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It was nigh 20 years ago we got several flowers in pots, and for years we kept some that way, protecting them from the occasional winter freezes. One was a Turk's Cap Hibiscus, with red flowers that look like the lower half of skirted women. But though the pot was protected, it was also stifling, and we finally planted the rootbound Turk's Cap outside, where it flourished, but got frozen back when it froze and had to start over from the root. I think of it an an analogy of life, where you can choose stifling protection, or dangerous freedom. Last winter it was frozen, but the bases of the stems re-sprouted, and it was flowering again. One day I went to pull out the ugly remnant of a dead stem-and discovered it had a couple of shoots. Oops--it was alive. So I put it back in the ground and gave it water, hoping for the best without much real conviction. But though it dropped its leaves, it survived, and grew new leaves. Then came this winter's freeze, 22°F, our coldest in a decade or so, and I tried to save the smaller plants by tenting old sheets over them. I value life, including plant life; that's why I don't like clipping back foliage along the drive, not because it's a chore, but because I am mutilating living plants who are merely trying to get along, seeking light. I put a sheet over the restored hibiscus, but the main clump was too big for that. Thus it came to be that the only survivor was that one; it lost leaves at the tip, but all along the stems it was okay. Could this be another of life's ironies? I was able to save only the one I had inadvertently hurt.

That freeze hurt other plants. I tented my Xanthosoma, which now had grown to 17 leaves, but only the first two leaves survived. The squash got nipped around the edges, but most survived under the sheets. Several growing avocados are fine. We plant the seeds of anything we eat, and its life continues. Thus we help restore what we consume. It seems only fair.

I am gearing down to resume work on the fifth GEODYSSEY historical novel, Climate of Change, halted ten years ago when I lost my market. I am trying to complete unfinished projects before I die or lose my mind, and this is this one's turn. I stopped at 12 chapters, 112,000 words, and had it patterned for 8 more chapters, maybe 60,000 more words depending on how it played out. In the intervening decade material for the theme has increased substantially; now it is fashionable to speak of such things as global warming and habitat destruction. Also, there are now new publishing venues, such as electronic and self publishing, so chances are I will be able to get it published. The revolution in publishing has only begun, and in time the iron grip of the stifling old monarchs will surely give way to the brave new order and literature will flourish once again. Of course that may parallel the French or Russian revolutions, wherein the kings were killed but were replaced by Napoleon or Stalin and, as the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge shows, they burst their manacles and wear the name of Freedom, graven on a heavier chain.

But this isn't about that. This is about my preparing to get ready for a project that may take me most of this year. You see, I have a decade's worth of clippings and saved articles relating to the project, and now I have to sort them into intelligibility. I knew I would need a lot of clear floor space to make temporary piles of papers. That meant I had to clear the study floor. Ouch. To make a long tedious story into a short tedious one, it took me 20 hours cumulative to clear it, and I still have boxes of my own books and supplementary material for past decade's Columns and Electronic Publishing Surveys stacked in corners. One item wafted out of place as I stacked the pile, and I couldn't tell to which column it belonged. Okay, I'll mention it again here, so it now belongs to this column. It was a Dear Abby column for November 15, 1999, that I saved, lost, found, and commented on in a subsequent column. A woman (I presume) met a woman on a city bus, taking in the sights, neither able to walk a lot because of health problems. She inquired how old the other was, and she said 46, and she was amazed because she looked so young. Then another passenger, a young man, said “Yeah, you'd be a real knockout of an older woman if you'd lose some weight.” Well, others were appalled at his rudeness. Then the woman told him that she was a knockout, and what he thought didn't matter. Whereupon the other passengers broke into applause. Well, I disagree. The young man obviously meant no harm; he expressed himself candidly, evidently not realizing how sensitive the topics of age and weight can be. But what of the woman, who surely had more experience in social graces? She attacked a man whose incidental opinion she obviously did care about and who had committed the sin of speaking truth without euphemism. It was like striking a candid child. And the others applauded! Yes, there was rudeness, but hardly limited to the young man; they were all guilty, and so was the columnist who did not point this out. One unintentional rudeness does not justify wholesale rudeness in return. I would not care to know any of those people.

Anyway, once I had my study floor clear, I started in on my GEODYSSEY clippings. At this writing I have spent a cumulative 21 hours on those, and organized fabulous information. There is more to sort, but I had to break off for my Survey update and this column, and will resume this month. There were a number of items that didn't fit the project, but were of interest, so later in the column I'll mention them briefly. If this seems like a lot of work just getting ready to complete a novel that lacks a market, well, a fantasy novel is easy for me to write, but a historical novel is serious work. The one is a molehill, the other a mountain. I make my money from molehills, but I hope in time to make my reputation from mountains, critics to the contrary notwithstanding.

At one point I needed to revise a document, and sought Column Mode, which is really useful when you need it. I couldn't find it. Can it be that it doesn't exist in OpenOffice? That's only part of my problem. The death of Tim, who got this 64 bit system set up with Kubuntu for me a year back, apart from my personal regret at his loss, deprives me of the geek I need to get my system updated. I'm sure Kubuntu has improved versions by now, or some other Linux distribution does, but I can't get them, because this system can't go online-no Linux modem-and won't load properly from a disc without geek intervention. I know there are whole helpful Linux communities out there, but I lack access to them. It's frustrating. Is it really too much to expect a Linux distribution simply to load and work without heroics for installation? I don't really like being stuck in the past.

I reported how Viagra works for me. Well, I still don't like paying what is now $13 per pill, and non-prescription alternatives so far simply don't work. One reader recommended something called Rise 2, but I have not found it on sale locally. I kept experimenting, cutting pills in half, then in quarters, then in eighths, and finally in sixteenths. That last was finally the limit: working only partially. So I returned to eighths, and they are fine. That brings the cost down to about $1.63 per dose, and I think I can live with that. A reader advised me that many medications are like that: they make a one-size-fits-all dose, but some of us can get by on considerably less, and should use the minimum amount that works.

I had a discussion with a correspondent. We both like movies, but not the same ones. Curious whether there are any we both do like, we exchanged a couple. I sent her What Dreams May Come, wherein a family man discovers Heaven to be individually crafted and beautiful, and Scent of a Woman, wherein a young man gets a job being the eyes of a blind man. Both are emotionally challenging, plotted stories, favorites of mine; I love the sheer beauty of Heaven and ugliness of Hell, and the rationale of the framework of Dreams; and the lovely mischief, central dance, and surprise vindication at the end of Scent. She sent me Mrs. Dalloway, wherein a British woman hosts a fancy party and remembers her youth, and 84 Charing Cross Road, wherein an American woman who collects rare books corresponds with a British bookseller. It's a friendship, not a romance. She would like to meet him, but has to have very expensive dentistry done that blots out her financial ability to travel until it is too late: her friend is dead. All she can do is visit his closed shop. I came from Britain, and am a naturalized American, but these films sadden me and are not my favorites.

I also watched one I bought five years ago and never got around to watching, until now: Paradise Road. It's about a prison camp for European women run by the Japanese during World War II in Indonesia. It is tense and brutal in places, and the majority of the women die before the war ends. This is not a fun film. What distinguishes it is how they devise a music group made entirely without instruments: a vocal orchestra. Even the harsh camp administrators come to attend and applaud the presentations. We also went to see a contemporary movie, The Water Horse, which was fun, though more serious and tense than we anticipated. It reminded me of the erstwhile TV series Surface, with boy befriending water creature.

Tranche-a block of bonds, part of a loan installment. A new word I encountered. I value words, and use them in my business, and am intrigued by them, somewhat the way I am intrigued by passing young women or tricky puzzles (or is that redundant?). I remember in college a man not known for vocabulary discovered two new words he liked: extravaganza (dramatic show) and pulchritude (beauty), and used them often. Once at a meal a pretty girl was about to take a seat near him, and he said “Come sit your pulchritude down here.” She snapped “Sit my what?” Words can be almost as much fun as pulchritude in tight jeans.

One of the things I encountered in cleaning up was accumulated sheets of address labels, the kind soliciting outfits send to try to guilt you into contributing to their causes. I don't throw those out, but there are more than I can use. I counted 102 sheets, and more are coming in.

So what did we do for Christmas? Daughter #2 Cheryl came over, and she and I spent two hours Christmas morning filling in depressions in our three quarter mile long drive. Then we went to the house, cleaned up, and got into the regular ceremonies and big meal of the occasion. At our senile age, as I may have mentioned before, we're not much for excitement. Every so often someone professes to be surprised that we celebrate Christmas, when I'm agnostic. Why not? It's a major holiday that predated Jesus. The converted pagans wouldn't give it up, so the Church changed its name and made it its own. You don't have to be religious to have a good time. In fact it may help not to be too religious.

My readers are a great source of information. Last time I inquired whether anyone know what the point was of a two second cartoon, “That's some bad hat, Harry.” I received a small slew of answers. Here are excerpts from some: From TD Players: “It isn't a commercial. It is the credit to a production company at the end of some TV show it produces. It is owned by Bryan Singer, a Hollywood director.” From Robert Terry: “A line from Jaws in which I believe a swimmer named Harry is wearing a hat that is mistaken for a shark's fin. Brody says this after Harry makes it to the beach, near the changing rooms.” From Sandy Mac: “What you saw is the wrap up at the end of a TV show where the cartoon showing has a shark fin in the water and a billboard in the background.” And Dawn Hall quoted from Wikipedia: “The name is taken from a scene in the 1975 film Jaws, in which Police Chief Brody, played by Roy Scheider, tells swimmer Harry his opinion of his ugly swimming cap. 'That's some bad hat, Harry.' The scene is reflected in the production company's title card, which uses the line from the film and shows a shark's fin in the background.” Thanks, folks; the bit comes at the end of House, one I watch regularly. I'm glad to have the mystery abated.

Then there was the comic strip Sally Forth, wherein Sally's annoyingly ever-critical mother faced Sally's daughter's independent friend, who set her back. I couldn't remember the punch line. Jeannine Lawall sent me a link that would help me locate the necessary strip. Then Devin Parkko sent me the strip itself. Here is the dialogue: “In my day little girls didn't dress like refrigerator repairmen.” “In your day fire was called 'Ouch ouch hot thing.'” The two stare at each other a moment. Then the woman says “You I like,” and the girl replies “Back at you, ma'am."

Other items of note: An author has a realm called Xanthia. Is that too close to Xanth? Well, Xanth derives from the girl's name Xanthe, and means yellow. There was also an ancient city of Xanthus, and things that pertain to it are Xanthian. So I can't claim to own the word. I get annoyed by outfits that try to copyright or patent existing terms, like “fair and balanced,” and sue others who use them. I wouldn't sue unless the infringement was pretty obviously an attempt to leach off my reputation. That might happen if Xanth makes a blockbuster movie, attracting more attention. Success breeds leaches.

Kristina O'Donnelly forwarded a takeoff on political correctness. She is not a babe or a chick but a breasted American. Not easy, but horizontally accessible. Not been around but a previously enjoyed companion. Not a two bit hooker but a low cost provider. He does not have a beer gut but a liquid grain storage facility. He does not get lost all the time, he investigates alternative destinations. He is not balding, he merely has follicle regression. Reminds me of a reader suggestion I used in Xanth: he's not a zombie, but living impaired.

A reader asked my opinion of used book stores, as I get no royalties from such sales. I have no quarrel with them. The royalties on used books have already been paid, so I'm not really losing money. Only if the reader would have bought the book new, but then gets it cheaper used, does it cost me. But many readers can't afford new books, so must shop for used ones or do without, so there may not really be much lost there. More broadly: the author generally has two purposes in writing. One is to make enough money so he can afford to continue writing, because that's what he lives for. At least I do. The other purpose is simply to be read. I would much prefer to have a copy of one of my novels passed from reader to reader, than to have it destroyed after one reading. Whatever immortality I achieve is surely largely through the feelings my written words evoke in my readers. They feel my feelings, for a time, and I am alive in that experience. A used book can do that as readily as a new one. So in this tenuous balance between the commercial and intellectual interests, I feel that both count, and I can live with one without the other, to an extent. Some books are bought but not read; some are read without being bought, as in libraries. This is not to suggest that I approve of piracy, which is theft: no payment of the initial royalty. On the whole, I am satisfied. Which reminds me of the dirty joke: “I kissed her where she sat, and on the whole she felt much better."

Which brings up something: when I read Jack Williamson's The Stonehenge Gate I looked at the other titles he had written, and was intrigued by one titled The Green Girl. Was this about a woman who was green, or was it the name of a spaceship, or what? It bugged me, but it is long out of print, and used copies are all that are available, and they are expensive. I could buy one via Amazon for $40, but that's out of my price range. So it seems I am doomed to wonder. If any reader has a copy for sale at other than a rip-off price, let me know.

I received a book promo for America Fights Back, by Gottlieb and Workman, whose thesis it seems is that we must protect our right to buy and use guns. I have had some skirmishes with gun nuts before-for some reason they don't like that appellation, though I don't mind being called a health nut-and am satisfied that the Second Amendment does allow gun ownership. Also that the real push for this is commercial: the gun making industry wants to guarantee its profits, no matter how many lunatics get guns and kill innocents in universities, post offices, private homes, wherever. What I favor is responsible gun use. The second amendment says essentially that for the sake of a militia, the right to own guns shall not be infringed. Okay, why not let anyone own a gun when he joins a duly constituted militia, where he will undergo a background check and be taught how to use it safely, how to hit what he aims at, and when to use and not to use it. That's how it was when I served in the US Army, which takes guns seriously. His gun will be registered, so that if it is used in a crime the owner will be tracked and brought to justice. That shouldn't bother legitimate hunters, law enforcers, or folk just trying to protect their property from abuse. It shouldn't bother the NRA-should it? Unless there is hypocrisy lurking somewhere. So suppose a gun is stolen? The owner should notify the militia promptly, and will have a real hassle replacing it, so that he learns not to be careless. Maybe he'll have to do without, until it is certain the carelessness was not deliberate. If a criminal gets hold of his gun when he hadn't reported the theft, he may forfeit his right to own a gun thereafter. That should encourage responsibility.

Now I'll delve into some of what turned up during my study cleanup. Back in Mayhem 2007 Sarah E sent an article by Scott Aaronson titled “Who Can Name the Bigger Number?” Schoolchildren are given fifteen seconds to name the biggest number. Some fill in as many 9's as they have time for. Some use superscripts, that is to say, exponents, like nine raised to the ninth power, quantity raised to the ninth power, and so on. That's a bigger number, for sure. Exponents are hideously powerful. For example, the article points out that at the present exponential rate of population growth, by the year 3750 the entire planet will be composed of human flesh. He suspects that things will get ugly before that time. So if you set a computer to generating the biggest number-well, it might continue forever. Though it is not the biggest, I rather like the googolplex. A googol (not Google, which is a search engine) is the number ten raised to the 100 power. A googolplex is ten to a googol power. My candidate would be a googol raised to a googol power. That's a pretty big number.

Back in JeJune 2006 Monica Parish sent some interesting statistics. “For every human being on earth, there are about 200 million insects.” And sometimes it seems that most of them are clustering around to bite us. “The harmonica is the world's most popular instrument.” I always liked it myself, and built it into my Adept series. It can play truly lovely music, when done correctly. “No word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver, or purple.” No rhyme for month? I'll tell you onth, and make some punth, well before lunth. Now don't you runth, you'll be a dunth. “The average bed is home to over 6 billion dust mites.” Now they tell me--and I'm allergic to dust mite droppings. “A group of unicorns is called a blessing.” Good thing I learned that before encountering a group of unicorns and embarrassing myself by incorrect terminology. “If the population of China walked past you in single file, the line would never end because of the rate of reproduction.” Say, I'd like to see that. It must make for considerable contortions to reproduce while walking single file. “Typewriter” is the longest word that can be made using only the letters on one row of the keyboard.” Not with the Dvorak layout! “The average fart travels for over 16 feet when released.” And how far if you let it fly bare-bottomed, with gutsy force? In Xanth if you step on a stink horn, it makes a foul-smelling noise and an unutterable stench. In my dirty novel The Magic Fart, the final fart sails out and plugs up the black hole in the center of our galaxy. The universe is not particularly pleased.

From the Hightower Lowdown for August 2002: “Bush & Co. comes to government with no real appreciation of the need for public accountability and no real instinct for the art of democratic decision-making. They want to do what they want to do-and everyone else should just get the hell out of the way.” And in the ensuing five years we have seen that in action, as they lied us into a war of choice, torture prisoners, despoil the environment, put America into mind-blowing debt, ruin our country's reputation, and secretly spy on everyone else while hiding their own activities from legal congressional oversight. 74% of Democrats and the majority of American adults support impeaching Cheney, the power behind the idiot throne, but Congress doesn't act. Meanwhile, locally, Debra Lafave, the lovely young woman who got in trouble for doing a teen boy la ultimate Favor, got in trouble again, this time for talking innocently with a co-worker who was a teen girl. What is wrong with this picture?

Another from LOWDOWN, for January 2008: it quotes a complaint about immigrants: “Few of their children in the country learn English...The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages...Unless the streams of the importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.” This was Ben Franklin deploring the wave of Germans pouring into the colony of Pennsylvania in the 1750s. I am amused, being a naturalized immigrant myself. I think we could do well to replace some of our homegrown bigots with educable immigrants. Those who choose this country seem to value it more than some who just happened to be born here.

From a letter in the newspaper dated June 2, 2000: “As a straight woman, raised as a Christian, I do not feel at all threatened by gays, lesbians, their children or gay marriage. I do, however, feel threatened by small-minded, intolerant people who try to disguise their mean-spirited, true agenda behind a supposed concern for marriage and children."

From a newspaper article of August 25, 1996: “Gene Roddenberry used to show up on the set every day drunk, and paw all the female cast members...he was a wonderful man...[but] was the sexist on that show.” And from August 12, 2006: “Fan” may be a shortened form of “fancy."

From WORLDWATCH for January/February 2008: algae may be set to eclipse all the other biofuel feedstocks as the cheapest, easiest, and most environmentally friendly way to produce liquid fuel. Yes, and I suspect it will do similar for food. When vegetarianism comes to the world, because it takes ten times as much grain to feed a cow for its meat as it would to feed people directly, things like algae may be made to emulate the form, nutrition, and taste of meats so folk will hardly care about the difference.

Newspaper, December 2007: we worry about theft from stores, but sometimes the opposite occurs: people sneak things into stores. They are called shopdroppers. For example, self published authors sneak their works into the “new releases” section so they can be read. Religious or anti-religious publications do similar, or they may simply put their advertising bookmarks into the books for sale. Folk with unwanted pets sneak them into pet stores: bunnies, cats, dogs.

January 5, 2008 item: Meg was raped and killed in the Florida panhandle, and there was no recourse because it wasn't against the law. The victim was a goat, and there's no law against bestiality in Florida. Yet.

Another contemporary item: healthy habits add 14 years to life expectancy. Don't smoke, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, and drink alcohol in moderation. All of which I have been doing for a lifetime. It's nice to know I have another 14 years ahead of me.

And I discovered an envelope containing several special Xanth stamps, in denominations of 10-13 cents (the different figures in different corners of individual stamps), $3-$4, $3-$5 and so on, per the Xanth system. In the Land of Xanth they don't take mundane money very seriously.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC map of Mars-they travel to the darndest places-that shows a location of interest to me: Xanthe Terra. I wonder if it is magical? And their article for May 1999 on a fish dating from earlier yet, the Devonian, circa 400 million years ago. Some fish were converting their lobe fins to legs, to help them handle shallow water. It time they started crawling on land. That led to no end of mischief, as we know, because the immigrants took over the land.

Politics: now we have had the Florida primaries, where the Republicans get only half the delegates selected and the Democrats get none. I have commented on that idiocy before. John McCain is moving into the Republican lead, though I'm not sure they'll ever let a self-willed maverick get it, except maybe to stop a Mormon. The question about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the current Democratic leaders, is whether the secret bigot vote will hate blacks or women worse. I suspect it's women, which means that Barack will probably take it. I can go with either, though my preference is slowly turning toward Barack because his campaigning is cleaner and he never equivocated about his opposition to the Iraq war. We have had a bellyfull of dirty politics and don't need more. He resembles John Kennedy, who took my first presidential vote in 1960, in his relative youth, handsomeness, and charm. Indeed, the Kennedys are supporting him. I hope his character has content to match. Not that I really had to choose, even for this no-count primary; I'm a registered independent. But I will vote in the real election.

Column by John Balzar for September 5, 2001: a mass grave was discovered in California, evoking shock until the truth emerged and people lost interest. They were the old bones of Chinese workers dating back to the 19th century. They had been imported to work on the railway and got paid oh, every six months or so. So when payday came around they were told to dig a pit, then massacred and buried, so as to keep expenses down. Snuff bottles and other artifacts in antiques stores today are the booty taken from the victims. So it seems we were doing the same thing the Nazis were, earlier than they did. We were righteously outraged when they did it, but not it seems when we did it. Business is business, after all. Now it is Mexicans being imported to work. If I were Mexican I'd be nervous.

Item in November 28, 1996: they finally fathomed the truth about the fabulous tale of giant ants that dug up gold in El Dorado and enriched the Persian Empire. I know this story got around, because Erle Stanley Gardner built it into his story which I noticed because it was rerun as a classic in the April 1963 FANTASTIC magazine, the issue where my first published story, “Possible to Rue,” appeared. There was also a lead-off novelette by Philip Jose Farmer, “Some Fabulous Yonder,” wherein he introduced the concept of Erector Set Perfume: a woman wore it, and any man who smelled it had an instant masculine reaction. Lovely. There were also stories by Roger Zelazny and Fritz Leiber. So I kept some auspicious company when I broke into print. I was reviewing this because I was writing a note of appreciation for Phil Farmer's 90th birthday on January 26. He is one of the significant genre writers of our day. Anyway, Gardner's story “Rain Magic” strikes me as a borrowing from the true 1904 classic Green Mansions by William Henry Hudson, the one where a British man loves the jungle girl Rima only to lose her tragically. I think I cried when I read it as a child. Gardner's story has a man loving and losing a girl of jungle Africa who is involved in garnering gold mined by big ants. Well, now I know where he got that part of it from. No, in Persia they weren't real ants, they were big marmots tossing up gold-bearing soil from deep underground as they dug their burrows. The natives refined the gold from that soil.

Ad I received in 1994: Hounds and Jackals, a game of the Pharaohs, nicely set up in a model of the Sphinx, about $45. Sorry, I didn't buy it, but it's a cute idea. Sample issue, also in 1994, of ATLANTIS RISING, a magazine all about ancient mysteries, holistic health, and future science. There's even an Atlantis comic within it. Article in it says the planetary conjunctions indicate that the next five years-that is, to 1999-won't be dull. Well, I write fantasy; I don't believe it. That is surely just as well.

1991: Articles on how the Scots settled the area where I live, naming towns Inverness, Dunedin, Dunellon and such. But there's little if any sign of them today, apart from those names. Too bad.

Article in the April 1991 TECHNOLOGY REVIEW on the Maglev system: coaches supported by magnetic levitation for more efficient transportation of people and freight. Could be set up as a monorail and be a real boon to alleviate traffic congestion. Sigh; I don't think they got to it.

I still write to Jenny, my paralyzed correspondent, every week. She doesn't answer, being paralyzed, but I understand she does appreciate my letters. I cover whatever is of interest in my life, and often conclude with a gratuitous word of advice not to do something she was never about to do anyway. Here is an example from Dismember 21, 2007:

This week's big event was our tour of the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. You'd have loved it. My wife's sister Jane and her husband were visiting, and Daughter #2 Cheryl had four special passes, so we used them. It's mainly a wood walkway up and down and across the Homosassa River with all the creatures in their quarters along the way. Storks-you thought that was just a fable?--and many other exotic birds, some injured so this is their refuge. Birds of prey, including some bald eagles. Black bears. Florida panthers. A reptile house. Those rattlesnakes have huge thick bodies. Alligators lolling by the river. Lucifer the Hippopotamus, with a warning sign behind his tail: SPLATTER ZONE. You see, when a hippo defecates, he switches his tail back and forth, and-oh, you get it. Since this is a native wildlife refuge, what's a hippo doing there? Well, they made Lucifer an honorary citizen of Florida, so he can be counted as native life. There's an underwater section, where you go down stairs and peer out the portals to see the fish. I admired this grand exotic specimen, then came up to check the listing, to identify it: common snook. Oh. We saw them feeding the manatees, who came right up and nudged the man. You'd have liked it, Jenny; it's a nice low-key animal tour.

Have a week, Jenny, and don't stay too long in the splatter zone.

Then in my letter of Jamboree 11, 2008, I covered a local event. Sometimes I tease her mother about her supposed bad driving. Once a police road trap caused 20 flat tires, and I asked whether her mother was driving again. Her mother originated British, like me, so of course I tease her about her accent. These letters are intended to be mildly entertaining.

Meanwhile the state of Florida had one of it's worst crashes in decades. Some 74 vehicles piled up in smoke and flames, shutting down Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando for two days and a night. Four dead, 28 wounded. The scene looked like the aftermath of a bombing raid in a hurricane. No, your mother didn't try to drive there; she's probably on the Florida no-drive list. It was that they did a controlled burn next to the highway, and the thick smoke crossed the road, mixing with the morning fog, to make an impenetrable obscurity. They've done it before, and still don't understand why that's a no-no. Naturally the American drivers never slowed down; they just zoomed in at speed and whammed themselves into oblivion. Aren't you glad you don't drive?

Back to my old clippings and remnants: Mayhem 11, 1992 the Watchtower folk stopped by. I'm really not a candidate for conversion, being a lifelong agnostic even if a recent list of prominent Quakers listed me along with ex-president Nixon. Yes, we both were raised Quaker, but his reputation as such was extremely poor because he practiced none of the Quaker virtues of modesty, integrity, or pacifism. I am not a pacifist or modest. As to the other, when Nixon and I donated papers to universities in the same year, I took no tax deduction, while he tried to backdate the donation to claim the deduction. So I know directly that when given a choice, mine was honest while his was not. And my wife is a Unitarian-Universalist (UU) minister's daughter, so if I had joined a religion, that would probably have been it. I have remarked that when good is quietly being done, chances are there's a Quaker or a UU person behind it. But somehow the Jehovah's Witnesses think I'm a prospect, and are somewhat deaf to my explanation. This time they left Watchtower, featuring an article about World War I, and Awake, discussing the problem of aliens in our country, urging understanding and tolerance. Good material, and I was an alien, but I still did not join.

Article in 1992 on the “Super Slasher,” a form of tyrannosaur with a 15 inch slashing claw to gut prey. I find that wincingly interesting. Another on Jesus; was he man or myth? There are those who say he never existed. Now I am an oddity, an agnostic who believes in Jesus. That is, I believe he existed and had a benign agenda, truly wanting to improve the world. I just don't believe he was divine. How could I, when I don't believe in anything supernatural? It really annoys me to see folk professing belief in the divinity of Jesus nevertheless practicing horrors he would never have countenanced, ranging from antisemitism (after all, Jesus himself was a Jew) to greedily hoarding money and power. I believe Jesus would have renounced such “followers” in no uncertain terms. Anyway, it seems the nonbelievers claim that the myth of Jesus was modeled after the ancient Egyptian King Tutankhamen. Another thesis is that the Israelites were never held captive by the Egyptians. For one thing, there's no record of them in Egypt, where they kept careful records. Were they so low they slipped beneath the radar? Well, I have a suggestion: it was the Philistines, one of the Peoples of the Sea, driven from Greece and repulsed by Egypt, who settled next to the Israelites, fought them, but one of their tribes eventually joined Israel. I'm not sure, but I think the story of Samson and Delilah was theirs, and surely the story of the Captivity is. It's an interesting aspect of history I'd like to explore further. History interests me. I have piles more material on this, but it is beyond the scope of this column.

Idea presented in NEW SCIENTIST in November 1999: maybe time running backwards could explain Dark Matter. That's intriguing, assuming that Dark Matter exists. I am a fan of Dark Matter, as I am of the Higgs Boson, which also may not exist. The Boson is discussed in another article in SCIENCE NEWS for March 2001; it's the particle or field that supposedly provides mass to matter. You can be sure I'll be discussing both again in the future, as new revelations come.

And one for January 7, 2008: it seems that denturists, who make dentures, are not allowed to practice in Florida. Instead, regular dentists make dentures here, which means, I strongly suspect, that they are both more expensive and not as well made. It's a form of protectionism, and I don't like it, especially since I am heading in the direction of dentures. I have concluded that the tens of thousands of dollars I have put into preserving my natural teeth has been a very expensive mistake. No matter how I care for them, they still decay, and gold plated repairs, which don't necessary last, merely pay the dentists' way. I want to be done with it.

I try always to be reading a book, and sometimes I even get to read one simply because I want to. My time right now is even more jammed than usual, so any comments I make here must be brief. I read eight books in these past two months. One was my collection of mostly erotic stories Relationships 2, the sequel to Relationships, and I liked it very well; it should now be available at Phaze. I also read Key to Survival, the fifth and concluding ChroMagic novel now being published by Mundania Press, and like it also very well. I read Sheep by Jeremy Shipp, and didn't like it. I'm not saying it's bad writing, but that it is a collection of horror stories that is gut-turning in places, relating to death, decay, fear, humiliation, and suffering. I presume there is a market for this sort of thing, and certainly it's different from conventional formula. I read Keeping It Real by Justina Robson. I know Justina from way back; she's British, and she visited me as a teen back around 1986, a sweet girl who lost her father early. I saw the novel on sale in a bookstore, so bought it, and wasn't disappointed; she has matured into a fine writer. This is a sort of fantasy, featuring contacts between alternate worlds, magic, hard-hitting action, and romance, but with a sophistication that belies any such description. The protagonist is a female bodyguard who gets in over her head. Again, this is not conventional fare, and I recommend it to discriminating readers. Then there's Instant Gold, by Frank O'Rourke, sent by Mundania; it's a reprint from 1964, so is dated about the price of gold, but with an interesting thesis: suppose someone sold boxes to which you merely add seawater, and in an hour you have a pound of pure gold, which you can sell? Yes, the resulting rush does destabilize the market. It's a kind of economic lesson. Too bad the Forward contains an error, saying that president Carter took the US off the gold standard in 1974. Carter wasn't president then; it was Nixon who did it, earlier, part of what I blame that dishonest man for, because that loosed the floodgates of inflation. I read one I saw in the Romance section, The Billionaire and His Boss, by Patricia Kay. The title covers it; he needs to marry within a year or be disinherited, and not to a gold digger. So he goes under cover, as it were, and falls for his lovely and nice boss. Who likes him, but is not pleased about the deception. Of course in the end he persuades her. This was easy reading, but well enough done. And I read The Best American Science Writing 2007, edited by Gina Kolata, a name that reminds me of a fancy drink. These are interesting articles on a variety of hard and soft science subjects, ranging from a difficult birthing to the Theory of Everything. Now I am in The Diary of Anais Nin, a multiple volume series dating from the 1930s. My interest in Anais (my wife says it's pronounced anaEES) dates from the time I read that she seduced her father, who said ruefully of the occasion “I have met the woman of my life-and she's my daughter.” There must be a considerable story there. What I am finding is an excruciatingly sensitive and observant woman who writes very well. I don't dare start quoting its beautiful thoughts, lest I never stop. There well surely be more anon.

In the mornings that I don't run I use an adult scooter to make the 1.6 mile round trip to fetch in the newspapers, and it's fine. Much easier to balance on, at my advancing age, and easy to stop and start. In 2006 I patched one flat tire, and two in 2007. In Jamboree 2008 I patched 3 more. The last four punctures were all on the rear tire, closely spaced. What was going on? I checked and finally found an embedded thorn that just barely poked out to prick the inner tube, so that it took a few days to penetrate. I have fixed that now and it should be okay, but it expended an hour of my day when I was trying to complete this column, making me late. Bleep!

Our Web Mistress is retiring from the business, so our daughter is seeing whether she can take over the posting of these Column and Survey updates. We'll see.

And I got new glasses. My eyes haven't changed much in the past decade, but it still takes a little getting used to the new prescription. Such is routine life.

PIERS
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