We Need More Democracy

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The other night I watched Requiem for the American Dream about Noam Chomsky. He said something that surprised me. Chomsky talked about how the amount of democracy was variable. That the history of the United States showed democracy ebbing and flowing. I always thought democracy was an either or situation. Chomsky said the people who rule in a democracy usually wanted less democracy. We can certainly see that happening now.

Requiem for an American Dream

This documentary is currently showing on Netflix and other online sources.

This got me to thinking. How do we get more democracy? This is a rather tough problem because of the people in power controls the amount of democracy. If we want to change things we have to plan end-runs around their power.

This morning a friend sent me an email about 5 Calls. It’s both a website and app for your smartphone. All it does it help you call your representatives. If a bill is coming up, it provides information on that bill. Evidently, our representatives value phone calls over other means of letting them know what we think.

What I find revealing is when Congress votes opposite of what their constituents want. Today the Republicans are trying to ram through a repeal of Obamacare, yet if we look at the polls, Americans don’t want that. Is that democracy?

If we had maximum democracy every registered voter would vote on every bill without using representatives. Since we have a representative democracy, our elected proxies should vote the way we want. Often, this doesn’t happen because they work for a minority rather than the majority. This is called an oligarchy, and since our oligarchs are rich, we call our form of oligarchy a plutocracy. I guess that’s fancier label than Rule by Billionaires.

Interestingly, Chomsky talked about how in ancient Athens, the birthplace of democracy, the minority rulers also wanted to limit democracy. Recently I read White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America which chronicled the history of various American leaders who wanted to shape the nation and how they dealt with the democracy problem. The ruling elite has always sought ways to marginalize our needs in favor of their wants.

What we need is a shadow democracy that exactly shows our wishes. A system that allows registered voters to vote from their smartphones with perfect validation. The results should be public and separate from the current legal voting system. So for every issue, referendum, bill, law, etc. that comes up, we could have a peoples’ vote. Then we could compare the peoples’ votes to the representatives’ votes. Over time representatives might have to pay more attention to our votes than the plutocrats who currently run the system.

Since smartphones have fingerprint sensors, GPS locators, and other tools for ID validations, it should be possible to develop a system where legally registered voters re-register with the people’s voting system. It should be a system that has near foolproof validation for controlling one vote per qualified voter. Having a voting app on your smartphone should make voting so easy that we’d get very high turnouts.

This system wouldn’t replace the current legal voting system, but be a tool to fight backroom political shenanigans. By comparing the two systems a real time voting record could be made for every representative to show how well they supported the desires of their constituents.

There’s a book version of Requiem for the American Dream. Both the book and film cover ten ways those in power stay in power:

  1. Reduce democracy
  2. Shape ideology
  3. Redesign the economy
  4. Shift the burden
  5. Attack solidarity
  6. Run the regulators
  7. Engineer elections
  8. Keep the rabble in line
  9. Manufacture consent
  10. Marginalize the population

What the population at large needs to do is invent ten ways to control their elected representatives. The trouble is we can’t expect them to change the laws to reduce their own power. The electoral college benefits political parties, not people. Politicians don’t want referendums because it cuts into their power. They don’t want laws on contributions because it cuts into their power. We should have a law against voting on combining bills because that lets them make deals that benefit each other.

The 2016 election seemed to be a vote against Washington, but Donald Trump hasn’t changed the power structure or increased democracy. In fact, he seems hell-bent to give more power to the plutocracy.

Noam Chomsky quote

Our country is facing a wealth inequality crisis. It will probably destroy us before climate change does. In fact, it’s easier to solve climate change than wealth inequality. It’s understandable why the plutocrats are against doing anything about either problem. Fixing wealth inequality and climate change will cost them wealth and power. Of course, we have to live with the poverty and climate change chaos.

Increasing democracy might break the deadlock. But then again, it might not. Among my most cynical friends, there is no hope for the future. I like to think all problems have possible solutions. To solve many of our problems will require more democracy to create a sustainable form of capitalism. Right now capitalism is destroying the environment and distilling the wealth to a very few. My cynical friends will be right if we can’t change that.



Collecting Science Fiction Covers for 4K Monitor

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, July 22, 2017

[I’m going to show screenshots of my computer’s desktop to illustrate using a computer monitor as an art gallery. The image in WordPress will be small. You won’t see the wonderful details I see on a 28″ screen. If you right-click an image and save it, you should be able to see it full-size on your computer.]

My new hobby is collecting digital scans of covers from science fiction books and magazines. It’s a minor hobby that I find pleasing to my mind and memories. Back in the 1970s, I and some of my science fiction buddies enjoyed taking 35mm photographs of covers using a macro lens and then showing these cover collections as a slideshow at the science fiction club meetings. People were always blown away when they saw the art blown up.

A picture, we have always been told, can convey a thousand words. If you study cover art for magazines and books you might discover that’s conservatively true. Artists visualize details for science fiction stories I never do in my mind while reading. Often the artist will put more details for a story into his artwork than even the author imagined in words. I love that. For example, what’s going on here? I’ve never imagined such a wild colorful machine in my head.

Amazing - what's going on

With the advent of flatbed scanners, computer monitors, and even large screen TVs, it’s possible to create similar slideshows to my 1970s Kodachrome slideshows. And I’m not alone in collecting digital art. For example, there’s a company called Klio that produces handcrafted digital picture frames with 4K monitors just for showing fine digital art. There’s already tremendous interest in 4K wallpapers. It’s also fun to collect hi-rez JPLNASA, and other astronomy images. So collecting imagines of science fiction book and magazine covers isn’t that strange. There are several groups on Facebook that love SF pulp covers. One of my favorites is Space Opera Pulp.

The problem I face is getting good scans. There are many places on the internet to find a collection of covers, but often they are small images or poorly scanned images. My 4K monitor has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, or roughly 8.3 megapixels in a 16:9 aspect ratio. In the future, we might have 8K monitors (7680 x 4320 – 33.2 megapixels). 3840 x 2160 is smaller than what many digital cameras and smartphones currently snap at maximum, but it’s a good deal larger than the standard computer monitor or HDTVs, which has a 1920 x 1080 resolution. Getting larger scans dramatically improves the visual impact of displaying digital art.

Most people want to use small images on the web to improve download times, and I understand that. But for us collectors, having larger scans is better.

I find the best scans are those I do myself. I’ll scan at 300 dpi. Here’s a 1550 x 2265 scan of Beyond This Horizon by Robert A. Heinlein. It looks great on my 4K monitor. The wear on the paper is visible, yet the details of the cover are wonderful.

Beyond This Horizon

Here is a scan of the original Astounding magazine that first published Beyond This Horizon. It is only 400 x 550. It’s okay, but I wish it was at least 800 x 1100 or larger. By comparing the two, not only do we see how scanning resolution effects the presentation, but we also see how the condition of the book/magazine also determines what we will see. Also, isn’t it fascinating to see how two different artists captured the world Heinlein imagined?

Beyond This Horizon - Astounding cover

I must warn people who are considering buying a 4K monitor that there are drawbacks, especially for Windows 10 and Linux. Everything looks tiny when Windows is set to native display on a 4K monitor. You have to use custom scaling to get things to look right, and even then, not all apps cooperate. Usually, I scale to 150% or 225% on my 28” monitor. Some programs like Word and Chrome can also scale within their windows. Windows scaling to 225% help for getting around within Windows. 150% is much nicer for working with photographs and images.

Generally, the images I find on the web are usually much smaller than my monitor’s display resolution. I use a program called John’s Background Switcher (Win or Mac) to display my digital art collection. It had many options and setting variations for displaying digital images as your computer background. I use “Scale pictures to fit screen” which means I see the whole image without cropping, but it magnifies the image to fit the largest width or height. So portraits have color bars on the right and left, or landscapes have color bars above and below. John’s Background Switcher automatically selects the colors to use to match the image, and nearly always it’s a pleasing match.

scaled to maximum width

The Last Starship From Earth

Between Windows scaling and John’s Background Switcher scaling, sharpness can take a hit. I find keeping Windows scaling down to 150% makes text barely large enough to read, but greatly improves image sharpness. However, it’s very important to get a good scan to begin with. Sometimes a 600-pixel high image can be much better than a bad 1500 pixel high scan. Here’s a 729 x 530 scan, but all the wonderful details of the artwork are fuzzy. This illustration is so wonderful that I wish I had a full 3840 x 2160 scan. Unless you see this image blown up you can’t appreciate the details the artist provides.

The Wooden Spaceships - bad scan

Sometimes I can find a scan of a cover and a copy of the original artwork that was used to make the cover. For example, I have an image Rocket to Nowhere by Lester del Rey (636 x 960) and a copy of the artwork used to make the cover (2484 x 3000). As you can imagine, the copy of the artwork is crystal clear and very dramatic on the 4K monitor. It actually has to be scaled down to fit on the screen. However, because the 636 x 960 scan is so sharp and well made it looks wonderful on the larger screen too.

Rocket to Nowhere cover

Rocket to Nowhere art

I’m not sure I can convey the impact of seeing these images on a 28″ 4K monitor via WordPress. Both large screens and high resolutions help make pictures have an impressive impact. Even black and white interior illustrations are greatly enhanced by size. Below is an illustration for one of the short stories from The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Is it anything like how you pictured the story?

The Martian Chronicles - interior illustration

I also love collecting covers from my all-time favorite stories. Seeing them trigger memories of when I first read the stories. Here is the original magazine illustration for Have Space Suit-Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein, and a scan of my personal copy of the hardback.

Have Space Suit-Will Trave FSF

Have Space Suit-Will Travel Scribners

Sometimes I can find scans of my favorite books, like Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany, but I’m dissatisfied with the scan. I keep it because it’s the best I’ve got. This makes me wish that people who scan covers think about the future. These books and magazines are deteriorating and fading. Whatever you scan might be the best memory we have of that book in the future. So make sure it’s in focus, the color is well balanced, and you get the most pixels possible. I wish this image was more in focus. It looks fine small, but not enlarged.

Empire Star - focus or resolution

Also, here’s a copy of the paperback edition where I first read Stranger in a Strange Land. Because the book itself is beat-up, the scan isn’t quite nice to look at. I keep it for nostalgia sake. I wish I had a better scan.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Old magazines fade. What makes a magazine collectible is its condition, and that can vary greatly. Scanners scan what they have, so I can’t complain. But I wish collectors who have better copies would scan their covers and upload them to share. Here is a bright Amazing and a faded F&SF to show the difference.

Amazing - vivid colors

FSF faded

I know 99.99% of people don’t care about what happens to old magazines. I just wrote an essay on Jane Austen for the 200th anniversary of her death. Reading about all that existed then that is now lost from 200 years ago makes me understand the importance of preserving the present for the future.

I love finding scans of original artwork used for cover illustrations, like this painting by Richard Powers. It’s a good example of how science fiction art changes styles and vogues over the years. Powers’ artwork sold a lot of science fiction in the 1950s and 1960s.

Powers original without layout

One reason I love looking at scans of old magazines and paperbacks is that I enjoy how people in the past imagined us folks in the future looking. Here are two paperbacks from the 1950s. The Door Into Summer is 1957 novel about a 1970 man taking cold sleep until the year 2000. I first read it in 1965, and we’ve already lived past the year 2000. I never wore anything that looked like that. Also, look at this cover of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s wonderful.

The Door Into Summer - Signet


I could write about science fiction cover art forever. I’ve written about SF book covers in the past and will write about them in the future. I never get tired of them. I thought I was probably a very oddball person for liking old SF covers. But some of the groups on Facebook devoted to SF covers have thousands of members.


Is Facebook Replacing Older Ways?

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 19, 2017

A few years ago an older version of our web site devoted to the Classics of Science Fiction would get hundreds of hits a day, some days going over a thousand. Now it’s lucky to get two dozen. Searching Google for “classics of science fiction” usually places the site on the first page of returns, which would suggest it’s still valid.

Why the decline in hits? It’s doubtful that science fiction has fallen out of favor. I’ve been wondering if how people use the internet has changed. I know our site is boring and statistical but it did have some fans. Now it doesn’t. I’m wondering if folks have stopped using the web in the same way they used it before. Are most people going to big sites and ignoring the small sites?

Or is everyone hanging out on Facebook instead?


Pages and groups devoted to science fiction on Facebook often have thousands of followers. Are people spending more time socializing on Facebook than surfing the web? Facebook has over 2 billion members. Many of my friends and family use Facebook daily. Has Facebook reached a critical mass of users meaning it can’t be ignored?

I know many people who loathe Facebook. As online forums and Yahoo! Groups die from inactivity will those holdouts be forced to become a Facebook pod person?

The internet existed for years before the World Wide Web. It wasn’t until the invention of the web browser that people began surfing the internet purely for entertainment. Users jumped from link to link, going wherever inspiration led them to click.

Then came search engines. Instead of surfing, you keyword searched. Of course, search results could take you to unknown and surprising places.

The way we use the internet has changed again with smartphone apps. Whereas before I’d start with Google, I now tap Wikipedia, IMDB or other icons instead. There are times when I have to fall back to Google, but it’s usually when I’m doing writing research.

For years my online socializing happened on blogs, Yahoo! Groups, or forums at web sites. All those virtual meeting places are becoming depopulated. After the internet became universal I assumed it would always be the same. Now I’m thinking the underlying technology will always be there, but how we use it will constantly mutate.

Has Facebook become an alternative to web surfing, blogging, home pages, personal web sites, etc? Even more, is Facebook replacing family get-togethers, scrapbooks, printed photos, letters, postcards, greeting cards, telephone calls, and email? Many people now prefer texting to a phone call because it is less time-consuming. Has Facebook become the quick replacement for visiting online friends, or even some real life friends?




200 Years After Jane Austen

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 18, 2017

[To commemorate the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death Book Riot devoted today to all Jane Austen essays, my contribution was “Who Jane Read, Who Read Jane.”]

Isn’t Jane Austen a writer for ladies who love romance stories? What kind of appeal can she have for a 65-year-old male with no interest in young women finding Mr. Right? This past week I watched films based on all six of Jane Austen novels with combinations of four different female friends. I thoroughly enjoyed them, but I’m not sure I enjoyed them for the same reasons my lady friends did. I have read four of her novels, and parts of several biographies.

NPG 3630; Jane Austen by Cassandra AustenI wished I had read Jane Austen when I was a boy because I would have been much less clueless about girls. However, I’m not sure I could have liked her novels for the same reasons I do now. And I’m not sure I was a savvy enough teenage boy to decode their characters to understand how the opposite sex thought. I didn’t discover Jane Austen until 13 years ago when I was 52 and read Pride and Prejudice because a lady friend at work praised it so highly.

I’ve been attracted to Jane ever since. Jane died in 1817, at age 41, having never married. She is sexy to me now because of her writing skills. We know very little about Jane except for what comes through in six novels, about 160 letters that were heavily censored by her surviving sister Cassandra, and three scrapbook volumes of unpublished work now called her juvenilia. All of this has been collected in a $1.99 Kindle edition called The Complete Works of Jane Austen – a handy way to carry Jane around in your smartphone.

Jane Austen imaginedPeople still argue over what Jane Austen even looked like. The drawing above was made by her sister Cassandra, with some relatives claiming after Jane’s death that it wasn’t a particularly good likeness. The drawing on the left was found in recent years and was assumed to be an imagined version of what she looked like, but many fans hope because it’s old enough, to be a drawing of Jane while she lived.

Which brings us back to why I love to read Jane. I’m driven by the mystery of figuring out who she was. She wrote six books that after two centuries is still growing her fan base, already in tens of millions, maybe hundreds. Any writer should envy that. I say she’s tied with Charles Dickens as the most remembered English novelist of the nineteenth century. Understanding why their work survives when so many others haven’t, fascinates me.

I figure less than 100 novels from any country are still popularly read and remembered today from the nineteenth-century. That begs the question: Why? In Jane’s day, Sir Walter Scott was the Stephen King/J. K. Rowling/James Patterson best selling author. Who reads Scott today? Why do we see stories on Masterpiece by Austen and Dickens reproduced over and over again? If we knew could today’s writers apply that knowledge to write books that would be popularly loved in 2317?

The films of Jane Austen seemed aimed at Regency romance fans, but I’m not sure that’s the kind of audience Austen expected. After her death, her family worked hard to censor the memory of Aunt Jane. Some conjecture has claimed she wrote over 3,000 letters. I wished we had them because I believe we’d have the real Jane. It’s a shame WordPress didn’t exist back then. I get the feeling from some of the clues that Jane was a funny sharp-tongued woman that might have had a lot to say about her world, but was held back by family, church, and publishing propriety. Her juvenilia hints at a more zany, even vicious Jane. In some ways, she reminds me of Louisa May Alcott who loved blood and thunder stories as a girl.

What we do get in the novels is a keen observer of people and society, and Jane would have been an excellent psychologist or sociologist. My mental map of nineteenth-century England comes from novelists, not historians. And I believe the everyday history included in their novels is a major trait of Austen’s and Dickens’ success. I have no interest in reading about the Napoleonic Wars which was concurrent with Jane’s stories. Some critics shame Jane for not being interested too, but I find her peripheral view of soldiers and sailors at home more interesting.

In the past two weeks, The New York Times has run two articles on textual analysis of Jane Austen and her word usage: “Charting Literary Greatness with Jane Austen,” and “The Word Choices Explain Why Jane Austen Endures.” Austen’s six novels stood out in their graph, away from all the other novels charted. (Strangely, they left out Dickens – I wonder why?)

Because of the anniversary of her death, there’s much being written about Jane. Just look at this Google search limited to the recent week. I’m sure this Jane Austen mania is invisible to most people, but for her fans, it only validates why she’s worthy of being remembered.

When I read Jane I delight in comparing then and now. Of course, Jane’s upper middle-class characters peeking inside manor houses totally ignores how ninety-five percent of England lived back then. Dickens trounced Jane at covering the full socio-economic spectrum. However, Jane covers a preindustrial time before Dickens. Jane was born the year before America declared independence and died the year before Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, A Modern Prometheus. Her novels have almost exclusive rights to that specific period of literary history. Whereas Dickens is working the same territory as the Brontës, Thackery, Trollope, Collins, and others. There were plenty of English novelists during the Regency period, but we don’t read them today.

Anyone who is a fan of Downton Abbey should be a fan of Jane Austen because that TV show chronicles the death of a lifestyle that Austen wrote about. The reason why the Crawley family had to leave their estate to a distant cousin is the same reason why the Bennets had to leave their home to Mr. Collins. Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham is pretty much a Mr. Darcy a century later who had to marry a rich American woman instead of a local Elizabeth Bennet.

I’m not an Anglophile, but to enjoy reading English novels means learning English history. Austen and Dickens anchor me in nineteenth-century England in the same way Twain and Alcott put me in nineteenth-century America, or Tolstoy lets me see nineteenth-century Russia. Their novels help me understand nineteenth-century art and art history, the time of my favorite paintings. Jane’s novels help me to appreciate on a deeper level historical novels like The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Yet, there’s another reason why I love Jane Austen novels. In the 1960s I grew up reading 1950s writers and stories. Over time I realized my favorite writers had favorite writers, and those writers had writers who inspired them. Many writers today can trace their literary genealogy back to Jane Austen. Over a lifetime of reading, I’ve been slowly studying a family tree of fiction. That gives me a great deal of pleasure.

Finally, reading Jane gives me Elizabeth Bennet, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, Fanny Price, Emma Woodhouse, Catherine Morland and Anne Elliot. Fictional females are extremely important to understanding the history of women and the evolution of feminist thought in our culture. By reading novels, we can see how free women were in their times, from Elizabeth Bennet to Caroline Meeber to Lady Brett Ashley to Janie Crawford to Esther Greenwood to Isodore Wing to Ifemelu to Offred/June.


Books To Read To Save The World

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, July 15, 2015

  • We will destroy civilization before the end of the century.
  • Denying science is denying reality.
  • Denying evidence for personal gain is treason to our species
  • Greed is destroying all the species on this planet including our own.
  • Self-interest is leading to species suicide.
  • We have the knowledge and technology to solve our problems.
  • We must change the way we live to save the planet.
  • Human nature is too stupid to survive free market capitalism.
  • We will not save the world just by buying LED light bulbs and driving electric cars.
  • Reading books will not save the Earth, but it will help understand the complexity of the problems we face.
  • Reading these books can be depressing.
  • Not reading these books only makes our problems worse.
  • Read and recommend books that help us understand the reality of your actions.
  • We can only divert the collapse of civilization if we find a new sustainable way to live.
  • Read ten books before deciding if I’m wrong.
  • Read another ten to begin to find hope.

If you know of other good books, recommend them in the comment section.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? by Alan Weisman

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scranton

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty

The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon

Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil

How Will Capitalism End? by Wolfgang Streeck

EarthEd: Rethinking Education on a Changing Planet by The Worldwatch Institute

Climate of Hope by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope

The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan

Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild

White Trash: The 400-Year Untol History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisis Coaste

Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein

Sex Object by Jessica Valenti

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few by Robert B. Reich

Dark Money by Jane Mayer

Getting to Green: Saving Nature – A Bipartisan Solution by Frederic C. Rich

The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World by Paul Gilding

Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean

Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life by David R. Montgomery

The Carbon Farming Solution by Eric Toensmeier

Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal

Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein

The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea by Callum Roberts

Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization by Steven Solomon

Climate Change and the Health of Nations by Anthony J. McMichael

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by by Jared Diamond


Sparrows and Prayers

by James Wallace Harris, Friday, July 14, 2017

Even as an atheist I’ve always loved the sentiment that God knows every sparrow that falls from a tree. It’s a comforting feeling to know that we’re watched by someone who loves us. A 2008 poll showed 60% of Americans believe in a personal God. But according to one estimate, there are ten times as many stars in the universe than all the grains of sand on Earth. The next time you’re at the beach, contemplate the sand and imagine that each grain contains as many humans as Earth, and then imagine what it would be like to hear all their prayers, and then remember you’d need to listen to all the beings on all the other grains of sand too. Can any mind no matter how vast discern so many voices?

There are over 7 billion humans on this planet and between 200-400 billion birds. How can God know every sparrow that falls from the sky or listens to every prayer we make? Now imagine multiplying 407 billion times every planet in the universe. Now multiply that times every universe in the multiverse.

sparrows and prayers

The only person that hears our prayers are ourselves, and maybe a few people who love us if we tell them. The idea that there’s a loving being that listens to all our wants, desires, and fears is a story primitive people told themselves. How can we believe it when we know so much more? Our reality is even larger than what we can see with the Hubble telescope. There’s no reason not to assume it’s infinite.

We need to individually listen to our own prayers and answer them ourselves. We need to collectively listen to each other’s prayers and work together to answer them as species. Humans need to note each sparrow that falls from the trees and care for them.

We should all want universal health care, we all get sick. Why should the rich get their prayers answered, and not the poor? Why should the rich be the sparrows that get noticed?


Taking Life Slower

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Back in May, I watched a segment on CBS Sunday Morning about Norway’s slow TV movement. You can watch the video here. Slow TV is watching ordinary events for hours at a time, like watching the view out the window of a train. It’s a step up from watching paint dry or grass grow – but not by much. I turned to my wife and told her she was already a slow TV fan. She’s been watching a live webcam of two eagles raising a baby for weeks – hours every day.

Slow Snail Life Animal Slime Small

Yesterday, I found “The Case for Taking Forever to Finish Reading Books.” I’ve always known I read too fast, even when I’m intentionally trying to read slowly. That’s why I love audiobooks – they go very slow. My friend Mike has given up audio books because he wants to read even slower.

For years I’ve kept a pace of reading one book a week – or 52 in a year. This year I’ve slowed down. In the first half of 2017, I’ve only read 16 books instead of 26. Still, that’s speed reading compared to the author of the article above, who has spent five years reading In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, and is only two-thirds finished.

My TV buddy Janis and I have rushed through ten episodes of Glow in about a week. We took about as long to finish Season 3 of Fargo. I’m not a slow TV watcher, but I’m wondering if I should be. Tonight my friends and I will be watching Emma, the fifth of six Jane Austen films we’ve watched in five nights. Tomorrow night is Persuasion. Already, I struggle to remember the plot and characters of Northanger Abbey, the first we watched on Saturday night.

If I had watched these six films in six weeks instead of six days would it have improved the experience? This is my Jane Austen week. I’ve been gorging on her biographies. I wish I had time to read her books again. Like most of my study manias, I’ll feast on Austen for a week or two and then forget her for years. Instead of trying to consume all of her quickly, I wonder if I had taken one novel, read it slowly, and studied its history, would I know Jane Austen better?

Reading the biographies concurrent with the movies reveals why she developed her plots. Studying one novel intently for one month would be intensely revealing, both of Austen and of early nineteenth-century English history.

The trouble with reading slower is reading less. I read fast so I can read more. I’m starting to wonder if I need abandon my quest to read everything great. It was never a particularly practical ambition. Over and over again I anguish over the fact that I can’t remember what I read, and I always come to the same conclusion – reading is for the moment. It’s not about remembering. I cannot store facts in my brain like entering data into a computer.

Reading is about experiencing a moment. My guess is reading very slow makes that moment a fuller. (Can you imagine a fatter moment?)

This week is all about Jane Austen. Next Tuesday is the 200th anniversary of her death. I need to read her at the pace Norwegians watch the scenery from a riverboat traveling down a river. Maybe I can stretch my week into a month. I know no matter how hard I try I won’t remember 99.9% what I read.

Mansfield ParkBut if I can slow down, both in my contemplation of what I’m reading and in my need to finish the project, I can go deeper into Jane’s world. I have so many other books I want to read, so many authors I want to consume – but does that matter? Can I go slow enough to forget future ambitions that follow this ambition? If I could go slow enough I’d never leave Jane Austen. If I could go even slower I’d never leave Mansfield Park.