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Piers Anthony at work
Dismember 2005

Have you ever considered the internal architecture of green peppers? Since in the year 2005 I have taken over routine chores such as making meals and washing the dishes--no, we don't have an automatic dishwasher, and never have--I have become aware of sundry things. When I cut open a pepper I discover that it is like a green ballroom inside, with hanging chandeliers, curvaceous white pillars, and decorative plants twining around with disk-like white flowers. I presume it is similar with the pretty red, yellow, and orange peppers, but they cost more so are beyond our budget. It seems a shame to destroy all that lovely artistry. But of course if I don't, in a few days it will rot. Ah, well. And for real artistry consider the squashes, looking as if brightly painted, of many shapes. I also feel guilty cutting off the roots of the small green onions; they look like miniature squids that ought to be swimming in the sea. There can be adventure in produce.

Last time I published my retraction of a bad note about Venus Press in my ongoing survey of electronic publishers, satisfied that I had been misled. I said I had not done any business with that house; I merely try to be fair, and do correct mistakes. Well, shortly thereafter that changed. They said that if I ever had anything in their line they'd be glad to consider it. I pondered, and realized that I might have something. They're an erotic publisher, and my unsold mainstream collection Relationships has some erotic stories in it, notably “The Hot Game,” which is pretty, well, hot. So I sent that collection, saying that it wasn't erotic so much has having some erotic elements, so was a marginal call for them. I had said before that some of my efforts would likely poop their pretty panties, but this is not a panty-pooper, merely fiction that lacks ellipses where they count. Well, they loved it, so will publish it soon. So now I do have a relationship with Venus, fittingly via Relationships, which becomes a conflict of interest for the survey. That ongoing survey has no authority other than my ornery experience with traditional publishers, and my present immunity to blacklisting; somebody has to be able to tell the truth without being destroyed. But I do try to clarify my special interests, so others can make allowances. So now I'll have fiction at Xlibris and Mundania, where I have substantial financial involvement, and Venus, where I don't. Anyway, the stories range from the thoughts of a man whose nice niece wants to marry an utter jerk, to the intense relationship between high school classmates in “Bully”: a girl who was freaked out by being raped, and a reforming bully who was booted on a false charge of rape. As it turns out, he can protect her, and does, and she can seduce him, and does, but it's hardly that simple in either emotion or sex. Every story in the collection is a relationship, most being male-to-female, and sex is a natural part of it. I like these stories as well as anything I've written, and am glad that they will finally be available. But they sure as hell aren't funny fantasy. www.venuspress.com/.

Last year I completed that year's Xanth novel on schedule, and planned to take December off to catch up on reading, videos, games and whatnot, a month of relaxation. Instead I dived into the 4th ChroMagic novel, Key to Liberty, and had my second best writing month ever. This is the nature of a workaholic. Then my wife's progressive illness almost wiped out my writing, before she was finally diagnosed and treated. Now Medicare may no longer cover the expensive IVIG medication that saved her, or allow us to buy it on our own, as we could afford to do. If we do, she could be expelled from Medicare. I think they have that rule because they don't want doctors to hit the patients up for expensive treatments Medicare won't cover; there's room for corruption there. But when the patient's life could be at stake, for want of that treatment, what then? There needs to be some common sense. I see a battle looming there, because I am not about to let my wife sink into oblivion because of bureaucratic idiocy. But I don't get into lawsuits lightly, so will wait to see what develops before acting, wife's health permitting. Surely others will be affected similarly; if there comes a class action suit, I could join that. More anon.

And what about the new Medicare Part D? I won't be signing up, because it is ludicrously complicated and it is cheaper for me to avoid it. Let's face it, it's complicated so that average folk won't realize how it rips off ordinary folk in favor of the drug and insurance companies. I once sold health insurance, so I do understand it; it's a partial health coverage policy supplemented by a major medical policy with too large a deductible, leaving a deadly “doughnut hole.” As a general rule, if the current administration sets it up, it screws the poorest folk in favor of the special interests, and our lifestyle is modest, so we relate to the poor. My wife might sign up, though none of the plans list our area as covered--if she stays in Medicare. We'll see.

So this year my wife's slow recovery led to less loss of time for me, and enabled me to get ahead of schedule, and I finished Xanth #31 Air Apparent a month early and planned to take November off the play games, watch sexy videos, etc. Right: five days of that drove me crazy, and I dived into a separate project: Pandora Park, a children's novel intended for the 8-12 year old range. In that month I wrote the whole of it, about 37,000 words. But that's only part of the story. (If you want simple stories, don't go to a professional storyteller.) It happened that at the time I was pondering Pandora--she's the lass who let the works out of her goody box--I heard from Kathe Gogolewski, who had written a children's novel Tato, for the same age range, published by Wings ePress www.wings-press.com. Did I have a child to read it to? Well, no, but as it happened I had an interest in orienting on that market.

Tato derives from the latter part of potato, and is a creature made from a potato. Michael Tate is seven years old, and his beloved grandfather Gankum has recently died. Michael doesn't want to believe that, and the force of his disbelief results in several things. Gankum visits him often and communes with him, though for some reason no one else sees the man. Michael decides that he should have a baby brother, to love. He knows how babies are made: from potatoes, with a special magic formula. And you know, it works, only he messes up a bit and the potato doesn't become a full baby, but more like a potato-head baby who can talk. Some of the magic formula spilled on a mirror, and the mirror comes partly alive and starts snatching souls. Before long it has swallowed both Michael's parents, who were vulnerable because they didn't believe in magic and took no precautions. So Michael, and Tato, and his big sister Nicole, have to rescue them, and that's no easy task. They must go into the dread mirror and bring his parents out, if they can. Okay, you can see that this is a fantasy story, and not a routine damsel & dragon opus. Children should like it well enough, though it is scary in places.

So what about my Pandora Park? 11 year old Mark is stuck at the mall park while his mother shops. He reads the plaque by the statue of Pandora, and touches the empty box she holds and spies a path behind her. He follows it, and finds himself in a magic land, where candy grows on trees and he can do some magic. He can find things, only never exactly what he's looking for. He looks for a bicycle so he can follow the path faster, and finds a magic scooter that always seems to be rolling downhill, regardless which way it's going. He finds a 10 year old oriental girl, Kelsie, who is lost. He helps her find her way to the exit, and she impulsively kisses him on the cheek. That makes him float, literally: it's her magic, which she didn't know about. It turns out that she's from China, and speaks no English, yet they have no trouble conversing in the park. They learn that time does not pass outside while they are inside, so they can spend as much time there as they want and never be late going home. But they aren't quite satisfied: who made this park, and why? Is it a trap for children? And that is the rest of the novel, as they finally solve that mystery, discovering that their adventure is only beginning.

So it is a successful children's book? Kathe Gogolewski will read it to her classes of that age and let me know. This will be thoroughly vetted by children, so I will know it is right, regardless what editors think. I see it as the first of a series that goes far beyond a simple magic park. However, she will have to read it expurgated, because the school system can't tolerate that innocent kiss on the cheek. To them, it seems, that is SEX and fifth graders aren't allowed to know about it. I wonder whether those children ever watch TV, because there's a good deal more than innocent kissing there. If this sort of thing is general in the school system today, that explains all the letters I receive from children and their parents saying that they didn't know that reading could be fun until they discovered Xanth. I am of course disgusted, and not just because of the way it spoils education for children. Children are getting raped and killed because they never were warned about the danger of sexual predators. How about making education relevant to today's society, instead of living in denial and setting children up for potential disaster? And don't tell me that I'd see it differently if I were a teacher; I was a teacher, and was required to expurgate material to make it sufficiently boring for my students. It was one reason I quit teaching.

As I get older, so do some of my readers. Donna Waldron, about a year older than I, had terminal cancer. I first heard from her almost a decade ago, and learned that though she should have been dead within a year or so, she made it a project to survive until the next Xanth novel was published. When she made it, she set the following one as the target. So it continued, as she confounded the prediction. But in recent years the grim reaper was getting more insistent, and the chemotherapy treatments rougher, I started sending her the hardcover editions, lest she not make it to the paperback editions. I planned to send her Pet Peeve, but two things happened. First, I didn't receive my author's copies; at this typing, two months after the novel's publication, the only copy I have seen was on sale in a book store; I have none myself. I have bugged my agent to bug the publisher, but this will take time. I joke about publishers waiting for the returns to come in before making up the package of author's copies, but it's not very funny in practice. I think they have the zip code wrong, but the thing is, publishers don't correct addresses; you have to change publishers to accomplish that. On occasion I have had to go out and buy author's copies, which irritates me, but I have not yet done that this time. So I couldn't send it, or one to Marisol Ramos, who suggested the romance that became the backbone of the novel. Second, Donna Waldron died. So now it will not happen, though I think she would have liked the novel. I hope she is free from distress now.

About Pet Peeve: a reader reports that it has many typos. I would like to check to be sure my corrections were run, but I can't. Usually publishers do make corrections, but sometimes they don't, and of course the author gets the blame when that happens. There always do seem to be typos that both I and the copyeditor miss. Maybe they are magical.

Songs continue to go through my head, filling in the hollows of my cranium. Often they are old ones, dating from my childhood. Along about the year 1954, practicing my two finger typing (30 years later I learned touch on Dvorak), I typed the words to 84 folk songs from my head so that I would not forget them. I still have that record, and every so often I do forget a line, and have to look it up. Memorization has always been torture for me; I have to struggle to learn things others pick up readily. But songs are something else, and they enter my being more readily. So this time the “Skye Boat Song” was echoing inside my skull, but I could not recall a few words. It's about the aftermath of a battle when England defeated the Scots, and they had to flee across the water in a storm to the isle of Skye. “Speed bonny boat like a bird on the wing, Onward the sailors cry; Carry the lad who's born to be king, Over the sea to Skye.” The last verse is: “Burned are our homes ... Scatter the loyal men; Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath, Charlie will come again.” What are the words in the ellipsis? I went to my collection of folk song books--and that song isn't there, not even in an 800 page compendium of British songs. So I went to my little list and found it: “exile and death.” Okay, the sing is complete again. It reminds me of another, whose title I don't remember, just the line: “I'll lay me down and bleed a while, then up to fight again.” Lovely. But what's with the books of songs that they don't list this well known Skye one? I had the same problem with “Molly Malone,” and with Eddie Fisher's “I'm glad I kissed those other lips.” I get these references because I expect them to be comprehensive, and am annoyed when they pretend that my favorite songs don't exist. It's bad enough when critics try to pretend I don't exist; nice songs don't deserve that treatment.

But about songs: two more were running through my head. Each was the favorite of one of my fellow students at Goddard College in the 1950s. I'm not quite sure of the titles, so may may misremember, but I remember the words. Both are beautiful and sad. “Two Brothers”: “One was gentle, one was kind; one was gentle, one was kind; one came home, one stayed behind; a cannon ball don't pay no mind. A cannon ball don't pay no mind, if you're gentle or you're kind; it don't think of the folks behind, there on a beautiful morning.” I don't recall the title of the other, so I'll call it “This Morning”: “Bill's wide was a-baking bread this morning; Bill's wife was a-baking bread this evening; Bill's wife was a-baking bread, when she got the news that her husband was dead, this morning, this evening, so soon.” You'd have to hear them sung to appreciate their tragic splendor.

And more: TV ad for the movie Walk the Line about Johnny Cash had him and his wife before the mike, arguing about which song to sing. He decided on Time's A-wasting over her objection and started singing it. So she joined him--and suddenly from this incidental dialogue emerged this beautiful harmony. Out of nothing, lovely song. I love it. But when on the radio they had a retrospective featuring a number of Cash's songs, well, the man hardly seemed to carry a tune. He has a marvelous quality of speaking voice, but not much of a singing voice.

So what about that Xanth novel I completed in OctOgre, #31 in the series? What's Air Apparent about? It is phrased as a murder mystery, at least in the beginning. It features the Good Magician's daughter in law, blind Wira, who is perhaps the nicest woman in Xanth. She discovers a body in the castle cellar, and her husband Hugo, son of Humfrey and the Gorgon, is gone. Did he happen across the murder, and the murderer got rid of him? The Good Magician can't answer, because something has scrambled the Book of Answers, and he must put it tediously back in order before he can use it again. So Wira must go seek Hugo on her own, as time may be of the essence. But how can a blind woman go looking for anything, let alone deal with a murderer? She'll need sighted help. Okay, the Gorgon has saved a few transformation spells; they will transform the next person who comes to ask a Question into a winged centaur who can see, carry, and talk with Wira. That person, by sheer chance, is Debra, who wants to know how to deal with her curse: any man who hears her name wants to take it literally and de-bra her. It is most inconvenient. Still, one thing about centaur fillies is that they don't wear bras, so can't be de-bra-ed. That may help. Straightforward, isn't it? But it soon gets more complicated. Keep it in mind, two years hence when Air Apparent is published. It's not as naughty as Pet Peeve, but it has its moments, with the bra the focus rather than panties.

I kept getting loose in the colon, and I don't mean the way the critics say, that I'm chronically full of shit. Something was messing up my intestinal fortitude. Then I read in ALTERNATIVES, which I regard as the best of the health newsletters, that 30-60% of such mischief stems from high-fructose corn syrup (I'll abbreviate to HFCS). So I started checking ingredients, and discovered that we started eating rich brownies containing HFCS we saw in the store just about the time my complaint began. And ice cream bars, ditto. Sigh; this reminds me of the saying that everything fun is illegal, immoral, or fattening. Add bowel-busting to that list. So I stopped with the brownies and bars, but still had some problem. So I checked more things, and discovered that some flavors of the yogurt I eat on a daily basis as a tasty health measure have HFCS. I eliminated them, and anything else with the stuff, and my condition cleared up. So why do they put this stuff in things, if so many folk have this adverse reaction? Because they don't give a shit about the welfare of their customers, obviously and literally. I mention this as a public service: if you get your bowels in an uproar, start checking ingredients.

I read Vacation by Jeremy Shipp. This is an intriguing, challenging, literate, provocative novel I'm not sure I understand and suspect I'm not meant to. The protagonist is not satisfied being a teacher, so he takes a year-long Vacation, which is an option allowed every citizen in this framework. It is reputed to be a life-changing experience, as it's not merely time off, but a somewhat programmed exploration of unrealized aspects of reality. A student in his class turns up for his Vacation at the same time, only in the interim he had a sex change operation and is now an attractive young woman. But that's not what this is about, and the romantic interest is elsewhere, with a woman named Noh (I think of Nox in my Incarnations of Immortality framework, and there may be a distant affinity) who puts him through several deliberately unpleasant therapeutic experiences and means to commit ritual suicide herself. But that too is not what this is about. Rather, its the perceptive thoughts along the way that stretch the mind. So this is literary rather than common adventure. There are dream sequences that may not really be dreams, and weird concepts, like defecating all manner of evils in odd shapes, clearing the body. Who needs exorcism when you need merely to take a really good shit? I recommend it (the book, I mean) to those who find reality boring; it may make them see it in new ways.

A reader notified me that the Wickpedia site http://en.wikipedia.org/ carries the charge that I endorse or advocate pedophilia and ecoterrorism. I think this is an example of a person showing more of what's on his mind than what's in my writing. The fact that I may address controversial subjects in my fiction, and have my characters participate in them, does not mean that this is my personal philosophy. Otherwise I would believe in magic, because there is magic in Xanth; be a murderer because murders sometimes occur in my fiction; and be a rapist or pedophile because my novel Firefly addresses those subjects. I did a long interview for Jitterbug Fantasia www.jitterbug.com, where such questions are addressed, coincidentally. I trust that readers who are conversant with my books and with this column will understand what I actually write, instead of what some anonymous critic wants to claim I write. I defend anonymity, and protect it in my ongoing survey of electronic publishers so that whistle blowers can't be retaliated against. But anonymity also serves to hide those who may have private agendas or confusions that don't relate to the truth, as was the case recently in that same survey. My critics have in the past tended to avoid facing me directly, because I don't suffer rascals gladly, and am not afraid to air their charges in a public forum such as this one. I mention once again the charge that I was being an ogre in fan conventions, spread before I ever attended a convention, and the charge that I wrote to Jerry Pournelle and called him a Nazi, but of course he never produced the letter, because it didn't exist. (Actually, in both cases they are thinking of Keith Laumer, who was one mean man after his stroke. He lived about 40 miles from me.) Less egregious instances apply to persistent rumors of my death (perhaps a confusion with Poul Anderson); every so often I have to assure a reader that I remain alive and ornery, despite the evident preference of some critics. Really, do you think that anyone else could mouth off the way I do in these columns?

Routine life gets in the way of my writing. Our well pump became intermittent, then failed; yes, I was caught in the shower with soapy hair. We had to have it replaced. The pump, not the soapy hair. Our kitchen sink drip became more persistent, so that every day I had to turn off the hot water at the valve under the sink, and still it dripped some. So we got the sink replaced. It's amazing how much a simple thing like water can disrupt routine existence. My old running shoes were wearing out, so we bought a new pair--and my left toe felt jammed, so that I had to revert to the old shoes while the black bruise under the toenail slowly clears. How did that get so bad, when I was never aware of stubbing it? But here's a moderately positive one: remember, when my wife's illness prevented her from cutting my hair, so I started growing it long? Well, now it reaches to my shoulders in back, and has a natural wave. So in front it is receding, and on top it's comb-over thin, male-pattern baldness, but in back it's luxuriant brown waves. How come my beard, which started twenty years later, is gray to white, while my hair remains brown? Except for what starts at the temples, which now carries gray streaks back to my ponytail. No, I don't think it makes me look like a skunk. Folk who attend Oasis con next Mayhem can judge for themselves, as I expect to be there, family health permitting.

Incidental frustration: my Linux computer provides a helpful hint as it cranks up each morning. But the hint remains onscreen only half a second, so I don't have time to read it. I've tried to find where the hints are stored, to see if they can be slowed, but have drawn a blank. I'd just like them to stay long enough to read. Here's another: the local grocery store had flu shots. We missed their hours, so went to my doctor--and learned that they aren't going to doctors. Can you figure the logic of that? So back to the store--which no longer had them. So at age 71 I can't get one, same as last year. Do morons run the distribution system--again?

My supposed two week tooth implant has now been over a year in the making, and I have worn a flipper, a fake tooth to cover the gap. But when the dentist set it up for the crown, the inset anchor nub projected just far enough to interfere with the flipper so it no longer fit. I went to my regular dentist, but got nowhere. So I took a metal file and filed down the base myself, and lo, I'm wearing the flipper again, for a few more weeks until they do the crown. I'm pleased that I was able to figure it out and do it. Soon I'll have a real implanted fake tooth, I trust. I continue to hear from readers about dentures, and they favor dentures by a solid margin. I'm still thinking about it.

It's not just songs that sift through my random memories. I remember this story, perhaps true, about a soldier who lost his leg in combat. When he reported to the rehabilitation center, they directed him to his therapy room. “Where is that?” Another man was there, and he said “I know where it is; I'll take you there.” So the man pushed his wheelchair along the hall. “By the way,” the man said, “if I may ask, what is your injury?” Well, there he was with the stump of his leg in plain sight. “What's the manner?” he snapped. “Are you blind?” And the man said “Yes.” I keep that in mind when someone asks what seems like a stupid question. It might not be stupid, if I knew more about him.

Our vote for the best TV hour of the year is the Debate on West Wing. Why can't real politicians express the issues as clearly and dramatically as the actors do? We sampled the new shows Threshold and Surface; the former seemed scattershot with no consistent theme, and we dropped it, and now it's being canceled, which is odd; usually they cancel the ones we like. The latter seems to be getting stronger as it goes, with some really gripping sequences, and I don't just mean that buxom naturalist in a damp swimsuit. I was so fixated on that cleavage that I have no idea what the scene was about. The boy and pet monster story is nice, as is the lost among monsters in a storm sequence.

Assorted things bother me. Oh, you noticed? Not everything reaches this column, would you believe. In this period there were three things, so finally I wrote three letters. First, our bank stopped providing notary service. Now they have a right to provide it or not, as they choose. It was the way they stopped that annoyed me. They did not send out a notice. They did not post a sign. They merely refused us when we came in for it, as though we were vagabonds asking for a handout. We had to travel around town to find another notary. It cost me about $200 in the lost value of my time to get that $5 notary. Time we could have saved, had they had the courtesy to let us know before we wasted our trip. Now I have run several million dollars through that bank, over the course of the past quarter century. They may have larger accounts, but I suspect not many, here in the boondocks. So I wrote a polite letter to their personal service representative. She never answered. So much for personal service. So in due course I opened an account at a competing bank, that has a notary. I'll try out that bank for a while, and decide where the bulk of my business will go in future. As I said to the representative, business decisions have consequences.

The second case was my NEW SCIENTIST subscription, that hassle described in the last column. What do you know, they finally started a new subscription. We lost several issues, and they never explained their lapse, but at least we have it back. The third was our air conditioning company. In 2002 we got a new unit, and had an attached heat exchanger unit to heat our water also, as the first heat exchanger we had has worked very well. But the second one never worked. The company said it worked, but it didn't. So finally I wrote directly to the boss man, saying that if he came out I believe I could satisfy him that it was not working. That got a response. But meanwhile one of our other units--we have three--was failing. So they replaced that for about $10,000 and it's working. But they never got to that heat exchanger. So I guess I'll have to start over. I will.

My wife and daughter decide what moves we see. For some reason they don't go for the sexy bare-breasted romps I prefer; I suspect it's a gender thing. For those I buy videos. Any month now I'm going to watch them, if I can just stop myself from getting into another writing project. So we saw Legend of Zorro, and it was fun but not really special. On the last day of the month we saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I was disappointed. The sound just about blasted us out of the theater, the story was jumpy and hard to follow, and aspects did not seem to be explained. I also wonder if there isn't something more original than repeat battles between the boy and the evil lord. I haven't read the novel; I assume that is more competent. The same studio, Warner Pictures, is working on a Xanth movie; now I'm a bit nervous.

One of my ongoing column themes is that here in the Tampa Bay region we're as fouled up as anywhere else. Recently we had two legal cases involving accidental death on the road. Case #1: William Thornton, age 17, was driving without a license here in Citrus County. He was hit by an SUV at an intersection, and two people in the other car, who were not seat belted and had been drinking, were thrown from their car and killed. Thornton remained at the scene of the accident, admitted his fault, and pleaded guilty in court. Case #2: Jennifer Porter, 29, a dance teacher, hit and killed two children on a dark street. She fled the scene, and her folks cleaned up her car and told her to keep her mouth shut. But later the truth came out, and she too wound up in court. Here's your spot quiz: who got the more severe sentence? Answer: Thornton got 30 years; Porter got house arrest and probation. Oh, one factor I forgot to mention: Thonton is black, and his victims were white. Porter is white and her victims were black. No, of course we don't have racial bigotry here, and it never influences the law; whatever gave you that idea? These are merely the most recent cases. There was one in Texas in 1963 where a 17 year old girl, Laura Welch, ran a stop sign and crashed into another car, killing the driver. She was not even arrested, let alone charged, and today she is our nation's first lady, Laura Bush. Tell me more about equal justice.

Then there's the case of Debra Lafave, a 25 year old middle school teacher of starlet appearance, a stunning blonde. She had sex with a 14 year old student. She has been convicted of child abuse, and registered as a sexual offender, with all that implies. Actually her sentence of house arrest and probation is similar to that of Jennifer Porter. It might have been worse, but the victim's family made an out of court settlement. Now this may get me more charges of pedophilia, but let's face it: the average teen boy who gets to have sex with a gorgeous grown woman is hardly dismayed; he's thrilled and proud. I think when it came to the verge of the trial, that young man didn't want to testify against the woman he loved and maybe put her away forever for doing him a most singular favor, even if his mother didn't understand. Rather than face that prospect, he prevailed on his family to pull back. We may never know for sure, as he remains anonymous, but it makes sense to me. He is a victim mainly in the sense that word got out and his family came down hard on him for being a typical male teen who took paradise when it offered.

This reminds me of something I have pondered before: why does a married woman have an affair? (Debra was married.) Well, it could be for practice, be sure she's in shape to catch another man if she ever needs to. Or revenge, if hubby's having affair she can't stop, so she gets back at him by doing it herself. Maybe she likes being courted; hubby takes her for granted, while her lover treats her like a queen. Maybe the danger of exposure turns her on in a way that routine sex doesn't. She could like being in control for a change, as she is in the affair. Or maybe its just something to do on an otherwise dull afternoon. She just might be in love with the other man, and gives him sex to keep him close. Last and least, she might like the sex itself, not getting enough of it in her marriage. I admit that's a reach, but it is theoretically possible. As a general rule, men have affairs only for sex, while women can take or leave it; that's what gives them leverage. Okay, so which applies here, with lovely Debra? Control, perhaps. But it may be a different reason: she's a little crazy. Debra was raped at age 13 and it threw her for a loop; relating to a boy near that age might be one way she compensated. Folk tend to assume that a beautiful woman has to be happy with her power over men, but that may not be the case in her mind.

Andrew Knight is filing for a patent on a story line. I am wary of this; who is to say what other stories by other writers might have similar elements, and suddenly they have to pay to license those elements from him? Another worrisome case is that of Google trying to make all books searchable online, including new books under copyright. The Association of American Publishers is suing to stop that. No, this is not dog-in-the-manger; why would anyone buy a book if he could get it free by searching out all its interesting portions online? The publishers say Google should buy licenses. I'm inclined to agree.

This year's hurricanes have rendered many animals homeless as well as people. Susie Lee's Ferret And Dove Sanctuary in Pensacola, Florida, suffered. I have mentioned them before. They are at www.angelfire.com/theforce/ferret_rescuer/.

NEW SCIENTIST (now that I finally got them to renew my subscription, I'm reading it again) has an article in the 8 October issue on animal rights: we freely brutalize animals, and this shouldn't be. We try to pretend that we are morally superior to them. “The bottom line is that we cannot justify human domination of non-humans except by appeal to religious superstition focused on the supposed spiritual superiority of humans.” Amen. Does our supposed spiritual superiority justify the brutal slaughter of millions of cows for meals, when we hardly need the meat for our already obese bodies? If so, I'd hate to see spiritual inferiority. Yes, of course this is another of my plugs for vegetarianism. You want to preach to me about morality as you chomp on the butchered scorched carcasses of innocent creatures? Are you in denial about the apparent hypocrisy?

There's a proposal to give drunk drivers here in Florida pink plates starting with DUI. At first blush (as it were) that's intriguing; serves them right. I have felt for a long time that we need to get serious about stopping drunk driving, because of the carnage it encourages. But second thoughts give me pause. Would it work? I understand some states are already doing it; it is reducing that carnage? That would make a difference. But what's to make sure the drunk uses the car so marked? Maybe he takes his spouse's car, and she has to use his marked car for the grocery shopping, so she gets the raw eggs thrown at her, and the moralistic stares, when she's innocent and has been trying to get him off the demon bottle for years. Why not paint his whole car pink so he can be identified before he rear-ends the innocent driver in front? How about other colors for other crimes? Surely the child abusers deserve their own tag and color, maybe KID blue, and the murderers theirs, KIL black. We can conveniently distinguish Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and whatever else. Hell, why not require Jews to wear the yellow Star of David again while we're at it? Democrats can wear brown donkey ears, and Republicans fake gray trunks, so passers-by will know on whom to spit. What a fascinating multi-color society we could have! But I suspect this is one simplistic solution that won't wash.

Keith Younger sent me a report from Australia relating to smoking. A student researching for her thesis found that the state and federal governments make more profit from smokers than the cigarette companies do, because more than 50% of the price of a packet of cigarettes is tax, and smokers tend to die before they collect much in pensions. So every time the anti-smoking ads start to get results, those lobbies lost funds from the health departments. Say--maybe that's why you never see the nicotine inhalers in the articles about how to stop smoking: because those actually are effective. I repeat, my wife was a heavy-smoking addict for 50 years until she tried the inhalers, and the first inhalation marked the last cigarette she took. No struggle with lingering cravings, no extraordinary effort of willpower. THEY WORK. It seems that government-sponsored no-smoking programs make sure to include only those things, like abstinence through sheer willpower, that they know won't work in most cases. Sort of like the anti-VD programs that stress sexual abstinence rather than condoms, knowing that it won't work. What would the moralists have to do if VD and unwanted pregnancy disappeared? Similar story on the articles about how there is no cure for the common cold, that don't mention vitamin C except to disparage it. So what happened with the Australian lady's project? Her university refused to publish it. Any questions?

This has been known for a long time, but there are recent comments on it by William Raspberry and John Leo, normally at opposite ends of the liberal/conservative gradient. The best way to prevent crime is to have fathers in the families. Children raised in two-parent families are less likely to get into gangs or crime. The common adage is that a mother's love is unconditional, from which come a child's security, while a father's love is conditional, and from that comes a child's conscience. There is something to that.

From a letter by John Bassett in the St. Petersburg Times: “Fundamentalists believe in a god small enough to accommodate their limited world view. Others believe in a god large enough to accommodate the material evidence around us.” so how big is your god?

I am no fan of the Bush administration. I think that if Satan took over, he would put in the same programs we are seeing now. Further evidence is coming to light of American brutality to prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere. Senator John McCain introduced amendments to forbid the torture of prisoners--and Bush opposes them. That says more than all the president's statements that torture is not used.

I understand that a weekly magazine called Human Events is considered the bible of the right. It published a list of the most harmful books of the past two centuries. It includes books like Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, Freud's Introduction to Psychoanalysis, Darwin's The Descent of Man, Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed, and Carson's Silent Spring. You don't have to be stupid to be conservative, but it evidently helps. I once tried subscribing to National Review, to give the conservatives a fair consideration. This was in the time of the Newt Gingrich problems that led to his departure more or less in disgrace. I opened the first issue I received randomly and read that all the charges against Newt were either false or irrelevant. I knew then that this was not a credible source of any objective information. Decades earlier I had given the Wall Street Journal a similar trial, in the time of the Nixon presidency. That screed could see no evil in Nixon. Then at last it had one criticism. Had it at last seen reality? No, it said that Nixon had not been hard enough on his critics. In the intervening years I have not seen persuasive evidence that “honest conservative” is not an oxymoron.

Sheila Dee sent me an article about why TAPS is played at military funerals. It seems that during the Civil War a captain in the Union army risked his life to drag a wounded soldier to safety. It turned out that it was a Confederate soldier, who was dead. It was also the captain's son, who had enlisted in the Confederate army without his knowledge. Heartbroken, the captain asked permission to give his son a full military burial, with army band members playing a funeral dirge. That was turned down, but they did give him one musician. He had the musician play a series of notes found in the dead youth's pocket. Thus TAPS came to be. “Day is done ... God is nigh.”

Last column I mentioned my ignorance of the “bases” when a man is making out with a woman: what is third base? One person suggested that third base was without clothing. Another said that in his circle they call it the four Fs: French Kissing, Feeling, Fingering, and Fucking. Teens are evidently more advanced about this sort of thing than they were in my day.

So my relaxation month became crowded to the point of having to skip part of my Publishing Survey review, and stuff got postponed to the next month. Necessary tasks are still piling in. My membership on the Xlibris board of directors is taking time; it's not necessarily smooth sailing. I have novels to read for critiques; it's amazing how many folk seem to value my mere opinion, considering I'm known mainly for frivolous fantasy. So it goes. I'm going to try again to relax in part of Dismember, before getting to work on something in Jamboree. Wish me luck.

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