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The Ogre's Den image
Picture of Piers doing archery
Apull 2002
Here, in pretty random order typical of a disorganized mind, are my thoughts for this occasion. I expect to annoy some folk along the way, as usual, with my irascible opinionations. What's the point in having your own site if you can't annoy folk?

Last time I remarked that I am the most critical reader I know--and a couple of readers had a ball pointing out that there was a typo in that statement. Growr. First, my explanation for typos is that they grow on the page after the proofreading; second, I was talking about assessment of literary qualities, artistry, syntax, and such. So there, you turd-brains. (But it remains embarrassing as hell. I'm sot supposed to be annoyed back.)

Bad news for the "gold" dollar coin: first year they issued a billion, second year under a tenth as many, and it is expected to drop to about 3% of the original issue. So it's not working well. So what's my interest? I'm so glad you asked. The first imitation American dollar coin effort was the Anthony Dollar. But was handled by bureaucrats who clearly didn't know what they were doing. They made it the size and color of a quarter-dollar, so folk figured that was all it was worth and ignored it. The truth is it wasn't worth even that; the base metals in it may have hardly been worth two cents. Also, it had the picture of Susan Anthony on it, whose countenance someone less kind than I might liken to that of an ogress. (I guess Anthony is ogre country.) So there was no inducement to handle it. Okay, so this time they made it look gold (except that its base metal soon tarnishes to brass color, a true indication of its value), and they put a pretty face on it: Sacagawea, the American Indian maiden who helped the Lewis & Clark expedition. They don't know what she really looked like, and anyway she was already pregnant, but still, the picture is pretty. So what happened? The coin is bombing out just like the other one. So maybe all the hindsight reasons for the Anthony's failure were specious, and the critics didn't know anything. That works for me; after all, its true for Anthony novels criticism too. Here's a fact: if the US government really wants the dollar coin to be used, it will have to stop printing paper dollars.

A study indicates that the more time kids watch TV, the more violent they become. There's been a suspicion for decades, because America is one of the most violent of first-world countries, and may watch the most TV, which is jam-packed with violence. I think that's because the prudes here try to ban healthy sexuality from TV; you can't even see bare breasts here, as you can elsewhere. So the programmers go to the other cheap source of thrills: violence. Naturally it doesn't occur to them to have superior programming; that would require brains. My bet is that if every act of violence shown on TV were replaced by an act of sex, not only would there be twice as much TV watching, there'd be half as much violence. Why do I suspect that the Religious Right would not go for this? However, it must be stressed that correlation does not necessarily prove cause and effect; if it did, and you had ten per cent of the population with red hair and ten per cent left handed, red hair would cause left handedness. It could be that violent kids come mainly from neglectful homes, and part of that neglect is to use the TV as entertainer and baby-sitter; there might be nothing but cooking classes on it and the kids would still get violent. In fact they might be worse, if that's all they had to watch.

Perhaps related subject: PETA--People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a hard-nosed activist organization--wants to run an ad showing the Virgin Mary nursing the Baby Jesus, and the Catholic Church objects. Maybe the Church has a point; after all, Mary probably went to the local Acme Supermarket and bought formula, rather than use her breasts for their natural purpose.

I saw an interview with the British actress why played Queen Elizabeth and won an award for it in the movie Shakespeare in Love. They asked her whether the Queen really had a sense of humor. She said yes: once a courtier farted when bowing to the queen, and was so embarrassed that he stayed away for five years. When he finally returned, hoping his indiscretion had been forgotten, the Queen reassured him "We have forgotten farts." Wasn't that nice of her?

An anonymous teen girl named Penny wanted an autograph, and I told her to send me her snail address. Then, remembering that in fan circles the word "address" may be rendered as "addy," I remarked that the snail address might be compacted as "snaddy." She found that hilarious, and told me to mention it in my column. So here it is. Have I coined a great new term that will overtake the world by storm, or has it been in use for decades and I didn't know it? And I autographed the picture "To Penny--who showed me her snaddy." Let her try to explain that to her parents.

I went to the doctor for a routine check, and she said I'd lost ten pounds and was concerned. You see, I've always been lean and like it that way, though I have had to amass a small collection of cushions for my chairs, lacking any natural padding there. I stand five feet ten and a half inches in my socks, and weighed 141 pounds in my clothing. I normally weigh 145 bare. I said their scale must be off, because I'm perfectly healthy. So they tried another scale, and it said the same. When I got home I tried our scales--and they said the same. I have lost weight. Then I remembered: I've been on a soft diet almost eight months, waiting for my tooth implants to set and be crowned. That will happen soon, but meanwhile I've been off things like nuts, snacking instead on those little cans of balanced-diet nutritive goop. Evidently they don't add up as much, and so I've been slowly losing without knowing it. But soon I should return to a normal diet, and then I should be okay. Assuming that that's it. That had better be it. Um, about those cushions: I recently got a set of two identical squared-off foam efforts. One was comfortably soft, but the other was like a block of wood. Identical? There may be a quality control problem there.

Last time I mentioned the lightning jags and spider webs in my left eyeball. Two knowledgeable readers wrote to advise me to get my thin posterior the bleep into an eye doctor's office, because such innocent seeming symptoms could be preludes to losing one's sight. I didn't even finish reading the first email; I grabbed the phone and called my ophthalmologist, and his office said come on in. So I did, and he checked me: it's a detachment, not a separation, and not serious--but the only way to be sure is by doing what I did, and having it checked by a professional. A detachment is when part of the inner lining of the eyeball comes loose and hangs there, like a flap of a Band-Aid; a separation is when it comes all the way loose and floats in the vitreous humor (nothing funny about it) of the eyeball. So I'm okay, thanks to my readers, who take good care of me. I should outlive those other writers who have no dialogue with their readers.

I'm a workaholic, or more properly a writaholic; I write constantly because that's what I'm made of; if you took writing away from me I'd fade out and drift away in the wind like a fragment of used toilet paper. But I try to be a smart 'holic; I did my best to prevent it from interfering with my family life or my health. I not only exercise regularly, I indulge in diversions such as going to see the movies with my daughter the video freak, and computer games. I even look for old games I remember. The trouble is, I tend to indulge in games with the same compulsive intensity as I write, and can spend too much time at it. So be it; it's my nature. I saw a disc ULTIMATE SOLITAIRE, and hoped it would have the two card games I remember from childhood that seem to have disappeared from the world: Accordion and Crazy Quilt. And lo: it did have Accordion, with the correct rules of play. But it's a Windows based game, so I don't have it on my Linux system. Still, I played some games of Accordion on our correspondence system, which remains Windows, and will play more. I also checked some of their other squintillion games, and found a new one titled Number Ten that's fun, and and old one, Aces Up, that has a better variation, making it more dynamically playable. So actually I've played other games on it more than Accordion, but never fear, I'll get there. For those who aren't familiar with this card game, you deal out cards in a line from the left, and match cards toward the left by suit or number, either the next card to the left or the fourth card, counting the card to the right as the first. You keep piling matching cards, the object being to finish with them all in a single pile to the left. You can get runs of nonplayable cards, followed by one that enables you to pile up several, so the line expands and shrinks like an accordion. It's a great game, difficult to win; I think I won it something like three times in my life, playing it a lot with real cards. I mainly try for the fewest number of piles remaining at the end; under half a dozen is good.

I was reading a big novel--I'll get to that in two and a half moments--and got sleepy, because not only am I a slow reader--that has to do with my heritage as on ogre--but reading puts me to sleep. So I needed something to stir me up, waking me so I could continue reading. So I checked the Linux computer games. One of them, "Snake Race," has never worked for me; the snake just slithers around ignoring me, until the GAME OVER sign flashes. Yes I read the instructions; they don't say how to actually make the game respond. So I tried the next one, Sokoban. I see some heads in the audience nodding; they know what's coming. This game was invented in Japan in the early 80's and won a computer game contest there. "Sokoban" means "warehouse keeper" in Japanese, and you can play it with the arrow keys. The setting is a warehouse, with crates scattered around. The little warehouse keeper has to push the crates to where they belong, the tiles marked on the floor. He can only push, he can't pull. That means there has to be a spot open ahead of the crate to push it to, and a spot behind it for the keeper to stand. That may sound simple, but the warehouse isn't necessary one big chamber; it may be a complex of chambers with narrow passages, many of which are blocked by crates. Push a crate into a wall and you may be stuck, because there's no place open on the other side. Sometimes you can push it from the side, however. Sometimes the storage region is hard to get into, and crates tend to jam. I played the game, and it wasn't that difficult, but when I won, another layout appeared, Level 2. So I played that. They got more difficult; Level 6 had me stymied for some time, and when they got into the teens--Level 13 up--they could be monsters. Sometimes you can seal your loss in the first move, by pushing an obvious crate temptingly set up for you; sometimes you have to move crates out of the storage chamber, saving them until later. I tried to limit my playing, but some days I got locked in and played for two hours or more. The upshot was that this was a drag on my working time for about six weeks, during which I solved all 50 Levels in the course of a cumulative 35 hours playing time. It's just about perfect as a game, easy to understand, hard to win, and you have to do some heavy figuring out to get there. Some configurations are reminiscent of chess in their deviousness. Amazing how complicated pushing crates can be! At last I was free, and could resuming writing my novel at speed. Until I discovered Shisen-Sho, which uses Mahjongg tiles in a different way. Another good game.

Now about that book I was reading. This has a history, so bear with me. One of my readers, Eric Labuda, emailed me, mentioning that he was also a fan of the work of the late John Brunner. That rang a little bell in my cranium, and I wrote back that I knew Brunner and admired his science fiction. He was born in Oxford County, England, the same region I was born, about six weeks after me. No, we didn't know each other as children; my folks went to Spain to do relief work, where later my father was arrested and expelled by the Franco dictatorship there, and we came to America on the last passenger boat out as World War Two raged in Europe. The ship was the Excalibur, of King Arthur fame, and a former king of England was on that voyage. So I became American, while Brunner remained British, and we didn't meet until 1966. At this point I had just sold my first novel, not yet published, and he had sold 40 novels and was well known while I was unknown. But my day was to come, while his faded, and today I am well known while he is largely forgotten. That has more to do with the luck of publishing than with ability, for he was a fine writer. In the late 1970's I was forging ahead with fantasy on my way to the best seller lists, while he spent five years on a single novel, The Great Steamship Race. When it was published, it sank, and with it much of his career. So that was the point I passed him in success, and I was curious about that novel. Well, the Brunner fan checked the Internet and did what I was too dull to do: he located copies of the novel for sale. He bought a couple, sent me one, and I traded him a couple of my books for it. And settled down to read it.

The Great Steamship Race is a huge novel, a third of a million words long, almost triple the length of a Xanth novel. It's historical, about a fictional race between steamships on the Mississippi river in 1870. It has a huge cast of characters, and it is clear that Brunner did his research on the subject; you can just about learn how to operate a paddlewheel steamship. It's well written, albeit with a few typos and trace errors. It's a grand story, and should have been a mainstream success. So why did it fail? I suspect it was because it took so long for him to write it that he lost his editor, leaving no one to push for things like decent promotion and printings, and his reputation had faded in that interim. So the publisher just put it out there without support. Publishers do that; there's a case now with a book Stupid White Men by Michael Moore becoming #1 on the nonfiction hardcover list, with its publisher dragged kicking and screaming along, seeming to want it to fail. Readers of my autobiographies and columns know how it is; publishers can be such shits. So there it is: Steamboat is a great reading experience, perhaps marking the effective end of the career of an excellent genre writer. Parnassus rewards funny fantasy rather than serious history; don't I know it. But I mourn for Brunner's loss; he deserved better.

I also read Hukata by Michael Weatherford, a nice alien crash landing science fiction novel now trying the market. He's putting his books on his site as shareware, with true self publishing, at http://users.codenet.net/mweather/mybooks.htm, and Everything in its Path by Steve Alcorn, a children's novel of two ten year old girls, one American in the 1920's, the other American Indian before the white man invaded. Their lives are parallel as both face the threat of a deadly flash flood that, yes, carries everything in its path. This one is of traditional publishable quality, if the author can only get a competent agent despite a system that shuts out new writers. As genre writer Robert Moore Williams remarked once, the big pigs have their snouts in the trough, and they're not about to let the piglets in for the swill. Some time back I read Robert W. Woods' Adventures of Scott Nolan, which as I remember was the story of a family with a telepathic dog. I put him on to Xlibris and he published it there, but it seems to have had zero sales, being unknown and not hitting up family and friends to buy copies. That's sad; it's a decent story. Take a look at it at www.Xlibris.com and see. I think the problem is that there are more good novels than there are publishers for them, so good works are squeezed out by funny fantasy or whatever. I don't like the system, despite having profited by it; I had the luck to win its roulette, but would rather have done it on pure merit. I wish every writer could do it on pure merit.

Which brings me to my first break. Some editors are better than others. I had the luck to try a short fantasy story on the magazine FANTISTIC when editor Cele Goldsmith was there. She was that seeming rarity, an editor who did her job competently. As a result she was the one who put a number of significant genre writers first into print, like Roger Zelazny, Harlan Ellison, Ursula Le Guin, Thomas Disch, Ben Bova, John Jakes--and Piers Anthony. Like first love, a writer's first sale is special, and she was mine. She was only a year older than I, and was killed in a car accident in Jamboree 2002. FANTASTIC was a trashy magazine before and after her time, but I like to think that it was a good one then.

Last time I used the term "Japanimation." Someone told me it's offensive; the correct term is "Anime." Oh? It was standard in my day, and I don't see why the revisionists should condemn it. Anime is fine too. I remember when someone cautioned me for using the term "Gypsy," calling it offensive; it's supposed to be "Romany." But it was the term the Gypsies themselves gave; they claimed to be from Egypt, which they weren't, and thus were Egypt-sies. The Politically Correct language Nazis are ever with us; I regard Political Correction as censorship.

As I mention every so often, I arch for exercise. I use my 60 pound draw weight compound bow right handed at 150 feet, and my left handed reverse curve bow at 100 feet, and sort of match them against each other to see which does better on a given day. They're fairly even. Over the years I have gradually improved my accuracy, mainly by eliminating target misses. On rare occasions I manage to fire all 24 arrows without missing the target at all; that's a "perfect" session. In Marsh I managed to have two perfect sessions in a row. Could I make three? My 12 right handed shots were okay; then the first left handed one veered right and thunked into the baffle target there. Bleep! But then I checked more closely and discovered that while the point was in the other target, the shaft had passed through the edge of the central target, and remained caught by its light plastic webbing. My rule is that if the arrow remains stuck in any part of the main target, it's not a miss; if it bounces off the target and falls elsewhere, or if it bounces on the ground and lodges in the target, it is a miss. So technically this was not a miss, and I finished the third perfect session. Next session it did bounce off the top of the target and was a miss. In fact it went Thunk and disappeared; It had passed between the main target and the baffle target set above it without disturbing either. I looked all over and couldn't find it, even with my trusty metal detector. Bugged by this I went out again next day and finally did find it, buried in the ground under thick brush about fifty feet beyond the target. If there's a way through the targets, my arrows will find it, and hide perfectly. Thus my brave little adventures in determined dufferdom.

We watched the Olympics on TV. Olympic judging is like publishing or campaign financing: insidiously corrupt in ways that everyone suspects but are hard to prove. This time it got too obvious and they had to do something to clean it up at least cosmetically. I was struck by the parallel to the US Supreme Court at the last presidential election: 9 judges, one of whom was a woman who had a private ax to grind and shifted the result 5-4. At least they halfway fixed it, in the Olympics. Meanwhile I remain bemused by an event that is nominally competitive or artistic, judges notwithstanding, but actually appeals to baser instincts. Observe how firm-thighed female skaters are put into short skirts and tight panties, and raise their legs high and turn carefully around so that every member of the audience can see the nether crevice. If it is that important to see it, why don't the men wear similarly revealing costumes? I don't object; I like seeing well filled panties, and don't even look at the men. But is it art?

One day as I was checking our Garbage Garden--we've harvested some red potatoes, and more than 40 tomatoes now, and more are growing, and other plants are coming up, in that marvel that is the endless recycling of nature--our dog Obsidian was avidly sniffing under a copse of trees. Suddenly there was a "Coo! Coo! Coo!" and I realized that she had caught something. It sounded like a bird. I hauled the dog into the house and checked. It was a baby bunny! I never heard one speak before. It seemed to be all right. I piled brush and wire around the copse to barricade it against the dog so that the bunnies would have a briar patch to retreat to. We're not too keen on having a family of rabbits prospering right next to our garden, but hope they'll move elsewhere now that they know that there's a big dog on the prowl.

Speaking of plants: generally speaking, I like them. But what we call thorn plants are invading our forest; they have sturdy long thorns all along, so to brush past one is to get painfully stuck. They're a weed tree, from somewhere else, and spring back with new shoots like a hydra when clipped to the ground; the only way to be rid on one is to dig it out. So around the house I do that. But I make sure I recognize a plant before removing it. There was one my wife thought was a thorn tree, but I felt no thorns, so left it, pending verification. We finally put in half an hour with the tree books and identified it: it's a possumhaw, or deciduous holly, or winterberry--yes, it has three popular names. It's a variety of holly, and in time will be a small tree, possibly 30 feet tall, and the only one we have seen in our vicinity. So it pays to be cautious; we'll gain a nice little tree.

Publishers return "dead" manuscripts after they are done with them, so I can add them to my collection of papers at the University of South Florida. I don't know whether I'm the best documented writer extant, but it's possible; I date and save everything, and in due course it is institutionalized. My papers are voluminous; at the time I donated the first batch to USF it was appraised at between half and one million dollars and was the largest such gift in the history of the University. No, I don't get any tax break for it; I do it because I feel it is right to do, plus I need the space. Thus I recently received the original manuscripts for The Dastard and How Precious Was That While back. What made me take note was that they are both marked "Foul Production Ms." I know publishers treat writers with contempt, but to call our literary aspirations foul productions is a bit blunt. It sounds like a euphemism for shit.

I heard recently on 60 Minutes that half a million Americans die in pain every year, because the medical establishment won't let effective pain killers be used. They're afraid someone might get addicted, just before he croaks. What a crock!

I like music. I never made it as any sort of musician, other than amateur group singing folk songs, but as a child I memorized all the sings I liked. Then once between college semesters, circa 1955-6 I typed all their words out from memory so I would always have them. I still have that list, on yellowing half-sheets of paper, 84 songs. The first is "Cowboy's Lament," the second is "To the Woodland," and so on, in order not of preference but of what would fit on a page, a long one matched with a short one. Now I use them on occasion in my fiction, especially in the sexy ChroMagic fantasy series, set on a magic planet colonized from Earth a thousand years before; the songs are among the lingering memories of the old world, carried on from generation to generation. Tour groups travel from village to village, and sing and act out the songs for the village children in round theater. For example they do "Barbara Allen" with the announcer singing the story, the male singer acting the dying Sweet William, and the female singer being hard-hearted Barbara Allen, who later dies of regret. "And death is printed on his face, and o'er his heart is stealing..." "Sweet William died for me today; I'll die for him tomorrow." The children are overcome by the sorrow of it, and the adults rehearse fond memories of their first exposure to it. I believe it would be effective played out like that. Of course publishers have no interest in this series, which is one reason you don't see this sort of thing in print, but in time I'll find a way to make it available. I'm working on Xlibris to expand its word limit on books, because each novel is 250,000 words long. Those old folk songs just animate me, and I sing them often enough to myself, silently in my mind. I suppose I should transfer that list to the computer before it crumbles away.

I get endless solicitations, not limited to the standard registered charities. There's not one that's for a bad cause. A high school band wants to buy new uniforms, a mother wants key surgery for her baby, a college student wants to pay off her debts so she can make a new start, a prisoner wants money for incidentals that aren't provided, a library wants to buy new books, and so on. But here's the rub: it's in effect a pyramid scheme. The classic pyramid is where one person solicits several others for, say, a dollar each, and each of them send their dollars and add their names to the list and send out more letters, expecting to get much mere back in due course. But the scheme depends on an ever larger layer of new prospects--known as "the greater fool"--and soon there will not be enough people in the world to form that layer. The only ones who profit are those who start it, collect money from others, and don't pay any out. That's why it's a scam. Okay, now here we have this community library needing new books. If every library in every community sent out similar solicitations, everyone would be sending money back and forth, and no one would be richer--except those that accepted without giving. It pays to cheat. That's why it's still a scam; it's mathematically neutral for honest folk. Each one feels that it is more deserving than the rest, but I believe they should take care of it locally. Why doesn't the school provide uniforms for its band? Why doesn't the county provide money for the county library? Why isn't there medical insurance to cover all mothers' babies? So I pick and choose my charities carefully, generally skipping those that even if valid really represent the failure of local communities.

I have the dictionary habit. My collection of dictionaries is laid out for regular use, and I may go several times a day to check words. I discovered recently that "Auxiliary" is pronounced og ZIL ya ree. To me, og is for ogres; I pronounce it awk, but maybe that's for the birds. Evidently I'm illiterate, not even speaking proper Ogrish.

A reader sent his framed print of the cover art for On a Pale Horse for autographing. I jammed the screwdriver into my thumb getting the print out of the frame so I could sign it, but that's life. What do you know: the billboards that are blank on the published cover are illustrated ads for Hell in the original art. Evidently the publisher censored it. I've always been rather proud of Hell's ad campaign in that novel, such as the picture of a lovely model with the two cute little devils, D & D, standing by; the male is lifting the model's skirt so as to peek under, and the message is YOU WON'T SEE THAT IN HEAVEN. I suspect more women go to Heaven and more men go to Hell, considering their interests.

I sent off an order for a bunch of videos--and a month later, nothing. I assume the Post Orifice lost it, which means I lose out on the 25% off sale they had. Sigh. We did watch Nightfall from a prior order. That's Isaac Asimov's most famous story. But the movie itself is junky. Too bad. Movie makers always think they can improve on the original, and that arrogance is one reason we don't have better movies. Now Xanth is being considered; I'm interested because of the barrels of money movie folk seem to have, knowing that what emerges at the theater may have little resemblance to the original. Still, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings seem to be trying to follow the originals, and those movies are doing well, so maybe...

We went to see The Time Machine, which does not seem very close to my distant memory of the original but is nevertheless a decent show, and Ice Age, which is really a children's story, but okay. The ones I anticipate, however, are the Star Wars episodes. Sure they're junky in terms of common sense, but it's my kind of junk, magnificent junk.

I read the weekly Ask Marilyn column in PARADE, though I see little evidence that it's actually written by someone of really superior intellect. On occasions she makes duffer's errors, but usually corrects them subsequently when readers write in. When she came out with misinformation about the great 3,200 mile long Chinese Wall I sent in a correction citing my source, and she ignored it. For the rest of you: there is not and never was a 3,200 long continuous Chinese Wall; it was a patchwork of links with alternating military forces. That one reason it can't be seen from a satellite: it isn't there. Well, this time she had a reader's description of a tribe with complicated names; the challenge was to figure out which ones were the single women, married women, single men, and married men. I figured it out: 7 letter names were male, 8 letter names were female. Single folk ended in vowels, married folk with consonants. But Marilyn got it wrong, saying that when folk married the first or last few letters of their names changed positions. Maybe--but how is it possible to know that, unless you know what their original positions were? It's nonsense. More likely they just changed the endings.

I read magazines galore while eating supper and watching TV: news, science, nature, opinion. They are constantly getting ahead of me, especially when something good is on TV, like "The Education of Max Bickford" or "First Monday." The problem is, they are good magazines, and they keep getting better. One magazine I thought I could finish off quickly: NATURAL HISTORY for April 2002. I mean what's in a nature magazine except pretty pictures of unsullied forests, lakes, mountains? Famous last words. Sure it has pictures. It also has an article on "String Theory" saying that the South American forest people's tradition of spinning fibers goes back at least 28,000 years. That's eyeball popping. Coincidentally, they also have a long article about the development of the eye; seems that genes get borrowed between species, so that each species does not have to evolve the whole eye itself. That, too, is amazing. Also an article on special spots in the Earth-Moon gravitational system, forces in balance. Article on group living of South Africa's Cape Buffalo, said to be one of the most dangerous animals, partly because the herd will come to the rescue of an attacked member. An article on a diverse collection paintings of exotic creatures a man made three centuries ago. Article on how the common house mouse originated in the steppes of Asia and made its way to America in the course of thousands of generations. And a special report on the concept of Intelligent Design: the old Creation vs. Evolution debate. What struck me here is that the Creationists are not necessarily ignorant louts; some of their arguments can make you think. I'm an evolutionist, but this demands respect. It's a series of pro/con statements that can't be casually dismissed. And on; I mean this issue is jammed with interesting and significant material, impossible to assimilate rapidly. And it's the magazine I thought to do just that with. How can I keep up?

Internet circulated list: spot descriptions of states, like Florida: Ask us about our Grandkids; Georgia: We put the "Fun" in Fundamentalist Extremism; Minnesota: 10,000 Lakes and 10 septillion Mosquitoes; North Carolina: Tobacco is a Vegetable; Utah: Our Jesus is Better than Your Jesus; Wyoming: Where men are men and sheep are scared!

I received an ad for the Institute of Noetic Sciences, dedicated to the scientific study of the nature and potential of consciousness. Well, now; that's one of my buttons; I want to know what enables consciousness in animal minds and whether it is possible to develop machine consciousness. I have read books on the subject. I believe it is a feedback loop, and once we fathom the nature of that loop, we'll duplicate it. But as I contemplated the literature on this institute, I saw that they believe that prayer has the power to heal, that people communicate telepathically with their pets, that there is compelling evidence for reincarnation, and the survival of consciousness after death. This is fantasy; I write it, I don't believe it. So I'm not subscribing. No, I don't consider myself close-minded; I have spent much of my life exploring just such subjects fictively, researching the factual bases for that writing. When I see the fear of death causing folk to grasp at straws in their will-to-believe, I know something other than objective investigation is going on. Sure, prayer can work wonders--but not in a double-blind study. Telepathy--I have whole theories for it, but again, objective studies have not confirmed it. Life after death, reincarnation--I love the concept of the traveling soul, but I have seen no proof.

Last time I commented on the gun issue. I received a few moderate comments and no violent ones; apparently this issue is not the tinderbox anticipated. The main point, I think, is that statistics are bound to be spongy, because a person may have a gun, brandish it, and scare off a robber or threatening person, and that doesn't get listed as a statistic. If only criminals shot or friend/family shot count, when, say, ten times as many criminals were scared off shotlessly, what does that mean? I guess we need statistics on how many folk with guns get harmed, vs. how many without guns. If guns really are scaring off many criminals, the households with guns should have lower crime rates. Another matter is responsibility: in countries where guns are possessed responsibly, the accident rate seems low. But it's hard to measure responsibility; it's intangible.

Chester Beedle sent me a link to www.a-human-right.com, and I checked it. The proprietor seems to be Oleg Volk in Nashville, Tennessee. Bales of material, but as with the Noetic institute, when I got into it I discovered bias. It starts with sections for gun control advocates and for gun freedom advocates (my words, not theirs), but the control section is merely a survey on attitudes about guns, and it's a push-poll: that's when the phrasing of the questions is intended to lead to a given answer. Here's an example: Someone planning a drive-by shooting would use... Only legal 10 round magazines because they plan to get caught, or Anything he wants because he doesn't plan to get caught. Any doubt which answer is expected? Another sample: A rapist choosing between two victims would prefer to attack the armed one so he could take her gun and use it against her, or the unarmed one because that would be less hazardous, or decides not to mess with either, as he can't tell which one is armed. Would anyone seriously choose the first answer? Even if someone chose the third, that still is an argument in favor of guns. And it doesn't seem to occur to the gun folk that the first thing the average criminal would do would be to get his own gun, and if in doubt about whether a victim was armed, shoot from ambush to avoid the danger. So this poll is not credible, and it signals the nature of this site. Nevertheless, there is some good discussion here, and there is much to be learned. Just don't assume it is all objective; it's a gun site, and therefore suspect, because of the suspicion that it will omit material that doesn't support its case. I use the analogy of the car: would you drive a car whose brakes work 90% of the time? When you think about it, the answer is no, because statistically you'll wreck before you drive far. A site may have 90% good information, but none of it can be trusted if you don't know what's been left out. But with that caution exercised, it's worth consideration. It defines civilized nature as acting humanely towards others even if no punishment would be incurred by acting meanly. That's a good thought. It says that fewer than 2% of people decline to behave in a civilized manner. Therefore the others need weapons. Oh? I'd prefer to take those few uncivilized folk out of circulation so the others don't need the weapons; that's safer. It says that organizations, like people, can be uncivilized, including some governments. There's another good thought. It mentions the French Huguenots in 1572, Polish Jews in 1939, and Cambodian intelligencia in 1975, all of whom suffered grievously at the hands of their governments. I could think of other examples; atrocities are unfortunately common. The point is that sometimes you do need to resist aggression, lest you be unfairly destroyed. And it points out that guns aren't the only things that kill. Okay, but my question is whether you are safer with or without a gun, and this doesn't answer that. But there is more: it says that in other countries, like England, home invasions are on the rise because criminals have nothing to fear from law-abiding people. It indicates that homeowners with guns are in a better position to repel such crimes. I agree. But unless the criminals are prepared to go out of business, they are apt to respond in one of two ways: they'll go to some other house that isn't as well guarded and commit their crimes there, in which case the crime has not been stopped, merely passed on to a more innocent household. Or they'll come prepared, and lob a grenade into your house to distract you while they invade, or set up a machine-gun and kill everyone in the house by firing through the walls, making it safe for crime. As I see it, there is little advantage in having everybody dangerously armed; it would be better to keep the guns out of the hands of criminals and idiots. Yet again, arguing with my own thought, the gun is called the equalizer for good reason; without it the big, strong, trained warrior can push around other folk. I don't like the idea of a world run by bullies. Back to the site comments: he points out that pacifism can come at a very high price, as Hitler and Stalin showed. I agree; one big reason I did not become a Quaker (the Society of Friends) after being raised as one was that I felt their pacifism was unrealistic, a virtual invitation for the bullies to take over. I am not a pacifist, and I have taken martial arts classes (I was a green belt in judo--that's not high, but it taught me a lot), and I do have deadly weapons in the house--just not guns. Someone comes figuring to rob my house, rape my wife, and beat me up will damn well have to have a gun. But I'd rather see our laws keep the gun out of his hands. That's what gun control is about, as I see it: responsible gun possession, so that anyone who commits a crime with a gun will lose it and his freedom. Sure, Florida already has such a law--but doesn't have effective enforcement. If every gun were registered, so that any bullet could be traced to both gun and owner, there would be a lot more responsibility--and the gun nuts seem to oppose that. They don't seem to want responsible guns, just guns. The site goes on to say that there are many instances of a gun being used in defense without being fired; the mere threat suffices. I'd like to know whether those cases outnumber the ones where a gun is accidentally or ignorantly fired and harms someone. A responsible gun can abate crime--but does it, statistically? I have not yet found the answer. Then we get to the personal aspect of this site. It has an article by Brent deMoville, Ph.D, female, standing 5'2", who was raped and took 3 years of martial arts as a precaution against any future attempt, discovering that she was no match for a 6'2" male martial artist. So she got a gun, and hasn't been raped since. That's a reason I understand. But then we get into a section, I assume by the proprietor--it's not identified--that likens crime to a pack of hyenas stalking a human. They are repulsed by a rifle, and wish they could separate her from it so they can kill her. Now a direct quote: "People who think as those hyenas are less na´ve than the idealists who wish to ban guns outright. 'Gun control' is a misnomer for what they have in mind. They are evil: they wish to control others. One of the easiest ways to control other people is by making them defenseless." It goes on to say that Communists, fascists and other totalitarians do that. "Did any people armed with rifles end up stuffed into the holds of slave ships? When we look at history, free people have guns, slaves don't." "Violent criminals are direct beneficiaries of gun control." And so on; go to the site and read the original for its full viewpoint. Meanwhile I suggest that this is unfair argument; first it defines gun control as gun elimination, then it blasts that. I see gun control as gun control, enforcing responsible ownership. That does mean universal gun registration, and sensible requirements for possession, maybe similar to the way it is with cars and driving. I don't regard myself as evil or power-hungry for that, just sensible, and I want to be able to feel safe from getting ambushed by a gun-toting nut. Maybe I can get Oleg to say whether he supports that. Stay tuned.

Say--they are coming out with a virtual computer keyboard. It's a full sized functional keyboard that can be projected on any surface and used. I look forward to the next step: a complete virtual computer. Just set up your little one inch cube projector and it makes a virtual keyboard you can type with, a virtual monitor screen you can see in detail, virtual sound you can hear, and virtual backup and printing. Maybe I'll invent my own, and put it in a novel.

In our universe there are five basic forces: strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravity. In my fantasy there is a fifth: magic. Well, now science is conjecturing that there may be a fifth force, a long-range repulsive force that accounts for the increasing expansion of the universe. Well, maybe it's magic.

I look at everything that comes my way, including junk mail. Never can tell where something of interest will show up. Sometimes I save financial newsletters that predict utter economic collapse in six months, and your only protection is to subscribe and use the crisis to get instantly rich. They may make interesting reading in six months. Well, health newsletters can be just as nutty. An ad for REAL HEALTH by William Campbell Douglass II MD says that the advice to drink 8 glasses of water a day is nonsense; that nobody knows why that should be done. Oh? I'll tell you why I do: it stops me from having another kidney stone. And he says that vegetarians are sicklier, need more laxatives, have slumping sex function, muscle loss, bone damage, and die younger. Well, I've been a vegetarian for nigh 50 years, and I'm not sickly, don't use laxatives, remain sexually active, and have good muscle mass. I'm not sure about bone damage, but am not aware of any. And there is no indication that I face an early death. So I think this is cow crap. The fact is, a vegetarian who pays attention to his diet, exercise, sleep, and emotional well-being, as I do, is likely to be healthier and nicer than the carcass eater who ignores such things.

A reader sent me a newspaper article on the trial of Ed Kramer, the proprietor of the annual Dragon Con. I am mentioned therein as one of the name writers who have attended the convention. True; I went there once, and my daughters have gone many times since. It's perhaps the most successful of the conventions. But it seems he is into sex with small boys, and that is his undoing. Too bad. I'll bet he's not a vegetarian.

One of the places in Xanth is the Fanta Sea. A reader sent me a brochure for FantaSea in Thailand, billed as "The Ultimate Cultural Theme Park." It's near Phuket, on the coast of peninsular Thailand. So if you really want Fanta Sea, Phucket.

Florida allows personalized car tags. No, the one saying XANTH isn't mine; I passed on it because I didn't like paying extra every year for what didn't cost the state anything extra. Well, they have had to recall some tags because they were deemed obscene. Samples are INSANE, KILLA, GU812, QUICKEE, MDSEX, XEQ-SHNE. If you don't get that last, think "execution." And ATHEIST. Now that's interesting. It's okay to say IN GOD WE TRUST on coins, but not to abstain from religion in public? I wonder if they'd allow AGNOSTIC?

Letter in the ST PETERSBURG TIMES newspaper, telling how a father kept likening his willful son to a mule, until the son looked up the word in the dictionary and found it had a horse for a mother and a jackass for a father. Beautiful!

I belong to the National Writer's Union, which affiliates with the AFL-CIO, so I'm on their mailing list and get some literature. One was a plea to boycott Pictsweet mushrooms, because of the shameful way the company treats its workers. It seems that mushroom farming is dangerous work, because workers must operate in near total darkness, climb around on slippery wet mushroom trays that rise up to eight feet off the floor, and constantly bend over. Accidents are frequent, and the harsh chemicals used to treat and bleach the mushrooms can cause sickness. Once a fire burned for nine days--and large fans pushed it into the room where workers were picking mushrooms. The company didn't care; the workers had nowhere else to go. Attempts to unionize can be met with death threats. A union, you see, would give the workers leverage to get improvements in pay and working conditions. Okay, so what's my interest, apart from the obvious outrage anyone should feel? It's that my grandfather made his fortune as one of the earliest mushroom farmers in America, and trained in many who started similar companies. At one point those two counties in Pennsylvania accounted for more than half the mushrooms sold in America. He was known as The Mushroom King. He sold the business about two weeks before the great stock market crash of 1929, and the trust fund made with that money paid for the education of a number of grandchildren through high school. I was one of them. So I owe something to mushrooms. No known connection to Pictsweet; the brand relating to my grandfather was known as B&B. But I hate to see mushroom workers abused. So I hope my savvy readers will boycott Pictsweet, and if any want to contribute to the effort, the address is UNITED FARM WORKERS, PO BOX 62, KEENE CA 93531-9989.

Editors can be oddball types, and one of the odder ones is Charles Platt, my one time editor at AVON BOOKS and a novelist in his own right. He sends out an annual booklet summarizing his year, replete with pictures. At the moment he's building his house in Arizona, but he gets around elsewhere. He's involved with cryonics: "We all have our hobbies, and mine involves freezing people." The hope is that centuries later, those frozen people will be revived to live better lives. I'm a skeptic; even if the technique works, I think the future will be too crowded to take any moocher from the past. He describes a conference on medicine and virtual reality, where a cute attendee threaded a flexible probe into a plastic penis while a screen displayed the interior of the urethra, and Charles himself forced an endoscope into an unwilling plastic rectum, causing a realistic patient voice to yell "Hey, that hurts!" Some time back I urged him to consider Internet publishing and print on demand, and maybe he heeded, because now his clever novel (I blurbed it ages ago) Less Than Human is available at www.cosmos-books.com. (However, when I tried it, I got a message that there was no such address.) I once sent an autograph to his daughter Rose, so am interested in this update on her: "While I was in New York my daughter Rose asked me to have dinner with her boyfriend, her boyfriend's wife, and the wife's boyfriend. Knowing that Rose was enjoying romantic liaisons with all three, I viewed the evening with trepidation." But they all turned out to be pleasant people. I once remarked to members of my wider family that I regarded myself as the most liberal family member, until my daughter Penny came on the scene. I suspect Charles was similarly eclipsed by his daughter Rose.

A DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS poster describes the 10 most underreported humanitarian crises of 2001. All across the world, man is being inhumane to man. Civil war in Burundi, half a million Chechnyan refugees living in tent cities, North Korean refugees persecuted in China, kidnappings and massacres in Columbia, rampant disease in war-torn Congo--it just goes on and on. Part of the problem is that no matter how hard relief organizations labor to ameliorate things, power-hungry dictators or religious fanatics labor harder to make them worse. If mankind faced an objective assessment by an alien jury, I fear it would be condemned.

DISCOVER magazine recently listed the 11 greatest unanswered questions of physics. What is Dark Matter? Dark Energy? Do neutrinos have mass? Are protons unstable? What is gravity? I'm interested; I hope they come up with answers soon.

A savvy local newspaper columnist, Howard Troxler, has concluded that lies run rampant on the Internet. Do tell. He mentions www.urbanlegends.com and http://hoaxbusters.ciac.org. and the continuing Nigerian scam. Yes; in these past two months I received 30 more Nigerians, including one interesting one that seems to be the second stage, by a Nigerian woman who has been contacted; she mentions marriage "if you think about my age then that means you are not ready to marry me, for age is nothing but a number in the eyes of Allah." This is a $40.3 million offering, completely risk free and success guaranteed. I understand the scam is spreading to Afghanistan, taking advantage of that region's new notoriety, though I have not received solicitations from there. Yet. Meanwhile, beware of the lady from Niger; there's a tiger behind her.

Email humor received from Rudy Favocci, which strikes me as pretty good: "A pessimist's blood type is always b-negative." Hey--that's my blood type! But of course I am a pessimist. "I fired my masseuse today. She just rubbed me the wrong way." I massage my wife; I wouldn't dare rub her the wrong way. "If electricity comes from electrons, does that mean that morality comes from morons?" Well, what about fundamentalist morality? "A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother." "Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana." "When you dream in color, it's a pigment of your imagination." "Is a book on voyeurism a peeping tome?" "A hangover is the wrath of grapes."

I received a spam ad to subscribe to Weekly Madness. I already have too many subscriptions, so won't do so, but this guy does have a wicked outlook. He says that every week he gets a little report telling him who searched for what at his website. Someone searched for "penis." It occurred to him that "vagina" has been colloquially neglected, and maybe it should become better represented. Hm; I wonder if a good insult would be to call someone a vagina-head? He also refers to an old joke: "How do you make a hormone? Don't pay her." He comments on tipping, unfavorably, feeling that folk should do good jobs without being bribed for it. He cuts his own hair, so as not to tip the barber. Interesting--my wife and I exchange haircuts. I quit going to barbers when the price went over a dollar, and I suspect we save a good bit more than that on my wife's hair. So I sort of go for this guy's notions. Check him out at www.ramblingravings.com/.

Hey--I have caught up with the current stuff. So let me tackle a fragment of the backlog I left a few months ago. Last year I read that Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men, a classic novel published in 1946, is now being reissued restored. You see, from time immemorial editors have butchered writers' books so that the public sees not the original, but the editor's idea of what it should have been. Some genre writers like Robert Heinlein and Stephen King and yes, Piers Anthony have later gotten those books republished restored. Now scholars are doing it for William Faulkner and Mark Twain. More power to them! So what do the critics think of that? They don't seem to like it. That figures.

A church held a drive for toys for needy children--then learned that the toys had been gathered by strippers at the Deja Vu nude club, who flashed their breasts for donations. So should the church reject the toys, because everyone knows that sex is evil, or think of the poor children? I think the strippers are turning out to have better hearts than the church authorities, and surely better breasts.

Measles has nearly been eliminated from the New World. That's good; I almost died of measles in high school. I'm not kidding; they had to give me intravenous feeding and wait for it to pass. I was too weak to walk or eat; in fact I had a nagging cough, but lacked the strength to take a deep enough breath to cough, so didn't. It was like sinking into quicksand, and the experience colored my outlook thereafter. You see, my closest cousin, at the same school at the same time, had recently died of cancer, and it seemed to me at the time that fate had made a mistake, as I was obviously the more expendable one. I mean, my cousin was a happy, popular, well-adjusted kid who made good grades. I was none of these things. So my turn seemed to have come. But I pulled through, and went on to become Piers Anthony. Now I am most of those things, for an ogre. Were I religious I might see something significant in that; as it is, I'm just glad that measles, a disease that can be serious, is disappearing.

I learned to my surprise that the first nine Xanth novels are now being sold at www.fictionwise.com/. No one told me, until readers did; I guess DEL REY licensed it. As usual, the author is the last to know.

Enough; I'm out of time. The rest of the backlog will have to wait.

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