Communion Of Dreams

January 19, 2009, 12:22 pm
Filed under: Depression, Writing stuff

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted — nevermore!

No, it’s OK, I’m not *that* depressed.  But I thought I would share the closing stanza of The Raven on this, the 200th birthday of Edgar Allen Poe.  If it’s been a while, take the time to read his poem aloud to yourself – it truly is remarkable.  And this, coming from someone who isn’t a big fan of poetry.

Bob Edwards had a good segment on his weekend show with Peter Akroyd, author of a new biography of Poe, this past weekend.  That’s worth listening to, and there is a podcast available.

Hmm, I think I have a couple of volumes of Poe here somewhere, left over from grad school.  Hmm . . .

Jim Downey

Taking a break.

No, not from blogging.  And it is only tangentially related to yesterday’s post.  Rather, from visiting some of my usual gun forums – the upcoming inauguration has caused a resurgence of hatin’ on “LIEBRALS and DEMONCRATS”, and I just don’t have the stomach for it right now.  As I said in a diary I posted on dKos a month ago:

I have given up participation in some gun forums for being told that I cannot be a gun owner and still be a liberal.  Seriously, sometimes it is impossible to get other gun owners to understand that this issue does not need to be one which breaks down according to party alignment (and isn’t good for gun rights if it does).  Even my family and some of my gun-owning friends have a hard time wrapping their head around it.  The most common refrain is that no “true” gun owner can possibly be a liberal, or vote for a Democrat.

It happened again to me last night in one forum I particularly like.  But I’ve seen much too much such sentiment the last week or so, on a variety of such discussion forums.

It’s maddening.  Maddening because it is so damned short-sighted.  A lot of people would rather be “pure” than win – they don’t care if they lose an argument, or their rights, so long as they get to trumpet their moral superiority.  And a whole lot of  “gun-rights activists”, who have tied their activism to the tail of an elephant, and now are so aligned with that party that they can’t see that there is a better path to preserving their Second Amendment rights.  A path where the RKBA, and all the rest of the Bill of Rights, is respected and preserved by *both* major political parties.  No, they would much rather pay homage to the GOP, and so alienate most moderate gun owners that they seem to be extremists – and therein delegitimize their cause, perhaps even hastening new pointless gun control legislation.

Gah.  Makes me crazy.

So, I’m going to take a break.  Being off to the wilds of northern California next week will help.  Maybe the worst of this outbreak will pass by the time I get back.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to Ballistics by the inch Blog and UTI.)

Black dog? What black dog?
January 17, 2009, 10:50 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Bipolar, Depression, Health, Sleep, Survival

As usual, it’s only in hindsight that you recognize it.  The typical seasonal downturn is something more.  Oh, you’re aware of the symptoms.  The intense introspection.  Desire to sleep more.  Lower level of creativity.  Difficulty in finding the motivation to do anything.  Lack of enthusiasm for the usual things you enjoy.  Tendency to drink more, without getting the slightest buzz from it.  You’re aware of the symptoms, but until you’ve been dealing with them for a while they don’t all add up to something that you can see.

The ‘black dog‘.

I’ve written about my bipolar tendencies before.  It’s mild, but there.  I try and keep an eye on it.  Sometimes it is hard to discern, amidst the clutter of life.  This period of mild depression could have been just the usual seasonal blahs I have, plus some tiredness and stress about my health and desire to get the house ready for visitors, plus the upcoming first anniversary of Martha Sr’s death.  That was what I was attributing my feelings to.  But this morning, a quiet walk in the brilliant cold, I recognized it for what it was.  Depression.  Mild, but more than the sum of the various factors I had been noticing.

Recognition of the problem is important.   I can take steps to deal with it, and most importantly keep track of where I am in the downward arc.  If it looks to be severe, then I’ll see someone about it.  But I don’t expect that – my personal mountains and valleys tend to be modest.  Mostly it is just a matter of riding it out, putting one foot in front of the other, playing ball on running water.

Jim Downey

Oh, yum!
January 16, 2009, 6:09 pm
Filed under: BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow, Health, Humor, movies, Politics, Survival

I suppose on some level this would be the perfect food for the end of the Bush era – but you’ll forgive me if I don’t add it to my celebratory smorgasbord on Tuesday:

Casu marzu (also called casu modde, casu cundhídu, or in Italian formaggio marcio) is a traditional sheep milk cheese, notable for being riddled with live insect larvae. Although outlawed there for health reasons, it is found mainly in Sardinia, Italy on the black market. Casu marzu literally means “rotten cheese” in Sardinian and is known colloquially as maggot cheese.

Derived from Pecorino, Casu marzu goes beyond typical fermentation to a stage most would consider decomposition, brought about by the digestive action of the larvae of the cheese fly Piophila casei. These larvae are deliberately introduced to the cheese, promoting an advanced level of fermentation and breaking down of the cheese’s fats. The texture of the cheese becomes very soft, with some liquid (called lagrima, from the Sardinian for “tears”) seeping out. The larvae themselves appear as translucent white worms, about 8 millimetres (0.3 in) long. When disturbed, the larvae can launch themselves for distances up to 15 centimetres (6 in). Some people clear the larvae from the cheese before consuming; others do not.

* * *

Casu marzu is considered toxic when the maggots in the cheese have died. Because of this, only cheese in which the maggots are still alive is eaten. When the cheese has fermented enough, it is cut into thin strips and spread on moistened Sardinian flatbread (pane carasau), to be served with a strong red wine.[6][7] Casu marzu is believed to be an aphrodisiac by local Sardinians.[1] Because the larvae in the cheese can launch themselves for distances up to 15 centimetres (6 in) when disturbed,[5][8] diners hold their hands above the sandwich to prevent the maggots from leaping into their eyes.[3] Those who do not wish to eat live maggots place the cheese in a sealed paper bag. The maggots, starved for oxygen, writhe and jump in the bag, creating a “pitter-patter” sound. When the sounds subside, the maggots are dead and the cheese can be eaten.[9]

It’s a bit late for it, but it has to be said: “They’ll eat your eyes out, kid!”

No, actually, the greatest threat seems to be from ingesting the the maggots, and having them survive in your  gut.  Charming.  Not unlike Bush administration political appointees  who are trying to burrow their way into permanent positions in the Justice Department, I suppose.  So cheesy.

Jim Downey

(Via BB.  Excerpted description from Wikipedia entry on Casu marzu.  Cross posted to UTI.)

***Say, someone linked this to some site, or spread it amongst their Twitter friends, or something – there’s been a huge increase in hits. Which is cool, but if someone would be kind enough to let me know how it got out into the wild, I’d appreciate it. I’m used to my posts mostly being domesticated, see . . . JD

This (c)old house.

Gah – it’s 55 degrees here.  Inside, I mean.  No, we don’t have the thermostat turned that low.  The heating system, an old hot-water radiator setup, just can’t keep up when the temps get down to below zero Fahrenheit.  Not in an old house with minimal insulation (and no simple way of adding any).  So we wander around, playing Quintet, waiting for something resembling normal weather to return, trying to get done what we can.

It’s sobering.  And instructive.  In Communion of Dreams I stipulate a long period of harsh winters for much of the northern hemisphere, following the ‘small’ nuclear war in Asia.  Having lived through some 15 Iowa winters, it was easy to imagine what that would be like.  But I was younger, and memory is fleeting.  Combine those cold conditions for a prolonged period with an economic collapse, and those years in my novel would be brutal – moreso than any of us probably understand.

And let’s hope it stays that way.  When I read things like this, I wonder whether I have been entirely too optimistic about our future.  Then again, not like these geniuses have been right about anything else for the last couple of years.

Wait – they’ve been entirely too optimistic, too, haven’t they?  That’s what got us into this financial mess.

Gods, now I really am depressed.

And cold.

Jim Downey

Ah, damn.
January 15, 2009, 8:58 am
Filed under: Art, Gene Roddenberry, General Musings, movies, Science Fiction, Star Trek, The Prisoner

I caught the news last night, but somehow had managed to miss this comment to my post of a week ago – Patrick McGoohan has passed away.

Ah, damn.

And so has Ricardo Montalban.

Ah, damn.

We tend to think of actors as their most important (to us) roles.  People who won’t recognize the name of McGoohan probably know him as #6 from The Prisoner.  Likewise, Montalban is forever known better as Khan Noonien Singh to generations of SF fans.  And while this is unfair – both men were accomplished actors who played many roles, and who lived interesting lives – it is understandable, because they came into our lives for only a limited time and in this particular context.  And they live on in those characters in our minds.

So, yes, farewell to each.  But I will always cherish their memorable performances.

Jim Downey

Say what?
January 13, 2009, 10:12 am
Filed under: NPR, Society

Usually, I tend to dismiss the supposed ‘elitist’ label applied to NPR.  You don’t have to be in the upper class to be well informed, or have a wide range of interests.  You don’t need an advanced degree, or a high-paying job, to listen to intelligent discussions or appreciate good artwork in any medium.  In fact, I am none of those things – not upper class, no advanced degree, never held a high-paying job – and yet I am fairly well addicted to NPR and have been for almost 30 years.

But every once in a while they run a piece that just makes me scratch my head.  No, I’m not talking about a segment on some obscure bit of literature or music that only a few people know enough about to appreciate.  I’m talking about an attitude that is  so widely divorced from my reality that I have a hard time wrapping my head around it.  One piece on Weekend Edition Sunday two days ago did exactly this.  It was about “food trends” for 2009, particularly discussing the impact of the recession on the topic, and contained this comment from the featured subject of the piece:

Home Cooking With A Twist

The recession has brought back home-cooked meals in a big way, Wolf says.

“It will mean an increase in cooking classes, because people will have to learn how to cook since we haven’t been cooking at home for many years,” she says.

Say what?

Who the hell never cooks at home?  Nobody I know since I left college.  Yeah, sure, Americans have tended towards more “prepared foods” for decades, to make our busy lives a little easier.  Most people can’t spend hours each day preparing all their meals from scratch – it just isn’t practical.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t cook at home.  Most people I know only eat out (or bring home take-out food) a couple of times a month, at most.  And while some “prepared foods” are complete meals, almost always there is some level of actual cooking involved.  The notion that people will have to take cooking classes in order to manage even basic cooking at home is absurd to my mind.  Sure, there are probably very few people who can manage a Julia Child level of cooking at home, but that doesn’t mean that most of us are eating out or surviving on hotdogs.


Jim Downey

Glow, baby, glow.

It’s never safe to assume what’s left behind when a great empire collapses is safe.  This is a staple of SF, and was one of the recurring themes of Bab5 – culminating in the spin off series Crusade.  Unfortunately, the author of the series had entirely too good a reason to think of such things, with the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union still fresh in the news.

One such: the legacy of nuclear-powered lighthouses.

Powered by fairly simple radioisotope thermoelectric generators, these lighthouses aided safe navigation through the fringes of the Artic Ocean, along the northern coast of the USSR.  But eventually they fell into disrepair, and because a source for scavangers.  From the English Russia site:

Then, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the unattended automatic lighthouses did it job for some time, but after some time they collapsed too. Mostly as a result of the hunt for the metals like copper and other stuff which were performed by the looters. They didn’t care or maybe even didn’t know the meaning of the “Radioactive Danger” sign and ignored them, breaking in and destroying the equipment. It sounds creepy but they broke into the reactors too causing all the structures to become radioactively polluted.

Those photos are from the trip to the one of such structures, the most close to the populated areas of the Russian far east. Now, there are signs “RADIOACTIVITY” written with big white letters on the approaching paths to the structure but they don’t stop the abandoned exotics lovers.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to visit a charming ruin that will leave you with leukemia in a few years?  It’s such a romantic way to die.


“Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.”  And that from a guy who loved nuclear power, saw it as the future.


Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.)

January 11, 2009, 9:50 am
Filed under: Connections, General Musings, tech

A good friend of mine lives out in the wilds of Iowa.  Beautiful country,  but a bit isolated.  Certainly not off the grid, but far enough from any major population centers that there’s about a 15 x 23 foot patch in one corner of his farm where you can almost get cell phone reception.  On a good day.  If you’re lucky.

This morning he was telling me that they just switched their internet companies, bundling together their phone and cable as well.  Typical set-up, which will do nothing for their cell phone reception.

Or could it?

I got to thinking while I was writing him, and it occured to me that there is probably no reason that you couldn’t set up a simple local cell node connected to your computer.  All it would need to do is cover a small area around your home, with connectivity over your internet connection to your general cell provider.  All the technology exists to do this, from a WiFi hookup to VOIP.  And it could provide much more reliable cell coverage for millions of people in remote areas, without the need for expanding the cell network into areas with sparse populations.


Does anything like this exist already?  Or have I just come up with a simple cell solution for a lot of rural people?

Jim Downey

ACE high.
January 9, 2009, 2:31 pm
Filed under: Health

I just wanted to do a quick follow-up to Tuesday’s post, and say that not only did I get the good news that there seems to be nothing serious going on, but that the change in my blood pressure meds seems to have been a good one.  The troubling symptoms have all but disappeared, and there’s been an improvement from shifting from a calcium channel blocker to an ACE inhibitor, meaning that overall my bp has improved.  We’ll see how it goes over the next week or two, and then I’ll go over the test period with my doctor and see if there are other changes we should make.

And once again, it is good not to feel fragile – taking reasonable precautions is one thing, being worried about an impending heart attack is another matter altogether.

Well, back to work . . .

Jim Downey