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OctOgre 2007

Last month I used the term “August” and received shocked and outraged responses from readers. Well, queries, anyway. I think they were concerned that I was recovering my sanity. Okay, I've learned my lessen, and will return to the ogre months. This is the HiPiers Blog type column for OctOgre 2007.

At the end of Jewel-Lye I routinely filed the month's email printouts. I must have strained or annoyed something, because at the beginning of AwGhost my right arm pained me. In fact it got so bad it wiped out my archery practice for the whole month, and half my supplementary exercises such as hefting 10 and 20 pound dumbbells, and slowed my running. How did it do that last? Because I couldn't pump my arm for balance without jolts of pain, so I had to clap it to my chest to stabilize it and proceed that way. I had made some of my fastest runs of the season; now I made some of the slowest. At its worst I was unable to raise my right arm to my head, so couldn't “do” my lovely long hair in the usual ponytail; my wife had to do it for me. One day she braided it. That reminded me of when I did my daughter's hair; they knew at school when I did it, because she would have three or five braids. Well, if you want to be conventional, don't get born into the family of an imaginative writer. Duh. No, I don't know why she grew up and moved far, far away. So what was my problem? I saw my doctor, got X-ray, MRI, whatever, and the diagnosis was inflammation of the shoulder rotator cuff. How it got so bad so suddenly from such a slight pretext I don't know. So in SapTimber I have been recovering; medication helped, and a shot in the shoulder, and physical therapy sessions. They put heat pads on it, and use ultrasound, and I also work out with three pounds weights, which feel like toys compared to my ten pound ones. It's almost better now, though there's a bent-elbow stretch that can still jolt me. I always could type okay, but signing my name gives me a twinge. I wonder whether there's a message there? But when I returned to archery sessions, they were worse than ever: the first two times I missed all 12 arrows left handed, and the third time missed only 10.5 while scoring .5. The bow settings are unchanged; just that now the arrows fly relentlessly to the right and low. Where I aim is one thing; where they choose to go is another.

As long as we're on the subject of me and my liabilities, here's another (readers under 18 may skip this paragraph): I told my doctor, actually nurse practitioner (yea close to being a doctor), about my dread onset of erectile dysfunction. Essentially, I could get it up only about halfway, perpendicular to the body, and not completely firm. That was leading to embarrassments such as it bending aside rather than than penetrating. So I'm 73; I still like sex. In fact for my birthday a reader sent me a picture titled Beware of Pyramid Scams, with a picture of five bare spread-legged women piled in a pyramid, their vulvas all showing. Some scam! Anyway, the nurse prescribed Viagra. That turned out to be an experience. First was the price: $12 per pill, and they recommend one to two pills per “activity.” Twelve to twenty four dollars?! Somebody's sure getting screwed. The instructions were mixed: the bottle said to take it four hours ahead, but the unfolding fine print said half an hour to four hours. That seems to be the operative range. So I took one pill a generous hour ahead. In five minutes I felt a sort of numb tickle on the backs of my hands; maybe that was coincidence. In twenty minutes I had a full hard erection; that wasn't coincidence. And it was there standing tall anytime I wanted it in the following hour. In fact my wife let me know that there could be too much of a good thing. And next morning I had diarrhea. That smacked of an overdose. So next time I chopped a pill in half, and it worked just as well, with no morning-after complication. So I cut a pill in quarters, and it worked just as well, on the same schedule. That brought the effective dose down to $3, less of a screw deal.

Meanwhile my wife, pretty much recovered from the heart surgery, had cataract surgery, first the left eye, then the right one. She saw better immediately. She had to wear a bulging eye patch for a day after each operation; I called her my one-eyed pirate lass. She's still not back at full strength; I make meals, do laundry, dishes, etc., and accompany her whenever she leaves the house. I had an imaginary dialogue while folding sheets: a dubious woman says “So you claim to do the laundry? Can you fold a fitted sheet?” And I reply “No one can fold a fitted sheet.” And she departs, satisfied.

I got a Tracfone to match the one my wife has, as it was on sale dirt cheap. There was a bonus of about twenty minutes if you registered it online. But online wouldn't accept it, so we had to call in, and that got it zeroed in, but we lost the bonus. Hmm. Then the store was unable to sell us the minutes card; seems they hadn't coded it into their system. So they held it for us, and a few days later sold it to us. Then Tracfone offered a huge units (they're like minutes) bonus for buying a new card, so we took it. I don't use the phone much, but it does work when I need it, unlike Cingular. I understand that if they shut down the phone we have, they will replace it free, also in sharp contrast to Cingular. So we'll be staying with Tracfone, at least until they do something boneheaded or dishonest.

Tim Thielen died. He was a friend of our daughter; indeed they toured the northwestern USA together a few years ago. She was expecting to see him at DragonCon, but didn't; she didn't know he was dead. No, no romance there; Tim was gay. He was a geek, and he was the one who got my present computer system going, the one I'm using for this column. We liked him, and his sudden death was a shock. He was Type I diabetic, and we think insulin shock could have done it. It seems his family had disowned him for being gay; yes, there are still bigots out there, who insist that gays “choose” their lifestyle despite the evidence, without ever clarifying what's wrong with it, chosen or genetic. But our daughter reported that there were 200 people at his memorial service. Family members did attend, and genre friends, and business friends. He was a decent guy, and we are truly sorry to lose him, and not just because now we'll have to locate another geek.

Robert Jordan died of a rare blood disease. I blurbed his first Wheel of Time novel, helping him get started, and he sent me an autographed copy. He was only 58; it's another shock. And no, rumors that I am slated to complete his final novel are false; I've got projects of my own to complete before I croak.

Sterling Lanier died, age 79. He was a distant relation to the nineteenth century American poet Sidney Lanier, whose life I describe in Macroscope. I knew Sterling personally, and liked him. His wife of the time we met was the same age as mine, and had an eerily similar history of miscarriages, and their little girl was the same age as ours. He was primarily a sculptor, making small replicas of extinct creatures. He gave me one that I put into my novel Ghost. He was for a time an editor, and he prevailed on his publisher to publish Dune by Frank Herbert, subsequently generally conceded to be the best science fiction novel ever published, and a fantastic commercial success; postmortem sequels are still appearing. But he knew he would never be able to get away with that again with his hidebound publisher, and in due course left and wrote his own novels, which were thoroughly competent. He was an interesting man, and I'm sorry he's gone.

Roger Elwood died. He was perhaps the worst editor I encountered (and my experience is more than most), and I disowned what he did to my novel But What of Earth? and had it republished restored with 25,000 words of notes on the ludicrous changes that had been foisted on it. But he had big ideas, and at one point looked to be about to reshape the entire fantastic fiction genre, before he crashed in flames. Sort of the George W Bush of the field.

Last year my distant daughter sent me the book Walter the Farting Dog. This year she sent three sequels, in which Walter the Farting Dog has Trouble at the Yard Sale, Rough Weather Ahead, and Goes on a Cruise. In the first book Walter foils a robbery by asphyxiating the robber. In the second a man captures the farts in balloons and pops them at banks, robbing them while the people are stunned. In the third Walter saves freezing butterflies, and in the fourth he rescues a crippled cruse ship by farting so hard it pushes it into port. It seems this is a best-selling series. Who would have thought there was such interest in farting?

Last time I summarized the case of a reader who believed that free copies of things increase sales of the same things. I think the music and movie industries might disagree, and I think I do too. Stealing is stealing, regardless what other effects it may or may not have. Why buy what you can get free, if you have no ethical restraints? The book pirates are getting bolder. My fans report them to me, and I report them to the Random House legal department, which goes after them. One was so audacious that he demanded that the proprietors of copyrighted books being pirated fill out forms requesting that they be removed, otherwise complaints would be ignored. Imagine that: the thieves know they are stealing, and are generating red tape to make the owners try to get their property back. I think those thieves need to get some of their intimate flesh stolen, and then they can fill out forms petitioning that it be returned. Maybe there's a chamber in Hell for that.

I am now amidst the writing of Jumper Cable, Xanth #33, wherein a distant descendant of the original Jumper Spider in #3 Castle Roogna now has to repair the broken cable between the Mundane Internet and the fantasy Outernet, so that relations between the two can be restored. It seems the demoted Demon Pluto crashed into it, severing it. So Jumper with the support of seven maidens, including the nineteen year old Princesses Dawn and Eve, is setting out on a mission that turns out not to be as simple as you might have expected. It seems that the crash was not really an accident, and the Demon doesn't want the cable repaired. Stay tuned.

I contributed to The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction, edited by Dave A Law, now being published, so if you are an aspiring science fiction writer, keep this in mind. Because I did not know when I wrote my piece exactly what would be in the others, I spoke generally on things that I figured others would not be covering.Www.dragonmoonpress.com

We saw one movie: The Bourne Ultimatum. Bournes are fun, though this one was a bit jumpy. I also watched some videos, among which was Last of the Dogmen, a surprisingly good story of the discovery of an Indian tribe thought to be extinct.

And I read some books, catching up before getting to work on my next Xanth novel. Once I start writing a novel, other things tend to get tuned out. Most of my reading is because I have to; this time I read two or three just because I wanted to. Possibly the most notable was The Bestseller, by Olivia Goldsmith. Normally my wants get squeezed out by my have-to's. Goldsmith is a pretty sharp writer, though she appears not to know the distinction between “may” and “might”; when I see errors like that, I figure that not only is the author ignorant, so is the editor and publisher. This is the story of five novels, one of which is destined to become a national bestseller. But which one? Along the way it explores much of the infrastructure of the writing and publishing business. It starts with an author who receives one more rejection, so she carefully destroys her manuscripts and notes and commits suicide. Oh, doesn't that make me wince! The thought of the destruction of a novel really gets to me. Oh, too bad about the author too. Her mother comes to clean up her things, looks all over, but can't find any manuscript. Then one more rejecting publisher returns a copy. Voila! The mother takes that eleven hundred page effort and struggles to get it published, sitting in publishers' offices, collaring passing editors, never giving up. It seems that no publisher actually wants a new book. Finally she does nail one reluctant editor, who reads and likes the manuscript, then has to struggle with her publisher to get it accepted. And in the end, the book wins a prestigious award and is successful. That's just one of five novels, each with a different story. Along the way is half a passel of insight about the brutal process that publishing is, and I recommend this novel to those who are pondering writing, as it will provide them some realism. For example, it says that publishers are always looking for the next new success, but won't consider new writers' work. They depend on agents, but agents don't take on new clients. So how does a new writer ever get published, and how does a publisher ever get a new success? It lists five kinds of books that have any chance of commercial mass-market success: Pinks, Spooks, Dicks, Uh-ohs, and Hots. I find it interesting that Fantasy is not included. It mentions how everything is computerized, with advance orders based on the author's last sales, so only new authors have any chance to make a killing. Don't I know it! I've had readers clamoring for my novels, but with the print orders limited they can't find them, and so my sales decline. Some readers even think I have quit writing, or am dead. This is the hell of the idiot system, and it applies to all authors, not just me. And it mentions obscurely weighted bestseller lists, so that a book selling fourteen thousand copies in one week was in second place behind one that sold three thousand. It did not mention other evils, such as what in the music business is called payola to get distribution, or the way stores charge to put books on the front shelves, or the illegal selling of coverless “returned” books. This is all apart from the problem of piracy. In short, the industry is worse than this novel suggests, but it's an excellent guide to the general nature of it. If you want to be a writer, prepare to get your dreams shit on.

Another book I read for choice was The Bondmaid, by Catherine Lim. This is the story of a girl in Singapore who is sold as a child to a wealthy family, and the mixed straits of life as a bondmaid. The author is identified as Singapore's top novelist, but the publisher wanted denaturing revisions—that's the nature of publishers—so the author self published it instead, uncensored. Thus you you see references to farts and such, and realistic details not normally found elsewhere. And it became a bestseller. It seems the public can after all handle realistic detail, even if publishers are too prissy for it. It is ultimately a tragedy, but nevertheless a finely wrought story.

I read Starsight, by Minette Meador, http://stonegarden.net/. I should clarify that the books I read and comment on as favors to their authors I do not consider “choice” books, but that does not mean they are bad. This one has typos and misused words—such things are endemic in small press and electronic publishing—but is one powerful and imaginative fantasy adventure novel with many nice touches. Evil is stalking the land—to this extent this is standard fantasy format—and the heir to the throne is a mere boy. But he suffers a mysterious change, and becomes a grown man with special powers. He needs them, because the enemy has extended tentacles into key aspects of the kingdom. There is magic galore, and challenge galore; nothing comes easy. It's the first of a series, and it should do well if readers become aware of it.

And Tales of Weupp—Little People Must Surrender, by Ralan Conley, http://www.weupp.com. I became aware of Ralan through his web site RALAN CONLEY'S SPECFIC & HUMOR WEBSTRAVAGANZA— www.ralan.com, which is just about the best informational site for aspiring writers extant. He was frustrated by the difficulty of finding a publisher, so did research and posts his information at the site. If you are an aspiring writer, check it out. This is a small book, a fairly standard fantasy with an unusual heroine. She's eighteen, but has a rare genetic disorder that makes her look much like 80, and she doesn't have much strength. When her motor scooter crashes she finds herself in the magic realm of Weupp, where all the folk are like her, and in fact consider her beautiful. She gets into the action with her scooter, rescues a prince, and saves the day before getting reverted to her dull Earthly life. It's fun, and it's good to see a heroine who is not a busty sword wielding Amazon. In fact she gets a magic sword that operates independently, answering to verbal commands, and has a personality of its own.

And I read AVP: Alien vs. Predator, a novelization of the movie, by Marc Cerasini. I picked this up cheap at a library sale. It is well enough written, and makes intelligible much that surely was confusing in the movie. Folk tend to look down their noses at novelizations. They shouldn't; they can be decent books. Does it all make much sense? Of course not; this is a movie, and the author was limited by the material he had to work with. But I nevertheless enjoyed the read.

I mentioned discovering a volunteer plant, Xanthosoma, that I transplanted to safer terrain. It had one leaf, and when it grew a second I knew it was okay. Well, now it has ten leaves, so is thoroughly established. And we had another plant adventure: we have magnolia trees all along our drive, because I had the drive curve instead of bulldozing them out, when we built the house. One of them I call the flowering magnolia, because it typically flowers first, most, and last. Of course there are tame magnolias in town that are pampered had have more flowers; this is a forest tree. Normally it finishes flowering by the end of Jewel-Lye, but rarely it has a few flowers as late as mid AwGhost. Twice in 18 years, anyway. This year, the 19th, it had AwGhost flowers again. Thin, surprisingly, it had four more in SapTimber. We looked at the trees in town: no flowers by then. So I think our tree scooped the neighborhood.

Songs are always running through my febrile cranium. This time it was the lead-in to The King and I musical “Hello Young Lovers,” but I couldn't remember all the words. So I looked it up in the Fake Book. It has the song, but not the lead-in. So I Googled it: “When I think of Tom.” It came up with reverences to Tom Hanks, Tom Delay, but not the song. So I must go to my last and best resort: my readers. Does anyone out there know the missing words? All I can remember are “When I think of Tom...And the earth smells of summer...” It's a lovely sentiment as Anna remembers her late husband, whom she still loves. I don't know why it should be lost in obscurity; I like it better than the main song it sets up. I think music, like storytelling and the other arts, is part the the essential human makeup. You don't find animals singing or telling stories or appreciating paintings; what best defines mankind is his art. And the art of this song brings the smell of summer to me, and I grieve for Anna's loss.

My wandering mind also takes me to obscure concepts. One day I remembered the Peckham Experiment, and realized that I no longer had a clear notion of its nature, though I have referred to it in my fiction. Time and age does that; remember, I am now stumbling through my seventies, well into fogeydom. So we Googled that, and Wikipedia had an article that refreshed my memory. In the 1920s through 50s with time out for World War Two the Pioneer Health Centre was opened in Peckham, south east London. For the nominal price of one shilling a week (then about 25¢) it provided comprehensive health care and access to physical activities like swimming, games, and workshops. This resulted in a remarkable improvement in health for the participants. It was a worthy project, and we could use something similar today in America. But I also got a surprise: the article had a reference to me. “The Peckham Experiment is referred to in the classic science fiction novel Macroscope by Piers Anthony...” Well, now.

As readers should know, I maintain an ongoing Survey of Electronic Publishers and related Services as a service to my readers and the community of writers at large. I do it because someone needs to, and because I can, being experienced in the pitfalls of writing and publishing, largely immune from blacklisting, and equipped by nature and finance to take it to any outfit that threatens me with legal action. (Translation: I can be an ornery cuss; don't cross me.) But I do try to be fair, and I run corrections in following updates when my information is not accurate. Here are excerpts from the current update.

FREYA'S BOWER-- October 2007 update: this publisher is a member of EPIC, but their contract does not follow the EPIC model. No author in his/her right mind should sign it without significantly revising it to conform to professional standards. It Grabs too much, requiring the author to get the publisher's permission before getting it print published elsewhere, even if Freya's isn't print publishing it. If the publisher loses the author's address, the author forfeits any accrued money due. (Actually it says if the author fails to notify publisher of a change in address, but how can the author prove the notice was sent if the publisher shreds it? I speak as one who has suffered this sort of thing in print publishing, elsewhere.) The money should be held in escrow until the author or author's heir claims it. It says there has to be a minimum of $25 owing before the royalties are paid. This is actually reasonable and standard practice, but there needs to be another sentence, establishing that this can't continue indefinitely. Again I speak as one who got ripped off by falsified accounts, and couldn't prove statements were wrong short of legal action (which I did take) because no statements had to be sent if no royalties were owing. Catch 22. Publisher reserves the right to terminate the contract at any time, no reason given. Okay, better give the author a similar right. This contract also lacks a license—that is, a term limit after which the author can automatically revert the rights, and an audit clause. Without an audit clause the author can't prove the statements are fishy. This is not to say this is a bad publisher, just that it has a bear-trap contract it needs to reform retroactively.

Because this could be taken as a provocative notice, I sent a copy to the publisher, asking whether it cared to respond for the update. But my email bounced. Here's another:

MUNDANIA: October 2007 update: Dan Reitz and Bob Sanders, who run Mundania, visited me in September, and I got an earful of the problems small publishers face. They are deluged with up to 500 submissions per month, and their attempts to get some of their books into brick & mortar stores are met with on again, off again reactions that look like random incompetence but I think are actually part of a system designed to prevent small press from getting an even chance. As author Robert Moore Williams put it, decades ago: the big hogs have their snouts in the trough, and they aren't about to let the little pigs get any swill.

SILK'S VAULT: October 2007 update: another favorable report. But also another extremely unfavorable one, this one named: Camille Anthony (no relation to me), who once worked for them but quit when not paid, and now is being paid royalties late if at all, and she questions the accuracy of the statements, as known Fictionwise sales were not listed. A report like this is damning, and I suspect this publisher is headed for oblivion. I was also sent a copy of a posted blog by Aline de Chevigny that says in part “They are not professional, don't keep their word and breach their contracts without a 2nd thought.” The issue here is nonpayment.

TREBLE HEART: October 2007 update: an author is very satisfied, but wondered why it isn't listed on Amazon. That's because Amazon squeezes small publishers mercilessly, so it's not worth it.

ADULT FANFICTION: October 2007 update: now there are layers of warnings about not entering the site unless you are an adult. You must give your birth date and swear under penalty of law that it is correct. I tried to fill in my information, but it got complicated and I did not succeed in entering the site. But something is obviously there.

Enough; I ran these here because they may be of general interest to readers and writers. Go to the Survey itself if you want the whole thing.

Then there's my experience with Xlibris, as I put my twentieth book through them, after a lapse of several years. That book is Alfred, my fictionalized biography of my father, based on his 70 year long private personal journal, and supportive documents. It is not intended for commercial exploitation, but more for family members and those who want to delve into the nether foundations of my existence. We downloaded instructions, and discovered that one form said to eliminate all formatting, so that a new chapter would begin the line following the old one. Another form said to begin new chapters on new pages. So, having eliminated formatting, we had to put it back in. This is annoying, and in due course I will make a case to the management and get it fixed. I am after all, the company's second biggest investor, and in a position to provide the user's view from the trench. I do feel the assorted requirements are unnecessarily complicated, but maybe author manuscripts vary so wildly that every p and q has to be spelled out. And why couldn't a manuscript be sent in via email attachment? They insisted on a disc, so we copied onto disc and snailed it in—only to be advised that they couldn't open the disc. That makes me wonder. So now they allowed it to be sent by attachment. Then came another instruction with respect to corrections. I quote, with my response: “It comes at no cost to the author during the FIRST ROUND of submission; for the succeeding rounds this will already be accounted as Author Alteration not unless this an instruction that was not implemented on the previous set.” My response: “The cover proof is fine. But your instructions are illiterate. (Take it from a former English teacher, and professional writer.) The last sentence of the third paragraph of your form letter should read: '...for the succeeding rounds this will already be accounted for as an Author Alteration, unless this is an instruction that was not implemented on the previous set.'” Just a little bit of correction can made a world of difference. I received a thank-you for the correction; with luck, future instructions will reflect it. The galleys, electronically received, were perfect; they had done it right. Whereupon I discovered a mental typo error I had made: I had “brute it about” when it should be “bruit it about.” It would cost me a $25 base fee plus $2 for the correction to fix it, so I think I'll leave it and correct it physically on the few copies I order for Family distribution. If there is ever another edition, I'll correct it then, so folk won't think I'm illiterate. Except for this update: now my wife is reviewing it, while I write this column, and she is finding more errors despite lacking current prescription lenses, so I may have to pay for corrections after all. Anyway, I find this an interesting book, accomplished with my usual finesse, a memorial to my father that I think he would have appreciated. Which reminds me: a reader caught me with another mental typo in a column: I said “Asberger's” when it should be “Asperger's.” I do proofread, but these smirches sneak by.

I received a fan letter from Susie Lee of the Ferret and Dove Sanctuary, which does good work for neglected animals. Some have been adopted out as a result of prior mentions here. She received some windfall income she was supposed to spend on herself, instead of on doves and ferrets, so she used it to buy more Piers Anthony novels. She says I seem to be getting better as I get older. While I'm not sure how objective this critique is, I find I can live with it. Check them out at http://ferretanddovesanctuary.petfinder.org. {August 2019 update: The HTML link to this site has been removed, as a reader informed us this 12-year-old reference no longer works.}

ESQUIRE sent me an ad. It seems that I am one of a select few who fit their profile as a prospect, and I can subscribe at about an eighth the newsstand price. Thanks, no thanks. But I read their literature, which included ten things a man should know about women. # 1 is that a woman always knows when you're looking at her breasts. To which I say, Duh! If he's normal and she's the least bit shapely, he is looking. The fact is, breasts are designed by nature to be looked at. In all the mammal kingdom, only human females maintain obvious breasts full time. Other females manifest them only during nursing, and they are a signal that she's not mate-able at that time, therefore of no interest. One of the key changes in our species was the conversions of breasts from a temporary turnoff to a permanent turn-on. They are big round beacons as she faces anyone, jiggling or bouncing as she walks, constantly calling attention to themselves. The idea is that she looks perpetually mate-able, so as to attract men, because in our species women need the help of men. If men won't give it out of decency, they will in the hope of a fuck. So it requires no genius intellect for her to know they are working. And what is wrong with that? If she truly does not want them observed, all she has to do is cover them sufficiently with heavy cloth, just as a man covers his crotch. Otherwise those who claim to resent such attention are hypocrites.

Article in NEW SCIENTIST on Morgellons disease, which seems to be a fungus that gets under the skin and makes intolerable itching. Doctors, unable to diagnose it, classify the patients as mentally tetched. I know how that is, from when my chronic fatigue got me excluded on my health insurance from all mental diseases, though it was actually from an undiagnosed thyroid deficiency. At least now they are beginning to catch on to this particular ailment.

DISCOVER interviewed scientist Steven Pinker about language. He says that a baby is not simply a blank slate to be shaped by culture and experience, but comes programmed with many dispositions and talents. I can see it; you can't put a rat in the same environment and teach it to speak in the manner of a human being, though I once read a science fiction story “Rat in the Skull” that made quite a case. He says the reason that swearing is both attractive and repulsive is that it pushes people's emotional buttons. Yes, that's why the concepts themselves aren't effective. Saying darn or my goodness instead of damn doesn't work well, and neither does copulate instead of fuck. Words do have power. Of course I have to believe that, or I wouldn't be writing fiction for the masses or these columns for the tetched.

Newspaper article identifies the generations, in a sort of promo for SweetBay supermarkets. Those born 1922-45—I am smack in the middle of that—constitute the Silent Generation. 1946-64 are the Baby Boomers. In Xanth, those are babies sitting on a mountainside going Boom! Boom! 1965-79 are Generation X; that's where my daughters are. And those born 1980 and after are Generation Y. I suspect at some point they'll cut that off at 2000 to start Generation Z.

Column by Jeremy Rifkin clarifies an alarming picture: for thousands of years fossil fuel deposits have been locked under arctic ice. Now global warming is thawing them. There's a vast frozen peat bog with the potential to release a huge amount of methane, the most potent of the greenhouse gases, 23 times as effective as carbon dioxide. This could lead to uncontrollable feedback, throwing the world into chaos. Probably it won't happen in my lifetime, but it could happen in yours. That should make you nervous as hell.

Politics: Florida voter counting is making the news again. You would think that the Democratic party, having “lost” the 2000 presidential election by Florida fraud, would know better. The Republican controlled state legislature moved the primary date up to January, 2008, so the Democratic National Committee—I think DNC really stands for Does Not Compute, or Do Not Count—says that it will not count Florida's votes. It seems there are four favored states allowed to hold their primaries early, though all four together do not have the population or votes Florida has. So not only is the DNC alienating Florida voters, it is arbitrarily favoring other states and shooting itself in the foot. And the major candidates are going along with the DNC and not campaigning in Florida, though they still want to raise money here. Floridians are outraged. If this is all the spunk these candidates have within their own party, what kind of spine would they ever show when facing ruthless conniving foreign powers? As for the money: I agree with those who say if their vote won't count, they won't contribute. It doesn't affect me directly; I have been an independent since I first registered in Florida in 1959. I'd just like to know why each state can't make its own decision about the timing of its elections. If it wants to hold the 2050 primary in 2008, why not? Natural selection will sort out the crazies soon enough. Meanwhile it would be a shame to see the Republicans given another presidency because of Democratic idiocy.

Political quotes: Paul Krugman, one of the savviest liberal columnists, says “What all this means is that the next president, even as he or she tries to extricate us from Iraq--and prevent the country's breakup from turning into a regional war—will have to deal with constant sniping from the people who lied us into an unnecessary war, then lost the war they started, but will never, ever, take responsibility for their failures.” Bill Press says “Our agenda is to get out of Iraq before too many more American lives are lost. George Bush's agenda is to drag out the war until he can dump it in the lap of his successor. We care about America. All he cares about—is himself.”

Odd notes: Sixth graders whose classrooms face the noisy train tracks are a year behind those whose classrooms are on the quiet side of the building. Corporations that make charitable donations to Planned Parenthood face boycotts by a conservative coalition. PARADE quotes author Holly Black as saying “A traumatic childhood is the gift that keeps on giving to a writer.” A Texas start-up company hopes to make a car using an ultra capacitor that you can plug in for five minutes, and drive 500 miles. The risk of suicide rises with age, though there is a huge rise in the suicide rate for girls age 10-14, and they have shifted from guns to hanging. And the US military is putting $20 billion into more heavily armored vehicles, heedless that the enemy's roadside bombs will simply get bigger to take them out regardless.

And they called me crazy?

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