The Ogre’s Den image
Piers Anthony, January 2018
Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011

Marsh 2020

HI-

We watched episodes of the first and second seasons of FUTURAMA, an animated science fantasy series. A young man, Fry, is unsatisfied with his contemporary life, and through complication and mishap winds up a thousand years in the future, where he meets a junky robot, Bender—because he can bend things—and Leela, a young woman with a sexy body who turns around to reveal a face with only one big eye. They become a threesome, as none of them like their assigned jobs and soon quit them, which of course means mischief in this locked-in society. They proceed from one rollicking adventure disaster to another, adding characters along the way. This is a fun series, very much my kind of junk.

I read Exposed!, by Henri Broch. This is a searing exposure of pseudo science, such as dowsing, clairvoyance, astrology, the Shroud of Turin, smart animals, and haunts. I found the chapter on recognizing deceptive techniques of argument especially relevant. One is the circulatory technique. I remember one example from decades ago, not in this book, of how in a trial the defense presented irrefutable evidence that the accused was not in town the day of the murder, and the prosecutor dismissed it because they already knew the man was guilty. Huh? But they got a conviction. In the present case, they knew the subject used ESP (extrasensory perception) because he got results exceeding chance. How did he get those results? By ESP. What proves the divinity of Jesus? His miracles. How could he perform miracles? Because of his divine nature. Another is the snowball technique, like a snowball rolling down a hill and becoming a snow boulder at the bottom. They keep adding things, overwhelming the doubters. Another is the escalation technique. Folk tend to stick defensively to an argument, unable to admit that they could be wrong. Thus they hide from the truth, inventing ever greater support. I encountered that when I was blacklisted and lied about, when I demanded that a publisher honor its own contract and it turned out that refuting the liars got nowhere. My daughter challenged an SFWA officer who was doing it at a convention, and he refused to talk with her. The conclusion is that we don't see things as they are, but rather as we would like them to be. It seems that paranormal research has not progressed in decades, thanks to this effect. Another is the “Little Streams” effect, where a key detail may be omitted. The book gives an example of how they tested the idea that a dead chicken could not shatter the glass of an airplane cockpit. But when someone tried it independently, using a cannon to fire a chicken, it smashed the glass and pretty much destroyed the cockpit. That was reported to the authorities, who responded laconically “Defrost the chicken.” The moral is not to forget the little detail that can make a big difference. Another technique is to omit negative results. I might flip a coin heads ten times in a row, proving or strongly implying the application of mental force, but it is meaningless if I don't also publicize the 99 other tests where that didn't happen. Companies are notorious for doing that, publishing only the tests that show how safe their products are. Some things I have gone into in the past for my own reasons, such as the way I studied astrology for Macroscope. There is a case for astrology, but I think not a valid one. I was fascinated by the Shroud of Turin, noting that the Catholic Church, which does believe in Jesus and magic, was objective about it, while the critics seemed to know it was false before they ever considered the evidence. The Bible didn't mention any shroud, which would have covered only the head anyway, not the whole body. When I look into something, I want to ascertain the truth, whatever it may be, and I will abandon my preconceptions when the evidence refutes them. As this book thoroughly refutes it. Overall, Exposed! buttresses my own belief that there is no supernatural, at least not the conventional kind. One of my fans, a believer, said that to her, God was natural. Excellent answer. But remember, I don't believe in Dark Matter either, and the jury is still out on that. I think they just don't understand how gravity operates at galactic range, and don't want to admit it. An example of the escalation technique.

Then I read at item in SCIENCE NEWS that just might provide the answer, the issue for November 9, 2019 (did I mention how I got 30 magazines behind, in the chaos of trying to organize what remains of my life after my wife departed?), titled “The structure of the cosmic web is revealed.” Studying neighboring galaxies 2 billion light years from Earth in the constellation Aquarius, astronomers spied filaments of ultraviolet light. The gas filaments absorb light from black holes—strictly speaking, nothing comes from a back hole, but surrounding gas can be yanked around so that it glows—and re-emit it, making the faint filaments visible. They form networks of energy. I see it as like spreading largely invisible strings extending through the galaxies, as if holding them together. And there it is. The galaxy is whirling around too fast to hold together without flying apart, so astronomers conjecture that there must be a lot more matter in them that we can't see, its gravity holding them tight. But suppose they are bound instead by surrounding strings? Suddenly no need for Dark Matter, just faint strings around bags of stars. Have I solved the major mystery of the universe, and now can patiently wait for science to catch up with me, and of course credit the breakthrough to someone else?

I have a house guest, MaryLee, whom I invited to come be my companion, perhaps more, as I knew early on that I am not equipped to live out the rest of my life alone. My wife is not coming back, so my choices are to live alone, or in company. I considered who might be compatible. We had corresponded for 24 years; I had no idea what she looked like. I was not looking for a pretty face, but compatible character. It is said that love is friendship that has caught fire. Well, she visited, and it caught fire. She is 60, compared to my 85½; we're hardly teens, but sometimes it feels like that, with the novelty of new love. We each have our complicated histories, with a number of potential liabilities, making us wary, but I believe she is the One. More anon, when.

I was fighting off a cold with vitamin C, when my adult trike pulled a stunt I never expected. I was tooling along, returning one Sunday morning with the newspapers, on the 1.6-mile loop along our long drive. Then abruptly the trike keeled over to the right, dumping me on the pavement. It seems a tire was going soft, and it felt like a giant hand grabbing the trike and dumping it down. Ouch! I extricated myself with difficulty, then walked the trike home; as the day progressed, my internal bruising manifested, and walking became a challenge. The following week was awful; the discomfort interfered with my sleep, and when I went to the bathroom, as I have to do several times a night because of my high-water diet that prevents me from getting another kidney stone, those excursions were uncomfortable also. I had to mount the stairs one at a time, left foot up, drawing the right foot up after it. Taking a shower was out for a week. Yes I know: that stinks. Clipping my toenails was a challenge I barely managed, bracing a foot on a stand and doing it left handed. My exercise schedule was also out for a week; now I am slowly working my way back into it. I simply have to suffer through the siege, until the pain of moving that limb decreases.

I live on the little tree farm we bought circa 1986, about a hundred acres. One problem is that illicit hunters regard it as free-range. We have allowed only pig hunting here, because the feral pigs tend to drive out other creatures. The pig problem dates from a bit before my time, when Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto, circa 1540, brought pigs to serve as a ready source of meat, and some of them escaped, and have ranged Florida ever since. It requires a 70% annual attrition just to keep their numbers even. But the polite, law-abiding hunters we allowed here seem to have been replaced by the lawless variety who raid from air boats. Once years ago we discovered marijuana being grown on our property. The sheriff's office set up a camera to catch the culprits, but the camera got stolen. This time we discovered hunting stands and metal automatic feeders, that spray out grain to attract the animals so they can be shot. I suspect that's illegal. My concern is that those hunters are going after more than pigs: what about deer, turkey, gopher tortoises, bobcats, rabbits, otters and such, all of which we have seen here? We are trying to protect those animals. So we're taking down the equipment, and if anyone complains we'll put them in touch with the sheriff's office, which I am sure will give them close attention.

In the chaos following my wife's death, I got behind on my reading by about 30 magazines. Book reading slowed to a crawl, and so did my writing. I am trying to catch up, but distractions continue. In sketchy order, notes from my clippings. Florida has sentenced more innocent people to death than any other state; reform is obviously needed. It is predicted that the current stock market bubble is leading up to the greatest economic collapse in all history. That is what I fear, but of course the money folk won't listen. It may be occurring even as I write this. Now there is a service that intercepts robo calls, for $3.50 a month. Really? Health care costs in the U.S. are double those in Europe, but our service is poorer. As long as we keep voting in the vultures, this will continue. Body temperature is falling about half a degree F per decade. This is good, maybe. Your chances of being affected by a data breach are about 1 in 15 per year, and long-term it is practically guaranteed you'll get caught. Special interests are trying to preempt the internet; they need to be opposed. Too many folk are being persecuted, jailed, and exiled, some disappeared, where the internet is not free. We don't want that here. Rats will chew up the wiring in your car, soon rendering it inoperative. Yes, it has happened to us more than once, entailing inconvenience and three-figure repairs. I like to live and let live, but I put out rat poison to protect my car. The CIA secretly owned a global encryption service, thus getting access to the secrets of many nations. Going vegan saves countless animals; we should all do it. Phil and Gay Courter—she's a nationally selling writer in Citrus County, as I am—got caught aboard a cruise ship when the corona virus broke out, and were trapped in quarantine. They were finally rescued, for another two weeks in quarantine, but at least they are on their way home. Comedian Jamie Loftus joined the smart-folks society Mensa on a lark, and wrote about it humorously as “My Year in Mensa.” “Good news—they let dumb sluts into Mensa now.” It seems the bright folk were not amused; she received a wave of online vitriol including a death threat. I think that says something about Mensa's smarts that should give truly intelligent folk warning to stay clear. I stayed clear for similar reason decades ago: they weren't smart enough in ways that count. Doorbell cameras are exploding in popularity, and not just for safety. Folk using them are becoming voyeurs. It seems there's a lot to see out there, when others don't know you are looking. But hackers can preempt them not just to spy, but to shout racist slurs at toddlers or send pornography to children. And there is a planet orbiting two stars, 1,300 light years from earth. That's practically next door. Too bad we can't visit.

Letter in the newspaper by retired director of the Pasco County (Florida) Health Department, Mare J Yacht, but it pertains to my home county and indeed the nation. The essence is that she supports Medicare for All, but that costs must be controlled. I agree emphatically; aren't the same folk who say we can't afford to care for all our citizens the ones who gave a trillion dollar tax cut to the wealthy? Let's stop with the giveaways to the rich and start helping the poor. Isn't that what Jesus would have done? By all means, bring the costs down, as they do in other countries. Don't let the poor be mercilessly gouged. A court decision prevents Florida from barring felons who have served their terms from voting until they have paid off their court costs. Good for the court, as this was a thinly disguised mechanism for barring likely Democrats from voting. The Hong Kong mischief continues, as the Chinese government tries to crack down on that population's independence. I'm rooting for Hong Kong. It seems that lonely young men can find video games more compelling than real life; it's a type of addiction. This of course is mischief. Here's a nasty one: here in Florida, 118 handymen got arrested for operating without a license. But they were trapped. Undercover operatives asked them to do routine tasks, that don't require a license, then badgered them into doing something that does, like tiling. When they agreed, they got nabbed. This sort of entrapment is unethical and should be illegal; on their own they would not have gotten into the wrong work. While real criminals are being ignored? Similar mischief in Russia, where a military court sentenced anti-fascist activists to prison terms of 6 to 18 years for terrorism despite compelling evidence that the charges were entirely made up. No problem: they were simply tortured into making bogus confessions. When will it occur to local police to do the same to handymen? All over the world scientists are getting arrested and imprisoned for telling the truth. It seems that didn't go out with the medieval Inquisition. Meanwhile in America, supposedly in an economic boom, housing costs are outstripping wages, and health care is casting millions into dept. But Trump supporters call this fake news. New research indicates that state-level increases in the minimum wage of $1 are tied to a 3.4 to 5.9 percent decrease in suicide rates among working-age folk. Name I encountered in the news: Attracta. I like it. The past decade saw the middle class shrink, longevity fell, and a whole generation fell behind. This is our economic boom? There were tree-dwelling apes in Europe who strode upright five million years before humans did. What happened to them? And an early explorer of Antarctica was shocked by the sex lives of penguins, who indulged in homosexuality, divorce, infidelity, rape and prostitution. So he covered it up, and we learn of his report a century later. I find it interesting that these supposed vices are not limited to the human kind. There must be survival advantages. Or maybe sex is more of a free-for-all than we like to think.

Newspaper article titled “5 Myths About Consciousness.” Consciousness is one of my hobbies, and I am gambling that I am not the only one who has it. The myths listed are 1. Humans have a unique brain. It says that ours is not the largest, compared to pilot whales, elephants, and others; and mice have the same number of categories of brain cells, so there is no simple explanation why humans “sit atop the cognitive hill.” 2. Science will never understand consciousness. But we have learned more about consciousness in the past century than in all preceding history, and seem to have a fair chance of getting there. 3. Dreams contain hidden clues about our secret desires. Sigmund Freud to the contrary—I never had much respect for him, and think he was obsessed with sex—most of our dreams seem to reflect daily events and concerns. My theory is that the brain must constantly process the incoming flow of information, ascertaining how we feel about things, so they can be appropriately filed in memory. I was once a file clerk; nothing is so lost as something that is misfiled. The brain has to get it right, and feeling requires consciousness, so the events are paraded by our sleeping awareness and duly tagged in all their shades of feeling. Science hasn't caught up with me on this yet or with the science fiction genre, but it surely will in time. 4. We are susceptible to subliminal messages. In a word, No; they have tried it and it doesn't work. 5. Near-death visions are evidence of life after death. Again, no. The dying brain imagines things, but it is only imagination. Folk are too damn eager to believe in an Afterlife, so they can think that death is not really the end. That's a great boon for religion, not reality.

Article in the 16 November issue of NEW SCIENTIST—I am trying to catch up, honest I am!—says that biologists agree that all life forms must have certain key basics. They should be capable of generating energy from the environment and putting it to use. Of growing, and shedding waste. Capable of passing their genetic material to new generations of organisms via reproduction. That is, sex. There's an immense variety; Earth hosts up to a trillion different microbial species, less than a million of which have been cataloged. The rest, known colloquially as microbial dark matter, remain enigmatic. Sulfur is promising, being one of the most abundant elements in the universe, and versatile. And carbon, which has marvelous properties ranging from diamond to old fashioned pencil lead. Who knows what we might find in the wider universe, could we just get out there to touch it?

The draft of this HiPiers column was completed on Leap Day, FeBlueberry 29th. Tradition says that on that day a woman may propose marriage to a man. And here I thought than in a free society she could do it any day.

I try not to remark too much on politics, in these columns, but the current political season is riotous. So far my interest is in Tom Steyer, though I fear he is about to be eliminated. I hope I am not disappointed. For the record, I liked John Kennedy, and later Barack Obama. Politics seems to be devolving.

I keep forgetting to mention it, but back in December, Doug Harter updated the Xanth Character Database, adding the characters from Fire Sail.

PIERS

Click here to read previous newsletters