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Piers the handyman 2007
Jewel-Lye 2011

I did the daily chess puzzle, and suffered a chain of thought. Why is a castle called a rook in chess? It's a noble piece, while the word rook has some unsavory associations. So I looked it up in my collection of dictionaries, winding up in the OED, the Oxford English Dictionary, the ultimate authority. None of them gave a reason. I learned that it derives from the Persian rukh, as does the big bird roc and maybe the smaller crow-like rook. Could it be that the rook bird is the descendent of the roc, and the chess rook is from the enormous flight capacity of the roc, moving instantly across the board? Maybe now I'll like the name better, thinking of the roc. Words are fascinating, even if the finest dictionaries in the world can prove to be inadequate.


I read Gatehouse: The Door to Canellin, by E H Jones, self published in hardcover with the help of the folk as www.kickstarter.com. This is the first in a series of Gatehouse novels, with the promised sequel later this year being The Door to Justice. The Gatehouse is the central station, from which many doors lead to other realms. Contemporary teenager Wes stumbles upon it, not understanding its nature, and winds up in Canellin, where there is magic and a fearsome dragon he must slay. That may seem standard for fantasy, but it's actually an original story, well written and reasonably compelling. When Wes's father Ryan discovers what has happened, he goes in after the boy, determined to rescue his son. But of course he gets caught up in his own adventure, becoming a swordsman with an apparent connection to a fabled sword in a stone. He may be able to draw it out of the stone, but not yet; it sends him reeling with what feels like an electrical charge. Meanwhile Wes, translating a book on magic, tries out its spells and becomes an increasingly potent magician. The story moves on from there. There are powerful forces gathering to conquer the kingdom, loyal friends, dangerous spies, and a couple of talented girls who are more interesting than they are allowed to be here; there is no romance, though possibly that will develop in a sequel. I enjoyed the novel and believe others will too.


I got more DVD videos and watched them on off days while writing a collaborative novel. I didn't expect much, but some were better than others, and satisfied my desire for a change-off. I will tally them briefly, as I did last month. The first was one I meant to buy at BigLots and somehow didn't; I described it during a family gathering, lacking the title, and my sister in law Jane had the wit to look it up on the internet: The Good Night. So I want back and found it and bought it, along with several others while I was at it, for $3. A man caught in a dead-end life, bad job, marriage fading, gets into lucid dreaming, where he meets the Girl of his Dreams. Then in waking life he sees her picture on a vehicle: she's the star of some kind of show. That must be where he got her image. That makes him think, and he decides to work on his marriage. Grade B. Another was The Ruins, wherein five college kids go with a guide to see an unlisted Mayan ruin. It soon becomes a formula horror, with one after another getting gruesomely killed, mainly for the benefit of carnivorous plants. Not my type of thing. D. Sinbad, a cartoon feature theoretically based on the Arabian Nights legend, but so loosely that it might as well be its own story. On that basis, not bad; there are nice effects and pretty girls and much action. B. Left Behind, wherein suddenly many people disappear. Turns out that the missing folk are the Chosen, and are now in Heaven; the rest are those left behind, left mainly to their own devices. Will they succeed in reforming the world, or will the greedheads take over completely, having cornered the world's only food supply? The issue is in doubt, but it has one hard-hitting conclusion. B. The Human Contract, another dissolving marriage story, intriguing extramarital affair that becomes painful to watch. The Other Woman turns out to be married, but does care. C. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, featuring Sophia Loren in three stories. I am generally wary of pretty girls playing the part of pretty girls and calling themselves actresses, but I was reasonably impressed by this 46 year old presentation. Sophia is six weeks younger than I, and this was before the days when figures came from surgery more than from nature. In one she has to stay pregnant so she can't be arrested; seven children later her husband is worn out and we haven't seen much of her maiden figure. In another she cares more for her fancy car than for her boyfriend. In the third she's a goodhearted prostitute who helps point a young seminary student in the right direction. C. Blade: House of Chthon, a vampire story with much pointless violence but also a female lead with nicely displayed breasts; Blade is a sort of anti-vampire vampire, and at the end the lady, converted to vampire, will join him in fighting the bad vampires. They pronounce Chthon “Ka-thon” as some do, not knowing any better; the ch is properly silent. C. White Noise 2: this is an ugly story of a man who sees his wife and son pointlessly shot to death. Then the man suffers a near-death experience, after which he can see rays of light around people who are about to die. He intercedes to save some, but then they become killers; it seems that Lucifer takes them over for evil purpose. Trying to thwart fate only brings worse mischief. C. Dangerous Liaisons is the story of upper class deceit and romance over 200 years ago, when it seems high class women had to make their breasts bulge out of their corsets, wherein a predatory widow arranges for a notorious handsome rake to seduce a young bride as a challenge. He does so, but it ends in tragedy that wipes out all participants. Not my type of thing, but worthy nevertheless. B. Secret Diary of a Call Girl is about a London whore who rises to become a courtesan, that is an elegant paid girlfriend for wealthy clients. Along the way she encounters good men, bad men, a client who wants two girls together, and a married couple who want to make it with two others; it seems that seeing their partners have sex with others turns them on and then they really get into it with each other. It's an interesting three hour presentation that isn't actually very sexy. She works for a living as an escort, and outside the bedroom she's a normal woman. She has everything, yet does not seem to be happy despite having the kind of job she likes. B.


I also bought some some disc packages, with multiple movies for low prices. For example, GIRLS, GUNS AND G-STRINGS, 12 movies for $6 plus S&H, so the whole thing cost me $7.11, or 59 cents per movie. Hard to go far wrong at that price. So I watched Malibu Express, a 1985 effort featuring, well, girls, guns and G-Strings. The acting is fair to poor, the story line is mishmash, but there are more luscious bare breasts than you can shake a phallic stick at. So it's nothing critically, but fun to view. C. Hard Ticket to Hawaii, better acting, better plotting, more extreme violence including a deadly giant python but overall the same formula, fun but minor. C. Savage Beach, wherein several groups scramble to find gold buried on an island by a World War Two treasure ship; again much violence, some breasts. C. Picasso Trigger, wherein three pretty girls use explosive toys to take out the criminals. Some toys are fun, like a remote controlled little car. C. Guns, this time the girls are trying to foil gun smuggling by criminals who target and kill anyone who gets in their way, leaving playing cards by the bodies. Some nice Las Vegas girls dancing, but mainly bikini-clad girls blowing bad guys away, literally. C. Do Or Die starts interesting, with the evil man making a game of killing two good girls, sending pairs of killers after them. But it quickly becomes formula, with the girls in effect drawing bigger guns and blasting the men, the action sequences interspersed by superfluous soft-core sex scenes. It never rises to greater tension. Once the last bad team is dead, it's done. C. I will watch the other 6 hereafter.


Then there's FEMME FATALES, a collection of six black/white movies from the 1930s to 40s. Those women are not in a league with today's sirens, but considering the limitation of those times, actresses like Ava Gardner and Hedy Lamarr are appealing enough. Mainly, they pose for lingering face shots. Whistle Stop has a lovely women return to her old stomping ground, arousing the interest of more than one man, but the action consists of a couple of fist fights and a conspiracy to frame someone. For me, too dull to linger on. D. Algiers has interesting background on the Casbah in Algiers, a kind of lawless enclave. A handsome master thief is there, and can't depart lest he be arrested. Then he falls for a pretty tourist and foolishly steps outside, is betrayed by his jealous mistress, and is thus doomed. C+ or B-. I'll try to view the remaining four movies next month. It's not that I'm surfeit, but that necessary work got in in the way, such as writing this column.


Maybe related: I was paging through a video catalog and read about 20,000 Years in Sing-Sing, a 1933 movie featuring Bette Davis about a woman who murders to protect her honor, and then her criminal boyfriend takes the rap for her. Interesting, but I did not mark it for purchase. Then, curious, I sought to recheck it, and it was gone. My wife checked the catalog: no such movie. My theory is that because I am an absolute disbeliever in the supernatural, the supernatural does its best to mess me up, such as by vanishing a listing I know was there. I wasted over 20 minutes futilely searching before I got smart, looked it up in one of my old 800 page movie catalogs, and got it, starring Spencer Tracy. Sure enough, in the new catalog it starred Bette but listed it under Spencer, so we had missed it. So I outwitted the supernatural, this time. But it will surely try again; it really hates a nonbeliever.


And we saw a “real” movie, Cars 2. Reviewers found it less than great, but we enjoyed it, though it proceeded at such a breakneck pace it was hard for slow-thinking old codgers like me to follow. No human beings here, and everything talks, including ships and airplanes. It starts with a James Bond type caper where a car is spying on a secret fuel refinery, is detected and chased by thug cars, plows into the sea, is then chased by missile-firing cars, sinks, and we see its tires float to the surface: obviously it's dead. Except that it isn't; it makes like a submarine and escapes. Then we go to our hero car, who gets into a race with a special racer, except the bad guys think he knows something and mean to kill him, while the good guys try to foil the bad guys. The intricacies of the action are impressive but confusing. A bomb is planted on his toothy friend Tow Mater the wrecking truck, which leads to further complications. There are a couple of lady cars I would have liked to see more of. So it's hectic fun, which is of course the point.


I read Waking God III, The Second Coming of Humanity, the conclusion of a trilogy by Philip F Harris and Brian L Doe, published electronically by ALL THINGS THAT MATTER PRESS. Like the prior volumes it has heavy action interspersed by the religious theme. It begins with a dense summary of the prior volumes, then gets to the continuation. The essence, if I understand it correctly, is that the child, Adam, has been conceived, who when born will herald the new order. Naturally there are those who wish to prevent this child from being born and who don't hesitate at murder; the minions of Evil don't pussyfoot. His parents have to travel deviously to Jerusalem, avoiding killers. At one point a woman who looks like the mother runs to intercept the bullet meant for the mother, giving her life for the child. The novel concludes with alternate endings, and a series of maxims from the Da Vinci Prophecies from the Codex Atlanticus, such as “OF CRUCIFIXES WHICH ARE SOLD: I see Christ again sold and crucified, and his saints suffering martyrdom.” I don't pretend to understand all this, but it's interesting, and I think exactly what would happen to Jesus Christ if he came again and tried to thwart the special interests who govern our society. Religion, the opiate of the masses, is fine as long as it doesn't interfere with business; that's as true in our day as it was in his day. So I recommend this for those who are more into adventurous religion than I am, who may be more competent to relate to its nuances. The authors obviously take religion and prophecy seriously.


Newspaper item reporting on an article in the journal NATURE: two million years ago, a study of fossil teeth indicates, men remained at home while women traveled and made families elsewhere. That prevented interbreeding. Was it really so? I am among the skeptics. The sample of 19 teeth was too small to be definitive, but even if true, I suspect that men raided foreign tribes for women, dragged them home and mated with them, starting their families. If a woman protested, she might get her teeth knocked out, grist for the fossils. They didn't fool around with women's rights in the old days. As a liberal, I don't pine for the good old times.


I remarked last month on my wish to be able to turn off the Alt keys so I wouldn't risk miskeying and getting in trouble, such as losing my last hour's work. Naturally programmers don't offer useful options like that. Patti Smith came to my rescue: why now simply remove those keys from my keyboard? Duh, I never thought of that. So I tried it, and quickly discovered that F10 does not substitute for Alt; it substitutes for Alt F only. When I want to switch lines or paragraphs there seems to be no substitute for Alt-Ctrl up/down Arrows, for example. So I compromised, removing the right Alt key and leaving the left one. My disasters have diminished. It would be better if I could temporarily turn them off, but this helps. Thank you, Patti.


There are indications that Solar is already cheaper than Nuclear power, and it's a good deal safer. I doubt we'll see many desert solar arrays washed out by tsunamis, and they are essentially nonpolluting. More power to you, Solar!


I am of course resisting the temptation to call a certain Florida governor Pick Snott, though he seems determined to outdo a prior Republican governor, Fraud Quirk, in damaging the state. A newspaper article describes the way he is trying to destroy education here. As a former Florida teacher I notice. It was bad enough in my day, and I was glad to leave it for full time writing. I don't see much choice for good teachers other than to depart for states where they are valued, letting Florida sink slowly into an intellectual as well as a physical swamp. Too bad for our children. I think conservatives don't like education, because it tends to liberalize people. They even come to believe in Evolution, rather than what the Bible says, and in Global Warming rather than what Pollution Profit Incorporated says. They might even grow up to try to do something about the latter. Can't have that, now can we?


A map in SCIENCE NEWS shows the geography of age. In large sections of Africa the average human lifespan is under 50; in Canada, Australia, Japan and parts of Europe it is over 80. The rest of us fall in between. Why isn't the United States at the top? Because, in significant part, we let the special interests govern our health care, charging more and more to a public that has less and less. So we have to pay about twice as much, or die sooner, and many have no choice but to die. Even the anemic attempt to reform this is derided as Obamacare, and that will be abolished the moment Republicans have the votes.


TrustGauge sent me a sample report on HiPiers.com, ranking it 398,483. That suggests that 398,482 other sites are doing better. Ah, well. I wonder how many are doing worse? I'm maintaining this site for information for my readers, who I trust will find me regardless of its ranking.


Email circular says this is not a scam or hoax: the racist UN has ordered the murder of 13 billion people in order to depopulate the globe. That should be effective, considering the present global population is under 10 billion. “They are also responsible for global warming, swine flu, AIDS, El Nino, and various other disastrous occurrences world wide.” Wow; I had no idea. But if this nefarious plot is already in progress, how do we stop it? The flier doesn't tell us that. Did they forget that detail?


Item I somehow missed before: it seems that Israel discovered a huge source of natural gas 50 miles off its coast, the Tamar field. Israel will become an energy exporter instead of importer. The surrounding hostile neighbors want in, and they're not the kind to tread lightly. This could get interesting, soon.


Carol J Adams has an excellent article titled “Five Myths About Vegans.” Veganism is a subset of vegetarianism, wherein no animal products are used. I am an ovo-lacto vegetarian, meaning that I do eat milk, milk products,  eggs, and honey; I don't use leather, do use wool and silk. Things like soap and gelatin-based capsules are borderline cases that leave me uneasy. The rule is that if it hurts the animal to take it, I don't want it. Vegans hew to a tougher rule, and I admire their constancy. So what are the myths? 1. Vegans have trouble getting enough protein. No, they can get enough from plant sources, like chickpeas and tofu. Eating whole plants, instead of refined ones, seems to be much of the answer. 2. Vegans have countless rules about what can be eaten. No, their essential rule is trying to do the least harm possible. They need to check the ingredients of commercial products, as we do, because meat products can show up in odd places, but that would help meat eaters too. 3. Veganism is emasculating; real men eat meat. Depends how you define “real man”; if you believe he doesn't eat quiche and cusses continuously maybe you have a case, but otherwise it's sexist fantasy. There was a theory that converting to meat eating propelled mankind to prominence in the world, but probably it was the use of fire and cooking that did it, meat being just one of the foods fire made available. In any event, meat is hardly necessary to manliness now. And yes, I'm ready to debate any idiot who thinks I'm effeminate. 4. Vegans care more about animals than humans. No, many vegans care more about the salvation of mankind than ignorant meat eaters do, knowing mankind will survive longer if he doesn't continue the ruinous cost of running food through animals on the way to humans. 5. It's expensive and inconvenient to be a vegan. Hardly. Today there are vegetable-origin meat substitutes that can barely be distinguished in taste and texture from the real thing. Once you orient on the change it becomes as easy to follow as the meat diet, and a lot more animal-friendly. I speak as a vegetarian of 58 years. Veganism would be more difficult, but by no means impossible. And let me add one I have encountered: 6. Vegetarians (Vegans) are unhealthy and don't live as long. To which I say that's not true for smart ones. I expect to outlive the majority of stupid meat eaters, if I haven't already. I won't outlive the smart ones, but that's the true distinction: a smart eater will do better in the long run than a stupid eater, whatever the food.


Local Sunday supplement column by Georgi Davis can have interesting thoughts. She remarked on tumbleweeds. “You can tell from this article that I really don't think tumbling is a bad way to go through life. You have to have a little faith before you can tumble. I've tumbled into other things, like my husband...” See what I mean? He tumbled her and now they're married. I once observed a plant growing in our yard, couldn't figure out what it was, and when it died and dried up I realized it must be a tumbleweed. There's also a very nice folk song “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” Much of life is essentially random, another term for tumbling, however we may try to organize it, and you never can tell what will turn up.


It seems a gray whale has been spotted in the Mediterranean Sea. The problem with that is that it lives in the north Pacific Ocean. It must have navigated the Northwest Passage to get past the continent. Some plankton has also migrated to where it hasn't existed for 800,000 years. Blame global warming, thawing the northern ice, opening the channel. Take that, warming deniers; there's a whale in the room.


DISCOVER magazine had a feature on “A Billion Wicked Thoughts,” describing how anonymity allows folk to express their real interest in searches. The leading sexual search was for free non-nude teen videos; the next was for young naked waitresses; the third for “My friend's hot mom.” More generally, the leading category was Youth, followed by Gay, MILFs, and Breasts. Men like sexy pictures, women prefer erotic stories. They needed anonymity to discover those interests?


NEW SCIENTIST says that the Inca success in South America was powered by domestication of the llama, whose dung facilitated growing maize (corn). Seems analysis of pollen and dung proves it. I might qualify that: the Inca were relatively recent, inheriting a civilization developed over the course of over two thousand years by prior cultures. But the Llama remains. Another article makes the case that the human-animal link extends back two million years and is responsible for the growth of three of the most important human developments: tool-making, language, and domestication. I suspect that is exaggerated, and that domestication of animals was more a corollary aspect, but surely they were connected. It says that humans devised an evolutionary shortcut to becoming a predator instead of a prey species by turning blunt stones into sharp stone fragments to use as knives. True, but this omits one huge discovery: the control of fire, so that cooking became possible. That enabled man to eat meat and formerly inedible tubers and grains. Hunting without fire would not suffice, whereas fire without hunting might. Similarly, language has more to do with communication and social interactions than with animals. So I think this article is worthwhile but incomplete.


Another interesting article relates to sexual pleasure. The female author masturbated while being scanned so that the process of her arousal and orgasm could be tracked. They are getting a better notion of the brain pathways involved, and of the body's reward system, orgasm being a prime example. Fascinating. And one in DISCOVER about how human biology reorganized itself to cope with the punishing burden of an oversized brain. I have remarked before how we developed the animal kingdom's most efficient cooling system, because that burgeoning brain had to be air conditioned. Also how women made breasts things of attraction instead of repulsion, because they needed help with slow-developing babies. (Interesting that most restaurant chains are hurting for business, in this recession, except for the “breastaurants featuring nubile girls as waitresses.) This ties in also with the importance of fire and cooking, to provide sufficient food for that brain while shrinking our guts. It was a convoluted interplay of diverse elements that finally made us what we are.


I still practice my archery, and it is still abysmal, but worthwhile for the exercise. The arrows tend to go where they choose instead of where I aim them. One day I lost three, and didn't have enough left to do my regular 12. So I cast about, and discovered a perfect set of carbon shaft arrows I bought years ago but didn't use because their heads are larger than their stems and tear up my targets. But now I use a different type of target, that stops the arrows by friction between layers. So I tried them, and the targets can handle them. I'm still zeroing them in, but because they are undamaged they tend to be more consistent and my scores are better. Meanwhile one of those three lost arrows showed up across the drive, bent at the tail end; hard to figure how that happened. I found another buried way downrange; I think rain uncovered the fletching so I could find it. The third still hides. So my archery remains its own little adventure, twice a week.


Enough; I have novels to write.

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