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The Ogre's Den image
Piers Anthony at work
OctOgre 2004
HI-

We have a hurricane repulsion spell on our region of Florida. That is because every hurricane opens its eye and orients on us, then heads directly for us. We don't like hurricanes, so we have to fend them off. This season has been typical. Charley crossed Cuba and we were in the center of its path. Then he hit the spell and diverted across south and central Florida, missing except for his long trailing tail. Frances tried it from the other side of the state, and she was really determined. She wouldn't divert, and kept fighting the spell, losing strength in the process, finally passing us as a tropical storm. This was a storm the size of Texas covering Florida. Ivan revved up to 165 miles per hour winds, a Category 5 storm, and tried Charley's path, with us centered. But he miscalculated and swung too wide, and hit Alabama instead. He even reached the Atlantic, looped around, and crossed Florida again, but couldn't catch us and finally plowed into Texas. A storm the size of Florida haunting Texas. They never learn, being air-heads. Then Jeanne tried Frances' route, with a little more oomph, and came reasonably close. But the spell is like the speed of light: the closer you get to it, the harder it is to make it the rest of the way. We never got hurricane force winds, only gale force. So even this record effort--four hurricanes hitting Florida in two months--was not enough to blow away this ornery writer.

Still, it is hard to maintain the spell when it's constantly being tested. Magic isn't cheap, and we did feel the impact. I keep records of our rainfall--it's one of those Asperger syndrome type compulsive things--and with Frances we had consecutive days with 4.4 and 4.3 inches for a tree farm record 8.7 in two days. Jeanne, moving through faster, had a bigger single day, 6.95 inches, but wasn't a bigger rain event. But that was only part of it. We lost our electric power during Frances for a full week. That was an ordeal. We were prepared with flashlights, batteries, windup radio, and a dozen gallons of potable water stored for the past decade, but that didn't stop the heat. We sweltered. The high temperature for that event was 92°F, the low 76°. We have become used to air conditioning--it makes Florida livable--and without it we had to sleep in an 82° bedroom. We opened windows but it hardly helped. We longed for a woosh of wind, but once the storm passed there was no breath of breeze. We had no hot meals or cold ones; everything was room temperature. We took no showers; the electric well pump was off with the power, though the damned kitchen tap still dripped; we had to turn it off below the sink. We dipped buckets of water from the pool to flush toilets. We washed up with washcloth alone, rinsing the cloth with half cups of water, but that didn't do for washing hair, and we felt constantly grubby. We maintained a sort of standing pot of dishwater, and rinsed what we needed with more half cups of water. Same with brushing teeth. Potable water was precious, because we did not know when we would have more, so we rationed it.

We slogged through. It was especially hard on my wife and the dog, whose healths are not great. My wife was adversely affected by her blood pressure medication, lost strength in her legs, and she fell several times. I was elsewhere and didn't hear her call. She had to crawl to her chair and haul herself up. The dog, Obsidian, is now older than we are, in dog years, weight about 95 pounds, and is feeble on her feet. She tried to climb the stairs as usual to join my wife, made it to the top step, ran out of power, and slid back down to the first floor. As for me--well, I had a backache that developed around the turn of the year and didn't pass, so I finally broached the matter to my doctor's office, got X-rays, and was diagnosed with severe degenerative disk disease just before Hurricane Frances came. That means it won't be getting better. I was wary of aggravating it by overexerting myself, but things needed to be done, like clearing the long driveway of debris, and I did them. That drive had become a green carpet of fallen branches and pine needles, turning brown in later days. So we were not in great shape, but apart from that, we survived satisfactorily. I now accompany my wife for things like grocery shopping, just in case. I let her push the shopping cart around herself, though I could move it more readily, because it's like a walker: support as she walks. We don't need any more problems.

What about evacuation? Sections of Florida were under mandatory evacuation; we weren't, but probably wouldn't have gone anyway, though Hurricane Ivan really scared us, for a time threatening to come ashore near us with 150 mph winds. There are two big problems the authorities affect not to be aware of: most shelters don't allow pets, and we were not about to leave our dog to die alone in a hurricane. It would have been hard to take her with us anyway, because she's too weak on her feet to get into the car, despite loving car rides. I made a ramp of bricks and boards, and she can use that, but where would that be away from home? Even without pets, those shelters are far from ideal; some lost their roofs to the hurricanes, some had inadequate toilet facilities, and people had to sleep all across the floors. A shelter can become a stinking hole. The other thing is the looters, who come out the moment neighborhoods are evacuated. Folk return days later to find their houses broken into and their TVs, computers, or whatever else gone. Small wonder they don't want to go.

So what did we do, that wearing week, cut off from TV, email, meaningful work? We listened to the radios, tuned to news of the storms, we read by lamplight, and caught up on stray chores. We spent hours clearing everything out of the refrigerator, and washed it. I cleaned up areas of the house that seldom knew cleanups. I also penciled a couple thousand words notes on my interrupted Xanth novel, #30 Stork Naked, having plenty of time to ponder details while unable to type. We went out shopping; what a blessing a car can be! We visited our daughter when her power finally came back on, to take showers. And of course we slept. In sweat. What the body touched tended to stick, such as paper, chair covers, and of course the bedsheets. I would wake to find the adhering shaped sheets ripped off the corners and wadded up as I turned in my sleep. By day it was hard to get a sweat-glued T-shirt off. One of the trials was the lack of information. Hurricane Ivan was coming, taking dead aim on us of course, but the radio reports were vague about his progress, especially with respect to those of us living in the hinterlands. We kept hoping for power restoration that didn't come, for garbage collection that wasn't, even for the UPS delivery we knew was in process. But a cable was down across the road and they couldn't get through. My wife finally called the cable TV company, though we don't have cable, and they fixed their cable, and then other services resumed. The one service that carried through without interruption was the phone. Not the new cell phone, which lost its signal; the land line. That was another significant blessing. Well, almost; I received phoned news of a formidable investment reversal that struck by surprise and probably can't be fixed. Sigh.

It was wearing emotionally as well as physically. As the days passed the refrigerator thawed and the spoiling food began to stink. We ate what we could, but had to throw the rest out. I buried it in the garden: sixteen whole eggs, eight to ten apples, fruitcake loaf we had been given and were saving for the right occasion. Assorted leftovers, some forgotten for months, hidden behind other things; you know how it is. Some were hardened into unidentifiable rocks, while old yogurt had festered into fresh vomit. Squash seeds we had saved for planting, carrots, lettuce, nuts, sliced cheese, ice cream. Unopened packages of frozen foods. Now, days later, we have new things sprouting in that garden. We are restocking, but I hated all that waste. At least Jeanne spared us the power outage; her worst was ten seconds. We are grateful. Our barometer went down to about 29.2 with Frances, and off the scale with Jeanne, about 28.8; we've never seen that before at the tree farm. After Frances a man from FEMA checked by; somehow I thought it should be a woman, because of the FEM. We lost one metal tile from our roof with each storm; otherwise no physical damage to the house.

So was that all for this period? Not entirely. I have taken care of my teeth in recent decades, and now brush them carefully four times a day, use an additional little Christmas-tree brush to get in the crevices once a day, rinse my mouth for a minute with dilute hydrogen peroxide once a day, and floss once a week. I have visited dentist and hygienist regularly. I don't eat between meals; my mouth is clean. Still my teeth decay. It seems my saliva is corrosive; I have had more than a dozen root canals, many on teeth that had onlays (crowns) that did not protect them. My dentist proposes a treatment program of fillings and crown replacements that will come to more than five thousand dollars, this time, saying that my teeth decay because I don't floss. I pondered that during the power outage, and concluded that enough is enough. I may have spent $50,000 in constant dollars on my teeth over my lifetime, trying to maintain the originals; this is to continue year after year while I get blamed for the failure of modern dentistry to safeguard my teeth? I believe I will start letting them go, rather than devote my remaining life to trying to maintain them. Let's face it: I'm starting my seventies; how many years am I likely to have the use of expensive repairs? Dentures may be less trouble. Meanwhile I'm trying something new that I read about: I'm brushing my teeth with bar soap, per the advice of a medical newsletter. It's cheaper than toothpaste, and may clean them better. I'm using the bar of coconut flavored soap Lisa Maliga sent me; I'm saving the chocolate flavored soap for some more special occasion. What would it be like to have a chocolate soap shower with Lisa? Oops--did that daydream come out in print? I'll be in trouble. Again.

I also received a summons for jury duty. I was ready to honor it, being civic minded, but with my wife's condition and my degenerate disks I yielded and pleaded the excuse of being too old: 70. I'm not too old at that age, but the real reasons they wouldn't understand. I suspect the storms have postponed that service anyway; schools were temporarily closed and I think the courthouse too. At any rate, taken as a whole, these past two months have not been my greatest.

Let's move on to more positive items. I like trees; that's one reason I live on a tree farm. It is mostly planted slash pine and naturally growing oaks; we value the other trees appearing here and there, like magnolias, dogwood, red cedar, cypress, and hickory. Our lone little sand pine near Ogre Corner I have watched and encouraged for fifteen years; the storms brought other trees down around and on it, so I sawed and clipped them clear, and now it is bent over but surviving, and has a whole lot more light where the fallen trees were, so I think will prosper. Both volunteer red cedar trees along the drive had narrow escapes over the years but are now doing well. And we spied a little mulberry, identifying it in the tree book by its leaves, which are shaped somewhat like the clubs of a deck of cards. But it was too close to the transformer, and when the crews came to restore our power their trucks flattened it. So I realized that it could not survive where it was, and I did it more damage by digging it up and transplanting it to a more favored place in sight of the house. It was about five feet tall, and its roots reached out far afield, bright carrot orange, lodged in the limestone gravel of the side of the drive, so there was no gentle way to get it out. Of course it lost its leaves, but I hoped it would survive and I would take good care of it thereafter. For a week it suffered. Then I saw that one tiny leaf survived near the ground, and little leaf buds showed along two of its branches. Now it is definite: new leaves are starting. That thrills me all out of proportion. It hurts me to cut down trees that encroach along the drive; after all, they are only innocently seeking light. But the occasional special one I can save is great.

You have surely seen those Levitra ads, with the lovely young wife so happy that her man can stiffen his resolve (or whatever) again, thanks to the pills. Listen, honey--any man with a lovely obliging woman like you in his bed needs no pills.

I had occasion to use the word “het,” as in he got all het up, so I looked it up to be sure of its usage. I have the dictionary habit with a vengeance; I love words almost as much as trees. Well, well--the big Random House and Webster's dictionaries don't list it. My big old Funk & Wagnalls, the one I got for my tenth birthday, says it's a form of “heat.” That makes sense. The Oxford English Dictionary supplement doesn't seem to define it but does list a paragraph of sentences using it. Interesting.

Mundania Press, which republished Pornucopia, send me a doll modeled on its cover: Suzie Succubus, smolderingly sexy. In the sequel, The Magic Fart, Suzie has become a kind of girlfriend for the male protagonist. She pretends he's asleep, as required for her kind, and he pretends she's human. Thus they serve each other's needs well enough: hers for human appreciation--succubi don't get much respect--and his for sex. No, I believe it's a one of a kind doll, not on the market.

We viewed the Olympics. I watched selectively, appreciating the women's volleyball. Can't think why any man would want to watch bikini-clad healthy young women vigorously bouncing. But of course the judging of other events was of the usual Olympic quality, which means it wouldn't necessarily pass muster in a high school competition, and they seem loath to correct obvious errors. Protocol seems more important than fair play.

I sent the 8th Incarnations of Immortality novel to my agent, and he tried it on an interested editor, but it bounced. It may be that it wasn't properly understood, not being Xanth, or that it is not up to the standard of the others in the series. It is difficult for a writer to judge his own work; that's why editors exist, a necessary evil. If it does not achieve traditional publication, in time I will go to small press or self publication, so readers can judge for themselves.

In the dark morning I look at the sky, and often see the stars. Orion's Belt has finally reappeared, a familiar constellation. When my little girl was two I would sit outside with her and show her the three bright stars of the belt: Alnilac, Alnitac, and Mintaka, as I remember. Thus Melody of Mintaka in Chaining the Lady. Which reminds me: the folk at first grade school knew when I did my daughter's hair, because she would have three or five braids. I was always sort of a maverick. Now she's doing her daughter's hair with three braids. See? Dad's do influence daughters.

My scooter finally arrived, dumped at our gate in the rain, no instructions, no warranty, no nothing. Fortunately it's a pretty simple device, and I was able to put on the handlebars. It works fine, but I discovered that I use more energy with it than with the recumbent bike, so can't use it to scoot the mile and a half gate round drip lest I have to change my sweat sodden clothes. But as the weather cools, then I will. The scooter is easy to start and stop or to lay on the ground, so may be more convenient than the bike at times. With the wetness from the storms I skidded on the bike and fell, bruising my right hand. I don't like falling; I'm not twelve any more. So I'll be using the bike less in wet weather. Age is a bitch.

I subscribed for a year of PLAYBOY magazine, mainly because it cost only $12 and a video of nude playmates was included. I subscribed for three years thirty years ago because I liked the Playboy Philosophy and the sexy Little Annie Fanny comic. But the philosophy became derivative and Annie faded out, and I had more on my mind than bare girls, much as I like them. Well, the video is nice, with full nudity, and there are girls galore in the magazine. But I think not enough more to warrant more than a year of it.

Last column I mentioned The Adventures of Scott Nolan by Robert Woods, offering to run any comments on it here. Well, to my delight, Marilyn Peake followed up on that, buying the Xlibris book, reading it, and reviewing it. Here is her review:

Review of ADVENTURES OF SCOTT NOLAN by Robert Woods Reviewer: Marilyn Peake, Author of THE FISHERMAN’S SON and THE CITY OF THE GOLDEN SUN http://www.marilynpeake.com

ADVENTURES OF SCOTT NOLAN by Robert Woods features the main character, Scott Nolan, and his unusual dog named Whisper. Whisper is the apparently cloned offspring of a collie named Sigh. Sigh and Whisper are, indeed, just that: a sigh and a whisper about their possible alien roots. Robert Woods describes Sigh in this way:

"Sigh was a large dog; resembling an English collie, yet with a shorter, blunter nose. However, what made her stand out from other dogs was her brilliant emerald green eyes. They reflected the light, at night, like two large green glow bulbs." (page 15)

The author describes Whisper’s eyes as follows: "What gorgeous green eyes, Walter thought. Hey! Dogs don’t have green eyes. He did a double take, and examined her eyes more closely. Yes, without a doubt – her eyes were lime green." (page 17)

However, green eyes are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what separates Sigh and Whisper from other dogs. When they bond as puppies with a human being, a slight electric charge enters the human. Eventually, the dog and its human counterpart communicate telepathically. Due to this ability, additional "talents," and certain changes in their bodies including youthfulness in older people and increased sexuality, Scott and his family come to believe that they have been chosen to begin a new race of human beings. In this new order, there would be world peace due to humans’ telepathic understanding of one another.

ADVENTURES OF SCOTT NOLAN should be tighter in terms of bringing story elements together. In a number of places, preaching should be eliminated. The grammar needs some editing. But, in my opinion, Robert Woods should continue to write. He is very good at description. The settings in his book stuck with me. His portraits of young, sexually-charged love are vivid. His descriptions of the great outdoors are beautiful and inviting.

There are possibilities within this book that suggest adapting the story for comic books. A boy and a telepathic dog with lime green eyes, sent apparently from outer space to change the human race, would make a great superhero series!

Overall, ADVENTURES OF SCOTT NOLAN was a good read. I enjoyed it very much!

Mr. Woods emerged safely from the hospital and liked the review, as you might imagine. His novel is no longer anonymous. Thus a justification for self publishing, something I have worked hard to make available for every writer who is effectively shut out of Parnassus. Yes, amateur writers lack the polish of seasoned professionals, but they can be worth reading in terms of substance.

Movies: I got to see the movie Catwoman after all, because it was at a convenient time for the wife and daughter who decide on these things. It was fun, but I wish more of Halle Berry's evocative figure had been allowed to show. The story was vaguely reminiscent of the first Spiderman movie, only she developed cat powers instead of spider powers. The movie did not do all that well commercially, which is too bad, because it seems to me they could do much better on a sequel, now that the introductory poor-dull-girl material is done. I also watched videos. I save them, planning to re-watch my favorites, and the first I re-watched was What Dreams May Come, with Robin Williams in a serious role. This is the story of an ordinary family that suffers first the tragic loss of its two children, then the husband. The wife, in double grief, commits suicide. Then it gets interesting. Robin finds himself in Heaven, an original and beautiful conception, with scenes the colors of paintings, that smear when rubbed. It turns out that each person generates his own Heavenly scene. His children are there, of course, and he gets to know them better. But when the wife dies, that's a sin, and she is bound for Hell. He must rescue her. That's when it gets beautifully ugly. I, as an agnostic, have no belief in an Afterlife until someone proves it to me, and no one has, but if I did believe, this is what I would like. A reader sent me Bubba Ho-Tep, a weird story of Elvis Presley (or someone who believes he is Elvis) at an assisted-living facility for old folk, grinding down toward helplessness and death. Elvis was five months younger than I; doesn't that put me in a category! Then a zombie comes, and starts harvesting the souls of other residents. It has to be stopped, but how, when our hero is feeble and no one believes? A pretty good horror adventure. Another reader lent me Urusei Yatsuri, animae, which is essentially a shallow young man being pursued romantically by two lovely powerful alien princesses. Nonsense, of course, but fun, with nice scenes and songs.

Politics and such: you know how the fanatics who took down the World Trade Center buildings were promised 72 virgins in the Afterlife? More rigorous scholarship reveals that it's a misunderstanding. The Koran says 72 “whites,” which were taken to mean white virgins, but really meant white grapes. Imagine their disappointment when they got there and were granted 72 white grapes. That would be enough to drive a virile man to drink, and of course that's forbidden to Muslims. Pardon me if I snigger. Not that our side is any good example. It seems Iraq is governed by American imposed “100 orders” that control the economy, a number of which are illegal according to international law. Essentially, Iraqi resources are funneled into American companies. And we wonder why they hate us. Iraq is a disaster area, well into a revolution against the occupying forces, its full nature muted in the pussycat American press, just as is the indication that 70% of the world now fairly despises us. The threat of nuclear terrorism is also growing; that is ignored at our dire peril. Meanwhile, remember how Florida decided the 2000 presidential election? The Supreme Court stepped in with partisan fervor to prevent the votes from being properly tallied, afraid with reason that a true count would not favor Bush. Well, now they are working to take Florida again, regardless of the will of the people, with partisan officials stifling reform. State police officers have been going into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando who have been trying to get out the vote, intimidating them. If they know what's good for them, they'll stay home election day. Blacks tend to vote Democratic, you see. That is not encouraged. Meanwhile a corrupted felons list barred many blacks unfairly from voting, but not Cubans, who tend to vote Republican. The attitude seems to be “So we cheated in 2000; we had to, to win the election, and we'll do it again. Get over it.” You don't have to lack a sense of fair play to be a political conservative, but it evidently helps. CBS messed up with an unsubstantiated piece about President's Bush's military service; the documentation could not be proven legitimate, apparently because the original documents that said the same thing were destroyed. The evidence indicates that the information is correct, just not the documents. Nice trick. Letter in the ST PETE TIMES says that warranted an apology by CBS, but where is the Bush apology for invading Iraq based on false intelligence? Good point. Republican outrage does seem selective. On the other hand, now there's an email bombardment of college students saying that if Bush is reelected, he'll bring back the draft. That is surely dirty pool by the other side. There was a draft in my day, and I served my time, but I suspect it's now another third rail politically. Um, for those too young to catch the reference: electric trains used to have a third rail to carry the current: touch it and you die. Yet another article says that if America is to keep 140,000 troops in Iraq for the next five years, there will be no alternative to reinstating conscription. After the election. So we may see it regardless who wins. Paul Krugman says that Bush has no positive achievements to run on but can't afford to lose, lest the public learn the truth about cooked intelligence, profiteering, and more. Thus a campaign of “garbage and lies,” such as the swift boat attack. That does seem to make political sense, if you have no scruples: if the truth does not favor you, then use lies. What bothers me is the eagerness of partisans to believe those lies. Honest politics may be an oxymoron, but how blatant does it have to get? Meanwhile one of the incidents that did not make headlines was a demonstration by 100 women draped in American flags and wearing “protest panties” who performed a “mass flash” near the Republican convention. They were arrested. I wish I had been there to see that, but I can't say my reason is purely political.

Robyn Blumner, feisty local newspaper columnist, had a column titled “I'm an atheist--so what?” That set off a minor tempest, as you might imagine. I'm agnostic, which means I regard the case as unproven, but I'm much closer to the atheist position than to the theist one. Blumner says she rejects the existence of God, Satan, Afterlife, psychic power, astrology, predestination, and any soul outside of a functioning brain. Right on. She remarks on a Tampa City Council meeting where three council members walked out rather than hear an atheist give the invocation. Remember the Constitutional injunction about the separation of church and state? These folk evidently will walk out rather than lose the religious invocation. I call that bigotry. Regardless, their religion belongs with their persons and their churches, not in city council. She reports that one survey showed that 29 million Americans identify with no religion. Sigh; so I'm not one of a kind. Subsequently published letters were fairly mild; maybe they didn't publish the worst. One remarked that Jesus was the greatest liberal who ever lived, and that he and Blumner should see eye to eye. But another said that atheists are in for a shock when they reach the hereafter and are held accountable to God. Blumner reported that her mail was surprisingly supportive. Some offered to pray for her. My take on it is that if there is after all an Afterlife and God, He would have more respect for honest independent cusses than for the masses who pray to Him merely to save their own selfish souls. Why should God like ass kissing?

A NEWSWEEK solicitation shows a graph indicating that when it comes to awards, NEWSWEEK far outstrips TIME and US NEWS. Interesting; I subscribed to all three magazines decades ago, comparing, and found US NEWS the best by a substantial margin. I rather doubt that things have changed, regardless of rigged award results.

Do you know what a push-poll is? I received one from the Democratic National Headquarters. “Since George W Bush took office, over 2 million American jobs have been lost. How would you grade President Bush's record on jobs?” “Bush has tried to cut combat pay, limit health care and reduce family benefits for America's soldiers who are risking their lives to serve this country. How would you grade President Bush's record of taking care of our men and women in uniform?” Now do you know what a push-poll is?

In On a Pale Horse I have Hell running ads to attract souls there, such as a little devil peeking under the skirt of a luscious young woman, with the words “You won't see that in Heaven.” Well, it seems that now the US Army is running ads to attract recruits. “The Army has a career waiting for you.” The chance to qualify for 150 careers, guaranteed training in the one you choose. Up to $20,000 enlistment bonus. Up to $50,000 for college after you serve. And so on. No mention of war, bloodshed, “stop-loss” captivity. I served two years in the peacetime Army, and was open to the notion of making it a career, but it spent two years convincing me I shouldn't. I (and the battery) was punished when I did not “volunteer” to sign up for the US Savings Bond program at 2.5% interest (I needed the money to live on); I was barred from promotion, removed as a math instructor, and put to work pulling weeds. There was more, but you get the idea. Anyone who signs up for the Army for other than pure patriotism is desperate or a fool. When I arrived for training, a cadreman yelled “Send your heart home; your ass belongs to me.” He meant it.

Fans send me interesting links. I correspond with a small collection of teen girls, prisoners, and aspiring writers--no, the categories aren't identical, and no I'm not trying to get my hands on young flesh so I can be sent to prison and have time to write. In time the teens disappear into adulthood, prisoners disappear into civilian life, and writers disappear into nonentity, and few are heard from again. Anyway, one girl told me of www.dhmo.org, which I list here without comment; you'll see why. That in turn had an ad for Acme Klein bottles with nice pictures. The Klein bottle is a three dimensional Mobius strip with one surface, inside and outside. The notion dates from circa 1940, but I regard it as a put-on, because any cup with a rounded rim has the same property: an unbroken line can be drawn passing across outside and inside and returning to itself. A cup is a deformed sphere, topologically similar. So if you are keen to own a decorative Klien bottle, you can order one here for $30, $40, or $50 depending on size. About prisoners: while I have little doubt that most deserve to be where they are, I also have little doubt that conditions often are abusive and their rights can be abridged. I know that attractive female prisoners and young males are raped without recourse. It's a dirty little secret that more men may get raped than women, because of prison conditions. Some may complain, and wind up as unexplained “suicides.” Medical attention can be inferior. AMNESTY NOW magazine has an article on it titled “Hidden Hell.” Wherever there is power and secrecy, abuses flourish, as we have seen at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. America's hands are hardly clean in this respect.

Perhaps related: a local man was just sentenced to life in prison plus 415 years for having sex with a boy and possessing child pornography. I lose track of the statistics, but I think the average cold-blooded murderer gets out in 13 years. In another local case, one boy bullied another, the victim's mother interceded, and the bully's mother came after her with a broken bottle and sliced her throat nearly from ear to ear, left her bleeding on the ground amid her four young children, and showed no remorse. Like mother, like son. Jury found her guilty of aggravated battery, but the judge bawled out the victim and gave the assailant seven years probation and withheld adjudication on the charge. In effect, no penalty. So if you want leniency, kill people, or slit their throats; don't have sex with them or watch dirty movies. Isn't there something wrong here? Here is one site with input in Ohio, for any who are interested: www.paroleboardprisoners.com. But sexual assault against women exists in the armed services too. That is, against female soldiers, by male soldiers, and the victims have trouble getting recognition, let alone justice. As for writers--the rest of this HiPiers site is dedicated to them. As I like to put it, writers, like dogs, sometimes have their day. I'm trying to help them get their fifteen seconds of fleeting fame. Another link was sent by Tammy the Dragonfly woman that is fascinating: www.grandmatrix.com/forums/non-cgi/images/arms12.swf. Just move your cursor around and see what happens.

Newspaper article on wolves in Yellowstone Park has interesting revelations. When they extirpated the wolves as a menace, the elk multiplied, denuding the region of vegetation. Without trees, beavers disappeared, and without their dams the succulent plants that grizzly bears eat in the spring were gone. Coyotes multiplied, taking out voles, mice and other rodents. That was hard on red fox and raptors. It was a cascade of effects. When they brought back the wolves, the elk spent less time eating and more time watching out; trees and willows rebounded, trout returned, coyotes diminished, rodents multiplied, foxes and raptors gained. Everything from bears to song birds profited. We mess with nature at our peril.

Which by no particular coincidence brings me to the globe's top predator, mankind. Articles in the August/September FREE INQUIRY magazine, one of the mouthpieces of humanism--if I'm anything, I'm a humanist--address the carrying capacity of the world. Some right wing idiots would have it that we can keep right on increasing our population and exploitation of resources forever. More sensible minds want to know what the limits are, before we strike the willfully unseen iceberg and sink. The magazine does not seem to come to a conclusion, but the implication is that we are already in trouble. So I offer my more succinct thought: the world needs universal effective contraception, so that no unwanted babies are conceived. That would be a start. I regard the Catholic Church's stance on this as heresy; I doubt God wants mankind to drown in his own wastes after rendering all other species extinct.

There is a curious subsection of our kind that keeps diaries, or equivalent. I am in that group. These bloggy columns amount to a novel's worth of wordage each year, for example. But I don't stop there; I keep private notes that amount to twice that much. No, they aren't like My Secret Life; they're just ongoing notes on what I'm working on, what I do, what I react to, what I hope for, and spot chains of thought, surely unbearably tedious for any outside reader. If I ever need to know exactly what day and hour I took a spill on my bike, it's there. The times of all my exercise runs, the scores of all my archery sessions, the amount I write each day, the number of letters I answer, and so on. Dullsville. But here's the relevance: a new study suggests that diarists are more likely to suffer from a slew of ills including headaches, insomnia, and social awkwardness. The healthy well-adjusted folk don't keep diaries. Well, I seldom suffer headaches or insomnia, but I don't regard myself as socially adept, and I am mildly depressive. Without my wife I would have trouble functioning. I'm one of those inept men who needs an ept woman to run his life. Now you know. No, I won't give up my diaristic ways; I'm locked into my ill nature.

During the writing of this column we went to see a movie, the first since the storms: Sky King and the World of Tomorrow. This is a deliberately archaic styled effort, 1930s America, heroine with low tilted hat, loud red lipstick and long skirt, with that Buck Rogers science fiction stuff. I loved it. Ten story robots tramping grandly through the streets of New York, flying machines with flapping wings, airplanes that can dive into water like submarines, an evil genius, Shangri-La, an Ark spaceship leaving Earth, which is about to be destroyed, impossible coincidences--what more could any old-timer want?

They discovered a new long-necked swimming dinosaur fossil, and don't know what to make of it. Maybe I can help: it's obviously a plesiosaur, related to the Loch Ness monster. Duh.

I get a slew and a half of solicitations. All are for good and worthy causes, but I ignore most. Every so often I review why, here. For example, there's Carnegie Stout Public Library in Dubuque, Iowa. Iowa cut funding, so they are fund raising. Reading ability is declining among young folk, so they are trying to reverse that. Surely a worthy aim. Would I please help by donating something? No I won't, because there are thousands of libraries in this country, and I can't support them all; they need to go to their own communities. As I have said before, it's a pyramid; if every library and other good cause solicited every other, and all contributed to all, there would be a tremendous exchange of resources, but no one would come out ahead. Only those who received without contributing, which is what these folk are trying to do.

I don't like bullies. This dates from my school experience, being the smallest member of my class, male or female. Later I grew to above average height, and it stopped, but I remember. I thought girls were nicer. A newspaper article describes how today's technology is used by girl bullies. An eighth grade girl stole a pencil case filled with makeup, and the victim reported it. That was her “crime”: reporting the theft. That day instant messages popped up on her computer screen, calling her a tattle-tale and liar, a stuck-up bitch, and increasingly ugly epithets. There were more than 50--the limit of her system's capacity. If I ran things, I'd trace those messages and deprive the perpetrators of their ability to send any more until they attended remedial classes, and have them on probation thereafter. And how about teaching them that theft is wrong?

Article in NEW SCIENTIST says that Americans eat an astounding amount of meat--averaging one medium steak a day. Nine billion animals are killed and consumed per year. This is leading to environmental health problems, such as arsenic from chicken feed leaching into surface water and ammonia released into the air. I'm glad I'm a vegetarian. There's an interesting mode of comparison of prices: the hamburger standard. If the Big Mac costs $2.90 in the USA, the cost of living elsewhere can be judged by the price of a similar hamburger. It seems you can get it for about $1.23 in the Philippines, or $4.90 in Switzerland.

Assorted other notes: In Denmark they are making a bamboo bicycle. Not the wheels and chain, but the frame. A survey shows that the top seven states in average IQ all voted for Gore in 2000. The bottom seven voted for Bush. A woman wrote to me saying the her son was taken from her and she needs help getting him back. I am not conversant with the details, but anyone who is interested can find them at www.geocities.com/shadodragonette.

I continue to struggle with my archery. Nothing seemed to work, left side. Finally I decided to try gripping the bow tightly, making my wrist rigid so it can't bend. And that, by gum, seems to be working. I missed several sessions because of the hurricanes--winds and rain are hell on accuracy and equipment--but my last two had the left side about even. That is, making as many as I missed. We'll see.

I have mentioned my formula before: SOP = SOD. That is, Standard Operating Procedure is Shitting On Dreams. I'm talking about publishers, of course. Folk think I exaggerate, until they try writing and get experience with publishers. Case in point: www.officialdarajoy.com tells the story of a writer who got her books published by Dorchester Publishing, which I believe is a traditional publisher rather than electronic. Dara Joy inquired about unreported editions and unreported royalties--and the publisher sued her. So now she's embroiled in a legal case, because she wanted straight information. The publisher is trying to silence her, rather than pay up. Does this seem far-fetched? Well, when I asked politely for accurate statements of account, early in my career, and was ignored, then demanded them, I got condemned, threatened, and blacklisted for six years, until the publisher changed ownership, and a number of other publishers joined in the blacklist, as did a writer's organization, tacitly, with some of its officers badmouthing me, in an attempt to destroy my career. I survived, but never got those statements. That's why I am so ornery about it today, and have taken legal action against more than one publisher. I have been there, and now I have the will and the means to enforce my case. More power to you, Dara. I did not sign your guest book; this is my more public support.

However, it is not necessarily easy to know when you have a case. A writer asked me about DOUBLE DRAGON: how to keep tabs on sales? Not long ago I listed a complaint against that electronic publisher, and alienated a correspondent thereby; folk sometimes choose not to understand that I don't play favorites. DD is one of the best, perhaps THE best, of the electronic publishers, and I have cordial relations with it and judged one of its fantasy novel contests. I felt the complaint lacked justice, but it was made and I listed it. I have also listed complaints against Xlibris, where I have a considerable financial investment. My commentary would be worthless if I catered to my friends. But sometimes a writer simply needs to know more about publishing. Most publishers issue periodic statements of account, and pay the royalties owed at that time. The information isn't available before then; it's still in the distribution and payment pipeline. Unless a publisher posts ongoing sales, you just have to wait. This is no signal of dishonesty; things have to be done in their turn, for the sake of efficiency. So you need patience. If time passes, and you smell a rat, you can require an audit. That's why you need a good audit clause in your contract. A competent audit is like putting that publisher naked on a stage; there will be no secrets. But you don't have to do it officially; on occasion I have queried informally, the publisher has checked, and paid what it overlooked in an honest error. In one case that was almost a hundred thousand dollars, straightened out without ill feeling; a file had been mislaid. So I would say a general rule is wait a while, query gently if that seems warranted, and if not satisfied, then proceed to the harder line. Remember that electronic sales are likely to be low; my experience has been with traditional publishers, where real money exists.

One ongoing tragedy and outrage is Darfur, in Sudan in Africa, south of Egypt. It seems the Sudan government wants to eliminate three tribes so Arabs can take their land. So they are marching in and killing people wholesale, trying for genocide. Naturally folk are fleeing. This has generated terrific disruption. Eighty per cent of the children in one camp are malnourished, there are no toilets, and girls are taken by guards to be raped. As people starve, food aid is diverted to feet the guards' camels. Of course relief efforts are being made, but this bothers me. How about going after those who are doing the raping and killing? Apparently that would involve expensive troops and international complications, so no one wants to do it. There's no oil in Darfur.

From a column by that savvy commentator Molly Ivins: in Canada they watch our politics with amazement. “Are you people actually going to re-elect that nincompoop?” I have a problem with that: how can you re-elect someone who was not elected in the first place? According to a Blumner column, “Blatant partisanship was what made Bush vs. Gore such a blow to the integrity of the Supreme Court. In any number of ways the justices in the majority contorted the law and normative court procedure to reach the result they wanted.” After cheating in Florida to make it close enough for the courts to step in.

My wife gave me a neat book for my birthday: THE GREAT BOOK OF OPTICAL ILLUSIONS. I paged through it during the blackout, and the pictures are challenging and mind-bending. Now I am reading Clarion of Midnight by Kristina O'Donnelly, the other Inverness novelist. This focuses on the politics of Turkey, which are as wild and dirty as elsewhere, and conflicted love. It's interesting; she does about as good a job showing male sexual interest as any female writer does. Find the author at www.ladyliterature.com. For those interested in my own books, the third ChroMagic novel Key to Destiny is now available at www.mundania.com, and the 28th Xanth novel Currant Events is coming out in hardcover from TOR, and #27 Cube Route in paperback. I am now writing #30 Stork Naked, wherein Surprise Golem, now 18, is expecting a delivery, but the stork concludes she is only 13 and takes her baby away. The thing is, Surprise was delivered late herself, and was five years old when Grundy Golem and Rapunzel Elf received her. It seems the paperwork got confused, so now she's on a remarkable tour trying to recover her baby from the alternate universe where it wound up. The storm interrupted this, but I'll finish it on schedule.

An “In the Beachers” cartoon: “Now let me get this straight. This accident occurred in front of your eyes, but no one saw what happened?” Above is a banner: ANNUAL UMPIRE PICNIC.

Enough; I could opinionate forever, but must quit.

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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