Filed under: Alzheimer's, Amazon, Brave New World, Connections, Emergency, Failure, Faith healing, Feedback, Flu, General Musings, Government, Health, Kindle, New Horizons, Plague, Politics, Predictions, Religion, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, tech, Terrorism, Violence, Writing stuff | Tags: Alzheimer's, atherosclerosis, blogging, Brexit, care-giving, Communion of Dreams, election, faith healing, finance, health, heart attack, Her Final Year, jim downey, luck, miracles, myocardial infarction, politics, predictions, religion, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, stent, survival, technology, theocracy
2016 was odd. Just plain odd.
On the one hand, I had the same dumpster-fire of a year that everyone had, in terms of notable deaths, bizarre & unexpected election results here and abroad, and surreal news & social trends.
On the other hand, I’m alive. Which is something of a small (technological) miracle.
I now understand better (thanks to more discussion with my doctors, research, and experience) what happened with my heart, and what it really meant. Turns out that I didn’t have any plaque build-up even in the convoluted artery in question, as I initially thought. No, it was just that badly kinked, and probably had been all my life. I had started to notice it just because of normal aging, meaning that the normal parts of my heart were slowly getting weaker.
In the last six months or so I have finally been able to strengthen the 1/3 of my heart which had never had proper blood supply. Meaning that now I am actually in better cardiac health than I have ever been before. I walk three miles most mornings (5-6 days a week, usually), and don’t feel the slightest bit fatigued from it. The other parts of my 58-year-old body may limit me, but my cardiac condition isn’t a problem at all. Part of me wonders what it would have been like to have had this kind of stamina when I was young and athletic. Another part of me realizes that those limitations helped me develop awareness and self-discipline which I may have missed, otherwise.
Related to that, as mentioned in this post, early last year our financial situation stabilized for the good. We still need to be reasonably prudent about how we go through life, but I no longer feel as if I am hanging on by my fingernails sometimes. Without that change, I may not have felt secure enough to have my heart checked out when I did — meaning that I was very much at risk for the slightest little blood clot to trigger a massive heart attack.
Unrelated to any of that, the election lead-up and results also proved to be both a blessing and a curse for me. I was astonished at the results of both the Brexit and US presidential elections (and no, I’m not going to argue the point in comments — so just refrain from making any on this topic), yet it solved a problem for me with writing St Cybi’s Well. See, in the alternate time-line of Communion of Dreams, prior to the onset of the fire-flu, the US had become an authoritarian, semi-theocratic state. But I was having a really hard time explaining how we had gotten to such a point when actually writing SCW; everything I came up with just seemed too outlandish for the willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader.
Well, that’s not a problem any longer. No, I’m not saying that I think that the US is headed for an authoritarian, semi-theocratic state … but because of the rhetoric and rise in power of some groups both in the US and the UK, that is no longer an unimaginable future. As a result, I have been revising the finished chapters of SCW to reflect these new insights, and I think that the book will be *much* stronger for it.
So yeah, I have really mixed feelings about 2016.
Oh well, I suppose that at least I’m around to have them. And that’s a good thing.
*You should watch this sometime. Fun movie.
Filed under: Brave New World, Civil Rights, Connections, Constitution, Flu, Government, Harry Potter, Pandemic, Predictions, Religion, Science Fiction, Society, Terrorism | Tags: Bend the Arc Jewish Action, blogging, civil liberties, Communion of Dreams, Constitution, Darnell Sidwell, excerpt, fire-flu, flu, influenza, jim downey, pandemic, predictions, religion, Science Fiction, society, St. Cybi's Well, Stonehenge, terrorism, writing, Yahoo News
I wrote the following for Chapter 12 of St Cybi’s Well some months back. It’s set near the visitor’s center at Stonehenge, and occurs just as the pandemic influenza* is getting started in the UK, when people aren’t quite sure yet what is happening. The main character, Darnell Sidwell, sees a group of protesting people, and finds out that they’re members of the ‘British Defense League’, my fictional version of this group.
Before he got to the front of the protest, he looked over the fence, saw something of a party going on. People drinking, dancing to music from a portable sound system, standing around smoking. A couple of young men were standing beside the fence, watching the crowd flow by, passing a bottle back and forth.
One of the men saw him looking at them. “Wotcha lookin’ at?”
Darnell walked over to them. He stopped a couple of paces before the fence. “Nothing, really. You?”
“Oh, a Yank, are ya?” The man seemed to relax a bit. His friend, who had been looking down the road, turned to look at Darnell as well. “Jus’ watchin’ this lot go by. Havin’ a bit of a laugh. You got any cigs?”
“No, sorry, I don’t smoke. Yeah, I’m a Yank.”
The friend spoke. “Your lot got the right idea, I say.”
“‘Bout the illegals.” He turned to his mate. “We should do that.”
“Yeah, kick ‘em all out,” agreed the friend. “All the Pakis and Blackies. They the ones what got this flu goin’. ‘Cause they’s dirty.”
“Uncivilized,” added his friend, taking a long pull on the bottle, then handing it over to the other.
“Flu?” asked Darnell, feigning ignorance.
“Yeah, the flu. What’s got ever’one comin’ here.” He gestured towards Stonehenge. “All the nutters lookin’ like Druids or Harry Potter. Ain’ you heard of it?”
“Um, no, I was just coming over to visit Stonehenge. Isn’t it always like this?”
“Nah. There’s a flu goin’ ‘round. Bad one,” said the man.
“People dyin’,” said the other. “Gov’s tryin’ to hide it, but word’s out.”
“Me aunt’s a nurse o’er London. She tol’ me mum.” He gestured behind him, towards the party going on. “Others heard ‘bout it too. Then some heard th’ nutters were coimin’ here, thought that we’d have a chance to make th’ telly.”
The first man tilted up the bottle, drained it. “Say, got anythin’ t’ drink in your bag, there?”
“Just water.” Darnell smiled. “It’s a bit early for me.”
“Yeah, well,” said the second man, “ain’ for me. Drink’ll keep the sickness out. Alcohol kills it. Ever’one knows that.”
“Sounds like good advice,” said Darnell, turning to walk away.
“Hey, Yank,” called one of the men.
“Yeah?” asked Darnell, pausing.
The two men exchanged glances. The first one said “You seem OK. Word to th’ wise: don’t stick around too long.”
From the news yesterday:
Yahoo News asked Trump whether his push for increased surveillance of American Muslims could include warrantless searches. He suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures.
“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”
Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.
“We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”
Following that news item, Bend the Arc Jewish Action issued the following statement:
“Registering everyone of a certain religion to a list? We’ve seen that. It doesn’t end well.
“There is no way American Jews will ever find it acceptable for anyone – anyone – to be registered, singled out, profiled, discriminated against, or in any way mistreated by the government on the basis of their religion in this country. Mr. Trump’s suggestion is as terrifying as it is abhorrent.
“This runs counter to everything we believe in as Americans and Jews and we will not stand idly by as fear and bigotry are used to dominate our politics.”
St Cybi’s Well is set in an alternate time-line to our own, where the United States has become a ‘Constitutional Theocracy’ in part as a response to the 9-11 attacks. It’s fiction.
At least, I intended for it to be fiction …
*What is referred to as the ‘fire-flu’ in Communion of Dreams, set 40 years later.
Filed under: NPR, Terrorism, Violence | Tags: blogging, Emanuel AME church, Ethel Lance, feedback, forgiveness, jim downey, terrorism, This I Believe, violence, writing
… I have tried my very best to forget him. It was that, or succumb to the hatred that threatened to define my life.
For a while I tried forgiveness, since that is supposed to be liberating. When I say “for a while,” I mean for years. But I failed. There are some things that cannot be forgiven, at least for me.
Others are, perhaps, better than I:
During an emotional courtroom scene, family members of some of the victims gave statements, many saying they forgave the shooter and calling on him to repent his sins.
“I just wanted everybody to know, to you, I forgive you,” a daughter of Ethel Lance, 70, one of the nine people killed at Emanuel AME church on Wednesday night said. “You took something very precious away from me.
“You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But I forgive you. I forgive you,” she said.
That is a power which baffles me, bewilders me, but also leaves me in quiet awe. Good for them.
Filed under: Government, Religion, Science, Society, tech, Terrorism, University of Missouri | Tags: a fine line, atheist, blogging, Cherenkov radiation, jim downey, nuclear power, physics, religion, science, St Pat's Day, technology, University of Missouri, Wikipedia
I had reason to look up this item the other day, and was surprised that I hadn’t ever posted it to the blog. So, in honor of St Pat’s Day (well, OK, not really, but there is a connection…), here’s a little something from my old archives from a few years ago.
So I wander into this nuclear reactor . . .
This morning’s news that the NRC has declined to force nuclear power plants to take additional precautions to prevent the breach of a nuclear reactor’s core by attack with a jetliner comes as little surprise, given the Bush administration’s attitudes about actual security issues.
But, as always when I hear such news reports, I was taken back to a sunny spring morning some 30 years ago, when me and a couple of college buddies wandered into a nuclear reactor.
It was the weekend of St. Pats day, and we were at the University of Missouri – Rolla to party with a friend of ours who was an engineering student there. I think it was Friday morning, and our friend had some classes he had to attend, so myself and my two friends decided to just explore the campus a bit (we all attended schools elsewhere).
I had considered Rolla for school myself a few years previously, when I had been thinking of going into physics (a dream derailed by poor higher-math skills). So when we came across the research reactor building, I wanted to have a look.
We just wandered in. No, seriously. We just wandered into the building, through a couple of sets of doors, and soon found ourselves standing at a railing, looking down at the glowing blue core of the nuclear reactor. In this day and age it is hard to imagine such a thing – and even at the time it seemed more than a little odd.
A few minutes after we came in, a nice fellow who fit the stereotype image of a science professor came over to us. Short, grey, bearded, balding, wearing a white lab smock over his shirt and jeans. He sort of looked us over, asked what we were up to . . . and then gave us an impromptu tour of the place (after tagging us with personal dosimeters).
It was fascinating, to me at least. The reactor core at this facility sits at the bottom of a large swimming pool, about 20 feet down. That provides all the necessary protection from the radiation generated from operation of the fission reactor (which doesn’t produce much power, and doesn’t use the sort of fuel used in nuclear weapons). Herr Doktor explained all this to us non-scientists, and also explained the eerie blue glow coming off the reactor (which was then in operation).
It was a color like I’ve never seen before or since – a soft electric blue that was both intriguing and repulsive. I knew what it was, having been interested in physics: Cherenkov radiation, caused when the radioactive particles generated by the fission reactions are faster than the speed of light in the water. But it’s the sort of thing that lasts in the memory, embedded there in a way not unlike a religious experience – hard to describe, or explain, or convince others of, yet extremely vivid for the one who experienced it.
Now, I’m not religious. I’m an atheist, in fact. I understand what that blue glow is – yet, whenever someone claims that they have had a religious experience, I can tie it to that same feeling I had on first seeing that other-worldly blue glow.
Well, anyway, I had to share that personal experience, and add a bit of perspective on the changes we’ve seen in terms of security over the last 30 years.
Filed under: Art, NPR, Predictions, Science Fiction, Society, Terrorism | Tags: art, blogging, Communion of Dreams, Edenists, Greenpeace, jim downey, Nazca, NPR, Peru, predictions, Sam Sanders, Science Fiction, writing
From Chapter 9 of Communion of Dreams, about the ‘Edenists’:
“Please,” asked Johan Klee, “who are these Edenists? I do not believe that we have them in Europe.”
“Homegrown American kooks,” said Gates. “Take your worst nightmare right-wing Christian fundies, breed ‘em with ecological extremists, let the mix simmer in isolation for about twenty years, and you wind up with the Edenists: eco-terrorists who think that it’s God’s Will that mankind return to a primitive, pre-industrial state.”
I hate having these things be so damned accurate:
Greenpeace has apologized to the people of Peru after activists entered a highly restricted area to leave a message on ancient, sacred desert land.
Activists placed giant, yellow letters spelling out, “Time for change! The future is renewable. Greenpeace,” near markings in the earth known as the Nazca lines.
Fanaticism, whether religious, moral, racial, or technological, is dangerous. Once you decide that your virtuous ends justify any means you use, horror is a predictable outcome.
Filed under: Augmented Reality, Brave New World, Connections, Emergency, Flu, General Musings, Music, Pandemic, Plague, Predictions, Preparedness, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, Terrorism, Writing stuff, YouTube | Tags: Aeon, augmented reality, blogging, Communion of Dreams, Ebola, Jeconiah, jim downey, Ma'abarot, music, Nick Bostrom, predictions, R.E.M., Ross Andersen, Sarin, science, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, technology, TEOTWAWKI, video, writing, www youtube
I ‘put to bed’ Chapter Nine of St Cybi’s Well yesterday. Meaning that it is completed well enough that I can move on to the next chapter, with the expectation that there will likely be some slight-to-moderate revisions later as the rest of the book is written.
That’s the halfway point in the actual writing of the novel, though since I have a lot of the rest of the infrastructure of the book done, it means that I’m probably more like 70% done. Exciting.
And also a little … sobering. I’ve mentioned it before, but given the events of this book (which is the historical backdrop of Communion of Dreams), this book has an understandable darkness to it. Here’s a bit from the last page of Chapter Nine to show what I mean:
The Jeconiah protocols covered a range of possible emergency conditions. Some would just require all available crews to report to base. Some would accelerate planned shipments. Some would mean preselected VIPs would be transferred to the Moon under increased security.
But Program One meant immediate isolation of the shuttle launch facility under the strictest security possible. Soon the Israelis would be launching all available shuttles with emergency supplies, using only crew who were already in normal pre-flight quarantine. This was in an effort to isolate and protect the New Ma’abarot colonies from whatever was happening here. As far as the Lunar colonies were concerned, Earth was now quarantined. It was a failsafe protocol – probably an over-reaction, but one they were willing to chance. If things turned out to be not too bad here on Earth, the quarantine could be relaxed later.
Or, you know, not.
So yeah, dark. Especially when I read something like this, in a very good article about human extinction:
Humans have a long history of using biology’s deadlier innovations for ill ends; we have proved especially adept at the weaponisation of microbes. In antiquity, we sent plagues into cities by catapulting corpses over fortified walls. Now we have more cunning Trojan horses. We have even stashed smallpox in blankets, disguising disease as a gift of good will. Still, these are crude techniques, primitive attempts to loose lethal organisms on our fellow man. In 1993, the death cult that gassed Tokyo’s subways flew to the African rainforest in order to acquire the Ebola virus, a tool it hoped to use to usher in Armageddon. In the future, even small, unsophisticated groups will be able to enhance pathogens, or invent them wholesale.
Sarin. Ebola. Gee, where have I heard those names recently? Oh, yeah.
Damn, sometimes I hate to be so right about things …