Jingle Jangle Mayhem

Originally uploaded by xadrian.
I hope everyone who's celebrated a winter festival or holiday thus far has had a happy and rich time with your friends and family. I hope those celebrating later events are likewise blessed with a plethora of good will and good tidings.

The cast and crew of The Real Life: Pflugerville is doing fairly well. It wouldn't be as exciting without the daily, some times hourly drama we all endure whether it be jobs, family, friends, relationships, children, money, health or ghosts. In fact, if you feel you're in a rut and need something new, I'll have the house mates at the Four Pines carve a spot out for you and you can come hang for a while. I guaranty that inside of a week, you'll have either found peace, the bottom of a few bottles or the inside of a padded cell...or if you're lucky, all three. (That's what we call Tuesday.)

I read back to the beginning of the year to see what I was worried about back then. It's hard to say what kind of year it's been by doing such a retrospective. On the one hand, if your concerns seem trifling it was probably a hard year and you may be surprised you survived at all. On the other hand, it could have seemed like a walk in the park and you may look back fondly as the year you made it, or the year you righted the ship. 2008 was a roller coaster of a year. I always seem to be saying I'm glad the year is over, but in truth it's just an arbitrary number of days and what has happened in the last few months will carry over into 2009. Strife, happiness and reconstruction don't care about seasons or the calendar. The best this time of year can offer is a respite and a chance to take a deep breath before putting your head back under water. That's why we force the cheer and gifts and food and songs, it's like a panicked realization that school's going to start again, that your vacation is short lived, that the pause life seems to take is about to disappear.

That's of course a secular point of view. Even as a non-practicing Catholic I can appreciate the humanity surrounding the end of the year, the desire to start clean, the push through till Spring, the ensconcing oneself in the love of family. Americans may have turned the ancient Pagan holiday into a commercial racket couched in the love for the birth of the messiah du jour, but Yuletide blessings aside, we can all appreciate the changing of the leaves, the start of spring and the warming of our faces and hands. Depending on what you believe, spring came and went and the winters were harsh for 6000x as many years as the central Christian figure has been part of Christmas. The candle oil may have lasted eight days, but humanity has been trying to keep fires lit for much longer. The cycle of light and dark is ingrained on our minds at a genetic level.

So when you see someone who says, "Merry Christmas" or at the most benign, "Happy Holidays," please try to remember that they are just people reaching out into the cold winds and ice of winter wanted to share the cold in order to warm it. Challenging their beliefs isn't going to make your presents any richer, your hot chocolate any warmer or your family any less the drunk idiots. And no one is wishing you a random-holiday-greeting because they want you on their team next Sunday or think you've been overlooked for greatness, they're just hoping you as a human being are safe, happy and want for not.

I'm on about two hours sleep as I write this. That's another experience you should try, get no sleep and then write. I ended up erasing paragraphs about football and planetary exploration and Hollywood's shortcomings. What's here is the most lucid bits I could save. If this is any indication on how 2009 will play out...

...I can't fucking wait.

Happy Holidays, Y'all!


She blinded me...with SCIENCE!

Ms. A's aunt had a stroke last Friday. She's in her sixties and has Alzheimer's (don't know how far along) so this was rather devastating. She's a very sweet little lady, likes mumbling jokes to herself and apparently like's flipping Ms. A the bird.

Ms. A and her mom drove out to see her and see what they could do, if anything, to help. (A side trip to a haunted state hospital in a place called Yorktown will have to be told by Ms. A later. Look for it in her new book, Ah, Fuck I'm Crazy.) When they got there, she was in and out of sleep and remembering who was there. Very average affects of the stroke were evident such as slurred speech, and the loss of movement in her right arm and leg. She wasn't eating much.

It was sad for Ms. A and her mom, as it would be for anyone.

So they went out again the next day and I'd mentioned to Ms. A that it was good that it was a left brain stroke, those tend to recover quicker and easier than right brain strokes. I don't know why, I can't remember - something about the right emotional/egocentric brain prohibiting awareness of what it considers a lost limb. I also knew that most recovery from a stroke comes in the first few days if not hours. While she was there we shared text messages because voice service was spotty. She asked if there was anything they could to help her, any therapy they could suggest to the doctors.

Maybe I should stop and say why she kept asking me questions. Over the summer a coworker had lent me two books. Both were about neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change the way its mapped) and while both focused on different aspects of the cause of remapping or the attempted behavioral therapy that could be applied, both were solid on the premise that the mind does have a measure of control over the physical landscape of the brain. Volition can cause change in the pathways of your brain, concentration and applied will can cause new pathways to be formed even around damaged areas. It also isn't the age of the person that limits this malleability. Rote and the right methods can enable anyone to overcome a trauma - if you can learn something new, you are altering your cortical mapping.

I know, blah blah blah. So after she asked if there was anything they could do on their own, I suggested something I remembered about the use of mirrors. I have to say now that it wasn't even a stroke patient I'd read about, but an amputee. The Phantoms in the Brain book had studies where patients with phantom limb would have severe pain from a clenched fist in their non-existent hand. Being unable to send a motor relay to that hand, the sensory receptors were constantly firing saying the fist was clenched. They still don't know why it happens; areas around the "closed off" part of the brain trying to exert control, nerve endings damaged in the trauma stuck in a state of pain, etc. But an experimental procedure was to take a mirror and situate it in front of the patient and then ask them to move both arms. The trick is the person sees their good arm move and its reflection looks like the other arm. The brain understands it's sending a signal to the arm, the eyes confirm that and thus the brain thinks there's a working arm. What this did was to allow the patient to clench his fist and then release it and the phantom painful clench disappeared. (It came back after a while, but successive sessions allowed him to control the pain and eventually it was gone.)

So, I suggested finding a mirror and putting in front of her and tell her to move both arms. She'll see "both" arms move, the brain is tricked into thinking that arm moves and is able to re-map that area accordingly. The biggest issue you run into with trying to recover motion from a stroke is the patient's understanding of their body image. If they logically think they have no control over their arm, it takes a monstrous amount of will to overcome that. The brain is a stubborn bastard.

However, I think what they did in the hospital room was backwards from what I had envisioned. (The danger of 140 character physical therapy.) I had thought if you put the mirror so the person saw their good arm and its reflection, that if you said to lift both arms and you see both arms move, that's where the trickery comes from. However, they blocked off her good arm and made two bad arms. Then placed objects in front of her and told her to grab them. She tried to use her left arm and they kept holding it down, but seeing the reflection of her left arm and the comprehension that THAT arm should work, she was able to start moving her right arm. By the time they left, she could slide pennies around on the table tray, pick them up, point her toes, move her feet, flap her wings and flip Ms. A off.

She said it gave her hope that she'd get back to how she was. She was so excited and worked up that the nurse came in to check her heart monitor, thinking she was either having problems or the battery on the machine was going out. When she saw what was going on, she said to limit it to just a few minutes at a time so she can rest.

It made me feel good that I'd read these books. I enjoyed them so much but have had to sheepishly cast down my eyes and shuffle my feet while getting blank stares from people . I might as well be saying I like the feel of pudding on my skin but only when someone reads Russian poetry to me in the dark. It's weird and nerdy but dammit I like learning and how often does this happen where you read something for fun and it ends up helping someone.

While I was reading them, a coworker was telling me about her husband and his dyslexia and I'd suggested looking up some behavioral therapy. There have been cases where they take children with the disorder and slow down every day speech. Dyslexia isn't your brain's inability to see correctly, it's a hearing problem. At some point during infancy, when your brain is sorting new sights and sounds, if there's any hearing problem (early ear infections for example) there could be a problem in hearing what speech sounds like. Sounds come in packets, let's say 2-3ms long. It's how you learn to talk, you hear a sound and repeat it. When you get the hang of it, it's a solid pathway and you don't have to think so hard about it. When there's damage to this pathway, shorter sounds are lost. If your brain can only handle sounds greater than 5ms, you lose shorter sounds such as quick consonants. Since you can't hear the sounds, you don't have a frame of reference when that sound is applied to a visual symbol; letters. The word may be C-A-T, but all you hear is "at." Your brain does its best (being the stubborn bastard it is) to fill in the gap with like-sounding letters or even create its own.

They've been able to successfully treat this (I think something bug-fuck crazy like 90% of the time) by playing slowed recordings. The pitch is the same, but the recording has been stretched so patients finally can hear the sounds they may not have heard before. Pairing these new sounds with their corresponding symbols, helps the brain remap and inside of a couple months, the dyslexia is diminished if not cured. Isn't that freakin' awesome? Come on! After all you've heard about medical advances with surgeries and drugs and lengthy psychoanalytical therapies, isn't it great to know how simple some of these treatments are? Who knows how long Ms. A's aunt could have gone without being able to regain her hand. It could have recovered on its own, or she could have sat with a useless arm for the rest of her life. I think it's great we were able to help her.

I'm not letting this go to my head. I was glad to help, but I realize I'm just a messenger. I didn't do the treatment. I didn't go to medical school and become a neurophysiologist. I didn't write the books. I'm also not condoning applying everything you read to your own problems, especially if they are possibly life-threatening. I still feel bad that her heart rate and blood pressure went up - adding a coronary to the list would have been a tragedy. But what I do recommend, and none too highly, is to read. There's a brilliant world out there in which people are discovering new things every minute. Every once in a while you should put down the mysteries or romance or fantasy novels and read something scientific just to mix it up. A closed mind is an empty one.

Besides, you'll never know if what you learn could help make someone's life better.



The War On...Atheism?

As per usual, it's that time of year when I start getting all jittery and mouth-frothing at the complete lack of decency we sometimes show our fellow human beings. In this, the nexus of cross creed winter celebrations, it just absolutely snows me that after all this time we can still be so closed-minded.

The debate is, the state capital building in Olympia, WA had an Atheist sign up saying there are no gods or angels or demons and at this time of year remember that religion is bad. Someone stole it, a few days later it shows up. Now the pundits are all over this as part of their War on Christmas and I'm frankly a little tired of it. We've gone from subverting a spiritual time of year into a commercial enterprise, to turning that commercial enterprise into beltway, cable news talking points. Doesn't anyone want to just drink egg nog, sleep in and play with toys? Doesn't anyone want to ensconce themselves in the warmth of family and friendship, a few tokens of thankfulness and sing about the promise of spring? There are so many things to like about this time of year that I have a hard time understanding why people get so enraged.

Plus, let's be honest. Pagan does not equal Atheist. Atheist is literally someone who has no belief system that involves gods or goddesses. They are not Pagans. Pagans have all sorts of gods and goddesses. They have two big ones in fact. Solstice to a Pagan is the returning of the Sun King born from the Goddess. Is that something an Atheist is going to get behind? "Sorry, no gods for me thanks. Accept those green ones over there, yeah those. With the antlers."

This belies a larger point that we've become a collection of squabbling rodents, too focused on what's in our hands to realize that we're failing at being a sentient race - maybe the only one. Is it really so hard to look someone in the face and just be amazed at how different they are and how wonderful that is? Is it so hard to know that for every worry, idea, sorrow, joy or pain you've felt, that the very next person you see has had the same feelings? And that every person they see does too. And every one they see and so on until you understand that there is not one person on this Earth that does not at some point feel pain, sadness, loneliness, companionship or appreciation? What kind of existence must it be to look at your neighbor or coworker or random stranger and just be appalled at how much they aren't like you. We need to go back to the old definition of strange, that of remarkable, unusual, extraordinary or curious and worry less about unfamiliar and unaccustomed. Different is exciting. Different is new and fun. If we as a species feared the new so much, we'd have never left the caves, taken the boats across the seas, strapped ourselves to a bomb and shot it into space. Different is what makes us human.

Different is the reason we fight wars, and burn people alive, and slaughter millions. So it's not perfect, but can you imagine a life without it?

So the next time you feel the urge to turn your nose up because someone doesn't believe in Jesus, the next time you want to turn your back on a person because they haven't read the same books as you, the next time you want to rail against a petty issue involving decorations, try doing the exact opposite and see how it makes you feel. Listen to them, ask questions and try to understand their point of view. You don't have to believe it yourself, but if both of you stop and understand each other, you won't have to fight over a sign in a building.


Music Awakening

Ok kids, twitter/tiny url/porn snafu notwithstanding, we have a Facebook group for our CD exchange club.

Music Awakening

I'll be the first to admit, I'm not a music buff, but I love singing along to good tunes. This will be a good experience for me at the very least, and I hope you find it interesting as well.

We're still sorting things out, but if you want to be involved, either drop me a line and I'll get you added (somehow) or send a message to jennie_z on facebook.

Happy Friday!


CD Exchange Club

An online friend has suggested doing a good ol' fashioned CD exchange, tentatively called the Music Awakening. Remember making mix tapes for people back in the day? That's the idea only with CDs.

Yes with sites like Slacker and Pandora you can get a mix of music on demand, but unless you're crafty, you can't play them in your car or keep them once you hear them. Plus, I like seeing what people put together, it gives a little insight into them as a person. And if you're lucky they'll dress it up with cover art and inserts and lyrics. At the very least you'll get some new music.

We're not sure how to handle it yet, maybe a monthly theme or just a monthly track list and anyone who messages you can ask for a copy. Or maybe a monthly or bi-weekly pairing where two people just trade mixes.

It's still in the works, but if you're interested, come find me on twitter...


Or the fab dame who started the idea...




Long Weekend

Hebert Family Rock Band
Originally uploaded by Cheryl Rollman.
I left work at around 1pm on Wednesday. I started drinking at 2pm. I didn't get drunk until last night at about 1am.

Now, I'm not saying I spent the Thanksgiving weekend with my veins hooked directly into a brewer's vat, but knowing we were going to have guests, we did spend quite a bit on various beers, wines and liquors. (Pronounced lic OOO rs.) Yet for some inexplicable reason, it wasn't until last night that the effects finally either caught up or my body decided it was done trying to fight it.

So what you see here is what we did all weekend. Ms. NOLA's family was in town and the Friday after Dia de los Gobble Gobble they came over for a few hours of TexMex breakfast tacos, Rock Band and a few card games. It was a brief visit but I gathered that they are fine folk and seemed very genuine and entertaining.

The weekend was capped by some flagged football, a viewing of Wall*E and a marathon of video game fake band-ness. RB2 comes out for the Wii in a couple weeks and I'm fairly excited as the songs we currently have are becoming annoying. I can only play "Say It Ain't So" a few million times before I lose the taste for all things tonal. The good news is, the RB2 Wii version will allow downloads so we can keep the library fresh. Ms. A found a new love for the game this weekend and made sure everyone within 100 yards knew it whether they wanted to or not.

Good times.

So it's back to work for a few weeks until another bit of time off for the Yuletide celebrations. I have a few drawings to get done too, start actually. See, I packed away most of my drawing stuff when I brought out the LEGO, so it's not like I can just quickly roll out a bunch of drawings. First thing's first, have to get X-mas cards done. I seem to start later and later each year, though last time I didn't get it done till the 12th. Let's see if I can beat that. If you'd like a card, let me know via the electronic mailing transit exchange links and I'll make sure to send one off through ye olde fashion postal service.

No I didn't go to Target to get that Star Destroyer...and now I hate myself a little.