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Piers the handyman 2007
Mayhem 2012

Continuing the Stanley Kramer video collection, I watched The Member of the Wedding, set in 1952, featuring a twelve year old girl who falls in love with her big brother's wedding and want to be included in it. This is in black/white, phrased like a play, with three main characters: the girl, her younger cousin, and the black mammy cook who takes care of them. It is pretty much all about the girl's unrealistic dreams and illusions, which she expresses freely, and the mammy's attempts to be realistic. When the girl does not get to go on the honeymoon she runs away, but soon discovers that's no answer, and returns to discover that her cousin has died. But she moves on to other dreams, being, in my view, essentially shallow. Well enough done, but not my type of thing.


Then I watched Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, the last because it was 107 minutes long and I needed to find a time slot to watch it, and because my interest in fancy dinners is slight. I had no idea what it was really about. But the moment it started playing, I was hooked, and it is my favorite of that collection of movies. It's a star-studded effort; even I recognize names like Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn. A black doctor and a white girl meet, talk, and fall abruptly in love. It's fully believable. They want to marry, but this was when legalized racism was established in much of America, with interracial marriage forbidden in 16 states. Both sets of pseudo-liberal parents are appalled, but in the course of the day they come around, with a fine concluding speech by the girl's father, who decides that love must conquer all. It's a great love story, and a great stride forward for the liberalization of this country. The producer received death threats—bigots are ugly any way you see them--but the movie was highly successful. More power to them both. I never much cared what Stanley Kramer did, but this one truly impressed me.


I did an interview for Jorge Aguirre, and he sent me a copy of his graphic novel (that is, done in pictures) Giants Beware!, published by First Second, a division of Roaring Book Press, a division of Holtzbrink Publishing. This is clearly directed to children, but I found it fun reading. The pictures are by Rafael Rosado, and he's some artist; they were clear, well framed, competent, sometimes beautiful, and often compelling. The story is about Claudette, who looks to be about six years old, who is determined to go out with her wooden sword and kill the giant who has terrorized their town. It seems he has raided the region and eaten the feet of babies. Now the townfolk stay within the walled fortress of the town. Claudette's own father lost his legs and one arm (first time shown as his right, but thereafter as his left) and uses a wooden wheelchair. She persuades her friend the aspiring princess Marie and her little brother Gaston, an aspiring chef who actually is quite a good pastry maker, and they head out into the grim forest with their little dog Valiant to slay the giant. When they get snatched up by a carnivorous tree, Claudette puts out her stinky feet and the tree spits them out, retching. Did I mention this was fun? The dangers seem overwhelming, but they find similarly unusual ways to survive them until they catch up with the giant. Who, it turns out, likes to tickle feet, not eat them; he has been badly misrepresented in town. All ends well, of course, thanks to Claudette's ingenuity. I recommend this book to anyone; I got giant enjoyment from it. There is a quality of imagination here to be admired.


I read A Moon Called Sun by Christopher Cobb. This is intriguingly different science fiction/fantasy/horror, R-rated for language, wildly ranging, sometimes hard-hitting, not for maiden aunts; I must simplify considerably to make any sense of it here. Andrew “Trace” Jackson and his dog Skiff are out fishing in 2010 when they encounter something like a storm and get sucked into it and wind up in another realm. At one point they meet Hialeah, a lovely young American Indian girl of 1818.  Josette Legard is a 24 year old woman with the French Resistance fighting the Nazis in 1942. She ducks through a random door, and winds up in another realm, associating with a lovely but odd alien ruler. It seems that aliens are trolling through Earth's history to pick out people useful for their purpose, caring nothing for the welfare or feelings of those people. That makes Josette's Nazi-fighting experience relevant; the aliens are like Nazis, albeit rather more complicated. The two main story threads don't directly intersect until the end, as the alien machinations play out. I was intrigued by the special use of adapted language, such a “pedal,” which seems to mean a thing of value or feeling; it felt odd at first but became more comfortable as the novel progressed. The aliens are more alien than they initially seem, and reality is ever-elusive as friends or relatives, some of whom were dead before the story began, appear and interact, conscious of their current states but trying to be helpful. So this is a strange one, and I am not sure I properly understand it, but it is interesting and well told, with a considerable range of imagination. Oh, the title? One of the artifacts of translation, as the aliens try to find a term for their world that human folk will comprehend, without getting it quite right.


My Sony Reader expired just as I was about to read the foregoing novel. That gave my wife a pretext to shop for something she had had her eye on, and we got a Polaroid Android Tablet Computer on sale for a hundred dollars. As I like to put it, I'm an old codger from another century, and slow to catch on to newfangled dinguses, but I rather like this one. Its Adobe Reader handled the .pdf manuscript, oriented the page to be upright regardless of my orientation; sometimes as I let the device tilt the page would spin around to re-orient. I can show the pages as they are, in assorted type sizes, or have them reformat and wrap to remain always on the page. The print is beautiful, easy to read. But I am unable to jump to my place in the book, or to return directly to the beginning when I complete it. So I had to page backward through the 373 page manuscript, one page at a time. This gets old fast. It does hold my place if I keep it in ready mode, but loses it if I turn it all the way off to save power. It will play songs, and I can read with musical background; it seems to have a fair roster of popular songs to start with, and we added more. But it can be a federal case to make it stop playing, and we have not found out how to make it play our added songs. It acknowledges their presence, lists them, but won't actually play them, instead playing only its own songs; it seems to think they are on the Internet. Would it be too much to ask that you be able to play a listed song by clicking on it? Or that there be an On/Off switch? If there is a Hell for programmers, it may have an On/Off switch for the tortures they undergo—that doesn't work. It will handle WiFi, but as yet I have not caught up with that 21st century stuff. So it's a novel experience, and I like it despite its frustrations. As I like to say, computers are like the opposite gender: can't live with them, can't live without them. The opposite gender is born that way; what excuse do computer have?


Last column I asked whether anyone could verify a quote I am credited with, "When one person makes an accusation, check to be sure he himself is not the guilty one. Sometimes it is those whose case is weak who make the most clamour." I agreed with it but didn't remember saying it. Well, James A Long identified it for me: it is in my autobiography Bio of an Ogre, page 174 of the American paperback edition or page 166 of the hardcover. I did spell it “clamor.” It related to someone accusing me of something of which he himself turned out to be guilty, breaking into lines. So a minor mystery is solved. It seems there is more than one way to use Google, and different ways can produce different results.


The candy Skittles was in the news, in the case of an unwarranted killing, and I was curious, as I was not familiar with it, so we bought a package. It turns out to be M&M shaped pellets filled with fruit flavors. Okay, but it does have that bad association for me..


As I mention every so often, I practice archery, for the exercise, not for accuracy, as my aim seems to be abysmal. I have a right side bow and a left side bow, both compound. That is, when you draw the string, the 55 pound draw weight lessens to under 20 pounds so I can hold my place without straining; then when I loose the arrow, the full 55 pound force is exerted. Yes, some magic exists in Mundania, facilitated by the leveraged pulleys. Well, one day I did the right side, then went to the left side, loosed eight arrows, drew the ninth—and the bowstring snapped, giving me a smart sting on my gloved right hand. That's why I wear goggles, so as to be sure a such a loose string doesn't take out an eye. The arrow vanished; I thought I heard it tumbling through the tree foliage, but it never came down and I have not found it. What to do? I want to exercise evenly, right and left. The local archery store shut down, so it's not convenient to buy a new left hand bow. So—I practiced to use the right side bow left handed. That was a challenge. These things are designed for their purpose, and it is not easy to circumvent it. The handle section is shaped to the right hand; the left hand finds it all wrong. The strings are propped to the side to stay clear of the arm; left handed they are in the way of the arm and I can get a string burn on my arm. In addition, I have a problem with the arrow-rest; when I draw, the arrow typically falls off it, and I have to nudge it back into place with a finger. But my right hand is facing the wrong way, when I use it to hold the bow instead of draw the string; I don't have a finger where I need it. So when I drew the arrows were not just falling off the arrowrest, they were flying out and dropping to the ground. On the left side bow I used a circular arrowrest that held the arrow so it could not fall off our out; the problem with that was that it fouled up the release so that a given arrow could strike five feet to the side of where I aimed it, either side, or plow into the ground or loop over the top and be lost. Thus the process of securing the arrow for the draw also messed it up for the target. Then I got a brilliant notion: I'm doing this for the exercise, not the accuracy, right? I get the same exercise when I draw the bow regardless where the arrow lands. So I stood there and drew the bow twelve times. And wow, twice the arrow actually stayed perched on the arrowrest. I loosed both arrows and scored on the ground before the target. Next session—I do my archery twice a week—I got smart and tilted the bow to the side as I drew so that the arrow was more likely to stay in place. Sometimes it still flew out with such force it landed on the ground beside me, but seven times it stayed in place, and I loosed it. I never hit the target, but it was progress. The following session I managed to loose it twelve times; eleven arrows missed the target, but one hit it and scored half a point. So I had one-half minus eleven, but it was significant progress. Why it is that an arrow loosed from the same bow using the same sights that work for the right side can't find the target left side I don't know, but in time I'm sure I'll get it zeroed in.


I like Linux and the LibreOffice word processor, and am comfortable with them. But every so often they pull a stunt. I was typing my contribution to the collaboration I'm doing when abruptly I had a blank screen. My file, and indeed the whole word processor, had vanished. I went through the process and recovered the files, but I had lost what I had just been typing. I suppose the programmers find this sort of thing amusing, but I am not amused. My best guess is that along the way I typoed, hitting the Control key when I hit the letter Q, invoking the Quit command, and since I'm typing and not watching the screen, its menu waited until I hit the D in Quid pro Quo, meaning Discard, and shut down unsaved. I experimented and discovered that once I hid Control Q it's going to dump my files; hitting the CANCEL option does not cancel the command, it invokes it. What a crock of spit! This sort of mishap could readily be avoided, if only I had the option of turning off the Control and Alt keys when I don't need them, or at least the Control Q option. They typically offer options galore, but do you think they'll let me have anything that practical? It is to laugh. I repeat: I am not amused. Yes, I tried to turn it off, but it turns out not to be a LibreOffice function so I can't just nix it. It has to be fixed via Fedora, and I am not a programmer.


I am chronically busy—that's a state of workaholicism—and things that aren't in the forefront tend to get squeezed out, especially when I'm writing a novel. I subscribe to LIBERAL OPINION WEEK, which is a 32 page weekly compendium of all the liberal columns. Our local newspaper, THE TAMPA BAY TIMES, calls itself liberal, and conservatives regularly lambaste it for its far leftist output. But this is fiction; it's actually a centrist paper that runs conservative Krauthammer more often than liberal Krugman, and its staff is as close-minded as you are likely to find elsewhere. Yes, I speak from experience. So few, very few, of the liberal columns are run there, and I pick them all up in the weekly collection. But this is one of the things that gets behind. So I set aside time and went through 22 back weeks and saved out what I wanted to comment on here. Do I subscribe to conservative periodicals also, to be fair-minded? I'm glad you asked. I tried NATIONAL REVIEW years ago. When the first issue arrived I sampled it at random, and it said that all the charges against Newt Gingrich were either false or irrelevant. That was of course a bald-faced lie; soon thereafter Gingrich, a remarkable piece of work even for a Republican, had to leave Congress because of his misdeeds. (This is oversimplified; the details are juicy but not essential. I do thank Gingrich for one thing: he clarified for me the first name of the Grinch who Stole Christmas: Newt, of course.) I sampled it randomly again, and again, and each time encountered virtually complete indifference to reality. This came across as a radical right rag, not a sober presentation of the conservative case. So I dumped it. If a cause has to lie to make its case, it's not much of a case or cause, and the rightists of today seem to have little regard for the truth. I repeat what I have said before: there was a time when conservatism meant fundamental honesty, cherishing historic values, fiscal responsibility, and caution about untested ventures. I do appreciate such tenets. Now it seems to mean greed, arrogance, ignorance, religiosity, hypocrisy, and covert racism. I should think original conservatives would be disgusted by the evident perversion of their creed. So I am left with LIBERAL OPINION, which at least has some sensible commentary. More on that below.


A reader asked me what my favorite quote was. I pondered briefly, and the first one that came to mind was “Beware of the man whose god is in the skies,” from The Revolutionist's Handbook, a supplement to the play Man and Superman, by George Bernard Shaw. I discovered that in high school, when Man & was in our book but skipped over for assigned reading; I had learned that adults generally disapproved of the most interesting reading, so I read it, and verified my suspicion: great stuff. Shaw was one fine smart liberal vegetarian writer; can't think why I like him so much. But about favorite quotes: Had I pondered longer, I might have thought of lines from a poem “What the cloud doeth, the Lord knoweth; the cloud knoweth not. What the artist doeth, the Lord knoweth; knoweth the artist not?” by the American poet Sidney Lanier. He was a fine southern flutist and poet, interned in the Civil War, where he got TB and slowly died from it, not quite living to age 40. I knew his distant collateral relative Sterling Lanier, a fine fantasy writer, who had a daughter the age of mine.


Okay, I have a huge pile of clippings I will have to boil down to smidgens. I'll start with LIBERAL OPINION WEEK for last NoRemember and move forward. E J Dionne Jr. “Here is a surefire way to cut $7.1 trillion from the deficit over the next decade. Do nothing.” Because when the Bush tax cuts expire, that will do it. It won't undo the trillions of dollars wasted in the Bush wars, but at least will stop the hemorrhage. This is one the supposedly balanced-budget supporting Republicans can't stop by filibustering. With luck, Obama will not again make the mistake of extending the tax cuts, trying to placate the implacable. He's thrown too many pearls before those swine already. David Rothkopf gives ten reasons Obamba will be re-elected, the essence being Barak is a nice guy, the economy is recovering,  and the Republicans come across as a passel of extremists. Mauer & Cole discuss five myths about incarceration, such as that crime has fallen because we have thrown more people into prison. No, Canada's incarceration rate is about one seventh ours, yet it has less crime. Much of it is drug related; blacks are twelve times as likely to be sent to prison as whites, yet both use drugs at about the same rate. That may not be proof of racism, but there's one hell of a smell. Paul Krugman says that up to 2005 almost two thirds of the rising share of income went to the top 0.1 percent, the richest thousandth of Americans. “Extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy.” We are coming to resemble a third world nation in that respect. Gene Lyons suggests that one reason wealthy Republicans are not comfortable with Social Security is that “...over 75 years Social Security has provided a measure of dignity, security and freedom to working Americans that just annoys the hell out of their betters.” Charles Blow asks whether income inequality is becoming the new global warming, with many Americans preferring to believe it's not a concern. “If denial is a river, it runs through doomed societies.” Paul Krugman says that we were supposed to start regulating mercury 20 years ago, because it is really unhealthy to have in the environment. Now at last it is happening, expected to deliver huge health benefits at modest cost. “So, naturally, Republicans are furious.” Nicholas Kristof says that two Swedes are serving an 11 year sentence in a filthy Ethiopian prison for committing journalism. That is, they sneaked into the Ogaden region to investigate reports of human rights abuses. Dictatorships really don't like having their dirt exposed. Another blogger there called on the government to allow free speech and end torture; he faces a possible death sentence. Bill Keller says it would be folly to bomb Iran, as some politicians urge, as it would unify the people around the mullahs and provoke them to double their nuclear pursuit. Clarence Page says that a report found that almost a quarter of all Internet traffic infringes on copyright laws, but a law to stop it may actually promote censorship. Yes, those are concerns of mine too; I don't like either theft or censorship and would hate to have to choose between them. Nicholas Kristof says that now pimps are using the Internet to sell girls. There's another tricky choice: freedom of speech, or sexual slavery. E J Dionne Jr. says that the Citizens United decision tore down a century's worth of law aimed at reducing corruption in our electoral system; the conservative court majority set out to remake our political system by strengthening the hand of corporations and the wealthy, entrenching their approach to governance. That is, they're reproducing their kind. Paul Krugman asks “But why do regions that rely on the safety net elect politicians who want to tear it down?” Because they're confused. 44% of Social Security recipients say they have not used a government program. “But these voters would be both shocked and angry if politicians actually imposed their small-government agenda.” Their education may come hard. Robyn Blumner says that the numbers show that the national deficit is the result of wars and Bush tax cuts, not any liberal spending spree. Yes, and those who try to blame the whole deficit on three years of Obama are idiots, liars, or both. Donald Kaul asks “If you really and truly believe that abortion is the ultimate evil, how can you be against contraception, the great enemy of abortion?” Well, you can if you want to keep women barefoot and pregnant for the crime of having sex. I think that's the hidden agenda. Paul Krugman comments on the Paul Ryan phenomenon. Not Ryan himself: “He's a garden-variety modern GOP extremist, an Ayn Rand devotee who believes that the answer to all problems is to cut taxes on the rich and slash benefits for the poor and middle class.” No, the phenomenon is the cult that elevates Ryan to an icon of fiscal responsibility. Joe Nocera remarks on the Chevrolet Volt, a different kind of hybrid car that gets around 40 miles per charge before the gasoline engine kicks in. An eminently sensible car, if they can just get the $40,000 price down. It's American designed and made. So the conservative propaganda machine is trashing it and trying to blame it on President Obama, who actually is not connected to the Volt. “It is inexplicable that the right would feel the need to tell lies about the Volt to attack the president.” No it isn't; the Volt saves fuel, so the gas-guzzler industry is against it, and conservatives, having no valid case, have to make up lies instead, such as the cars bursting into flames, as no Volt has ever done.


Now that I have caught up the LIBERALS for now, on to other clippings. Students have invented phone-friendly lingerie, the JoeyBra, with a pocket for keys, credit cards, cell phone, etc. Now women can go purse-less and still function. They will not absentmindedly leave their bras on the counter. It might be fun to date such a woman: if the phone rings when she has her hands full, she might ask you to answer it for her, so you'd have to fish for it among the soft hills. Robyn Blumner column in the newspaper (some liberals do slip through the net) commenting on the book The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt that explores the differences between conservatives and liberals. He asks them tricky questions, like what would they think of a brother and sister who experimented with incest while using birth control? Of a family that, after their pet dog was run over, ate it for dinner? I don't have ready answers, so don't know how mine would distinguish me from a conservative. But I think I would be repelled by both examples.


Now the battle between traditional publishers and Amazon his hit the news. The Justice Department has sued Apple and publishers about the Agency Model, which establishes that traditional publishers can set the retail prices of books. This is to prevent Amazon from setting prices so low that publishers might be run out of business, while Amazon, with deep pockets, survives. But is this price fixing? The suit may settle that, legally. I suspect it is more about who fixes the price: the publisher or Amazon. I have an interest, but am not taking sides, in part because I have feet in both camps, and in part because I'm just not sure where the right of the case lies. Maybe the author should set the price of his book, as is the case with self publishing.


Political cartoon: What life is like for the CEOs of Rush Limbaugh's remaining sponsors. Remember, Rush called a woman a whore when she argued the case for contraceptives being covered by health care insurance, and his own wife told him off. Cartoon shows a man bleary in the morning finding a note on the refrigerator saying “Make your own breakfast! Hope you enjoyed the sofa.”


Lovely story circulated by Monica Parish on the Internet; she has good taste in relaying things. So I'm agnostic; I still appreciate a good religious joke. Digested down, it is that a Jewish businessman sent his son to Israel for a year, and the son returned converted to Christianity. So the man asked his Jewish friend what to do, but the same thing had happened to him. So they asked the rabbi, and it had happened to him as well. What was going on? So the three of them prayed to God, asking what to do. And God replied FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK. I, TOO, SENT MY SON TO ISRAEL...


You know those virtual worlds on the Internet? I've never been to one, being on slow dial-up, but I'm sure I would love them. Well, now it seems crime has discovered them. What do you do when your virtual home is broken into and smashed up and robbed by a monster?


For every US soldier killed on the battlefield, about 25 commit suicide. That's painful.


Items in THE WEEK: The American TV show Toddlers & Tiaras has paved the way for children's beauty pageants in England. Even three year olds wear makeup, teased blonde hair and looking like little sex dolls. To what market are they really appealing? Child porno? Maybe not related: some women experience sexual pleasure though exercise, sometimes leading to orgasm. Usually that occurs during an abs workout, but biking, running, or hiking can also do it. Even weight lifting. They call it “coregasm.” My guess is that the flexing of the pelvic region is what does it. It does not seem to work on men. Ah, well. Google is testing self-driving cars; they are already out there, quietly behaving in traffic. 90% of accidents are caused by human error, so this could contribute to safety. When there start being road-rage incidents between self driving cars, we'll know that that process has arrived. They have discovered that mild electric shock to the brain can contribute to better performance. The female author of the article tried it, and became a good marksman, because her mind was clear of extraneous thoughts. So the key seems to be focus. Remember the P does or does not equal NP proof I discussed in a prior column? P is the class of easy-to-solve problems; NP is the class of easy-to-check problems. Are the two categories the same, or different? Most logicians believe they are different, and that is my belief. All Ps are in NP, but are all NPs in P? Consider modern secret codes: designed to be almost impossible to crack, but when you have the key, it is easy to verify your message. So NP is definitely not P in that instance. But they feel that it will take a century or more to formally prove it. (They probably don't read my column.)


And one from NEW SCIENTIST: a review of a book titled Free Will by Sam Harris. Free will is everywhere in law, politics, relationships, morality and so on; we are constantly making decisions, for good or ill. Yet it is an illusion. “We either live in a deterministic universe where the future is set, or an indeterminate one where thoughts and actions happen at random. Neither is compatible with free will.” The author concludes that it really does not make much of a difference. I have a problem with that; as a general rule I don't like either/or extremes, because in my observation reality is generally a shade of gray. But since I can't distinguish between true free will and the illusion of free will, I have to grudgingly agree that it probably does not make much of a difference. Maybe it is illusion that fills in those shades of gray.


I aim for about 3,000 words in these columns, and as usual I have seriously overshot it with this 5,100 word effort. I still have a pile of things to do that had to be bumped into next month; I'll be writing about them then. So let me finish here with a comment about the flowers of spring: April is a month of flowers here in backwoods Florida. I'm especially pleased that our star jasmines, that usually display one or two star-petaled flowers in a season, this time had up to 25 per day despite getting frozen back by the freezes of Jamboree and FeBlueberry. They evidently have a can-do attitude.

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