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Piers the handyman 2007
JeJune 2011

Friday the 13th I went out at 8 AM to fill the birdbaths, as I do every morning, using the cold hot water (that is, it takes time for the hot water to run hot, so we save that water in used milk gallon jugs so as not to waste it), when I heard in the near forest beyond the fence a loud BA-AA-AAA! followed by a threshing in the brush. Startled, I looked, but saw nothing but silence. Then within a minute it happened again, louder, BA-AA-AAA! followed by a wilder threshing I feared would crash through our fence. Then complete silence again. I never did see anything. What could it have been? My guess is that I was an auditory witness to a bobcat taking down a deer. Pounce from ambush, grab onto throat, deer struggles, then realizing that it is doomed if it doesn't escape, makes a second wild effort to throw off the attacker but fails. Had the deer escaped I would have heard it bounding away. I think of this with horror, yet this is nature, red in tooth and claw. I would rather it happen this way than via a poaching human hunter. If there were no predators on deer, deer would soon enough overrun the planet. There are few predators on man, and man is overrunning the planet. I wonder whether that was the deer who ate off our variegated jasmine plant, or who drank from our ground-level bird bath? If so, I knew that deer indirectly, and wished it no harm. The bobcat may have caught on to the deer's route, and ambushed it this time. So maybe it was not coincidence that it happened nearby. Sigh.

I read The Muse by Levi Citrin. This is a curious yet intriguing thought piece, phrased as a collection of essays forming into a novel, as yet unpublished. It is subtitled How I Learned to Hate Inspiration, and is really a commentary on the creative process of writing. It starts "I have an affliction." What is it? "I am a writer without inspiration. I am tinder without flint. I have lost my muse." The Muse is a lovely evil female spirit who constantly teases the writer with promises of genius that are not delivered. She leads him astray with seeming greatness that is false. "I have been told that freedom comes in the form of writing an uninspired, yet finished, novel." That of course accounts for the majority of published novels you find cluttering bookstore shelves and ebook listings. They may not be inspired works, but they do pay the room & board of their uninspired authors. But what if the writer wants more? Wants actually to write something worthwhile, something that will in some manner benefit the cosmos? Wants to create a genuine Work of Art? Then he must come to terms with his Muse, and she can be a harsh mistress.

The whole book consists not of a plotted story line so much as a series of thoughts on assorted subjects. Such as Clocks, Barking, Writing Boards, a Watch, a Nightmare, Nocturnal Music, Graffiti, and so on: the peripheral aspects of a dull life. Meanwhile the Muse teases unmercifully with the Perfect Idea that vanishes before it can be written. Genius seems to have a very short half-life. Sometimes he thinks he has it, and writes desperately for days, only to realize belatedly that the vision is false, and he shreds it. As in a dream, when you dream of waking up but are actually still in the dream realm, the more fool you. Actual capture of the Muse is usually illusory. The end, of course, is madness. So this isn't exactly a novel. But I suspect many novelists will relate. It is interesting throughout, with many pithy thoughts, and the frustration is familiar.

We saw a movie: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which I think is the fourth in that series. This time they seek the Fountain of Youth, with various rivalries along the way. I got sleepy and didn't follow it perfectly until they came to the mermaids. These were truly lovely girls who talked and sang to the men in the boat, lured them into the water, and then bared vampire type fangs and chomped them. They bombed the mermaids, but saved one alive because they needed a tear from her, part of the formula for prolonged life. Naturally she wasn't interested in obliging. But she did get interested in one of the men who showed her some kindness, and in the end hauled him out of there, presumably for a more romantic setting. It was a nice sub-story, as there was no romance in the main story. In they end they found the deviously hidden fountain, whereupon two other groups of men pounced, apparently having had no difficulty locating it themselves. It didn't make a lot of sense to me, but sense is not the point of this series. It was wild and fun; that was the point.

One day I saw in a store a bin full of DVD movies on sale for $4 apiece. That's my idea of a good buy, so I selected half a dozen that looked interesting, hoping for the best. Six weeks later when I got a bit of slack time between novels I pigged out on videos. They weren’t much but what do you expect for that price? I rated them as I watched them, purely for my own taste. Weird Science, about two high school boys who can't get dates, so they computer generate the perfect woman, who turns out to be a lot more savvy than they are and does solve their problems in her magical fashion; for example she turns bully big brother into a sort of scaly frog until he promises to lay off = C; Haunted Forest, about going into a forest where people don't come out; the idea that forests are scary turns me off, here on my tree farm; it's city streets that are dangerous = D (that was actually from a prior batch, $6); Bring It On wherein competing teams of cheerleaders vie for victory, complicated by romance between boy and girl of opposing teams; some really perky girls there, and it's a conscious emulation of Romeo and Juliet, and West Side Story, which is fun = B; Deliver Us From Eva, where Eva is this lovely smart black woman—it's a black movie cast—who is organizing the lives of her sisters and friends to the point where the men realize they have to get rid of her, so they hire a handsome man to make her fall in love and depart; it becomes a nice love story = B; Children of Men, a grim future America story of a world without babies, until one young woman turns up pregnant, and the protagonist has to somehow get her out of the country before rapacious others get hold of that baby; he's white she's black, and it's no romance, just trying to do the right thing as everyone else seems to be gunning down everyone else in burned-out streets, not much pleasure to watch but it's a good and thoughtful story = B; Land of the Dead, where zombies are taking over, complicated by a greedy banker (a conscious parallel?); zombies eating human flesh never did make much sense to me = C; Something New, another mostly black cast, lovely black businesswoman meets her perfect black man but finds herself falling for her rather ordinary white gardener whom she's trying not to date; it does address the issue of interracial marriage = B. I will probably watch Bring it On and Children of Men and Something New again, in due course, for the bouncy girls, the rationale I didn't catch of why no babies, and the nuances of racial relations. I have an order of $7 videos in process to watch first, however. In fact after writing the above we were at Biglots shopping for something else, and they had whole bins full of assorted new and used videos at dirt cheap prices; I wound up buying 14 at prices ranging from $3 to $1. I hope I find more slack time to watch them! One that really intrigued me described a man who discovered he could relate to the lovely woman of his dreams only in dreams, where apparently they could interact. But when I got home it wasn't there. I had thought it was White Noise 2, but that turned out to be about a near death experience that enables a man to anticipate someone's death. That intrigues me too; I wrote about it in On A Pale Horse. Could there have been a White Noise 1, and I got them confused and put it back? Sigh. I'll look when I get the chance, but chances are I'll never see it again, and no one will ever have heard of it. You have to grab the will-o-whisp when it offers, or it ceases to exist.

We try to practice environmentalism by economizing on water despite having a well, and our waste water returns to the ground whence it came; economizing on power by things like having heat exchangers to help heat our hot water; and recycling our garbage. Last column I mentioned the sprouting radish I planted; that continued to flower all Mayhem. It was joined by a volunteer tomato plant, which grew and flowered and started making tomatoes. Until I went out one morning, and discovered that something had cut both plants to pieces, not eating them, just leaving the pieces lying on the ground. Apparently just passing mayhem, for no purpose other than destruction. It didn't touch the weeds, of course. Human beings can be bad in that respect, but so can animals; humans are not worse, they just have more power to do their mischief. I put the kitchen garbage in a basin and cover it with dirt, and each Sunday morning I take out the basin and bury the garbage. I had trouble with creatures digging it up, so I spread chicken wire on the ground and that stopped that. But in Mayhem something started raiding the basin, pushing off the cover, turning over, dumping it out on the floor. A couple years back we had a raccoon that did that; we tried putting hot sauce on it, but nothing worked well. This was similar; was our rogue raccoon back?. Until one night I went out and there was an opossum in the basin. That was our marauder. Okay, we changed to a closeable litter-box; that should take care of the problem. We don't want to hurt forest creatures, but neither do we want them messing up our projects.

I'm a slow reader, and reading tends to put me to sleep, which is mischief for a professional writer. But I do a lot of reading, so I find ways to cope. Sometimes I walk around the house while reading a book, to keep me awake. Sometimes I stand at the computer. Sometimes I take a break, do something else, then return to reading. Because reading truly is worthwhile, whether it's a book, a magazine, a newspaper, or something else. I notice things, and I am constantly learning, even in my septuagenarian dotage. Sometimes I pause to admire a nice turn of phrase. For example, columnist Danial Ruth once referred to a public figure as never being shy about fondling his ego in public. What illicit connotations that evokes! Another columnist commented on a certain actor/politician whose marriage is breaking up because of several children he fathered outside of marriage; she called him the Sperminator.

At one point I had thought the summer of 2011 would be slack time for me, when I could catch up on things other than writing. (Yes, Virginia, there are things other than writing. Not many, not important, but a few do exist.) That quickly filled in with three short novels to write in six months. So in FeBlueberry and Marsh I wrote Trail Mix: Amoeba, and in Apull and Mayhem I wrote Trail Mix 2: Beetle Juice, and in JeJune and Jewel-Lye will collaborate with J R Rain of the bestselling Vampire P I series on the sequel to Aladdin Relighted, this one tentatively titled Aladdin Sins Bad. Not the most serious stuff, but fun. Anyway, in Beetle Juice the project is to save a rare precious scarab beetle in the Betelgeuse region of space from extinction. It it beautiful, so that its shell can become jewelry, and its juice promotes health and longevity, so there is high demand. It is a protected species, but poachers raid anyway and that's what's driving it to extinction. If this seems parallel to what rare animal or ivory poachers do on planet Earth, its deliberate. The beetles are telepathic, which helps them avoid predators, but it isn't enough. Our protagonist Wetzel is telepathic, and when he connects with a beetle he calls LadyBug they really hit it off. He's a were-unicorn with a thing for virgins, and she's a virgin. LadyBug looks just like the basic outline of the Mandelbrot set. So you can see this is not exactly your standard cheap adventure. There's more, much more, but you can catch up on it when the novel is published on Kindle in due course.

I like PC LINUX OS, but may have to go to another distribution, because PC has some bad habits. For example, while I was typing this column, and was just to the word "LadyBug," somehow it dumped all my text since the last save and I found myself typing Bug at the beginning of the file. I tried to back up; control Z eliminated "Bug" and stopped, claiming that was all I had typed. My last two paragraphs were gone and could not be recovered; even the auto-backup had reverted. No save query, no warning; it just dumped my text in the middle of a word. This is hardly the first time PC has done this, and I can't afford it. I need to know that my text is secure. Next time it could be worse than losing my last 300 words or a frustrating hour of my time; I can't risk it. I need reliability. Part of the problem may be that I typo a lot, and this can lead to foul-ups. If I could turn off the Alt key and just use F10 it would help greatly, but naturally that's not an option offered. Linux, like Windows, is great for offering a myriad options you don't need, while skipping the ones you do need. Obviously the programmers have never tried writing novels. It is evident that if I really want the perfect Linux I'll have to hire a geek and design it myself. I'm tempted.

Newspaper item says that an Adult firm is amassing 1-800 lines, using them to solicit for sexual sites. Don't I know it! When we shut down the original HiPiers 800 number that's where it wound up, and irate readers thought I was trying to corrupt their innocent children. We complained to AT&T, who had sold the number, but they wouldn't do anything. So they solicit my fans and I get the blame and have no legal recourse. There oughta be a law. Maybe related: Another article says researchers found ways to get people to talk honestly about their sexual experiences. They graphed the results, showing that men and women were roughly parallel. Close to a hundred percent had had vaginal intercourse, ninety percent oral sex, forty percent anal sex, and ten percent homosexual sex. Things sure have changed since my day, when oral sex was considered daring and anal sex was only for gay men. Still, more folk are staying married longer, maybe because of liberalized sex. The median time of broken marriages is eight years, but more than half of current marriages are over 15 years, and 45% have gone 25 years. Six percent have lasted over 50 years, as my wife and I have.

You know the problem of obesity? Now it turns out that it messes up brain function too, increasing the risk of Alzeimer's. Folk just can't keep the pounds off, and some go to surgery to do it. A study shows that even that is ultimately ineffective; liposuction removes the belly and thigh fat, but then more fat cells grow beyond that area, and the fat returns. It seems the body savagely monitors and defends its fat quota and will maintain it regardless. Interesting; I mean to keep the fat off my body, but as I age, and as my dentures enable me to chew better, I am finding it a battle. I get hunger pangs when I cut my meals back, and I don't like that. But I will find a way.

Newspaper article by Rebecca Catalanello says that school bullying is widely under-reported. For sure; schools prefer to pretend it doesn't exist. But it does exist, and does much harm. A school bully is a baby criminal. Some parents are considering suing, if that's what it takes to get the schools to act. My answer is simple: be alert, and remove the bullies from the school. I know there are complications, and those who have been bullied tend to become bullies when they get their chance. But I don't think schools need to go into psychoanalysis. Anyone caught bullying another is removed, same as anyone committing any other crime, and sent to a school for bullies. Those who straighten out could return on probation. Those who don't will wind up in prison where they belong. The bullying would soon be minimized, and everyone would be better off. Article six months ago by Susan M Swearer discusses five myths about bullying: that most of it now happens online, that bullies are bullies and victims are victims, that bullying ends when you grow up, that it's a major cause of suicide, and that we can end it. No, she says; most bullying remains traditional, victims can become bullies, it exists in the workplace, it's only one of many causes for suicide, and while it can't be stopped it can be reduced. Yes, and I think my suggestion, if implemented, would reduce it in a hurry in the schools. Maybe tougher in the workplace. Maybe there should be an independent listing, like my survey of electronic publishers, that tells the truth, blowing the whistle on bullying companies. Then at least people would be able to avoid bad workplaces before getting committed, and bully bosses might be shamed into better behavior.

A reader, S Wayne Hendry, forwarded a lovely Miss Airport 2011 Calendar, showing all the girls as skeletons with only faint shading for flesh, the way they would appear when being scanned. It concludes: "If you can't afford a doctor, go to an airport—you'll get a free X-ray and a breast exam, and if you mention Al Qaeda, you'll get a free colonoscopy."

Article says the state of Vermont is moving toward a Canadian type public health care. Good for it. I came from Vermont where I grew up, and retain a liking for the Green Mountains. Few today remember that Vermont was an independent nation for a number of years, then became the first state to join the new United States as #14. It continues to show its independence in good ways, in contrast to the descent Florida is making. So why didn't I stay in Vermont? Because I couldn't stand the cold winters. I remain a Vermonter in spirit.

I have seen references to the "cloud," and wondered what it was. Gradually I am learning: it is at array of electronic storage devices sponsored by Google that ordinary folk can use. With Google's Chromebook computer the storage and software is online. I gather this is like tuning in to a radio or TV station and getting your word processor and whatever else you need. You can't lose it by crashing; the cloud is too big to crash. That's interesting, but I think I'll pass. Privacy would be a mockery; I'm sure they would promise it, but with Patriot Act spying by the government—where they aren't allowed to tell you that they gave away your information—and hackers who spy just because they can, you'll have none. And when the Internet goes down, so does your access. And if they raise the price, you'll have no choice but to pay it, or lose your data.

The End of the World came an went with nary a flicker. So the nuts postponed it for five months. What they'll say when that passes without incident—who cares? I did learn something from this foolishness, though: the Rapture they speak of doesn't necessarily mean delight, but merely a carrying away.

I do the newspaper chess puzzles, but sometimes they annoy me, because they are wrong or incomplete. Here's an example: for Mayhem 22 the challenge was White mates in 2. Okay, they do have a two move mate. But my answer is mate in one. Isn't that preferable? For those who care to research it, my move is f3 mate.

Column by Frank Farley asks why so many politicians stray. Indeed, they are notorious, even the home-values conservatives who breed outside marriage just like the others. And provides the answer: they are thrill seekers, taking risks, and that makes them more successful than those who never gamble. They want to lead exciting, interesting, challenging lives. They tend to be independent and creative, to be impressive personally: chick magnets. When they get successful they tend to be surrounded by acolytes who exist to please them. That makes it easy to take what is offered, especially when it is sexually attractive. I never had any political ambition, but I am pleased that when I achieved some measure of success it did not break up my marriage. Success of any type can be hard on marriages, because it opens up options that unsuccessful folk never had before, so they have no natural resistance to temptation.

There is news of a picture book that is a bestseller before being published: Go the Fuck to Sleep. Apparently it has become uncouth for parents to desire any life of their own, once a baby arrives. Oh, don't I remember! My writing efficiency cut in half when our first surviving baby arrived, and it didn't recover completely until she went to college. It seems this book echoes that frustration. How can parents watch TV, make out, or just relax when the baby refuses to go to sleep? Our baby was an education in what the baby expert of the day, Dr. Spock (no relation to Star Trek) didn't know about babies. I remember when he said to put the baby down alone to sleep; it may fuss for a few minutes, then nod off. I tried, and listened tensely in the next room for an hour and a half while she screamed. Then I heard a choking sound, and rushed in to find she had vomited dull red on the bed. No, not blood, as I thought in that instant; she had had cherries for desert. So much for that effort. I had in effect tortured my baby until she vomited. Never again. Dr. Spock, go the fuck to Hell.

It seems that 61% of Americans believe that Osama bin Laden is in Hell. I don't, because I'm one of the 5% who don't believe in Hell. But surely he deserves to be there. If there should one day come the sound of roadside bombs going off way down below, you'll know he is there.

Interview in NEW SCIENTIST with Simon Baron-Cohen, known for his autism research. As a child in a Jewish family he learned of the cruelties the Nazis practiced on Jews. He concluded that the Nazis, by no means unique in this respect, lacked empathy, that is, the ability to feel the feeling of other people, to hurt when they hurt. His new book is titled Zero Degrees of Empathy, addressing the question of whether low empathy necessary leads to cruelty? He wants to replace the term "evil" with "lack of empathy." He says empathy is a complex phenomenon involving the understanding of and relating to other people's states of mind. It seems the US edition is retitled The Science of Evil. What further evidence do you need that American publishers notoriously lack empathy? They hardly understand or care about the sensitivities of their authors or their readers, and thus are constantly surprised by both their successes and their failures. At any rate, I'm glad to see empathy getting recognized; I believe it is a vital key to what makes us human, and those who lack it, typically on the political/religious right wing, are degrading the grace God gave them. The greed-heads, who care more about money than the welfare of man or the health of the planet. Jesus would have rousted them from the temple.

DISCOVER MAGAZINE had an interview with Lynn Margulis, a noted biologist. I knew a girl by that name in college, and wonder whether that could have been her. She views symbiosis as the central force behind the evolution of new species, a notion regular biologists don't much like. She calls it symbiogenesis, viewing life as one giant network of social connections. I will summarize it here as well as I can, not promising to have it down accurately; I'm not a biologist. New species emerge through symbiotic relationships between two or more kinds of organisms. This is possible because every known life form is a combination or community of bacteria. Bacteria can exchange genes; they don't have to evolve them themselves, just trade with those who already have useful things. The mitochondria are an example: long ago an amoeba swallowed a creature that had a more sophisticated manner of handling energy, and that creature remains today in all of us, processing energy for our cells. That original collaboration was an enormous breakthrough, giving the paired organisms a significant advantage, and they took over the world. Similar collaborations are constantly happening, driving the evolution of new species. For example, we tend to think of bacteria as things to get rid of, but they are very much the basis of our existence. We could not digest our food without the enormous community of bacteria in our gut working tirelessly on our behalf, and those bacteria would have trouble surviving if we did not provide them with a home and the raw materials for them to process . It really is a symbiotic relationship. I can see it, and it makes sense to me, however heretical it may seem to the established order. Scientists notoriously resist accepting new things, which is a shame. Fortunately I'm not a scientist.

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