What Are The Most Useful Concepts You’ve Learned From Science Fiction?

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, June 1, 2015

Science fiction has always thrilled me with far out ideas, giving me a life-long sense of wonder. Science fiction constantly reminds me that reality is immense and my everyday life is just one limited view. For the most part, science fiction has been entertainment, yet, I often find myself solving problems in everyday life by applying a concept acquired from my reading.

I’ve been reading SF for over fifty years, and it has programmed my thinking just as much as any Bible thumper has been influenced by their good book. Science fiction has tinted my view of reality, even though I know most of its ideas are far from scientific. When I was young science fiction fueled my hopes for the future, but now that I’m old, I’m curious what useful knowledge I actually acquired from this genre I love so much. For example, when I look back on high school, I see that a six-weeks typing course helped me get more jobs than anything else I studied. Now, I wonder if I found anything in science fiction that has been equally useful.

My favorite science fiction growing up was Heinlein’s twelve juvenile novels he wrote for Charles Scribner’s Sons.  Heinlein worked to teach his youthful readers to prepare for the future by studying math and science. Yet, when I look deeper, I got my best lessons about reality from two stories from Samuel R. Delany, the short novel Empire Star and the novella, “The Star Pit.”

Empire-Star---Samuel-Delany

Delany taught me three useful concepts in these two stories. I’ve expanded them with my own interpretation, as all readers do. But I credit Delany with presenting me with these three philosophical observations:

  • People think in three modes: simplex, complex and multiplex
  • No matter how original you feel you will always meet people who have already discovered everything you did
  • We all live within barriers we can’t escape, like fish in an aquarium, and we’ll always meet other people who can go beyond our barriers

In Empire Star, a boy, Comet Jo, from a backwater moon is thrust into a galaxy spanning adventure. Before he leaves home, he is warned that he has a simplex mind, and once he goes into space he will encounter complex and multiplex thinking. I was a young teen when I first read this story, so I was in a transition phase between what my parents taught me and learning to think for myself. This was the 1960s, and so it was a very complex time. We like to assume we’re all working from the same page, have equal thinking ability, and the standards by which we judge reality are the same standards by which other people see the same reality.

Simplex thinkers believe everyone should convert to their way of seeing things. Complex thinkers understand reality is very complicated, and there’s a certain amount of negotiating and compromise involved with coexisting in reality. Multiplex thinkers often let simplex and complex thinkers be themselves, and work around them. Take for instance religion. Fundamentalists are simplex, ecumenical believers are complex, and our Founding Fathers were multiplex.

Ever since reading Empire Star I always ask myself if the person I’m trying to communicate with is coming from a simplex, complex or multiplex thought process. It does no good to use complex or multiplex logic on a simplex thinker. And it’s all relative. If we ever encounter an alien civilization, no matter how much commonality we can find, our parochial humanness will make our initial approach to them simplex. We’ll have to progress through stages that involve complex and multiplex thinking.

When dealing with individuals or cultures, using this concept will help understand various social realities. People can be simplex, complex and multiplex simultaneously on different beliefs. Just watch the news. People who refuse to negotiate are coming from a simplex take on reality. Willingness to bend reflects an understanding of others. Multiplex thinkers will come up with King Solomon like solutions that can satisfy both simplex and complex thinkers.

Comet Jo begins his travels feeling everything he discovers is unique to him. He feels special. Then he meets Ni Ty Lee who has done everything Comet Jo has, and even has the ability to predict what he will experience. This shatters Comet Jo’s ego. I’ve always wondered if Delany was a child prodigy who wrote this after meeting older child prodigies.

Finally, in “The Star Pit” we meet Vyme, a man with a long tragic past who owns a starship garage out on the edge of the galaxy. In this story, humans have discovered that travel between the galaxies is impossible except for a very few people who have a special psychological makeup. They get labeled The Golden. Vyme takes in a street kid named Ratlit who hates he’s not Golden. Between the two characters we learn how each discover the limits of their aquarium, and how they learn to deal with the barriers in their life. I’ve written about his before – “The Limits of Limitations.”

The older I get, the more I realize that humanity is probably confined to living on Earth. And for the most part, we each evolve through the same stages as those who came before us, and like King Solomon observed, there’s nothing new under the sun. Finally, nearly all our conflicts are due to the failure of simplex, complex and multiplex thinkers not being able to communicate. I’ve often wondered if simplex and complex beings are two different species, and Homo Sapiens have already forked, and we’re already seeing signs of Humans 3.0.

Yet, I still have hope because of one concept I got from a science fiction movie written by Robert A. Heinlein.

Destination-Moon-Poster

When the astronauts in Destination Moon discover they don’t have enough fuel to return to Earth after making the first Moon landing, their solution is to throw out enough mass to make their rocket light enough to match their fuel. Throughout life I’ve had moments where I couldn’t take off, and I realized that I needed to jettison the extra weight. Now that I’ve gotten older, and my body isn’t as energetic as it was, I’m learning to get further in my social security years, I need to throw out the past, all that extra mass is holding me down.

If humanity is ever to take off it will have to jettison a lot of mass from its past. To reach the next stage, whether Humanity 2.0 or 3.0, we need to give up religion and most of philosophy. Their mass keeps us from launching. Even on an individual level, I realize I have my own mental baggage that weighs me down. Much of it comes from reading science fiction.

Learning that I have limited mental fuel offers all kinds of philosophical parallels to rocket travel and Newton’s famous laws. And it’s not just energy, but cognitive ability. We all love the idea we have unlimited potential, but we don’t. Science fiction taught me that too.

Stand on Zanzibar - John Brunner

Stand on Zanzibar came out in 1968, and was about the world of 2010. I read it in 1968, and I’ve lived through 2010. We can never know the future, but some science fiction writers can make us seriously think about the possibilities. I remember being a kid reading this book and horrified at the terrorism that takes place in the story. I wasn’t savvy enough then to know that terrorism is common in all times, or that in 1970 there would be over 450 terrorist attacks in the U.S. Since 2000, there’s been less than 50 a year. What science fiction teaches us is to understand our fears, even when it’s wrong.

To value science fiction I also need to know its limitations.

Stand on Zanzibar and Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! scared me into thinking the future would be an overpopulated nightmare. What’s funny, our world is suffering horribly from overpopulation, but not how science fiction imagined. Science fiction failed to see climate change and the Internet. It also failed to see we’d never leave low Earth Orbit for 43 years. Nor did it imagine The Hubble Telescope and renaissance in astronomy.

It’s strange to credit science fiction being a success for failing to predict, but that’s also a valuable lesson.

The Long Tomorrow - Leigh BrackettOn the Beach - Nevil ShuteAlas Babylong - Pat Frank

The real question we should ask: Does science fiction warn us away from following paths into bad futures? Did all those 1950s books about nuclear war keep us from blowing ourselves up? Or is it just another case of science fiction being bad at predicting the future? I’d like to think science fiction made us wiser in this case. I can’t help but believe Nineteen Eighty-Four is a great lesson in how not to govern. Yet, if you study how Republicans use rhetorical trickery to dispute science, you can’t help but wonder if Orwell’s story isn’t coming true. Dystopias are handbooks on how to avoid certain futures.

Using multiplex thinking science fiction can predict and fail to predict the future and still be a success. It’s much too simplex to assume a specific future will come to pass. It’s complex to think we should look at all the possibilities. It’s multiplex thinking to perceive how science fiction is both wrong and right at the same time.

— If you have the time, post a reply about how science fiction has been useful to you. —

JWH

The Tiny House Movement—What’s The Practical Size for Living Space?

Last night I watched Tiny: A Story About Living Small, a documentary by Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith, about Smith’s year building a tiny house. I’ve seen several news stories about tiny houses in the past few years, read some articles, and even met a handful of people who told me they’d love to build and live in their own tiny house. There is a certain appeal to them. Most tiny houses are personal works of art that reflect their owner’s philosophy about living simply. The tiny house movement counters the extravagant big house trend that has existed for decades. Most tiny houses are mobile homes so they appeal to people who want to travel. And they are a cheaper way to live.

Like the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and 1970s, I don’t think the tiny house movement is sustainable, or will appeal to most people. However, it is very appealing to a lot of people. And it brings up some very important philosophical questions. How much space does a person need to live comfortably? How much space should a person use to be environmentally ethical? How can we maximize the efficiency of the space we use? What’s the minimum space needed for optimal psychological existence for one person? How does the psychological living space change when there are two people? What about a family with children?

I live in a house that’s about 1,700 square feet. I’ve lived in larger and smaller homes. My wife lives out-of-town during the week in a one bedroom apartment, so for most of the week that 1,700 square feet is all mine. I’m currently using every room of the house, but I’m pretty sure I could do with less, much less. We have a living room and den. We have a dining room that seats six, and a breakfast area that can seat another six. I use the living room for reading, and the dining room for my Raspberry Pi computer setup. At a guess, I’m pretty sure I could keep all my stuff I use and consolidate it into a comfortable living space of 800 square feet. This isn’t counting what my wife might want. If I had to, I could give up a lot of stuff, and probably still be happy with 400-500 square feet. Still much bigger than the average tiny home.

In the film they profile tiny houses that ranged from 84 square feet to about 250 square feet. Most were in the 150-200 range. This is way smaller than what I’d ever want to live in. Of course, if everyone lived like tiny house people there certainly would be a lot more land for wildlife, and cities and towns would shrink dramatically.

I wonder if our population explosion is inspiring people to live with less, both as a financial necessity, and because we’re all being pushed together. I can’t help but think many of the people profiled want to get away from normal society.

Most of the tiny house people interviewed were people living by themselves, and I wonder if they are modern day Henry David Thoreaus? Tiny houses have the look of Thoreau’s Walden cabin. It’s not for everyone. Even in in the film Tiny, the girlfriend wanted to move to New York City, because that was here dream. Most of the tiny house people interviewed seemed happy to live with their books and cat. I didn’t see any large screen TVs and video game consoles in the tiny houses.

Nor do we see washers and dryers, large refrigerators and stoves, dishwashers, bathtubs, and I never spotted an air conditioner or hot water heater. Tiny houses are like living on a sailboat, travel trailer or RV. They are much smaller than even your typical double-wide. It would be a sacrifice for most people to live in one, so they convey a kind of spiritual living, and probably appeal to people who think a monkish lifestyle is good for their soul.

It appears that the common practice is to park tiny houses on other people’s land, often in backyards.  I don’t know about the legality of this. Nor do I understand the requirements for water and sewage. In the film they did show power coming from a heavy-duty extension cord, and from solar panels. I just read it’s common to depend on a toilet in a nearby house, or use composting or incinerator toilets. All of which sound like a hassle. So does going to the laundry.

I’m not against tiny living, but I think I’d prefer a tiny apartment that did have flush toilets. If we’re truly going to be environmental, I think the future will be in apartment living, and planned communities. Most people hate apartments because of the sound of other people. If they were soundproof, they might be more appealing. What would give them more hippie appeal is if the apartment building was integrated into a park, and car parking was away from the living areas, or the site located near good public transportation. If apartment buildings were designed as planned communities, targeted to specific kinds of people, they’d probably be even more appealing.

I think we do need to work at being less wasteful, more efficient, and far less polluting. The human race’s impact on Earth is becoming very close to be a cancer, if it hasn’t already. We’ve stolen so much animal habitat territory that humans have become another mass-extinction event in Earth’s history. I don’t think tiny houses are the answer though, not directly. My guess is most people will live in a tiny house no longer than Henry David Thoreau lived in the woods alone. And living in a tiny house for a year would probably teach all of us many valuable lessons. I can imagine a spiritual movement of people choosing to live in a tiny house for a period of time to learn what they truly need in life.

I found another documentary about the movement, We the Tiny House People. And Google says there are even more of them.

Here’s another short film about a very elegant tiny house.

If you want to see more, just follow this link to YouTube which offers many more films. It’s amazing how popular this movement is. Notice the other links. There seems to be part of a larger movement to build cheaper houses, which is also part of the DIY movement. Tiny houses might appeal to a large variety of people for many different reasons.  Just look at this Google page for images of tiny houses. Here’s one screen shot to give you an idea – click to make larger.

tiny-houses

Notice how creative an artistic these little houses are. Building a tiny house is much easier than building a full-size house, so part of the movement might be about just building a house of your own design. I wonder if parks for tiny houses will become popular like RV parks and mobile home subdivisions?

There’s quite a few websites devoted to tiny houses:

If I’m ever in Portland, Oregon, I’d like to stay in the Tiny House Hotel just to see what living in one is like. Other than that, I think in general, I’ll admire them from afar, although I wouldn’t mind visiting Tiny House Show if one came to town. However, the real life effect on me is to think about all the junk I live with now. This film makes me want to catalog all my possession and think about how many I really need. I have four computers, two tablets, two Kindles, and an iPod touch. Do I need so many? Of course not. Yet, I want more – an iMac and Chromebook. My Raspberry Pi is a tiny computer.

Watching these people live in tiny houses makes me realize how big my living habits are. It makes me want to clean our closets and drawers, and get rid of junk that I don’t need. It makes me want to do more with less. I just don’t want to live that small – but I would be willing to go smaller.

JWH

Making Sense of a Zillion Pieces of Advice

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 17, 2014

Have you ever notice how much advice the Internet offers?  The web probably has more advice articles than the complete history of women’s magazines.  From how to organize your life, to the most healthy foods to eat, to the best cities to live in, the quickest meals to fix, to how to fight memory loss, or meet the love of your life,  or which smartphones to buy, and so on, and so on. Some of the advice is based on scientific studies, but most of it is from personal experience, and probably a good deal is just some blogger making shit up.

What if we could consolidate all that advice into meta-lists so we could discover what the most common tips reveal? If one dietician says eating broccoli is great for your health, would you start eating it three times a week?  What if 2,000 different scientific studies proclaimed the virtues of broccoli? What if they said broccoli increases your sexual stamina, reduces cavities, clears your skin and conquers constipation?  At what point are we willing to take notice and act on advice? We’re all failures at keeping New Year’s resolutions, so is all this advice wasted on the undisciplined? Or are we all slowly evolving and improving from all these studies?  It’s taken about fifty years for most people to stop smoking.  And even with a Mt. Everest pile of evidence, many people still light up. When and how does advice become overwhelmingly convincing?

memory-loss

Memory Loss

The 800-pound gorilla squatting in my generation’s living room is memory loss. I don’t know how scary dementia is to people under 55, but for us folks over 55, it’s scarier than a serial killer with an idling chain saw. “Memory Loss From Alzheimer’s Disease Reversed For the First Time With Lifestyle Changes” is one article that grabbed my attention.  It’s based on this press report from the Buck Institute on a very small trial of ten patients.  Nine patients with varying degrees of dementia improved after 3-6 months following a specific 36-point  lifestyle guideline.  The tenth person with late stage Alzheimer’s didn’t improve.  The full report in PDF was published in AGING, September 2014, Vol. 6 No. 9.  Scroll down to Table 1. Therapeutic System 1.0.  The entire system is not easy to describe, but here’s a summary.  How many of these pieces of advice are you willing to follow to save your mind?

  • Give up all simple carbohydrates and gluten
  • Give up processed food
  • Eat more vegetables and fruits
  • Eat wild-caught fish
  • Meditate twice a day
  • Do yoga
  • Sleep at least 7-8 hours a night
  • Take CoQ-10, fish oil, melatonin, methylcobaliamin and vitamin D3 supplements?
  • Use electric toothbrush and flossing tool
  • Take hormone replacement therapies
  • Fast at last 12 hours between dinner and breakfast
  • Don’t eat 3 hours before bedtime
  • Exercise 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week

How many articles have you read in your life that recommended some of these lifestyle changes?  Over the years I’ve seen some of these recommendations hundreds of times. Why didn’t I start following them in my twenties, thirties or forties?  Why did I wait until my sixties to get down to business? Even though this report in AGING came out in September, 2014, its advice is quite common.  Just read these other articles.

This is just a half dozen articles out of whole libraries devoted to the subject. Yet, if you take the time to read them, you’ll see consistent pieces of advice show up time and again, and even interesting contrasting advice.  Such as sleep at least 7-8 hours, but it’s bad to sleep more than 9 hours.

It’s key in evaluating articles on the Internet to understand where the knowledge comes from. First check if it’s based on a scientific study, and see if you can track down the original study. Popular articles summarize scientific studies, and sometimes they slant their summaries.  See if there are other articles from other sites that take a different slant. Great essays will cover multiple studies, and even explain conflicting studies.

Most articles aren’t based on scientific studies. In those cases you have to evaluate the expertise of the person giving the advice. If you’re reading dating advice, what experience does the romance guru have? Is it just personal, or do they have a relevant degree, or work for Match.com? Plain old personal advice can be valuable, especially if that person’s insights are savvy and practical, and they fit your own observations and experience.

My point here is not to write specifically about memory loss prevention, but to show that there’s a tremendous amount of knowledge, and maybe even wisdom to found on any subject.  How do we evaluate the wealth of information?  Most people find it confusing that on so many topics there’s lots of contradictory advice.  So, how do we decide which recommendations are valid? Wisdom doesn’t come easy.

That’s what I’m wishing for here, a web site that collects and contrasts all the studies and averages them out for every issue we want to consider. I want a Meta-Advice site, a one-stop-shop for evaluating advice, organized like Wikipedia, that has an army of specialists hammering out summaries and comparisons of all the research for any specific subject people want advice on. Google is great, but if you use Wikipedia a lot, you’ll understand why it’s structural approach is better for organizing advice information.

Imagine going to this Meta-Advice site and looking up memory loss and CoQ-10.  Let’s say it evaluates 57 different research studies. The summary might not be conclusive – science rarely is – but it would give us the best current answer, even if it’s only a statistic like in 63% of cases using 23,204 subjects, memory retention was improved when CoQ-10 was used in trials varying between 6 months and three years.  I’m making up these numbers, but you should get what I mean.

When research scientists or PhD candidates want to explore new territory they do a literature review of all the previous studies. They need to find the boundaries of what’s known and not known. This Meta-Advice site should do the same thing, and make it understandable to the layman where the boundary of knowledge is, and what they can learn from it.

It is possible for an individual to go to Google Scholar and do a search on “Alzheimer’s and Dementia Prevention.”  But the results are overwhelming. Only the truly dedicated will wade through the massive number of articles available. That’s why a site like Wikipedia, where knowledgeable editors can predigest the information for the average reader would be a huge help. The Internet is coming up with all kinds of new ways of doing things. We have no idea what cognitive tools will be invented soon. If you think of the effective nature of what Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, IMDB, Flickr, etc., they all make managing information easier. I believe advice management is in need of an Internet makeover.  

JWH

Sailing Around the World Alone

How young is too young to sail around the world? The other night I watched Maidentrip about Laura Dekker, a Dutch girl who wanted to sail around the world by herself at age 14.  The Dutch courts intervene for ten months before Dekker finally got to sail when she was fifteen, completing her circumnavigation when she was sixteen.  It’s hard to say when a person is too young to do something.  We want to protect our children from harm, and we think of teenagers as being inexperienced and incapable of knowing what we know, but does that mean they shouldn’t do something if they have the ambition and the means to get what they want?  Wikipedia even has a list of teenagers who have sailed around the world.

The first person on this list on the list is Robin Lee Graham who was made famous by a serious of articles in National Geographic Magazine back in the 1960s when he set off to sail around the world at age 16.  They even made a movie about his trip named after his boat, The Dove.  Even today he is still remembered, and was recently asked what he thought about kids sailing around the world on their own.  As a teen in the 1960s I followed Graham’s story in National Geographic magazines with great interest.  I thought it would be a great adventure, and envied his freedom.  However, I wasn’t very enterprising, and had trouble keeping my old $150 Ford going when I was 16. 

The man who started it all was Joshua Slocum who was the first person to sail solo around the world starting in 1895.  There have been many solo souls to circumnavigate the world since.  I guess it was Slocum who started the whole mania for solo sailing around the world.  It takes a special kind of person to spend hundreds of days alone in a small boat by themselves away from human society, and to live so completely in the harsh elements of nature.  The ocean can be a very cruel place to be alone, both physically and psychologically.  It reminds me of the early days of spaceflight when men orbited the Earth in solitary capsules.

There’s two ways to sail around the world – port-to-port and nonstop.  Graham took five years to sail around the world, stopping for long periods in various ports, and eventually using two boats.  The nonstop sailors stay on the ocean the entire trip, never making port.  Those are the real loners of the sea.  And there’s something about the psychology of these solo sailors that make them want to stay at sea and not come back.  Laura Dekker, a port-to-port voyager, finished her round the world trip and then kept going, disappointed she hadn’t stopped at New Zealand on the first time around.  Bernard Moitessier, who was about to win the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race for fastest solo circumnavigation, turned around on his approach to the finish line and started another lap of the globe.

The dramatic Sunday Times Golden Globe Race was recently portrayed in the documentary Deep Water.  I beg you to watch this film, but also beg you not to read about the film or the race ahead of time if you don’t know the story.  It’s riveting as it unfolds, especially the human interest angle.  I’m not even going to link the trailer that spoils the story.  There were nine sailors that entered the race, and one, Donald Crowhurst, had no real experience.  It was the old salts versus the daydreamer.  Crowhurst’s story is so compelling that a fictional film account with Colin Firth and Kate Winslet is in the planning stages.

Since the Sunday Times race, there have been many round the world races and even more solo sailors.  Over the years I’ve read about various men and women sailing solo around the world and have been quite fascinated by two aspects of this sport.  First, why and how people can survive so long in self-imposed solitude.  Second, I’m fascinated by the details of outfitting a sailboat and the equipment it takes to navigate precisely around the world.  Most of the recent documentaries have focused on a quick overview of the trip, and spent little time on the details.  These films make me hunger for books with lots of how-to facts.

From watching Maidentrip it was pretty obvious that Laura Dekker was only marginally experienced at sailing, and her boat gave her little trouble, and her GPS did all the navigation work.  She said she knew how to use a sextant, and had the charts but we didn’t get to see her use them.  Her voyage was from port-to-port, and my worry for her as a teenager,  was more for when she was on land than at sea.  I thought a 15-year old girl would be an easy victim for crime and sexual assault.  But she made the trip and has kept going.  She evidently has a savvy and toughness that most teens lack.  Dekker is obviously a school dropout, and doesn’t seem to be interested in any subject other than sailing.  I tend to believe most parents would keep their kids away from round the world sailing because of school, and not because it’s a dangerous activity.

How dangerous is sailing around the world?  I haven’t heard of any kids being killed, but some have sailed into container ships.  Modern boats must be pretty well made compared to the old days, because old sailing stories are often endless tales of equipment failure.  And sailing from yacht club to yacht club has its own level of safety.  I don’t know how young a kid could sail around the world by themselves, but it’s probably dependent on them acquiring a good boat, and a decent amount of training.  Yet, how many kids would want to spend weeks and months totally by themselves?  Crewed sailing is far more popular.  Like I said, it takes a special kind of person to sail solo around the world.  I’m not sure if they want to get away from other people and society, or they love the feel of being completely in control of their own fate.

Sailing around the world has changed because of technology.  Jessica Watson is the youngest girl to sail around the world solo non-stop, although she didn’t meet the requirements to qualify for official records.   It’s not quite the solo experience it was in Slocum’s time.  With radio, cell phones, YouTube, and the Internet, fans can follow sailors almost in real time.  Jessica Watson’s voyage was well covered by YouTube reports and television.

Deep Water and Maidentrip are available on Netflix streaming.  The Dove is available on Netflix DVD and Amazon Prime Streaming.

JWH – 8/16/14

Consuming Inspiration 2

The internet is about sharing, and I find much on the internet that is inspirational.  We’re seven billion souls sharing the planet and the internet lets easily communicate what inspires us in a kind of mass journalism—making us all reporters.  We don’t create the content, but pass it on.  I guess that makes us all a kind of a wire service.  I’m retired, and I spend a lot of time alone, and most days are routine, one is like the next, but what makes my day distinctive, are these inspirational news stories, the documentaries I watch, and the books I read.  A documentary a day keeps the psychiatrist away.

I need air, water and food to stay alive, but I think it’s inspirational stories that really make me feel alive.  Now, one man’s inspirational story can be another person’s depressing tale.  I find inspiration in people overcoming adversity, or someone inventing something very clever, or even an economist coming up with a fascinating statistical chart.  Here are some more examples.

Tattoos That Go Beyond Art

I’ve never really liked tattoos, especially on women.  I guess that’s showing my age.  But I came across this story at The New York Times about a tattoo artist Vinnie Myers who has given up his artistic work to create 3D nipple tattoos on women who’ve undergone mastectomies and breast reconstruction.   Caitlin Kiernan wrote and filmed her transformation in  “A Tattoo That Completes a New Breast.”

At one point in the film Myers said he wanted to give up doing nipples all the time so he could return to inking art again, but then his sister got breast cancer, and he stopped worrying about going back to art to become a healer full-time.  Now his daughter wants to learn this new trade that is part artist and part healthcare provider.  Be sure and read the comments, they are very inspiring too.

Inequality in America

Most people when they talk about inequality in America think about helping poor people, but strangely it’s really about helping the middle class, and even expand the economy to make more rich people.  A thriving middle class is what drives our economy.  That helps both poor and rich alike.  But for decades the American middle class has shrunk as all the wealth has moved to a very few people.  We all share one giant pie, however that pie can grow, but it only grows if the middle class thrives.  Look at this video:

Robert Reich, Clinton’s former Secretary of Labor came out with a film last year about this problem, Inequality for All.  It’s available from many sources, including Netflix streaming.  Here’s the trailer.

The film describes the problem, but does not really go into the details of solving it.  Reich appears with Bill Moyers and they discus some solutions.  Watch this video below if you have the time, but definitely rent or buy the documentary Inequality for All because not only is it educational, informative, inspirational, it’s also very entertaining.  Robert Reich is a very charming guy.

Most people are turned off by economics, but that’s a shame.  The numbers are so mind blowing.  For instance, during the economic recover of 2009-2012 the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans took home 95% of the economic gains made during those years.  What that means is most Americans got poorer, while a damn few got much richer.  Do you ever wonder why the rich are against taxes, social security, Medicare, Obamacare, K-12 education, etc.?  Those are big pools of money that they haven’t gotten yet.

You might not be concerned about inequality of wealth in America because you believe it’s about poor people.  Well, except for the very rich, everyone is much poorer than they used to be, and getting poorer, including you.  It’s like the frog in the pot of boiling water.  We just don’t know how warm it is.  Reich points out we’ve hidden from this problem by two family incomes, working longer hours and having more jobs, and by going into debt.  For many people, options to adjust to declining income have run out.  If you play that Wealth Inequality in American animation above you’ll understand why.

Black and White, And Dead All Over

The newspaper was the answer to the old riddle, “What’s black and white and red all over?”  Well, newspapers are no longer read all over.  I didn’t worry too much about this change in society until I watched Black & White and Dead All Over.  What these writers reminded me of that I didn’t know, was corruption in society has always been checked by investigative newspaper reporting.  The trouble is investigative reporting is very expensive, and as newspaper began to loose money publishers often cut those reporters first.  Every town needs a paper that watches over local politics and business, but that’s disappearing.  Hundreds of papers have gone under in the last decade.  One of the big differences between the United States and the rest of the world is we have much less corruption.  I’d hate to see that change.  We still have lots of investigative reporting at the national level and a handful of big cities from the few remaining big papers, and from television news programs, and even documentary makers, but ever shrinking coverage everywhere else.

I caught this on PBS but it appears you’ll have to buy a copy for now to see it.  It is free with Amazon Prime, and just $3.99 on YouTube.

This film made me feel bad for not subscribing to my local paper, but I feel it’s a waste of natural resources to print newspapers, especially when I read so little of each one.  The film did profile ProPublica – an non-profit service that claims it is “Journalism in the Public Interest.”  They syndicate their stories to papers to defray the cost of investigative reporting.  What we all need to do is find out who does the investigative reporting where we live and support them.

If you subscribe to Netflix streaming, keep an eye on their documentaries.  They have zillions.  After Breaking Bad finished I’ve hungered for another intense TV show to watch every night, but I haven’t found one.  However, documentaries are filling the void, and some of them are as intensely good as watching the adventures of Walter White.

JWH – 6/19/14

Consuming Inspiration

We eat food to fuel our bodies, but I read nonfiction essays and watch documentaries to feed my soul.  Every day I consume inspiration like a vampire consumes blood.  Inspiration keeps me alive.

A Powerful Punch in the Gut

The older I get the more aware I am of my inevitable fate of a long lingering death.  Few people like to dwell on this future.  Most hope they will go quickly, or quietly in their sleep, but it’s doubtful that modern medicine will allow that.  Last night I saw Life and Death in Assisted Living on PBS Frontline via my PBS Roku channel.  They reported that as much as 67% of assisted living residents have some kind of dementia, and although these facilities weren’t meant to be nursing homes, they’ve become essentially unregulated care for the dying.  The show attacks the big business practices of making fortunes off of end-of-lifers, but that’s not what inspired me about the show.  I watched its videos seeing the elders as explorers of territory I must one day travel myself.  To live with any kind of dignity while dying requires enough health to keep saying fuck you to fate.  Once you are condemned to a wheelchair to be cared for like an infant it’s very hard to find meaning in life.  Although I’m an atheist I’m praying like crazy for the acceptance of euthanasia by the time I get feeble.  At some point before I forget too much I’ll need to get a tattoo over my heart that says in big letters:  DNR.  But as long as we do live, we have to keep finding inspiration and ways to make ordinary daily living meaningful.

 

John Green, An Impressive Young Man Who Speaks to Millions

I’m very grateful to The New Yorker for publishing “The Teen Whisperer” about John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars, and for putting the full article on the web so I can link it to my friends.  I read The New Yorker via Next Issue on my tablets, and it’s always depressing to read an inspirational essay and not be able to share it with friends.  Next Issue is the Netflix of digital magazines offering 135 titles for $15 a month.  I wished Next Issue had a desktop web app, or Windows application like Spotify, that made sharing fantastic reads easier with fellow members.

But back to John Green.  Read the Margaret Talbot article linked above to see just how cool John Green is as young writer and internet entrepreneur.  Green’s web presence allowed The Fault in Our Stars to be a bestseller long before it was published and gave him the opportunity to autograph the entire first printing of 150,000 copies of his book before they went on sale, which cost Green ten weeks of time and a lot of physical therapy.  Green and his brother Hank also produce the Crash Course series on YouTube.  Between those educational courses and his Nerdfighter followers, Green has a fandom to make anything he writes an instant hit.

If you haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars then you’ve been staring at your iPhone way too much.  The book is magnitudes more powerful than it’s hype, so go get a copy if you haven’t.  By the way, be prepared to cry your guts out, and that even applies to macho moronic dickheads.  In Norway the book was titled Fuck Fate, so don’t think of it as just another YA teenager read.  I don’t know if Green has lasting literary talent, but he certain Babe Ruthed one out of the park with The Fault in Our Stars.

 

Worry Less About The Future

Right-wing conservative global warming deniers all cry in Chicken Little unison that doing the right thing about climate change will destroy our economy.  Well, Ramez Naam points out  in his essay “Reducing Carbon Emissions Will Be Cheaper Than Expected – It Always Is” that in the past after everyone ran around crying the economy would collapse, it didn’t. 

economy and environmental costs

We need to do something about CO2 pollution, and we need to do it fast.  Probably if we spent as much time and money on converting energy sources as trying to build the F-35 fighter we’d be mostly done by now.  We could fix the carbon pollution problem in a decade if we applied ourselves.  Much could be done with just conservation, and a tremendous lot could be accomplished by switching energy sources.  Anyone should be able to see that altering the environment is dangerous, and burning coal is stupid.  The goal should be something like converting carbon to coal and burying it, not burning it.  Coal was nature’s way of getting rid of CO2 in the first place.

Policy makers talk about making changes by 2050.  That’s bogus shirking the responsibility.  We should clean up our mess before we die, by 2025.  Besides converting to a new clean economy will stimulate the economy, not kill it.  Anyone who thinks otherwise lacks inspiration.

 

Makers and Robots

I find people who make things inspirational.  And the Maker movement is a nice antithesis to digital life.  Forbes covers “Maker Movement Fuels Apps, Robots, and Internet of Things.”  This is a movement that is growing so rapidly that I even hear non-Geeks are talking about it.  If I was a kid today I’d be totally into the FIRST Robotics Competition.

Building robots is becoming a mania.  Make Magazine even recommends “10 Ways to Make Your Robot More Humanlike.”  Building a robot teaches us about how bodies work.  Building an AI will teach us how the mind works.  If you aren’t paying attention, you might someday be shocked when humans are no longer the smartest beings on the planet.  Creating an AI mind should be possible but it’s going to be really hard.  O’Reilly.com says, ‘“It works like the brain.” So?’  Computers can already out-do us at many intelligent tasks now.

I expect someone to invent a cyber-cortex any day now that allows machines to learn and eventually become self-aware.  Maybe it will be a maker or one of those kids building robots.  Maybe they will be inspired by ODROID Magazine.

 

JWH – 6/4/14