I read Ancient Ice Mummies by James H. Dickson, another gift from my wife. This is mostly about the Ice Man discovered in the Alps between Italy and Austria, called Otzi, with the umlaut over the Ö, so that it is pronounced to rhyme with “Tootsie.” Printing it properly here is tricky, so I'll misspell it and let you imagine the umlaut. Much more has been discovered since Otzi was discovered in 1991, and this is the most ancient murder mystery known. Because Otzi was shot in the back by an arrow, and that's probably why he lost strength—blood loss—and fell, not to rise again. He had traveled far and high, and my conjecture is that he was being pursued, and as he sat at his last meal on the trail he was ambushed and shot and his killer left him there to die and be engulfed by the snow for 5,200 years. I made him a character in my GEODYSSEY series, and my conjecture there is that he was leading assassins away from his lovely daughter so she could escape, and he did not survive that diversion. So it was a noble death, consistent with the evidence at hand. His daughter was devastated. But we really don't know, and can't be sure his murderer was ever brought to account either. The author is an archaeologist who specializes in mosses, and it's amazing what can be learned from that. Spores are everywhere, we breathe them and ingest them with our food, and they can represent a history of where we have been recently. His clothing and weapons and tools are other things that track him. The book is replete with illustrations, and there are 16 color pages in the center, showing lovely scenes and gruesome details, plus the comely lady Dr. Constanza Ceruti brushing off the face of a frozen mummy. I wouldn't recommend this book to Xanth fans, but if you have an interest in the Ice Man, this seems to be about the most authoritative reference. I'm just sorry this did not solve the murder mystery, and that his daughter never did get to give him proper burial rites.
I watched The One, a future universe martial arts movie, theoretically my kind of junk. Plenty of action, but I did not see a lot of point. The man keeps fighting, keeps getting killed, in a fashion, only to start over in another universe. Maybe you have to be a devotee of this particular brand.
I watched I am Sam, a totally different kind of movie about a simple minded man, mental age about 7, who has a daughter he raises from birth to age 7 with the help of his friends and neighbors. He is completely well meaning and loves her and is dedicated to her welfare, but the authorities doubt that he can take care of her further. So they take her away and are setting up for an adoption elsewhere. He gets a lady lawyer, pro bono, but the prognosis is negative. All the girl wants is to be with daddy. Finally, seeing that, the adoptive couple give up, though it is plain that the woman really wants the child. There is a hint that the lawyer lady may marry Sam, because her marriage is breaking up and her seven year old son seems to get along better with Sam than with her. That would solve most problems. I hope that they give the adoptive couple visiting rights, because there clearly is love there too. Overall, this is the kind of movie I probably would not have chosen for myself—it's one of the ones in my exchange deal—but that I like better than most that I do choose for myself.
I watched Billy Elliot, wherein an eleven year old boy is in a boxing class but not great at it because he doesn't like to hit people. Next to it in the gym is a ballet class, and he gets interested in that despite the disapproval of his father, brother, and friends, one of whom mistakes him for gay because ballet is considered to be only for girls. He has real potential, and the lady ballet instructor takes extra unpaid time to drill him in the moves, and arranges for him to apply to a top ballet school. There is a lovely sequence of them dancing together, the older woman and the boy. We also see the girls dancing, and they are not the lovely poised creatures of perfection, but awkward learners. Meanwhile his father is in a strike by miners, with police confrontations. His father is finally won over, and goes back to work—scabbing--to earn money so that Billy can pursue his dream. He finally does make it into the school, and then there is a jump of several years as they attend his first performance as a lead dancer. This is another movie I wouldn't have chosen for myself, but loved when I saw it.
I watched Drift, a surfing story. This has some nice Australian surfing, including the surfer disappearing into the overlapping curve of the wave, and coming out intact. The rest is a story of setting up in the surfing board business, running afoul of criminals into drug dealing, and romance with a Hawaiian girl. I'd have settled for just the surfing and the romance.
I read Almuric, by Robert E Howard, in the PLANET STORIES edition. Howard is a well known pulp era author, which is remarkable because his career was not long; he committed suicide in 1936 at age 30. I marvel that such a successful author valued his life so little, and wonder again whether there is a connection between genius and insanity. (I really wonder when readers call me genius.) This is a rousing fantasy adventure with a present-day—that is, circa 1930—start introducing the reckless warrior who gets transported to a far planet, Almuric, where barbarism is triumphant. Coincidence is rampant, and our hero survives multiple maulings in amazing shape. Remember, pulp fiction was never known for quality. But if you accept it for the action, it's not bad at all. The hero finally wins the war and gets the girl.
I watched the Discover video “Incredible Journeys of the World, From the Amazon to the Arctic.” This was a four part collection, going by dogsled to an Alaskan settlement about to go out of business after centuries, then a visit to the Amazon jungle where the Maya held out against the European encroachment for centuries; I had a related sequence in my GEODYSSEY historical novel Climate of Change. Then the Caribbean, where the art of the Brigantine sailing ship is being restored. And the American West, where the Anasazi Indians lived, the cliff dwellers, to explore an inaccessible house in a cliff where they may have saved invaluable seeds. The moderns got to the house by descending on a rope. The proprietors may have protected those seeds in the best feasible way, a thousand years ago.
I woke one morning half dreaming and had a revelation: you know the great unsolved mystery of why we yawn? The best guess has been that it's a stretch of the mouth. Why does the mouth need stretching when we're sleepy? No answer. My answer: it is a stretch, but not exactly of the mouth. It is of the Eustachian tubes. You know, the little pipes that extend from the mouth to the ear behind the ear drum, so that the pressure can be equalized. Also, the air there needs to be regularly changed, so that mold or worse doesn't grew in there. It's risky traveling in an airplane when we have a cold, because the tubes may be jammed and the pressure can't equalize, and the drums bow out painfully. Well, when we get sleepy, we're talking less, eating less, just not moving our jaw as much, and so the air doesn't pass as readily through the crimped tubes. The pressure gets uneven, the air gets stale, and it's not healthy. So we yawn to damn well stretch those tubes and clear the air, literally. You can hear the crackle as it happens. No, I surely won't get credit for solving this riddle of ages because I'm not publishing it in a leading peer-reviewed medical journal, but I think it makes sense. Don't you?
I received my contributor's copy of THE SYNOPSIS TREASURY, edited by Christopher Sirmons Haviland, published by Wordfire Press, www.wordfirepress.com. To purchase copies check SynopsisTreasury.com. This is an interesting project. Say you're an aspiring novelist and the powers that be seem to spit on your efforts. How does any writer get started, or keep selling once he is established? You may have tried the advice in books on writing and selling, but somehow those rules don't seem to work for you. Wouldn't you like to peek at the actual process by writers you may know and admire? For writing projects that were accepted? Well, now you can. This is a collection of 32 actual proposals, beginning with one by H G Wells and including others by such luminaries as Frank Herbert, Robert Heinlein, Jack Williamson, Ben Bova, Terry Brooks, Orson Scott Card, Kevin J Anderson, Andre Norton, Joe Haldeman, Connie Willis, James Gunn, and, ahem, Piers Anthony, though I wasn't luminescent enough to be mentioned on the cover. My proposal was for Being a Green Mother, the 5th Incarnations of Immortality novel. Yes, it was accepted, written, and published; don't look so surprised. Whether similar proposals would work as well in today's electronic market I'm not sure, but it wouldn't hurt to sample entries in this volume.
I received an email invitation to check out an article on the Science Behind Addiction Treatment. I've seen writers taken out by alcohol, and my career has been affected by those who ran afoul of marijuana or cocaine. My wife was addicted to smoking for 50 years. I have never been addicted to anything other than the need to write; in fact I've never been drunk in my life. So I used to wonder why don't addicts just stop, knowing they are being steered into oblivion? But now I know it's not nearly that easy. I have read that Alcoholics Anonymous, that famous 12 step program, really doesn't work any better than a person simply deciding to stop on his own. This article makes the point that addiction may be a relapsing brain disorder that should be treated as a disease. They are finding genes that are common in people with addictions. Maybe soon there will be real progress, as they get realistic about dealing with it. Check the site at www.quitalcohol.com/addiction/science-behind-addiction-treatment.html.
I continue sorting through old clippings I have saved, and now I'm in the Unsorted folder, where I put the ones I couldn't figure out where to file, and I am gradually finding proper places for them. Here's an Unclassifiable I may have mentioned before, but it remains hilarious. It starts out “Dear Dr. Laura, Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law.” It mentions how Leviticus 18:22 clearly calls homosexuality an abomination. Then it asks: “I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?” And how he knows he is allowed no contact with a women while she is menstruating, but how does he tell? The women he asks take offense. What about purchasing slaves? What about a neighbor who works on the Sabbath? Exodus 35:2 clearly states that he should be put to death. What about touching the skin of a dead pig, that makes you unclean, when playing football? There seem to be a whole lot of people who need to be smited, according to the Bible. The point being that to use the Bible to condemn gay folk is picking and choosing from a reference that really isn't applicable. You can be a bigot if you want, but don't pretend it's part of your religion.
Has the world gone to the dogs? That may be no bad thing. Newspaper item says that America's favorite dog is the Labrador retriever for the 24th year in a row, followed by the German shepherd, Golden retriever, Bulldog, and Beagle. None of the dogs we have owned made the top ten: Dalmatian, Basengi, and several mixed breeds. The fact is a mongrel can be a perfectly good and loving dog, regardless of snob appeal. Meanwhile, I found an Ann Landers clipping from the year 2000 that's a lot of fun: a piece titled “A Dog Named Sex” by Morty Storm. His dog of unidentified breed was named Sex. When he applied for a license for Sex, the clerk said he'd like one too. “But this is a dog.” The clerk said he didn't care what she looked like. “You don't understand. I've had Sex since I was 9 years old.” “You must have been quite a kid.” When he got married he took the dog along, telling the clerk that he wanted a room for his wife and himself, and a special room for Sex. The clerk said he didn't need a special room for that. “Look, you don't seem to understand. Sex keeps me awake at night.” The clerk said he had the same problem. Later when he separated from his wife, they went to court to fight for custody of the dog. “Your Honor, I had Sex before I was married.” The judge said this wasn't a confessional. Then he said that after he was married, Sex left him. The judge said “Me, too.” And so on, contrived but hilarious.
And about sex: newspaper article by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz titled “Everything you wanted to know about sex* *But were afraid to ask.” Now you can research in Google for the answers, and that tells something about contemporary interests. Heterosexual men 18 and over say they average 63 sex acts a year, and use a condom in 23 percent of them. Heterosexual women say they average 55 sex acts a year, and use a condom in 16 percent of them. So who is telling the truth? Actually both could be right; the excess sex by the men could be with prostitutes, who I think are not on this particular radar. But the article says neither is right, because the total condoms used would be 2.7 billion a year, while actual sales are under 600 million. Well, if you use each condom four and a half times... Pregnancy statistics also seem to give the lie to claims about unprotected sex. So there seems to be considerable exaggeration. Searches about complaints endorse this. There are 16 times as many complaints about a spouse not wanting sex than about not being willing to talk. Overall the average American in real life seems to have sex about 30 times a year. Why so little? One factor is misplaced anxiety. Men make more searches about how to make their penises bigger than about tuning a guitar, making an omelet, or changing a tire. The irony is that women really don't care about penis size. As I said in a prior discussion, why would a woman want to be impaled on a penis the size of a club? She'd rather have a caring, considerate man with a small penis. In fact many women might be satisfied with a man with no penis, as long as he cuddles well. The statistics bear this out: for every search a woman makes about a partner's phallus, men make roughly 170 searches about their own. So what do women care about, in their bodies? There are 7 million searches about breast implants a year, and a fair number on their behinds, and about their vaginas: how to make them tighter and taste better (sic). I suspect that this is because of the inordinate interest men have in women's breasts and butts and clefts. I don't pooh-pooh this; I'm fascinated myself about those, as well as women's hair. It's in our genes. Men who aren't interested don't reproduce. So how often do I have sex? Weekly, through Jamboree 2015, but in the cold weather I am faltering, and fear for the future. Sigh. Age is a lady dog.
Pet peeve: newspaper article saying that fluoride fights cavities. Some people even use opposition to fluoridation of drinking water as an example of nuttery, akin to denial of evolution or global warming. There's a great hoax, all right, but that hoax is fluoridation, as I established in a prior column, as anyone can verify who cares to actually do the spot research as I did. But a capsule summary for those who don't follow my HiPiers columns: Fluoride is a mining waste product pushed by the special interests so they won't have to pay to dispose of it as toxic waste. The only way fluoride protects teeth is by spot topical application. When counties where the water is fluoridated are compared to those that don't, there is no difference in tooth decay, but the girls in the fluoridated section have menarche five months earlier and both genders have IQs five to ten points lower. There are other health complications; taken as a whole, you don't want to drink fluoridated water. To have the newspaper pushing this bogus treatment is an affront to common sense. But of course the same media claim that Vitamin C does not stop the common cold. Just as the long-term studies of fluoride were never completed, so the studies of Vitamin C in sufficient strength—that is, a gram an hour until symptoms abate--were never performed. I challenge anyone to provide me with a documented case for either study; they don't exist. I heard of one perhaps apocryphal study where they did truly test Vitamin C, but it soon became evident who had it and who didn't, because only the latter got sick. So they concluded that the “double blind” aspect had been ruined and canceled the study without completing it. Fortunately you can verify Vitamin C for yourself at home, but fluoridation is more difficult for one person to test.
A conservative local congressman, Dennis Ross, wrote a piece titled “Why I voted to repeal Obamacare,” as I understand the Republican controlled House of Representatives has done 56 times now. A letter by Robert H More nicely refutes it. I remember how when President Obama said that if your like your insurance you can keep it, and the local newspaper labeled that the lie of the year. Here's the thing: the law now requires insurance companies to spend 80 percent of premium dollars collected on health care services, rather than the way some spent much less on that and more on things like executive bonuses, and screwing their policyholders when they made a claim. Rather than do that reasonable reform some companies simply canceled the policies, leaving the blame to Obama. And the newspaper agrees? Just as justice is not necessarily served in the courts, fair information is not necessarily served in the media.
Another old clipping, this one dating from 1999, item by John Leo in US NEWS & WORLD REPORT. What about those violent video games? During World War Two only 15 to 20 percent of American soldiers fired their weapon in battle. I know the problem. I was raised as a Quaker, one of whose fundamental doctrines is pacifism, and while I did not join, preferring to be a non-pacifist agnostic, I do respect their tenets. When I was in the US Army I went to the chaplain and said I wasn't prepared to kill anyone in war. He shook his head and said he was sorry that my patriotism wasn't any better than that. That was it. In my view, that man was a shell without content. It seems that I was in the large majority of soldiers. Patriotism requires killing? I'm a vegetarian because I don't like killing animals; I should kill people instead? Well, the Army found that shooting games in which the target is a man-shaped outline made recruits more willing to make killing a reflex action. Now they have more realistic games, encouraging the killing of vulnerable people picked at random. It seems they work. Need I say more?
Column by Paul Krugman titled “Hating Good Government.” It's about conservative dogmatism. 2014 was the warmest year on record, but evidence doesn't matter to the climate deniers. In 2012 the Kansas right wing governor drastically cut taxes, assuring everyone that the resulting boom would more than make up the difference. It didn't, and Kansas is now in fiscal crisis. But conservatives are not changing their mantra. Obamacare is a resounding success, but Republicans still claim it is doomed to utter failure. Why the rage against climate change, universal health care, taxation? “Well, it strikes me that the immovable position in each of these cases is bound up with rejecting any role for government that serves the public interest.” Ah, yes. My own analogy is to the bully in the schoolyard who wants the teacher to stay out of it, because fair play crimps the bully's style. The conservatives want a plutocracy, with the great poor majority serving the interests of the small rich minority. Since the facts of a democracy don't suit their design, they ignore them.
Interesting article in NEW SCIENTEST titled “Green Dream” by Michael Le Page on indoor farming. One Japanese farm with plants in racks 16 deep, is said to be 100 times more productive per square meter than an outdoor farm. So is this the answer to our looming food crisis as our population squeezes out farmland? That is, apart from doing what we won't do, which is to limit our population to a reasonable level. Um, not exactly. Square footage is only one consideration; energy is another. Take a big city, anywhere, such as New York: it has many mouths to feed. The estimated emissions for 1 kg (one kilogram—a bit over two pounds) of fresh lettuce sold in New York State for lettuce imported 5,000 km (approximately 2,600 miles) by road, rail, and air are 0.7 kg. If it is grown locally in heated greenhouses with supplemental lighting, 1.2 – 2.4 kg, or roughly two to three times as much. If it is grown in a compact underground farm with light from the current US electricity grid, 8 kg, or about eleven times as much. If you piped in solar power instead, the solar panels would require about 13 times the growing area. So you're saving space at the expense of energy. That may be a tricky tradeoff. Damn; I had real hope for indoor farming.
Brief notes: How do you clean toxic water that runs off a busy highway during a storm? Insects and fish can't live in it. But filter it through plain old dirt and it's fine for the creatures. Now we know. Catch it before it reaches a river, make it pass through dirt, and fish will survive. Sign on a snowbound highway says ENTERING FLORIDA. Huh? Oh, it turns out to be the town of Florida, Massachusetts. For best health, neither an idler nor a competitor be, but exercise in the middle range. Turns out that those who run seven minute miles—that's fast!--for four hours a week are just as likely to die as those who don't exercise at all. That's a relief; I'm in the slow exercise category. Article from NYMag.com “Why the rich and poor cheat.” I have remarked on this before, how the rich are more likely to cheat than the poor, but the poor do cheat too. A study now clarifies this: “The rich do wrong to help themselves, while the poor do wrong to help others.” I find that a significant distinction, and I like the poor way better. “Zits” comic: his dad's gastrointestinal system is a force of nature, emitting gases and sounds found nowhere else in nature. “My mom says it's been like this since he turned forty. At least I think she said 'forty'. Is that with an O or an A?” Another comic from 2004 is “Mother Goose & Grimm” wherein Death has a booth, Kiss of Death $1.00 surrounded by dead folk. You know, I would hesitate to kiss that, even if Death were in the form of a drop-dead gorgeous girl. And a clipping from 2000 about a man who was solicited to contribute money to help send Bibles to people behind the Iron Curtain. When he tried to investigate he found only fakery. So he helped draft a bill called Truth in Giving, calling for complete disclosure of how a charitable organization spends its funds. And discovered that even groups such as the Salvation Army and the Red Cross opposed the bill. It seems that in many cases, fund raising costs took as much as 90 percent of the money donated, and that even legitimate charities expended up to 80% on costs of collection. None of them wanted the public to know. I hope reform has come in recent years. Aware of this, I have become quite cautious about charitable giving; when I receive an obviously professional solicitation, I have a notion how it is paid for. When they have the temerity to phone me for money, I cut them permanently off my list, even if I have donated before. I prefer to help people directly, where feasible, with no intervening solicitation personnel. Why do reputable charities go along with this rip-off? Because the economies of scale bring them more money from a small percentage of what the collecting organization takes, than what they get on their own. Its like publishing: a typical author gets more from five percent royalties from mass market paperbacks than he does from a hundred percent of the books he can sell on his own.
Outrage: Hillsborough County—that's where Tampa, Florida is, in my general neighborhood—they had an award-winning superintendent, MaryEllen Elia, who was a finalist for the top in the nation. You'd think the locals would be proud of her. But the school board fired her. Why? It seems because she spent too much time doing her job, and not enough time catering to the whims of the board. I recall one comment that a typical superintendent can spend up to eighty percent of her time doing such catering, leaving twenty percent for her real job. MaryEllen evidently declined to waste her time that way, so the vindictive board got her back. The citizens are outraged, but they're only people, not board members; they don't count. Well, there's one answer: next election, vote those small minded board members out. They are not doing the county or the school system any good. Schools have problems enough without this sort of thing. I was once a teacher; I remember.
Article in NEW SCIENTIST about stereotypes versus what we really want in a partner. It turns out to be more nuanced than we might have supposed, and what people may fill out on a dating site form may not really be the case. Do women find wealth and status in a man alluring? They say they do, but for speed dating they actually prefer physical attractiveness, followed by personality. That's right: women may put more emphasis on appearance than men do. But it makes a difference whether it's a one night stand or a more lasting relationship. Also, a woman who is earning good money herself cares less about the man's earnings. Feminists look for kindness, understanding and creativity. Do men prefer airheads? Their actual appeal turns out to be that they seem to be more sexually available, and men really do want sex, as mentioned above, so that they claim to get more than they do. Men are thus attracted to images of women who look immature, intoxicated, reckless, promiscuous, eager for attention, unintelligent, and young. But for an actual relationship, rather than the classic wham! bam! Thank you ma'am, men prefer smart women. Do women prefer men who resemble their father? There is some truth here, at least in part. It works for men too; they tend to marry women with the same hair and eye colors as the men's mothers. Not me; my mother's eyes were blue, my wife's eye are brown. But I never was very good at following protocol. Does playing hard to get work? No, it can be a turnoff. Do men prefer an hourglass figure? Again, maybe only initially; more solidly constructed women may win out in the long term. Do men want casual sex? Sure, initially, but when they get serious about a life partner they prefer commitment. So what do I make of this overall? A woman can use sex appeal and sex itself to get a man's attention, and many do; but then she needs to have qualities of mind and personality to hold him. A man can use money and fame to get a woman's attention, but he'd better back it up with character. I am reminded of the saying that the average woman prefers to look good than to seem smart, because the average man can see better than he can think. But after the first minute or so, they both start to think, and that's where the real interaction occurs. So how does any of this relate to me? I married the smartest woman I could catch, but it was her sex appeal that first got my attention. I am highly imaginative and expressive, and successful because of it, and I think she appreciates that. We've been married 58½ years so far, and death will us part. Not soon, we hope.
I have been one of those who object to the ignoramuses who claim that vaccinations cause things like autism, so children don't get immunized, and then scourges like measles reappear. Such parents are endangering not only their own children, but the children of their neighbors and schools. I had the measles as a teen, and it almost killed me, literally; it was my worst illness, like a descent into Hell. It's well worth avoiding. But now I read in the March 2015 issue of ALTERNATIVES, drdavidwilliams.com, that there may be something to it. They had been using animal cell lines to make the vaccine, then switched to human fetal cell lines in the manufacture of MMB (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine in 1979, and thereafter the levels of autism increased dramatically. As they say, correlation is not necessarily causation, but this is alarming and needs to be investigated, not covered up, even if it does cost Big Pharma some pennies. I believe in ALTERNATIVES; Dr. Williams seems genuinely interested in the truth, whatever it may be. I have tried many health newsletters, and this one is the best. Something else he says in passing in this issue: “Psychiatry is one of the biggest hoaxes ever perpetrated. It has no grounding in science. It is licensed, dangerous experimentation on the masses.” As a child I was sent to child psychologists and psychiatrists, and concluded that they had no idea what they were doing, and finally refused to see any more of them. I took my mental health into my own hands, and what I am today is the result of that, crazy as it may seem to some. This HiPiers column is a good example of my outlook and passions. So this rings true in my experience.
Note for those interested in getting published for the first time: David Ratliff III would like to start a fiction magazine that publishes stories only from unpublished authors. To that end he has started a crowd-funding campaign to try to get the money to do it. The campaign can be found at http://www.gofundme.com/FromTheUnknown. I'm listing it as a potential market in my ongoing survey, too, where you can find it under From The Unknown.
Meanwhile I continue to write Xanth #41 Ghost Writer in the Sky, and am now 65,000 words along, or about two thirds through. It is shaping up as a typical Xanth novel, full of puns, unusual people including a lesbian dragon princess, and obscure thoughts. As I write this, the text is revisiting Princess Rose of Roogna's magic roses. Those are the ones whose thorns will rend you if you claim a love you don't truly feel. Mundania lacks such a certain test of love.
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