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The Ogre's Den image
Piers Anthony at work
AwGhost 2004

I try to keep these columns reasonably brief, but must lack self control; this one is more than 12,500 words. Ah, well; skip over the parts that bore you. Maybe the OctOgre one will be shorter.

Here's a little riddle I evolved while navigating puddles along our three quarter mile long driveway after rain: the more it rains, the fewer puddles there are. How come? Answer: many small puddles merge into one big one. But there's more about rain and riddles. Circa a decade ago, when I attended the wedding of a niece (it's a wider Family thing), some preliminary music came on, and I was struck by its beauty. The melody was familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. Da-dum! Da-da-da-dum, and on. What was it? No one know; it was just incidental, one of several orchestral pieces. So for years I wondered; my ogre mind won't let go of minor mysteries. Then it rained at dawn, as I was about to ride my bike out to fetch the newspapers. I don't like to wet down the twelve foot long chain on the recumbent bike; trouble there is like the proverbial giraffe's sore throat. So I drove out in the Saturn--sorry, they don't make a car called Xanth or Phaze, so a science fiction brand is as close as I can get, and it is a good car, one of the most crashworthy on the road--as happens every six months or so. The radio came on automatically, as my wife has it set that way, tuned to WJUF. I should explain that we can receive WUFT, which stands for Which: University of Florida Transmitter, but it broadcasts from Gainesville and is just at the fringe of our range, so they have a relay station WJUF: Which: Junior University of Florida, and that comes in perfectly. Except when it doesn't; at this moment a glitch had taken it off the air. So I punched buttons, looking for something that would come in, and got WUSF, or Which: University of Science Fiction--um, let me rephrase, University of South Florida, where my Piers Anthony papers go. That's really out of our range too, in Tampa, but we hadn't gotten around to removing the setting, and lo: it came in perfectly. The announcer said the next piece was Schubert's "Unfinished" symphony, and it started. And there was my mystery melody! Of course I have heard it many times; I just couldn't place it out of context. So by sheer serendipitous coincidence I found it. Maybe there is a God.

Last year chimney swifts nested in our unused chimney, and twice one got down into the closed off fireplace and had to be rescued. It seems they can stray too low, get below the flu, and be lost. It took us some time to identify them, but this year we did. And five more got lost in the fireplace, then a sixth turned up, dead. When we hear or see one we open the fireplace and try to chase it down with a butterfly net and loose it outside, but this year worked out a better way: we close doors to other rooms, open the front door, darken the house, and the bird flies toward the light, out the door. That we hope saves it from suffering freakout, delayed stress syndrome, and all those unswiftly slowdowns. But next year we expect to close off the chimney with mesh, as it is evidently too dangerous for them. Yes, I do feel guilty about the prospect of denying the next generation of swifts their ancestral home.

We're Senior citizens, and about the time this column sees the light of the site I'll have my 70th birthday, so it is perhaps not surprising that we retain some quaint old fogy ways that strain the indulgence of our more with-it children. We still watch broadcast TV, though we have been pondering Satellite for a decade or so and may eventually make up our minds. We still use a land-line telephone, though we do have remote units connected to it so we can receive calls wherever we are, such as in the yard or on the pot. Old fogies spent a lot of time on such pursuits. I once wrote a hilarious story in a monthly Family letter about a conservative friend who thought a person was in the bathroom while receiving his call, judging by the background sounds; actually he was in the kitchen while the family was washing the big dog in a tub, with all the grunting, whomping, woofing, spraying, splashing and spillage on the floor; to this day I'm not sure why my conservative Quaker family letter recipients did not laugh. I was the most liberal family member BP: that is, Before Penny, my Daughter #1 the Doula, feminist, antiwar activist, wearing multiple liberal causes on her sleeve, who finds me too stodgy conservative. Such are the crosses of fogydom. We have been pondering trying a cell phone, because every so often I have to travel, and flights mess up and pay phones don't work for me and I get lost; fogies don't travel well, so a cell phone might make sense. I could call my wife in Florida and say "I'm stranded; can you come pick me up?" "Where are you?" "Hong Kong, I think." Penny has been cellular since the last century but the idea of paying thirty or more dollars a month and paying for all outgoing and incoming calls by the precious minute turns us off. I was born during the Great Depression; I don't like wasting money. As I put it to my daughters when they were pre-school age, in terms they could understand: I wouldn't pay two cents for a one-cent gum-ball. Never mind that today that gum-ball costs a quarter; I still won't buy it. Then I saw a Virgin Mobile ad for a pre-pay as you go cell phone: buy a card that gives you so many minutes, and use those minutes, no other charges. That appeals, but we feared a catch. For one thing, they didn't say how much that Virgin costs per minute. A dime? A dollar? Does she expect commitment? Fogies can be paranoid, being too old to remember what virginity is. So while we were hemming and hawing, Daughter #2 Cheryl the Newspaperwoman saw a sale on a Nokia cell phone, getting it for something like $20 after rebates, bought a $25 AT&T Wireless time card, set it all up with programmed numbers such as ours, both Daughters numbers, and AAA emergency for when we get lost on the highway--all the necessary things fogies don't know how to do for themselves--and gave it to us. Thus suddenly we are in the cell phone scene. We are slowly learning the ropes. It does work, and costs 25˘ a minute, or you can buy a $100 time card and be charged 15˘ a minute. Nothing else. That's getting down into our price range. So we'll see. I like it so far. It's one of the non-fliptop units that I understand has gone out of fashion, so Nokia must be selling them off cheap. That's fine for us; it has indicators showing how good the reception is and how much charge remains on the battery, and when you call, a voice tells you how many minutes remain on your card, so you won't try to talk for an hour and get cut off after three minutes. I appreciate that. But I still don't want to travel.

Speaking of newfangled gimmicks: ever since we upgraded Norton Antivirus at the turn of the year on our Windows 98 system we've been having a willful ornery computer. It wants to go online constantly. Since our normal state is offline, we close the dialog box--and another appears, just as urgent, preventing other normal activity. Close that, another comes. Once there were a hundred in succession before we lost count. Sometimes rebooting clears it for a while. So we tried downloading Spybot. It said yes, there were 4 spywares, and it cleaned them out. But that didn't fix the problem. Well, that system is now 5 years old and we'll replace it when we get up the energy; maybe that will stop the rampaging dialup boxes. Maybe. Meanwhile, as with piranha fish, sometimes it is less vicious and we can use the computer to catch up on letters. My Linux writing computer system is entirely separate, of course; you can see why. As far as I know, hackers have not yet figured out how to take over a computer that is not online, so my deathless prose is halfway safe.

Harlan Ellison sent me a check. He's a well known story writer and liberal columnist, three months my senior, whose natural environment is said to be hot water. If my remarks seem too tame for you, move on to him for the hard stuff. I don't think Fate makes them quite like us anymore. Harlan and I go back to 1966 and I applaud most of his efforts, but I regard him as a loose cannon and keep our friendship nominal rather than personal. When he got enmeshed in the KICK Internet Piracy fight to stop thieves from stealing his stories, I took notice. I have had my own problems with Internet piracy; one site at Yahoo! listed something like 60 of my novels for downloading. I coordinated with DEL REY / RANDOM HOUSE, whose lawyer made a call, and poof! the site was gone. But of course others pop up like poisonous toadstools. (You've heard the joke? How do toadstool cookies taste? Depends on the toad.) You folk who figure piracy is all right as long as the downloads are free--have you considered how you'd like to have your property stolen and given away to others free? How does anyone earn a living if what he does is considered unworthy of recompense? Is it okay to lift stuff from a store and give it to your friends as long as you don't charge them for it? I don't think so. Harlan was getting run broke fighting the good fight, and writer's organizations were not flocking to his aid--I know that route, having gotten blacklisted instead of supported when I protested when a publisher cheated me, decades ago, and I make no secret of my chronic outrage on that score--so I kicked in to the KICK kitty, never expecting to see that money again. It was a matter of principle. Well, Harlan won, getting a settlement, and now he's repaying the money. I'm amazed and gratified, not for the money per se, but for the victory and his attitude. Good job, Harlan.

Roberto Fuentes died July 8, 2004. He was my age, my collaborator on seven books: the time travel science fiction novel Dead Morn and six martial arts novels. I first got in touch with him when a fanzine published his letter criticizing me. I wrote to him, not to protest but because I was intrigued: was he Spanish? I once lived in Spain. No, he replied, he was Cuban, and his letter had had praise of my works too, only the fanzine editor had cut that out. Fan-eds are like that; they have agendas, and make things fit, for good or ill. That species is slowly dying out, being replaced by online sites that can be just as nice or nasty: a new vessel for ancient wine. Which is one reason that I no longer contribute much to other folks' sites; I have my own, where I am uncensored. Oh, you noticed? Our correspondence continued, developing into a friendship. Roberto was once the judo champion of Cuba, and had an encyclopedic knowledge of martial arts. Then Fidel Castro took over Cuba and promptly reneged on many of his pre-power commitments, just like any politician, and instituted a de facto Communist dictatorship. Roberto fought it, becoming a terrorist. Yes, he really did bomb buildings; he said there could be an almost orgasmic joy in seeing the explosion. He also said that it can be a treacherous route: you use certain means, such as bombing, to achieve certain ends, such as recovering the freedom of your country. But sometimes the means become the ends, and you are in it for the bombing. There's a lesson folk dedicated to any cause should take to heart, the possible corruption of motives. I suspect we are seeing it today in Iraq and elsewhere. We got into collaborations because he knew so much about martial arts and terrorism, and I knew how to write. We collaborated on Dead Morn, and later we met. He took me to a dojo, which is a martial arts instruction center, and I got an idea for a judo story. It went on from there. I believe our Jason Striker series was generally considered to be the best of a number of such series, because it was well written and accurate in detail, though the protagonist got into pretty fantastic sexual and supernatural exploits. It's now out of print, but you can find it at my site at Xlibris.com where I self re-published it together with some new material. We wanted to do the story of his fabulous life, Bio of a Terrorist, but traditional publishers weren't interested in terrorism thirty years ago. We tried to warn the world of what the world now knows, that terrorism is the ugly wave of the future, from the mouth of a former terrorist. Anyway, the editor said the martial arts series was doing well and he wanted more, so we were writing the sixth novel. Then a hostile editor took over and immediately shut it down, saying it wasn't selling well. Uh-huh. Roberto had been in New Jersey; after that happened he went to Florida, became I believe an insurance salesman, did very well, but the stress got to him and he got into cocaine. He knew better, as it is a subject addressed in the series, but it happened. He was sent to prison for five years. And the editor who had axed the series on a grudge later wondered why I wasn't interested in making up. That would be complicated to explain to that type. Roberto's later life was quieter as his health declined and finally ended. Damn.

I have a correspondent a decade older than I who doesn't go online. Acting on my advice, he published his novel at Xlibris. Now I understand the average book there sells 150 copies, but that's because the author solicits family and friends, whipping up a bunch of sales. What happens if you don't do that? Robert Woods found out: he got zero sales. Nobody knows of his book. I had read part of his novel, which as I recall perhaps imperfectly was about a family with a telepathic collie dog and it was okay. Last month I learned he was going into the hospital, and has a number of age-related problems, so wasn't certain of the outcome. Which made me ponder: is he likely to pass from this world with nobody else reading the novel he put so much effort into? That bothers me; I trust I don't need to explain why. So I mention it here: it is Adventures of Scott Nolan by Robert Woods, trade paperback $19.54. If anyone buys it, reads it, and has a comment, let me know and I'll relay the comment here.

As I fairly frequently mention, I do duffer archery for exercise, along with dumbbells, jogging, and biking. Right side I can generally hit the target at 150 feet, but left side I tend to miss it as often as I hit it. The arrows were flinging randomly right and left, not going where I aimed them. So I tried with yet another arrow-rest. This one is the Whisker Biscuit, consisting of a ring with multiple fibers pointing inward to form an arrow-shaft sized hole. This couldn't distort the arrow flight, I reasoned. Okay, it took forever to zero it in; the rule seems to be that if you miss them all to the right, adjust it one smidgeon and then miss them all to the left. There seems to be no in-between measure. But now I have it about right, and my left side is becoming remotely parallel to my right side, in a lesser way. As I edited this column on Sunday my archery score was 6-3 right side, 2-4 left side. So maybe my problem is solved. Maybe.

I think I have fans in obscure places. I continue to watch episodes of "Family Guy" from the DVD set Daughter #2 gave me. In this period I saw an episode "Death is a Bitch" wherein there was a confusion, the Guy was listed as dying, and Death came to collect him. He tried to explain it was an error, but Death was chasing him. Then Death strained his ankle and had to recover at their house. So Guy had to go out and do a mission for Death. Why do I suspect the author of that episode read On a Pale Horse? There was an incidental scene, wherein someone ran over a pedestrian who looked vaguely familiar. "Are you Stephen King?" "No--Dean Koontz." So they ran over him again. Hm; was it a critic who wrote that scene?

I have commented on looking for a song I heard once upon a time, about a worker named Manuel, who loved the lady of the house but knew it was futile. Well a reader from Thailand, Somchai Chantananad, ran it down for me and sent me CD ROMs with the song on it: San Miguel, sung by Lonnie Donegan, circa 1955-1967. I never heard of Lonnie Donegan, but obviously I had heard the song thirty years ago.

I suffered a Senior Moment last time and typed Patty Page when it was Betty Page. Patty is a singer; Betty is a pinup girl whose doll figure I have kicking up her heel by my desk, gift of JoAnne Taeusch. I clarified before that it was the doll showing her lifted leg, not JoAnne. Nevertheless several folk got all fussed up and emailed JoAnne about the reference. I can't think why she should get her panties in a pinch over it; I'm sure they're as nice as the doll's.

We get weather on occasion, surprising as that may seem. We had a storm that dropped some hailstones on our drive, for the second time since we moved here in 1988. It also seems to have torn off the top thirty feet of a tree in our back yard. The top half is now on the ground, while the bottom half still stands. It looks as if a giant hand caught hold and twisted it off, literally. So I wonder: did we have a tornado? In Florida they generally don't get as big and fierce as they do out west, as with rattlesnakes, but they can still fling a car around or rip apart a tree. I don't see what else could have done it.

My wife and I had our 48th anniversary without event, June 23. It made me ponder what makes an enduring marriage. I conclude it's a bit like publishing a novel. You need to write well, and persevere, and have a significant dollop of luck. I don't believe that every marriage that fails is a mistake. When we married I was 21, she 19. We are two different people today, 69 and 67, with different resources. We were young, now we are old; we were poor; now wealthy; unsettled, now secure. The luck is to grow in such a way that the changes remain compatible. Some grow apart and can no longer make it together; they may have been perfect for each other when they married, but not when they are 40 or 60. They lose their youthful sex appeal, of course, and if that's all that they had in common, it's likely doom for the union. Some get success, fame, or money, and that breaks them up as they develop resources to pursue their own wills more competently. I am pleased that the significant changes that occurred with us did not change our marriage. I like to say we handle our money the old fashioned way: I earn it, she spends it. But in reality it is hardly that simple; we consult on anything significant. In fact we are in constant communication, which is surely one of the secrets. I am the public figure, but it really is true that I could not have made it without her support. Few fans know how thoroughly my wife is involved in my career, because she prefers relative anonymity. That's why she is seldom mentioned here. And yes, when that song "You are the wind beneath my wings" plays, I do think of her.

I did a phone interview with Kelli Ballard of KEEP IT COMING, a publisher listed in the Survey. One thing I said that drew a listener response was that publishers neither know nor care what readers want. I realize that seems like an ignorant slam by a disaffected writer. Well, it's a slam, but not ignorant. Publishers today are generally searching for the next best-selling book, and they literally don't care what's in it. If a former president played sex games with an intern, they know that will sell many copies and they want his book, and it does sell and make money. The average man likes to read and dream what he could do with a cigar and a willing woman. A truly educational book on the philosophy of a failed marriage will not sell many copies and they don't want it. Publishers aren't against quality; they are for sales, and if a quality book can sell copies, okay. So it really is true that they want the million copy selling junk rather than the ten copy selling quality piece. They also want the million copy quality book, and not the ten copy junk book. Quality is irrelevant; sales govern their desire. Also, they want to publish fewer books and sell more copies, saving editing and production costs. So ideally each publisher would put out a single book in a year, and it would sell forty million copies. But is that what the readers want? Hardly. They may buy that single book because there is nothing else in the store, but they'd rather have a broad panoply to choose from. If there were a hundred thousand books selling a total of fifty million copies they would be happier. But the publishers wouldn't be, because that's 500 copies per book, and they'd take losses. So given a choice between one book selling 40 million, and 100,000 books selling 50 million, they'll take the former even though it shrinks the total market. It's a business decision. So I repeat: publishers don't know or care what the readers want. It's not malice or even ignorance; it's the bottom line. I would rather see the arts--writing is one of the arts--be in other hands than the purely commercial corporations. But I don't run the world, so I make it in the world that exists. I don't believe that makes me a hypocrite so much as a realist. I am that rare species, a disaffected successful writer. I write what sells, but I also white what doesn't, and not because I don't know the difference.

Here are examples of each: I completed and edited Under a Velvet Cloak, the 8th Incarnations of Immortality novel featuring Nox, Incarnation of Night, 108,000 words, and sent it out to two readers for comment. I have valuable feedback from one and am waiting on the other. I expect the novel to sell in due course and do well. I also edited last year's project, Alfred, the 100,000 word biography of my father. That's noncommercial, and I doubt that many readers would be interested other than completists who want to see where I came from. At this point I expect to self publish it at Xlibris, not looking for a regular publisher, unless my agent objects. It represents in its fashion a study of the Asperger's syndrome, which does seem to fit. As I mention on occasion, I am alert for signals of that syndrome in myself, and do have some aspects, but I think not enough to make a diagnosis. As they say, approximately, if you are mentally messed up and poor, you're crazy, but if you are mentally messed up and wealthy, you are merely neurotic. I'm in between.

Ronald Reagan died. I could say a lot about the illusion the Republicans have made of him; in fact two years into his presidency he was one of the least popular presidents extant. Then the Fed started pumping money into the system, inflating it, and business boomed, the stock market rose, and Reagan got popular though his monetary policy tripled our national debt and his administration was marked by scandal. 138 of his officials were investigated for misconduct, indicted, or convicted by the end of his term. Still, let me give one example where I agreed with his policies, just so you know I'm not locked in: when the Air Controllers went on strike, they did so in violation of the law, their signed oaths, and the public interest. They thought they had leverage, and to hell with how the airplanes got out of the sky. Something had to be done. Reagan did it: he begged them to end the strike, he extended the time limit, and when they still balked, he fired them. I regard that as a necessary thing. There's more, much more, mostly negative, but I'll confine this to our personal experience. When Reagan ran for the Republican nomination in 1975 he visited St. Petersburg, Florida, and the route of his caravan took him past our house in Gulfport. Daughter #1 Penny, then 8 years old, waved to him--and he waved back. I do appreciate that curtesy.

Assorted TV: I don't pay a lot of attention, but do notice items. 60 Minutes had a devastating expose on the Patriot missile, only ten per cent effective against enemy planes, and it also shoots down our own planes by mistake. Is that like the Patriot Act, that seems more dangerous to the American Constitution than to any external threat? In an episode of Cold Case was a flashback to ballroom dancing girls. Wow--those slender shapely creatures are exactly my taste in eye candy, even though I know that today their figures owe more to surgery and technology than to nature. I'd like to see a woman wearing a T-shirt saying YES--THEY ARE IMPLANTS; male eyes would still be on her, and she'd gain a point for honesty. Men (I am one, so I know) don't much care what's under the skin as long as the outline is appealing. A movie on TV was The Cider House Rules, much better than I expected, starting slow but getting there. The point was that the posted rules bore no relation to reality, just as the established social rules didn't; that was the lesson the protagonist had to learn. I also watched a video, Girl, Interrupted, that was better than anticipated. I once worked in a mental hospital, so have a notion how things are, and this was realistic for a high-class hospital.

I tackled a chore that had been building for years: cleaning out old magazines. I didn't like to throw away wonderful magazines like NEW SCIENTIST, DISCOVER, and many beautiful nature magazines, but they were piling up too deep. So I went through them systematically, tearing out articles I wanted to save, and boxing the remainder to help form a barrier for my stray arrows when I practice archery. The worst was NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, glued and solidly stapled so that tearing an issue apart was a struggle. What pain to destroy such well made and beautiful magazines! But I did get the job done, and there is now more room in the house. In the process, I uncovered a couple of old catalogs. One had books and videos for defending oneself against a knife attack or rape, so I ordered them. The other had a large-wheel adult scooter, so I ordered that; it should arrive by my next column. So my cleanup chore yielded some serendipitous benefits.

Let me focus for a moment on the rape videos. Yes, I'm an old man, so am not much at risk for that as either perpetrator or victim. But I hear constantly from young women, and they are at risk. So I want to know how they can defend themselves if they have to. Here is how, in the down and dirty when the situation is way beyond politeness. The tapes are narrated by and demonstrated by Melissa Soalt, aka Dr. Ruthless, and she does a good job. If you (a woman) are attacked when on your feet, scream, strike with your hands, kick, and get rapidly away from there. If he grabs you and you are facing him, jam the heel of your hand into his chin or your fingers into his eyes. It's not a time for niceness; you need to make him let go so you can flee. If he grabs you from behind, kick back, or, in a nice move, swing your hips to one side and strike back at his groin with your hand. Spin out of his remaining grasp and get out of there. If you are caught on the ground, pinned down, it is more difficult, but there are ways. If you are on your back, get one knee up, plant your foot on the ground, and this braced, heave your hip up to roll him off you. Then kick; the video demonstrates several effective kicks performed while lying on the ground including "The Ax," which can be lethal. If his torso is pinning your head, bite. If you are on your stomach, draw up a knee and brace to get your hip up to lever him off. If he is holding your hands above your head, slide one hand up over your head on the ground, the other down toward your neck, unbalancing him as he holds on, and twist your body around to get out from under. The tapes show the techniques; they remind me of judo matwork and look effective, but of course you need to practice to get them right. If you are securely pinned and can't get loose, don't fight; you can't match his strength, so should seem submissive, making him think he has cowed you. Relax while coiling internally, waiting your opportunity to fight. If he is intent on rape, he will have to let go of one of your hands in order to open his trousers; when your hand is free, strike, scratch, gouge his face. If he gets you on and hands and knees, to have access to your bare bottom, which of course is his objective, there are some effective kicks that can be engineered from that position as he gears for the key action. There is bound to be a vulnerable target near; that's the nature of rape, after all. So bide your time, then attack explosively, such as when he's pulling down your pants, his hands occupied, his face near your feet. You don't have to get raped if you are ready to fight and know what you are doing. His arms may be stronger than yours, but your legs are as strong as anything he has, and can really hurt his face or crotch. At the end they have an outtake: she's in a car, the man comes up. "Open the fucking door!" She scoots across the seats to the far door to escape, then cries "Oh shit! It's locked!" and they both burst into laughter. The emphasis throughout is on getting away; don't try to be heroic, lest you get screwed. So I do recommend this video; it could save some woman's life or well-being. This summary description is no substitute for seeing it in action. I ordered it from DELTA PRESS Ltd.; you can find them at www.deltapress.com, $59.95 plus shipping. Of course I still recommend the impact kerambit I have discussed here before, to strike and escape.

We saw movies. Chronicles of Riddick is a sequel to Pitch Black, but rather different in type, being more of a strong man tackles the odds science fantasy adventure. Not great, but my kind of junk. Harry Potter 3 is better, a nice straight fantasy adventure including a spot of time travel nicely integrated. Spiderman 2 is great; I really like the romantic resolution too, which seems both realistic and satisfying. Then there's Fahrenheit 9-11, which is an attack on the Bush administration and partisan in that respect; it overstates the case, but it does have a case and is devastating. Critics say it has misstatements, but my impression is that those are quibbles and that the major thrust is on target. I suspect that Republicans will simply try to pretend it doesn't exist, so they don't have to face unpleasant truths. I do have one spot defense of W Bush; while I regard him as the kid in charge of the candy store, gobbling up all the stock with his friends with no thought of the morrow, the charge that he looked like a deer caught in headlights when he learned of the 9/11 attack seems unfair. He was participating in a grade school reading; what was he supposed to do, jump up screaming "The world is ending!" and freak out the children? It was more sensible to carry on without spreading alarm, until more was known. That's what he did. The Bourne Supremacy--fast action movie not as satisfying as the first one, in part because they kill off his girlfriend early and don't replace her. I wanted to see Catwoman, but it didn't turn on my wife and daughter in quite the same way for some reason, and indications are that there's not much there apart from Halle Berry's tight fitting costume, so I'll catch it in video later. One wag says that much of the hundred million dollar budget was spent squeezing her into a smaller outfit. Well, that does turn me on.

And, in this interregnum between the writing of my own books, I read a number of others. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, published fifty years ago, now reissued. It's a mystery about British history: who killed the fabled princes in the tower? It makes a case that the wrong person was blamed. This one appealed to my intellectual taste, and there's real insight there.

The Fabric of the Cosmos, by Brian Greene. This was perhaps the most significant nature-of-the-universe book I've read in years. I can't cover 500 dense pages competently here (but a recent DISCOVER magazine is devoted to Einstein and has quite a bit on Relativity, so check that for a briefer presentation), so will merely remark on thin slices, simplifying ludicrously. For years I have wondered about the Big Bang: theoretically the universe started as a point source, and explosively expanded to its present size, and is still expanding. My mental picture was of a dynamite blast: in a moment everything is blown apart and there's nothing left in the center. So is our universe a gigantic shell, thin inside and outside? And what of this residual radiation they are analyzing, to get a picture of the early universe? Shouldn't that radiation have long since escaped at light speed, leaving no trace? So it didn't make a lot of sense to me. This book answers such questions. The explosion is not like dynamite; it's an expansion of the whole, like magnifying the image on your computer screen from 1 point print to 50 point print. The whole thing expands in proportion. So what was a compact universe becomes a diffuse universe--with the same proportions. And the radiation is still here because there's nowhere else for it to go. Like a trip around the world, it can only retrace similar territory. The universe has no end, no edge; you would merely loop it and return to your starting point, thinking you were going straight. Okay, a popular question I've heard is that if you doubled the size of everything in the universe, would there be any noticeable difference? Many folk figure there wouldn't be, because the world would be twice as big but so would the people. My father thought that, and had difficulty understanding why I thought otherwise. Here's the thing: if you doubled the diameter of the world, it would multiply its mass by eight, and all those giant people would be crushed by overwhelming gravity. Light would take twice as long to reach the earth from the sun, which would also be much bigger and hotter; Earth's orbit and climate would be seriously affected. And so on; everything would change drastically. The main reason you wouldn't notice the difference is that you'd be instantly dead. Well, the inflation theory of the universe has that happening, in a manner; it did way more than double in size. But with a difference: the size of space doubled (let's focus on that figure for the moment) but the mass in that space did not. So our galaxy clings to its original size and shape, roughly, but is now twice as far away from most other galaxies, and eventually won't be able to see them at all as the expansion continues. And with the expansion came cooling; that's part of why the hot original energy coalesced into matter, forming dust clouds, stars, planets and whatnot. So yes it makes a difference; we wouldn't be here if it didn't. So what about Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and all the other fascinating stuff we can't see or feel but figure is there because its gravity affects us? This book tackles that too, and makes some sense of it. Dark Matter seems likely to be billions of particles zipping through our bodies every second without being felt, in what is termed a weak interaction. Think of your grandpa's gold tooth and that F you made on your physics term paper; there may be a connection between the two, but it's a weak one. A weak interaction. But the gravity of those billions of particles adds up, amounting to more than the gravity of all the matter we can directly fathom in the universe. Another question I have had is about the Higgs boson, that supposedly carries mass to objects. It seems ludicrous to me that the watch on my wrist doesn't have mass unless Higgs carries mass to it. I once teased Jenny in a letter: maybe it was time for her to give the scientists that Higgs boson she kept hidden under her pillow. This book clarifies that: Higgs, like light, is not exactly a particle or a force; it's more like the inheritor of the original aether that supposedly permeated space, that Einstein's Relativity rendered unnecessary. Higgs is like an ocean surrounding and permeating everything, and it tends to stabilize things. If a planet is in a spot, Higgs keeps it there; if an object is moving, Higgs tries to keep it moving. Inertia. But if an object tries to change its velocity or direction, Higgs resists. Think of swimming: you can float in place, you can slide through the water, but you feel its resistance; you can't dodge around in it without expending a lot of energy. The water is passive, but it affects you. Thus mass is the extent to which something is dragged by Higgs. It's not little particles carrying shipments of mass so much as a pervasive field that makes its resistance felt only when you try to change course. I repeat: inertia. Aether under a new name. I'm glad to see it; I always liked aether. What of the big dustup between Einstein and the proponents of quantum physics? It does seem that Einstein lost that one; the weirdities of Quantum are being documented by experiment. What of String Theory that may unify relativity and quantum? This book begins to make some sense of it. Think of a tiny vibrating string as the basic unit of matter, its rate of vibration determining its qualities, billions of them building into the things we know on the macrocosmic scale. I have a crude analogy for the difference between the microscopic and macroscopic scales: flip a coin, and you can't be sure whether it will be heads or tails; it's random. But flip a million coins, and it stops being random; half will be heads, half tails. Thus scale does change the nature of the effect. What of the ten or eleven dimensions string theory requires, some of them curled up so as to be out of the way? Then what is the point? That nonsense begins to emerge as likely reality. The book has a nice analogy: say a man is walking a tightrope. That rope is like one dimension. But if you look closely at it, you'll see that it really is round in cross section; a microscopic ant could make a right angle turn and go around it, returning to its starting point. That's a curled up dimension. The tightrope walker may not be aware of that, and not care, but it's there and necessary. Thus the tiny hidden extra dimensions that make the reality we know possible. What of this business of the mere looking at something fixing it in place, another ridiculous claim? Or not being able to measure position and velocity at the some time? Crazy! Again, it may really be so. I have a another crude spot analogy of my own: flip a coin. Is it head or tails? Say you can't wait until it bounces on the floor and rolls under the furniture; you want to know now. Well, you can use a flash camera to catch it in mid air, and the moment of that flash picture fixes it in place as it is at that instant and you have your answer. But that doesn't measure the velocity of the spin, because you stopped it moving. If you want to measure the velocity, you can't measure heads or tails, because it isn't fixed until that coin stops moving. Thus the paradox: you can't have both, because that's not the nature of the beast. I have simple minded analogies for a number of difficult concepts, but you really ought to go to someone who knows something, and that's Brian Greene. So I recommend this book for those who want their mind stretched; it makes sense of what I have trouble clarifying. If you have the mind for it.

Eats Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss is another good book for those not locked into pure entertainment. It's about punctuation, but it makes it interesting. It comments on how until very recently typists were taught to leave two or even three spaces after a full stop--that is, a period, the dot ending a sentence--but now word processing programs automatically reduce the gap to one space. Yes, but publishers are the last to make advances in such things, so I still use the two space format as I have to deal with them. Electronic publishers that insist on one space may be forcing writers to put their manuscripts into a format traditional publishers won't accept. That could be costly, because the big money still is with tradition. It makes an analogy of punctuation with good manners: to invisibly ease the way for others without drawing attention to themselves. Amen; I believe it was novelist Vardis Fisher who remarked that all the writers noted for their style had bad style, almost by definition. I wish critics of my style would realize that it is supposed to be invisible, and that there is a reason readers find my writing easy to follow, and that reason is not bad writing. (But of course critics are hopeless cases, again almost by definition. If they really knew how to write good novels, they'd be doing it, instead of poking into the steaming guts of other writers' novels like ancient priests doing divinations.) It shows how lack of the possessive apostrophe can mess up the meaning: "Dicks in tray." And the female author credits Aldus Manutius (1450-1515) with inventing the italic typeface and key punctuation marks: "I am now absolutely kicking myself that I never volunteered to have his babies." In sum, if you want to brush up on punctuation without strain and be entertained along the way, this is the book. It's a easy read.

Paul the Pillow Monster by Brian Clopper--This is a children's book about a monster who is assigned to haunt a child's pillow, a low-grade placement he resents. But it quickly gets into adventure in a magical land with dangers aplenty and is a fun read regardless of age. It's good to have other writers taking up the cause of monsters; monsters are people too, you know.

Absolute Values, by Andrew R. Menard is a first novel, surprisingly competent. It is hard-science alien contact, featuring a very smart but socially awkward fifteen year old girl who plays with an advanced computer she doesn't understand as well as she thinks, and accidentally transports herself to an alternate Earth where human beings don't exist, but another kind of sapient creature does. When I say hard science, perhaps it will help if I mention that my prior reading of The Fabric of the Cosmos stood me in good stead; the author is obviously conversant with modern cosmology, and has his own take on it. (i. e. the smallest unit of matter may not be the vibrating string, but a tiny process.) The girl, Anaba, is well drawn, and the aliens (to us; it is actually their realm) and their culture are very well realized. If you think original notions aren't being written any more, try this one and be satisfied that they exist, but traditional publishers aren't interested. I think this one deserves recognition as one of the best first novels of the genre. I would fault it only for an inconclusive ending, but I suspect there is more to come.

Against All Enemies by Richard A. Clarke. This is the expose of the Bush administration's determined bungling of international relations, putting America in unnecessary jeopardy. I saw a political cartoon showing an airplane labeled as this book crashed into the White House, and from the latter came a voice saying "See if we can blame this on Iraq." The author was there, in the intelligence community. He tried to get both the Clinton and Bush administrations to take al Qaeda seriously, but the first was only moderately interested, and the second not interested at all--until 9/11. Then Clarke realized with almost physical pain that the Bush crowd was going to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq. They had been pushing for that from the outset. He doesn't mince words. "The decision to invade Iraq, largely unilaterally, in 2003 was both mistaken and costly. The costs were in lives, in money, but even more important, in opportunities lost, and in future problems created or aggravated." Naturally the Bush administration, rather than clean up its act, mounted an attack on Clarke. Just like kids hurling hard candies at anyone who tries to suggest that they should take better care of the store.

I get feedback from readers. About 99% is positive, so it's the negative ones I notice. Often I get valuable leads for the survey and the column. Here is a mixed sampling: "I have been a fan of Mr. Anthony for many a long year now, and collected most of his works. ... How then could such a gifted writer compose the atrocity that is Firefly? ... You are a sick and perverted individual who should seek therapy for underlying psychological illness. No normal man could have come up with the scenes you have described without at least some first hand experience and to think that you have daughters?? MY GOD!!" So I have lost a reader, who assumes that a writer must practice whatever he writes about. Murder mystery writers beware. Another tells me of www.PublicPeopleFinder.com that helped him locate his long-lost daughter. Fortunately my daughters aren't lost. Another does a parody of "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts": "The hole is greater than the sum of its farts." Oops, I may have just lost another reader, who thinks I stink. Another read three Xanth novels and concluded I was his kind of man. Then he read my last column, and was alienated because I object to the way CEOs make millions while their employees lose out. He lectured me about all the taxes the government takes, concluding that my ideas are dangerous to the survival of mankind. "Shame," he concludes, and he won't buy any more of my books unless they are used, so that I won't get any royalties. He describes himself as a radical independent and demands who is fooling whom? "It was cute of you to put your most vile ideas further down in the newsletter and keep the least damning ones at the top. ...Tricky. Very tricky. But I'm wise to you now." Well now; what has tax policy, which I did not comment on, have to do with the way some CEOs rip off their companies, employees, and the nation (think Enron)? I recognized his tax discussion as a set piece I first heard decades ago from the radio news commentator Paul Harvey: essentially, taxation = mugging. Eventually I gave up on Harvey, though I admired his use of the language, when he became too blatantly partisan. The point is, this was not individual original thinking but a canned conservative lecture. Actually I am socially liberal, fiscally conservative, a registered independent (since 1959), and a flat-tax advocate, which is a whole other subject; I don't take guff like this from pseudo independents lying down. I am not against a person making money, but against him doing it dishonestly or by cheating others or jimmying the system, as is the case when a CEO makes more and more while running his company into the ground. He sure as hell isn't doing it on merit, and doesn't deserve millions simply because he can safely raid the till. I'd prefer to see a ratio, like 10 to 1, CEO to lowest paid company worker, so that if the CEO makes a million, the worker makes $100,000. At present that ratio is more like 400 to 1 and rising, which is obscene. Here is my response to this reader, self explanatory, mirroring his expressions: "I am my own CEO. I make my living from royalties on copies of my books sold. I am good at commercial writing, so get good royalties. The government takes about 40% of that money when I earn it, and doesn't understand why I object to its taking another 55% of the remainder when I die. You, evidently of a different philosophy, seek to deny me even those royalties. Who is fooling whom? More specifically, you read my column, saw my condemnation of CEOs enriching themselves at the expense of their productive element--the workers--attributed to me a philosophy I do not have, and condemned me for that. For shame. Next time try to read more carefully; cookie-cutter thinking does not become you. It is neither radical nor independent." Naturally I didn't hear from him again. Meanwhile, when I get proxies from the several companies whose stock I own, I fill out the ballots voting for a limit. Such reforms often come up as shareholder initiatives, and are always opposed by the executive boards, who want no limit on their greed. I hope I am part of a growing wave of reform that will eventually put some decent limits on executive pay and link it to actual performance and a set ratio, as mentioned above.

A reader sent a collection of elderly jokes. In one, a friend sees a suppository in Mabel's left ear. Mabel replied "Ethel I'm glad you saw this thing. Now I think I know where my hearing aid is." Ah, the joys of fogyhood! Another forwarded a paper titled "Pertaining to Same Sex Marriage." It suggests that the US has moved from Judeo/Christianity towards Nihilism, which is the belief in nothing at all, and thus is reducing the human species' ability to survive. It mentions the trends of abortion, divorce, homosexuality, and feminism, evidently disgusted with them. It feels that Natural Selection should be applied morally as well as physically, without mentioning how modern medicine saves the ill and injured that natural selection would otherwise destroy. In short it seems to be a diatribe. Is there a purpose to the promotion of such attitudes aside from bigotry? Yes; politicians prefer to tie up congress debating same-sex marriage to divert the public eye from the real problems of the day, such as the disaster of a wrongheaded war. They hope you'll cast your ballot for the one who promises to crack down on gays, instead of the one who objects to sending American soldiers to unnecessary death. And a warning: don't ever dial area code 809, 284, or 876. You may receive a message on your answering machine saying a family member is ill or has been arrested, or you have won a prize, and to call the 809 number. If you do, you may be charged $2425 per minute. This is legal because the 809 area code is located in the British Virgin Islands and is not covered by US regulations.

Another reader sent a link for www.johnkerryisadouchebagbutimvotingforhimanyway.com. It's a series of essays advocating voting for Kerry this fall. Another sent a link to the Online Review of Books, www.onlinereviewofbooks.com, with an essay titled "Loyalty, Lies and Lots of Loot Link 'Badfellas' of Bush Administration." It asks whether you have ever heard any high-profile born-again Christians like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson lambaste corporate America for exploiting the poor or soaking the middle class? Or vilify CEOs like Ken Lay for bilking their employees out of their life savings? "Somehow, the born-again crowd only believes it's a sin if it has to do with personal issues, like abortion or homosexuality. If money is involved, especially corporate money, they suddenly make like a statue." Am I losing more readers for quoting that? Well, I'll keep trying.

Some readers ask me for advice. I have opninionations on many things but don't pretend to be expert in many. I do, however, know something about writing. I remember when I was coming up, and it seemed that the mechanisms of writing and submitting fiction were a big secret; even a query about them risked bringing a reproof because you weren't supposed to have to ask. Sort of like a Rolls Royce: if you have to ask the price, you can't afford the car. This annoyed me, so I don't give that kind of response to querents. If someone is just starting out and has no idea what comes first, and asks, I don't lecture, I answer. Sometimes this amounts to a spot beginner's course on writing. So be it; I thought that some of my correspondence with one girl might be of interest more generally, so here are excerpts.

Q: How many pages should a book be? What is the minimum?
A: A book can be any length, but generally the publishing range is 40,000 to 120,000 words, with 75,000 being a convenient compromise. That is, 160 to 500 manuscript pages. Quality counts more than length, however.

Q: What is a query? What publishers can I try? How do you tell how long a story is?
A: A query is a letter asking a publisher whether is would like to see your manuscript, for consideration for publication. It should contain a brief description of the book such as 'This is an 80,000 word fantasy novel about a girl who gets accidentally turned into a mermaid and isn't happy.' Check my list of electronic publishers at hipiers.com, and click the links for any that interest you. You'll find a wealth of information that should help you proceed. When you type a regular page of text, it should have lines 60 to 65 characters long, including spaces, and be in Courier, font size 12. That gives you 10 words per line. Double spaced (as print publishers demand) it should be about 25 lines, making 250 words to a page. Ignore partial lines; they count as full lines. So ten pages would be 2,500 words. [Note for this column: this information may seem too elementary to repeat, but I have encountered even editors who didn't know it. And of course electronic publishers can have different formats, so you have to check their requirements at their sites.]

Q: Can you give me an example what a query letter would look like? And do you send it to many publishers or only wait to hear a response from one publisher?
A: Traditional publishers prefer one publisher at a time, but you don't have to be bound by that. A query letter might be like this:

Dear Publisher (editor's name if you have it):

     I am the author of Sojourn in Hell, a book about my mother's cooking. It is 75,000 words long and intended as humor. Please let me know whether you would like to see chapter and summary, or the full manuscript.

     If I do not hear from you within a month, I will assume you are not interested, and will query elsewhere.

(your name and address)
[Another column note: that last sentence in the query letter is to prevent the publisher from sitting on your query indefinitely, thus tying up your promising manuscript for months or years with no commitment on the publisher's part. You have to set a limit, or you will be mercilessly exploited. Get this through your innocent noggin: publishers are corporations. They have no heart.]

A newspaper column by Nicholas D. Kristof tells of a horrendous incident: a US soldier was asked to pretend to be a prisoner in Guantanamo in a training drill. So he put on an orange prison jump suit over his uniform and crawled under a prison bunk so the authorities could practice extracting an uncooperative inmate. Well, they treated him so roughly that he wound up in the hospital, was given a medical discharge, and began suffering seizures. And a military investigation concluded that no misconduct was involved, but it can't find the videotape made of the proceedings. Uh-huh. So if that's how an American soldier is treated, how do you think foreigners are treated? Abu Ghraib should be no surprise. Indeed, Molly Ivins shows that Abu Ghraib is not an isolated instance; torture in several prisons has resulted in 25 deaths now under investigation. Official American objection to human rights abuses is likely to become laughable; it is coming clear that torture has been fostered by this administration from the top down. In fact those in power at the moment seem to have a subtle but abiding hostility to the American Constitution, trying to amend the notorious Patriot Act to further curtail our constitutional rights. Arrests with no charges, no access to defense lawyers, no accountability for treatment of prisoners, though some die of the interrogation? The thing about torture is that it continues until the subject confesses; if he is innocent he may be tortured to death, seeking that false confession. This is appallingly unAmerican. So we think the Geneva Convention is passé? Guess how American prisoners will be treated hereafter by other nations.

When I was cleaning up old magazines I came across my Year 2000 subscription to Louis Rukeyser's Wall Street. I had seen him on TV and been favorably impressed; he seemed like my kind of curmudgeon. Remember, this was just before the great dot com bust that still hasn't recovered. The issues are filled with assurances that everything is going well, don't sell your stocks, the recovery is incipient. So he was in fact more like a mouthpiece for the establishment than a truth teller. I let it drop.

Article in WORLD WATCH says that meat eating is becoming a problem for everyone on the planet, because of deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease. Because of the number of grazing cows. Fortunately I'm a vegetarian, so I don't contribute to that. As I see it, in time vegetarianism will conquer the world, because when it comes to mass starvation with meat, or food for all without it, the majority will choose to survive. Today 70% of the grain the US grows is fed to livestock. It takes 3.3 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce one calorie of protein from grain for human consumption, and 28 calories to produce 1 calorie of meat for the same purpose. A person on a vegan diet requires 300 gallons of water a day, but 4,200 gallons all told by the time it is run through the cows. You may save more water by not eating a pound of beef than by not showering for six months. Okay, meat-eaters typically are unmoved by such statistics; they like the taste and that's it. Too bad about the planet, but taste comes first. But here's the thing: there are substitutes that taste the same as meat, and the nutrition can be made equivalent. So where's their excuse? Albert Einstein said "Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." So maybe you think World Watch is just a bunch of tree huggers; you're mistaken, though I'm proud to be a tree hugger (I live on my own tree farm). Vegetarianism makes sense in terms of human survival. Do you really want to promote the continued massive slaughter of animals when it is plainly unnecessary and globally harmful?

NEW SCIENTIST has an article by Nicholas Negroponte of MIT on technology trends: why haven't computer systems become a lot cheaper and easier to use? He says it is "featuritis": you get ten different ways to do the same thing, few of them intuitive. "The result is obese software that consumes all the benefits (and more) of the speed and memory improvements of the hardware." And "The short-term solution to bloated systems is good design combined with a diet: cutting down on options and features." Well, Microsoft obviously isn't listening, but there's hope for Linux.

When cleaning up magazines I uncovered a star chart dingus I got a decade back: rotate the chart, orient it on date and time, and it shows the stars you can see at which hour of the night. Okay, I was curious about a giant bow I saw to the northeast at 5:30 AM: what constellation was that? I had trouble matching chart to sky--I mentioned old fogy incompetence?--because it seemed to be backwards. Finally I realized that the chart is of the sky as seen from below; when I laid it on the desk I had it upside down. Then I started connecting. What I saw was parts of the Great Square of the constellations Pegasus (the winged horse), and Andromeda (the chained maiden--yes I refer to her in my novel Chaining the Lady, presently out of print); fainter stars were washed out, so what remained resembled a bow formed of four bright stars. It's nice to get it straight.

Song on the radio as I typed this column: "While the wheel is turning, turning, turning..." I remember when I was in high school, and my roommate was a bird watcher, who got me started in that pursuit. I parodied the song as "While the tern is wheeling, wheeling, wheeling..." I fear he didn't find it funny. Nobody found me funny until I got into Xanth. Except the critics, who were laughing not with me but at me.

Newspaper item about foreign lotteries: are they legitimate? No; they are illegal, and dangerous rip-offs. Another about the locks of Scotland, in this case the Falkirk Wheel, a huge rotating device that lifts boats 85 feet to the higher level. It may not sound like much, but the pictures show it as a giant futuristic structure I'd love to see if I'm ever in Scotland. Item on FCAT, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, the bane of students. A student asked the governor to name the angles on a 3-4-5 triangle. That daunted him; he guessed 125, 90, and whatever remains in 180. (That would be -35. Interesting angle.) She said no, it was 30, 60 and 90. I had a problem with it too, concluding that there were fractional figures. As it turned out, both governor and girl were wrong; it's 90, 53.13 and 36.87 rounded off degrees. So is this really one of the FCAT questions? No one knows, because those are kept secret. I think I can see why.

Another consequence of getting old is that you have to take Social Security. I postponed it when I was 65 as I was still working. I'm still working at nigh-70, but they won't let me put it off any more. So here is a condensed version of a letter they sent me, minus the figures: "We changed your monthly benefit to $$$ beginning January 2003 because you earned credit for working. Your monthly benefit is $$$ for January 2003 through November 2003. We cannot pay you monthly benefits for those months. We raised your monthly benefit to $$$ beginning December 2003 because the cost of living has increased. Your monthly benefit is $$$ for December 2003. We cannot pay you monthly benefits for this month. We changed your monthly benefit to $$$ beginning January 2004 because you earned credit for working. Your monthly benefit is $$$ for January 2004 through July 2004. We cannot pay you monthly benefits for these months. Based on the information we have, we can pay benefits beginning August 2004. We changed your monthly benefit to $$$ beginning August 2004 because you continue to earn credit for working." Got it straight now?

In a prior column I mentioned Caring for God's Laptop by Rakesh Biswas. Now you can read it free at www.important.ca/godslaptop.

On occasion I receive emails advising me that users are attempting to share experiences and opinions about me via a particular website. So recently I checked, and it's just a listing of folk willing to share information on me, who say they know me very well. Maybe they do; I wouldn't know. But I'm not sure why someone wanting to know about me wouldn't just come here to HiPiers.com and get it from the horse's mouth.

I never enjoy reading the publications of Amnesty International as they chronicle man's inhumanity to man, such as torture practiced around the globe including America, or the situation in Sudan. But I do read them. Their summer 2004 issue of Amnesty NOW has a report on violence and the spread of AIDS. "He wouldn't use condoms. He would have beaten me." It says that 42 per cent of college-educated women report forced sexual contact or attempted rape. I believe it is worse elsewhere, where women may have few if any rights. I can be similarly depressed by reading reports by FSEEE--Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, which shows how Orwell's 1984 novel accurately shows the way: "Clear Skies Initiative" threatens the air we breathe with worse pollution, and "Healthy Forests initiative" threatens to steamroll environmental protection. Our present administration seems to have no shame. Consider how it claimed it would bring polite language back to government; then Dick Cheney told Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy to go fuck himself. I have a thing for Vermont, having grown up there; it's Cheney who needs to fuck himself. It's a marvelous response when you can't answer an honest question. I saw a political cartoon where he addresses a huge audience, saying "That's what this administration is all about, and ya can all go **** yourselves, every last one of ya!" Precisely.

Movies.com has notices about two of my movie prospects: On a Pale Horse is listed for 2005 or 2006, and A Spell For Chameleon for 2006. The first is Disney, with Jamie Foxx as producer and star, and the screenwriter Paul Guay. The second is Warner Brothers, the screenwriter David Benioff, the production company Radiant productions. That's most of what I know; I learned of the site when readers started telling me more than I knew about these options. I hope they work out well. If you haven't heard of me yet, 2006 may be your year to discover me. I can hardly wait for the folk who ban Harry Potter for sorcery to discover the panties of Xanth. They will surely freak out.

My subscription to THE ECONOMIST seems to have ended. No notice, no warnings, no pleas to resubscribe; the issues simply stopped coming. I guess they don't want me as a subscriber. But there was an interesting item in a June issue: two books suggest that Affirmative Action does more harm than good. I support A A, so this is intriguing; have I been on the wrong side? Or is THE ECONOMIST simply too conservative for me?

I watched some of the Wimbledon tennis finals. I enjoyed seeing Maria Sharapova play, especially when she was waiting to receive the serve, her low halter nicely showing her breasts. I was amazed to see that a seventeen year old model could play that well.

The editor of PARADOX , the magazine of historical and speculative fiction, http://home.nyc.rr.com/paradoxmag nicely sent me a copy of the issue wherein he discussed the Spanish Civil War. I have an interest there. My parents did relief work there, and I lived in Spain for a year as a child, before the dictator kicked my family out. This is perhaps another of the forgotten wars whose significance should not be lost to history. Essentially, Spain's own army turned against it and invaded it, and the fascist powers supported General Franco with arms, testing them for future use, and Russia supported Spain's defenders, as did many volunteers from America and around the world, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. This presaged World War Two, and indeed, that 1936-39 conflict was followed immediately by World War Two, with the fascists against Russia and America again. An ugly scene, all around. I was too young at the time to understand what was going on, but in time I learned, and I retain an abiding aversion to dictatorships, wherever they manifest. It is an irony that had the fascists not kicked my family out (on false grounds), I probably would not have made it to America and become an American writer.

From the AARP BULLETIN: there are now green graveyards, where you can be allowed to rot, returning your substance to nature. Okay, though I think I still prefer cremation.

Columnist Molly Ivins had an item on electronic voting machines, which may be designed for fraud. Some pooh-pooh the idea, but it bothers me. Given an administration that sees no honorable way to win the next election, but is determined not to give up power, what can we expect? On the other hand, I understand that though the voting machine company CEOs may try to set up machines that will favor their constituency, the other side surely has hackers at lower levels that can reverse it. We may see some very interesting results that have little to do with how the people actually vote. According to THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR, the Bush administration considered canceling the election, but word got out and that notion had to be publicly rejected.

Jim Hightower, of the Hightower Lowdown, radical liberal commentator, has an interesting story of the origin of the phrase "the naked truth." He says its from a fable about two goddesses, Truth and Falsehood, who went skinny-dipping. Falsehood emerged first and put on Truth's clothes and left. When Truth came out, she refused to don Falsehood's clothes, preferring to go home naked. He also says that this administration's "No Child Left Behind" budget provides just enough money to reach half the eligible children, and the Early Head Start program is budgeted to serve only five per cent of those eligible. "That's a lot of children left behind," he remarks.

But let's take a look at something more uplifting: it seems that today teen girls are getting breast implants. The newspaper had a picture of two of the girls, and they really do look good. I marvel that nature seems no longer to be good enough. I suppose it is that nature provides girls with varying amounts of breast tissue and other qualities, and those with larger breasts attract more male attention. So they enhance them artificially, and it works. Now if they could just do similar for their minds. Scant hope: item in PARADE says a new study finds that 34% of America's teachers have considered quitting, because school discipline has broken down. Yes; I quit teaching in 1966, and have been writing ever since; it was discipline that made it not worthwhile, and indications are that the situation is worse today. It's hard to teach students who don't want to learn and have no respect for authority.

Howard Troxler is a columnist for the ST PETERSBURG TIMES, one of the sharpest. Recently he did a humorous (I think) column about why felons should like Republicans. Felons need a tax break, and may be huge supporters of cutting the tax on capital gains, and want to repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax that supposedly prevents anyone from using deductions to eliminate tax entirely. What about organized crime? "That's so liberal. Any idiot knows that the Mafia doesn't pay taxes, it just passes the tax along to its customers. To sum it all up, all taxes do are stifle innovation in our economy." Lower taxes, less government, more freedom--felons really understand the benefits of less government. As I said, I think this is humor, despite hearing from the reader who regards taxes themselves as a felony. But then what about Enron?

A letter in the newspaper asks "When did 'liberal' become a bad label?" Good question. I am proud to be socially liberal, and marvel at those who throw the word around as if it is a curse. What are they thinking of? I would ask in turn, when did the word "conservative" become a synonym for masked racism, destruction of the environment, contempt for the Constitution, and shameless profiteering?

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