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Maybe it was a mistake to turn 70. Suddenly the penalties of age are manifesting. A thoughtful reader sent me a poem that scans the alphabet of the problem of aging, starting with A for arthritis and B for the bad back. Right on, alas. I had a MRI--Magnetic Resonance Imaging--for my spine. It took 45 minutes while I lay in what seemed to be a spaceship capsule, feeling no acceleration (such ships have so-called massless drive, so you can reach light-speed without getting squished) as the ship clanked and buzzed around me, taking 80 pictures of slices of my backbone. I understand it is a thousand dollar test, covered by Medicare. They gave me a courtesy print to take to my doctor, but the doctor's office didn't want it, having no place to store sheets that size, so I still have it. It looks to my untrained eye as if all my disks are fat and sassy except the lowest, which resembles a flat tire. That is surely the problem.

So they prescribed physical therapy. This turned out to consist of hot pad treatments, sonic heat treatments, spine massages, and instruction in assorted leg lifts and stretches, all supervised by young women. I learned the stretches and did them twice a day. None of it had any apparent effect, and after two weeks they let me go. I think the problem is that I'm not your average creaky overweight oldster; I eat lean, exercise seriously and my limbs are in good condition. I'm still doing the exercises at home, still with no effect. A reader told me of a book that really helped him, The Mind-Body Prescription by John Sarno, but so far I have not found it.

Meanwhile my PSA blood test was suddenly rising, suggesting a problem with my prostate. Men and women have parallel organs; what becomes the uterus in the female becomes the prostate in the male. So women have uterine uncertainties and men have prostate problems. A digital exam--you know, “up yours” with the finger, literally--confirmed that it has enlarged. So it was off to the urologist, who will recheck in three months and we'll see. Considering the young-woman therapy for the spine problem, I wonder what prostate therapy would be?

And I got another implant. Okay, cease your sniggering, you buxom young women who found my three prior implants humorous. These are teeth. My dentist planned to put a crown on a front tooth, #9, but I could feel that tooth, and since it had had a root canal, that meant that something was percolating in the ground beneath it, as it were. I was afraid there was an infection that would take out the tooth along with its expensive new crown. So I elected instead to have it replaced by an implant. My prior ones have given me no trouble, so this seems the best bet, though expensive; the implant cost over $2000, and of course that would have to have a crown too. But my hope was that it would be permanent. Well, not quite; in three weeks it fell out. I think my suspicion of subterranean pollution was well grounded, and it dissolved the underlying bone and took out the implant. So now I have had a bone graft, and after half a year or so that will serve as the basis for a replacement implant. And I have a hole in my face that freaks out bystanders when I smile. I'll see about getting a false tooth for the interim to cover that up.

And of course my wife and I were unable to get flu shots. You would think that with a supply of vaccine cut in half, they would give the shots first to those most at risk: the small children, the senior citizens, and those with special health problems. My wife's health is precarious; I truly fear the flu for her. I don't know who did get the shots, but our story is familiar: there were none available. We simply have to hope that the flu does not come to our area this season. A life may depend on it.

So was it worth turning 70? Would any of this have happened if I hadn't?

Well, on to other matters. Our little mulberry tree seems to be flourishing. Remember, I transplanted it because it was getting run over where it was. The moving damaged it and it dropped its leaves. But in one week I found one tiny leaf and buds for new ones. In two weeks the buds were swelling. In three they expanded into leaf clusters, and in a month they turned out not to be leaves but new branches. The original leaf finally browned and fell off--I'm sorry for it--but the others are doing well. All I knew of mulberries before was a story about Mulberry Lane, but now I am a mulberry fan. Those leaves are sculptured works of art, with one lobe, two, three, four, five, six lobes, and a few leaves are trying for seven. The outside of each leaf is serrated, but the deep indents between lobes are smooth, as if cut by a knife. The larger pattern of leaves is fractal; I wonder whether a common underlying law of nature governs the fantabulous Mandelbrot set and the mulberry leaves? Mathematics and nature do relate, sometimes artistically.

Remember how our daughter the newspaperwoman gave us a cell phone? That is working out well, with one exception. My wife keeps it with her so if she falls or gets stranded she can call me. This is a real concern, so we are glad to have the phone. But an aspect of the billing annoyed us. If you renew the card, your unused minutes get extended to the end of the new card. We had about half an hour left, so planned to extend just before the time expired. But it turned out the time started a week before we got the phone, and we missed the cut by two days and lost the minutes. AT&T Wireless had been buzzing us with special offers; you'd think they might do us the courtesy of also buzzing us when expiration was nigh. No such luck; I guess making us waste some money was more important than winning friends. We did renew, as the phone is useful, but that annoyance remains. It's not that we didn't know that corporations are out to screw the common man; it's that we don't like having them get away with it. What do they think this is--politics?

I continue with my duffer archery, part of my exercise program, loosing 12 arrows each side at 150 feet. Right side continues to do okay, but the left side continues to mess up. The arrows simply don't go where I aim them. It has to be the twist my hand puts on the bow as I loose the arrow. I tried stiffening my hand and wrist, and thought that helped, but soon the arrows were missing as usual. So I tried holding the bow loose, as I do right handed, but the arrows missed worse. So I'm still trying to find the right level of stiffness. (Stop that giggling, you naughty girls. I'm not that old. Quite.) Originally I bought two dozen arrows for the left side bow, but with loss and breakage those are down to seven, so now I'm using the right handed arrows for both bows. The circular arrow-rest I use now can handle any kind of arrow. I have 48 right-side arrows; it will take me a while to lose enough of those to need more. And no, you would-be grammarians: I'm not misspelling. To “loose” is to fire an arrow; to “lose” is to mislay it. Sometimes I do both at once. Such is the state of dufferdum.

I still do watch Survivor on TV, mainly for the nice peeks it so carefully provides of healthy female breasts and bottoms. But it had one episode I really liked: when the girls won the prize of a day of the time and expertise of the native expert on foraging. That supposedly primitive man really knew his stiff, from coconuts to sugar cane, and those civilized girls were in legitimate awe of his knowledge. That was a nice reminder that what seems advanced or backward depends on your situation; in that jungle the girls were idiots and the man a genius.

There was a local sale for a computer. I have a good Linux system for my paying work that does not connect to the inferior Windows system I use for correspondence. After five and a half years that W system is getting cranky, and needs replacement. So we bought a $500 Compaq system and set it up. Naturally they did not give us the papers for the send-in rebate; those had to be sent for separately, and never arrived. We knew they'd stiff us on that; it's in the big book of corporate rebate rules: how to lose friends and alienate people. I believe I have already mentioned how corporations would rather have your money than your good will. The advertised floppy drive was absent; this was a different model with a larger hard drive instead. Par for that course. We bought an external floppy to plug in. We also have to change the keyboard to my variant of Dvorak so I can use it, and download a new Eudora mail handler. These things are fraught with complications we can't readily navigate. So the new system sits unused. Par for that course too. We need a native primitive who knows how to harvest computer coconuts. I remember when someone on the Linux circuit said he wanted a system that would run out of the box, and two others bawled him out for even wanting that. Well, I'm with him; I don't really like having to pay more for geek assistance than I do for the hardware.

PLAYBOY had a cheap offer, as I think I mentioned in a prior column, so I'm trying it for a year. Many lovely color pictures of hugely enhanced girls, some articles of substance. I also made a deal with a reader to get some XXX videos, as it seems Florida doesn't allow XXX catalogs to be sent. Something I note they have in common: anal sex. Even a decade ago that seemed hardly to exist; now PLAYBOY has an article by a woman lauding it as something really special. Seems her vagina is more or less a public highway, but she reserves her anus for only the most special men. The videos in contrast seem to regard the anus as a second vagina and exploit the two interchangeably. To each his own. I merely wonder whether men who prefer anal sex wouldn't be as well off with other men. Meanwhile THE HUMANIST had an article by Valerie White on polyamory: loving and/or having sex with more than one person without deception or betrayal. The author says you can love more than one child at a time, so why should adult relationships be exclusive? She mentions Robert Heinlein and Robert Rimmer, both redoubtable writers who practiced polyamory before it had the name, and advocated it in their novels. She makes the point that it's really not about sex, but love. I can see it. Another article in the issue is titled “Why I'm Glad My Daughter Had Underage Sex.” It is a critique of the repressive unrealistic abstinence-only attitude of conservatives. “I don't want my children to regard sex merely as a jungle full of deadly dangers, mined with disease and punishment. They need and deserve to indulge in passion and celebrate its delights.” I think all these articles have some real sense underneath the provocative headings, though I feel youths should be shielded from adult passions until capable of handling them.

Which brings me to children: how they are educated sexually is the prerogative of their parents, for good or ill. But there are other types of abuses, and every so often I get riled up enough to protest them. Here is a letter I sent to a student in another state:

Today I received your solicitation for some unwanted item for your school to auction to raise funds for your Rain Forest Project. I have two comments that your teacher may not appreciate, but perhaps you will.

First, there are too many solicitations like this, from schools, libraries, community clubs, and other worthy causes all over the world. If I sent something to each, I would soon enough run out of incidentals, because there are hundreds of such requests. This is actually a variant of what is called a pyramid scheme, where every participant assumes there is an infinite number of others to petition. So as a general rule I have stopped sending things.

Second, I dislike the way children are used, because people don’t like to say no to children and hurt their feelings. As a child yourself, you need to realize this. It is actually adults running the show, with children as fronts. It reminds me of the way the Germans handled the Russian defensive mine fields in World War Two: they captured the wives and children of the Russian partisans and forced them to walk ahead of the German troops, so that they would be the first to get blown up. It was a very ugly business. Children should not be used to protect the hides of the adults in power.

I am enclosing, as a minimal gesture, two signed bookplates, one of which is specifically for you. I hope you will consider what I have said here and discuss it with your family, as this will explain why most of your school’s solicitations probably get ignored.

So did that have any effect? I don't know. It is quite possible that the school authorities never let the girl have the letter or bookplate, preferring to let her think I never answered.

Sometimes incidental thoughts become mind-benders. I heard a rain prediction of 40% during the day and 30% in the evening. Good, I thought, that's a 70% chance of rain overall. Then I thought wait, how can it be? Maybe it's the average, a 35% chance of rain. But how could the longer period come to less chance than the shorter one? But adding them doesn't make sense either, because there might be a 60% chance followed by a 50%, and there never was a 110% chance of rain. I finally got all bollixed up and am not sure what the real chance for rain is when it's 40%-30% as described. Does anyone out there know? Maybe 40% plus 30% of the remaining 60%, making the total about 58%? Or is is simply impossible to merge them meaningfully?

As my wife has increasing trouble getting around--complications of age and medication--I am accompanying her on shopping trips, heaving the heavier items, reaching for the reachier ones, and so on. This is the give and take of marriage; I've had a good several decades writing time while she handled the household, and now it's my turn to start contributing more than an income. This takes me out to the Post Orifice and grocery store among others. I bring something to read during the interstices, but I also notice peripheral things. Such as women: when they are in their prime they can be rare and lovely flowers, but how soon they spoil! It's as if they mind their figures just long enough to nab their men, then go eagerly to pot. It seems a shame. Would the divorce rate drop if both men and women had more care for their physical conditions? A bit of self discipline might spare much mischief.

Another magazine we are trying, again mentioned in a prior column, is CONSUMER REPORTS. Our cars are now over eight years old and we are thinking about a replacement. We're interested in the new hybrids, which are more environment-friendly. The Toyota Prius seems good, but the local sticker price is $27,000 and there's a two year wait, and its posted 60 mpg city milage turns out to be 35 mpg when realistically tested. We are not much amused. So we wanted to look up the CU report on the Ford Escape hybrid, as the local Ford dealer had no car and no literature on it. We discovered that we had every issue for the year 2004 except October, the one with the Escape. Apparently that one got lost in the mails during the hurricanes. Then came the annual, and it turns out they didn't cover the hybrid, just the conventional Escape car. So one way or another, CU is not proving to be useful enough to stick with. As was the case when we tried it several decades ago. They seem to know what we want, and arrange not to cover it.

And the election. Sigh. Those who are sick of it all should skip these next three paragraphs. It had seemed to me that there was no way in Hell that Bush or the Republicans could win a legitimate election; my concern was that they would cheat. There is evidence that was the case, though it is not conclusive. The exit polls showed a landslide for Kerry. Then, somehow, the tallied votes went the other way. What happened? Were the exit polls wrong? In 2000 as it turned out the exit polls were right, but the votes weren't counted; remember, the Supreme Court stepped in to prevent a proper recount, and Florida, which had actually voted for Gore, was assigned to Bush. That made all the difference. The Bush administration has been arguably the worst in the history of the nation, alienating most of the world--one poll showed 98% against him in Egypt--and a significant number in America. He stood to lose votes, not gain them. So what happened?

There are two or more answers. Let's assume for the moment that the election was legitimate and Bush and the Republicans really did win. What was their secret? Apparently it was their appeal to bigotry. One letter in the ST PETE TIMES spelled it out: he knew that the Republicans were not good for him economically, but his Christian faith required him to vote for them. I guess he just had to see that those gays did not get to marry, even if the poor folk Jesus actually cared for are further deprived. This was the “values” theme: stop gay marriage, guarantee guns for all, stop abortions, and the marks won't notice that you are destroying their livelihoods, the environment, the financial base of the nation, the Constitution, and our global reputation. Only idiots should fall for that, and apparently they did in throngs. As another letter put it, Jesus taught mercy, love, and respect for others, but the religious right shows little of any of those. Another pointed out how many professed Christians claim to have high moral values, but don't follow the basic tenets of the faith: love, humility, understanding, and tolerance. In fact they cherry-pick the morals in the Bible, ignoring inconvenient ones like not committing adultery and not killing. Did Jesus condemn gays or support the death penalty? But they do vote. There was also a pattern in Florida and surely elsewhere of rural regions going for Bush, and urban ones going for Kerry, and the more overtly religious voting Republican. A possible explanation is that in rural Florida many people register as Democrats but vote Republican, so there are more Republican votes than the registrations suggest.

Writer Andrew B. Schmookler put it nicely: “What's not noticed is that while the leaders just keep these hot-button moral issues (such as abortion and gay rights) festering, unresolved, they make sure that the agenda of the rich and powerful (the regressive tax cuts, the dismantling of environmental regulation, etc.) actually gets accomplished.” As does newspaperman Jay Bookman: “...Americans who are themselves insulated against inconvenient facts and hear only what they want to hear. It's hard to see that as anything but willful self-delusion. Deep in their hearts, many Bush supporters have to know that the pre-war case for invading Iraq has collapsed, leaving us with a looming disaster. But they don't dare admit that fact, not to themselves, not to others, and certainly not to a pollster on the telephone. They know where that would lead. They know that once they let that little bit of reality penetrate their bubble, they would be forced to confront the even more daunting fact that they had been fooled and misled by the president, a man in whom they placed so much faith. ... Admitting the truth about him seems like disloyalty. And so, they do what they must.”

Or the election was not legitimate. We know the Republicans were ready to cheat; their “morals” seem not to apply to that. In Ohio tens of thousands of new voters were sent registered letters by the state Republican Party. If they weren't home to sign a receipt--after all, some folk have to work in the day--they were left a note saying they would have to go to the post office to sign for and receive the campaign literature. Naturally 35,000 did not bother, being already deluged with campaign literature. The Republican Party then filed legal challenges against their right to vote, claiming they didn't exist or didn't live there. Thus those folk would really have to work to prevent being disenfranchised. Well, that outraged the people, and the stink got so bad that this ploy was soon abandoned. But that shows just one official effort in a key state. There's much more. In one suburb near Columbus the electronic touch-screen voting machines tallied 3,893 votes for Bush--in a precinct with only 800 registered voters. But it is suspected that a larger systematic computer-shifting of the tallies was rigged to be sure Bush won, regardless; certain types of voting machines seemed almost guaranteed to vote Republican even in majority-Democrat registered areas. And no paper trail to enable a recount. In the southern states, black votes were three times as likely to be challenged as whites. In Florida new voters registering as Democrats were switched to Republican status and their addresses changed; there was a stink about that. When some tried to vote for Kerry, the machine registered Bush; sometimes it took several tries and action by the officials to make a Kerry vote stick. Those were the ones the voters caught; what of those who didn't double-check before leaving? What of those switched after the tally was moved off-screen? Anyone with computer experience knows that programs don't have to be WYSIWYG. In Pittsburgh Pennsylvania an official-looking flier told voters that due to the immense turnout expected, Republicans should vote Tuesday, and Democrats Wednesday. A criminal investigation has been launched on that one. But what of those who believed it? Their votes are lost. In several states it turns out that employees of both parties destroyed registrations by the other party. In Wisconsin a flier circulated in black neighborhoods said anyone who had already voted in any election this year could not vote in the presidential election, and threatened ten years in prison for violators. But there is a more disturbing possibility relating to the machines as mentioned above: Kathy Dopp compiled the official Florida state information into a table http://ustogether.org/Florida_Election.htm and noticed something startling: the touch-screen voting machines produced results similar to the registered Republican/Democrat ratios, but counties using optically scanned paper ballots (the kind used in my county) there were anomalies. In the areas served by optical scanners only, solidly Democratic counties went solidly for Bush. The only variable determining the swing toward Bush was the use of optical scan machines. Several states using these machines tended to produce vote tallies inconsistent with exit poll numbers. Exit polls have hitherto been the gold standard for accuracy, almost never wrong. This suggests again that the exit polls were right, and the official vote tallies wrong. The exit polls indicated that Kerry would win Florida, Ohio, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Iowa--but all were tallied for Bush. The indication is that it hardly matters how the people actually vote; what counts is the tally as the far flung precincts are sent to the central computer for totaling. If the vote is hacked, that's where it occurs. However, as a liberal independent, I try to be fair minded--that's one of the differences between liberals and conservatives--and have to say that another article reports that The Miami Herald checked three North Florida counties where this effect was pronounced: overwhelmingly Democratic in registration, but went for Bush. It found that though more than 75% of the voters are registered as Democrats, they did go more than two to one for Bush. As noted above, they register Democratic to participate in local elections, but are solidly Bible-Belt conservative and vote Republican for president. So that particular case is disproved. Why then the difference between types of voting machines? Maybe because the poor counties that vote this way also go for the cheaper machines. It's not cheating so much as two effects stemming from a more fundamental root. Thus the machines were not the only variable. Of course that doesn't explain the exit polls. Did Kerry voters vote early, and Bush voters late, after the exit pollers departed? Maybe.

Still it is suspicious. I have to wonder whether the pre-election polls that jury-rigged the “likely voters” to make Republicans seem ahead in regions where there were more registered Democrats were part of the effort, so that a fixed tally would not seem faked. Polls show that a majority of Bush voters still believe that Saddam had ties to Al Qaeda and 9/11, and that the US found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Naturally they are eager to believe Bush won. Kerry voters, in contrast, were generally straight on the issues. An internet circulated discussion suggests that the majority of two million ballots tossed out were cast by black folks. That if an accurate recount could be held in Ohio it would show that Kerry won that state, and thus the election. Ohio, hell; Florida alone is enough to tilt the election either way, as it did in 2000 before the cheating got more sophisticated. But don't hold your breath waiting for the recounts; this isn't Ukraine. So what is my conclusion? That neither party is pristine, but the Republicans had their hands on more levers, and were less scrupulous, so their cheating succeeded, and they have their coup. Yes, I suspect the election was stolen. Again. As much by deception as by voting irregularities. But I can't prove it. We seem to be doomed to four more years of economic, social, and constitutional disaster. Hillary will likely inherit the wreckage in 2008, assuming that by then the votes are honestly counted and the Democrats find a way to counter the dirty campaigning and the blind bigot vote. Column by Robyn Blumner says people do not necessarily vote their self interest; they vote their identity, their values. 35-40% believe in black/white right and wrong with God as the father figure smiting the wicked, such as the malingering poor or those whose sexual identity differs from the norm. These tend to vote Republican. Another 35-40% believe in a nurturant parental government promoting fairness, freedom, and personal fulfillment regardless of social or sexual orientation. These tend to vote Democrat. The Republican party has been better at revving up its base than the Democrat party has been. Or as I see it, when truth is not an object, it is easier to be persuasive, especially to the eager sheep. End of political diatribe.

Last column I mentioned the story that the Bush administration planned to reinstate the draft if it won. I discredited that. A reader sent me a link, and I got a lot more information. There was indeed a bill in Congress, put in by a Democrat. But when the stink of exposure welled up, they quickly abolished it 402-2. So now there is no bill, but there are those who believe there will indeed be a renewal of the selective service system. They have to get cannon fodder somewhere.

Newspaper article says that teens are really getting into blogging. That is, pouring out their feelings on their Web sites. I think this bimonthly column of mine is technically a blog. Well, I once was a teen.

Nuisance dept.: I'm still getting emails and answering them, and having some bounce with the message NOT ACCEPTING MAIL FROM THIS SENDER. Folk, if you want me to answer, make it possible. Maybe sometimes the email is sent to Piers Anthony, and bounces a reply from Hipiers.com. The current case was a query about Gloha Goblin-Harpy from Charles Mossell. He may have wondered why he received no reply. Another example is a bookseller who asked to exchange links, but the link he gave me led nowhere, wasting my time. When I pointed that out, he became sarcastic, evidently not knowing my nature, but did not fix the link. As a general rule I don't exchange links with booksellers; there are too many of them, and it seems some have attitudes.

Some time back I had a note on Clare Hanrahan, who was imprisoned for protesting the notorious American training center for terrorism. (Let's call a spade a spade.) You can check her site at www.celticwordcraft.com and order Conscience & Consequence: a Prison Memoir if you are interested. Also: this column is not a personal ad space, but on rare occasion I try to do something for someone. Jack Frederick is a prisoner whose fiancee left him--prison is hard on romance--and lonely. If anyone is interested in corresponding, his snail address is Jack L. Frederick 305-424, PO Box 5500 CCI, Chillicothe Ohio 45601-0990. The usual cautions about corresponding with prisoners apply, but as far as I know Jack is legitimate. That is, not out to corrupt or bilk money from anyone. He would just like some contact with a world other than what he knows in prison. I haven't asked what he's in for.

The Allred Unit is a tough Texas prison where inmates go by macho male names like Monster. Gay prisoners must take women's names, be addressed as female, and are given to the gangs as sex slaves, bought, sold, and rented out. The authorities think it's funny. Now at last there's a court case that may help bring prison rape into the open. I have remarked before that there is evidence that more men get raped than women, because of the intensity of the prison rape culture. And an unrelated note on homosexuality: why does it persist, since it is obviously a nonreproductive strategy? They may have part of an answer: it seems the gene not only makes men attracted to men, it makes women more attracted to men, so they bear more children, propagating the species. This may account for 14%, at any rate. Another prison case is that of Mumia Abu, who was an African-American columnist who relentlessly exposed police brutality as the Voice of the Voiceless. The authorities don't like that. I am not clear on what he did, but they sentenced him to death. I received an appeal to contribute to his defense after 22 years in prison. I am sympathetic, but I wish the solicitation had given me enough information to make a decision.

Alexandra Wilson called my attention to her situation, presented on the Internet. One of her friends was diagnosed with terminal cancer, with a life expectancy of five years. She researched the medicinal use of marijuana, which sometimes seems to be about the only thing that can abate intractable pain. She had no money, so harvested it from roadside plants, and it did help him. She returned to school in her thirties, trying to make something of her life. Things seemed to be going well. Then her daughter, 16, joined an online group, mentioning the marijuana. An online friend tried to get her to agree to sell him some, or to meet him; she did neither. Well, the “friend” was a deputy sheriff. Failing to trick the girl into breaking the law, he armed himself with an Affidavit Requesting a Search Warrant and raided the house, arresting six people and handcuffing Alexandra's ten year old son. All except Alexandra plea-bargained guilty to a misdemeanor. She did not, not believing she was guilty of any crime, so she was charged with Felony Possession with Intent to Distribute, with the possibility of 3-10 years in prison. The authorities don't like folk standing on their rights, which is one reason the innocent can get punished more harshly than the guilty. I had experience with this sort of thing in the military. Thus American justice. http://altruisticdad.blogspot.com/2004/10/alexandra-wilson-story.html.

WORLD WATCH is an environmentalist organization, with perhaps the best coverage of the subject. It makes for depressing reading, but sometimes there are incidental eye-openers. Number of unique visitors to the five largest news sites per day: 2 to 3 million. To porn websites: 23 to 60 million. Email beats first class snail mail similarly, 968 billion to 102 billion per day. A global study shows that the rights of women differ widely in the world: in answer to the question “When jobs are scarce, do men have more rights than women to a job?” In Sweden 2% agree, 93% disagree. In Egypt 90% agree, none disagree. In the US, 10% agree, 82% disagree. Did you wonder why some big name environmental organizations are silent on things like Global Warming? It is not that it doesn't exist; the evidence is overwhelming, and the effect is accelerating. When big corporations contribute heavily to environmental organizations, they get seats on their boards, and--surprise--those organizations stop criticizing the environmental records of their corporate board members. Duh.

I understand that pyramid solicitations are illegal, but they still circulate. I received one headed FULFILL YOUR DREAMS. You send one dollar to each of the seven names. Remove the #1 name and add yours at #7. Purchase a mailing list of 200 names from the outfit they recommend, and send each name a copy of the solicitation. Then wait to get rich. It says “This is NOT a chain letter... NOR is it a pyramid.” It is lying. I trust I don't need to review the fallacy of this deal for folk of the intellect I expect from my readers.

Newspaper article: have they found the female Viagra? A testosterone hormone patch boosts the female sex drive. Women on the patch have four times as much sex as before. The patch is called Intrinsa. Of course the women do grow excess facial hair. Another article clarifies what women really mean. If she says “It's your decision,” she means “I told you what I want; why are we still debating?” If she says “No, I'm not upset,” she means “Of course I'm upset, you clueless jackass!” And if she says “I hope we never stop surprising each other,” she means “I'm having an affair with your brother.” Sigh; now after 48 years of marriage I learn the code.

But it turns out that there are some fork who really aren't interested in sex. No, I mean men too. Article in NEW SCIENTIST about the asexual who are quite normal, just not interested. Sort of the way I'm not interested in eating live slugs or knitting fancy doilies. It's a formerly unrecognized category.

Earlier this year I was the final judge of the Grabber contest, reading just the first page or so of entries to see which ones grabbed me the most. Now those winners are posted at Ralan Conley's www.spectravaganza.com/. Look them up. Maybe Ralan will get a more competent judge next year and you'll win the contest.

Last column I ran Marylyn Peake's review of Robert Woods' self published novel. Here is another, by the founder of Apollo's Lyre, listed in my Electronic Publishing and Services survey:

“Adventures of Scott Nolan” by Robert Woods
Published by Xlibris.
Reviewed by Lea Schizas

Friendship, coming-of-age, and love are three elements that grace the pages of Robert Woods’ book “Adventures of Scott Nolan”. It is the tale of a young lad born into a family with the uncanny ability to communicate telepathically with their beloved dogs, Whisper and Sigh.

While slow at times in the beginning, with dialogue a bit mundane and not necessary, it is these very spots that you feel Woods’ need to connect his main players to you. I analyzed it carefully coming to the conclusion that without these little tidbits of unfounded info, the overall personae of a character would never have been achieved.

Fifteen-year old Scott Nolan meets the girl of his dreams, Elaine Collins. The whole story concentrates on his feelings and their ‘sexual awakening’. Through their strong bond of love, the couple is able to achieve an extraordinary ability of telepathic communication with one another. A bit of sleuthing carried out by the ‘Friends for Life’ club, Scott’s immediate childhood friends, brings the reading to a level of the Hardy Boys in one instant with the same bonding one felt while watching the movie “Stand by Me” in another.

Robert Woods crafts an unusual and at times ‘out of this world’ tale of connection between owner and pet. Whisper bonds with you in the same fashion as the age-old hero of yesterday, Lassie. This connection only staples the whole theme behind Woods’ book of a new race of humans who are sensitive and aware of their surroundings by their ability to telepathically connect. Scott and Elaine will use their sixth sense on more than one occasion when a few sticky situations arise.

Robert Woods takes us ‘out of the box’ of the high-beaming, horn-tooting monopolizing lifestyle of the city into the calm serenity of a countryside where everyone knows and helps one another. A concept perhaps forgotten by many who live a hectic city life nowadays.

Even for someone whose choice of books leans more towards the horror genre, “The Adventures of Scott Nolan” piqued my curiosity. It also provided a nostalgic reminder of my own teen years and a pang of regret for not having kept up with my childhood friends.

“The Adventures of Scott Nolan” is a good read for anyone interested in remembering the feelings and tingling of the senses associated with the meaning of friendship and first love.

All in all, even with the excess wording that could have been eliminated, a few grammatical errors here and there, Robert Woods has an interesting and unusual fantasy story. This book is suitable for the YA age group.

Author’s bio:

Lea Schizas, a short story competition winner, lives in Montreal with her husband Jimmy and five children. She is the co-founder and Editor in Chief of the Preditors and Editors award-winning Zine ‘Apollo’s Lyre’, founder of the online writing critique club ‘The MuseItUp Club' and publicist for the small press nontraditional publishing house Star Publish. She is a member of the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), The Writing Village University (WVU), and Senior Editor of the new 2005 print magazine Coffee Cramp Magazine.

Her YA fantasy novel ‘The Rock of Realm’ will be released in 2005 by Star Publish.

You can read more of Lea’s bio and accomplishments at:
http://pages.ivillage.com/rockofrealm
http://www.apolloslyre.com
http://starpublish.com

I don't undertake to run reviews of other books. Robert Woods' novel is a special case, where I felt that a writer who had taken my advice on faith and self published at Xlibris, only to have zero sales, deserved to get at least a token response from readers. I happen to know how much labor and love go into a novel; it's a shame to have it wasted. So I offered to run any reviews I encountered of this one book. Now he has several sales of the book, and is receiving royalties. I'd love it if the book had further success, but that depends on the vagaries of fate. Yes, it means a bit of publicity for the reviewers too; so be it. I wish everyone well, in this soul-shredding business.

I try to read at least one book a month. You'd think a writer would read a lot. Well, I do, but much of it is news and science magazines, the newspaper, and the ever-flowing mail. I spend most of my time writing and tending to mundane matters as life gets in the way. So I am not well informed even on the fantasy scene. But I do make a feeble effort. I read God Drug by Stephen L. Antczak, published by MARIETTA www.mariettapublishing.com. This is a wild novel. Suppose there were a hallucinogenic drug whose impact lasted days or weeks, putting you into a shared alternate reality with its own rules that you can't escape? It's like an extremely violent game, where the denizens compete for supremacy by destroying each other. In one case a man opens his mouth and swallows another. A dragon helicopter attacks, wiping out bystanders, razing buildings. Very few safe havens, and those may have other kinds of threats. There are nice crude-line illustrations throughout, where a few brush strokes convey the evocative essence. This is a compelling, disturbing exploration of a dark side.

And I read Legions of Space by Keith Laumer, BAEN BOOKS, discovering it in the grocery store along with my Cube Route. For those who don't know my history with Laumer, a spot reprise: He lived near me, I knew him, we got along. Then he had a stroke that seemed to cut out his niceness circuit and I think destroyed his career. And I inherited his reputation as an ogre, as others willfully confused the two of us. That's how I adopted the Ogre persona, making something of what I was already stuck with. He really was the ogre in person, as I am not. So how good a writer was he, before that? This is a collection of some of his pieces written in the 1960s ranging from short story to novel length. They are fast reading, well organized, compelling, but not deep; Laumer was not much of a message man. He sticks to single character viewpoint, straight-ahead narrative, with something constantly happening, and women peripheral, romance largely nonexistent. In short, good, typical 1960s science fiction of the kind I found constricting for my own work. The last entry is a short novel done in collaboration with Gordon Dickson, another writer with whom I have a modest history. I have said that typically a lady writer leads the reader by the hand to see her wonders, while a male writer grabs him by collar and crotch and hurls him into the action. Planet Run is an example. Actually some female writers can hurl too, and some males be gentle, but the stereotypes remain.

Meanwhile I completed Xanth #30 Stork Naked which should appear in print two years hence, featuring Surprise Golem's quest for her lost baby, and am starting on ChroMagic #4 Key to Liberty, where Earth comes to reclaim her thousand-year-lost colony. Two complications: the colony does not want to be reclaimed, and the Earthers don't believe in magic. It should be quite a contest. Now a small mystery: a reader tells me that my novel Shade of the Tree appeared several years ago in one of the slick women's magazines, like THE LADIES HOME JOURNAL. I have no record of this, and wasn't paid for it. Is this a confusion? I wouldn't want to think that any loyal reader of mine was confused. Does anyone know anything about it?

Once I got the Xanth novel done, so I was free of a deadline, I did my best to relax, though as a workaholic that's not much. I watched some movies and videos. We liked The Incredibles and Polar Express, and I watched 1 Night in Paris, the notorious sex video about Paris Hilton. It wasn't much, actually, but its supplementary features were hot triple X. I watched Lara Croft: The Cradle of Life twice, not from devotion but because the first time was after one of the tooth episodes, when the residual effects of the anesthesia blotted out my short term memory. What's the point in watching a movie if I have no memory of it? I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which was a fascinatingly weird love story about a man and woman who choose to wipe their affair from memory, then change their minds after the erasure treatment has started. And I watched some oldies I remembered from decades ago: The Best of Benny Hill, who was really fun as a dirty old man. Popeye the Sailor Man, some cartoons dating from 1936 but better than some contemporary ones. And Have Gun--Will Travel, a half hour TV series that ran in the 1950s. I'm not a Western fan, but there was something special about this one, with Richard Boone as Paladin, a hired gun with a conscience. The episodes are simple, but the flavor is there. This is the collected first season, while I think I didn't see it originally until the second or third season, which may have had better episodes. I remember one where Paladin was required to be the defense lawyer in an obviously corrupt trial. One juror owed the sheriff money, so had to vote his way. Paladin openly paid off his debt so he could vote freely. Another did not want to have to meet the sheriff in a gunfight in the street after the trial. Paladin held up a silver dollar, then flipped it over his head, whirled, drew and fired his gun. When the dust settled they recovered the dollar: it had the bullet hole through its center. Then Paladin said “Now after the trial, you'll have to decide whether you want to meet him--or me.” How's that for uncorrupting a jury?

The media are drenched with cell phone ads, with none of the deals as good as the one we got for our time-card phone, and I mostly ignore them. In my youth I was a hopeful artist; I gave that up to be a writer, but still do appreciate art where I find it. Cingular has been running a series of “More bars in more places” ads, bars being the indication of the quality of reception available in any given area. Four bars is good; one bar is minimal; mostly you settle for two or three bars. That's routine. What isn't is the imagination and art of their ads, showing different scenes representing five bars: five pine trees of increasing heights rising by a lake, five buildings similarly rising, five columns of flying birds in the orange sky, five members of a family walking a trestle over water, and so on. Each picture is a work of art in its own right. They should promote the one who devised that concept; it's apt.

I am getting old, as mentioned above, and awareness of mortality is threatening. I have accomplished much of what I desired in life, such as having a long compatible marriage and family, good success as a writer, and I have helped make it possible for just about anyone to get published without getting ripped off, via my ongoing survey of electronic publishing and my investments in small and/or self publishing. There is a reasonable prospect for one or more movies to be made from my books, which could lead to a significant enhancement of my success as a writer, through no particular virtue of mine. So now I am pondering what else I should like to accomplish before leaving the scene. And I think it is this: to have a role developing things that will truly benefit the world, according to my definition. I am a writer, yes, but also a humanist, an environmentalist, and a vegetarian. I try not to proselytize in my fiction--indeed, I may present concepts with which I don't agree--but do so freely here in my column. There's really not much doubt about where I stand on issues. I would like to develop a vegetable source of food that could emulate meat in aspect, taste, and nutrition so perfectly that it could not be distinguished beyond the laboratory, and be significantly cheaper. That would eliminate the need to slaughter innocent animals for their flesh. It would have a beneficial effect on the environment, as range land and the deep sea could be returned to wilderness, giving the other creatures who share our planet their chance to avoid extinction. I would like to develop the perfect source of energy, convenient, cheap and nonpolluting, so that the air we breathe could be cleaned up and global warming would stop. And I would like to develop the perfect contraceptive, so that never again would an unwanted baby be conceived. That would eliminate abortion and ease the overpopulation that is causing our species to crowd out most others. Naturally these ambitions will evoke the wrath of the special interests that now dominate the world, profiteering from the degradation of the planet, and their hostile mouthpieces will be sounding loudly. But if I should garner any portion of the resources required to advance any of these causes, I will do it, and hope to see some progress before I die. It seems a worthy wish, even for an ogre.

PIERS

P.S. The Dismember column will probably be about a week late because our webmistress will be away. P.A.

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