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Piers Anthony at work
FeBlueberry 2004
I get hung up on the darndest things. Recently it's been the Bong and the Drip. By Bong I mean the windup pendulum clock we bought in 1977, that bongs the hour and half hour. I wind it at the turn of each month and it does fine. In fact it outlasted the clock my wife bought to replace it. They don't make clocks the way they used to. But I like it to be on time, so I fiddle with the pendulum trying to get it just right. However, when I fool with it, it's likely to protest by having wild swings of Fast or Slow. In Dismember I almost got it; for two days it was right on time. Then it slowly lost, until it was 28 seconds slow. Then it reversed and moved back day by day until it was almost on time. Then it reversed again, and settled firmly into losing. I hadn't touched it, just observed. Timing the onset of the bongs. What was happening? My current theory is that it's the weather: when a cold front passes, the heat goes on, the air dries, and the pendulum shrinks slightly and speeds up. When it's warmer it slows. It's amazing how much focus I put into trying to fathom this. It can take a lot of wit to outsmart the inanimate.

The Drip: our kitchen tap gets a lot of use, and protests by leaking. We discussed it with a plumber, who said he'd come and tackle it and other plumbing problems. That was months ago, and he never came. The heat exchanger he connected has never worked, and now there's a suspicion it was connected backwards: the cold water outlet to the hot water inlet. That would explain a lot. But we'd like to get it fixed. I get griped all out of proportion, paying $800 for something that doesn't work. Welcome to Mundania! Meanwhile the Drip continues. The trick is to adjust the tap to stop it. It's a challenge. There is one special setting of the handle that is effective, but this setting changes hour by hour, and the Drip resumes. So I spend time resetting it. Because if ignored it just gets worse, until it's not a drip but a stream, wasting water galore. Thus minutes pass as I try different variants, trying to find the seemingly random one spot that works for that moment.

Speaking of spots: our house in our tree farm sits at an angle to the sun. About one moment a year a ray of sunlight angles in through my study, down the hall, and makes it to the stairway wall as a little square. I've learned to watch for it. This time it occurred just after 8 AM, Jamboree 28. Then the angle changed and the square spot on the wall was gone. I'll watch for it again next year.

As long as I'm at it, here's another nuisance: my nose. When we moved to Florida in 1959 I became allergic to something, and my nose started dripping in much the manner of the tap. As with the tap, ignoring it is no good; I'd be dripping into my lap. Once I was sitting on the couch reading, and it got bad, and wasn't helped by the fresh air blowing in through the open window. My wife thought it might be the curtains, so she took them down and replaced them. Only after repeated sieges did we catch on that it wasn't the curtains, but the air: when the wind is from the north east I faucet. At other times I'm okay. I'm still sorry about those curtains, which were falsely blamed; I hate it when innocents get condemned. Okay: this continued until 1992, with sieges ranging from one hour to three days, usually worst in late fall, but they could happen any time. Then I had nose surgery for a deviated septum. That made my breathing a bit easier, and incidentally cured my allergy: I no longer got the Drip. But now it's a decade later and maybe some tissue is growing back; I had a couple of half day sieges. Frustrated, I timed them. As I put it in one of my weekly letters to Jenny, every five to six minutes I would pause to blow out another pint of snot. But I haven't had a siege in the past month; maybe the wind changed.

I also had spot minor surgery: my wife thought I wasn't washing a spot on the side of my face. Well, I was, but it was darkening anyway. So I checked with the doctor, and it was something starting, like a tumor. He did what he called a scraping to take it off, and it turned out to be benign. This is just to spike any rumors: that was a scraping, not scrapie. I did not get mad sheep disease. Nor did I get mad cow disease, colloquially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy; vegetarians don't get it. Sorry, critics; you'll need some other explanation for the awfulness of my writing.

I read an article on hair. I'm interested in hair, as it is the defining trait of mammals. No, I don't know why mammaries are not the defining trait; maybe it's because men don't have them as prominently, while both genders have hair. The article remarked on the way folk mess with their hair, trying to get more of it some places, and less of it other places. For example, pubic hair: it seems some women "wax" themselves to eliminate the excess hair. As I understand it, this consists of putting soft wax on it, letting it harden, then yanking it off, ripping out the embedded hair by the roots so it won't grow back. Ouch! In such manner they can form their pubic hair into different shapes, such as hearts or what they call the Landing Strip. Hm. Wasn't there a book about sex titled The Fear of Flying? Those who fly like to have secure landing strips. Suddenly it all makes sense.

So I put a heart shaped pubic region on a girl in a story, just to show I'm halfway up with the times. I've been reading novels and writing stories for a couple months before getting serious on a novel of my own. These are stories that have banged around the hollows of my cranium for days, months, or up to ten years. I summarize each as it occurs and put it in my Idea file, then check that file when I need something. I regard myself as a natural story writer; the reason I have done more novels than stories, literally, is that I can sell my novels, while stories are iffy. Editors are choosy idiots, as every aspiring writer knows. So the notions pile up; my computer says my Idea file is over 57,000 words long. Normally they are fantasy ideas, and they find their way into fantasy novels, in due course. But some stories don't make it; the poor things languish. Why? Because they are mainstream notions. What use are they to a fantasy writer? Finally I hawe had enough of this unfairness, and I am writing those stories, to make up a story collection titled Relationships. I have 8 stories now, massing close to 50,000 words, and in the course of FeBlueberry I expect to write enough more to make up a reasonable volume. I'll send it to my agent, and when it doesn't sell I'll see about small press publishing or self publishing it. You thought I was promoting small press and self publishing just for the benefit of aspiring writers? I use them myself. Its the way to get around the resistance of Parnassus to readable or provocative fiction. These are, by no special coincidence, stories about people and how they relate to each other, generally male and female, sometimes intense, often concerning love and/or sex. They range in length from a scant 1,500 words to a scant 20,000 words. For example, "For Real" concerns a college boy who is assigned a sample live-in companion whose whole mission is to be the best possible girlfriend he could have. She truly tries; any college boy would like her, though she's not big breasted or beautiful. But at the end of her assignment she'll be gone; the relation is temporary, not for real. Another is "Basket Ball," wherein a straight male player interacts in unusual fashion with a team of lesbian players, to surprising mutual advantage. The long one is "The Hot Game," which may be too hotly sexual for standard publication; you haven't seen a game like this before, and not just because it is set in a military prison. Another short one is "The Key," which is simply an intense nonsexual dialogue between two women. So that must be pretty boring, eh? Maybe I'll hear from female readers, when. There are all types here, whatever my imagination conceives. All are crafted to be the best I can write; there is nothing cheap or offhand about them. I'm writing for me, and maybe to show what kind of writer I could have been, had there been a market.

Every so often I update you folk on my archery. Would you believe, a few of you are interested. Right handed I have gradually worked up to positive scores: that is, at 150 feet striking the one square foot center more often than I miss the four square foot target entirely. But left handed continues problematical. If the arrow didn't fall off the two filament wires of the arrow rest while drawing, it could still get dumped right, left, or down when being loosed. I would be left staring at the center of the target while the arrow sailed two feet away from it. I was sure I wasn't doing it, but how could I prove it? Then I saw a new kind of arrow rest in a CABALA'S catalog: shaped like a cone. I ordered it and tried it. Okay, it completely solved the first problem: since it entirely surrounds the arrow, the arrow can't fall off, even if the bow is held upside down. I love that. But I still have problems with wild shots. I got smart and when an arrow flung out on its own course I retrieved it and loosed it again. The second time it would strike the target, or the center, or miss on the other side. That established that it was neither cone nor arrow at fault; it was me. I was unconsciously twisting the bow as I loosed. When I stopped doing that, the arrow went true. Except when it didn't. So I'm still not making great scores, but I think I'll be doing better now. My most recent session, the day I edited this column, was 2-3 right handed, and 3-3 left handed, the three left handed misses forming a nice triangle a foot right of the target. So they were either on the target, or well wide of it, as if an invisible hand wrenched them off-track; no middle ground. I find that suspicious. But until I actually catch the invisible genie grabbing them, I have to take the blame for bad aim.

I like Linux and like Openoffice/StarOffice, but there have been wrinkles to iron out. Things went mysteriously wrong and I couldn't fix them. I messaged my geek, but he has disappeared. Sigh; I think geeks are another form of genie. So we brought in my daughter's friend Tim, who fixed the problems. Now I'm set up with StarOffice 7, and have macros, and it will automatically call up whatever files I have on when I close, though it scrambles their order. So do I recommend it for others? Well, I think Linux still needs an influx of user friendliness, but any who are curious can try StarOffice on a Windows system and see how it is. You can get it for a nominal price, something like $80 for on a disk for several systems, or download the OpenOffice version free. I think this is the beginning of the end for the MacroHard monopoly, and maybe the beginning of the end for the necessity to use geeks to get into Linux.

Which for some devious reason reminds me of politics. It's Primary Season, and the heads are starting to roll. I grew up and went to college in Vermont, so of course I favor Howard "I have a scream" Dean. But I could support one of the others if he doesn't make it. I am socially liberal and fiscally conservative, which means I detest what's going on with our government now. I'd like to see a balanced budget, universal health care, preservation of our environment, and freedom and justice for all. The so-called Patriot Act reminds me of the saying that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. The whole business reminds me of Orwell's novel 1984, that spelled out the way folk are convinced that war is peace, lies are truth, and so on. Unfortunately there seem to be a multitude of fools who believe it. As has been said by others, the current administration has the semblance of a coup, and present policies represent a kind of looting of our nation. Instead of a surplus we have deficits extending beyond the horizon, and we have alienated much of the rest of the world. If we don't clean up our own act soon, others may do it for us. We won't like that.

We saw the movie Return of the King. It was good, but I'm less impressed than most. I saw much violent action, armies marching and fighting with no supplies, a severed finger that was mysteriously restored without explanation, that sort of thing. But there were some great battle scenes. As it happened, we saw a rerun of Titanic on TV the same day, and its structure, focus, and attention to detail made the fantasy movie look inferior in comparison. Other things being equal, which they seldom are, I'd rather see fantasy than mainstream, but I'd rather see quality than sloppiness. We also saw the movie Paycheck, which had fast action and a truly horrendous threat, but was a bit confusing in places. A reader gave me the Anime video Spirited Away, and we watched that Christmas Day. It was confusing in places, but well worth watching. If I ran the world, movies would make sure they were intelligible to viewers throughout, so as to have best effect.

All of which reminds me of my own motion picture prospects. Where would I be if I didn't have chains of thought? The option contracts with Disney for On a Pale Horse have now been completed, so maybe that movie will come to pass. The prior option on Xanth faded, but there is strong new interest, so that too may happen. We'll see. I'd like to have a movie or series of movies; for one thing that would probably put me back on the best seller lists. I'd love to revisit that territory before I croak, on general principles. In my arrogance I like to think that if a movie causes ten times as many people to sample my novels, I'll take permanent possession of half of them. Because, critics to the contrary, I do know how to tell a good story. But no, if they do make movies from my works, they won't consult me about making them intelligible, so don't expect it. I'll follow the standard advice: take the money and run.

I'm a sucker for MOVIES UNLIMITED video sales, and keep buying hot old movies that like as not turn out to be clunkers. I never learn. For example I bought Ebony Ivory & Jade, hoping for a fast moving story of three sexy babes. Well, it was, in its fashion, but the acting was amateurish, the photography was so dark I could hardly see it, and the story line was nonsensical. In contrast one I thought would be junk, Lolida 2000, delivered exactly what I like: three sexy inset stories whose brief story lines could be followed, for all that the point is not the story but the magnificent female nudity. Meanwhile my video collection is taking up space, so I assembled a wooden video rack, that of course was improperly made so we had to buy new screws that fit and struggle with drilling to get it together. Can't blame American workers for this one; it was made in southeast Asia. But it did free up some chronically jammed study space. In time I hope to start re-watching those I liked best, like What Dreams May Come and Starship Troopers. But now that I have the videos shelved, my video player seems to have forgotten how to rewind at the end. Sigh.

I don't pay a lot of attention to TV, but do like some. One is Las Vegas, because it is overflowing with scantily clad full breasted sweet faced brown haired women and has a reasonable semblance of story lines. I realize those girls are probably all implanted galore, but they do look luscious. In a similar vein, collaborator JoAnne Taeusch sent me a Bettie Page doll whose arms and legs can be positioned; she's a full fleshed creature in scanty removable attire. One thing she has that I miss elsewhere: hips. Have you noticed how today's clothing models have amble bosoms but hips like those of men? Whatever happened to the nether section of women? In the old days 36-24-36 meant something; now it seems more like 44-30-32. I guess what they're doing is putting big breasts on thin women, not caring about proper proportioning.

I've also been reading. I seldom read just for pleasure, but neither do I read for displeasure; I'm no critic. I read what publishers send me for blurbing, I read manuscripts of aspiring writers, and in Jamboree I read the three finalists in the DOUBLE DRAGON fantasy contest. I won't comment this time on those, as it's too soon for news of the winner. But the others are available. I read several stories in the anthology Fantasy Readers Wanted--Apply Within, edited by Nick Aires and James Richey. One of the naughtiest was "A Damsel in this Dress," by Ralan Conley, known for his remarkable web site that lists every conceivable relevant site for writers. The damsel is so feisty she seduces the dragon who abducts her, but her dress doesn't fit well, and keeps baring embarrassing portions of her anatomy. More fun. There are serious stories too; those who like fantasy stories should enjoy them. I read The one Who Would Be King by Gareth Blackmore, the first novel of a fantasy adventure series for young folk. I read Caring for God's Laptop by Rakesh Biswas, wherein (to simplify drastically) God comes to earth in the form of a laptop computer and forgets His nature. This novel has aspects of medicine, romance, sex, computing, and who knows what else; it's probably of greater interest to intelligent readers than those who prefer pure adventure. I read Peacemaker, by Daniel J. Ronco, and this is a powerhouse of computer adventure, with scheming programmers galore and control over the world in the balance. But the last two impressed me most. One was Midnight Rain by J. Newman, a mainstream thriller featuring a twelve year old boy. It's no juvenile. You see, the boy happens to witness the murder of a girl by the town sheriff, then lives in fear that the murderer will be after him next. There's an amazing series of revelations as the boy tries to figure out what to do. What impressed me most was the aptness of the writing and figures of speech. For example the boy describes the forbidding librarian as more disagreeable than a rabid Tasmanian Devil with a rusty knife up its butt and something in its eye. I love this, not only because it is clever, but because that is the kind of exaggerated imagery a rebellious twelve year old boy would employ. Characterization is on target throughout. So this is mainstream; I still recommend it as a great piece of writing. Finally, the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon, the title uncapitalized. This is about an autistic fifteen year old boy who discovers a murdered dog and decides to find out who did it. This, too, leads to amazing revelations as he searches. But mainly, it's the portrayal of autism. I winced as I saw described some traits I recognized in my father, and some in myself. I'm not autistic, as far as I know, but I have some aspects that if taken further would be that. Such as an obsession with numbers, records, getting things exactly straight. When I say I may be the best documented writer on the current fantasy genre scene, I'm not bragging, I'm describing one of those aspects. I try to curb it, but I have records of just about every aspect of my writing, dating back to 1966. I can identify what I was working on any day of my career, how much I wrote, what I read, what I researched, what else I did, and have sent to university archives dated pages of it. When Jerry Pournelle falsely accused me of sending him a letter calling him a Nazi, I was able to identify our correspondence and show there was no such letter. I save letters too, you see: incoming and copies of my outgoing. My career, as it forms in the archives, is an open book, as it were. I'm also almost as bad trying to travel as that boy is, which is why I really do avoid it whenever possible. Normal folk aren't that way. But for you normal folk, I recommend this novel as a fascinating way to learn about autism. It's actually a pretty good story regardless, with a number of surprises along the way.

Recent TV--Dateline, I think--had a show that was an eye-opener for normal folk. It pointed out that people can miss the obvious when focusing on a particular thing. It proved it. There were six basketball players, three in white, three in black. The challenge was to count the number of passes the white players made. The group was all mixed up, moving around; it was tricky to catch them, and I did miss several, though my wife got the correct score. They showed it twice, so we could verify our answers. Then they pulled the surprise: we had missed the black gorilla that walked through the throng, mugged the camera, and moved on. It was absolutely obvious, impossible to miss--yet we had missed it, and I suspect most of the TV audience did. That makes me wonder how much else obvious I may be missing when I focus, as I often do. Autistics can really fo--now stop that!

I encountered an intriguing legal concept: false light. That's when your facts and statements may be accurate, but you phrase them in such a way as to give a false impression. I teased Jenny that way once, saying that her mother tried to make a living computer programming, and lost all her teeth. Both true, but only coincidentally. A prominent example may be the current administration's habit of mentioning terrorism and Iraq together. They never said Saddam was responsible for 9/11, yet about half the population came to believe it, though it was false. It seems that a person can be convicted in a trial for that sort of thing, if it leads to a miscarriage of justice. I remember when I was told by a lawyer that if I publicized how a publisher cheated me, I could be sued for libel and lose--even though what I said was true. I was disgusted, but maybe false light was what he was thinking of. Truth is not always a sufficient defense. Of course today I worry less about that, because not only am I well documented, I can afford the kind of lawyers who will make my case stick. So today I go ahead and expose the machinations of publishers, and if any should sue, they will discover the proof of that. But I do try to be careful what I say, and to be sure that not only is it true in detail and implication, but that I can prove it. And that my lawyer is of larger caliber than theirs.

Last column I posed two questions to readers, and now the votes are in. Should I wrote the eighth Incarnations of Immortality novel, about Nox? The vote is 36 to 1 in favor, and one maybe. Accordingly I expect to start writing it the beginning of Marsh, allowing six months before I write the next Xanth novel, Stork Naked. We'll see how it turns out, and what sort of market there is for it. Since Disney looks serious on the first novel in the series, On a Pale Horse, I suspect some publisher will be interested; a movie would enhance the sales of all the novels. The second question is whether to have a gay male character in Xanth. The vote is 22-16 in favor, and two maybe. That's too big a negative; I don't want to alienate one third of my readers, so I don't plan to do it. It seems that the world is not yet ready for such a step.

I saw an interesting news item: the happiness of lottery winners is similar to that of recent accident victims. I never won a lottery, but did have a car rollover in 1956, one of my closest risks of death. But I regard the way I became a bestseller, by getting into fantasy by chance just as fantasy was about to take off for the stratosphere, as like winning a lottery. I'm more depressive than I am happy; do those events explain it?

Sometimes stupid questions turn out to be otherwise. A reader asked me whether Mount Pinatuba, the one that blew its top with a great Oom-PAH! and cooled all Xanth by one degree (obviously far-fetched fantasy that would never happen in drear Mundania), is north or south of the Gap Chasm. It's south, of course. Then why, Robert Elsner inquired innocently, does page 149 of Harpy Thyme suggest it is north? Uh, well, does some other reader have a reasonable answer? All I can think of (my lack of imagination is well known to critics) is that maybe the mountain got bored where it was and moved. Smart readers have pulled me out of the hole before; can any rescue me from getting barbecued (again) by lurking critics?

Norton advised us that it was time to get a new package, rather than simply updating the old one. Since we get a lot of mail, and many viruses come in, we did so at the turn of the year, and almost wish we hadn't. We had immediate complications, such as not being able to get online. We've hammered them out mostly, but still have to reset the system when my wife and I want to change users. I use the Dvorak keyboard, she uses QWERTY, for example. Sigh; software just doesn't like to let you have anything easy; there's always got to be a side effect that pokes you in the eye. If I ran computerdom--oh, never mind, no one's listening anyway.

Pete Rose: I'm not much of a baseball fan, but I recognized the name when it hit the news. Essentially, he played a great game, made records for hits, games played, and times at bat, and earned a place in the Hall of Fame. But because he bet on some games, they banned him. I feel that halls of fame should be determined by the merits of the cases, not by political correctness or whether a person is doing something others don't like. I remember when Cassius Clay--Mohammed Ali--was the boxing champion, but they didn't like his religion, which forbade him being drafted, so they took away his crown, and it took years before the Supreme Court finally said that was wrong. Duh! If you don't like a person's religion, don't join it, but don't deny him what he has fairly earned. If Pete Rose broke a law by gambling, punish him for that, but don't try to pretend that he never made the records he did. It seems that now he admits he gambled, they may let him in. That strikes me as a bit like plea bargaining: admit you did the crime, and they'll reduce the sentence. Deny it, and they'll bury you forever. Thus some innocent people plead guilty, out of expediency. Similarly those who are tortured will confess, regardless of innocence, just to make it stop. I hope I'm not the only one who has a problem with this. I suspect Pete Rose is guilty, but the reasoning still bothers me.

I received an email: "We are happy to inform you that your DarkProfits.com Sales Order has been successfully completed." It says my credit card was charged $149.95 for one month Child Porn Unlimited Online Access. I doubt it; I don't do business online and have no interest in Child Porn despite the fanatic accusations of some readers who object to Panties in Xanth. I presume this is an effort to get me to contact them, if some joker didn't fake my name. Maybe they plan to ask for my credit card number as "verification" of an error, so that they can then really rip me off. Maybe they want me to call their 877 number to cancel; is that the one that charges a thousand dollars a minute? Or will they change to the expensive number when anyone calls? These devious come-ons are bad enough; I think I invoked the Mydoom Worm, thinking it was a communication from my server. Fortunately Norton antivirus caught it, though it was not yet on the Norton virus list. There are sharks in those waters.

I trash most spam, but one amused me. It said (I'm cleaning up the language) that the average girl's rectum can stretch up to three inches in diameter, while the average horse's member is five inches in diameter. Apparently the site shows stallions painfully buggering girls. It says I won't believe it. Right on: I don't believe it. If I were a stallion, my sexual interest would be in the vagina of a mare in heat, not the rectum of a hominid. But each according to his taste. Not directly related: there was news of the discovery of 425 million year old fossil they named Colymbosathon ecplecticos, which translates into "Astounding Swimmer with a Large Penis." Maybe he needed to swim well enough to catch a female with a small rectum.

I heard from Ranking.com, saying HiPiers was ranked #296,822 among the 900,000 most visited sites on the Internet. Gee, that high? Maybe if I say something provocative I'll make it all the way up to #295,000! They offered to provide a free weekly service if I subscribed. It seemed legitimate, so I did, and they verified it. And I never heard from them again. Well, I guess you get what you pay for. That puts them down around 900,000+1 on my list. Meanwhile a report from a legitimate service showed that in early Dismember HiPiers was averaging over 15,000 hits per day, which translated to 725 visitors per day, the average visitor making 21 hits. I feel black and blue.

Back circa 1980 we bought some AT&T shares just before the company broke up into Snow White and the 7 giant dwarves, as a convenient way to diversify. But two decades of further splits and recombinations have made the picture too complicated to decipher. So we're trying to simplify, and sold our Agere Systems stock. Agere of course is French for Ogre.

One of my interests is the derivation and evolution of mankind, and I've done a good deal of research over the decades. A recent item suggests that we adopted clothing 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, when we ventured into the world beyond warm Africa. They determined this by tracing body lice, which live in clothing. Maybe. But as I see it, mankind more likely evolved clothing in conjunction with losing body fur, maybe millions of years ago. So the lice are more recent; so maybe a tribe took a communal bath and washed clothing at the same time, eliminating the lice, who then had to start from scratch, as it were. Something not everyone wants to admit is that mankind of 100,000+ years ago was just as smart as now. He just hadn't yet developed the software to go with his brain hardware, or got all the bugs out, as it were.

Discovery of the universe continues. Now they figure it is 73% Dark energy, 23% Dark Matter, 4% nonluminous ordinary matter like planets and dust, and 0.4% luminous matter, like stars, nebulae, and galaxies. That does seem to put us in our place: everything we can see directly is less than half a per cent of the total. Of course it could be that they simply don't understand the long-range nature of gravity. I hope I live long enough to see the answer.

Collaborator Cliff Pickover, author of numerous nonfiction books, asked me for my ten favorite words. Those may change day by day or minute by minute, but for that minute I sent him these: Honor, Empathy, Realism, Imagination, Sex, Pantheism, Magic, Chocolate, Idealism, Verisimilitude. I see you all wondering about one of them, so let me discuss that further: Pantheism. The Humanist related magazine FREE INQUIRY has many interesting articles, one of which by Richard Dawkins clarified the definitions of some of us who are agnostically inclined. It says a theist believes in a supernatural intelligence who answers prayers, punishes sins, performs miracles, etc. That seems to cover most formal religions. A deist figures that a supernatural intelligence set up the universe with its laws and left it alone thereafter, like watching a windup toy go. Pantheists believe in nature and the universe, nothing supernatural. Dawkins says that pantheism is sexed-up atheism, and deism is watered down theism. That intrigues me. Now, again, for those of you who don't get the distinction between atheism and agnosticism: an atheist says there is no god. An agnostic says he's not sure. I'm agnostic, and I figure if there is a god, it's the pantheistic version. Maybe agnosticism is wishy-washy atheism. But I prefer to phrase it this way: I don't presume to claim to know the nature of God. My not-so-subtle implication is that religious folk and atheists do so presume. It's one hell of a presumption.

Meanwhile THE HUMANIST, which seems to me like a sister magazine, has an article saying Americans don't really believe in the Ten Commandments, and makes a persuasive case. We don't figure other folk are wrong because they don't directly worship Yahweh, we do make graven images galore, we do take God's name in vain, lord yes, we are busy seven days a week, we don't necessarily honor our parents, we do kill, commit adultery, steal, lie, and covet our neighbor's possessions. We're a sorry lot, and hypocritical. If we really practiced the Ten Commandments we'd have a rather different society. The same magazine has an article on the new electronic voting. One company, Diebold, has a CEO who is a Republican fund raiser. After his company got the contract in Georgia, the Republican party scored a series of remarkable upset victories in that state's 2002 elections, giving Republicans the governorship and control of the US Senate. I wonder why some of us prefer to have a verifiable paper trail? Maybe because we want our votes counted the way we voted, next time.

I did some study cleaning up--it happens on rare occasion when I need elbow room--and came across a Dear Abby clipping I saved in 1999. It told of two women talking on a bus, and one was surprised to learn the other was 46. A nearby young man said "Yeah, you'd be a real knockout of an older woman if you'd lose some weight." The woman then told him that she was a knockout, and that what he thought did not concern her. The other passengers broke into applause, and the young man soon got off the bus. This exchange was given as an example of the righteous putting down of a crude man. Oh, yeah? I have quite a different take on it. The man lacked sophistication, but evidently intended to compliment the woman. For that he got bawled out by the woman, who plainly did care what he thought, and in effect by the other passengers. I suspect that what he said was true: she could have been quite impressive for her age, if she lost some weight. Instead of taking that to heart and losing weight, she cut him down, and the others abetted her. She should have simply said "Thank you," instead of making a bragging shrew of herself. So why is this minor incident sufficient to arouse my reaction? Because I remember being the victim of a similar situation. At the 1966 Milford Conference, where a score or so of SF/Fantasy genre writers gathered to discuss their fiction and the state of the genre, I raised a question I had seen in print: Should a writer write a first person narrative featuring the other gender? Because that might spoil the effect; it can't really be a teen girl talking if you know the author is a middle aged man. I did not get an answer; I got a lecture from John Brunner, who questioned my own sexuality for even raising the question. And the other writers broke into applause. Okay, I didn't argue the case, and proceeded with my own career thereafter, which in terms of sales (not critical acceptance) was to eclipse that of all the others then present except perhaps Anne McCaffrey. I'm pleased that seldom has any woman ever objected to the way I portray women as protagonists in my fiction; indeed, most tell me I have it right. But I still think it was a valid question that deserved an answer, not an applauded attack on me. I like to think that the reluctance of the other writers to address a valid question about writing signaled their subsequent lack of success compared to mine; they preferred condemnation to consideration. I was more seriously interested in writing than they were, or maybe just luckier. I dare say those others might not agree with this assessment, but the episode speaks for itself. I never attended another Milford Conference; they surely thought Good Riddance. I think they just didn't get it. And I tend to bridle when a group gangs up on an individual for speaking a truth they don't want to consider. The very idea of exploring a question about writing at a writing conference!

Speaking of female reactions: another paper found dates from 1998: an email from a woman I now quote in its entirety: "Sexist male pig! Try writing about a strong woman for once! After all, not all women are easy, beautiful, thin, air-headed bimbos! We don't all aspire to being married and having kids! We don't all wear short, cleavage-showing, scanty dresses and jump in bed with every half-wit male that happens to come along! Stop stereotyping women in your writing you disgusting horny parasite!" Gee, I wonder which of my novels she was thinking of? All she needs is for all the other readers of this column to break into applause. Perhaps relevant is a current newspaper ad featuring beautiful air-headed bimbos in cleavage-showing bras and panties that are on sale this week, $11.99 for the former, $2.99 for the latter. Doubtless those models have breast implants, but they do look good. What gets me, though, is the lack of hips, as noted above. Maybe they are harder to fake. They just don't seem to make women as they used to, in the opinion of this disgusting horny parasite.

Another years-old item I saved is a piece titled "The Inflation Scam." It says that in the '80s they changed the rules to make monetary inflation seem lower. When official inflation reached 5%, a giant accounting firm recalculated it using the old rules--and it came to 15%. Now you know why government figures don't reflect your personal reality. I've suspected it for a long time.

There was also a copy of the Jewel-Lye & AwGhost 1993 issue of the HI PIERS newsletter. (I did say my study seldom gets cleaned up?) This was back in the days when Hi Piers was a bookseller; we weren't then online. I did a relatively brief column, reported on my attendance at events in Gainesville Florida, reported on my afternoon with the winners of the Characters contest, and ran a brief excerpt from my historical novel Isle of Woman. In time we shut HiPiers down, as it was losing money at a horrendous rate, and my activity moved to HiPiers.com. Times do change.

THE ECONOMIST had a nice article on language: they have discovered one without nouns or verbs. This challenges Noam Chomsky's thesis that we are hard-wired for a particular language format. (I have resisted the urge to have a Gnome in Xanth named Chomsky; I don't think Dr. Chomsky would see the humor.) I never agreed with that; the evidence of pidgin or creole languages having similar rules merely shows that they are compounded from different languages that already have those rules. The larger question is whether the languages we speak affect our mode of thinking. Jack Vance addressed that in his novel The Languages of Pao, wherein those raised on warlike languages became warriors, for example. I don't know whether there's anything to it in real life, but it's an intriguing hypothesis.

I received an ad inviting me to subscribe to Realms of Fantasy. Their literature shows one of their covers with my name on it. You might think from that that I am represented therein. No. The editor solicited a story from me before the magazine started up, years ago, and I agreed, but had no clue what kind of fantasy was wanted. The editor was going to get in touch with me but never did, so I finally wrote a vanilla story without elements to annoy any potential readers and sent it in. That's really not my style, but I was shooting blind. Months passed, and finally the editor rejected it, after she had closed out the first issue, so that there was no chance to write another that better met her undefined criteria. I can write for a market if I have any hint what it wants, as perhaps my larger career indicates. There was nothing; the editor clearly wasn't interested and I can't say I was interested either. I received no word, no further request; I have never seen an issue. But here's the kicker: ever since, from the outset on, my name has been used in their advertising to promote that magazine. I have to conclude that all they wanted was my name, not my participation. I am not pleased, but I doubt I could sue them for false advertising. You can bet that I'll never write for them, however.

Another newspaper article on the connection between learning and sleep, as science inches toward what I described years ago in Shame of Man: we process memories in our sleep, during the brain's downtime. Now they are finding that it's not just dreams; elements are set up in deep sleep too. I'm still waiting for someone to win the Nobel Prize for Science for such a discovery; maybe it will help the sales of my novel when I point out who thought of it first.

TECHNOLOGY REVIEW had an article on ten technologies that refuse to die. You know they're right; some outdated ones don't die. They mention analog watches, dot matrix printers, typewriters, vacuum tubes and others. Well, I do wear an analog watch, and believe the day of analog is not close to being done.

CENSORSHIP NEWS had an interesting article on the connection between violent video games and violence in the people who play them. It seems there is none. Prior studies have been incomplete and faulty; it is apparent that players are no more violent than those who don't play. That intrigues me, because my concern is the effect of written fiction on the readers: if I write a violent scene, does it encourage violence? If I write a sexy scene, does it cause readers to go looking for sex? If I mention rape, do they then do it? I have seen no evidence that they do, but the case has never been certain. This informal game survey suggest that I don't need to worry. Yet can all the advertisers be wrong about the effect of their ads on public taste?

I have other clippings, but yet again I have to call a halt somewhere. Let's all take a break for two months to watch the primaries.
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