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Picture of Piers doing archery
FeBlueberry 2002
It has been half a hassle of incidentals, and there's a slew and a half of material, so yet again I won't succeed in having a blessedly brief column. Let's start with something nice, to mute the stench of what's to come.

There is a reader who sends Jenny and me little gifts every Christmas, such as a nice wall calendar and a THE FAR SIDE daily calendar I have on my desk. This time he also sent two Japanimation videos. One was the excellent My Neighbor Totoro, which I reported on last time; the other was Kiki's Delivery Service, which we thought could not be in the same class, but by darn, it did turn out to be. The scenes are absolutely beautiful, just about every one a work of art, and the story of a 13 year old witch who looks ten setting out to make her way in the modern world is delightful. There's no sex, no violence other than when she gets caught in a storm and crashes her flying broom into a tree, upsetting the birds. It's just a nice story, the kind that is quite suitable for children and their parents, that nevertheless is interesting throughout. A pleasant surprise.

So what else did I see? The Harry Potter movie, which was good if not great. Also Shrek on video, also good; I do admit to being partial to nice-ogre movies. Fellowship of the Ring, also good but not great. One sequence was with what they called a cave troll, which I believe is their adaptation of a barrow wight in the book. But it was obviously an ogre. Remember, I had just seen Shrek, so I knew. Despite that error, I'll watch the sequels. For one thing, the success of the Potter and Ring movies seems to be generating an awareness in the dim minds of movie moguls that fantasy is popular; my agent reported that he had five queries about Xanth in a single day. But it's On a Pale Horse that got the movie option. Understand, an option is merely the right to make the movie in a given time; most options are not exercised, and even when they are, the movie doesn't necessarily occur. But it's a start. So while I would never say in public that I think my novels are better than the ones they are making movies from, I'm all for those movies, because they stir the pot and I have a lot of fantasy in that pot. We also saw Beloved on TV, a fascinatingly strange one.

KMart went bankrupt. Too bad; we like the local store. It's still open, same as usual, but I think is not restocking, and there are things on sale. So we took a look at their video selection (you thought I had changed the subject?) and I'm a sucker for sales. I found Six Days, Seven Nights for $9.99. I remember in 1998 we saw a movie, and they gave out a mini-pamphlet with descriptions of forthcoming movies, and that was one, and it intrigued me. Virile man marooned on Pacific jungle isle with luscious girl for a week--can't think why it didn't interest my wife or daughter. So we didn't see it then. So I snapped up the video; wife and daughters may run my life, but they can't stop me from watching a video on my own time, snort-snort. It's a standard adventure, well enough done, and I did enjoy it, even though she never shows as much cleavage as she does on the jacket. And I spied an unfamiliar one, Antitrust, for $6.34: genius teen boy gets a hi-tech computer job, then gets suspicious of the boss-man's tactics, and his life complicated by two pretty girls. Probably junk, but for that price worth a gamble. And it was okay, standard but well enough done. I'm not insulting movies when I call them standard; there are few really original plots--I ought to know, as a commercial novelist--so the question becomes how well they are done. I'd call this a satisfactory diversion, and I don't know why it was on cut-rate sale.

Finally, as I was writing this column, we saw The Count of Monte Cristo, and you know, for a 150 year old story it stands up well, even if "Cristo" does make me think of hydrogenated vegetable oil. I understand that critics of the day sneered at the author, presumably because he wrote readable stories; I know that scene well. I found the prison sequence rather long, yet it did make sense in terms of the story, providing the man the chance to learn all he lacked. Some elements turned out too pat, but overall it was dramatic and moving. Still, how could he spend 17 years in a dark hole, with nothing but a daily ration of slops and whatever rats he caught to eat, and emerge in perfect health? How come he had fire whenever he wanted it? I also wish that movie directors would learn to differentiate characters better; there were three dark-haired men I couldn't tell apart, all significant roles, and that confused me throughout the movie.

Okay, the ogre has been positive; now let's get to the negatives. I have been deluged by requests for overseas autographed pictures, mostly from Germany, by folk who I doubt read my novels. Neither do they read my columns here. When an Internet foul-up took HiPiers.com off for a week, those requests kept right on coming in. So they have a list elsewhere, and they just send off by email to demand one, two or three pictures at a time from anyone with an address, at my expense. When I send a picture, chances are a month later I'll receive an identical request from the same person, and another, and another. They don't pay any attention to what they have, they are blindly set on acquisition. Sometimes the pictures turn up for sale on eBay. I'm tired of it. So this is my official notice, which they won't see but that I feel obliged to post, that it is over. I will not send any more pictures overseas. For a while we'll answer the requests with a canned paragraph saying that; eventually we'll just ignore them. I'll continue to honor on-continent requests that give some evidence of being from actual readers, as opposed to pure collectors who don't know anything about me. I think that's reasonable.

Most of the email I get is positive, but some isn't. One person peppered me with questions. I'd answer half a dozen, and immediately he was back with more, and more and more. It was evident this was a game to him, to occupy my time; he was playing gotcha rather than really wanting to know. One was about a character in the Dastard: why wasn't he in the Characters database at HiPiers? I had the usual pile of mail to handle, and I'd never get it done efficiently if I broke off to get into the database and the novel, so I said maybe the characters of that novel hadn't yet been added to the database. I have complete casts of characters for every novel, for my own use, but they don't get added online until after the novels are published. I have written them through #27 Cube Route, and Dastard is #24; I wasn't sure where the update was. Came back the response: why had I lied about it? That did it; I told him not to send any more questions. There followed an "anonymous" missive which I quote exactly: "You believe 2000 was the start of the 21st century and 3rd millennium. Fuck off and die you asshole. Lying sack of shit you motherfucker." No point in responding; I suspect he's already in enough trouble for defacing the wall of his middle school library. Another case was privately painful: a reader asked me to send a picture to her friend, who was a big fan of mine. I sent it. He sent me a note of thanks. I acknowledged, addressing the couple of points he had, and went on to the rest of that day's pile of mail. And learned later from the first correspondent that the second had concluded that my response was routine, was hurt, and may no longer be my fan. So I would have kept a fan had I never sent him a picture or answered his letter. That's what bothers me; I see other writers who tacitly shit on their fans without losing them; I try to be responsive to the extent limited time allows, and sometimes it costs me. Are some fans like masochists, wanting to be mistreated? Then there was the one who accused me of racism because I didn't have black characters in my fiction. Here is a quote from her letter: "His stereotyping helps to perpetuate ignorance in a community of readers and thereby supports the current ignorance that creates and supports prejudice and racism and hate groups." I responded naming Macroscope, Tarot, Race Against Time, and my GEODYSSEY series, all of which have black main characters sympathetically portrayed, as my real readers know, as well as Zombie Lover and Xone of Contention in Xanth, with Breanna of the Black Wave. Did that satisfy her? Nope, just more rage. This type of critic seldom cares to bother with reality. I had a similar run-in several years ago with the leader of a Gypsy group who accused the Incarnations series of similar evil against Gypsies. When I wrote up a detailed article pointing out that a Gypsy became an Aspect of an Incarnation, hardly a negative portrayal, it was rejected unopened, stamped OFFENSIVE TO GYPSIES. The guy was a bigot--that is, one who blindly and intolerantly clings to a limited belief. You think minorities can't be as bigoted as majorities? Think again. Bigotry is not a color or culture, it's a state of mind. And some minority folk seem determined to shit on their friends.

Contrast the attitude of Elizabeth Barnett at Denelian@columbus.rr.com, whose statement follows; welcome to email her directly about her statement.

Religious Freedom vs. Personal Rights

We in the U.S. have enjoyed this position of looking down on the rest of the world. Now we have the opportunity to look past our noses and right one of the most pervasive wrongs I can think of: Religious intolerance.

I am not speaking of Islamic vs. Christian vs. Pagan, but something more deeply seated. I am speaking of the hate crimes so many religions commit against their own members; hate crimes based on the corruption of religious texts, religious ideals and the meaning of Humanity. Women in the Middle East are being mutilated or being stoned to death as punishment for things beyond their control; small boys are being taught that their mothers and sisters are evil.

I am also speaking of the willful ignorance most Americans have for this situation. Please research, listen and then write to your Congress (wo)man, the U.N. or volunteer with amnesty International... Do something for the thousands abused by their own faith.

I do not mean to "convert the heretical Muslims"; I mean for everyone to know the truth of this beautiful religion, and its abuse by those who wish only to keep power. Mohammed never intended these things, he spoke against them, stating that daughters were as loved as sons in the eyes of Allah. The people of Islam should embrace this ideal, as should we all.

Now a bit of promotion. I generally don't say much about my own books here, as that information is available elsewhere on this site. I have looked at some other writer's sites, and confess I am turned of by those that seem to be dedicated to pushing sales of their latest books. It's their right, of course; it's just not my way. My wife and I have spent a fair amount of time getting my older titles back into print via Xlibris.com. She scans and proofs them, then I proofread them too and add Author's Notes. Then we tackle the study in aggravation that is the Xlibris publication process. They fouled up a table of contents, listing every page number twice; when I got them to correct that, they fixed it but then did it to a different volume, at which point I had either to pay to correct their error and wait months, or accept it wrong. I accepted it, but am not pleased. When they claimed they didn't have my address, after just sending proof copies to it, and argued the case when I pointed that out, I finally sent a copy of the correspondence to John Feldcamp, the Xlibris CEO so he would know what was happening in the trenches. As a major investor and board member I can do that and get a response, but normally I prefer to plow through on my own. The thing is, I want Xlibris to be writer-friendly, and when it isn't I may try to do something about it, lest it lose the business of those who aren't locked in to its success. Anyway, last year we went through ten books, starting with Mute, my 190,000 word restored psi-powers science fantasy novel. I added an Author's Note, which I ran here several columns ago, wherein I remarked that I couldn't find my notes for the sequel, Moot. Well, cleaning up my study later, I found them--and lost them again. But this time there was a happy ending: I had put them in a second folder, which I had forgotten. I found it, a 2,000 word summary dated January 1986. So if I ever do decide to write it, I'll have a good start. Why would I want to? Well, if a studio decided to make a major movie of Mute, and was set to do another, I'd consider it. Movie execs may come across as idiots, but they come bearing barrels of money. I am one of the few writers who is not a hypocrite about money; I do write for money, but not only for money, and if shove came to push I'd stack my commercial fiction against some artsy fartsy efforts the critics like. Then the five collaborations with Roberto Fuentes, the Jason Striker martial arts novels, and a sixth one, new: that is, never before published. It consists of the half of the sixth novel that was abandoned when we lost our market to a hostile editor, plus a collection of our assorted shorter pieces, published and unpublished. That was my last published book of 2001 and my 120th career title. To save expense for me and the readers, I put them into three volumes of two books each. Going through them after a quarter century I found them almost like new material, and I like these violent, sexy, and culturally diverse novels. Roberto, the former judo champion of Cuba, had an encyclopedic knowledge of martial arts and Latin American cultures, and I knew how to write; we made a good team. Those are available now via Xlibris. Then we tackled two collaborations with Robert E Margroff, The Ring and The E.S.P. Worm, published 30 years ago, and both still read well for my taste and will be appearing soon now. I had remembered Worm as fun but not deep; this time I was impressed by its humor and depth. As for Ring: I got a shock when I proofread the sentence "He looked at the mechanical anus overhead." Some spot research satisfied me that it was a typo for "mechanical arms." Scanners can play odd tricks. It makes me wonder what a mechanical anus might do; there could be a story there. Metallic turds? And another new one: the sixth Bio of a Space Tyrant novel, The Iron Maiden. That's the same story through the eyes of the Tyrant's sister Spirit, who loved him in more than the familial sense, and who was the backbone of his administration. So a good deal of it is a retelling of the first five novels, with Spirit's personal parts included. I don't like repeating myself, but I couldn't omit material that Spirit was intimately concerned with. Those who have not read the prior series and are curious can read this one and get an excellent notion whether they care to tackle the others, which are also at Xlibris now. I suspect I'll receive some comments about the level of sexuality. Maiden represents my 121st published book, my first of 2001, when it appears soon after this column. I am now in a dialogue with Xlibris to see if it will expand its word limit to accommodate my new ChroMagic fantasy series, which runs a quarter million words per novel. When traditional publishers pass me by, I mean to self publish. Every writer who believes in his/her work should. The arts have been hostage to the whims of arrogant and often ignorant editors far too long.

We ordered a seat cushion shaped like half a bagel, circular with a hole in the center, the theory being that sitting is more comfortable if the center is unbound. I tried it and didn't detect much difference. Then I tried it upside down, and it works better. This is surely ammunition for my critics. You know, a half-assed cushion.

We watch the TV program "Ed." At first it was because there wasn't anything else decent on at that time, but it grew on us. Recently Ed faced a question about a person's debt to the needs of the less fortunate: Should you sell your $150 watch and use a $50 watch instead, and donate $100 to charity? A simple question, but not necessarily a simple principle when you explore the ramifications. I could expound on it for some time, but prefer to leave that for others. Meanwhile I'm on five eighths of a myriad of charity solicitation lists, but I donate to only a few, trying to make it count when I do.

I try to read at least a book a month. I understand that the majority of folk never read a book after high school, and those who do read, read much more than one a month. But I'm a slow reader, the legacy of what might have been called dyslexia had it existed in my day--remember, I'm the one who took three years to get through first grade because I couldn't readily read--and reading tends to put me to sleep. It's not that it bores me, it's that it relaxes me. Also, I have a fraction of a squintillion subscriptions to excellent magazines that I struggle to keep up with, and mail arriving on an endless conveyor belt, and the biggest obstacle: I LOVE TO WRITE, so hate to take time from it to read. So I have to make time to read, and my writing suffers, shooting hurt glances at me. But I did read two books in Dismember and one in Jamboree. The third was proofing The Iron Maiden, already covered. The first was Losing Julia, by Jonathan Hull. The author bio said he spent ten years with TIME magazine, so I expected facile fiction, that being what that magazine was known for in my day. (Yes, I know it's called a news magazine.) I wasn't disappointed; the writing is beautiful and perceptive, and this is one of those literary novels that's a pleasure to read. Many aren't; in fact a fair guide to readability is to avoid what critics praise. The story is of a manuscript found at a grave, the journal of a man whose buddy was killed in World War I, who came to know the buddy's girlfriend Julia via her letters, and later looked her up and loved her. But he was married, so it couldn't last, and he spent the rest of his life missing her. That may sound dull, but the book isn't. It is told in three time frames, shifting constantly between them: at war with the buddy, relating to the girlfriend a decade later, and remembering it all as an old man. I think it would have helped to have better identification of the three frames, but after a time I got used to it. Some of the incidental bits are lovely in their poignance, such as when a batch of military mail got rained on before being delivered to the soldiers, and one letter was in answer to a man's proposal of marriage, but the rain had washed out the ink. Here are others: "Funny, but when I enlisted it never occurred to me that war would be so monstrously inconvenient, so that not one single thing was easy except getting killed." "I'm starting to think that sadness is organic; that sad people are cursed with more insight than others." "It's quite funny, really: several billion people all feigning immortality, as though they each have some secret exemption." "When you are young you demand ecstasy; when you are old you settle for anything short of agony." I'm old enough and aware enough to relate. I read it because I am considering whether to fictionalize my father's life; there are unusual aspects, and the ironies of my own genesis abound. This helps me see what works and what doesn't. I have a high opinion of my ability as a writer, but I doubt I can match the elegance of Losing Julia. I recommend it to readers possessing wit and sensitivity.

The second book, my 20th for the year, was Kintumbanis The Last Wizard by Paula La Sala. She's British born and lives in Florida and is in my age range, so I can relate. I met her when I was book signing at BOOKS A MILLION, and she gave me a copy of her novel. I made no promises, because self-published books--this one's at FIRSTPUBLISH--can range from good to awful, and this one was huge, about a third of a million words. But I soon found that it was worthy. Sure there are typos and trace grammatical faults, but through I am the most critical reader I know, I'm not a critic. That means I notice but I don't use a typo as a pretext to trash a good book. The story is of Kintumbanis, taking him from childhood in the 11th century to death centuries later, focusing on a series of episodes as he learns his craft, travels, and rights wrongs. As a young man he falls in love with another trainee in magic, but a jealous rival rapes and kills her, and blames Kintumbanis. Bereft of his love, Kintumbanis never marries. But many others do, and he helps them when he can. His life is really a framework for a series of adventures and spot romances of others, making this an easy book to read in stages. I recommend it for diversionary reading; the episodes are varied, with many kinds of magic and the characters are not all cast from the same mold. You can get into Kintumbanis' world and stay there in comfort. I feel it should have been publishable the traditional way, had it fallen on the right desk at the right time. Getting published is a crapshoot even when your book is worthy.

I check everything that comes in, including junk mail; sometimes there's interest there. An example is the Sinatra Health Report. I think some of Dr. Sinatra's notions are looney, such as the notion that Vitamin C can be the opposite of an antioxidant, but one item caught my attention. He has a graph showing the decline of the responsiveness of a person's nervous system. He says you can readily test yours. If you are right handed, stand on your left foot. Then close your eyes. How long can you keep your balance? A young person can do it 30 seconds or more, but an old person may last only 5 seconds. Okay, I'm in the latter range, so I tried it--and lasted 5 seconds. Repeated efforts gave me a best time of 15 seconds, but it was a struggle. So there's a test that works.

They are announcing a cure for the common cold. What baloney! This new treatment claims to shorten a cold by one day. That's a long way from a cure. Meanwhile, much of the medical profession continues to ignore the best treatment for a cold: Vitamin C. A doctor once said to me "If Vitamin C cured your cold, you didn't have a cold." I suspect he's still getting colds, while I haven't had one in years. You do have to know how to use it, and it isn't 100% effective, but it does work. On colds, not the flu. So I'd modify that doctor's statement: if you think you have a cold and Vitamin C doesn't stop it, you don't have a cold, you have the flu. I believe the medical industry is in hock to the pharmaceutical industry, and if Vitamin C were widely used, the fake nostrums currently selling well would dive and companies would lose money. So they pretend it doesn't work, and won't even sponsor proper tests on it, and ignore the ones that have been done. I have a simple test for a health newsletter: if it says Vitamin C doesn't work, dump it, because it is beholden to a principle other than your health.

We got a virus that Vitamin C couldn't touch: the computer kind. It sent out random bits of text from the bowels of past correspondence to random past correspondents, carrying the virus along. We queried the one who had received it from, who queried back another step, and got an answer: it was one that neither McAfee nor Norton could detect, and here was how to fix it. We followed the steps, eliminated the criminal file, and relayed the instructions to others. And got back word that we had fallen for a hoax. We checked, and it was true. The hoax makes you delete a key Windows file for handling long file names, making you do the dastardly work of a virus. Fortunately we don't use long file names. And we did still have the virus. When we moved the mouse cursor to an icon, the icon jumped away, shoving aside other icons. We had McAfee, but it didn't do the job. We tried using Norton online, but the moment it identified the virus, the virus cut off the connection. So we bought Norton at a local store and installed it, and this time it abolished the virus, one called "W32.magistr.39921@mm". Now Norton updates itself weekly online, and we have not had further virii. Meanwhile, I recommend the Hoaxbusters site, at http://hoaxbusters.ciac.org/HBMalCode.shtml. The one we fell for was SULFNBK.EXE.

Last time I mentioned the business of search engines that deliver paid ads rather than real information. I had two thirds of a slew of responses, and they overwhelmingly recommended Google as an honest search engine. I believe them. But some mentioned other ones with favor, so I list them here also in the spirit of public service. I haven't tried any of them, but trust the judgment of my readers; they are bound to be good ones. www.google.com; www.dogpile.com "All results, no mess;" www.about.com; www.searchlores.org concerns itself with issues of efficient searching of the Internet; www.alltheweb.com; www.demoz.org; www.wisenut.com; www.copernic.com that you have to download; www.excite.com. Meanwhile I received a SPAM ad from TrafficMagnet.net offering to get me listed on more search engines and increase the traffic here. Thanks, no thanks; I disapprove, and anyway HiPiers is now averaging about 11,000 hits per day. My readers can evidently find me when they want to.

Remember Nigeria? Two columns ago I mentioned this rip-off, in which you are asked to make your bank account information available so that tens of millions of dollars can be transferred into it, and you get a cut of maybe twenty percent, or several million for yourself. At first there were 10, then 14 more, then another 14, and now there are 25 more. So they are actually increasing as they go, each one slightly different.

Last time I had a peripheral reference to gun nuts. There are nuts of all kinds, religious, political, and others galore; I'm a health nut. Right: I got a response that directed me to the site of the National Rifle Association, NRA. Okay, let's tackle this one head-on. This is not a new issue for me; I debated it at a convention a decade or so ago, and I know J. Neil Schulman personally, the author of more than one book about the subject. He satisfied me that the USA Constitution really does protect the right to own guns. That means anyone can have a gun, though nobody has to. The thing is, I am interested in the truth in all things, and I really would like to know whether a gun in the house would make me safer. There are statistics galore, but the truth is opaque. The anti-gun nuts say that the gun is 43 times as likely to hurt a friend or family member as a criminal. Well, the NRA material goes after that, saying that of those 43, 37 are suicides. Now that's a different matter; I believe in a person's right to choose whether to live or die, and a gun is one sure fast way to do it if that's your inclination. No need to hassle your doctor for a deadly pill, or to join the Hemlock society; it's the original do-it-yourself device. On that matter I stand with the NRA: it's a legitimate function of a gun.

So that leaves 6 to 1, another figure often bandied about. Still, would you care to own a dog that was six times as likely to bite you as an intruder? Would you care to swallow a pill six times as likely to hurt you as help you? As far as I'm concerned, a gun should be more likely to help you than hurt you, or it is not worthwhile. Okay, the NRA says that accidents, where one family member kills another, are only 2% of fatal firearms cases, or one for every 90,000 defensive gun uses. Does that mean that a gun is 90,000 times as likely to help you as hurt you? I think not, partial statistics are treacherous. For one thing there's a significant statistic that I could not find mentioned in this long discussion. That is the gun homicide rate in countries that do or don't have serious gun control. I don't have figures to read from at the moment, but am sure there will be among my readers some anti-gun nuts who will be happy to provide them. From flawed memory, then: several countries in Europe have something like ten to a hundred gun fatalities a year, while America has something like 10,000 a year. A mind-blowing differential, take that as you will. For the NRA not to mention that, even to refute it, suggests guilt; they don't want it to come to mind at all. I know some countries like Switzerland have guns required in many or all households, yet their statistics are low, so it isn't just the presence or absence of a gun, it is the responsible use of it. In America any fool can get a gun and blast away at associates or strangers, and some do. That's rare in more responsible countries. Of course guns aren't the only killers, so the overall homicide rates need to be compared; it may be that in America guns do what knives do elsewhere, in similar numbers. Also, some safety rules are stupid; you're supposed to keep your gun locked up unloaded, and the ammunition locked up elsewhere. So when an intruder comes in to rape your daughter and make off with your worldly goods, you have to run around unlocking things and putting them together. You'll be dead long before you can do that. So the only effective gun is a dangerous one: loaded and handy. What you need is a safety, so it can't go off by accident. And you need training, so you'll hit what you aim at. I got it in the US Army long ago; you can get it from the NRA. I also think that every gun should be registered, so that when a body is found with a bullet in it, the authorities will soon know from what gun that bullet came, and who owns it, and no bullshit about losing it last week. You own a gun, you are responsible. I don't think the NRA endorses that; I'll be happy to have a clarification.

Here is what I want: a way to put together the opposing statistics to achieve a common denominator, so that the truth can be ascertained. It is obvious that each side uses selective statistics, so that the antis don't mention suicide and the pros don't mention Europe. I want figures both sides can agree on, that when digested indicate the answer to the original question: are you safer with or without a gun? Existing statistics, once reconciled, may not provide a full answer, because if they indicate that you are safer with a gun, so then every person buys a gun and goes armed at all times, what's to stop the robbers from shooting from ambush? So it might be safer now, when most folk don't carry guns, but not in the future, when most do. Still, it should be possible to come to some ballpark opinion. We get into a murky region when conjecturing what folk might do in the future, but that's my area: speculative fiction. Since it is obvious that I don't completely trust either camp, I'll assimilate any statistics offered and draw my own conclusion, publicly in this column. I'm assuming that there will be some relevant feedback from both sides. I can't be the only person interested in reality rather than hype.

I've mentioned our garbage garden, that started when our kitchen sink grinder broke and I started burying kitchen garbage in the square out back. Well, it came up this winter in potatoes, squash, and a single tomato plant. Then came a week of freezing, as low as 24°F. That's outrageous for central Florida. So we tried to protect the garden by putting cardboard boxes and old bedsheets around and over it. That worked reasonably well; the more adventurous squash vines got nipped back along with their starting squashes, and a couple of tips of the tomato plant, but the potatoes did fine. Now we have harvested 5 plum tomatoes, lost 3 to bugs, and have 39 still growing. We bought some PVC pipe to make a framework to better support the sheets. The moment we did that, Florida went into record hot winter weather. But come another freeze, we'll see.

One evening I saw a spider web in the upper left corner of my eye. That turned out to be literal; it was inside my eye. Next morning I saw cute little lightning jags in the same region. I peered out the window to locate the storm, but again, they were inside. No pain, just flashes. My wife says it must be a detachment. That is, some of the inner surface of the eye flakes off and interferes with the vision. It happened to her last year. In a few days the effect subsided. I must be getting old. It is issues I prefer to view with detachment, not eyeballs.

I have piles of magazine articles and clippings to comment on, but am determined to wrap this up at decent length this one time, so they will have to wait until I have less to say. Let me conclude with several incidentals. I had a bad day: a long-awaited contract had finally come, and I looked at it--and never saw it again. We conjecture that it slid into the pile of junk mail being discarded and wound up in the garbage. We drove out to check the garbage before it was taken, but for once the truck was on time, and it was gone. I called my agent, apologetically, and he was very nice about it, and got me a replacement contract. It remains embarrassing. One frustration with my Linux system, which I generally like, is that my mouse cursor sometimes wanders. I use a touch-pad rather than a mouse or trackball, but the drift occurs, so that sometimes by the time I click it's on the wrong site. That can be dangerous. And I saw a TV feature about the Naked News, www.nakednews.com, wherein a comely announcer gradually removes her clothing while delivering the routine news, until she stands completely bare. That's my kind of news! So I looked it up on the Internet, and it told me to check in as a first timer, but when I clicked the bar it ignored me; I couldn't register. Maybe my Linux system lacks the necessary drivers to make it function. Darn. Here I've struggled to reach age 67 so as to have credit as a dirty old man so I can gaze at clean young women, and I'm balked. And the naughty power company Enron has been much in the news. If you had mentioned that name to me a year ago, I would have said "En Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology?" But I think they are different entities. For Christmas Daughter #1 Penny the farm girl sent me 8 quarts of assorted soy milk: natural flavor, chocolate, vanilla, fruity. I'm drinking them one cup at a time for snacks. I'm all for soy as a substitute for milk and meat. About 6 years ago we got two Austin Air filters; one's downstairs, the other in my study. They last 5 years, but then the carbon gets clogged, and we had to turn them off. But then we found the replacement filters in a catalog, so got them, and now we have clean air again. A reader sent me a Borges idea paraphrased by Barth paraphrased by the reader: "Human beings are the mechanisms by which dreams infect reality." I agree, and I'm doing all I can to encourage the process. John S. Pappas would like it known that his web site http://johnnypnews.com provides the top stories from most major newspapers as well as links to the big nets sites, presented in a concise manner. So if you're fed up with all my opinionations, you know where you can go for the hard stuff. I received an email from Behzad Gholamvand farbod_dolamand@parsonline.net requesting $15,000 to help him make a movie about an Afghanian refugee in Iran. I didn't contribute. Got another saying that the federal Government is about to charge five cents for every email sent. I don't believe it, but if I did, I might approve, as it would cut down on the junk mail. Another solicitation was from SUSPENSE FILMS seeking $1-10 million investors and $65 million investors for the film Doomsday Kiss. I didn't invest. I must be a real stick in the mud. I'll watch the movie if they make it.

And our webmistress wants it known that any emails she gets relating to me she sends on to HiPiers; you won't get a more direct connection by trying to bypass HiPiers.com. We receive a number of emails from readers who suspect that their communications never reach me personally; they're wrong. With an exception: don't send me "Flash" cards, because I can't read them. We have Flash installed, but it doesn't work.

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