Communion Of Dreams

I know I’m being repetitive . . .
March 30, 2010, 5:03 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Writing stuff

I just sent the following message to my co-authors of Her Final Year:

I know I’m being repetitive from what I said a week ago, but the more I work on HFY, the more I am somewhat stunned at how powerful it is. I just finished “September”, and while I am exhausted emotionally, I am also filled with a conviction that this book will be a huge benefit to people.

There’s still a lot of work to do, with editing, sorting out the order of all the entries, et cetera. But now and then, take a moment and just read what is there. All our entries – the whole picture which emerges – are/is remarkable.

Time for a drink.

Jim Downey

Just imagine . . .
March 29, 2010, 12:20 pm
Filed under: Civil Rights, Emergency, Government, Religion, Society, Terrorism, Violence

. . . what sort of panic and chaos we’d have if there were religious nuts who killed a bunch of people because they were fighting a war of liberation:

Double suicide bombings kill 38 on Moscow subway

MOSCOW – Female suicide bombers blew themselves up Monday in twin attacks on Moscow subway stations packed with rush-hour passengers, killing at least 38 people and wounding more than 60, officials said. The carnage blamed on rebels from the Caucasus region follows the killings of several high-profile Islamic militant leaders there.

The blasts come six years after Islamic separatists from the southern Russian region carried out a pair of deadly Moscow subway strikes and raise concerns that the war has once again come to the capital, amid militants’ warnings of a renewed determination to push their fight.

Gee, I’m glad there’s nothing like that brewing here:

Militia members charged with police-killing plot

WASHINGTON – Nine suspects tied to a Christian militia in the Midwest are charged with conspiring to kill police officers, then attack a funeral in the hopes of killing more law enforcement personnel, federal prosecutors said Monday.

* * *

Once other officers gathered for a slain officer’s funeral, the group planned to detonate homemade bombs at the funeral, killing more, according to newly unsealed court papers.

According to the indictment, the idea of attacking a police funeral was one of numerous scenarios discussed as ways to go after law enforcement officers. Other scenarios included a fake 911 call to lure an officer to his or her death, or an attack on the family of a police officer.

Now, think again what would happen here if self-proclaimed “Islamic separatists” set off a couple bombs and killed a bunch of people. You’d have every Right-wing loon calling for concentration camps and martial law to deal with the threat. But since it was a Christian sect who was planning on killing gubmint agents, what do we get?



Jim Downey

(Cross posted to dKos.)

This is fun.
March 26, 2010, 4:47 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Art, Book Conservation, Publishing

I mentioned the other day that things were progressing on Her Final Year, the care-giving book I am working on with my co-author(s). Well, as part of that my Good Lady Wife has started looking for an agent – the idea being that now that I have one book (almost) ready to be published by Trapdoor Press, it’ll be easier to find an agent who can get this memoir to the right publisher for that genre. In the process of looking over agency websites, she came across this one: Lindstrom Literary Management.

Go take a look at their website. Poke around a bit. It’s a nice design conceit, using a 19th century book style, combined with the different marbled paper backgrounds. I could have done those marbled papers – they’re all classics, and I am actually quite good at that particular art (you can see an example on my professional bio page). I don’t know whether Lindstrom will make the final cut of agents that we decide to contact, but if we do I’ll append a note drawing out the connection between what they have on their site and what I do in that aspect of my life.


Jim Downey

Throw another branch of the family tree on the fire.
March 25, 2010, 12:16 pm
Filed under: Carl Zimmer, Science, Science Fiction, Survival


Fossil finger points to new human species

In the summer of 2008, Russian researchers dug up a sliver of human finger bone from an isolated Siberian cave. The team stored it away for later testing, assuming that the nondescript fragment came from one of the Neanderthals who left a welter of tools in the cave between 30,000 and 48,000 years ago. Nothing about the bone shard seemed extraordinary.

Its genetic material told another story. When German researchers extracted and sequenced DNA from the fossil, they found that it did not match that of Neanderthals — or of modern humans, which were also living nearby at the time. The genetic data, published online in Nature1, reveal that the bone may belong to a previously unrecognized, extinct human species that migrated out of Africa long before our known relatives.

Carl Zimmer has about the best explanation I’ve found (no surprise – his writing on science in general, and evolution in particular, is nothing short of brilliant). Here’s a good excerpt:

The scientists succeeded in fishing out human-like DNA from the pinky bone, and so far they’ve sequenced its mitochondrial DNA–that is, the DNA that is housed in mitochondria, sausage-shaped, fuel-producing structures in our cells. The majority of our DNA, which sits in the nucleus of cells, comes from both our mother and father. But mitochondrial DNA comes all from Mom. When the scientists compared the pinky DNA to DNA of humans and Neanderthals, they got something of a shock. If you line up the mitochondrial DNA from any given living human to any other living human, you might expect to find a few dozen points at which they are different. Compare human mtDNA to Neanderthal DNA, and you’ll find about 200 differences. But when the scientists compared the Denisova DNA to a group of human mitochondrial genomes, they found nearly 400 differences. In other words, their DNA was about twice as different from ours than Neanderthal DNA.

The implication, again from Zimmer:

The Denisova DNA split too recently from our own to have been carried by H. erectus, the first globe-trotting hominids. But paleoanthropologists have found a fair number of other hominid fossils in Europe and Asia that might belong to more recent waves out of Africa. (Here, for example, is a report on hominids in Europe 1.2 million years ago.) So perhaps there was at least one other wave aside from H. erectus, the expansion of Neanderthals, and the spread of modern humans. If that’s true, this new discovery also means that this wave produced a long lineage of hominids that survived long enough to live alongside humans. We coexisted with yet another species of hominid–along with Neanderthals, H. erectus, and those lovable hobbits, Homo floresiensisfor thousands of years. Our current solitude is a recent fluke.

So, out of five (or more??) species of hominids, only we’re still here. Luck, or violence, or absorption – whatever the reason, at one time there were other similarly intelligent species right here on this one planet. I’m amused in how this supports my vision at the end of Communion of Dreams in two ways [spoiler alert!]: the revelation of humankind’s deeper history/ability and the fact that there are many other advanced races among the stars.

Jim Downey

You call them weapons,
March 23, 2010, 1:56 pm
Filed under: Gardening, Habanero, Health, Humor

I call them “seasoning”:

Indian military to weaponize world’s hottest chili

GAUHATI, India – The Indian military has a new weapon against terrorism: the world’s hottest chili.

After conducting tests, the military has decided to use the thumb-sized “bhut jolokia,” or “ghost chili,” to make tear gas-like hand grenades to immobilize suspects, defense officials said Tuesday.

The bhut jolokia was accepted by Guinness World Records in 2007 as the world’s spiciest chili. It is grown and eaten in India’s northeast for its taste, as a cure for stomach troubles and a way to fight the crippling summer heat.

* * *

“The chili grenade has been found fit for use after trials in Indian defense laboratories, a fact confirmed by scientists at the Defense Research and Development Organization,” Col. R. Kalia, a defense spokesman in the northeastern state of Assam, told The Associated Press.

Yup, time to place my annual plant order.

Jim Downey

“Her Final Year”
March 23, 2010, 12:18 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Writing stuff

I discussed yesterday some of the emotional toll of working on the care-giving book. And last October I mentioned the working title, and explained it briefly. I’ve been thinking more about that.

The idea for the book – the metaphor, if you will – is that you can consider Alzheimer’s progression and impact on a life as something of a whole. Just as the seasons progress, just as the days and weeks and months follow one after another in a fairly seamless manner through the course of a year, so does the disease advance. January starts with hope for a new year, in December you’re looking back at how things actually unfolded. You can predict, in general terms, what the weather will be like from month to month – but you can still have a glorious sunny day the week of Christmas, just as you can have a grim and cold weekend in September.

Likewise, someone suffering from dementia can have good days and bad days, even as the general trend of the disease moves relentlessly on to a known conclusion. Furthermore, in no two people will the disease progress in exactly the same way.

Therefore, in order to make our book the most useful to other people, we’ve arranged the “months” according to the general progression of the disease, and then we’ve placed individual entries – drawn from email correspondence, blog posts and Live Journal entries – into the “month” where it most seems to fit. There is a general tendency for those entries to follow an actual chronological progression, but it happens that sometimes they don’t match up that way. In addition, things are time-compressed: the actual experiences we’re relating happened over roughly four years, but in order to make the most sense of them they’ve been fit into this one-year framework.

I don’t know if this metaphor of a “year” will make sense to everyone. But it has given us a tool for understanding what we went through, and to organize that experience in a way which makes it somewhat more universal, even as intensely personal as it actually was. We’ll see.

Jim Downey

March 22, 2010, 11:42 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Publishing, Writing stuff

I haven’t mentioned it much, just a passing note last month, but I have been working a fair amount on the care-giving book these last weeks. And I’m about halfway done with my part of the editing work – at this point, I’m going through all of my co-author’s posts, and my co-author is going through all of mine.

In terms of actual editing work, it’s very minor, mostly consisting of looking for issues with spelling & clarity. But it is also emotionally exhausting, because each entry is a journey back into care-giving. I can only put myself through that for about an hour a day.

It is also extremely rewarding, though. Each time I work with this material – each pass through it I make – the more I find it to be powerful and affirming, and the more I think it will prove to be a very valuable resource for others who are taking that journey (or recovering from it.)

At least, I hope so.

Jim Downey

Playing with fire.
March 21, 2010, 12:36 pm
Filed under: Government, Guns, Politics, Preparedness, Society, Violence

I don’t think most people here in the US understand violence. They have too little experience with it. They think violence is a schoolyard fight, or gunplay in slow motion on a screen.

It’s more visceral than that. More basic. It is the unleashing of an older part of ourselves – a genetic memory of survival.

For decades I have watched reactionary forces strut and hype, threatening violence or implying the threat of violence. You see it with the rhetoric of the Tea Party in its latest incarnation. I’ve kept an eye on it, but never paid it too much attention – people fear change, and those fears sometime manifest as that kind of low-level violence. Oh, I don’t mean to deny the damage that a few lone loons can do – our history has shown repeatedly that political violence can indeed change the course of events for the short term. But even that is limited.

What worries me much more is something I have begun to see over the last few years, and in increasing amounts recently: rhetoric from the left which is starting to match the threats of violence from the right. It is always cloaked in terms of self-defense, or of ‘standing up to the right’ – but it is there, nonetheless.

And this is much more dangerous. Because then it is not a matter of just ‘simple’ violence. It is gang-war. It is tribal. It is the madness which erases civilization for a while.

We don’t think that it can happen here. Not again. We think we are too advanced. Too educated. Too secure in our democratic structures.


When one side starts using the language of violence, even to the point of flaunting guns and invoking the Civil War, they’re crazy.

When the other side decides the time has come to take the crazies seriously, to the point of talking about arming themselves or de-humanizing the Right (both of which I have seen a lot of in recent weeks), then we’re playing with fire.

It’s not like I am a pacifist, or unwilling to defend either myself or those people and values I hold dear. I understand the need for taking a threat from someone seriously. But increasingly things feel like they are starting to spin out of control.

Jim Downey

Something to
March 20, 2010, 8:24 am
Filed under: Music, Weather, YouTube

brighten your morning on this first day of spring (which, here, means sleet and snow and a winter weather advisory):

Love the finger stylings the guy uses.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.)

Back in the day . . .
March 19, 2010, 6:19 pm
Filed under: Humor, MetaFilter, tech

. . . and I do mean *really* back in the day, I worked in advertising. This was between college and grad school. Like 207 years ago. I wrote ad copy for local radio, and was recruited to work for a large ad firm in the MidWest (which I declined).

Anyway, because of this, I have always had this really disturbing tendency to pay attention to clever advertising. I’ve even remarked upon it. Thankfully, my friends and family have forgiven me this quirk.

But thanks to this particular twist of personality, I want to share this gem with you: sound in the mail. Via MeFi. Clever. I approve of clever.

Jim Downey