The Ogre’s Den image
Piers’ New Christmas Present turtleneck.
Piers’ New Christmas Present turtleneck.

FeBlueberry 2023


This month was named by my daughter Penny. I was trying to figure out a suitable appellation, and she suggested it, and I laughed it off, but in seconds realized that she had it right. So it reminds me of her. Penny died in 2009, of melanoma, that is skin cancer, that metastasized, that is spread, to her brain. She was 41. The awful shock of it remains with me today. I don’t like death, necessary as it may be for the progress of the species, and this one was way too close for comfort. Yes, the death of my wife Carol three years ago still haunts me daily, but she lived twice as long. Parents die, siblings and spouses die, friends and associates die, but children are supposed to outlive their parents. If I were religious, I would have some pointed questions for God.

MaryLee and I watched an episode of the Lore series that leaves me uncomfortable, as was intended. A doctor performed prefrontal brain surgery on his patients by poking a spike around their eyeballs and hammering it literally into the brain beyond. The procedure was supposed to pacify them so that they no longer were a nuisance to others, and maybe it did, but it seems barbaric to me. That gave way as time passed to electroshock treatment that stunned that part of the brain, for a similar purpose. As it happens I worked between college semesters at a mental hospital in Philadelphia where they did electroshock, and saw how it threw the patient into a convulsive seizure. The layman’s theory was that it made them forget the problems that were driving them, literally, crazy, so they could live relatively placid lives. That, too, seems barbaric to me. I read an analogy once that likened it to hitting a watch with a hammer to make it run better. The supposed experts sometimes seem to know little about the marvelously complex human brain, despite being sure that they understand it. That’s folly.

My one minute at a time book this time is Dance, Sex and Gender by Judith Lynne Hanna, which I bought in 1993. You might think that dance and sex are two different things, but it turns out they are closely allied. Gender relates to whether a person is male or female; sex relates to reproductive interaction. Dance can animate private desire. “Sexuality is to women as color or race is to blacks: a source of difference from the dominant group, therefore a source of possible repression.” Men wrote history, largely ignoring women because what women did, felt, or thought was not important to them when they looked to the past for guidance, understanding, and identity.” I think that applies to more than dance. “The male is stronger, and more active and is 'characterized by higher needs for dominance, autonomy, aggression, exhibition, achievement, and endurance, and the female stereotype reveals higher needs for abasement, deference, succorance, nurturance, affiliation, and heterosexuality.'” Again, I think not just in dance. In some cultures heterosexual dancing has been banned in an attempt to eradicate godless worship and isolate a female’s sexuality for one man, women being defined as exclusively sexual objects. So it’s a matter of control. Some dances show status. “I am young, I am beautiful, and I am sexually appealing. Therefore I can keep my husband, I am secure.” During China’s Sung Dynasty foot binding became a fashion and small feet indispensable for beautiful women. “A woman’s feet become the center of her sex appeal.” Which led to the loss of female dancing there; she could hardly even walk. To my mind its manifestation in contemporary America is the use of high heels, which cause women to have ten times the foot ailments as men. But they seem to be locked into it, believing that heels make the legs look better. Fashion has addled their brains. To me, a college coed in sneakers can be sexier than a high-fashion starlet, especially when she’s dancing; I doubt I am alone. I read once that global fashion is dictated by gay males in Paris who hate women. That’s fiction, surely, but just might explain it. But why do women fall for it? I can’t even discuss this with my wife, who is convinced that heels enhance a woman’s appearantce. Women are theoretically as smart as men, but I suspect their footwear gives that the lie. But that is drifting from the subject of Dance. I regard it as one of the Arts, like writing, painting, singing, and sculpture, and certainly a worthy one.

Cleaning up around the house I found an Ask Marilyn column dated November 21, 1993. It debated whether the world’s most famous math problem had finally been solved. That problem is “Can it be proved that in the equation Xn + Yn = Zn, there is no solution if n represents a whole number larger than 2?” An example is 32 + 42 = 52. That is, three squared plus four squared equals five squared, or 9 + 16 = 25. It doesn’t work so neatly for three cubed plus four cubed equals five cubed, or 27 plus 64 equals 125. It actually equals 91. The average man on the street doesn’t worry much about such equations, but mathematicians do. Seeing that the formula doesn’t work is one thing, bit proving that it will never work is another. Marilyn concludes that it has not been solved. My interest in higher math was stifled in high school, where I was required to take four years of languages, where I was a dunce, instead of high math courses I preferred that might have led me to on entirely different profession than the one I wound up in free lance writing. My critics might have been overjoyed had I never become a writer, but I think my fans would differ, and I think actually writing turned out to be better for me all things considered. So I can’t begin to do the math that would be necessary to prove this problem, but maybe I can let you know it exists. If this paragraph hasn’t bored you into quitting this column. Maybe there’s a bit of Critic in you?

EQUEDIA for January 8, 2023, says that inflation hurts the poor, but helps cover government debt. The government, regardless what it says, does not have a plan to stop inflation. Government really needs inflation. “A government has four essential tools to pay down its debt: reduce spending, raise taxes, go bankrupt, or debase its currency via inflation.” They really don’t want to reduce spending, and raising taxes stirs voter outrage. “Then there’s bankruptcy. No country wants that.” That leaves inflation. “Instead of thinking of prices going up, think of the value of currency going down. So if you had $1000 today and the inflation rate remains at 7% per year, that same $1000 will be worth only $470 ten years from now. The same goes for government debt. The higher the inflation rate, the less that debt is worth in the future.” So the governments of all major nations are heavily in debt. So this is their preferred tool to abate that burden. And that drives most average households into poverty. “And unlike governments, regular citizens can’t keep borrowing to repay debt.” The rich folk have investments that appreciate, that is, rise, with steady inflation. “What cripples purchasing power for the poor can be a money maker for the rich. And that’s why the powers-that-be would rather mandate higher inflation than fix it. Governments included.” Damn well told. We are being played for suckers as usual.

EQUEDIA for January 15 2023, says that Wall Street – that is, the business establishment – is buying up Mother Nature, for profits. Yes, Bill Gates of Microsoft fame, for the past decade has been buying up hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland. He is now America’s largest farmland owner. But that’s peanuts compared to other investors. “For example, the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) – one of the biggest pension funds in America – has acquired more than two million acres of farmland since 2010. That’s 10X more than Gates.” Why this recent interest in land, which is historically a low-returning asset class and usually ignored? Its economic value? Maybe, but there’s much more to it. How much is a piece of land worth? A plot in the forest may have vegetation that supplies fresh air and water, and may provide a home to wildlife, trap carbon, and carry out other “services” that underpin life. But since when has any of that been of interest to the big money moguls? They really don’t care about nature until global warning smacks them upside the head with droughts, floods, or other expensive disasters. But now Wall Street will monetize nature’s natural processes. Things like air and water may not be free to the peons any more. Nature’s assets are estimated to be worth more than four quadrillion dollars. That’s eight times as much as all the world’s economic assets combined. Are you getting a glimmer? Whatever the moguls are up to, it’s not for the benefit of the environment or the people. They’re doing it for money. Soon enough Wall Street will own everything that you depend on for life. How do you like them apples, peon? As if your opinion matters.

EQUEDIA for January 29, 2023, says that the world is experiencing record debt, and inflation will follow, as covered in the January 8 issue. The money given out when the pandemic struck was “YOLOed” (You Only Live Once) away on crypto, meme stocks, and other frivolous stuff. After this multi-trillion dollar money printing, the world is experiencing the highest inflation in fifty years. A meal at school costs four times what it did a year ago. So how do people make ends meet? They borrow more. The average credit card debt has hit a new record high. Credit card defaults are jumping. Soon enough there will be a tsunami of defaults. Meanwhile money is sitting on the sideline on Wall Street, a little short of $5 trillion, an all time record. They will buy up assets when defaults make them crash. Equedia reminds us that inflation is a tax in disguise. We'll be paying it, as the moguls magnify their riches. Ignore it at your peril. When you wonder how you got financially wiped out, it will be too late. Equedia has warned you. Yes, this makes me nervous, though I probably will not live enough longer to experience the full extent of it. I am, in effect, opting out.

EQUEDIA for February 5, 2023, says that we are actually governed by a “Technocratic Oligarchy.” That is, a few self-chosen elites. “Imagine 26 million people locked without escape.” This is what happened in Shanghai, China, because of their Covid-zero policy. It didn’t make big news because they can censor their media in ways we can’t. Other nations are thinking about taking similar measures. You think it can’t happen in America? You’re like sheep who think the narrowing corral is their playground. Consider, Equedia suggests, Twitter. Last year Elon Musk bought it for $44 billion and set out to free the West’s most important social network from the kind of censorship that, according to recent studies, determined the last two elections. But Musk seems to be failing. 500 of America’s largest corporations pulled ad dollars from Twitter, and its revenue plunged. Musk tried to mess with the big boys, and they are setting him straight. Another factor is AI, Artificial Intelligence. Rather than being just a tool, it is a source of information. Musk tried to build an open-source AI that would be accessible to everyone. He is not going to have it. The American rulers may be a bit more subtle than China’s, but their power is similar. Thus the technocratic oligarchy. “And the puppets have been on a buying spree of farmland, AI, green energy, and everything else related to the new dystopian world.” Now you know, sheepface. Sure, go jump over the corral fence. If you have the nerve.

BERKSHIRE Magazine Holiday issue. A greeting from Anastasia, the editor in chief, her picture with a moderately low decolletage. Yes, I notice such details. If that makes me a dirty old man, well I am indeed an old man, and women don’t stop being interesting the moment they leave their teens. There are a number of lady pictures scattered through the magazine, and I appreciate them all. “Light It Up” by Benjamin Lerner has thirteen pictures of the iconic Round Stone Barn illuminated with projections by artist Joe Wheaton. They make what might have been a dull series into fabulous variety. Reds, greens, blues, yellows, purples – what a spectacle! Article by Dr. Mark Hyman titled “Living Your Longest, Healthiest Life” says yes, diet and exercise are important, but there’s more to it. It is never too late to feel young. Knowing the name of your disease doesn’t necessarily tell you what’s wrong with you. You can eat perfectly and exercise, but if you don’t address your spiritual, mental, and social health, you can still become sick. You need to address the larger picture. I agree. I eat right and exercise, but I also try to exert my mind my doing puzzles and playing challenging solitaire. Last but not least, I sought compatible company, and remarried. Loneliness is deadly. Interesting little picture in an ad for the Berkshire Bank, a woman in trousers that have a black vertical line down each leg, crossed by horizontal lines, almost like ladders. Against her white pants, they make her seem almost skeletal. It must be mind bending to see her walk. So page through this magazine, as I have, and be incidentally enchanted.

THE PROGRESSIVE for December 2022 / January 2023. The Editor’s Note is titled “We’re in this Together.” This mentions how Paul Pelosi, the husband of former Democratic speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. is recovering after being brutally attacked with a hammer wielded by a MAGA conspiracy theorist who intended to break the Speaker’s kneecaps. It seems that Elon Musk of Twitter and Donald Trump used the occasion to promote more anti-LGBTQ+ conspiracy theories and online hate. It seems that there is no bottom for Republicans, no matter how abhorrent and criminal their behavior. “Our media landscape has quickly devolved into two realities: one of nihilistic and sadistic fantasy driven by misinformation, hate, and an incessant need to 'own the libs,' and another where people still try to report the truth because without it, democracy is dead.” As I have remarked before, this magazine dos not mince words. “If we are to save this country, and our planet from a demise by our own hands,we must thoughtfully and intentionally multitask. In addition to rescuing democracy from the clutches of fascism, we must also address the other problems, sometimes related, that we face in our communities every day including the effects of the climate crisis, attacks on public education, relentless poverty, inequity, racism, bigotry, lack of workers’ rights, ongoing wars, and so much more.” Article titled “Big Brother at the Border.” Here they don’t bother with protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Instead there are warrantless searches at border crossings seeking evidence of contraband and other illegal activity. They demand the electronic devices, copying the information they contain. Privacy? Forget it. Lawmakers have all denounced this invasive behavior and demanded that it change but there doesn’t seem to be much reform. “No one is smuggling in a kilo of cocaine inside their iPhone.” “This is not actually about protecting the border from contraband and smuggling, this is about generalized mass surveillance.” Is there abuse? Of course. For example, they target journalists who might expose abuses. THE PROGRESSIVE sent a detailed list of questions about this issue to authorities, only to be informed that they do not comment, except directly to Senators. “The only limits on use seem to be the government’s own policies, which are not the law, and for which there are no consequences if they are ignored.” Welcome to America, you sorry migrants. Another article is titled “Four Hard Questions: size, scale, scope, speed” by Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen. They are “What is the sustainable size of the human population? What is the appropriate scale of the human community? What is the scope of human competence to manage our interventions into the larger living world? At what speed must we move toward different living arrangements if we are to avoid catastrophic consequences?” The questions raise issues that most people simply will not engage with, and suggest a need for changes that most people simply will not make. “Sensible people, we are told, are those who accept the Overton Window. Named after the late Joseph P Overton from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the idea is that politicians 'generally only pursue policies that are widely accepted throughout society as legitimate policy options. These policies lie inside the Overton Window. Other policy ideas exist, but politicians risk losing popular support if they champion those ideas. These policies lie outside the Overton Window.'” We need to climb out of the Overton Window if we want to save the world. “The nineteenth-century Austrian writer Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach put it succinctly: ’there are instances in which to be reasonable is to be cowardly.'” “We believe that more and more people are willing to climb out of the Overton Window. We constantly meet people who are tired of being told they must be ’sensible.' If we can refuse to be limited by other people’s fears—if we can see beyond both a naive techno-optimism and a corrosive nihilism—we create space for a conversation about these questions without having to pretend that we have all the answers. We can make realistic assessments, drawing on science and human history. But we have to be willing to drop sunny-side-of-the-street fantasies captured in phrases such as ’the impossible will take a little while' and 'necessity is the mother of invention,' while at the same time refusing to slip into a paralyzing despair.” Yes indeed. Their “No Comment” page has an item about the way a reporter attending an Alabama execution was told that her skirt was too short. Now women attending such events must wear clothing that extends below the knee, and a complete set of undergarments. Maybe they don’t want the criminal being executed to have a pleasant distraction. Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama said that Democrats are not soft on crime, they’re pro-crime. The local crowd cheered. Donald Trump said that Nancy Pelosi was warned but FAILED to take the proper steps to secure the building. “The Democrats will NEVER stop lying to cover up their tracks. They need to be held accountable.” How’s that for blame shifting? The “Smoking Gun” section is titled “The Supreme Court V. the People.” In its last term, the US Supreme Court ended Roe v. Wade, struck down restrictions on carrying concealed weapons, further eroded the separation of church and state, and impeded the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to address climate change. There may be worse to come. The “conservative” radicals have got the bit in their teeth. There is more in this magazine, but I trust this suffices for now. I suspect that if the Afterlife is real, and Satan set out to take over the mortal realm, he would use conservatives as his agents. Maybe he is already doing so.

THE WEEK for January 20, 2023, has an item titled “United Kingdom: NHS meltdown shocks the nation” I came from Britain and have certain residual interest in its welfare. It seems that the “twindemic” of flu and Covid has filled the public hospitals, just as a hundred thousand nurses went on strike over pay and brutal hours. It seems this is the result of a decade of austerity, as conservative governments systematically underfunded health care. Now they need to “have a grown-up debate” about how to fix it. “Nobody is proposing a heartless system like that in the U.S., where patients are driven bankrupt.” From their “Wit & Wisdom” section: “They say golf is like life, but don’t believe them. Golf is more complicated that that.” From their 'Health & Science' page, drinking water may help you live longer. I drink a lot of water to prevent another kidney stone, the worst pain of my life. I didn’t realize it may extend my life. Now 21 states allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use, and more and more small children are getting sick after inadvertently eating weed-laced gummies, cookies, and other edibles. They are packaged to look like candy. THC, the active ingredient, can lead to hallucinations, among other things. Teenagers who use social media frequently experience changes in their brain not seen in those who don’t log on as often. They may become hypersensitive to feedback from their peers. I have never been into marijuana or any other drug; now I’m glad I also have stayed clear of she social media.

THE WEEK for January 27, 2023, says that the U.S. is losing newspapers at the rate of more than two a week. I think the internet has been replacing them. Some have been replaced by pseudo papers that pretend to be doing journalism, but instead are propaganda tools funded by right wing groups to promote conservative candidates, smear opponents, and advance a distinctly partisan agenda. I think I have remarked before how the term “principled conservative” has become an oxymoron. Such sites are called “pink slime,” a reference to a meat byproduct added as cheap filler to ground beef. As traditional newspapers die off, pink slime outlets are rapidly filling the gaps. One more reason I’m glad I’m a vegetarian, maybe in more than one sense. I remember when “spam” was a cheap meat product. Also when a “virus” was a physical entity that caused illness. Times do change.

THE WEEK for February 3, 2023, says that California has been staggered by mass shootings. It has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, and the seventh lowest gun death rate, but guns flow in from less restrictive states. There are are 400 million firearms in America, so anyone who really wants one will find a way to get it. More Americans have now died by gun violence than in any armed conflict going back to the Revolutionary War. And the carnage continues, with no reform in gun laws. The anti-abortion struggle continues. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe last June, 13 states have effectively eliminated abortion access. If the Republican Party truly wants to be seen as pro-life, it should expand Medicaid and make insurance more affordable. Don’t hold your breath. Now Pence has classified documents along with Biden and Trump. When I worked for an electronics company, back circa 1960, I was not impressed with the security of classified documents there. Apparently nothing has changed. It turns out that the genes that gave our evolutionary ancestors full-body coats of hair remain, dormant but ready. That could be an interesting new fashion style. How to minimize abortions: support low-cost or free birth control. “Every woman, given the choice, would rather avoid pregnancy than get an abortion.” If the conservatives really want to reduce abortions, rather than punish women. The GOP’s far-right tax proposal is a flat tax of 30 percent national sales tax on everything you buy. It seems the Democrats hope the Republicans will be stupid enough to pass it, because of the destruction it would wreak on the Republican party. I always sort of liked the flat tax, because it could stop tax cheating, but I was thinking of 10 percent, not 30 percent. In New Zealand in 2017 a 37 year old woman, Jacinda Arden, was the world’s youngest female head of government. But five years of online vitriol have worn her down, and she is resigning. A “conspiracy ecosystem” online cast her as the very devil, with myriad threats of rape, torture, and murder. Whenever she made a public appearance her van was chased by protesters shouting “Traitor!” apparently because after a mass shooting that killed 51 worshipers at two mosques in the city of Christchurch that prompted her to move swiftly to toughen gun laws. A year later the pandemic descended, and she immediately closed New Zealand’s borders, keeping the virus away for months. The anti-vaxxers hated that. Because it impeded their freedom to spread Covid at warp speed? She seems to me like a good and compassionate leader. Those qualities stirred up unrelenting fury? Sometimes our species comes across as a loudly blasting donkey rectum. In 2013 an Oxford study estimated that up to 47 percent of US jobs could be replaced by AI. Now it seems it is happening. How about replacing those rabid anti-vaxxers? But there are other potential negatives. AI powered algorithms have already helped radicalize people online, and autonomous weapons directed by AI could someday roam the streets. “We can’t afford to let AI continue its revolutionary development unchecked.” We can either 'harness and regulate' AI to make the world better or let AI dictate to humanity what world we will be living in.” Guns were the leading cause of death among Americans younger than 24 last year. About 34 percent of women killed in the U.S. in 2021 died at the hands of an intimate partner, compared to 6 percent of males. The price of eggs jumped 60 percent in 2022, mainly because of the worst outbreak of avian flu in U.S. history. Quote from Mark Twain “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” Even a little exercise protects against Covid; the more you exercise, the less likely you are to be hospitalized or die from it. That’s good to know, considering my regular exercise program. Americans say they would vote for legal abortion by a two to one margin.

NEW SCIENTIST November 19-25, 2022. Article titled “Your perfect movie” by Alex Wilkins says that artificial intelligences that turn text into video are making rapid progress, but asks whether we are ready for what comes next? “Imagine being able to produce a high quality video of almost anything, whether based on reality or something entirely fanciful, just by describing what you want to see.” They can’t do it yet, but AI algorithms such as Meta’s Make-A-Video and Google’s Imagin Video are rapidly getting there. It could happen in the coming months or years, “as we enter a world in which seeing is no longer believing.” Biases or stereotypes might achieve new force, especially in the field of education for children. Misinformation may become almost indistinguishable from information. One example is when a video of Nancy Pelosi made it seem that she was drunk. Sure, they plan to be ethical, but when rich bad guys get into it, forget that. Another article is titled “Gene drive could wipe out mice,” by Michael Le Page, says that parasitic DNA that spreads through a population to make females infertile has now been shown to work on a mammal. Okay, this could be useful in eliminating pests. But what about when it spreads among humans? There are those who believe that Covid-19 is an experiment that got loose among humans. It could be just the beginning. And the cover story titled “Pain” by Stephani Sutherland. “Pain is one of the most integral parts of the human experience and our relationship with it is complex. We need pain for survival and yet it can drive us to utter despair. We experience pain as a physical process and yet the sensation of pain is created in the brain.” It asks what is pain? It gives us an evolutionary imperative for survival, but chronic pain can make the years of our longer lives unpleasant. There’s a type of neuron called a nociceptor whose signals register as pain. One in a million people don’t feel pain; they often don’t survive far into adulthood. But that’s only part of the story of pain. Twenty percent of folk with chronic pain have suicidal thoughts, and some do follow through. Women seem to experience more pain than men do. And an interview with mathematician Roger Penrose, who is three years my senior, suggests that consciousness involves quantum effects. He says it’s more complicated than that. It surely is! Is there some underlying purpose in the universe? He doesn’t seem to answer that. The magazine concludes with a cartoon showing a man walking in one direction, saying “Life can only be understood backwards,” passing a dog going the other way saying “But it must be lived forwards.” That does seem to be the problem.

NEW SCIENTIST November 26- December 2, 2022. “Mother tongue” by Andrea' Valentino says that about half the global population speaks a language that belongs to the same vast linguistic family tree. Where did it originate? We are getting closer to the answer. Proto-Afro-Asiatic may have been spoken 18,000 years ago and gave rise to hundreds of languages now spoken in parts of Africa and western Asia. I doubt that’s the origin; our kind has been talking for at least a quarter million years, and more crudely for ten times that long. Much more in this issue; I am only sampling.

NEW SCIENTIST December 3-9, 2022. After a cluster of local earthquakes, the planet’s biggest active volcano, Mauna Loa in Hawaii, erupts. Of course there have been bigger ones in the past, like the one that wiped out ninety percent of our species. Like Yellowstone, presently quiescent but not dead. But that one will make its play another day. Right now it’s Mauna Loa. I think of a girl named Mauna; when she gets mad, it’s best for others to be elsewhere. The Amami spiny rat, who dwells on a Japanese island, has lost its Y chromosome, so has no males. I presume it reproduces parthenogenetically, that is, females birthing females without bothering with males or sex. If it can happen to a rat, it could happen to the human species. So maybe we males should watch our manners, lest the gals decide to go that route. A universal flu vaccine shows promise. What what about new variants? These illnesses are canny opponents. A genetically modified tobacco plant makes cocaine in its leaves. That research could get interesting. The JWST space telescope has spotted chemical reactions driven by starlight taking place in the atmosphere of a distant alien world. Maybe the aliens are processing cocaine. An improved urinal eliminates most splashback, sparing men some embarrassment. If you don’t like it, piss on it. There is a push for climate reparations. Pakistan just suffered $30 billion damage from violent weather they didn’t cause, and say those who cause it should pay. They aren’t alone. I think they have a point. This is not the only part of the world where serious weather mischief is wreaking havoc on man and nature. The use of fossil fuels is destroying the world, and this is part of that process. In the Letters section Geoff Harding of Sydney, Australia says that world population isn’t sustainable at its present level. A population of three billion may be barely sustainable. Column by Bethan Ackerley remarks on the TV series “Down to Earth with Zak Efron: Down Under” that Netflix is now streaming. I have to say that I am not up on current TV series so am unfamiliar with this, but I will surely have to reorient. “The series was predicated on a simple hypothesis: to get people to change their behavior to avoid environmental ruin, it is no good simply appealing to the better angels of their nature. Instead you must exploit the human desire for social status. You need to make sustainability sexy.” It seems that the series got off to a scattered start, and now is orienting better. “Quantum Flatlands” by Philip Ball gets into graphene, the stuff of diamonds and pencil leads. It can be made into sheets of carbon a single atom thick. This can have remarkable quantum effects leading to magnetic vortices and otherwise bizarre electronic properties. If you take two layers of graphine and twist one of them with respect to the other, you can change the way electrons move . The two hexagonal grids move in and out of alignment as you cross the lattice, creating a kind of “superlattice” that repeats on a much larger scale. Conducting electrons in this twisted bilayer graphine can slow down drastically, changing their behavior. When electrons are unrestricted, they move very fast, and barely have time to interact. But this changes as they slow down in twisted bilayer graphine. They become very sensitive to, and dependent on, one another, becoming capable of otherwise impossible feats. For example, superconductivity. The laws of quantum mechanics restrict the number of electrons that can share the same properties. But this no longer applies. Now they can gather together and race around, unimpeded by the lattice atoms, with no resistance. They act as if they have formed a new type of particle. I think of it as like folk on a highway racing past each other without interacting, then getting stuck in a traffic jam, getting out of their cars, making new friends, and forming a new club that comes up with ways to save the world from all future traffic jams. Who knows, they might come up with room temperature superconductivity. Much remains to be discovered, but they are working on it. Article title “Britain’s lost rainforests” by Guy Shrubsole says that rainforests grow in temperate regions as well as the tropics, and maybe they can be restored to Britain. This would benefit plants, animals, people, and the world. And “Gut reactions” by Jessica Bond. “Forget probiotic yogurts and probiotic pills – postbiotics promise to boost your microbiome like never before. But do they work?” This interests me because I take probiotics, which are live-action bacteria you need in your gut to facilitate digestion. Eating well won’t keep you healthy if you can’t properly digest the foods. Prebiotics are foods these microbes need to thrive. “Now there is a new kid on the block: postbiotics, a catch-all term to describe dead bacteria and the products excreted by live microbes.” You can think of your body as a bag of a hundred trillion bacteria, viruses, and fungi living, eating, pooping, dying and decaying, going about their business largely ignorant of you. Who cares about a bag? It’s just a container to hold the community together. But assuming the bag cares, this microbiome is linked to a good physical and mental health. You provide food and board, the gut microbes support your immune system, protects you from bad bacteria, and help digest the food. We don’t yet really how to treat them. “Enter postbiotics. While the exact definition is debated, they are generally considered to be one of three things: dead microbes, which are more useful than you might imagine; fragments produced when microbes break down; and chemicals such as enzymes, vitamins, polysaccharides and short-chain fatty acids that microbes have secreted. Each exerts its own effect, sometimes by triggering interactions with other species, or more often, by interacting directly with our body via the gut.” Call it a community that will take care of you if you take care of it. One of the more helpful items is a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate, which really helps the immune system. There is just one problem: it smells like a fart. No wonder it feels comfortable in the poop of your gut. So maybe with this you will live longer and better, but will have fewer close friends. It’s your choice.

And stray clippings: Jupiter’s moon count jumps to 92, the most in our solar system. Saturn has 83, Uranus 27, Neptune 14, Mars 2, Earth 1, Venus and Mercury 0. It doesn’t mention demoted Pluto, which I think has 5. A Chinese weather balloon crossed U.S. and got shot down; there is a question whether it was actually a spy balloon. A savage letter by Nancy Tomaselli remarks on a congressional proposal that gun licensing and safety education be eliminated, so everyone who wants one can own a gun without hassle. She suggests some extrapolation, applying the principle more broadly. Stop requiring drivers to have a license, and there should be no test to determine if a driver is safe. Stop licensing nurses and let them practice without burdensome safety regulations. The same for doctors and pharmacists. The same for lifeguard training, teacher certification, hospital accreditation. “Why bother with any safety regulations at all?” Data for states that have permitless carry show twice the crime in the first three years of that policy. How’s that for a recommendation? Holly Pfister questions whether green energy is really better. Offshore wind turbines could threaten the extinction of the harbor porpoise by destroying their hearing and sense of direction, when pile-driving platforms are placed in the waters. Another consequence could be beached whales. Wind turbines may drive migratory hoary bats extinct. “In California’s Mojave Desert, a solar farm killed thousands of rare desert tortoises and the heat from the solar panels set more than 6000 birds on fire...the Altamont Pass Wind Turbines (California) has killed over 4,700 birds annually due to decapitation.” Okay, as a supporter of low-pollution renewable energy, I have an answer: go geothermal. Why is that prospect being so widely ignored? A “Herman” cartoon published January 25 shows a nurse or office woman addressing a seated man. “The doctor will see you now, Mr. Harris.” I don’t get it. What am I missing? How else is he to know when the doctor is ready? Letter by Cecil Casterelli published January 19 details how “useless” male hatchlings are ground up alive or suffocated in large plastic bags. The “lucky” females are crammed five to a wire cage the size of a folded newspaper where they are unable to spread their wings or display other normal behaviors. When their egg production drops after 18 months they are simply ground up for pet food. Isn’t it past time to go egg free? Letter by Bill Dolley published January 11 says social media are an enabler for societal dysfunction. “Social media tech companies are pushing persuasion technology and action models to create a culture of manipulation over clueless people,” AI software gets attention and uses manipulation tools to capture and channel attention. “We now live in a world where social media enables political polarization, fear, conspiracies, lies, and attacks on the truth and science that keeps or increases people’s attention and time online.” As I commented above, do you like being a sheep in a corral? I’d rather be a goat. Column by John Stossel January 25 remarks on the recycling religion. It says that much of what you send for recycling is not. The worst is plastic. It’s cheaper just to dump it in a landfill. I have been carefully recycling for years; have I fallen for a hoax? The Ukraine war has moved the celebrated Doomsday Clock to just 90 seconds before midnight. This is our closest yet to Armageddon. This makes me nervous, and I hope I am not the only one. Lu the Hippo celebrated his 63rd birthday January 27. He may be Citrus County, Florida’s most famous citizen. When you visit the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park you have to be wary of the splatter zone where his tail chops and flings his emerging feces. I think it’s a territorial marker. I suspect some corporations do the same thing in their advertising and monopolistic acquisitions. Column by Patrick Maines December 27, 2022, says that liberalism as a political philosophy is dead. Oh? As a lifelong liberal I feel my ears perking. He says the collapse of colleges and universities as places of open debate and inquiry is one way we know it. Also the abandonment of any kind of honest and principled journalism by the vast majority of the legacy and social media. The acceptance of censorship, shadow banning, and canceling. The hostility shown toward Elon Musk’s stated goal of reinstating free speech on Twitter. The lies about Covid-19. Where are tolerance and broad mindedness? What about attacks on freedom of speech? Editors are fired for running controversial pieces, books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity, journalists are barred from writing on certain topics, professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class, and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. It seems that many folk support the First Amendment for its protection of freedom of the press, not for its protection of free speech for everyone. Hoo! I do see that going on, and am appalled. What is happening to America? Or was it always corrupt?

I may have commented before on Left Field, that likes to throw things at me to spoil whatever schedule I foolishly aspire to. I completed this column, and set about editing it before reading it to MaryLee, who generally has corrections to try to prevent me from making a career-ending fool of myself. I edited half of it. Next day was Sunday, and there was a problem. Neither MaryLee’s car nor the Mule ATV will start, and the Prius was out at the shop for servicing. We have a long drive; from the house to the newspaper box is a 1.6 mile round trip. On exercise days I speedwalk out for the morning newspaper, but Sunday is not an exercise day. What to do? I decided to do a slower walk. Because I would not be pushing it, the risk of a fall was minimal, so I didn’t don the protective helmet I normally do. It started well; I had time to clear out stray brush that the night’s rain had deposited on the drive and avoid the puddles. I got out to the boxes, and discovered two newspapers, several letters, and a package. Did I mention Left Field? The collection was awkward to hold, as things were slippery, but I managed. Somehow I found myself leaning forward, to the point where I could lose my balance and fall. I paused, straightened up, and resumed walking. Only to lean forward again. What was the problem? I fought it back and kept walking. Then, as I came into sight of the house, I relaxed, leaned forward too far, lost my balance, and fell. I don’t fall often, maybe once every three or four years, but when I do, I always land on my face. It seems to be a Cosmic, or Left Field, rule. Encumbered by my slippery armful of items, I couldn’t use my arms to break the fall, and sure enough I smacked the pavement with my face. No, I don’t think I hurt the pavement much, but my face was a bloody (not British swearing) mess. MaryLee was mad; she had specifically told me not to fall. The Little Voice must have been distracted in that moment, so I was out of control. MaryLee mopped up most of the blood and put antibiotic and a bandage on it, which slowed the bleeding, and I got to work on my day. Late, as usual.

So again, I am way behind on this column. I just don’t seem to have time for anything. Sigh. I think of what I understand is a sign on the wall of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for students: CLASSES, FRIENDS, SLEEP: CHOOSE TWO. I am way beyond college age, but still seem to have trouble choosing. I am not getting novel writing done, I am not reading books, and MaryLee and I are not managing to watch videos. We may have to seriously reorganize our life. I hope my fans are doing better.


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