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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
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I watched Good For Nothing, a western wherein an outlaw kidnaps a young, pretty, English woman. He sets out to rape her, but it seems he is impotent. So he keeps her with him while he searches for a remedy. Meanwhile a posse thinks she's a whore and his accomplice. It's a comedy of errors in parts, but their relationship gradually warms into mutual respect, and he finally delivers her to her destination ranch, unmolested, and rides away. Of course he can't stay with her; there's a price on his head. There's a hint that his impotence fades when she gives him caring attention.

I watched Awesome Snakes—Tales of Tails. A snake hunter gives us a spot tour of the world's biggest snakes, including pythons and anacondas. He just walks up and grabs them, checks them, and lets them go. One had a wire caught around its middle that would in time have killed it; he clipped the wire, doused the wound with iodine, and let it go, surely saving its life. These creatures are not tame; they try to attack, but he knows how to handle them. Another feature goes into the biology of snake reproduction; some lay eggs, other give live birth. Sea snakes are highly proficient hunters in the water. There's also a brief bonus feature, a cartoon showing different kind of bugs, like ladybugs and big black beetles. Overall, not the horror feature the blurbs hint at, but interesting and suitable for children, teaching the respect for what they might think were fearsome creatures.

I watched When You're Strange—a film about The Doors. I had heard of this rock music group but know nothing about them, which is why I bought this disc. They got together and worked their way to top success, but the alcoholism and drug addiction of their lead singer, Jim Morrison, was an increasing problem. When he uses foul language and threatens to show his penis on stage they are charged with obscene exposure and get into legal and social trouble. I'm not sure it's success or fame that corrupted Morrison; rather he was always troubled, and success promoted more leeway for mischief. His health suffers, and finally he dies, still in his 20s.

I watched Rolling Stones: Shine A Light. This is another I got to try to fill in the gaps in my education; I have heard of the Rolling Stones but never heard their music. I'm not sure I missed much. Lot of motion, lot of sound, not much melody as Mick Jagger wows the crowd. Evidently I am out of tune with the popular culture. But I do relate to the response in an interview: they aren't trying to do anything special, they are simply in the scene when they're onstage. It governs them. That's what it's like for writing, too.

I watched Maurice Bejart's version of the ballet The Nutcracker, which I thought I had seen long ago. Obviously not this version; I remembered none of it, other than the lovely Tchaikovsky music. I thought it was about a little girl given a nutcracker that came to life as a dancing prince. This one is about an old man remembering his childhood, when his mother died, and the ensemble is dancing in underwear before a huge magnificently bare breasted hollow-backed statue that I think represents his lost mother. But she is also dancing onstage, and he participates as a sort of buffoon amidst practiced dancers. There are bearded ladies with elaborate crowns, men on bicycles, dancers in tuxedos, a woman playing an accordion, and at one point even a woman in a tutu. Also a figure of evil who somehow accomplishes only good, interspersed with pauses for commentary. Overall it's a nice exhibition, with many intricate performances, just not what I expected.

I read The Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel, sent me by a reader dissatisfied with my agnosticism. This is a good, sensible book by a man who was an atheist, but researched the matter and became a believer. It happens, notably with the writer C S Lewis. Strobel does a nice job of dismantling some of the anti-Jesus arguments. For example there's the charge of Christianity copying from mythology that went before. “...the pre-Christian god Mithra was born of a virgin in a cave on December 25, was considered a great traveling teacher, had twelve disciples, promised his followers immortality, sacrificed himself for world peace, was buried in a tomb and rose again three days later...” Devastating case, right? The only problem with it is that none of it is true; all parts are systematically refuted. Mithra was not born of a virgin; he was born of a rock, etc. But no need to bother, because Mithraism postdates Christianity by about a century. So if there was copying, it was the other way around. But there wasn't, really; it's a different religion entirely. Other charges are similarly refuted, and the refutations generally make sense to me. So why am I not converted? Remember, I have studied Jesus myself; I have him as a character in my novel Tarot. Because as I see it the author falls victim to what he charges many others with: circular reasoning, or at least semi-circular. Why does he believe? Five reasons: Jesus' death by crucifixion, his disciples' belief that he rose from death, the conversion of the antagonist Paul, the conversion of his skeptical half brother James, and Jesus' empty tomb. No one else has these five examples, so Jesus is the Son of God. Really? Okay, now my turn: the vast majority of what we know about Jesus comes from the four gospels and the Apostle Paul, all of which wrote as devout believers. You don't go to a committed apostle for an objective assessment; to my mind, all of that is suspect. I would guess that even the Flying Spaghetti Monster has its devout believers too. There is little external evidence that Jesus existed at all, and no Roman record of his crucifixion, and in any event, thousands were crucified yet that is hardly considered evidence of their divinity. So his disciples saw Jesus thereafter in visions, as did Paul. Okay, visions happen, especially to the devout, but they are not in themselves proof of anything other than a person's state of mind. Get desperate enough and you too may see a vision. So a half brother changed his mind later; that too happens, and is hardly proof of anyone's divinity. And the tomb was empty. I question whether the body was ever in that tomb, but regardless, its emptiness is not proof of his divinity. Remember my point in a prior column: if Jesus predicted his resurrection three days after his death, why weren't there throngs there to witness it? Because he made no such specific prediction, and the women were caught by surprise to find the tomb empty. So to my mind the five essential reasons this author believes in Jesus are specious; he believes because he wants to believe, citing evidence that a true nonbeliever finds completely unpersuasive. I still see Jesus, if he existed, as a mortal prophet who meant well and had some good criticisms of the existing order, and got executed for his claims. His god deserted him in his hour of worst need. So why did his followers then exalt him above all others, forming a new and popular religion in his name? The secular humanist magazine FREE INQUIRY remarks on this phenomenon, citing among others how a true Elvis believer saw Elvis after his death appear in her office, speaking companionably with her, calling her “Missy.” No one had called her that in years, so she took this as proof that Elvis was real, rather than that his appearance was merely her dream. She wanted to believe. Then there was a space aliens cult that predicted the destruction of the world by a cataclysmic flood at 7 AM December 21, 1954, with alien contact and the rescue of the true believers, while everyone else was doomed. Then, surprise, it didn't happen. So what did they say? That because they were properly receptive of the alien's message, the world had been spared. Right; the facts will not squelch true belief, only cause it to change a bit, as it did with the followers of Jesus. They believed what they wanted to believe, though the world hardly changed. As do the other Christians, despite the manifest corruption that remains.

I watched the ballet Swan Lake, again catching up on culture; I've never been much of a fan of ballet, though I do like Tchaikovsky's music. An announcer summarizes the story at the outset: Prince Siegfried's mother delivers the word that he must marry a royal maiden soon. But he's not really interested. Then, hunting, he sees a swan become a lovely maiden. This is Queen Odette, under an enchantment to be a swan by day, a woman only by night. She'd like to break the enchantment, but this is difficult. In the end Siegfried sacrifices himself to be with her, and this breaks the spell and they can be together at last. The story told without words, in dance and gestures and special effects.

I watched The Hobbit part 3, The Battle of the Five Armies. I always thought The Hobbit novel was better than the Lord of the Rings, and though I hardly remember the details, I think the movies confirm it. This one starts with action as the flying dragon Smaug strafes a town, until one man manages to spear him. But devastation remains. The Dwarves, Elves, Orcs and Humans marshal to win the dragon's phenomenal treasure. I'm not clear whether they ever eat, sleep, or defecate; there seem to be no provisions. And here it differs from what I remember of the book: instead of the several armies having to merge to stop the overwhelming goblin horde, in the movie they keep fighting each other, and the goblins make only a token appearance. I am disappointed in that respect. At the end this sets up Bilbo for the continuation he does not yet know about, the quest to dispose of the dangerous magic ring he won from Gollum.

I watched The Hours, about the writer Virginia Woolf. I always wondered why a successful writer would kill herself. Depression and creativity are deviously linked. One of the questions I asked myself long ago was if I could take a pill to eliminate my own depression, knowing it would also eliminate my creativity, would I take it? And I decided no. Writing is what I do and what I am; existence would be pointless without it. Happiness that way would be empty. I think it must have been similar for Virginia Woolf. Decades later I found that pill, in effect, and lo, it did not eliminate my creativity. I think Virginia did not find that pill. It is evident in the movie that she simply does not much like life, despite having a loving husband. The movie plays out in the form of three couples at different times, with one member of each depressive. One of the couples is fictional: in the novel she was writing. The Hours of the title refer to the hours a depressive person has to face enduring life. Eventually it gets to be too much, as it was for her. So do I have an answer? Not really. Each person is miserable in his or her own way, and their companions suffer too. Depression is like drug addiction, never wholly banished.

I read Stardancer by Ed Howdershelt. This is hard-hitting science fiction, copyright 2003, wherein T'Mar, working in the future bureaucracy, is abruptly summoned to the Consul's office, along with a number of other people. Then Consul L'Tan—it seems that men are T' and women are L'--a tall reasonably attractive woman in her mid 40s, announces that they may be in the midst of a religious revolution within two days, so be prepared to evacuate by dawn. It turns out that this is no exaggeration, and T'Mar is fighting for his life within hours as a colony world rebels and sends out a virus that wipes out most of the other worlds. He winds up working closely with L'Tan to save the old order. Very closely; in off moments they have mutually satisfying sex. Finally they are able to eliminate the rebel world, literally, as it becomes a kind of star, and institute a new order. Even then it is no sure thing, as hidden bombs wipe out key offices. This is adventure without particular depth, compelling as it goes but I think not for the ages.

I watched Bobby, about the presidential run of Bobby Kennedy when he as assassinated. It's the California primary, and the vote is close. It covers a myriad folk all going about their parts of the business of running a campaign. One is marrying to avoid getting shipped to Vietnam. Two experiment with LSD. One's having an affair with Bobby. Some cafeteria personnel really want to watch a Dodgers baseball game, but can't get time off. There are blacks and Mexicans who feel the tacit racism but can't avoid it. A newspaper woman from Czechoslovakia who wants a five minute interview with the candidate and keeps getting stalled. Slowly the election night returns come in, and Kennedy is forging into the lead and will likely win the state. And suddenly he is shot. He had spoken out against senseless gun violence, only to become an example of it. The resulting political chaos led soon enough to the ugly presidency of Richard Nixon.

I watched Franklyn. The ordinary name masks a savagely different movie. Everyone in Meanwhile City, which seems to be like London the way Batman's Gotham City is to New York, or like Xanth to Florida--strong affinity, but not at all the same—has to have a religion, of whatever type. One man, Preest, does not. He has been imprisoned, but now is giving an assignment: to deal with a rogue intruder. Who may be his father. One young woman is suicidal; every month she tries again. At one point she faces off against Preest. A man is looking for his lost son. That son, Milo, is looking for Sally, a girl he knew in childhood. Then he learns she was imaginary, appearing has his companion when he was most at need. Now he's at need again, and she reappears, admitting that she's imaginary. He kisses her, and she fades out, knowing that it's time. Then he meets the suicidal woman, Emilia, and there is an immediate bond. It may be they will be the couple. There are considerable other complications; this is only one thread, but I think it suffices to show that this is one intense and thoughtful movie.

I watched the Discover video Jurassic Fight Club: Hunter Becomes the Hunted. Since high school I've been a fan of Allosaurus, the leading predator of the Jurassic age, wondering how he would do in a match-up against Tyrannosaurus Rex of the Cretaceous. What do you know: Tyrannosaurus was around in the Jurassic, and they did interact. They didn't normally fight each other, as they went after different prey, but when times got tough then they did, and Allosaurus, twice the mass and with sharper teeth and claws, won. So how was it that it was Tyrannosaurus who survived? Well, after twenty million years the climate changed, and that made it rough for the king of the Jurassic, while the smaller Tyrannosaurus survived. Size is an advantage when the playing field is level, but climate change tilts the field. How the larger Tyrannosaurus Rex at the end of the Cretaceous would have done against Allosaurus we don't know. The video shows some nice battles between the two.

I read Hair Power by Piers Anthony, editing it for publication. The working title was Hair Skirt, but the 35,650 word novella turned out to be much more about the powers of the hair than about just wearing it as clothing. Quiti, dying of brain cancer, looks for a private place to end it all quickly, but instead encounters a giant telepathic hairball with whom she trades favors. Her favor to it is to take it out into the healing light of the sun. Its favor to her is to give her a really nice head of hair, as she is bald from chemotherapy. As it rapidly grows, the hair cures her incurable cancer, gives her telepathy, and as it gets over five feet long becomes an invulnerable cape. It even enables her to fly. She realizes that this is more than an incidental gift; it is immeasurably valuable. Why did the alien do it? Therein lies the story. In time she locates a male hair suit, then later a third, a boy, with similar histories to hers. They become a family. But the authorities are after them, wanting to confine them to a laboratory and find out the secrets of the hair. They can't afford that. This is my first piece since turning 81.

And about turning 81: two days later I had major dental surgery, with 11 teeth removed and 7 more implants installed, so that I now have 16 implant, 8 above, 8 below. I have I think only one natural tooth remaining. I'm trying to end the chronic decay; I am one of those whose teeth will rot regardless how I take care of them. Many of the ones taken out were decaying from the roots, not the surface, out of my reach. It's an interesting setup: my upper jaw will have a full denture. The implants are the base, but they have no crowns; instead they will be what they call locators, flat supports upon which the denture will rest. I understand it will snap into place, so there won't be any looseness, and of course I'll be able to chew as hard as I want. There won't be any flange over the gum to take the pressure of chewing, as there was with my prior partial dentures. The job is expensive, and I will be most annoyed if I don't live at least another decade so as to get reasonable use of it.

I scheduled the writing of Hair Power right after my dental surgery, deliberately. I never took a pain pill. My big concern was my brain: I have read that folk can have memory problems following general anesthesia, particularly old folk. Well, I'm old, so I'm in the danger zone. I wanted to be sure that I retained the use of my brain, and the novella would be a good test of that. What use to trade bad teeth for bad mind? The writing went well, very well, so that I completed the initial draft in two weeks, but of course it's the quality that counts. I think it's up to snuff, but it will be the verdict of the readers that will be the final arbiter. Meanwhile I still do the newspaper chess and word puzzles. So I think I have escaped the brain-eating threat.

Meanwhile I am on the dread Soft Diet. With no upper teeth I can't chew anything, not even banana, or the lumps in tapioca pudding, or the crusts in milk-soaked bread, or the soft rice in some rice pudding. So I am existing on balanced nutrition drink, which I call glop: Publix, Boost, Ensure. On Bolthouse smoothie blends. On oatmeal, milk, yogurt, clear puddings, juices, soup. Anything with no firmness. I use the blender to grind up fruits. I fix meals for my wife, such as sandwiches, scrambled eggs, and nut snacks, but I can't eat them myself. I long for the day when I have teeth again!

One day we backed out of our garage. There was a horrendous bump. We had run over a big gopher tortoise who lived around the house. We hadn't seen it; we conjecture it walked out just as we were backing. Damn! The thin trickle of thick blood extended about 8 feet along the drive. There was no saving it; the shell was horribly crushed in, as was the head. All I could do was bury it nearby. We try to protect those tortoises, and here we wound up killing one. I absolutely hate that. Maybe it lived here for 50 years, until suddenly it died because of those who least wanted it dead.

My reading of books and viewing of DVD videos diminished while I was writing the novella, as typically all else gets shunted aside when I'm on a project. But next month I expect to be reading and watching full tilt. I'm a workaholic; when I'm not writing, I'm still going at speed. That's the nature of workaholics: they play as hard as they work.

“David” has written an article about the world's first science fiction convention, which occurred in Leeds, England in 1937, and one of the guests was a young Arthur C Clarke. No, I wasn't there, though I was in England, being only three years old. Philadelphia, USA, also lays claim to the title of the world's first, and the controversy is discussed in the article. Genre fans who are interested can find it at https://www.tinytickle.co.uk/worlds-first-science-fiction-convention/.

I am aware of cancer, as my mother in law and my daughter died of it. There is constant news of treatments, though as far as I know, no cures. I heard from C D Moulton, who had lymphoma on his forehead and prostate cancer lower down. An operation and chemo would have cost him twenty times what he had. He had not believed in natural cures, which he suspected were exaggerated. But when he saw an article about work on the plant Artemisia annua and its great rate of success he was interested, and of course he had nothing to lose. The plant grows all over the tropic and temperate zones and is cheap. It may treat more than cancer. So he tried it for two weeks, and lo, the egg-sized lymphoma on his face reduced to a small hard bump, and the signs of prostate cancer were gone. Others he knows of were cured of leukemia, breast cancer, and colon cancer. Okay, I am under no present cancer threat, but if you are, dried Artemisia annua is available on the net for about $15 for enough to treat six people. Compare that to maybe $20,000 for conventional treatment, and chemo is said to work only 3-4% of the time, and makes you nauseous; some oncologists won't use it themselves. So if this interests you, check with CD Moulton at <maitaman1984@yahoo.com> for information on links to the information and major researchers. I remain a skeptic, but I'd love to see a cheap, effective, readily available cure. There is always hope.

Florida takes a back seat to nobody when it comes to corruption. Remember, it was the wrongful assignment of Florida to the Republican candidate for president that threw the 2000 election and ushered in political and economic disaster that we are still struggling to recover from. Florida has a Sunshine law that requires public records to be open to the public, of all things, but our governor has violated that. So there were lawsuits, and he is using taxpayer money to pay the penalties for his violation of the law. How's that for arrogance?

Assorted news items: it seems that the universe is burning out, as stars slowly exhaust their fuel, converting matter into energy. You'd think they'd be more concerned about sustainability. Politicians are campaigning to eliminate birthright citizenship. It seems they don't want to let any immigrants have any claim to stay here. As an immigrant myself I am bemused; it seems these folk want immigration to stop with their own ancestors. Meanwhile Africa is projected to become the world's most populous continent, in time. Education: college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don't like. Which makes me wonder what the hell these dedicated ignoramuses are doing in college? Evidently not to learn new things. Reminds me of the joke about how education advances until they could have a university without buildings, then without teachers, and finally the ultimate: without students. Food: now in Florida they want to require natural skim milk to be labeled “Imitation” unless vitamins are added to it. How far can double-think go? In Idaho ruffians kept stealing Milepost 420, that number associated with marijuana, so now that section has signs marked 419.9. Ad in TAMPA BAY TIMES for their Monster job listing has a woman working on a cricket farm, raising bugs as a feed source for people. Makes sense to me. Item in NEW SCIENTIST suggests that the search for ET—Extraterrestrial Life—may discover AI—Artificial Intelligence, because organic intelligence may not last long, but machine intellect would be far less limited in time and place. This, too, makes sense to me. We may perish soon, but the machines we make may not. And a Land O' Lakes homeowner has an expensive legal battle with the local homeowner's association because he replaced his water guzzling lawn with an environmentally friendly landscaping. The idiots we shall always have with us, determined to ruin the planet. How I wish they weren't succeeding.

I continue sorting through my folders of old clippings, and encountered some interesting thoughts. From 1990: John Keasler, a columnist for the Miami News, wrote “Writing a column is a lot like being married to a nymphomaniac. The first two weeks it's fun.” As item on Dr. Reinhold Aman calls him a verbal proctologist. That is, a master of foul language. Yes; I have a shelf of his books, including Maledicta. Language can be naughty fun. One from 1993 by Esther Duncan says it's true that the imaginations of writers have no measurements. Originally Cinderella's shoes were not glass but white squirrel fur; someone made a typo and it stuck. A lady named Elizabeth Poster wrote little stories for her grandchildren. She married a man named Isaac Goose, so she became the original Mother Goose. Mark Twain wrote a sequel to Tom Sawyer and didn't think much of it. He considered burning it but changed his mind. It was published as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the one the critics rave over despite the cautions of the author. Reminds me how I was in a class for teachers discussing that novel, and I asked whether it had a cave sequence in it. Nothing but blank stares. It seems they had never heard of Tom Sawyer. I wonder how the horizons of students can be broadened when their teachers are so narrow as to orient on a sequel with no reference to the original. Obviously I was not cut out to be a teacher.

A long term study indicates that some people age faster than others. This interests me because I am a slow ager. I passed for under 12 at movie theaters until I was 16 (my ethics evidently developed slowly too; today I wouldn't think of misrepresenting my age for any purpose) and I have never looked my age. At high school they didn't even let me try out for the soccer team, though I'd had two years experience playing at another school. A girl with the same experience at the same schools became the most successful female player of the class. You might take that as an indication I was not much good physically. Not so. Since I couldn't get onto any team, I played Ping Pong, an individual sport with no coach to keep me out, and played in some tournaments in college and the US Army, winning more games than I lost. There was nothing wrong with me; I just looked underage. When I went to register for Social Security they dismissed me as too young. Fortunately I had my ID along. A study in New Zealand of 954 people indicated that chronologically they were all 38 years old, but their biological ages ranged from 28 to 61. I wasn't there, but I would have looked 27. I am still functioning well at age 81, declining, but not rapidly, and still writing. I like to think that living a clean life with no drugs, not even coffee, keeping busy, and regularly exercising are responsible, but I could simply be lucky. They have not found any biological secret or effective anti-aging therapies; folk just seem to age at different rates. Now as I approach the age my mother and my wife's father died, I'm a trifle nervous, but we'll see. My father, a health nut as I am, lived to 93.

Article on Consciousness in NEW SCIENTIST by neuropsychologist Peter Halligan says that our unconscious tricks us into believing we have a sense of self so we can share our beliefs, prejudices, feelings, and decisions with others. This enables the group's development of adaptive strategies that contribute to survival. So we are conscious to help the group, and the group helps us survive. Our sense of self may be an illusion, and our conscious decisions may be merely an awareness of decisions our unconscious mind has already made, but if it keeps us alive a bit longer, nature supports it. I have seen elsewhere statements that self does not exist; that seemed ridiculous, but further thought makes me wonder. Just as life may be only a process, like a fire burning, governed by hidden factors, so may be consciousness and self. So do we have free will? The evidence suggest that this is another illusion. My own prior thinking is similar: if there are ten courses to follow, some of which may kill me, a conscious assessment is a definite advantage. So I take that path that avoids the tiger, the tar pit, the avalanche, the girl who will break my heart and whose tough boyfriend will break my face, and make it safely through, while unconscious blundering would likely wipe me out. So consciousness is real, whatever else is not.

Paul Krugman says that the Republican presidential candidates, from Trump on down, can't be serious, because when they are they alienate their rightist base and lose primaries. The party has no room for rational positions on many major issues. So we see the fantastic sideshow continue. Perhaps related, Thom Hartmann pitches the case for a guaranteed minimum income for every person, something I think is anathema to that Republican base. There was an experiment in Uganda where one group received a no strings attached grant equal to their normal annual income, while a control group got no grant. Did this encourage loafing? No, the grantees worked an average of an extra 17 hours compared to the control group. Four years later they showed a 41% increase in earnings. They invested in skills and businesses, and hunger was reduced. They were 65% more likely to practice a skilled trade two years after receiving the grant. There have been similar results elsewhere. He concludes that we could eliminate every single government welfare program, if we simply set up a guaranteed minimum income based on living wages around the country. So if the Republicans really wanted to get rid of waste and fraud, here's how. If their real agenda is not to create a feudal system with a few rich patrons and many poor serfs doing their bidding. But naturally they can't be serious about that. Yet I wonder: I understand that about 90% of the receivers of windfall income, such as a big inheritance, winning a lottery, or striking it rich in some other manner, are essentially broke again within five years. Wouldn't a grant be similar? Or is it that a moderate grant is usefully used, while an immoderate one isn't? It might help to know.

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