Interpreting Songs—Postmodern Jukebox

By James Wallace Harris, Saturday, July 23, 2016

My generation embraced singer-song writers back in the 1960s. We wanted bands that played their own instruments, and wrote their own songs. Before that, bands and song-writers were often not the same, and popular songs would be performed by all the crooners of the day. Hell, jazz musicians made an art form of interpreting songs. Being part of the generation that grew up with The Beatles, made us prejudice against “cover bands.” I had to age some to appreciate Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra.

Last year I discovered Postmodern Jukebox, a group that specializes in taking modern songs and putting a period spin on them. The best way I can prove what I’m talking about is to play the songs off of YouTube. Listen to “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes. It’s from 2003, and very edgy. Meg’s spare drumming and Jack’s angry guitar make the song unique, driving, defining it’s era. It’s gotten 97 million hits on YouTube. Listen to this original version of “Seven Nation Army” first.

Can you imagine anyone covering this song? Now, lets listen to how Postmodern Jukebox arranges the song. Is it even the same song? Musically, it’s still simple. The words are the same. But the mood of the song has changed. The music of The White Stripes grabs me, but the lyrics dominated in the Postmodern Jukebox production. Of course it’s hard to ignore Haley Reinhart, the vocalist, but she really makes the words more important than the individual instruments.

Here is Radiohead’s “Creep.” The two versions are much closer. Is Thom Yorke just creepier than Haley, so he fits the lyrics better? Is Haley too pretty to be a creep? How much does the rock sound color the song compared to the vintage arrangement by PMJ? Does each of these versions convey a different message?

When Haley sings, “I want a perfect body, want a perfect soul” do you think something different than when listening to Radiohead? Are songs less authentic when sung by people who didn’t write them? Especially if we feel the original songs represent the artist?

How much of a song’s flavor comes from the time in which it was produced? If Elle Goulding had been recorded back in the 1960s, would she have sounded like the Postmodern Jukebox version?

Do I prefer this oldie version because that’s how music sounded when I was growing up?

What if Postmodern Jukebox did the opposite of what they normally do – taking a new song and making it sound old – and took at old song and made it sound new. I’d like to see what they would do with “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” by Frank Sinatra. Could they do it in the fashion of The White Stripes, Radiohead or Elle Goulding?

Visit the Postmodern Jukebox page on YouTube for dozens of more great interpretations.

[If you got this as an email, you’ll have to follow the link below and visit the web to hear the songs.]

JWH

Overcoming Inertia in Retirement

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 19, 2016

In retirement you can do whatever want – if you’ve have the drive. Otherwise you do what you feel. That distinction might be meaningless to many. (I imagine old hippies replying, “If you’re following your feelings, you’re doing what you want.”) The difference defines ambition.

All too often I feel like kicking back in my recliner to daydream about writing while listening to favorite songs on Spotify, rather than actually writing at the keyboard. Just now I was lazing in my La-Z-Boy when this essay occurred to me. I told myself this morning my number one priority was to finish the essay I’ve been working on weeks for Book Riot, and then finish an idea I have for Worlds Without End. (I do have growing guilt over not working on them, but writing this is what I’m feeling.) The trouble is both Book Riot and Worlds Without End each have an essay in the can waiting to be opened, so the pressure to write another isn’t that driving. (BTW, I’m not blaming my laziness of them.)

countdown to ecstasy

In the middle-third of my life, I hated being trapped in the nine-to-five world of work. Before that, in the first third, I hated being imprisoned in the K-12 school system. But I’ve got to admit without that outside pressure I never would have learned much, or put in my 35-years of work. (At least I’m honest about my laziness.)

If this sounds like I’m wishing for someone to crack the whip over me, I’m not. Na, I’m just whining about my own lack of drive. I didn’t have it then, and I don’t have it now. I’ve always admired people who live like guided missiles, always on target. And that’s the confusing thing about retirement. It feels like I’ve reached the target. The social security years can feel like being in the queue for nonexistence. How we fight that is important. It defines the game in the last third of life.

Don’t assume I’m depressed. I’m never bored. I go to bed every night near midnight, regretting the day is over, and wishing I had more time. Every day I do get a few things done I want, but mostly I overindulge my whims. And that’s quite satisfying too, in a heroin kind of analogy. My problem is I have too many things I both want to do, and feel like doing. My lament is I spend too much time with Ben & Jerry’s, and not enough with broccoli. (Not literally, just another analogy.)

Being the puritanical atheist I am, I’m hung-up on doing productive work in my existential random existence.

Most people think retirement is all about not working – not me. I might have a minor guilt trip about being unproductive, but I’m not about to get a job, paid or unpaid. I won free-time millions in the retirement lottery, and just need to figure out how to wisely spend them. This means creating my own definition work. Right now, I gauge productivity in essays. Any day I finish an essay, feels like a productive day. Even if I write a navel-gazing one like this.

If I actually write a hard-to-conceive, hard-to-implement essay, that takes great effort and research, I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain. That’s when I believe I’ve won out over inertia. It’s how I redefine rolling my rock.

JWH

Who Still Reads 1950s Science Fiction?

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Why are people still reading science fiction from the 1950s? I’m always leery to read science books more than a few years old, but crave science fiction written before NASA was created. I’m not alone in preferring moldy, aged SF, but I have no idea how many other fans are like me. I belong to an online book club, Classic Science Fiction, and many of the members prefer 1950s-1970s science fiction. But then, most of us collect social security too, so it might be nostalgia. There are a few younger members, and I’ve wondered how they got hooked on reading SF meant for their parents and grandparents. I’ve been updating “The Defining Science Fiction of the 1950s” with links to Amazon. Most of the books listed are still in print, although many are only available for the Kindle, or from Audible.com.

Are these books bought by old folks remembering, or new folks discovering?

Defining My Task

I know this essay will interest damn few people. I’m going to put a lot of time and effort into writing it, and few will read it. My hope is it will be a honeypot that will attract those folks who also love reading 1950s science fiction, so please leave a comment. My theory is science fiction from this era has distinctive qualities and appeals. My goal is to begin to define those attributes and attractions. I say begin, but I’ve tried this before. Like psychoanalysis, you can’t discover all self-knowledge in one session. I don’t know why I can’t let this past go. And I don’t know how much debugging it will take before my brain will be free.

New is Better

Personally, I believe the best science fiction books written in the last twenty-five years are better crafted than the best science fiction written in the 1950s. Now I’m talking about writing, storytelling, characterization, plotting, and all the mechanics of creating a book. With every decade I believe the skills of writers are evolving. I also believe the imagination and science that goes into science fiction has constantly progressed over the decades. So, why bother reading old science fiction at all? Few science fiction readers read science fiction from the 1920s and 1930s. It’s just too primitive. Most have stopped reading science fiction from the 1940s and 1950s. The 1960s seems to be the oldest science fiction that many modern readers discover, with books like Slaughterhouse Five, Dune, A Wrinkle in Time, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Man in the High Castle.

Time is hard on science fiction. It doesn’t age well. Reading science fiction is the most exciting when you’re under twenty-one. And since every generation has its own hope for the future, the science fiction they embrace is what’s new and exciting. By its very nature, science fiction tends to invalidate its past. Except…

Nostalgia for the Golden Age

If you remain a science fiction fan long enough you come back around to where you began. Most readers go through a science fiction reading phase, and eventually move on to other genres. Most people just dabble with science fiction. The kind of reader I’m trying to identify is different. Science fiction was their childhood religion, born again into faith in the future, like the theological have a faith in the past. Sometimes I feel my obsession with comprehending old science fiction is a kind of exorcism. I’m trying to deprogram myself. Other times I assume it’s just a dynamic of getting older, and I’m merely seeking comfort reads.

I worry as I get older, I’m being sucked into a black hole of nostalgia. I fight this by reading as many nonfiction books and novels published in the current year as I can, but all too often I discover myself returning to books from the 1950s and 1960s. Lately, I’ve been watching old episodes of Gunsmoke and Perry Mason, preferring the ones that came out in the 1950s. I even bought the first season of Gunsmoke from 1955. And I started listening to Gunsmoke’s radio show that came out in 1950. I don’t think that’s typical for folks of my age, since all my friends love new television shows, movies and books. I wonder if I have some kind of time disease that makes me want to travel to the past.

When I was growing up, the Golden Age of Science Fiction was considered 1938-1946,  mostly due to the editorship of Astounding Science Fiction by John W. Campbell. Certainly many of the classic science fiction short stories I read in the early 1960s were reprints from that era. Then Peter Graham said, “The Golden Age of science fiction is 12.” That felt so right that no other age has ever usurped it. The science fiction that imprinted on me at age 12 is the atomic clock by which I’ve measured all science fiction since.

My favorite SF novel in 2015 was Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. I admire it for great intellectual speculation. But, it’s no match emotionally for my favorite generation ship story, Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein. Orphans first appeared in book form in 1963, reprinting two novellas from 1941, “Universe” and “Common Sense” that were originally published in Astounding Science Fiction.  I turned 12 in 1963. Aurora is a much more ambitious and sophisticated novel than Orphans in the Sky. Aurora had more to say about science and science fiction, but it’s the Heinlein story that resonates with my heart.

Time out of Joint by Philip K. DickAll my favorite Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke books were published in the 1950s. I came of age in the 1960s, and my favorite science fiction writers from that decade are Delany, Dick and Zelazny. All their books are dated. They weren’t always enlightened when it comes to political correctness by today’s standards. And they were all men. Two were gay, but I didn’t know that at the time.

The real question is: Are these old science fiction books still readable, still lovable, by later generations who have no nostalgic ties to the past? Who still reads 1950s science fiction?

When Old Becomes Classic

I recently wrote “The Classics of Science Fiction in 12 Lists” over at Worlds Without End. It’s fascinating to see which science fiction books from the 1950s are still being remembered. Because some of these lists were from polls, I assume many of the voters were young. Studying the lists though, show more titles from the 1960s than any other decade. Does that mean 1950s science fiction is finally fading away? Some of the 1950s SF titles are books now taught in school like The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Of the thirteen lists, here are the 1950s books that were at the top of those lists. I note how many lists each were on.

Literary Recognition

Most of the 1950s science books that are available today are from a few publishers that specialize in reprinting old science fiction. Not always. I was surprised to see The Chrysalids by John Wyndham in print from New York Review Books Classics. Does that mean the literary elite are finally accepting the genre hoi polloi? They also publish Chocky, a 1968 book also by Wyndham. What really blew my mind, was NYRBC has a collection of Robert Sheckley stories, Store of the Worlds. And just when I thought I couldn’t be anymore amazed, I saw they have reprinted The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (1973) by D. G. Compton. This is about as shocking as when Library of America began reprinting Philip K. Dick. But, we’re getting away from the 1950s. On the other hand, it suggests that some science fiction is being remembered by people other than old farts who grew up reading science fiction.

I should note that The Foundation Trilogy has been reprinted by the Everyman’s Library, which is a nice distinction too.

Remembering Old Books at the Movies

Of course, the main way modern people remember old books are when they are made into movies. Childhood’s End (1953) by Arthur C. Clarke, was recently shown as a SyFy miniseries. The Ray Bradbury books mentioned above have movie and television versions. The Day of the Triffids (1951), again by Wyndham, has had many visual interpretations. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959), The Puppet Masters (1951) and “All You Zombies…” (1959) have film versions to remind young people to read his books. I, Robot (1950) by Isaac Asimov was remembered in film, but only in title. It would be great if someone would film the stories. And I Am Legend (1954) by Richard Matheson and The Body Snatcher (1954) by Jack Finney are remembered for their horror and science fiction. Most of the science fiction we remember from the 1950s actually comes from the classic SF movies of the 1950s.

Collecting Pulp Magazines

Robert A Heinlein_Have Space Suit Will Travel F-SFCollectors might be a large segment of 1950s science fiction fans. They seek out old science fiction magazines, first editions from specialty presses like Gnome and Fantasy, or first editions of what’s now consider classic science fiction of the the 1950s. Some collectors go after hardbacks with dust jackets or paperbacks with wraps by artists they love.

By the the 1950s, the magazines had switched from pulp format to digest size. So true pulp collectors mine the 1940s and earlier for their collecting habit. Some of those digest magazines are showing up on the internet. A mostly complete run of If Magazine is available at Archive.org, part of its Pulp Magazine Archive. It’s a shame that some authors felt the need to request their stories be pulled. It’s like they have erased themselves from 1950s SF history. I wish the copyright laws made an exception for magazines, so that any periodical older than 25 years could be archive online if the entire issue was scanned as one document. I doubt authors would lose sales. Evidently many people wanted to read the old If Magazines. They have over a quarter-million views. From time to time I meet pulp magazine collectors. Lately they swap digital scans, but in the old days I knew guys who owned thousands of the original magazines, but those artifacts are disintegrating. It’s great pulps and digests are being preserved online, but it’s a shame copyright laws don’t support those efforts. Many of the novels we know from the 1950s first appeared in a 1940 pulp. Another favorite title, Galaxy Magazine, is showing up at the archive. I’m waiting for F&SF and Astounding, the top venues.

What Was Unique?

The Puppet Masters by Robert A. HeinleinUltimately, any novel is about the times in which it was written. Science fiction books from the 1950s were really about the 1950s, and not the future. For those people who didn’t grow up during that decade, what does 1950s science fiction convey about those years? I was born in 1951, so the 1950s were my childhood. My memories of the 1950s were of vast suburbs filled with tiny track houses, hordes of kids playing in the streets, wearing cowboy hats, six-guns, fake coon-skin hats, or space helmets, watching Saturday morning cartoons, or Saturday afternoon Tarzan flicks, hanging around at night observing the grown-ups smoking and drinking, begging for sips, while listening to them argue about divorces and shrinks, or kooky stuff like UFOs, Bridey Murphy and Edgar Cayce, or scary stuff like atomic bombs and fall-out shelters. My 1950s wasn’t Leave It to Beaver 1950s, but we loved watching those television shows that define the 1950s today. Even back then we knew life wasn’t like television, but we wanted it to be.

My life as a kid in the 1950s was a whole lot like Peanuts. The adults lived in their world, and we kids lived in ours. By today’s standards my parents would have been jailed. I walked to school starting in the first grade. When we lived in cities I ranged for blocks on my bike, when we lived in the country, I ranged for miles hiking the woods. I discovered science fiction in the 1950s via black and white television, with tales of space patrols, alien invaders, and monsters. Even though my mother forced me to go to church, I never got Christianity. I believed in rockets and space travel. And that’s probably why I keep returning to 1950s science fiction. It was my religion.

Strangely, the book the reminds me most of my 1950s is Confessions of a Crap Artist by Philip K. Dick. It was written in 1959, but not published until 1975. Most people were Beat back then, not just the Beatniks. Life was simpler, but it had an edge that doesn’t come through in the old TV shows. Maybe that’s why I like Gunsmoke today, it showed more of the grit of my childhood. Actually, all of the PKD’s literary novels remind me of the 1950s. But so does his science fiction novels. Those were about nuclear war, paranoia, invasions, and alienation. Americans in the 1950s worried that Russia was going to bomb us out of existence, and commies had infiltrated our friends and associations. The pod people of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers were a perfect stand-in for fear of communism. Ditto for Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. And those writers combined fear of communism with the UFO craze. Few today remember the wackiness of UFOs.The Body Snatcher by Jack Finney

1950s science fiction spent a great many words imagining the collapse of civilization. But it also imagined colonizing the solar system, and even other solar systems. 1950 began with children’s shows about space patrols, that many adults got hooked on. Long before 1966’s Star Trek we had 1956’s Forbidden Planet. 1950s science fiction often pictured a space patrol as another branch of the American military services. 1950s imagined World Governments, United Planets, and Federations of Star Systems. You have to wonder what happened to America when in 1977, the galaxy became an evil empire.

Another common theme in 1950s science fiction was psychic powers. Science fiction writers believed supermen and superwomen would evolve any day. Childhood’s End in 1953 imagined our replacements, Homo superior, doing away with Homo sapiens. Clarke recycled that theme in the psychedelic sixties with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Theodore Sturgeon and Zenna Henderson wrote about strange people that you wondered if they were mentally ill, gifted or psychic. And John W. Campbell went overboard at Astounding promoting Psi-powers. I don’t know why so many sci-fi stories in the fifties were goo-goo for the woo-woo, but maybe it was a wish for transcendence. In many ways it prefigured the New Age movement that emerged in the 1970s. But some Americans have been hung-up on psychics since 1848, and the Fox sisters.

That’s the thing about reading 1950s science fiction today, or even other novels from that decade. I came of age in the Psychedelic Sixties, and we thought we were unique. But the more I read from the 1950s, the more I realized everything that was going to happen in the 1960s began staging in the 1950s. Before Hippies there were Beats. Before Timothy Leary and LSD there was Aldous Huxley and The Doors of Perceptions (1954). Even though I didn’t discover Jack Kerouac until the late sixties, he became a substitute father-figure when my dad died in 1970. They were about the same age, and both were drunks dying months apart. I’ve been trying to grasp their 1950s ever since.

A harder thing to explain about 1950s science fiction is the humor. You’ve just got to read Robert Sheckley to understand what I mean. Or Fredric Brown. Or the satire of Vonnegut, Tenn, Pohl and Kornbluth. Or the bizarreness of Philip K. Dick. Both F&SF and Galaxy featured lots of humor and satire. I didn’t start buying these magazines until the mid-sixties, but I grew up devouring their old annual collections I found in libraries. I began unearthing the 1950s in 1962.

So many of the great science fiction stories of the 1950s were about the end of the world, or the collapse of civilization. Some of my all-time favorite novels are about the end of the world as we know it, like Earth Abides (1949) by George R. Stewart, On the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute, or Alas, Babylon (1959) by Pat Frank.

The 1950s were strange in that people thought civilization was coming to an end and hoped to expand civilization across the galaxy. What a schizoid dichotomy.  And I grasped that as a kid. Maybe that’s the trip that got laid on me that I’m trying to understand. To me, the absolutely best inheritance I received from the 1950s were the Heinlein juveniles I first discovered in 1964, when I was still twelve (the Golden Age of Science Fiction). In fact, all my reading of science fiction feels like it’s been downhill ever since I first read Have Space Suit-Will Travel, Tunnel in the Sky, Time for the Stars, The Rolling Stones, Red Planet, Starman Jones, Farmer in the Sky, Between Planets, Space Cadet, Citizen of the Galaxy, The Star Beast and Rocketship Galileo. There were other young adult SF from the 1950s that I loved; books by Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov, Donald Wolheim, and the whole series from Winston Science Fiction. But the Heinlein twelve were always the pinnacle of SF for me.

All those kid SF books from the 1950s instilled a belief I’d grow up and live in space. That didn’t happen. Maybe its that promise of a future that never came to be that keeps me reading old science fiction. In some ways I feel like a person that’s died and learns there’s no heaven. Do those of us who read old science fiction do so because we’re trying to recapture the promises of the golden age? I’ve long known science fiction was my religion substitute growing up. Even though I became an atheist to SF long ago, it still haunts me. I just can’t deprogram myself. I will never go to Mars or Heaven. Which is funny, Ray Bradbury has a story called, “Mars is Heaven!”

This self-revelation came to me in 1967, when I read “The Star Pit” by Samuel R. Delany, in the February issue of Worlds of Tomorrow. It’s about the barriers we face in life, about understanding our limitations. Delany knew in 1966 he and I were never going into space, and his story is symbolic for all of us who dreamed those 1950s science fiction dreams, but who would never leave in our space ships.

JWH

p.s.  I know this is a bone I can’t stop gnawing. Anyone who has regularly read my blog, knows I’ve covered this territory before. I write these posts as a form of psychoanalysis. I usually come to two realizations. One, I’m disappointed that the future I imagined as a child, is not the future I found as an adult. Two, I was conditioned as a kid to love certain kinds of stories, and I can’t get away from that pleasure. I’m like an addict that says, “I can stop any time I want” but I don’t. Sometimes I rationalize reading old science fiction by telling myself that I’m studying it as an academic subject. But that’s not quite honest either. One thing I keep urging myself,  is to move forward in time. To relive the science fiction of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, etc.

How Not To Die by Michael Greger, M.D.

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, July 10, 2016

You will never understand the need for health until you have chronic health issues. I wrote a review of How Not To Die by Michael Greger, M.D, over at Book Riot. It got 4 shares. I had made the mistake of not targeting my audience. Book Riot readers are mostly young, so most of them don’t have health issues – yet.

I believe How Not To Die is an essential book for anyone who craves health, but your willingness to read it will be proportional to had bad you feel. It’s a shame we don’t eat healthy our whole life, rather than waiting until we see the shadow of the Grim Reaper to start. If you suffer poor health for a variety of reasons, you should read this book. To be specific, if you have:

  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic pains due to inflammation
  • Mystery ailments and autoimmune diseases
  • Getting old and tired

Then this book is for you. You can get a feeling for why you should buy this book by visiting NutritionFacts.org and watching several of the videos. Dr. Greger is a medical journal reading monster. He analyzes all the data we hear about on the news, that’s always so contradictory and confusing, and then rephrases it so it makes sense. The book is a summary of all this knowledge, broken down into different health problems.

Since I have clogged arteries, and have already had one stent put in, I know what it’s like to hunger for health. I also have spinal stenosis, and know about chronic pain. And I’m overweight. I have learned to control my conditions and lose weight with diet and exercise. I don’t take daily pain pills or anti-inflammation drugs.

esselstyn5Years ago I discovered that physical therapy and exercise would controlled my back and leg pains, and my neuropathy. But I didn’t eat healthy and weighed 240 pounds. Just before I retired, I was having trouble breathing, with dwindling stamina. I had to have a stent put in. That’s when I read Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyne, Jr., M.D., and saw the documentary Forks Over Knives. Both prescribed a plant-based diet for improved health.  Even though I’ve been a vegetarian since the 1960s, my version of vegetarianism wasn’t healthy.

Because I felt bad, I was willing to give up my favorite foods, and go on the plant-based diet. I lost 30 pounds, and felt great. My LDL cholesterol went down to 91. Then I started cheating on the plant based diet. I gain several pounds, and began feeling bad again. My LDL went up. I’ve since become more strict with myself, started losing weight again, and felt better. I know the plant-based diet works because every time I cheat for a week, all my health indicators go negative.

The reason why How Not To Die is such an important book is because Dr. Greger explains the science behind eating a plant-based diet, and why eating what I love is bad. The plant-based diet is not fun. I don’t go hungry, but it’s hard to follow. The main drawback is learning how to cook. The next biggest obstacle is learning to eat different. Plus, I’m troubled because the plant-based diet seems counter to what we’ve been taught about nutrition. I eat little protein and even less fat. Dr. Greger shows overwhelming scientific evidence that following this diet is healthy. And that’s why his book is worth reading. Nutrition science is confusing, and overwhelming. His book and videos carefully shows how in study after study, science is learning that a plant-based diet is healthier, and can reverse the damage done by a lifetime of poor eating. All I can say is the book is convincing, because when I apply it, I feel the results.

The sad thing about all of this is I know how to help myself, but I keep fighting that knowledge. I want to eat foods that hurt me. I know they hurt me because of trial and error. I have more stamina, energy and sense of well-being when I’m on the diet. When I return to eating peanut butter, eggs, cheese and butter, I can feel my arteries clogging. Yet, I crave those foods in an insane way. For the most part I’ve already given up on candy, pop, desserts and other obvious junk foods. When I eat junk food I feel much worse almost immediately. When I give into my sweet tooth, my writing discipline disappears, and I start skipping exercise. I become a couch potato. But with cheese, peanut butter and eggs, its more subtle. I feel happier, but I start slowly gaining weight again, and eventually begin noticing shortness of breath. That’s when I jump back on the diet. But after a couple months, I’ll cheat again.

The title, How Not To Die, is very literal with this book. I doubt many will read it – unless they are suffering. If you are, you might want to give it a try.

JWH

You’re Going to Need a Bigger Wall

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The UNHCR recently reported that 65.3 million people were displaced around the world in 2015, or 24 people per minute. All indications suggest a higher figure for 2016. Civilization is a thin veneer, and when it rubs too thin, people move to a thicker location.

Donald Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico because he’s worried about immigration from the south. The British voted to leave the European Union partly because of fears over immigration and refuges. Yet many of these same fearful people refuse to believe climate change. Now that might seem like an abrupt change of subject, but it’s not. The major consequence of climate change is mass-migrations. Just look at the University of Notre Dame Global Adaption Index (ND-GAIN). It ranks countries based on projected impact of climate change.

You can see the full ranking of 180+ countries here. Sooner or later, all the top ranked countries will want to build walls to keep refuges from the bottom rankings moving in. The United Kingdom is ranked #4, which makes it a prime destination for most folks fleeing collapsing civilization. The USA is #11. (Maybe England needs to worry about their American cousins moving back home.) Living in a top ranked country might seem lucky because you’ll avoid the worst of climate disasters, but it also means your country will be seen as a lifeboat to those who are drowning.

I have to wonder if climate change deniers are only pretending not know the truth. Just look at ND-GAIN’s map.

Climate Change Vulnerability Map

Most people in trouble will be moving north. I think wall building is either a conscious acceptance of climate change, or an unconscious awareness. It’s reality is starting to sink in.

Notice that most of the refuges the wall builders fear are coming from countries ND-GAIN are listing as vulnerable to climate change. Have climate change migrations already begun? Many countries in the southern hemisphere are suffering from economic collapse, and countries in the middle east are experiencing political, economic and social collapse. All of those locations also suffer from poor weather and limited natural resources. To solve climate change and mass migrations means solving wealth inequality. That’s a very liberal solution, which probably explains why so many conservatives refuse to accept climate change.

Will walls protect the haves from the have-nots? And why haven’t wall builders proposed programs to create stability in countries that are coming undone? Wouldn’t that be more realistic than building Maginot lines on our borders? Instead they want to tear up international trade agreements, which will only make things worse, and thus accelerate mass migrations. If they’d put the money they’d spend on a US-Mexico wall into the Mexican economy, wouldn’t that be more helpful? Wouldn’t a thriving Mexican economy become more effective than a wall?

Venezuela is #107 on the ND-GAIN list. Just read some of the news stories about Venezuela’s economic collapse. Will they become the new Syrian refuges? Brazil isn’t doing well either. How many wealthy South Americans are currently flying over where Trump wants to build his wall? Isn’t it in America’s best interests to make sure South America doesn’t collapse? If the goal of wall building is to stop refuges, isn’t it more practical to stop the creation of refuges than build walls to keep them out?

Rich people have always built walls to protect themselves from poor people. Whether it was walled cities in ancient times, castle walls in medieval times, or gated community walls in modern times, the solution is always the same – protect what I’ve got and to hell with everybody else. And if past walls are indicators, walls only work when the poor aren’t desperate. When wealth inequality gets too extreme, walls fail. And besides, do rich Americans really want to live like Israelis on the West Bank, or Rhodesians in Zimbabwe? (By the way, aren’t the sales of AR-15s a kind of economic indicator? Who are buying more assault rifles, the rich or the poor? And how many of the 99% think they will be walled in with the 1%?)

Donald Trump and all his wall building followers might do well to get into the wealth redistribution business like Bernie Sanders. I highly recommend they read the following books:

These books show us the future. We can solve our problems, or hide behind walls (for a little while).

Building walls are a last-stand tactic. Think how well walls work with zombies. Which makes me wonder if zombies aren’t modern metaphors for poor people, revealing everyone’s underlying fear of being overrun by world poverty. If you don’t want millions of people moving to America, fight climate change and wealth inequality.

What we want is a sustainable economy that is environmentally friendly. Capitalism, as it currently exists, is a Ponzi scheme that’s transferring wealth from the many to the few, with the huge side-effect of creating climate change. It will collapse if we don’t fix it. And we can’t fix climate change without fixing capitalism. If we don’t change things, the 1% will try to wall off us 99%. Trump’s wall is just the first of many that will fail. Denying climate change is merely sticking your head in the sand. Building Trump’s wall is acceptance of climate change, but no actual protection. Trump’s wall is no more practical than The Tower of Babel.

Update:

After writing this I began to wonder how often people and society change. Are we condemned to always follow the same behaviors? That made me think of When Everything Changed by Gail Collins. After I had read that book I realized our society had changed more because of women’s rights than the introduction of computers and smartphones. We’re constantly adapting. And that’s hopeful to realize.

JWH

Anne, The Human, Raises Robbie, the Starling

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, June 27, 2016

My friend Anne was given a nestling that was found by a daughter of one of her friends. Anne has pet birds, so they assumed she’d know what to do. She didn’t, but she called around and found out. At first, Anne thought Robbie was a robin, thus the name. As he (she?) got bigger it was obvious the name should have been Stevie. Robbie was fed cat food to begin with, and then mealworms and crickets, which Anne bought from Petco. Anne had Robbie for over two weeks and he grew like crazy, plus he decided she was his Mom. If Anne was around when Robbie was out of the cage, he wanted to sit on her head.

Robbie really liked and trusted Anne. When I visited them he wasn’t too keen on me, but he did let me feed him mealworms, but he didn’t want to get on my hand or head.

Anne assume she had to keep Robbie until he knew how to take care of himself, but wasn’t sure how to know when he could. She wondered if Robbie needed parents to show him where to find food and water. I told her I assumed birds worked more from instinct than education. I said that since Robbie was flying around the porch, that he was probably old enough to be on his own. So we let Robbie go free.

You can’t see it in this video, but after Robbie flies into the tree he immediately starts eating. We couldn’t see what, but we think he was picking bugs off the tree. Later that afternoon Anne called to Robbie and he came back down. She tried to put him in the cage so he could drink water, but he would have none of that. She let him fly back up into the trees. He would fly between the trees, or top of the house, as she worked in the yard.

We’re curious how long Robbie will hang around. I assume he will do the same things he would have if he had just left the nest naturally. Would he have hung out with his parents? I don’t know. I hope he finds some other starlings to join their flock.

This was a wonderful experience for Anne, although it was emotionally rough at times, especially when she had to let Robbie fly away. Anne and Robbie’s time together reminded me of a miniature version of “My Life as a Turkey,” the classic Nature episode on PBS.

Update: Anne reported this morning: “I called to him and sure enough he flew down, getting closer and closer til he was close enough to land on my head. I put him on top of the cage and fed him, but not as much as he wanted to be fed so he’ll have to figure it out himself. I cld recognize his call, like any good mother!!!! So he made it thru the night, and whatever rain we got, fine. He looked very good and strong.”

JWH

The Impact of Marie Kondo and Ebooks on Used Book Sales

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, June 15, 2016

There are some books I know I want new in hardback, even when I can’t afford them. Other new books require a bit of worry before buying — reading reviews and customer comments. Then there’s a class of new books I tell myself to snag when they show up used.

“My name is Jim , and I’m a used book addict.”

I’ve had this addiction since 1965 when I discovered a dusty old bookstore in Perrine, Florida. I was in the 8th grade, and could buy old books for a dime. Many times in my life I’ve tried to overcome this compulsive behavior, but never succeeded. Now, after a half-century later of struggle, I’ve gotten my habit down to just two shopping trips a week. Although, it’s not due to self-discipline. Marie Kondo and ebooks have changed me.

used-books

I can’t prove this assertion, but I believe fewer recent hardbacks are showing up for sale used. I think ebooks are at fault. I also assume bookworms who still buy hardbacks keep them. I do have other theories why I’m seeing fewer recent hardbacks used. Hordes of home-business entrepreneurs now scour bookshops, garage sales, Goodwills, estate sales, library sales to buy up used books to resale to Amazon. Finally, I think more people like me have become used book addicts.

Demand is up, supply is down. My gut feeling though, tells me ebooks are making the biggest impact.

Not only are people buying ebooks instead of hardbacks when books first come out, but there’s also a booming business is discount ebooks. I subscribe to five daily newsletter that keep me posted about ebook bargains. Publishers wait for when new book sales drop to a certain point, and then slash the ebook price to $1.99 or $2.99 for a day or week to spike sales and interest.

I buy used books from three sources. The library bookstore run by The Friends of the Library. Average price $3 for a hardback. My local independent bookstore has a used book section. Average price for hardbacks $7. And finally, I order used books from Amazon and ABEbooks. I generally spend $4-$15 for hardbacks. You can probably see where this is going. Why buy a used hardback when I can get the ebook for $1.99? I’ve also become very addicted to Audible.com’s $4.95 audiobook sales. I bought 15 books in the last one.

My digital library is now larger than my physical library. However, this is partly due to Marie Kondo. Currently, my impulse is to buy the first format of the book that I see, whether used hardback, ebook, or $4.95 sale at Audible.com. But Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is transforming that impulse. I now measure the burden of my possessions by their weight. I feel the weightless purchases of ebooks and digital audiobooks exempt me from the laws of the KonMarie Method.

My Kindle and Audible libraries keep growing, but I’m thinning my physical bookshelves in an effort to tidy-up my life. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Besides seeing fewer recent books used, I’m seeing a massive influx of older books. Especially books that came out 5-25 years ago. Two of my friends even told me they gave all their books to Goodwill when they got a Kindle. So, that’s another way ebooks are influencing the used book market.

I’ve been waiting two years for a cheap copy of Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. The cheapest one I see on ABEBooks is $15.11 plus $3.99 shipping, which puts it damn close to the new price of $24.72 at Amazon. The dang Kindle price is $23.48. The same thing has happened with Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. Luckily, Sapiens showed up as a Kindle deal for $1.99 and I snagged it. I’ve already own both of these books on audio, but I wanted a “reading” copy for study.

In the last couple of years, I find lots of books offered for 1 cent at ABEbooks and Amazon used books. (Of course they make their money charging $3.99 for shipping and handling and then spend less.) I don’t think we’d be seeing so many books for a penny if it wasn’t for the living simple movement.

Bloggers spend a lot of time reviewing and discussing books. It’s much easier to copy a quote from an ebook than to type it from a physical book. When I buy a book I know I’m going to write about, I prefer getting an ebook.

My favorite way to enjoy a book is by listening. But if I truly love an audiobook I end up wanting to “keep” a visual edition for future study. This used to mean a nice hardback, but that’s changing. Now I wait for ebook sales and buy a copy to file away. By the way, a side-effect of buying ebooks over used hardbacks is authors and publishers make money on the deal.

I still buy lots of used hardback books, but they tend to be ones that are not available in ebook, or the hardback is much cheaper than the ebook edition. But something else has changed this year. After I did my first Kondo cleanse, I’ve been hesitant to buy hardbacks. I still do, but when I do, I feel guilty seeing them sitting around if I’m not reading them. I’ve started checking out books from the library again. Returning a library book produces a tiny Kondo-high.

I have to wonder if hardback books will go the way of the typewriter or rotary phones. Dateline NBC recently gave common objects I grew up with fifty years ago but now are rare to to modern kids, and asked them what they were. How many years before they give kids a hardback book and it produces as much puzzlement?

 

If you live long enough, things change. I’m getting used to it.

JWH