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Picture of Piers doing archery

Apull 2001
Those readers who are bored by long discussions of computer programs should skip the first several paragraphs. I have been struggling with Linux and its associated programs. I didn't like being corralled by arrogant Macrohard Doors, so sought escape, but my nutshell advice to others is that this is no easy route if you aren't a geek. Even simple things become complicated. For example, you can't just back up a file, because the system doesn't know what the floppy drive is. First you have to tell it, by "mounting" the drive and disk, and when you change disks you have to unmount the one and mount the next--only the system doesn't recognize the command "unmount." Belatedly I learned that the actual name of the command is "umount" I had missed the deleted letter. So why isn't the floppy drive mounted automatically in the setup? It could be, but that part is labeled "skip," so the system skips it. There is surely geek logic here, but it eludes me. Maybe Linux folk like the challenge of figuring out these nuances, as if they are game challenges. Anyway, realizing that I was never going to fathom all the cute little essential intricacies on my own--I do have a living to earn, after all--I sought help. I joined SLUG, the Suncoast Linux User's Group, and put a query on one of its lists. This suddenly added 20 to 30 messages a day to my email, but I didn't have to answer them because they were all about how you frazzle the mandrake root drive or convert your system to upload the croggle more efficiently. I'm not at that level. But I was advised that good Linux word processors are offered by StarOffice and Applix. I had tried WordPerfect and found it klunky and balky, so wanted to try something else. I had tried downloading ThinkFree, which emulates MS Word, but that refused even to be invoked, and I never got to try it out. The instructions say to click on the icon or menu entry, but it gave me neither, and it ignored the arcane command line alternative. I tired rather quickly of this game of obscure discovery; obviously ThinkFree doesn't have me in mind as a user. Another recommended word processor, Ted, was supposed to be downloaded from a particular site, but as far as I could tell, that site had never heard of it. So much for that.

Then something surprising happened. I joined SLUG in my mundane identity, as my business there was strictly computer, but a member was a fan of mine, a former correspondent, and she recognized me. She is Andrea Jones, and her husband Tim Jones is a Tampa Bay Linux professional. You can find him at www.linuxtampa.com/. He sets up Linux systems for companies. Their private dialogue, as I picture it, must have been something like this: She, challengingly: "Piers Anthony needs help setting up his Linux system. You are going to do it for him." He, cravenly: "Yes, dear." So within a week they were here. Andrea practices origami; no, that's not an obscene act, it's fancy paper folding. She had sent me a box of amazing paper shapes years ago. As a child I loved paper folding, but my expertise was limited to paper planes, water bombs, poppers, cootie-catchers and the like. This is grade school stuff, while hers is more like college level. Her box contained a cube, a fish, a multi-pointed shape, one of those thingamajigs with panels that flip end over end to the bottom, a three dimensional hexa-flexagon that makes new patterns with each flip, like a kaleidoscope, and a cube of 8 little cubes that flexes similarly; you really have to see and handle one of these devices to appreciate their marvels. So while Tim worked on my computer, Andrea made me more paper shapes: a much bigger multi-point, a flexagon, a bird, and a huge decorative spike ball. And by the time the day was done, I had loaded Andrea down with copies of my books, and Tim had rendered my system usable, even downloading StarOffice and a word processor called Hancom Word. Now I was able to receive and send email, my sound worked, I had an icon to click to address the floppy drive, and I had word processors to try. But he said I needed more memory. In my day, 250 K was a lot of memory; this system had 64 M--that's over 500 times as much--but it wasn't necessarily enough. So I took the unit to the local store and got the memory upgraded to 192K.

Now commenced my exploration of programs. The Netscape mail program has nice features and some real pains. I discovered that when I compose an email message, I can't print it out (I print out all mail, so I know who said what when; then when I hear from folk months later, I can look up the correspondence and pretend to remember them), and I can't use my normal overstrike typing mode, only insert mode, and when I use the arrow keys to move through its menus, it disappears without warning or saving. Ouch; I can never do a letter exactly the same way twice. So I'll be looking for a new mail handler; maybe long-time users of Netscape like retyping from scratch without even a printout to go by, but I don't. I also don't like having to send my letter before I can call it up as past history and then print it out, when it is too late to correct whenever stupid thing I said by accident. And I don't like the way I can't reliably confirm that it has been sent; sometimes it doesn't reach its addressee, and I don't know where the foul-up was. Maybe I'm too choosy, but I'll look for a program suitable for garden variety users like me, making necessary features easy, rather than for those who like to live dangerously.

But the big deal is the word processors. I tried StarOffice, and it looked interesting, with a full suite including what we need. But its opening display was bewildering, and whatever I clicked to invoke made it lock up the system, so that I had to crash Linux to get out of it, and wait for the five minute long rebuilding operation. Sometimes StarOffice crashed at the first click, and sometimes it lasted an hour, if I didn't get into any of the menus. Since I thought I would like it if only it remained constant, because while it ran it had nice features, I sent off for the disk. That was nice, because it had the whole suite including a database, and had both Windows and Linux versions. So my wife tried it on her Windows system while I tried it on my Linux system. But for her it pulled tricks it hadn't for me; it was stable, but it liked to run off the screen so that necessary command buttons could not be reached, and sizing the files onscreen was a hassle. Meanwhile my Linux version--locked up, same as before. So scratch StarOffice; as I said, I'm not amused that such a lapse has not been fixed. I can get that sort of treatment at Macrohard, after all, with that illegal-operation and crash-without-saving bit.

So I explored Hancom Word. Hancom turned out to be a big Korean software company making programs in Chinese, Japanese, and English. The program is intuitive; for example, if you want to put page numbers in the upper right corner of your document, you merely click the model image there and it's done. Its internal language is alien, but it can read and write MS Word files, for compatibility. But when I tried to put a header on, it let me do it, but then there was no way out of the header, so I had to save and close the file, and then it also closed the word processor--and didn't actually save the file, or else hid it where I couldn't find it. That's a no-no. It also pied two of my keys. I use a modified Dvorak keyboard, actually it's the original Dvorak layout from before the computer industry changed the punctuation around, apparently just because it could. So I have to change it back, and that's almost always a hassle. It was those two changed-back keys it pied, depriving me of my colon and semicolon. I need them, so can't use this word processor if that isn't fixed. Well, I tried, and discovered that this is a really powerful program, because it has multiple keyboard layouts, including Chinese symbols, Hebrew, and ghod knows what else. Even Dvorak, but it's the computer version. Once it sets in a keyboard, it doesn't change, even if I change from Dvorak to Qwerty in Linux. I called up two instances of Hancom, one in Dvorak and one in Qwerty, simultaneously, no problem. Wow! But I couldn't change its Dvorak to mine. I found by accident (it wouldn't tell me where) how to make up a complete new keyboard, and made up my layout from scratch, titled it, and clicked the SAVE button--and it flashed a message saying it couldn't delete the file. What? I tried again, with the same result: its SAVE button is a delete button, and so is its only other button, CANCEL. That's pretty damn ornery. But then I realized that this is a demonstrator model, that probably has its obscure features omitted, because you have to buy the full version to use it permanently. Probably those features work in the real program, including the header. If that is the case, it's a damn nice program, one I could live with. But the disk version of StarOffice did not fix its problems, so I can't be sure about Hancom.

Meanwhile I had Applix on order on disk. This has a full suite also, with everything we want, and I like the evident attitude of the company sponsors. It just might be the one for me. But at this writing, two and a half weeks after ordering, it hasn't arrived. The computer age has not necessarily brought swiftness. Stay tuned for a report next time.

So what do I think of Linux overall? I think I will like it, if I ever get a reliable word processor and mail handler. I played its card games and Mahjongg, and they're all right if not as good as those for Windows systems. I tried Snake Race, and the instructions made it seem simple, you must eat all the apples before the snake does, but they give no hint how you eat an apple, and no buttons work, and the picture extends off the screen where you can't go and refuses to be re-sized. Maybe the necessary controls are offscreen. Once again my sense of humor must be impaired, because I am not amused. But this is unfortunately typical of my experience with Linux: not enough instruction, and what there is doesn't necessarily work. This is not my idea of user-friendly. So if you are not a computer geek, you are probably best advised to stay clear unless you like frustration.

So what else is new? A reader suggested that I check the website www.skyboom.com/hellionthemovie, as it seemed to contain material taken from my Incarnations of Immortality series. Yes indeed; the proposed movie Hellion took my series title, and had an opening situation in which a man about to suicide instead kills Death, and then must assume the office of Death. The other major Incarnations are there too. The actual story line differs, but it does seem that the starting point was my series. Now you can't copyright an idea, but since my agent is currently marketing On a Pale Horse as a prospective movie, too heavy a borrowing from it without permission is mischief if not outright piracy. So my agent's lawyer sent the proprietor, Sean David Morton, a stiffly worded letter requesting that he cease and desist. Well, Mr. Morton turned out to be recalcitrant. He said that any similarity was entirely coincidental, and this has no resemblance to my work, no matter how derivative my work might be. Did I have a copyright on Death? He continued with thick sarcasm and belittling of my imagination. But he did say he would remove the reference to "Incarnations of Immortality." Well, now. This man seems to be spoiling for a fight. So who is this smoking anus? Well, as it happens, there is an expose about him done by Royce J Myers, editor of www.UFOWATCHDOG.COM, under the heading UFO DIRTBAG OF THE MONTH. In the course of a four part, 25 page detailed write-up he presents Sean Morton as a "Shameless Psychic and Prophecy of Lies." It targets and shoots down Morton's exaggerated claims one by one. No he didn't graduate with honors from Stanford, or from the Julliard School, or the London academy of Music, or the British University of Cairo, Egypt, which school doesn't exist. No he didn't work with Gene Roddenberry to make the basis of STAR TREK. No he didn't ghost write the book NUTRITION: THE CANCER ANSWER. And no, his UFO claims are not to be believed. But I will say this: the man evidently does have an imagination, just not a clear notion of the distinction between fiction and truth. I seem to be a late entry in his tally of unauthorized borrowings. I think I don't much like him.

Let's go to something more positive: the Nobel prize winning physicist Richard P Feynman. My reader Ben Madore recommended the book Surely You're joking, Mr. Feynman. He thought I would like it, and like Mr. Feynman. He's right; I do. Feynman tells of his life with marvelous modesty and humor that somehow don't quite mask the fact of his genius. He tells how he was curious about radios as a child, so started repairing them, sometimes finding the fix by sheer accident and developing a reputation. Similarly as an adult he was curious about padlocks and safes, and learned how to crack them. Once he made a demonstration on a safe, knowing the job could take up to eight hours, but by a fluke he cracked the combination in minutes and really wowed the others. Blind disbelief bothered him, which relates to the title. Once he got into an argument whether urine ran out of people by gravity, so he demonstrated that he could pee while standing on his head. He also got into a literal fight at a urinal in a tough bar, and barely made it out intact. As a professor at Cornell he looked so young that sophomore girls were encouraging him, thinking him to be a freshman. Once as a graduate student at Princeton he was working on a problem in physics, and the professor decided he should give a technical talk on the subject. Then he learned that several eminent scientists had decided to attend that talk: Henry Norris Russell, a famous astronomer of his day, Johnny Von Neumann, the greatest mathematician of the day, Professor Pauli, a very famous physicist from Switzerland, and Albert Einstein. This was daunting. They did attend, and had comments on it, and Feynman got through okay. But you know that despite his modesty, these folk would not have been interested had he not had an astonishing amount on the ball.

Last column I commented on www.restrooms.org/, wherein women learn to urinate while standing in jeans. Perhaps in reaction to that, a reader advised me of another female site. This is the Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health, at www.mum.org. There's a huge amount of information here, much of it humorous. There's a list of terms for menstruation, such as "Are you seeing red?" "Bloody Mary," "Closed for Maintenance," "Curse," "Flow," "It's raining down south," and "Surfing the Crimson Wave." The full list is about 400 terms long, covering the world. The jokes are something else. There is a warning for the faint of heart who may be offended, followed by the first joke: What did the maxi pad say to the fart? "You are the wind beneath my wings..." I had to check with my wife about the anatomy of a sanitary napkin to assimilate that; it seems they have folds called wings. (This is a public service announcement for other ignorant men.) A joke heard in a school cafeteria shared by ten year olds: What is the definition of a period? A waste of fucking time. Okay, they aren't all that raw, and there's about 50 pages of them, so go to the site for the full show; this is merely a review. How can you tell when a blonde secretary has her period? She has a tampon behind her ear and can't find her pen. I send dumb blonde jokes to my blonde daughter, and she sends dumb blond jokes to me. (Note the distinction: blonde is female, blond is male.) Some get classical, as in Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott": "Out flew the web and floated wide; The mirror cracked from side to side; 'The curse is come upon me,' cried The Lady of Shalott." A woman who has just had a mammogram, her poor breasts mercilessly squeezed, concludes that the machine must have been designed by a man. "I'd like to stick his balls in there, And see how they come out!" Then there's the one about the middle-aged woman who reported to her gynecologist her strange symptoms: one day pennies plinked into the toilet water, and another time nickels, then dimes, and finally quarters. He reassured her that she was simply going through the change. Let's finish with a savage poem by an angry woman, concluding "Don't call me a girl, A babe or a chick. I am a WOMAN, Get it, you prick?"

We are on a squintillion mailing lists, and have to practice severe triage when selecting those to which we contribute. Let me mention just one here: Amnesty International, at www.amnestyusa.org. The focus on man's inhumanity to man. Folk like to think that the modern world is more civilized than medieval times, but the fact is torture continues unabated. It's a supremely ugly story. If you are interested in human rights, this is one excellent place to check. Another is The Hunger Site, at www.thehungersite.com, whose purpose is to eliminate world hunger. Check the site for information on it and on related hunger organizations. Here in America it is too easy to forget that much of the world has a problem not of obesity, but of starvation.

I am a thorough skeptic about the supernatural. I write about magic, I don't believe it. But I try to keep an open mind, knowing that there are mysteries science has not yet fathomed. A recent (February 17, 2001) issue of SCIENCE NEWS had an interesting article that relates. One day a neurologist had an illuminating experience, an expansion of his awareness akin to spiritual enlightenment. That got him interested in the subject, so he explored it and later wrote a book, Zen and the Brain by James H. Austin. One of the problems about such illuminations is that they are incomprehensible to those who haven't experienced them. I think of parallels: how do you describe color to a blind man? How do you describe love to one who considers it to be a mere glandular phenomenon? There are indeed things one must experience in order to truly grasp. Another book, Varieties of Anomalous Experience goes into altered states of consciousness, near-death incidents, alien-abduction reports, and other anomalous events. In one experiment a group of people were given a hallucinogenic drug, psilocybin, and another given a placebo; they didn't know who got what. Those who got the drug had experiences resembling those of classic mystics, such as a feeling of oneness with God. Thereafter, for 25 years, the drugged group had many more positive changes in their attitudes and behavior. Okay, I find this significant: religious revelation can be duplicated by a drug. That doesn't mean that the religious type is invalid, but it does suggest that it is a phenomenon of the brain.

A reader sent me a link to a site for an article the Washington Post published, exploring the issue of copyrights and libraries. There's an inherent conflict here: copyrights protect the authors of literary material, so that they can be paid for their efforts and not starve. Libraries exist to spread information to all. So which side should prevail? Now with the Internet and electronic publishing, the issue is sharpening. Should library patrons have free access to all information, or should writers get paid for downloads? I support libraries generally, but in this particular matter my interest is with the writers. If writers can't earn their living, they will have to stop writing, and culture will be the worse for it. But many folk can't afford to pay for much, and there is value in the free dissemination of information. So what is the answer? I'm not sure, but for the nonce I remain with the writers: let them be paid, and after a reasonable time, their material can enter the public domain. Those who are satisfied to share their material without charge are welcome to do so, as I'm doing here at HiPiers. But I can afford to do this only because I do get paid for most of my novels.

I have mentioned that with our video-freak daughter in town, we now see movies. In this period we saw 13 Days, which brought back memories. It's weird to think that what was current events for me is now history for my readers. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, and in fact I was then, because of a snafu in paperwork, in the Army Ready Reserve, so if the USA had invaded Cuba I would have been recalled to active duty. That makes it personal. I remember the blockade, with the Russian ship steaming right up to the point--and then the Russians blinked. I remember Adlai Stevenson saying "I'll wait until hell freezes over!" about as dramatic a moment as the UN has seen. But I don't think the movie covered something that irritated me: Bertrand Russell sending public messages praising Nikita Khreschev for his peacemaking and condemning John Kennedy. He may have been a great philosopher, but he had that one 180° bass ackwards. We also saw Crouching tiger, Hidden Dragon, said to be the finest martial arts movie ever made. That's probably true, though it isn't saying much, and it still could not resist outright fantasy, such as warriors flying, or unmuscled girls beating back stout warriors. If the movie industry ever wants to make a martial arts movie that is both exciting and accurate, it should try adapting the central sequence of my collaboration with Roberto Fuentes, Kiai!, which I am in the process of returning to print via Xlibris. I am now going through the sequel novels, then will send them all in in a batch. It was a good collaboration, because I know how to write and Roberto was once the judo champion of Cuba, before Castro took over and he fled the country; he knows martial arts.

Which reminds me also of TV: my favorite new program is Boston Public, with its hard hitting revelation of what high school is actually like. I was once a high school teacher, and was glad to retire to writing. But I admit to being grudgingly intrigued by Survivor 2, rooting for the Ogre Tribe of course, even if they did misspell it, and sorry the pretty vegetarian girl Kimmi got booted. But you know, the way one guy got eliminated on the basis of a lie about him sneaking in beef jerky--that stank. One of the unfortunate strengths of that show is that it shows human motives in their ugliness, along with some rather nice female flesh.

Idiocies of publishers dept.: My Xanth novel Vale of the Vole was published in Russian as "Valley of the Vole," with the cover from Harpy Thyme. Reminds me of the time the foreign edition of another of my novels was published with the cover of a Philip José Farmer novel. Farmer didn't believe that, so I sent him a copy. It bears repeating: I do regard editors, like critics, as a different and inferior breed. It's a shame that writers have to put up with either. When I checked the copyedited manuscript for my sequel autobiography, How Precious Was That While, I saw that the copy editor had rendered every number into written prose, even six figure numbers. In my day the idiots contented themselves with doing that only to numbers under 10, so would report a baseball score as 11-nine; evidently the madness has expanded. It's in computers too; when I tried a grammar checker, it even challenged the date because it wasn't written out. Computer spell checks are worthwhile, but I won't touch grammar check, as it comes across as truly idiotic. Of course I was once an English teacher, so may be overly sensitive about such nonsense.

We live on our tree farm, and nature is all around us. Carrol and Lina Wren have set up their nest in the old target box I left on the portico and are now sitting on five eggs. We like wrens; they are indefatigable bug catchers and bold little birds. Jean Owl visited our pool enclosure again; we opened that portals so she could find her way out. That pool has long since returned to nature, serving as a reservoir for watering plants during the drought, but the bad cold siege in Jamboree seems to have killed off the tadpoles. That's too bad, because with Lake Tsoda Popka having been dried out by the drought, our pool was the only refuge in this vicinity for frogs. We still do have the cute little green tree frogs, and our pool will soon enough be repopulated, but I hate wholesale death. We did get rain in Marsh, fittingly, almost eight inches, making it the wettest in some time, nicely abating the fire hazard for the moment, but our water table remains several feet low. For some time parts of Lake Ogre Chobee and the Half Baked Bog were burning, because it's like peat underground, and couldn't be put out. Our tree farm is a tinderbox, so this was nervous business--and may be again if the drought resumes. We keep the bird paths full, and they do get patronized. Our garbage-burial garden is doing fine; this year we have potatoes and squash, from Christmas dinner. I covered the tiny shoots carefully during the freeze, but of about 25 initial squashes, only 5 survived, and one of those was a close call; I had to help it get out of its seed shell, but it lost its initial leaves anyway, but finally managed to hang on. Now they are all blooming, with yellow flowers a generous three inches across. They send out tendrils to latch on to whatever is handy, such as the chicken wire I put out to try to stop the armadillo from digging them out. Those tendrils then coil like springs, making flexible connections. I never thought of squash as a climbing plant, but now I'm seeing it in action. And to think: all this would never have happened, had our garbage disposal unit not broken down. Incidental nature can have pleasant surprises.

We have also been seeing more of the area during our weekly dog walks. I take Obsidian Dog out on the leash--yes, even in the forest, because otherwise she would follow her nose to a rattlesnake or alligator. She's a big dog, but those creatures need to be left alone. Usually we follow the path around inside our tree farm, through the oaks and pines, but with the lakebed dry we've explored it recently. There's a tractor tread trail through its center; we followed it about a mile north, but it seem to have no end. We followed it south, and it curved west and then north again, too far for us to reach its end, if it has one. It's a whole different world out there, open plains where once there was water.

I squeeze in some reading too, mostly business rather than pleasure. I had to tell one publisher I couldn't blurb a novel because its style was not up to snuff. I turned off another devout reader by telling him truth about his writing. I don't get my jollies from hurting feelings, but sometimes the choice is between honesty and empathy, and I have to tell the truth. It's why I normally decline to read reader fiction; it is too often a thankless task. That may explain why critics can be such turds: it's a survival mode, and decent folk wash out of that business because of the distress. Sometimes I get an angry letter from a fan who has seen one of my novels trashed, but the fact is, this is part of the territory, and even a bad review is better than none. The worst dirt is done by those who blacklist worthy books by refusing ever to mention them, because they have some illicit grudge against the author or the genre. So I am caught on both sides of it, trashing and being trashed. I liken it to being out on the ocean in a small boat when a storm comes up: you're likely to have a problem whatever you do. But let me mention some special cases that aren't negative. One is The Cythian Stone an epublisher sent me. It moves well, it's interesting, but it's a novella at best, not a novel. It won an award; okay, it's their money. Another is Graham the Gargoyle by Brian Clopper; this is, I think, a self-published physical book, but it works; it's for young readers, as the little gargoyle struggles through family, school, and tormenting by the local bully to finally win through. I recommend this for ten year olds, who will relate. Then there's LIFE: CREATE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE, by God, published by Vantage. I have little use for Vantage, a notorious old-time subsidy publisher, but that's irrelevant. This is a book but not a novel; it's more like a game. It starts "In the beginning was the word, and the word was" followed by a list of 34 words. One of them is BANG! For that we must see niche #97. There we find SCIENTIST and 37 more choices. Let's take the last one, "None of the above." That takes us to niche #103, which has only one choice: Go to niche #1. So you start over; that's your penalty for not choosing any of the above. I suspect a group of readers could have fun taking turns following routes, maybe with prizes for the longest trail, or maybe penalties for washing out, as in strip poker. There are several appended essays; a random sampling produced "God will not be fooled by people who obey His law in the expectation of enjoying Heaven or avoiding Hell. To hell with expectations." I like that. I'm agnostic, with no expectation of reward or punishment in any afterlife. Indeed, if there is a God, I suspect he would be disgusted with those who praise Him because they want personal gain. This is like the corruption of politics by money; the quid pro quo destroys ethics. So this book is more than a game. The last book I read was Zuralia Dreaming by Alfred Tella, for blurbing. In this one, as in my collaboration with Julie Brady, Dream a Little Dream, some people are dream creators, able to craft real worlds from their dreams, and then to enter them. I'm a sucker for this kind of fiction, despite my belief that dreams are nothing of the sort. Tella's character travels to a series of islands in the dreamed world, experiencing odd things, such as one whose people are nice or nasty depending on which head is on their god-statue. He falls in love with a woman on another island. Yes, he can take her home with him. If he thwarts the evil dream-consuming enemy. Wouldn't it be nice if we all could make our dreams come true?

So what else is new? When I shopped for Linux software, one of the dealers was TIGER. Forget it; Tiger stiffed me on a rebate and stonewalled my query and I will not buy there again. Let's review some other spot negatives: I had a query from a reader: "What is your stand on the 2000 vs. 2001 issue?" I answered "I hold that the onset of 2000 was the turn of the millennium, because this is the way it is normally done; when a person has his 20th birthday, he has lived a full 20 years. Yes, they made a mistake by not assigning a year 0. But they started the count several hundred years late anyway; no need to perpetuate the error indefinitely. Jesus wasn't born then anyway; he was born about four years before. So there's no getting it straight; at least we can count straight now." He responded "Your attitude is dishonest and I am glad to know what you are really like." Then there are those who take issue with my comment on the recent presidential election, wherein the man who won the popular vote in the nation and in Florida (except that not all the votes were counted) was denied the office because his opponent had more friends on the Supreme Court. One even claimed, at length, citing statutes, that the recount and the Florida supreme court's involvement were illegal. He said "Yet, nobody seems to have any interest in pursuing this violation," though he indicated there should be a 15-year sentence for it. I find this perspective interesting, and the logic somewhat specious. I believe the verdict of history will not be kind to the Supreme Court's decision. And no, I don't care to argue the case endlessly with those who come at me with blatantly closed minds, though I have a fair file of material to make my case in detail. Perhaps an analogy will help clarify my view: say a police officer arrests a driver for speeding, and the man was speeding, but protests that this is not justice. How can he possibly have a case? Well, he was the tenth driver traveling at that speed on that highway, but the officer let the others pass without challenge. They were white; this was the first black driver. So this is selective, applied only to a particular classification of driver. This is something other than justice. The selective attitude of those who justify the Supreme Court's decision, and their seeming indifference to fundamental fairness, goes far to invalidate their case. And a response on circumcision, pointing me to an article that shows that circumcised Moslems didn't get AIDS, but they have no idea why. I suspect it was a small study, and that those men were not indulging much in extramarital relations. I still don't like the idea of mutilating innocent babies, male or female. It's worse with females, where it is done.

One emailer has a fascinating handle: Turdy. No, he did not come across that way and his name is really Andy; he had a regular suggestion that I should write a book about one of the other Xanths. My answer is that other Xanths are the realms of the Gourd, the disappearing Isles, and the moons of Ida. Folk who come to Xanth from various sections of the Mundane world see the Xanth peninsula as resembling Florida, or Italy, or Korea, or elsewhere, but that's just their perception; it's all the same Xanth. A reader responded on the Hunza Diet Bread recipe, with a different slant: in a week she had received 50 bounced messages about Hunza Bread. She hadn't sent any such messages, and these surely represented only the small percentage that bounced. Who knows how many were sent in her name? This suggests that the whole thing is a scam. She enclosed a recipe from the web, which seems quite ordinary. I remain a skeptic. I am also still receiving notes from readers who tried to call the old HIPIERS 800 number, that was reassigned to a porno outfit. One said "I am MAD AS HELL. How irresponsible for you and your publisher to print this number in the book and not see to it that it remained linked to you..." She's having my books removed from the library. Sigh; this is an example of what AT&T's cavalier attitude is costing me. I lose readers because of something I can't control. I really can't blame her, but the physical HiPiers was suffering losses of $50,000 a year and we just couldn't keep it going any longer.

And the weather: the newspaper give the nation's highest and lowest temperatures each day, for stupid ogres like me who care. But they aren't necessarily correct. For example, on FeBlueberry 20, 2001, the national high was Ft. Myers, Florida, 83°. But on the same page it showed several sites on our Suncoast as higher: 84° at Spring Hill, 85° at Zephyrhills and Tarpon Springs, 89° at Indian Rocks Beach, and 91° at Largo. Apparently this is like the election: they pick and choose which ones to count and declare them the winners without much regard for reality.

I interviewed at another chat room, Lyric. It was all right, and there were some questions I hadn't encountered before, like who was my favorite novel collaborator. I had to ponder that, as I like most of my collaborators, and concluded perhaps JoAnne Taeusch of The Secret of Spring and Alfred Tella of The Willing Spirit. They strike me as nice people with nice novels. But I had my usual difficulty reaching the site, because things did not appear where they were supposed to. I showed my wife the screen, to make sure I wasn't missing something: the key button described in the instructions simply wasn't there. I went round and round, and in the end it took me 25 minutes, but I did finally get there somehow. What is there about chat rooms that makes them so hard to reach? Doesn't anybody actually test their routes to make sure they work? Why not give an interviewee an ad hoc direct link?

Let's conclude with something intriguing: Jasmine Elf sent me a list of phobias from www.uselessknowledge.com/: 19 pages of them, from ablutophobia, the fear of bathing, to zoophobia, the fear of animals. There must be some use I can make of this, though ogres are too stupid to fear any of them. Well, maybe the bathing.

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