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Piers the handyman 2007
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The folk who are setting up a number of my novels for Kindle publication have also set up a blog site for me, trying to drag me reluctantly into the contemporary scene, and I have been writing assorted blogs to fill it, when. Most of the material will be familiar to readers of this column, but this is trying for a different audience, and is more of a promotional effort. When self published newcomers can become bestsellers in months, what happens when an old-timer tries it? Well, we'll see. Those interested can check it at http://piersanthonyblog.blogspot.com/. Meanwhile the sales of ebooks are rising rapidly, and are now passing the sales of print books. In the process they are rendering old-line publishers largely obsolete. I, having wrestled with those publishers for decades, am not sorry to see it happening. Whether the new order will be better than the old order I can't be sure, but I think it has more promise, especially for writers who were largely shut out by the old system. It seems to be more democratic. The latest name in this respect is 26 year old Amanda Hocking, shut out until she self published on Kindle and within a year earned over a million dollars. She's not the only one. She says she just wanted to write books, have them read, and make enough money to live. Exactly; that's how it was with me when I started, and remains so. It took me eight years to make my first sale, and longer to be able to earn my living from writing. That's a long apprenticeship, and I was lucky to make it at all.

 

Two years ago we bought three pots of variegated jasmine plants, with pretty green and yellow leaves. They did well, until just after a freeze a deer ate one down to the ground. Ouch! We like deer, but those plants were not for eating. So I built a cage of chicken wire to protect that plant, and in due course it sprouted from the roots and, this time protected from molestation, prospered. Later in the summer I noticed that the other two were not doing as well, and realized that the gopher tortoises and rabbits were grazing on them. We like our tortoises and rabbits too, in fact they are characters in my children's novel Tortoise Reform, but again, we had to protect the plants. So I put up little wire fences, and that helped. The plants had spread out, and rooted in a widening arc, becoming new little plants. Now I have little wire cages around each, about 40 mini plants, and I hope they suffice. I value pet plants as I do animals, and try to protect them from the ravages of the forest environment without doing harm to that environment. After all, it was here first. So if you wonder what I do when I'm not writing my novels, this is one thing: I'm caring for plants, with imperfect success.

 

I read The Edge, self published  by Jacob Wenzel, whose  leMort d'Arthur: an Epic Limerick I reviewed here five years ago. That one told the story of King Arthur entirely in limericks, a remarkable exercise. The current one is a regular novel with only a few pages of verse; nonetheless it has its points. It is the story of two people's excursion to the edge of the universe, or rather the Macroverse, which encompasses all possible universes, so is a fair piece larger. There are many time-lines and many types of universe, some of which overlap. So a person in one may travel to another and meet himself, or several other himselfs, without the nuisance of paradox. Those from a later time-line may offer advice to those from an earlier time-line, saving them some mischief, such as getting killed by a lurking monster. (I think that in America the monsters would pay off the politicians to get news of their lurkings suppressed, so they could feed in comfort.)  Sally is a cave woman with a pet tiger called Fluffy, who speaks too candidly about her culture's primitive supernatural beliefs and gets banished. However, if she travels to the edge of the world and learns the error of her ways, maybe they'll let her back. She encounters an odd thing that tells her it's a Winnebago. The speaker is competent computer called Bob who guides the craft through the myriad time-lines for the owner, William. She joins them, and they head for the edge of the Macroverse, getting to know each other along the way and doing a number of good deeds for others in trouble. Sally is actually a very smart and pretty girl, and soon is a worthwhile companion and lover for William. This provides a notion of the unusual nature of this story; you never know what will happen, partly because anything can happen if you just get into the right universe. It's fun, and I enjoyed it.

 

There have been many explanations for why women tend to outlive men, at least in the more advanced cultures where things other than brute strength count. Women smoked less then men, and the number of years men lost to tobacco neatly matched the differential in lifespans. But now I think as many women smoke as men, and the habit is slowly declining, yet women still outlive men. Other explanations are similarly fading. I have a bright notion: exercise. The more they learn about it, the stronger the case becomes for bodily activity promoting healthier, longer lives. Folk don't have to be bodybuilders or marathon runners; they just need to be doing things. Consider retirement: the men typically settle back into their reclining chairs and watch football on TV as they tank up on beer, while the women continue to make meals, do laundry, shop, garden, and visit with neighbors and family. They are more active. Maybe that's the secret. I am a man who has a rigorous exercise schedule and who makes meals, washes dishes, shops, etc., as well as consciously keeping my weight at the level it was in college. I should live a long time, if my theory is correct. If I don't, you won't be able to come to my grave to say you told me so, because I won't have a grave. So there.

 

I seldom comment on news events here, this being a more personal column. But Japan’s tragedy warrants at least a passing mention. They suffered a 9.0 earthquake near the coast, from a subduction zone, one of the strongest in recorded history, and it made a horrendous tsunami wave that blasted the coast up to five miles inland. Now the damage to their nuclear plants is further complicating it. I have a correspondent in Japan; she lives near Tokyo. I was relieved to learn that she wasn't washed out. I am tempted to comment on the folly of living on a coastline subject to such dangerous events, but when push comes to shove, few areas of the world are truly safe. I could comment on the danger of nuclear power, but again, compared to what coal and oil are doing to our environment, including global warming, nuclear is relatively safe. I favor solar and geothermal power, and believe that if they had put the money and effort into these that they put into nuclear and coal/oil subsidies, we'd have a better world today. But I don't run the world.

 

Which perhaps leads into an email promo I received from DL Tolleson, for his book How To Save America. This tells of a country that was pretty much in the dumps but then managed to change everything and improve its lot considerably. In the mid 1980s its per capita income had sunk to 27th in the world, unemployment was 11.6 percent, it had suffered 23 years of deficits, and had a debt of 65 percent of its Gross Domestic Product. It had wage and price controls, import controls on goods (we call that protectionism, and it's not healthy), and massive subsidies to its local industries just to keep them afloat. (That's one reason protectionism isn't healthy: other countries retaliate, and inefficient local outfits are not winnowed out by a free market.) 30 percent of its school children were failing, and there was a mass exodus of the ambitious and talented young. In 1984 a reform government took power and concluded that there were three problems: too much spending, taxing, and government. So it essentially privatized government functions, cut its expenses by about half, and used the surplus to pay down the debt while also cutting taxes in half. They eliminated all Boards of Education and turned the school over to parents and teachers. Students performance improved significantly. They did something similar with social services, and drastically simplified environmental laws. And the nation prospered. The country is New Zealand.

Okay, assuming that this presentation is fair—I would need to study the country to verify that—would a similar reform program work in America? On the surface it reads like a libertarian dream, the essence being to eliminate most government and let everyone prosper. Another term for it could be anarchy, and that can be ugly mischief. With no government restraints, it can become a kind of wild-west arena, with the unscrupulous strong folk running roughshod over the weak or decent folk. My mental image is of the bully in the schoolyard: get rid of the teacher, and he rules the roost. He knows no law except power: his own. We hardly need to guess where that leads; we had eight years of “conservative” political power in America that in the name of smaller government and lower taxes ran the country into the ground. It has become pretty much a plutocracy, government by and for the wealthy, while the rest suffer. Today the richest 5 percent have close to two thirds of the nation's wealth, while the bottom 80 percent have under 13 percent. The largest corporation, General Electric (GE), had profits of over $14 billion, about a third of it made in the US, but paid no US taxes last year. So what about New Zealand type reforms? Obviously cutting taxes is meaningless for GE, and in any event the special interests would never allow genuine reforms to occur in America. They will not give up their power short of an effort like the French Revolution, where the heads of the royalty rolled, literally. And if we actually had that, we might end up with Napoleon. As Robert Taylor Coleridge put it in France: an Ode: “The Sensual and the Dark rebel in vain,/ Slaves by their own compulsion! In mad game/ They burst their manacles and wear the name/ Of Freedom, graven on a heavier chain!” So I am a skeptic. Bad as things are now, they could be worse, and worse will surely come in the name of reform. But for those interested, the site is www.dltolleson.com/commentary/howtosaveamerica.php.

 

Perhaps related is an item THE WEEK ran from THE WASHINGTON POST on how to cut spending yet increase the deficit. Republicans are trying to make dramatic cuts in federal spending for enforcement efforts by the IRS, food inspectors, and fraud investigators for Medicaid and Medicare. The thing about this is that each dollar the IRS spends going after tax cheats brings in $10, while cutting food inspection will lead to more outbreaks of food-borne illness, running up our health care costs. Similar story on medical fraud, which is already rampant. So it is evident that the Republicans are not really interested in saving money, but in promoting expensive anarchy as the rich get illicitly richer. I remember the report from the bad old days decades back, when it was revealed that the big grain storage warehouses had a problem with rats, so put out rat poison. But the janitors didn't want to be bothered, so when they found a dead rat they simply tossed it and the rest of the poison into the hopper for a big flour grinder. With no inspectors, and a safely ignorant consumer base, who cared?

 

Remember Chernobyl? A quarter century ago Reactor 4 blew up and a region of about 1,600 square miles was dangerously polluted by radiation. It remains unsafe, so is largely deserted. This has made for a renaissance among animals there. Gray wolves, brown bears, elk, roe deer, and wild boars are there in greater numbers than have been seen for more than a century. In the canals are catfish up to ten feet long. They may not be completely healthy inside, but outside it seems like the Garden of Eden. All it took was to get rid of the humans. There is surely a lesson here, had I but the human wit to fathom it.

 

Exactly what is the difference, genetically, between apes and human beings? How come we got so smart and they didn't? Scientists have been struggling to find out. Now they are getting a clue, according to an article in NEW SCIENTIST. It's not so much what's there, but what isn't there. For example, some apes have penile spines, so that the first male who gets the female leaves her in no condition to entertain other males. The human line lost the genes for that, and as a result were able to make sex halfway comfortable for women, and even have repeat sessions without hurting them. Another is the genes that limit the expansion of the size of the brain. With those gone the brain went hog wild, just about busting out of its cranium, and incidentally providing greater intelligence.

 

This may not be in the same league as penile spines, but you know a man's penis does have to harden somewhat to facilitate sex. Old as I am, I still like sex, but age has diminished my capacity to, um, stand up for it. My doctor prescribed Viagra several years ago, and that works. I cut each tablet into eighths and those fragments work well enough. But the price has been rising, and a single pill now costs about $20. That bothers me; they have a captive market so are jacking up the price. I hate to be screwed like that. So I have been looking for an alternative. One promising prospect is L-Arginine, an amino acid. Theoretically it promotes sexual function. Just take several grams 45 minutes before sex. Well, I tried it, and bombed out, frustratingly. Call it a soft, rather than hard, lesson. Maybe it helps others, but it doesn't help me rise to the occasion. So I am caught in this dilemma: whether to pay exorbitantly for Viagra, or give up penetrative sex as a matter of principle. That really gripes me, but it looks as if I'll have to go the latter route. Unless I happen to find something else that works, at a reasonable price. I also learn via a newspaper item that daily use of aspirin is associated with a 22 percent increase in erectile dysfunction. I take a baby aspirin a day, doctor's orders, and do suffer ED. Well, easy enough to stop and see if that helps, though I am doubtful. I need more than a 22 percent stiffening of resolve.

 

I use OpenOffice for my word processor, and like it well enough. This month I learned of another open source suite, LibreOffice, whose Writer word processor looks very similar to what I have. It says its roots go back 20 years. Odd that I never heard of it until now. Since I am satisfied with what I have, I won't be changing, but it's good to know that an alternative is out there.

 

NEW SCIENTIST article says that stories are part of what makes us human. To which I respond Duh! It says that stories act a social glue binding people together. They encourage empathy, which is a significant human aspect. They transmit information for social and literal survival. And I believe that stories are a prime mechanism for teaching language itself. Just as reading increases vocabulary, so does the use of verbal language, and this would have been the main way for prehistoric children. I feel that writing fiction, which is printed storytelling, connects to the very essence of being human. So when I write, and you read, I am not just entertaining you, I am encouraging and facilitating your humanity. No need to thank me; I do it for a living.

 

Lovely quote from Vladimir Nabokov run in THE WEEK: “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” I have this mental picture of two masses of blackness, like dusky oceans, and where they meet is the thin sliver of light that is the life of each of us, doomed to glow only briefly before being extinguished. It's tragic yet wonderful that it exists at all.

 

There's another discovery of mankind living in Texas between 13,000 and 15,500 years ago. That's before most experts figured, because of the ice blockage, but of course I know and wrote in GEODYSSEY how they used boats to get around the ice, duh. So why wasn't there evidence in the genetic traces? Because the later invaders wiped out the earlier ones. Now you know.

 

Do you suspect politics is crooked? Be reassured, because now in Florida they are arranging for special interest payoffs to be done openly and legally. They have what they call leadership funds that special interests can openly pay into to get the legislation they want. Florida typically leads the way when it comes to corruption. You thought Florida politicians represented their constituents? Of course they do! Their constituents are the special interests, not the voting public. Again, duh.

 

I read Shot of Tequila by J A Konrath. The service that is setting up my novels for electronic publication sent this novel as an example of a POD book printed by Amazon. I am long familiar with Amazon's publication process, because of my ongoing survey of electronic and self publishers, and my association with Xlibris; their books are of the same physical quality as those of traditional print publishers. So I read it, essentially random reading. You never can tell what you'll find in random samplings. The author specializes in liquor type titles, with a female police detective name Jack Daniels, with titles like Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary, Dirty Martini, Cherry Bomb, Shaken, and Stirred. This one features a mob enforcer named Tequila. He's a little guy, and halfway nice if you like that type, but as tough as they come. Then someone frames him for stealing a million dollars from his mob boss employer and things get interesting. By the time it settles out, the bodies are piled high. It's fast, violent reading, not deep but not dull, and Tequila is well characterized; he's a killer but you have to like him. Not my normal reading, but I did enjoy it, and recommend it to fans of the violence genre. The author's web site is JAKonrath.com.

 

I received an email notice for the late Robert Rimmer's birthday. He authored the remarkable The Harrad Experiment about a thoroughly co-ed education before it became fashionable, and one of my favorites The Rebellion of Yale Marratt, about a man with two wives. I corresponded with the author prior to his death, and we exchanged books, mutually impressed. He should not be forgotten.

 

Speaking of authors, I used to be in touch with historical fiction author Kristina O'Donnelly, who lived in Inverness but was much into the history and culture of Turkey. I expected to see her at the Festival of Books in Jamboree but didn't. I checked her web site, and it could not be found. The latest Google has of her is a 2008 interview. That makes me nervous. Is she still with us? If anyone knows, please let me know.

 

Newspaper item says that if you raced a Neandertal man, you would win; our ankles and feet are better built for speed. That's reassuring, because if you didn't outrun him, you'd probably be dead.

 

Spring is normally the dry season here in Florida. Sometimes we get no rain at all in Apull. We weren't getting much in Marsh. Then came the last four days. We got six and a half inches here on the tree farm, and other parts of Florida got more. That's great preparation for the dry season.

 

Music constantly runs through my head, sometimes dating back fifty or sixty years, sometimes songs I have not thought of in the interim. The past few days one such song surprises me. It wasn't a great song; what surprises me is how it was ever recorded and promoted. It was “She's Too Fat For Me,” popular in the 1950s. I remember hearing it on the Arthur Godfrey show. Some of the words are “I don't want her, you can have her, she's too fat for me. She's too fat, much too fat, she's too fat for me. I get dizzy, I get numbo, when I'm dancing with my jum-jum-jumbo.” Today you can't mention a woman's weight at all without risking a dressing down for insensitivity. Times certainly change.

 

I have mentioned my horror novel The Sopaths here before. It was too horrible for me to write for decades, and then too horrible to sell. But maybe, if there happened to be a publisher that liked the really edgy stuff, and was braced for the inevitable reaction of outrage, maybe then it could be published. Well, I found that publisher: Eraserhead Press. They are launching a new science fiction and fantasy imprint, FANTASTIC PLANET PRESS and like work that is weird and dark. Well, now; I just happen to have something that is really weird and dark. They queried me, I described The Sopaths, one thing led to another and they will publish it. So readers with strong stomachs and retarded scruples will be able to read it. But I don't recommend it to my Xanth readers, and it should not be sold to children at all.

PIERS
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