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Piers the handyman 2007
Dismember 2011
HI-

My mind wanders everywhere, and sometimes I think of things that have been buried a long time. Like this one from 60 years ago that I don't think I have mentioned in this column before, though these days with my senior-moment memory I can never be certain. I was playing tennis at high school, strictly grunt level with the other peons, dead balls and dirt court, when one of the teachers got in his car nearby and turned the ignition key. There was a long whistling sound as of a missile flying in, then a loud Boom! and dense black smoke poured out from under the hood. The car was okay; it was a practical joke. I suspect the teacher was not completely amused, but it makes me laugh in distant retrospect.

 

I read 7 books in NoRemember, catching up to a degree; you'll have to skip over several pages here to avoid the reviews. I also counted up and found that I had nine new books published in 2011: two collaborative (with J R Rain) Aladdins, two Trail Mixes, the generally erotic story collection Relationships 4, the erotic romance Eroma, the children's Pandora Park, the horror The Sopaths, and Xanth #35 Well-Tempered Clavicle. Electronic publishing, notably Kindle, allowed me to gain on the backlog. Completists take note. No they're not stinkers; anyone but a critic should be able to read and enjoy any of them, though conservatives should stay clear of the erotic ones and the shocking The Sopaths. More is in the pipeline, and we are working to get my older tiles electronic too. Meanwhile my wife reviewed my bibliography, and discovered that through 2011 I have had 154 books published. That includes collaborations, electronic, and self-published titles, but not omnibus volumes or anything shorter than novel length. That's more than I thought; I hope there aren't duplications. Some beady-eyed fan may catch me there. No, I'm not the most prolific author in the SF/Fantasy genre. Yet.

 

We saw a theater movie. As you know, Wife and Daughter set our movie agenda, which explains why I don't report much on hot sexy adventures, but we do see some interesting ones. This time it was Puss In Boots, a seeming spinoff from the Shrek without giving the ogre any credit (for shame!). Puss has somewhat scattered adventures and does a lot of lovely dancing as he interacts with a talented lady cat and Humpty Dumpty Egg. It was fun, but didn't keep me completely awake. Yes, I tend to fall asleep when reading or viewing; its not boredom, just senescence.

 

I read What Fears Become, the 375 page horror anthology edited by Jeani Rector on a shoestring budget. Horror is not my genre, and doesn't turn me on, but Jeani told me that she will also publish science fiction, so I wrote “Lost Things” for her, a science fiction story about a blind boy, a quietly intelligent dog, and an invisible tiger. It's the only straight SF story in the volume. Reading the other entries reminded me how decades ago I write a short story, “Spellroid,” for Lester del Rey at an SF magazine, but he rejected it because the young woman did not deserve her fate. The man had gotten these glasses that showed others as they really were, and when he looked at his girlfriend she was a monster and he struck her and killed her in horrified reaction, only to discover that the glasses had lied, pretending she was a monster. That story would have been right at home here, as there are horribly killed innocent victims galore. I was simply in the wrong genre. These stories are well written but almost universally downbeat with horror occurring or threatening; some are graphically ugly. There are generally downbeat poems too, and pictures. The only picture I really liked was, you guessed it, of a nude young woman. So I'm a loss to this genre; I don't properly understand it or like it. My story was unpaid, as I think all of them are; the quality is remarkable considering that. So why did I participate? Because I approve of new markets and exposure for new writing, and THE HORROR ZINE from which this anthology derives is that. I try to encourage them what ways I can. So I contributed a story, and I paid for author's copies for all the contributors, as the editor couldn't afford it and I believe the authors should have them. Horror fans should find this good reading, as the same horrors that turn me off will turn them on. www.imajinbooks.com www.thehorrorzine.com

 

I read The Go-Cart Trick by Jared Brame. This is a fanfiction novella for children, and a good one. It was written as a sequel to a series by Scott Corbett; when the stories ran out, Brame needed something for his children, so he wrote it himself. Kerby is a typical school boy with friends and enemies and generally insensitive adults endlessly complicating his existence. They decide to enter a go-cart race, which turns out to be an exciting challenge on multiple levels, as cheaters cheat, competitors cooperate, magic is involved, and the winner is a surprise. This is a great story, the kind that both children and adults should enjoy. Brame did it for his family, but it should appeal to a wider audience. He is not publishing it, but will send a free electronic copy to whoso requests it. I'll bet you will agree with me; let him know. Find him at jbrame5@yahoo.com.

 

When I completed Xanth #37 Esrever Doom I took a break to catch up on accumulating chores and reading. There are always more of both than I can comfortably keep up with, because any spare time I get inspires me to write another story or novel. One chore was labeling and shelving the new books received in the past three years. There were about 75 of them, piled on the study floor. I go through each and figure out its Library of Congress number, which can be complicated because the LoC changed its system since I started the process 20 years ago, and many publishers ignore it anyway. But in the course of over ten hours I got them labeled, and I discovered some I really want to read. I mean why buy a book if I don't want to read it? That's the pitfall of the process. Once I had them labeled, I had to put them on the shelves, and that was another challenge. My library of 3,000 plus books is jam-packed; I had to make space. The worst jam, of course, was in the fantasy section, PS220. I decided to clear off the space above the shelves, in effect making a new shelf, and redistribute the existing books to make way for new ones in their proper places. I got a stepladder and started clearing, winding up with a wheelbarrow of junk to take to the barn. So I had to get out the pump and inflate the tire, and take the clippers and clip the vines off so I could open the overgrown gate to the barnyard, then barge through the thicket to the barn, where I looked for places to store yet more junk. Then I started moving books. Then I placed the new ones. In four and a half hours I got the job done.

 

So what about the books I discovered during this exercise? One such was a fantasy volume A Kingdom Far and Clear by Mark Helprin, which I paid $40 for a year ago. I have more fantasy books to read that I get free than I can keep up with; whatever possessed me to pay that much for one? Well, it intrigued me. It's a beautiful volume with 42 full page color illustrations, published by Dover, comprising the Swan Lake Trilogy, with only one typo in the whole thing. I had never heard of the author or the trilogy, though the cover material says Mark Helprin is one of the world's most celebrated living writers. That may be, but exactly how good any writer is is something I have to determine for myself; not every celebrated name actually is competent, just as not every unknown is incompetent. Well, my verdict is mixed: the whole first story is told as dialogue narration, almost every paragraph in quotes, which is a tedious mechanism; the celebrated author hadn't learned better than that? It is a very standard fantasy tale set in medieval west Asia with hardly any magic but a lot of coincidence, of a usurper stealing the kingdom from the rightful heir, and the quest to get it back. The rightful kings and queens are handsome, beautiful, smart, decent and altogether wonderful, while the bad guys are marvels of mental and physical ugliness. It is almost unremittingly downbeat, as the bad guys mercilessly kill the good guys, except by accident a baby, the royal heir, survives and is spirited away to be raised in secret by loyal retainers. When she is grown, a prince discovers her, and they have a baby, just before the bad guys catch up and drive them over a cliff, but their baby girl is spirited away to be raised by another loyal retainer. This girl child returns at the age of ten to reclaim her kingdom, coincidentally comes upon the very men who can and will help her, and immediately the loyal citizens rise up in her support. In a series of bloody battles they throw out the usurper as she grows up, marries, and has a baby son—when the usurper's forces strike again, over a million strong (how did he get that many soldiers in exile?), and kill her along with the decent supporters the reader has come to care about. But her son miraculously escapes, and at the end the indication is that he was rescued by the Golden Horde and will march to reclaim his rightful kingdom from the Usurper with more horrendous bloodshed and destruction. I think we already know how that cycle goes.

And yet, and yet. This thing is beautifully written and developed, with some truly wondrous descriptions and imaginative details. For example the central palace is the size of a city, with 17,500 rooms, some big enough to hold thousands, indoor hunting preserves, and a whole suite of rooms just to hold the keys to all the doors. When the ten year old princess has to cross the bakery, riding on a suspended bench, it takes four and a half hours just to get to the other side. There is incidental humor. The illustrations are relevant and lovely. Page by page it is a pleasure to read. The message here is that no matter how standard the outline, nice writing can make it worthwhile. So yes, I recommend this book as one worth getting and reading, though it is on the whole unhappy. Not for children, however; this is a fairy tale that would frighten them in places.

 

Another was The Tain, a new translation of the Iris epic. That's pronounced Toyn, and I gather it is a place in Ireland where much of the adventure takes place. I bought it early in 2011 because I was curious about Irish legend, and because it was on sale for $6 instead of $25. My impression is mixed. There's a feisty story there, but it is almost buried in page-long lists of places, people, and battles that really don't advance the plot. It is not possible to track the amount of largely pointless slaughter that occurs in it. It's hard to pronounce the names; I had to look them up in the pronunciation directory. And it is riddled with footnotes, some of which are paragraphs long. So it's not easy reading. But there are intriguing elements in it. The story starts when the royal couple Ailill (pronounced Alill) and Medb (Mayv) engage in pillow talk, trying to determine who is wealthier. They discover that they are evenly matched, with one exception: he has a prize bull, she doesn't. So she sets out to borrow a bull, offering its owner in Ulster worldly riches “as well as the friendship of my own thighs.” In sum, wealth and sex. The owner is about to accept when his butler reminds him that what he would not give the queen willingly, she would take by force. That annoys him, and he says in effect “Oh yeah?” and refuses to send the bull. So Ailill and Medb muster a great army and march to take the bull by force. The rest of the story concerns this military campaign. It seems that nothing can stop the invasion, until a remarkable hero appears, Cu Chulainn, who single-handedly destroys whole troops of warriors. He constantly harasses the army so that they can't make much progress, and great is the bloodshed thereof. One warrior, mortally injured, is checked by a doctor, who says “You won't last long.” “Then neither will you,” the warrior says, and strikes him so hard with his fist that his brains spurt out from his ears. In the end there is a truce, the two bulls get together, fight, and kill each other. Medb needs to relieve herself, having evidently forgotten to do it at home, and the process leaves three great trenches, each big enough for a cavalcade, so the place is now known as Fual Medba, or Medb's Piss Pot. And it is some time before war returns to Ireland.

 

Another was Still Doing It, by Deidre Fishel and Diana Holtzberg, also bought for five bucks instead of $25. This is about the sex lives of women over 60; some of them are over 80. Actually it's about not giving up as you grow older. Some women take stock, realize that they don't have a lot longer to live, and decide to damn well enjoy the time they have left. Some are pretty sour about the attitudes of conservative people and institutions that seek to deny them that pleasure. “These people are not having any fucking fun and pleasure in their lives, and they're going to see that you don't either...They really want to wage war on sex. That's the whole religious approach. You know, make something prohibited and people are going to do it anyway, and now you've got them by the short hairs. Guilt. Manipulate them with guilt and fear.” I see that as an excellent summary of the religious agenda, trying to control the private lives of others. This book suggests that the literal witch hunting of historical Salem was to suppress sex. “Older women were still being hanged as witches largely because of their overt sexuality or positions of power.” At any rate, the book traces a number of women who do like sex and refuse to give it up just because they are senior citizens. There is a dearth of men their age, so they have to get imaginative. They may share men, or date younger men, try lesbianism, masturbation, whatever, so as to remain sexually fulfilled. Actually its about more than sex, which is not detailed other than the fact that they're having it; it's about personal fulfillment at an age when they are expected to shrivel up and fade away. Many here are professional woman, sports competitors, going for higher education, new experiences, whatever, staying active. It's a celebration of expressive life that I, a man with a similar attitude, definitely relate to; anyone should profit by their examples. They do have problems, such as handling cancer or broken bones or the loss of their families, friends, and romances simply by outliving them. They suck it up and go on, determined to live well until the end. But it should be noted that these women are different in two ways: they are physically fit to the degree possible, thus reasonably attractive, and they are looking for sex. Most older women, in my observation, are neither. More power to these exceptions. If I were alone—and chances are that if I live long enough I some day will be—I'd love to have such a woman in my life.

 

I read the electronic version of The Scarecrows of Stagwater, by Brent Michael Kelley, also titled Chuggie and the Desecration of Stagwater, in a Kindle edition. You might think with such titles that this is a children's book. Oh, no, never! This is a literally gut-wrenching horror story, in the sense of guts being wrenched out of living bodies and eaten by little monsters. I'm really not a fan of horror, as mentioned above, but this one held my morbidly fascinated attention to the end. Originality sparkles throughout, and few things are quite what they seem. Chuggie is so named because he is always thirsty and likes to chug liquid. In fact he represents Drought. Usually he keeps his thirst under control, but sometimes he loses it and soaks up a whole lake plus all the fluid in the bodies of anyone near it. He doesn't say that folk wouldn't like him when he's angry, but it is emphatically true. Usually he's an amiable traveler just trying to get along, but he encounters odd friendly and unfriendly folk. He defends himself from attack with a remarkably effective anchor on a chain. The rulers of Stagwater intercept him before he gets there and tell him not to try to enter it; he can bypass it to the north. As it turns out, we later discover, the townsmen practice torture on a professional scale, mainly of innocent children, and are served by Steel Jacks, robotlike aliens. Chuggie doesn't quite trust this advice, so bypasses the town to the south, where he encounters an old witch who likes him and becomes younger the longer he is with her, until she's a truly fetching and seductive young woman. She says she was imprisoned here in the wilderness by an enchantment the nasty townsmen put on her; to escape she needs the goat-faced purse. Meanwhile she fashions animated scarecrows out of whatever is at hand, who act as servants and protection. Chuggie really likes her and wants to take her with him when he moves on, so he goes north of the town to find the purse. That's when he discovers what the malign townsmen tried to route him through. There's a desecrated graveyard there with phenomenally ugly monsters. One horror is piled on another without remission, and this continues when he returns to town. So though the reading made me want to take a thorough shower to wash off the gook, I call it an excellent novel of its kind, and believe horror fans should like it very well. It reads like a segment of a longer narrative, and I can't help wondering what other horrors Chuggie will encounter as he wends his way on.

 

I read Tagalong by Brian Clopper, author of Graham the Gargoyle and Paul the Pillow Monster, reviewed here before. This is a children's fantasy for ages 9+ published by Behemoth Books, and is a harder-hitting narrative. Dylan, the class geek, is harassed by bully Mitch, who actually follows him into his house. A portal opens in Dylan's bedroom and sucks both of them into the fantasy world of Myriad, where the gremlin Grimble tells them he is their tagalong, or guide to the adventure. What's odd is that it seems that Mitch, rather than Dylan, is the fantasy protagonist. It also seems that their adventure is scripted, and Grimble is there to see that the script is followed. It is cynical Mitch who catches on to this. There is also a bad power that means to use them for its own ill purpose, so the faked up challenges start becoming real ones. Thus they have to deal with their personal dislike for each other while navigating the horrors of the evil power. Not your ordinary children's tale . All in all, adventure that will surely hold the attention of its target audience.

 

We were at BigLots looking for something else, and I paused to check their cheap videos, one batch of which was on sale for $1.88 plus about .11 tax: call it two bucks per. For that price I'm willing to gamble on junk. One of them was Watchmen, a generous two and a half hour movie. That makes it under a dollar an hour. So I watched it. I think I saw a big comic book a few years back by that title; that may be where the characters are drawn from. It's not the wild action no-content thing I expected; it takes time to explore the human side of its several superheroes as they struggle with the unknown enemy who is killing them. There are interesting effects, of course, and even a sex sequence. A great movie it is not, in my judgment, but I did find it interesting and worth the price. At least it allowed me to test my new little RCA DVD player I got on sale because my old system stopped working. The nine inch screen is fine when I have it perched on my desk, though the sound is a bit tinny.

 

Then I watched a set of movies I got from a sale catalog at about $7.50 per, in a private experiment: one was one I have been wanting to see for years, ever since Wife & Daughter declined when it was in the theaters. As I have mentioned, they control my theater agenda, but then I buy ones that interest me and watch them as DVDs on my own. Are my choices better than theirs? No, because my tastes are more eclectic, with quality only one consideration among several. But in this case I wanted to see whether one I chose because I really wanted to see it was actually better than one I chose more or less at random. So these two were Pan's Labyrinth, a highly rated film, and Limits of Control, an unremarkable thriller. Both, coincidentally, are set in Spain, a country I lived in for a year before coming to America, though I was only five at the time. Both are about two hours long, and have Spanish spoken, with English subtitles, though that's a sometime thing in Limits. Both relate to guerrilla-type opposition to a noxious power. That's about it, for similarities. Pan is a fantasy where a girl encounters a fairy and a faun who tell her she's the reincarnation of a long-ago princess who will join her father after she performs three tasks. They are intriguing, but the film becomes darker as it progresses, until finally the girl is killed. It says she will reign as a queen for centuries in her father's realm, but that is not the realm of life. Not the kind of conclusion I like. Limits is curious, with a man sent to Spain to do something, guided by a series of contacts he meets via signals: two cups of espresso, exchanged matchboxes, largely irrelevant dialogue with bits of incidental philosophy. One young woman is lusciously nude and clearly available, but he doesn't take her up on it because he is focused on his job. Farther along there are hints that there is serious opposition, such as one of his female contacts being hustled unwillingly into a car, and the nude woman turning up dead in his bed. It is obviously deadly dangerous business he is so quietly involved in. In the end he makes his way to a heavily guarded compound, somehow gets inside, throttles the occupant with a guitar string, and departs. Justice, it seems, has been served. So it seems he was an assassin. A thriller? Depends or your definition. The scenes were intriguing, such as the nude in a transparent raincoat, but I can't say I properly understand the movie. So in the end I was not thrilled with the conclusion of either movie, however much I enjoyed scenes along the way. The one I wanted to see, and the one I was unsure about both left me somewhat unsatisfied, though I will surely remember aspects, especially that nude. So how did my experiment turn out? It think it demonstrated that my considered choices are just about as good as purely random selections. What else is new?

 

I have the usual pile of clippings to sort through. As regular devotees of this column know, I comment on many things, but the focus is really me: how do I personally feel about it? In short, its a blog. This time a passing reference to another genre writer: Anne McCaffrey died, age 85. I knew her personally, long ago when neither of us had yet scored big. She was a friendly, hearty woman who later had considerable success with the dragons of Pern. But she forever alienated me when she wrote a letter to my friend writer Perry Chapdelaine, which he showed me, telling him that she would lie under oath to protect the writer's organization SFWA if he publicized the truth about it. I was one who had suffered grievously because of the machinations of its officers, so I think would have been part of that truth. That spoke volumes about her and the organization, decades ago, and thereafter I wanted nothing to do with either. So I'm sure there will be peons of praise for her, and that things like this will never be mentioned elsewhere. They never are. We exist in a malign fantasy where wrongdoers prosper and whistle-blowers are punished while the average person is ethically indifferent. Just like the larger world. It is one of the reasons I have a chronic chip on my shoulder about publishing. Had I had the resources then that I do now, there would have been a devastating lawsuit.

 

The world has passed seven billion people, and is paying a price for this overload. Global warming is only part of it. The sheer depletion of resources means our descendants will have to scratch in order to survive, and there will be wars for food and water. We should stop it, and could, but won't; whole religions and political parties oppose any effort to fix the problem. The future is all too apt to be surpassingly ugly. My horror novel The Sopaths is based on the assumption that overpopulation makes the world run out of souls to recycle, leading to totally unscrupulous children. That's fantasy, but the reality will be as bad.

 

One huge problem is energy. Fossil fuels are poisoning the environment, and nuclear power has problems; the nuclear plant near where I live is out of commission because the company made a boneheaded repair decision and it may never function again. But geothermal, wind, wave, and solar powers are gaining, and soon solar power may become cheaper than fossil. Too bad the Republican party is wedded to fossils, while the rest of the world passes America by.

 

One nagging question for cosmologists is why is matter mostly terrene instead of contra-terrene? Matter instead of anti-matter? Now there may be an answer: the universe was born spinning, and that spin lends a bias. They hope to have confirmation in another decade or so. Similarly, why is time one-way? It moves forward, not backward, but it seems that theoretically it should move either way. Could that spin account for that too?

 

Nice notion in Classic Peanuts for NoRemember 13: a little girl had an awful headache that no one could help until her little brother said maybe her ears were too tight. So he loosened each ear one turn back, and her headache vanished. Makes sense to me.

 

Couple catalogs have a Skatecycle, which consists of two hub-less wheels connected by a bendable rod that folk can skateboard with. I'm too old for that sort of thing, but it does look like fun. There are also Optimal Resonance Audiophile's Speakers, which look like three- or four-eyed rampant snails. What won't they think of next?

 

Robert Stewart explained to me that the neutrinos traveling faster than light problem is not feasible. For one thing, supernovas emit both light and neutrinos, so if they traveled at different speeds, we'd received the neutrinos first, but we don't; they arrive at the same time. Light in a vacuum travels at a fixed rate regardless of the motion of the observer, as do all electronic emissions; it's not like a footrace. So you really can't have anything revving up to a faster speed than that. I may still have it garbled, but I think that's the essence. As usual, my readers know more than I do.

 

Notice from The Authors Guild: Amazon approached the six largest trade book publishers, soliciting their participation in the Kindle Online Lending Library, so that Amazon Prime members who pay $79 a year could download a limited number of books free. Its part of their promotion of the new Kindle Fire. The publishers replied Fuck That Noise, in politer language. So Amazon enrolled many of their titles anyway. Huh? Well, Amazon twisted its interpretation of its contracts with those publishers, sort of like fudging the definition of “is.” There appears to be another doozie of a battle coming up. I applaud the Kindle and am glad to have my titles there, because it offers all writers and readers an affordable alternative to the pitiless province of Parnassus, but there are ways in which Amazon is the bully in the schoolyard, and I think it needs to be curbed. There do need to be fair and reasonable standards.

 

Item in THE WEEK describes how in Ghana they have personalized coffins that are in the shape of cars, airplanes, fish, bananas, cell phones, bottles of pop, chickens, whatever, your choice. When I croak I plan to be cremated or melted, and won't be buried, so have no personal use for say, a casket in the shape of a paperback fantasy novel, or a bottle of boot rear, but the notion is intriguing.

 

From The Douglass Report, one of the health newsletters I subscribe to: chicken farmers are feeding the birds arsenic to protect them against infection, but then it is excreted in their droppings and winds up in the soil and groundwater. Thus arsenic enters the human food/water chain, and there are clusters of cancer occurring as an apparent result. So if you eat a lot of chicken, or vegetables grown from their manure, beware of the possible consequence. No I don't think my vegetarian daughter got cancer that way, but I have to wonder.

 

Here's a difficult subject, for me. I oppose censorship, feeling that each person or family should have the right to choose what they will read or not read. I also oppose pirating, where thieves steal the work of writers like me and sell it to others, diminishing my right to earn my living. Now the two are colliding. Censorship News, published by the National Coalition Against Censorship www.ncac.org, has constant horror stories about conservatives who seek to impose their views on others, on the grounds of obscenity. This is actually a power play: you can read only what they approve for you. I remember a comment Playboy magazine made decodes ago, saying that the Roman Empire made a law banning obscenity, and it then became obscene to criticize the Emperor. Today's censors have a huge list of classic novels they want banned because some of them have four letter words or talk seriously about sex. I do not want these freedom-disabled people to dictate what I read or write. Now they are trying to censor the Internet, including Facebook and Amazon, and those outfits are starting to go along with them. Shame on them! Meanwhile there are sites that make it their business to steal every book published and cut off the authors and publishers from control or payment; it's a constant struggle to try to extirpate these bloodsucking weeds.

Now I am told Congress is debating whether to grant themselves the power to turn off parts of the Internet, such as YouTube, Wikipedia, or MoveOn.org. If they enact this, they could block websites that any corporation suspects is doing something contrary to that corporation's interests, such as telling the truth. I see how this could enable publishers to stop pirating by shutting down the pirate sites, and I'm for that. But I also see how any free speech could be seen as criticizing the Emperor, and stifled aborning. For example, I would no longer be able to relay news about the chicken farming industry poisoning the landscape with arsenic, or review a sex novel, or mention an organization's willingness to commit perjury, without risking getting shut down. So I am afraid that the evils of anarchy that presently exist on the Internet would be replaced by the evils of economic, political, and religious censorship, with no appeal. In fact I am also told that a related bill authorizes indefinite detentions of Americans. That's a hideous constitutional violation, but the Constitution doesn't seem to have restrained our government before. I hate getting pirated, but I think I have to oppose this measure. Corporations already pretty well run the world, to the detriment of the common man; the Internet must retain at least the semblance of freedom.

 

I have not played any of the electronic video games. That's partly because being on dialup I lack the connectivity to properly participate, and partly because all my life I have loved games and fear I would disappear into one and never emerge to handle the rest of my existence. I saw a newspaper review of Skyrim, describing it as one of the most ambitious ever developed, a whole other universe in itself, with dragons, zombies, vampires ghosts, demon gods, and myriad Quests. I mean, what's not to like? The article says that once you move in, you won't want to leave. Exactly.

 

Possibly related: interview in NEW SCIENTIST with biologist Robert Trivers, who says the human capacity for self deception knows no bounds. It is a survival trait. We persuade ourselves that we are better than we are, more deserving than others, and that positivizes (can you find a better word?) our outlook. Most folk believe they are above average. “At one extreme you could say religion is complete nonsense, so the whole thing is an exercise in self-deception.” That makes sense to me. Of course I am more rational than most...

 

Page in THE WEEK on pedophilia. I have readers of every stripe, including pedophiles, so I try to understand their situation, as I do with everyone else. This is not to say I approve of it; there was a case we encountered that made us go immediately to a lawyer. I have not ignored it; it is central to my novel Firefly, and figures in The Sopaths. It seems that pedophilia, which is by definition the sexual preference for children below the age of puberty, is not a mental aberration but part of the broad sexual spectrum that includes heterosexuality, homosexuality, and assorted specialized sexual preferences like bondage or foot fetishism. About 4% of the population has the pedophilic urge, compared to about 5% for homosexuality, but the general aversion to pedophilia is I think stronger. Recently an online message board was busted where about 70,000 folk exchanged child pornography and justifications for their behavior. Obviously it is a persistent segment. Why does it remain? How does it contribute to the survival of the species? There is the mystery. I suspect it is a corollary to some species advantage that outweighs the liability, the way the human propensity to choke is because of the way our throat was restructured to enable more facile speech. They don't mean any harm to children; they truly value children, and want to have full romantic and sexual relations with them. Do I have a solution? I sort of wish that there were a kingdom where pedophilia is accepted so that pedophiles could go there and leave innocent children in our world alone. But I think this will never happen.

 

There may soon be a breakthrough in medicine: human blood manufactured in the laboratory. Thus no more blood drives, no more need to search desperately for a particular blood type; the right kind can be made and used to save lives. Now if they can similar generate replacement organs so that no one will die waiting for a kidney transplant, or be blind for lack of functioning eyes, or stupid for lack of a good brain—um, maybe not, as sometimes it seems that the brainless who are already in power would never go for it.

 

Newspaper article about how the business giants achieved their success. Was it luck? When readers ask me about the secret of my more limited success as a writer, I freely credit luck, but that's not what they want to hear. They want to think that intelligence and application being decent will do it for anyone, in any endeavor. No it won't; you need luck too. But some folk are lucky enough to win big lotteries, and they still make messes of their lives. So this study targeted folk like multibillionaire Bill Gates of Microsoft: how did he do it? They call it Return On Luck, or ROL. Gates was not the only person with computer resources. Thousands of people could have done the same thing he did, at the same time. Why didn't they? Well, it is that when he got his break, he really ran with the ball, so to speak. He dedicated his life to achieving the most he possibly could, exercising considerable discipline others would consider fanatic or obsessive to get the maximum ROL, not letting bad breaks stop him. “Resilience, not luck, is the signature of greatness.” I can see it; that's what I did in my writing, thus passing by many who were as lucky and talented as I, just not as dedicated.

 

The Frog Haiku site is back, at http://cliffordroberts.tripod.com/bashoki11.htm. My wife wrote “Tree frog on window/ Indoor lights attract the bugs/ Suppertime is here.” This time I made a rhyming haiku: “Tiny, green, at rest/ I wonder what is its quest?/ Pretty tree-frog guest.”

PIERS
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