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Piers signing books
JeJune 2006

It started with my elder daughter Penny, around the Christmas season of 1992. She was shopping, and by the store door was a box with several mongrel puppies, free to good homes. Later she passed that store again, and all were gone except one. “Guess we'll take her to the pound,” they said. So Penny took that last puppy. She named her Obsidian, after the glossy black fur on her back. Her mother was a black lab, and her father was probably a yard dog; embarrassing scandal there. But Penny already had two dogs, and couldn't keep another. She tried to place Obsidian as a service dog, that is, seeing-eye, hearing-ear, or whatever, for she had very sharp senses. But she also had a strong will of her own, and that may have disqualified her; they were afraid she would not train well. What to do with her? Then came mother to the rescue, and that's how Obsidian came to our household at about age ten months.

Obsidian grew to be a big dog, 96 pounds of muscular vigor, not fat. I played with her, and took her for long Sunday walks, but she came to orient on my wife, and became very much her dog. When my wife was out of the house, while I remained, it seemed to be the same as an empty house, as far as Obsidian was concerned. Wherever my wife went, there went the dog. Obsidian did not demand to be petted all the time, just acknowledged, and she would lie down and snooze beside my wife's chair. Offhand, I think that's a viable definition of love.

There were problems. Obsidian was a nose-oriented dog, and she avidly smelled everything. This was fine, with one exception: we did not like her jamming her nose into people's crotches. I tried to discourage her, but she didn't get the message. Then when I was standing watching the TV, JAM! painfully in my crotch. I reacted before I was conscious of it, whamming her on the nose. She was amazed, hurt, and chagrined; she had no idea how she had given offense. She never jammed my crotch again, but I was sorry for the event. Years later when my wife was confined to the wheelchair, and I had to lift her to and from it and wheel her around, the dog resented that proximity and tried to prevent it. More than once my wife fell because of the dog's encroachments, and falls were serious business, leading in time to injury and the wheelchair. Obsidian would growl at me when I got near my wife, and try to jam in between us, and snap at me. I reacted by hitting her again. In time she learned that this amount of proximity had to be tolerated, though she did not like it. But I wish I had found some other way to make my point. Obsidian and I got along fine when my wife was not in the vicinity.

When my wife was incapacitated, I gradually took over the business of the house, including meals, dishes, laundry, shopping, processing email, and feeding the dog. Obsidian accepted this, and liked the lettuce ribs I gave her when I made salad. I had thought she was humoring my wife about the lettuce, but it turned out that she liked it very well regardless who gave it to her. When IVIg treatments were effective in restoring my wife's mobility, to an extent, she took back the email and laundry, but I continued the dog feeding.

We attended the Magicon World Con in Orlando in 1992, and made plans to attend the World Con in England in 1995. I left England when I was four years old and never went back; I rather wanted to see the Old Country again before I died. But in the interim Obsidian joined us, and we discovered when we put her in a kennel that it almost killed her. She was so depressed being separated from my wife that she was dying. So we knew we could not do that again. That canceled the England trip. When we had to make briefer trips elsewhere, such as attending collaborator Julie Brady's wedding in Miami, Daughter #2 Cheryl would come to dog-sit; Obsidian liked her almost as much as she liked my wife.

But as Obsidian aged, she developed leg trouble that eerily mirrored that of my wife. We learned later that labs are subject to arthritis and neuropathy. Bingo! But though there is a treatment for this, they don't give it to dogs. Obsidian was very polite about it, never whining or complaining, but it became increasingly painful to see her have to pull herself along by her front legs when her hind legs would not function. Gradually she became unable to do the things she loved, such as riding in the car: I made steps out of boards for her to mount, and they worked for a time, but finally she just couldn't make it. Such as the long Sunday walks. Such as even going out into the back yard to bark off potential intruders. Such as going upstairs to be near my wife at night. Her senses and appetite remained good, but not her legs. When she got stuck in the doorway for two and a half hours, unable to make it across the sill, we knew the dread time of decision was upon us.

And so on May 25, 2006, the vet came to give her The Shot. She was thirteen and a half years old, a good age for a dog that size. She could have lived longer, as the rest of her was fine, but there were problems of urination and defecation because of her difficulty getting to her feet, and we felt that it would be kinder to take her quietly out. I dug a big hole in the forest and buried her. Obsidian and I had our differences, and she had seemed dedicated to being IN THE WAY at all times, but she was a good and loyal dog, true to her nature, and I did not wish her any harm. We are in grief for her. Everything about the house reminds me. For example, when I made our afternoon snack, I cut off a small wedge of cheese for Obsidian—then remembered. When her feeding time came I was about to do it, and remembered. I took up her dog bed, to get it out of sight. When I made the salad for supper, I had to put the lettuce ribs in the garbage: such a waste, when the dog was so eager for it. I see the many stains on the carpeting, and think of her. Four days after her death I encountered one of her chew-dolls, and that got me all over again: the dolls, toys, and bones that gave her pleasure. Even the absence of turds on the porch to clean up now bothers me, as does her failure to be in my way when I want to go between rooms. She just was so much a part of our daily lives, for twelve and a half years. She was our seventh dog, and we remember them all; it isn't as if we have not been through this before, as countless other families have. But this is fresh, and it will take time to fade. If there is a heaven for dogs...

Next day we departed for Orlando, Florida, to attend Oasis Con. Proprietor Peter Popovich had rescued key files for me in a prior computer mishap, and wouldn't take money, instead asking me to attend the convention. I said I would if wife and dog permitted it. Later we compromised: we would attend Saturday regardless, as we could leave the dog for one day. Then we lost the dog, and really it seemed better to get away from the house and the constant reminders. So we traveled Friday afternoon, and returned Sunday morning, sharing the Sheraton World Resort motel room Daughter #2 Cheryl had arranged. That relieved the strain of travel somewhat for my wife. I should mention in passing that we finally were able to obtain the treatment she needs; a competent male nurse came to our house, and it was really more convenient than the hospital for the four hour infusion. But it did cost us over $3,000. We can afford it, though it bothers my wife to spend that much on herself. I would spend a hundred times that to keep her halfway healthy, but I'm not sure she quite appreciates that. Anyway, she is able to drive and get around, and we didn't have to bring the wheelchair, but her participation in the convention was limited because her physical resources remain limited. She might stay in the room while Cheryl and I went out for an event. Regardless, it was an enormous relief for me to have her there, because I'm an incompetent traveler, and I can get lost in the labyrinth of a convention too. I joke about needing wife and daughter to run my life, but only the thin top layer of that is humor. Had I been alone, I might not even have made it into the motel room; as it was there were three of us to try the balky card-keys in relays until that one in a hundred chance occurred and it worked. Then we usually had one person in the room to open the door from inside, bypassing the perversity of the inanimate card.

So Friday night Cheryl and I caught the end of the panel on Alien Artifacts, where the panelists invented clever explanations for ordinary objects, such as one being an alien chastity belt. Then we turned in for the night—we old fogies don't stay up odd hours—and were ready for Saturday.

Saturday at dawn Cheryl and I went for an hour's walk along International Drive, which is a pretty road. We take our health seriously, and exercise is vital. We moved along about three and a half miles per hour, for an hour; faster would have sweated us up too much, as we weren't dressed for it. The one challenge was the water sprinklers, which came in clusters, so that when we timed one and zipped past it, another caught us. I think the proprietors get bonus points for that. The Sheraton itself is a fancy block-sized complex with 19 domino-shaped buildings surrounding the central Tower building. Curvaceous walks and pools abound; it's a pleasant environment.

Most of the Oasis convention was in the Lakes Conference Center at one end of the complex. They had two parallel programs, so that if you didn't like, say, the Charity Auction, you could attend the Current Events in Media SF panel instead. Conventions vary; big ones can have half a dozen parallels, and dedicated fans, that is faans—those who are more interested in fandom than in its books or movies—take pride in attending none of them, but just hanging out with each other. Oasis did not seem to be spoiled that way, however.

I made it to my first panel, If Only I'd Known, featuring anecdotes and advice from the pros. There was a fair audience, maybe 50 folk. My rule of thumb is that the bigger the convention, the fewer attend such functions; when I attended the World Fantasy Con in Nashville in 1987 as Guest of Honor I was surprised when Stephen Donaldson, bestselling fantasy novelist, attracted only about 6 to his reading. He said that was typical. So Oasis, being small, fields several times as many per event. Probably only magic can fully explain this phenomenon. There was a chilly blast on the stage. I had come prepared with a long-sleeve shirt to don, thanks to my wife's advice, but the panelist next to me, copy editor Deanna Hoak, a fetching creature with bare shoulders, was in trouble. So I appealed to the audience: it's the arctic here, she will soon be an icicle; is there a jacket available? And an obliging audience member provided one, saving Deanna from frostbite, and the audience applauded. There followed, I think, a successful session, replete with audience involvement, as it should be.

At 2 PM was my program, An Hour With Piers Anthony, wherein I read my short story “Chessmaid” and then fielded audience questions and comments. I completed my sequel story volume, Relationships Two, the end of April, and am waiting to see how the first volume does before daring to offer it to Venus Press. (Wild Child Publishing forwarded a very nice review of that first Relationships. I'm glad those stories are being appreciated.) Most of the stories have strong erotic elements, but for a general audience I wanted one that wasn't erotic, and this was it. It features a young female chess player who ranks #15 among female players in the world, and #9 on the World Chess Beauty Contest site. That's a list that ranks the players by their looks, and it actually exists, at www.1wcbc.com. That's what gave me the story idea. Her name is Pawna, and she says she will marry the man who defeats her in chess, sight unseen. In fact she plays nude, and blindfolded, 20 men at a time, on closed-circuit TV that of course hackers break into and broadcast globally. She beats 19 and draws with one, wherein lies the story. In the course of the match the WCBC, having seen her assets, as it were, ups her ranking to #3. Could this happen in real life? I hope so.

Then at 3 PM, and after, I autographed books, signing several hundred. That completed my obligation. One of the dealers remarked on my prior column discussion of Jack Woodford, to whom so many writers owe so much. He had several of Woodford's novels on sale, and I bought one, Flame, so as to discover just what kind of a fiction writer the man was. Another person gave me a copy of a novella by Andre Norton, “Serpent's Tooth,” which I expect also to read with interest. I knew Andre, and her advice early in my career helped me to succeed. It is a favor I try to pass along to others.

Cheryl and I finished out Saturday at the Con Suite, a separate room that served pastries, chatting with whoever was interested. I make it a point to be available to the folk at any convention I attend, and I don't suffer from stage fright or shyness. Those who accuse me of being an ogre at conventions have never met me at one. I don't go often—maybe once in a decade—but I try to do it right when I do. It was an enjoyable experience, and I recommend it to readers who crave more than just the printed page. So why don't I do it more often? Because I don't feel the need for such interaction, and get impatient with the amount of amateurishness I have experienced at other such conventions. I also don't like to travel. I would rather be home writing. The recent situation with my wife's health is another limiting factor. So probably I won't do it again soon. But it was fun once.

We saw one movie in the past two months, Take the Lead, about teaching ghetto kids ballroom dancing. I was never a ballroom dancer myself—I'm not sure I could do even the box step correctly—but I love to see the art of skilled dancers, and delight in the flashes of fine female flesh. So it was my choice to see this one, and I did enjoy it. There were several sub-stories, and the one I remember most is of a clumsy white girl who needed to get competent for her cotillion, so as not to embarrass her socialite parents. She really couldn't get it, even with professional instruction. So when the instructor started the ghetto class she asked to join it. She wound up dancing with a huge fat black boy that no one else wanted to dance with, and slowly, with much practice they began to get it. With him she could finally do it right. Then she brought him to the cotillion and danced publicly. Her parents nearly freaked out—that was part of her private delight—but they did a perfect dance, no missteps. She had come through in a way her parents would never have chosen. The larger message of the movie is that if you give the riffraff something truly challenging and inspiring to do, they can come through. Sort of the way that I, as a kid who took three years to make it through first grade because of reading problems, made it as a writer many readers can relate to.

I intended for months to take a break between books and catch up on some things. Well, now was the time. I ordered ten videos from MOVIES UNLIMITED, and about the time they arrived we attended a Friends of the Library book sale where they turned out to have used video cassettes, so I bought ten more. Then there were DVDs at the supermarket for $4 each, so I bought five of those. I managed to watch about half of that collection in the month of Apull, and I'll get to the rest in due course. Sure most are cheap junk; I enjoyed them. I liked Flight Plan, The Rookie, Ninth Gate—stuff like that. Pigging out, intellectually.

In Mayhem I tacked back magazines. Exigencies of writing and my wife's illness caused me to get behind on them. They're good magazines: NEW SCIENTIST, DISCOVER, SCIENCE NEWS, THE HUMANIST, FREE INQUIRY, the weekly LIBERAL OPINION WEEK, WORLD WATCH, US NEWS & WORLD REPORT, and others—all excellent reading for a science minded liberal environmentalist. I make my living from fantasy, but for pleasure I absorb science. There were about 40 in the backlog. So I started in, and at this typing the backlog is down to about 12 and shrinking. So I'm getting there, but any day now my hiatus from writing is going to get to me and I'll relapse, probably writing the next Xanth novel, Two the Fifth. That's Xanth #32. There will be some wild scenes therein; I'm already making notes for it. How do you handle an assertive romantic underage Sorceress, Princess Rhythm? My wife asked whether Obsidian Dog would now go to Xanth, as our last dog Bubbles did fourteen years ago. I think not, because Obsidian is already in the stand-alone novel Realty Check. But who knows?

I don't get colds often, in significant part because I use Vitamin C to suppress them. It has been years. But in this period one did come. I started the C regimen as soon as symptoms started, and it did stifle it. One gram per hour for three days normally does it for me. But when I was easing off, the symptoms recurred, so I went back on the regimen. Overall it took over a week to beat it back. Maybe a second cold came, or maybe it just was a really tough one. I never had a sore throat, runny nose, or other complications; the C stopped them. It just bothered me that it took so long. And of course it bothers me that published accounts are still claiming that Vitamin C has no effect on the common cold. That is a lie, perhaps fostered by the pharmaceutical industry, that would lose billions if the common cold were eradicated. They know that universal use of Vitamin C could do that, by suppressing all cases and preventing them from spreading their infections. And how many other cheap, effective treatments are being similarly obscured, for similar reason? The big drug companies are not in business for your health.

The local community college, Central Florida Community College, CFCC, invited me to their open house. I autographed books, chatted with readers, and watched the other events. Our local representative, Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite was also there, another celebrity. There was the obligatory Pledge of Allegiance recital, in which I refuse to include the words “under God” because they were not in the original and represent an attempt to break down the constitutional barrier between church and state. This is similar to my objection to the claim that ours is a Christian nation. It is not; it is a nation the majority of whose citizens are Christians. That's a significant distinction that many don't seem to comprehend. At one point the local school's Lecanto High School Step Team performed; about eight cute girls in close-fitting jeans stepping in patterns and chanting. Their last number had a refrain that sounded to me like “Jiggle, jiggle, jiggle!” and some of them could really jiggle, especially the fuller-busted ones. So the day was fun in its fashion. The ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, not a sponsor, ignored it completely. THE CITRUS COUNTY CHRONICLE, a sponsor, covered it. Has it come to this, that newspapers no longer carry the news and events of the day, unless they have a personal interest in it? Shame.

I mentioned the bobbles or bead ties I discovered for my hair, in the last column. We had bought three packages, and then Daughter Cheryl brought us two more packages, so I had about 60 ties. A problem was that the smaller ones were tricky to do; they tried to tunnel under my hair, and by the time I got my ponytail fastened, it was messy and I'd have to start over. One day I took 13 minutes to get a satisfactory tie. That bugged me, so for a day and I night I put my brain to it. Surely I had enough wit to find a simple, easy, reliable way to tie a bobble that would hold all day and release readily at the end of the day. I came up with idea after idea, that didn't work. But finally I got it: hook the two beads over my thumb and forefinger, and carry the elastic band around the ponytail being held by the other hand, until the beads meet at the other side. That frees the other hand to hook one over the other, and it is done. That worked perfectly every time. But the larger bobbles need to be looped around twice, to be tight enough to hold, and that second loop was messing up. So I pondered again, and worked out a variant: for the second loop, take one bead with the free hand, and instead of hooking on the other bead, pass it around to hook on the little finger of my right hand. Then come around from the other side, grasp it, and stretch it around to hook over the other bead. It can't slip or tunnel because it is never let go; it is always held or hooked over a finger or bead. That, too, works every time, and now I have no problem fastening my hair in place. It gives me a great feeling every time I do, because it reminds me of my victory over uncooperative beads. Surely all girls and women knew this technique from before they were born, but if any don't, and for other long-haired men, now they, too, can have perfect ties. This is a public service announcement.

I had a spot of foot trouble. I run three times a week for exercise, and in time my running shoes wear out. So my wife hauled me off to the shoe store, back around last OctOgre, and I checked shoes on my right foot, found a good fit, and bought them. Bad mistake. I should have checked both feet. My left foot is larger, or the left shoe is smaller. Whatever. When I ran, that left shoe was so tight that my toe hurt. But I plowed on, running through pain. I shouldn't have. My large left toe continued to hurt, and in a few days it turned black under the nail. Evidently I had bruised it, and that was dried blood under there. I had to return to my old shoes; I couldn't use the new ones. Several months later it started growing out, and now it's about halfway clear; by the end of the year it should be pretty again. But I still needed now shoes. So this time when we went to the store I tried the shoes on both feet; size 11 was snug on the left, so I tried size 12. It was okay, but my sensitive big left toe still wasn't satisfied. So I tried size 13, and that gave me plenty of room around that toe. So now I'm running with those. They feel like crates, they weigh over a pound apiece, and they slow me down, but my toe is not hurting. I remind myself that the point is the exercise, not the speed; it is as if I put weights on my feet. So I am reluctantly satisfied. It is not the shoe's fault that I had to go to such a large size.

I read Le Morte d' Arthur—an Epic Limerick, by Jacob Wenzel. That title may sound like a joke, but it's not. It is a rendering of the Arthurian legend (there's little evidence that King Arthur existed, and less that he was anywhere near as powerful or noble as the legends suggest) into limerick form. In some cases the rhyming is forced, and I wouldn't call it great poetry, but it is a worthy challenge consistently carried through. I'm surprised by how well it works as a narrative device; you can follow the story. This is a Lulu book, and you can find it at www.limerickdarthur.com.

I read Unfinished Business by Jon Hargrove. He's the author of Mrs. Night, that I reviewed last column. The author is a private investigator, and it shows; this is another detective story. I didn't like it as well as Mrs. Night, mainly because I got half a crush on the feisty lady vampire detective, but this one too is fast moving and entertaining. It is the first of a series, published by Mundania Press, www.mundania.com. Hargrove is surely destined for larger success, if he can get the right break; his fiction is fun reading.

I read Waking God, by Brian Doe and Philip Harris. This is a remarkable philosophical adventure that alternates serious religious discussion with hot action adventure. I was more impressed with the former, perhaps because as an agnostic I have asked myself similar questions, but the average reader may skim across to the chase sequences. Does God exist? What is his nature? This story suggests that it is not what most Christians like to think. So if you are a thinking reader with a halfway open mind, this should interest you. www.WakingGod.com.

And at Oasis I bought a copy of Flame, by Jack Woodford, published in 1949. I commented on Woodford last column, and the bookseller remarked on that and showed me several of Woodford's novels. I've never read Woodford's fiction, so was curious. So far I'm only 70 pages into it, but it's a competently handled love story, not trashy at all. So the man could after all write.

My writing computer crashed. We have several computers around the house, essentially mine for writing, my wife's for our accounts, and the correspondence system for email. We had loaded Xandros on another system, and when mine crashed I had to move to the Xandros system to continue my operations. Fortunately I had just finished and backed up Relationships Two, so lost no text. But there turned out to be several working files I hadn't backed up recently, and those are a problem. I am in dialogue with a geek, and am making progress, and may be able to recover those files. Meanwhile I have gotten to know Xandros Linux, and am not satisfied. It seems nice enough, with some nice features, but it refuses to address our email, or to let me back up my files, saying that I do not have permission to address the floppy disk. It won't load StarOffice 8, so I have paid for a suite I can't use. My wife can use it, because it loaded without trouble on her Windows system. And Xandros randomly trashes a file every so often. So having lost two months of my daily work record in the crash, I lost the subsequent two weeks because of Xandros. It balked at backing up, then destroyed the file: holding and hitting. Xandros was tempting, because it spells so much like Xanth, but it has satisfied me that it can't be trusted and I won't keep it. I don't know what its proprietors are thinking of, to loose a program with a bad-dog attitude like this on the public. So I am considering Knoppix, which operates from its own DVD or CD disk, or Linspire, said to be the most user-friendly distribution of Linux. When I make my decision, I'll order a system with it pre-installed, and that will become my writing computer. Meanwhile, Linux still is not something I'd recommend to a person who doesn't want a computer hassle. It's not user friendly. I would have thought that by this time the Linux geeks would have caught on to that. But you know, I witnessed an exchange once wherein a person said he wanted a Linux system that would run out of the box, and two others in effect bawled him out for wanting it. That attitude has to go, before Linux seriously challenges Windows. I suspect some Microsoft execs are tracking my progress, sure that I will regret leaving their corral. So far I can't refute them, galling as it is to admit it.

Related matters: we bought a new printer, an HP LaserJet 1320 on sale. The store gave us $100 off, and there was also a $100 mail-in rebate. We set it up, checked it; it's a good printer. We sent in for the rebate about a week after purchasing it—and it bounced, as being outside the required time frame. Really? Nothing was said about that before, and we had not dallied. So apparently they are simply reneging, figuring they can get away with it. Hewlett-Packard makes some fine printers, but this sort of thing alienates customers. If their marketing is corrupt, how long before their hardware is too? We will remember. We also bought a tiny Flash drive, that holds over a hundred floppy disks worth of material, and that Xandros has not yet learned to reject. So now I can back up my material, and probably we'll be using Flash henceforward. It sets a new standard for convenience.

Some rectum is using my www.hipiers.com address as a fake origin for spam. Folks, if you're getting solicited that way, I hope you understand that I'm not spamming anyone, and my system has not been co-opted. It's just a deliberately wrong return address. Spammers have no shame. The same goes for viruses: our systems are clean, and we're not sending any out.

One morning on my exercise run I spied an object on the drive like a large pine cone. It turned out to be a dead screech owl, unmarked. I don't know how it died, or how it got there. These are cute tiny owls, even smaller than the burrowing owls of the movie Hoot fame. These vignettes of nature bother me; I wish nothing ever had to die, but everything does, in time.

More evidence is developing that maybe there is no such thing as dark matter. One theory is that we merely don't properly understand gravity. It may be that it fades more slowly farther out, so that it can hold galaxies together without the need for inventing invisible substance to explain what we see. They are building machines that should be able to discover dark matter if it exists; if they don't find it, then maybe it doesn't exist. I shall be watching this with interest.

I had an odd memory: when my sister and I were children ages 5 and 4 in Spain, circa 1939, a nanny showed us how to brush our teeth. First we brushed them, then we took a sip of water from the full glass, rinsed, and spat it back into the glass. Then when we were done, we drank the glass of water. Later I learned that others don't do it that way. I suspect that the nanny was having a private joke, making us do something we didn't know was uncouth. It is one reason that my children never had a non-family baby-sitter. You just never know what that outsider is doing, as some videos in the news have shown.

Quote from the March-April THE HUMANIST magazine, an article by Camillo C Bica, with reference to 9/11: “Over the long term, however, what threatens the very foundation and fabric of our way of life in these dangerous times isn't some amorphous, enigmatic horde of bloodthirsty terrorists. Rather, it is the assault upon truth, individual freedom, and the values of justice and morality by those opportunists, obsessed and motivated by wealth and power, determined to forward their agenda.”

Email humor forwarded by Kristina O'Donnelly: one day, in line at the company cafeteria, Joe says to Mike behind him, “My elbow hurts like hell. I guess I better see a doctor.” Mike replies, “Listen, you don't have to spend all that kind of money. There's a diagnostic computer down at Wal-Mart. Just give it a urine sample and the computer will tell you what's wrong and what to do about it. It takes ten seconds and costs ten dollars—a lot cheaper than a doctor.” So Joe deposits a urine sample in a small jar and takes it to Wal-Mart. He deposits ten dollars and the computer lights up and asks for the urine sample. He pours the sample into the slot and waits. Ten seconds later, the computer ejects a printout: “You have tennis elbow. Soak your arm in warm water and Epson Salt. (Aisle 8) And avoid heavy activity. It will improve in two weeks. Thank you for shopping @ Wal-Mart.” That evening, while thinking how amazing this new technology was, Joe begins wondering if the computer can be fooled. He mixes some tap water, a stool sample from his dog, urine samples from his wife and daughter, and a sperm sample for good measure. Joe hurries back to Wal-Mart, eager to check the results. He deposits ten dollars, pours in his concoction, and awaits the results. The computer prints the following: “1. Your tap water is too hard. Get a water softener. (Aisle 9) 2. Your dog has ringworm. Bathe him with anti-fungal shampoo. (Aisle 7) 3. Your daughter has a cocaine habit. Get her into rehab. 4. Your wife is pregnant. Twins. They aren't yours. Get a lawyer. 5. Finally, if you don't stop playing with yourself, your elbow will never get better. Thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart.”

I received a request for my favorite book title for a National Library Week promotion. So I gave it, with an explanation. Then came the article: “The responses ranged from the nice—Rosalynn Carter's favorite is the Bible—to the naughty: dirty joke books favored by writer Piers Anthony.” Well, I won't be answering similar requests in the future, because this is an example of deliberately distorting an honest response for humor at a person's expense. The book I had given was Rationale of the Dirty Joke by G Legman, an 800 page compendium of dirty jokes with discussion, showing that a person's inner nature can be signaled by his favorite dirty joke. If a person finds anti black jokes hilarious, or gay jokes, or anti-woman jokes, that says a lot about him. The author pretty well makes his point, and this volume, together with its even longer companion volume No Laughing Matter, is one of the defining psychological studies of our culture. Sure the jokes are there, but they pale beside the related discussion, which truly plumbs the darker aspects of human nature. I am disgusted, not by these significant volumes, but by the evident attitude of this article. So I am set opposite Rosalynn Carter, like Satan opposite God. If she read these books, I suspect she would find them as meaningful in their framework as the Bible is in hers. Anyone would.

Letter by Mal Kong in US NEWS & WORLD REPORT FOR 4-17-06: “I enjoyed your article on non-fiction book writers who are frauds. It is worth noting that Tom Peters co-wrote the very successful management hot seller In Search of Excellence. On the 20th anniversary of the book's release in 2001, reports stated that he faked the data.” That explains much. I read that book when it came out, and thought it junk, because I had had some experiences with some of the companies discussed, and know they were hardly examples of excellence. Sure enough, some later failed. It was my impression that the book took companies that seemed to be at the top then, as was Enron more recently, and said they were examples of excellence. And what of all the businessmen who believed it? No wonder there are so many failures.

Perhaps vaguely related: company CEO pay. A quarter century ago, CEOs made about ten dollars for every one dollar the average worker made. Now it's over 400 times as much, and still rising. The head of United Health Group is making over one and a half billion (with a B) dollars. No wonder health const are skyrocketing. AT&T shareholders tried to limit the CEO's pay, but were defeated. We own some AT&T stock, along with the Baby Bells, and dutifully send in our proxies marked for such limits, but it doesn't seem to have any effect. Exxon Mobil shareholders also reject such limits; their last chief retired with $98 million, while they say sorry, they can't do anything about rising gasoline prices. Greed has no limit. What does it take to get some minimal fairness—a revolution?

There are ads galore for the 2006 early-strike 1/10 ounce $5 gold eagle coin. That's fine, for those who want them, though $60 plus shipping for a coin with gold valued at closer to a tenth that price is not my notion of a good investment. My bemusement is at the figure of a running Liberty woman, looking as if her ponderously dangling breasts are flinging out to either side. I think it's actually just her shirt, but it's a turnoff. I'd have hired an artist with more taste.

I work the daily chess and Jumble puzzles in the newspaper, considering them spot exercises for my mind. Sometimes they annoy me. For example, one chess challenge I didn't get, so I checked the answer. Which was invalid, because in the process of mating Black's king, White opened a discovered check on its own king. Doesn't anybody check these things?

There was a newspaper article titled “Save gas. Don't buy a Hybrid.” It said that the mileage of the Toyota Prius plummeted on the highway. As it happens, we now own a Prius, so we know from experience that statement is false. Actually so is the literature that says it gets better mileage in the start-and-stop city than on the highway. What it does is use the battery more in start-and-stop driving, but that has to be recharged, which normally occurs on the highway. If you drove a Prius 100% in a congested city, then your mileage would plummet. We average about 45 miles to the gallon in mixed driving, which is very good. Those who recharge the battery with electricity from the house get seemingly higher mileage, because part of the burden is being transferred to the house. The gasoline is not more efficient, it is simply being used less.

Letter in the ST PETERSBURG TIMES by Ken Sandusky makes the point that the production of meat and other animal products dumps more debris, pesticides, and animal waste into our waterways than all other human activities combined. One of the most effective single things we could do for the global environment would be to stop eating meat.

A reader forwarded pictures relating to a new women's fashion, currently big in Japan, maybe spreading to the USA. It looks like sheer skirts that show panties and bottom. It's not. It's opaque skirts painted to resemble tight panties and buttocks. Sexy as hell, even when you know it's fake. After all, probably the real panties would look similar. More fun. I wonder whether they will also do images of bras or bare breasts, and whether men will have jockstraps showing, or maybe even paintings of giant penises.

I looked up my entry in Wikipedia. For folk slow on the uptake, as I am, Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia whose entries are made by anyone who walks in off the street, and can be changed by anyone. So utter accuracy is not to be expected, and we don't see it here. Still, it's about as good as professional bios are, and will probably improve as further corrections are made. Errors are approximate, rather than malicious. The version I saw in May 5, 2006, said that I won the Special Recognition for Service to Writers award from Preditors and Editors for my ongoing survey of electronic publishers. No; the P&E recognition was for my Hipiers site, given before I started the survey. It was EPIC that gave an award for the survey. Wikipedia said I was a venture capitalist, investing in a publishing house since bought out by Random House. No; I invested as an angel capitalist in Xlibris, and am now a co-owner along with Random House. One of the anomalies of this situation is that I generally see eye to eye with Random House on this. Who would have thunk it? Wikipedia says I also invested in vegetarian foodstuffs related technologies. I have not. It says I believe I was blacklisted at one time. That makes it seem as if I imagined it. Yeah? I was blacklisted by Ballantine Books for six years because I complained and got a lawyer when they cheated me. They badmouthed me to maybe half a dozen other publishers so that I could not sell to them either. Then Random House took over Ballantine and the blacklist was lifted—they knew the real story—and I became a bestseller there, in its Del Rey imprint. Most, perhaps all, of the blacklisters are long since out of business or in greatly reduced circumstances, while I prosper. I think of it as being like the Arab/Israel 1967 war, that occurred about the same time, within a couple years, where the outcome was not what the attackers expected. Sometimes the worm does turn, and the villains get hit by their own crap. But it is true that the experience left me extremely cynical about the motives and integrity of publishers and supposedly writer-friendly organizations, and I do try to help other writers in my own ornery fashion. I mean, I was blacklisted and badmouthed for being honest and right, by some officers of SFWA as well as some publishers and reviewers. That's outrageous.

A perhaps related matter: SCIFIPEDIA at http://scifipedia.scifi.com/ is looking for volunteers to write articles about all aspects of SciFi, including something about me. So if I have an adoring fan, or even a hateful critic reading this column, that's where to express yourself. There are those who feel I should not be omitted from significant genre references. So maybe it is time that this decades-long tacit blacklisting comes to an end. But I must say it's too bad that this reference relegates itself to the trash bin that the term “sci-fi” signals. Science fiction is a serious genre; sci-fi is an ignorant derivative used mainly for junky movies.

I mentioned some columns back, lines in a song, “I'll lay me down and bleed a while, then up to fight again.” “Tommy” send me the full original poem, “Sir Andrew Barton.” My memory of the words was not quite right, but I had the essence. It's a long poem, several pages. Good to verify its existence.

I mentioned last column Lauri Roogna of Estonia. I got the gender wrong: in Estonia this is a man's name.

I am bemused by a newspaper ad: picture of a full-fleshed young woman in bikini clasped by a young man, her full breasts jamming his chin, her firm thighs against his midsection. The caption is “No more constipation, hemorrhoids, or gas!” Sure as hell she doesn't want any of that in this situation. It's effective.

Article in NEW SCIENTIST, commenting on Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett, likens religion to contagion. “Religious beliefs promote their own survival more than that of the believers... Religious cults cast evil spells, just like fanatical politics, addictive drugs, gambling, alcohol and child pornography.” Why do people believe? Religion has three purposes: to allay our fear of death and comfort our suffering; to explain what seems inexplicable; and to encourage group cooperation in the face of trials and enemies. The fear of death is alleviated by belief in a life beyond death. Too bad I don't believe.

THIS MODERN WORLD political cartoon by Tom Tomorrow shows an administration supporter chiding its trademark penguin for getting worked up about intrusions into personal privacy. “After all—if you're innocent, then you don't have anything to hide.” Whereupon the penguin responds: then why doesn't the Bush administration release the record of Cheney's secret energy task force? And pre-9/11 intelligence, and Katrina preparedness? What about coming clean on torture and extraordinary rendition? The Downing Street Memo? The No-bid contracts with Halliburton? And all the other abruptly sealed records? After all, if the innocent have nothing to hide...

From the Internet: an article titled “Under the cold eye of history” by Robert P Watson suggests that there is much agreement among scholars that the greatest American presidents are Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, George Washington, and Teddy Roosevelt. The worst are Warren Harding, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan. So where does W Bush place? As one of the, perhaps THE worst. “Bush's legacy will likely be that of death, deficits, and deceit, and it could well take this nation a decade or more to recover from his presidency.”

Coming soon, perhaps: the open-source cell phone. I am interested. Surely we shouldn't have to pay high rates for closely guarded secret innards, to use the public airways.

As usual I have a pile of clippings remaining, with some really interesting—to me—material. But as usual I'm running out of time and space and must cut it off, leaving readers to wonder what I would have said had I really gotten my dandruff up. Sorry about that.

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