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The Ogre's Den image
Picture of Piers doing archery
Dismember 2002
I try not to bore readers too much with my exercise routine, but sometimes I can't help myself, so skim on down as far as you need to to find something interesting. This column is 8,000 words long and you don't need the aggravation of plowing through the dull parts. Part of it is Archery: I set up my block target surrounded by supplemental baffle targets so that when I miss I don't lose or damage the arrow. The system isn't perfect; every so often one plows into the ground or entirely over the array, and I'm in for an aggravating search. But recently a new problem developed: I started loosing (you fire a gun, you loose an arrow) the arrows, left handed, too soon. Right handed with the compound bow (the kind with little pullies) at 150 feet I had no problem, but left handed with the reverse curve bow at 100 feet a reflex developed, like a sneeze, and the arrow was gone before I could properly aim. Now you'd think I'd have the wit to take my necessary time. Apparently not. I understand some experienced archers get a syndrome in which they aim to the side, and it's hell to break it. Seemed odd to me--until this similar syndrome happened to me. Finally one Sunday morning NoRemember 17, I made five in the center and missed the target with one, right handed, of my 12 arrows. With my crude system, that's 5-1 = 4. Then left handed I made one center and missed six times, 1-6 = -5. So overall I was a -1. I prefer to have a positive score, for all that the exercise of the arms is the same regardless. I don't like to think that I'm losing my sight, coordination, or wit, regardless what the truth may be. So it was time to act: I had to get rid of that reflex. So the following Thursday I concentrated, and succeeded in delaying the reflex somewhat, and my score improved. Then Sunday I had an excellent score right handed, 8.5 (I have a circle and square drawn on the center, about one square foot; arrows that land in one but not both count half). Then left handed, and I really focused, determined not to throw it all away. And by damn I succeeded; I made 5 (well, 4 and two halves) with no misses. So my overall score was +13.5, my best of the year and second best ever. Success is sweet. Of course I'm bound to mess up again in the future, as that target looks the size of a postage stamp and my aim is hardly guaranteed, but it was a very satisfying progression.

Then there's the rowing. I have a rowing machine, but one side broke, which is the trouble with machines; I wear them out. So I tried emulating rowing with my two 20 pound dumbbells, putting them on the floor and lifting them up to chin height. 50 of those 40 lb. heaves leaves me out of breath, so it seems like good exercise, and those hand weights won't break. And the running: I do it half an hour before dawn, the moment there is light enough to see the drive, jogging out to fetch in the newspapers. It's about 1.6 miles round trip, and there are stops along the way to open the gate and to urinate at the little magnolia tree I saved from the bulldozer when our long drive was scraped out of the forest. That magnolia suffered root damage when the road was cleared and wasn't doing well; that's why I started stopping here, to provide it some nitrogen. It worked; it's now a solid tree about 30 feet tall, and it had its first flower last summer. Anyway, my jogs have been slowing as I age and don't push them so hard, but I was making the circuit in about 15:30 to 16:00 minutes until this summer. Then when I tried that Indium supplement I slowed to over 17 minutes. When I finished my trial of the Indium there was a bounce back into the 16:00 to 16:30 range for a month, making me wonder whether instead of no effect, the Indium had negative effect. I can't be sure; there are cycles and weather that affect it too. One factor is my Synthroid thyroid supplement; my blood test this summer indicated that it was losing effect, so the doctor upped me from .05 pills to .075, and I've been on the latter for the past month. Those pills do seem to elevate my mood slightly, from mild depressive to low normal, and they make me run warmer. That is, I sweat sooner when exercising, and can handle cooler temperatures. This can be a problem when running, because I hate being either too cold or too hot. I normally run in shorts and T-shirt, but 55F has been my low limit for that. Below that I wear a sweatsuit, and that takes me all the way down into the 20s if need be, though I do add cap and gloves below freezing. Well, the old pills made me too hot in sweatsuit at 55, so I moved it down to 50. But with the new pills when I ran in the upper 40's I was getting hot, having to pull back the sleeves and lift the front clear to try to cool my body, which interfered with my rhythm. So should I take it down to 45? I thought so, but wasn't sure. Then came the morning: 46 and I was in shorts and T-shirt. So I took nerve in hand and tried it. I was cold the first half mile, then warmed and was comfortable. It was okay, and my time was 15:54, back in the decent range after a number of runs a minute or more slower. So that's the mark, and I figure the pills are working. In Dismember I'll get my blood test and see whether it agrees.

Okay, time to get off the dull stuff and into the dirty stuff. Specifically, my erotic novel Pornucopia. Readers have been getting ripped off as much as $450 for this dirty fantasy, and I hate that. I contracted with an online publisher to make it available at a reasonable price, but that outfit folded before publication. So now I'm trying again, working with my fan Dan Reich of the Piers_Anthony.com site to set up Mundania Press LLC at www.mundania.com to republish the novel electronically and in paper for nominal prices. It is due to be available in the course of Dismember, perhaps in time for Christmas, though anyone wanting to put a book like this into an Xmas stocking must have a sick mind. If you're under 18, forget it; I don't want to get sued by someone's irate mother for corrupting youth. Remember, I'm the writer who has been accused of pedophilia because there are teen girls in Xanth who actually have an interest in boys, and boys who like to peek at panties. Good thing none of that exists in Mundania. Meanwhile I'm writing the sequel, The Magic Fart, which will be published at the same place if things work out. For those of you who would never touch material like this, or who take this as evidence of my degraded nature, here is confirmation in the form of cleaned up capsule summaries of the two novels. Porn concerns Prior Gross, a young man whose penis is only 3.97 inches long erect, ashamed to put it into play with a real woman lest she die of laughter. Then a succubus seduces him, no difficult task, and discovers that his smegma cures all venereal disease. As a result, a lady doctor, Tantamount Emdee, drugs him and amputates his penis, setting it up in her laboratory to manufacture this marvelous smegma so she can discover its secret. She sends him to her sister Oubliette Emdee, who fits him with a socket to which can be attached a marvelous range of artificial members that nevertheless have full sensation. For example, now he can don and wield a twelve inch monster, or one with multiple shafts and heads. After that it gets pretty wild, because he still wants his original member back, and does recover it after some really far-out adventure contesting with aggressive copulative demons, male and female. To put it crudely: screw or be screwed, literally, and if you get screwed, you lose. You don't see sex like this in regular porno; this novel was too weird for that market. Fart picks up where Porn leaves off, when the succubus brings news that Prior's anonymous ideal woman has been abducted and he must rescue her. The trouble is, she's captive in the land of Fartingale, where nether crepitations have real powers and male and female folk break wind politely as they meet and say "May the farts be with you." The main access features a statue of a naked man on a toilet, leaning forward to brace his forehead on his hand, titled "The Stinker." Suppositories are available to enable women's farts to truly smell like roses. Some folk have such power of gaseous emissions that they can fly, jet propelled. In a serious duel, one person must hold the other down and suffocate him with a dose of stomach gas in the face. Fortunately Prior, lacking the intestinal guts for this, has the wit to obtain the means to generate a magic fart that makes him more than competitive. Unfortunately, not only does he not know the identity of the woman, she wants nothing to do with him. She has actually been set up as bait to lure Prior into the foul-smelling vengeance the demons he defeated before have plotted for him. Can even the magic fart handle this challenge? Who knows; I haven't written that far yet.

It is the hope of most serious writers to have a movie made from one of their novels. They know that the story can be figuratively destroyed by the idiot scriptwriters and the movie may bear only coincidental relation to the book, but the movie folk come bearing barrels of money that could enable the authors to retire young, so they follow the ancient sage advice to take the money and run. Only Scrooge McDuck, with so much money he needs depth gauges to keep track of it in his vault, can actually afford to make a movie, and he doesn't have much artistic sensitivity. Well, at present there are movie options on my Incarnations and Xanth series, and they look serious. I don't know the statistics, but I think only about one of ten options is ever exercised, meaning that they actually make the movie. The option merely reserves the right to make the movie, for a year or so, and they pay good money for that right. Still, some options are more likely than others, and I think these are likely. But there's a complication. You see, a movie contract ties up virtually all subsidiary rights that haven't already been placed, especially the merchandising of items relating to the movie. They don't want any confusion about ownership, because of course others will try to trade upon the success of the movie. And there is a confusion about Xanth. You see, I haven't originated all of Xanth. Oh, the setting is mine, apart from the way it resembles the State of Florida, and the nature of the magic. But I use many ideas from readers; the last novel, just finished, was #28, Currant Events, about Clio the Muse of History and a red berry, and I used 200 reader notions therein. So do those readers have a claim on Xanth? I think not, because those ideas would be nowhere without being integrated into the stories, but the movie folk are concerned. I went through and compiled for them a list of all the novels that used any reader notions, and that's most of them. Why do I do it, when it really would be easier working entirely with my own notions? Because it has seemed harmless, it makes the contributing readers happy, and introduces notions I didn't think of, contributing to the originality of a series that has gone on long enough to be in danger of unoriginality. Never mind the critics, who know without reading it that there was never any originality in it; I mean it's a real concern of mine. But it may have a cost, if it frightens off the movie folk. Also, things don't always work out perfectly. For example I used a good idea that required a lot of detail work in one novel, and when it was published I sent an autographed copy to the one who had suggested it. I was dismayed when I received a terse response indicating that the person was disappointed and hurt that I had not given more credit; the implication was that I was claiming this reader's imagination as my own. My policy is to credit every notion used, but in minimal fashion, so that readers don't deluge me with notions just to get their names into print. Sometimes there is a special story relating to a reader, and I tell it; otherwise it's is just a listing. Evidently this reader expected more, and I fear I have lost a fan. I don't like such misunderstandings, and certainly I don't want to hurt readers. I had to ask myself, is it worth it? I am in doubt, and am going to try to stifle reader notions to an increasing extent. I will still use them, but my object will be to use fewer, and to avoid any that might give anyone the notion that my career depends on inspiration from my readers. It doesn't. Meanwhile I have finally graduated my penciled reader suggestion file to a computer file for readier tracking. In the past I have sometimes lost notions or credits, and this should prevent that.

We had an election, and I voted. Yes, I voted for an amendment to the Florida constitution that forbids penning pregnant pigs in boxes too small to turn around in. Isn't it ludicrous to put pregnant pigs into the constitution? Such humane measures should be handled at far lower levels. So why did I, and enough others to pass the amendment, do it? Well, we haven't lost our marbles. The thing is, the Florida legislators, like all others, are supposed to serve the will of their constituencies, which is to say, the people in their districts. Unfortunately, they don't; they serve the will of the special interests that contribute the most money to their campaigns. When there is a conflict between the will of the people and the will of the special interests, such as the big hog farmers, the special interests win. This is emphatically true on the national scale too, and it's a shame. So here in Florida when the people want something, they have to bypass their own legislators by putting it directly into the constitution, cluttering it up with things like pregnant pigs. Certainly there should be a better way--but until politics is freed of the incubus of money, this is the way it must be. Oh, it's easy to say that a legislator should do what he knows is right, and some do try. But the fact is, if he goes against the will of the special interests, he will lose campaign money the next time around, and will be replaced by someone who serves his true masters better. So do I have an answer to this dilemma of inevitable corruption? Yes: eliminate special interest money from politics. Provide a set amount for each candidate to use, and enforce the limit. Provide a certain amount of free TV time for each, and track anything that seems out of place, such as unwarranted charges against his opponent. And when a person is elected, then goes counter to his platform, impeach him. Lying to get elected should be an impeachment offense. Make false promises not pay.

Several people died. One was Dave van Arnam, a science fiction writer I knew personally; his little girl was the age of my little girl, and the two were friends. He was the one who told me about an option available to established writers: selling books from summaries: if you don't get a commitment from a publisher, then you don't write it. This saved me a lot of mischief, and I believe my writing income tripled as a result. I'm sorry Dave is gone. Another was Lloyd Biggle, a writer who was established while I was coming up, who treated aspiring writers decently, and he was a decent writer himself. We had some correspondence, and I miss him too. Andre Norton has been hospitalized, her life in danger; I've known her for decades, she being one of the few who have published more genre novels than I have. I wrote her a supportive letter, and may it helped, as she recovered. Then outside the genre there was Paul Wellstone, perhaps the senate's most liberal member, dead in a plane crash. Thanks in part to his loss the senate has now shifted from Democrat to Republican control, and the meaning of that will soon be apparent. And there was Aileen Wuornos, who was executed for murder. She was a prostitute here in the Florida Suncoast who hitchhiked, got men in isolated places, and killed them. My researcher once picked her up, not knowing then who she was; she suggested a tryst but he wasn't interested, and nothing happened. Her last words before death were "I'll be back." Vaguely related is the game I play with the daily newspaper obituary section: I add a point for every person who dies at age 90 or above, and subtract one for every death below 70. More often than not, it's a minus score. Another way to play it is to use 80 as the marker, adding one for each death over that age, subtracting one for each under. They are generally about even. It is said that folk are living longer, but my ongoing obit tally suggests that the average death age is steady. You can make it to 70 fairly readily, but are unlikely to make it to 90 or above. It would help if folk tried seriously to live healthy lives, as I do, but few do.

The mosquitoes disappeared. One day I was testing repellents, then in AwGhost as I recall I didn't need them. I thought it was a fluke, but they stayed gone. Oh, there were a few, there are always a few, but I was swatting from one to none in half an hour outside, instead of encountering swarms. What accounted for this? Our tree farm is well away from metropolitan spraying programs, and we smelled none. My best guess is that it's those tiny frogs and toads. We saw them by the hundreds, all over, and they must have been eating something. Bless them, and I hope they don't croak when winter comes.

On occasion I receive solicitations for writing congratulations to Eagle Scouts. I have done so, with certain reservations. Now those reservations have grown. The Boy Scouts exclude those who are gay. They have that right, but there's a question whether they should be in the business of policing the sexuality of their members. A homosexual scout can hike, learn crafts, and be a good citizen as well as a heterosexual. Now they are excluding those boys who won't profess a belief in God. Again, an atheist or agnostic can be a good citizen and a decent person, and this should not be a matter for others to decide. I'm agnostic, and integrity and decency are fundamental to my philosophy. America is a free country, including religion or lack of it, and I regard it as slightly unAmerican for the Scouts to interfere in such a personal matter. So I am considering whether to decline to write future congratulations, as I don't wish to support institutionalized bigotry any more than the Scouts wish to support homosexuality or atheism. I think I would favor don't ask, don't tell.

I finished Xanth #28, Currant Events, as mentioned above, and looked forward to relaxing with games and videos. Ha. Immediately books socked in, and I read five in NoRemember. I seldom read for pleasure, being a workaholic, though it helps if I do enjoy what I read. The first was Twilight Crossings by Allen et al, a collection of four novellas by four women, published by DOUBLE DRAGON, an online publisher listed in my ongoing survey. I regard them as high grade amateur, which is a classification, not an insult. Only the top one per cent achieves traditional publication; the other 99% must fend for itself, and the online publishers address some of that need. These are two Science Fiction Romances, one naughty Fantasy, and one Fantasy Romance, overall varied and interesting. "Isadora" by Jeanne Allen is an alternate reality tale of America, with love across realities. Isa is about to be burned for witchcraft because she is curious about science. I thought of the Inquisition and the reaction of our present American administration to criticism. The oppressive feel is well presented, and the resolution consistent. "Twin Star" by Jeanine Berry is about a woman of an alien but really human species who is selected to marry the ruler, stirring up plots against her. I am a foreign-born naturalized American citizen; I can relate to that kind of discrimination. Again, it is well enough done. "Eidolon" by Shannah Biodine is quite different. Azubah is one of Satan's sisters, and she's full of mischief though she is a sexy living doll: no genitalia. She has a bet with Satan that she can find an honorable man, one who won't lie and cheat to get sex. She loses, though I think Satan cheated. Regardless, this is a fun read. "Thief of Dreams" by Sheri L. McGathy features Nery, whose true love is treacherously ambushed, so that the bad man can force her to marry him, and she undertakes a rough quest to recover her love. I like the environmental theme, with a stag she saves helping her. Do I recommend this book to genre readers? Yes, especially to women.

The next I read was ME--The Builder's Series, the first volume by David Corthell. The author sold me my first computer, back in 1984; I've had a number since then, but remember that DEC Rainbow with fondness as it ushered me into the great new realm of computerized writing. His story is a huge brute of an adventure of alien forces warring for our planet, in the milieu of Stephen King's The Stand, but less sophisticated. Men fart, women know what sex is, and there is bloodshed aplenty, including nuclear detonations on American soil. So if you like gutsy people who are often cruel, this is the one. It hasn't been published, but maybe will get there.

Then there was The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy, edited by Tom Dullemond and Darin Park, published by TWILIGHT TIMES BOOKS at www.twilighttimesbooks.com, listed in my Survey of Internet Publishers. It is comprehensive, with much advice on historical settings, weapons, combat, world building and such, and I think fantasy writers can profit by it. But I also feel that much of today's fantasy doesn't apply, such as my Xanth series, that is parody more than period. The authors don't seem to be aware of such fantasy writers as Terry Goodkind, Terry Pratchett, Robert Asprin, or Jack Vance, and seem to think aikido is a system of punches and kicks, which is a phenomenal confusion. That doesn't change the quality of the advice herein. So I recommend this to beginning writers and to those who wish to improve, without promising that it will address their needs perfectly.

And Jailed For Justice

by Clare Hanrahan. I mentioned her a column or two back: she participated in a peaceful protest of the nefarious School of the Americas, now retitled but unchanged in nature, where are taught the elements of warfare, torture, and intimidation that Latin American despots use to cow their citizens. The media talk of terrorism as if it is some foreign invention, but the USA is also proficient. My collaborator in the Jason Striker martial arts series, Roberto Fuentes, was a US trained terrorist; it has been going on a long time. So how do they handle protests to this awfulness? By imprisoning the participants. So Clare served six months in a prison camp. This book is not a political diatribe, or a chronicle of abuses, but rather a manual of advice for others facing such detention. So don't expect James Bond here, but if you have civil disobedience in mind, this can help prepare you for the consequences. $12 post paid from CELTIC WORDCRAFT, PO BOX 7641, ASHEVILLE NC 28802. Email: chanrahan@ncpress.net.

And finally Something's At My Elbow, by Kathleen Burns. This is a children's story, and it seems to be of publishable level to me, were traditional publishers open to new writers. Ten year old Eliza-Bridget is unhappy because her nice aunt vanishes, but then she encounters the little sprite Kiba, who makes E-B as small as she is so they can explore the new world of little things where ants are formidable and a pet kitten is dangerous. But it's also a caring realm. E-B returns to regular size for school and meals at home, but prefers the time with Kiba. At the end some mysteries are neatly resolved. As I read it, I kept thinking of my own children's novel, Tortoise Reform, whose ten year old girl encounters a telepathic gopher tortoise and comes to prefer his world to her own. But traditional publishers aren't open to new things from established writers either. At any rate, if you want a book for your child, or something easy to read yourself, you'll find Elbow at www.Xlibris.com.

I don't like to travel, so avoid it whenever I can, but on rare occasion something is Close Enough. I'll be speaking at the EPIC --Electronically Published Internet Connection--March 7, 2003. My topic will be "Perspectives on Publishing--a Dash of Cold Water." Readers of these columns of mine will be familiar with my attitude and material; I figure folk should know something about the dark side of traditional and Internet publishing, and self publishing too, along with the advantages. I've been the route, and lost more money than most writers ever make; ogres are stupid, but they remember. Here's a preview of one aspect: Privishing. It's not in the dictionary, but it's real. No, I had never heard of it either, until the National Writers Union publication AMERICAN WRITER blew the whistle on this dirty little secret in the Summer 2002 issue. It's the way publishers kill off troublesome books by "privately" publishing them with no promotion. They make their own books privately disappear; it's a form of censorship. When I read that, suddenly some odd things fell into place. Such as the way I had to spend money to buy draft copies of my own novel Tatham Mound from the publisher in 1991 at $3 per to send to reviewers, because the publisher wouldn't do it. How I had to fight the publisher to make it support the hardcover book-signing for that novel at the big New York ABA convention that I had set up at my own expense. I spent approximately $50,000 dollars promoting my novel, only to be trumped by the publisher's refusal to print enough copies to address the market, thus guaranteeing its commercial failure. So why would a publisher torpedo its own novel, which wasn't even controversial; it's a straight serious historical novel about Hernando de Soto and the American Indians he encountered, told from the Indians' point of view. Well, the deal had been set up by AVON, the paperback division, and the editors of MORROW, the hardcover division, didn't feel it was one of theirs, so they reneged on promotion commitments and did their best to prove it was a washout as a novel. They sent me only the indifferent reviews, and dragged their feet wherever they could without being too obvious. So this was a partial privishing; too bad I had to learn the way of it a decade later, after the major novel of my career had been skunked. Of course I left that publisher, and the publisher's fortunes sank as other writers, similarly treated, also departed. You don't shit on a bestselling writer and have him beg for more, please, massa. But if you're not well established, you can be privished right out of existence. I think this happens mostly to books that have become politically embarrassing to the publisher, perhaps for reasons unrelated to the author's competence or responsibility. Writers need to be warned. It ain't all sweetness and light there in Parnassus. Which of course is one reason I support Internet publishing.

Meanwhile, I did an inconsequential interview for Steve Grace. It's at www.firstpersonquiz.com/anthony_piers.html.

I had my annual medical checkup, routine; I'm in good health for a vegetarian senior citizen. But I ran afoul of one detail. I had to urinate into a little bottle. These things are more complicated than they were in my day, when you just pissed into it; now you have to commence urination, then intercept the stream so as to get the mid-portion of the voiding, and move the bottle away before it overflows. I'll bet women have a real challenge, perhaps making a real splash. Then, the instructions said, throw away the other stuff. So I did. But when I brought in the sample, the woman asked about the plastic bag. It seems I was supposed to keep that, to put the sealed bottle in. Next time I'll know not to take the instructions literally. Never too old to learn.

The Continuing Joys of Linux: In Linux you don't just receive from and send to peripheral things like floppy disks, you have first to mount and unmount them so the system knows they are there. Okay, I could do that with a right mouse click on the Floppy icon which produced a menu with a number of choices, one being Mount. I down-arrowed to reach Mount, and that was fine. Then one day I thought why am I wasting my time, and I hit M for Mount to jump to it. And the icon disappeared, so I could no longer address my floppy, thus could not back up my material. Disaster; I have known from long experience that a computer is out to get you, just waiting its chance when you're off-guard, so I back up and print out every day. So I pestered Griz, my Linux guru, and he checked and discovered my icon was in the trash bin. We tested, and verified that keying M instantly trashed it, not passing GO, not collecting $200, but sending it directly to jail. Apparently no one in Linux had tried to jump to a listed function before. So Griz invoked an intercept, so now it asks me whether I want my icon trashed, and I say no, and I keep it. But this is one reason I say that Linux, while being very nice in many ways, is not yet ready for ordinary folk; it likes to privish icons. Then there was the printer: I finally gave up trying to make Linux address my old Panasonic printer and bought a new Hewlett-Packard 2200d that can print 19 pages a minute and do duplexing, which is printing on both sides of the sheet. Watching that is weird; it passes the paper through, and it emerges ? of the way out--then gets sucked back into the grinding innards, as if time has been reversed. After a couple of these tantalizing teases it finally lets it go, and it is printed with page 1 on one side and page 2 on the other. Neat, though at present it prints page 2 upside down. But I turned that off when printing out my 500 page novel, Currant Events, due on deadline; editors don't understand about duplexing. All went reasonably well, apart from frequent fake paper jams; every time the printer failed to pick up a sheet properly it thought it had jammed and ground to a halt. I got good at fake fixes, opening it up and closing it again without doing anything, so that it would resume. But then it pulled a new one: it would print only about 60 pages before stalling out. Turned out to be the Linux spooling: it fed the file to the printer memory and quit, though the memory was only sufficient for a fraction of the novel. So I had to spoon feed it in 50 page sections to make it through. That's how it took me an hour and a half to print 500 pages at 19 pages a minute. Yes, I let Griz know, and he's letting the Linux folk know. Seems nobody ever tried to print a novel before with this aspect of Linux. Well, they'll know how in due course, because I fire off an email every time my Linux does something stupid. I repeat: I do like Linux, and Windows is just as fouled up in its own devious ways, and a lot more arrogant. But it's an ongoing adventure. Stay tuned to this column for the further Perils of Piers, for the Love of Linux.

I like plants. That's one reason I live on our tree farm. I'm sorry the pine trees will eventually have to be cut down, as they are a crop, but at least I'm doing something to replenish the trees that go into the production of my books. But my personal focus is closer to home. Yes, we maintain the garbage garden, and at present have a dozen potatoes and maybe one tomato plant growing. But I like the others too; every plant has its value and its own little history. Out front is one juniper tree that was a Christmas tree for Daughter #1 Penny; she gave it to us, and we planted it at the corner of the house, near where the gopher tortoise later made its burrow. It did okay, but sometimes branches turned brown. I put a hose on the drain for an air conditioner and routed it to the tree so it would get that water, and now it's doing better. We make a small science of conserving water, having appreciated the terrors of the drought that killed a fair number of our pines and maybe a quarter of the adjacent natural forest. We have a water purifier for the house that drains itself once a day; I put in a small cistern to save that water so I could dip it out to water dry plants. We save the cold hot water for assorted uses. That is, when you need hot water, you have to run it until the cold water in the pipe passes and the hot water comes. We use that early water for drinking, as it has been heat treated, as it were, and for bird baths, and for mixing powdered milk. Some still gets wasted, but we do what we can. Anyway, there were two little holly trees of different varieties coming up naturally in our front yard. One got torn up when the firemen were maneuvering, but now it has sent up a new shoot from the mangled root, and I'm glad it survived. Our other juniper has grown by the house for fourteen years, but was doing poorly, so finally I dug it up and moved it to a spot where it will get more sun. If the damage of the transplanting doesn't kill it, it will do better. I watch it every day, but it takes time to know, with that kind of tree. There's the little volunteer cedar tree along our drive that we discovered when it was 2.5 feet tall; it was growing nicely, but it too got messed up by the firemen, spending a day pinned under a car. I pulled it back up, after, but it had suffered scraping of the bark and wouldn't stand fully upright. I gave it water, and it survived, and now is doing well. There is the Confederate Jasmine we planted, that grows along the fence, and the Star Jasmine that grows big every year, then gets wiped out by a freeze. I hate that, but it's hard to protect them all from nature. We do what we can, putting sheets over the flowering hibiscus plants and the garden, yet it isn't always enough. There's the little Fringe Tree we planted. The Norfolk Island Pine, that suffers both in the heat and in the freeze. We have azaleas; my favorite had red and white flowers, but the dieback took it out, then went after the others, one by one, and now we have just one left. And so on; I feel for them all, and am glad when they prosper. They are all living things, deserving of their places. But there are limits; I hate the bad ones, like what I call the thorn plant, a weed tree with spikes; I dig them out, but there are more than I can keep up with. Sigh.

Some readers are receiving blank email responses from us. One, angry, decided not to read my books any more. Well, we aren't doing it on purpose; apparently the virus control takes out text on occasion. Sometimes the Klez virus puts our address as the sender, when we're not relaying any viruses. We re-send anything we know about.

We had Thanksgiving with Daughter #2 Cheryl. I can take or leave parades, but must say that I was intrigued by the glimpses on TV of well endowed girls whose breasts were almost bouncing out of their halters.

The whooping cranes are back. They come to Citrus County to winter, led here by a little airplane made to look like a bird. Last year I think there were seven; this year sixteen. This is a vanishingly rare species, and we hope these efforts will succeed in restoring their migrating populations. The rare manatees also are here, though it's a pain to stop that damned speeding boats from injuring them.

We saw three movies in this period: Ghost Ship, which the reviewers trashed, and I can't say it was great, but I'm a sucker for the type. Treasure hunters find this huge dead liner, and there is gold aboard it, which they toss about as if it were balsa wood; real gold is heavy. But one by one they get gruesomely killed, per the formula. More interesting are the flashbacks to what happened to make the ship a derelict. People were dancing in the ballroom, when the bad guys snapped a cable across, cutting them all in half while still standing. Well, it looked like a quarter inch cable; you'd need a micro-filament to make it through all those people like that, so it's not credible. But you don't come to these shows for credibility. We saw Harry Potter 2, and that was okay as he gets into trouble but in the end wins through. And James Bond #20, one of the better Bonds, with a lead-in episode that actually relates to the main story, an evocative female companion, and more violence and explosions than ever. All of these are my kind of junk.

Last time I mentioned receiving and trying two sample capsules of Uroprin, the stiffener for men. I got some interesting responses. One said the stuff really works, on women as well as men. That's interesting; the fact is, the hottest motivator for a man is an eager woman. But another said that this stuff can have long-term side effects that are dangerous to health and life. And another was from the FDA: this could be a pharmaceutical drug normally used in urology for pain relief from infections, and there are contraindications and side effects. Translation: as with fire, don't use this carelessly. So I sent the literature there. I doubt there's any big legal case brewing here, but the notion is intriguing. It may soon be academic; now there's a nasal spray being developed that causes men and women to become sexually aroused. Get a whiff of that!

I received a letter from Delilah (something about that name reminds me of haircuts) saying that in my first autobiography I said I wanted to make a positive difference in this world. Yes, that remains my attitude, and it's surprising how easy it is to make enemies as well as friends that way. She said I had made a positive difference in her life by reinforcing her belief in right. Yet she fears finding herself in a situation where right is not readily apparent. What about when you have to choose the lesser of two evils? (I saw a cartoon once, where the slightly smaller devil was saying "I'm tired of being the lesser of two evils.") She wondered what my take on this was. Well, I share her concern. It's easy to choose between right and wrong when they are clearly labeled, but what about when they aren't, or when there is good and evil on each side? Choosing the lesser of evils is an ugly business; you are thus endorsing some measure of evil, whatever your definition of evil may be.

Sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand and take an action you don't like, lest the alternative be to let evil win by little stages, none of which seems worth fighting over. Sometimes you regret whatever stand you do make. I think of President Jimmy Carter, who was a strong environmentalist, and I supported him for that. Then he approved the special interest project of the Tellico dam. No sincere environmentalist would have done that. So I deserted him and went for Anderson next election. Carter lost, and we got Reagan, who would have had trouble spelling the word, and certainly had no interest in it. As an environmentalist I would have been better off with Carter. Later I supported the environmentalist Al Gore--and Ralph Nader, who claimed to stand for many good things, ensured that the anti-environment forces won by siphoning off just enough votes. He put ambition before principle, facilitating the victory of the things he claimed to be against. Where were good and evil there? Nader had a right to run, and a right to torpedo his own side; he's not evil. But I regard his judgment as suspect and his participation as a disaster, in the larger picture, and I will not support him in future.

It gets more complicated. There is a magazine called THE SKEPTICAL INQUIRER that is devoted to getting at the reality of things, pricking the bubbles of psychics and other supernatural claimants. I agree with it, and indeed, if there is any organization whose principles I fully endorse it is its underlying stratum, the humanists. Yet I dropped my subscription long ago. Why? Because of its approach to the Shroud of Turin, the supposed covering of Jesus Christ. It argued the case for the falsity of the Shroud. I doubt its validity myself. So what was my problem? It was that the Catholic Church, which believes in magic--I mean it even requires that miracles, as much as good works, exist for the promotion of saints--had a more objective approach than did the INQUIRER. The Church let science investigate to test the Shroud to verify its remarkable qualities, and finally concluded that it wasn't valid. The INQUIRER knew that from the outset. And that's the problem. I want to know the reality behind anything, even if it's not a reality I like, and that was the Church position in this case. It would have accepted the Shroud as valid, or not, depending on persuasive evidence. But the INQUIRER didn't need the evidence; its mind seemed, to me, to have been made up in advance. It was there to debunk, rather than to find reality. So I agreed with its conclusion, and dropped it because of its attitude. If debunkers were always right, much of modern science would not exist. We need to keep our hearts and minds open; that's where good lies, and evil lies in being cruel or close-minded, its extreme manifestation being bigotry. I hope to continue being open-mindedly opinionated on many things, and to continue being surprised when my beliefs turn out to be wrong, and to continue learning and changing. But this does lead to judgments between shades of nuance, where the extremes of good and evil are almost out of sight. The root causes of problems can be well hidden in the midst of unquestioned centrist positions, and most folk who are sure of things are likely to be wrong. So how do any of us really make ourselves count, when the very nature of reality may be too subtle for us to understand?

On with simpler things. I received a request for an autograph from "a very great fan." But he had forgotten to make the multiple addresses he was soliciting "blind," so we got 66 pages of them. I declined. Periodically I receive the SHOMER-TEC catalog, having once bought from them; this time I looked at other pages and found things like sneezing powder, a stink bomb you can put in an illegally parked car, vomit fluid to slip into someone's drink, industrial strength fart spray to clear a room of people, the Evacuator that causes a person to shit without control, and "The Blob," that you put in a car's gas tank and it turns the gasoline to jelly. Can't think why anyone would want any of these. Then there are T-shirts with messages, such as CHRISTIAN AMERICAN HETEROSEXUAL PRO-GUN CONSERVATIVE--Any Questions? No, but you might not like my commentary on bigotry, above. Solicitation from Robert Redford addressed to "Dear Fellow Environmentalist" asking me to send a petition to W Bush opposing his agenda. I doubt this would be effective. If you really want to make your voice heard, send a complimentary letter accompanied by a half million dollar check made out to the Republican National Committee. Repeat weekly until the environment is restored. Be patient; some things take time. An email warns me of a massive database the government will use to monitor every purchase made by every American citizen. I don't think this will work either, and not because I have much faith in the ultimate beneficence of any government. It's that I can hardly track my own papers and finances; how could anyone track everything in the nation? They'll be buried in minutia. It won't locate many terrorists. But I can see what such a database would be good for: targeting particular people for embarrassing dirt. Such as anyone who criticizes the government. So indeed I am wary of this. CEO pay went from 42 times the average hourly worker's pay in 1980 to 411 times in 2001. I am somewhat at a loss to understand why CEO pay should be even 10 times the average, or 5 times. A math trick found in a book review: take any 3 digit number whose first and last digits differ by 2 or more. Reverse it and subtract the smaller number from the larger one Add the result to its own reversal. The answer will be 1089. And I received an email saying there are three words in the English language ending in "gry." Angry, hungry, and what? I couldn't get it. Harlan Ellison has an article in FREE INQUIRY for Fall, 2002, about his thoughts on 9/11. It's worth reading if you can find the magazine. A reader, James Flax, let me know that I made a mistake in DoOon Mode: I said "De gustibus non carborundum" means "Don't let the bastards grind you down." I had garbled two statements together. The correct one is "Illegitimus non corborundum," while the other is "De gustibus non est disputandum," which means approximately "There is no accounting for taste." And the biggest known volcanic eruption has occurred on Jupiter's moon Io, which is surely where Hell is (I have a sequence there in Refugee), covering an area a thousand times as big as that of Italy's Mount Etna. That seems to be enough of a blast to conclude on. May good lava be with you.

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