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Piers Anthony at work
FeBlueberry 2005

I am coming to appreciate things about grocery stores. For example the local Publix where my wife shops for groceries three times a week. When Hurricane Frances left us without power for a week, that store stocked huge amounts of exactly what we needed: batteries and bottled water. Now that my wife has difficulty getting around, we use the six wheeled grocery cart they provide that has a seat for one adult passenger, and I push her around the store and out to the car with the groceries so that she never has to walk. It feels like steering a semi-trailer truck backwards but it is ideal; she tells me where to go and I take her there. Because what I know about grocery shopping is typical of men, which is to say that I may have forgotten more about it than I ever knew. So it's a viable collaboration, and we get the job done without straining her body or my brain. At other times a wheelchair helps. And that is about all I will say about that; my wife is a private person and is largely anonymous here because she prefers to be, as do my daughters. I am the expressive one in my family, and sometimes they wish I would just stifle it.

Which reminds me, deviously: I saw a reference in a novel to a “wife beater” T-shirt. I never heard of this, and can't figure why anyone would want to wear a garment with such a name. Maybe my dotage is showing. Here are some other brief items, of no special importance: I got a “flipper” for the missing tooth. That's a device that fits in my mouth to support a fake tooth, while my jaw recovers enough to put in another implant. It is so difficult to get out that I figured out how to use a little spoon we have with a hooked handle; about four careful pries normally does it. It's not a real tooth, you see, so I can't eat with it in place. On a cold day I donned warm socks, and realized that these were argyles that my mother knitted for me when I was in college; I have had them for over 50 years. I read that the folk of assorted professions live different amounts of time, on average. Novelists live 66 years. Oops--I have already overshot my quota. Meanwhile we finally got our flu shots, as supplies dribbled in so that doctors started having them. But I still wonder what happened to the 60 million shots they started with, that didn't go to the old folk or, I suspect, to the small children; who the hell got them? With a little effort I could probably come up with a political conspiracy theory: if only those pledged to a particular party are safe from flu... And I took a blood test to determine my allergy, and it turned out to be dust mites. But that doesn't explain why my nose faucets only when the wind is from the northeast.

Readers have caught an error in Xanth #28 Currant Events: when the Clio, the Muse of History, has a pun contest with the dragons, the scoring is wrong, and she wins when actually the dragons should have won. Sigh; I don't know how I missed that, and the copyeditor missed it too. What did I think it was, a presidential election? Well, I'll just have to explain in the next Xanth I write. #31 Air Apparent, that the dragons really wanted her to win, so made sure she did.

This column is really a bimonthly blog, and I speak my mind. I receive many reader responses agreeing, and some disagreeing. Naturally the agreements seem more intelligent and fair minded than the disagreements. Here in capsule summary is the essence of one of the latter: a woman asked whether I had any proof of my statements about the election. I said not first hand; I drew from published material. She said then I was a liar and unpatriotic. She didn't offer to refute any of it with evidence of her own; maybe she was too certain of herself to need proof. What bothers me is that the last election showed that there are about fifty million more like her, who believe what they chose, whether it is that the world was created in six days six thousand years ago, or that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. Faith is a great substitute for reality, for some folk, especially when reality is not to their liking. I guess I'm just not much for faith. I do believe in Vitamin C, but beyond that the doubt encroaches. As a naturalized citizen I take the American Constitution and Bill of Rights seriously, and I detest the way the current authorities evidently regard it as an obstacle to their purposes. They are the unpatriotic ones, by my definition. Meanwhile, here is a first hand example of election irregularity, this one from Iowa: “When I 'voted' I had a voting experience I hadn't had before... when I voted I pressed the button for a straight Democrat ticket. The way this voting machine works for a straight ticket is that you then have to pull a lever after pushing the button. My lever didn't move. I got the old gal at the desk, she went in the booth and came out to tell me it was now 'all right.' Did I really vote? Many local people complained of having had the same experience. A county supervisor said, and I don't think he was kidding, 'If you vote Democrat it doesn't work, but if you vote Republican it does.' I believe most areas all across the state had similar complaints from people voting (?) for Kerry.” That could explain a lot. There were similar cases in Florida, as mentioned last column. So yes, I remain suspicious that the election was stolen, again. Spot rechecks have verified the accuracy of questioned counts, but that can be only what the machines have recorded, which may not be what the voters tried to choose. In this respect the exit polls are likely to be more accurate, and their differences from recorded votes remain troubling.

My mind automatically tunes out most TV commercials, which are repetitive and dull. But some few I notice, and watch again. An example is one of the Capital One credit card ads, with all the warriors charging in to destroy the unwary user of some competitive card. Hyperbole, of course: humorous exaggeration. But this one has a nice woman in green spritzing customers with perfume or whatever. When the warriors come, she's bravely smiling and spritzing them too. I find that unutterably cute. I'd like to kiss her, but she'd probably spritz me. Another commercial I saw only once, and always hope to see again: a woman chasing an empty pair of blue jeans, that I think represent what she can no longer fit into. Those are the sexiest jeans! I also like the one for cat food, with all the cats converging on the house, right up to a majestic lion.

I was going to take Dismember off and catch up on reading, videos and such, but I found I just couldn't say away from writing, so started in on ChroMagic #4, Key to Liberty. That's about when Earth, after a thousand years, sends a spaceship to reclaim her lost colony of Charm. There are a couple of problems: first, Earthers don't believe in magic, because only Science Magic works on their home planet and they think that's all there is. Second, Charm doesn't want to be reclaimed. Well, Earth puts a planet-buster bomb in orbit about Charm to enforce its presence, and takes King Havoc's four teen-age children hostage. As Bugs Bunny has been known to say, of course you realize this means war. After that it gets complicated, and naturally Earth soon enough regrets getting into this, as those teens seed Earth's volcanoes to convert them to many other Chroma, making colored magic work on Earth. You see those kids are Glamors, the most strongly magical people there are, and they have powers hitherto undreamed of on Earth. I love this novel; in two months I have written over half of the 250,000 word total. And yes, I regard traditional print publishers as being idiots for not being interested in this sexy series, which I regard as my best fantasy. In time I hope to prove that once again they passed up exactly the sort of winner they claim to be looking for. But as the 19th century American poet Sidney Lanier said, swinehood has no remedy.

Speaking of which: PublishAmerica is on my ongoing survey of electronic publishers and services, with mixed reports. At one point it denigrated science fiction and fantasy writers as having no clue about writing and marketing real-life stories. This of course meant war, again. So a group of that ilk put together an utterly unprofessional and unsalable book and submitted it--and PA accepted it. Then they gleefully spread the word on various Web sites. PA tried to cover, but it was too late. The moral, as the report on http://journals.aol.com/johnmscalzi/bytheway/entries/3500 says is don't make SF authors angry; you wouldn't like them when they're angry. (That's adapted from The Incredible Hulk: make the nice young doctor angry and he becomes the mayhem-minded green Hulk. I have on occasion done my own parodies, such as what do they serve at convention banquets? Inedible bulk.) The one whose link I provide, John Scalzi is a free-lance writer whose online journal runs such items. But you know, the thing about self publishing is that you can indeed have it your way, for a price; quality is not an issue. Only when an outfit claims to be a straight publisher, and is really a self publisher; then the feces can hit the fan.

Jenny Elf of Xanth is based on a girl who was paralyzed by a drunk driver, as clarified in Letters To Jenny. Readers often inquire about how Jenny Mundane is doing. I haven't said much because there hasn't been much to report; she remains almost completely paralyzed. I still write her every week, for fifteen years now, but she can't answer. However I have word from her mother that she is now taking college classes, having found a college that can handle it, and is doing well in art and even in math, which she always hated. Meanwhile Jenny Elf in Xanth, a wolf rider, married the prince of werewolves in Zombie Lover, the best of both worlds.

I have read some books. I don't comment on everything I read; this is not a book review column, but some I deem to be of general interest. An example is Thickened Flied Lice, by Annette Robidoux and Jim Sommerfeldt. My blurb is on the back: “It's disgusting. Children will love it.” I had read the text before; this time I have the full illustrated book. It's an Xlibris volume, and an example of the idiocy of traditional publishers who pass up potentially successful books because the authors are unknown. This little book is sheer naughty fun. The heroine “Eunice O'Reilly Mc Jean/ Was thin as a dried up string bean.” She goes to a new diner and gets talked into trying the house specialty, Thick Flied Lice. It seems better than other menu entrees like Centipede Toes, Shredded Cod Eyes, Breaded Chameleon Nose, or Tsetse Fly Steak. The stuff is absolutely awful, but she makes a valiant effort--and regrets it. “The flavor so vile/ Like recycled bile!” More fun. The full color illustrations by Christian Olsen are perfect for the story, with Eunice reminding me of Popeye the Sailor's girlfriend Olive Oyl. She has a companion, a cute little snake that resembles a piece of her scarf. So if you want a book to read to your meal-picky children, this is the one; they'll probably demand that you serve them Thickened Flied Lice. I'm ordering copies to send to my grandchild's generation.

Robert Tralins is an old time writer, eight years my senior, who has published more novels than I have, albeit it in other genres. We exchanged books and he sent me a wall clock that runs backward, that is, counter clockwise. He says it may enable me to grow younger. We'll see. I read his novel Android Armageddon (a title the publisher foisted off on it--publishers like to crap on titles, just because they can). This is an otherwise routine dystopia story, a supposedly perfect society with no freedom for ordinary folk, which naturally our hero opposes. It's well enough done, but not special. But a portion is uncannily relevant; see if you recognize the allusion. “The tragedy of it all is that a handful of madmen have somehow managed to seize power and gain control of this entire planet. They've managed this through chicanery and subterfuge, by subverting our freedoms and turning our free states into police states.” And “He recalled the downfall of America, how the people refused to believe they were being destroyed by enemies from within, fellow travelers who aided and abetted that nation's traitors, until it was too late to stop the divisiveness, the destruction of all its great institutions.” And “Our society contented itself to surrender more and more of its freedoms as time went by. The sin of omission was committed each time the citizens of [the planet] remained away from the polls at election time.” So how soon do you think the author will be arrested without charge and sent to Guantanamo, never to be heard from again? It's about due, considering that the novel was published in 1974.

I read Phoenix Tales by Gregory Bernard Banks. This is a collection of seventeen stories published by WheelMan Press, serviced by Lulu (see my entry on them in the Electronic Publishing Survey). As a general rule publishers aren't much interested in collections unless the author is a Name; thus small press, electronic, and self publishing provide a necessary service to literature. The author has marvelous figures of speech; I don't think I've seen it as thick and apt since the early career of Roger Zelazny. Death is a central theme; one of the stories, “A Cup of Time,” has death agents reminiscent of the Incarnations in my novel On A Pale Horse. That's not to suggest it is any copy of mine; the death agent here is a luscious young-looking woman. (It can be hard to tell a woman's age, especially when she's immortal.) The lead story, “Escape Velocity,” sets the tone: folk are kept alive interminably, and some really want to escape that fate. That is, to die. It makes perfect sense to me. So the adventure is how he manages to escape to death. “Touched” made me remember Olaf Stapleton's Odd John. Some are slice of life (or death) pieces, with human insights. The stories aren't perfect, for my taste; there are loose ends, and the author is not strong on plot. But for an experience in description and emotion, this is good.

I don't like rehearsing my own history too often, but some of it relates to Anarquia, by Brad Linaweaver and J Kent Hastings. The title is “Anarchy” in Spanish. I was born in England in 1934, but really don't remember my parents from that time. They went to Spain in 1936 and did Quaker relief work during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, feeding starving children. My sister and I joined them when that war was over, but then my father was arrested without charge--you can see why I am sensitive to this sort of corruption--and the Franco dictatorship wouldn't even admit they had him, until he smuggled out a note and with that and the threat of a cutoff of food supplies from England, my mother was able to get him out. But rather than admit their mistake, the authorities kicked him out of the country. Totalitarian governments can't admit to error, as we know in America. That is how my family came to America in 1940, on the last passenger ship out before World War Two cut off such commerce--the same voyage that brought the former King of England to Bermuda. Otherwise I would have grown up in Spain or England, and probably not married an American girl or become a writer, and you would not be reading this column. I am here because of Spanish politics. Well, this novel is all Spanish politics, 1936-38, “An alternate history of the Spanish Civil War.” Few folk today seem to appreciate the passion of that war or its relevance to world events. It was a seething pool of conflicting ideologies ranging from Anarchist to Capitalism. General Franco was using Spain's own army to conquer the country, and the Axis powers were using it as a testing ground for their new weapons, and the Soviet Union was using it for its own purposes. Freedom lovers and fellow travelers across the world were outraged, and flocked to Spain to oppose the conquest. In the end they were unsuccessful; the forces of darkness had more hardware. Once they had it worked out, the rehearsal done, the Axis powers proceeded to World War Two. Among those coming to Spain were a number of literary figures, such as Ernest Hemingway, John dos Passos, and George Orwell. Would Animal Farm or 1984 have been written without that involvement? Certainly Pablo Picasso would not have painted the famous Guernica. Well, Anarquia has fun casting those and others, such as actress Hedy Lamarr, in new roles, participating in an effort that introduces an obscure new weapon and enables the anarchists to save Spain from Fascism and Communism. It's not a story so much as an exploration of what was going on, replete with hundreds of little pictures. Read it not for “that Flash Gordon stuff” but for insight into the passions of that day and time. I think it's safe to say there is not another book like this one. But my family's experience with the anarchists of Spain suggests that they were not ideal either; for one thing they didn't like uppity women, and enforced their preferences with guns. Hedy Lamarr would not have liked the real anarchists.

I get a lot of mail, partly as a penalty for participating in dialogues with my readers. Some of it perplexes me. Just after the turn of the year I received a package from Hawaii with $12.15 postage on it. It was an ad for a fancy Hawaiian home, with a cover letter, a sample Sales Agreement, a DVD video, and thirteen copies of a fancy slick color 20 page brochure. It's some house, with almost 12,000 square feet of living area, four bedrooms, a 4,000 square foot master suite, two kitchens, four full baths, three half baths, office, exercise room, salon, a baby grand piano, an 80 foot swimming pool with cascading waterfalls, elevator, life-size nude statuary, and a breathtaking Hawaiian view. Looks interesting as an example of how the other kind lives, but no price is listed. Sure: if you have to ask, you can't afford it. But why those 13 copies? Maybe to pass out to my family and friends? I'll think about it. Meanwhile I'm satisfied to remain on my storm-battered tree farm.

When updating my ongoing Survey of electronic Publishers I checked my name in FICTIONWISE. They have half a slew of my titles now, with little bar graphs showing the ratings by readers. That's nice. They have little blackface letters such as L and VL, but they don't explain what those letters mean; that's not nice. Maybe Loud and Very Loud?

Contraception: conservatives say that abstinence is best. But studies show that pledges of abstinence have very little positive impact, and some negative: pledgees are less likely to use contraceptives when they do have sex. I have a question for the abstinence-only birth control folk: how does abstinence work on weight control? On alcoholism? Drugs? Illicit riches? Maybe we should have more of it. Meanwhile if a fat person wants to lecture me on abstinence, I'll be cynical.

My mind wanders during routine chores like biking out to fetch the newspapers. One time I wondered why women's breasts and buttocks are so similar, and I concluded it was like poisonous butterflies. No, my fevered brain has not finally overflowed the pot and gone up in stenchy smoke. Here's the connection: naturalists at one time thought that one species of yellow butterfly was poisonous, and a similarly colored species was imitating it so as to protect itself from predation by birds. Then they discovered that the second species was also poisonous. Since it could obviously protect itself, why did it evolve to resemble the other species? And after some cogitation they realized that it benefited both species to resemble each other, because then any bird that ate one yellow butterfly and upchucked would thereafter avoid all yellow butterflies, regardless which species it sampled. Thus a single inedible butterfly sacrifice could protect both species, instead of each species having to do its own dirty work. Twice the bang for the buck, as it were. Okay, so what's the purpose of ladies' breasts and bottoms, apart from certain natural functions we need not mention here? To attract the male of the species. It is evidently an evolutionary advantage for a woman to be able to compel the attention of a man from any angle. What would be the use if her front side turned him on, but her back side turned him off? But given the limited intellect of the male, it's best to make a single signal do the job, rather than make him have to somehow learn two signals. So her front attractions came to resemble her back attractions, both being paired globs of fat that jiggle and flex with her motions. Such glimpses turn on the watching men, who are programmed to respond by drooling. More bang for the buck, again. (Yes, that's a pun.)

I received an email protesting notions promoted in the movie The Da Vinci Code, such as the idea that Jesus was only a man, not a god, that he married Mary Magdalene and had a daughter. Well, I haven't seen the movie or read the book, but as an agnostic I have no problem with these notions. I don't recall Jesus ever claiming to be a god, and it would be a shame for him to live his life celibate; surely God made man and woman to love each other and propagate the species together, the man abreast of the woman's assets; so why would he deny Jesus that? I'd certainly rather believe such things, than that professed-born-again Christians would fake evidence to invade a nation without reason.

However, that does not mean I am ripe to be converted to somebody's church. I received an email from someone who wrote to me out of professed care and concern, and shared some Biblical scriptures. Several relate to the emptiness apart from Him (that is, God), and how God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Okay, enough; I object to those who believe that any selfish turd who speaks the words of belief and praise goes to Heaven, and any great human being who doesn't speak those words goes to Hell. I don't believe in Heaven or Hell, but if I did, this is not the kind of Heaven I'd care to go to, and not the kind of narrowly narcissistic deity I'd care to worship. I sure as hell would not sacrifice my child so that readers would worship me.

I read the Ask Marilyn column in the Sunday paper each week. For a bright girl she pulls some boners. January 23, 2005, she featured a statement by a reader that the term “gullible” does not exist and is not in the dictionary. Marilyn said readers might also look up “gotcha.” Well, I did, and both words are in the OED--that's the Oxford English Dictionary, the global standard--and the big Random House Dictionary. I suppose this is like political conservatives, who prefer to believe that if a concept is not in their limited lexicon, it doesn't exist. Faith is of limited use when it comes to verifiable things, like the existence of words.

Last column I remarked on the 40% day and 30% night chance of rain: what was the overall chance? I had several feedbacks on that, with perhaps the most thorough by Erin Schram, who explained that the prediction lacked some information, so it wasn't possible to get a definite probability, but that some bounds could be established. He gave some probability tables, which, crudely boiled down, suggest that the chances are 40-58%. He also remarked on my remarks on the presidential election, when I wondered how there could be such a difference between the exit polls and the official tallies. He said early polls did give Kerry the advantage, but as the day progressed that changed. However, he feels there were some statistical irregularities that might warrant recounts. Later analysis indicated that the morals aspect has been debunked and did not contribute significantly; the main issue was the war in Iraq, and a majority support it. (That suggests to me that the majority is boneheaded.) He also made the interesting comment that the religious right is a political movement, not to be confused with Christianity; that would explain a lot. And he said that the World Watch comparison of visitors to news sites being dwarfed by those visiting porn sites isn't statistically valid; they should compare the five largest news sites with the five largest porn sites. That makes sense to me. Rodger R Owen also has a comprehensive discussion. My simple thought turns out to be not simple in practice.

I heard from Susie Lee, who runs a small nonprofit small domestic animal shelter that takes care mainly of ferrets and doves. Check it at www.angelfire.com/theforce/ferret_rescuer/ . She has many stories of rescues of individual animals. Here is a recent example of one of her email updates: “And so we come to little Sandy LeQuick Ferret, whose 'before-and-after' photos are on the web-page from the second time she'd had her Lupron shot for adrenal cancer symptoms. Sandy LeQuick was purchased from a now-defunct privately run pet store back in 1998, as a then six-month old. She was adopted out as a two-year-old and returned to us with her first bout of adrenal cancer symptoms when Lupron was new and even 'iffy' as a treatment. Yet Sandy LeQuick responded supremely well to each of the three Lupron shots over the course of four years, making a complete and spectacular recovery each time. She has lived far longer on the Lupron treatments for her adrenal cancer than any other ferret who's been and gone from this facility. And on Jan 27th she went to sleep and didn't waken. At nearly eight years of age, Sandy LeQuick Ferret had gone gently in the arms of her angels to be with her brother, Spanky LeBeau Ferret and her best friend, Harley Davidson Ferret, away into the brightly green Ferret's Summerlands.”

A local sanctuary for abandoned, abused, or neglected farm animals has a nice story. It has about 15 geese, 34 goats, 3 turkeys, assorted other birds, a foul-tempered cow, a horse, and one sheep the goats reject. And a new old goose, ostracized by the existing geese who excluded the newcomer. Then the lonely goose and lonely sheep hit it off, and now they are firm friends, always together. When the sheep eats alfalfa and timothy, the goose pretends to eat too. When the sheep's fleece gets thick, the goose cleans it. If a goat tries to butt the sheep, the goose fiercely pecks and flaps her wings, driving the goat away. This is what you do for a friend.

There is also Tintota, a friendly site for young folk that includes business websites, dating services, pen-pals, stories, poems, help for writers., and other things. Find it at www.tintota.com/ .

Spam is getting more specific. I received one saying that Cheating House Wife has matched four names in my area, living 8 to 12 miles from me: Courtney, Emily, Ashley, Rachel, with weights, heights, bra sizes, and nights of availability, all with good proportions and waiting to speak with me. Photos and webcams available. Gee; I hope they aren't too mad about the way I'm ignoring them. Bear in mind that Piers Anthony is my literary pseudonym, a fictional identity. But as an old married man I'm not keen on cheating spouses.

Yvonne Barber sent me several of her poems. I don't claim to be any judge of poetry; I'm a I-know-what-I-like guy. I did publish a number of poems by my readers in How Precious Was That While, and I think some of those are classics. But I think poetry, more than other firms of literature, is a personal taste thing. I have significant sympathy for those who feel alone, having hated being alone myself. At any rate, here is a sample:


they have eyes... but they are blind eyes
they see the hate... but they are blind
they hear the cries... but they are deaf
they feel the pain... but they are numb
they know the struggle... but they can't think
they take in the world... but they shut the door

I have eyes... I can see
I see the hate... I guard against it
I hear the cries... I am listening
I feel the pain... I cry to share it
I know the struggle... I am trying to fight
I want the world... but they shut me out

they locked me in... with word and labels
I fight with all my strength... but am doomed to fail
they fear my weakness... I try to control it
I cry for help... they condemn me
they will not touch me... I can't reach
I beg for love... but they have stone hearts

Alone in my prison that they made me...

I weep

I read an article lamenting the fact that so many folk see no reason to learn math. “Your mind doesn't think abstractly unless it is asked to--and it needs to be asked to from a relatively young age.” That's easy to agree with, so naturally I have a problem with it. As it happens I do use basic math often enough; I'm one of those relatively rare creative types who have imagination and practical sense, and that combination has surely helped my career. But the logic of forcing children to learn things because it may be good for them can lead to mischief. You see, I hated basic math, but when I discovered algebra and higher math I loved it. I might have had a future as a mathematician. I did teach it for a while in the US Army. But in school I was required to set it aside in favor of four years of languages: Latin and German. Language was supposed to help discipline the mind. I'm a linguistic ignoramus, and it almost flunked me out of high school, and I have had precious little use for those languages in life. That essentially destroyed my math prospects, and in college I finally went instead to a secondary preference, writing. Okay, that was like a light turning on, and I have loved writing ever since; it was surely the best of choices for me. I do indeed use language now, and use it well: English. But I was lucky to have found my way after conventional education had crippled my horizons. I am mindful also of my experiences as a picky eater in childhood: today the only foods I can't stand are the ones I was forced to eat despite my aversion. Other foods I didn't like, such as raw onions, I now love. I was never forced to eat them, so the dislike was never truly set. So I do think mastering math is good, but I am wary of cramming it into reluctant children. It may just guarantee that they forever hate it.

The metric system makes a lot more sense than our hodgepodge of feet, ounces, miles, gallons, and whatnot. So why have we in America never converted to it? It could be inertia, as it is with the qwerty keyboard; folk would rather continue getting carpal tunnel syndrome from the inefficient arrangement they first learned, than make the effort to change to a better one, like Dvorak. I changed, but I'm ornery. Now I type touch Dvorak on a keyboard marked for qwerty, having learned to tune out the markings. But I still use those hodgepodge measurements. What's the matter with me? Well, I finally saw a newspaper article that explains it. The metric system is marvelously orderly and consistent, but its measurements make little note of the convenience of the user. It's like that attitude of Macrohard: it is laid out, and you have to damn well like it that way, because you have no real choice. You really can't have it your way, when push comes to shove. I speak as one who finally left Doors in my ornery effort to have it my way, and still have not completely succeeded. When you want to measure a bit of food, which is more convenient: a cup of sugar or 240 milliliters? A teaspoon or 5 milliliters? A pound of cheese or 450 grams? A pint of beer or 470 milliliters? Our fudgy system is geared to our mundane convenience in a way the metric system is not. And that's why it survives.

US NEWS & WORLD REPORT had a fun editorial by its editor in chief Mortimer B Zuckerman: what people should have said. Hillary Clinton: “If the world were a logical place, men would ride horses sidesaddle.” AARP: “Don't worry about avoiding temptation; as you grow older it will avoid you.” Sex and the City: “Men are like parking spaces: All the good ones are taken; the rest are for the handicapped.” The Republicans on Democratic Minority leader Nancy Pelosi: “She has all the qualities of leadership, except followers.” The media on Bush's stump speech: “It has deja moo--the feeling you have heard this bull before.”

A reader told me about The Rejection Hotline: if, say, you're a girl, and some boy is pestering you for your phone number, and you don't want to give it but don't want to make an ugly scene, you give him a special number. When he calls it says “Hello, this is not the person you were trying to reach...” and he gets the message. They say they received more than 13 million calls in 2004. They also have Rejection E-mail Addresses, Rejection Business Cards, Rejection Shirts, and Rejection Hotline Events. Www.rejectionhotline.com/ .

Several readers commented on my concluding wish-list of projects--the things I would try to accomplish, or at least tackle, before I kick the croak. Man-Kit Kwan says it seems a waste of time and energy to grow an entire cow just to get a couple of steaks. Just grow the tissue in a test tube. But this turns out to be complicated in practice; test tubes don't have all the amenities of cows. So grow a vegetable to emulate meat. He mentions Star corn with a gene that expresses a human protein. But if we ate it that might trigger an auto-immune response. For that and other reasons, this too gets complicated. As for energy, the person who found a way to build cheap fusion reactors would have a near monopoly on global power generation. No government would like that, especially ones with power-hungry tyrants; that man would not live long.

It seems that Hollywood doesn't want older writers, thinking that they can't write for young folk. Turn 45 and you're quietly out. Now there's a lawsuit. I wish it well. Fiction writers have less of a problem, not because publishers are any less stupid or nasty but because such writers can use pseudonyms to conceal their nature, as I do. My biggest audience is teenage; where would I be if my publisher discovered my age? Shh, teen readers: don't tell.

Conservatives don't like government; it gets in their way by mandating things like safe products and fair play. They especially hate government programs that work. So they have it in for Social Security, perhaps the most successful and efficient government program ever; 99% of its money goes to the recipients. They want to destroy it, first replacing it with a privatized system with maybe a 20% overhead, then cutting benefits to match. But it's a third rail; regular folk will never tolerate being openly defrauded of the benefits they have been paying into all their lives. What to do? Claim SS is in crisis and must be privatized to save it. It's a lie, but let's face it, a similar campaign worked to justify an invasion of Iraq. It will be interesting to watch this campaign unfold; I doubt the populace will care to be hoodwinked again, but the effort will be made. Campaigning is easy if you don't care about the truth and folk are gullible. We'll see.

Interesting political statistic: how many of the incumbents in the Florida Legislature were defeated in the last election? None. Districts have been gerrymandered to make them incumbent-secure, so the legislators are no longer answerable to the people. That's why significant reforms have to be done by initiatives amending the Florida Constitution. So now the legislators want to restrict such petitions. As I type this, the news is fresh of a 60% voter turnout in Iraq, a resounding success. How long will it be before those elected catch on to the American way, so the people lose whatever freedom of choice of representatives they have?

Biggest news item of this period is the tsunami, with maybe a quarter million folk extinguished. Some are asking in what way this indicates the will of God. I suspect believers are privately squirming, regardless what they say in public. But I as an agnostic don't have a problem with it: there may be no God, or there may be a God who doesn't care, or his ways may indeed be devious. Maybe he is trying to get folk's attention. But I doubt people will reform. It must be very frustrating, being God; in the Old Testament God railed at the feckless folk, but he might as well have saved his breath.

NEW SCIENTIST says there are four words in the English language with no rhymes: silver, purple, orange, and month. That gets me looking, foolish as it may be. Maybe Bilver should slurple a dorange for lonth. NS also says that human decision making is driven predominantly not by rationality but by emotions, which are seated in our ancient animal brain. That explains a lot of what's happening today: the animals are in charge.

A “Doonesbury” comic strip made me wonder. It mentioned evident administration policy on torture. “So welcome to the world of riding the dog, pop-top, burning hair, juice ball, double dipping and pounding the marbles.” “What about dating the walrus?” “No, that's still covered by Geneva.” As a liberal I am too weak-livered to know the lingo of torture; is there a conservative out there who can explain these terms to me?

Radical leftist Jim Hightower--I subscribe to his newsletter THE HIGHTOWER LOWDOWN and agree with most of it--has a neat notion: let's outsource CEOs. We could get competent personnel much cheaper from abroad. Why not? He also suggests that clean money campaigns in Arizona, Maine, and North Carolina are worth emulating. They have authorized full public financing for candidates who agree to run “clean”--accepting no special interest money, so as not to be beholden to the special interests. In short, no more bought politicians. What a housecleaning that would mean in Florida!

FSEEE stands for Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. It does good work, standing up for this aspect of the environment. It quotes Robert F Kennedy Jr.: “Flat-earthers within the Bush administration--aided by right-wing allies who have produced assorted hired guns and conservative think tanks to further their goals--are engaged in a campaign to suppress science that is arguably unmatched in the Western world since the Inquisition.... The Bush White House is purging, censoring and blacklisting scientists and engineers whose work threatens the profits of the Administration's corporate paymasters or challenges the ideological underpinnings of their radical anti-environmental agenda.”

On FeBlueberry 9 I will participate in a panel at the University of South Florida with Harry Harrison and Joe Haldeman, moderated by Rick Wilber. It will be at the University Ballroom in the Marshall Center (Student Union) from 10:00 am to 12:00 noon. I don't make many public appearances these days, not out of any shyness but because my wife and I are getting older and it is harder to manage. I have no others scheduled this year.

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