Friday, March 31, 2006

 

Alzheimer's Study - effect of religiousity on disease progression?

I found this report below from last summer while reading a bit more after the Templeton study announcement on the heart patient study. The reason I'm doing all this reading is twofold. I thought the heart patient study had kind of a dorky design, and I'm thinking about writing a longer piece of work on why scientific fundamentalism (Scientism) is just as bad for society as religious fundamentalism run amok.

Science and Religion are not mutually exclusive spheres. It's time for an integration of the lessons from both and an optimization for the future.

As far as the Alzheimer's study, I would suspect that anyone that has a community that supports them and reinforces a systemic belief system and keeps your mind active might get the same benefits from their community that religious people get from theirs. In other words, if you stimulate the mind in a particular way, then you could get rewards. I don't envision a world where a doctor writes a prescription for Judaism, or tells you to lay off the atheism for a while due to plaque buildup.

Never understimate the real value of having a social support network. Having moved across the country in 1996, and therefore being forced to rebuild mine, I came to wonder if the lack of a social support network can erode you in a physical way.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Religious practice may slow the insidious progress of Alzheimer’s disease.

By Mike Martin
(June 9, 2005)

Going to church may not only be good for the soul, but good for the mind as well, say Canadian and Israeli researchers who found that religious practice may slow the insidious progress of Alzheimer’s disease.

“We learned that Alzheimer’s patients with higher levels of spirituality or higher levels of religiosity may have a significantly slower progression of cognitive decline,” said study author Dr. Yakir Kaufman, director of neurology at Sarah Herzog Memorial Hospital in Jerusalem.

Recent peer-reviewed research indicates that religious involvement lowers mortality and increases quality of life, particularly in patients with neurological disorders, Kaufman and co-author Dr. Morris Freedman explain in a paper.

Kaufman presented “The Effects of Spirituality and Religiosity on the Rate of Cognitive Decline and Quality of Life in Alzheimer’s Disease” at the 2005 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Miami Beach, Fla.

Their study is the first to look at the relationship between religiosity, spirituality and the rate of disease progression in Alzheimer’s disease, said Freedman, who heads the division of neurology at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto.

“This is amazing research,” said geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Michael Rayel, chief of psychiatry at Dr. G. B. Cross Memorial Hospital in Clarenville, Newfoundland. “This work is consistent with recent studies showing that prayer, spirituality or religiosity is correlated with better mental and physical health.”

Worldwide, Alzheimer’s disease affects approximately 5 percent to 10 percent of adults over age 65 and nearly 50 percent of adults over 85 years of age.

In Freedman’s home country of Canada, 1.3 percent of the population — 420,000 people — has the disease, which manifests as a gradual wasting of brain tissue accompanied by the accumulation of so-called “amyloid plaques” — protein fragments the body normally breaks down and eliminates that block transmission of information across neurons.

In the United States, 4.5 million adults, or about 1.5 percent of the population, have Alzheimer’s, at a cost of some $61 billion annually, according to the Alzheimer’s Association of America.

The new research, which found that “spirituality and private religious practices were significantly associated with progression of cognitive impairment,” may open the door to new psychotherapies designed to stop or reverse this so-far incurable disease.

The researchers devised a study that assessed 68 subjects between ages 49 and 94. Each person met criteria for probable Alzheimer’s disease as determined by the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke/Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association.

Published in 1984, the criteria are globally accepted as diagnostic for the disorder.

Two assessment tools — the Duke University Religion Index, or DUREL, and the Fetzer Institute’s Brief Multidimensional Measure of Religiousness/Spirituality — measured each subject’s religious practices, such as church attendance or private prayer.

“The DUREL is a five-item scale designed to assess organizational and private religious and spiritual practices including attendance, private religious activities, and intrinsic religiosity,” said Kaufman.

Kaufman and Freedman used the Folstein Mini Mental State Examination to measure cognitive response and impairment in their subjects.

The brainchild of Tufts University psychiatry professor and cognitive disorders specialist Dr. Marshal Folstein, the Mini Mental State Examination is a short survey that grades a person’s orientation, attention, memory, language and ability to follow simple commands.

Data analysis revealed “higher levels of religiosity and private religious practices were significantly correlated with slower rates of cognitive decline,” Freedman explained.

But whether or not spiritual activity slows Alzheimer’s more effectively than other types of mental activity may be the “$64,000 question,” said University of Pennsylvania radiology professor Dr. Andrew Newberg.

“Is prayer simply a heightened cognitive process or does it have unique benefits all its own?” said Newberg, whose pioneering studies imaged the brain during meditation and prayer. “One of the big questions ultimately becomes whether or not the researchers can differentiate the positive effects of spirituality from other activities.”

Separating the two elements of religious practice — belief and practice — may help explain these benefits.

“In addition to the ‘supernatural’ explanation for better health, the rituals and traditions associated with spirituality, such as socialization, volunteering, scheduled church activities and prayers, contribute to mental and cognitive processes,” said Rayel, who is also a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Scanning a patient’s brain with positron-emission tomography may
represent a next step in the research, Newberg told Science & Theology News. Positron-emission tomography is an accepted diagnostic tool used to improve predictions about future cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients.

If spirituality indeed slows the disease, additional studies could lead to religion-based therapies.

“These findings may warrant an interventional study looking at the possible effect of enhancement of spiritual well-being as a means of slowing cognitive decline,” Rayel said.

Mike Martin is a freelance science-and-technology writer.

 

Science Confirms Witchcraft Doesn't Work!

Amy and I discussed this study a while back when the study was publicized on CNN, while it was still being conducted. Which, I thought was kind of odd, since I was under the impression that you usually don't want to bring the media in during the middle of a study involving psychological or medical effects and then interview anyone involved in the experiment. But heck, what do I know?

So, I've been waiting for the study to come out in order to see if it was as simplistic as it sounded.

As a comparison, a classmate of mine did much the same study (on a smaller scale, and with a mix of very sick patients) as a catholic high school science project back in 1988. Interestingly, she predicted and received the same results as this study.

Here's the article from March 30th, 2006.

Study: Prayer doesn't affect heart patients

NEW YORK (AP) -- In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery. In fact, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications.

Researchers emphasized their work does not address whether God exists or answers prayers made on another's behalf. The study can only look for an effect from prayers offered as part of the research, they said.

They also said they had no explanation for the higher complication rate in patients who knew they were being prayed for, in comparison to patients who only knew it was possible prayers were being said for them.

The work, which followed about 1,800 patients at six medical centers, was financed by the Templeton Foundation, which supports research into science and religion. It will appear in the American Heart Journal.

Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School and other scientists tested the effect of having three Christian groups pray for particular patients, starting the night before surgery and continuing for two weeks. The volunteers prayed for "a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications" for specific patients, for whom they were given the first name and first initial of the last name.

The patients, meanwhile, were split into three groups of about 600 apiece: those who knew they were being prayed for, those who were prayed for but only knew it was a possibility, and those who weren't prayed for but were told it was a possibility.

The researchers did not ask patients or their families and friends to alter any plans they had for prayer, saying such a step would have been unethical and impractical.

The study looked for any complications within 30 days of the surgery. Results showed no effect of prayer on complication-free recovery. But 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it was just a possibility.

Dr. Harold G. Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at the Duke University Medical Center, who did not take part in the study, said the results did not surprise him.

"There are no scientific grounds to expect a result and there are no real theological grounds to expect a result either," he said.

Science, he said, "is not designed to study the supernatural."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


First of all, expecting a result from prayer falls into the witchcraft category of spells, incantations, oracles, and fantasy. This is something that most major religious groups battled centuries ago. Second, even if prayer pulled mysterious levers in the universe for heart patients, this study is not described as either single or double blind. What's the point, if the entire group knows that they might be prayed for or are prayed for?

The quote at the end by Dr. Harold G. Koenig is a very restrained version of "No duh."

The role of prayer is very well documented in every major catechetical work of every religion I've ever bothered to be curious about. Prayer, meditation, consciousness-raising, determining your core values, trance, chi management, whirling like a dervish, auditing your thetan, prioritization, whatever you want to call it, is a necessary human activity that allows us to develop our own moral compass, develop a compassion for others, allows individual and communal sharing of hope, and hasn't been a "tit for tat" ritual since the days of the Old Testament and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Yes, there are intercessionary prayers. Yes, there are prayers for petition. However, the definition of these prayers is universal in admonition that they are not shopping lists for your chosen deity or idol.

Sacrificing goats will not grant you special superhero powers. If that were true, we'd have a goat-based economy and would have expanded our human hegemony to every single planet in the universe by now. I'm not seeing a whole lot of that going on outside some weird sci-fi books based on the video game DOOM.

In a time where we have fantastic amounts of quality literature, philosophy, and science, it's weird to see a study that seeks to answer a question that has been consistently answered, with evidence, by both science and religion, for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Glad to see science catching up, but maybe the Templeton Foundation can skip forward a bit next time? How about quantifying the effects of social capital of religion, better defining the agency of religion with respect to cultural evolution, and continuing to qualify and quantify the social and psychological benefits of prayer?

 

Appetite for Learning

Geneva, my two-year-old daughter, has a great appetite for learning.Sometimes a bit too literal of an appetite...



CDROM_BITE

Friday, March 24, 2006

 

FEMA online training course completed!



It's great to get certified by The Shadow Government (a reference from x-files the movie).

I recommend CERT training for anyone that wants to help themselves and their neighborhoods to be better prepared for pretty much anything.

Here in San Diego, be sure to check out San Diego CERT.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

 

catholicism, secular humanism, faith, works, salvation

1782 Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. "He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters."[53]
The line above from Article 6 Section I Catechism of the Catholic Church is probably my favorite part of the entire catechism. I’m starting here because the concept of conscience and free will is extremely important to the question at hand of exactly how belief, salvation, and faith are related.

This particular sentence is probably the reason that I tend to not feel very comfortable proselytizing. The assumption in my mind at least is that if someone is already practicing a religion or philosophy, that they successfully reached that state through the application of introspection and the guidance of their own conscience. In other words, even though they’re not catholic, they get the benefit of the doubt from me that they are doing what they do because they chose it, not because they’re “lost” or “in a state of sin” or whatever.

I soundly reject the “if you’re not a member of the South Park First Baptist Church, then you are going to hell!” sort of sentiment for two reasons. One, it’s casting the first stone. Two, it denies the person their right to free will.

Line 1782 above has two very important components towards the end.

First, thou shalt not force someone to act contrary to his or her conscience.

Second, thou shalt not prevent someone from acting according to his conscience. Out of all matter of conscience, the catechism emphasizes religious matters.

If you disagree over a religious matter, and to me this includes someone’s decision to leave a religion, take a sabbatical to think about it, or whatever, then you as a Catholic are called by the catechism to leave them alone, as long as they’re acting according to their conscience and not simply due to laziness (But mom, I want to watch TV on Sunday!) or some sort of human resources problem (I can’t get along with that stupid old Deacon. What a dork. I’ll quit going until he leaves or dies or something.) or some sort of very trivial material-world problem (this church has the worst interior decorating ever. I can’t stand it. I’m staying home and watching football.).

Since the church is the people, and you’re not there for the building (even though a nice building goes a long way towards making the experience more pleasant), excuses based on what the place looks like or the human failings of the members aren’t really matters of conscience. They’re matters of preference and taste that’s bound up in the mundane and not the sublime aspects of our individual identities.

So, if you’re there for the sharing of sacraments, and it’s just not clicking, and you’ve tried, but you’re heart isn’t in it and you’re nagged by questions that aren’t being answered, then you are obligated first and foremost to be truly introspective about it.
1779 It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience. This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection:
Return to your conscience, question it.... Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness.[51]
Once you have your answer, and if it is “I’m just not catholic (now, or possibly forever)” or “I just don’t buy this God stuff (now, or possibly forever)” then you have to decide what to do for yourself. Furthermore, even though other people have the right to appeal to you, to offer help, to challenge you, etc. they do not have the right to prevent you from acting in accordance to your conscience.

They might think or say you’ve not tried everything, or have given up too early, or whatever, but that’s beside the point. The only person that can decide what to do is you, and your free will is paramount in the catechism.

In fact, this is echoed in many other catholic writings. Here’s an example from my library. This is my favorite part of “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” by JPII.

BLOGcrossingthethresholdofhope1



BLOGcrossingthethresholdofhope2



I recommend the whole book, by the way, both because it’s quite good on its own and because, for those that have never read anything by JPII or seen him speak in person; it captures one of the reasons for his runaway popularity, especially among the young. It’s also a short read – 230 or so pages.

The book is the result of a journalist sending him some questions that were supposed to be in preparation for a televised interview. The journalist, who also wrote the Ratzinger Report, didn’t expect to hear back from John Paul II after the project fell through due to scheduling problems and other things that came up for the Pope in September 1993. However, a couple months later, a hand-written manuscript arrived. The book is the product of that manuscript.

When I first read it, I was really surprised, since at that point in my experience I did not expect to see the “God has a lot of explaining to do” sorts of sentiments expressed by, say, a pope. The rest of the book would be about as good, with excellent but short and accessible discussions of a wide variety of subjects.

So, God created man as rational and free and therefore placed Himself under man’s judgment. God’s wisdom and omnipotence are placed, by free choice, at the service of creation. Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. You are, essentially, called to be accountable to yourself. You are not to abdicate this responsibility to anyone else.

Catholicism, along with many other faiths, is not a passive reception of Truths dictated by old men in vestments once a week in dusty buildings. While it can deteriorate into this, and while this is more than enough to satisfy some (most?) people, it is not what you find in the catechism, nor when you scratch the surface of the church and start asking (undeterred) questions. Sure, some church members (or teachers or officials) might be uncomfortable. Sure, you might run into some static from people that should know better. However, it is your responsibility to apprehend what’s easily available to you, regardless of whether you are a skeptic, an atheist, someone disillusioned, or an interested believer.

On to the question of salvation and belief. This necessitates defining “what it is that saves you”. There are three basic tenets of the Protestant/Catholic Faith/Works schism that played out over the various Reformations and Counter-Reformations. It’s really interesting history to read, by the way, if you aren’t familiar with the era.

1. Sola Scriptura (“Bible Alone”)

There is an old quote: “The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is the religion of Protestants.”

This is different in Catholicism, where the bible, church traditions, writings, letters, encyclicals, and other stuff forms a big ol’ blob of “official writings”. A Protestant would (justifiably so, to him or her) hold up the bible and say “No way man, this is the only infallible document.” I happen to fall into the Catholic camp. I think that the Bible is a place to start. However, due to translation issues, figurative speech, and general incompleteness and corruption due to it being written by humans, and due to the fact that I’m a nerd, I give tremendous and equal value to thoughtful philosophical church writings such as encyclicals and other works. I simply prefer and trust a body of work done by a diverse set of people over time, rather than one particular document, no matter how good that one particular document is.

Read “The Wisdom of Crowds” for a contemporary explanation that precisely sums up why I feel this way.

I don’t have any particular argument with or animosity for those that follow Sola Scripture. I don’t think that Sola Scripture the way to pursue a faith life, but if it works for you, then it works for you. You don’t have to agree with but you should definitely respect the honestly-chosen postulates that a person selects for their personal philosophy.

2. Sola Fide ("Faith Alone")
A central principle of the Reformation is salvation by faith alone. The sinner is righteous before God solely on the ground of the merits of Christ as believed in through a faith, in opposition to the theory of the (catholic) Council of Trent, which makes faith and good works equal sources of salvation, with works getting slightly more emphasis than faith. Being Protestant doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t do good works, but it flatly denies their value as sources or conditions of salvation. In other words, you can be a Secular Humanist, and do good works, and a Protestant will still say you are going to go to hell because you don’t “have faith”. Protestants often criticize Catholicism for allowing people to “work their way” to heaven through good works, or for being “too soft” on those dastardly Secular Humanists who have come to do good works through an introspective process of their own.

3. Priesthood of All Believers
Protestants commonly believe that there exists a priesthood of all believers. This stems from a (understandable) rejection of corrupted church hierarchy in the 1400s. However, since no two people think exactly alike on any subject, this makes for a fractured church situation, which is easily seen in reality. From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, membership in the priesthood can’t easily be universal without suffering tremendous communications overload and balkanization. Worst case? Everyone goes their own way, or one step better you have literally thousands of 100-member churches each churning away in relative isolation. This is, largely, the condition in my native South.

So, can you be saved by works alone?

From the Council of Trent:
“For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead and profitless;"
In other words, we don’t care how pious you think you are, if you don’t actually get out there and do some good, your Faith is pointless. Ouch.

Ok, what if you just do good works and don’t want to mess around much with that Faith issue?

Again, Council of Trent:
“And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification.”
The short answer is no, good works alone won’t save you. It’s handled in the first canon of the Council of Trent.
CANON I.-If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.
You are going against the theme of Catholicism here, in other words. This is understandable, since having faith (no matter how simple or how complex, how strong, or how weak) is kind of central to Christianity. However, as I mentioned before, faith alone won’t do the trick either.

CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.


Catholicism and Secular Humanism overlap here (good works: check! Faith: possibly a problem…), where Protestantism and Secular Humanism are completely disjoint (you’re going to hell!). Many Secular Humanists are publicly atheist or agnostic while having a private faith life. If you differ with the assumption that Secular Humanism requires personal atheism, then the path to Council-of-Trent-style Justification is cleared.

Catholicism doesn’t let you either force or prevent someone from acting either contrary to or in violation of his or her conscience, especially concerning religion. So, in the case of someone that is totally convinced they’re a Secular Humanist, and that person is obviously doing good works, then feel free to challenge them to develop a faith, but in matters of conscience, you are not to force them or prevent them from practicing their own faith tradition.

It might seem odd for me to refer to Secular Humanism as a faith tradition, but to me it qualifies. Secular Humanism can be and is defined as a religious worldview based on naturalism, atheism, the primacy of the scientific theory of evolution, and moral relativism. Secular Humanism produces good work and good people, who are all on various paths of discovery about the good, the true, the beautiful, and all other aspects of life that interest humans.

To me, Secular Humanism simply duplicates much of the same sort of results of many religious faiths. It simply starts at a different point further down the pipeline. I don’t have any particular complaint with Secular Humanism except for the problems that are often encountered with moral relativism and the tendency towards materialism. These problems are significant and widely discussed in both religious and secular humanist circles, but are an area of active ethical and philosophical Secular Humanist research. In other words, they’re working on it, so people should stop portraying Secular Humanism as unethical selfish heathens because that simply isn’t true.

A vigilant Secular Humanist will be no more susceptible to failures in morality due to relativism than someone that ascribes to a different worldview. A thoughtful Secular Humanist will be no more susceptible to decadence and materialism than the typical Californian, and possibly quite less.

If you develop a system of belief that guides your behavior, then you are acting in good conscience. Your salvation as a Secular Humanist, according to Catholic doctrine, may not be complete, but you have one foot in the door already.

This begs the question, though – if a Secular Humanist acts in accordance to a moral code that is identical, to say, a Catholic moral code, even though the morals appeared to come from different sources, is the Secular Humanist really a Secular Humanist? Or are they a parallel-universe Catholic? Could God simply be Reason? Could Reason simply be God? Sure, if you have a universalist attitude.

If God can be or do anything, then a facet of God can easily be “Reason”. The invitation to use Reason for Good is issued by God. The rest is up to you.

I prefer to view Secular Humanists as brethren. Perhaps God reaches them in a different way to accomplish the same result – good works done just because good works are the calling of humanity. Maybe some people need fear or a threat of hell (ick). Maybe some people need to feel the solidity of a floor of reason beneath their feet and distrust the non-experiential. Perhaps some people need Zeus, or Peyote, or the Spirits of the Ancestors, or Mother Earth. I really don’t care, as long as the motivation is to do good.

Finally, having faith doesn’t mean you don’t have doubt. “A faith” in something is accepting something without proof. “Having faith” is the process of developing a faith life. They are not the same. “A Faith” is a static and one-dimensional time-invariant statement. “Faith” as in faith in God is a continual process which requires the constant evaluation and growth of the self and does not mean that you have all the answers at any one time, if ever. It isn’t something that’s inherent. It’s learned.

“Having faith” is different for each person. For me, it’s the productive contemplation of the mysteries encountered in life, philosophy, and nature. For other people, it’s a personal relationship with God developed through prayer. For others, it may be the examination of theology and the development of religious thought. For some people, it’s all of this and more.

We’re all guilty of this (deferring to the experts) in at least some aspects of life. In a very specialized society, you will not be able to master everything you need in order to make decisions throughout your life. You save your energy for the big ticket items, like your health care, or your chosen career, or your personal moral code. Some people are totally ok and experience a resonance with a moral code (or religious values) being taught to them in toto as dogma. It works for them, and they go with it. They’re low maintenance. I’m not. Most people I know are not, either, preferring to do the hard work of figuring stuff out on their own, often in the face of people that don’t understand what we’re all about. To them, we’re spending a lot of time re-tracing old ground. However, in my case, I needed to do the work myself, and didn’t like simply accepting what I was being taught.

Fortunately, and like most but not all of my compatriots, I was encouraged to explore and experience by church members. I wasn’t condemned or yelled at or threatened in any way shape or form. Sure, I was challenged, but I took it on as a challenge, and it was definitely worth all the reading and thinking and distancing myself from religion that I did.

About Criticizing Religion - a Postscript

Statements about religion such as “it’s the opiate of the masses” or “obviously nothing more than a method of social and political control” or “nothing more than a dictatorship with good music” assume that religious people are mindless zombies that can’t think for themselves. This is nothing more than snobbish bigoted tripe.

It’s as bad as saying gay people are inherently and inescapably promiscuous or Secular Humanists can’t be trusted because “they don’t buh-LIEVE in the al-MIGH-ty GAWD”.

Catholics, etc. are obligated through free will to develop a faith life in good conscience. Some are better at it than others, but there are literally millions of non-religious people that seem to not want to think for themselves either, easily fall prey to social and political control mechanisms, and don’t even have good music.

Churches are communities of people. People are subject to critique. Productive critique is welcomed. The goal of a critique is to communicate possible errors, shortcomings, or failures. Using pejorative language or making sweeping and negative generalizations right off the bat generally isn’t the hallmark of constructive criticism. It has the additional unfortunate effect of ensuring that the subject or audience of an otherwise valuable critique will immediately discard whatever follows as bigoted.

This makes religious people no different than other types of people. The rules of civil discourse shouldn’t change just because people identify as a member of a religious faith, philosophy, orientation, or creed. Save the snide comments for sitcoms and satires, where we can all then enjoy them… as God intended.

(hehe, sorry I couldn’t resist)

-Michelle Thompson 21 March 2006

Saturday, March 18, 2006

 

Summer Dreams

summer dreams triptych

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

 

Winter Storm on Palomar Mountain, Ham Radio Class, and Repeater Site Hike-in

Tuesday 7 March 2006 Spent wonderful day at zoo, then model railroad museum, then plant pavilion. Took lots of photos, using the telephoto lens at the zoo and the macro lens at the railroad museum and plant pavilion. Geneva had a close encounter with a Peacock and we took the SkyFari ride, which is a small gondola, from the back of the park to the front. I can't walk very far, so this was a "shortcut". The kids had never been on it. Michael immediately named it SkyFerrari, and realized that everything in view was the zoo, and that it really was a very big place.



We took a lot of photos. Here's the set.



Thursday 9 March 2006 We spent entire day at Disneyland with extended family. Geneva, who loves princesses, was in pretty pink princess heaven. There was a princess castle, princesses walking around, and a fairy godmother at breakfast!



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We got a family photo taken!



Disneyland20061



Note the cute Tinkerbell.



I took it easy, I checked into the Disneyland Repeater, I monitored APRS in the area, and generally geeked out while everyone rode rides and saw shows.



The day went really well until I got a very strange phone call from the Palomar Mountain Observatory. This needs a bit of explanation. I organized a ham radio class for the mountain, mainly to serve the volunteer fire department, but also including anyone else that wanted to become a ham. I had reserved the rec center at the observatory since it had a place that most resembled a classroom. This was back on the 24th of February. The class was scheduled for the 11th and the 18th of March.



On the 24th February, a meeting to finalize the reservation was set up for 2pm on Sunday, February 26th. Later that day, the secretary wrote me back and postponed the meeting due to "unforeseen circumstances". I didn't inquire what the circumstances were. I thought maybe illness or accident or else the staff was busy. I hoped that the "unforeseen circumstances" didn't involve anything too seriously bad.



I was told by the secretary I'd been working with (a very professional and courteous person) to wait for a call in order to set up a meeting for the week of March 6th. No one called the next week, so I wrote the secretary back on the 8th of March asking if the meeting was still necessary, and whether or not a phone call would do.



So, since I was expecting a call anyway from the observatory about the reservation of the room, I didn't think much of it. I took the call, and greeted the fellow with "It's great to hear from you!" The reply was "Well, we'll see about that."



How odd, I thought. The next ten minutes were comical, to say the least. I was berated, belittled, interrupted every single time I tried to speak, and even more strange - the guy turned out to not be the guy I was expecting a call from. Instead, this was his supervisor.



He tried his best to bully me and then twice threatened to cancel the reservation. I was accused of taking the observatory for granted and other various vague failures on my part, none of which sounded familiar, since I'd followed all instructions and had a great experience with the observatory staff up until this phone call. I began to wonder if it was an early April Fool's joke. Only thing was that it wasn't really funny.



Since I'd already agreed to meet with anyone at almost any time, and since I'd been told to wait for a call to schedule this meeting, I was kind of confused about this whole conversation.



Being away from my desk (at Disneyland with four small children) this was kind of a surreal moment. It's hard to plan when you don't have your planner, but he refused to let me call him back when I got back to San Diego. I agreed to meet before the class, at 7:30am, just to go over whatever they wanted to go over in using the classroom at the observatory. This, to me, was a somewhat strange request. I'd been completely available for a meeting at any time since the 24th of February, with the exception of late Monday evenings. Why the rush-rush chaos now?



The instructor for the class was set to arrive at 7:45am, and had been willing to meet to finalize the classroom reservation as well. The class was to start at 8:00am. I mentioned that the instructor might be a better person to meet with since he was already going to be there a bit early, and that unleashed another angry outburst from the guy on the phone. I was lectured about how I was the one responsible if for some reason a bunch of volunteer fire department people burned the place down (what a hysterical image), or made a huge mess. Obviously, that suggestion wasn't going anywhere. No matter, I was going to be up there anyway, and meeting at 7:30 vs 7:45 wasn't much of a difference to an early riser like me. I asked him if there was some other issue that was the real problem, but his answer was unclear. Finally he hung up with a BANG. Whew! Weird.



I decided to call the secretary back and ask her if she could give me a better explanation. She had a very interesting story! She said that the person I was organizing the class for (who will be referred to as Happy) had come into the office and put the class on hold, and that he was "going to talk to me about rescheduling it." I told her that was news to me, and that I'd have to ask him about it. I left a voice mail for him to call me back and touch base and enjoyed the rest of the day.



Friday was a great day. I had a doctor checkup, went to the hardware store and got a bunch of raw materials for making wooden toys, had the oil changed in the truck, cleaned the truck for Operation Date Night, called people to do last minute planning for the ham class, and then picked up the kids at preschool at 12:30, had Rubios for lunch, and kept tabs on the weather. A lot of snow was predicted for the mountains. There was debate over how much Palomar, a relatively small mountain in SoCal, was supposed to get. Some predictions said 6 inches. Others, for the San Bernardinos, mentioned a foot or more. Having four-wheel-drive and some experience with driving in the snow gave me the confidence that I would at least be able to get around in any weather. I made sure the instructor wasn't scared away by the weather. His reponse? "They'll have to close the roads to keep me from coming to teach." Right on!



I dorked around with a great software program in the afternoon called Radio Mobile. This was for another mountain project - to get a Traveler's Information Station up and running at the State Park on Palomar. They have the sweetest antenna site, too, so doing the propagation map was just totally fun.



Ken didn't want to go out on Date Night (kids have date night at the gym) so I did some more computer stuff and packed to drive up to Palomar at 9:00pm.



Snow was already falling, and falling down to about 3000 feet. It would eventually fall in San Diego itself, which is a rare event. The only cars I passed were an SDG&E truck (more about that later - this truck was an early harbinger) and a snow plow. The xTerra did great in 4WD-high. No sliding even when the snow got thicker. We couldn't get the gate open at the cabin due to the bottom being already in a foot of snow, but the truck was in the driveway. This was probably not the best place to park it, as I found out the next morning, but it made getting kids and dogs and computers and cameras and clothes inside a lot easier.



UH OH



The cistern at the cabin was empty. This was immediately obvious since the pump was spinning away downstairs, dry. For how long, no one could tell. Ken took the action item to figure it out, since I don't do plumbing. Or windows.



He solved our no water problem by running a hose from the well to the cistern and filling it up that way. It was unclear where the freeze was, but no bursting was apparent. Since it was just under freezing, I didn't expect anything catastrophic. The pipes are below ground, and it had been warm recently.



Now, the interesting thing about Ken is that he really doesn't like microbes. Or toxins. Or no-see-ums of any type. He insisted on using melted and then boiled snow for eating since the hose to get the water to the cistern was now suspect (except apparently for toilets, washing clothes, and washing dishes).



Having drunk from garden hoses all my life, I tried to reason with him, but to no avail. "See how I turned out? I'm FINE!" didn't really make much of a dent in the Impenetrable Fortress of Logic that Ken maintains.



The rest of the day was totally great. It snowed and snowed and snowed and snowed. It was getting deep out there, considering this is San Diego County. The snowflakes were those strange little balls, or bigger crystals, then back to the little balls.



We played, we walked around, I took a few photos, but since it was storming, we mostly stayed in, stayed warm, and read books, putzed around with projects, and did some cooking.



I got up early and looked at the snow. I spent about a half hour trying to get the car dug out, then called the Observatory to see what the status was. I got the guy that I was supposed to meet with originally on the phone. This was pure luck, since I'd called the secretary's desk. It being Saturday, and after a major snow, I wasn't really ambitious about getting through to anyone important. He started in on how I should postpone since the roads were closed to non-residents and the instructor would never get on the mountain in the first place. He was quasi-unpleasant, but I thought that was understandable because there was a ton of snow he had to deal with, and he was going to be busy. I told him I wasn't going to try to get over there at 7:30 if the class was going to be cancelled for the day, and he said he was heading out with a bunch of people to go take care of whatever needed taking care of.



Ken took over Operation Truck Freedom and succeeded. In the process, the North County Times took his photo, thus sealing his fame as "guy stuck in snowdrift tries to free car" forever. I'll try to find the photo. He also attracted the attention of "Happy", who was joyriding in his truck while waiting for Ken to get out of the way so he could plow Birch Hill Road. Ken has all the fun!



So, while all this was going on, I called my friend who was also involved in planning for the ham class, and he suggested redirecting people to the fire station. It's easy to get to, and the students are most likely already there in anticipation of a very busy day. He also said he'd call a contact at the observatory to redirect anyone that showed up at the classroom. I thought that was a great idea, since the guy I talked to probably wasn't going to be available to handle anything extra and getting out of their hair was a good plan.



So, I hiked up to my friend's house at 8:00am. I had the coolest doggie escort ever - he just simply appeared out of the snow. He was a really big dog - sort of wolf-like, very friendly, and stuck with me the entire hike. Here is a photo of him. He belongs to a neighbor.



IMG_45361



It's hard to tell from this photo how truly big this dog is, but look carefully at the photo and how wide the truck tire tracks look in relation to his feet. He easily came up to my hip. He could have knocked me over without much effort. His head was massive, wide paws easily allowing him to cut through the snow. He seemed completely in his element, and hovered around me, nudging my hand and looking at me with big smart doggie eyes.



Once I arrived at my friend's house, my doggie escort dropped me off and took off to walk with someone else further up the road. It turns out, the SDG&E truck I'd passed the previous night had been there to restore my friend's power from a downed limb yanking out their line from their house. SDG&E had showed up within an hour or two and gotten their power back on that night. I looked at all the trees, everywhere, that covered the mountain, and (yet again) had the appreciation that power outages were probably going to be an issue.



I helped dig out my friend's cars, rescued some compost, watched them put chains and cables on their cars, evaluated the trees, met their wonderful bird, helped put a kayak aka "fastest sled on the mountain" on top of a car (a kodak moment for sure) and ate chips. We got down to the main road and arrived at the fire station at 10:00am.



Guess who was there? The instructor, with his old 4WD truck, with chains, and daughter in tow! He was stoked. She was cold. Very cold! It was kind of cold, actually, in the mid-20s. She said she could have gone to the beach today, but thought snow sounded more fun. This is the magic of San Diego County. The beach was sunny and warm, and the ocean is visible - gleaming golden in the distance - from just a few tens of feet away from the fire station. While you're in knee-deep snow. And cold.



When "Happy" saw me, he pulled me aside and told me that there was more to the story than simple crankiness on the part of observatory staff concerning the room reservation. What I heard was amazing. Apparently, someone else who works at the observatory - someone who is also in the ham radio club with me, and has been a bit cranky with me in the past had learned about the ham class room reservation. He is also supervised by the guy that called me while I was at Disneyland, so the connections became clear.



Apparently, this same fellow wanted to put a ham radio class together 5 years ago and it didn't work out. I guess he viewed ham radio classes on the mountain as his turf. Ironically, I'd tried to contact him about helping with the class, and not gotten a response. Since he lives up here, I figured he'd want to help. His view, as told to "Happy", was that he should get to organize the class, and I should handle "overflow". Overflow? Like, in a sewer? Overflow from what? The great pent-up demand to become Amateur Radio Operators? Like being a volunteer firefighter doesn't already mark you as some sort of freak of nature?



Ok, maybe I'm in dreamland, but if there is that much demand that there is overflow, then there will be more ham radio classes in the future and everyone that wants to teach one can. In fact, the instructor of that day's class has been begging for more instructors to teach all over the county.



I offered to "Happy" to let the guy take over the class, even if I had to continue to do the work, if it would make it easier for everyone to get along. It's no skin off my back. "Happy" said it wouldn't be necessary, and to keep doing what I was doing. I agreed with him. I'm thinking that the best thing to do is to just let it go. There's no sense in raising a fuss about someone upset for things I have no control over. Not everyone likes me, and I can't help that. I can only continue to do what I can, where I can, and continue to be civil and cooperative with everyone I work with. That includes everyone at the observatory.



We actually and seriously had a class that day at the fire station and then later at the restaurant. Calls came in all day for the crews, so the instructor focused on teaching the ones that were there so they could train the others. It was under very chaotic conditions with radios blaring and melted snow and boots thumping over the floors, and people talking over each other's heads, and large herds of uniformed folks heading in and out, but it was completely fun and the basics actually got covered - the essential definition of the test, how to approach it, and material for study distributed. We ended the class at about 2:00pm to both give the instructor time to get back down the mountain safely, since the snow was falling heavily yet again, and let the crews go to increasingly numerous calls.



I got a lift back to the house, and spent the rest of the day playing with the kids in the snow. Michael loved it. Geneva got her fill pretty quickly. Her little pink face told me the whole story. "Um, where is my coach? My footman? My warm milk? You mean I actually have to walk through this stuff? I'm going back in to conclave with my PONIES! Thank you very much."



So, she liked looking through the window at Michael playing, much more than actually joining him.



Later on - at 7:33pm to be exact - I was writing an email to a church friend to see if I could get someone else to record mass for me the next day. Chains were required and roads were closed. We were snowed in. At that moment, the power went out. The computer and my cell phone modem were the only things on.



The power did not come back on. I realized that our generator was not taking over. This was bad. The battery in the generator had not been replaced yet, and well - it's kind of necessary. We immediately shut all doors and started a fire in the fire place. It actually kept things really warm. We called it in to San Diego Gas & Electric after noticing the entire side of the mountain was dark. They estimated 12:00am repair time. We could see flashing lights soon at the end of the road and thought that must be a repair truck.



We turned in early, but had to keep the fire going, so it wasn't a solid night's sleep. The power didn't come back on at midnight.



At 7:00am I hiked out to check on things and brought the camera along. I took a lot of photos. The mission was two-fold. I wanted to see if the repeater was on emergency power (CW "P" is added to the ID if it was on emergency power) and if it was, or if it was off-line, then I was going to hike down to the site to do a visual inspection. The repeater came up on emergency power, so off I went.



The walk was really pretty easy, even down the dirt road that hadn't been plowed.



Here is the set of photos from the site. If you saw the video from the other day, then these will be familiar.



Set of all winter storm photos.



The place was totally magically beautiful. There were a lot of limbs down everywhere. I kind of figured that it might take a little longer to get power back on than they thought, especially if whole trees were down back in where the power lines ran.



I hiked back home after taking the scenic route and meeting the same doggie escort from Saturday, still romping around in the snow like there was nothing there. I sent in a report to the radio club board, and answered some other email. We decided to head out in the afternoon since Ken had work on Monday and the power situation would probably not improve. Ken scouted out S6 (South Grade Road) and I packed up and cleaned.



Ken came back with an amazing story. There was a solid line of cars on South Grade Road. It was Deep Impact - the movie grade traffic. Everyone was playing in the snow. Whole families had grills, picnics, wine and cheese parties, shovels and pickup trucks full of snow to drive back down to the city for snowball fights. It wasn't moving. No one was going anywhere.



Since I of course wanted to see this chaos for myself, I said we should of course take South Grade. Ken was up for it, and off we went! The roads were plowed, but still covered in snow, but 4WD-low got us to the main road, and 4WD-high got us down to the traffic jam. We passed one other car. The driver asked me if we'd been down the mountain yet today. The trees were completely encased in gleaming white. The clouds moved back in, and the entire forested mountain-top became an ethereal wood with us moving through the heart of winter.



We made it to the main intersection, then turned onto S6.



Seven miles and 2.5 hours later, we were through what we estimated was over 2000 cars. There were 2WD hondas. There were snowplows, stuck in the traffic. There was a highway patrol car in the middle of it all. There were trucks, racing imports, an armada of minivans packed with kids, and a large bus.



There were people sledding on driveways, in the road, on the road, down what can be only described as cliffs, and across the road. Constant snowballs criss-crossed the sky. There were dogs, people in snowsuits, people in t-shirts, people in jeans. There were kids laughing, crying, and/or staring in shock at this strange white stuff. There was music, laughter, yellling, people trying to direct traffic, people trying to turn around, people spinning out.



It was one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen. And, it was so weird that I didn't take any photos at all. You'll just have to imagine the Rio Carnival - on Ice - mixed with a Street Fair then crossed with a car show.



We made it home with a large amount of snow still on the top of the car. Ken decided to go get some food before it melted, which of course caused people to run into inanimate objects while staring at him in the parking lot.



Listening to the repeater traffic the whole weekend taught me some things. The club and the site are generally pretty prepared, but people tend to pass along stale and incorrect information. People speculate and opine about things that are going on, and it gets assumed to be the real story by people listening, who then pass it on, and it quickly becomes The Truth.



The batteries were rumored to be dead. The power was rumored to be out for over three days when it had been off for less than 30 hours. Emails started zipping around with pointed questions.



I'd already taken site photos, made a couple of reports when necessary, and headed out. I knew this upcoming phase well - and always try to avoid it. There is a time for evaluation and analysis, and now was not it. This was the period in time where the news of an emergency has spread, and everyone has an idea or question on what to do. However, things were already coming back online. However, things were still bad on the mountain for everyone else.



The power had come back on at 1:00am on the 14th of March. 54 hours of outage and the repeater site had done really well, with minimal problems. Sure, the club will take care of the things that failed, but I'm not even going to bother wading in until all the facts are known and people that aren't going to actually do any site work in the future get bored and wander off.



The phones also failed on the mountain, which points to another issue with the communications infrastructure. Our communications group on the mountain will probably get a lot out of this experience, along with the fire department and the community in general. I'll write more as this develops. My cell phone worked for the most part, but coverage is kind of problematic, and in the traffic jam on S6, the cell was obviously overloaded and quit accepting new calls.



SDG&E deserves some remarks here. It's really hard to figure out where the power failed on a mountain, in two feet of snow, with little trails that suffice as roads, where things aren't marked and the snow and the limbs continue to fall. They did a great job repairing things.



So, that was my weekend, guys!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

 

Picture012.jpg


Picture012.jpg
Originally uploaded by Abraxas3d.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

 

SuitSat-1

My SuitSat-1 Video.

I hope you enjoy!

-Michelle

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

 

Project Tolkien Part One

Project Tolkien Part One

This is a photo of my San Diego Model Railroad Museum floor tile. Installed 2006. Each tile is actually part of a railroad motif that goes down the center of each hallway. There are a couple hundred tiles so far. The museum sells them as a fundraiser. Usually people put their name or a memorial name, or a sponsoring company buys a tile. I'm sure you've seen something similar at universities or other places where donations are important.

The black background is the railroad tie. There's two metal decorative strips for the rails themselves on either side. I forgot to get a hallway-scaled photo, but will get one next time I go, so you can better tell what I'm talking about. Since it's a railroad museum, the tiles form a railroad motif.

Balboa Park 0871

pano1

Monday, March 06, 2006

 

Picture008.jpg


Picture008.jpg
Originally uploaded by Abraxas3d.


Sunday, March 05, 2006

 

A Worthy Opponent

A Worthy Opponent v2.0

This is a portrait of the Violin as opponent instead of as instrument.

Chess is a metaphor for the progression that practice enables. Throughout the long course of learning to play a musical instrument, one can be winning or losing as measured against a benchmark of performance quality that may be set too high or too low. Chess is a game with similar aspects, as an advanced beginner finds out the first "real" tournament they play in.

One can resign the game, or perservere to the end. One can also experience the stalemate of reaching a plateau, unable to progress further.

The colors of music can be considered warm, saturated and/or barely controlled. The emotive aspects of both music and color are universal.

The focus is often on one single brief note at a time. Hence the decisions on the coloration and the attempt at soft focus in the photos.

The setting of the photo is a table and chess board that lives in the closet. The violin is mine.

 

Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is one of my favorite places. You might have read about renewed geothermal activity at the park. The March issue of Nature has an article about how a large blob of the earth within Yellowstone Park has risen over the past five years.

The LA Times reported on March 4th that "The bulge, about 25 miles across, rose 5 inches from 1997 to 2003 and may have triggered some thermal unrest at Norris Geyser Basin, including a sudden rise in temperatures, new steam vents and the awakening of Steamboat geyser, the team reported in the current issue of the journal Nature. It is presumed to be caused by the movement of molten rock."

The Great Falls Tribune reported "Steamboat geyser erupted in May 2000 after nine years of dormancy and then erupted five more times between 2002 and 2003. Porkchop geyser also sprang to life after 14 years of dormancy.

Ground temperatures at Norris, the hottest and most unstable geyser area in the park, rose so high in 2003 that Yellowstone officials closed some boardwalks.

And just north of Norris near Nymph Lake, a series of steam vents churned and emitted white clouds of gas.

Scientists studying the shore of Yellowstone Lake found that the caldera has been rising and falling for at least 15,000 years, sometimes swinging more than 10 feet."

All of this is very exciting, since I studied the various geyser basins before and during my Yellowstone visit, and am very interested in going back again.

Here's a photo of one of my favorite terraces in the park. I remember walking beside the very large and intensely detailed structures and thinking how it looked like it was made from dried egg whites and sugar.



Here's a map of the various calderas in the park. The volcano is one of the largest on the planet, and is 40,000 years past due for an eruption. The last major eruption was 640,000 years ago and was of global significance.



Here's another groovy map of the main caldera. This gives an idea of the size of the volcano. Compare this to the size of Mt. St. Helens.



Image above and text below from livescience.com

"The Yellowstone Caldera. The best estimate of the caldera rim is shown salmon. White arrows show interpreted magma migration paths. The red symbols mark volcanic centers that erupted after the caldera formed 640,000 years ago. The areas of known past or present thermal activity are colored yellow. Credit: R.L. Christiansen/USGS"

Saturday, March 04, 2006

 

N-square Diagrams and Karnough Maps

Short paper on the relationship between N-square diagrams and Karnough Maps.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

 

Grumpy Michael

Picture 1831

 

Grumpy Michael

Picture 1501

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

 

Retirement

Retirement: Ready or not? Not, apparently

A summit in D.C. considers what can be done to help workers save more for their post-career lives.

By Jeanne Sahadi, CNNMoney.com senior writer
March 1, 2006: 5:21 PM EST

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) – This week in Washington, D.C. government leaders, retirement experts and financial services executives are meeting to discuss what employers, lawmakers and workers themselves can do to help Americans be better prepared for retirement.
Ok, I'm with you so far, I think to myself as I'm reading this.

Overall, only about 60 percent of workers over 40 who are eligible to participate in their 401(k)s do, and the number of workers covered by a defined-benefit pension has steadily declined. Meanwhile, young workers have the lowest 401(k) participation rates of all workers under 65.
This surprised me. Of course defined-benefit pension plans have steadily declined in popularity. The increasing complexity of rules regarding funding of pensions, the disadvantages to workers who don't stay with the same organization until retirement, and the looming massive unfunded liabilities that many of these pensions face are all reasons that many places have switched to defined-contribution plans. While defined-contribution plans have their own challenges, they are quite popular with workers. The portability of most plans is very useful to those of us that will probably work for seven or more places in our work lives and change careers at least once before retirement.

The fact that 40% of eligible people don't participate in a 401k actually shouldn't surprise me. The U.S. savings rate is quite low. It appears negative in most studies, meaning we spend more than we take in. The reason for this extra-low savings rate is that the U.S. government savings rate calculations don't include home appreciation and capital appreciation. In other words, think of all those home mortgage refinancing advertisements and stock portfolios. However, even including these things, the savings rate is still worryingly low.

Congress is considering legislation that would encourage all employers to offer automatic enrollment in 401(k)s and set the default contribution rate at 3 percent of pay, increasing one percentage point every year until 6 percent of pay is reached.
"Encourage" employers? That's an odd choice of wording. Usually legislation mandates something. "Encouragement" sounds toothless.

Also, 3-6% isn't really that much. 3% of 50k is only $1500 a year. OK, it's something, but it's not much, especially when you look at how much you're allowed to contribute per year to your 401(k) and IRAs.

For 2005, the maximum allowable annual contributions for traditional and Roth IRAs were $4,000. For 401(k) plans, the maximum is $14,000 in a year. Both allow special catch-up contributions for people age 50 and older. For 401(k) plans, the catch-up is an additional $4,000 (for a maximum of $18,000). For IRAs, the catch-up contribution is $500 (for a maximum of $4,500). So, what's the real reason for not maxing out our contributions every year? There really isn't one, considering the huge tax savings that these plans offer, and how really cruddy it can get on a fixed income when you don't want to or can no longer work.

The legislation would also encourage companies to offer a 50 percent matching contribution or contribute 2 percent of pay for all employees whether they contribute or not.
There's that "encourage" word again. Unless it's mandated, most businesses, especially small ones, will continue to do whatever they do.

Of most immediate concern is the status of Baby Boomers, who are next in line to retire.

According to research from Fidelity Investments, Baby Boomers only have enough in savings and other income sources to replace 59 percent of their pre-retirement income. Of those with 401(k) accounts, the average account balance is just $80,000, and many typically save just $2,750 a year toward retirement.
That's just plain sad. $80,000 on average means half have saved more, but half have saved less. $80,000 doesn't go very far if you live another 20 years after retirement. 59% of pre-retirement income may suit many people just fine, though. Working consumes money to make money. You have transportation and clothing and other expenses. It's never made 41% difference in my working years, but maybe it does for people that actually had to look presentable at work, and drove more than 9 minutes to get to their office.

Of course, baby boomers were the last ones to get all those great pensions, so surely they're covered in other ways.

You may think that's because they all have a pension coming to them. Not so. Only 57 percent of them expect to receive a pension, according to Fidelity.
Doh! Now it's not just sad, but inexplicable.

For those who do and who wish to reduce their working hours near the end of their careers, lawmakers are considering changing some rules so that workers could "phase in" their retirement, for example working part-time for their employers from 62 to 65 and collecting a portion of their pension at the same time.
I like the plan where I can phase in my retirement from the start. Like, can I get a gold watch and a party on my first day?

A Watson Wyatt analysis found that a 62-year-old worker making $100,000 could generate between $10,000 and $20,000 more in pre-tax income under such an arrangement than if he entered full retirement at 62 and collected his full pension.

Currently, regulations often prevent most workers from collecting benefits while still working for the company providing their pension.

For workers under 50, the chances of having a pension are declining. Since 1980, the percentage of private sector workers covered by defined-benefit pensions has fallen from about 35 percent to under 20 percent.

And tens of thousands of workers have learned in the past two years that their companies are freezing their pension plans, meaning the workers will no longer accrue benefits and will need to save more to make up for lost accruals.

To help educate the public about what they will need to do to adequately fund their golden years, the Department of Labor, which is sponsoring this week's retirement summit, has just published a booklet called Taking the Mystery Out of Retirement Planning.


Well, there really is no mystery. Delayed gratification can be hard.

You might have to give up some "stuff" to save for retirement. Running the numbers on even the most rudimentary internet calculator, and taking to heart the lessons of others that have had pension and 401(k) problems is another eye-opening responsibility. It's amazing how much money you need just to meet the average needs of an average lifespan in an average cost-of-living area. I didn't have nearly an appreciation for the amount of money needed for retirement until actually running the numbers using some planning spreadsheets.

Things worth doing are rarely easy, and most people just don't think a lot about the future. The only trouble is, the future is inevitable, and people aren't saving nearly enough. It's not that hard if you make it a priority, but it's hard to hear the message through all the noise.

 

How Times Have Changed - Patrick Henry to Jim Bunning

"It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace-- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775.

"Civil liberties do not mean much when you are dead," Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky, Wednesday, March 1, 2006

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