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Piers and daughter unload boxes July 2014
OctOgre 2014

I watched The Mirror Has Two Faces, a Barbra Streisand movie. This is a simple but intriguing story: two educated people decide to marry for convenience and intellectual reasons, without love or sex. That saves emotional hassle. Until they start to fall in love. That messes things up. This is the first of three Streisand movies I bought for about ten dollars. The second in the trio is The Prince of Tides, wherein Tom, a Southern football coach in a troubled marriage talks at length with the psychiatrist, Streisand, who is trying to get at the root of his twin sister's suicide urge, and falls in love with her. Her marriage is in trouble too, and they become a couple—until his wife reconsiders and calls him back to her and their three daughters. His sister's buried memories tie in with his own, and the revelation is one ugly compelling sequence. I'm generally not partial to stories of troubled marriages or fouled up families, but this is one phenomenal movie. The third was The Way We Were, a love story of a script writer and a radical activist during the sickness of the McCarthy witch hunts, when people got fired or voted out of office on the mere suspicion of having independent minds. Their marriage did not survive the stresses of the times, but their love for each other plainly endured. Painful, and another quality movie. I am coming to admire Barbra Streisand for tackling such diverse social topics in these three movies, and bringing them to life and feeling. She's a great singer and actress, yes, but it's more than that.

SapTimber 3 passed without particular event, but we remember it as the sad 5th anniversary of our daughter Penny's death. Yes, we can't bring her back by mourning her, and no we don't see her as gazing down fondly on us from Heaven. We just remember.

I read How To Build an Android, by David F Dufty, a book my wife gave me for my 80th birthday. It is subtitled “The True Story of Philip K Dick's Robotic Resurrection.” You see, they made a robotic or android head in his image, and programmed it to make realistic facial gestures, look at people, and respond to questions. This didn't always work perfectly, but people flocked to talk with “the Dick Head.” All was going reasonably well, when the head got lost on an airplane flight. That ended that. The consensus is that Dick himself was sort of crazy, and this is exactly the way he would have done it, losing his head in mysterious circumstances. Maybe so. I know the man could write; I wrote the novelization for the movie, Total Recall, based on his story “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale.” I tried to put as much of the story the movie folk had deleted back into the book as possible. I have tried to keep my own wild imagination just within bounds; Dick went one step farther, out of bounds, which resulted in some great stories but also a messed up life and maybe an early death. Genius is perhaps like nuclear radiation: it can do a lot, but it's not necessarily safe to get too close to it.

I watched the Discover video Inventions That Shook the World 1930s. So many things we take for granted today had to be laboriously worked out. The two way radio, so that anyone could get in contact without having to go through someone who knew Morse Code. The electric guitar, invented when surrounding noise drowned out the faint guitars. The parking meter, to stop cars from permanently clogging city streets so that shoppers could not get in. The electric copier, replacing expensive photography of documents. But it takes almost a decade to get a company to run with his invention: Xerox. Unfortunately typical; genuinely new ideas aren't always popular with the staid old order. The trampoline. The helicopter, more complicated in detail than in concept. Then the 1940s, beginning with the development of the jet airplane engine. Existing metals would melt with the extreme heat, so a stronger metal needed to be found. The onset of World War Two satisfied the authorities that they needed this engine, and money was forthcoming. Superglue. The Slinky. The computer. The microwave. The bikini; sure all those abruptly locked eyeballs shook the world. Synthetic rubber. Tupperware. Kitty litter. Crash test dummies. Each with its own complicated history.

I watched Terminator Salvation. This is my type of junk: near future science fiction, machines revolting and trying to exterminate mankind, man sent back in time to try to save his own father who is in this context younger than he is, and the machines are getting more savvy about infiltrating the human ranks so as to take out the time traveler. Much violence, many explosions, a monstrous robot, a pretty girl, all the required elements, and I'm not sure all of it made sense, but I like this sub-genre. This copy was jumpy, as if the disc was scratched, however, unless that was a special effect.

I read Twinfinity Nethermore, by Chris Podhola. This is not your usual fantasy or science fiction. The adopted twins Whitney and Tommy are different from conventional protagonists. Whitney is blind and deaf, but can sense things around her. Tommy has special abilities, such as telekinesis, which he conceals. When they connect mentally, Whitney can use her brother's eyes and ears, and he can guide her by looking at her so that she can see where to place her feet when she walks. But that's only the beginning. A mental/physical alien creature, IT, feeds on the minds and bodies of people it can lure in close to its lake, and a local summer camp is an ideal feeding ground. Whitney can sense IT and oppose it so a limited extent, and this is really the story of that dreadful encounter. IT is unscrupulous, and needs to eliminate Whitney so it can have its way with the others. Defeating IT is no sure thing; Whitney may get consumed herself. This is an effective if often uncomfortable psychic adventure.

I watched the Discover video, How the Earth Was Made: Yosemite. This is another good one. This magnificent valley in California was formed by a combination of volcanism, erosion, glacial carving, and rock falls. When seen across the perspective of two hundred million years, it's one dangerous place. Of course we see it frozen in one part of its history so it looks placid, but that's deceptive. Geology might seem dull, but when viewed this way it's dynamic and impressive as hell--and as they say, its foundations have been in hell, pretty much literally, and slowly emerged to the surface.

I watched Oh! What A Lovely War. This is a two and a half hour musical movie about World War One, and it has just about everything. It starts with the posturing stuffed shirts who are the leaders, proceeds with the hoopla tempting youths to enlist for glory, country, and to be men. They soon get into the trenches, where there is no glory, only privation and death. Their songs reflect it, being cynical comments on reality, such as their marching forward into danger while their leaders follow safely behind. There's a sequence I had heard about before, wherein the German soldiers meet the allied soldiers in the no man's land between the trenches and share liquor, tobacco and commiserations. The common men are not enemies, merely forced to kill each other, while the leaders cynically send them into battle after battle knowing that most of them will die. Then comes a shocker, if I understand it correctly: as the war ends, a soldier is guided to a pleasant field where he can lie down at last to rest in peace with friends. It is the huge burial ground, the ultimate peace. I think this pretty much defines that war, and maybe all war: it's a racket fomented by the top dogs for the underdogs to suffer. A great movie.

I watched Saving Mr. Banks, a Disney film featuring Tom Hanks playing Walt Disney himself as he tries to talk the author into letting him make a movie of Mary Poppins. The author is crusty and opinionated and takes no guff from anyone, including Disney. In the end, after a struggle whose outcome was seriously in doubt, she agrees, and the movie is made. It seems that Mary Poppins was patterned after a decisive aunt of whom the child expected more than was delivered: saving her ill father, Mr. Banks. It's actually quite moving, and not at all a conventional adventure.

I watched Winter's Tale, wherein a young man encounters a lovely young woman and falls in love with her, but she is doomed to die of consumption (tuberculosis). He has been promised a miracle, to save the life of a redhead, but it turns out that this is not his girlfriend but a child almost a century later, saved from cancer. There's a flying white horse, and agents of Lucifer. Why? It seems that every person is unique, and sometimes, rarely, we get to see the divine hand that governs our fate. When there's a miracle, the power of Lucifer receives a setback. I doubt it makes much sense, but it is a moving story.

I read Zac's Destiny, by Lynne North, a children's fantasy, straightforward, easy to read, the story stepping right along. Young Zac is a stable boy who dreams he must go to the Baron and ask to see the casket of Aldric, the sorcerer who has mysteriously disappeared just as the enemy army is invading the kingdom. He does, and it opens for him as it does for no one else, and he gains a sword named Solstice that only he can wield, a glass ball, and a silver ring. They are magical, of course, but the nature of their charms is not immediately apparent. With these Zac must set forth to find and rescue Aldric. His friend Beth, a girl his age, joins him, and they are off on an adventure that soon turns brutal. Gradually the properties of the magic items become evident, and with the help of companions they meet along the way they labor to fulfill their destiny. Standard as it is in outline, it's well done and gripping as Zac learns things he never dreamed of. Of course they save the kingdom, but it's the manner of it that counts. I think if I were a child I'd find this hard to put down, and even as a cynical old man I found it compelling.

I watched Primal Impulse, one of the 50 movies I got for $15, or thirty cents for this one. A young woman discovers she's been away for three days and can't remember any of it. So she goes to the town in an ad she finds in her possession, the only hint she has, to try to recover her memory. And learns that she was there using another name, saying she was being pursued. Was she crazy? But at the end space-suited men catch her and haul her away. She really was being chased. So what of her prior lifetime in the city? That wasn't real? This really doesn’t make sense. No wonder it was lumped into the cheap bin.

I read Everyone's A Genius by Jen Fraser, who also illustrated it with nice pictures. I'm impressed with their clarity, having once aspired to be an artist myself. This review leads me into an extended discussion that is more about me than the book, perhaps a familiar story to those who read my columns. The book starts with a quote attributed to Albert Einstein to the effect that if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will think it is stupid. That registers with me, as all my life I have been bothered by false comparisons, such as devising an IQ test tuned to the lifestyle of upper-class whites so that blacks score 15 points lower, supposed evidence of their inferiority. I've always been somewhat of a square peg, so that I scored low on tests until I caught on and learned to cater to their notions of correctness, and then my IQ rose from the cellar to the top one or two percent. Sure, they say intelligence doesn't change, but I say measured IQ does because of the fallibility of the tests, and I got a brainful of that; don't get me started. I have been called a genius by some readers, though I haven't been certain of their definition of the term; my guess is that they mean they really like my writing. So I approached this book with interest, hoping it would clarify such matters, and wasn't disappointed. This is, to a degree, a self-help book, positive attitude, smile and the world smiles with you exhortation. The danger with that sort of thing is that self delusion is sometimes too easy, as with the fat lady who believes she is beautiful as she is, and bawls out anyone who hints that she should diet, rather than take the more arduous steps to actually make herself beautiful. (Web underling's editorial note: As a fat lady, I take offense at this, but the man's ideas about such things were set well before many of us were born. Read the sentence that follows and apply it back to Mr. A before you pen a nastygram to him, please.) Denial is potent, and ultimately disastrous; I have seen it in action. So yes, be positive, but hew close to realism too. This book recommends going for the different idea, the one others dismiss out of hand, but does acknowledge that the vast majority of new ideas may be erroneous. I think of that as like evolution: 99% of mutations may be bad, but the 1% that are good are responsible for making us what we are today. So condemning the 99% may be a losing strategy, since you don't know which wild notion is the 1%. You need to give serious unbiased attention to them all, to winnow out that one.

There's a fair amount of discussion of genius here, and I like it. “A genius uses creative and radically different thinking where everything we believe we 'know' is up for debate.” Maybe by that definition I might indeed lay some claim to genius. “Talent doesn't mean having to be creative or even original.” It says it means honing your particular skill for seven to ten years; it takes dedication and hard work. Therein is the opportunity for everyone to be a genius. Farther along it says that some geniuses don't have high IQs. That Albert Einstein's IQ was never tested, and that he flunked some exams. That there are great entrepreneurs without degrees, such as the founders of Virgin Airlines, Ford Motors, Dell Computers, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's, Apple Computers, Coca-Cola, Disney, the inventor Tesla, and Bill Gates of Microsoft. I'm betting that they all felt stifled by conventional education, and rebelled against it. But it should be noted that for every such success, there are a myriad failures.

Along the way there is incidental advice, such as finding Mr. or Ms. Right: try dating someone you're not at first attracted to, and see where it leads. Sometimes it leads to marriage. What about luck? We all see how some get the big breaks we don't. This book cites a study that shows that blind chance favors nobody. I would modify that to say that it favors nobody consistently. Folk who think they are lucky are creating their own luck through attitude. Um, maybe. Some folk have the bad luck to be on the plane that gets shot down by mistake; that's not a fault of their attitude. Some have the good luck to be born into families of privilege. But the book has an answer: don't leave your fate to chance; that's just asking for trouble. A study shows that just three percent of MBA (Master of Business Administration) students wrote down a clear plan for achieving their future goals, while 13% had unwritten goals, and 84% had no clear goals. Ten years later the 13% were making twice as much money as the 84%, and the 3% were making over ten times as much. Hmmm. So what about me? Did I write down a clear plan to become a successful novelist? Actually I did, pretty much, because I had to to go for my BA in Creative Writing. I did wind up vastly more successful than classmates, though it took more than a decade, but somehow I doubt that's the reason. At times it felt like navigating my canoe through a hurricane at sea as I encountered those who had no intention of being decent or fair and sought to wash me out for standing on my rights and telling the truth. You buck the system at your own high risk. It takes more than a dream to survive that. The book recommends becoming a dreamer who takes action, rather than simply dreaming. I did that, in spades. My goal was like a shining beacon, and I never lost sight of it. But there was a hell of a lot more to it than just the dream, as these asides hint. Something I've noted is that the top performers in any discipline tend to have their lives taken over by it, and it is that total dedication, coupled with talent and chance, that makes the difference. It was true for me. I had one exception from the outset: I never let my career interfere with my family. Oh, it tried, in my heyday as a bestseller; my wife became known as Mrs. Piers Anthony (it's a pseudonym), and my daughters when they went to college swore their friends to secrecy so they would not be known as my children. It's hard to wall fame out. But if at any point I had had to choose between my career and my family, I would have dumped the career, albeit it with phenomenal regret. There's the key. Fortunately my wife supported me absolutely, through some perilous passes, and that's a significant part of my success. It's been 58 years now, and death will us part. Is there genius for lasting marriage?

The book stresses the importance of getting on with your dream instead of sitting on your duff. Then stay with it until you see it through. Finish what you start. Understand your limitations and work within them, not against yourself. All good advice. Then it tackles major myths. Don't buy into the myth that all the truly original ideas have already been thought up. As it says “If that were so, science fiction authors would be out of a job.” Um, maybe; the fact is that most fiction in any genre is not very original, merely interesting. That being smart will make you happy. The author cites the example of her friend who joined Mensa, the club for smart folk, and found that very few members were interested in creating or inventing anything; instead they were focused on solving puzzles and games. That was my impression. Long ago I considered taking the Mensa test, which I surely could have passed—my mother was a member—but was not impressed with their agenda, and passed it by. I love puzzles and games, but I love writing more. That creative thinking is linked to IQ: tests show that the two have little to do with each other. That's my impression too. I regard myself as one of the most creative folk extant, with a breadth of imagination like no other, but that is not at all the same as IQ or even writing ability. What about the arts of composing, dancing, painting, or poetry, which are not measured by IQ? They are the essence of creativity, as is original story telling. That geniuses are brilliant at everything. No, outside their fields they are duffers like the rest of us. That we use only ten percent of our brains. No, we use 100%, albeit it not necessarily effectively. That ordinary folk are not creative. No, we are born creative, could we just hang on to our potential. That drugs help creativity. Definitely not. I'm glad I never got hooked into any drugs, not even nicotine or caffeine; I have always been wary of addictions of any kind. That you need fancy equipment to be great. You don't, though it can help. And so on.

The book also objects to closed minds; curious minds are better. But here I have a caveat: it says to change “That's impossible” to “How can this be made possible?” Some things are impossible; I know, as I earn my living from writing fantasy, the literature of the impossible. We're not going to build a spaceship that exceeds the speed of light. Oh, yes, we can ponder wormholes in space, this bypassing that limitation, but this is a devious process even in conjecture. We're not going to travel backward in time; alternate universes may be our best way around that, again devious in application. We're not going to resolve paradoxes; “This statement is false” is not subject to refutation. But I do prefer open minds, and abhor the damage done by closed minds in authority. It's best to be exceedingly careful about what we declare to be impssible. Overall, this book is an appeal for open mindedness, and I applaud it, and recommend it to anyone who feels stifled by ordinary existence. Or, as it says, feeling like a rat in a cage. One huge example is education; we are locked into an archaic pattern that tends to stifle imagination and progress; I know, having survived it as a student, then as a teacher. How could this be changed? The book points out that Finland is an outstanding example. In the 1960s they decided on reform, and in one generation they went from mediocre to superior. There, teaching is high status and testing is minimal; school shopping is unknown because all their schools are good. The rest of the world could profit enormously by emulating their example. Another is the Pareto Principle, that states that about 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. This applies in business and in crime (the two are not necessarily synonymous), and working with it can significantly increase a person's effectiveness.

And I am mentioned, for my novel Dragon on a Pedestal, with little Ivy's magic ability to Enhance salient qualities of those she encounters; thus taming the most fearsome dragon in Xanth. Not that I noticed the reference, of course.

Okay, I wrote that 1,850 word ramble and sent it to the author, Jen Fraser, sort of fair warning so she would have a chance to hire a lawyer for a libel suit, or flee into the witness protection program before getting sacked by it, and she countered with a completely unexpected question: would it be okay if she ran the commentary as the forward to the book? After I collected my jaw from the floor, I told her, sure, why not, it's her book. Sort of like the joke in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, if I remember correctly, wherein a country boy brings his family's cow to be bred by the local bull, and he and the owner's daughter sit on the porch and watch the action as the bull mounts the cow. “Gee, I wish I was a-doing that!” the naive lad exclaims. “Why not?” responds the savvy girl. “It's your cow.” Not that anyone's getting screwed here, I trust.

I expected some savagely negative responses to last month's commentary on Jesus, as there are Christians who support Jesus at the point of a sword. But so far all responses have been positive, mainly from atheists, though one did feel that I was not properly describing atheism. This shows yet again that I have little notion of my readership; what else is new? There were also comments on my fall. I am mending nicely from that; in two weeks I was able to draw my bow again, right handed, barely, and in three weeks, left handed. I drew it one more time each day until I got up to 10 draws each side. Thereafter I returned to my normal schedule of 20 draws right side one day, and 20 draws left side the other day. My other exercises have returned similarly. But now instead of running, I alternate walking with jogging, the emphasis being less of velocity than on damn well making sure I don't fall again.

We don't pay a lot of attention to TV, being more book and magazine oriented, but did note the series on the Roosevelts, Teddy and Franklin, both remarkable presidents. Much ugly yet fascinating detail on their personal lives; I was struck by how unhappy those lives seemed to be. Are there any really happy public figures?

I have mentioned how when I stopped archery, retaining only the daily drawing of the bow, I used the time to catch up on backlogged chores. The three quarter mile drive has now been clipped back so that cars don't have to forge through encroaching foliage, the yard has been restored to the semblance of a yard rather than a forest of saplings, and a number of my overflowing folders for correspondence and clippings have been reduced to usable density. Then I hit the burgeoning Health folder, and started in on clippings dating back 15 years. I thought an hour or two would cover it, but it lasted the entire month of SapTimber and is not yet done. I thought I would be throwing out old dated items, as I have with other folders, but have thrown out none. It is a broad category, packed with relevance to my interests. I split it into eight or nine smaller folders covering things like Depression (suicide), Fitness (exercise), Food (vegetarianism), and Sexuality (including hetero and homo). I simply have a huge interest in the larger definition of health. Some stray items I thought I'd share with you. For example, one item was evidently misfiled there, on Vocabulary, dated 12/27/2007, the day's word being “bruit,” to report, to noise abroad, with an illustrative quote from my novel Key to Havoc. Wow! I'm famous in a minor way. But in fairness I should tell where I learned the use of the word. It was in a story by Theodore Sturgeon, whose use of language I always admired, a woman urging others to bruit the news about. Then there's one dated June 9, 1998: how can mental abilities be retained in age? The answer was get more education, exercise, and try to maintain control of your life. I do those things. Then an Ask Marilyn column for 10-31-1999 listing the IQ levels of different occupations, with Writers being at the top and revolutionary leaders ninth. I had no idea I was in such an elite profession. She mentions that one of my favorite poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, had an estimated IQ of 175. Wow! His work intrigued me ever since I saw the first lines of “Xanadu” quoted in a fantasy story, and my continuing fascination with X words shows in the name of my Xanth series. Column by John Leo for 9-27-2000 on how parental divorce can haunt even grown children. “A good divorce may be much worse than a bad marriage.” “Taken as a group, the children of divorce are at serious risk.” As the grown child of parental divorce, I appreciate that, and I have done my best not to inflict it on my own children. Yes, there are bad marriages that should not endure, but don't treat divorce as if it is victimless. These items only scratch the surface of what I am rediscovering in my Health folder.

Other clippings: the pay gap keeps broadening. America's CEOs now make 354 times the average worker's pay. That's the worst in the world. If I ran things I would reduce that ratio to maybe a maximum of ten to one, or less. What, companies couldn't hire good men for that? No, they couldn't hire greedy men for that. Writing: They had engineering students write essays on why they hated writing. It turns out that what they actually hate is rote learning, bland generic writing like processed cheese, the focus on aligning to a test rather than imagination. Amen! Spanking: opinion article by William Saletan on what is taught by hitting children. “I can tell you what kids learn from being hit. They learn about hitting, and about you.” And “We remember the punishment, not the crime.” That makes ugly sense to me. But then a response by Leonard Pitts, who doesn't approve of child abuse but says there are children who don't respond to gentle admonitions. He saw a four year old child frolicking barefoot through the ice cream cooler in a supermarket. His mother tried to reason with him, but he ignored her. “If she couldn't stop a four year old from strolling through the ice cream cooler, what in the world did she do when that same child was 13 and ditching school, 14 and using drugs, 15 and getting horizontal with some little girl in his class?” And “Here's what I do believe. A parent must be loving, accessible, involved, but also an authority figure, the one who sets limits, and imposes real and painful consequences for kids who flout them. Otherwise you risk sending into the world something we already have in excess—children poisoned by 'self esteem,' walking in serene self entitlement, convinced the sun shines for them alone.” Who I suspect will wind up in prison or prematurely dead. That, he suggests, is the real child abuse. I can't think offhand when I have seen a stronger case made, and a stronger counter-case. Individual situations vary widely, and it is difficult to have a one size fits all rule. Ad for a book: How To Stop Your Doctor Killing You. That must be some book! The ad says it's not a criminal who is most likely to kill you, it's your incompetent doctor. I'm intrigued, but I think not enough to buy the book. Letter in the newspaper by John Waltman on how to handle a dog attack: get a tight hold behind the dog's neck, and with the other hand reach for its windpipe and squeeze hard. The dog's jaws will pop open and the victim can be removed. Rape: in California a new law says “yes means yes.” That is, a woman's silence (such as when she's drugged or drunk?) can't be taken as consent to sex; she has to say Yes. Otherwise it's rape. “Do you want to have sex?” A young man protests “If I have to ask those questions, I won't get what I want.” Isn't that a shame. I've been married a long time, and I still like sex. I ask my wife for it, and if she doesn't agree, we don't have sex. That does not seem complicated. Perhaps related: columnist Daniel Ruth remarks on the recent theft and publication of naked pictures of celebrities. Are they entitled to privacy? Not according to the hackers. Ruth suggests that posting naked pictures of the cyber-brigands on the Internet might send a suitable message. And the September 2014 issue of the Hightower LOWDOWN has an expose of Amazon's ruthless business practices. It's no longer limited to books; in fact books are now only seven percent of Amazon's total business. Do we really want this kind of business ethic in America? Can we ameliorate it? Item in SCIENCE NEWS says that they have found the spot in the brain that turns consciousness on and off. It's called the claustrum. Can it really be that simple? I'm inclined to think that it's more like a link in a chain, or the switch in a circuit: it can interrupt the process, but it is not itself the process.

And more clippings: why do women stay with violent men, such as with abusive football players? It turns out that leaving may be no simple matter. It takes an average of seven tries for a victim to leave an abusive relationship, if they leave at all. They may be financially dependent, they may think they somehow deserve it, they may still love him, they may be afraid. Statistically, leaving an abuser raises the likelihood of being murdered by him 75%. Society and the authorities tend to ignore it; the victim may essentially have no support. Yes there are shelters for battered woman; my wife works as a volunteer at one, one afternoon a week. I resist the temptation to answer calls during her absence saying “She's at the abuse center”; it might be misunderstood. But they may be crowded and have to turn away women. In sum: more needs to be done, beginning with toughened sentences and enforcement. If I ran the world, an abuser would never get a second chance. But it's more complicated than that. What about the false charges, and what about woman-on-man abuse, of which there is much more than is reported? I fear that what we really need is a complete rephrasing of societal attitudes in this respect. That's wa-a-ay easier to say than to do.

I'm behind on magazines, hoping to catch up. NEW SCIENTIST for 19 April 2014 has an article on war: what is it good for? Surprisingly it turns out to be good for a lot. It is a huge paradox that war may have done more than anything else to make the world safer. The reasoning is that to make war, your tribe has to get well organized, forming governments. To stay in power, those governments have to suppress violence among their subjects. People almost never give up their freedoms, including their “rights” to abuse, impoverish, and kill each other (including their girlfriends), unless forced to do so, and war or the threat of war seems to be about the only way to make them. Remember Nazi Germany? Was anything short of World War Two going to stop them? The modern world has much less killing than the ancient world did, because of the resented force of governments. The risk of an individual dying violently was about 15% twelve thousand years ago; now it's about 1%. Thanks ultimately to war.

And items I encountered at the end of the month. The rich are still getting richer, the poor poorer. From 2001 to 2007 98% of income gains went to the top ten percent of earners. That's those who earn over $120,000 a year. It's getting worse: in 2012 the top ten percent got 116% of the income gains. How is that possible? Because the bottom 90% lost income. Worse yet, the top one percent got 95% of the income gains of the past three years. Welcome to America, the land of free enterprise. What about educational values? Liberals view the most important things to teach are tolerance, curiosity, creativity, and empathy; conservatives prefer obedience and religious faith. Am I ever liberal! Both persuasions believe in responsibility, however, though in my observation of politics few actually practice it. And on getting old, such as 80, my age: is there a time to quit struggling for health and just enjoy your life? Article by Jason Karlawish says that today only 3.6 percent of the population is older than 80; how old do we have to get to give up the health rat race? We know the end is not likely to be far distant; we're an endangered species. Now there is a website, ePrognosis, that collates 19 risk calculations so fogies like me can calculate our likelihood of dying in the next six months to ten years. That way we can know when to start giving things away, such as some of our savings. Um, I'll consider it. To whom do I give this monthly HiPiers column? And I'll conclude appropriately, with shit. That is, a review in NEW SCIENTIST of a book titled The Wastewater Gardener, by Mark Nelson. We are getting buried in our own excrement, and we don't want to talk about it or even think about it, we just want it gone. So it is fouling our water. It seems it takes about four times as much fresh water to flush out a given amount of fresh feces, leaving less and less to drink. Is there a better way? Yes: use it to fertilize greenery and to grow fruits and vegetables. Nigh 40 years we considered getting a composting toilet that would use no water and make for good gardening, but we discovered that it was illegal in Florida. So much for common sense. There needs to be a fundamental change. There's also the problem of contamination of our wastes by drugs we use. I remember a salient line by G. Legman in Rationale of the Dirty Joke, which volumes cover a hell of a lot more than naughty humor, to the effect that it is shit that is clean, and the pure white powders that pollute. Amen.

For readers interested in my publications: I finished Pira as a 31,000 word novella, and it should be published separately in due course. That's the one about the girl who can fry things at fifty or a hundred feet, including brains, via intersecting lasers from her hands. But it's really a love story, with a lot more than frying in it; she's really a sweet girl with marriage on her mind, if she can just persuade the man she loves. My story “Descant” leads off Issue #3 of FANTASY SCROLL MAGAZINE now available for sale at www.fantasyscrollmag.com, and there's an interview in the issue too. It's a simple love story but one of my favorites, as a king and princess make beautiful music together, literally, magically. Meanwhile Xanth #37 Esrever Doom will be published in mass market paperback by TOR in NoRemember 2014. #38 Board Stiff has already been self published via Open Road or its predecessor. #39 Five Portraits will appear via open Road on OctOgre 21, 2014: that's this month, folks. #40 Isis Orb should appear next year. That has nothing to do with the contemporary terrorist organization; it refers to the ancient Egyptian goddess of love and sex, who is thinking of setting up shop in Xanth. Also on OctOgre 21 are five more books, and Open Road is running a giveaway prize lottery at this site: http://www.openroadmedia.com/blog/2014-09-29/A-Memorable-Day-for-Piers-Anthony-Fans-Six-Releases-in-One-Day-PLUS-Win-an-Autographed-Map-of-Xanth..aspx (oh, I hope I didn't typo that!) that you can enter before then if you're interested. They are the sequel to Aliena, which is Aliena Too; the provocative collection Cautionary Tales: don't let it get near your maiden aunt; the collected four novellas about the robot woman The Metal Maiden Collection; the electronic edition of the anthology of early stories that wowed me when I was discovering science fiction One and Wonder; and the fantasy murder mystery WereWoman, featuring goblins, weres, witches, vampires, zombies, succubi, ghosts and other routine supernaturals. The protagonist can change from man to woman; he's no ordinary were. Next year should be Neris, which is siren spelled backwards; he has similar powers, being the half human son of the sea god Nerius, raised by his half sister the lovely nereid Nerine. This is a wild story with an anti-pollution theme. Next year I also expect to write Xanth #41 Ghost Writer in the Sky, which may see the sexy Goddess Isis on the side of Good (this time) as we battle the dreaded Ghost Writer who can write new and dangerous plots to entangle other folk. So I'm staying busy writing, and I hope you folk stay busy reading.

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