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We live on our tree farm, and rain is important.  We lost maybe ten percent of our trees in the drought of 1998.  Florida has been in a three year drought, dropping the water table way down, but things started looking up, or coming down as it were, in mid Mayhem, and we had 10.55 inches that month.  Then 9.65 in JeJune.  Jewel-Lye started well, but then diminished late, and two days before the end we were at 6.75 inches.  It would take over three inches to get it up to snuff, and that did not seem likely; were were getting mostly dry heaves, with loud thunder and about five drops.  But late on the 30th we got half an inch.  Then I was catching up on letters Friday the 31st, and wanted to bike out to fetch in the mail and close our gate about 4:45 PM, but then rain started, timing it perfectly.  So I waited for it to clear, as it usually did.  You've heard about the watched pot never boiling?  Sometimes a waited rain never stops.  It just kept going, getting heavier, for two hours.  And by damn, it finally come to 3.15 inches, beating the deluge with which it had celebrated our anniversary back in Mayhem, and brought the month to 10.4 inches.  We had to drive out for the mail; there was a quarter mile of overflowing puddles along the drive.  We'll keep it.

I read Codename Prague by D Harlan Wilson.  This novel is described by its author as slapstick and “literary” and graphic, a pop cultural apocalypse in which schizophrenia, psychosis, idiocy, etc. have become to varying degrees normative conditions.  “I think [it] can function as a kind of morality tale.”  Well, it is indeed all that.  My problem is that I read fiction for maybe two reasons: to enjoy the diversion from dull mundane reality, or to assess it for an informed opinion on its merits.  I am not a fan of cyberpunk, if that is what this is, don't understand it, and don't get pleasure from it.  I prefer solidly plotted stories, and this is at best thinly plotted.  So I can't form an informed opinion.  Let me illustrate my problem with a quote, more or less random, from the novel: “The psychophysical process of attack is not a fundament of this physionietzschean martial art.  Nor is the art of defense.  The enlightened scikungfi fighter will have transcended these useless tactics.  Neither aggression nor protection informs her character.  Or rather, these things inform her character to such a degree that they metaentropically implode into nothingness.  I stand here.  I blink, I breathe.  I exist.  And I fucking kill you and eat your gore.  That is the True Way of scikungfi.  Many like to think they follow and practice the True Way.  But mass man is nothing but a hack bodhisattva.  He always will be.”  This is a statement of one of the many divergent philosophies in the novel, replete with obscure or oblique references such as to kung fu or the one to the German philosopher Nietzsche, who developed the theory of the Ubermensch (superman) in Thus Spake Zarathustra.  In the end he went insane, but the Nazi Germans and others were quite taken with many of his views.  That's just a hint of the wider intellectual parameters of this novel.  I am reminded of the works of James Joyce; Finnegans Wake is said to be well worth the two to four years it takes to properly read it.  But as I said, it's not my thing.  So I'm not in a position to recommend it, but that is not at all the same thing as saying it's not competent; I suspect it's a good novel of its type.

We visited Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park with visiting Family.  This is essentially a loop of a mile or so of jungle river boardwalk from which you can view assorted rare birds, mammals,  reptiles and fish. A prime attraction is Lucifer the hippopotamus, who swims, eats, and defecates splatteringly.  There are red wolves, black bears, bobcats, deer, and manatee; sand hill cranes (I describe their call as sounding like winding a creaky grandfather clock; we have them around our tree farm) and rare whooping cranes, hawks and owls.  There are poisonous snakes in the reptile house, and alligators and turtles in the river.  You can go down inside the underwater observatory to see the fish swimming close.  It's all fun for tourists and children, and a reminder of the precious wildlife heritage that is being slowly marginalized by the relentless overpopulation of mankind.

 

Last column I mentioned the problem of Fracto Cloud in Air Apparent: how did he get compacted to solidity?  Jim Hull provided the answer, and others like Misty Zaebst commented: Fracto just happened to be floating near the Good Magician's Castle at the time the Random Factor exchanged places with Hugo.  It's what clouds do, between storms.  So the Random Factor exchanged again, this time with Fracto, thus confining him compacted in the cellar.  Where the Factor went thereafter is not clear, but obviously he didn't stay aloft.

 

I was born in a prior century and have difficulty keeping up with new-fangled devices, but I try in my desultory fashion.  In Jewel-Lye my wife took the plunge and bought a Sony Reader PRS 505 and an Amazon Kindle 2.  This report is based on her experience.  She's a dedicated print book reader, as she coincidentally dates from my century, and she was not in a hurry to struggle with the new stuff.  But with print booksellers seemingly dedicated to perpetuating their own oblivion, such as filling six book slots with the same book rather than with six different books so readers can have some choice, thus guaranteeing monstrous returns as well as wasted money paying for those slots, some alternative is needed.  Her problem is that she doesn't like reading books on the computer screen; it anchors her there, and the print is not to her taste.  Well, these readers are about the size and heft of print books, between hardcover and paperback, and their print looks similar.  So she can hold one like a print book and read it comfortably, or take it with her where she goes.  She has now read several books on each reader, and it looks as though she will continue, though she'll still also be reading print books.

But there are cautions.  It was a federal case to get books for the Sony.  They had to be downloaded to a computer, and her computer refused to access the Sony site; she had to go to Fictionwise, who turned out to use a different monetary account system, so she had a hassle setting that up.  Sure, these things are supposed to be convenient, easy, and user friendly.  Any more laughs for the day?  They show little sign of actually wanting to sell books, maybe taking a page from the print publisher marketing.  It took her several days and many hours to get a few books for the Sony.  In contrast, Kindle was easy.  No computer connection needed; she could, and did, from her easy chair.  She already had an account at Amazon, so that was no problem, and the Kindle registered itself to her identity automatically.  So she bought several books and started reading.  In this respect, the Kindle beat the Sony hands down.  How about actual use?  The Kindle has duplicate page turning controls she found convenient, and was set up for easy use, while the Sony was less comfortable.  Kindle wins again.  Both have peculiarities of typesetting, words oddly divided, stray symbols inserted, as if the machine readers get confused or take lunch breaks, but overall they are equivalently readable.  Both have enlargement features: three for Sony, six for Kindle, better organized.  Folk of our generation really appreciate the option of larger print.  Sony indicates the page you are on of the total, such as 23 of 310; Kindle gives a percentage of the way through.  Either system is okay, and both will hold your place between sessions.

In sum: the readers work, they provide books a bit cheaper than print editions, there's a wider and more convenient selection, and she'll be using them increasingly in future, especially Kindle.  Will I be getting into them?  Surely in time.  The Sony can display a regular computer manuscript, which could be useful; the Kindle can, but requires a conversion hassle that makes it not worthwhile.  The Kindle also has a problem that should make readers wary: Amazon can and does delete sold novels without notice when it has a mind.  It happened to books like George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984.  This wasn't censorship; turned out they were illicit editions, so the sales were canceled retroactively, and the money refunded.  But this business of taking back novels: suppose you're midway through, and your page goes blank, because someone in Cincinnati says she's pained by a dirty word in a classic novel and the book has to be removed and burned?  Suppose I put my own erotic novel manuscript on for proofreading, and a critic decides to abolish it sight unseen because there's sex in it?  Think it can't happen electronically?  The censors will sure as hell try.  There needs to be some protection set up for readers, not to mention authors.  It's not a problem with the Sony, because of the more limited access.

 

I use a scooter to make the morning 1.6 mile round trip for the newspapers.  I have commented before about fixing flat tires.  Well, I had another siege.  The rear tire went flat; I dismounted it, patched it, and used it.  A week or so later it happened again.  There was another puncture next to the original one.  I checked for a thorn embedded in the tire, but found none.  Another week, flat again, with another adjacent puncture.  My wife suggested that there could be a spike that did not manifest until there was pressure from outside the tire, so that after a couple of trips it gradually poked through.  I married her for her brains, as I like to say when she dresses up nice.  No, I don't know why the women in my family get annoyed with me.  So this time I really checked, pushing against the outside while running my thumb inside.  And found it!  A tiny splinter maybe an eighth or a sixteenth of an inch long.  I got that out, and I think this time the tire will last.  After four patches in one month.

 

I make most meals, having taken over when my wife got ill five years ago, but there are things I never quite picked up on.  Such as eggs on Sunday: I can fry them or scramble them, but for variety I wanted to make an omelet.  So she took over and showed me the steps.  Next week I did it myself, and it was clumsy but edible.  Each week I improve a little, I trust, as my senescent synapses slowly adapt.  It's not all that easy to do it right, as most wives and few husbands know.

 

We saw the movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  I was disappointed.  We have seen the prior movies but they are spaced a year so so apart, and details fade.  I realize that the later books are big, and much has to be cut to fit the movie format, but it seemed like butchery rather than surgery.  The first hour consisted of assorted separate scenes that did not seem to connect to the whole.  Harry is about to get a date with a pretty girl, but is hauled away for an session with the Hogwash (oops; typo) school proprietor.  A train steams through a snowy landscape.  Someone attacks Harry.  Boys meet and talk.  There's an airborne basketball game.  A friend gets slipped a love potion and falls for the wrong girl.  Only in the latter section did it seem to get organized.  I think movie makers need to reorient on viewers, so as to put together a more coherent narrative.  We're not mind readers; we need to have things presented and connected clearly.  Yet I know that if the Xanth movie ever is revived they'll butcher it the same way and won't allow me anywhere near the script, leaving me to answer to confused and disappointed viewers, some of whom will swear off Xanth.  So this is merely an early futile scream in the wilderness.  It's the American way.  It's too bad.

 

Sometimes a letter becomes a spot essay I want to share with Column readers.  Here's an example.  Bill Hagen was told by an English teacher that good writing requires entirely avoiding the use of the verb to be and all its conjugations and tenses, such as am, are, is, was, were, etc.  “Do you think to be verbs should be avoided or, at least, used sparingly?  Or is my poor friend a misguided lunatic?”  I replied:

This reminds me of Winston Churchill's response when chided for ending a sentence with a preposition: “This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put.”  He was right; it's a phony rule.  Likewise, excluding certain words or phrases from a narrative without reference to the context seems nonsensical to me.  I try to write clearly, because without clarity a piece of writing is useless.  If an infinitive is needed to make something clear, I'll use it.  It's that simple.

Technically “to be” is not a verb but an infinitive, which is a statement of being, or a noun.  It's a legitimate part of the language.  Imagine Hamlet declaiming “To be or not to be, that is the question” with that infinitive deleted.

It would be a far greater challenge to avoid all the “be” forms and tenses without sacrificing clarity.  So I conclude that yes, your friend is a misguided lunatic.

 

One of the major problems facing the world today is Energy: its acquisition, and its effects on the health of people and the world.  Oil is polluting and being depleted.  America has coal to burn, literally, but it pollutes worse and destroys landscapes.  There's natural gas, and there's organically grown energy sources.  There's nuclear.  Each has its own problems, some of them formidable.  Naturally I support Solar, Geothermal, Wind, Tidal power sources, and maybe some dams (the wrong dam in the wrong place can be an environmental disaster), but these too have their challenges.  Is there a fast fix for today?  Well, there may be.  An article in the June 27, 2009 NEW SCIENTIST says that all over the world, in the ocean, there is methane clathrate, a gas squeezed to 160 times its density in normal air.  Much of it is frozen under the northern and southern permafrost.  A chunk of it looks like dirty ice.  Touch a match to it, and it flames.  When it burns, it's only half as polluting as coal.  There is as much energy in it as in all the fossil fuel reserves put together.  If used exclusively, replacing all other fuels, it would provide global energy for the next hundred years, by which time maybe science will have found a better source.  Can it be mined without undermining the stability of our shores?  They are developing techniques to accomplish that.  So this is a leading prospect to solve both our energy and pollution problems, if we care to do what is necessary to apply it.

 

I'm a writer.  I like to write.  In fact, writing is my way of life; I live for it.  As I like to say, when I croak, I hope to be halfway through an excellent novel.  The main problem is securing time to write as much as I want to.  In recent years my wife's situation has reduced my time, but she is doing better now and I'm doing all right.  At present I have more time than I expected, because I finished my Cluster series project months early.  So I'm using the time to write some erotica, before getting on to the next Xanth novel.  In Jewel-lye I completed Relationships 4, calculated wordage about 90,000 (calculated refers to how much space it will take in a printed book, which is more than the literal, computer-counted wordage, because things like dialogue take more space) that I will market in due course; there are some good stories there.  At mid-month I set up for an erotic romance novel, Eroma, the word coined from EROtic ROMAnce, developed from several story ideas that I thought would do better as chapters than as individual efforts.  And wouldn't you know it, at that point three reader-written novels landed on me for comment, plus two lesser manuscripts.  I'm a slow reader; these threatened to wipe out my writing time.  Folk don't necessarily realize that the time I spend reading comes out of my writing time, not out of my meal making or housekeeping time.  So I compromised: I read and commented on the two manuscripts, in those two days managing also to write 600 and 150 words of my novel.  Then I tackled the first book at ten pages a day, and I plan to continue reading at that rate until all three are caught up, maybe in two months.  Most of the time I hogged for my writing.  And in ten days I wrote 33,000 words.  In the old days that was a standard pace, but today 2,000 words a day is more likely.  At the moment I'm in Chapter 3, “Poop of the Day,” wherein a restaurant serves excellent food in a sickening manner.  When the novel is done, I may query a number of electronic publishers to see if any can handle a piece this robust.  It's not Pornucopia, but it has its points, and there may be a marketing problem.  Call it my twisted idea of fun, pushing limits, causing publishers who think they have no taboos to reconsider even when it doesn't violate the standard ones.  There's always the prospect of self publishing, an option I have worked to make available for everyone.  I hope to complete the novel in another month, and we'll see.

 

I bid adieu to REALMS OF FANTASY in a prior column, the magazine that bounced my solicited story, then used my name falsely forever in its promotions.  But then it revived from death, and I received an issue, the first I had seen.  Why?  Because it seems SF CHRONICLE, to which I subscribed, folded, and my subscription is being filled out with ROF instead.  It's a big slick magazine, full color ads and illos, 84 pages from cover to cover.  I discover that MUNDANIA PRESS has a full page ad featuring my books, especially Under a Velvet Cloak.  So I suppose in that sense I am in it, now.

 

David Eddings died.  He was three years older than I, but came on the scene later, and I blurbed his first fantasy novel at DEL REY, Pawn of Prophecy.  He was another part of the phenomenon that Judy-Lynn del Rey generated, putting the genre of Fantasy on the bestseller map.  He went on to surpass me in success; my blurbs sometimes do that, as was the case with Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind.  Eddings was a great fantasy writer, well worth reading today.  And yes, the deaths of fantasy writers slightly older than I am does make me nervous.

 

I read Dog Gone It! The True Story of Elko, by Roger Brannon.  It is self published, with no title page or publication information.  We bought it via AMAZON for $14.95.  Why?  Because I know the author.  I met him a decade or so back.  He is blind, and Elko was his seeing-eye dog, a yellow lab who liked the ladies.  This narrative provides some insights what it is like to be blind, and how guide dogs work.  “On this visit Elko decided he wanted to introduce himself to my sister, and she yelled at him with 'GET YOUR NOSE OUT OF MY BUTT!'”  Not every sighted person is nice to the blind; one man had an obnoxious dog who wanted to attack Roger, so that Elko had to intervene to protect him, and when Roger protested the man threatened him.  God, if You are looking for a fitting subject to strike blind, I have a nomination for You.  The small volume concludes with a series of biblical quotes, and discussions how they relate to life with Elko and to humanity in general.  I recommend it to those who want to know more about the realities of using a seeing-eye dog, and to those who like dogs in general, even those who like girls too well.

 

I read Osceola's Cave, by Henri L'Audace, published by OUTSKIRTS PRESS.  This is a mainstream novel set in Citrus County, Florida.  In fact the author got the idea for it while working on my property.  There is reference to a land-owning science fiction writer interested in restoring his property to a balanced ecosystem.  I wonder who that could be?  One section of my property has the overgrown remnant of an old mine, a big old pit you could build several houses in.  In the novel it's a natural cave, covered over except for a small hole at the surface.  The implication is that Indian Chief Osceola used it.  However, the present owner (not the writer) is a brutal man who rapes and kills unwary women, and whose idea for the cave is not to bring in archaeologists but to keep it secret and use it to bring in groups of women for raping.  This is the first volume of a series, and I suspect the story will get really ugly in places.  Not my type of thing.

 

Dr. George Tiller was murdered by an anti-abortion fanatic.  Now I have a set piece on abortion: I don't like abortion, you don't like it, I don't know anyone who does.  Do doctors say “I'm giving up my lucrative practice as a plastic surgeon so I can enjoy doing abortions”?  Do teen girls say “I'm getting pregnant again so I can have another wonderful abortion”?  As I see it, there are very few truly innocent people in the world, but surely an unborn baby is as close as one can come.  If there is guilt, it is surely of the parents of that ill-gotten fetus.  Thus we have the guilty killing the innocent.  I wish there would never be another abortion in the world.  That means I wish there would never be another unwanted baby.  That's why I support universal, available, affordable, safe contraception.  What, do I hear a sudden silence from anti-abortion conservatives?  (I'm more like an antiabortion liberal.)  Surely they know that teens will be teens, as they themselves once were, and that accidents will happen, so the only way to be sure no unwanted pregnancies occur is contraception.  Do those who oppose contraception want more abortions?  Or are they outright hypocrites?  I'll leave that question hanging in case the shoe pinches.  I suspect there are folk who choose not to realize that sex is not just for procreation; it is also a significant social lubricant, giving men reason to associate with women even when they don't want more children.  Otherwise we would  be like many animals, the genders coming together only for procreative mating and ignoring each other otherwise.  Social sex is a fair part of what makes us human.  So what of Dr. Tiller?   Radicals called him Tiller the Baby Killer and did everything but openly solicit his murder.  Small wonder that one of their acolytes obeyed.  But here's the thing: Dr. Tiller had a general practice, and by all accounts of those who knew him personally was a nice and decent guy.  The abortions he performed were of catastrophically deformed fetuses that would hardly survive birth, or pregnant children too young to carry a baby to term, suicidal, retarded, or mentally ill victims of statutory rape, or women stricken with cancer or other deadly complications so that the pregnancy endangered their lives.  As I said, I don't like abortion, but if there is ever a case for it, this is it.  So-called conservatives differ?  Why don't they go after the statuary rapists?  Or those who murder in the name of pro-life?  I had my brush with abortion when my wife's second pregnancy seemed to be stalled, and they concluded that the fetus had died and was spoiling inside her; it had to be removed for her survival.  But when they got to the point, it turned out to have grown, so wasn't dead, and the operation was immediately canceled.  Unfortunately she later lost it anyway, stillborn, and I understand that too is called an abortion.  So I have to say from bitter experience there is a place.  And yes, though I abhor the abortion of a viable fetus, I do believe it should be the woman and her family who make that difficult decision, not a freak ranting radical of the religious right with nothing at stake except his desire to impose his supposed values on someone else.  I don't like the killing of animals for meat, either, but I leave that decision also to each individual person.  Tolerance isn't just for the things you personally like.  Otherwise I would have a license to kill those who needlessly slaughter innocent lambs for food, wouldn't I?

 

Interesting article in NEW SCIENTIST for July 4, 2009: is warfare in our genes?  This is coming into question.  Individual fights and violence have always existed in our species, but organized warfare?  The first evidence of that dates to about 14,000 years ago.  The suggestion is that when man started settling down instead of wandering, as with the start of agriculture, he could no longer walk away from trouble.  Otherwise others would simply drive him off and steal what he had grown for his family.  So it seems that warfare emerged because of a changing lifestyle.  Natural disasters like floods and droughts contributed because of their impact on resources.  Swelling populations and dwindling food supplies were factors.  Modern society is much less violent than long ago.  Also, democracies rarely if ever wage war against each other.  “Major obstacles to peace include the lack of tolerance inherent in religious fundamentalism, which not only triggers conflicts but often contributes to the suppression of women...”  Two keys to peace are population control and cheap, clean, reliable alternatives to fossil fuels.  When female education and economic opportunities rise, birth rates fall and population stabilizes, so there is less inclination for war.  I think of how the Taliban in Afghanistan are bombing schools for girls; they prefer to subjugate women.  So perhaps we know what to do to truly promote peace: promote liberalism.

 

Walter Kronkheit died, age 92.  In my secret mind I always thought of his name as “Walter Crankcase,” no disrespect intended.  He was a highly respected newsman, considered by many to be the most trusted man in America.  Early in his career he was fired from his job because he questioned their shabby journalistic practices.  I suspect he should have been kept and the boss who fired him fired.  He also riled a sponsor by correcting the grammar of an ad: “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.”  More power to him!  Later he replaced Edward R Murrow as TV anchor.  I remember the ads for “Listen to Murrow tomorrow.”  And I remember how when Kronkheit retired they replaced him with surly Dan Rather rather than with nice Roger Mudd.  Disgusted, I quit watching that network news and never returned.  So an age has passed and I am saddened.  Kronkheit was a good man.

 

John S Berry died, age 84.  No, I had not heard of him either.  He was the man who promoted the lubricant WD-40.  It turns out that the company struggled for some time to develop it, finally succeeding on the 40th try.  So it was named Water Displacement 40th attempt.

 

As regular readers of this column know—yes, some do exist—I am a fan of the Higgs Bosun, though I'm not sure it exists.  An article in PARADE for July 26, 2009 relates.  In the 1960s and 70s theorists developed the “standard model” of high-energy physics, that predicted what kinds of particles come together to form electrons, protons, and neutrons.  Twelve major ones have been discovered, six of which are charged particles called quarks, and six uncharged called leptons.  I wonder whether the lepton says to the quark “You give me a charge”?  Theoretically six particles carry force, called bosons, and they have found five.  The sixth is the Higgs.  If they don't find it, the standard model will require revision, which will be a complicated mess.  So they have to find it, but it is not eager to be found.  Higgs is supposed to carry mass to other particles, and without mass the universe as we know it would not exist.  Exactly why a thing can't have mass without that mass being hand-carried to it by an obliging boson I'm not sure; I always thought that mass was inherent.  In fact I regard it as a dimension, but that's probably another discussion.  At any rate, contemporary physicists believe they need the Higgs and don't want their belief to turn out to be illusion, so they are searching for it much as the Bush administration searched for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to validate their rationale.  With the problem with the big new Large Hadron Collider near Switzerland, the American Fermilab has a second chance, and they are working madly to try to find Higgs first.  They are getting close, but it's no easy search.  They have established the limits of its mass (who brings mass to the mass-carrier?), providing a smaller region to hunt in, but can they actually nab it before the Large Hadron Collider gets back into action and nails it?  Stay tuned; this race is still in progress.

 

Newspaper article, really a book review of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham, I find fascinating.  I wrote a five novel series of historical fiction, GEODYSSEY, covering the global history of our species for the past eight million or so years; who we are and how we came to be is one of my long-term interests.  The fifth novel, Climate of Change, will be published by TOR in due course; its theme is, as you might guess, the effect climate has had on us.  How we discovered fire and learned to use it is of course important, just as how we became omnivores, eating animals as well as vegetables.  But somehow I missed what is suddenly obvious: we used fire for cooking, and that transformed out diet, giving us a far wider range.  Things like potatoes and grains aren't very edible raw, and neither is most meat.  Cooking changed all that, allowing us to shrink our gut and put more energy into our growing brain, as this book says, and that made all the difference.  Many edible things are more edible when cooked, yielding more of their nutrients, providing more nourishment for less effort.  There is not physical evidence of man's controlled use of fire going back before 800,000 years ago, but probably we've been using it a million years before that, as signaled by that shrinking gut and swelling brain.  It's like the question of boats: could mankind sail 50,000 years ago?  There no evidence of boats, but man did colonize Australia then, and surely he didn't swim, fly or tunnel.  So we know there were boats—and similarly there must have been fire.  Cooking encouraged division of labor.  Men hunted the animals, women cooked them.  The suggestion is that marriage was not to ensure paternity, but primarily an economic contract.  It seems that those today who eschew cooked foods are all thin.  (Say, those of you who are desperate to lose weight, there's your diet: only raw things.  If it doesn't kill you, it will make you thin.)  That suggests the advantage cooking is.  So yes, cooking must have been a prime factor in making us human.  How come no one, including me, failed to catch on to this obvious fact long ago?

 

I have commented before on bullying at school, something I detest.  A recent newspaper article remarks on bullying at work.  It's not physical so much as mistreatment, as the less competent and less scrupulous target and harass their more decent, ethical, and competent co-workers, to drive them out.  Thirty seven percent of Americans have reported being bullied at work.  That has similar consequences, making victims literally sick.  The standard advice to those who encounter it is to look for another job.  But today in the recession, there may not be another job, so people are stuck.  It's rough.  I had not thought of it as such at the time, but this makes me realize that it was something similar that drove me out of a good job in industry and damaged my health, nigh five decades ago.  I realized that I was not being fairly treated, but I had no recourse except to leave.  When I went to writing full time I feared I would be tense because there would be no guaranteed paycheck; instead I felt relief that no longer could I be blamed and rebuked for things that were not my fault.  I suspect that many who are trapped in less than ideal jobs understand perfectly.  I love writing, but as it turned out, I also like being in charge of my own destiny.  It is far less stressful.

 

I saw a newspaper ad headlined GREAT SEX IS NO LONGER A MYSTERY, offering to send a bottle of their potency pills free, because they are so sure you will want more after you try it.  I was tempted.  I'm pushing 75, and though my interest in sex remains strong, my performance is diminishing, even with Viagra.  If a pill could restore my potential of, say, twenty years ago, I'd consider it.  But I was wary of the catch.  Well, a newspaper column, The People's Pharmacy, recently addressed that question, and a TV report identified the likely kicker.  These miracle pills generally cost a lot and don't work.  But when you order the free bottle, they may get your credit card information and charge you for two more bottles, sending a package of three: one free, two charged.  Then when it doesn't work, lotsa luck getting them to stop billing you, let alone refund your money.  It's a scam.

 

What was the origin of the dollar sign, $?  It turns out that's unknown.  They conjecture that it derives from the Spanish peso, or maybe pieces of eight.  Abbreviate pesos to PS, and the two can overlap and come to resemble $.  Makes cents to me.

 

What is the key to happiness?  As a long-time mild depressive—I have said that if others have depression, I have recession—I'm interested.  It may be the small pleasures, according to University of North Carolina research, rather than big ones.  People think that a million dollars would make them happy.  I've got more than that, but it doesn't effect my daily mood.  When I spy a new star flower on our star jasmine I am pleased; when I make a score in left handed archery I am thrilled; when I solve the daily chess and Jumble word puzzles I'm gratified; when it rains on our tree farm after a drought I'm relieved and encouraged; when I learned that a review I did in this column of a novel garnered the interest of a movie-maker, who contacted the author, I was surprised and delighted; when I have a good day writing I am turned on; when I hear a pretty song on the radio I pause to listen, savoring the brief joy of it; when I see a pretty girl, or a picture of a pretty girl, I feel a rush of good feeling; when we discovered an assortment of the vegetarian imitation meat Quorn in the local grocery store I was happy.  Actually, completing this column pleases me.  Now I realize that this is indeed the secret.  Little things that few others notice or care about.  Maybe I'm not recessive after all.

PIERS
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