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Piers the handyman 2007
NoRemember 2013

On the recommendation of a reader, I bought and read The Spectrum by Dean Ornish, M.D., a book on healthy living. Sounds dull? Not if you want to live healthier and longer. If you don't, skip on to the next paragraph. This is about the best all-around health book I've seen, because it covers diet, exercise, and lifestyle, which do interrelate. The diet is essentially vegetarian, in fact vegan; meat, milk, eggs, cheese, butter are on the don't-eat-much list. The exercise is broad, with fun activities acceptable. Lifestyle means stay off the coffee, soft drinks, smoking, and the hating your work syndrome. The main point, from which the title derives, is that you don't have to do everything at once; you can make incremental moves along the spectrum. You can exercise a little, like taking a brief walk, and it will help you a little, or skip one salty fatty calorific burger a week and it will help some. Try a little improvement, moving a notch on the spectrum, and see if you feel better. But the extremes are potent; folk awaiting heart surgery have tried a major move on the spectrum, and lost the need for the surgery. That would seem to be worth it. The book is replete with recipes for healthy eating, too. In general, it describes the way I live, which maybe hints why I'm still reasonably healthy and active at an age when other writers are croaking. I don't drink its recommended green tea, and do use milk and eggs, and don't consciously meditate, but otherwise am close to the healthy extreme. The main omission I see is that the book does not address vitamin/mineral supplements; there's nothing about the beneficial effects of Vitamin C supplementation, such as stopping the common cold, or Vitamin D from sunlight, for example. Sure, it is best to get your vitamins from wholesome foods, but sometimes you can't, and you shouldn’t have to be deprived when supplements can solve the problem. So I rate this an excellent book, just not quite as good as it could have been. Doctors generally just aren't into vitamin pills; they should be.

I bought on sale (I can't resist a sexy sale) what was advertised as a highly sexy movie, Sex and Lucia, Spanish with English subtitles. On the cover it says “One of the most erotic movies ever made,” by one reviewer. It isn't. There is nudity and simulated sex, and a sexy cover picture, but not more than you can find in R rated movies. That doesn't mean that it's a bad movie, just that it is misrepresented. Lucia loses her boyfriend, apparently dead, and visits an island off Spain where he had once been, where she meets a woman with a love child. Meanwhile there are flashbacks about her relationship with boyfriend, who is an author struggling with his next novel. Some sequences are from his novel, with him playing the male role for his character. It turns out that the friend Lucia makes on the island is the mother of that child, with boyfriend, who didn't know. Okay, it's well enough done, just not “intensely erotic” unless their idea of eroticism in Spain is not what it is in America.

I watched the Discover video “The Loneliest Animals” about rare creatures going extinct. Poachers just keep killing until none survive, unless they are stopped. The Galapagos giant tortoises, the Sumatran Rhinoceros, large turtles in China, rare birds—teams are trying to save the remnants with captive breeding, but when there's only one male and one female of a species left, this is chancy. All they can do is try and hope for the best. If I ran the world, warnings would be posted; then any poachers wild be shot dead when they tried it. I'd love to see the extinction of poachers. I mean, killing the last rhino for the fantasy that its horn can make men potent?

I watched The Human Stain, featuring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman. This is a sad one. The stain, it seems, is that he is a light-skinned black passing for white, in the not-too-distant American past where racism made it difficult or impossible for blacks to get decent jobs or relationships. He gets accused of racism for using the word “spooks” in its primary sense of ghost or specter, but it gets taken as its secondary slang sense of a disparaging name for a black person. So, ironically, he loses his professorship, rather than reveal his origin, though that revelation probably would have cost him his position anyway. He meets and loves a woman who is stalked by her ex, and the two get killed by that ex, who gets away with it. A quality story of the kind I appreciate but don't really like.

I watched RENT, a musical about starving artists, some with AIDS, struggling to survive in New York City when they can't even pay their rent. There's not a lot of plot, mainly the interactions of four couples, all done in lively song and dance. I liked one sequence wherein a young man, dumped by his girlfriend for another woman (not man), then encounters that woman and they do the tango together, part of it in his imagination. I love these lively, mannered dances. In another scene a well fleshed young woman bares her bottom at the police. I had a bit of trouble telling actors apart, because there were so many spot interactions, but I'm sure it would clarify if I watched it again. There is joy and heartache and redemption, all fun. This is one of the big famous shows that I in my cloistered life hadn't picked up on before.

I watched Anonymous, a movie about Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth, circa 1600. It conjectures among other things that Shakespeare was a nobody who was given the credit for the plays written by an illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth who could not afford to have his creative art exposed. Actually something like this was possible; today erotic writers may have to conceal their fiction from their employers or associates for similar reasons. Ben Johnson was his friend, and a formidable poet in his own right, helping keep the secret. I looked him up after the movie and was reminded that he wrote the verse that became the song “Drink to me only with thine eyes,” one I liked so well I memorized it. The movie mixes in politics and plots against the queen, and thus also against the plays, which she really liked. An irony was that when Elizabeth died, leaving no indication of her choice for a successor, it went to King James of Scotland, anathema to many English, who turned out to like the plays too.

I watched I Love It From Behind, another sexy foreign film, with English subtitles, though the title hardly relates to the content. A Japanese girl is trying to collect a hundred “penis prints” before she gets married. That is, she paints ink on the man's erect penis, then wraps paper around it to get the print. Then she gives him sex. She approaches strangers on the street to get her prints. One man jumps the gun and gets the ink onto and into her, to her annoyance. But the last man, #100, demands a contest first: they'll have sex until one of them climaxes, leaving the other the winner. Well, this takes some time, as they both have excellent control, and they have to eat, so they are both eating their meals while in the middle of sex. When it gets to a record 55 hours without a decision she says it it is time to make him ejaculate. She does it by massaging his prostate. Other girls have other adventures; one gets into it with a sado/masochist and isn't pleased, so next time she ties him up and has at him with a vibrator in the ass. Nothing subtle about it; she just jams it in, wham, like pounding in a tent peg. So it's a fun sexy movie though the sex is simulated and never quite shown.

I watched Secret Things, billed as a steamy French movie with English subtitles. It is that, and more; there are extended scenes of nude young woman stretching languorously and making love with other women. Two lovely young women live together, and get work at a bank, where one becomes the assistant and mistress of a high official. Then the rapacious son of the bank president steps in and takes her over, and she becomes his mistress perforce, not completely unwillingly. It turns out that the son is also hot for his own pretty sister, who does what he tells her to, including sex, and there is one remarkable sequence where he has the protagonist stand behind the sister, and do everything to the sister that the man does to her. Fondling breasts, thighs, etc. I don't think I've seen anything quite like that before. Son marries protagonist, purely as a social device, and will divorce her as soon as his father dies and leaves him the bank. At the end the protagonist's friend, jilted by the son, shoots him to death, and protagonist, caught in that brief period before the divorce, inherits everything and is rich and powerful. But somewhat emotionally twisted, as you might imagine.

I watched the Discover video Evolve: Communication. This is another good one. It starts with ants, perhaps the most successful creature on Earth; if all animals were weighed, ants would make one fifth of the total. What made them so successful in the past 150 million years? Communication. No, they don't have a sophisticated language; in fact they're not very smart. It's smell. Put the right smell on something and they react in a programmed way. The enemy smell prompts an attack, even if it's only a glass bead. Sort of the way the Republicans attack anything Obama, no thought necessary. The food smell prompts transporting to the home mound. In this manner they work as an organized society and survive better than most. Other creatures communicate in other ways, such as whales by low-range sound that can carry just about from one continent to another. They're actually social creatures with an environment hundreds of miles across. Birds have two larynxs and can modulate two different sounds simultaneously; there's no mistaking that, especially if you're another bird. Then there are the apes, including mankind; it seems that the origin of our language, Broca's area of the brain, dates from before our separation from the chimps, only we made a bit more of it. Without that superior communication we would not be in the dominant position we are now. The video didn't say it, but I note that we sure do love to communicate constantly; we see folk walking down the street with cell phones glued to their ears, and of course some kill themselves because they can't stop texting while driving. This column is communication; please don't read it while driving.

I believe I have remarked before how my wife and I live a satisfyingly dull life. It is my impression that excitement is more likely to be negative than positive, and I keep in mind the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.” So what passes for excitement here is something like the Publix store where we shop for groceries moving a few blocks to a larger store. Month by month we watched the new lot being cleared and the new walls going up. Meanwhile the shelves of the old store gradually became less stocked, until there was only a row of boxes and things in front, with no depth, as though this were a move-set mock-up not intended to be examined closely. Then finally came The Day: the old store was defunct and the new one was open. It was on our regular shopping day, so we went, and it was jammed. We had to loop around the parking lot until we caught a car just pulling out, then slip in for the space. It was jammed inside too, both with people and the newly stocked shelves. Loud music, many little gifts of things to eat, like a bazaar. Many strangers, but we did manage to spy a few of the regular employees, lending a welcome trace of familiarity. I'm sure the crowding will alleviate as the novelty wears off and we sink back into the comfortable muck of dull anonymity.

Xanth #37 Esrever Doom (Mood Reverse spelled backward) was published in OctOgre. I have not yet seen a copy, but I presume my author's copies are on the way. (I once teased another publisher about waiting until the returns were in before sending the author's copies. I'm sure they understood the implication. Oddly, I'm not at that publisher any more.) This is the story of a man zonked out by drugs for surgery who discovers himself not unconscious but in Xanth, an unfamiliar (to him) magic realm. There is a nasty spell of reversal on the land, so that, for example, pretty girls seem ugly and vice versa. The pretty girls are not completely pleased. It falls to our protagonist to locate the source of the mischief and abate it, because he as an outsider is not reversed, at least not the way the natives are, and he sees the people as they really are. Along the way he falls in love, yet he knows his stay here is temporary and his girlfriend can't join him in Mundania. Why not? Well she's a zombie, restored to living status for the emergency, whose fondest wish is to revert to her natural state, rotten as it may be. For one thing, zombies don't suffer the emotional anguish that living folk do. There are other complications, but you can see it's quite a story. Go thou and read it now, because in only two months the next one, Board Stiff, will appear, I think in all formats simultaneously. How come so soon? It's the first of the new order for Xanth, maybe like a new grocery store, self published. Traditional publishers take two years to put a manuscript into print; we can do it faster.

Odd notes: almost one third of Louisiana Republicans blame President Obama for the slow and largely ineffective response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Apparently the fact that he was not yet in office then doesn't affect their thinking; if it's Obama it's bad, and if it's bad it's Obama, as with the ants. A smaller number blame G W Bush, who gutted FEMA in preparation for the storm. The rest don't know whom to blame. As I like to put it, you don't have to be stupid to be a conservative Republican, but it helps. I remarked before in my trial of a hearing aid. Now I read that similar devices can he had for hundreds, instead of thousands, of dollars. In fact there is one device that works just as well for $7.92. So why isn't it being used in Florida? Because the state outlawed its sale here. That's hardly the only example of local protectionism at the expense of the consumer. My wife needs regular IVIg (intravenous) treatments to keep her alive and on her feet, though she is hardly spry even so; that why I run most of the household. For years a male nurse has come to handle it, and we have been quite satisfied. Now the law says we can't use him any more; we have to use someone based inside Citrus County, where we live. We pay the nurse ourselves, but no, we no longer have that choice. Florida law is protecting us from choosing whom we want. Science has discovered that many women can have orgasms just by thinking about them; they were able to prove it in the laboratory, too. Men generally can't do that. No wonder that when it comes to sex, men need women more than women need men.

A reader, Charles Borner, sent me an interesting item: a list he found of the eleven most prolific Science Fiction and Fantasy authors of all time. Yes, I am on on it, but I don't think the authors of that list really know what's what. It says I have published over 100 books. That's correct, but a more accurate figure would be about 165. It says Andre Norton published 250, but when I checked her biblio, I found about 170. Maybe it's that I don't count stories as books. I think such a listing is of interest, but it needs to be documented instead of just guessed at. There's also the attitude of publishers, many of which in my experience thought that readers would not buy more than one novel a year by any one author. That's one reason authors use pseudonyms, and why many are now going into self publishing, as I am: to eliminate the bottleneck that is traditional publishing.

From the health newsletter Alternatives, put out by Dr. David Williams (drdavidwilliams.com), I learn that the state of health in America is complicated. We spend more per capita on health care than any other nation but our health is poorer. Why? Partly it's what the doctor doesn't say: we've let private interests take over, charging what the market will bear, instead of having a universal single-payer coverage as other developed notions do. So we pay through the nose for less. But Dr. Williams points out that Americans are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as higher rates of drug use, consuming more calories, not using seat belts, and our young have higher rates of death from car crashes and homicides. We are near the bottom in infant mortality, low birth weights, injuries, homicides, teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases (not just HIV and AIDS), drug related deaths, obesity, chronic lung disease (smoking) so that more of us die before the age of 50. From a book I'm reading—I'll probably review it next column—Brain Health, I confirm that vigorous exercise promotes brain health, in age as in youth, but that only one in eight do it over the age of 65, and one in sixteen over 75. So I'm one of sixteen, and, frankly, it shows. The other fifteen folk, it seems, would rather die early than have the discipline to exercise. That's too bad.

I was raised in a pacifist community—the Quakers—and while I did not join and am not a pacifist, I respect its precepts. I would indeed rather make love than war, and it is generally better to negotiate than to fight. Now from an article in NEW SCIENTIST I learn that warfare helped stabilize early human societies. A simulation modeled 3,000 years of human history, 1500 BC to 1500 AD, and found that the organized society we see today was fostered by government, justice, and formal education. And it concludes that it was warfare that facilitated these things. A society needs to be organized and coordinated to make war and form an empire. It seems that people will do the right thing for the wrong reasons, but that's still better than not doing them. I appreciate the logic, but ouch.

Meanwhile another NEW SCIENTIST article suggests that the neolithic revolution may be mythical. Mankind in the Near East was was becoming more populous and innovative 20,000 to 12,000 years ago, and by 11,500 years ago there were relatively advanced buildings. So culture and the arts preceded agriculture, which may have developed to sustain an already burgeoning population. They are still uncovering things, but warfare in Syria is hampering it. Some structures could have been religious. Of course today religion is fading; some of the most peaceful societies are also the least religious.

More odd notes: Spot statistic: the number of Americans killed in all the wars since 1775 is 1.17 million. The number killed by guns is 1.38 million. Of course that includes suicides. The evidence is that people become less safe as gun ownership rises. An expert on bullying speaking locally says she's never seen bullying stop without adult or peer bystander intervention. Again I say: to solve the problem, take the bullies out of circulation. Otherwise they'll never stop. Item in THE WEEK says to become a nicer, more empathetic person, read a good novel. That enables you to better understand the perspectives and feelings of others. Makes sense to me; read one of mine. Ad a page in THE WEEK on transgender folk: born in the wrong body, a male in a female body or vice versa. About .3% are; that would be about one in three hundred. And one in NEW SCIENTIST is about why manners matter: we are all walking talking bags of microbes, many if which are sickening. We have to be wary of touching others lest we get infected. We don't want folk shitting on our floors, vomiting on our food, sweating on our flowers. Thus babies grow into children and thence into adults learning not to piss on everything, and that politeness makes our ordinary lives feasible. I suspect that's why intellectual manners matter too; verbal diarrhea is no more pleasant than physical. Thus social nuance, the use of euphemisms, which help us get along. I think of an example I may have mentioned before: she asks “Does this dress make me look fat?” A candid answer will alienate her, so he gives a partial answer: “No.” That's not a lie, merely incomplete. The full answer would be “No, it's not the dress that makes you look fat. You'd look fat in anything.” Why are my female readers not laughing? And a quirky local news item that may relate: an instructor at the University of South Florida, USF (not the U of Science Fiction, alas), was conducting a psychology presentation at a conference, an exercise in relating diverse things, such as a priest and a toilet. What could they have in common? Well, both of them can be helpful in particular situations and can take bad things from us. Then someone in the audience said “They're both full of shit.” Oh, my; you might say that if these were fans of psychology, the shit hit the fans. The Catholic Church is Not Amused.

I had one complication on the last day of the month: I had the doctor check my right ear, and sure enough I have an infection that seems to be causing it to churn out so much ear wax that it's on the ear drum and interfering with my hearing. He scraped some off, and it felt like a dentist drilling inside my head. Now I'm taking ear drops, and with luck the next doctor visit will clean it up. No shit.

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