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Piers the handyman 2007
Apull 2009
HI-

Public Notice: I will attend the Romantic Times BOOKlovers Convention (www.rtconvention.com) in Orlando, Florida, Apull 22-26, at the behest of my publisher Mundania Press. Those interested are welcome to meet me, but a word of caution: my memory for names was never good, and has not improved in my dotage, so if we have met, corresponded, or had other interaction before, it will help if you advise me of that. Then, context in mind, I may remember you, or be able to fake it. Meanwhile I'll be signing books and participating in other events as required. I should be readily identifiable, as there won't be too many bearded old men with foot-long ponytails in attendance. My wife of 52 years will attend also; I would have trouble finding my way there otherwise, being an incompetent traveler in my senescence. She is past her illness and now can walk, but not far, so we'll bring our wheelchair so I can push her around as necessary. I love pushing her around. So if you see a nondescript pony-tailed old timer pushing a woman in a wheelchair, chances are that's me. That should make it easy for publishers listed in my ongoing Survey of Electronic Publishers & Related Services to avoid me.

We live on our small tree farm, and try to encourage the wildlife; in fact we'd like to convert it to a wildlife refuge. We allow hunting of only one creature: the feral pig. The pigs came here with Hernando de Soto in the 16th century, for food, and some escaped and have been here ever since. They are a nuisance, as they forage so efficiently that there's precious little left for the original creatures. When a band of swine have been through the forest it looks as if it had been disk-harrowed, and they can uproot plants and even trees. When I'm on our long drive and see a tusked boar weighing twice what I do, and he thinks about it before getting out of the way, I get nervous. So select hunters range our property, leaving the rabbits, turkeys, tortoises, deer and such alone, going after the pigs. But other hunters are not always scrupulous, and they poach deer. If we catch them, we'll prosecute. Anyway, there were a doe and her fawn we saw along the drive, and then only the fawn: some ilk had evidently gotten the mother. The little deer seemed to be doing okay, and more than once I encountered him (I'm guessing about gender) close to our house. Perhaps he regarded it as a relatively safe haven, because wild cats don't generally hang out that close. Then one day we spooked him along the drive when we were driving out on a routine grocery shopping trip. We slowed, and he bounded ahead, around a turn, and out of sight. But when we drew up to where he had been, there he was, lying half under the fence, moving only his head. We drove on so he could get up and move on. But an hour later, when we returned, he was still there. That meant real mischief. I think he must have jumped and misjudged the height of the fence there, and cracked into it and broken his neck, so that his body was paralyzed. So I called the local game warden, who said he would check and save the deer if he could, and in an hour the little deer was gone. I fear we inadvertently killed him. Damn, damn damn.

I discourage visitors. It's not that I'm unsocial, but if I gave an afternoon to every fan who wanted it, I would have no time left to write. So when I attend a convention I am thoroughly available, but at home I'd rather be left alone. Most folk understand, but some folk are more persistent than others. One asked for his books to be autographed; I sent him some bookplates, as I hate handling books by mail. It's expensive, time consuming, and risky, and a bookplate is every bit as authentic. But no, he wanted his books physically signed. Finally I agreed to let him bring them, and I took time to sign his carful. I don't charge for such things; it's purely courtesy, though I'm aware that autographed books fetch better prices on the market. He was appreciative; was there anything he could do in return? I said well, I was looking for a bibliography of Andre Norton's works, she being one of the relatively few genre authors who published more books than I, at least so far. He said he knew where to find one. He departed, and I never heard from him again. He had gotten what he wanted. And it's likely to be a long time if ever before I expend another afternoon that way. It's not the time so much as my dislike of being used.

Then I heard from a photographer. He was doing a series on writers in their habitats, and would like to take pictures of me in mine. I was tempted to decline, because of the paragraph above, but decided to risk it. In due course he arrived: Kyle Cassidy, a vegetarian wearing a beard and a brown ponytail. What's not to like? He took a squintillion pictures and went his way. Then came a package: a beautiful wrap-around picture of me in my messy study, a disc with the squintillion other pictures, and an autographed copy of his photographic book Armed America, portraits of gun owners in their homes, with brief statements why they own guns. I'm not all that enthusiastic about gun nuts, but it's a beautiful and insightful book, and an indication what the writers book will be like. So it shows that you never can tell how a given contact will turn out. Armed America is published by Krause Publications, www.krausebooks.com. So why do they own guns? I think essentially it's that a gun is a great equalizer. If you are old or ill or female, a gun will back off the brute who seeks to rob, bully, or molest you. If civilization collapses, you want to be prepared. For the young and fit, there is also hunting, and competitive events. I can see it. It's a culture.

I still do archery for exercise, and my aim remains abysmal. I fear it means my vision is declining. For one thing I discovered that I now have trouble reading entries in the compacted Oxford English Dictionary, even using the magnifying glass. I can do it, but I really have to focus. Anyway, when it's cold my aim gets even worse. Why? I think I finally figured it out: when I have thick padding on my chest, it pushes the bow out another half inch or so, and my grip on it is under tension, so that when I loose the arrow, the bow twists and changes the arrow's direction. So it really is true: the arrows don't go where I aim them, because their orientation changes. A little change here means a yard or so there. I also had a problem with two of my targets: their plastic covering tore, so I took it off, and then the cardboard boxes started coming apart so I took them off, and discovered that the contents are about 25 sheets of colored foam plastic. So I used duct tape to hold them together, and now I have the pretty colors showing, black, white, gray, blue, green. They work just fine. But my scores remain awful. For example, the last session I had before this column, counting center-hits as +1 and missing the target entirely as -1, my right side score was 3.5-3, and my left side score was 1-10. I adjusted the sight to make the arrows go lower, because last time out I had 6 go over the top of my target array, wasting time as I search for lost arrows. It must have helped, because this time only 5 went over the top. So I searched—and found 7. That catches me up on a couple lost before. That made it a good day, my style.

I was proofreading 30 year old novels of mine—more on that anon—and encountered a difficult grammatical issue. I remember how it gave me trouble with editor Lester del Rey. I had something like "He, like she, went home." He changed it to "He, like her," went home," saying "like" is a preposition and requires the objective case. Now I was once an English teacher. I hated it, but I did know my subject. I said according to structural grammar just about any word can be used as any part of speech, and I was using "like" as a conjunction. He and she, he or she, he like she. You would not say "He and her went home." Lester couldn't get it, and it was a small part of the larger issue of his increasingly insensitive and sometimes wrongheaded editing that caused me to leave that publisher. But many grammarians unfamiliar with structural grammar think as he did, and I must say that there are contexts where it seems better to use "her" than "she." It's like who/whom, where whom may be correct but seem incorrect. "Whom did you call?" Our language can be messy. I'm pretty much of a purist, despite my pretense of colloquialism in these columns, and that bothers me.

Here in sunny central Florida it seldom gets down to freezing. That's why we moved here after living in Vermont. Vermont is lovely, but the winters are too damn cold. Our second year here on the tree farm a cold snap took it down to an appalling 16°F. Now, 19 years later, we got a double cold snap that took it down to 20°, twice. I tried to protect our tame plants, tenting them under old sheets and boxes, but it was simply too much and they got wiped out. Some I regret more than others. There was the little volunteer Xanthosoma that decided to be a philodendron after a freeze cut it back last year. This time it seems to have been killed dead. No, glory be, after I wrote that I discovered two new leaves emerging from the ground. IT SURVIVES! There was the Turk's Cap Hibiscus fragment I had inadvertently separated from its home clump and replanted. Fortunately that is coming back from the root. Every plant has its little history and I care for them all. But some dangers are more annoying than others. The second time some anonymous oaf cut his disreputable car through our front loop, mowing down our small trees, we acted. I had transplanted the little mulberry tree to protect it from this sort of thing, but its main stem was broken off. So we bought ten landscape timbers and I dug holes (apparently injuring my left arm; it still hurts three months later) and set them in, and now a rogue car can't get in there. We have planted jasmine and honeysuckle by the posts and set small trellises for them to twine on. Also a little hanging birdbath; you can never have too many birdbaths. It isn't only the birds using them; so do squirrels and insects, getting drinks, and some larger animals we don't see: the ground bath can sometimes drop a gallon. The baths are a service to the neighborhood, especially during droughts, as now. We hope the area will become a protected garden of sorts.

I read Blood or Mead by Alan Alexander Beck. Its publication was interesting: it's an Xlibris book that became a Create Space book. The author changed because he could charge half the price demanded by Xlibris, making it more salable. This is what I call high grade amateur; there's a lot about writing the author doesn't know. But there's a lot about mythology and warfare he does know, and the book is packed with information on every kind of myth and weapon, as well as considerable action. It seems that when Yahweh becomes ascendant as God, the older gods like Odin aren't pleased. They want to take back the world. But it's no easy task. The protagonist is a man who dies in a fire with a number of acquaintances, then discovers the group of them in another realm where death threatens again. The gods are active behind the scenes, setting things up for their campaign. It's an interesting perspective. Lucifer says "That's why the whole notion of a created Hell is so ridiculous. Who would want to waste that much time and effort on gathering up every single soul that didn't follow you and then torture them for all of eternity? It would just be foolish to do so." Amen.

I read And Don't Forget To Rescue the Other Princess, by Marc Bilgrey. This is the sequel to And Don't Forget to Rescue the Princess, but is clear enough on its own. Unemployed wisecracking aspiring actor Al Breen is spirited back to the magic land, where he is required to rescue the king's other daughter, who is the captive of an evil sorceress. He is accompanied by Nigel the Nervous, faint-hearted husband of the prior princess. The two suffer through a series of captures by monsters and creatures who find them edible, barely escaping, until mostly by luck they manage to mess up the sorceress and rescue the princess. No romance or sexual suggestion; it's a clean story. This is a light-hearted fantasy romp that doesn't take itself or anything else seriously. Mainly, it's fun.

I addressed a tenth grade class at Lecanto, Florida. I don't like to travel, but this was in Citrus County, which is close enough. We're in the hinterlands, relatively unpopulated, but the school complex is like a town in itself, with 1,800 students. We had to pass their spot security verification just to enter, and be guided by an administrator to the classroom. About 20 students, some interested, some bored, which is par for that age. I brought three of my books for the class: the most recent Xanth novel Two to the Fifth as a sample of commercial publishing; the juvenile Tortoise Reform as a sample of small press publishing, and Mute as a sample of self publishing, as I republished it restored (it had been cut) after it went out of print twenty years ago. I had a list of their questions to answer, about how long it takes me to write a book (under three months, for a Xanth; longer for others), how long it take a publisher to publish it (two years), and what are the hardships of writing and publishing books (no assured income, lack of motivation for some, and dealing with publishers), how do I handle Writer's Block [I use my Bracket System of self dialogue to discuss and work out the plotting snags] which I addressed and amended in my fashion. The class was polite and well behaved, a contrast to the classes I taught 44 years ago. Will any of those students eventually rise to become published authors? Doubtful, but possible.

I don't give ignorant feminists much shrift. I mean the ones who harangue folk about things like Mrs. Ms. or Miss, and seem to think sex is a conspiracy by men to degrade women, while ignoring things like the continuing disparity between male and female wages, or glass ceilings. This one demanded "Are you trying to discourage female readers? The heroes are always male and these males treat females very discriminatorily...the books are also so anti-feminist. The use of nymphs, female centaurs and harpies is disgraceful...The use of Millie the Ghost...is despicable. Sex appeal? What kind of a talent is that?! The treatment of women in these books is awful. Can't there be just one Heroine? One intelligent, brave, strong, independent female who is also desirable?...It's sickening. AND OUGHT TO BE CORRECTED." I replied "Try Harpy Thyme, The Color of Her Panties, Roc and a Hard Place, Zombie Lover, Cube Route, Currant Events, or Stork Naked. All have intelligent, motivated, desirable protagonists. Meanwhile, Xanth is mostly parody. You need to have the wit to recognize it when you see it." Actually, maybe except Cube Route, where the woman establishes her sterling qualities and catches her man without using female wiles. I like to think that a woman doesn't have to be beautiful or seductive to be worthwhile. In Pet Peeve Hannah Barbarian is really a beautiful Amazonian militant feminist, but she's not the main character. Ah, well.

We saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire, and have to agree with the critics (though I don't want to make a habit of that) that's it's a great movie. I liked the scene where he gets locked in the public toilet and escapes by dropping into the liquid shit, emerges totally covered, and dashed up to get a celebrity autograph. I was appalled at what I suspect is a true revelation: the proprietor of beggar children gouges out their eyes with a spoon because blind singers fetch more money than sighted ones. Overall it was a good story and an insight into the slums of India, which I hope are worse than ours.

Songs are always going through my mind, seemingly from a random collection in my cranium. One day it was "Coming Through the Rye." And it started me thinking: exactly what is this Rye? "Every lassie has a laddie; none they say have I; but all the lads they smile on me, coming through the rye." Is it a field of rye growing? Does she have a house there, and they pass by it? Why smile on her, but not date her? Or is it Rye Whiskey, and she's a tavern wench, and the more they drink, the better she looks? I tried to look it up, but got nowhere. It surely has meaning, could I but fathom it.

Another song features clouds. "I've looked at clouds from both sides now, and yet somehow it's clouds illusions I recall; I really don't know clouds at all." It goes on to make the same case about love, and about life. I like it, because I like clouds. It reminds me of the poetic comment by nineteenth century American poet Sidney Lanier, which I quote from imperfect memory: "What the cloud doeth, the Lord knoweth/ The cloud knoweth not;/ What the artist doeth, the Lord Knoweth/ Knoweth the artist not?" I regard myself as an artist with words, critics to the contrary notwithstanding, and I certainly hope I have some notion what I'm doing. But clouds, knowing or not, remain fascinating. There was a recent episode in Classic Peanuts where a little cloud floated by Snoopy Dog's doghouse. He was surprised, not having seen a cloud before that was afraid of heights. I have always hoped some day to get time lapse equipment and take pictures of clouds, so as to accelerate them and see them boiling in the sky. But I suspect I'll never get to it, and of course others have done it. So the word "cloud" conjures all sorts of incidental associations in my mind.

Philip Jose Farmer died, age 91. He was one of the giants of the science fiction genre. He burst onto the scene in 1952 with "The Lovers," the story of a man's affair with a lovely woman who turned out to be an insect, but that description hardly does it justice. It was marvelously worked out on several levels, and the woman, Jeanette, was one any man could love. A female college friend of mine, Barbara Baller, and I collaborated on a painting inspired by it, combining a bug and a nude woman. I did the bug, she did the woman. I mentioned in a fanzine dedicated to Farmer's 90th birthday that when my first story appeared in a magazine that also had a Farmer story, she was properly jealous. Farmer had been there for me in his fashion. "Now I am here for Phil in my fashion," I concluded. "But I doubt anyone will be jealous. Ah, well; happy birthday anyway, Phil." I also had the fortune to collaborate with Phil on a novel, The Caterpillar's Question. I think it was the only novel collaboration he did. It derived from a multi-author novel Charles Platt conceived, where I wrote the first chapter, Phil wrote the second, and other authors wrote the remaining ones. But it foundered; quality was uneven and there was no firm direction. So later I bought out the project, and Phil and I alternated to complete the novel. It had its points, but I can't say it was outstanding. I liked his "Mother" series, and The Night of Light, but never got into Riverworld, and read only one World of Tiers novel. I almost met Phil personally in Chicago at the World Fantasy Convention, circa 1990; we shared a panel. But then we went our ways, and never quite interacted directly. He was a great writer and as far as I know a decent man, and I'm sorry to see him go at any age.

Paul Harvey died, age 90. He was a radio newsman, and his commentary was always interesting. But in later years he became too obviously rightist partisan, and I stopped listening. I understand he earned three million dollar a year from endorsements, and his passion showed most clearly when he espoused a given paid product. I remember at one point wondering whether it was Aamway or Aamco he advertised, and which one got caught cheating customers. I believe it turned out he advertised both, and both were caught. Harvey was not one to let the facts get in the way of a good promotion. But I admired his precision of expression. He did verbally what I try to do in writing, but I think he was better at it than I am. I admire real talent wherever it occurs, and he had it. Too bad he misused it, by my definition. I don't miss him.

REALMS OF FANTASY folded. When it first started up the editor asked me to contribute to it, and I agreed, and described a story idea I had. She said that was fine, and she'd be back in touch. She wasn't; I had to call the home office to find out if the magazine was even on. So with no other guidance about its needs, because this was before the first issue was published, I wrote my story as a safe "vanilla" effort, with nothing that might offend anyone, and sent it in. Months passed, and finally it was rejected as lacking sparkle, safely after the issue had been filled, and I was never solicited for any replacement. But for years thereafter they used my name in their advertising, knowing it was a lie. It was hard to avoid the impression that all they wanted was my name, not my actual presence. I never saw an issue, but understand from a reader that the material was indifferent. Good riddance.

In FeBlueberry I proofread two more Cluster series novels, Chaining the Lady and Kirlian Quest, and in Marsh the last two, Thousandstar and Viscous Circle. I found Lady stronger than Cluster, and Quest stronger than Lady, a truly powerful intergalactic story. The last two were lesser novels, set in the framework established by the original trilogy. But when I read Thousandstar I discovered a remarkably compelling story, and it's my favorite of the series. In it a human woman transfers her personality to an alien host who turns out to neither see nor hear, but to communicate by squirting jets of liquid at his fellows. It was an awful challenge to write, because I am visually and sonically oriented, and believe most of my readers are too, and I never did it again. But what a novel I came up with! For one thing the human lady and globular host fall in love, a seemingly futile emotion. Things do work out, in an unexpected way. Then Viscous Circle has a major pacifism vs. violence theme. What do you do when you must resist forcibly or suffer species extinction, but to do that would destroy your nature? I was raised as a Quaker, whose primary tenet is I think pacifism. I did not join, not being a pacifist, but retain a sold respect for Quaker principles. I married the daughter of a Unitarian-Universalist minister, and I believe that if there is good work quietly being done, chances are there's either a Quaker or a U-U person behind it. Anyway, I think the exploration of this issue in this novel is about as good as any I have seen in the genre. Here the humans—Solarians--are the monsters. "The Solarian is a gross physical creature with bone-filled extremities, flesh-filled torso, and liquid-filled eyeballs sliding within moist sockets—" Naturally this description sickened the listeners. Now I'll have to see about getting those five novels back into print electronically; that was the point of this exercise, after all. It turned out to be a significant emotional experience. It is my hope that when my powers as a writer fade, I will be the first, not the last, to know, and will act accordingly, instead of retreating into denial. Reviewing these five novels of about thirty years ago makes me wonder whether the fading is occurring, because I'm not sure I can write as well today.

Daylight Saving Time arrived ahead of schedule. The furshlugginer powers that be keep starting it sooner and ending it later, until now I believe it exists longer than standard time does. I remember the comment by one wit that it reminded him of the man who cut the end off a stick and glued it to the other end, to make the stick longer. It doesn't affect me muchly, because I use no alarm clock and rise before dawn, but I do appreciate getting to bed an hour earlier. My wife doesn't. I read a poem once about how some folk are early birds and others late birds, concluding "By some peculiar quirk of life/ They always wind up man and wife." True for us.

Conservatives like to claim that raising the minimum wage causes job losses, because employers have to lay off workers. Article by Holly Sklar refutes that. States that raised their minimum wages above the federal level experienced better employment than states that did not. In general, employment rises when the minimum wage does. Eight years of Bush economics that stifled any raising of the minimum wage led to the worst unemployment in decades. Article by John Burl Smith in The DISH says that Republicans today are like those in power during the 1920s, whose policies bankrupted the country. Yes, they seem to be moral troglodytes, and to give them power is to invite disaster. It's not just the USA. Article by Rebecca Solnit describes how Iceland in the mid 1990s put in place a comprehensive economic transformation program that included tax cuts, large-scale privatization, and a big leap into international finance. The banks were deregulated, privatized, and the currency allowed to float. Debts ballooned. It quickly became one of the world's most affluent societies. Then it collapsed. Now it is trying to find its way out of the rubble. The candy store does need sensible management, something today's "conservatives" seem unable to learn.

Related politics: column by Robyn Blumner explores how Wall Street ran wild, and brought down our economy. Why wasn't there regulation and oversight to prevent this happening? After all, it was put in place after the 1929 debacle. "Here's a news bulletin for you," she says. "It was methodically bought off." Exactly. Politicians steadily chipped away at the safeguarding regulations until finally they were gone. "The train wreck that is our economy is a consequence of special interests buying their way out of commonsense regulation and enforcement that would have stabilized the financial system and made it transparent. The financial industry paid $5 billion for this privilege. Now it will cost taxpayers potentially trillions." Yes, we'll have to put back the sensible rules, but the train remains wrecked. Repairs will be costly and time consuming. And Rush Limbaugh says he hopes Obama fails. Right. Rush would rather have the train stay wrecked if it means he can give the finger to the repair crew headed by a black man.

Homosexuality: my set piece on that is that I am straight, and I don't want anyone telling me to try being gay, that maybe I'll like it; I already know my orientation and it won't change. It's the look and feel of women that turn me on, now and forever. Okay, I assume that those of the gay persuasion feel much the same about their orientation. Therefore I follow the golden rule and leave them alone. That doesn't mean we can't associate, as many rewarding nonsexual human interactions exist; just don't proselytize about orientation. A recent article by Candace Talmadge relates: "Even a cursory search of the four Gospels reveals that Jesus said nary a word of condemnation against gays and lesbians." "So why do so many Christians get all worked up about homosexuality? Those who supposedly wrote against it were not Christians." Well, the Apostle Paul did, but he also condemned fornicators, adulterers, thieves, the covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortionists. So why fixate solely on homosexuals? This wasn't Jesus' way. Okay, I suggest an answer: because bigots are putting their hangups into Christianity, and the hell with Jesus' real concerns, like loving your neighbor. I like to think that if Jesus came to the world again, he would prefer to chat with open minded agnostics like me than with those who attribute bigotry to him. In fact I think he might be inclined to run those ilk the hell out of the temple.

Fascinating article in NEW SCIENTIST titled "The Furnace Within." It seems that the distinction between being warm blooded or cold blooded is getting blurred. Some cold bloods have warm parts. I recall that the tuna fish warms its heart, for example, while some warm bloods, like bats, let their body temperature fall to the ambient environment while roosting. Being warm blooded is not necessarily an advantage; the higher metabolism requires far more eating, and this leads to needing about four times as much nitrogen per day as a similar sized reptile. This leads to excess carbon that needs to be gotten rid of. So, in effect, they burn it and breathe out the wastes. The burning produces heat, so their bodies are hot. A neat solution, making a virtue of the waste product. In fact I understand that oxygen itself was originally toxic refuse. We are creatures of poison.

Article in SCIENCE NEWS on the Dating Go Round. People naturally want to bond, but finding the right partner can be an anxiety-generating chore. I like to think that the key to a 50+ year marriage is finding the right partner, being the right partner, and luck. Evaluating dating preferences on paper is not the same as direct personal interaction. Also, what folk say they want in a partner is not necessarily what they actually want. I think I have commented before on the study that showed that in second marriages, the richer the man, the lighter the woman; that's indicative. Speed Dating is one mechanism for choosing. It turns out that it makes a difference whether women sit in place and the men move from table to table, or the women move. Women become much less discriminating if they are moving. No pencil and paper test would reveal that. It seems that romantic passion feeds off a mixture of hope and uncertainty. Worry leads to pursuit of the relationship. Does she or doesn't she? Women, with more to gain or lose in a relationship, tend to be more careful. In the speed dating, men wanted more contact with half the women they met, while women wanted it with only one third of the men. I think that if I were in such a situation I'd be pretty damn choosy. But I hope not to be in it.

Perhaps related: Sexting. That is, sending risque phone photos. It seems that even receiving such a picture can get you in trouble with the law. One boy received a provocative photo from a classmate and got kicked out of school. Which might be an easy way to frame someone you don't like: send him a risque photo. There was a local news item about a 13 or 14 year old girl sending explicit nude pictures of herself to her boyfriend. She got in trouble for child pornography. I think the law can be an ass. If a girl wants to publicize her assets, let her do so, but make sure her parents know. It's just possible that they might have another opinion, and the means to enforce it. Sex appeal is the device the female gender uses to attract the male, and it's damned effective. Why should third parties who no longer have it get to mess up those who do?

Another peeve of mine is the way authorities try to stop people from controlling their own deaths. When a person faces nothing but pain and hideous expense to preserve his life a few more months, he should be allowed to end it by choice. The Final Exit Network, as I understand it, exists to assist people in making this personal choice. So now members of this network have been arrested for doing that. Not for killing anybody, understand; just for sending equipment that will assist a person in dying if he chooses to. Whatever happened to personal freedom? Somehow conservatives who claim to espouse it when it comes to things like paying taxes step to the other side when they want to interfere with a person's decision to die. Fortunately there is a simple solution: get a gun. It's the premier suicide device. Yes it's messy, but it works. I don't really like guns, but the constitution does grant citizens the right to possess them, and this is one obvious use. So are they going to start arresting gun dealers when suicides occur? Don't hold your breath.

I remain disgusted by supposed authorities spouting false information. Article in the local newspaper says "vitamin C does not prevent, reduce the severity of or hasten the recovery from a common cold." That's an outright lie. I have used vitamin C to stop colds for decades. The key here is that it has never been tested in the laboratory. They try maybe a tenth of a gram a day, and it has only slight effect. What works is one gram an hour, continuing until symptoms abate. Try it and see for yourself. Vitamin C, universally used properly, could rapidly eliminate the common cold. But they remain careful never to test that level, so they can keep claiming it doesn't work. Whose interest are they serving? Not the public's. I had little use for commentator Paul Harvey, discussed above, but he was serious about his health and he accepted C in this connection. Even hard-core conservatives can cautiously approach reality when it pays them to do so.

 

Remember the editing Pep Talk I was asked to write, then the requester disappeared, so I ran in in my last column? Kathe Gogolewski ran it with my permission in her The Fiction Flyer ezine for writers, www.tri-studio.com/ezine.html. It's a free magazine and has masses of interesting material. I also received an appreciation from a writer who was daunted by the prospect of editing a piece. I'm glad to help. Editing, like garbage collection, is a dirty but necessary business.

Naturally I don't proselytize about vegetarianism. Much. Not more than once a column. This is my blog, okay? Another item in NEW SCIENTIST says that if we ditch meat, we might save the Earth. "Cutting back on beefburgers and bacon could wipe $20 trillion from the cost of fighting climate change." The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency did a study. So I trust that patriotic, environmentally conscious folk will do their bit to save the world. What, you like the taste of cooked carcass too much? Then this should interest you: another article in THE DISH by John Burl Smith, titled "A Glimpse of the Future." It seems that PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) has offered one million dollars to the first researcher who produces commercially viable in vitro chicken grown in a lab that could be sold to the public, in the next four years. That is, test-tube meat. They can do it now, but it's not cheap enough to be commercial. You need to produce it cheaper than live slaughtered chickens can. If they grow meat in giant tanks known as bioreactors it could produce enough to feed all the people on earth, and might also enable the growing of replacement bone, muscle, skin, kidneys and hearts for those in need. This is intriguing, and I'd love to see the poor cows and chickens spared the meat grinder, and the world incidentally saved. I take it half a step farther in my historical novel Climate of Change, forthcoming from TOR, wherein algae and fungus are used to generate food that looks, tastes, and is nutritionally identical to natural sources, including meat. But in the novel, it also includes a contraceptive quality, so those who eat it can't reproduce unless they act to nullify that effect. Thus the population explosion is abated, and Earth is on the way to sustainability. So how do I, as a vegetarian, feel about test tube meat? I am uneasy. My objection to meat is that it hurts the animals from which it derives, but lab meat would ease that situation. Still, my gut would have a problem. My vegetarianism has religious force, which means it goes beyond rational analysis.

Column by Dolph Honicker discusses our deepening ignorance. 25% of us believe we have been reincarnated; 44% believe in ghosts; 50% that God created the universe less than 10,000 years ago; 20% think the sun might revolve around the earth. Tell me again: what century do we live in?

Article in NEW SCIENTIST says that the stink of flatulence could provide a surprising lift for men, because hydrogen sulfide (H2S) causes erections in rats and may one day provide an alternative to Viagra in men. Does that mean that we old farts will come to rule the sexual world? That we no longer will have to threaten nubile young women with getting fondled to death?

Newspaper article on "Cane Fu": a cane can be a marvelous defensive instrument. A person can take it anywhere, such as on an airplane, and not be rendered helpless if attacked. Even the hook end can be effective, used for catching an aggressor's limb and yanking it.

Interesting article by Scott Barry Kaufman, "Confessions of a Late Bloomer" in PSYCHOLOGY TODAY. Sure genetics and environment count, but not everything falls into place together. For example, creativity and leadership rarely present themselves early. Child prodigies exist, but many significant advances in science and the arts are accomplished by those who were not remarkable in childhood. I certainly relate to that. I was nothing as a child, but became something later in life. The analogy I drew for Mr. Kaufman, which he likes, is that if you have a drag race between a sport car and a locomotive, and the finish line is a quarter mile away, the car will win. But if the line is a thousand miles away, the locomotive will win, as it gets up a velocity of 150 mph and pauses for nothing. I'm still steaming along my track at retirement age, having passed many sport cars. "Above a reasonable score," Kaufman says, "IQ doesn't do a very good job of predicting lifetime creative achievement. There even appears to be an optimal amount of formal schooling after which schooling can deter creative achievement. Beyond that lies the danger of getting too entrenched in the traditional thinking." Yes indeed. How many Ph.Ds are effective creative writers, scientists, leaders, or other notable figures? Formal education can become a straitjacket.

"Non Sequitur" cartoon: Dr. Rorschach's inspiration, coming as he changes the baby's dirty diaper. "You know what this sorta looks like?" "Holy Molé" cartoon: Alien storyteller saying "Once upon a time there was a planet that slowly lost all its storytellers. As a result they no longer had insight, wisdom, or social consciousness. Finally they lost the ability to pay attention and became nothing but a bunch of galactic slackers." Yes, of course storytellers have always been the hope of civilization. Can we stop this dreadful loss in time?

Article by Senator Jim Webb in the Sunday supplement PARADE: America has 5% of the world's population and nearly 25% of its prisoners. We need to stop incarcerating drug addicts who represent no danger to others, so there is room for real criminals now on the street. I know the answer: decriminalize drug addiction. That doesn't mean we approve of it, just that we'll do our best to treat and possibly cure addicts instead of throwing them in prison to be supported by the taxpayer. Similar for alcoholics and the mentally ill; they don't belong in prison.

Perhaps related: bombshell article in the April/May issue of FREE INQUIRY, the magazine for the Council for Secular Humanism (I subscribe, being a Humanist; find it at www.secularhumanism.org) titled "Exposing the Myth of Alcoholics Anonymous," by Steven Mohr. The AA twelve step program is widely regarded as the only really effective treatment for alcoholics, recommended by doctors and often mandated by the courts. Uh-oh. "The truth is that the available evidence strongly suggests that AA treatment provides very little or no long-term help for active alcoholics. Further, there is ample evidence that long-term repeated exposure to this program is actually dangerous to many alcoholics who would fare better if left on their own." Wow! AA says its a fellowship of men and women who share their experience to help each other recover, and that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Oh? "To be plain, there is ample evidence that AA is in reality a religious cult masquerading as a self-help group. The article goes into considerable detail to document that thesis. It seems that the AA success rate may be as low as 5%, and that alcoholics can do as well on their own, statistically. This reminds me of a study I read about decades ago, where mentally ill people who got psychiatric treatment had about a two thirds recovery rate. Then they studied mentally ill people who did not get such treatment, and their success rate was the same. It seems that the AA program does not improve on nature. So if that doesn't work, what does? There are medications to reduce craving or interfere with the mechanism of getting drunk. In many cases alcoholism seems to be a mask covering severe depression or mental illness; treat those and maybe the alcoholism will abate. Check the latest research at www.nida.nih.gov/. And yes, the humanists have their own programs, such as Secular Organization for Sobriety (SOS). I don't know whether that works any better, but it's guaranteed non-religious.

Between projects I watch some videos. Thus I watched Breakfast Club, a movie I saw years ago, and sure enough, it remains a tense and insightful drama of high school kids in detention. I watched a season of Have Gun—Will Travel. I watched a season of Grey's Anatomy. I have a season of House waiting. They're all good. But no matter how good they are, I soon get antsy to be writing again. I'm a writaholic; I live for writing, and begin to suffocate when too long away from it. I will catch up on some necessary reading, then get to writing the semi-erotic stories for Relationships 4.

Sigh. Another overlength column, 7,400 words. Readers write in, sort of patting my hand and reassuring me that it's okay to be verbose, but I really would like to shorten them. Maybe next time.

PIERS
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