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FeBlueberry 2007

Each year the Frog Haiku Man asks for another Frog Haiku, and I try to oblige. This time was my easiest and I think best: Life philosophy:/ Get it done before you croak/ Wisdom from the frog.

Some time back I discussed movie options. Though maybe only one such option in 20 is exercised—that is, they actually go ahead and make the movie—I said that I expected all three of mine to be exercised. Doubtless my illustrious critics took that as another example of my disconnect with the real world. But in 2005 the one for Split Infinity was exercised and they are making an Anime movie. Now Disney has exercised the one for On A Pale Horse, and I understand promptly sold it to Fox TV as a fantasy series. My daughter, who is more knowledgeable than I about such things, says that Fox is a graveyard for fantasy series. But Jamie Foxx remains connected, so maybe they mean to finally do one right. Certainly Fox can do a good TV series when it tries; witness House. So maybe there's hope. I think my agent was disappointed; he had four more outfits clamoring for on option, and if Disney had let it go he could have wheeled & dealed up a storm. Anyway, that's #2, and in 2008 we'll see #3 as Warner Pictures exercises its option on A Spell for Chameleon. And I trust my illustrious critics know what they can do with what dubious anatomy.

For those few ignoramuses who still think Florida is not the center of the universe, another example: Florida met Ohio State for the college football championship, and destroyed it despite an opening kickoff runback that counted for an OS score, thanks to a missed holding call by the officials. So half the OS points were on an error, and it still was swamped by an obviously superior team.

I read four books in Dismember, and only one in Jamboree, but that one was quite a book. It was Wild Fire—A Century of Failed Forest Policy, edited by George Wuerthner and published by ISLAND PRESS. It was sent to me free by FSEEE, the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, though it must a hundred dollar book; they had some copies to distribute to those who might help the cause. It is 350 pages, 12 by 13 inch pages, small type, and huge beautiful awful pictures. That is, the pictures show inferno-like forest fires, blackened stands of trees, columns of billowing smoke, and recovering landscapes. You might think the thesis is that the Forest Service has been remiss in putting out devastating fires, despite the encouragement of Smokey Bear. You would be mistaken. The thesis is that we should damn well let them burn. It makes a solid case, and I for one am satisfied, and will hereafter be pro wild fire. I live on my tree farm, and one of my major worries is fire that could wipe out our trees and house, so you know I'm not an easy sell on this. But I'm sold.

Let me explain. For a century the mantra has been that fire devastates natural forests, and every effort should be made to prevent and stifle all fires. This policy is seriously mistaken. Wild fire is really a natural predator. When you take out the wolves, the deer may multiply until they eat everything possible, then starve. So they are reintroducing wolves and other predators, realizing that the natural order has its virtues. Fire sweeps through a forest at irregular intervals and consumes whatever is burnable. It can't take out the big fire-resistant trees, just the dry grass, brush, fallen wood, and small trees. That clears the area for renewal. Forests need that renewal; there are insects and animals, especially birds, that can't survive without it. Stifle the fires and it's like having a world where no one dies. The population gets older and sicker, babies stop being born, and finally everything perishes.

So what about controlled fires? They are better than nothing, but they don't do enough. Not only does fuel—that is, dry organic material—accumulate until finally it catches fire despite prevention efforts, and then raises holy hell. When natural fire is stifled, small trees grow up thickly, replacing the original order, and when fire comes, as it will, these trees server as “ladders” that carry the fire up into the crowns of the big old trees. Crown fires are the ones that make headlines; they can wipe out everything. Such blazes are called stand replacement fires. In the normal course, fire takes out those small trees before they achieve dangerous thickness and height, and the large ones are safe. With them survive the animals and a reasonably limited number of new trees. Nature does know what it's doing, and it is best to let it be.

So what of the houses that get taken out? Well, first, as with wars in Asia, it is best not to put them in dangerous areas. This makes me wince; I live in exactly such an area, completely surrounded by forest. But if you do have houses there, then take preventive measures to protect them if fire comes. It is possible to clear around them, to have non-burnable roofs (ours is metal), have plenty of water (our defunct swimming pool can be dipped), and be alert. Protect the house from fire, rather than abolishing fire itself. Do that and you can have the best of both worlds.

Mankind has been damaging natural forests in three major ways. Animals are grazed there, depleting resources wild creatures need. Logging takes out the biggest, healthiest trees—the ones that should be saved. Even salvage logging is bad; standing deadwood is a valuable community resource for bugs and birds, and in time it falls and becomes nutrients for new growth. And fire suppression just sets things up for much worse fires later that will inevitably come, whether from lightning or tossed cigarette butts. But the natural order sets things up for a constantly renewing forest. A typical forest fire is a mosaic: it burns some parts completely, some partially, and skips some, depending on winds and terrain. That leaves the forest in several states, and creatures and plants that need particular types of environment can prosper.

There's a whole lot more—it's one big book—but I think this is the essence. Protect spot houses and towns and farmers' fields, but otherwise leave wild fires alone. That will cost a whole lot less, save lives (too many fire fighters die), and be healthier for the forest and the environment.

So what did I read in December? Two of my own books, as galleys from MUNDANIA PRESS, due to be published in January (though this publisher tends to be late): Tortoise Reform, wherein a lonely ten year old human girl encounters a telepathic gopher tortoise and his telepathic burrow-mates. You see, gopher tortoises live underground; they dig long burrows, and these burrows are often shared by other animals, such as snakes, small owls, armadillos, rabbits, and others. We have them on our tree farm; there's a burrow right beside our house. It's a children's story based on Florida wildlife, except for the telepathy. We don't really know whether tortoises are telepathic; they don't care to share minds with us. And the fourth ChroMagic novel, Key to Liberty, wherein the children King Havoc and Queen Gale adopted are now teens with phenomenal magic. They go to Earth to stop it from trying to conquer their home planet by seeding its volcanoes with magic. Suddenly Earth has many colors of magic generating mayhem on a planet that doesn't even believe in magic. This is one wild sexy fantasy adventure, like the first three.

I also read Revved, a graphic novel—that is, a book-length comic—that I am presenting to the public. I discussed this in a prior column: I'm not writing or drawing it, but I think many of my readers, particularly those who like my equine deathcar Mortis in On a Pale Horse, should enjoy it. It's about cars with special properties, that endow their drivers with new powers so that they can be a force for Good in the world. Only there's a suspicion that their leader is working for the other side. These are really the biblical Four Horsemen in cars. You don't want to mess with those Horsemen.

And I read Korinna, by Kristina O'Donnelly. Kristina lives in my town, and writes mainly romantic historical fiction set in the vicinity of Turkey. Korinna is a young woman who become the lover of Tiberius, who is later destined to rule the Roman Empire. This well researched novel traces the history and culture of the Roman environment, circa 100 BC, in the process showing how difficult life was for women of that time. Korinna struggles to make it, witnessing real horrors along the way. They didn't pussyfoot about legal details in those days, they simply slaughtered anyone who got in the way, and she is widowed slightly before marriage. This is the first of a series of novels, historical romance with a hard edge.

Once I caught up somewhat on reading, I started writing the fifth ChroMagic novel, Key to Survival. In this one our magic culture must take on a galactic machine culture that is systematically conquering, exploiting, and destroying all life forms it encounters. These are formidable machines that can see the far future and have a great deal of experience dealing with opposing life forms and magic. They would simply wipe out the human culture, except for one thing: their number one target in the galaxy for recruitment is King Havoc's one natural daughter Voila, who has the most formidable magic known and can see the near future. Her powers added to theirs would make it significantly easier for them to reduce the rest of the galaxy. They might even go so far as to spare the human species, if she agrees to join them. For some reason Voila does not enlist, and this means war against a culture that really does have overwhelming power and considerable skill in applying it efficiently. For example, they send Havoc a humanoid robot to be his mistress, and she is a more evocative woman than any living one could ever be. Her job is to persuade him to urge Voila to join them. He is seriously tempted, especially when Voila herself tells him to accept the robot. The convolutions of the interface between the near-future and far-future strategies are as intricate as the boundaries of the Mandlebrot set, and no one knows which future path will ultimately benefit which side. That's why this encounter has to be played out. The key to human survival is devious.

After my prior system crashed I spent six months struggling to set up another, trying one Linux distribution after another. I wrote a Xanth novel on Linspire, but was too frustrated with its sloppy file handling and the unavailability of its 64 bit system version. I wasn't satisfied with Xandros, because it randomly trashed some of my files. Kubuntu, which I understand is pronounced Koo-boon-too, simply balked at installing my Dvorak-variant keyboard, so I couldn't use it though it is a 64 bit program. Finally in mid December I did two things: I contacted Xandros to see whether they had fixed the problem, and we brought in a geek to make our copy of Kubuntu (the KDE version of Ubuntu) work. We finally received a copy of the current Xandros this week, and installed it on our correspondence system. Meanwhile, the geek did get the Kubuntu hangup fixed; it turned out to be a Known Problem, and I was able in mid December to move to it. I wrote a 10,000 word story on it, breaking it in, then switched to my novel and have written 30,000 words on that.

Kubuntu is interesting. It seems to be the only distribution of Linux that actually has a 64 bit version, but my system can't go online because no Linux has a 64 bit driver for a modem. In general it's fast and sure, but it has its little ways. It does not actually save to the flash drive until it is dismounted; this is a Known Problem in Linux that I am surprised the Ubuntu folk did not fix, as Xandros and Linspire have. Sometimes it puts on a fake error message when dismounting the flash drive: it is not in fstab, and you are not root. Once I plugged in the flash drive—and Kubuntu shut down the system. It did not go through the menus, it did not query me, it simply did it. Konqueror sometimes crashes, no reason given. When I unmount the flash drive, generally I have to right click to get the exit menu; it holds for half a second and disappears, so I have to click it a second time, and then it holds. This is not a double-click situation; you have to click, wait, and click again to make it hold. OpenOffice2 can crash when I use Escape to exit a menu; it usually happens when the speller lacks the word I need, so I escape-exit, and OpenOffice goes. Fortunately there is an excellent file recovery function, so I have never actually lost material though it has crashed half a dozen times. When I write a macro, it can write it to the wrong file. It may or may not call up OpenOffice automatically when I first crank up in a day. When I call up individual files, it remembers what desktops they were in, and what size and shape they were in, which is nice, but it doesn't remember the places I had in those files, as OpenOffice1 did. I'm not clear why they should delete an existing feature. I like the accurate handling of files, and the Move function, and I love its speller, which is the nicest I have encountered anywhere. It posts the whole sentence in black with the misspelled word in red, and if you can't find the correct word in its offerings, you can correct it “by hand” in that window. Of course it also has the right cursor spot word correction that other distributions do. I like the way I can spell a selection only, and how it will give me the wordcount of a selection; that enables me to check the length of a paragraph I'm about to move, something I do often enough as a wordage-conscious writer. Its calculator threw me at first; it is termed Speedcrunch, and it's just a blank window with a typing line below. No picture of a calculator with buttons to push. So I tried 5+4= and it said incorrect format. So I tried 5+4 Return, and it gave me the answer, printing it in the window: 5+4 = 9. It doesn't erase prior calculations when you do a new one; it just moves down a line. So it's a printing calculator, printing on the screen, and you can check the accuracy of your entries when there's an error. I like that. It also flashes the ongoing answer in a floating five second pop up message: Result: 9. I like that too, and I suspect I will quickly get used to this format and prefer it. According to the manual there's a regular calculator too, one of many features, in the Accessories menu. Guess what: there is no Accessories menu. Kubuntu must have cut that out as superfluous. So overall I like Kubuntu very well, and expect to stay with it, but I do wish they would make it more stable, as crashes aren't fun, and I'd like to have some of those features that seem to exist only in the manual, not in the program itself. I haven't used the new Xandros much—it has been only a couple days since we installed it on the correspondence computer, and it suffers the same problem Kubuntu did, of not allowing me my keyboard—but it turns out to have some similar features, like the nice speller. Maybe that comes with OpenOffice 2 suite. If Xandros refrains from trashing my files, it may be equivalent. We're in dialogue with the Xandros folk to address our problems of keyboard and getting online, so surely progress will be made. So this column will come to you by being typed on Kubuntu, then translated to Windows for shipment to our Web Mistress, while the letters I type are on Xandros.

We saw the theater movie Night in the Museum. The local reviewer have it a so-so rating, so we didn't expect much, but it turned out well, and we really enjoyed it. Sometimes you are in the mood for just plain fun, and this is, with a playful Tyrannosaurus skeleton, a huge Easter Island face that demands “You got gum-gum?” and if you don't, “You a dum-dum,” and a romance between Teddy Roosevelt and Sacajawea, she of the dollar coin. I also watched the video Saving Private Ryan, which we've had for five years but my wife did not care to watch the violence. It is violent, but it's also a good movie. And I watched a set of movies on disc: the “classic” The Devil in Miss Jones, and The New Devil in Miss Jones. They're really not much on story. Miss Jones committed suicide, so was sent to Hell, but her papers went to Heaven, so she was in limbo and allowed to revisit Earth provided she indulged in a whole lot of sex. Okay. On a supplementary disc is an interview with the maker of the second movie, and one scene that intrigued me was when he talked with an actress about something, maybe telling her how to emote better. She was nude, on hands and knees, sort of rocking back and forth, from the thrusting of the man being filmed at her other end. Sex is a commodity here, rather than a passion, like working at a checkout counter.

We regard our tree farm as a kind of wildlife sanctuary, allowing only pig hunting here. Why don't we like pigs? Because when they swarm over an area, it looks as if a disk harrow had chewed up the forest floor, and there's nothing left for other wildlife to eat. So we can have all other creatures, or we can have pigs, which are a relic of the de Soto tour over 500 years ago: they brought pigs to eat, but some escaped, and they've been here ever since. I understand that 70% of them have to be taken out annually just for the population to remain stable. There is no Florida hunting season for pigs; they can be taken anytime. Even so, they annoy residents by tearing up their yards, and every so often I will encounter a boar that weighs more than I do on our drive, and that thinks about it before getting out of the way, and that makes me nervous. So we allow selected hunters to shoot them on our property. Well, we learned from one such hunter that deer are being poached from our property: the guy zoomed up on an air boat, shot the deer, heaved it into the boat and was gone. We reported it to the game warned, who checked, but the moment he came on the scene, the hunter vanished. Poachers are like that. So our deer are getting taken, and we don't like it one bit, but so far have not been able to prevent it. Meanwhile I read in RESIST that hog farms can be a real problem for some areas, because hogs produce four times as much waste per creature as humans do, and they can really stink up the neighborhood. Which reminds me of a fabulous picture in LIFE: horses trapped by flooding in the Netherlands, being led ashore along a thin causeway by four women on horseback. What a rescue!

Another irritation is Cingular. We had one of their cell phones, the card kind, with no ongoing fee, and we rolled over our unused minutes until we had over 600. The thing is, when my wife was wheelchair bound, I had to know I could contact her at any time, as I hated to leave her alone in the house when I went grocery shopping. Now she's mobile again, thanks to fabulously expensive medication, so we haven't used the phone much, but we know this could be an Indian Summer for her health and we might need those minutes in future. So what did Cingular do? It said we hadn't used the minutes we'd paid for, so it stripped them away. Then it abruptly shut down the phone itself, not allowing us to renew, ripping us off for that too, making quite sure we couldn't use up any remaining paid-for minutes. We'll not be doing further business with that outfit. Sure, it's merging with AT&T; we'll remember regardless. So we're trying a Tracfone, and we'll see. Cell phone outfits have money for constant full page newspaper ads; they might have better reputations if they weren't so eager to rip off their customers.

My archery remains sub-duffer level. Generally the right side is positive, the left side negative. I finally got the left bow zeroed in and the arrows started going where I aimed them. Great! Then next session the arrow-rest somehow got out of whack and I had to remount it. That put me back at square one for zeroing in. Also, there are just some bad days. My last session before this column was -7.5 for the right side, perhaps its worst over, and -8 for the left. It just had to do worse than the right. It is as if there is an invisible hard cone over the target, deflecting the arrows so that they will miss to any side but can't actually score. Sometimes I actually see them heading right for the center, only to discover when I get there that they have missed the target entirely. As I surely have mentioned before, I have zero belief in the supernatural, and that must be why the jinx is out to get me.

I maintain my ongoing Survey of Electronic Publishing as a public service, hoping to make it easier for aspiring new writers or fading old writers to find markets. I do it in significant part because when I objected to being cheated by a traditional publisher circa 1970 I got blacklisted as a troublemaker for six years. I finally got around that by signing up with the literary agent who represented Robert Heinlein, arguably the best science fiction writer the genre has seen. Guess what writer a publisher would never see if it blacklisted that agent's lesser client? Later I was with the agent who represented Stephen King. But not every writer can pull such a finesse, protected by the shadow of giants, and many do get shit on by essentially lawless publishers. I wonder if their boards of directors overlap with the cell phone companies? So I'm trying to help, in my fashion, by maintaining the list and running anonymous feedback from writers. Sure some publishers object to that anonymity; it prevents them from taking it out on the writers who think they actually have rights. Electronic publishers can't blacklist me, because my living does not depend on them, so I can do what not every writer can: publish the truth. I regard it as an ethical obligation.

The spit typically hits the fan when I run a negative note on a publisher. They can condemn me for taking the word of a mere writer without checking with them, threaten legal action, marshal a bevy of satisfied writers to deluge me with letters, and of course savagely badmouth any author who has the temerity to complain of bad treatment. This time it was Lovestruck Books, but it's only one of a seemingly endless series. One publisher, A1Adult Ebooks, even threatened me with a defamation suit simply for including it in my list. Well, I am getting annoyed by this sort of thing. So here's another take on it, for all that it seems that each publisher blasts away first and does its homework later, if at all. Why don't I query publishers before running complaints? Because I already know what they will say: that it's a lie, that the author is a troublemaker, that it never happened, and anyway it has already been dealt with, and if I run the complaint I may face legal action. Arrogance, denial, and threat. So I run it, and next update run the refutation, if any. It seems a fair compromise, and once in a while a publisher does turn out to have the right of the case. It gripes me to admit that, but it happens. But think about it: if a publisher comes at me like this, how do you think it will treat any lesser known author who has the temerity to complain? So I don't take much guff now, and I do have the will and the means to take it to any publisher that actually tries the legal arena. I have been there, done that, and will make a public example if pushed. Publishers: if you disagree with my report, refute it. If in the process you attack me, such as by calling me a liar or threatening me personally, then the quarrel becomes mine. Chances are I am a much more difficult person to deal with than that writer you screwed. Treat your authors right, and make amends when you foul up. If you can't or won't do that, then at least try to be civil. Is that too hard to understand?

Here is one of the rare cases where a publisher got a reversal of a negative comment. I ran a complaint about Cobblestone Press, and wound up in a dialogue with co-founder Sable Grey. Here is a digest of her discussion: she and her partner Deanna Lee put in 12 hours days. “We are honest, hard working, and have created a publisher that is author and reader focused rather than publisher focused. ... Yes, I am controlling as hell. We started Cobblestone Press out of pocket. I'm not a rich woman, but I am a woman with a dream of an e-publisher that doesn't screw authors around, that doesn't lie, and that markets the hell out of books. We have rules about cover art because we don't view cover art as just as pretty picture but as part of the marketing of the book and only expect quality covers from our artists. We have rules about editing—too many e-book publishers have a crap editing process. We have an in-house style guide that we adhere to...created to edit books as if our editors are editing for print. Our authors and staff almost always make more money than Deanna or I because most of our money gets put back into the company for advertisements and projects to promote our authors. As far as outside of Cobblestone goes, if someone who is in this industry behaves, especially towards our company or our authors, in a way that is unprofessional and insulting, you can bet your bum we will call them on it. I work too hard to put up with some woman who got her panties in a knot because of her own mistake and want to blame us. If that makes me a bitch, I guess that part of the rumor is true as well.” They have a 6-month out clause in their contract because they encourage their authors to take their edited books to agents and print publishers if they wish. “We are about the success of our authors. Period.” They have strict grammatical rules, and this is the source of the complaint I ran. I, as a writer, hate it when an ignorant editor messes up my pristine text with his germ-laden fingers; the author has the right to have it his own way. But I am also privately a language purist, and I wince at sloppy usage. Sable Gray satisfied me that their standards are reasonable, and will indeed produce superior text. I like her attitude—it's the mirror of mine—and believe that this is a publisher worth being with. But the comment of one of their authors is worth noting: “Deanna and Sable are both approachable, sweet women until you do anything they could perceive as a criticism of CP. It's like Jekyll and Hyde.” Critics can be treated as outcasts. I understand the proprietors can be vitriolic. So I would say this is an excellent publisher, and you should do business there, but tread carefully.

I am told that there is a religious sect called Xanthist Christian. It runs a commune in Florida and it seems invoke my name as part of their ceremonies. Well, this is my public notice: I have nothing to do with this, have not endorsed it, and am not interested in starting any religion. Since the word Xanth is adapted from the technical term for yellow I have no monopoly on it and I suppose others may use it as they choose. But this has nothing to do with me. I am not like the genre writer L Ron Hubbard, who started Dianetics/Scientology. I am a lifelong agnostic.

Internet survey a reader forwarded to me: Post Purchase Deity Evaluation Form, with multiple choice questions. God would like to thank you for your belief, and inquires how did you find out about your deity? Newspaper, Bible, Torah, Koran, Television, Book of Mormon, Divine inspiration, Dead Sea Scrolls, My Mama Done Tol' Me, Near Death Experience, Near Life Experience, National Public Radio, Tabloid, Burning Shrubbery, Other (specify). Then which model deity did you acquire? Jehovah, Jesus, Krishna, Father Son & Holy Ghost [trinity pak], Zeus, and so on, including None of the Above, I was taken in by a false god. Did your God come to you undamaged? If no, check off the problems, such as Not Eternal, Not Omniscient, Requires Virgin Sacrifice, and so on. What factors were relevant in your decision to acquire a deity? Indoctrinated by parents, needed a reason to live, fear of death, wanted to piss off parents, my shrubbery caught fire and told me to do it, etc. Have you ever worshiped a deity before? Which one(s)? Baal, the Almighty Dollar, Left Wing Liberalism, the Radical Right, Bill Gates, the Great Pumpkin, and so on. Are you currently using any other source of inspiration? Tarot, Lottery, Astrology, Television, Dianetics, Marijuana, Human Sacrifice, etc. There's more, but I trust you get the idea. I find it clever as hell. May the Force be with you as a deity.

Perhaps related is another Internet article, 24 pages discussing agnosticism. I'm agnostic, and it says that noted agnostics include Carl Sagan and Warren Buffet. The author, Mark Vernon, used to be a priest in the Church of England, then became an atheist, but found that as dissatisfying, and became an agnostic. For those who don't know: a theist, or religious person, says essentially that there is a God, and his personal God is the one true one. An atheist says there is no God. Both positions evince a certainty that I think is unwarranted; how do they really know? So for me the only sensible position is in between, the middle ground. Maybe there's a God and maybe there isn't, but so far there does not seem to be much hard evidence either way. The author remarks how many people have “lust for certainty” with fundamentalism an obvious case in point. Yes. As one person, Mark Rozze, put it (there are many pages of supplementary input by others), “Deciding to be an atheist or a religious believer simply implies a closed mind to the possibility of the opposing point of view.” When an editor substituted certainty for judgment, I had to leave that publisher, because it was like driving a car blindfolded, so certain that you know the way that you don't have to look. You'll likely crash. The author reminds us that “Socrates was a genius because he realized that the key to wisdom is not how much you know, but how well you understand how little you know.” To be agnostic is not to be weak kneed, but to be rational. And yes, I rather expect a flurry of irrational responses to this paragraph. And yes, I am a Humanist. That's not a religion.

I learn in Ask Marilyn that eye color can change with age. That's a relief to know. My eyes were blue, but now in my dotage they are more like gray. Which perhaps relates to the experiment done in a school classroom in 1968 by a third grade teacher, Jane Elliott: blue eyed children were given armbands setting them apart from others, and placed at the bottom of the social hierarchy. They were considered stupid and lazy, and if you gave them nice things they wrecked them. They had to drink from paper cups at the water fountain, so as not to contaminate it. Later I think other eye colors were similarly discriminated against, showing how suddenly awful it can be to be a member of a despised minority. For some reason this exercise has infuriated some white folk. Gee, I wonder why?

I have seen an article on the AK-47 assault rifle in more than one place. I found it fascinating. It was developed by a Russian, and was so simple yet so revolutionary, that it changed the way war is fought. With it a single man can stop an army. I remember when I was in the US Army, 1957-59; I'm not a pacifist, but enough of my Quaker upbringing and my considered stance as a vegetarian rubbed off on me to cause me to go see a chaplain. I told him that I doubted I could ever kill a man, which was a difficult position to be in, in the army. He looked at me and said “I'm sorry your patriotism isn't greater than that.” That was it: a man of God telling me that patriotism required me to violate the sanctity of life. I was disgusted. At the same time, I knew that if I ever did find myself on the battlefield, I would hate to be armed only with the army standby, the M-1 rifle. It was solid and reliable, and I was probably an expert shot. I say probably because I was going for expert when two things happened: sand jammed it so I couldn't fire all my rounds, and then the target came up only half there, the other half flapping in the wind, just about impossible to hit. So I made 5 maggie's drawers in the last round and washed down to regular marksman. But in real life I would have been able to score. Except that I might not be able to make myself aim at a real person. Regardless, even then there were far superior rifles extant, and I did not care to be with basically a 19th century weapon up against a 20th century weapon. Such as the AK-47, first made in 1947 as the Avtomat Kalashnikova, hence its designation. That is, the automatic rifle, or submachine gun made by Kalashnikov. It kills a quarter million people every year, and surely is a significant aspect of the problem the American army has in Iraq and Afghanistan. So I find the subject fascinating in somewhat the manner of a rattlesnake within striking range.

I have a question I can't answer from an Australian reader who loves my books but has trouble finding them there. Is there any reliable Australian outlet for my works? I'll be happy to run that information here next time, as I would like my readers to find me.

I read LIBERAL OPINION WEEK, which collects all the liberal columns and runs them in a 32 page newspaper format. There's a lot of good stuff there. Recently there was a sort of tacit debate: is George W Bush the worst president ever, or only the fifth worst? Columnist Michael Lind argues that the worst was Buchanan, who sat by doing nothing as the southern states seceded from the union. The second worst was Andrew Johnson, a bigot who became president when Lincoln was assassinated. The third worst was Nixon, our criminal president. The fourth worst was Madison, who messed things up in 1812. Then, #5, Bush, with the disaster in Iraq. Columnist Eric Foner, in contrast, cites Bush's disdain for law, working to destroy fundamental American freedoms. That may sound tame, but if we don't have respect for the Constitution and Bill of Rights, we are no longer America. Peter Phillips argues the case for impeachment because of unconstitutional abuses of human rights, including torture. Dahlia Lithwick lists the worst civil liberties violations of 2006, starting with the Bush hubris in fighting the courts that try to defend constitutional ideas. Bill Press cites the huge deficits after a promise to balance the budget, the widespread corruption, and arrogant foreign policy that has alienated the rest of the world. Nicholas Kristof points out that Iraq is masking a true global threat: the pollution that not only heats up the world, but as acidifying the ocean, spelling doom for many sea species. Peter Phillips again, this time on the way corporate media censorship suppresses major news, such as how Halliburton is charged with selling nuclear technologies to Iran, high-tech genocide in Congo, US operatives torturing detainees to death in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Pentagon getting exempted from the Freedom of Information Act.

Liberal columnist Molly Ivins died. So did the racing horse Barbaro. Damn. I'm not even tempted so say something clever about beautiful women and fast horses.

There is more, but I'm getting depressed. Maybe with the regime change in progress, we'll be doing better in the future. Oh, I hope so!

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