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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
FeBlueberry 2018

After the turn of the year I set up to write my next Xanth novel, #44, Skeleton Key. When I get going on a writing project I tend to let the rest of things slide, so this time I tried watching one Star Trek—The Next Generation episode a day, then writing. I wasn't sure how long that would last, but I gave it a fair try—and it worked. Each day I watched either an episode or half a regular movie, and I can prove it, because I review them all in this column. I may continue that arrangement, because I have many more Start Treks, plus Doctor Who and others to catch up on. I say it worked because my writing still went well; I wrote at the same pace as before, and in the month of Jamboree I wrote 52,600 words, more than half the novel. This one features a dozen children, yes, including the two half-skeleton children Piton and Data, who wind up in the most dangerous adventure yet. The main character is Squid, the eleven year old alien cuttlefish who emulates a human girl and is remarkably good at it. She is told that not only is she the protagonist (that is, the viewpoint character), she is the most important person in the universe. Of course she dismisses that, as she never aspired to be more than a minor background character. She shouldn't.

I watched the Discover video Inventions That Shook the World, 1970s, starting with the cell phone. It was inspired by a device seen on Star Trek. That really did change the world. The Post-It Note. Remote-control device to handle bombs. The electric car—the problem being the battery. But what about putting motor and battery together? Thus came the first hybrid car. The American EPA was seriously interested. It worked—but then gasoline became plentiful again, and the American government lost interest. But 25 years later Toyota picked up on the notion. Yep—we drive a Prius.

Then the followup for the 1980s. DNA profiling, more accurate than fingerprinting, used to identify men who rape and murder, solving otherwise unsolvable crimes. The nicotine patch to help folk stop smoking. The Internet. The challenge there was to combine all the separate networks with their independent protocols into a single one. The scanning tunneling microscope. Computer games. Capsule endoscopy: a pill with a camera inside, replacing the colonoscopy so you don't have to have a tube run up your ass; they're still perfecting it. The Mars mission, requiring docking in space, a tricky operation, to assemble a space station. This was a multinational effort, 14 nations. Next stop: Mars.

I watched When the Bough Breaks, listed as Star Trek The Next Generation (TNG) #18 but I make it #16. They visit the semi-mythical paradise planet Aldea. It is shielded and hard to locate, but makes itself available now. Why?. They want something: they have no recent children, so want to borrow those aboard the Enterprise. No way! But they simply beam seven children down anyway, including Wesley Crusher, chosen for their special talents. They mean to keep and adopt them. In return they offer advanced technology. Picard and Beverly Crusher, Wesley's mother, are beamed down to negotiate. Aldea demonstrates its power by jumping the ship three day away at Warp 9. If the ship doesn't cooperate, it will be banished so far away it will take decades to return. But Beverly slips a medicals scanner to Wesley, who uses it to scan one of the Aldeans; they learn that the Aldeans are dying of radiation poisoning. It's a side effect of their master computer, which they really don't know how to adjust themselves. When that is fixed, they will live. The Enterprise personnel fix it. The children are returned and all ends well. It's a nice episode, and I think my favorite so far in this series.

TNG #19 Home Soil sees them visit a terraforming project. They take a lifeless planet and gradually convert it to life-sustaining. The process seems viable. But malfunctions are messing it up. A laser drill attacks Data. Someone is controlling it, attacking anyone moving in the chamber. Now this is personal. They beam aboard a unit that is inorganic, yet seems to be alive. Mystery indeed! It is alive, and trying to communicate with them. Terraforming the planet will destroy that life. Understanding that, they leave this planet as it is. Crisis over. This is another excellent episode.

TVG #20 Coming of Age Wesley Crusher is to be tested for admission to the Academy. The Admiral beams aboard. Something is wrong and they mean to find out what. Wesley meets pretty Oleana, another applicant; only one will be taken, of four. The investigation of the Enterprise proceeds with pointed and often aggravating questions that anger many officers. Then the point: Picard is being considered for promotion to commandant of the Academy; the aggravation was to make sure of him. Wesley does not win the competition, but does well. And Picard declines the promotion. The routine resumes.

TNG #21 Heart of Glory They encounter a seemingly dead ship in space. It is a Talarian cargo vessel. What happened to it? Riker, Data, and Geordi La Forge, with the visor, beam aboard. It is filled with misty gas. There are three survivors, one near death: Klingons. They are beamed aboard just in time. Worf, the Klingon crewman, joins them, showing the around the ship. Then a Klinghon ship demands that they be turned over, as criminals. This is awkward. They make a break for it, one surviving. He is determined to win his freedom, or destroy the ship. Worf kills him. That satisfies the Klingons.

I watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2. It starts wild and gets wilder. Baby Groot dances while a giant fire breathing octopus attacks. The warrior Drax leaps into its mouth to stab it from inside, but it is the green warrior woman Gamora who actually kills it. The raccoon, Rocket, steals batteries, and that makes them a target. Pilot Peter Quill steers them through a dangerous asteroid field, but they crash in a forest. They are rescued by Quill's father Ego, whose pretty servant girl with antennae, Mantis, is an empath, aware of the feelings of those she touches. She says Quill loves Gamora, but Gamora wants none of it, until the very end. Then the group gets captured, and little Groot has to rescued them by finding the key. If they can only make him understand what they need. Meanwhile Gamora makes up with her sister Nebula. Quill relates to Ego who is also a world, but concludes that Ego must die. The resulting battle is a phantasmagoria. Blue Yondu rescues Quill at the last moment, but dies himself. I'm not sure how sensible a movie this is, overall, but like a bad dream, it has its points.

I watched In the Heart of the Sea, said to be the real-life story that inspired Melville's Moby Dick. Indeed, it presents Herman Melville interviewing Thomas Nickerson, who signed on as a crewman at age 14 and was soon seasick. Experienced Owen Chase joins as first mate of the Essex, a whaler captained by George Pollard. They sail into a storm that the inexperienced captain is not sufficiently wary of. Three months later they catch their first whale in a harrowing chase. But then there are no more whales. So they went where there was a report of hundreds of whales—along with a huge demon white whale. And it's true: hundreds. And the big one. Who staves in the ship, and it goes down in flames. They are left in three small whaleboats, trying to sail and paddle 3,000 miles to land, without enough food and fresh water to go around. The white whale pursues and attacks them just as they spy land. The survivors make it to a tiny island where there are the bones of prior sailors who were never rescued. Two boats move on, while several men remain on the island. A man dies, and they eat him. That's the guilty secret of survival. They draw straws for the next. The whale still stalks them. They finally do reach land, and home, but don't speak of the ugly details. The ship owners want them to lie, to protect the industry. They refuse, which destroys their careers. But at least there was honor in the captain, first mate, and the crewman. This is an ugly but powerful story.

I watched Collide. Casey Stein meets Juliette, another American, in Germany. But he's a drug courier, and she doesn't like that. So he quits, and dates her. Then she has a seizure, and needs a kidney transplant, but doesn't qualify in Germany. So he takes on one last job, to get the money to save her. They hijack a truck loaded with drugs, but it goes wrong. Then it's a bullet spattered car chase. They go after Julie too. He has to try to save her while on the lam himself, from the bad guys and the police. He leads them one hell of a chase, somehow surviving bullets, a rollover, and smart ruthless assassins. Such as Anthony Hopkins in a mean role. (Something about that name I like; eventually maybe I'll figure it out.) He finally get the money to Juliette, but gets arrested by the police. He makes a deal, so the police can make their biggest drug bust in history. So Juliette gets the operation to save her, and they are together. Tense movie, happy ending. Credible? Original? Meaningful? Hardly, but it's one tense watch.

I read Sudden Genius? by Andrew Robinson. The thesis is that hard work accounts for more genius than flashes of insight, and that it takes about ten years to make the key breakthroughs. It traces the lives of ten geniuses such as Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart, Darwin, Einstein, and Virginia Woolf to make the case. Spot quotes: “Extensive evidence shows that there is no correlation between early formal education and later artistic creativity.” Neither is there much correlation between high intelligence and creativity. “Just as the creative world is crowded with people who have ideas but no talent, it is also crowded with people who have talent but no ideas.” “The only obvious trait in common between the personalities of the highly creative seems to be strong self discipline.” This echoes my own observation. I was often a dunce in school, taking three years to make it through first grade because I couldn't learn to read, testing low in intelligence, making poor grades in English, yet there are a number of readers who have called me a genius in writing. I believe I was dyslexic before that was an accepted category, so I was deemed stupid. I had original ideas when rote learning was required. I certainly relate to those square pegs who couldn't make it with the round holes of formal education. Once I found my profession, free lance writing, I scored. Does that make me a genius? No, but it makes me one of those who do well if they find their niches, as this book's geniuses did. As you who read this paragraph would too, if you found yours. We are all geniuses in our own fashions. And yes, the book's thesis fits me; my first novel was published in 1967, and the one that I became known for, the first Xanth story, in 1977. It does take a while to get there, and yes, it has more to do with hard work than with sudden inspiration. So when you find your niche and apply yourself for a decade, you may be a genius too.

I watched A Hologram for the King. Alan is sent to Saudi Arabia to sell the king a holographic teleconferencing system. Things are weird from the start. It's mostly desert, interspersed by camels. They seem not to know about keeping schedules; the king has not been in the vicinity for months. WiFi, which he needs to make his presentation, is intermittent. His crew is in a tent. His driver is a character. Chairs collapse when he tries to use them. There's supposed to be no alcohol. An unfamiliar woman tries to seduce him. Native women are totally veiled. Nothing is getting done. It's frustrating. His driver misses a turn and they go through Mecca, where non-Muslims are not allowed, so Alan has to fake it. Fortunately they are not stopped. Finally the king comes, and Alan demonstrates the hologram. But then China offers the same technology at half the price. So no sale. Then he goes on a date with his lady doctor. They go snorkeling together, she bare breasted. They make love. They will probably marry. So this is actually a romance rather than an adventure. As such it's interesting, different, and okay.

I watched TNG #22 “The Arsenal of Freedom.” They are sent to investigate Planet Minos, where a ship disappeared. And where there are no planetary survivors. War? Disease? An Away party beams down, Riker, Data and Tasha, and encounters a friend of Rikers, who turns out to be a holo image that attacks and encapsulates Riker. Picard and Beverly Crusher beam down to join them, but get attacked and trapped, she being injured. He treats her, following her medical directions, but she has lost a lot of blood. Meanwhile the Enterprise itself gets attacked by an unseen object. Geordi LaForge is in charge, and handles the difficult situation well. He has the ship separate into its two components, so it can rescue the away team and address the enemy at the same time. This succeeds. It all turns out to be a demonstration of a new armament system, very sophisticated. This is one taut adventure.

TNG #23 “Symbiosis.” They investigate a star up close, that is generating solar flares, and receive a distress call from a freighter in the vicinity. They beam the survivors aboard, but they are peculiar, arguing over medication that may stop a local plague. Two of them have the plague., but Dr. Crusher finds them healthy. They are not ill, they are addicted. There is a good discussion of the nature of addiction. But the Enterprise can't interfere, to their regret.

TNG #24 “Skin of Evil” they are on their way to pick up Counselor Deanna Troi, but the shuttle-craft she is on has a problem, losing control, and crashes on an uninhabited planet. The Away team of Riker, Data, Tasha, and Beverly Crusher beam down to it, and encounter a creature like a pool of oil that forms into a roughly humanoid shape. It's name is Armus. It blasts and kills Tasha. They beam back to the ship and Beverly treats her but can't restore her to life. The Away team returns this time with Geordi. Meanwhile the thing talks with Deanna, then sucks Riker in. Captain Picard beams down and negotiates with Armus, then strands it alone on the planet. They then hold a memorial service for Tasha. Her recording addresses and thanks them individually for their friendship. She found a home on the Enterprise. And it ends with her gone. Damn; I like her.

TNG #25 “We'll Always Have Paris” They are on their way to a vacation planet for some leave time when they encounter some kind if loop, repeating a few seconds before going on. Picard remembers how a scientist, Paul Manheim, was working with time. Picard goes into an animated memory of a date 22 years ago when he stood up a young woman, Jenice, afraid of commitment. Then there is a distress call, and they rescue Professor Manheim and his wife, who is Jenice, the one Picard stood up because he was afraid that a relationship with her would wipe out the rest of his career. It is evident that they still have complicated feelings for each other. Meanwhile the Professor's experiment has gone wrong, and the time loops are getting worse. But Data manages to fix it, and all is well. Paul and Jenice return to their work, and the Enterprise to its vacation. But the memories remain.

TNG # 26 “Conspiracy” They got to Pacifica, an ocean world. Then Picard gets a private call from Admiral Walker Keel, an old friend. They must meet personally, telling no one. They divert to Mira, where Picard meets Walker and others. They say something is happening, accidents are taking op top personnel, other people are mysteriously changing. What's going on? The Enterprise may be targeted next. They can't trust top personnel but must find out the truth. Then Keel's ship is destroyed. They return to Earth to investigate. One admiral, Quinn, beams aboard the Enterprise and Picard knows it is not the real admiral. Sure enough, he displays superhuman strength and beats up the officers until Beverly rays him down. He is the real Quinn but possessed by a parasite. They manage to destroy the parasites, but it's a close call and it may not be over, because the enemy home base remains.

TNG #27 “The Neutral Zone” Captain Picard has been summoned to Earth; Riker is in charge as they encounter a derelict in space. They investigate and discover three survivors, frozen in containers. Picard returns to report that there may be trouble with the Romulans in the neutral zone. The three survivors, revived and cured, are from 20th century Earth, frozen cryonically. One is a housewife, another is a pushy businessman, the third is a musician. Meanwhile they meet the Rumulans and learn that something has been wiping out both human and Romulan bases. They will cooperate to discover more, in an uneasy truce.

TVG Special Features, showing how they set up for the new Star Trek series. The original cast was busy with movies and such, and too expensive to be afforded, so they made a new cast. The actresses for Tasha and Troi were slated for each other, but realized that they were miscast and switched. Others had their own histories, as the proprietors searched for the right actors for the cast. The Trekkies fans were annoyed that the old actors were not returning, but came to accept it. As I did, half a century later, and I actually came to like the new order better. It was more realistic and more innovative, integrated, with black and android folk, and even a Klingon, and women were now leading characters instead of decorative. Geordi's visor was crafted from a woman's barrette. They show how they made their special effects. Confirmation that the actress who played Tasha Yar asked to leave, and it was sad for all of them and for her, but they played it through with the expressed sentiments of the character echoing those of the actor. They don't say why she left, as she seemed to like the role; maybe it was a family situation.

TNG Second Season #1. “The Child” The regular cast minus Tasha. Riker has grown a beard. A glowing object like a miniature star flies around the Enterprise, seemingly observing people, until it comes to Deanna Troi. She turns out to be suddenly pregnant with an extremely rapidly growing son. It seems that Dr. Beverly Crusher has been transferred to a new position, and Dr. Katherine Pulanski will replace her. Meanwhile the Enterprise is investigating a plague. Troi gives birth in two days to a normal human boy she names Ian. In one day he ages four years. They pick up sample specimens of the plague that is so virulent that if any leaks it will rapidly destroy all life aboard the ship. Then a specimen start to grow, and will burst free soon. Something is stimulating it. That turns out to be Ian. He dies, and the little star escapes. It's a life force entity, curious about the passing ship, so investigated by living among the people for a while, then departing, no harm intended. What an introduction to the new season! With, it seems, two characters being replaced.

I read Kiss My Asterisk, by Jenny Barcanick. This is “A Feisty Guide To Punctuation And Grammar” according to its apt subtitle. Now I was once an English teacher, so I read this in significant part to discover what this provocative lady really knows about the subject. She's pretty good but not perfect; one who, in her vernacular, you might date a few times but not necessarily marry. She goes into spelling, but evidently doesn't really know the distinction between blond and blonde. The first is a color, the second is a woman. So a blonde is a blond haired woman. She covers commas, capitalization, the ellipsis, the dash, and so on, plus email etiquette, and I think most folk could profit from this review of those. I have received exactly such illiterate fan letters as she has. So I do recommend this book, and appreciate its sauciness, such as this example from memory: “You're such a naughty little sentence. I'm going to punctuate you all night.” So what else does she miss? One example is “like”; times change, but a sentence “He ran like he was a dog” remains a crudity, and should better be “He ran as if he were a dog.” She uses the word often in a similar manner, making purists like me wince. She uses “whether or not” which is redundant; it should simply be “whether.” And she does not seem to properly understand “only.” To make up an example: “I only go to the movies on Saturday.” Really? You do nothing else, such as eating, sleeping, pooping, working, or reading reviews such as this one? What you mean to say is “I go to the movies only on Saturday.” Position can make a big difference, as the author would readily agree when she thought about it.

TNG SS #2 “Where Silence Has Lease” They are charting an unexplored section of the galaxy, and encounter a void. They explore it, and inadvertently enter it. And can't get out of it. They encounter their sister ship the Yamato, functional but without life aboard. Riker and Worf beam aboard it, but find it confusing and not a real ship. A big face talks to them, but sensors show nothing out there. They seem to be in a laboratory experiment, like rats is a maze. They initiate auto-destruct in 20 minutes. The void lets them go at the last moment. It was curious how they would face death, and learned the answer.

TNG SS #3 “Elementary, Dear Data” They have time to spare, so Data and Geordi go into the simulator to play a Sherlock Holmes and Watson mystery. Together with the new doctor Katherine Pulaski they enter the mystery. Evil Professor Moriarti appears and gains control of the computer and thus she ship; the reasonable limits are now off. Picard and Worf enter the scene, suitably garbed. Moriarti wants to survive, to continue to exist. Picard agrees to save the program until such time as they can enable Moriarti to leave the simulator and enter the ship proper. Moriarti's a nice character.

TNG SS #4 “The Outrageous Okona” They encounter a small ship in trouble. They bring it in, meet the captain, and make repairs. The captain, Okona, is a smart-Alec young man who promptly dates a pretty crew woman. Meanwhile Data is trying to learn what humor is. A ship hails them, demanding that Okona, criminal, be turned over them them immediately. Then a second ship comes with a similar demand. Ocona got one leader's daughter pregnant, and used the son of the other to steal a gem. It turns out that son and daughter love each other and the baby is theirs; the gem is a wedding token. They will marry and all is well.

TNG SS #5 “Loud as a Whisper” Picard, Worf, and Deanna Troi go to attend a negotiation between antagonistic parties who have been at war for 15 centuries. The negotiation will be conducted by Riva, said to be the best. He turns out to be deaf, but he has three empathic (telepathic) translators and also uses sign language. He is very interested in Deanna, a similar empath. But the encounter quickly goes wrong, and the three translators are killed. This shakes Riva up; they were friends as well as translators. Data learns his sign language so can communicate. They devise a new plan, where the parties will learn sign language so they can talk and negotiate. This may work out.

TNG SS #6 “The Schizoid Man” They receive a transmission from Gravesworld, where the scientist Ira Graves lives. He needs help, but there is no further contact. Then a distress signal from the Constantinople, a merchant ship with 2,000 at risk. So they send an away party to Graves's home consisting of Data, Deanna, Worf, and a Vulcan lady doctor. Graves is with pretty Kareen Briannon, and has a terminal disease. They fix the ship, then head for Gravesworld. Meanwhile. Graves dies, physically but his arrogant personality seems to have transferred to Data. Picard talks him into transferring into the computer and giving Data back.

TNG SS #7 “An Unnatural Selection” they have been summoned for a rendezvous, and on the way receive a faint distress call from the Lantree, whose crew seem to have died suddenly of old age. They beam a twelve year old child aboard, but what arrives is a man, evidently aged. Dr. Pulanski takes him on a shuttle so as to maintain quarantine. And she catches the ailment, and rapidly ages. But they manage to nullify it by using the transference beam, filtering out the virus. So Dr. Pulanski is restored.

TNG SS #8 “A Matter of Honor” Riker participates in an officer exchange program set up by HQ and transfers to a Klingon ship, the Pagh. But the Klingon commander gets confused and sets up to attack the Enterprise. Riker foils that and succeeds in stopping the attack and saving the Pagh from an alien infection. It's a rough, chancy tour. One fun sequence is when a couple of Klingon women come on to Riker; they are surely sultry and sexy, but not to a human man's taste.

I'm always reading something. I subscribe mainly to news and science magazines, as despite my success in Fantasy I remain fascinated by Science. I also subscribe to two Humanist magazines, which I tend to get behind on because I get bored reading material that I completely agree with. So this time when I finished one book I held off on the next and tackled FREE INQUIRY and THE HUMANIST. The former has interesting thoughts, such as in an Op-Ed column by James A Haught,who reports that three psychological research reports “showed a significant negative association between intelligence and religiosity.” It seems it is easier to let God do your thinking for you if you're stupid. Bear in mind that this is a secular humanist magazine inhabited mostly by atheists or some agnostics like me. Yes, I know; some say that an agnostic is just a cowardly atheist. Spend some time around me and I'll soon set you straight on that, a-hole. I say the deists can't prove there is a god, but that neither can the atheists prove there isn't. So I'm technically in the middle, but my private suspicion is that there is no god unless you call the universe god. I regard god as a fantasy, and though I make my living from it, I don't believe it. In the same issue, December/January 2017/18 Op-Ed columnist Faisal Saeed says that the total number of books translated into Arabic in the last one thousand years is fewer than those translated into Spanish in one year. But, he says, the Internet is changing things. Up to 175 million Arab speakers now get online, and they are discovering what their leaders suppressed. Things like the theory of evolution. So there will be change. And from a letter to the magazine by Ricky Ferdon. When he was eleven he realized that he was going to die one day. So then he asked himself, why was he here? It was the birth of philosophy in his young mind, and he postulates that it must echo that of the human mind. Let's face it: our awareness of our own mortality is the source of our religion, the attempt to avoid death by making a fantasy afterlife. And an article by Joanne Hanks with Steve Cuno “How to Raise Cult Bait.” She had willingly joined the Mormons before being disabused, and wonders how someone who grows up outside a polygamist cult, on hearing that God wants her husband to add a bunch more wives, says “Sign me up.” Finally she realized that she stood atop a mountain of absurdities “(Why, yes, I am all for sharing my husband with that unjustly endowed woman half my age).” So she wrote a book titled “It's Not About the Sex” My Ass: Confessions of an Ex Mormon, Ex Polygamist, Ex Wife. I love that title!

The following issue, also jam-packed with thoughts including a retrospective on the humanism of Isaac Asimov, has a review of the book Freud: The Making of an Illusion by Frederic Crews. I admit to bias here; I never thought much of Freudian psychology, which struck me as nonsense. “Crews illustrates that the cure does not work—and has never worked. All the successful cases that Freud boasts about in his writings are lies. Freud never cured anyone, and most of his patients ended up worse off as a result of his care. Freud was a charlatan, a fraud, and a swindler.” Wow! Take that Freudian psychologists. Freud the fraud.

THE HUMANIST for Jan/Feb 2018 has an article “The Monster Attacking Human Minds” by Gurwinder Bhogal. He describes how a virus makes ants give themselves up to be eaten by birds, so that their droppings spread the virus. Or mice who flirt with cats for similar reason. So can it happen to human beings? Yes, only then it is done by an infectious idea. He says the brain is not the seat of the soul, but an extremely complex computer “And, like all computers, it can be hacked.” He provides an insidious example. A Photoshop contest had users edit mundane pictures to make them appear supernatural. Thus appeared Slender Man, a vaguely otherworldly being that targeted children. It soon became an urban myth. Then two twelve year old Wisconsin girls made a sacrifice to it by stabbing a friend nineteen times. That was followed by an Ohio girl donning a mask and hood and attacking her mother with a knife. A few months later a Florida girl who had been reading about Slender Man set her house on fire while her mother and brother were inside. In 2015 Slender Man was implicated in a string of suicides on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota. The author says that cults can be like that, but would die out if people learned to tell the difference between monsters and madmen. I doubt I agree, but it's a thesis that should be further explored.

THE HUMANIST also has an article by Clay Farris Naff on internet trolls and bots with some alarming implications. Facebook admits its pages may harbor as many as 270 million fake accounts, which is more than the adult population of the United States, so we know that some are fakes. Bigotry is not supposed to be facilitated, but when tested for “Jew haters” the ad buy was approved in 15 minutes. A number of social media ads, posts, and pages have been revealed to come from Russian agencies or operatives in 2016, using specifically anti-Black, anti Muslim and anti-immigrant stereotypes to undermine the American electoral system, suppress voter turnout, and fan the flames of racist hatred and violence. Bots pumped out one fifth of all tweets during the month leading up to the election. According to TwitterAudit, nearly half of Trump's followers are bots. Australia's investigation revealed that Facebook's reach to millennials in that country exceeded the actual population of twenty-somethings by more than 30 percent. There appear to be twenty five million non-existent millennials in Facebook's US numbers. A complaint appears to have been answered by a bot. One childishly simple expedient is a checkoff box that says “I am not a robot.” That stops them, for now. So did the Russians succeed in stealing the election for Trump? The evidence so far suggests yes. Of course Trump thinks that is fake news, but it would explain a lot.

Perhaps related, a newspaper item says that robocallers outsmart the Do Not Call list. They certainly do. We're on the do not call list, and we get those calls daily, including on my cell phone. What gets me is that this could be quickly stopped, if the authorities wanted to. Simply designate a code, such as *9, that would immediately lock the caller onto the enforcement number with an automatic fine sufficient to discourage repetition. It would take about one day for the calls to stop. So why isn't that done? It has to be because the authorities aren't really interested in stopping it. Are they getting paid off? I'd like to know. One complication is that they use fake numbers; we once got one from our own number. So it needs to lock on to the live call, not the fake number. They claim they don't have the resources to act. Maybe if their jobs were on the line they would find those resources. In a related matter, I think that when congress doesn't act and the government shuts down, the first thing cut off should be the congressional pay. It's called incentive.

THE WEEK's book of the week is Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World, by Paul Shapiro. I'm for it, but food is only part of the problem; we need to cut down our population before we render other creatures extinct from habitat destruction. My working idea so far is that the food be made available cheap, but contain a fertility suppressant, so that those who want to breed mist make the conscious decision to do so, then pay the price for that privilege. That might do it. I saw a full page ad for Syngenta, a company devoted to developing a safe and sustainable supply of food. More power to them. Http://bit.ly/SyngentaPS.

Letter in the newspaper by John Day says Trump may be bigoted, but is not a racist. If a black man has millions to spend on a Trump project, he will be welcome. It's money that counts, not race. However, an article in THE WEEK says that in 1973 Trump was sued for refusing to rent apartments to blacks. In 1989 he demanded the death penalty for five black and Latino youths accused of rape, and he stuck with that position even after DNA evidence exonerated them. That smells like racism to me.

Statistically the US lags in child mortality. We spend more per capita on health care than other countries do, but our children are still 57 percent more likely to die. That's because we have let the profiteers take over health care and make it your money or your life, and when your money runs out, so does your life. I remain annoyed that my five dollar levothyoxin generic prescription jumped to thirty dollars. I can afford it, but what about those who can't? The profiteers have them by the gonads. It's hardly the worst example.

Sue Grafton died. She was a mystery writer who was going through the alphabet, but death overtook her before she made it to Z. No I don't really think that the last one would have been Z is for Zanth. But who knows? Ursula Le Guin also died, a good genre writer and a good woman, a few years my senior. She was known for the award winning The Left Hand of Darkness, wherein folk could become either male or female as the inclination took them. I hate to see the old order pass.

Apart from writing the novel, I have ongoing dentistry. My temporary lower denture pains me to chew, and my weight has dropped some; it should recover in due course. I am also waiting on the Xanth movie. We are supposed to know on Marsh 1, 2018, whether it is yea or nay. We think it will be yea, but we've been disappointed before, so we'll see. I am also suffering an allergy attack; it happens when the wind is from the northeast, and my nose just keeps going. No one seems to know what's on that wind, but the problem has been with me since about 1960. I just have to keep blowing out my pint of snot every minute or so, to prevent it from dripping into the salad I make for supper, or my clothing, or the keyboard, and wait for the wind to change. We also had a cold snap, down to 24F; we hate that in Florida. So I'm not physically happy at the moment. In addition I seem to be incapable of typing anything correctly the first, second, or third time. It's maddening but I have plow ahead to get it done.

One final entry: a botany guide for children.


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