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2022 Book #4 – The Horse The Wheel and Language by David W. Anthony

by James Wallace Harris, 1/26/22

Reading about the past is calming my anxieties about the future. The Horse The Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony is not a book I recommend to the casual reader. I expected it to be a popular science book about archaeology, but it turned out to be something much heavier. It’s a scientific work, probably used as a supplemental textbook. I found listening and reading the book to be rewarding and inspiring but it’s not fun. However, it has caused me to do a lot of philosophical pondering.

I won’t try to describe the book, Wikipedia has done an extremely detailed job with hyperlinks. If you want to know what the book is like, here is Anthony giving a lecture. This is exactly like listening to the audiobook.

I bought this book years ago and never read it and gave it to the library book sale. Then I read a popular article about linguistic anthology and decided I wanted to try it again and found a used copy. Still, I didn’t read it. Finally, I found an audiobook version that made it more accessible. I’m glad I had the physical book to refer to, because of its many complex charts and illustrations. This was a rewarding read, but I just want people to know it’s real science, not even popular science, and the going is tough. It took me weeks to listen to it all. Mainly, I want to talk about how I reacted to the book.

For years I’ve been troubled, even disturbed that our species lack real effort to combat climate change. For almost thirty years I’ve been waiting for governments and citizens to change their ways. I now realize that was naive of me. People don’t change. Not that I’ve given up complete hope, but all the evidence tells me our global civilization will never do anything significant about climate change.

That has inspired some existential insights. I expected humanity to grab control of reality and do everything it could to freeze the environment to its 1850-1950 weather patterns and maintain that as a steady-state forever. Once I started studying archaeology I realized that weather has always been changing over our species lifetime, and even for the whole lifetime of the Earth. Humans have always adapted to new weather patterns. It’s probably too fantastic to think we’ll control the weather.

Reading The Horse The Wheel and Language showed that humans have never stayed the same either. We’re constantly changing. Civilizations come and go all the time. Reading and watching documentaries about history and archaeology is teaching me that change is constant. That old saying, “the only thing constant is death and taxes” is true.

On its own specific subject The Horse The Wheel and Language is fascinating, but like I said, I not going to recommend you run out and buy it. Most of it is one giant infodump describing several societies around the Russian Steppes from about 4000-1200 BCE. The most interesting chapters were the early ones about the Indo-European languages and how linguists infer what the Proto-Indo-European language was like, and more specifically to this book, where in the world did the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language lived.

Anthony claims by looking at the array of words in an ancient language and comparing it to the array of objects that archeologists have unearthed, we might pinpoint where those people could have lived. For example, if a language has the word for a wagon, but no wagons are ever found, it’s a not likely match. Or if a language has a lot of words for raising sheep, and lots of sheep bones were found, we might be getting warm. Of course, it’s much more complicated than that. For example, linguists can show how words from adjacent civilizations have passed into a language. I found all this fascinating, but overwhelming.

This is why the words Horse and Wheel are in the title. Only certain early civilizations had horses and wheels. For a long time, horses were only hunted for food. Then they were domesticated for food. Then came riding horses, and finally using horses to pull carts, then wagons. This made me think about how we’ll adapt to climate change. We’ll invent housing, clothing, lifestyles, jobs, political parties, etc. to adapt.

One thing I was amazed to learn was just how many different groups of people existed in a small area in prehistory that we know about. Most people when they think of ancient civilizations think of Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, and a few others. To me, the Russian Steppes and nearby lands sounded like North America before Columbus with countless tribes of nomadic and agrarian peoples.

For a while when reading the book I thought of making a timeline/list of civilizations to memorize but I soon realized that could become a lifetime project. I’ve ordered an archaeology textbook to help me get a bigger picture, but I’m not sure how big of a picture I can manage. Reading this book also made me crave maps, so I ordered a couple of atlases.

Many of these early civilizations lasted hundreds or even thousands of years. That made me think about how often world maps have changed in my lifetime. If the United States of America doesn’t make it to its 300th birthday it won’t be alone. All the descriptions of past changes of civilizations due to climate change, war, technology, disease, etc., make me wonder about what America might be like in the 22nd century. I now understand we can’t keep the weather of the 1950s forever, or the politics of the 1790s, or the technology of the 2020s.

About 85 million people died in the decade before I was born due to WWII, or about 3% of the world’s population. We’ve already put enough CO2 in the atmosphere to kill that many or more by the end of this century. Since we’re not going to stop adding CO2 anytime soon, billions will probably die in the 22nd century. Percentage-wise, civilizations have seen that kind of population reduction before.

I believe conservatives wanted to preserve the social climate of the 1950s, while liberals wanted to keep the weather environment of the 1950s. Neither will get what they want. All the demographics on Americans and America will be so much different in the 22nd century that we wouldn’t recognize either.

I need to stop speculating or worrying so about the future. Studying the past is philosophical liberating for me, but I’m not sure how much I should pursue it either, but I will. Living in the now is what’s important. And that’s why most people don’t worry about the future. I doubt for most of humanity’s existence the future was even a concept. I also assume the reason why so many people embrace various forms of denial is they don’t want to know the future because deep down they fear change. But change is coming. We can’t stop it.

JWH

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2022 Book #3 – The Great SF Stories 25 (1963) ed. by Asimov & Greenberg

by James Wallace Harris, 1/22/22

Normally, I write about science fiction over at my blog that’s devoted to science fiction, but I’m reviewing every book I read in 2022 for this blog. To make it more interesting for my friends who don’t care about science fiction, I thought I’d explain why I’m still reading science fiction in old age even though I believe science fiction is really meant for young people. (For an actual discussion of the stories, I reviewed them here.)

There are thirteen short stories in The Great SF Stories 25 (1963). If I had read those stories at 11 or 12 in 1963, they would have meant something entirely different than how I perceived them at age 70 in 2022. Now that I’m seventy and examining my life with a more critical eye, I realize that my sixty years of reading science fiction is a kind of delusion. I’ve been thinking about delusional thinking since the Trump years. I don’t believe Q-Anon followers, anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, etc., are the only folks who see the world through their delusions. I think we all do.

Generally, we think of science fiction as a specific subject of entertainment, but I also believe science fiction fans believe in certain concepts because of their love of the genre. Science fiction works best when we’re young, giving us a sense of wonder. Like religion, it introduces certain beliefs that most fans keep their whole life.

Science fiction is immensely popular, at least at the movies and on television, but also as a reading category too. There are certain beliefs about the future that science fiction fans embrace. Some of those beliefs are even shared by people who don’t like science fiction, but they’ve come to accept them because science fiction is so pervasive in pop culture. If you examine your own beliefs carefully, you might spot some that come from science fiction.

What’s interesting about these beliefs, and I’ll get to the specifics soon, is they’ve been around a long time, some are even older than science fiction. I’ve been reading science fiction for six decades, and the genre has undergone many changes over those decades. A few ago I started a reading project to read all the science fiction anthologies that collected the best-of-the-year short stories. I started with The Great SF Stories 1 (1939). I’m up to volume 18 (1958) but a year ago I joined a Facebook group that reads SF anthologies, and it voted to group read volume 25 (1963). 1963 is an interesting year, it was the year after I started reading science fiction.

This anthology is a blast from the past in several ways. I have read some of these 1963 stories before, but not when they came out. When I started reading science fiction, I was discovering books from the 1950s and earlier. I didn’t discover “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” until years later. It’s the most important story to me in the anthology and the best science fiction story of 1963. I first read it in Judith Merril’s 10th Annual which I owned in paperback in the late 1960s or The Science Fiction Hall of Fame volume one which I got from the Science Fiction Book Club in 1970. I’ve read it many times over the years, and I still love “A Rose for Ecclesiastes.” It’s a fantasy about science fiction that I wish was my reality.

I mention these details partly out of nostalgia, partly to stress-test my memory, but mainly because “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” is a significant story. Roger Zelazny paid homage to the kind of science fiction I grew up loving as a kid. Back then I wanted Martians to exist. I wanted to believe intelligent life was everywhere in the solar system and beyond. As a kid in the 1950s and 1960s, I was a believer in a lot of crappy ideas. Philip K. Dick wrote a wonderful novel about such believers called Confessions of a Crap Artist. See my review.

Over the decades, in mainstream magazines, science fiction would be criticized by modern literary writers as fiction for adolescents. This always made science fiction fans furious, but I believe it’s true. Most of us just don’t want to grow up. I know I never did. Such criticism was like telling one of the faithful their beliefs were programmed into them as children but aren’t real. Most religious folks cling to their beliefs no matter how convincing the arguments are against them. I’ve gotten some older science fiction fans mad at me for saying atheistic things about our faith, science fiction.

Now that I’m looking back I see how science fiction is something I wanted to believe in, even though it’s mostly just fun make-believe stories. I could say it’s a cognitive perspective that I use to view reality. Unfortunately, I’ve reached an age where I have doubts about any realistic uses of science fiction.

I am like a preacher who has a good job as a paster who has lost his faith but is too old to get work at anything else. I’ve got to keep working, to still be good at my job, but without having faith. I still love science fiction, and I’ve come to admire it in new ways. Instead of a religion or philosophy, I think of it as an art form. I might not believe humanity will ever have interstellar travel, but stories about it can be quite creative.

Each of the stories in The Great SF Stories 25 (1963) worked in a new way for me in 2022. For example, as I read the Jewish science fiction humor of “Bernie the Faust” by William Tenn, originally published in the November 1963 Playboy. I wondered if Tenn was making fun of science fiction fans. In the story, a tough New Yorker businessman thinks he’s taking a rube to the cleaners by selling him the planet Earth, but then fears he’s sold out the human race to an alien. As a kid, I would have wanted to believe aliens were visiting us. Now, I wonder if Bernie was just delusional in thinking the rube was from outer space, and he’s a stand-in for science fiction fans, and Tenn was making fun of us.

In “Turn Off the Sky” originally appearing in the August 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF), Ray Nelson fears a future utopian liberal America. The main character is a Beatnik anarchist who finds purpose in preaching anarchy but falls in love with a prostitute who still believes in capitalism and making money. In 1963, the only Beatnik I knew was Maynard G. Krebs. I didn’t discover the Beats until 1968, and now in 2022, I admire the story for its grittily realistic aspects, but as a kid in 1963, I would have been all caught up in the utopian counter-culture. “Turn Off the Sky” was probably written in 1959, and Nelson predicts many things that didn’t happen until the later 1960s, and explored ideas still relevant today. Many SF writers were very conservative, and even though Nelson was a childhood friend of the hippies’ favorite science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick, I could sense his conservative’s fear of socialism way back in 1959.

Regarding conservative philosophy, I could also see that in “No Truce With Kings” by Poul Anderson, first published in the June 1963 F&SF. As a kid, I wouldn’t have liked this story. As an old man, and lifelong liberal, I still didn’t like this story, but it’s actually interesting in 2022. Anderson imagines a Post-America that’s trying to rebuild. One group wants to recreate the U.S. federal government, but others want to maintain feudal states. Anderson proposes that people are only capable of managing small-scale governments, and the feudal system was the best size for human communities. You see this belief today, especially out in Idaho right now. This story won a Hugo award back then.

The value of reading these old science fiction stories isn’t that they were about the future, but they were about 1963, and reading them today shows how things don’t change.

Philip K. Dick’s story in this anthology, “If There Were No Benny Cemoli” also imagines a Post-America after WWIII, but further in the future. As a kid, I would never imagine a Post-America. I figured the United States would exist into the far future and dominate interplanetary and interstellar exploration. But reading these old science fiction stories I realize that many writers weren’t as confident. In 2022 I’m not confident about our future anymore too. In the story, humans who had colonized Mars return to Earth and the U.S. to rebuild, but they are soon in conflict with humans who had colonized the Proxima Centaurus system and have also returned to Earth to rebuild it too. PKD imagined quite a neat invention in this story. The New York Times was preserved by moving underground, and when it was liberated, turned out to be an AI that presented very accurate news, even becoming an oracle. Again, I see a political savviness that I wouldn’t have perceived as a kid but recognize now. The story isn’t about the future, but 1963. And like the other stories, things haven’t changed.

A more personally relevant story was by Clifford Simak, “New Folks’ Home,” about a seventy-year-old man retiring. Since I recently turned 70, this meant more to me now than it would have back at age 12. Lawyer Frederick Gray takes one last fishing trip into an isolated wilderness before moving into his retirement home. He injures himself and breaks into a remote cabin to save his life. There he finds a completely automated home that takes care of him. The home is an alien outpost on Earth, and it offers him meaningful work and longevity. The work is done by remote access like we do in our current pandemic, but with aliens in other star systems. I’ve always loved Simak stories for their gentle hopeful view of life. Simak wrote a huge number of stories and novels, many of which were about aliens among us, and intelligent robots. Like I’ve mentioned above, as a kid, I wanted to believe aliens could visit Earth, and we’d eventually visit them someday. I no longer believe interstellar travel will be possible. But I do think intelligent machines will emerge eventually – but that might be a delusion too.

One last story I want to mention is “They Don’t Make Life Like They Use To” by Alfred Bester. (F&SF October 1963). Linda Nielsen thinks she’s the last person on Earth. Like Ralph Burton, played by Harry Belafonte in the 1959 film The World, The Flesh, and The Devil, Linda is fixing up her apartment by taking whatever she wants from a deserted New York City. I mention this movie because it’s a favorite movie and I pictured it as I read “They Don’t Make Life Like They Use To.” I love the last person on Earth stories. My all-time favorite novel is this type is Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. As a kid, I wanted to be the last person on Earth, sometimes I still do. Isn’t that a weird desire? But it’s a popular theme in science fiction.

However, I’ve always thought it would be neat if the last person on Earth was actually the last person, but in these stories, someone else always shows up. In the movie, it was Sarah Crandall, played by Inger Stevens. Since Bester describes Linda as Nordic, I wondered if he saw the movie with the Nordic Stevens and decided to just start with a blonde. Also, in the last people on Earth stories, the second person is generally of the opposite sex, so the plot develops sexual tension. In a number of these stories, a third person shows up. Usually, it’s two males fighting over one female. Another movie example of this is The Quiet Earth (1985).

Bester brings about an interesting twist in the end that finally convinces Jim Mayo and Linda Nielsen to get it on. This satisfies us readers who have been waiting for that action, but it wraps up the story too quickly, at least for me. However, the ending reminds me of another last Adam and Eve story, “Quietus” by Ross Rocklynne.

This story combines several themes I loved as a kid. Being the last person on Earth. Rebuilding society the way I think it should be built. Aliens visiting Earth. Aliens discovering the last people on Earth. I have to admit in 2022 I don’t see civilization surviving for many more decades. But then, evidently neither did many science fiction writers back in the 1950s and 1960s. Most people feel we’ll muddle along, like always.

However, in 1963 I really didn’t believe civilization would collapse, or WWIII would happen. As a young person, I had faith in the future. I had faith in a lot of things that science fiction promised. I no longer believe in many of those promises. And for some reason, I think civilization will collapse sometimes this century. (I’m also reading a lot of archeology, and civilization collapse is the norm.)

Reading old science fiction is no longer about believing in the future. Reading old science fiction is about how much we got right and how much we got wrong. It’s probably because I’m old and turning cynical, but I feel the worse thing we got wrong was optimism about human potential. I think technology, society, culture, knowledge, etc. progresses, but not humans. We don’t change.

Science fiction also progresses and evolves. One concept that has emerged since 1963 is the idea of downloading human minds/personalities and uploading them into robots, clones, or virtual worlds. Essentially, the is a new version of immortality, and even heaven. I’ve never believed in this concept, and I have argued with many science fiction fans that do. Some passionately believe it, maybe as strong as the faithful believe they will be reborn in heaven.

We should be careful of the ideas we embrace. It’s so hard to tell if they are delusions.

JWH

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2022 Book #2 – Bewilderment by Richard Powers

by James Wallace Harris, 1/16/21

I often wonder how young people today feel about the future. The only way to have hope is through massive acts of denial. Susan and I never had children, so I don’t know what it’s like to answer their questions as they grow up. Do you lie? Do you hide the news? What do you tell them about the metal detectors in the schools? How do you explain our handling of pandemics or climate change? What do you teach your kids about race relations and the politics of hate? What do you tell your kids about the thousands of failures we are facing as a society?

This is the core of the new novel by Richard Powers. Bewilderment is about raising a nine-year-old kid with emotional problems. He’s probably on the autism spectrum but is very high functioning. He probably has other learning disorders, but nothing is definite. He has trouble in school and his teachers want to medicate him with powerful psychoactive drugs. He has hair-trigger tantrums. His mother has died. How would you cope with such a kid? To make matters worse, the setting is the near future where things have gotten even worse than today. Imagine what the U.S. would be like if Trump was on his third term.

Bewilderment is not marketed as science fiction, but it’s set slightly into the future and talks about technology that might be possible soon. The story often references science fiction and uses its techniques, so I do consider it a science fiction novel. It’s the most gut-wrenching science fiction novel since Flowers for Algernon. If that novel wrecked you emotionally, you might not want to read this one. I found this one even more emotionally devastating.

Theo Byrne is the widower father of Robin (Robbie), a nine-year-old boy who is smart enough to know that humanity is on an insane self-destructive path and he can’t stop asking why. Robbie relentlessly wonders why his father, his teachers, or any of the adults he meets don’t act rationally. Robbie acts out, sometimes violently, sometimes in tantrums, demanding truth and honesty. Robbie is the one sighted person in the land of the blind. Robbie is the person we should all be. And Theo is constantly at his wit’s end trying to help his son.

Teachers want to control Robbie with psychoactive meds, and Theo is looking for any solution but that. Theo is a great dad. He constantly tries to engage Robin in insightful learning. Theo has two tools for calming Robbie. One, he calls on his memory of reading 2,000 paperback science fiction novels for engaging stories to divert Robbie from his meltdowns. Second, Theo is a scientist developing simulations of exoplanets for the day a new space telescope will be launched. He gets Robbie involved in these possible worlds that could be discovered soon. The basis of Theo’s work is to develop as many simulations as he can, so when the telescope detects certain conditions with an exoplanet they can match it to the simulations and quickly understand what we might be seeing.

Theo uses his simulations to visualize being on other planets to engage Robbie’s attention. This works at times, but often it only fuels Robbie’s awareness of what we’re doing to the planet Earth. For a nine-year-old, Robin can extrapolate brilliantly. His bullshit detector never fails.

Bewilderment progresses through one year of Theo’s and Robin’s life. Robbie is obsessed with memories of his dead mother, who was a lawyer for all the save-the-world causes. It’s through learning about his mother that Robbie finds some hope of controlling his emotions.

Like I said, most people will not consider Bewilderment a real science fiction novel. Bewilderment doesn’t have spaceships, galactic empires, time travel, robots, or dystopias — well, other than our own. The reason I like to think of Bewilderment as a science fiction novel is it uses all the sense of wonder I grew up with to give us hope for the real future we’re about to enter.

Unfortunately, Bewilderment shows our science fiction dreams are going to fail us. Or more exactly, we are going to fail them. The rap sheet for our species is long. The list of what we’re destroying grows every day. One of the things Richard Powers believes we’re destroying is our positive science fiction dreams. That like me, he worries about what hopes young people can still find in science fiction.

Science fiction has always been about hopes and fears regarding the future. What happens when science fiction only has fears to work with?

JWH

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2022 Book #1 – The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

by James Wallace Harris

My old buddy Connell and I often talk about the unexpected scientific discoveries made in our lifetime. Back in the 1960s, we both grew up reading science fiction and we had certain expectations about the 21st-century. Now that we’re in our seventies living in that century we realized that science fiction missed so much, and so did our imaginations.

Because we grew up thinking the black and white astronomical photos made by the Mt. Palomar 200″ telescope were the pinnacle of astronomical awareness, we never imagined what the Hubble Space Telescope would show us in color. We never dreamed that astronomers would discover exoplanets or robots would roam the solar system. We thought people had to go to all those places.

Nor did we imagine society being transformed by computers and networks. I never pictured the computer I’m typing on now, or what I could do with my iPhone or iPad.

But one of the biggest discoveries we missed was about animal consciousness. We expected that we’d have to wait for interstellar spaceships to be developed before we’d meet another form of intelligent life. We never realized it was all around us on Earth and in the oceans.

Intelligence and sentience are on a spectrum. We grew up in a time when people believed they were the crown of creation, and all life below us was unconscious and stupid. We’re finally realizing just how stupid we were. See The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness.

There are so many books to read to illustrate what I mean. The Soul of an Octopus is just one, but a beautiful work by a woman that has learned so much about animals by spending time with them. Sy Montgomery writes in a way that we follow her around as she makes her discoveries. You will fall in love with four beautiful creatures, Athena, Octavia, Kali, and Karma. You will cry when some of them die, but you will also get to meet intelligent alien lifeforms.

I still read a lot of science fiction, I can’t help myself, it’s a lifelong addiction that I no longer try to escape from. But I’ve learned if I really want to experience the far-out I need to read science books, books like The Soul of an Octopus.

My reading goal for 2022 is to read as many intensely great books as I can find. The Soul of an Octopus starts the year with a bang.

JWH

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Do you drive yourself crazy trying to find your next book to read?

by James Wallace Harris, 1/7/22

I do. I’m as indecisive as Hamlet when picking my next book to read.

I’ve just finished The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery which was a wonderful nonfiction book that made me go misty-eyed many times while reading it. It’s a memoir about getting to know octopuses. At first, Montgomery falls in love with Athena, an octopus at a New England aquarium, then spends years getting to know a succession of octopuses at that aquarium, before eventually learning to scuba dive so she can visit octopuses in the wild from the world.

I thoroughly loved this book, and whenever I read a great book, I want to be very careful picking my next book to read. I’ve had an impressive streak of great reads, both novels, and nonfiction, and I hate to break it. The Soul of an Octopus is the first book I’ve finished in 2022. I want my second book to be just as moving and inspirational.

Right now, I feel I’m in the mood for a novel, but I’m always feeling something different from one moment to the next. I started Around the World in 80 Days just before the premiere of the first episode of that story on PBS Masterpiece last Sunday. That novel is good, but I’m not sure it’s good enough for my next read.

I’m supposed to be reading The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim for my nonfiction book club, and I’ve started it too. But I’m afraid it’s going to be academic theorizing that will disappoint me. I’m intrigued by the idea of why reading fairytales could be significant to the moral development of children, but I’m not sure I buy the hypothesis. After reading the entry on Wikipedia on fairytales, I’m tempted to find a book about the history of fairytales but I don’t know if there’s an obvious book on the subject. Once Upon a Time by Marina Warner might be a good starting place. It gets raves from The New York Times and The Guardian.

Is my momentary pique of interest in fairytales just a fleeting distraction? This happens to be all the time. I read an essay and I want to gallop off to read a book. I don’t like reading fantasy fiction that much, but the Wikipedia entry got me very curious about writers studying fairytales. It’s not the stories themselves that attract me to the idea, but the study of them. I already have many unread books on the history of the novel patiently waiting on my shelves, so why should I go buy another book?

This is why I’m writing this essay, to reveal just how chaotic my mind is when it comes to making the decision of what to read. I have thousands of unread books sitting on shelves, both wooden and virtual. When I bought each of those books, I thought I would read it next. That didn’t happen. I got distracted by another idea or book before I could start. Thus my never-ending queue of books waiting to be read.

I also have the list of 2021 books I just blogged about. Rereading that list reminds me I was anxious to read two novels: Bewilderment by Richard Powers and Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr, and was strongly considering two more, No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood or Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead. All four of them were on many best-of-the-year lists for 2021, and in all likelihood, would be tremendous books — just what I’m in the mood for.

Yes, I should very definitely read a great contemporary novel. I’m almost convinced that’s what I should do. Then, seeping up from deep down in my unconscious mind is the urge to read a science fiction novel. One that will thrill me like those science fiction novels thrilled me when I was 13. I think that desire comes from just getting over Covid. Whenever I’m sick, I get nostalgic for classic science fiction. I’m tempted to read Orion Shall Rise by Poul Anderson after researching reading his novella “No Truce with Kings.” I was intrigued by Anderson’s desire to write a novel about future societies trying to rebuild after our global society collapses.

My reading moods are far less varied than the number of books I want to read. Science fiction satisfies my sense of wonder. Literary novels, either from the 19th, 20th, or 21st centuries make me feel closer to people. Reading nonfiction gives the satisfying feeling I’m learning something.

I have ten large bookcases full of printed books that stare down at me with countless volumes begging to be read. My digital larder of Kindle books and Audible books wanting by eyes and ears is just as many. The reality is I can only love one book at a time. I can be reading on several if I’m only so-so into them. But if I really get into a book, I won’t read anything else until it’s finished.

That’s exactly what I’m in the mood for, to be completely consumed by wanting to finish that one great book. That’s what I’m always wanting. I keep thinking I can consciously choose such a book. I keep thinking I can intellectually figure out what such a book should be. However, it never works out like that.

Until I open a book and get hooked, I never know what book that will be. Yet, there is a part of me, my anal-retentive side, that wants to pick 52 books from my shelves and schedule them on my calendar to read during 2022. That aspect of my personality wants to command what will happen. That part of my personality thinks I bought all those damn books then I should get busy and systematically read them.

The La-De-Da part of my personality just wants to tell the anal-retentive me, “Fuck off.”

Oh, the mental chaos it is to be me.

JWH

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Why It’s So Important to Remember What I Read in 2021

by James Wallace Harris, 12/30/21

Reading is my sixth sense, how I explore the larger reality I can’t observe with my classic five senses. Every year I can only read so many books, making it important to wisely select the novels, nonfiction books, short stories, and articles I do read. Reading changes me. I shape myself by what I read. Each year I work to become more conscious by what I select to read. However, this self-improvement effort is very much like my efforts to eat healthily and avoid junk food. I’m never a saint.

At seventy, my mind is becoming like an old suit with moth holes. Words and thoughts leak out of my consciousness through little missing places eaten away by the moths of time. Remembering is something that’s become very important to me, as much as sex was on my adolescent mind.

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams is the 52nd and last book I read in 2021. It’s an accomplishment to read so many books in one year. And 52 is a good number. It means I averaged one book a week, and that’s a nice reading pace.

I’ve always wanted to be one of those superbookworms who could read 100 or 200 books a year, but my mind and memory can’t handle that much new content. I like to think one book a week is what my mind can handle, but I’m probably fooling myself.

52 is probably too many but I’d hate to read less. I feel I did a pretty good job of picking worthwhile reads, ones I still remember reading at the end of the year, but I have to admit, some of them were not necessarily the best books I could have picked. I will try harder next year. The problem is the conflict between reading books that expand my awareness, and books that soothe my soul.

One way to remember the books I read in 2021 is to remember my favorites, the ones I’d recommend. Links are to essays I wrote during the year.

New Fiction

New Nonfiction

  • The Code Breaker – Walter Isaacson
  • Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause – Ty Seidule
  • Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal – George Packer
  • The Premonition: A Pandemic Story – Michael Lewis
  • Under a White Sky – Elizabeth Kolbert

Old Fiction

Old Nonfiction

  • The Invention of Nature – Andrea Wulf
  • Evil Geniuses – Kurt Andersen
  • The Art of Dying Well – Katy Butler
  • Hackers – Steven Levy
  • The Sisters – Mary S. Lovell
  • LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media by P. W. Singer

Another way to remember is to recall why I read certain books. I’m in a two-person book club with my friend Linda, I’m also a member of an online nonfiction book club, I’m in a Facebook group that reads science fiction anthologies, I have a personal reading goal to read all 25 volumes of The Great SF Stories edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg, I like to read science fiction novels, I love to read popular science books, and I enjoy reading some contemporary and classic fiction.

Two-Person Book Club With Linda

  • Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America – Kurt Andersen
  • Horseman, Pass By – Larry McMurtry
  • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century – Yuval Noah Harari
  • Leaving Cheyenne – Larry McMurtry
  • The Art of Dying Well – Katy Butler
  • Robert E. Lee and Me – Ty Seidule
  • The Code Breaker – Walter Isaacson
  • Elderhood – Louise Aronson
  • Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal – George Packer
  • Crossroads – Jonathan Franzen
  • The Premonition: A Pandemic Story – Michael Lewis

Linda went on to read several more Larry McMurtry books, but I just couldn’t keep up with her.

Online Nonfiction Book Club

  • Underland: A Deep Time Journey – Robert MacFarlane
  • The Sisters – Mary S. Lovell
  • Robert E. Lee and Me – Ty Seidule
  • The Invention of Nature – Andrea Wulf
  • Noise (didn’t finish) –
  • Uncanny Valley (read in 2020) – Anna Weiner
  • Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World –  Fareed Zakariia (didn’t finish)
  • Fermat’s Enigma – Simon Singh (didn’t finish)

I had read The Sisters, Uncanny Valley, and The Invention of Nature on my own and nominated those books. I skipped four books this year: Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake, Forgetting by Scott A. Small, Kindred by Rebecca Waggs Sykes, A Promised Land by Barack Obama.

Nonfiction I Picked

  • Hackers – Steven Levy (reread)
  • Yesterday’s Tomorrows – Mike Ashley
  • LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media – P. W. Singer
  • A People’s History of Computing in the United States – Joy Lis Rankin
  • Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. – Sam Wasson

I love reading about the history of computers, and the history of science fiction. Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. is about the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I also love reading about pop culture history.

Facebook Group – Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction

  • Year’s Best SF 1 – ed. David Hartwell
  • Orbit 1 – ed. Damon Knight
  • The Very Best of the Best ed. Gardner Dozois
  • The Year’s Best S-F, 5th Annual Edition – Judith Merril
  • The Dark Side – ed. Damon Knight
  • World’s Best Science Fiction 1968 – ed. Donald Wollheim
  • The New Space Opera ed. Gardner Dozois
  • The Year’s Best Science Fiction 3rd Annual – ed. Gardner Dozois
  • The Big Book of Science Fiction – ed. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (58% finished)

This group gets me to read a great deal of science fiction short stories. We discuss one short story a day, but I don’t read every day’s story. Still, probably over 200 stories. I really enjoy this group, and I’m learning a tremendous lot about the history of short science fiction. I’ve probably read over 400 short stories this year because of other SF anthologies and magazines I read on my own.

The Great SF Stories

  • The Great SF Stories 16 (1954) – ed. Asimov/Greenberg
  • The Great SF Stories 17 (1955) – ed. Asimov/Greenberg
  • The Great SF Stories 18 (1965) – ed. Asimov/Greenberg

I’ve been working through this 25-volume series since 2018. I’ve become immensely fond of this series. It’s a shame they are out of print. I own all twenty-five in paperback, but I read them on my iPad from pdf copies found on the internet. I keep hoping the Facebook group to vote to read the entire run. We do start volume 25 on the 29th of this month. I’d love to finish off the series in 2022, but that would be reading 7 more volumes in 2022 and that probably won’t happen.

Science Fiction

  • The Ministry of the Future – Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth – Walter Tevis
  • Klara and the Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Children of Ruin – Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • The Clockwork Man – E. V. Odle
  • Past Master – R. A. Lafferty
  • Of Men and Monsters – William Tenn
  • Lords of the Psychon – Daniel F. Galouye
  • The Dying Earth – Jack Vance
  • The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells
  • Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint – Abrashkin & Williams
  • A Gift of Time – Jerry Merritt
  • The Best of Walter M. Miller, Jr. – Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog – Connie Willis

That’s a total of 26 science fiction books. Far more science fiction than I believe I should be reading. Each year I tell myself I should read less science fiction and more other kinds of books, but I can’t seem to break my life-long science fiction addiction.

General Fiction

  • Horseman, Pass By – Larry McMurtry
  • Leaving Cheyenne – Larry McMurtry
  • The Girl on the Boat – P. G. Wodehouse
  • The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford
  • Love in a Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford
  • Don’t Tell Alfred – Nancy Mitford
  • Crossroads – Jonathan Franzen
  • The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
  • The Reading List – Sara Nisha Adams

I’m disappointed that I didn’t read a new 19th-century classic. Last year I read War and Peace. I did read The War of the Worlds, but I’ve read it a couple of times before. I had planned to read Madame Bovery.

2021 Books

  • Klara and the Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Yesterday’s Tomorrows – Mike Ashley
  • Robert E. Lee and Me – Ty Seidule
  • The Code Breaker – Walter Isaacson
  • Last Best Hope – George Packer
  • Crossroads – Jonathan Franzen
  • The Premonition – Michael Lewis
  • Under a White Sky – Elizabeth Kolbert
  • The Reading List – Sara Nisha Adams

Each year I aim to read a certain number of books that come out during the year. Nine is pretty good for 2021, but I’m going to aim for 12 in 2022.

JWH

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The Post-Doom Reading List

by James Wallace Harris, 12/23/21

I’m listening to a wonderful book right now, The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams which came out in August. It’s set in London. Someone is going around leaving little notes that say:

Just in case you need it:

- To Kill a Mockingbird
- Rebecca
- The Kite Runner
- The Life of Pi
- Pride and Prejudice
- Little Women
- Beloved
- A Suitable Boy

The novel is about the people who find those lists, read the books, and how reading changed their lives. Any bookworm should love this book, and most Goodreads reviewers do. I highly recommend the audiobook version because the narrators do the ethnic accents which make the book extra charming.

This inspires me to create my own list of favorite feel-good novels. If I went around leaving a list of books for people to read in these trying times, my eight would be:

We’re living through some hard times and I appreciate books with characters who overcome big difficulties. I’m moving into what I call my Post-Doom Philosophy. I’ve concluded that humanity will not solve its existential problems. Just not in our nature. And it will be better to concentrate on uplifting outselves.

I’m reminded of The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. Our present situation is beyond absurd, one I can’t change. I accept that we’re already in a collapsing civilization, we just don’t know how long it will take before a new paradigm shift emerges. Some civilizations collapse in decades, Rome took centuries. Everyone eventually dies, and all civilizations eventually collapse. We can’t wish either away. We’ve always had the problem of what to do in our last years of life, and just by coincidence this century, we’ll also have to consider what to do in the last decades of our civilization. It’s an interesting philosophical and spiritual challenge.

Just because the future looks bleak we shouldn’t feel all gloom and doom.

My friend Linda and I have a two-person book club where we read mostly nonfiction books together and discuss them on the phone each Sunday afternoon. We’ve read many books about the problems of the world. Linda just texted me asking if we could avoid such books in 2022 and pick books like The Soul of the Octopus by Sy Montgomery. She wants more delightful books. I couldn’t agree more.

If you were making a list of eight nonfiction books to leave around to inspire people, what would they be? What would your list of favorite inspiring novels be?

JWH

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Identifying the Best Books from 2021 to Read in 2022

by James Wallace Harris, 12/18/21

December is the time when we get loads of best-books-of-the-year lists. I enjoy looking at all those lists because I love finding the books that are the most recommended. I can’t read everything. I can’t even read everything that’s great.

I’m lucky to read 4-6 new books as they come out during the year, and sometimes they are among the ones critics have loved. That’s satisfying. For any given year I probably read 10-12 of its best books, that’s including fiction and nonfiction. That’s out of thousands of books published each year, so I get a microscopic sampling of books published. That’s why I work to find the best books, and by best, I mean the most talked about, the most recommended, the most newsworthy books.

I read on average one book a week, or 52 books a year. Most of them are older books, usually from the 20th century, sometimes from the 19th, and on rare occasions even older. I don’t want my head stuck completely in the past, so I try to read 10-12 books each year from the most recent two years. I usually discover a handful of books as they appear during the year, and then identify several more to read in the following year from the end-of-the-year lists.

Over time I’m discovering the most useful best-of-the-year lists. Here are the lists I’m using this year:

Books We Love – NPR. NPR lists over 2,800 books, but they provide a filtering system to help you zero in on the ones you might prefer. Their site has yearly lists back through 2013. Just the button for Staff Picks lists 179 books, that’s way too many. What I do is study the covers. And then go on to other best-of-the-year lists. It’s like the old TV quiz show Concentration, I try to spot covers again from memory. But instead of finding the pair, I try to find covers that are shown on the most lists.

Of their Staff Picks I’ve already discovered the following during 2021:

New York Times Critics’ Top Books of 2021. This is another very long list. But they also offer another shorter list, The 10 Best Books of 2021. Sadly, the long list doesn’t include cover photos, so it’s harder to play my Concentration cover game, so reading the short paragraphs about them is important. And The New York Times even offers an even longer list, 100 Notable Books of 2021, this time with covers. The critics at the Times picked many of the books the NPR critics picked, and many books I’ve already heard some word of mouth. These are the ones I want to try so far:

Vogue, Vulture, and Time have recommendations that are often similar to NPR and The New York Times. Time also recommends another book I’ve already read: The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson. That makes me feel I did pretty good finding books coming out during 2021. And they recommend Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe that’s been on most of these lists. I’m just not interested in that subject, but with so many recommendations I feel maybe I should try it. These lists also reinforce the books I list above that I already want to read.

Publishers Weekly has a website system like NPR that recommends way too many books to consider but has a filter system to narrow things down by genre and interest. Their database goes back to 2010, and their lists have links to the original reviews. Once again I’m seeing the same covers of books I’ve been wanting to read, but I’ve spotted two additional books to add to my list from their Top Ten List: All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles and The War For Gloria by Atticus Lish. I’ve been remembering those two covers from the lists I’ve been seeing, and their descriptions are enticing.

I believe I’ve found a total of 23 books from 2021 that interested me most, and I’ve already read 7 of them. That leaves 16. I doubt I’ll get all 23 books read in the coming year. It depends on how many 2022 books attract my attention first, or how mired in the past I become. If I read all 23 that will double my normal current book consumption habit.

There is one last list to mention, Goodreads Choice Awards 2021. These are voted by members of Goodreads. Sometimes the bookworms pick the same books as the critics, and sometimes not. However, this list at Goodreads uncovers a lot more fun genre titles.

Lastly, I’ve discovered that if I keep these recommended novels in mind, sometimes they appear in sales at Bookbub, or in the Kindle Daily Deal, or on Audible. Also, many of them come to Scribd, a book subscription library. I think of Scridb as Netflix for books. Five of the sixteen books I want to read are already available at Scribd. It’s a bargain at $9.99 a month.

JWH

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Can We Build Tornado-Proof Houses?

by James Wallace Harris, 12/15/21

The recent tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky has me worried. I’m old, retired, and have health issues, so having my home destroyed would be immensely stressful. I feel so sorry for people in disasters like this, but especially when I see old people having to be helped because they are so helpless. I fear being helpless.

One thing I noticed in the pictures from Mayfield is some buildings survived the devastation. My friend Connell told me after Hurricane Andrew hit Miami they realized how houses were poorly constructed and made changes to the building codes. The newer homes are much more hurricane-resistant. I’m wondering if the same kind of codes can be applied to protect homes from tornadoes.

However, I don’t want to wait for new building codes or move to a new house. I doubt there are practical retrofit possibilities. One of the things that trouble me about tornadoes and other forms of weather damage is having to leave my home. If the house is a complete loss, there’s no choice, but what if there’s only some damage? Say a tree crushes one side of the house. I’d want to rebuild, and I wouldn’t want to leave my partially good house either.

So I’ve been thinking of something else. People use to have storm cellars. What if I could have a tiny home or a mother-in-law wing addition to my house that was built to strict specifications, could it survive a tornado? Something that Susan, the cats, and I could live in while our house was being rebuilt, or when storms are about to happen. Would this be practical? And how much would such a building cost?

Is Tornado Alley Shifting to the Southeast?

I’m starting to see reports that Tornado Alley is shifting to the east, with some maps putting it where I live in Memphis, Tennessee. Other people are saying it’s not shifting with widening.

This article says tornado alley is an outdated concept and suggests a new shape.

Then I saw this article about high winds. Now that’s pretty scary.

How big would a lifeboat house or addition have to be? Should it be partially underground? Or could it be built with concrete blocks and a steel frame to withstand most weather-related disasters? It would need to have a bathroom and shower, but otherwise, everything could be in one room, including a kitchenette. Should we assume water and sewer systems survive most disasters? What about gas lines? Or should it be totally self-sufficient?

This is something to think about. Maybe it’s a business opportunity for a new industry. Could a prebuilt pod be designed and mass-produced to reduce the cost of such a need? Basically, a tank-like RV or small house trailer that could be partially buried might be a good design.

Remember the bomb shelter craze of the 1950s and 1960s? Maybe we’ll have a new climate change shelter craze?

JWH

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What Am I Hearing?

by James Wallace Harris, 12/4/21

I got the new Adele album on CD on the day it came out. It’s called 30, but evidently, her face is so famous she needs neither her name nor the album title on the cover. The songs are beautiful, different, and produced and engineered with tremendous sound quality. 30 is not 25, or 19. Adele is exploring new musical territory.

However, this isn’t a review of Adele’s new album. Nor is it a review of the four audio systems I used to play that album. It’s about a quest to hear everything possible in a sound recording. And I mean more than just frequency response. I struggle to pull everything I possibly can out of this album.

We think we listen with our ears. Audiophiles are on a never-ending quest to improve their playback systems. In this regard, I’m only a cheap-ass audiophile. The Holy Grail for audiophiles seems to be reproducing the sound the producers heard when making the record. Is that even possible? Didn’t the producers and sound engineers add magic we’d never hear live in the studio?

I’ve been watching Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back on Apple TV+. It’s a 3-part, 468 minute documentary about watching the Beatles create music. My takeaway is the Fab Four sound a lot different from what we hear on their albums. What I’m hearing when listening to 30 is probably a far cry from what it would be like to stand in the studio and listen to Adele sing.

I’m also listening to at least four works of art at once. We have Adele’s voice, we have the musicians, we have the producer’s creation of those two works, and we have the lyrics that we decode with our experience and emotions. And this album is full of emotion, especially about the breakdown of her marriage.

All your expectations of my love are impossible
Surely, you know that I'm not easy to hold
It's so sad how incapable of learning to grow I am
My heart speaks in puzzle and codes
I've been trying my whole life to solve
God only knows how I've cried
I can't take another defeat
A next time would be the ending of me
Now that I see
   --- "Love is a Game"

I'm having a bad day, I'm having a very anxious day
I feel very paranoid, I feel very stressed
Um, I have a hangover, which never helps, but
I feel like today is the first day since I left him that I feel lonely
And I never feel lonely, I love being on my own
I always preferred being on my own than being with people
And I feel like maybe I've been, like, overcompensating
And being out and stuff like that to keep my mind off of him
And I feel like today, I'm home and I wanna be at home
I just wanna watch TV and curl up in a ball and
Be in my sweats and stuff like that, but I just feel really lonely
I feel a bit frightened that I might feel like this a lot
   --- "My Little Love"

When I play 30 on my four different systems the songs sound slightly different, and each makes me feel different. 30 also makes me feel different depending on which room I’m listening in, and how loud I’m playing it. If I play “My Little Love” in the den, my largest listening room, on my Bluesound Powernode 2i with Klipsch RP-5000F speakers at a loud volume I feel surrounded by music and singing. It feels closest to what I imagine hearing Adele in a small club might sound like. It also has the greatest emotional impact. And this is just streaming the song via Spotify. I believe part of this experience is due to the acoustics of the room and partly due to the Klipsch speakers, which seem particularly good for vocals.

When I play the CD in my computer room, which is probably 12×20, using the Bose 301-V speakers connected to a Yamaha WXA-50 amplifier/DAC and Pioneer DV-563A CD player it sounds almost as good, but has a much less emotional impact. The soundstage is good, but I have to keep the speakers up high on top of Billy bookcases from Ikea. I hear more bass, probably because of the 8″ woofers, and the speakers being close to the wall. It’s a really good sound, and I hear different things in the recordings that I don’t notice in the den.

I also have another system in the computer room, an Arylic A50+ streaming amplifier with Sony SSCS-5 speakers. It has a brighter sound, still surprisingly pleasing for such a low-cost system and 30 makes me feel different listening to it. Finally, I have two paired Echo Studios in my bedroom. If I play them loud enough, I hear a slightly different sound, where I notice even other details, especially since I listen to these speakers as I fall to sleep and often wake up hearing music in a dreamy state.

In all four systems, I sometimes focus on the music, sometimes on Adele’s voice, and sometimes on Adele’s words. Sometimes I even think about how the song sounds compared to other music eras.

When I listen to music I concentrate on it with the same intensity I concentrate on a movie at the theater. If I’m in the right mood, I achieve a kind of reverie where I forget my body and that heightens my thoughts and senses. I can’t get any of my friends to listen to music with me. They all like listening to music when they are doing something, and think it’s weird I want to zone out. I remember when I was young, I’d listen with other people and we’d all space out like we were in an opium den. Of course, we were smoking dope back then. (I remember getting one older guy high who loved music and he claimed he heard things he never noticed before. But wasn’t it always there? Isn’t it just a matter of paying attention?)

I’m sure we all hear music differently. But I keep wanting to hear more as if my current equipment is leaving out sounds I should be hearing. Listening to audiophile reviewers makes me wonder how much I’m missing. I keep thinking my experience would be greater if I only bought more expensive equipment. But that might be me fooling myself.

I keep telling myself I will find more if I just listen with a greater focus on the equipment I already have. I keep telling myself I will hear more if I read and study how the music was put together. I keep telling myself I will hear more if I keep asking “What am I hearing?” I spend too much time watching reviewers of stereo equipment when I should be watching videos or reading books by people who study the music. That what I hear will be improved by upgrading my brain with training. That what I’m hearing is mostly determined in my brain.

(Yet, I yearn for a Cambridge EVO 150 and Klipsch Cornwall IV speakers.)

JWH

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The End of Civilization – Again

by James Wallace Harris, 11/29/21

When I was growing up in the 1950s annihilation by atomic war was a common worry. Kids were taught duck and cover drills, people built fallout shelters, we routinely heard Conalrad tests on the radio, and popular culture was full of stories about WWIII. The famous Doomsday Clock stayed set just minutes from doomsday.

Over the decades there has always been the world is ending forecasts. Some chicken little is always yelling the sky is falling. The new vogue is to claim civilization is collapsing. Routinely following the news makes it hard to ignore such fears.

What if civilization is collapsing? What should we do? The science is quite solid on climate change, and we’ve been warned for decades, but for decades we’ve done nothing significant. A fair number of folks are buying rural plots of land and AR15s but that hardly seems to be a practical solution for everyone.

My guess is most people are ignoring all the gloom and doom, or else going crazy in their own quiet squirrely way. I don’t think there is much we can do. The reason why many analyzed trends lead to possible apocalypses is that the natural thing for everyone to do is to keep doing what we’re always been doing. Humans aren’t big on intentionally making drastic changes to their lives.

If we’re not going to do anything to avert the forecasted catastrophes, then what are we going to do instead? Anxiety and depression are so self-destructive. It’s much too early to panic. We could party like it’s 1999, but the end isn’t that close yet. Enduring resignation will probably be a common plan, but that’s emotionally draining. Taking up Zen Buddhism or meditation might be useful. Enjoying the simple pleasures of life has always been an excellent choice. Ditto for pursuing creative hobbies.

Developing a positive perspective should be helpful. Civilizations always collapse, but often over decades or centuries. There will be a rush to hoard or consume everything left. The well-to-do will grab what they want, which is always more than they need. The practical will learn to live with less without agonizing over what they no longer have. For most citizens the collapse of civilization will be in such slow motion they will hardly notice it. It’s only the unfortunate who become refugees from random catastrophes that will feel the harshest impacts. So knowing how to relocate will be a valuable skill. There are certain preparedness precautions to take, but since nothing is certain, it’s not practical to go overboard with such measures.

Probably most useful is the ability for understanding the true reality of things. Don’t get caught up in delusions, fears, panics, but also avoid over-optimism and Pollyanish thinking.

I bring all this up because of some videos I’ve been watching. I have no idea how valid they are, but I consider the increase of such thinking as a kind of pulse-taking. What do you think of these videos? These three accept doom but try to find a positive perspective with dealing with such doom. They offer wisdom.

If you are a routine YouTube watcher and are signed in, watching these three videos will cause YouTube to offer you more of the same. There are quite a lot of these videos, so be careful. Don’t get overwhelmed.

JWH

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On the First Day of My Seventies

by James Wallace Harris, 11/25/21

When I left the work world back in 2013 I thought I’d apply myself toward writing science fiction short stories in my retirement years. For some reason, I’ve hit a barrier that hasn’t allowed me to do that. Very few people succeed at new creative pursuits in old age. I still hope to beat that statistic.

I’ve decided to attack the problem with a different approach. For my seventies, my goal is to write a nonfiction book. This is kind of an absurd goal since I’m starting to have trouble cranking out blog posts. But I have an idea — aim low, but be persistent. I seriously doubt I can produce a commercially successful work of nonfiction, so my ambition is to write a book I wouldn’t be embarrassed to self-publish on Amazon.

Two things make me think this is possible. I’ve written thousands of blog posts. All I’ve got to do is write fifty 1,000-word essays on the same topic that ties together in a coherent readable way. I already have several ideas that interest me, but can I make them interesting to other people?

At seventy, focus, concentration, and discipline are hard to come by. This week I’ve been watching videos on the Zettlekasten method of taking notes. Those videos have inspired me because they use an external system to organize ideas and build connections. This might let me overcome my cognitive limitations.

The older I get the harder it is to hold a thought in my head, much less juggle several thoughts at once to show how they connect. I’m encouraged I might overcome this limitation with the software Obsidian. That software is designed to help retain what you study and build a knowledge base. To help me remember what I find while researching on the web I’ll use Raindrop.io. I’ve already been using the mind-mapping software Xmind to organize ideas visually. Combing all of these programs might let me construct a large coherent collection of related thoughts and ideas.

I need tools that map where I’ve been and hopefully reveal where I want to go. These tools need to quickly show what I’ve already thought through. I just can’t do that in my head anymore.

Of course, I could be deluding myself. I used to wait until I felt good to work on my hobbies, which is a terrible approach. Now, I never feel good, so I’ll have to push myself to work anyway. That should be good for me. I’m usually drained of all psychic energy by mid-afternoon. I’ve even quit going out at night because I’m no longer functional by late afternoon. Working on this goal feels like I’m rolling a rock up the hill.

I just don’t want to give up, at least not yet. I just don’t want to become a passive consumer of other people’s creative efforts. There’s nothing wrong with that. Consuming creative works still gives me a lot of pleasure. I’m just an old dog that wants to learn one last new trick.

JWH

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On the Last Day of My Sixties

by James Wallace Harris, 11/24/21

Tomorrow I turn 70. Thinking about that made me realize that today is the last day of my sixties. Damn, this decade has rushed by. I retired from work in October of 2013 when I was 62, so for most of my sixties, I’ve had all my time free. I’ve taken it easy and did exactly what I wanted. Looking back I’m not sure that was a good thing. Taking it easy has become an addiction.

A few weeks ago I thought of an idea for a blog about turning 70, but I never got busy on it. Between 60 and 69 I slowed down. I wonder now if I would have been more active if I hadn’t retired. Back then I could work eight hours and still find time to do many of the things I wanted to do. Now I have all my time free and I get almost nothing accomplished.

I can’t tell if this is a natural aspect of aging or dissipation due to not working. Being lazy doesn’t hurt, in fact, it’s quite pleasant, but I do feel guilty. I guess that’s the Puritanical Atheist in me.

I was at my doctor’s office at 7:30 am for my annual physical, then did the weekly grocery shopping at 9:30. After putting the groceries away had a snack and then a quick nap. I went out to lunch with my friend Laurie at 11:30. After lunch, we played one hand of Skip-Bo at 12:30. I was home by 1:30 for a nap, then listened to Adele’s new album, followed by The Kings of Leon’s new album, and wrapped up the afternoon by talking with my sister for an hour on the phone. It’s now about five. Doesn’t sound like I did much, does it? But that was an extremely busy day for me.

I call this grazing of lite activities puttering around in a small land. I wished I worked at my hobbies more systematically so I felt like I accomplished a little something towards a goal each day, but I’m more and more undisciplined as I get older.

Many of my friends who haven’t retired ask me “What’s retirement like?” It’s sort of like summer vacation between fifth and sixth grade, but never having to go back to school. I don’t know if I’m in heaven or the Twilight Zone.

I’m expecting things to get even more surreal in my seventies.

JWH

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The Meaning of Sharing Two Grandparents

by James Wallace Harris, 11/11/21

They say that blood is thicker than water. I’ve never been much into genealogy but ever since my cousin Harold Ervin died a couple weeks ago I’ve been thinking about my cousins and regretting that I didn’t spend more time with them. I keep asking myself why I didn’t and why I regret it so much.

It came to me that cousins are special because we share two grandparents. But what does that mean? I’ve always felt closer to my cousins on my mother’s side of the family. My mother was one of five sisters, and her mother, my grandmother, was a much-loved matriarch of the family. My sister Becky and I called her Nanny, and she had sixteen grandchildren (although one was by marriage).

I actually loved my father’s mother more. We called Ma. My father was one of three boys. But my father’s side of the family didn’t make over Ma as much as my mother’s family made over Nanny. Could sixteen grandchildren versus ten make a difference? I do think my cousin Alana might have made over Ma more. She was always my favorite cousin on my father’s side. It could be that I knew my father’s side cousins a lot less, and thus didn’t know how much time they spent with Ma. One of my big regrets in life is essentially forgetting about Ma after we moved away from Florida. I only went back to see her once.

The above photo shows the last time all sixteen of Nanny’s grandchildren were together. I’m the bald guy on the far left. I’m not even sure when that photo was taken. And I really wish it was a much better photo, one where I could see everyone clearly. But it’s what I have to help me remember, and the poor image is kind of fitting since the memories that day are fuzzy too.

Seven of the sixteen are now dead, and it seems like something very essential to my life is fading away. Even though I have strong feelings for these fourteen people (not counting me and my sister), I don’t remember actually spending that much time with them. I have spent far more time with people that aren’t kin. But these fourteen, and the eight cousins on my father’s side, have a large presence in my memory. Is that because of blood? The most intense memories of my cousins come from the years 1960-1970. Were the kinship experiences I had in adolescence the strongest not because of genetic connections but because everything was so strong during that phase of life?

Looking back I realized that I saw my cousins mostly when my grandmothers were alive. (I never knew my grandfathers.) After my grandmothers died I saw my cousins mostly when visiting my aunts and uncles. Then when my aunts and uncles died, I seldom saw my cousins again. Actually, I haven’t seen my cousins on my father’s side of the family since his funeral in 1970. I do regret that. I also regret that I don’t have a group photo of the ten of us.

Contemplating all of this I realized there are varying levels of kinship bonds. Parents and children are the strongest. But that relationship comes in two modes. Your relationship with your parents, and the relationship with your children. My wife Susan and I have never had children, so I don’t know the second mode. I’m guessing the strength of bonding is greater with your own children. I wonder if I didn’t want children because I never felt a strong bond with my own parents? My parents weren’t happy, and I’ve often thought having children is what tore their marriage apart. Their marital strife certainly affected my desire to have children.

The next most powerful relationship is between siblings. After that, it’s with grandparents. Next, is with aunts and uncles. Then comes cousins. Finally, it’s nephews and nieces. My connections to my cousins were at their strongest when my grandmothers were alive. After that, my aunts and uncles kept me close to my cousins. But once my parents and their siblings were gone the connections to my cousins just faded away. By then, they had their children, and grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. That’s sad that Nanny’s family has dispersed, but natural too.

The passing of my cousins might be hitting me harder because Susan and I are a dead end. I have no direct descendants going forward in time. All my connections to family are toward the past, and they are disappearing. I wonder if we could have felt what we feel now when we were young would we have chosen to have children? Strangely, Susan still doesn’t regret not having children, but I do. However, I don’t think I would have been a good parent, I’m too selfish. Most of my friends don’t have children, but of the ones that do, I see they’re having a whole different life in old age than us childless couples.

Writing this essay has answered my question about why I regret so strongly that my cousins are dying. They are the last of my direct line relatives. Susan and I have eleven nephews and nieces, and we like them very much, but they feel like they are on different branches of the family tree. We never got to see our nieces and nephews that much after they grew up, and they are now spread across the country. They have their own children, and in not many years, their own grandchildren. And how much blood do we share with our nephews and nieces? But I have such fond memories of my aunts and uncles, why hasn’t it gone the other way? Is it because I didn’t try harder?

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been recalling all the times I saw my grandmothers, aunts and uncles, and cousins. I’ve even thought about trying to write down every encounter I can remember – the number is quite finite. I’m starting to think there really weren’t that many meetings. Mostly we met at holiday dinners, vacations, weddings, funerals, and reunions.

For some reason, we have a special bond with people who have the same pair of grandparents. Is blood really thicker than water? Or is it because we knew those people when we were young and gathered on so many special occasions? I will continue to think about this for a while. I wonder what my cousins think? Maybe I’ll send them this blog.

JWH

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Do I Still Want To Be A Programmer?

by James Wallace Harris, 10/28/21

For most of my work life, I worked with computers. I thought of myself as a programmer, it was part of my identity. After I retired in 2013 I still thought of myself as a programmer, but I haven’t done any real programming since I stopped working. I keep thinking I want to get back into programming, but so far I haven’t. I think I need to either start programming or stop thinking I’m a programmer.

The obvious reason why I haven’t done any programming is I don’t have any tasks I want automated. Without a programming problem, I have little incentive to program. I’ve done some piddly stuff with HTML but that hardly counts. No, I need something that requires computer processing power to accomplish.

This morning I watched several YouTube videos about fun programming projects. None really appealed to me. Making my own Sudoku solver or password manager might be fun, but the idea of putting hours of work into something that creates a tool I don’t care to use seems pointless, especially when others have already created superior tools that do the same thing.

I’ve thought about programming a book manager since I’m always frustrated with Goodreads but just entering in all my books in a potentially finished project depresses me. I just don’t want that tool bad enough.

I’m trying to imagine creating a tool that would be a joy to create and use. One thing I’ve always wanted to make is an abstract art generator. Something I could use mathematical equations to produce trippy light shows. This is a super-advanced example of what I’m talking about. I picture myself developing very simple things, to begin with.

This Pinterest page shows works closer to what I might be capable of programming. I’d like to start with recreating the animated sequence in the credits to On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, then expanding on that, making it more interesting, adding user controls, so people can alter what’s happening in real-time.

I keep wanting to create an auxiliary memory system but why recreate what Evernote is already doing. I’ve had one idea but it would be very challenging, and probably way beyond my skill level. I collect scans of old magazines, and sometimes the scans are poor, or the original printing of the magazine was poor. I thought it would be neat to create a program that sharpens the text of these old magazines scans. I fantasize about restoring scans of old magazines to look beautiful.

Notice the I in the word Image at the top of the page. It has white bites out of it. I wonder if it’s possible to write a program that could examine all the letters and come up with perfect replacements that are uniformly sharp and dark. I’d also like to be able to create a background for the text that looks like the paper the magazine used when it was new. Also, notice the L in Likeness, it has a smudgy spot in it. I’d want to program out such artifacts.

I also wonder if it’s possible to create a program that could return faded worn covers so they look like they did when they were new. To brighten up colors, remove wrinkles, smudges, and markings. I want it to work in batch mode since I have thousands of digital magazines.

I have one other idea, but this is super-super advanced. I’d like to write an AI program that could input all my old digital SF magazines and read them. I’d want the program to decipher what the stories are about and build a theme database. Then I could ask it for things like “List all stories that are about colonizing Mars” or “List all stories about generation ships,” or “Create a list of all the major themes you find.”

There are three hard questions I have to ask myself:

  • Do I really want to dedicate the time to these projects?
  • Are these goals beyond my skill level?
  • Am I too old and tired?

I don’t have much discipline left, but I might have enough to apply myself for one hour a day. That doesn’t sound like much, but I’d be damned impressed with myself if I did. I never feel good anymore, and most of the time I’m just tired. I might have the skill to create simple light shows. It would be really fun to write a program to take bitmap images and improve the type, but I’d have to push myself harder than I’ve ever pushed myself before. That would be a miracle. Creating an AI to read magazines is a fantasy.

I believe what I need to do is try creating the light show in Python. If I can’t, I should stop thinking about programming. If I succeed it might give me the psychic energy to go further. If I fail, I can free my mind of some old desires, and clean out programming books and magazines from my bookshelves.

This really is about coming to grips with aging. There are already many physical activities I’ve had to give up. I’m starting to think I might have to give up mental ones as well.

JWH

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Once Upon a Time the Future was So Bright We Had to Wear Shades

by James Wallace Harris

Between Camelot and Reaganomics existed the counterculture. For a very short while we thought we were entering the Age of Aquarius. Of course, it was a childish utopian dream, but a very positive hope. What happened to that dream? Reading The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America by Don Lattin reminded me of those hopes and dreams. Lattin explains what happened to four of the people who sold us some of that hope. Of course, those four weren’t the only ones. Back then, there was an entire army of John the Baptists promising heaven on Earth if we only believed.

In the sixties many of us thought by the 21st-century we’d have conquered war, disease, poverty, injustice, prejudice, inequality, and be living in a society where everyone had equal opportunity to achieve both spiritual and material wealth. We expected to create a world civilization that would make Jesus, Buddha, and all the past prophets and philosophers proud. We expected science to answer all our questions, and for technology to build ecological sustainable lifeboat Earth before we launched our spiritually-wise selves across the galaxy. Some of us called this anticipated transformation the Age of Aquarius, then The New Age, while hoping for the age of The Final Frontier.

Space travel never went beyond low Earth orbit after 1972. After three days of love, peace, and happiness it’s been Altamont every day since. And the doors of perception only led to tragedy and heartache. All our planned communities failed.

Just look at us now. You’d think the second coming had happened and no one was chosen, and we’re begun a thousand year streak of doom. There are damn few Pollyannas left on Earth that can see rays of hope for the future. Unlike Christians who have waited two thousand years without giving up their faith, the counterculture gave up theirs rather quickly. I read where psychedelic drugs are trying to make a comeback. And there are embers of spirituality still trying to rekindle the world but never do. What made us dream such big dreams in the sixties?

Before the dawning of the Age of Aquarius I was a straight-lace kid. I was gullible and believed what I was told. The U.S. Air Force guided my father and the Southern Baptist Church guided my mother. They had expectations for what I should believe, and I had no objections to those expectations. Well, not until 1963 or 1964. During my 12th and 13th year I changed. Looking back I could say it was merely puberty, but the whole country began changing at the same time.

Reading The Harvard Psychedelic Club got me to thinking about those years and changes. Changes that had began much sooner than 1969 or 1970 when I first tried psilocybin and LSD. The making of my counterculture had begun before the drugs, with rock and roll and science fiction. Reading The Harvard Psychedelic Club referenced many books I had read back then that shaped my thoughts. I began wondering about all the influences that had reprogrammed me during the sixties and seventies that gave me utopian ideals.

I remember in 11th grade sometime after the 1967 protest at the Pentagon, when a group of us kids waiting for the school bus discussed the coming revolution as if it was a certainty. Even as a dumbass high school kid I thought it weird that we expected such a huge social transformation. But those hopes kept building. Then in 1968 and 1969 Hair and its music was all the rage and people began talking about The Age of Aquarius. The hope became more than a political transformation, the counterculture began to expect a whole new age, which became the focus of the 1970s. I think all our foolish fantasies ended when Reagan was elected in 1980. By then I was married and working at the job I’d stay at until I retired.

My transformation was really an intersection of countless ideas that came from books, magazines, newspapers, television, movies, songs. We think everything comes from the internet today, but before the world wide web we had plenty of informational input. Reading The Harvard Psychedelic Club reminded me of those books and other information sources, and all the prophets behind those words. For example, I don’t know if people today have any idea of the impact The Beatles and Bob Dylan had on their fans. Rock music was our gospel.

In 1962, when I was eleven, I got hooked rock and roll and science fiction. In 1963 I began rejecting religion when I started noticing that the people at church did not follow what was preached. A Joycean year of doubt ended in 1964 when I realized I was an atheist. I was just 13. My mother still tried to make me go to church but I felt like I was a spy, a pretender, a fraud. I didn’t have a new philosophy yet, but I was open, and about to try many.

Then in 1965 I read Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein and got into Bob Dylan because of “Like a Rolling Stone.” I was still very straight-laced. I remember watching anti-drug and anti-smoking films at school and I was positive I’d never be stupid enough to do drugs or smoke cigarettes.

But only two years later, in early 1967, I read an article in Popular Science about LSD. Instead of sensationalizing the drug with fear and loathing like the news did on TV, the article described LSD as a tool for medical research and exploring the mind. That sounded science fiction. That sounded like something for me.

I can’t remember when I first heard about Timothy Leary. I’m pretty sure I heard about LSD well before I heard about Leary and his famous “Tune In, Turn On, and Drop Out” saying. In late 1968, or maybe early 1969, I read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. That book didn’t turn me onto Timothy Leary either, but The Beats. I knew about Leary in the sixties, but he always seemed like some kind of media clown. Around this same time I began reading The Rolling Stone magazine. It became my main source of counterculture propaganda.

But remember, I was also mass consuming science fiction, which was changing too with its own New Wave revolution. I remember Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner had a huge impact on me, as did Ellison’s anthology Dangerous Visions.

I wish I knew when I first bought Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog. It was probably the early 1970s, but it might have been sooner. The 1970s brought a flood of influential books and magazines. Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke had made me aware of overpopulation in the mid-1960s, but by the late 1960s and early 1970s, the environmental movement was giving us plenty of reasons to change our ways.

By the mid-1970s I became open to trying religion again, but mainly Eastern religions. Be Here Now by Ram Das (Richard Albert), books by Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, and Herman Hesse, and New Age Magazine made me think that spiritualism and mysticism had some answers.

I wasn’t stupid, I knew the dreams were doomed. Books like The Population Bomb, The Limits of Growth, and Future Shock, among many others like them, kept me grounded. Plus, the science fiction books I was reading became more realistic and pessimistic about the future.

Still, we had a great deal of hope about the future. We thought we could solve all our problems. We had the knowledge, we had the technology, we knew the solutions, it was only a matter of getting everyone to work together. That’s when the dream ended. We never could work together. We all separated into our own personal trips. No matter how much visionaries preached, we never could agree.

Reading The Harvard Psychedelic Club also covered the decades of falling apart. Alpert, Weil, and Smith were able to rebuild their lives and become constructive, but not Leary. Their lives parallelled my life and I’m sure all other counterculture true believers. We found ways to be here now. To make do with reality. To give up on our utopian fantasies.

Looking back I also remember what life was like when we were chasing those dreams in the 1960s and 1970s. Things were bleak. The war, the riots, the prejudices, the inequalities, the crime, the bombings, the protests, the generation gap, the oil crisis, the burning rivers, the pollution, the urban decay.

Drug taking and believing in utopian futures were symptoms of the disease, not cures. Much like similar symptoms today. The right-wing countercultures of today have their parallels with the left-wing countercultures of the 1960s and 1970s. But there’s one big difference. We no longer need to wear shades when looking towards the future. That’s rather sad. No, that’s depressingly tragic.

JWH

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Make America Great Again

by James Wallace Harris, 10/2/21

Donald Trump had his shot at making America great again with his tax cuts for the rich. That put us trillions in debt. Why not let Biden have his legislative shot to make America great again? It will add more trillions to the national debt, but why worry about that now when we didn’t under Trump? Besides, the consequences of doing nothing condemns us to failure. And who knows, rebuilding the country might increase the economy letting us afford to pay off the debt better in the future? Isn’t that what the Republicans promised? Why shouldn’t the Democrats have their chance at the same idea?

Isn’t it time to try the trickle up theory? The conservative theory claimed if the rich had more money some of it would trickle down to help all Americans. That hasn’t happened. Let’s try the opposite, make everyone better off, and maybe some of the wealth will trickle up to the wealthy.

To find out what’s in the infrastructure bills, I copied the details from Investopedia. It all sounds good to me. We’ve been avoiding fixing all this stuff for decades. Why not just go ahead and get it done?

We’ve tried the Republican’s method more than once, let’s test the opposite to see if it works?

What's in the $1.2 Trillion Bipartisan Bill

The 2,702-page bipartisan bill contains just $550 billion in new spending. The $1.2 trillion figure comes from including additional funding normally allocated each year for highways and other infrastructure projects. The new spending consists of:8

$110 billion for roads and bridges. In addition to construction and repair, the funding also helps pay for transportation research at universities, funding for Puerto Rico’s highways, and “congestion relief” in American cities.

$66 billion for railroads. Funding includes upgrades and maintenance of America’s passenger rail system and freight rail safety, but nothing for high-speed rail.

$65 billion for the power grid. The bill would fund updates to power lines and cables, as well as provide money to prevent hacking of the power grid. Clean energy funding is also included.

$65 billion for broadband. Includes funding to expand broadband in rural areas and in low-income communities. Approximately $14 billion of the total would help reduce internet bills for low-income citizens.

$55 billion for water infrastructure. This funding includes $15 billion for lead pipe replacement, $10 billion for chemical clean-up, and money to provide clean drinking water in tribal communities.

$47 billion for cybersecurity and climate change. The Resilience fund will protect infrastructure from cybersecurity attacks and address flooding, wildfires, coastal erosion, and droughts along with other extreme weather events.

$39 billion for public transit. Funding here provides for upgrades to public transit systems nationwide. The allocation also includes money to create new bus routes and help make public transit more accessible to seniors and disabled Americans.

$25 billion for airports. This allocation provides funding for major upgrades and expansions at U.S. airports. Air traffic control towers and systems would receive $5 billion of the total for upgrades.

$21 billion for the environment. These monies would be used to clean up superfund and brownfield sites, abandoned mines, and old oil and gas wells.

$17 billion for ports. Half of the funds in this category would go to the Army Corps of Engineers for port infrastructure. Additional funds would go to the Coast Guard, ferry terminals, and reduction of truck emissions at ports.

$11 billion for safety. Appropriations here are to address highway, pedestrian, pipeline, and other safety areas with highway safety getting the bulk of the funding.

$8 billion for Western water infrastructure. Ongoing drought conditions in the western half of the country will be addressed through investments in water treatment, storage, and reuse facilities.

$7.5 bill for electric vehicle charging stations. The Biden administration asked for this funding to build significantly more charging stations for electric vehicles across the nation.

$7.5 billion for electric school buses. With an emphasis on bus fleet replacement in low-income, rural, and tribal communities, this funding is expected to allow those communities to convert to zero-emission buses.

What's in the $3.5 Trillion Democratic Proposal

The Democratic FY2022 Budget Resolution Agreement Framework memorandum is designed to enact President Biden's Build Back Better agenda. This proposal, often referred to as an investment in human infrastructure, is far-reaching and ambitious. It lists the following amounts and areas to be addressed:9

$135 billion for the Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry. Funding to be used to address forest fires, reduce carbon emissions, and address drought concerns.

$332 billion for the Banking Committee. Including investments in public housing, the Housing Trust Fund, housing affordability, and equity and community land trusts.

$198 billion for the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. This would develop clean energy.

$67 billion for the Environment and Public Works Committee. These monies would fund low-income solar and other climate-friendly technologies.

$1.8 trillion for the Finance Committee. This part of the bill is for investments in working families, the elderly, and the environment. It includes a tax cut for Americans making less than $400,000 a year, lowering the price of prescription drugs, and ensuring the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share of taxes.

$726 billion for the Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions Committee. This addresses universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds, childcare for working families, tuition-free community college, funding for historically black colleges and universities, and an expansion of the Pell Grant for higher education.

$37 billion for the HSGAC Committee. This would electrify the federal vehicle fleet, electrify and rehab federal buildings, improve cybersecurity infrastructure, reinforce border management, invest in green-materials procurement, and invest in resilience. 

$107 billion for the Judiciary Committee. These funds address establishing "lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants."

$20.5 billion for the Indian Affairs Committee. This addresses Native American health programs and facilities, education programs and facilities, housing programs, energy programs, resilience and climate programs, BIA programs and facilities, Native language programs, and the Native Civilian Climate Corps.

$25 billion for the Small Business Committee. This provides for small business access to credit, investment, and markets.

$18 billion for the Veterans Affairs Committee. This funds upgrades to veteran facilities.

$83 billion for the Commerce Committee. This goes to investments in technology, transportation, research, manufacturing, and economic development. It provides funding for coastal resiliency, healthy oceans investments, including the National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund and the National Science Foundation research and technology directorate.

JWH

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The Pursuit of Love Leads Me Down a Rabbit Hole

by James Wallace Harris, 9/27/21

My friends Mike and Betsy recommended a new TV series on Amazon Prime, The Pursuit of Love, so I gave it a try. This essay chronicles where their casual recommendation has led me.

As I watched the show on Amazon Prime I was reasonably entertained but disturbed by certain details. For a period piece set the 1920s – 1940s it felt over the top. I doubted people really looked and acted like they did in the show. The sense of a revisionist history was further enhanced by the soundtrack that used contemporary music. I called Mike to chat about my impressions, and he agreed. I knew nothing about the novel the show was based on. We both thought the past couldn’t have been much like that, but didn’t know for sure. Of course, we knew it was a rom-com drama and wasn’t meant to be a history lesson, but it kept sideswiping bits of real history, and that was intriguing.

I decided to research its historical accuracy and discovered that the TV show was based on a trilogy of novels written by Nancy Mitford. They were based on her family, and it was then I discovered she was part of a famous group of six sisters. I remembered reading a review of a book called The Sisters by Mary S. Lovell years ago. I read the review because I liked the book’s cover but details within the review put me off. Two of the sisters had been friends with Adolph Hitler, and several family members had supported Hitler, and one daughter married the hated Oswald Mosley, leader of the English fascists. They just didn’t seem to be nice people to read about. The sisters had become notorious, an embarrassment to their parents, hounded by press, which made them sound like depression era Kardashians. Not something for me.

Still, the television show intrigued me. Was it an accurate portrayal of people in England at the time? Or was it a modern interpretation of how 21st-century screenwriters wanted to glamourize that history. I ordered a copy of The Sisters to find out. I figured the biography would tell me. I also discovered there had been two previous television productions of the story, based on: The Pursuit of Love (1945), Love in a Cold Climate (1949). There was a third book in the series, Don’t Tell Alfred (1960). By the way, I think all three TV productions focus on the first book despite two of them using the title from the second book, but the 1980 series goes into the second book.

My assumption that I’d hate The Sisters from reading the review was completely wrong. The family’s biography turned out to be immensely readable and fascinating. All I can say if if you love Downton Abby, there’s a good chance you’ll love this book. I’ve always been partial to biographies, and this one is a good one. A good biography makes you feel like you’re getting to know someone, and in this book, you get close to nine people (mother, father, son, and six daughters).

I learned that Nancy Mitford had lived a real life version of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s she fictionalized in The Pursuit of Love. I then wondered if the 1980 miniseries, Love in the Cold Climate, that had been on Masterpiece Theater was a more realistic portrayal to the times? I went looking for it but found it’s not available to stream or buy. I did find a used DVD copy to order, but when it arrived it was a Region 2 disc. Luckily, I remembered had an extra DVD player that was region free. (This version is available on YouTube.)

About this time my friend Anne dropped by and saw the biography. She got excited and said she remembered seeing a show on Masterpiece Theater a long time ago based on the Mitford sisters. I pulled out the DVD, “This one?” “Yes, that’s it!” She got even more excited and we decided to watch it together. This version gives Judi Dench star billing as the mother but she doesn’t get much air time. The only other actor I knew was Anthony Head, and his wasn’t a major part either. I did like this version, and I think I’ll rewatch the 2021 version. The main thing about the 1980 version, was the actors, costumes, and sets looked more realistic to how I picture the 1920s – 1940s. The performances were much more subtle, and being eight parts rather than three, included a lot more of the details and dialog from the novels.

By then I was reading the novel, and had encountered some of the family anecdotes four different ways. This was rather revealing about basing fiction on real life events. For example, Nancy tells in her novel how her father liked to hunt his children on horseback with fox hounds. The novel version is a gussy-up memory, but the two television versions sensationalizes the story. When I read the biography Lovell suggests it was probably one old hound one time with a couple of the daughters. And Jessica Mitford also wrote a book about the same family stories of growing up with her sisters, Hons and Rebels, and gives a different view, but I haven’t read it yet. Nancy later on felt Jessica’s memory had been distorted by her book, and that led to squabbles between them. However, all six girls were always squabbling, and all six became very successful in their own ways.

There is another adaptation of Love in the Cold Climate from 2001 what I want to watch, but I’ll have to subscribe to BritBox to watch it. It’s another 3-part version. I’m curious how they present the time period too.

The Sisters was full of history. The Mitford girls were related to Churchill and connected by marriage to the Kennedys, two of them were pals with Hitler, one connected to de Gaulle, and one had connections with the Roosevelts. They all knew many famous writers and became bestselling authors themselves. They were part of the Bright Young Things set. And if you’re into that kind of thing, they hobnobbed with fellow aristocrats, royalty, while growing up in manor houses, hunting foxes, attending coming out balls, following the season, and doing all those things we saw in Downton Abby. Various sisters lived in London during the Blitz and V-2 bombings, Spain during the revolution, Germany during the rise of the Nazis, and France before and after the war. One sister had to go before the House of Un-American Activities, while another was jailed during the WWII for being married to Oswald Mosley.

Here is a nice animated video that quickly covers the history of the Mitford sisters:

Because of all this history, and wanting to know more about the writers they knew, I ordered two more books to read.

This history fills in a time period after the Bloomsbury group that I learned about as an English major and before The Beatles who made England interesting back in the 1960s when I was growing up.

I fell into this black hole of literary history in the same way I fell into reading a zillion books about The Beats and Jack Kerouac, or all the books I’ve read about the Transcendentalists, or the Lost Generation, or the Impressionists, or certain crowds of science fiction writers. I love how an art movement brings people together.

JWH

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Explaining My Addiction to Science Fiction

by James Wallace Harris, 9/26/21

One reason I haven’t been posting much here lately is because I’m writing a short story review every other day on my science fiction site. I’m reviewing The Big Book of Science Fiction, an anthology of over a hundred science fiction stories from the 20th century, including many stories I’ve read over the past sixty years. The whole endeavor is a kind of self-psychoanalysis of a lifetime addiction to science fiction.

I’m slowly realizing what science fiction means to me. In 1960, I became a bookworm in the 4th grade to cope with the stress of growing up. In the 5th and 6th grades I slowly focused that addiction on science fiction. A couple decades ago I realized I had substituted belief in science fictional ideas for my childhood beliefs religion, becoming an atheist around age 12 or 13. But actual space exploration played a part too. Sputnik went up weeks after I began the first grade, and Apollo 11 landed on the Moon weeks after I graduated high school.

When I first started reading science fiction in the early 1960s I knew no one else that read it too. Then in March, 1967 I met my buddy Connell in 10th grade who became my lifelong friend. When I discovered he had read some science fiction I asked him who was his favorite author. I expected him to say Heinlein, since I assumed Heinlein was the absolute best. Instead, Connell said Clarke. We’ve been arguing ever since.

After Star Trek ended in 1969 I realized that millions of science fiction fans had come out of the closet. I joined an APA in 1970, then a local science fiction club, and then started going to SF conventions with my friend Greg. At the time, science fiction fans seem few and far between.

Then in 1977 Star Wars came out, and it seemed like everyone began to love science fiction. But I soon realized that even though the world loved science fiction on TV and at the movies, very few people actually read the science fiction magazines, and only slightly more people regularly read science fiction books.

As a kid, I wanted to be a science fiction writer like other kids wanted to be rock stars, football players, or astronauts. And even though I took writing courses in high school and college I never developed the discipline to write. Later on, I guess as a mid-life crisis, I took off six weeks from work in 2002 and attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop, and afterwards began a MFA in creative writing. I still didn’t have what it took. When I retired in 2013 I thought I’d finally get down to writing, but I didn’t.

Over the eight years I’ve been retired I’ve been reading and rereading a lot of science fiction. It’s become a pleasurable hobby to fill my time. But I’ve also discovered why I’ve psychologically embraced the genre. For most of my life I thought that space travel was important to the development of humanity, and science fiction was a kind of prophetic literature that gave exploring the high frontier meaning. Now I see wanting to leave Earth as a kind of psychological escape, and science fiction is only a minor art form, a specialized kind of fantasy and entertainment.

In my old age, I read science fiction and admire it for creative storytelling. But I know it’s only a couple steps up artistically from comic book reading. I do read literary novels, and know the difference. Science fiction appeals to the adolescent in me. That keeps me positive while the world around me is turning negative. Reading science fiction in my old age makes me realize I never grew up, but then I’m also realizing most of the people around me never have either. As a species we’re not very good at maturing and facing up to reality.

The percentage of people who rely on denialism to cope with reality grows every day. I like to think I don’t deny reality so much as avoid it. Most of the people who aren’t deniers tend to be avoiders. Only a small percentage of the population face up to reality. I don’t mind reading and studying reality, but I have no discipline to live the life I know I should live. Reading science fiction is my way of occupying my mind when I’m not thinking about how humanity is destroying itself.

I admire people who actual do something about the problems we face, but they are very rare. Most of us just fool ourselves that everything is going to be okay and maybe do a few token things to help, but isn’t that really an effort to sooth our guilt? Reading science fiction is my version of watching Ted Lasso or The Andy Griffith Show. But we’re all on the Titanic killing time in amusing ways even though we know we could change the ship’s course if we worked together. Unfortunately, cooperation is not in our genes.

Reading science fiction teaches me about the possibilities. Science fiction has always been about building better futures, advocating better societies (utopias) or warnings of de-evolving into dystopias, or even the nightmares of apocalypses. It’s all too obvious that we’re actually heading towards the collapse of our global civilization and an environmental apocalypse. Half the population copes by denying this, and the other half that does recognize our destiny does little to avoid it.

We indulge in mindless consumerism and socializing, or restless tourism, or occupy our minds with political and religious rationalizations. When I see people protesting that the 2020 election was stolen, or vaccinations are evil, or the January 6th attack on the capitol didn’t happen I realize those people have the psychology of children, the kind who throw tantrums, who scream “You can’t make me” or “You’re not the boss of me” to their parents, teachers, and even peers. But you can’t reason with them not because they can’t see reason, which they can’t, but because that’s their survival mechanism, and if you could get past it, these people would only fall apart. I have to assume reading science fiction is my survival mechanism.

I am starting to worry a tiny bit because some of my coping mechanisms are starting to fail. I used to binge watch TV in the evenings. I’ve always loved TV, and looking back see that it was a reality stress releaser too. But I now have to try a dozen or two dozen TV shows or movies before I can find one that I can watch. And I no longer can watch TV and movie science fiction. For example, I was looking forward to the new production of the Foundation series on Apple TV+. It just annoyed me, and I quit trying after fifteen minutes. I forced myself to finish the first episode the next night, but still no joy.

I worry that I’m also going to develop a tolerance to written science fiction, and it will fail to hold my attention like my TV watching. So far, I still find great pleasure in reading science fiction short stories. I don’t have the patience to read novels anymore, but continue to enjoying reading old SF anthologies and magazines. I worry that this love won’t last.

Luckily, I still have other interests to turn to if I finally wear out on science fiction. The current state of the world is very sobering. It might even cure my addiction to science fiction, but I doubt it. I’ve had it my whole life now. It might be too late to give up. But my attitude has changed. We wanted a lot of fantastic things from religion, and that’s true of science fiction. That’s why I compare them. I believe we need to change our expectations for both. Religion and science fiction need to focus on reality. They both need to be more down to Earth.

JWH

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Do You Remember This Album?

Memory is a funny thing, mainly because they’re completely unreliable. And it’s quite easy to have false memories. My memories for the Gypsy album tells me I bought it in the early 1970s, and when I was dating my wife in 1977, I went through her records and found a copy of it. I have a memory of saying, “Hey, you like this album too?” I thought it was cool we both loved an obscure record. I asked Susan this morning of her memory about the album, and she says she owned it before we met. That’s confirmation, but read on. We both might be fooling ourselves.

You can listen to the album while you read on. And if you owned this album please leave a comment. I’ve never met anyone else who loved this album.

All this dredging of memories came about because I got out my CD of Gypsy the other day and played it. I thought, “Wow, what a wonderful album, why wasn’t it famous? What happened to the group? Should I buy their other albums?” Checking Spotify showed they didn’t exist in that worldwide form of collective memory. Nor are their albums available to buy on Amazon. I then checked YouTube, which is becoming our digital attic, and found copies of their albums to play. That made me even more curious about what happened to the band. Then that night, while browsing new YouTube offerings on my TV, YouTube listed a documentary about the group Gypsy in my to watch feed. I know people complain about digital companies tracking our interests, but I was quite thankful for this intrusion. The 2016 documentary Gypsy: Rock and Roll Nomads answered most of my questions.

But when I started checking facts, I’m not sure I can support Susan’s and my memories. Gypsy by Gypsy came out in 1970, and according to the documentary, bombed because Metromedia Records did not promote it. Now I bought a lot of albums simply because of their covers, and this was one – I’m positive. But then this is a story about faulty memories. I could have bought it in late 1970, but I can’t remember that. I don’t have a memory for when and where I bought it. All I remember was loving the cover, buying it, and then loving the album when I played it. I played it for weeks, and then put it away. That’s what my memory tells me. That could have happened from 1970-1977 before I met Susan. However, because the album was so poorly promoted, I probably needed to have bought it right after it was first released in 1970. I have no memory of buying it that early. How long does an album hang around in record stores?

The information I found at Discogs implies it got better support than the documentary suggested since it was released on LP, cassette, 8-track, and reel-to-real, and it was also published in eight countries outside the U.S.

Now the Discogs information gives me a second theory, one that conflicts with Susan’s and my memories. The album was rereleased in 1979 on LP, the year after we got married. I could have bought it then, at Peaches, and we discovered we loved it together. Later on we both gave ourselves false memories that we had discovered it by ourselves. Unfortunately, we got rid of our LPs as we bought CDs, so I don’t have any physical proof of which pressings we owned.

Sometime after 1990 I bought Gypsy again on CD (AJK Music A 862-1). It’s a fantastic album, but no one we know is familiar with it. When I played the CD the day before yesterday, I played it loud, and it sounded amazingly great. I just can’t believe it’s not a classic rock album everyone knows. Watching the documentary explained why the band failed. It was the typical story of we could have been contenders, we were almost famous, we were at all the right places, had all the right opportunities, performed with all the other great bands, but we just didn’t make it.

But I had one last unanswered question. Why isn’t this great album on Spotify? I think I found an answer to that question too. Spotify doesn’t pay much and some bands won’t release their albums through streaming music services. From the documentary I learned that James Walsh keeps the band going and sells CDs online. He is the only original member of the band still trying to keep the band’s memory alive. All four of Gypsy’s albums are available from their website as a 4-pack for $60, as well as histories of the band. The site was updated 3/4/21, but there are no new concerts scheduled. I have a feeling the site was created to promote the CDs and documentary, but concerts are rare.

I wonder how many CDs Walsh still sells? I know streaming pays poorly but it does keep the music alive, and it’s worldwide distribution. I don’t know about the second, third, and fourth albums, but the first album, Gypsy, really needs to be out there for people to discover. Keeping it off Spotify is a big mistake, like when whey went with Metromedia instead of Atlantic.

JWH

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The Albums I Didn’t Buy in 1971

by James Wallace Harris, 8/30/21

[The above photograph is the only one I have of myself from 1971.]

I’m old enough that every year I live is also the 50th anniversary of a year I remember. This year, I keep seeing remembrances of 1971, especially lists of albums that claim to be the best of 1971.

This got me to thinking. How many great 1971 albums did I buy when they first came out? Then how many 1971 albums did I buy on LP or CD before switching to streaming music? Then how many albums have I discovered since having streaming music? Finally, how many albums from 1971 do I still need to play? Spotify has turned out to be a wonderful time machine.

It’s kind of overwhelming the number of memorable albums that came out in one year. The number is impressive, and it’s taken me fifty years of listening to find most these albums, and I’m still not done. Thanks to Spotify I’m still at it.

Albums I Bought When They Came Out

These two albums by Marvin Gaye and The Allman Brothers Band are among my lifetime favorites. I’ve never stopped playing them. I’ve bought them on CD, and even got the Fillmore East on SACD, and they are still repackaging those concerts, and I’ve bought them too. One thing that’s very special in my memories, is I got to see the Allman Brothers in concert in 1971 before Duane was killed.

These next three were major albums for me, and I played them for years, but I eventually got tired of them. I did buy them again when CDs came out, and I play them once every couple of years. Most of the albums listed below held my attention for just a short while. Many I only played once. A great record buy was one I’d play for a couple weeks straight. A very good record would hold my attention for days. Maybe the best albums are the ones we keep playing for the rest of our lives.

Back in 1971 I loved going to record stores. I’d usually visit two or three a week. I didn’t have much money then, so I didn’t buy that many albums in the year 1971 – I’d guess less than fifty, and most of those were from earlier years. Mostly I flipped past albums I wished I could buy. I used to have a fantasy of robbing Peaches back in the late 1970s. It was the biggest record store I had ever seen up to that time, maybe since. Having streaming music is like owning the biggest record store ever.

Eventually I did buy over a hundred albums that came out in 1971. I’d love if I could remember when and where for each one, but I can’t. I also wish I could remember those I bought on LPs in the 1970s and early 1980s, and which ones I bought when they were reissued on CDs, but I can’t do that either. Over the years I’ve gotten rid of my LPs, and most of my CDs. Here’s the list of 1971 albums I owned at one time or another. I’ll bolded the albums I still own (I think). I saved about 500 CDs, but I seldom play them. I’ve forgotten what I own. I bought thousands of LPs and CDs, but I moved around a lot, and sold my collections. There are many albums I bought more than once when I got money to rebuild my collection.

Here are the albums from 1971 that I bought after 1971. I’d say most of them were bought before 1980. It’s funny how a year in pop culture can linger. By the way, I got to see many of these acts in concert.

  1. Tapestry – Carole King
  2. L. A. Woman – Doors
  3. Every Picture Tells a Story – Rod Stewart
  4. American Pie – Don McLean
  5. Crazy Horse – Crazy Horse
  6. The Concert for Bangladesh – George Harrison & Friends
  7. 4 Way Street – Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
  8. Chicago III
  9. Quicksilver – Quicksilver Messenger Service
  10. Bob Dylan’s Great Hits Vol. II – Boy Dylan
  11. Anticipation – Carly Simon
  12. Rough & Ready – The Jeff Beck Group
  13. Byrdmaniax – The Byrds
  14. Farther Along – The Byrds
  15. Electric Warrior – T-Rex
  16. If I Could Only Remember My Name – David Crosby
  17. Santana
  18. The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys – Traffic
  19. 4 Way Street – Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
  20. Tarkus – Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  21. Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren – Todd Rundgren
  22. Deuce – Rory Gallagher
  23. In Search of Space – Hawkwin
  24. Nantucket Sleighride – Mountain
  25. John Prine – John Prine
  26. Rory Gallagher – Rory Gallagher
  27. America – America
  28. Who’s Next – The Who
  29. Hunky Dory – David Bowie
  30. Aqualung – Jethro Tull
  31. Imagine – John Lennon
  32. Ram – Paul & Linda McCartney
  33. The Yes Album – Yes
  34. Pearl – Janis Joplin
  35. Madman Across the Water – Elton John
  36. The Inner Mountain Flame – The Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin
  37. Songs for Beginners – Graham Nash
  38. Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon – James Taylor
  39. Pictures at An Exhibition
  40. The Electric Light Orchestra – Electric Light Orchestra
  41. A Space in Time – Ten Years After
  42. Every Good Boy Deserves Favour – The Moody Blues
  43. Cold Spring Harbor
  44. Little Feat – Little Feat
  45. Deuce – Rory Gallagher
  46. Osibisa – Osibisa
  47. Osibisa – Woyaya
  48. Free Live! – Free
  49. Future Games – Fleetwood Mac
  50. Broken Barricades
  51. Link Wray – Link Wray
  52. Live in Cook County Jail – B. B. King
  53. Gonna Take a Miracle – Laurya Nyro & Labelle
  54. Welcome to the Canteen – Traffic
  55. 11-17-70 – Elton John
  56. All Day Music – War
  57. Music – Carole King
  58. Sittin’ In – Loggins & Messina
  59. Stephen Stills 2 – Stephen Stills
  60. New Riders of the Purple Sage – New Riders of the Purple Sage
  61. Gather Me – Melanie
  62. ZZ Top’s First Album – ZZ Top
  63. A Clockwork Orange – Various Artists
  64. Survival – Grand Funk Railroad
  65. Flying Burrito Brothers – The Flying Burrito Brothers
  66. Bonnie Raitt – Bonnie Raitt
  67. Cahoots – The Band
  68. Album II – Loudon Wainwright III
  69. Other Voices – The Doors
  70. If Not for You – Olivia Newton-John
  71. Linda Ronstadt – Linda Ronstadt
  72. Street Corner Talking – Savoy Brown
  73. Stoney End – Barbra Streisand
  74. Carly Simon – Carly Simon
  75. In The Garden – Gypsy
  76. Barbra Joan Streisand – Barbra Streisand
  77. Thirds – James Gang
  78. Edgar Winter’s White Trash – Edgar Winter’s White Trash
  79. I Don’t Know How to Love Him – Helen Reddy
  80. Leon Russel and the Shelter People – Leon Russell
  81. Moments – Boz Scaggs
  82. Collaboration – Shawn Phillips
  83. Boz Scaggs & Band – Boz Scaggs
  84. Meddle – Pink Floyd
  85. Blue – Joni Mitchell
  86. Teaser and the Firecat – Cat Stevens
  87. The Cry of Love – Jimi Hendrix
  88. White Light – Gene Clark
  89. Carpenters – Carpenters
  90. Weather Report – Weather Report
  91. The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions – Howlin’ Wolf

This puts me just under a hundred albums I remember owning. To trigger my memory I had to look at the list of Top 1000 albums sold in 1971. I’m pretty sure I owned more albums from 1971 because their covers look very familiar. I think I owned them, but I’m not sure, so I’ve added them to the to stream soon list.

Albums Streamed Recently

These are the albums I remember streaming in the past couple of years. I’m sure there were more, but I just don’t remember. Maggot Brain and Pieces of a Man are albums I wished I had discovered in 1971. They are classics. I’ve added them to my most played play list.

  1. Melting Pot – Booker T. & The MG’s
  2. Maggot Brain – Funkadelic
  3. Surf’s Up – The Beach Boys
  4. Nilsson Schmilsson – Harry Nilsson
  5. A Nod is a Good as a Wink… To a Blind Horse – Faces
  6. Coat of Many Colors – Dolly Parton
  7. Black Moses – Isaac Hayes
  8. Shaft – Isaac Hayes
  9. Pieces of a Man – Gil Scott-Heron
  10. Roots – Curtis Mayfield
  11. Al Green Gets Next to You – Al Green
  12. All Day Music – War

Albums I Plan to Stream Soon

  1. Performance Rockin’ The Fillmore – Humble Pie
  2. McDonald and Giles
  3. Man in Black – Johnny Cash
  4. The Bill Evans Album – Bill Evans
  5. Randy Newman Live – Randy Newman
  6. Earth Wind and Fire – Earth Wind & Fire
  7. Yesterday’s Wine – Willie Nelson
  8. Elvis Country (I’m 10,000 Years Old) – Elvis Presley
  9. Where I’m Coming From – Stevie Wonder
  10. The Sun, Moon and Herbs – Dr. John
  11. Live Johnny Winter And – Johnny Winter
  12. Super Bad – James Brown
  13. Distant Light – The Hollies
  14. Wildlife – Mott the Hoople
  15. Sugar – Stanley Turrentine
  16. Church of Anthrax – John Cale & Terry Riley
  17. Nose Roses – Shirley Collins and the Albion Country Band
  18. Givin’ It Back – The Isley Brothers
  19. Where’s the Money? – Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks
  20. Nick Drake – Nick Drake
  21. Seven Tears – Golden Earring
  22. Fillmore East – June 1971 – The Mothers
  23. A Message to the People – Buddy Miles
  24. Back to the Roots – John Mayall
  25. Alone at Last – Gary Burton
  26. So Long, Bannatyne – The Guess Who
  27. The Doobie Brothers – The Doobie Brothers
  28. Manna – Bread
  29. Doctor Hook – Dr.Hook and the Medicine Show
  30. Sunwheel Dance – Bruce Cockburn
  31. Patchwork – Bobbie Gentry
  32. Rock Love – Steve Miller Band
  33. Rudy the Fifth – Rick Nelson
  34. Someday We’ll Look Back – Merle Haggard & the Strangers
  35. From the Inside – Poco
  36. Merry Clayton – Merry Clayton
  37. Nancy & Lee Again – Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood
  38. Lovejoy – Albert King
  39. Gypsies, Tramps, & Thieves – Cher
  40. Ruby – Buck Owens & His Buckaroos
  41. Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream – Mason Proffit
  42. Elegy – The Nice
  43. Rita Coolidge – Rita Coolidge
  44. David Bromberg – David Bromberg
  45. Sunfighter – Paul Kantner & Grace Slick
  46. Take Heart – Mimi Farina and Tom Jans
  47. Dave Mason & Cass Elliot – Dave Mason & Cass Elliot
  48. 1969 – Julie Driscoll
  49. Nice Feelin’ – Rita Coolidge
  50. Garden in the City – Melanie
  51. Can I Have My Money Back? – Gerry Rafferty
  52. Me & Bobby McGee – Kris Kristofferson

Lists Used to Remember

JWH

Featured

What’s Your Lamborghini?

by James Wallace Harris, 8/24/21

Few of us are exempt from materialistic desires because I don’t know anyone who follows in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi. Today’s gurus are the influencers on the internet, those beautiful young people who convince other people to give them money to buy what they can’t have themselves. Most of us don’t feel incomplete without a Lamborghini but we do want something.

I realized what I want is weird. My Lamborghini is old books and magazines, things most people would throw away, or give to Goodwill.

I’d rather have a first edition of I, Robot by Isaac Asimov than a new Ferrari. (Although, if given a Ferrari I could sell it and buy a collection of all Gnome Press first editions, including I, Robot.)

I saw both of these on a Facebook group devoted to collecting old SF/F books. I suppose I could spend my retirement savings to satisfy this book lust, but I won’t.

Just recognizing where my materialism lies an is enlightening self-realization. It doesn’t free me from those desires, but it lets me know just what species of wacky duck I belong to.

So, what’s your Lamborghini?

JWH

Featured

CRISPR: Book v. Documentary

by James Wallace Harris, 8/18/21

I’ve been learning about the gene editing tool CRISPR for years in bits and pieces. From reading news and magazines articles I had a vague idea that science had made a tremendous breakthrough, one akin to science fiction imagined in GATTACA and Brave New World. CRISPR/Cas9 will allow us to heal people with inheritable genetic diseases or cure people with conditions caused by defective genes, but more than that, it will allow us to program our own evolutionary developments, and change our reproductive germlines.

I don’t want to try and summarize CRISPR/Cas9 to you in detail because I’m recommending your read The Code Breakers by Walter Isaacson or watching Human Nature. But if you want a quick overview, here’s the Wikipedia entry.

My focus is to compare learning from a book versus a documentary. I’ve already acquired what I would consider rumors about CRISPR via Flipboard and The New York Times. Those are casual, everyday ways to absorb tidbits of information. But what’s the next level up? That depends on the time you’re willing to spend, and the amount of details you wish to digest.

Human Nature (2019) is a 1 hour and 35 minute documentary that’s currently available to Netflix or PBS Documentaries on Amazon subscribers, or to rent or buy from Amazon and other video sources. It’s a superior documentary that quickly covers the background of CRISPR with impressive infographic and animations, while interviewing the major scientists, then moving into the thorny ethical issues of gene editing, before finally wrapping things up by speculating about the future. After watching Human Nature you’ll have a good sense of what CRISPR can do and its science fictional impact on society. The documentary claims CRISPR will change the world more than the internet.

On the other hand, if you want go beyond the Gosh-Wow level, you could read Walter Isaacson’s new book, The Code Breakers. It’s 16 hours and 4 minutes on audio, or 552 pages of reading. The book tells the same story as the documentary but with far more detail. The framing of the book is a semi-biography of Jennifer Doudna, who shared the Nobel Prize with Emmanuelle Charpentier in 2020. Walter Isaacson is noted for his biographies (Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Ben Franklin), and The Code Breakers is sort of a biography of Doudna, at least when it comes to her scientific career.

But The Code Breakers is much more. It’s a history of a technology that has emerged in our lifetime, and a chronicle how scientists work to discover and apply that new technology. We learn about publishing papers, going to conferences, building labs, forming startup companies, and competing for the Nobel Prize. If you loved books like The Double Helix by James Watson, The First Three Minutes by Steven Weinberg, or The Inflationary Universe by Alan Guth, then you should love this one too. I especially admired how Isaacson’s interviewed the various scientists competing for fame and glory, because he knew that they knew he was giving Doudna the scientific fame over them. Recognizing who came first in a discovery is a challenging piece of detective work that Isaacson pulls off with the skill of a master lawyer working the jury.

What also impressed me was how Isaacson told this complex story. I can’t imagine amassing so much information and then weaving it together into a compelling narrative. I’d love to see a documentary about how Isaacson researches and writes his books.

The Code Breakers will take you much further than the Human Nature regarding how genetic editing history unfolded, but the documentary has its own virtues, especially in compelling visuals. However, I wanted to go even further into learning how CRISPR works. Neither the book nor the documentary gave me the step-by-step concepts of what the lab work was like. Because CRISPR is so damn interesting, I went searching for even more information on YouTube. Both the book and film claims using CRISPR is easy, and that anyone can order educational kits to use the technology. I just couldn’t visualize that.

This short clip gave me more of what I wanted, but it’s still not enough, but I’m going to continue looking for more videos like this one. However, I also found this video about one of the CRISPR kits.

The trouble with wanting to understand even more is I run into the limits of my understanding. I found the 2012 article from Science that’s at the heart of the book. I can read it, and even spot ideas covered in the book and documentary, but 95% lies behind an event horizon of jargon I can’t penetrate. Just look at this one paragraph:

I love popular science books and magazines, but I have to take the working of real science on faith. I don’t like that. I’m hoping to find other books and documentaries that will help me in my quest to visualize how scientists do their work in a step-by-step process. Throughout the book Isaacson wrote about the experiments involved in discovering CRISPR, but I have no mental picture of what they were like.

For example, x-ray crystallography was often mentioned as a vital skill in this lab work. Seeing this video helps me visualize more of the narrative. What I would love is a Ken Burns type documentary, a 10-part series that visually illustrated The Code Breakers.

CRISPR is another example of the positive potential for our future, and another example that validates science. Sure, CRISPR offers all the potential evils of H-Bombs, but it also proves we have great abilities to solve incredibly complex problems.

I feel lucky to have experienced digital revolution, and I’d love to live long enough watch the gene editing revolution unfold. By the time the 2040s and 2050s roll around, society will be transformed again. But then, there will be other transformation happening in the same time frame. Our efforts to slow climate or our failure to do so will reveal another massive transformation. Talk about Future Shock…

JWH

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Beyond Ordinary Friendships

by James Wallace Harris, 8/14/21

Lately, I’ve been meditating on the concept of friendship. We all live alone in our heads, spending our entire lives struggling to make contact with others who live alone in their heads. It’s a shame we don’t have telepathy, because we all so badly want to express ourselves. What kind of friendship activities are there that let’s people communicate effectively?

As marvelous as language is, it still fails us most of the time. I’ve been looking back at how well I communicated with different friends at different stages in my life. What worked, and what didn’t, and why.

My first friends should have been my parents, but I was too immature, my father wasn’t around much, and my mother had a philosophy of kids should be seen and not heard. There was definitely a generation gap that didn’t communicate. I did much better with my sister Becky. That’s because we played together.

When we were still rugrats, during the years before school, Becky and I could be thrown in with any kids and we played happily together. But often this was parallel play, or group activities where we didn’t think about what the other kids were thinking. We focused on hitting or catching the ball, or throwing the dice to get the number we needed in Monopoly.

Because my family moved around so much, Becky and I had to make a new set of friends every year or two. Up to junior high, friends were always the kids who lived on our street, or the ones we played with at recess. The activity determined the friendship. Communication was minimal.

Starting with 7th grade, I got good at finding a best friend fast wherever we lived. The key was to seek someone who liked the same games, toys, books, TV shows, movies, and bands I liked and not be shy. This shared interest technique is really the lowest common denominator of friendships.

The dynamics of friendship changed when I started dating. Then it became more about how well I paid attention to her and her interests. Years of dating, over forty years of marriage, and decades of friendships with women has taught me a whole different kind of communication. Not to sound cliché, but this was often about feelings and emotions, a language I was never good at. However, I learned to listen. But relationships were about getting what we wanted by helping someone else get what they wanted, and isn’t that a higher form of communication?

Work brought about another kind of communication. Fitting in and working together towards a common goal is a whole other kind of interaction and relationship. You didn’t have to know or like a person to work well with them, but you did have to know how to cooperate, take orders, or sometimes give them. There is a dynamics to that type of communication that’s not found in personal friendships, or romantic relationships.

Now that I’m retired I think about new types of friendships. When I worked I felt like I had dozens of friends, but nearly all of them disappeared when I quit. Susan and I spend a lot of time at home, especially since the pandemic. I mostly keep up with friends via the telephone. And most of my friends are people I’ve known for more than twenty years. This is back to the level of shared interests.

I have made one new kind of friend in recent years, and that’s internet friends. For example, I work with a guy from South Africa and a guy from Great Britain to run a short story reading group on Facebook. We are building a long distant friendship based on our love of old magazines and anthologies. It keeps us busy, and our group has grown to over five hundred members.

This has got me to wondering. What activities in the last third of life would make for interesting friendships? Of the retired people I know, many of them talk about maintaining old friends because they aren’t making new friends anymore. But don’t we have to make new friends? That’s one reason why I thought moving to The Villages in Florida would be fun. There are thousands of organized activities for retired people.

My friend Linda and I have accidently hit upon a new activity. We call it a two-person book club. We pick a book, then divide it into sections that we can read in a week. Then once a week discuss the section on the phone for an hour or two. This makes me feel much closer to Linda because we’re working on a specific wavelength. We don’t read ahead because we focus only on the ideas in the defined section. This forces us to think about the same things at roughly the same time.

When Mike, Piet, and I were working on a new version of a database about science fiction, I thought having that project put us on a shared wavelength for several weeks. That made for an interesting kind of friendship. I miss having that kind of project now.

This has gotten me to think about other projects or activities that bring me together with the people. For the four years while Trump was president, it created a bond of shared hatred with some friends. That was different. From the 1990s until 2020, I had a several friends I went to the movies with at least once or twice a week. Also before Covid-19 Susan and I were developing a group of friends with game night. Those two bonding activities haven’t been reestablished yet. Susan and I have developed a new connection when we got the cats. Because we don’t have kids, we’re missing out on a lot of social dynamics that some of our friends have.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if there are activities that bring about closer forms of friendship than just shared interests. Ones that promote higher levels of communication. I’m reading The Code Breakers by Walter Isaacson about the scientists competing to make CRISPR into biotech companies. These scientists don’t all like each other, but their work and competition has forced them to communicate at an exceptionally complex levels.

This leads me to see two kinds of friendships. Consumers and creators. Most of the time we communicate with our friends about the things we consume. We’re looking for common interests and loves. But if you’re in a partnership or on a team that’s building something, you don’t have to like the other people, you can even hate them, but you cooperate and communicate at a much higher level of complexity to achieve a common goal. I keep thinking about Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs creating Apple Computers, and John, Paul, George, and Ringo creating The Beatles. I’d say those were two examples that required communication just short of telepathy. I also say that Walter Isaacson achieved an extremely high level of communicating when interviewing people to write The Code Breakers.

I doubt I’ll start a business in my seventies, but I wonder if there’s a project I’d like to start with other people. That could be volunteer work, but I’m thinking along the lines of building something. Maybe something with computers.

JWH

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A Bright Vision of a Positive Future

by James Wallace Harris, August 12, 2021

Last night I had an epiphany while watching the NOVA episode entitled “Great Electric Airplane Race” on my Roku PBS channel. It’s available to view online or stream with the PBS channel (but it might require a Passport membership).

The show was overwhelmingly positive about the future, and it conveyed that hope by showing rather than telling. To avert the catastrophes of climate change will require leaving fossil fuels in the ground. That means converting to other forms of energy. Air travel is a big contributor of CO2, but designing electric airplanes has tremendous challenges. The example given was for a Boeing 737. It uses 40,000 pounds of jet fuel, but the weight of the batteries to replace that jet fuel would total 1.2 million pounds. How is it even possible to overcome such a Mt. Everest of a technical obstacle?

The answer is science. The rest of the show was about how science and engineering is actually tackling the problem. Expect a great transformation in the airline industry over the next two decades. One person in the show called it Air Travel 3.0. I had no idea that these inventions were that close to going into production.

And the new technology wasn’t even the most inspiring part of the show. Miles O’Brien interviewed and profiled many entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers who were creating these new aircraft, business plans, and air control systems, and it uplifting to see so many women and minorities in leadership roles. This show proved social progress is happening too.

While I watched this episode I realized it was a vision of how things could be. We could solve our environmental, social, economic, and technical problems if we choose. That is, if we choose to be rational and scientific. This show was practically utopian in its scenes and implications. If you can, watch this episode of NOVA and meditate on what positives each scene suggests.

Of course, this isn’t proof we’ll solve our problems, just a vision of what it would be like if we tried. To succeed we need to overcome denialism. Denialism is holding us back. It’s why the pandemic rages on, it’s why we don’t commit to solving climate change. The denialists are going to destroy us.

The epiphany I had is we will succeed if everyone accepts science. Science is capable of solving our problems. The deniers don’t want to believe that for various philosophical reasons. I’m not sure if it’s possible to convert deniers into scientific believers, but that’s our pivot point between future success and failure.

For my own peace of mind, I’ve got to find more sources of inspiration like this episode of NOVA. Up till now I had given up on the future because I was convinced the deniers will bring us down. Now I want to focus on the doers. If you’re going to bet, especially psychological capital, bet on the winners.

JWH

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The Most Disturbing Dream I’ve Ever Had

by James Wallace Harris, 8/9/21

Last night I awoke from a dream that was so disturbing I didn’t want to go back to sleep. I was afraid I’d end up dreaming it again. I used reading Facebook on my phone so I wouldn’t fall back asleep.

The dream began when I was walking down a sidewalk. I saw people up ahead and didn’t know them. When I got up to them they asked me who I was and I couldn’t tell them. They asked where I lived and I said at the other end of the block. I told them I only walked to the end of the block and returned because I’d forget where I lived. But when I turned around to walk back home I couldn’t find it.

I kept walking through suburban streets looking for a street sign name I knew, but none of them made sense to me. Eventually, I realized I was in an urban area with traffic. I kept thinking if only I could find the main street I could walk home by following familiar streets.

As I got more disturbed people would stop me. I couldn’t tell what they wanted. I started becoming afraid of people. I thought people were hitting me and I was blacking out. Whenever I came to I was someplace else. I kept having more and more blackouts. I felt people were hurting me, even molesting me. I wanted to find home so badly.

The last scene I remembered was pushing a car door open. I was trying to run away from the people in the car. I got out of the car and ran, but everywhere was so strange. Then I woke up.

This dream was so unpleasant. I went and sat on the commode for a while thinking about it. A dream can meaning anything, but my first thought was I was suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s in the dream.

Eventually, I went back to bed, but I got out my phone and read things off of Facebook. I remember now I wanted to see names and places I knew. Sometime after that I fell asleep. Luckily I didn’t have that dream again.

I hope I never do.

JWH

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How Well Do You and Pop Culture Remember Your Favorite TV Season?

by James Wallace Harris, 8/7/21

I recently joined the Facebook group The History of American Television. It has 73.4 thousand members, and I feel many are Baby Boomers. We were the first generation to grow up with a TV. It’s both remarkable and disturbing how many thousands of hours we’ve spent in front of a cathode ray tube. Television imprinted on us like ducklings to their mother. Now that we’re old, we nostalgically remember TV shows, and some of us even rewatch our childhood favorite series time and again. Everyone I know loves TV, but most stick to the new shows. However, a large percentage of my friends if they don’t occasionally rewatch TV from the past, wistfully remember shows from when they were tykes and teens.

My father (1920-1970) and mother (1916-2007) liked TV but they seldom talked about pop culture from their youth, or tried to reexperience it. And my mother’s mother (1881-1972) never talked about pop culture at all to me, and neither did my father’s mother (1898-1981). My generation, the Baby Boomers seems obsessed with remembering TV shows, movies, albums, books, games, sports – everything they loved growing up. That’s quite evident by all the diverse groups on Facebook devoted to wallowing in Oldie Goldie pop culture.

When the TV History Facebook group began discussing the first TV show they remembered I posted a photo from the show Topper (CBS 1953-55). That was the first television series I remembered watching when I was four or five. Up till then I never met anyone who talked about seeing Topper as a kid. I got 7,300 likes and 746 shares. I was amazed that so many people had the same blast from the past.

Like my peers, I’m hung up on memory and pop culture. Individually, we have personal memories, but collectively we have history. Both kinds of recall tend to forget and distort the past, often rewriting it. I’m old enough that every year is the 50th anniversary of a year I remember living, and the media celebrates with a string of significant anniversaries. For younger people it’s only abstract history. But if a kid today grows up watching Star Trek and digging The Beatles, do they have the same experience we had?

I find it enlightening to challenge my memories. Because of this Facebook group, I struggled to recall everything I could about the TV I watched in the 1966/67 season and compare it to how pop culture remembers those shows today. I was 15 and in the 10th grade. A great deal of real history happened during those months, especially regarding the Vietnam war, but I’m only going to focus only on TV shows.

First, my memories without using Google for help. Here are the shows I remember now and believed I tried to watch every week.

  • Star Trek
  • The Time Tunnel
  • The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
  • ABC Stage 67

Of course Star Trek has become a cultural phenomenon and I’ve seen all the first season episodes since, some several times. I’ve also read books about the creation and production of the program, meaning my memories have been reinforced. I do have a memory of watching the very first episode of Star Trek when it premiered, and I have vague memories of liking specific first season episodes that existed before I saw the reruns. I think it came on Thursdays.

My memories of The Time Tunnel are vaguer. In recent years I’ve caught a few episodes shown on MeTV, and I remembered seeing them in 1966 but I couldn’t have recalled them before hand.

I’ve never seen The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. again but I remember it starred Stephanie Powers and Noel Harrison, Rex Harrison’s son. I have seen The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in reruns, a show I also loved from that time period, but I find them impossible to watch now. I’d love to see The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. again, but I assume it would be just as stupid to me now.

I can only recall one episode from ABC Stage 67, a musical with Ricky Nelson. I think it was called “Yesterday’s Heroes.” I’ve always had fond memories of that episode and even tracked down a copy of the soundtrack years ago.

That’s not much to remember to believe the 1966-1967 television season was my favorite. I can’t watch Star Trek anymore, but I did love it for many years and watched all the sequel series through Voyager. Star Trek has made a huge impact on pop culture, and even young people today know about it. I’ve had dreams over the years where I’m flipping through the TV channels and find an episode of Star Trek I haven’t seen before. I wake up feeling this tremendous sense of nostalgia, and wanting to watch Star Trek again. When I do I’m always disappointed. It’s never as good as my memories.

Now, using help from Wikipedia’s page for the 1966-1967 television schedule. It triggered countless memories I’ve forgotten. And that makes me wonder just how many memories are still recorded in my brain? I can only access them when triggered with an external clue. Could complete ancient episodes be recorded in my brain?

Sunday: I watched Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea by myself, The Ed Sullivan Show with my family, and then my sister Becky and I would fight with my dad over the final hour. He wanted Bonanza and we wanted The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Monday: My sister and I would watch The Monkees and I Dream of Jeannie, then I’d watch The Rat Patrol. I’d skip the rest of the evening, but I think my sister and mom watched The Andy Griffiths Show and Family Affair.

Tuesday: I watched The Girl From U.N.C.L.E, and then the family would watch The Red Skelton Hour (which is probably why I don’t remember The Invaders, a show I would have watched), and then my dad watched The Fugitive. The Fugitive bored me then, but a few years ago I bought the complete season on DVD and got into it.

Wednesday: My mom commandeered the first hour with The Virginian, which meant I usually didn’t get to see Lost in Space. I remember the kids at school loved Batman, but I thought it stupid. The family would watch Green Acres and Gomer Pyle. Sometimes I would stay, but mostly I’d go read science fiction. If I came back out I’d watch ABC Stage 67 or I, Spy, shows no one else in my family liked. I, Spy was my favorite show from the 1965-1966 season.

Thursday: I’d hog the TV on Thursday for Star Trek. Me and Becky would sometimes watch F Troop or That Girl. And my parents like The Dean Martin Show.

Friday: I’d watch The Wild Wild West or Tarzan, and then The Time Tunnel, and then 12 O’Clock High, sometimes with my dad, but usually I was by myself with the TV on Friday nights.

Saturday Night: This wasn’t a big night except for Mission Impossible which I think the whole family enjoyed. However, we often skipped it for Saturday Night at the Movies. That’s the show we watched most as a family.

Before I started these memory excavations I assumed I watched TV every night, and caught every episode of my favorite shows. But when I’ve tried to watch these shows again as reruns, DVDs, or streaming, I seldom found episodes I remember, except for Star Trek or The Time Tunnel.

As I squeeze my brain cells I realize I don’t believe now I watched as much television as I thought I did, and I don’t think we had as many regular family viewings. But I’m not sure. I do remember what I watched, and to a much lesser degree, remember who I watched with.

My mother and father were separated for the first half of that TV season, so we couldn’t have had that many family viewings that year. And once they were reunited, and we were all together again, we did watch TV as a foursome like I describe above, but I’m not sure how often. Once I began remembering TV from 1966-1967 season other memories emerged like digging for fishing worms in cow pies.

On the other hand, most of the shows from the 1966-1967 schedule are still being rerun, streamed, or sold on DVD today. Well, except the variety shows, but even clips and compilations from The Ed Sullivan Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour still show up. Pop culture has a more powerful memory than I do, especially after digitizing it. I could recreate and relive my 1966 days from artifacts off the internet.

These efforts to remember watching television is unearthing all kinds of connected memories. I need to stop here otherwise this blog would turn into a book. But I have one last interesting observation. I no longer like the shows I loved as a kid, but I discovered I now enjoy the shows my parents loved back then. I’ve bought the complete series DVDs of my mother’s favorite show, Perry Mason, and my father’s favorite show, The Fugitive. In the 1960s, both bored the crap out of me. In the 2020s I enjoy them.

JWH

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Bellyaching & Whining While Crying in My Metamucil

by James Wallace Harris, 8/4/21

TRIGGER WARNING: Don’t read this if you’re under 65 or prone to depression. I don’t want anyone blowing their brains out because I’ve bummed them out.

This past year I’ve been sitting in countless waiting rooms with other sick souls waiting for the M.D. After our name is called, why do we say “Great” or “Fine” when the nurse asks us how we’re doing? Aren’t we all lying? Are we so overjoyed the waiting is over that we lie? How do we really feel? What if we actually told her.

The next time the nurse is in the doorway and yells “James Harris” and then asks me as I approach her, “How are you doing today?” I’ll give her this blog.

People ask me all the time about how I’m doing. I’m afraid to tell them. Oh, I make up funny anecdotes about the urologist, or laugh about my gallstones, but is it socially acceptable whine about how we really feel?

Lately, I’ve been asking myself, “How do I feel?” Mostly I’m stoic even to myself. I don’t want to admit that life is starting to suck. It’s not all bad, but so many of my organs are breaking down that I want to trade my body in for a 2022 model. I’m retired and have all my time free – which my young friends envy, and I’m not suffering like many folks on the nightly news every evening. But retiring and getting old is nothing like I imagined.

When I was young I thought turning old meant going bald and becoming wrinkled. I figured I could handle that. Then in my forties and fifties I started having various medical “issues.” However, doctors would fix me, and there would be long periods of feeling good. I realize now that getting old is when the periods of feeling good get shorter and shorter. I assume old old is when we give up hoping for symptom-free days.

I haven’t had a day where I felt normal, much less good, in so long I can’t remember. There’s always some body part yelling or kicking about something. Luckily, it’s been mostly little slaps to my innards, but they are starting to get a lot more forceful. I can’t imagine what daily life will be like in ten or twenty years.

And I have no reason to whine. I know people with all kinds of horrible cancers, chronic pains, conditions with scary names, failing body parts needing replacements, mental maladies, or worse. A quarter of the people born the year I was, 1951, are now dead. Of course, I know people my age, even ten and twenty years older, that are still healthy (if they aren’t lying). Aging begins in different decades for different people. And I keep hoping I can get my current broken parts repaired so I can feel normal again – for a while at least. I’d love a whole normal year, or even a couple months. Hell, right now, a week would be wonderful. I’m starting to worry that some of my ailments might be chronic. I’m like an antique car that runs but is always up on the rack.

Aging wisely I suppose, is learning to accept the increasing time required for parts maintenance. I sure it took Sisyphus time to adapt to his task too.

It used to be simple. The head aches, take an aspirin, it stops. My stomach complains, I change my diet, it shuts up. My heart has tachycardia episodes, I get a cardiologist to zap the right spot, it ticks like a clock. That’s what I thought would happen with my pee-pee-peeing problem. I’d see a urologist, have an operation, it would be fixed. That didn’t happen this time. I had an operation. It didn’t fix everything. My doctor is still trying, but things aren’t simple.

Right now my bladder is driving me nuts daily, every few months I have a gallbladder attack, and I’m getting rather gimpy because of my spinal stenosis. For years I’ve had stomach problems, but if I gave up certain foods my tummy would play nice, sometimes for months (until I started sneaking in junk food). I’ve now given up all the fun foods gurus told me were bad, and my stomach still bellyaches. I suppose it’s the gallbladder, but I don’t know. My doctor is wait-and-see watching me. It used to be docs would just rip out the gallbladder but they don’t seem to be so quick with the scalpel anymore. They’ve discovered there are long-term consequences to living without your GB. I’m trying to find if I can live with my gallbladder and stones or need to have that sucker laparoed out, but while I ponder I have indigestion, reflux, and sometimes painful attacks. It’s a quandary. It’s certainly taken the enjoyment out of mealtimes. I never know when I’ll eat a culinary grenade.

I’ve been taking a drug that helps me piss less, but it gives me dry mouth, and nasal congestion. If I stop taking the drug I pee over thirty times a day and have all kind of weird sensations in my bladder, prostate, and penis. Taking the drug quiets all that, but the trade-off is those head symptoms. Right now I’d rather feel bad above the neck than below the bellybutton.

One reason I don’t blog as much is I don’t feel like blogging. But today I’m making myself write because I’m starting to believe that another lesson to getting old is just pushing through, learning to ignore shit.

When I see sick young people, especially tragic ones that have to stay at places like Saint Jude Hospital, I feel how it’s unfair they didn’t get their decades of normal health. I wish I could tell the healthy under forty crowd not to waste or jeopardize their future vitality, because I certainly regret my six bags of M&Ms a day habit now (and all the other tons of junk food I massed consumed).

It’s weird, but I felt my best when I was eating all the things health nuts said things were bad for you, and now that I’m almost vegan, I feel bad all the time.

If you’re healthy, do everything you can to stay healthy. Don’t worry about getting old, worry about wear and tear on your body parts. If I had to spend one day a month when I was a teen feeling like I do now, I would have given up drugs and junk food, and joined a gym in 1964.

JWH

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How I Finally Solved a Mystery of Memory

by James Wallace Harris, 7/27/21

I made a discovery this morning that’s very important to me. One I had to write about. Whether or not you find it worth reading will depend on if you also have memory mysteries that haunt you too.

I lived in South Carolina twice, however I was very young the first time, and for my whole life I’ve tried to figure out when and where I lived the first time. This mystery of memory only began to matter once I got into my forties and I realized my memories were fading. It became a tiny existential ache. I even remember being disappointed at the time when I asked my mother about this and she couldn’t remember either. How could someone not remember when and where they lived when they were an adult? As I catch up to my mother’s age I might be able to answer that too.

Today I was going through a box of old papers, letters, and photos I found at my mother’s house after she died in 2007. I had put them in a drawer in my closet and forgot about them. Going through them today I discovered clues that may answer the South Carolina memory mystery.

The first clue was a “Certificate of Training” from the Department of Air Force given to my dad for completing 88 hours of Apprentice Aircraft Mechanic (Jet Two Engine) at Shaw Air Force Base dated August 15, 1958. Now this isn’t proof I lived in South Carolina at the same time. My dad sometimes went off without us. For example, on the back of this certificate it says he had previously completed 12 weeks of training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas and I have no memory of the family living in Texas.

This 1958 date does jive with the one clue I found after the invention of the search engine. I remembered going to the movie theater for the very first time in my life to see Snow Fire when we lived in South Carolina. Google helped me then by providing the movie release date, May 18, 1958. At the time I thought it was a false clue, or a false memory because that was after I had started going to school and I have no memory of going to school when I lived in South Carolina the first time.

The next clue I found was the report card from the third 1st grade school I attended, Watkins Elementary in Hollywood, Florida. It has me finishing the year dated 6/6/58. I transferred there during the third six-week period in 1957.

So this puts me in Hollywood, Florida for the first half of 1958. That was at the Lake Forest subdivision house that I remember as being the first house my parents bought. That memory of ownership might not be true since its just a childhood impression. Some of my all-time favorite memories come from living at that Lake Forest house. [Here it is. Becky and I are wearing cowboy outfits. I’m guessing Christmas 1958.]

The next report card in the box is from 2nd grade at Lake Forest Elementary putting me back in Hollywood, Florida in the 2nd six-week period.

This accounts for the rest of 1958 from about October or early November on. That means I could have lived in South Carolina during June through October of 1958. But I don’t remember attending school there. I’ve always thought I attended two 2nd grade schools but never could remember the first. I can recall being taken to Lake Forest Elementary and enrolled after the year started. I never could remember the first 2nd grade school, but assumed there was one and I just forgot.

I have a new theory from these clues. My parents bought the house at Lake Forest in late 1957 or early 1958, but during the summer my father was sent off for training in South Carolina, and we went with him. We rented a house out in the country and I have many memories from then. But not of going to school, or of leaving. One thing I recall now is I have no memories of my parents ever telling me and Becky we were going to move. I’m guessing we stayed in South Carolina during the summer and my parents just didn’t send me to school at the beginning of the 2nd grade year. Becky didn’t start the 1st until I started the 3rd.

This kind of boggles my mind that my parents didn’t enroll me in school. I would have missed a whole six-week period and part of another. I do remember always being the new kid. I didn’t know it until I got older, but I was always a year younger than the other kids. I started 1st grade at age 5, and didn’t turn six until November 25th. I really should have been held back a year. This might also explain why my grades in elementary school were so poor, and my teacher comments were always about how little Jimmy needs to work harder.

I hope I’ve finally solved the mystery of when and where I lived in South Carolina the first time. I’ve thought we had lived in a city that started with a C, either Columbus or Charleston. Shaw Air Force Base is near Sumter, but Columbus isn’t that far away.

I was six years old that summer, which explains why I had no memory of when and where I lived. At six I didn’t know such things. I don’t think it was until 1959 that I knew about years. But I do have many major memories from that summer of 1958. And that’s another validation. I have no memory of it ever being cold. Some of those vivid memories include:

  • The house we rented had a large wooden porch on three sides of the house. I loved that house.
  • The house we rented had a second floor that wasn’t part of what we rented but me and my sister would go up the stairs to where all this old stuff was stored. I specifically remember stacks of old magazines as high as Becky who I now know was four, and strange old-timey furniture. We never turned on the lights up there so it was always spooky. For years after this I would have reoccurring scary dreams, and the scary place would always be this floor at the top of the stairs.
  • My father put up two homemade swings in the trees outside. I remember him throwing ropes over very high limbs. We could swing almost as high as those limbs. I also remember those trees had long strands of moss hanging from them.
  • We lived out in the country with no paved roads, and those roads went through hills that had been cut away, leaving large sides of exposed dirt that was very red/orange.
  • We had a henhouse and my mother bought 24 chickens and 2 ducklings. Wild dogs that I called wolves would come run off with them and my father shot at the dogs with a .22 he said his grandfather gave him and he would give me when I grew up. After we moved back to Lake Forest I would sneak the gun out to play with on the street and neighbors complained. It disappeared and I never saw it again.
  • The dogs eventually got both ducks and some of the chicks. I remember trying to get the chicks to fly by throwing them up in the air. (Feel bad about that now.)
  • My job was to carry the garbage out back to a pit. My mother promised to buy me a real pig if I did that. In my fifties she finally bought me a concrete pig to keep in the flowerbed because I kept telling her she never paid me.
  • This was the first time I learned about black people. Becky and I played with two kids from a farm nearby. We thought they were rich because they had giant hogs that I wanted. One day my mom told us to go out and play with our little black friends. I didn’t know what she was talking about. I thought black was the color of cars and she had to explain that she meant our friends who were only brown, and I hadn’t even noticed that since we were brown too. My father then told us to always be nice to black kids when this happened. Decades later I learned the Air Force had integrated in the 1950s and my father worshiped the Air Force, so anything they commanded was how we were going to act. I see that as the seed of my liberal philosophy.
  • I’ve already mentioned going to a movie theater for the first time and seeing Snow Fire, but one of my most cherished memories is waking up in the middle of the night and my dad letting me stay up with him to watch the all-night movies. The movie we saw was High Barbaree, which I didn’t know then, but realized later when I was in the 6th grade and saw it again and remember the previous time. I’ve written about this memory many times. The reason why the movie was so important to me was it featured two kids that got separated when the girl’s parents had to move away for a job. I had already been the kid to move away several times in my life by then, and had lost many friends. That scene really resonated with me.
  • I had my first nightmare about dinosaurs at that house that has reoccurred many times over the decades. One of my most popular blog posts is about dinosaur dreams.

I have many other memories from this time period, and that amazes me when I now realize I was only six years old. That’s why for decades I’ve wanted to know when and where all this took place. I’m glad I didn’t throw all this stuff away. And it looks like I will find other clues to memory mysteries in this box too. So be forewarned.

I believe this is what I looked like in 1958.

JWH

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I Actually Had Fun at the Urologist (Despite the Pain)

Yesterday I had a urodynamics test. I had been dreading it for weeks because the brochure had forewarned they’d be inserting tubes and detectors up my two lower exit holes. From previous experiences I knew what that was like. However, yesterday’s actual experience was nothing like any of my fantasizing scenarios. It never is. That’s a good philosophical lesson. Don’t ruin your days with worry.

Getting old is full of new experiences, especially relating to medical exams. Often these experiences aren’t very nice, but sometimes they’re interesting, and occasionally they’re fun if you have the right doctor or technician. I like talking with people, and I love technology, but I ain’t too keen when the people I’m talking to are shoving technology into my orifices. Yet, sometimes the overall experience can be fun.

One of the ways you know you’re getting old is when the number of prescriptions and doctor visits start increasing. There’s a feeling of being trapped. You just don’t want to be experiencing what you’re experiencing, but there is no escape. Well, I try to find the humor in such situations, and maybe even a story for my blog.

It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself when your body starts breaking down and you have to do things you really don’t want to do. I’ve found a number of ways to avoid self-pity. Whenever I’m in a waiting room I look around at the other people. Often it makes me feel like the luckiest person in the room. Yesterday while I waited for the urodynamics test the guy on my right was passing kidney stones while crying softly and groaning. The woman on my left came in with a half full urine bag strapped to her left. It filled as we waited. I know what a full bag feels like. I was the lucky one.

As you get older many of your friends will have medical problems too. Another reason I can’t feel sorry for myself is I’m not sure I’d trade my problems for any of the medical problems my friends have, even though some of my friends tell me how much they pity me.

Anyway, I was in the urology waiting room watching the staff come and go from the door that leads back to the testing rooms. I was evaluating each person by whether or not I wanted them to be the person to see me naked and insert catheters up my Johnson. I didn’t want anyone too young because I feel sorry for young people having to see old naked bodies. I didn’t care if they were male or female. I figure I’m a dog at the vet to them. Actually, I’m partial to older nurses who have some experience and compassion. I did see one really good looking blonde and hoped it wasn’t her. It was. At least she was middle aged.

My nurse took me into a room with a very weird looking chair with a giant funnel and bucket in front of it. Next to the chair was a fancy tech desk with two giant monitors hooked to a computer. To the right was a cart with catheters hanging down its side in plastic sleeves, and everywhere was stacks of pads, and small towels.

The nurse was very friendly telling me about how she’d been reviewing my records, so I felt she already knew me. She said she’d step out of the room to give me some privacy. I was to take off my pants and shoes but leave on my socks and shirts, get into that weird chair, and drape little blanket across my lap. I told her I didn’t have any modesty left, meaning she didn’t need to leave, but she did. I always feel weird waiting naked in strange rooms. I wonder why stripping is still considered a part of modesty when they do the things they do to you.

When she returned she showed me the catheters she was going to put up my urethra – I wasn’t sure if it was one double one, or two separate ones – and the flexible computer sensor which I assumed was some kind of ultrasound probe that was going in my ass. Of course, she said rectum, which I think is a gross word, but the socially acceptable term for these gettogethers.

I told her how relieved I was to see how small her tubes were because my other doctors had been shoving much larger ones up the same small holes.

She then activated a switch that raised my chair up in the air. That startled me being up so high. However, it made sense. I was being put up on a rack like a car at Firestone because my nurse needed to get at my undercarriage. I pictured thousands of people she had to look at from that angle and said, “You really have a very strange job.” She laughed.

The purpose of the test was to fill my bladder with water and then drain it, monitoring the flow, amount, and I guess electrical activity.

I won’t try to describe the weird sensations and discomfort the insertions caused. They weren’t too hard to endure, and once they were in I didn’t feel too much. Then she started clipping leads to a EKG like machine to taped on sensors around my lower extremities. This let the computer monitor my electrical activity. It would also show on the screen how many milliliters went in and how many came out, but I wasn’t sure how it did that. Maybe a very sensitive scale under my pee pot.

The nurse then warned me she was going to start pumping water into my bladder. As she did this she told me to imagine I was driving on a highway and I should tell her how desperate I felt to find a pitstop to pee. So I said things like, “I feel the need to pee, so I would be looking for a place.” Or, “I’d be most anxious by now.” Or, “I wish I had an empty bottle.”

91ml in, and 90ml out, way below the normal 400-500ml. She told me I wasn’t like the typical person who has an overactive bladder. They go 12-15 times a day. I was going 28-33 times. But the revelation was my bladder was completely emptying. Up till now all the doctors had told me I wasn’t emptying my bladder.

The nurse said I probably had something different and the doctor would talk about it when I saw him next Friday. But she did say I had probably conditioned myself to pee too often. The nurse said I also didn’t have other indicators of an overactive bladder. That my bladder wasn’t showing spasms. I had been reading about this. Something like a tenth of the U.S., 37.5 million people, have an overactive bladder. Strangely, I had recently read an article on Flipboard about how it was bad to always pee before you leave the house or office, which is something I’ve always done.

What I learned was really good news for me. Although, the doctor might tell me something different, but I’m thinking if I conditioned my bladder to pee too often I could retrain it to pee less. The nurse did say there were some treatments they could do to expand my bladder, but I want to hold off until I see if I can change things myself. Besides, being knocked out and having them stretch my bladder with hundreds of milliliters of water sounds awful.

While all this was going on I chatted with the nurse about her equipment and details of urological problems. She showed me a bag of water and said that was the amount a typical bladder could hold. I told her I didn’t think I ever peed that much. A bottle of store bought water is often 500ml, which is about that size. I got to spend over an hour with this nice nurse, so I grilled her for information. I only see the doctor for minutes, so I’m always left with lists of unanswered questions, and I was overjoyed to talk shop with her.

In other words, I had been dreading yesterday for weeks, but when it finally happened, I was very happy with the results and even considered the experience interesting and fun (although a bit weird and painful.)

I do try to find my inner Pollyanna in these kinds of situations. It really helps when people are snaking tubes up my little Willie.

JWH

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I Can’t Take It With Me?

by James Wallace Harris, 7/3/21

That old saying warns us we can’t take it with us, but where does our stuff go when we say goodbye to this plane of existence? If I go first, Susan will just haul all my crap down to Goodwill. If she goes first, I’ll do the same for her. But if Susan goes first, who will process all my cherished possessions?

Before my mom died, she gave some of her stuff as little personal gifts to people she knew at church, or in the neighborhood, or relations. And the stuff she didn’t give away, she assumed either I or my sister would take after she died and cherish for the rest of our lives. We didn’t tell her we had other plans. After my mom died I went through her house looking for sentimental things like photographs, letters, and a few books. My sister wanted more of the knicknacks. My mom’s closets and extra bedrooms were jammed with things she’d had been saving since the 1945 when she married my dad. I told the ladies we had hired to sit with my mother when I was at work that they could have anything they wanted in the house except the stove and refrigerator. The house was clean enough to sell when I came back.

If I was kind and considerate, I’d get rid of my junk now. I’ve been getting rid of stuff for years, but there’s enough left to fill the pickup several times over. When I was young I thought I wanted a smaller house for when I was older, but now that I’m older, I don’t want that at all. This house has become the perfect size for our junk. Susan and I have divided our home into our individual territories. I junk up the den, two bedrooms, and one hall closet. Susan fills up the living, dining room, one bedroom, and the other hall closet. We both encourage the other to get rid of their stuff, but we don’t.

I’m not religious, but what if there was a heaven, and what if we could take it with us? What if St. Peter allowed everyone to bring one U-Haul trailer full of Earthly possessions to heaven, what would you take? Imagine everyone getting a luxury two-bedroom condo in paradise, how would you decorate it? (I wonder if they have the internet up there?)

My friend Connell has been moving out of his house where he’s lived since the 1980s and into a two-bedroom condo. He’s been selling his stuff on Craigslist. I wonder if I should set up an eBay account and sell off my stuff too? But it would be so much easier and put it off until I die and let Susan deal with it. Now I know why I always planned to go first.

JWH

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Don’t Let Apple Lossless Music Confuse You

by James Wallace Harris, 6/19/21

I’m afraid I totally confused my friend Annie when she asked me to help her upgrade her music system to play her iTunes playlists simultaneously in multiple rooms. I made the mistake of excitedly telling her about Apple’s new Lossless Music. Explaining Hi-Res Music to your friends won’t be easy. Later, I realized I had forced poor Annie down a rabbit hole of abstraction and technology standards she really didn’t want to know.

All Annie wanted was to buy speakers that would work in a whole house configuration, and she thought she wanted them made by Bose. The speaker she loved was a Bose dock for her first iPhone. Regrettably, it became useless a few years ago when she upgraded her iPhone with a lightning connector. She still laments its loss. Her son bought her a bluetooth soundbar. It actually sounds better than her old Bose dock, but connecting to it hasn’t always been smooth. She had seen an ad for Bose speakers that could be bought for each room of the house and would play in unison, which became her dream music goal.

I should have said, “Sure, go get those Bose 300 or 500 speakers.” Instead I told her they wouldn’t work with Apple’s new Lossless Music. “Why is that?” she ask. I tried to tell her. I even demoed bluetooth, AirPlay, Spotify Connect, and Tidal Connect to illustrate the different ways to stream music and how they would be used. I also demoed compressed, lossless, and Hi-Res music. She was impressed with what she heard, and said she wanted to get a whole house speaker system that could do Hi-Res.

I really should have said right then, forget Hi-Res Music and just buy the Bose or Sonos speakers. Her son recommended Sonos. I like Bose and have a pair of 301s for my computer room, and Rtings.com gives the Bose 300 a slight edge over the Sonos One. See their recommendations for all home speakers. In this group they prefer the Sonos Move first, and Bose 500 second.

That’s when we fell into Alice’s Wonderland of configuring a Lossless system that she could play from her iPhone. I had to explain why bluetooth was out, and at a minimum she’d need equipment that supports AirPlay2, and even then it would only be CD quality at best, that the higher levels of Hi-Res and Dolby Atmos wouldn’t be possible with Bose or Sonos currently.

I also realized I might have falsely advertised what she could hear when I demoed everything on my Bluesound Powernode 2i and Klipsch floorstanding speakers. So I got my Amazon Echo Studio from my bedroom to show how it compared to the Klipsch/Bluesound performance. The Sonos One and Echo Studio are roughly comparable, although most reviewers rate the Sonos better. I bought the Echo Studio to try out Hi-Res and 3D music. I told Annie the Echo Studio with Amazon Music HD could play Hi-Res and 3D spatial music if she subscribe to Amazon Music Unlimited ($7.99 since she’s a Prime Member), and it would work in a whole house configuration with other Echo speakers. But again, this might be a distraction.

Actually, I was surprised by how well the Echo Studio sounded in my den. In my bedroom it sounds pretty good, especially paired with a second Echo Studio, but not nearly as great as a single Echo Studio in the den. Evidently, the den has great acoustics. Annie was very impressed with the Echo Studio.

It was here that I tried to explain that speakers sound different according to placement. And there’s a good chance she and I (we both turn 70 this year) won’t be able to hear the difference between MP3, CD, and Hi-Res music files. I, myself, have been chasing the Hi-Res dream for years, always thinking I’d find that Nirvana where Hi-Res music sounded as different as night and day over CD sound quality. I’ve never found this audio El Dorado. There have been times when I listened very intently and thought I was hearing things on SACD or with MQA that I hadn’t heard before, but I’ve never been sure if I wasn’t just hearing things I never previously heard because I hadn’t paid attention to it before.

I’m trying to convince Annie that the things that count are subscribing to a streaming music service, getting good speakers, finding the best place to put them, and playing music loud enough to hear the details. I believe Spotify is a better deal right now than Apple Music, Tidal, or Amazon HD because it’s interface is better, because of Spotify Connect, and Spotify is used so widely that articles about music often link to Spotify playlists. Plus selfishly, I want my friends to have Spotify so we can share our playlists. Spotify Connect support is almost universal, and that does away with the whole iPhone to music system connecting protocols like bluetooth and AirPlay. I have three streaming music systems in my house, and all three work with Spotify Connect. Only two work with AirPlay, and just one with MQA.

On the other hand, Annie has many years of songs purchased on iTunes. To switch to Spotify would require rebuilding all her playlists, and committing to $9.99 a month. I pointed out that the Amazon Echo Studios would work with Spotify, or if she wanted get Amazon Music Unlimited for $7.99 a month. However, iTunes doesn’t work with the Echo Studio.

Probably, the best thing for Annie would be the Bose 300 or 500 like she thought she wanted at first, or the Sonos. Then if she wanted now or later, subscribe to Apple Music for $9.99 a month. I’m guessing Apple will eventually offer something like Apple Connect, or AirPlay Connect and Sonos and other speaker makers will support Apple Lossless, but that means waiting to buy future products, or replacing her sound system again. And I think that’s probably a chimera now and in the future.

Apple Lossless Music is a great deal since it’s free with Apple Music, but only for people who have the DACs to support it. For most people, buying a portable DAC like a Audioquest Dragonfly or Helm Bolt DAC/AMP and a pair of good open back headphones would be the cheapest route to testing Hi-Res music. Many audiophiles already have this equipment, but for newbies, moving to Hi-Res Music will require a lot effort and money, and I’m not sure it’s worth it.

[Sorry, Annie, for all the confusion I caused.]

JWH

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Why Am I Peeing 30 Times a Day and Other Mysteries of Getting Older?

by James Wallace Harris

I am being forced to become a detective, but the mystery I must solve is not one of who did it, but why is my body out to get me. Sometime in the future we will all die, but before we’re done in we’ll fear many possible assassins. For most of us, our murderer will be a natural cause, but which one? Our last years will be spent running away from various suspects, always looking for clues to who our real killer will be. But the older we get, the more suspects show up, complicating the mystery.

All my friends in my age group suffer from something, many have dodged several bullets, and a few haven’t. Like all the machines we’ve owned over our lifetime, our bodies will wear out, part by part, until they can’t be fixed anymore. Unfortunately, being a machine that’s breaking down is not a fun experience. Like an old car, we never know which part will need repairing next. And continuing this metaphor, most of us aren’t skilled repairmen. We can only guess about what’s causing our breakdowns, and even when we do hire an expert, we never know if we’re getting the right repairs.

I’m currently dealing with two medical mysteries. The primary one is why do I pee thirty times a day. I went to a urologist and had a Urolift assuming it was a common male problem of an enlarged prostate. Although the Urolift improved flow, the procedure failed to stop my excessive peeing. Evidently, I had two problems.

Before the Urolift I had hoped the procedure would fix me and I’d be back to normal. However, I’m learning in old age we seldom get back to what we once were. Atul Gawande analyzes that hope of returning to normal in his book Being Mortal. We all believe doctors can fix us, but that isn’t always true, especially the older we get. That’s when we try to fix ourselves with sleuthing our own medical mysteries.

I’ve been watching many videos on YouTube about the causes and cures of frequent urination. I feel myself grasping at straws hoping to find any help. For example, Dr. Oz recommends consuming ground flax seeds to calm an overactive bladder, and Dr. Berg recommends following a keto diet to reduce insulin resistance that can cause frequent urination. My own urologist has prescribed Myrbetriq to relax my bladder muscles but it made my prostate/bladder ache, and my urges to pee stronger and somewhat painful. Katy Butler warned in her book The Art of Dying Well against anticholinergics, the common medicine prescribed for overactive bladders, because of their dangerous side effects. My own internist is against them too. Evidently, a large number of older people have overactive bladders and we’re all looking to solve the mystery of why it’s happening to us and how to fix it.

I’ve taken a different approach. I had hoped the Urolift would have left me peeing like a teenager again, which the sale testimonials promise, but when I informed my urologist that magic hadn’t happened, he said it took months and years for my bladder to learn its current habits, so it might take just as long to break them. I went home feeling relieved with this bit of hope. In fact, for several days after that office visit I only peed 24 times a day. But then the frequency went back up.

I wondered if that was a clue. Could that sense of relief brought on by hope have relaxed my bladder, even just a bit? Could I consciously try relaxing my bladder through stress reduction or meditation? I bought a chem flask with a milliliter gauge and have started measuring my output, along with logging my frequency. A healthy person will pee 250-400 ml when they go and maybe up to 800 ml when they really hold it, but I only produce 50-70 ml during my frequent visits to the bathroom, and even less when my bladder is having fits.

From what I’ve learned people of all ages can have urine retention, but it’s more common in oldsters. I already know that several of my organs are wearing out, so why not the bladder? But if it’s a matter of muscles, either for contraction or relaxing, can I make changes with exercise, diet, or mind control?

By the way, those are some of the many approaches we take when trying to solve our own medical mysteries. There’s several, often approached in this order:

  • Time will make it go away
  • Prayer will heal it
  • Diet will help it
  • Exercise will overcome it
  • Pills will cure it
  • Surgery can repair it
  • Meditation can relax it
  • Alternative medicine might fight it

When you have a medical mystery you keep trying to solve it like a complex Sudoku puzzle. We always want to believe we can fix something and return to normal, but part of aging is the realization that some things are out of our control.

But what’s particularly frustrating is assuming something can be fixed if only we can find the right evidence and clues. The trouble with medical problems is all the variables and interactions. It’s almost impossible to get a definitive answer.

While working on my pee problem my gallbladder said, “Hey, pay attention to me!” Turns out I have gallstones. I’ve had a couple minor gallbladder attacks, but since I’ve seen someone with a major attack I’m positive I don’t one the kind requiring an ambulance. At first, I thought, let the doctors rip out my gallbladder because I’ve known a number of people that’s had that procedure. Then I started learning about possible consequences of living without a gallbladder. After ultrasounds, bloodwork, and a CT scan, my doctor has recommended a wait and see attitude. While doing all that poking around though, they also found fatty deposits and a cyst on my liver. So I feel like a ticking time bomb. But these new issues only adds to the list of my failing parts and systems.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m boo-hooing in my blog. I’m just reporting on a mental process I find interesting about getting older. And like I said, I know so many people with all kinds of medical problems, nearly all of them worse than mine. In fact, I can’t think of anyone my age or older I’d trade bodies with.

I’ve just reached an age where stoicism is the only practical philosophy. I know one of my organs will fail, and murder me, but not which one. But does it matter? It will be out of my control. The frustrating thing is thinking we can control things, and we can to a very limited degree. But evidently, part of aging is learning when we can’t.

JWH

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I Marie Kondoed a Whole Building

by James Wallace Harris, 5/27/21

Well, to be honest, I didn’t hold everything that was in our old workshop and ask if it sparked joy, or even sort the building components into separate piles for reallocation considerations. I just asked the contractor if he could demolish the entire building and take it and its contents away. And they did.

But what a relief! What a weight off my shoulders! After Susan’s parents died she wanted to buy the house she grew up in, and I reluctantly agreed. Well, it made her happy. I did think it was neat the house came with a workshop full of woodworking tools and a small greenhouse. I imagined building and growing things. The house also came fully furnished with every closet stuffed with marvelous treasures her mother found at yard sales. Her dad hadn’t used the workshop in years and it had become their mini-storage unit. That was a dozen years ago and we’re almost through getting rid of their junk – and ours.

About seven years ago I decided neither Susan or I would ever do any woodworking or gardening and hired 1-800-Got-Junk to remove the now broken down greenhouse and clear out the workshop of ancient rusting woodworking machines and boxes of once cherished possessions. It took three of their trucks and a big check. But it felt great. My soul felt immensely lighter.

Then we started using the workshop for our overflow junk. A few years later I had the walls of the workshop replaced and painted because I feared our junk would go bad from neglect. That was even more money. Then this year I realized the roof was leaking and contracted to have it replaced. I also worried about the workshop all the time because a neighbor’s tree is dying, and it leans over both the power lines and our workshop. What a psychic burden.

I knew the plywood decking of the roof would need replacing along with the shingles, but when they started on the first sheet, the roofer called me out to show how the 2×6 rafters were so rotten they couldn’t nail the plywood to them. They offered to replace or brace the 2×6 beams, at even more expensive.

That’s when I knew there was no chance of that building ever bringing me joy. By the way, joy was defined as possible home resale value. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that we’ll probably die in this house and resale joy was a fading fantasy anyway. So I asked the roofer if they also demoed buildings and he said yes. I said, “Let me save a couple of things, and then I want you to take the building and everything in it away.” I kept two ladders, a push broom, a rake, a shovel, a pair of hedge clippers, and a couple cans of old house paint. (I’ll probably get rid of them too.) I told the roofer workers they could have anything they wanted. Susan told a neighbor.

Even though the value of our house went down, I felt wonderful seeing the finished job. Not only did I get rid of tons of possessions and responsibilities, but I no longer have a place to put all our extra crap. That’s quite freeing. And now I don’t have to worry about my neighbor’s tree falling on the workshop. Oh, it will take out the power lines and probably pull down a couple power poles, but I’m trying hard not worry about that.

Susan saved one four-foot long wooden level of her dad’s. She figured her brother might want it for sentimental reasons, and I overheard her talking to Johnny telling him she’d try and keep me from throwing it away. I’ll try hard, but Johnny better come soon. I’m already looking for more things in the house to throw away. I’m making Susan nervous eyeing the attic. Boxes have been going up there for a dozen years, but they never come down. Why?

I fantasize about a completely empty attic. Wouldn’t it feel so good?

JWH

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How Will We Remember the 1960s?

by James Wallace Harris, 5/16/21

Anyone who knows me, or reads my blog, knows I’m obsessed with memory. Even before my memory access speeds began declining I’ve always felt a desperation to hang onto what I learned even though I know most of it slips naturally away. I guess all those tests in school gave me a complex about poor recall.

Memory has many fascinating aspects, especially all the ways our memories fool us. We believe things are true because our memories tell us they’re true. Even when confronted with conclusive evidence, we often prefer what our memories tell us to external facts. All through my sixties I’ve been examining what I thought I remembered from growing up in the 1960s. Too often, the impressions I’ve maintained have proved wrong.

Because of an online discussion about science fiction in the 1960s my instant recall told me there must have been several hundred great science fiction novels published during that decade. However, as the discussion progressed my memory had trouble dredging up all those great titles.

My memory gave me the illusion there were enough wonderful science fiction novels published in the 1960s to fill a huge bookcase. Where did that impression come from? I assumed because my memories told me I read hundreds of science fiction novels I loved while growing up. Were those memories true? Thinking about it now I realized there are a number of ways to double check my brain’s records:

  • Look up the actual number of successful SF books published in the 1960s
  • Recall and list all the books I remember reading in the 1960s
  • Recall and list all the SF books from the 1960s I read in later decades
  • Research the memories of my contemporizes about what they read
  • Find out what books young science fiction fans read today from the 1960s
  • Read what literary scholars studying the 1960s consider the best SF books

I realized that my initial reaction to the online discussion was I wanted young people to replicated what I found great in the 1960s. That’s a typical old person hope, but it’s completely unrealistic. Newer generations are busy consuming all the books coming out in their own decade. What they read from past decades is always very minimal.

In other words, younger generations and scholars get a distillation of the past. Not only that, but they are going to interpret the past by current day mindsets. The chances of them experiencing what I remember is very small. So why do geezers want their cherished past persevered? Is it to validate their own memories? Is it the hope of keeping the things they loved alive across time?

For whatever reason, I want the essential aspects of the 1960s remembered accurately by history. The trouble is I’m not sure I correctly remember the 1960s myself. I’m probably not. Maybe what I’m doing is trying to write my own correct history now that I’m older and working on my wisdom skills.

For the purpose of this essay I’m using science fiction novels as one tiny test case of remembering the 1960s. I have a model in my head built from memories of what the 1960s were like. I’m interested in the mental models people are constructing today about that decade. Even focusing on this one microscopic piece of pop culture leaves many problems regarding memory to consider.

Is my white male American viewpoint of the 1960s science fiction too limiting? Do my contemporaries who were women and minorities remember 1960s science fiction differently? Bookworms growing up in Russia, China, Brazil, Vietnam, etc. will have experienced a much different decade than I did. For the purpose of this essay, I’ll focus on the U.S., however Great Britain plays a large role in my memory too. I also read fanzines back then where readers from around the world, including countries where English wasn’t the standard language, reviewed books. But this only provided hints of what science fiction was being published in foreign countries.

The online discussion I mentioned above got started because we read a link to “An Uneven Showcase of 1960s SF,” a 2019 review from The Los Angeles Review of Books covering The Library of America’s two volume set American Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s, which remembers these eight novels:

  • Poul Anderson, The High Crusade (1960)
  • Clifford D. Simak, Way Station (1963)
  • Roger Zelazny, … And Call Me Conrad (This Immortal) (1965)
  • Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon (1966)
  • R. A. Lafferty, Past Master (1968)
  • Joanna Russ, Picnic on Paradise (1968)
  • Samuel R. Delany, Nova (1968)
  • Jack Vance, Emphyrio (1969)

Our group was asking: Are these books really how literary history will remember 1960s science fiction? Personally, I don’t believe any of them will make it to the long term pop culture memory of 2050. However, Library of America does give us a clue with their other published science fiction books. That’s because their famous uniform volumes focus on authors and not works. So far they have published sets on these SF writers:

PKD also produced significant work in the 1950s and 1970s, but it seems his 1960s novels are the most remembered. Le Guin’s career covered decades but her most famous science fiction came out in the 1960s and 1970s. Vonnegut is also mostly remembered for his 1960s novels. Bradbury was mainly famous for his work in the 1950s, and Butler for work in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Library of America will not be the sole arbiter of who remembers science fiction from the 1960s, but I do believe they have made good guesses so far, at least for American Sci-Fi. But using Library of America and the SF authors they favor, are these then the science fiction novels future readers will remember 1960s science fiction by:

  • The Man in the High Castle (1962) by Philip K. Dick
  • A Wrinkle in Time (1962) Madeleine L’Engle
  • Cat’s Cradle (1963) by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Martian Time-Slip (1964) by Philip K. Dick
  • Rocannon’s World (1966) Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965) by Philip K. Dick
  • Planet of Exile (1966) by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • City of Illusions (1967) by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) by Philip K. Dick
  • The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Ubik (1969) by Philip K. Dick

Of course this leaves out works by the most famous science fiction writers working in the 1960s, the so called Big Three of SF:

  • A Fall of Moondust (1961) by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) by Robert A. Heinlein
  • Fantastic Voyage (1966) by Isaac Asimov
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) by Robert A. Heinlein
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) by Arthur C. Clarke

Actually, The Big Three of SF writers were more famous for their work in the 1950s. Probably the single most remembered work of science fiction from the 1960s is Dune by Frank Herbert, and that’s because of all the movie versions. But growing up in the 1960s the two most famous new writers were Delany and Zelazny. Will any of their most famous novels be remembered? They each got an entry in the LoA set, but what about their other 1960s novels?

  • The Dream Master (1966) by Roger Zelazny
  • Empire Star (1966) by Samuel R. Delany
  • Babel-17 (1966) by Samuel R. Delany
  • The Einstein Intersection (1967) by Samuel R. Delany
  • Lord of Light (1967) by Roger Zelazny
  • Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny

There were many novels I loved or remember reading great reviews from back in the 1960s that were missed by the Library of America set. I’m not sure how famous they are today, or if they are still worthy of reading:

  • A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960) by Walter M. Miller Jr.
  • Flesh (1960) by Philip Jose Farmer
  • Rogue Moon (1960) by Algis Budrys
  • Venus Plus X (1960) by Theodore Sturgeon
  • Catseye (1961) by Andre Norton
  • Dark Universe (1961) by Daniel F. Galouye
  • Time is the Simplest Thing (1961) by Clifford Simak
  • Little Fuzzy (1962) by H. Beam Piper
  • The Dragon Masters (1963) by Jack Vance
  • Lords of the Psychon (1963) by Daniel F. Galouye
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963) by Walter Tevis
  • Davy (1964) by Edgar Pangborn
  • Simulacron-3 (1964) by Daniel F. Galouye
  • The Wanderer (1964) by Fritz Leiber
  • All Flesh is Grass (1965) by Clifford Simak
  • Bill, the Galactic Hero (1965) by Harry Harrison
  • Destination: Void (1965) by Frank Herbert
  • The Genocides (1965) by Thomas M. Disch
  • The Age of the Pussyfoot (1966) by Frederik Pohl
  • Earthblood (1966) by Keith Laumer and Rosel George Brown
  • Make Room, Make Room (1966) by Harry Harrison
  • Mindswap (1966) by Robert Sheckley
  • The Witches of Karres (1966) by James H. Schmitz
  • The World of the Ptavvs (1966) by Larry Niven
  • The Butterfly Kid (1967) by Chester Anderson
  • Camp Concentration (1967) by Thomas M. Disch
  • Chthon (1967) by Piers Anthony
  • Lords of the Starship (1967) by Mark S. Geston
  • Restoree (1967) by Anne McCaffrey
  • Soldier, Ask Not (1967) by Gordon R. Dickson
  • Those Who Watch (1967) by Robert Silverberg
  • Why Call Them Back From Heaven? (1967) by Clifford Simak
  • Dimension of Miracles (1968) by Robert Sheckley
  • Dragonflight (1968) by Anne McCaffrey
  • Hawksbill Station (1968) by Robert Silverberg
  • The Last Starship From Earth (1968) by John Boyd
  • The Masks of Time (1968) by Robert Silverberg
  • Of Men and Monsters (1968) by William Tenn
  • Past Master (1968) by R. A. Lafferty
  • Rite of Passage (1968) by Alexei Panshin
  • The Andromeda Strain (1969) by Michael Crichton
  • Bug Jack Barron (1969) by Norman Spinrad
  • Fourth Mansions (1969) by R. A. Lafferty
  • Macroscope (1969) by Piers Anthony
  • The Pollinators of Eden (1969) by John Boyd
  • The Ship Who Sang (1969) by Anne McCaffrey
  • A Specter is Haunting Texas (1969) by Fritz Leiber
  • Up the Line (1969) by Robert Silverberg

And what about British invasion SF writers who made such a big impact on the genre in the 1960s:

  • The Trouble with Lichen (1960) by John Wyndham
  • The Wind from Nowhere (1961) by J. G. Ballard
  • A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess
  • The Drowned World (1962) by J. G. Ballard
  • Hothouse (1962) by Brian Aldiss
  • Greybeard (1964) by Brian Aldiss
  • The Dark Light Years (1964) by Brian Aldiss
  • The Whole Man (1964) by John Brunner
  • The Squares of the City (1965) by John Brunner
  • Colossus (1966) D. F. Jones
  • The Crystal World (1966) by J. G. Ballard
  • Earthworks (1966) by Brian Aldiss
  • The Watch Below (1966) by James White
  • Chocky (1968) by John Wyndham
  • The Final Programme (1968) by Michael Moorcock
  • Pavane (1968) by Keith Roberts
  • Report on Probability A (1968) by Brian Aldiss
  • Stand on Zanzibar (1968) by John Brunner
  • Barefoot in the Head (1969) by Brian Aldiss
  • Behold the Man (1969) Michael Morecock
  • The Jagged Orbit (1969) by John Brunner

Or from the rest of the world

  • Solaris (1961) by Stanislaw Lem
  • Planet of the Apes (1963) by Pierre Boulle
  • Hard to Be a God (1964) by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
  • The Second Invasion from Mars (1967) by Arkady and Boris Strgatsky
  • His Master’s Voice (1968) by Stanislaw Lem

If you were born after the 1960s, especially after the year 2000, how many of these novels have you read, or have even heard about? Years ago, I wrote an essay about what I thought might be the defining science fiction novels of the 1960s. At the time I guessed these dozen would be remembered:

  1. Solaris by Stanislaw Lem (1961)
  2. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (1961)
  3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
  4. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (1962)
  5. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1963)
  6. Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
  7. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (1966)
  8. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (1966)
  9. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1968)
  10. Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner (1968)
  11. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1969)
  12. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)

I stand by these twelve for now, but I believe in the long run, only a few, if any, will be remembered by the reading public in the 2060s. Dune has the best chance of being remembered, but will it really go the distance? It was #35 on PBS’s The Great American Read, the only 1960s SF novel on the list, so that’s one indicator.

Do we remember the pop culture of the past because of the artists or their works? We remember books by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen from the 1800s, but did their stories stick to us first, or was it something about Dickens and Austen that make us read their work? I believe “Eleanor Rigby” survives because we can’t forget The Beatles. That Baby Boomers love of The Beatles was passed on to their children and grand children.

Even with one hit wonders like Little Women (#8 on the PBS list), I believe Louisa May Alcott is why we remember her book. Somehow her powerful personality anchored her in time. Ditto for literature of the 1920s. Don’t we really remember the novels of the 1920s because of our fascination with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Lawrence, and Joyce? Or do their biographical reputations grow as more readers consume their books?

My guess is the current public’s sense of 1960s science fiction comes down to Philip K. Dick and all the biographical attention he’s getting, and because so many of his stories have been filmed. Back in the 1960s, Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke were the Big Three of SF, mainly because of their successes in the 1950s. Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress are still remembered today, getting special editions and new readers, but my hunch is Heinlein’s appeal is fading, and as a teenager in the 1960s he was my J. K. Rowling. In other words, my cherish memories will not be how literary historians remembers science fiction the 1960s.

I just don’t see modern bookworms hanging onto to most 1960s SF writers today. In terms of literary cults, I’d say Ray Bradbury might be next after PKD, and possibly Ursula K. Le Guin. Dune is the major SF novel from the 1960s, but there seems to be little interest in Frank Herbert. Look how Tolkien has become legendary as a figure of literary interest. I consider that a clue to future literary remembrances. If the public doesn’t also take an interest in an author, I think it’s less likely their books will be remembered.

At the last World Con a Hugo award was given to a speech that’s erasing John W. Campbell’s reputation. Will Heinlein and Asimov be next? As much as my memories tell me that Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke were great, I’m not sure the collective pop culture memory feels the same way. This makes me sad, but I’ve got to come to terms with it.

When I take the time to think about what I actually remember, and compare those memories to external data, I realized I did read hundreds of SF during the 1960s, but the vast majority of them were first published in the 1950s. I joined the Science Fiction Book Club in March of 1967 and often got its two main selections. At best that could have been 60 new titles, but sometimes the main selections were 1950s reprints, so I figure the number was smaller, and I didn’t read every book. Thinking about things, I read many 1960s SF novels after the 1960s, in fact I’m still reading for the first time SF books from the 1960s. But even with all them, I could not assemble a list of hundreds of great SF books from the 1960s.

My memory was mostly wrong. I was able to find just under a hundred titles for this essay. I’d bet that between 1,000-2,000 SF novels were published during the 1960s, which sounds like an impossible lot, but it takes only two years nowadays to publish that many SF titles.

Memory has always been a distillation process. Each night we forget most of what happened the previous day. I don’t think the Library of America picked the most memorable eight SF novels to remember the 1960s. But then every science fiction fan who lived through the sixties will recall a different eight titles. And it would be unfair for me to want my eight favorites to be the ones remembered. However, I’d really love to know what eight SF novels from the 1960s will be remembered and read in the 2060s. Who will be the Jules Verne and H. G. Wells of the 20th century?

Update: 5/25/21

Because of a comment below by my old friend Jim Connell I realized asking a 15-year-old SF fan today about 1960s is like asking me back in 1965 what I thought about science fiction from the 1910s. At the time I had not even read A Princess of Mars or Tarzan of the Apes, or even The Skylark of Space. Over the next fifty-five years I would eventually read several novels, both literary and science fiction from the 1910s, but I can’t say I’m intimate with the pop culture of that decade. I’ve read 9 of the 70 books listed here for the 1910s, and know of several more from movies and reading about them.

Thus my memory of science fiction from the 1910s gives me roughly an idea of what younger people might know about science fiction from the 1960s.

JWH

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Cat v Man @ 3:55 a.m.

by James Wallace Harris, May 10, 2021

Ozzy has developed a very annoying habit. We used to feed Ozzy and Lily their wet food at 6:30 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. Then after the time change, Ozzy started wanting his morning meal at 5:30 a.m. I kept telling him to learn to tell time and pointed to the digital clock with the large readout. He just ignored that. Instead, he started scratching at the covers pulling them down urging me to get out of bed. He also paws at my head and sniffs my mouth just like the cat in this video. (I couldn’t convince Susan to get up in the middle of the night to actually film Ozzy, so this video will have to do.)

Now I have to get up frequently at night because of prostrate troubles, often 7-8 times to pee, so Ozzy knows getting up is no big deal for me. I had the Urolift surgery in April but so far it hasn’t been a miracle. My doctor tells me it might take months for my bladder to break out of its bad habits. I am slowly peeing less often but I still get up at least once an hour, and Ozzy is convinced they are good times to be fed.

He’s demanding food earlier and earlier. At first I acquiesced to 5:30 a.m., but then the little fuzzy bastard got pushy, pestering me at 4:30 a.m. I realized he wouldn’t stop until I got up and gave him what he wanted.

Ozzy and Lilly like sleeping with me. Usually they come to bed after 2 a.m. when they’ve finished their routine late night rowdy romping, in that dark house time after Susan has gone to bed. Ozzy used to sleep soundly until morning, but evidently my frequent rising has altered his sleep patterns.

I tried tossing both of them outside the bedroom and closing the door, but they’ll make a terrible racket to get back in. When I saw this video about how a cat reacts when their human leave home it made me more considerate towards how a cat feels. I stopped closing them out before I went to sleep.

But Ozzy kept pestering me to feed him, earlier and earlier. This morning it was 3:55 a.m. I’ve learned that I can close the door to the bedroom after I feed them and they don’t complain. I find them sleeping soundly in the den after I get up for real.

It really annoys me when Ozzy wakes me up. I’ve tried scolding him, and pushing him off the nightstand, but he just returns and wakes me up again. I wish I could reason with Ozzy. I keep seeing these videos of dogs talking to their humans with buttons. I wonder if cats could do that too?

If I could talk to Ozzy I wonder if I could reason with him? We didn’t know dogs could talk until we gave them buttons, so maybe cats can too, and if they can communicate, maybe they can be reasoned with.

As of now, I’ve lost the war. But we’ve reached a détente. I refuse to feed them before 3:30 a.m. I did this by just laying there no matter what even though it will set off a night of insomnia. And when it is past 3:30 a.m. I’ve learned to quickly get up, find my way to the kitchen in the dark, only turn on the small light in the washer room next to the kitchen, open a can of Fancy Feast, give them exactly one half of the can, chop it up fine, put their plate down, stick the rest of the can in a plastic container, turn off the light, and put it in the fridge, and go back to bed.

I can usually get back to sleep instantly if I stay calm and don’t get annoyed at Ozzy.

JWH

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How to Flourish and Avoid Languishing in Retirement and Old Age?

by James Wallace Harris, 5/5/21

Languishing and flourishing are two words that have been banging around in my consciousness since reading two essays in The New York Times: “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing” and “The Other Side of Languishing Is Flourishing.”

The first article was geared to people suffering a sense of stagnation, emptiness, and muddling through caused by the pandemic. Adam Grant says languishing is the state of mental health between depression and flourishing and explores the emotion in detail, along with advice on how to beat languishing. The second article, by Dani Blum gives us seven ways to promote flourishing.

I immediately resonated with the word languishing, but not because of pandemic confinement. I realized languishing is a state I have fallen into because of retirement and aging. I am not depressed, but often I am not flourishing either.

What I realized was the confining lifestyle required to avoid Covid-19 was similar to the lifestyle of being retired. Both involve spending most of our time at home. Both involve seeing fewer people. Both involve limiting what we can choose to do. Sheltering at home from Covid-19 was no great effort for me because I was retired. I no longer needed to go to work or school, and my social life shrank drastically after I stopped working. I felt sorry for the millions that had to put their careers, businesses, and education on hold. But what I understood now, being retired had put my future on hold too. That’s where the sense of languishing grabs us.

On the front side of life, when we are young, the future is full possibilities. We flourish by chasing all our wants.

But on the back side of life, possibilities dwindle, and opportunities disappear. After retirement our wants become fewer. As our health fades away, so do the desires that drive us. We begin to languish.

I believe wanting people, places, possessions, and proficiencies make us flourish. But how do we thrive with vanishing vitality and dissipating desires?

I need to think about this. I do know when my health fails, I languish, and when my wellbeing returns, I start flourishing again. Unfortunately, the frequency of poor health episodes are increasing.

The answer to the title question needs two approaches. One for retirement, one for aging. Retirement gives us more time but less of other things. Aging is a diminishing of being, a natural state of not flourishing. Yet, I hope to find ways to flourish right up until I’m dying. Is that even realistic? Or some Pollyannaish belief?

I could speculate now and make this essay much longer, but I believe I need to contemplate the problem deeper before philosophizing further.

JWH

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Using an Amazon Echo Dot 4th Generation as a Music Streamer

by James Wallace Harris, May 2, 2021

As I explained earlier, lightning killed my computer and TV, and zapped the ethernet/Wi-Fi circuits on my Yamaha WXA-50 integrated amp/music streamer. The amp portion continues to work with the optical and RCA inputs, just the streaming feature died. The Yamaha WXA-50 was my second favorite source of music, used in my computer room with Bose 301 Series V speakers. I know audiophiles sneer at Bose, but I loved the sound of these 301s in this room. I think they were just right for the room’s acoustics and being required to sit on the top of my bookshelves.

My main music system in the den is a Bluesound Powernode 2i paired with Klipsch RP-5000F speakers. The Yamaha WXA-50/Bose 301 sounded almost as good as the Bluesound/Klipsh system so I mourn its loss.

Instead of buying another Yamaha WXA-50 I thought I’d try getting a low cost streamer to see how it worked with the still functioning Yamaha amp. I had an old first generation Amazon Echo Dot that I tried, but it didn’t sound anything like the Yamaha streamer. I was about to order a Arylic S10 ($80) or a Arylic S50 Pro+ ($220), but Amazon diverted me with an Echo Dot 4th generation on sale for $29.95.

The 4th generation Dot does sound better than the first gen, but it’s still not as good as the Yamaha streamer. It’s pretty good when played loud, and it might be good enough for now. Describing how different music streamers compare is difficult. I don’t envy professional audiophile reviewers. The best I can do is say the Echo Dot 4th gen sounds a bit thinner, less rich, less detailed. The Yamaha often dazzled me. Sometimes I even preferred the Yamaha/Bose over the Bluesound/Klipsh, but it was really a choice between two very good sounds. Actually, it was a matter of mood. The room acoustics also influenced my listening mood too. I’m much too old to claim I can hear audiophile distinctions, it’s down to what I prefer when comparing two systems. I could even be fooling myself about the memories of what I used to hear on my Yamaha.

I’ve watched many John Darko videos about using a Raspberry Pi as a music server. I have an extra Pi which I’ve set it up before with Spotify Connect and already know it sounds crappy. As Darko points out, you need an extra third-party hat to clean up the signal/sound. Such a hat would cost as much as the Arylic S10. Maybe I’ll research Raspberry Pi v. Arylic, but my guess is both gadgets are probably closer to the Echo Dot, than the Yamaha WXA-50. But if anyone reading this knows, leave a comment.

If you’re new to music streaming through your stereo’s amp with a streaming server, it’s different from streaming with AirPlay or Bluetooth from your phone. If you aren’t picky about sound quality, it won’t matter. When you use AirPlay or Bluetooth the music is playing on your phone, but when you use a music streamer that has Spotify Connect or Tidal Connect that device is playing the music and your phone is merely the remote. It can make a big difference in sound quality.

For now, the Amazon Echo Dot 4th generation will allow me to listen to music in my computer room, it just doesn’t thrill me like the Yamaha did. It’s good enough, but not as pleasing. Probably most music fans won’t care. The Amazon Dot Echo 4th generation is a nice low-cost Spotify Connect music streamer, especially if you can get it for $29.95 on sale.

I’ve come to prefer integrated amps with streamers like the Bluesound or Yamaha. I’d probably love speakers with integrated amps and streamers like the Kef LS50 Wireless II speakers, but I’m too tight with my money to spend $2500. I love both the Yamaha WXA-50 and Powernode 2i streamers, but they aren’t perfect either. I’m addicted to Spotify Connect which allows me to use the native Spotify app to control these devices, including the Echo Dot. However, with all three devices, the app sometimes loses access and I have to quickly reload it to automatically reconnect. What I really wanted was Amazon HD music to have a Connect version like Spotify Connect so I could use the Amazon Music HD app to control the devices. It does for it’s own equipment, but not for the Yamaha or Bluesound. Each has their own Amazon Music controls built into their apps and both are pitiful.

I love using my phone to control my music. It’s a remote control for three different music systems in my house. I gave up on Amazon HD and Tidal, so I only use Spotify Connect. I love its simplicity and the Spotify app is near great.

After lightning killed me toys I’m a lot less inclined to spring for more expensive gear. Of course, it was a once-in-70-year-event for me. Still, I’m now surge shy. In the future I think I’ll aim for integrated amp/streamers in the $300-500 range matched with similar priced speakers. I’m just not going to go full audiophile. But if you already have a stereo system adding music streaming with the Amazon Echo Dot is a cheap enough experiment. I wish John Darko and Steven Guttenberg would test and rate it.

I still have a turntable and CD/SACD player but I don’t really care for them anymore. I’ve been spoiled by streaming music. It would be nice to know I was streaming everything in CD quality at a minimum. That’s why I played around with Amazon HD and Tidal. I’ve heard that Spotify will be moving to high definition music soon, so I’ve standardize on Spotify Connect, but like I said, my old ears might not be good enough to discern the extra data.

JWH

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Understanding Uncertainty

by James Wallace Harris, 5/1/21

Most people are binary in their thinking. They don’t like juggling shades of gray. We want to know yes or no, it is, or it isn’t, is it good or bad, friend or foe, us versus them, and so on. For several decades now science has been under attack because it confuses people with complicated and even contradictory results.

Reality is not simple. It contains infinite variables working through infinite combinations. Science is about statistics. It looks for patterns, making hunches to test. And the results are never absolute. Last night I came across a film that visually illustrates this better than anything I’ve seen before.

This video is well worth 25 minutes it takes to watch. Actually, it’s worth watching over and over again. Don’t be put off because the film uses climate change as a teaching example if you’re burned out on the topic. Just watch it for how science works.

Digesting the daily news has become a survivalist skill. That skill should be combined with reading, writing, and arithmetic as part of every K-12 curriculum. Even though we’ve all had a lifetime of practice consuming new information, most of us would fail this subject, even the most studious would only be getting Ds and Cs. I’m no exception, failing most tests.

It’s not a matter of knowing the right answers, but learning to live with uncertainty. It’s developing an intuition for data, both numerical and narrative. We need to consume our daily information like Sherlock Holmes, always looking for clues. In the old days, teachers would talk about developing a rule of thumb for rough guessing. Other people talk about bullshit detectors. The trouble is humans aren’t rational, but rationalizing creatures. We constantly fool ourselves with false assumptions. We feel we’re being logical, and sometimes we are, but all too often we’ve started our chain of logic after making a bad initial assumption. If you’ve ever played the game MasterMind, you’ll understand this basic trait.

Learning to think clearly is unnatural for human beings because we tend to make up our minds quickly and stick to our decisions. We decide in childhood, when we’re uneducated, on many beliefs we choose to defend for the rest of our lives. Science is all about constantly reevaluating data, and that goes against common human habits. Humans aren’t Vulcans, but we all need to think like Mr. Spock, but that requires constant effort, constant vigilance. Always learning new insights feels like we’re always swimming against the current, when the urge is to relax and to drift with the current. That’s as natural as entropy. But understanding reality is anti-entropic, it is swimming against the current.

JWH

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Sometimes We Really Do Want More Government Regulations

by James Wallace Harris, 4/27/21

Please watch this fifteen minute video from NBC News. It is the most insightful news story I’ve encountered this year because it encapsulates many of the essential issues about the future.

This video illustrates why lack of regulations and resource management leads to ordinary citizens and the environment losing to big business. Corporations and people with money wanting to make more money are searching the globe for places where they can get any kind of competitive edge with their investments. Basically, big business and rich individuals will gentrify every last acre on the planet, pricing ordinary people off their land.

Southeast Arizona has very little surface water and rainfall. For decades homeowners, family owned farms and ranches, and towns have been sipping off the top of their aquifer. As long as rains replenish that aquifer, life in the desert is sustainable. However, global corporations have discovered this Arizona land is essentially unregulated and the water is there for the the price of sinking deeper wells. This makes it profitable for corporations from around the world to exploit this area. Raising hamburgers and cattle feed in the desert seems insane until you realize the real value of water.

Water is the new gold rush, and some locales are trading their water for jobs and investments. However, once that water is gone, that locale, that environment will die. Keep an eye on this trend. You’ll see it everywhere once you start looking.

As the corporations put millions into exploiting this land, drilling ever deeper into the aquifer, they have gained control of the land because ordinary people can’t afford to extend their wells deeper, and are thus force to sell out and move. Local control over land is going to disappear.

A kind of corruption is taking place. Politicians back the corporations because they follow the money. Notice how toady the politician is in this video. People who don’t own land and just want jobs align themselves with the corporations. And even though the corporations claim they are there for the long haul, the reality is they are there as long as they can make a profit. Once they suck the aquifer dry or it becomes too costly to pump that water out of the ground, they will leave.

This is happening all over the world. The long term results is the total land area that is sustainable for life on Earth is shrinking. The dynamics of what’s happening here also reveals various kinds of inequality in action. Ordinary people can’t compete. Neither can nature. Basically, outsiders with money have all the power. If the local government had regulations about land and water use they could preserve their old way of life. They could build a sustainable society. Corporations have played the democratic system to get what they want. Read Dark Money by Jane Meyer or Evil Geniuses by Kurt Anderson for fuller explanations.

Right now we have an exploitation society. The rules are simple. Anything you can do that others can’t stop you from doing, you can do. Individuals can’t compete against corporations. And since corporations are rigging the laws, there’s little people can do – unless people take back their democracy. But it might be too late. There is little demand for sustainability. Corporations want to make money, and individuals want jobs. Unless people can create jobs that coexist with sustainable economies, things won’t change.

When you watch this video think about the two opposing groups. On one hand, you have the global demand for meat and dairy, which includes all of us, and a few individuals who have been living in southeast Arizona for decades. Corporations just fulfill the global demand. But what if the global demand becomes greater for sustainability and the environment? We all have to want it, or it won’t happen.

JWH

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Will We Reach Herd Intelligence Before We Crash Our Civilization?

by James Wallace Harris, 4/19/21

  • Collapsed: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
  • Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by Bill McKibben
  • Seaspiracy – a documentary on Netflix

All indicators point to the collapse of civilization sometimes this century. Despite all the press about this perfect storm of self destruction, few people are willing to worry, and even fewer willing to do anything. Must the conclusion be that failure is our only option?

Most of humanity is either preoccupied with personal problems, or if they contemplate the future at all, assume our species will muddle through as it always has in the past. All the evidence suggests otherwise, that the biosphere cannot absorb the impacts of Homo sapiens without a significant destabilization of its system, which in turn will alter the course of civilization.

Civilizations have always come and gone, and so have species. Nothing lasts forever, not even the Earth or the Sun. It’s rather disheartening to consider what we could have become. We almost had the intelligence to create a global civilization that could have lasted thousands, if not millions of years. Theoretically, we still have a chance, but few people who think about such things give that chance much hope. It would have required everyone pulling together towards a common cause, and we’re just not that kind of species.

However, don’t worry, don’t get depressed or do anything irrational. No need to become a prepper assuming an Armageddon is just around every corner. The collapse of civilization will probably be so slow you might not even notice it. Humans are very adaptable to hard times and excellent at rationalizing things aren’t what they seem. Just take every day one day at a time and enjoy the passing parade of history.

As an individual who reads many books and watch many documentaries like the ones above, I keep thinking we should be doing something. But I realize there’s a problem with that assumption. First, we all need to be doing the same thing, and second, we should all stop what we’ve been doing our whole lives. Now is that going to happen? Is humanity a ship that can be steered or a bullet on a trajectory? It really comes down to the Serenity Prayer,

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and Wisdom to know the difference.

It’s the last line that’s so hard to achieve. What can we change, and what can’t we change? Theoretically we could change everything in society if we could just change ourselves. Is it Pollyannaish to think we could, and fatalistic to think we can’t? I wonder if people have always believed in God just to redirect that burden of responsibility?

If you read the above books maybe you will also ask who is smart enough to understand and solve these problems? If we built giant AI minds that could think their way through these immense challenges, would we take their advice? Aren’t we too egotistical to listen? Or even if a God spoke directly to the world would we obey? I’m not sure that’s in our nature either.

Maybe the only path an individual can take and stay sane is learning to accept and endure. But that doesn’t seem to be the way either because too many people today are angry. Anger means still trying to control. If you watch the news pay attention to anger. Too many hate what’s happening to them. And it’s on both sides of the political spectrum. All the people who fight for freedom and all the people who want rules and regulations are motivated by anger. That’s what I dread about the collapse of civilization, living with all these angry people. And the only solution to that is find a place away from them, but that’s not really possible either, is it?

This is a strange book review. But I find it’s getting harder and harder to review books like these by talking about the issues they cover. I’m down to evaluating their emotional impact. The penultimate question is: Can we do anything? The answer is yes. The ultimate question is: Will we? I used to hope that was a yes too, but my faith is fading.

JWH

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Lightning Killed More Than My Hardware

by James Wallace Harris, 4/17/21

Lightning zapped my Sony TV, NUC computer, Yamaha music streamer, and AT&T internet box. It was six days before we were back on the internet, but I still haven’t replaced the other equipment. I’ve been thinking about what I had and what I want.

The lightning strike has indirectly killed my interest in Linux. I’ve been playing with Linux ever since the early 1990s when I downloaded floppy disc images off Usenet. Each time I installed it I realized I couldn’t use it for my daily computing, but over the years Linux got better and better. I thought Linux terribly neat and always wondered if there would come a day I could use it for my regular computing tasks. When lightning struck I switched to using my Linux machine. I found programs to do nearly everything I did under Windows and figured that day had finally come. Then I needed to print. HP even offers support for different Linux distributions, but the HP software I downloaded wouldn’t install. It almost did, but it was missing a handful of dependencies, just some Python files, and I just didn’t want to go looking for them. So I finally gave up on Linux. I needed to print a letter to my doctor and couldn’t. I realized that if I made a big effort I could. I might even get my flatbed scanner to work too, but it would take a lot of fiddling, and I realized I’ve just gotten too old for fiddling with computers that don’t work.

I got out my copy of Windows 10. It installed within minutes. It automatically recognized the HP printer and downloaded the drivers. My letter printed. I’ve decided my backup computer will be a Windows machine from now on too. I’m just getting too old to keep up with two operating systems. And I was thinking about getting a Mac Mini too, one of the new M1 machines. I’ve dreamed of owning a Mac for decades. Well, lightning has killed that desire too. The side effect of losing my Windows machine has made me realize I want to simplify my computer usage, and Windows only is the way to go.

I haven’t replace my TV yet because I wasn’t sure what kind of TV I wanted next. I spent years selecting the Sony. I had known I wanted a 65″ TV, but there was so many other technical considerations. Since my TV died I’ve been watching my wife’s 55″ TCL Series 5 TV and realized it’s almost as good for 1/3 to 1/4th the price. I just didn’t miss all those superior technical features Rtings.com claimed the Sony had, and the simplicity of the TCL’s built in Roku interface turns out to be the real deciding factor. I still want a 65″ TV, but I’m going to buy a 55″. The larger TV weighs more than I can handle. Over the past few years I’ve been learning that weight matters too in factoring in convenience.

Evidently, lightning also killed my desire for high tech toys. When I replace my computer, I’m going to get an Intel i5 chip instead of the i7 that got zapped. Using my old machine with an i5 has shown me it’s fast enough. Even before the crash I was thinking about a new computer. I was hankering for a tower unit with a fast graphic card. But after the lightning strike I’ve decided to stay with the small NUC form factor.

I haven’t decided what to do about my Yamaha music streamer. The lightning killed the ethernet and wireless circuits, so I can’t stream music, but the amp still works, so I can play CDs and LPs. Maybe that’s good enough. However, in my evolution towards a simplified lifestyle I’ve been considering giving up CDs and LPs. Maybe I can find a small streamer to play through the amp. All it needs is Spotify connect. I bet an Echo Dot would do. I’ve already given up on streaming high definition music. It was just too much trouble for something I wasn’t sure I could hear.

It’s odd to think about how a lightning killed my desire for newer technology, but it has. I was already downsizing because of aging, so I no longer believed bigger was better, but I still had faith that the latest technology was better, and now I don’t. A burst of lightning has shown me that I reached good enough tech years ago. I don’t need cutting edge computing equipment, or audiophile stereo equipment, or even a television that Rtings.com rates the best.

When lightning killed my toys I was annoyed, but only mildly so because of the inconvenience. It was just after several towns in Alabama were hit by tornadoes and many people lost their entire homes. I considered myself lucky to lose so little. But in a way, I was doubly lucky because what I lost has taught me what I don’t need, and that will save me a lot of time and money in the future.

JWH

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