Yup. It’s hot.

It’s going to stay hot—unseasonably hot, that is—until and perhaps past The Fourth.

We are used to hot summers here in Siskiyou County, not as hot as Redding or Sacramento and other spots in the Great Central Valley, but hot enough. This week of 100+ temperatures is notable for its high lows. Often in the summer here on the western edge of the Shasta Valley we can see 45-degree swings from day to night. It will be 95ºF in the afternoon and 50ºF in the early morning. When the temperature gets to three digits you can still get nice, cool mid-fifties temperatures to soothe your soul.

Not so this heat wave. It’s not dropping below 65ºF and in fact was almost 70ºF on our back patio this morning. If you don’t have A/C you need that big cooling drop so you can open up the house and get the hot, stifling overnight air out and the refreshing dawn air in. We are lucky and have excellent cooling, but we remember those days when we didn’t. If, god forbid, there was a power outage then we’d have to go back to our old rituals. Unfortunately the cooling would not be sufficient. I hope all my friends out there in hot places are doing OK!

Just a side note: the metric system blew it on temperature scale. You know it is hot when you go from 99 to 100 in Fahrenheit. In Celsius you go from 37 to 38! Boring. No one cares if you have a 99-degree fever but they get concerned if you hit 100. Fahrenheit has a nice, intuitive feel. Going from two digits to three just seems better. The same can be said for 100-mph. You know you’re rocking when you blast out of the nineties. It’s just not as exciting if it’s in kph, going from 160 to 161.

So, is climate change to blame? Is this heat wave evidence for global warming?

It’s easy to say “yes” but not all questions are meant to be answered in simple, binary fashion.

When scientists study things like gases they use statistical mechanics. This discipline (invented by an American, Josiah Willard Gibbs) views a gas as a gigantic ensemble of countless billions upon billions of molecules. Individual molecules are not important. The vast majority of molecules in the gas may be rising due to added heat for example, but any one particular molecule might be taking its own path. The mathematics of statistical mechanics smears out all those variations and makes probabilistic descriptions of the behavior of the whole mass. It’s the only way to accurately account for things.

Temperature, for example, is an average. If you knew the kinetic energy of every molecule of water in your teapot, you’d find that some were greater than others. Some molecules would be rushing about in a great frenzy, others languidly meandering. But by averaging that energy over the entire collection of molecules you can get a useful number—the temperature—that tells us something about the state of the system.

Just like our one lone molecule that is plunging downward when most of its buddies are racing upward from the added heat, any one particular weather event can be “disconnected” from the global climate. That is, even if humans had never added an ounce of carbon to the atmosphere, we could still get extreme weather events.

This is an extreme weather event. Climate science says we should see an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events.

If I reach into a box of hot air molecules, there’s a good chance the one I grab and measure will have a high kinetic energy. In fact, most of the ones I check with my instruments will confirm my observation. The gas is heating up and the molecules are getting energized and the whole mass is rising and pushing on the roof of the box. But I can still imagine the possibility that I will reach in a find a “cool” molecule that is not playing well with others! The odds of that occurrence are lower, much lower, but they are not zero. (Never mind that I can’t reach in and touch molecules, it’s just what Einstein would call gedanken, or thought-experiment.)

So is our Pacific Northwest Extreme Heat Wave the result of anthropogenic (human-made) carbon in the atmosphere? Is Global Warming the cause? Is it evidence of Climate Change?


I told you that statistical mechanics was “probabilistic.” So are climate models. They are models after all, and we know that the map is not the territory. The climate is one thing, the models are another. The models are what we use to describe the global system, and if they are robust and have a good correspondence with the empirical evidence, we use them to make forecasts.

It turns out that the models are good. The great Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius, described the greenhouse effect in 1896 and postulated that the burning of fossil fuels by humans could raise global temperatures. That famous reactionary, Edward Teller, he of H-bomb fame (infamy?), spoke in 1959 about the possibility of melting the icecaps due to global warming. (Naturally he promoted nuclear energy as the alternative to fossil fuels.) The most famous climatologist, Charles Keeling, he of the Keeling Curve, was given the President’s National Medal of Science by none other than George W. Bush! Here’s what the award says:

“For his pioneering and fundamental research on atmospheric and oceanic carbon dioxide, the basis for understanding global carbon cycle and global warming.”

We all know what a snowflake liberal “Dubya” was!

So, yes.

Global warming and climate change are real phenomena. The models are good. They are giving us solid information to make decisions with. The political choices facing our society are one thing. The facts are quite another.

It’s no comfort. Whether this heat wave is a sure sign of climate change or not doesn’t make us any less hot.

But if we are looking for a “new normal” we’ve found it. We know there will be an increasing number of extreme weather events. That’s a fact. The next extreme event might not be a direct result of global warming, but you can bet there will be another, and it will be sooner than it ought to be.

Maybe that will get us to agree on some possible solutions.

Thirteen billion, anyone?

A 58-year old billionaire by the name of Gautam Adani reportedly lost $13B last week. His fortune plunged from $78B to a mere $65B.

That’s a lot of money. The annual budget for the State of California runs on the order of $200B. California is the most populous state, with nearly 40,000,000 people, and the third-largest in area, about 169,000 square miles. Imagine having enough money to cover one-third of the state budget.

Imagine being able to weather a loss of THIRTEEN BILLION DOLLARS.

More than half of the world’s working population makes less than $10,000 per year. About one-third make over $10,000/yr but less than $100,000/yr. (Personal note: I’m in that group.) About 12% make over $100,000/yr but less than $1,000,000/yr. Two percent are millionaires.

They have a term for rich people: ultra-high net worth individuals. These people are worth $30,000,000 or more. They comprise zero-point-zero-zero-two percent (0.002%) of the world. (Figures from Global Inequality .org) A billionaire like Gautam Adani, even at his low point of only $65B is worth as much as two thousand thirty-million types.

Friedrich Engels is not a popular fellow these days, with his and his buddy Karl Marx’ critique of capitalism having been crushed by history. But Engels said something interesting about free market ideologies, claiming that they would lead to a world made up of “millionaires and paupers.” That was in 1844!

The commies proved they didn’t know shit about running a country. Or taking care of their people. But they could at least see that capitalism was not sustainable. We can see it, too. We know that the wealth gap is tearing our society apart. We can watch Jeff Bezos launch himself into space in his very own rocket while his workers struggle to make ends meet.

What would I do with $13B? I suppose I’d be like Bezos’ ex-wife, the novelist McKenzie Scott, and give a lot of it away. She’s donated over $2B to charities and is still one of the wealthiest people in the world. I don’t want a helicopter or a solid gold tub or any of that. I’d probably settle for some really expensive bourbon. And get all my clothes made for me. I’d be Mr. Bespoke. I suppose I could buy Idaho or something. Seems like $13B would go a long way in Idaho.

The USA is the world’s wealthiest nation, but it also has the most—by far—of the world’s millionaires and billionaires. We have a top-heavy income structure. The top one percent of the people own over forty percent of the nation’s wealth. In fact, Americans are not as well-off as they like to think. Median income means that half the people make more, and half the people make less. Our median income is about $66,000. That’s lower than Switzerland, Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Ireland, France, and the United Kingdom. (All of those countries have some form of socialized medical care and relatively generous old age pensions, I should note.)

With increasing automation and our corporations chasing lower labor costs with maniacal devotion I should expect we will see a steady loss of jobs. Oh, there will be plenty of work to do, but the wages will be too low. There will be fewer opportunities even for people with education and skills. Energy costs will ultimately put the brakes on a lot of development, thus increasing unemployment and enlarging the wealth gap. Like I said, Jeff Bezos has his very own rocket. Poor folks will have to be content with underfunded public transportation.

Anyway, I don’t have the answers. But I think we need to put our heads together about it. Scientists like to chase down The Mysteries of the Universe and I have no problem with that. But I don’t think those problems are actually solvable. I like to think social and economic problems are more solvable. That is, there may not be a particular solution or a clear fix, but I’ll bet there are a hell of a lot of ways things could be improved!

The Ministry for the Future

I don’t read book reviews any more. I don’t typically write them much, either.

One thing I’ve decided is that I won’t write negative reviews. They are too easy. And they serve no purpose, other than to make the critic feel good about him- or herself.

A good piece of criticism should open your eyes. The critic’s job is not to say “this is good” or “this is bad” but to say “hey, take a look!” Only a tiny amount of the art created in this world gets an opportunity to be reviewed. Most writers, for example, labor in obscurity and are lucky if they get any decent remuneration* for their efforts. Most of the books sold in the world are written by a very small minority of the world’s writers. We need more writers and a greater variety of books, not more works by the same writers, even if those writers are good at what they do.

Kim Stanley Robinson is an accomplished (and even famous) writer of science fiction. Right there, in that sentence, I perpetuate the problem with book reviews. Why should Mr. Robinson be pigeon-holed as a science fiction writer? Can’t we just call him a novelist? Genres—like romance, Western, fantasy, etc.—are just marketing categories. The folks who sell the stuff have to have ways of separating the customers from their money and labels make that easier.

But they are unfair to the creator of the work. Octavia Butler once said “I write about exceptional people. It just happens to be called science fiction.” Kurt Vonnegut started his career as a science fiction writer and worked like crazy to shake off that label because he felt it limited his audience. He was right. He became a famous literary lion, but he still wrote science fiction even if he didn’t want it to be called that.

The Ministry for the Future is about our world right now. It is set in the very near future on this Earth and is populated by characters that act and talk like real people.

These people face an extraordinary existential threat, that of climate change and global warming. Isn’t it funny that we call the book science fiction? There’s no fiction in that premise! Humanity is, right now, facing a global crisis that threatens our existence. That’s news, man. That’s not make-believe!

What Robinson does beautifully in The Ministry for the Future is create a fictional response to this crisis. His characters take action. And the story plays out within these actions and their consequences. The book manages to be hopeful and inspiring while at the same time acknowledging, even embracing, the daunting nature of the challenge facing civilization. Humans are flawed creatures and societies perpetuate inequality and injustice, something the novel does not shy away from. It is neither a utopian nor a dystopian book, but rather one that looks directly and honestly into the heart of things and tries to map a way out for all of us.

I want to say “hey, take a look” at The Ministry for the Future! It is a thoroughly provocative read as well as a marvelously entertaining one. It takes a lot of skill, as a writer, to get the reader engaged in the story and the characters and yet at the same time challenge the reader with difficult and uncomfortable notions.

I read fiction, mostly. Every once in a while a non-fiction book comes along that I have to read (like Vaclav Smil’s Energy and Civilization: A History), but mostly I like novels. I find that fiction writers have more freedom to express themselves and thus, oddly, get closer to the truth! If you want to understand 19th-century England, for example, you’d get a better sense of the times by reading Charles Dickens than from most historical tomes. That’s because Dickens wrote about people and what the world did to them. He wasn’t objective. He didn’t have a thesis to defend. He wrote to entertain but because of his sensitivity and humanity the great issues of the day, particularly poverty and social justice, came alive in his stories.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future accomplishes something similar. It works as an adventure story, even a suspense thriller, but it is also has an urgency and immediacy that makes it something larger and better than just another science fiction novel.

I think you should take a look.

*remuneration means “payment” and should not be confused with the similar renumeration which means “recounting” (the second word is frequently and incorrectly used in place of the first word)

Do Cowboys Dream of Electric Trucks?

The most popular vehicle in the United States of America is the Ford pickup, specifically the F-series. Ford Motor Company is adding an all-electric version of the F-150 to their fleet, called Lightning. You can go to the Ford website and place an order for the 2021 model.

Electric vehicles (“EVs” to the cool kids) are big business. All the major automakers in the world are committed to electrifying their offerings, with some going so far as to renounce internal combustion engines entirely. Not to mention the host of startups and newer outfits (like Tesla) emerging as players in the global marketplace.

I live in a place where the diesel-powered pickup is more than just a vehicle. It’s a way of life. It’s a cultural and political statement. Ranchers and farmers do a lot of hauling and towing and other jobs requiring a powerful, multipurpose machine that is only partly a means of conveyance. Builders, for the most part, drive fancy pickups with utility racks. They can hardly go to work without them. Recreation-minded folks like to haul boats and trailers. They like to go off-roading. They like their rigs big and powerful.

But lots of folks around here do none of those things and yet still drive large pickup trucks. They go back and forth to Wal-Mart and Starbucks with them. They go shopping in Medford. They never leave the pavement and in fact hardly get their trucks dirty. But they’d react in horror if you suggested they’d be better off driving a Honda Civic!

There are a million EVs on the road in this country. By 2030 there will be at least 15 million and maybe even as many as 20 million. That’s still a small portion of the 250 million total vehicles that will be out there, but the adoption rate will likely keep growing.

EVs were weird cars for weirdos when I was a kid. Now we have Tesla and EVs have become the hip, stylish alternative even if they haven’t quite cracked the middle-class market. They remind me of the Macintosh computer which made Dells and HPs and other Windows machines look positively stodgy. Like the Mac, Teslas are still a bit spendy for most folks.

Enter Ford Motor Company. Ford is a behemoth. Ford accounts for 5-6% of all the vehicles in the world. It’s bigger than Detroit’s other behemoth, GM. Only Toyota and VW sell more cars and trucks than Ford.

Ford isn’t getting rid of its diesel and gas-powered pickups. The Lightning is an addition to their lineup, not a replacement for existing models, at least not yet. But Ford is betting big on the EV momentum. They’ve promoted the Lightning as a work truck, making it competitive with existing fuel-burners in payload, towing, engine power and torque. It will be a four-door five-seater with full-time 4WD and all the other bells and whistles expected in 21st century vehicles. Obviously the big drawback with EVs is range, but Ford is betting that most people will realize that 90% or more of their truck use will be close to home. Moreover, charging networks are popping up all over, and with phone apps directing you to the nearest one, long-haul trips will become more practical. Not to mention home-charging will be an option as well.

The cool thing about an electric truck is that it is a mobile power plant. The batteries store a lot of electricity. You can go out in the woods or to a remote job site and have AC power plugs aplenty. In fact, the Lightning can power your home for short periods in the event of a power outage! Ford says its truck can offload up to 9.6 kilowatts. Sure beats firing up that loud, smelly generator.

The EV has gone mainstream. It’s no longer for hippies, enviros, liberals, and snowflakes. Ford is about as All-American as you can get. The F-150 is thoroughly manly, and no one will question your patriotism if you drive one.

As Ford’s CEO Jim Farley put it recently:

“There are lots of flavors of soda, but there’s only one Coke, and there’ll be lots of electric pickup trucks, but only one F-150.”

So, do cowboys dream of electric trucks?

Leaves of Grass

Poking around in the back lot I found a couple of grassy visitors.

The first one is in the same genus as the famous Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa praetensis). It is called Bulbous Bluegrass (Poa bulbosa) and looks like this:

Like its more famous cousin Poa bulbosa is not native to North America. Despite that it is widespread and found all over the West. It is perennial, has a high drought tolerance, and produces a lot of seed, but is not a particularly good forage crop.

The other species I identified goes by the rather curious name of Ripgut Brome (Bromus diandrus). It looks like this:

Bromus diandrus is also an introduced grass and widespread in the West. It is an annual and the young plants apparently provide good forage but the mature plant has stiff bristles (“awns”) that can irritate livestock. There are a large number of bromes or bromegrasses (genus Bromus) in the temperate regions of the world. California has a native variety called, appropriately, California Brome (Bromus carinatus).

My botanic investigations were aided by the “Field Guide to Common California Rangeland and Pasture Plants” put out by UC ANR (University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources). Here’s what that looks like:

You can download a free .pdf copy of the guide from here. I used to think identifying grasses was next to impossible. Flowers and trees are much easier, but grasses are certainly do-able.

There are a whole bunch of other invaders and even a few natives in the jumble of weeds and ground covers that currently over-run the back lot. If I identify any of them I’ll let you know!

The photos of the plants are from CalPhotos at UC Berkeley.

A Natural Man

Go in to any supermarket and you will find shelves and shelves of stuff displaying the tag “all-natural.” We think that “natural” things are better then “synthetic” or “artificial” or, heaven-forbid, “man-made” things.

That’s nonsense, of course. First of all, what exactly do we mean by “natural?” After all, petroleum is natural. It is organic, in the sense that it is made from once-living things. But no one would consider petroleum products like plastics to be natural. It’s a good thing we have all that plastic, though, because our natural cheeses and natural meats and natural vegetables have to be wrapped in the stuff so they can arrive in our refrigerators still fresh!

People claim that vaccination is not natural. The Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines are both made from RNA. What could be more natural than nucleic acids? All living things have nucleic acids in them. Stimulating an immune response by the body is the most natural of all healing methods. Herbalists claim their potions improve the body’s immune system. Bully for them. I’d like to see them immunize people against viral diseases. I’m sure echinacea works great against polio and smallpox.

There’s an outfit called Pandora—not the music service—that sells jewelry. They are a big, international company. They recently decided not to sell “natural” diamonds any more. They will replace them with synthetics, that is, lab-created stones.

This is a good thing. Diamond mining comes with a whole host of social and environmental problems. We’ve all heard about “blood diamonds.” Perhaps you saw the Leonardo di Caprio movie Blood Diamond. Let’s just say we all know that many, many poor and impoverished people are made poorer and more impoverished by our society’s insatiable need for the perfect stone.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A lab-created diamond is made from the same material as a “natural” diamond. They are just as beautiful. You cannot distinguish the synthetic stone from the “real” one. Of course, there will always be those who insist on the authentic, Earth-grown diamond, precisely because it is not made by the hands of men but by Mother Nature.

I would tell those folks to go out and ask Mother Nature for some broccoli. Seriously. You won’t find broccoli growing wild anywhere. Broccoli is a product of human patience and ingenuity. The source plant is natural, but the cultivated plant, the one we buy in the grocery store, is not. (It is still good for you, of course.)

I would like to see if anyone can find cheese in its natural setting. You can’t, of course. Cheese is manufactured by people. But it qualifies as one of those so-called natural foods. And don’t get me started on milk. Humans are the only species that consumes the milk of other species. Milk is the food for baby cows and baby goats and baby sheep and etc. But we suck that stuff down, either in its (mostly) pure form or as butter, cheese, yogurt, kefir, ice cream, you name it. Totally natural, man.

Essential oils are all the rage. To get essential oils, you have to process a plant. Typically they are crushed and the extracted liquids are then distilled to get the oil. Distillation is the same process we use to make booze. And gasoline. Totally natural, man.

Humans are products of nature so human-made products are natural, too. At this point the word natural is almost meaningless.

I say Lou Rawls knew what he was talking about:

(Music and Lyrics by Sandy Baron and Bobby Hebb)

Fill ‘er up!

I buy Chevron gas. Mostly out of habit and convenience. I don’t drive a lot so I don’t pay much attention to gas prices. I walked to work for 25 years so commute costs were pretty low! Mainly, I don’t drive that much, so my household budget doesn’t take much of a hit when it comes to fuel for the vehicles.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in how the whole thing works. Our world-wide energy system, that is. I was in high school in 1973 when the Arab Oil Embargo hit. Americans suddenly discovered their interdependence with the rest of the world. That stimulated domestic crude production and the new Mother Lode was Alaska. The pipeline was built from 1975-77 and I remember having classmates tell me their dads went north to find work. My dad was a pipefitter and had worked on crews in the local oil refineries. Humble Oil, soon to be Exxon, built the newest refinery in California literally in our back yard in Benicia in 1968, converting the old military property that abutted the town boundary. The Bay Area is a major oil and oil products hub, with California crude delivered by pipeline, out-of-state crude via rail, and international crude from oil tanker fleets. Much of what is refined into automotive and aviation gasoline for Northern California comes from the Chevron refinery in Richmond.

Here’s what’s happening at the Chevron terminal today (from

The three orange dots are oil tankers. Polar Discovery flies a US flag and is part of a fleet of five owned by Polar Tankers, a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips.

The Polar Tanker fleet consists of five Endeavour Class tankers—the Polar Endeavour, Polar Resolution, Polar Discovery, Polar Adventure and Polar Enterprise—designed specifically for the twice-monthly 2,500 to 5,000-mile round-trip from Valdez, Alaska, to Washington, California, and Hawaii.

Polar Discovery left Valdez on the 24th of April. It is about 1800 nautical miles from there to San Francisco Bay and these big boats make about 14 knots. Polar Discovery and her sister ships were built between 2002 and 2006 and are double-hulled. The Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 was a time of reckoning for the crude oil shipping business in the U.S. and companies had to upgrade their fleets in response. Polar Discovery is 273 m long (896 feet) and 46 m (151 feet) in the beam and can carry close to a million barrels of crude oil.

The Chevron refinery can process about 250,000 barrels per day. All of their supply is ship borne. The Florida Voyager, moored alongside, is another U.S.-flagged tanker owned by Chevron. Its journey began in Singapore, one of the busiest ports in the world and another major oil hub. Although the island nation has no oil of its own, it has huge storage and refining complexes and all the oil majors do business there. They get most of their supply from the Middle East. The Axel Spirit, the other tanker, flies a Bahamian flag and arrived from Long Beach, that after a journey across the Pacific from Russia.

Here’s a picture of Polar Discovery:

Oil tankers are like red blood cells. And the shipping lanes are like blood vessels. To keep our society’s heart beating, the blood has to flow. Crude oil is the stuff that makes everything go. The next time you are pumping gas, think about Alaska, Singapore & the Middle East, and Russia. We are all tied together by our need for primary energy.

We all know the consequences for our over-reliance on fossil fuels: pollution, environmental degradation, and global warming. Not to mention the myriad of economic and geo-political issues created by the tensions between oil-haves and oil-have-nots. Since we will continue to need these natural resources even as we transition to newer, cleaner energy sources, it behooves us to use them wisely. In fact, we won’t be able to create a new energy and transportation infrastructure without using vast amounts of crude oil, natural gas, and coal in the interim, and some uses will never be replaced by alternatives. Expect nuclear power to make a comeback for those needs that current renewable resources can’t yet supply.

Filling our tanks costs us a lot—and not just in dollars.

A crowded sea

We landlubbers are used to crowds and queues. You have to wonder how sailors feel about such things. Here’s a look at the traffic jam in the San Francisco Bay. All the yellow dots are cargo ships waiting to unload at the Port of Oakland.

The image is from Vessel Finder which is a really cool website. Ocean-going ships use a technology called AIS or Automatic Identification System which uses transceivers to broadcast position, course, and speed. This is analogous to air traffic control but for marine applications. We civilians don’t have to worry about preventing collisions or managing maritime traffic but that stuff obviously needs to get done. The world’s oceans may be vast, but the sea lanes get congested at choke points. Harbors, bays, inlets, straits, and the like constrict the passage of ships and sometimes they get jammed up, just like commuters on the Bay Bridge.

When you see cargo ships moored in SF Bay that usually means they are waiting to off-load. The yellow dots on the map are almost all container ships. (The orange dot labeled MTM Tokyo is a oil tanker.) The Port of Oakland is experiencing unprecedented volumes at this time. It seems the pandemic has increased consumer spending, thus increasing shipping demand. At the same time, the Port can’t deploy as many people to handle the increased traffic, which is also a pandemic issue. So, we get a traffic jam.

The pandemic has heightened our awareness of supply chains and global inter-connectedness. (Is that a word?) Going forward, we need to improve the resiliency of these systems as domestic economies cannot “go it alone” any more. We are all one big “marketplace” these days.

Here’s what MSC Teresa, the yellow dot at the bottom of the picture, looks like:

Certainly would not want to bump into that fella if I’m out kayaking or pleasure sailing!

MSC Teresa was built in 2011 and flies under a Panamanian flag. It’s 366 meters (1201 feet) in length and its width (or “beam”) is 51 meters (167 feet). This particular voyage originated in Yantian, China, and had a stopover in Long Beach before steaming north. The Port of Oakland is the fifth-busiest in the nation behind Los Angeles, Long Beach, New York-New Jersey, and Savannah.

New books!

We read a lot. We need to re-stock the book larder regularly. Good thing there is Zeising Books. The Zeisings—Cindy & Mark—live in Shingletown, California, an alpine hamlet in Shasta County. They sell books out of their home. You can order by snail mail, or call them on the phone, or send them an email, or visit their website. They like the kind of books we like, and they will get books for you that they don’t have. We buy lots of books from them. You should, too.

Here’s the latest shipment:

Starting from the top is the Black Gat line at Stark House Press, an independent publisher in Eureka, California. They specialize in genre reprints: mysteries, westerns, fantasy/horror, that sort of thing. Cut Me In, by New York author Jack Karney, is from a 1959 Pyramid paperback. American post-WWII crime fiction from the heyday of the paperback, with labels like Fawcett Gold Medal, Dell First Edition, Avon, Monarch, Signet, and Pocket Books, might be my favorite literature.

Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden is contemporary SF, she is a new author for us. I’m always looking for good, futuristic stuff.

Speaking of good, futuristic stuff, you can’t go wrong with William Gibson. The Peripheral is from 2014 and is set in the same world as 2020’s The Agency. We’ve read most everything of his since Neuromancer in 1984 and somehow we missed this one!

Chris Panatier is also a new novelist for us and The Phlebotomist is his debut. It is published by Angry Robot Books.

Stark House Press puts together doubles and this one features contemporary mystery writer Wilson Toney’s Not Worth That Much and Money is the Drug of Choice.

One of the best writers in any genre is Walter Mosley, who came to fame with the Easy Rawlins series that started with 1990’s Devil in a Blue Dress. Denzel Washington played Easy in the movie version of that novel. He has SF and “mainstream” novels along with his mysteries and crime fiction. Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore is from 2014.

John Shirley has always been (like Mosley) one of our very favorite writers. Stormland is brand new from Blackstone Press and is set in a near-future climate dystopia.

On the bottom is a fancy art book by one of those true originals, Ralph Steadman. He became famous for illustrating Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but that is but a small part of his work. I have a book called Still Life With Bottle, written and illustrated by Steadman, that’s about Scotch whisky!

So, what’s on YOUR bookshelf?


I would have signed up to participate in the original vaccine trials if I had know how to do so. Not that they would have picked me, but I was ready to say “yes” if given the chance. I was willing to be jabbed as soon as one of those biotech outfits starting jabbing.

My parents had classmates who got polio. Now you say “polio” and people wonder what you are talking about! That’s proof that vaccination worked. When you get rid of a disease, people forget about it. Unfortunately they also forget about the remarkable scientific and technical accomplishments that led to eliminating that disease threat.

My mom had whooping cough (pertussis) as a child and almost died. This bacterial disease is widespread but there is a vaccine, the so-called DTap vaccine, which includes diptheria and tetanus. There were 9,000 cases of pertussis in California in 2010, with many hospitalizations and several infant deaths. All of those were preventable with a simple, safe, cheap, and easily-accessible vaccine.

Infant mortality was a fact of life for the human race until very recently. In modern countries the likelihood a child will live to be an adult is very high. That was not the case not that long ago and it is still a problem in developing countries. Every family had children who died of diseases that are now mostly eliminated. Americans don’t remember their own past. Anyone who takes the time to trace their ancestry will inevitably discover that large families were the norm as it was expected that one or more children would get sick and die before adulthood.

Hunger and malnutrition were commonplace, too. Now our biggest issue in the States is too much food. And too much food of dubious nutritional value. We can go to the store and be very picky about which meat we will eat, or even if we’ll eat meat at all. We can demand “organic” produce and cast a dismissive eye on things that don’t meet our stringent personal criteria. Not that long ago people were happy just to get enough food. In some places on the planet people wait in lines for basic stuff like bread.

When you grow up in a wealthy country you forget how lucky you are. The abundance seems limitless. In fact, to survive and thrive you have to be disciplined and not over-indulge. It is so easy to eat too much in this day and age. We throw away enough food to feed entire nations!

I was very fortunate to get the COVID vaccine a little ahead of schedule. I’m only 61 but I have had, as you can see, both of my shots. The creation and distribution of the coronavirus vaccines is a triumph of modern science and medicine. It is something worth highlighting and celebrating. The vaccines are a fantastic accomplishment and are crucial to restoring health and prosperity in the midst of this pandemic. I urge you to go out and get yours as soon as possible.

The Moderna vaccine, like the Pfizer, is particularly exciting. The technology uses mRNA, or messenger RNA, and generates an immune response without using an infectious agent. The mRNA vaccines encode for the “spike” protein that the coronavirus uses to attach to cells. When you get the vaccine, you produce antibodies to that protein. If you get a COVID infection, your body now has an immunological “memory” and can fight off the infection. Marvelous stuff. Imagine using this technology to customize therapies against other diseases. With cancers, one typically has to have surgery or get broad-based drug treatments that kill the tumors. These chemicals are hard on your healthy cells. An mRNA vaccine could be designed to be more specific, to target particular cancer cells. That would be an enormous therapeutic improvement.

The way we advance this medical knowledge is by being guinea pigs. People have to volunteer to participate in studies. Once the safety and efficacy of the new treatment is established, it can become part of the standard repertoire of medical practice. The pandemic increased the urgency for a vaccine, and all the vaccines in use are actually on an emergency authorization. The clinical trials weren’t any different, but the government approval process was accelerated. That’s actually proof that the safety systems work. Big Pharma may be experimenting on us, but it’s got a safe, well-designed product. They aren’t experimenting with the safety aspect as that’s been established. No, we are the guinea pigs for the effectiveness part. No one knows for sure how long the immunizations will last or whether the mutations to the virus will render them obsolete. Maybe we’ll have to get an annual shot, like with the flu. Tetanus is one of those things you have to get re-inoculated for—you need a booster every ten years.

Like I said I’m happy to do my part. I signed up for the V-safe follow-up where the CDC collects information on side effects. It’s all done via my phone. The second dose of the Moderna can have some side effects and they would like to get that data. No problem: you stick me and I’ll tell you how it went. I figure side effects are a small price to pay for some significant protection against a nasty new respiratory disease. A nasty new global respiratory disease.

Stay safe out there. And get your shot.