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Piers Anthony at work
AwGhost 2003
HI-
I get solicitations galore. I have commented before that this is like a polite pyramid scheme: if every local school, library, and social organization solicited every other community for funds or things to auction for funds, every community would go broke trying to honor those millions of requests, except the ones that cheated by taking in without putting out, which would not be the ones most deserving of support. So, applied globally, it's a losing game, and I normally ignore solicitations, however well meaning their people or benign their cause. There are rare exceptions. Here is an example where I did send something to auction, and the following comment:

"The problem is that few in the first world know or care much about the plight of those in the third world. Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, the American Friends Service Committee and others regularly document horrors around the world. But trying to do something about it is problematical, because often the problem is as much political as economic. Supplies that are sent may wind up for sale on the black market; money can be stolen or squandered. My father went to Spain with the British Quaker relief effort during the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39, to feed the starving children, and did save many children. Then he was arrested and deported by the victorious Franco regime. That's how my family came to America in 1940. So what happened to the children? By then the war was over, so maybe they survived. But it shows the risk entailed in being on the spot to make sure the assistance goes to those who need it. Millions have died in central Africa because of internecine war there now; it's hardly limited to the Berbers or to Africa. There's a campaign of extinction against the Mayas in central America. None of this makes headlines, if it makes the news at all. So I applaud your effort, but it's barely a drop in the bucket. The whole world needs reform."

Another form of solicitation is for autographs. At first I honored all of them, sending pictures. A year and a half ago I stopped sending them overseas, because I was receiving slews of almost identically worded requests for two pictures, mostly to central European addresses where my books are not currently sold, so chances were they were not readers but autograph hounds who were merely sending requests to any addresses they could find. It was done entirely at my expense for pictures, postage, and time, and if they could sell the pictures it was free money for them. Well, now I am receiving increasing numbers of requests for two or more pictures from North American addresses, and also learning more often of my pictures and even my letters being sold on eBay. So it seems the same game is being played here. It has gotten so that about half my snail mail consists of sending out pictures. I have a certain aversion to being a patsy, and I resent the waste of my time. Since it is hard for me to tell whether any given request is legitimate--that is, from a real reader who would really value a memento, instead of a faker emulating a reader--I think I have to call a halt here too. I have been refusing to send pictures to those who get one and ask repeatedly for more, but that isn't enough. I have a couple hundred pictures I got printed, and I'll honor requests while they last, then stop. I realize this will make for a sudden campaign by those same free-pictures-for-profit jerks that will quickly exhaust the pictures, and make them more valuable on the second hand picture market, but I don't see how else to do it. I recommend that my real readers refuse to be taken by these sharks, if only because their rapacity has caused me to stop honoring legitimate requests. It's like the honor system, which dishonest folk regard as a license to cheat; one cheater can ruin the whole thing. In this case it seems to be many cheaters. I'll limit pictures one to a request, and only personalized to a given name. When I run out of pictures I'll answer requests with a polite demurral for a couple of months, then cease responding. I know this will alienate some readers, but I hope that those who value me for my books and thoughts rather than my image or illegible scrawl will understand. Enough is enough. Why would you want to buy a picture you know has been obtained by fraud, autographed to someone else? Let me conclude this discussion with a quote from a girl in Sweden: "I think you sing very good," and wanting my autograph. Why do I suspect she's not a reader of mine?

The morning I started this column I was reading the newspaper, trying to get through it efficiently, when I encountered two items that ruined that. The thing is, I pause to read anything that seems worthwhile, or there's no point in having a newspaper, and sometimes that takes time. So I was late that morning, as is the case about as often as not. One item was on cybersex: it seems that some married folk like to go to Internet chat rooms to romance others. A woman wrote a thesis on the subject, interviewing participants and drawing conclusions. It seems that about 30% of participants go on to have physical sexual affairs with their partners. Why do they do it? They say because their spouses don't meet their sexual needs, being too busy with their own activities. I suspect that those spouses may also have become overweight or over-familiar, so lack novelty. The author interviewed 76 men and 10 women, not because she didn't care about women but because the women were fewer in number and thus busier than the men; the women tended to brush her off so they could get it on faster with a hot male prospect. I suspect that women may also be more cautious about advertising their activity. In our hypocritical culture, a man who strays is proving his manhood, while a woman who strays is a slut. I have never subscribed to the notion that when two participate in a mutually consensual act, one is uplifted and the other is degraded. But of course I am known for my odd ideas. So do they consider it cheating, as presumably both parties are married? They say no, because it's not physical, except for that 30%. That's an interesting question. Since it seems they may masturbate to climax while linked to their cyber lovers, it does seem to be solidly sexual. When a man and a woman have physical sex, using condoms or other barriers, is there real physical contact? The pleasure each gets is really self-generated, triggered by the body of the other but not really from the other. So does it matter whether the partner is the thickness of a condom distant, or the distance of a computer screen and beyond? They are triggering each other's sexual culminations. I can't say I know the answer, but my guess is it's a gray zone, neither quite fish nor fowl. Or maybe fishy or foul.

The other newspaper item was about bullying: a bullied girl has grown up to write a book about it. I approve of writing books about things; it's my bailiwick. In school I was the smallest in my class, male or female, until a late growth spurt that finished two years into college left me at a respectable five feet, ten and a half inches and quite physically fit. So I got to know the bullies. Yes, being bullied leaves a mark on a person. Once I outgrew it, as it were, I retained my antipathy to it, though the arena shifted from physical to social/economic. I was the one who was suspended from college because I refused to bow to an arbitrary rule change the faculty lacked the authority to make but enforced by, yes, suspensions. (The college administration never cared to argue the merits of the case, after I became a major monetary benefactor, so there is no refutation to my statement that I was suspended for principle. I would still love to argue the case.) I was one of two who were blacklisted for promotion and booted as a survey instructor in the US Army because I refused to be bullied into signing up for a "voluntary" savings bond program, thus denying them 100% participation. (One officer in a rare moment of candor expressed outrage at my case. Then I think he got the word about his own promotional prospects, and shut up. That's the way it is in the army, but I doubt it cares to argue the case publicly either.) I'm the one who gets a lawyer when a publisher tries to bully me the way it does other writers. Yes, I got blacklisted as a writer, but again you won't find any publisher I have tangled with arguing its case publicly. That would cause me to get rather specific on names and details, and I do have the resources to pursue it legally. But you do pay a price when you fight back, and it may be more than you win. Dastards are vindictive when balked. I did get suspended, I did get barred from promotions, I did lose markets. It's similar to the whistle blower syndrome: the whistler may win his case, but his livelihood may be shot. So bullies exist throughout, and few underlings stand up to them, and I understand why as well as anyone does. But it's way past time for our society to tackle this problem and abate the damage being done. It has been said that a bully is a baby criminal. I suspect some grow up to be CEOs. I think a school bully should be summarily removed from class and placed in reform school, not for his sake but for the sake of the decent kids who are just trying to get along. I think a corporate bully should be fired and blackballed, maybe branded with the letter B on his forehead. And a publisher who cheats writers and threatens them when they object should be exposed and penalized. But of course we'll never see it; I don't run the world. But in my limited way I do try to accomplish some good by speaking out candidly in this column, and by calling a spade a spade in my ongoing survey of Internet Publishers.

So okay, here's a current example of a contentious Survey update, showing my feisty attitude: "2003 UPDATE--An annoyed notice informed me that they have ALWAYS paid 25% royalties. Maybe so, but if that's not spelled out in the contract, it can be changed without notice, as I said. They say they have never, ever kept the rights on any books. They told me 'You are doing a disservice to everyone by posting incorrect information.' Well, I got it from their site, and am happy to update when notified or when I recheck the site. But as of the day I rechecked, following their communication, I found that they still take world rights including print, and the contract still doesn't specify the royalty rate other than 'as indicated on PUBLISHER'S website, or the submission documents.' In short, nothing has changed, my original caution is correct, and if there is a disservice here, it is by the publisher's spokesperson who rattles an ogre's cage by falsely accusing him of publishing incorrect information. That is unlikely to garner a favorable report. (Message to publishers: be wary of challenging an old pro; he may not be as far into his dotage as it appears.)"

Or to translate the exchange into basic terms: they called me a liar and I told them to fuck off. It's a dirty job but someone has to do it.

On to more practical matters. The modem on my Linux system got balky, so I tested it one Sunday morning at 5:30. My dialer dialed for 40 minutes and didn't succeed in getting online. I figured that if it was that way at the least busy time of the week, it was shot. Right before Survey Update time, when I needed to spend hours on the Internet. So I queried my Linux Geek, and he suggested replacing it with an external modem. He recommended US Robotics, but nobody in these parts carries it, so we settled for AOpen. It had a disk with activation software for everything except Linux, which is par for the course. Smaller companies are extremely wary of the bully in the software arena, Macrohard, which hates Linux. I connected it by the idiot-proof expedient of plugging plugs into those orifices they seemed to fit, except that the main one didn't fit anything. It terminated in a wide plug that had an offshoot going back, like a six lane highway with a two lane diversion just before the intersection. That was the one that fit, leaving the big one to hang in space. I pity anyone who drives that six lane highway and overlooks the U-turn. Then Geek talked me through the labyrinthine process of orienting on it, layer by layer, menu by menu, code by code, and finally it worked. No, of course these things aren't plug & play; that would put Geeks out of business. It's in the Big Book of Rules: thou shalt not have it User-Friendly, lest Macrohard step on thee. But I was able to do my Survey update in good order.

Are you thoroughly bored with my Archery reports yet? Maybe this will get you there. There were two things I wanted to improve about my target array. First, I didn't like having arrows that missed low plow into the ground; it's not good for them. Second, I don't like having arrows squeeze between my main target and my baffle targets so they can plow into the ground beyond the array. Arrows are cunning; if there's a crevice, they'll find it and forge through. So I bought some more targets. One was the Black Hole, a layered one that I put beneath my main one. That works; I have missed the main target many times, but no arrow has plowed into the ground. Two more are Humungo targets, that really do stop the arrows, though I have to lay the target on the ground, put a foot on it, and haul with both hands to get the arrow out. That'll teach me not to miss. And I set baffle targets behind the crevices between targets. And that's working, except when I manage to miss the entire array of eleven targets. I have lost three arrows that way. Sigh. Another development is the Kisser Button. That's a knob on the string that touches the corner of the mouth when the bowstring is drawn, sort of fastening it in place so you always line up the same way. It seemed to help on the left side, so I tried putting one on the right side bow too. Well, ever since I made these changes in targets and string, my scores have plummeted. I mean, with my crude system of counting +1 for each arrow that hits my one square foot center at 50 yards range, and -1 for each arrow that misses my central target, I used to have scores ranging from 0 to 12, usually in the 4-6 range, loosing 12 arrows right and 12 left. But now I have been making scores of 0 to -9. Once in a while I'll creep over 0, but more often not. I don't know whether raising the target array messed me up, or whether I'm getting suddenly unsteady as I age.

I get requests for interviews, and usually honor them if they are convenient. Email interviews are easy to do, chat room interviews harder, and face to face ones harder yet, because someone has to travel to make them possible. This time I had an AOL chatroom interview. AOL, for those who haven't heard of it, is a sort of merged dialer/browser/email facility with something like forty million members. This was a whole separate experience. It turns out that AOL, being anal retentive, doesn't let a person meet a chat room from outside; it has to be inside. That meant that I had to join AOL on a temporary basis; they offer a generous month's free trial. I think the letters stand for Annoying Old Lady. The chat hostess, Lyric, sent me an AOL disk, and in the course of two hours I got it installed on my correspondence computer. Pretty much from the start I found I didn't like it. It deluged me with pop-up ads, and the ongoing news window had more ads, and it send me daily emails that were ads for its services. It's like going into a bazaar with hawkers crying at you from every side; the constant clamor is annoying. In addition it made pop-up ads on my screen when I wasn't in AOL that sometimes interfered with my email. Its own email drove me crazy, because it offered a ready Reply to an incoming one only when I didn't need it, and did not offer it when I did, forcing me to send a new email instead of getting the automatic setup of responding to the incoming one. I finally figured that out: I handle so much email that I check all of it in a given batch before answering any of it, then do it in a queue. But the moment I do anything other than answer an email immediately, AOL deletes the Reply option, and I found no way to get it back. I tended to typo the complicated address when doing a Reply via a New letter, and it would get bounced back to me unsent. You can't type your email offline then go on to send it, as I normally do; you have to be online all the time, which is wasteful. It saved old letters in a special folder specific to me--but there was no way to find that folder. Lyric finally told me: you have to look under Mail, not Folder. Why didn't it tell me that? Its Speller is out of this world; would you believe it even challenged my comma after "Dear Lyric," thinking it should be a colon? Yet it missed some real typos. Overall, AOL simply does not operate the way I do.

Then the interview, which was at 7 Pm Sunday. Seems they normally do it at 10 PM but I demurred; I am falling asleep by then. I'm an early bird; I wake about 5 AM and poop out at night. So for me they moved it up. It was supposed to be at CHAT WITH PROS but there was no chat room by that name; it had been changed. When I actually went there Sunday, it seemed it had been changed again; I couldn't find it. So I sent Lyric a quick email and she sent me a link to the new address. This is par for the course; for some reason electronic hosts always seem to change addresses just before my event, messing me up. My screen name was Docks153. That's as in the plural of pier, 153 of them. I was surprised that 152 folk had chosen that name before me; I thought no one would have. The interview room was as auditorium with two windows; I was in the top, on stage, while the audience was in the bottom. There was some grumbling about that; they didn't like being segregated. I don't blame them. AOL was supposed to promote the event, but apparently didn't; there were only about 25 folk there at any one time, and some of them were evidently ignorant of the fact that it was an interview session; they wanted to chat among themselves as usual, and did so. At one point I evidently miskeyed, because in the middle of my sentence AOL said "Good-bye" and kicked me out. I had to scramble back in, find Lyric's link, and return to the chat room in time to catch someone in the bottom window being glad I was gone. No such luck, sucker. Others expressed annoyance that I was there only for the agreed hour; one said it was no wonder I was sinking on the midlist range if I didn't do more interviews. (Actually this was one of three interviews I did in the course of about a week; the email one can be found at http://members.tripod.com/~geek_world/fantasy_interview_anthony.html and the third will be on Sci-Fi Radio, done by Alan Story) It was nevertheless a lively discussion, punctuated by my frequent typos. You see, I type touch on a Dvorak keyboard, but my keys are marked for QWERTY; the moment I look at the keyboard I can get in trouble. One was a mental typo: I typed "experiencing" when I meant "expecting." Apart from that it was a routine interview, with the usual questions and answers. Surprise was expressed at the way my answers did not match the "book" answers. Well, the book tries to be artificially encouraging; I tell it as it is. That's more like watching the blood fly as the squealing pig disappears into the grinder, instead of merely eating the sanitary sausage. Those who actually try to get traditionally published discover that sweetness and light is mostly a figment of the Parnassus image marketing; literary dreams are often a sucker's game. The chatters were all right. But I still don't like AOL and don't expect to go there again. I understand it has been losing members; I could surely give it a hint why, if it cared about my opinion or anyone else's.

This summer I have been reading my late father's lifelong Journal of thoughts and activities, which he kept from the time he was 15 to 86. This is research for my book length semi-biography of him, as seen by the major women in his life, the most difficult of which was my mother. It is an understatement to say that my parents' marriage was not made in heaven. If some readers wonder from what crazy scene I emerged; well in ways it resembled a subdivision of hell without there being any overt or intentional abuse. But here's a hint: my father loved a girl his age in England, and she was warming to him--when she got typhoid fever and died. Fifty years later he still mourned her loss and constantly reread the references to her in the Journal. She was a nice girl, and like him in key ways, which is why she might not have been a good match for him. For one thing, they both seem to have been depressive, and unable to express positive personal emotions. That's a formula for mischief. After her death he came to know her sister, who was a delightfully positive girl; could I have gone back in time and interacted with her, I think I would have fallen in love with her, and I love her a bit regardless. She was ideal--but though he considered marrying her, he could not bring himself to pop the question, and so it was in stasis. For one thing, she strongly resembled her deceased sister in appearance, and neither of them could be sure that it was not really her sister he saw in her. Then he met my mother, and everything changed. They married without really knowing each other, and regretted it ever since, for good reason.

So that volume is not conceived as a commercial book, and it's not about me; I will be only an incidental minor character therein. It's a special, limited exploration of my father's life, significant portions of which are tragic. I'll distribute it mainly to surviving family members, many of whom will not be interested. I'll self publish it, making it available in due course, so completest readers can find it; a few will be curious. But that's how the time between Xanth novels went this year.

So how did my sister and I survive? Well, our parents certainly weren't much interested in us; they went off to Spain to feed hungry children during the civil war of 1936-39, leaving us with our maternal grandparents. They weren't much interested in us either, so they hired a nanny. That's how it's done, in England. And there, would you believe was our salvation. That nanny was competent and devoted, and as I came into the critical years of the formation of my first enduring memories, she was my mother figure. It was I believe my caring time with her that set the basis for my mental and emotional framework that makes me what I am today, battered but not destroyed by the decade of cruel existence that followed. I have wondered how I came to have such strong empathy when others in my family lacked it. I read recently that empathy comes into being in that period of a child's life, if the nurturing is there. That solves that riddle. So I have been learning things about myself as I learn about my father. It has not been a completely comfortable study, but perhaps true personal understanding seldom is.

Now, having reviewed the women in my father's life, three of the four dying before him, I contemplate my own marital future. My wife's health is not as good as mine; I fear I will survive her, though I hope to make our 50th anniversary first, and whatever offers beyond that. We passed our 47th in JeJune. Once I thought I would never marry; now I can't tolerate the notion of ever living alone. I'd have to look for another woman. Well, it's not as if I'm choosy; any smart, honest, healthy, esthetic vegetarian humanist with long dark hair and a sweet nature would be considered. Ah, you say, but does my wife match that template? Well, no; after a decade or so of marriage she cut her hair short. But she's grandmothered in.

Most of my mail is positive, but once in a while comes a stinker. Here is an example. I received an unsigned email from a woman totally agreeing with the suggestion that I like underage sex. "You claim there is nothing in On a Pale Horse to suggest underage sex. Either you are a liar or you are moving into the 'land of senior citizen dimentia.'[sic] I won't be able to point out the page(s) where the underage sex or what is really child pornography is written down, because I tore that book to pieces after I read it, and I burned it along with your other works." She goes on to say she will report me. "For you see, I am a woman who knows what it is like to be forced to have sex with a grown man when I was only five years old. I hate men and now I hate you most of all. May you burn in hell, but first may you die a slow, painful death from anal rape and the ravages of AIDS." Well, I'm sorry she suffered abuse, as it evidently unhinged her mind. Obviously she destroyed the wrong book, and so thinks her certainty can't be refuted. That's one way to preserve a delusion. It's a common problem: a writer who addresses an abuse is then accused of practicing it. I wonder what kind of mail is received by murder mystery writers? I hope she finds solace somewhere. Meanwhile, again, for the record: my sexual interest is in grown women, not children, as my wife can attest, but I can't claim that full-breasted teen girls are uninteresting merely because they are not yet eighteen. Neither are retirement age women uninteresting if they have kept their shape. Were I in a position to choose, I'd favor the older ones, as they would have a greater community of interest with me. But I'm not eager to have to choose any time soon.

We saw movies, thanks mainly to our movie freak daughter. There was the League of Extraordinary Men, whose preview had impressed me. It turned out to be not as good as expected. It seemed that each time our heroes got together in some secret place, the bad guys surrounded them. Then someone would douse the lights and the good guys would beat back the bad guys. So how come the bad guys didn't just wipe them out from ambush without giving warning? That didn't make sense. Much of it was also filmed in semi-darkness. Darn it, I like to see the action; I don't care how much money they save by dousing the lights. But the characters drawn from fiction were fun, including a vampire woman what was not entirely averse to spot romance, and there were some nice explosions. So it was okay, but could readily have been better had they hired an electrician and a script writer with common sense. Then we saw Terminator 3, and that surprised us the other way: it was better than anticipated. It had a small cast of about four main characters, a cohesive story line, nice enough effects, and fair verisimilitude. The human female lead was believable, and the unhuman other female believable in her lack of acting ability: she was a machine crafted to look like a sexy woman. I'm sorry we didn't get better glimpses of her nice emulation body. There was also about the wildest car chase sequence I've seen; it seems there are still new wrinkles on an old standby. The conclusion surprised me, and seemed apt. We also watched a video that impressed me: Monster's Ball, the story of a lawman's affair with the girlfriend of a prisoner. It was mostly realistically dark in spirit, with some startling scenes. One was a young woman who dropped in on the lawman, evidently an acquaintance. Then suddenly she removed her shirt, baring splendid breasts. Then she bared her bottom and leaned on a counter, and he had at her from behind. Oh--she was a regular prostitute making a house call, wasting no moves. Why lie down when standing is faster? The moment he finished she repaired her outfit and walked out. He might have liked a bit more of a relationship, but she had no interest. Another was a sequence with another officer who had made a mistake; when rebuked he pulled a gun on our hero and knocked him around some. "You never cared for me much," he said accusingly, and our hero agreed. "But I loved you," the man said, and abruptly shot himself to death. And of course Halle Berry was nice as the late love interest; she didn't decamp the moment he was out of her.

There turns out to be another writer in Inverness. She's lived here as long as I have, but we never met. That is Kristina O'Donnelly. I read her big novel The Horseman, a romance/historical set in 1960s Turkey. There's a lot here; immense detail on Turkish history, culture, and politics merged with a hard-hitting story. It's not perfect, but it is a substantial novel. The author's website is www.ladyliterature-films.com. As usual I have an immense pile of clippings and tearsheets I saved during these two months, too many to comment on with any competence. I'll surely have to winnow. But let's see what I can do with attempted brief mentions. NEW SCIENTIST says that it turns out that memories are not fixed like video recordings, but are modified and refiled each time they are summoned. Thus they are dynamic, changing with use, and it is possible to have clear memories of things that never actually happened. That may indeed be so. I've had people accuse me of things that just ain't so, and perhaps this explains the mechanism. The same magazine had a complex on human nature, including free will and the difference between men and woman. Do we really have free will, or do we just think we do? Whole volumes can and have been written about this, yet it remains unsettled. It says there are no psychological characteristics in which all men are different from all women, but there is a fundamental reproductive asymmetry: a woman must make a massive investment in a few children, while a man can potentially father a large number. So to be reproductively successful women should seek males who have ample resources to share, and men should pursue women at the peak of their fertility. And indeed we see it: women value healthy wealthy stable older men, while men are attracted to young sexy women. Beyond that it becomes complex. Women typically, it says here (I may disagree), have more imagination and empathy than men, while the male brain is hard wired for understanding and building systems. Autism (again it says) is the result of an extreme version of the male brain. Agree or disagree, this is worth pondering. Another article tackles evolution: How did life begin, how do mutations lead to evolution, how are new species formed, is evolution predictable, and what's God got to do with it? That last interests me. Humans, it says, are odd by animal standards in their extraordinary willingness to accept and even die for the community. This level of altruism is a key to our success; the group is stronger than the individual. But why should individuals give up personal advantage for the sake of the group? What mutes their natural selfishness? In essence, this says, gods are created by our big brains to prevent free riders from benefiting from cooperative society without paying the costs. The religious urge may enable human society to function. If you believe in life after death where accounts will be settled by a judgmental god, you are more likely to behave well in this life. SCIENCE NEWS lists a book Why God Won't Go Away, subtitled "Brain Science and the Biology of Belief." There is a region in the brain that seems to compel the spiritual urge. That explains a lot. I have noted with a certain bemusement mankind's seeming eagerness to believe in the supernatural, thus endorsing astrology, divination, superstition, deficits, and yes, the miracles and afterlife of religion. It never made much sense to me, as there is no creditable evidence of the validity of such things. But if it really contributes to the supremacy of our species, that may indeed make sense. It may be nonsense, but nonsense that facilitates cooperation that in turn enables our kind to dominate the world becomes on some level not nonsensical after all. So I suppose I'll have to school myself in tolerance, like the boy who defined faith as believing in what you know ain't so.

Something that definitely is brain related and perhaps genetic is dyslexia. I believe I have mentioned before how I took three years to make it through first grade, being just about as stupid a student as they come. (And haven't changed a bit, I suspect my illustrious critics say.) Only when my daughter had some similar problems and was diagnosed dyslexic did I realize what my problem might have been. More information is accumulating, and a discussion in NEW SCIENTIST indicates that dyslexia is more than the inability to read and write. There can be short term memory effects, a problem sequencing events, an impaired sense of time, problems with coordination, and less reliable sensory feedback. Dyslexics can't touch their noses when their eyes are closed, for example. It seems English is an opaque language that causes dyslexics more trouble. Again I forget whether I have mentioned this before (forgetting is more likely a signal of old age than dyslexia), but I suffer from few if any of these complications today, and believe it is because I was able to develop an alternate brain center to handle them. I can touch my nose with my eyes closed. Maybe there is similar hope for others. But what a struggle it was in the early years!

I hate reading Amnesty International's literature, because it documents man's inhumanity to man. I had a paragraph on this last column, so will keep this amendment brief. The United States has a policy against using torture that turns out to be currently meaningless. AI quotes an anonymous official: "We don't kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them." With a list of questions we want answered. Woe betide the prisoner who is innocent and so is unable to answer, may his soul rest in peace. AI quotes Oxford scholar Henry Shue: "If the most powerful country in the world has to torture, how are we supposed to convince anyone else that they shouldn't torture?"

WORLD WATCH points out that anti-abortion politics result in the deaths of many mothers together with their children, during childbirth. The denial of US funding to international family planning organizations that consider abortion an option will result in the deaths of 4,700 mothers and 77,000 of their babies each year. "It's one of the great ironies of right-wing politics in the united States that the self-styled 'pro-life' activists devote the most vigorous of their activities to promoting policies that increase death." I'm not sure that irony is the right word; maybe hypocrisy is.

The AUTHOR'S GUILD BULLETIN for summer 2003 has a symposium on selling your book to Hollywood. It's a nice discussion. If you are offered a movie contract, take the money and run, because you won't like what they do to it. Do you need an agent for this? Yes, because otherwise you may get ripped off. If you can prove it you may win your case, but you'll be blacklisted, so it's better not to make an issue. There's a book about the stupid things movie executives have said to writers titled A Martian Wouldn't Say That, edited by Leonard Stern, who has been president of the Writer's Guild. For example, one script had a woman who wasn't supposed to be pregnant, but did get pregnant, a real problem. The exec asked whether it had to be a woman. A comment by Jonathan Parker: "I think a lot of people have the idea that people make movies because they want to tell the exact story in the book. That's not why people make movies. The people who are making the decisions are making them for financial reasons. One hopes there are artistic reasons as well." If this is the sort of candid discussion you like, join AUTHORS GUILD; their seminars can be excellent. They also recently sent out an email warning writers that ZIFF DAVIS was trying to coerce its writers into forfeiting all rights to their work, without pay, retroactively. Other writers' organizations have similar objections, and are taking legal action. As I have said before, publishers are often shits; they don't care whether a given writer lives or dies, so long as they can use his output cheaply. It does tend to get cheaper seventy years after he dies, and sooner than that if his heirs are ignorant. So if you really want to please your publisher, hurry up and die.

Newspaper item titled "Some ghosts don't want to be seen." It's about ghost writers. If you want to be a writer and don't care about receiving credit as long as you do get paid, this is the profession for you.

The WALL STREET JOURNAL had an article on Print-On-Demand publishing, listing the major self publishing outfits. It says that traditional publishers are increasingly taking on self published authors, if their work is good. Acceptance of self publishing is growing. Newspaper article says that more older writers are using POD. I have said that this is the likely future of publishing, being the main avenue out from under the heel of Parnassus. Yes, I have put my money where my mouth is.

Newspaper article titled "Use it or lose it, your brain that is." It makes the point that the brain needs exercise just as the body does, or it becomes flabby. I've always figured that, which is why I exercise regularly both physically and mentally. I tackle the scrambled word and chess puzzles in the daily newspaper, and constantly seek new and novel insights, as this column might indicate. My body is standing up well; I think I don't look my age (I'm 69 August 6) and my brain still seems to work reasonably well though spot memory of names and numbers is an increasing problem, and I'm a virtual idiot when traveling. I can get lost in places where other folk don't even see places. One theory is that so much information has been overlaid in a limited brain that stuff does get fudged, like a fragmented hard drive. But if I could clear out old out-of-date memories to make room for new ones, which ones would I clear? Maybe it's a sign of threatening senility that I'd have a hell of a time deciding which ones to throw out. Those old memories make me what I am today, for good or ill. US NEWS & WORLD REPORT says that age normally brings a decline in the speed of information processing. But sometimes it's more than that, as with Alzheimer's, that attacks the memory processing area of the brain. That's like a slow degradation of your computer hard disk; eventually you'll lose something vital and die. But brain exercise such as reading, crossword puzzles, playing board games like chess or checkers, playing musical instruments, and even dancing can delay the loss.

Here's an example of my ignorance: the daily comic strip "Gasoline Alley" recently had a series relating to a musician named Doug Kershaw with a long homely face. He is obviously readily recognizable, but I draw a blank. Is there such a person, or is this a parody of someone? My recognition of musical names and faces more or less expires with Dinah Shore, and no, I don't want to forget her now that's she's gone.

Article in NEW SCIENTIST titled "How not to beat spam." My solution to this constant annoyance has been simple: charge for email. Often simple solutions turn out to be simple minded (duh!) and this article clarifies what's wrong with mine. Spammers are adept at stealing the use of unguarded computers, forwarding their messages through them, and so would manage to foist off the charges on folk who were innocent. The article recommends passing global anti-spam laws and going after the spammers and their sponsors. It would be a job tracing them down, but in time they'd be gone.

Another newspaper article has input on Web surfing: when you encounter microscopic print, go to View and Text Size and tweak the type to make it big enough to read. Naturally it won't work for me; I use the Linux KDE Konqueror, and it lacks that option. Par for my course.

Item in a letter in NEW SCIENTIST explains why there is no Nobel prize for math: a mathematician was having an affair with Alfred Nobel's wife, and Alfred was furious. But a subsequent letter pointed out that Alfred was a bachelor. Hm, that does complicate it. Did I mention the problem with simple answers?

Another from NEW SCIENTIST: masturbation may be good for men. It seems that the process of producing seminal fluid concentrates certain carcinogens, and frequent ejaculation clears the pipes and prevents them from accumulating to a toxic level. Thus men who ejaculate daily from ages 20 to 50 are less likely to develop prostate cancer. So would having a different woman every night accomplish the same healthy benefit? No, because that elevates the risk of venereal disease. There may be a parallel to women who nurse their babies, because that similarly flushes out carcinogens. So it may be that in future doctors will require men to masturbate often, for their health. In addition, women don't necessarily ovulate just once a month; some do it twice a month, and some three times. That may help explain the unfunny joke: what do you call a woman who uses the rhythm method of contraception? A mother. But her tubes are probably clean.

Depression: TG Browning emailed me about a New Zealand study that indicates at least one type of depression is genetic, and I have a local newspaper clipping and an article in THE ECONOMIST saying the same. Yes, it is slowly becoming recognized that depression is an illness, not a weakness. Psychological counseling can help, but the assumption that it's all in your head is mostly bogus. This is one of my buttons. Remember; I'm the one who was excluded for all mental diseases because the doctor didn't diagnose the cause of my moderate chronic fatigue. Now that I'm on thyroid medication that has eased, and so has my mild depression, I think by no coincidence. My father was depressive, and I wondered about a genetic component. There are surely a number of causes for clinical depression, and I suspect most of them are physical. You can't just snap out of it, any more than you can snap out of your limp and run footraces after your foot has been amputated; you need to deal with the condition first. Nevertheless, there are psychological triggers for temporary depression, such as loss of job, death in the family, romantic breakup, financial setbacks, and poor health. When those are piled on top of an existing depressive state, it can get serious. Hence loss of appetite, ambition, illness, or suicide. I have encountered many depressives--yes, mostly teen girls who write to me--and have much sympathy. When they try to express themselves in story or poetry others can condemn them for their morbidity, which hardly helps. I am wary of drugs--I don't even like to take aspirin if I can avoid it--but sometimes drugs seem to be the only answer, and they can work wonders.

US NEWS for June 30-July 7, 2003 is a special issue featuring the Builders of Dreams. Building is broadly interpreted: palaces, fortresses, parks, suspension bridges, the Panama Canal, tunnels, highways, skyscrapers, the Eiffel Tower, the Egyptian Pyramids, cathedrals. It's quite a display of human engineering.

We bought a different kind of mosquito remedy. This looks like a small tennis racket. You depress a button on the handle to activate it and sweep it through the air. When it catches the mosquito, pop! and it's electrocuted. It will be a while before we know how practical this is. I tried waving it over my head, and got stung twice on the leg.

An email told me of PPCM, Peripartum Cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle that occurs in the last month of pregnancy and six months thereafter. It may relate to congestive heart failure, and is mast often misdiagnosed so that it goes untreated, so that women can die. My thought is that this could relate to postpartum depression, another physical ailment that others tell the mother to just snap out of. I suspect that so much of the building blocks of living things go to the making of the baby that the mother's body is seriously depleted, and she needs to get them restored. If she were given a diet rich in those key elements she might recover much faster, and be happier too.

The scams continue. Galen Sturgess in Australia notified me of one, and we received a similar one ourselves, and spied a newspaper article on it. It starts with an email notification that you have won a lotto prize of several million dollars. You must get in touch privately; if you break confidentiality you will be disqualified. You are told to wire something like $9,000 for taxes owing on your winnings, but not to worry; they send you a good faith check for $12,000 to more than cover it, so you aren't really risking anything. Except that after you send the money, their check bounces, and you are out the money. You fool.

Niels Eji in Denmark sent me a CD of his music, which was inspired by his reading of my books. It is part of a research project called Musica Humana, whose main purpose is to create a relaxing atmosphere and stimulate imagination of hospital patients. Indeed the music is melodic and smooth. The site is www.gefionrecords.com . The 50th anniversary of the ending of the Korean War made the news. It's called the forgotten war. That's weird, because that war had everything. I remember it well. If you watched the long running TV series M.A.S.H., that was set in Korea. I was in high school in 1950 when the North Koreans invaded South Korea. Each day they advanced farther south, soon capturing the capital Seoul and going on. Korea is a peninsula, like Florida only a bit larger. It's as if they took St. Petersburg/Tampa and forged on down toward Miami. America rallied to the defense of South Korea, but had to squeeze its machinery in through that limited port in the south, Pusan. They were able to hold a perimeter of only about 90 miles. But then came the counter attack, back near St. Pete, oops, Seoul. They forged in from the Gulf of Mexico, I mean the Yellow Sea, took Seoul, and cut off the enemy supply lines. The North Korean army fell apart as American led forces exploded out of the south in the summer of 1950. In something like five days they had driven the enemy clear of the country. Then they invaded North Korea, and pushed on up to the Russian and Chinese borders. At that point China interceded, sending in massive forces, and drove the Americans back. The war finally ground to a stalemate about where it had started, and that's where the line remains today. But the significance was greater than the peninsula. America had thought it was virtually impossible for its vastly superior firepower to be overcome, but the Chinese did it, using "human sea" tactics. That was one lesson. But in so doing the Chinese took such dreadful losses, human and equipment, that I think it set their economics back years, and they never had much inclination to face American troops thereafter. It was a Pyrrhic victory for them, one that cost more than it was worth. That was their lesson. Yet there was more: we learned later that General MacArthur wanted to nuke the Chinese, which would have stopped them, for sure. But Russia said that if we did that, they would nuke us, precipitating World War Three. We concluded that we couldn't risk it. MacArthur was sacked and the Chinese took North Korea, which reformed its autocratic ways not a whit. And thereafter China made sure to develop nukes of its own. And this is the forgotten war? What would it take to make a memorable war?

A reader answered my question about the song "Manuel": it turns out to be an early Kingston Trio effort. Another reader sent me her to-be-published children's poem/story featuring Flied Lice. It's disgusting; children will love it. I told her the joke it reminds me of: Oriental Diner: "I'll have flied lice, please." Waiter, snickering: "Are you sure you don't mean fried rice?" Diner, annoyed: "That's what I said, you plick."

Right into AwGhost 1st things kept coming; I have two bleeping many interests. You know how books by new writers often have blurbs on the cover? That is, endorsements written by more established writers, saying how great they are, so that readers will figure if their favorite writer likes this book, it's probably worthwhile. Indeed, it probably is. But now many writers who were helped by blurbs at the outset of their careers won't blurb the works of other writers. Seems like a bad attitude, doesn't it? But this newspaper item tells why, and it's true in my experience: a popular author receives so many requests for giving blurbs that if he/she honored them all, there'd be no time left for anything else. I have been the route. What am I to think when a publisher who won't even look it my current novel wants me to take my time to read and promote the writer it did take? Well, I try to be fair, and I have blurbed the work of writers I don't personally like, and of publishers who have shat on me, because I feel a good book should be fairly promoted for the sake of literature. But it takes me three days to read an average book, and that comes right out of my own writing time. Suppose I am crowding a deadline? Also, sometimes I read a novel, and conclude it is not of sufficient quality to blurb; I won't cheat my readers by recommending something I don't think they'd like. Sometimes I read and blurb, but the publisher finds a bigger name or a more enthusiastic quote and doesn't run mine. Chances are maybe 50-50 that my time will be wasted in that sense. Once I blurbed, and the other writer then denigrated one of my novels in an interview. That's not good form. Sometimes I know that the value of my lost time reading a book is greater than the advance that other writer has been paid, though perhaps my blurb will help him earn more for his next novel. Sometimes I blurb an unsold writer, hoping to help him make a sale, and then his book doesn't sell anyway. Sometimes I read one by an aspiring writer, and have to tell him with regret that it is unsalable as it stands, thereby alienating him. Some writers don't want honesty, they want useful praise; unfortunately that has to be earned by good writing. So there are constraints. I'm sure other known writers have had similar experiences. I believe I have given many more blurbs than I ever received, so have paid my dues. And that's why I am reluctant to blurb today.

The other later newspaper item is about starvation as a means of euthanasia. That's one of my buttons. I believe that a person should be allowed to live and die as he chooses, provided he's not hurting anyone else. When the time comes, in his considered judgment, to slough off this mortal coil, he should be allowed to do that without undue discomfort. He should not be required to suffer until his body and his bank account finally expire together. The idea of having some fanatic of the religious right tell me when it is permissible for me to die turns me off. But it is true that assisted euthanasia can be abused; in some cases sufficient pain medication might make a few more years of life worth living. Fortunately (?) the NRA has fought the good fight to keep the single most convenient and effective suicide device freely available: a gun put to the head. But that can be messy, and yes, many folk do care about the mess they leave behind. Is there a cleaner way? Yes: just stop eating and drinking, and in about two weeks you will quietly and, it seems, fairly peacefully, fade out. There's also a safety factor: you can change your mind at any time and resume eating/drinking. The latter is more immediate; starvation alone can take months, but dehydration takes days. I understand that it can even be a comfortable, almost pleasant termination. A survey in Oregon rates it on average about 8 on a scale of 0-9, the higher end of the scale being positive. This was the judgment of the nurses who cared for those who died; we don't have direct word, of course. When my time comes, I will remember.

Our WebMistress visited Nepal and took many pictures. Those interested can see them at www.seema-designs.com/nepal/nepal.htm .

I still have too much of a pile of clippings and notes to get through, ranging from Vitamin C, through the purpose of sleep and dreams, Mormonism, politics, the movie being made locally titled The Punisher, a ranch in Nevada where men pay to hunt naked women and shoot them with paintball guns and have sex with them after, the world's serious water problems, a twelve billion year old planet, a DISCOVER article on slide rules--I taught slide rule use in the Army--the resurgent power of the Y chromosome, the truth about migraines, the NRA's campaign against safe guns, to the candidacy of Vermont's Howard Dean; I lived in Vermont and would really like to comment, and more, but this column is 95,000 words and I have to arbitrarily cut it off. I hope what's here suffices.

PIERS
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