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Piers signing books
OctOgre 2006

Every so often my wife and I exchange a glance and inquire where is the easy, unhurried life of retirement-age couples? Of course I'm not retired and never will be, but our average age is 70 and we wouldn't mind relaxing a bit. Instead the hectic pace continues. Ah, well.

For my birthday my elder daughter send me a book Walter the Farting Dog, plus a Walter-dog doll that farts when squeezed. The essence of the story is that when they adopted Walter from the pound they discovered that he constantly farted, and they could hardly stand the smell. Nothing abated it, so they were ready to take him back. Then robbers sneaked in, and only Walter knew it. He farted up such a storm that the robbers suffocated and fled, leaving their loot behind. So he saved the family from the robbery, and became a hero, smell and all.

Something else relating to my birthday: I learned that Jon-Benet Ramsey, the little showgirl who was abducted, raped, and killed at age 6 a decade ago, had the same birthday: August 6. 1990 for her, 1934 for me. I don't like this business of tarting up children to look and act sexy; it's contrary to nature and can lead to exactly what happened to her. Children should be allowed to be children. Yes, there is a graphic sex scene with a child in my novel Firefly; folk should read it to understand that it is no endorsement of pedophilia. Today there are Internet chat sites that obliquely cater to pedophiles. US NEWS & WORLD REPORT had an article on Myspace where teens can have sites that would freak out their parents and predators can lurk.

Meanwhile my wife is doing well enough, considering, needing that expensive IVIg infusion every five to six weeks. Otherwise she slows down, suffering numbness at the peripheries, and we know where that leads: to the wheelchair. One thing that disturbs me is the way the current congress acted to stop Medicare from covering the home treatments, so patients including my wife went to the hospital for them. So Congress acted again, to stop that too. So now we pay for it ourselves despite being on Medicare, while others who can't afford it are dying. I am speaking literally; I got it from the magazine I.G. LIVING, that serves people like my wife. It seems people will continue dying until there is a regime change. It seems that is okay, if you belong to the party in power. She also tried Boniva, the once a month pill to shore up the bones-and it tore up her esophagus, giving her severe heartburn that recurs daily even weeks after she stopped taking it, making her miserable. How would you like to live with a miserable spouse? About expensive medicine: an article describes how Overton Pharmaceuticals bought the right to market the cancer drug Mustargen. In less than a month the price of a two-week prescription jumped from $77.50 to $548.01. They did the same with Panhematin, a drug used to treat a rare enzymatic disease, and the price went from $230 to $1,900. Welcome to American medicine.

I remarked last column that I did not try Ubuntu Linux because it uses Gnome instead of the KDE environment I much prefer. Well, several fans advised by that there is Kubuntu, which is Ubuntu with KDE. Okay, so after I finished writing Xanth #32 Two to the Fifth, I tried putting Kubuntu on my system. It wouldn't install. I tried it three times with two different discs, but each locked up the system in step 4 or the 6 required. So then we tried the 64 bit Kubuntu on our new 64 bit computer, and it installed. But Kubunti is different from the other distributions of Linux we have tried, and my wife, who was a computer programmer in the computer stone age, is unable to get my modified Dvorak keyboard installed. You see, I learned touch on Dvorak in the earlier days, when Mr. Dvorak was alive-I exchanged a letter with him-and then when computers came, they changed the punctuation, I guess just because they could. So I have to change it back to the original so I can use it. Otherwise words like "don't" come out "don;t" and I can't find the dash. With Caldera, Red Hat, SUSE, Xandros, and Linspire we got it changed, but with Kubuntu they hid it somewhere else and we can't. Oh, it is still shown where the others have it, but that's not the one it actually uses. So this puts my Kubuntu geek fans on their merit: if you can tell us how to swap keyboards, I'll move to Kubuntu, which seems in other respects like a sophisticated operating system. If not, then I'll have to stay with Linspire. If you want me to join your number, this is the key. It would help if it turns out to be possible for it to go online via dial-up, too, as we don't have more than that here in the backwoods. PS-I see reference to Xubuntu, using the Xfce Desktop environment. Maybe an Ubuntu geek can tell me whether this variant would be worth my while. But I think if I can't have KDE or something as good, I won't go there.

As mentioned before, I quit with Xandros when it trashed two of my files. But it remains on our correspondence computer, because it will share with Windows, which my wife uses. There are some little features I like about Xandros, such as the Eyes in the Taskbar that constantly watch the mouse cursor, and the little (5/8 inch on a side) 15 puzzle that you can actually play. But it has now trashed two more files, the last one my 1987-to-present letter list containing records of thousands of letters I've written. I use that list to check when I've been in touch with folk before, not trusting my sieve-like memory for names. Fortunately I saw it coming and backed up that file just before it got trashed, so that I could then copy it back in from the backup flash drive. It seems that it happens when I shut down StarOffice after retitling a file, deleting the file that is in memory. Must be a confusion, thinking that because it is being closed, the file must be deleted from the hard drive too. This is something Xandros needs to fix before it alienates more important folk than I am. It has no business deleting a file without permission. But for that dangerous glitch, I would have been satisfied with Xandros.

One of the problems in maintaining a list of electronic publishers and services (see the publishing section for that if you're interested) is that publishers don't like negative reports. But such a survey is meaningless unless it calls things as they are. Because I have been established in traditional print for four decades, I am effectively immune to blacklisting or similar threats, so can and do call them as I see them. Every so often the resulting fracas becomes too much for the limited space in the Survey, so I do it here.

This time the issue is eXtasy Books. I had a negative report on it a year or so back, ran it, and then got feedback from the editor Stefanie Kelsey that satisfied me that things weren't that bad, and I corrected it. I rather liked the way Stefanie came across, actually. Then the spit hit the fan. Stefani had a blowout with owner Tina Haveman and was fired. She has now set up her own publisher Mojocastle Press and is out of the eXtasy picture. I received some savage complaints about eXtasy, and remarked "A meltdown seems to be occurring." All was quiet for six weeks. Then, in one day, I received half a dozen complaints about that entry. It was evidently a scripted campaign, replete with misinformation. I have little patience with obnoxious ignorance. So I made up an ad hoc canned paragraph to answer them all. To wit:

For all you folk who evidently wrote me letters from a script: My report on eXtasy was based on news from both Tina Haveman and Stefanie Kelsey, plus anonymous others who were on the scene at the time of the main incident. Your suggestions that I did not do my homework here and the threats of legal action against me, because I spoke the plain truth, impress me more with the inaccuracy of your script than any sincerity of your purpose. As I told Tina directly, when the future of eXtasy becomes apparent, I will say so. Meanwhile, you'll surely be better off focusing on your own writing and accounts than on trying to harass one who has probably been in the rough and tumble business as a writer longer than any of you.

If that seems to reek of contempt, then you picked up on the nuances correctly. For those who evidently don't know: I was cheated by a traditional publisher in the late 1960s, got a lawyer, got some of my money-and was blacklisted for six years. They did not post a notice saying "Piers Anthony is hereby officially blacklisted" because of course I had the right of the case and what they were doing was illegitimate retaliation. They just found other reasons to reject my material, but my agent was given the private word why. But some publishers did not honor the blacklist, and I endured. Today virtually all the blacklisters are out of business or merged into larger outfits, none of which blacklist me; I survived them all. I thought of it at the time as like the Israel/Arab war of 1967: they all piled in to destroy Israel, but then the battle did not go as expected and the Arabs lost. Thereafter it was no more Mr. Nice Guy for me; I simply took legal action against errant publishers, and always made my case, refusing to accept silence in return for the settlement. Silence means the author gets badmouthed and can't respond. I have had more trouble with publishers than perhaps any other writer I know, because I stand my ground and have the will and the means to take it to them. I am, when roused, in this respect, like a vicious dog going after blood. Or maybe more properly a riled ogre. No sensible publisher would care to encounter me in court, because I make sure of my case and will have my pound of flesh. For example an earlier column described how I went after Baen Books and made it pay. The operative rule is that a publisher can push around a poor writer, but not a rich one. Meanwhile, a bit of sensible advice for folk who like to participate in harassing campaigns: don't point a gun unless you are ready to fire it, because this is asking for trouble you may not be able to afford. I have been in the legal arena, and am prepared to be again.

Here is a sample of the campaign: an email missive I received:

You have an incorrect fact on your site for there is no meltdown at Extasy Books and authors are not leaving. You apparently received a false statement and did not ask the source about the correctness of such words. Please rectify your fouled words and cease the confused havoc such fallacy is creating for Extasy readers.

Thank you.

Well now. What I said was that a meltdown seemed to be occurring, as quoted above. That was exactly the case. As it is turning out, the appearance is not in this instance the reality; eXtasy is surviving. But authors are leaving-again, not in droves, but I have heard from some. So what I said was true, and it is those who accused me of being false who are incorrect. They thought they were dealing with an over-the-hill writer who could be cowed. They were foolish.

It doesn't end there. You see, this email had a return address-and it turned out that the woman listed as sending it had not done so. I had been independently in touch with her. She was appalled that her name was used falsely. I'm not; this is the sort of thing that comes with the territory of ignorant attacks, where anonymity is preferred for obvious reasons. As I told her: the real author of that letter was no friend of mine, hers, or eXtasy's. It was just someone with a private agenda and without integrity trying to stir up trouble. But perhaps it helps show why I view such campaigns with contempt. This was not an outpouring of righteous indignation by regular authors; it was a scripted campaign whose most likely consequence was to promote a fight between me and the publisher.

Here is a general summary of the case. Tina Haveman is the owner of Zumaya, whose erotic imprint is eXtasy. Stephanie (also spelled Stefani) Kelsey was eXtasy's chief editor. Tina keeps a tight fist on the money, and Stefanie had a problem with this, especially when she received complaints about fouled up accounts. I know; I published such a complaint in my Survey. They are two strong-willed women whose personal relations were becoming strained. Then eBookAd defaulted on payments it owed for books sold, about $20,000. That was a crushing blow to Tina, who had to either stiff her authors in turn or make it up out of her own money. She did not owe that money, as she never received it, but the authors were never going to understand. I am familiar with that, having once been stiffed myself by a publisher's bankruptcy. The paperback publisher paid my royalties to the hardcover publisher, which then went under, taking my money with it. My money should have been in a separate account, untouchable. Decades later, I remain annoyed.

Tina paid for Stephanie and some authors to attend a function, but things did not go well. Tina was under medication, and made the mistake of drinking alcohol. That's dangerous, because of potential interactions. As a result she made a public spectacle of herself, and some of the evening got blanked out of her memory. Finally Stephanie got her alone and had it out. Stephanie lost her temper and is not proud of her own behavior. As a result, Tina fired her. Naturally each woman had the right of the case in her own mind. I have heard voluminously from both. Now they are apart in person and business and would prefer that things settle down, Internet gossip permitting.

Tina has moved in to run eXtasy personally, and of course it is not easy. There are questions as to what records are where and who is responsible. Some authors are impatient, but for what it's worth, I believe Tina is honestly trying to get things in order and to see that all royalties are paid, including the eBookAd ones. It is generous of her to pay those. On the other hand, it seems that some necessary eBookAd accounts were mislaid or never received, so it may be impossible to ascertain exactly all of what was owed to whom. I am a great believer in auditing, but I fear an audit could not fathom nonexistent accounts. That means that some authors will be dissatisfied, but it is probably best for them to accept what is offered and move on.

I had some interesting sources I will not identify, and will say that a couple brought me up short with surprise. There are nuances that are suggestive. I learned that alcohol and sex aren't limited to the pages of the erotica these women write; there are hints that some seem to practice what they fictively preach, and some interactions are remarkable. I don't drink and drive, because I value my physical health; I also don't drink and make public appearances, for the health of my reputation. But it seems I'm not a hot-blooded Romance writer. One who spoke with authority gave me a usable quote: "The controversy regarding eXtasy Books that arose during and after this year's RT convention is past and done. For it to be revived over and over again, often by people who weren't even there, does more harm to those fine writers whose work is published by eXtasy, and those who will be in the future, than anyone else." The identity of, and discussion by, this person were persuasive, and as you can see it has essentially become my position. Another persuasive person was Tina Haveman herself, because she named some names, and among them were some I had heard from and left anonymous. If a publisher is shafting dozens, it can't identify malcontents, but if there are only a few, it can, and Tina did. She's a hard woman, tending to arrogance, but she is doing her best and it seems to be good enough. There are personality conflicts, and I think some paranoia, but I don't see dishonesty, and that counts for a lot.

So there are complaints, and in my judgment some are valid, but not all. One valid one is that the publisher has in effect accused those who seek to invoke the audit clause in their contracts of extortion. Oh? Let me set this straight immediately: invocation of the audit clause is a requirement for a correct and verified statement of accounts done by an independent party, such as a CPA. To call it extortion suggests a guilty conscience. No honest publisher should fear it other than as a passing inconvenience. Another complaint is that statements may be delayed, and handed out only when specifically requested. And that some royalties are not paid at all, though the publisher says that all royalties have been paid. One author who decided to leave was released with an extremely ungracious notice, accusing her of libel and being part of a "scam orchestrated by others" to undermine the publisher. I doubt it; she just wanted to be paid her royalties and granted release to take her work elsewhere, without getting savaged. Another received a sudden release after I mentioned her name. No "scam" that I know of; the orchestrated scam was the one directed at me in supposed defense of the publisher, as noted above. One of those letters that did not impress me begged me to tell it as it is-as if I haven't been doing that all along-suggesting that I had been taken in by bullshit (her term), and threatened me with a lawyer. I replied "Put your lawyer on; I will deal with him." She replied "You really missed the whole point, now didn't you?" Oh, I don't think so. The point was that she came at me with unfounded charges and threats from a script; I called her bluff; she backed down, as she had to. Published writers ought to have the wit to get correct information before making an issue, to phrase their remarks appropriately, and to know whom they can bluff and whom they can't. Maybe some are learning.

In sum: eXtasy has had its troubles, and maybe an attitude problem, and can be savage in fighting dissatisfied authors, editors, or reviewers (I'm a reviewer in this context), but does seem to be worthwhile overall. The majority of its authors seem satisfied. I have left the full eXtasy entry in the Publishing Survey for this time, as a kind of historical document, but will remake it in the future to reflect the current state. With luck the hard feelings will fade away in time.

Let's move on. I got an idea-impossible, the critics snort!--and a revelation. The idea is could God be Dark Matter? You can't see it, hear it, smell it, feel it, but it's there. Astronomers worship it, but I doubt it actually exists. It seems like a fair parallel to me. Now the revelation: why people seem to have an innate belief in the supernatural, whether superstition or religion. Intelligence has always been a survival asset, and smart folk tend to do well, making their own clever decisions. But what about stupid folk? If they trust their own boneheaded judgment too much they're liable to wind up dead. So they need a guide they can trust. And there it is: religion, where a priest or the Good Book tells them what and what not to think and do. It's a better guide than their own inclinations. So if you are stupid, it helps to be religious, and that seems to be built into the human genome. We evolved to disbelieve in evolution, unless we have the wit to understand it.

Spot items: They demoted Pluto. That gripes me. For one thing, it's the only P planet. My given name begins with P, so I identify. Of course that's stupid, but maybe my attitude is governed by the preceding paragraph. I saw an intriguing picture on the Internet: a fancy cake made to look like a cat's litter box, complete with recipe so you can make one of your own. Half-melted Tootsie Rolls look marvelously like turds. There's a popular song whose title I don't know; I've heard only snatches. "There will be an answer," soulfully sung. What I want to know is, what's the question? The comic strip "Lio" isn't really well drawn, but has wicked fantasy imagination. In one Lio's father reads him a bedtime story about a bold knight slaying a fire-breathing dragon. After Father departs, Lio is seen comforting the freaked-out baby dragon. Awww. Ad on TV I think I saw only once, and I don't know for what product: young woman is frozen in place several times. She finally protests "Stop-freeze-framing-me!" in freeze frames. Beautiful.

As regular readers of this column know, I am surely among the worst of archers. I set up my target at a range of 150 feet, counting +1 for each time I hit my marked one-square-foot center, and -1 for each time I miss the two foot wide target entirely. I have baffle targets set up all around, so I don't lose too many arrows. Typically I have a positive score right handed and a negative one left handed. Well, in this period my left bowstring broke. I got it replaced, but then of course I had to zero in again. One day my right side score was +7; then I missed the target with the first 11 left side arrows, and scored in the center on the 12th for a score of -10. A month later I did it again. I keep saying, expecting no one to believe me, that the arrows simply are not going where I'm aiming them. Well, they aren't. So why don't I move closer, such as to 100 feet? Because the point is not my score but the exercise, and I get it regardless where the arrows strike. From drawing the bows-neighborhood of 55-60 pounds draw weight--and moving the big targets. So I make it interesting by the challenge of accuracy. My score this Sunday, OctOgre 1, Column Editing Day, was 6.5-0 right side, 0-6 left side. So overall I was positive by half a point. This time.

Something that seems similarly random is the computer card game Grandfather I like. I felt I was wasting too much time on it, so I made myself a deal: play until I lose, then get back to work. Since the chances of winning are about one in three, and a game takes five or six minutes, that effectively limits my wasted time. Well, one day I played and won, so I played again, and won again, so I played a third time and won. That matched my record winning streak and I couldn't quit. So I won a 4th, breaking my record, and a 5th, and then a 6th before finally losing on the 7th. Knowing I would never do that again, I retired from the game for several weeks and got more writing done. But in time the hunger to play grew again. Sigh. I love writing, but sometimes I just need a half-mindless break. As a thoroughly married man I don't go to conventions to get drunk and laid, so my breaks are relatively tame. No, of course I don't envy those hot-bodied Erotic Romance novelists. Much.

Jim Baen died. I had a history with Baen Books. With my collaborative novel Through the Ice it was good, but then with If I Pay Three Not in Gold it was bad. It wasn't just that he paid my collaborator approximately $50,000 for a manuscript that needed such severe editing that I resolved never to work with her again, while paying me $200. That's not a misprint; I was getting only one 250th what she got, and I was the senior writer. I had to force a hostile audit backed by a high-powered lawyer to prove he was cheating me, and made him pay for it because the "error" was way beyond 10%. Apparently he was mad at me because I opted out after that one manuscript. See above for how publishers react to authors who leave. But as I said, it wasn't the money. It was that the man demonstrated such vindictive dishonesty in response to my reasonable position that I knew I'd never work with him again. It wasn't the first time we had crossed swords, but I had tried to make allowances. Apparently the man was out to prove that he could do whatever he wanted, legal or illegal, and I, the author, just had to accept it. He picked the wrong writer to test. Maybe he actually wanted to show he could defeat the toughest, like a gunfighter proving he's top gun. He pushed to the limit to get his way, and beyond it. He lost. So he gets no nice memorial from me. Baen Books should be okay now that he's gone.

Local politician Gabe Cazarez died. I knew him personally from my days as a Common Cause activist. I was contacting other civic organizations to get them to join Common Cause in a joint forum on campaign finance reform. He enlisted three separate organizations for that effort. Later he became the mayor of Clearwater, Florida. The Scientologists moved in, and he opposed them, and they staged a phony hit-and-run accident involving him in an attempt to discredit him. They also tried to set up a sex smear campaign against him. My enmity to Scientology dates from those libels of this good man. Before that, starting with the original article on Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard in Astounding Science Fiction Magazine, circa 1950, I had regarded them merely as nuts. Now I realized they were dangerous nuts. I said so at a convention in Tampa, and a car followed us home. It was a we-know-where-your-children-are message. No, I can't prove it was them, but it surely was. Many figures in the science fiction community support them. I never will. Gabe continued doing good works, and was a lifelong enemy of Scientology. I am sorry to see him go.

You may have heard rumors about a property tax revolt in Florida. Yes, it is brewing. Theoretically there's a limit: they can't add more than 3% a year to the taxation on your homestead. They have ways around that, as we discovered. We have invested in property, mainly tree farms. I like trees. Well, now they disallowed the tree farm exemption for the one we live on, though the trees are still growing there, and jumped the appraised value of our properties what seems to be several hundred percent in one year. Double whammy. Suddenly we own much more than we did in land, with taxes proportionate. The device is to appraise land for its "highest and best use," such as development, which is way more valuable than trees if you have no appreciation for the environment. I wonder if the object is to force us to sell to developers? We're not in this for money either, but I doubt we could sell for anywhere near those new assessments. Land values are in the process of collapsing. We'll see. We are hardly the only ones caught by this stunt.

But my personal concerns include the small. I have favorite trees and plants, and even a favorite blade of grass. Let me explain. Back when we built our house on the tree farm and moved in in 1988, we got a small area around the house sodded to make a lawn. First the horses, and later the rabbits decimated that lawn. But some fragments of turf landed across our drive at the edge of the forest, and these expanded in time to make a new lawn, better than the sodded one. Then someone tossed a bucket of something caustic in the middle of it; we suspect a workman. The grass died first in a patch a yard across, then the death expanded until it was about twelve feet across. The original heart of our volunteer lawn had became a mini desert. I tried dumping water on it to wash the poison down and out, but it just kept spreading. So I dumped the leaves I scraped off the drive on top, hoping to form new soil above. And that seems to be working. The grass is sending ambitious lines into that bleak center. One blade was growing almost where the death zone started. I gave it water, making sure it had support. Then it disappeared; I think an animal ate it. Sigh. But months later it sprouted again, and I'm supporting it again. Now it is four or five blades. I think it's going to make it. I always root for underdogs.

My empathy extends even to letters in words. Say I mistype and the word comes out "loook" I need to delete a letter. But I hate abolishing it, once it has come into existence. Its not its fault that the word can't use it. Yet I have to do what I have to do, editors not being very understanding about this sort of thing. But I delete the last letter, not the first, because the first letter was always legitimate and doesn't deserve to be destroyed in favor of an impostor. Still, it bothers me to have to wipe out any letter.

They installed Katie Couric as news anchor at CBS. Even that has a history in my mind. Long ago the nework had to select a new anchor, and the nicest prospect was Roger Mudd. Instead they screwed him and put in sour Dan Rather. Disgusted, I never watched that evening news. Now that's over, and maybe I'll watch Katie. Maybe. I'm not sure, because I don't trust the network not to pull some other obnoxious deal.

We had an earthquake in the Gulf of Mexico, where no one knew a fault existed. It didn't cause a tsunami because it wasn't vertical, and we here in north central Florida didn't feel it. Still, what does California have that we don't, now?

I don't pay much attention to TV ads, but some do catch my attention. This time it's the Geiko client and actor skits, where the insured person is the straight narrator and the actor hams it up. Such as a woman telling her experience, and the actor speaking dramatically into the mike "A new wind was blowing...payback, this time for real." I suspect that sometimes they have to do several takes, because the clients must burst out laughing.

I read Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, which it seems was a parallel project to the movie and surely has similar elements. We didn't see the movie because it never showed locally; conservatives don't want to be bothered with truth like this. Gore really makes the case. We may be nearing a tipping point, like a tree starting to fall, where the climate will rapidly change, causing horrendous disruptions in weather and food supply, as well as flooding of coastal cities. The naysayers have no credibility; informed scientists are virtually 100% satisfied that global warming is happening because of human pollution and probably accelerating. At the end he gives sensible steps the average family can take to help abate the damage, many of which we are already doing here: composting organic garbage, driving a hybrid car, insulating our house, and so on. He doesn't mention vegetarianism, but that's another way to reduce environmental mischief. But I think we will need a regime change before reforms can be made on a national scale. At the moment the lunatics are in charge of the asylum.

I saw an ad in DISCOVER magazine for Better Sex videos. About $35 for four hours total, so I ordered it. It's a nice collection, with sensible discussion buttressed by sex videos that don't censor out the details. I did learn some things. For example, vibrators can be used on men as well as women, and the woman can use one on herself while addressing the man, so that she gets her orgasm when he does. She can even use it while he is having sex with her, so that again, she is assured of her orgasm along with his. Both parties can choose to have their orgasms before, during or after intercourse. This really gives women equality in sex, and makes feasible a mutually pleasurable larger experience. I wish such videos had been available when we got married, fifty years ago.

I commented last year on John and Michelle Erb's book The Slow Poisoning of America. Now there is a supplement, "The Slow Poisoning of Mankind," a report on the toxic effect of monosodium glutamate. This is horrendous. This supposedly innocuous flavor enhancer that is widely spread through commercial foods can trigger epileptic seizures, contribute to obesity, diabetes, ADHD and autism. The message is simple: get the hell off it as fast as you can, because using it is like playing Russian Roulette.

Political and related: I received an email from the office of Congressman John Conyers, Jr., who has filed a lawsuit against George W. Bush and members of his administration for violations of the Constitution. I'll be interested to see how that turns out. Amnesty International issued a backgrounder on renditions and secret detentions, wherein innocent folk can be arrested without charge and "disappeared" into a labyrinth of duress and torture. This is another example of illicit and surely illegal behavior by the present regime. Yet torture typically produces misinformation, because the victims will say anything to end the pain. How any thinking or feeling person can support it is beyond me. Bill Press had an article summarizing a study by the Lovenstein institute of Scranton, Pennsylvania on the IQ of the American presidents of the last 50 years. Democrats turn out to be significantly higher than Republicans, by 40 points. The smartest was Bill Clinton, 182. The dullest is George W Bush, 91. He's barely half the intellect of his predecessor. Why does that not surprise me? THE HIGHTOWOR LOWDOWN, a radical left newsletter, says that when Americans were asked to choose the worst president since World War II, Bush was the runaway winner, beating Nixon 2-1. Liberal columnist Donald Kaul has a suggestion to abate the recruitment crisis in the military: reinstate the draft, with congressmen and their families first in line, followed by lobbyists, lawyers, golfers and such. We might be surprised how quickly peace came. Newspaper item: fewer than half of Americans believe this statement: "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals." That puts us next to the bottom, below all European nations except Turkey, for believing the truth. Ignorance reigns supreme.

George Zebrowski has an article in the August/September 2006 FREE INQUIRY on the late Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, relating to his admission to, and expulsion from, the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) organization. I had already left SFWA in disgust when it tacitly sided with the wrongdoing publisher against the cheated author (me) though it was in a position to know the facts. The publisher was giving SFWA free books, you see, so the officers did not want to rock the boat, though I believe many other members were being similarly cheated. What happened, as I understand it, was the Lem wrote an article on American science fiction, and the translator impurgated it so that it seemed far more negative than Lem had actually written. Because of that, SFWA kicked him out, and apparently suppressed those who protested this unfair treatment. I could have told them how SFWA operated, but as I said, I was already gone. Now SFWA prefers to have no knowledge of that event, or of my case. Small wonder.

Odds & Ends: I saw a reference to apoptosis, or cell death, a term I have been familiar with for decades. The oddity is that it is not in regular dictionaries. I believe I have mentioned the Eolake Stobblehouse blog before, at http://eolake.blogspot.com/. This time he discusses some masturbation myths, or maybe facts, such as that orgasms can act as a natural pain killer. Next down the page is a reference to me. I think that's coincidence. Article in PARADE says that play is essential for good health. I believe it. Those who try to cram children into strict 3Rs schooling with no recesses are doing them no favor.

Internet-circulated humor: sample student sentences: "She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, that sounded like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up." "He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up." Women on men: Men are like bananas-the older they get, the less firm they are. Or like chocolate bars-sweet, smooth, & they usually head right for your hips. Or like snowstorms-you never know when they're coming, how many inches you'll get, or how long it will last. Or like parking spots-all the good ones are taken, the rest are handicapped.

The Ferret And Dove Sanctuary in Pensacola, Florida got three new ferrets they named Trent, Humfrey, and Beauregard after characters in the first Xanth novel. They were rescued from a crack-house and weren't in good condition; I think Trent later died. Anyway, the site is www.angelfire.com/theforce/ferret_rescuer/index.html.

Warner Pictures extended the Xanth movie option another two years. No, they're not stalling; they pay handsomely for each year and they're hiring a director. They must simply need more time to do it right. Soon we'll also know whether Disney will exercise the option on On a Pale Horse. I said before that I expect all three movie options to be exercised; Split Infinity has been, for Anime, and the others remain active. I realized long ago that if I depended on traditional publishers to promote my career, I'd be washed up well before I died. So I tried for an end-run around Parnassus and went for the movies, and if my long quest finally flowers, I will return to the bestseller lists in due course, no thanks to regular publishers. We shall see.

Once again I find myself with a pile of clippings and items relating to subjects I'd like to discuss further, but time and space ran out. Ever thus. I always seem to have more to say than it is possible to say.

Once this column and Electronic Publishing Survey are done, I will have time to catch up on reading and viewing. Among the prospects on the docket are Andromakhe by Kristina O'Donelly, and the Troy movie video she sent me. Her novel relates to Troy, you see.

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