Communion Of Dreams

Time for a little political sacrilege.
August 31, 2009, 10:07 am
Filed under: Government, Politics

In spite of how it might seem sometimes, I’m politically independent – I tend to support specific policies (and to a very limited degree individuals), not this or that party.

And one thing I have long objected to has been the existence of an ‘American Royalty’ within our political system. Here in Missouri we just got rid of one Republican governor who is the son of a long-term US Congresscritter. On the Democratic side, the Carnahan family has held or currently holds several important political offices.

Nationally, it’s even worse. Look at the Bush family, and the debacle of having W rise to power almost solely on the power of his father & family. Al Gore is the son of a Senator. The Clintons have long operated as a family unit, sharing power and position.

And then there are the Kennedys.

Now, Ted Kennedy was loved on the left. All last week we got to hear and read (and see, for those who watch television) plenty of discussion about his place in American history, how he matured into a true leader of the Democratic party, how he managed to rise above the scandals and substance abuse of his youth, how he came to represent much of what was good about American politics, with his ability to work with members of the other side of the political divide, et fucking cetera.

Yeah, he was an accomplished pol. But I have a really hard time coming to the conclusion that we as a nation are better off for his having been in office for 40 years, gaining office purely because of the power of his family and his relationship to his two sainted brothers. Furthermore, I’ll say that his affirmation of the Kennedy name as a political power unto itself was inherently bad for our nation, along with all the other political royalty we have now and have had to suffer with in our history.

There, a bit of political sacrilege. But I had to say this, in reaction to something which made a minor flap this weekend: the horror of Jenna Hager (nee Bush, one of W’s twin daughters) being hired by NBC as a reporter for their Today show.

NEW YORK — NBC’s “Today” show has hired someone with White House experience as a new correspondent – former first daughter Jenna Hager.

The daughter of former President George W. Bush will contribute stories about once a month on issues like education to television’s top-rated morning news show, said Jim Bell, its executive producer.

Hager, a 27-year-old teacher in Baltimore, said she has always wanted to be a teacher and a writer, and has already authored two books. But she was intrigued by the idea of getting into television when Bell contacted her.

“It wasn’t something I’d always dreamed to do,” she said. “But I think one of the most important things in life is to be open-minded and to be open-minded for change.”

And from Glenn Greenwald:

It’s time to embrace American royalty

We’re obviously hungry to live with royal and aristocratic families so we should really just go ahead and formally declare it:

Bush daughter Jenna Hager becomes ‘Today’ reporter

NBC’s “Today” show has hired someone with White House experience as a new correspondent — former first daughter Jenna Hager, the daughter of former President George W. Bush. . . . She “just sort of popped to us as a natural presence, comfortable” on the air, [Executive Producer Jim] Bell said. Hager will work out of NBC’s Washington bureau.

They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it. They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it’s really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment. They can interview Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, Jeb Bush, Bob Casey, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller, Dan Lipinksi, and Harold Ford, Jr. about personal responsibility and the virtues of self-sufficiency. Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson and John Podhoretz can provide moving commentary on how America is so special because all that matters is merit, not who you know or where you come from. There’s a virtually endless list of politically well-placed guests equally qualified to talk on such matters.

It’s a fair point, but Greenwald doesn’t then make the connection to the Kennedys. Gee, I wonder why that is?

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI. Oh, a personal note: I’ll be on vacation for the next week, so don’t expect to hear much from me after Tuesday.)

Bang! Bang! . . .
August 29, 2009, 9:55 am
Filed under: Comics, MetaFilter, Music, Science Fiction, Violence

. . . Barstal’s magic bat
Came down upon its head.

Bang! Bang! Barstal’s magic bat
Made sure that it was dead.*

Interesting web comic: Bang Barstal.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi. *Apologies to Sir Paul.)

What kind of idiot . . .
August 26, 2009, 11:16 am
Filed under: Emergency, Failure, Guns, Preparedness, Survival

Take a good look at this picture:

Guy looks reasonably well supplied, right? Good clothes, pump shotgun. Full sized backpack, sleeping roll visible on the bottom. He looks to be in decent physical condition, about 30-40 years of age.

Now read the first bit of the article that goes with that picture:

It promised to stretch reality television to the limit: one man pitting his wits against the Yukon wilderness with just a camera for company.

But hopes for an epic three-month contest between man and nature were dashed when adventurer Ed Wardle failed to go the distance.

Seven weeks after striding out into the rugged forests of western Canada armed with a rifle and a fishing rod, Mr Wardle had to be airlifted back to civilisation suffering from starvation.

Here’s another bit:

Mr Wardle was chosen for the project because of his abilitiy as a cameraman and producer, and his experience of filming in the North Pole and on the summit of Everest.

He has worked on shows for Channel 4, ITV, BBC and Discovery.

But he had no specific training for living alone in the remote territory, 80 per cent of which is pristene wilderness.

OK, I saw this story early this morning, and have been thinking about it. It’s stuck in my head sufficiently that I can’t concentrate on working on the caregiving book until I write about it and get it out of my system. I’ve had several reactions to the whole thing, but I keep coming back to: “what kind of idiot do you have to be to try something like this without at least rudimentary training in wilderness survival?”

But close behind that is: “what kind of idiot, that well equipped (the article says that he had a fishing pole and tackle, as well), would you have to be in order to *not* survive just fine for three months in an environment teeming with fish & game?”

I mean, yeah, sure, anything can happen. Twist an ankle or break your wrist in a fall, and you’re in pretty deep shit. But look back at that photo – that guy could easily have enough decent gear and a change of clothes to get through three months of living rough without any problems. Hell, I’m in poor physical condition (relative to him, anyway) and I’m confident that I could do it just fine. I would’ve preferred a good .22 over the shotgun – much lighter ammo, and living off of small game is easier – but still.

Well, OK, that’s out of my system. Back to work.

Jim Downey

On track.
August 26, 2009, 9:34 am
Filed under: Publishing, Science Fiction, Writing stuff

Just a quick update to this post – last night I finished editing Chapter 5, and I’ve now trimmed out 8,436 words from Communion of Dreams. Since I wanted to get 10,000 a month, this puts me on track or even a little ahead.

It’s kind of fun, re-reading the book. And the editing hasn’t been too painful yet – mostly I have been just tightening dialogue and cutting out some of the explanatory material. I think I’ll add the revised text to the CoD homepage as an option, in case anyone wants to download it to see what changes I’ve made. If it is indeed accepted for publication, I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep that available online for free.

Oh, and I just checked – have had another 750 downloads of the book in less than a month. So that’s approaching 18,000. Cool.

Back to work . . .

Jim Downey

Given your choices . . .
August 23, 2009, 7:58 pm
Filed under: Art, Astronomy, MetaFilter, Science, Steampunk, tech

. . . you could certainly do worse than a clockpunk mechanism such as the Antikythera calculator, if you were a time-traveler who was stranded in ancient Greece. Here’s a delightful new animation of how the calculator worked:

The inner workings of the Antikythera mechanism

An animation produced by Mogi Vicentini shows how the world’s oldest computer helped the Ancient Greeks simulate planetary motions and predict lunar eclipses.

Damned impressive. The level of complexity is remarkable, and once again is a reminder that the skill of those who came before us is all too often grossly unappreciated.

Jim Downey

Via MeFi.

August 20, 2009, 10:02 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, NYT, Science, Writing stuff

As noted, I have been spending a fair amount of time working on the care-giving book, about the years that my wife and I cared for her mother here at home. And mostly this has consisted of going through all my old posts here which touched on that experience – there are at present 125 posts tagged with ‘Alzheimers’. Add in email excerpts, and the similar amount of material from my co-author, and you can get a sense of just how much editing and organizing work is involved.

But there’s also something else. It’s a odd sense of vertigo I get from re-reading this stuff. Because I am now far enough from being in the middle of it to have some perspective, but still close enough that a lot of the emotional content is immediately accessible and somewhat overwhelming. And then there’s articles like this one in the NYT by Natalie Angier, which really resonate:

Brain Is a Co-Conspirator in a Vicious Stress Loop

If after a few months’ exposure to our David Lynch economy, in which housing markets spontaneously combust, coworkers mysteriously disappear and the stifled moans of dying 401(k) plans can be heard through the floorboards, you have the awful sensation that your body’s stress response has taken on a self-replicating and ultimately self-defeating life of its own, congratulations. You are very perceptive. It has.

As though it weren’t bad enough that chronic stress has been shown to raise blood pressure, stiffen arteries, suppress the immune system, heighten the risk of diabetes, depression and Alzheimer’s disease and make one a very undesirable dinner companion, now researchers have discovered that the sensation of being highly stressed can rewire the brain in ways that promote its sinister persistence.

Ayup. Independent research confirming a lot of the stuff I talked about in all those Alzheimer’s posts. Another excerpt from the article:

Unfortunately, the dynamism of our stress response makes it vulnerable to disruption, especially when the system is treated too roughly and not according to instructions. In most animals, a serious threat provokes a serious activation of the stimulatory, sympathetic, “fight or flight” side of the stress response. But when the danger has passed, the calming parasympathetic circuitry tamps everything back down to baseline flickering.

In humans, though, the brain can think too much, extracting phantom threats from every staff meeting or high school dance, and over time the constant hyperactivation of the stress response can unbalance the entire feedback loop. Reactions that are desirable in limited, targeted quantities become hazardous in promiscuous excess. You need a spike in blood pressure if you’re going to run, to speedily deliver oxygen to your muscles. But chronically elevated blood pressure is a source of multiple medical miseries.

“Think too much.” Gee, I don’t know anyone who does that.

Well, I mean, those 125 posts about being a care provider can’t possibly be evidence of that, can they?

Jim Downey

Wanna play a game?

A nice, fun little thing about how a pandemic flu could kill millions? Well, here ya go: The Great Flu.

Yes, I am still alive and kicking. And getting a lot done. Have trimmed 5,788 words so far from the Communion of Dreams text, from just the first three chapters. Have also made some major headway on the care-giving book. Am not as far along as I would like with the (literal) piles of conservation work waiting for me.

So I should get back to it . . .

Jim Downey

(Game link via MeFi.)

Detached and critical.
August 13, 2009, 10:56 am
Filed under: Art, Comics, Publishing, Science Fiction, Space, Writing stuff

Sent a note to a friend, who had asked whether it is painful editing CoD:

Nah, I can be pretty ruthless when I need to be.

And it’s true. Unfortunately, when I get into the necessary detached and critical headspace for this kind of work, it tends to slop over into a lot of how I see everything. So, let’s just say my cynicism level is high, and rising.

But it is working. I’m through Chapter One and about 1/3 the way into Chapter Two, and have already cut out about 1,400 words. And after doing the preliminary read-through of the rest of Chapter Two, I can say that a lot more is going to come out of that. Stuff I like, but doesn’t really do much other than back-fill history – too much “explaining of the events and the technology”, as the readers from the publisher put it. So it’ll get the chop.

Like I said, ruthless.

But this is somewhat interesting: moon town. And hey, they have my Paint the Moon idea (which prompted my wife to send me the strip), so it can’t be all bad.

Back to work.

Jim Downey

The possibilities . . .
August 12, 2009, 1:04 pm
Filed under: BoingBoing, Music, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, tech, YouTube

. . . are almost endless:

Bare is a conductive ink that is applied directly onto the skin allowing the creation of custom electronic circuitry. This innovative material allows users to interact with electronics through gesture, movement, and touch. Bare can be applied with a brush, stamp or spray and is non-toxic and temporary. Application areas include dance, music, computer interfaces, communication and medical devices. Bare is an intuitive and non-invasive technology which will allow users to bridge the gap between electronics and the body.

Here’s one application:

Another step towards the tech from Communion, though I didn’t use it in quite that, um, way.

Jim Downey

Via BB.

10,000 a month.
August 10, 2009, 11:11 am
Filed under: Feedback, Publishing, Science Fiction, Writing stuff

What’s that? 10,000 *what* a month? Hits to the website? Downloads of the novel? What?

What it is is the number of words that I am going to try and whittle out of Communion of Dreams over the next two months.

Why should I mess with the absolute perfection of the finished text this way? Why should I slaughter a single word that has been carefully chosen and adopted through countless revisions?

Well, because there’s a publisher who likes the book. And in the comments I received from said publisher, who had four people read it in order to sort out what work needed to be done to get the book into shape for publication, they said this:

It is very well written, and the author is clearly capable of telling a great story. I am a firm believer that a book should be as long as needed, however, this manuscript is too long for the story. I have several notes in the beginning that there is too much explaining of the events and technology. The original hook in the book after an hour’s worth of reading is that a secret meeting has been called. Again, the last several chapters were great at building the pace – it is just that it takes too long to get there.

They said other things, too, but this is what the whole thing comes down to.

I sent the comments to several friends last week, and asked for their reaction. The consensus was that I should be able to tighten up the text to make the earlier part of the book move more quickly, without sacrificing too much information that the reader needs to have in order to understand the world I have created.

And I agree.

So, I have told the publisher that I will make some significant revisions, and shoot for trimming down the book by about 20,000 words (it is currently 132,500), primarily from the first part of the book. And that I think I should be able to accomplish this in the next couple of months, given my other obligations. Actually, I think I can probably do this a lot faster than that, but I do have a lot else on my plate right now so I want to leave myself plenty of room.

The question comes up: why haven’t I trimmed down the book before in this way, if I am ready to agree to the changes now?

Well, because some people like the extra material – they want the more complete information, they like the more literary pacing of the start of the book. Not everyone, of course – one of the more common comments I have gotten about the book is that the pacing is slow at first. Curiously, it seems that this divide breaks along age lines – younger readers just like a faster pace, seem happy to dive in and let the technological details sort themselves out with less explanation. Before I was willing to make these changes, I wanted to have a good reason to do so. And while the publisher won’t be able to make a final commitment until I provide a revised manuscript, this is a good enough reason.

So, I’m going to do it. And we’ll see what happens. But this is undoubtedly the most ‘movement’ I’ve had with the book in the two and a half years since I posted it online and started this blog.

It may mean less posting here from me – which I hope is a worthwhile trade-off, if it results in a published version of the novel.

Wish me luck.

Jim Downey