Communion Of Dreams

The danger of early spring.
February 27, 2009, 10:02 am
Filed under: Depression, Emergency, Failure, Government, Predictions, Preparedness, Society, Weather

It’s been a warm week here in central Missouri. 40s early on, up almost to 70 midweek. Yesterday it was 60s. With sun, and the sort of rain you get in early spring.

Little wonder that the trees are starting to bud, jonquils break through the topsoil, snowdrops in full riot.

Naturally enough, it’s supposed to snow tonight and tomorrow.

* * * * * * *

NPR had a fascinating – and frightening – story this morning:

Taxpayer Beware: Bank Bailout Will Hurt

A single piece of paper may just be one of the most surprising and illuminating documents of the whole banking crisis.

It’s a one-page research note from an economist at Deutsche Bank, and it outlines in the clearest terms the kind of solution many bankers are looking for. The basic message: We should forget trying to get a good deal for taxpayers because even trying will hurt.

“Ultimately, the taxpayer will be on the hook one way or another, either through greatly diminished job prospects and/or significantly higher taxes down the line,” the document says.

The story called the piece of paper a “Ransom Note.” Or, as the presenter put it another way, “That’s a nice global economy you got there. Be a real shame if anything happened to it.”

Shakedown, baby.

* * * * * * *

But it may be too late for that, already. Surprising everyone, the US economy contracted at an annualized rate of 6.2% in the last quarter of 2008. Overnight, the government worked out a deal to own upwards of 36% of Citibank Corp. Consumer spending has dropped off radically as people react to the uncertain economy and start to pay down the historically high debt ratios – ratios which haven’t been seen since 1929.

And it’s not limited to just us. Japanese manufacturing output fell 10% just last month, on top of a 9.8% drop in December – a stunning drop, the likes of which has not been seen for over 50 years. That is a reflection of the drop off in demand globally.

* * * * * * *

There will be snow tonight and tomorrow. How much damage it does to the flowers and trees will remain to be seen. But it sure seems that spring is a long ways off.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

This is hopeful.
February 26, 2009, 10:45 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Daily Kos, Health, NPR, Science

From NPR, word that there may have been a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s Disease research:

Mad Cow And Alzheimer’s Have Surprising Link

Scientists have discovered a surprising link between Alzheimer’s disease and mad cow disease. It turns out both diseases involve something called a prion protein.

The finding, which appears in the journal Nature, could explain one of the great mysteries in Alzheimer’s disease: How components of the plaques that form in patient’s brains are able to damage brain cells. It also could point the way to new treatments for the disease.

“It’s very exciting,” says Lennart Mucke, director of the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease and a professor of neurology and neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco. “The study shines the light on a very unexpected component.”

OK, first off, I think the title of the NPR piece is somewhat misleading.  Here’s what Nature has:

‘Harmless’ prion protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease

Non-infectious prion proteins found in the brain may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, researchers have found.

The surprising new results, reported this week in Nature1, show that normal prion proteins produced naturally in the brain interact with the amyloid-β peptides that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Blocking this interaction in preparations made from mouse brains halted some neurological defects caused by the accumulation of amyloid-β peptide. It was previously thought that only infectious prion proteins, rather than their normal, non-infectious counterparts, played a role in brain degeneration.

The results have yet to be confirmed in humans, but suggest that targeting the non-infectious prion protein (PrPc) could provide an alternative route to treating Alzheimer’s disease. “The need is huge,” says Paul Aisen, an Alzheimer’s researcher based at the neurosciences department of the University of California, San Diego. “And it’s great news for the field when a new idea is brought forth with strong evidence that can lead to new therapeutic strategies.”

Why did NPR choose to tie it to Mad Cow? Probably because that’s the only real handle most people, even NPR’s relatively well-informed listeners, have on any kind of prion disease.  So they decided to use this link.  Which may be unfortunate, if it contributes to speculation and fear that somehow Mad Cow disease leads to Alzheimer’s.

But the research is quite interesting, and a significant breakthrough.  For a while, amyloid plaque has been understood to play a role in Alzheimer’s, but no one could quite figure out what exactly that role was.  Tying it to prions gives a mechanism that explains how the plaque damages the brain and leads to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  Furthermore, as noted in the stories cited, it offers a very promising strategy for countering the disease.  And because of all the work which has been done on Mad Cow disease (and prion disease generally), these proteins are fairly well understood, meaning that it is likely that researchers will be able to come up with specific treatment regimens.

This is hopeful.  Very hopeful.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to dKos.)

Time heals.
February 23, 2009, 12:13 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Hospice, Sleep, Survival

Spent a chunk of this morning working on the care-giving book, and came across this post:

I coulda told them that.

October 23, 2007, 10:22 am | Edit this
Filed under: Alzheimer’s, Health, Hospice, Science, Sleep, Society

Made a routine trip to the big-box store this morning, to stock up on catfood. I got one of those large boxes of 48 cans of different flavors my cats like. And when I went to put it away, the “easy open” tab didn’t. Instead, I wound up just destroying the whole box, ripping and tearing, so I had access to all the cans included.

It felt wonderful to be so destructive.

There are days like that for all of us. After a trip to the store, dealing with idiots who don’t know how to negotiate a check-out line. Or sitting behind the twit at the stoplight who somehow misses that the light changed and the cars in the other lane are passing him, getting his shit together just in time to slip through a yellow light and leave you sitting there for another cycle. Whatever it is, you just want to take out your frustrations in a safe and relatively sane way.

I have these days a lot. Part of it is just the toll of being a long-term care provider for someone who has a tenuous grip on reality but can be amazingly stubborn and focused in her determination to do something unsafe (or just highly annoying). But part of it is simply the effect of long term sleep disruption/deprivation that goes with providing care around the clock. I’ve known this for ages, and written about it several times. Anyone who has had insomnia, lived with an infant, or just had a bad string of luck sleeping for a few days will understand completely how grumpy and intolerant it can make you.

And I chuckled a little bit at myself.  It’s helpful, and part of the healing process, I’m sure.  Why?  Well, because last week I picked up another such box of catfood.  And I carefully, quickly, and with little real thought disassembled the box – not just opening it as intended, but popping the flaps off at each end, so the whole thing would flatten perfectly for recycling.  Then I put away the catfood, and folded the box and put it in the bin for recycling.

What a difference 15 months has made.

Jim Downey

Well, *that* was painful.
February 22, 2009, 10:57 am
Filed under: Daily Kos, Depression, Emergency, Failure, Health, Society, Survival

For the first time since the Dance of Stupidity & Pain I took the dog for his morning walk today.  Just got back.  And gawds, does my knee hurt.  Between the half mile walk and the 18 degree temp out, I feel like someone shot me just below the knee.

As I expected.

But it had to be done.

* * * * * * *

There was a good segment on NPR this morning, with an economic historian who has a new book out about the Great Depression.  One of the things that emerged from the piece was his comment about how the current economic situation is frightenly familiar to the situation then.  From the NPR website:

Ahamed calls the similarities between our current economic problems and the Great Depression “eerie.” He points out that both crises began with a bubble, and that both bubbles were caused, in his view, by mistakes in federal review policy. And, when both bubbles burst, they eventually led to a banking crisis.

But, he says, the leaders of today can learn from the lessons of the Great Depression: First, he says, we should not let the banking system collapse. Second, we should not go to extreme lengths to try to protect the currency. Third, we need to let the budget deficit expand.

“The problem of the Great Depression was … a failure of intellectual will. The danger this time might be a failure of political will,” says Ahamed. “To bail out the banks is going to cost a lot of money, and the American public are so angry that they are not, at the moment, willing to sign a blank check.”

* * * * * * *

The heating pad helps.  And in a few minutes I’ll get up, go find some OTC stuff to take to help the pain. But I expect that it’ll ache for much of the day, and this will complicate my plans to do some conservation work this afternoon (I work standing – always have.  Most binders do, since you need to move a fair amount.)

So, why did I go for a walk?  It’s been less than a week – I could have easily put it off a bit longer, let the bruised bone heal some more.

Because, as painful as I knew this would be, I didn’t want to let the rest of my body lose too much ground.  Oh, I’ve been doing other exercises these last few days, but nothing is as good for me as walking is.  Pain isn’t always an enemy.

Understanding that, accepting that, is one of the first steps to maturity, I think.  I remember when I first read the passage from Dune where young Paul is tested by the Bene Gesserit to determine whether he is “human”.  I was perhaps 9 or 10, and the scene impressed me greatly, gave me a jump start on dealing with the pain which would come to me early in life.

* * * * * * *

As noted in some of my posts here about the economy, I’m more than a little pissed off about how we got into this mess.  Quite honestly, I think there’s quite a few candidates for a “Head-on-Pike Award of the Month” competition, complete with categories for “Best Expression”, “Most Deserving”, and “Ideal for Throwing Things At”.  That many of these same people still hold elected office, or have been receiving massive bonuses (or complaining about not being able to get the bonuses they ‘deserve’) just adds to my dark musings about appropriate means of getting said heads on said pikes.

So yeah, I’m angry.  And yeah, that influences my willingness to just write blank checks to cover the debts that these various and sundry assholes created.

But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

* * * * * * *

Anyone who has been through any kind of serious injury or disease knows that there comes a point where you have to make a decision.  You have to either hide from the continuing pain as best you can, using drugs or changing your lifestyle, or you have to do your best to get past the pain and do whatever you can to cope with the effects of your injury.

Neither choice is necessarily “right”.  But they each come with consequences.

I have made choices each way, depending on the situation.  I will not judge the choices that another makes.

Except when those choices have consequences for me.  Like this:

Jindal rejects La.’s stimulus share

Louisiana‘s Bobby Jindal, a Republican, became the first governor Friday to refuse officially a part of his state’s share of the $787 billion stimulus bill, while President Obama warned the nation´s mayors to spend stimulus money wisely.

While some governors were subtly backing off previous statements that they wouldn’t take their share of the windfall, Mr. Jindal issued a statement saying Louisiana would not participate in a program aimed at expanding state unemployment insurance coverage.

“Increasing taxes on our Louisiana businesses is certainly not a way to stimulate our economy. It would be the exact wrong thing we could do to encourage further growth and job creation,” said Mr. Jindal, although the Louisiana legislature could override his decision.

No, I don’t live in LA. But this kind of behavior – and similar behavior by other Republican governors elsewhere – will have an impact on all of us, across the country. That it comes from the party that got us into this mess doesn’t make me any more sympathetic. That it comes at this point when states have been sucking up billions of Federal dollars at every opportunity for decades means that I cannot possibly see it as in any way credible.  It is just grandstanding, and hypocritical to boot.

* * * * * * *

Well, this has taken longer than I intended.  I guess I had more to say than I thought.  Or maybe I’m just in more pain than I realized, and am using this as a distraction.

Look, this really is pretty simple.  Yeah, the deficits necessary to get us out of this depression are going to hurt.  And it is galling that no small amount of money is going into the pockets of people who directly caused it, or to save the bacon of pols who are blathering about how they don’t want it.  If you want, you can also be pissed off at those who “bought more house than they could afford” and who may now get bailed out of that bad decision.  It doesn’t matter – be pissed at who you want, however you want – so long as this gets done.  Otherwise, we will just continue to bleed, to suffer, to experience pain until it consumes us and ruins our lives for decades.

I know which path I’ll take.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to Daily Kos.)

Doing better.
February 20, 2009, 12:01 pm
Filed under: Art, Book Conservation, General Musings, University of Missouri

A weird thing: in the middle of a very serious economic downturn, my personal economic situation continues to rise.  We sent all our tax information to our accountant this past week, and I was somewhat suprised to note that I had earned roughly twice as much last year as I have earned in, well, many years.  It’s still solidly under the household average for the nation, but nonetheless is a significant bump up.

And this year I could easily earn twice again as much, if I stay on top of my work demand.  This hasn’t always been the case.  In fact, for a long long time I was of the opinion that it was almost impossible to actually earn a living – let alone a decent one – as a book conservator in private practice.  I still wanted to do it, and found ways to make that work, but for a very long time I earned very little.

What changed?

Well, time.  My reputation got more established.  But more than that, just time.  If I tell someone I’ve been doing this for 17 years, they figure I must be good at it.  And having some grey in my beard helps a great deal as well.  No, seriously.

That, and I made some changes in how I handle my fees when I closed the gallery and started working from home.  Yeah, I increased them, but most people find that acceptable – with time and reputation, they expect your fees to go up.  What I think is more important is that I established a minimum charge of two hours labor, meaning that people had to be fairly serious about wanting my services.  It’s curious, but this actually helped a great deal.

See, when I first opened my shop, I would charge $25 an hour, with no minimum.  And I would constantly get people coming in, wanting this little thing done or that little thing done, and wanting to only pay me for ten or fifteen minutes of work.  It drove me nuts, but I thought I had to do it in order to keep the work coming in.  Truth is, it took more time to deal with this stuff and track it than it was worth.  Eventually I established a minimum half hour charge, but even that was pretty marginal.  And people would constantly balk about the half hour charge, particularly when they just wanted some work done on a paperback or personal bible that could easily be replaced for a nominal cost.  They saw me only as an alternative to buying a new book and getting on with life.

When I switched over to the gallery, with the bindery business as part of that, this sort of stuff dropped off some, but not altogether.  Why?  Because people were coming into an art gallery – a nice one at that – where they would feel a little foolish complaining about a $15 charge (my rates were then $30 an hour).  This taught me a lesson, though I would still work long hours trying to keep the cash flow positive, dealing with every little project that came in.  When I closed the gallery 8 years later, I knew one of the things I wanted to do was to set my fee schedule such that it forced people to respect my work right up front.  I raised my rates (over the course of the time I was at the gallery they had gone up, but I basically doubled them again) and implemented the two hour minimum.  I put that information on my voice mail and right on my website, and it is the first thing I’ll tell someone who calls me asking about binding work.

Now, during the period I was being a care provider, I didn’t have much time to do any conservation work.  My time really was valuable to me, even though money was tight.  So I wasn’t willing to try and fit in this or that small job, just to keep the money coming in.  The temptation to go back on my fee schedule was minimized.  It took a while, but soon I stopped getting the bulk of the calls wanting me to work on this or that easily-replaceable book.  Instead, people now see my work as highly skilled labor, priced appropriately for the service, and suitable for care of rare and valuable books.  I won’t get rich doing what I do, but I should be able to start paying off my debts from all those years of not earning much.  Just not struggling is a very nice feeling for a change.

And there is the very big benefit that now I get to regularly work on really cool books and documents.  As a friend noted this morning, following discussion of a set of volumes I had just done and told him about:

That is so cool. What an interesting job you have. Every project is different, fun stuff to look at. Very neat.

Indeed.  It took a long time to get here, and I wouldn’t recommend the path to others.  But I like where I’ve wound up.


Jim Downey

February 19, 2009, 11:23 am
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Ballistics, Guns, Health, Humor, Migraine, Preparedness, RKBA, Sleep, Survival, Violence

I haven’t mentioned it here yet, but the other day one of the cats tried to kill me, and almost succeeded.  Evil little bastard.  As I told a friend:

Dance of Stupidity & Pain

My afternoon was filled with a whole lotta screaming and cursing.  Well, OK, “filled” isn’t quite right, since it was mostly compressed into one 10-minute period.  Which started with me putting down a can for the dog, then turning to try and avoid stepping/falling on the cat coming to investigate.  Damned cat.  I now have three rather nasty punctures deep into the back of the web of my right hand, along with a ugly bruised big left toe, and a swollen left knee.  Oh, and lots of pain associated with all of those, plus the spike in my headache following the adrenaline dump of trying not to kill either myself or the cat.

Well, the headache went on to become a nice little migraine, and the knee is still extremely annoying.  Nothing to see a doc about – this is the knee I’ve had surgery on twice, and I know exactly what is going on.  I probably broke the last bone in the toe, but the only thing they do with those is to take it easy and tell you to let it heal – I’ve done it too many times to count.  Anyway, the low-grade pain has interrupted my sleep the last couple of days, the headache persists, and I’m more than a little grumpy.  This may have influenced my appreciation of the movie last night, but I don’t think so – it was dreadful enough in its own right.

But I just came across something to make me chuckle.  In one of the gun discussion forums I check out, the topic of “why do you carry” came up.  I’ve written about this before, of course, and have my own reasons.  Here’s this, though:

Remember the average response time to a 911 call is over 4 minutes.

The average response time of a 357 magnum is 1400 FPS.

Heh.  The guy’s numbers are even about right.  Well, for the .357.  Response times for 911 calls vary widely, but all are measured in multiples of minutes.

Jim Downey

It was.
February 19, 2009, 9:00 am
Filed under: Ballistics, movies, Science Fiction

I wrote this the other day:

See, some time back I decided that I needed to watch the 2001 movie remake Planet of the Apes.   I’d been on a bit of a Tim Burton kick, and figured that I should see this, even though it had been widely panned and looked dreadful.

It was dreadful.  I watched it last night.  Muddled plot.  Pointless special effects.  Sub-par acting.  Unrealistic and inconsistent sciency-stuff.  Absurd set-up for a sequel which was never made.  Technology just 30 years ahead (of when the movie was made) that supposedly would survive for over a thousand years after crashing from orbit.  Ballistic ridiculousness.  Biological impossibilities.

I could go on – even for bad SF, this was inexcusable.  But, since the movie is not exactly current, and they wisely decided not to make a sequel, it’s not worth the effort. I just thought that I should report on my reaction to the thing.

Maybe some more later –

Jim Downey

Government in action.
February 17, 2009, 8:11 am
Filed under: BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow, Government, Humor


City to OK water-bill surcharge

The Seattle City Council is expected Tuesday to approve a surcharge on city water customers to help cover the cost of a $22 million court-ordered rebate to water customers.

The rebates are for fire hydrant costs that were wrongly charged to water customers. Fire hydrants are a basic city responsibility and have to be paid for from the general fund, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

OK, read that again. Got it? The city screwed up and charged water customers for basic city infrastructure. So they have been ordered to pay said customers back for the overcharges. And to do so they are going to slap a surcharge onto water bills.

Gotta love it.

As someone in the comments said:

How to put the scr*ws to people four times in a row.

1. Charge some customers for a city financial responsibility.

2. Pay the lawyers to defend the city for wrongfully doing so that will be paid for by all city water customers.

3. Charge the customers for the refunds they have been ordered to pay the customers who were originally charged as well as all city water users.

4. Charge the customers for the legal fees it’s going to cost the city to defend itself from the upcoming law suit for wrongfully charging all water customers for the city being ordered by court to refund the fees it wrongfully charged “some” of the customers.


Jim Downey

(Via BB. Cross posted to UTI.)

My eyes keep leaking.
February 15, 2009, 2:37 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Travel, Writing stuff

As I had mentioned, week before last I was off to the NE for a combination of business and pleasure.  Pleasure in seeing a friend, checking out the Mark Twain House (more on that later), and then business & pleasure in going up to Boston to meet my collaborator on the caregiving book.  That meeting went exceptionally well – almost frighteningly so.  As I said in the following email exchange with a friend:

I am curious how the co-author gig is going. Do you feel like it’s a good partnership? Do you finish each other’s sentences or anything or have you carved up spheres of influence on the work?

As a matter of fact, it is almost a little creepy how much we *do* finish each other’s sentences and think alike.  This was our first time to meet in person, and particularly in the brainstorming session about the book it was really weird how much we tracked along identical lines.  We did come up with a structure for importing our respective prior writing into the joint book, and that is the next stage for us.  But we also have a pretty good handle on how to proceed with the explanatory/interstitial material which will be needed.

This past week I’ve been fighting a low grade but fairly annoying and persistent chest cold, which has sapped a lot of my energy for much beyond what I *had* to get done. But I took yesterday easy, and this morning felt like I could get started on working on the book, using the new framework we had sorted out. It’s an interesting approach: we’ve established a metaphorical “year” that is meant to encompass the arc of the Alzheimer’s disease as experienced by a care provider, going from initial suspicions to the eventual death of the patient. Then there will be an afterward which will be about the process of recovery from being a care provider. Each month of the metaphorical year will contain excerpts from correspondence and blog posts, intertwined with additional explanatory material as needed.

So this morning, after an initial chat with my co-author about the formatting software (I’d had no experience with anything which was designed for multiple authors to work on remotely) to get me oriented, I started to excerpt and upload many of the blog posts which I have had here about caring for Martha Sr. It’s gone pretty well, and I made a fair amount of progress. But one problem keeps cropping up – my eyes keep leaking for some mysterious reason, to the point where it is difficult to see the screen in front of me. Maybe I should chat with my doctor about that.

Jim Downey

Life 1.5
February 14, 2009, 2:05 pm
Filed under: General Musings, movies, Science Fiction, Society, tech

I just conducted a little experiment.  It’s one you can probably try yourself.

See, some time back I decided that I needed to watch the 2001 movie remake Planet of the Apes.   I’d been on a bit of a Tim Burton kick, and figured that I should see this, even though it had been widely panned and looked dreadful.  But before watching it, I figured that I should watch the original once again, so that I’d have it fresh in my mind for the comparison to the remake.  So both movies went onto my NetFlix queue.

I saw Planet of the Apes when it first came out.  I remember seeing it, and being just completely blown away by the phenomenal story and really cool ending twist.  Hey, I was 10.  But while I no longer consider it phenomenal, it is a good movie, and I have seen it probably a dozen times since.

Anyway, the 1968 version arrived yesterday.  Since Monday is a holiday, I decided that I’d watch it and get it back in the mail today – no reason for it hanging around.  Last night I wasn’t feeling great, and this morning was a little more busy than I had planned.  So about 11:00, I sat down to watch the movie, aware that I wanted to be done before the mailman arrived (usually between 1:00 and 2:00 on Saturdays).  Feeling a little time pressure, I figured I could maybe zip through some of the opening bits and whatnot at a faster speed, get done more quickly.

I decided to watch the movie on my computer, where I could set the speed at 1.5x normal.  It compresses sound in some way automatically, so that things don’t sound too weird.  I’d done this previously with parts of other movies I already knew and wanted to get through.  And here’s the thing: I was able to watch the entire movie at 1.5x speed, and it seemed just fine.

OK, I slowed down some of the “action sequences” to normal speed.  But those were like a total of 10 or fifteen minutes.  All the rest of it – all the dialogue, all the traveling, all the plot development – seemed perfectly normal at 1.5x speed.


I was done in plenty of time, so I went back and rewatched the ending at the normal 1.0x speed.  It seemed to take forever to get through it.


Now, this could just be due to the fact that I know the movie pretty well, and my mind was able to fill in the emotional development usually tied to visual/spoken narrative without a problem.  But I think it has more to do with how we’ve been conditioned to experience movies currently.  We expect them to move more quickly, for the information to be conveyed in a more rapid pace.

It could just be due to the style of current film-making, with quicker cuts and More Jam-Packed Special Effects!

Or it could be that our lives really are faster now than they used to be.

1.5 times faster.

Jim Downey