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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
Jewel-Lye 2019

My singleton novel Realty Check will be featured in Early Bird Books, Open Road’s daily deals newsletter, on 7/17/2019, downpriced to $1.99 at all US retailers on that one day. This is about a remarkable house that is on a city street in a choice location, but the back door opens onto a solid forest that completely surrounds the house. How’s that again? The house is fully stocked, including food and clothing that fits Penn and Chandelle, the older couple checking it out, and the first month’s rental is free. So how come nobody wants to rent it? They must have been scared off by the weird effects. In fact it is a portal to other worlds, and it is looking for the right family to appreciate it. So they take it, and bring in their granddaughter Llynn and smart grandson Lloyd for the summer. Llynn, a rebellious teen, is furious about being sent here with the dull old folk, preventing her from dating her rogue boyfriend. Then they show her the back door. She climbs a tree to check the area; it’s endless. The house has other intriguing mysteries. Lloyd is similarly converted, discovering the phenomenal internet connections it has. Now they are ready for the adventure that the house represents. I figured the novel would make a nice movie or TV series, but it disappeared into anonymity, which has been my luck so far. See if you agree that it belongs obscure. I don’t.

I read Scarlet Women, by Ian Graham. This is subtitled The Scandalous Lives Of Courtesans, Concubines, And Royal Mistresses, and that is exactly what it is. What strikes me is how desperately unhappy so many of these lives were. A number of them were famous in their day, but most ended their lives in obscure poverty. Just about all that counted for a woman was her sex appeal, which meant that age inevitably destroyed her. What counted for a man was his wealth, and when that was dissipated, as it so often was, he was out. Had the women sought worthwhile men in their heyday, they might have had happy lives. Had the men sought women with more to recommend them than appearance, they too might have done better. But the women mainly wanted rich living and the men wanted sex with as many pretty partners as they could manage. So maybe both got what they deserved: disappointment. Ordinary garden-variety folk with more realistic objectives seem to do better. Tidbits along the way: La Belle Otero, born in 1868, took her first lover at age twelve. At least eight men killed themselves because of love of her, so she became known as the Suicide Siren. Another courtesan had the problem of falling into deep sleep after making love, so that her companions were able to slip out of bed and escape without paying. She solved this by sewing her nightshirt to her lover’s. One offered fifty thousand crowns for one night in her company; she took the money but sent another courtesan to take her place. He didn’t notice? Maybe the lights were off. One, dying in her eighties, bequeathed some of her money to a lawyer’s young son to buy books; she evidently saw promise in him. His name was Voltaire. One was engaged by a royal mother to take her son’s virginity when he was fourteen. She rose to the challenge and did such a fine job of it that she was rewarded with an estate and a pension. In ancient Greece, prostitution was legal and taxed by the state. At the bottom (so to speak) of the hierarchy were the pornai, from which the word pornography derives. In China, one woman was said to be so beautiful that birds would fall from the sky when they saw her. Intrigued by that, I put such a woman in a fantasy story, and she flashed dragons so that they crash-landed. My wife says that’s sexist. Is it? I thought it was cute, and better than getting toasted by dragon fire. By the end of the sixteenth century Venice was in decline, and more and more families were unable to afford the huge dowries required to get their daughters married well. The girls were left with two choices: enter a convent for a life of contemplation and abstinence, or turn to prostitution. The number of prostitutes in Venice soared. When the authorities were concerned about homosexuality, they encouraged prostitutes to bare their breasts in public in an attempt to convert gay men to normalcy. I’m not sure how well that worked; I suspect some straight men claimed to be gay to encourage such display, then said they had been converted. If anyone doubted, they would be happy to demonstrate their heterosexuality, proving it. In England George, the Prince of Wales, loved his wife, but felt it his royal duty to take a mistress. Henrietta was glad to oblige. “The Princess of Wales knew about the affair and accepted it as any well-brought-up princess would. It helped that she liked Henrietta.” Another, Catherine, enjoyed horse-riding, and could outdo most men. “Her rides on Rotten Row wearing skintight riding habit drew huge crowds. Aristocratic ladies copied her clothes, although few of them could match her eighteen-inch waist.” One lover had a violent temper. When he attacked his mistress, he felt such remorse that he bought her expensive gifts, such as a steam yacht called White Ladye. One Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, was approached by Camilla, who was reputed to have said to him “My great-great-grandmother was your great-great-grandfather’s mistress, so how about it?” Her logic was evidently persuasive, and she became his mistress before and after he married the more famous Princess Diana. Klondike Kate, of America, was attractive as as a teen, and became engaged to seven men at the same time, but when her school found out she had to give their rings back. Spoilsport! It concludes with the infamous Mata Hari, who misplayed her cards and was executed by firing squad. My conclusion from this book? Don’t become a courtesan; it’s too chancy.

I watched Alice in Wonderland. This doesn’t follow the Louis Carroll tale perfectly, but seems close in spirit. Alice is a little girl impatient to grow up. She follows a white rabbit and falls into the rabbit hole. She finds herself in a chamber, but the Exit door is too small for her. So she tries the bottle labeled DRINK ME, and abruptly shrinks to maybe six inches tall. Then she finds a sort of blue bun that says EAT ME. She takes a bite—and becomes almost too big to stand in the room. The white rabbit appears, but is spooked away, dropping his fan. Alice cries, and her tears flood the chamber. When she fans herself with the rabbit’s fan she gets small again and winds up in the lake of her tears. She meets people costumed as animals, who do a song and dance for her, but aren’t helpful for her escape. It continues, one little adventure after another. Whatever she eat or drinks changes her size. She talks with the blue caterpillar, who ushers her into new adventures. She rescues a baby, which becomes a piglet. She meets the March Hare. And the Cheshire Cat. The Mad Hatter. She finds a pleasant garden tended by playing cards. Which the red Queen of Hearts governs. Off with their heads! The Mock Turtle. And a trial with ditsy witnesses. Until Alice realizes that they are nothing but a pack of cards. And wakes back in her familiar garden. Except that she is behind the looking glass. She can see her folks beyond the mirror, but they can’t see her. And a dragon comes after her. On to Part Two, based on Through the Looking Glass. Alice can see the chess pieces but they can’t see or hear her. When she picks them up, they think it’s a tornado. But the Owl can see and hear her. So can the flowers. She meets Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Sees the Walrus and the Carpenter. The White Queen of chess, who becomes a sheep. Humpty Dumpty. The White King. The Red Queen. The Lion and the Unicorn. The White Knight. There are some nice little songs and dances. Alice becomes a little queen. Her house has all manner of pastries and flowers. She gets a present—and it is the fire-breathing dragon. Pandemonium. She climbs through the mirror, backs off the dragon, and is home again. And sees the fantasy cast in the mirror, and hears them singing to her. So maybe the fantasy is not completely gone.

I watched White Tiger. Late in World War Two the German forces are retreating, a 90% burned tank crewman is found, alive when he should be dead. He has no memory of his identity, but his skills remain. They call him Ivan Naidyonov. He heals remarkably rapidly. This is the Russian front. They send him back to work on repairing tanks. He says one tank speaks to him, saying it was ambushed by the White Tiger, the same one that burned him. He prays to the God of Tanks. Others have heard of this tank, that comes and goes, ghost-like, destroying tanks it encounters, even tank battalions. It is a refurbished tiger type tank, with extra armor and a more powerful motor. So the Russians put together an equivalent tank to go after and destroy the White Tiger, putting Ivan in charge of the three man crew. It is a crack team, the best available. He hides his tank in a pit, setting up to ambush the White Tiger. He is confident that it will appear, because it is looking for him. And it appears. It destroys a decoy tank; then the special tank emerges and goes after it. And it vanishes. And reappears behind them. But doesn’t take them out. The tracks disappear in the swamp. Ivan says it survives and is waiting for them to attack. Officers think he is crazy, but can’t deny the existence of the White Tiger. A platoon of tanks does attack. The White Tiger meets them and takes out a tank with each shot. It is carnage. Naidyonov’s tank explores the vicinity, following the tracks to a deserted, village, where they fire at a barn—and a tank emerges and is destroyed. But it’s not the White Tiger. Then they find it and battle it. They hit its turret, locking it in place. But then their own cannon blows up. Ivan gets out and fires at it with a pistol, a seemingly futile gesture, and it backs away and disappears again. The Russians advance on Berlin, meet the German high command, and it agrees to sign a statement of unconditional surrender. The generals share a nice meal. But one departs to see Ivan, who says the White Tiger is still waiting, and until it is destroyed, the war is not truly over. And a Hitler figure says that war is the human state. Movie ends. Too bad; this was a fine movie until it changed to something else and ended, never resolving the question of the mysterious tank or the mysterious Russian soldier. Unless there is a sequel to resolve these questions, it’s a cop-out.

I watched the Discover DVD “Chariots of the Gods” Our greatest mystery is why are we here? Have aliens visited Earth? Are we alone in the universe? We look at the stars and wonder whether there is anybody out there. Are there stars with planets that have liquid water on them? There are so many that there must be something. So if we are not alone, have we been visited by aliens? Did the Aztecs know about the other planets, up to Pluto? The Egyptian pyramids—who really built them? Was there alien involvement? There are hidden chambers. Did the Mayans encounter visitor from the sky? A stone picture could be interpreted as an ancient astronaut in flight. Lines and pictures in the desert, on a huge scale; how could they have been visualized without flying over them? Underground cities have existed for 2,500 years. Did they fear an enemy from the sky? The megaliths—could they have been built 7,000 years ago without alien advice? Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers. Eric von Daniken has theories. Antarctica seems to have been mapped long before we discovered it. Did the ancient Egyptians have electricity? The mysteries continue. So is it true? I am a skeptic, especially about von Daniken. As a writer who has earned a good living from fantastic fiction, I believe I recognize it when I see it. This is that.

I read Mr. Barsin’s Toy Emporium, by Lois Wickstrom. I reviewed this last year, but she did a whole-novel revision, so this is the revised edition. It is better organized than the prior version, so that we know the main characters early instead of some of them late and the overall narrative is better unified. The story concerns several children who separately visit the toy store of the title, where magic exists of you can see it. Few adults can, but many children do. One boy wants a mermaid for an imaginary friend. One girl in a wheelchair wants to rejoin two sylphs she knew before her family moved. One girl wants to slay a dragon. There is a magic wall in the store that the children can pass through to visit the fantasy realm beyond. But there is a hurricane coming, so time is limited. Mr. Barsin, who seems nice, actually has a more complicated agenda. For one thing, he has a dragon aspect. The children may have to give up their physical lives with their families in order to be forever with their fantasy friends. It also turns out that the accident that put the girl in the wheelchair did not after all kill her mother; Mr. Barsin has her mother captive. Can she be rescued? Maybe, if only skeptical parents can be persuaded to assist the children who learn the truth. So it gets tricky, and hard choices have to be made, as the hurricane bears down. Children should like this adventure; it may confirm suspicions they have had about their own toy stores, and explain why their own parents don’t understand the imaginary realm. It is of course the fate of most parents to forget their own childhoods and think that the mundane grind is all that exists. That is part of the tragedy of growing up.

I watched Pyramid. They discover a buried pyramid that has three sides rather than the usual four. This is newsworthy. A father/daughter team supervises the project. They force an entry, and vapor bursts out. Meanwhile there is civil unrest in Cairo, 50 miles to the north, and they are told they have to clear out within 24 hours. So they send in Shorty, their three million dollar rover, to quickly explore the pyramid, watching what it sees on a screen. Then something takes Shorty offline. So Fitzie (a worker?) and Nora (daughter) and Sunni (film maker) and Holden (dad) and Zahir go in to get Shorty, as they can’t afford to lose it. But there is something in the pyramid, some kind of animal. It kills Zahir. The floor collapses and they fall to a lower level. Fine sand flows from the mouths of animal statues; it will bury them if they don’t get out fast. Lizard/dog-like predators start chewing on Sunni, eating her alive. They try to rescue her, but she has fallen on spikes and dies. Then some sort of hand bursts through Holden’s chest, crippling him. Just Fitzie and Nora are left. A wolf-headed man—Anubis? Attacks. There are other bodies; others before them have raided this tomb. Nora reads the hieroglyphics to find the right shaft out. Anubis attacks. Fitzie’s section of the ladder falls. Then Anubis comes after Nora, but she manages to use a fire torch to drive him off, for a while. The lizard/dogs converge—and attack Anubis. Nora flees, but at then end it seems Anubis gets her too. In sum: junk.

I watched Water, set in India, 1938. It is in two versions: the original, Indian, spoken in Hindi with English subtitles, and an English version. Neither worked well for me. I could not properly understand the English version, but the subtitled one was overridden by the maker’s ongoing commentary, which, however relevant, blanked out much of the live action. So I surely missed details. Eight year old Chuyia is married as a child and widowed without ever knowing her husband. So, per the custom, her head is shaved and she is sent to a home for Hindu widows. She is rebellious; she doesn’t like it. A woman is supposed to be like water, completely yielding but essential. One of the pretty young widows, Kalyani, befriends her and lends her a black puppy. That’s mischief, as the puppy is as rebellious as she is. It runs away and she chases it and winds up in the city. A handsome young doctor, Narayan, catches it for her. Thus the doctor meets the widow—and they are attracted to each other. More mischief. This is really their story, as seen by the child. At one point Kalyani and Chuyia are wringing clothing out at a balcony, and accidentally splash the doctor who is passing by below. He is gracious, saying they can do it again if they want to, but the woman hides in embarrassment and it is Chuyia who talks with Narayan, both of them amused. We see the life of the widows of every age, and the vastly inferior status of women in India. The movie is really a tour of the Indian culture. Narayan and Kalyani would like to marry, but it’s against tradition for a widow to marry; it might give other widows ideas. When the head woman learns of it, she in enraged, and cuts Kalyani’s hair. Kalyani was widowed at age nine and never knew her husband, but it makes no difference: a woman is supposed to meekly stay a widow. But she departs and goes to Narayan. What a scandal! It asks the question: what do you do when your conscience conflicts with your faith? When religion is used to justify personal benefit? Kalyani, seeing that her dream is foolish, leaves Narayan and returns to the convent, and wades into the water to drown herself. Narayan comes back for her too late. If only she had waited a little longer! I feel this is unnecessary sacrifice, that may appeal to tragedy-loving critics but not to regular folk. In the end they send Chuyia to be with Gandhi, part of the next society. For her, at least, there is hope. This is a moving and painful film; I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but it is worth seeing.

I read The Sword of Aras, by Kenneth Newell, not yet published. This is a big sword-and-sorcery adventure, the better part of 200,000 words. Torrel is a skilled knight, and his younger sister Laina is so lovely that she attracts the attention of Prince Malak, whom she can’t stand. That sets in motion a complicated chain of adventures, including Torrel’s quest for the magical Sword of Aras and Laina’s ascension to virtual goddess status, with dragons occasionally joining in. Malak is guided by a secret voice only he can hear, so that he knows what to do when the situation is complicated. There is also Varen, a hunter and expert warrior, who does not know his own origin. Others come into play, as the story slowly develops and they interact. Characterization is nuanced; this is not black/white portrayal, though Marak is definitely evil. In the end the few heroes fight against greater numbers to save a village from destruction. There are interesting thoughts along the way, about the nature of power and its uses. So while this is S&S, it is a worthwhile novel in its own right.

I watched Superman and the Mole Men, which I think is the first Superman movie, in black and white, dating from 1951. Reporters Clark Kent and Lois Lane go to witness the drilling of the world’s deepest oil well. A dull routine assignment, they think. But the well has tapped into the underground home of the mole men, six miles down, who come up and look around, spooking Lois. Naturally others don’t believe her. Soil samples glow in the dark. But evidence grows as two mole men explore. They look like small bald men in fur suits, but what they touch glows with radiation. They encounter a little girl, who plays with a ball with them, until her mother spies them and screams. Meanwhile a posse is out to shoot them. It is time for Superman! Superman faces down the mob, trying to talk sense into them. But they shoot one mole man, whom Superman rescues and takes to the hospital, and they trap the other in a shed and set fire to it. He escapes down a chute and makes his way back to the drill hole and back to his home. Superman has to face down the lynch mob again. The mole man returns with friends and a weapon, a ray gun of some sort. Superman meets them and concludes that they want their wounded friend back. He brings the injured mole man to them and carries him to their access hole. They go down, then destroy the hole from below. The end. It’s not much by today’s standards, in photography, special effects, or acting, but interesting as an example of stone-age movie making.

I continue to explore the prospect of turning vegan. It seems that vegan advances are being rapidly made on all fronts, meat, milk, eggs, shoes, clothing, all over the world, and I applaud it. But I received a link to a woman who had tried going vegan, but suffered a loss of health. That is a concern; I want equivalent nutrition as well as equivalent cost. But it turned out that she was not doing just vegan, but also raw, which is another thing, and needed some nutrients in raw meat. Nothing about supplements. There are those who disparage supplements, saying they don’t work, but as far as I can tell, they do work, especially when combined with natural sources. For example I take Vitamin D pills, but I also try to get daily sunshine on my arms and legs. So I don’t see a refutation of veganism here. Meanwhile there are other alternatives to consuming dead cows, such as eating bugs, like grasshoppers, crickets, and termites. Growing insects for protein produces less greenhouse gases than processing other animals, and I understand bug burgers can be quite tasty if you don’t know their source.

My wife and I had our 63rd anniversary in JeJune, and celebrated with a piece of Chocolate Molten Lava Cake. At our octogenarian age that’s sufficient. My wife has health complications probably resulting from the 50 years that she smoked, and is on oxygen, so we go out mainly for doctor appointments, and I don’t do conventions, book signings, or interviews any more. We bought a small generator and I have been learning how to operate it, so that when a power failure comes we’ll still be able to operate the oxygen machine she needs. We live a subdued life. Age is a lady dog, but we are not going gently into that good night, just quietly.

I wrote two novelettes in JeJune. One is “Sinister Scene,” 9,500 words, concerning a young couple looking for another woman to make a trio, as that is their sexual taste. It is sinister, as in left handed, different from the norm, not negative. They are walking the street, discussing the problem, which isn’t one they want to post on a public site, when they blunder into a virtual reality game and are in a fantasy realm. There is no going back; as with jumping off a cliff they can’t just retrace their steps. They realize that they will have to play the game to get out of it. They do, and encounter a female player who is looking for a couple to merge with, in the game. That’s when it gets interesting.

The other novelette is “Skeptic,” 12,250 words. Skip is a total skeptic about the supernatural. Then he is visited by a sexy young demoness from Hell, complete with horns, hooves, and a prehensile tail. She means to seduce him into loving her, and that will predispose him to believe in demons and Hell. He is willing to be seduced physically, but not mentally. Then it turns out that the seduction is mainly a test of his constancy as a skeptic. Believers who make out with demonesses can wind up in Hell for eternity, but not a skeptic. She gives him a tour of Hell, where he meets Satin (after her clothing), Mistress of Hell, she is smart, beautiful, and interested, really his perfect woman, and she loves his skepticism. She means to show him amorous tricks no angel could ever do. He can have a marvelously hot time, as long as he does not believe in any of it. That’s part of the Hell of it. Both novelettes are slated for the next volume in my ongoing story collection series, Relationships 8.

I care for the welfare of people, and animals, and plants. Years ago I discovered a little mulberry tree, intrigued by its intricately curving leaves. It was in a place where it was bound to get run over, so I transplanted it, and after a complicated history including a rogue driver who did run over it, it has grown into a fine young tree. Then last NoRemember (I think it was; for some reason it is hard to retain details of events in that month) I found another, growing right by the house, too close to survive well. So I transplanted it to the back yard where there was more sunlight, and it did okay until a deer ate off its leaves in Dismember. (There are reasons for the Ogre Months.) In spring it sprouted new branches, and was doing well with 30 leaves—when the deer found it and ate them all off. Now we like our deer, but this wouldn’t do. So I made a six foot high chicken wire fence around it, and now it is doing well again with about 29 leaves and growing more. It should in due course make a fine tree.

I watched the Democrat candidates debates with interest. I am and have always been a registered independent, because when I registered in 1959, having gotten my citizenship while serving in the US Army, I realized that neither the Republicans nor the Southern Democrats represented my interests as a naturalized immigrant. In the ensuing half century the Southern Democrats largely converted to Republican and the more liberal northern Democrats filled in, but I am satisfied to remain unaffiliated. To reprise, briefly: I was born in England; my parents were doing relief work for the British Quakers, feeding the hungry children in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, when the new General Franco dictatorship arrested my father and “disappeared” him, claiming they knew nothing about it. But he managed to smuggle out a post card, which reached my mother, and she used that to prove they were lying. So they had to let him go, lest formidable international relief work funds be cut off, but kicked him out of the country. So it was that we came to America on I think the last ship out before World War Two got serious in 1940, on the same ship that the exiled former king of England was on, on his way to the Bahamas. I remember seeing his car unloaded, swinging on a line from a crane, ship to dock. So it should be understandable why I don’t like dictatorships or liars or folk who care nothing for hungry children, and I’m not too partial to war, though I do believe that it was necessary to get Hitler out of power and no way short of assassination or war seemed likely to do that. So I am what is termed liberal, though it seems to me that belief in basic human rights should be considered standard rather than liberal. The national Democrats come closer to that than the Republicans do, and as long as the Republicans support a character like Donald Trump I will not support them. A side note is that when I was on the best seller lists and hauling in money, the Republicans solicited me, evidently figuring I was rich and had to be one of them. When I came off the lists, the Democrats solicited me, figuring I was poor and had to be one of them. I ignored both. Through the decades I supported candidates like John Kennedy and Barack Obama, and disliked dishonest figures like Richard Nixon and, yes, Donald Trump. But which Democrat for president this time? The debates hardly helped, because it turns out that I agree with everything every candidate said. So there will have to be some sorting out, and I will be watching to see who means it and who doesn’t. But at present I believe I could vote for any of them, with a faint hope that the nominee turns out to be a woman.

Related issues. An article by A G Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, discusses Trump’s charge that the newspaper committed “a virtual act of treason.” Treason is a serious charge, as it is punishable by death. It means, in essence, the betrayal of one’s nation. To Trump, of course, any criticism, however justified, is anathema. This article traces Trump’s progression from “the failing New York Times,” to “enemy of the people,” to this flirtation with the charge of treason. Apparently because this newspaper is dedicated to telling the truth as it sees it, as should be the right of any person or organization in America, and tells the truth about Trump. It puts me in mind of when president Clinton was trying to use a military strike to take out one Osama bin Laden, a foreign terrorist he felt was a threat to American interests. The Republicans were screaming in protest against Clinton and doing their best to torpedo his efforts. I remember news commentator Paul Harvey saying “Wag the dog! Wag the dog!” referring to the idea that Clinton was trying to stir up trouble overseas to distract attention from his problems at home. The tail wagging the dog. I thought at the time that the Republicans were committing virtual treason, putting America at serious risk. So bin Laden got away, and the result was 9-11, with almost three thousand Americans dead. Which the Republicans, instead of admitting their own culpability, then used as a pretext to invade Iraq, possibly the one country in the area that had nothing to do with the 9-11 attack. They used torture to evoke false evidence of weapons of mass destruction there. The thing about torture is that the victim will say whatever his torturers want him to say, to stop the pain; not only is it sadistically unethical, it is ineffective for this purpose. But they endorsed it, at hideous cost to America. And now Trump talks of treason? He’s got an odd definition.

I don’t like abortion, for reasons discussed in this column before, mainly my aversion to taking human or animal life. But I also don’t much like the religious or political antiabortionists, who seem to have an agenda other than the welfare of babies. Newspaper article by Lily Abadal says that abortion does not empower women. She points out that abortion may be used as a tool to enable women to be more like men, going to work and leaving home life behind. Thus it is promoting the masculine culture. She points out that not all abortions are freely chosen; young women may be manipulated by parents or guardians who might be inconvenienced by their babies. Men in charge of sex trafficking rings drag abused women to abortion clinics so they can continue exploiting their bodies. This hardly benefits the women. Maybe the focus should be to eliminate the exploitation of women, sexual and economic. I can see her point. When I say I don’t like abortion, that doesn’t I would ban it totally; I do think the woman most concerned should make that difficult decision. I don’t like death either, but I recognize it as one of the architects of evolution. This is an interesting take on the subject. So I say to you antiabortion campaigners, what about promoting contraception and the equality of women, and providing care and homes for unwanted babies? As for the sex rings, I believe that prostitution should be legalized and regulated and taxed; sex is a service like dentistry, accounting, governing, and health care, and properly regulated could eliminate the illegal exploitation of women and the generation of unwanted babies. Unless the real agenda is not to benefit women, but to stigmatize one of the strongest natural urges, sex. To impose outside control on women, a power grab. I speak as a man who stayed home and took care of our first surviving child, while my wife worked. Not all men are trying to suppress woman, and child care does not have to be limited to women.

Article in NEW SCIENTIST says that most atheists do believe in aspects of the supernatural. Oh? As a complete skeptic of the supernatural I am interested. It seems that 20 percent believe in life after death; I don’t. 12% believe in reincarnation. I don’t. Many believe that there are underlying forces of good and evil. I don’t. Many believe in karma. Not me. People with mystical powers? Not me. Astrology? I wrote a novel, Macroscope, featuring astrology, but my belief in it is nil. So it seems that many atheists simply don’t believe in God or Satan, but do subscribe to other aspects of the supernatural. Maybe some believe in ghosts, UFOs, alien presence on Earth, and so on. I don’t. So I had fun writing the novelette “Skeptic,” wherein the skeptic gets some fun erotic action, but I don’t anticipate any visits by sexy demonesses in my real life. Meanwhile it seems that the US military is now taking UFOs seriously. Well, we’ll see; I remember about forty years ago when a big weather balloon got loose and floated over a highway and a report came in from a spectator of seeing inside, little green aliens drinking tea.

Robocalling continues. As I have said before, the authorities could stop it, if they wanted to. For example, if they required every individual phone call anyone made to be charged even a penny per call, regular users would hardly notice it, but it would make robo-dialing a million calls cost ten thousand dollars, and a billion calls cost ten million dollars. Robocalling would no longer pay. So why don’t they do that?

Article from REASON magazine, reprinted by THE WEEK, says that online mobs are attacking the authors of young adult fiction for daring to imagine lives different from their own, and publishers are yielding to it and canceling books, and new voices are being silenced. What preposterous nonsense! How would these trolls see science fiction and fantasy, which are way different, by design, from ordinary lives? Writers who have never been to Mars should not write about interplanetary travel? Writers who have never slain a dragon should stick to swatting flies? Writers who have never changed form to a flying bat should not write about vampires? I, as an immigrant, should be limited to writing only about immigrants, and only my kind, from England? Do those publishers have poop for brains? No wonder self publishing is prospering! To me it smells of the racism and sexism that flourishes in the anonymity of the online community. How about rounding up those online mobs and sending them to reform school until they learn about the diversity and tolerance America is supposed to stand for? About freedom of expression? We really don’t need to be governed by bigotry, contemporary politics to the contrary notwithstanding.

Other notes: Newspaper article by Walter G Bradley recommends not Medicare for all, but that there be a US National Health Service that simply provides health care for all. There would be no insurance, no reimbursement, just direct health care, as it exists in other nations. It would address the issues of cost and quality, and allow those who prefer private insurance to have it, just as today children can attend public or private schools. This makes sense to me. Item in THE WEEK says that arctic warming will in due course cost us seventy trillion dollars. And we can’t afford preventive measures? Item in SCIENCE NEWS says that the bigger a black hole is, the less dense it is. Square cube law, I think. So the actual density of the W87 black hole is less than that of air at sea level. A book titled Slime, by Ruth Kassinger, is about algae, which were the first to harness the sun’s energy in photosynthesis and generated the oxygen that allowed other life to proliferate. Yes, as I recall, oxygen was a toxic waste, until creatures formed who used it for energy. Now algae could produce biofuels to replace fossil fuels. We are wiping out Earth’s plants; nearly 600 species have gone extinct in the past 250 years. This is about five hundred times as fast as the normal background extinction rate. Over-fishing, destruction of habitat, pollution, global warming, and the ever-increasing human numbers are all factors. One idea for cleaner power: use sunlight to separate hydrogen from water, and use that hydrogen for fuel. What it leaves when expended is just plain water. A recent census of all living things found that plants are the most common by biomass, being about 83 percent of the total of all life on Earth. Insects and such make up about 60% of the animal kingdom’s biomass, while mammals are relatively small. Bacteria exceed the combined biomass of birds and mammals. So in terms of weight, we’re lightweights. Artificial Intelligence—AI—suffers from the GIGO complex, that is Garbage In, Garbage Out, and when it emulates our social relations, it quickly becomes racist and can start dismissing real folk as fake. That’s a sad commentary on our social values. Article in NEW SCIENTIST reveals that polygraph lie detectors are nonsense, yet they continue to be used. In Ask Marilyn, she says that no blue eye pigment exists; it’s just that blue-eyed people lack melanin in the iris, so their eyes seem blue. Interesting. My eyes in youth were blue, but in my age have faded to gray, like my hair. Tech billionaires are racing to build an orbiting internet, crafted by SpaceX, that is accessible anywhere on Earth, by 2025. I am interested, as my system no longer goes online as it used to; each keystroke takes something like five minutes. My wife and daughter go online for me for email and posting this column, with WiFi. Yes, my WiFi Wife But what will it cost? I’m damned if I want to pay one or two hundred dollars a month for something I’d use only occasionally. NEW SCIENTIST also says that language may have started to develop 700,000 years ago when our ancestors descended from the trees. The ground was a dangerous place, so they chanted or sang all night to ward off predators, and that gradually evolved into language, maybe by 300,000 years ago. Could be; I believe that language led to storytelling, and that this is the heart of our nature; as a storyteller I am part of the very essence of our species. Plastic is spreading everywhere. As an editorial in THE WEEK puts it, you are probably pooping plastic. Microscopic bits of it get in our food, our blood, or organs. A federal study found a form of it in the urine of 93 percent of people over the age of 6. It is associated with the autism spectrum, obesity, behavior problems, and thyroid dysfunction. Oops, that last one tagged me; I take medication to shore up my thyroid. Is plastic to blame? It is past time to start making plastics that will degrade back to nature in a set time. They are getting closer to decoding brain signals that might help those who can’t speak. This would be a wonderful breakthrough for folk like Jenny, my paralyzed correspondent. Yes, I still write to her once a week, thirty years later, though she can’t answer me.

I subscribe to a number of magazines, and I don’t mean celebrity tabloids. FREE INQUIRY is a Secular Humanist magazine, saying “Beyond Atheism, Beyond Agnosticism, Secular Humanism.” That is, not religious, and concerned with the interests and ideals of people. That’s me. One article in the June/July 2019 issue is titled “Why Do Fundamentalists Lie about the Bible?” by Brian Bolton. That’s a challenging notion. They believe the Bible is literally true in every verse; that it has no errors, and no disguised metaphors. The problem is that the Bible does not support all their positions. For example, abortion: they condemn it, but the Bible speaks of ripping open pregnant women with swords. That’s murder and abortion, no? Since they can’t admit that the Bible is not with them, they have to lie about it. The article goes on to detail other differences on animal welfare, capital punishment, Decalogue displays, family values, Jesus’ teachings, public prayer, same sex marriage, slavery, and sworn oaths. So if you’re a fundamentalist, stay the hell away from this; you’d find it treasonous. Another item is a review of a book about the once leading science fiction magazine, ASTOUNDING, which tackles the foundation of science fiction and leading figures in it, among them L Ron Hubbard who founded Dianetics and later Scientology. The first Dianetics article appeared in ASTOUNDING magazine, you see. To say that the book is not kind to Hubbard is to understate the case. Another magazine is THE PROGRESSIVE, whose June/July 2019 issue is devoted to the threats to life on Earth, beginning with nuclear war, going on to climate change, the opioid crisis, and others. It is scary reading. And PACIFIC STANDARD, this time presenting a collection of its best reports on social and environmental justice. I had to read it a few pages at a time, because the material was so disturbing. While in general I favor policies that will secure a future for mankind, now I have to wonder whether mankind is actually worth saving. It starts with an article titled “What Well-Meaning White People Need To Know About Race.” I am a well-meaning white person, and this is painful reading.

In sum, these columns of mine catch only part of the intellectual landscape I am experiencing, here in the closing stages of my life. I hope that my thoughts have some meaning for some others.

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