa Healthcare USA, Inc.
I have covered the issue of doping and sports for awhile now. Lately I have become convinced that much of the antidoping zeal we are witnessing presents serious and growing risks to the human rights and civil liberties of athletes, and perhaps to the rest of us. My worry derives from my belief that the “war on doping,” as it is been called many times, has come to resemble the U.S. “War on Drugs.”
The Milkman Cometh
The groundwork was laid at a fabled meeting with E.F. Hutton himself in the exclusive Cloud Club at the top of the Chrysler Building, the shiny Art Deco spire recently erected in New York City. Sperti, most likely accompanied by Schneider, was summoned there by Hutton and Fine in 1930 to meet with a host of General Foods execs and hammer out a deal. It was as if they’d walked onto the set of a Fred Astaire–Ginger Rogers movie. In the Cloud Club’s main dining room, specially designed etched-glass sconces hung on blue marble pillars. Murals of vaporous clouds hovering over idealized fantasy depictions of the Manhattan skyline stretched across the ceiling, reinforcing the belief that, even in the early days of the Great Depression, men like E.F. Hutton and Walter Chrysler were on top of the world.
Change One Small Habit, Change Your Life
This morning I rolled out of bed at 5:30. I mean this literally. I rolled onto the floor, paused on all fours and moaned, “Oh, God.” It was not a prayer.
Why Lance Armstrong’s Confession Should Make You Worry
So here’s the thing you need to know: The USADA takedown of Armstrong matters, and it could effect everybody. Because it will enhance the power and reach of a private, non-profit business that has managed to harness the power of the federal government in what’s quickly becoming a brand new war on drugs … with all the same pitfalls brought to you by the first war on drugs.
Tyson Gay and the Fountain of Youth
I’ve covered the world of the anti-aging subculture for about 20 years and can say that it’s as close to an ideal source for hormones banned by WADA as any doping athlete could wish for.
How Armstrong Could ‘Get Away With Stuff With Everybody Looking’
Seven years ago, Don Catlin, then head of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory and the man who, for all practical purposes, created sports drug testing in the United States, told me “you can get away with stuff with everybody looking right at you.”
I asked him for some examples. He mentioned a world-famous athlete. He did not say the athlete’s name, but you didn’t have to be a genius, or even a sports nerd, to know he meant Lance Armstrong.
The Chemistry of the Suppression of Desire: What is going on in the brain of a cheater?
America does love a good sex scandal, almost as much as the British do, and the Petraeus, um, affair has been an especially juicy one. It’s been so complicated, in that reality-show kind of way, that we need charts depicting who’s connected to whom.
As always happens when a powerful married man is revealed to have been hiking the Appalachian Trail, finding Freudian uses for cigars, or supporting his maid’s child, there’s been a lot of speculation about the psychology of honcho guys. What is it about the powerful?
You Could Grow Breasts
I stood in the cavernous convention hall, discussing my colon with a stranger. He scared me by tap, tap, tapping a bottle of colon-cleansing tea with his fingertip and by describing the dire consequences of my failure to keep my guts clean. He tapped the squiggly line drawing of a colon on the outside of the bottle.
The drawing looked for all the world like a map of the upper Mississippi River, and when he hit the spot where Red Wing, Minnesota, would have been, he dropped his voice to an Orson Welles baritone and described how that bend in the river was filled—literally jammed—with toxic gunk.
'Glee' star's OD shows the new, fresh face of heroin
“Glee” star Cory Monteith, who died Saturday of an accidental overdose of heroin and alcohol in a Vancouver hotel room, may not seem like the stereotypical heroin user. That's why, despite the fresh-faced 31-year-old actor's openness about his lifelong struggles with alcohol and drugs, his death has shocked many.
The surprise is only because most Americans aren’t familiar with the new realities of heroin.
The Awful Truth About Drugs in Sports
I keep waiting for Dr. Don Caitlin to sound thrilled, or at least mildly pleased, about the mushrooming furor over the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Catlin, after all, helped break the now-infamous BALCO doping scandal from this very office, a small, dark, paper-strewn space inside the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory. The lab is one of the world's top facilities for analyzing biological samples from athletes to detect the use of banned substances like anabolic steroids, the blood-oxygen booster erythropoetin (EPO), and scores of other prohibited drugs that aid performance.
But Catlin—a tall, balding, 67-year-old M.D. with a handsomely craggy face—just frowns when I prod him. He sips from an old coffee mug and says the current media blitz reminds him of every other time doping has hit the news: There's a lot of noise, and yet doping persists. He thinks about this a moment and then issues a bleak verdict on the drug-policing system in which he's toiled for the past 25 years.
"People are following this old model—run 'em down, chase 'em, find 'em, assume they are guilty, drag them into testing," he says. "And athletes still get away with stuff, and I maintain you can get away with stuff with everybody looking right at you."
Good Cop, Bad Cop
Since I already know Zach Lund's life story, I can't help it: The first thing I do when we meet is stare at his shiny bald head. He looks good bald, though he also looks more like an ordinary guy who works out than an Olympic athlete. He's fit, compact, and so unassuming that, as we stand around in his hotel room at the Hilton Universal City, gazing at the Hollywood Hills, he seems a little amazed to be here in the heart of showbiz.
Lund has spent the past ten hours smiling, talking, and emoting for NBC, which has been shooting profiles of athletes expected to make the U.S. Winter Olympic team in Vancouver. The day was fun but a struggle, too. Lund has overcome a lot to succeed, but he's mainly known for getting kicked out of the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, thanks to a drug-related suspension that he and many others believe was unfair. Inevitably, Turin is what everybody asks about, so, later that night when we sit down to dinner, he wants to make sure I understand his full story...
According to allegations that first surfaced in The Wall Street Journal, Armstrong and team director Johan Bruyneel introduced Landis to systematic doping within the old U.S. Postal Service squad, with Armstrong supposedly explaining how to transfuse blood packed with performance-boosting red blood cells.
And with that charge, an all-important figure entered the story: Jeff Novitzky, a six-foot-six, chrome-domed, gun-packing G-man who's an investigator with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The 43-year-old Novitzky, the man who famously broke the BALCO drug scandal, had already been looking into doping rumors surrounding a low-level Los Angeles–based cycling team called Rock Racing but quickly turned his attention to Armstrong once Landis started talking.
There's Something in the Water
Lutes shows us a few slides to help explain the concept of network marketing, the business model Evolv uses and another name for a system known as multilevel marketing (MLM). Over the years, economists and critics have warned against these financial arrangements, arguing that although they're legal in the United States, they're little more than elaborate pyramid schemes, likely to leave a raft of heartbroken optimists in their wake. Sineni mentioned this criticism to me earlier, dismissing it and calling Evolv not a pyramid but a "phenomenal structure." Now Lutes is explaining how it works.
"Two, four, six, eight, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1,024!" he says. "I know the math! If you brought in two people and they brought in two people," he continues, before long "you've got over 2,000 cases [of water] you are getting paid on, and how many people did you bring in? Two!"
Then he shows us a diagram of the structure, and it looks exactly like … well, let's just call it a ziggurat.
Special Report: The New Boys' Health Scare
Scientists, regulatory organizations, and government groups are concerned that chemicals in everyday products may have launched an unintentional war on our health. Children may be most seriously affected because their developing brains and bodies are especially vulnerable to chemicals. Over the last few years, there has been a glut of new research about the possible effects on baby boys, in particular. Some research has suggested that EDCs can change the way male fetuses' brains form in the womb. Other studies have linked EDCs to a rise in genital birth defects such as hypospadias (in which the opening of the urethra develops on the shaft, not at the tip, of the penis) and cryptorchidism (undescended testicles, a risk factor for poor semen quality and testicular cancer). And although data from the United States is inconclusive, studies from across the globe suggest that adult male sperm quality and fertility are dropping.
Tour de Farce
Like much of the rest of the world, I was thrilled by Floyd Landis' startling comeback in Stage 17 of the Tour de France. But since I write about doping and sports, I've learned to be suspicious of miracles. The real tragedy of doping is the way it tarnishes everything and everybody and forbids us from giving in to the wonder of sports. And now the news comes out that Floyd Landis tested positive for high testosterone levels following that very same miracle stage. There is a disheartening feeling of inevitability about the whole thing.
Lies About Women's Health
For the past 15 years, Ruth Shaber, M.D., has been an ob-gyn in San Francisco for Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation's largest health maintenance organizations. She sees all types of women—union members, executives, waitresses. Most of them, Dr. Shaber says, have questions for her, including how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases, how to preserve their fertility, how to prevent breast and cervical cancer and whether the latest Internet health scare they've heard is really true.
Dr. Shaber tries hard to separate fact from fiction because, she says, "rumor and hearsay can start to seem real." In the past, she'd sometimes refer patients to government websites and printed fact sheets, or rely on those outlets to help create her own materials. Not anymore. "As a physician, I can no longer trust government sources," says Dr. Shaber. She is not a political activist or a conspiracy theorist; in addition to her own practice, she's Kaiser Permanente's director of women's health services for northern California and head of the HMO's Women's Health Research Institute. Yet this decidedly mainstream doctor and administrator says, "I no longer trust FDA decisions or materials generated [by the government]. Ten years ago, I would not have had to scrutinize government information. Now I don't feel comfortable giving it to my patients."
Such doctor mistrust represents a major change. For the past 100 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been the world's premier government agency ensuring drug safety. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have similarly stellar track records. But recently, Dr. Shaber charges, the government has lost its most precious asset: credibility.
How did it happen? Many prominent figures in science and public health think they know the answer. "People believe that religiously based social conservatives have direct lines to the powers that be within the U.S. government, the administration, Congress, and are influencing public-health policy, practice and research in ways that are unprecedented and very dangerous," says Judith Auerbach, Ph.D., a former NIH official who is now a vice president at the nonprofit American Foundation for AIDS Research. In fact, Glamour, has found that on issues ranging from STDs to birth control, some radical conservative activists have used fudged and sometimes flatly false data to persuade the government to promote their agenda of abstinence until marriage.
A Drug's Promise (or Not) of Youth
The Los Angeles Times
I have traveled to the Palm Springs Life Extension Institute in search of Dr. Edmund Chein. Instead I find Tiffany Caranci. Tiffany is 20 years old and looks exactly how you might expect a 20-year-old named Tiffany to look: platform heels, low-slung skirt, hair streaked blond and black. She's brazenly sexy, and so very young.
I am a man and not very young. I have entered that disorienting neverland of middle age where you can't tell if women like Tiffany smile because you remind them of their fathers or because they think you're hot. I'm pretty sure Tiffany is smiling at me as I walk into Chein's clinic because she's a receptionist and gets paid to smile, but my ego scouts for any sign from her to justify the voice in my head that's saying: "You've still got it, brother." This neediness, of course, proves that I don't have it, and I don't mind admitting that right now I'd like it back. Well done, Tiffany.
I've come to meet the good doctor, but he is elusive, lying low on the advice of his lawyer.
In four hours, the Creator will ask me for $100,000 to help finance the cloning of a dead man. But by then, he'll have swallowed too much alcohol, driven us recklessly around the city in his sports car, and tried and failed to pick up a waitress. So I'll be accustomed to a little flamboyance from him, and his strange request will seem like ordinary conversation.
Right now, though, we're just starting dinner when he spells out his desire to be the first scientist in history to clone a human being. "This will be the biggest leap for mankind," he says. "It is the central core of Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus, the promise of eternal life!" The Creator, an intense, dark-haired man in his thirties, looks a little like Peter Lorre in The Beast With Five Fingers when he says this, so I have to remind myself that he's not a nut. He's a real scientist, a pretty good one, too, with a PhD in molecular biology, a list of peer-reviewed publications, and a research job at a big-name university. (Where, he says, he would be fired instantly if he went public with his human-cloning plans - hence his demand to remain anonymous.) The Creator conducts research on a protein that he was the first to identify, one that could have a tremendous impact on cardiovascular disease.
Tonight, he's not thinking about this work. Tonight, he's excited - thrilled, really - by the prospect of cloning a person. "This is the easiest thing you can do! You just get the damn nucleus, and put this damn nucleus into this enucleated oocyte, and pray to God something happens, and put it back into the surrogate mother, and wait. The easiest thing we could do right now, believe me, is to damn clone a human being!"
Free to Clone
The New York Times Magazine
This election year, the debate over cloning technology has become a circus -- and hardly anybody has noticed the gorilla hiding in the tent. Even while President Bush has endorsed throwing scientists in jail to stop ''reckless experiments'' (and has tried to muscle the U.N. into adopting a ban on all forms of cloning, even for research), it's just possible the First Amendment will protect researchers who want to perform cloning research.
An Elegy for Magazines
The Huffington Post
A good magazine is a combination of stories, photos, drawings, opinions, reporting, whimsy, humor. It is an art that is not reproducible nor replaceable by any other medium. At their best magazines are not "content," they are objets.
Yet they cost just a few bucks a piece. Imagine that. Imagine what you get for your money. You can travel to places you aren't likely to visit, meet people you are not likely to meet, learn about some topic you may never have wondered about but there you are, reading about it, because a magazine has delivered it to your eyes and packaged it in such a way that you wind up enlightened or amused or outraged. I have never, not even once, worn a formal gown. But the image of Lisa Fonssagrives in her black dress, holding some roses, speaks volumes about beauty, aspiration, possibility, desire.
Between Two West Coast Cities, a Duel to the Last Drop
The New York Times
IF Pirandello had written a play about water, he might have set it in a place where the London Bridge looms in one of the driest deserts on earth, where a $250-million water plant was built to desalt a supposedly freshwater river, and where huge pipes, like giant silver straws, rush water to gleaming cities hundreds of miles away.
In other words, Pirandello might have set his play near the Colorado River, where fights over water have provided a real-life theater of the absurd for years. States, cities and agricultural districts are trapped in this world through a Byzantine set of agreements, court decisions and legislation known as the law of the river, which has been hammered out, sometimes after guns were drawn, over the last 75 years. Today, it is difficult to find anyone in the seven states governed by the law who thinks it is fair or that it reflects late-20th-century reality. At the same time, no one is willing to toss it out and start over.
Now It Can Be Told: Confessions of a Former 'Jake'
The New York Times
As the plane took off, the woman in the window seat flipped open her copy of the magazine. I leaned across the empty space between us. Sure enough, she was reading ''Jake,'' the column I wrote for Glamour magazine.
But then, as I pondered the single best opening-line opportunity of my life, she blurted, ''This guy is such a jerk!'' I shrank away, buttoned my lip and resumed waiting patiently for my packet of mini Rold Gold pretzels.
It's no picnic being the avatar for an entire sex, saddled with the responsibility of translating the male psyche to a million or so skeptical women.
Don't Die, Stay Pretty
Judith Campisi, Calvin Harley, Cynthia Kenyon, and Gregory Stock are sitting onstage in a campus theater at UC Berkeley, looking a little shell-shocked. All four are big-time researchers studying various aspects of aging: Campisi is a cell biologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Harley is a cell biologist and chief scientific officer at Geron Corporation, Kenyon is a geneticist at UC San Francisco, and Stock directs the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at UCLA. They're not the types to brag about the implications of their work. But this event - Extro 4, the fourth confab of the Extropy Institute - is all about big-noise pronouncements, and the volume is drowning out the panel's scientific modesty.
The Extropians, of course, are techno-believers with boundless faith in science's power to amp up human potential. Extro 4 is devoted to their favorite topics: life extension, and the utopian future they believe will come about thanks to 21st-century advances in genetic engineering, biochemistry, and medical technology. A little later, the scientists will hear the Extropy Institute's founder, a chiseled, ponytailed philosophy PhD named Max More, confidently declare, "This is the fourth revolution in our history - the ultrahuman revolution." They'll also hear More's wife, an artist and bodybuilder named Natasha Vita-More, sketch out a future in which people will enjoy multiple sex organs, polymer skin that changes color like a mood ring, and virtual reality eyeball implants.
But right now the researchers are getting an earful from another Extropian, Robert Bradbury, a Harvard dropout and failed biotech entrepreneur. He provokes an awkward moment by addressing the panelists as fellow warriors in a crusade against anyone who doubts the possibility (or wisdom) of vastly increased human longevity.
"We have to deal with human naturalists," he says, "those people who think it is nonhuman to live 200 years, or the religious deathists, who have a significant amount of power by having the key to the Pearly Gates, so to speak, and the limits-to-growth camp, and, of course, the bureaucratic fearmongers like the Social Security Administration!" He looks at the scientists. "I realize most of the panel are not sociologists. Maybe Greg would like to comment."
Campisi tries to stifle a smirk. Harley's shoulders slump. Stock shifts in his chair and gets ready to say something. Here they sit, an all-star group, facing an organization founded by life-extension zealots who met at one of Timothy Leary's parties - and they've suddenly become "we." It's as if four Catholic bishops found themselves in a nude, sweaty scrum with a roomful of Larry Flynts.
Student steroid tests get ‘F,’ say some experts
The law was not controversial; it unanimously passed the state’s legislature. Who would vote no? After all, goes the conventional wisdom, steroids kill, and lots of kids are using them because they want bigger muscles, faster times, more power, just like their pro sports idols. Testing will keep them pure.
But the conventional wisdom might be wrong.
Steroid use in schools may not be nearly as prevalent as has been assumed, say some experts who note that the dangers of doping have been hyped partly by politicians, partly by well-meaning but misguided parents, and partly by a growing drug testing industry. They also say testing kids for PEDs will not only prove ineffective, but counterproductive and wasteful.
Dark shadows loom over 'facilitated' talk
On Nov. 27, 2007, just a few days after returning to school from Thanksgiving break, 14-year-old Aislinn Wendrow created a shock wave by saying her father had “banged” her. Aislinn didn’t say it, exactly; she typed it on the keyboard of a digital device with the help of Cynthia Scarsella, her facilitator and an employee of Michigan’s Walled Lake school district.
Scarsella reported Aislinn’s declaration to a resource teacher, who, in turn, called Michigan’s Department of Human Services.
Within hours, detectives from the West Bloomfield Township Police Department drove to the home of Thal and Julian Wendrow, Aislinn’s parents. They told Thal that Aislinn had accused her husband, a 52-year-old painting contractor, of sexually abusing their daughter.
Thal, then 44 and a research attorney for the local courts, explained to the detectives that Aislinn was severely autistic and unable to communicate verbally. Neither she nor her husband would ever abuse Aislinn or her brother, Ian, then 13, who had Asperger’s syndrome, she said.
In fact, they had long been vocal advocates for their children. When it came time for Aislinn to enter high school, the Wendrows insisted that the school provide facilitated communication, or FC, which involved having an employee support Aislinn’s wrist and help her type her thoughts onto a keypad.
Aislinn had used FC in junior high and made extraordinary progress. She had made new friends and, her parents reported to an autism message board, was “writing poetry, spending a lot of time on homework, learning how to take tests … blossoming.”
Please enjoy the following bits of whimsy, memoir, miscellaneous reportage, opinion. I'm putting them here with no paywall, no obligation, no particular reason other than vanity, I suppose.
By Brian Alexander
© 2014, Brian Alexander
"'Facts don't spread. Emotions do spread,' said Paul Adams, a brand experience manager at Facebook"
— The New York Times, January 30, 2012
My fellow Circle of Life Industries shareholders:
I am happy to report that under your company's leadership team, Circle of Life Industries has proven itself to be a winner in both the fine dining and convenience foods spaces, returning your confidence with unprecedented growth curves. We're planning exciting initiatives for the coming year, but before I tell you about them, I want to take the opportunity of our first annual report to revisit how we have come so far, so fast.
It was just two years ago that I journeyed to Glencraigie, Scotland to seek out Bruce McAllister. As most of you know, Bruce made his name by using birds of prey to kill some of the rabbits and other game he served at the Niblick, his small bistro.
Bruce was skeptical. After all, I was a social venture fund manager, not a food entrepreneur. And when I described how I wanted to extend his brand by sourcing only from the phlegm Gaia hacks up from her majestic body, free of any killing by humans, he shouted "Buncha fookin' shite! Fookin' deep shite!"
Yes, it's true!
But that, my fellow investors, was the Eureka! moment when the name for our new movement -- Deep Food -- came to me.
Well, it took some doing (and a hefty compensation package), but I convinced Bruce, and, with a small staff of laborers, including a young carpenter from Slaty Fork, West Virginia named Jayden Grits, we transformed the shell of a former Bottega Veneta boutique into the flagship Circle of Life restaurant we all know today.
I was the first forager. Hard to believe, I know. I was never a Boy Scout; I went to Stanford. But I picked up fallen sassafras leaves along the Hudson River palisades. I wandered Morristown National Historic Park until I came across a long-dead possum and part of a rabbit. That evening Bruce made the first-ever Deep Food dish, seared possum liver and rabbit hindquarters with a sassafras reduction.
"'At's bloody fookin' awful," he said when he tasted his work. "Mingin piece 'a shite." And it was, my friends. But we were not deterred.
I hired young Jayden, hale and muscular, to head up a foraging crew. What a happy accident this decision proved to be! Jayden divided his crew into two parts, surf and turf, and soon they were wandering into Connecticut ponds to retrieve dead cattail hearts. They harvested burdock along the Major Deegan Expressway, collected pigeons in midtown. By following feral cats, urban coyotes, the occasional Queens pit bull, Jayden and his crews gathered some partially gnawed birds, a dozen mice, and half a Yorkshire terrier.
Animals die deeply all around us. You'd be surprised how many are keeling over right now with respiratory failure, bone cancer, heart attacks. They have accidents. Uncoordinated squirrels fall out of trees onto concrete sidewalks. Bream are dropped by gulls. Skates are washed ashore by tides. Whether it was part of a seal, possums, chipmunks, rats, voles, snakes, Jayden soon filled the larder.
And Bruce performed miracles. Those of you who have followed the Circle of Life story from the beginning will recall the opening night raves for his sizzling rabbit snout fajitas, seagull hash, and mole lung on cartilage foam. Let me remind you of Betsy-Lynn Bao's first tweet:
COL is to post-industrial cuisine wht L'Escoffier was 2 Antne Careme: Honest. Responsible. rilly awesome. #deepfood #score
Such praise coming from the most feared restaurant critic in the city not only affirmed our creative vision, but sparked an immediate three-month reservations backlog.
The following day I phoned Betsy-Lynn, interrupting her seventh-grade social studies class at Brearley, to thank her.
"You are at the intersection of social media and branded event advertising," she said. Naturally, I hired her (and her 752,132 Twitter followers) on the spot as our vice-president for social media and public relations. I think you'll all agree that her salary, stock options, and the flexible work arrangements we've made to accommodate her field hockey practices and games have been more than justified.
Her leadership of social influencers and our advercontent program helped us weather skepticism from the legacy media. When Florence Fabricant called Bruce's raccoon haggis "nothing more than trash," did we let that bother us? No! We understood that facts don't spread, emotions do spread. We appealed directly to the glamorous-adventurer demographic, the young, the techno-savvy.
Betsy-Lynn was masterful at creating a community of content with real-time activations across social media channels via influencer-curated native advercontent, like Corby Kummer, who wrote "Deep Food is true food, the slowest of all slow food, so very, very slow, its inventor, Bruce McAllister, waits patiently for death."
She recruited the city's hippest rebels to our side with tweets like
Jayden Grits butchers shit right there! Hawt-ee, too. How underground is that? FU, health dpt. #deepfood
Here's one example of our strategy in action, as influencer "shiksagoddess" guides a conversation on UrbanBaby.
I don't know what to think about it. My five-year-old suggested we buy a terrier and some French rabbits like he saw in Provence last year and let the dog kill the rabbits for us. He thought it would be "so awesome!" I do think it might provide a lesson on the dog-eat-rabbit world so he learns that food doesn't only come from Zabars, but I worry about the side effects of the stress hormones the rabbit will produce once he knows he's being killed. I've heard it could lower sperm counts in boys. Plus, I'm not sure how my son's preschool teacher would react and we're trying to get him into Buckley next year. - Anna234
Hey Anna…you're right to be worried. Hormones are poison. We're castrating our boys with them. - OrganicBex
Wouldn't that be a good thing? - BushyBabe
Hubby and I are so totally into Deep Food! We hired the guy who makes lunches at BlackRock where hubby works to come over and cook a Deep Food menu for our last dinner party. He got a weasel from Greenwood Cemetery. Amaaa-zing! It tasted so…real! Hubby says we're going to Argentina this fall to forage for capybara. Sooo excited! - shiksagoddess
Other restaurateurs couldn't ignore the juggernaut. David Chang opened Fukyutu. Daniel Boulud started Decay. Of course, those Charlie Palmer UpChuck trucks cruising around Los Angeles owe their existence to your company.
We leaned into our success by opening a small beachside café in Montauk, Samsara. Making Jayden head chef was risky, yes, but the gamble paid off when his jellyfish quesadillas become the summer's iconic snack.
Your company's leadership team further extended the brand by placing Jayden in his own full-service fine dining Deep Food restaurant, Samsara West, in Malibu. True, Jayden was no Bruce in the kitchen. But, as Betsy-Lynn reassured the team, "a chef is not a chef, he's a curated content container."
Once Betsy-Lynn wrangled an Instagram of Kaley Cuoco noshing on crispy found Topanga rattlesnake skin during a lunch meeting with her agent, The Ivy was out, Samsara was in.
With proceeds from our IPO, we leveraged Jayden's growing celebrity into the first five Jayden Grits Lickety-Split Samsara Cafés in Boston, Indianapolis, Columbus, Jacksonville, and O'Hare airport. As you can see in our revenue breakdown, same-store sales have risen each month over the most recent quarter.
The EPS growth curve on the following page did not come without setbacks. We were shaken by Bruce's return to Scotland after that Nick Denton head-butting incident, and the brief scandal over the sourcing of woodchucks from the Midwest region, but we stuck to our content modality paradigm. As Betsy-Lynn reminded all of us, "transparency is the act of being human as a brand."
Which brings me to the future. Your company's leadership has exciting initiatives on board for the coming fiscal year.
We'll continue our aggressive expansion of Jayden Grits Lickety-Split Samsara Cafés. We'll introduce what we hope will become a diverse line of Deep Frozen® foods for the home chef, starting with recovered elk Salisbury steaks. And we'll leverage our leadership position in Deep Food to execute several cross-channel brand-extension play strategies with a new division, Deep Living®.
Finally, we will vastly improve our already formidable brand curation social strategies with game-changing technology, our proprietary Circle of Life Industries Pepsia Transform®.
The Pepsia Transform® represents the ultimate advance in Big Data. Pepsia eats more information, and faster, than any algorithm of its type, then exudes actionable brand curation marketing targets.
True, I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. I was a liberal arts major.
But some quant guys we hired explained it to me and here's what they said: Suppose a junior executive in Cedar Rapids tweets about lunch plans. Meanwhile, in Pasco, Washington, a couple sends an email to a contractor about their home remodel. And in Raleigh, North Carolina, a mom complains to her Facebook friends about her lousy night's sleep. All these messages join millions of others in the big river of bits streaming around us. The Pepsia Transform® dips its digital ladle into this river, and, in seconds, transmits a tweet to the young man in Iowa suggesting a fast lunch of seared breast of pocket mouse on a bed of found fleabane at the new Cedar Rapids Jayden Grits Lickety-Split Samsara Café. The couple in Pasco, Washington receives an email suggesting they include a Deep Living® Exhibition Abattoir® in their new kitchen to butcher the Circle of Life Way® (great for entertaining!). That tired mom? She'll see a message about the $28,000 Deep Sleep® horse hide-and-hair mattress.
As you can see, Circle of Life Industries is harnessing the power of social peristalsis to create the world's leading lifestyle brand. The future is bright.
My Mother, the Legionnaire
By Brian Alexander
© 2014, Brian Alexander
On February 6, the government of France will award my mother a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur. The award will recognize the small role she played in the liberation of France during World War II.
I say "small" because my mother says small, and in the context of the liberation of France it was small. My mother, now 92, was an army nurse assigned to a field hospital in Normandy. Two of her tent-mates, both still living, have also been given this honor, as have other U.S. veterans who participated. The award is not in recognition of some dramatic act or unique suffering.
She'd be the first to tell you this. She'd insist on telling you this.
Overpowered by the flickering heroics of scores of war movies and "Greatest Generation" documentaries, and gauzy images of "The Good War" we've all come to know, she's right. Her little bit of the war, as she likes to call it, wasn't a big deal, except to her.
She waged it on a few acres of pasture near the village of La-Haye-du-Puits on the Cotentin Peninsula near Cherbourg. She knew very little of what was happening outside that small domain. "I think I saw two copies of Stars and Stripes the whole time I was there," she says in the oral history I took a couple of years ago.
Before she was Mrs. Robert Alexander, she was Agnes Stern, though everybody called her "Bobby." Bobby was a kid, practically, who was known in her high school as the gabby, flirty, social butterfly and who happened to be in nursing school when Pearl Harbor was attacked. She joined the army out of a touch of patriotism, but also because lots of other nurses were joining the army and she thought it would be a fun adventure.
She was so naïve that, during a leave from Camp Lee, Virginia, when she came home to Jeannette, Pennsylvania to see her parents, and they worried she'd be sent overseas, she reassured them.
"I can remember saying 'Don't worry, I will never go overseas because you have to volunteer. Well, when I got back to Camp Lee that day, I had just walked into the barracks, and somebody said 'You're going overseas!'"
Her unit, the 164th hospital, had been ordered to Normandy.
A convoy of British and American ships dodged German submarines to deliver her off the French coast. She arrived in the middle of the night, a month or so, as she recalls it, after D-Day. She climbed down a ropey net hung over the side of the ship and onto a wooden raft. Her combat boot fell through a space in the boards of the raft leaving her foot soaked with cold Channel sea.
Once on the beach, she and the other nurses, all young and green, waited for a truck to take them to La-Haye-du-Puits. The plan called for a pre-dawn arrival. The driver got lost.
"At about dawn," she recalls, "he drove into St. Lo." The battle for the crossroads town was one of the fiercest engagements of the Normandy campaign. "That's when we got our first glimpse of war. There was nothing there. It was all bombed out."
The dawn light silhouetted smoke, fire, shells of buildings. "It was kind of scary. Here again, we were 21, 22 years old, and don't forget, until Camp Lee, none of us had ever been more than 25 miles away from home and all the sudden here we were in the midst of a war in another country. We were cold, it was rainy, we were scared, some of us already homesick."
The driver eventually found his way and the unit set itself up, living in pup tents, at first, with bigger tents for surgeries and a patient ward. They ate C-rations and K-rations, and bathed with water from their helmets.
Conditions eventually improved – looking a bit like M*A*S*H – and she settled more or less into routine. She gauged what was happening in the wider war according to the flow of casualties arriving from nearby battlefields. The boys – mostly boys – arrived by truck, were operated on or otherwise treated, and, after a period of recovery, either sent to England and home or back to the line.
As I grew up, almost the only war stories I heard from my mother and my father, who died in 1999, and who was a sergeant in the same unit, were about how much fun it all was.
Here's an oft-told one: As an officer, a lieutenant, my mother had a liquor ration, four fifths per month, one each of bourbon, Scotch, gin and rum. She used this as currency, mainly. Sometimes she bribed the guards overseeing the nurses' part of the camp – black men in the then-segregated army – to look the other way when the nurses wanted to meet with an enlisted man. It is thanks to such forbidden "fraternization," and to her skill at petty corruption, that my two brothers and I exist today.
There's a story about a scrawny chicken bartered from a local farmer, and one about the time she and her mates almost managed to burn down their tent trying to stay warm. They're pretty funny.
The only time my mother mentioned anything dark was when one of her sons malingered in bed on cold school day mornings pleading some grave malady. She'd pull the "basket cases" trump card, telling us about young guys with limbs blown away. We figured she was exaggerating, but Bobby Alexander's sons had some of the best attendance records in the history of Lancaster, Ohio Catholic schools.
It's true that the closest my mother got to a German carrying a gun was the result of desperation. German soldiers once managed to sneak into the camp at night. They had come from the nearby Channel Islands where their garrison had been left by the Reich to fend for itself after D-Day. Seeking food, they took several nurses hostage. Some sort of negotiation ensued. My mother doesn't know the details, but suspects a food-for-nurses trade was arranged. The episode ended happily.
The camp was never bombed, and, as far as she knows, never shot at. Many nurses, like those serving in the Philippines, some of whom were taken prisoner and suffered horribly, had a much tougher war than my mother. She'd want you to know that.
Don't think, though, that this is all there is to her story.
She learned about her own country through contact with hundreds of broken young men, sometimes by writing letters for them. This was supposed to be the job of Red Cross nurses, but she took it on after a soldier told her that when he asked a Red Cross nurse to help, "'I told her I was from Mississippi and could neither read nor write, and she told everybody on the ward.'" (Episodes like this instilled in my mother a life-long distrust of the Red Cross.) Lots of boys, she recalls, could not read or write. "So I wrote the letter and said 'Who will read this? Can your parents read?' And he said 'No, the lady next door will read it to them.'"
Often, the men just wanted to talk. When screams from their own nightmares woke them in the night, she soothed them.
"Back then, we had something called elixir of terpin hydrate with codeine, a cough syrup, and when I was on night duty, every night about bedtime, they would all start coughing and say 'I need cough medicine!'" She laughs, but they needed it, and not for coughing.
The boys liked her. "Every GI I ever knew fell in love with his nurse," she says. Some drew flattering pictures. One cartoon she's kept depicts her as a cute, buxom angel with wings flying toward a man's bare quivering ass, a syringe with a long needle in her hand.
Every day, especially during the epically cold winter of 1944-45 when the camp was a primary recipient of casualties from the Battle of the Bulge, she watched such young men die, some of them on operating tables during surgeries she assisted, some in their cots.
"We got all kinds," she says of the traffic through the hospital. "Even little French children who stepped on mines. We had lots of bullet holes, just about everything."
And those basket cases? "Oh yes," she says.
She pauses a second.
"I had a…I can almost see him. He lost an arm into his shoulder, and I'll never forget, right before he went back to the states he said to me, 'I would gladly give another arm to get out of that.' We had one little guy who had one arm and one leg and he was going home, of course, but he hadn't yet told his parents. I did my best. I said 'You have got to write and tell them.' He said 'No, they'll see me when they see me.'
"A guy I dated in high school, his brother…." She stops. She's 92 years old but sees his face clear as yesterday.
"Before we were set up in the big tent, all of us were together and one girl came in and said 'Bobby, there is a handsome major out there looking for you.' I said 'Who knows I'm here?' So I went out and I never saw this guy before. He was huge! He told me who he was and I said, 'Oh, I know your brother.' And he said 'Your dad knows my sister.' His sister worked in the factory at McKee Glass [where her father worked] and she wondered if I might be anywhere near her brother."
She stops again.
"His name was Dante DalleTezze, from Claridge. I went to high school with his brother, Elio. Dante was a good football player. [He started for the University of Pittsburgh in 1938.] Well, his sister wrote to him and told him my outfit number, so he had been watching, and they were bivouacked nearby, and he came, and we had a nice long chat. He said 'We are going to be shipped out tonight or tomorrow, but I will come back and look you up. I said 'OK.' So they were shipped out and I never heard from him.
"Then came the Battle of the Bulge. We began to get patients from his outfit, and, of course, I would say do you know this major and it was always, 'No,' 'No,' 'No.' I finally found somebody who said 'He was our major.' I said, 'I know him well. Do you know if he was hurt?' 'No.' Then I found a kid and he said 'How well do you know him?' I told him, and he said 'Well, he's dead. He had his head shot off.'"
She pauses again. "There were lots of little things like that. Well, not so little."
She doesn't admit anything about herself but says that, yes, some were affected by all this "but nothing like Vietnam." She sees Vietnam vets when she goes to her local VA hospital to pick up some prescriptions. They look haunted.
After Germany surrendered, the unit was told to prepare for the Pacific. She can still sing the song, "Please, Mr. Truman" imploring the president to send them home, instead. While the unit was in Marseille awaiting a ship, atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
She wrote a letter home: "I will either call or telegraph to tell you what time. It should not be too long. I want a bottle of Duquesne [beer] stuffed pork chops, an orange, and a piece of cake."
When she arrived, she kissed and hugged her parents, and had a pork chop and cake and beer, and went upstairs to her old bedroom and tried to sleep in her bed and, failing, lay down on the floor and cried. She slept on the floor next to her bed for weeks. She cried often.
"I was welcomed in town like the prodigal son returned," she says. Still in the army, "I had to wear my uniform at all times and everybody made a fuss." Her parents did not ask her about her experiences. "They never did. Not even later. They never did. And I didn't want to tell them about it.
Her town seemed strange, the people in it, the ones she'd grown up with, seemed different. But she was the one who was different. Not only did she miss the intimate camaraderie of her unit – "We were like family" – "it was an intense experience and then, all the sudden, you had everything you could want right there, and nothing to do and you're expected to be a normal civilian." Even the thought of marrying my father, who had gone to his home in Cleveland, didn't excite her. She says she got over it, eventually, mostly.
"After awhile, my dad said the war made me hard."
"You know, you get over that."
"Was it true, though? Did it make you hard?" I ask.
"It probably did. I think that's true. I think that would be true of all of us. It still probably has some effect on me."
She acts like receiving the Legion of Honor on February 6 won't be that big a deal. She wants to make sure the ceremony is over in time for her to make her Thursday bridge game. Don't you believe it.
Postscript: My mother received her honor, kisses on both cheeks by the French consul from Miami, and a bottle of French champagne. She was back in time for bridge. She won.