Communion Of Dreams

Allegro ma non troppo
May 13, 2009, 9:24 pm
Filed under: General Musings, Heinlein, Humor, Robert A. Heinlein, Society, Survival

Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.
Lazarus Long

I can’t believe it.

One of my favorite economic historians from my undergrad days wrote a famous treatise on human stupidity, and it took me 20 years to find out about it.


Well, just in case you too missed this little gem, I offer:

By Carlo M. Cipolla

Go. Read the whole thing. It’s not too long. And if you have a wry, cynical (maybe even sardonic?) twist to your view of the world (as I certainly do), you will laugh your proverbial ass off. Maybe even your real ass. But since most people need a bit of convincing to actually *read* things these days, here’s a taste to whet your appetite:


The first basic law of human stupidity asserts without ambiguity that:

Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

At first, the statement sounds trivial, vague, and horribly ungenerous. Closer scrutiny will however reveal its realistic veracity. No matter how high are one’s estimates of human stupidity, one is repeatedly and recurrently startled by the fact that:

a) people whom one had once judged rational and intelligent turn out to be unashamedly stupid.

b) day after day, with unceasing monotony, one is harassed in one’s activities by stupid individuals who appear suddenly and unexpectedly in the most inconvenient places and at the most improbable moments.

The First Basic Law prevents me from attributing a specific numerical value to the fraction of stupid people within the total population: any numerical estimate would turn out to be an underestimate. Thus in the following pages I will denote the fraction of stupid people within a population by the symbol σ.

There, if that doesn’t get you started on the right track, there’s no hope for you: you’re one of THEM.

As a friend of mine always says: “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

Of course, he means the stupid people.

But you knew that.


Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

We have this weather phenomenon . . .
May 9, 2009, 6:18 pm
Filed under: Health, Survival, Weather

Sorry I’ve been gone. Been trying to avoid getting killed. While getting new glasses.

No, I haven’t been messing around with a jealous ophthalmologist’s wife. I went to see a friend who is a top-rate ophthalmologist and who has cared for my eyes for years. And along the way kept hearing the theme to “The Wizard of Oz” playing in my head. From a note I just sent another friend:

Been hearing about the storms on NPR.

Ayup.  Six dead.  Tornadoes to the left of us, tornadoes to the right . . .

Seriously, we were only about a half hour from being in the wrong place at very much the wrong time.  And there was no way for us to know it.  On the way down yesterday, the tornadoes blew through the I-44 corridor about a half hour ahead of us getting on there.  Lots and lots of billboards, highway signs, and trees blown down just ahead of us.  Two tracker-trailers blown over and off the road.  We tried to stop in Springfield to get some lunch, and about half the city was without power.  It was a bit . . . exciting.  In not the good way.

Well, we did make it. And back this afternoon. But for those of you who don’t live in these parts, and have always thought that Midwesterners were constantly being chased around by tornadoes carrying cows . . . well, in this case, you’re pretty much right.

More after I clean out my underwear thoroughly.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

Planting hope, discovering strength.

My special-order plants arrived yesterday. Bhut Jolokia, Fatalii, and Red Savina chile peppers (man, you gotta love a pepper with the name Fatalii). Ivory Egg and Opalka heirloom tomatoes. These will be supplemented with other peppers and tomatoes I can get locally.

So, since we’d gone several days without rain, I was finally able to get into the garden and do the tilling that has needed to be done for the last couple of years. And since it had been a couple of years since I had done it, the ground was hard, compacted, uncooperative. I basically spent six hours wrestling with the rototiller. Six hours being jarred, hands going numb, shoulders aching. But also six hours thinking.

Not serious thinking. Not most of the time. Not when I was in a life or death struggle with the machine. Mostly it was random free association, going over this or that neglected chore, replaying a conversation I’d had at a city meeting the day before. But there was also some time for real contemplation. Real introspection beyond consideration of how sore my back was.

And somewhere in there I discovered something. Strength. Not physical strength – at 50 I don’t really expect to reclaim the physical strength I had at 30. Rather, a kind of strength of personality. A sense of my own potency. A realization that this had come back to me.

Oh, it hadn’t been a complete stranger. It takes a kind of personal strength to close a beloved business, and to care for a beloved family member until their death. Instead of glimpses and flashes of the thing that kept me going the exhaustion of those years, this was more . . . whole? Unified? Tempered?

I dunno. But it was – is – there. A sense that I can do more now. That I am more capable. More secure in my abilities.

I have always felt as though this life were a thing caught just at the edge of full consciousness, in the mildly euphoric hypnogogic state as you emerge from a dream into morning. And so there is often the sense that one is only now coming to full wakefullness, full integration of your faculties. And so it is again, with this renewed sense of personal power, the upward arc of my bipolar cycle.

And soon, I’ll be planting tomatoes and peppers. That always makes me feel good.

Jim Downey

“Make no little plans…”*

There are other things I should be writing. Revisions for the BBTI site upgrade, work on the Caregiving book. Even (laughably) my own fiction.

But I’m in a bit of a reflective mood. And something I heard the other day has been churning around in my head. It’s this:

The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man.

Recognize it? That’s from Dune. I’ve been listening to the recent audio version of the book as I’ve been doing conservation work. I usually only listen to books I know well, because for the most part I need to maintain my concentration on the work at hand. But having a favorite book rolling along in the background is a help, allows me to get technical things done while engaging part of my creative mind, eases the hours to pass. Anyway, I was at a pause between tasks, and that quote came up (it’s actually a quote in the book, and referenced as such at a chapter heading, as a way to explain something about the main character.)

If Frank Herbert hadn’t read The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he should have. That’s very much an insight of which Campbell would be proud. But then, I have long recommended Dune to any and all who would want a good primer on personal politics disguised as a SF story. Herbert’s understanding of myth was considerable.

Anyway, the passage caught my attention. And I spent the next little while musing on it, and how I had understood it and incorporated it into my way in the world when I was very young.

No, I am not saying that I am “great”. But I have been touched by myth, and had momentary brushes with greatness. Recognizing those moments, and understanding the role I played within them, made the experience all the more enjoyable – and less risky than if I fell into the trap of believing my own press releases.

See, there’s that sardonic touch – the wry, self-deprecating cynicism that disarms critics and endears friends. And it is not an artifice. It is who I really am – some deeply seated self-defense mechanism which has allowed me to play with greatness but not to be captivated by it. Nonetheless, I am conscious of it – aware of how the sardonic wit gives me latitude and a certain insulation from praise or popularity. Because of it, I have known when to walk away from lusting after greatness, how to shut my ears to the siren’s call which has destroyed others.

The one thing I worry about – well, ‘the one thing I wonder about’ is perhaps a better way of phrasing it – is whether this ability to walk away means that I have never risked enough to actually *be* great, and so have missed opportunity. Oh, I have come up to the line many times. And crossed lines which most people would not have had the nerve to cross. I have risked life and limb, reputation and financial security (and sometimes lost those bets). But there have also been times when I walked away.

Was this prudence, or was it fear?

Hard to say.

Jim Downey

* Full quote here. The first sentence of which is what I used as the motto for my Paint the Moon project, one of my more creative brushes with greatness.

Update – going batty!
May 5, 2009, 6:33 am
Filed under: Humor

This post prompted several questions via email, so I thought I’d post a follow-up. From another email to a friend:

Well, further investigation this morning, and there’s still critters. But this time I listened closely to the noise and came to the conclusion that it is probably a roost of bats, with new-born pups (hence the more aggressive growling noises). So, after doing a bit of research, it looks like the best thing to do is just protect the area from weather problems but allow the bats to come and go freely until the fall, when the new bats will be able to relocate without trauma. Then we’ll put up some one-way netting to allow them to leave but not return, and after a week of that then seal up the roosting area. A bit of a pain, but I like bats and what they do to control insects. I may build a couple of bat houses to put up this fall when we close up the current roost.

Yeah, I never realized that bats would make that much of a low rumble growl, but I can’t think of another occasion when I was threatening them during the maternity season. After letting them calm down, I heard the more typical chatter I usually associate with bats. So, that’s a good result, though means that we don’t get to do the minor repairs until this fall.

Now, the damned squirrels are another matter . . .

Jim Downey

Encounter with the face-eater.
May 3, 2009, 12:44 pm
Filed under: Humor

Bit of an email exchange with a friend this afternoon:

Have a good Sunday.

Not bad so far, though it had potential to be otherwise.  We had planned on doing some rehabbing of the landscape blocks along the driveway, up near the kitchen – several had been knocked out of place by people with big vehicles – as part of the ongoing year of “let’s get stuff done outside”.  But last night while watching a vid we heard the sound of some critter chewing on the wall, up at the top of the window on the little side porch on the west side of the house.  So, got a ladder, went to investigate this morning . . .

There’s a small roof with some ironwork on the top of that porch.  The thin facing/trim along one side of the roof had been pulled away – that much you could see from the ground.  I positioned the ladder so that it was more-or-less stable, climbed up it to the side of the roof to see what had happened more closely.  And there I was, about 20 feet off the ground, looking in under the roof (where the rafters are).  And something starts growling at me . . .

Charming.  The ladder had settled some into the soft ground (due to all the rain we’d had), and was caught on about the last quarter-inch of the lip of the porch roof.  Meaning that any sudden movements on my part, and it’d break free, thereby flipping me off forward and through the window on the porch.  Or back, through the nasty nasty thorn vine that Alix was trying to cut down below me.  For a moment I hung there, waiting for some rabid raccoon momma to come charging out between the rafters and onto my face. This being a rather unpleasant picture, I decided to get down – carefully, but with some deliberate speed.

Got down, told Alix what I had found.  Went and got some mothballs, heavy gloves, and a flashlight.

Put on the gloves.  Re-positioned the ladder so that it was more secure.  Back up it.

Using the flashlight, looked into the rafter space again.  Couldn’t see anything, but again the low growling in response to the light.  Great – an invisible rabid raccoon momma that was going to charge out and eat my face.

I tossed a few mothballs into the space (they’ll drive out critters).  Louder growling.  I got down again.

Will let the mothballs do their work overnight.  Tomorrow, provided that the invisible rabid raccoon momma has found new quarters, I’ll put up a new structural strip of plywood, then attach the trim back to it.

Just thought I’d share.

Jim Downey

Odds & odds

Couple minor things . . .

The Ballistics by the inch site has broken 700,000 hits. The related blog has been getting more hits than this one, but I think that is mostly due to our recently having completed the second sequence of tests and starting to talk a bit about that.

Looks like things are stabilizing for now with the H1N1 virus. This is good, even if it means less publicity for Communion of Dreams. Yeah, I know, I’m not nearly as cynical as I like to pretend – I would rather not have a global pandemic, even at the cost of a bit of fame. Oh well, at least I have reviewed my preparations for the coming Zombie Apocalypse.

I still keep spending too much time flinging rocks. Being obsessive-compulsive is sometimes a pain.

Maybe more later.

Jim Downey

Flinging rocks.
May 2, 2009, 10:16 am
Filed under: Ballistics, Humor, MetaFilter, SCA

When I was a kid, I used to love to build little siege engines. I think that this is part of what got me interested in the SCA. But even though I have friends who have built respectable scale models of such things, for the most part my interests in life have gone in other directions.

But now anyone can have fun flinging rocks: Crush the Castle. Simple, twisted, but surprisingly fun. (Or did I just reveal too much about myself? Hmm…)

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.)