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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
Mayhem 2019
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Having completed my novel last month, I went on a video viewing spree. Those not interested can skip over the “I watched” paragraphs until they get to my personal opinionations on That & This. The first DVD is an erotic video, you know, porn; go ahead, skip it.

I watched Fallen, an acclaimed erotic movie, said to be one of the 30 greatest adult movies of all time. This genre is fantasy, of course, with men taking twenty minutes of pumping to finally achieve orgasm, and shapely young women genitally shaved and utterly and continuously thrilled to have all their orifices penetrated by penis, fingers, tongue or objects, done singly or multiply. That is, vaginal, anal, and oral all at once, with the cameras inches away. The movie starts with an extended sex sequence. Then the girl departs. The man has a ring, but lacked the nerve to ask her to marry him. She gets in the elevator—and something attacks and kills her. She had a guardian angel who did not get there quite in time to protect her. That mistake cost Angel and she is no longer an angel except in name. She has fallen, and is now mortal. She wants to be loved, and since Heaven is now closed to her, she visits below. Plenty of sex there, not love. She is free to join in on the ongoing sex, and does. Then she goes outside and makes out with a policeman who puts a baton in her rectum while having vaginal sex. She figures it's a good idea to have the police on her side, just in case. Then Angel meets a man called Keith and is intrigued by him; he seems somehow familiar. They go on a date and dance, and kiss. Soon they are having sex in all the standard positions. Then she sees a picture of him with the girl who died in the elevator, the one Angel had failed to protect. He was her boyfriend! This messes her up; how can she ethically benefit from that failure? It isn't right. She tries to move on, making out with other men and women. But all Angel can think of is Keith. She meets a girl with wings tattooed on her back, and just has to make out with her. Then she gets larger wings tattooed on her own back. Keith gets robbed; Angel rescues him, then tells him everything, not knowing how he will react. They go on a drive in the desert. She falls asleep in the car and dreams of visiting the angels, wings and all, and having more sex, including a threesome with her tattooed friend and the male angel. She wakes to find them parked and Keith pitching a small tent. They bike together, to a small airport where they take a little two passenger plane for a flight. He lets her take the controls for a while. She loves flying this way and is thrilled by this date. At night by a fire, outside, they have more sex. In the morning, ready to go home, they take one more bike ride, and two thugs in a car deliberately run Keith down. He winds up comatose in a hospital. Angel goes to a chapel and bargains with God: she will do anything, to save Keith. Then she comes upon a man taking a nurse hostage. Stops him, but gets shot herself. Keith dies, and Angel dies. So now they are together, if not the way she hoped. So this does have a story; it is a romance, and tragedy, apart from being 90% sex. I have the sequel, Fallen II, but suspect it will be a while before I watch it.

I read If You Can Read This The Philosophy of Bumper Stickers, by Jack Bowen. This is a fun book of unusual bumper stickers, together with the author's commentary, and it can become incidentally profound. First the fun part: some of the stickers themselves. CACCA OCCURRETH, and its English translation SHIT HAPPENS. Then there's GOT SOUL? And FEMINISM IS THE RADICAL NOTION THAT WOMEN ARE PEOPLE. And HOW CAN SOMEONE BE “PRO-LIFE,” PRO-DEATH PENALTY, PRO GREED, PRO WAR?...STOP BEING A HYPOCRI+E. And RELIGION IS WHAT KEEPS THE POOR FROM MURDERING THE RICH. And “GOD IS DEAD.”— NIETZSCHE. “NIETZSCHE IS DEAD.”—GOD. And RELIGIONS ARE JUST CULTS WITH MORE MEMBERS. And INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NEITHER. And FUNDAMENTALISM STOPS A THINKING MIND. And MY KARMA RAN OVER YOUR DOGMA. And THE LESS YOU KNOW THE MORE YOU BELIEVE. And EVOLUTION IS A FACT. GOD IS JUST A THEORY. And I FAILED THE TURING TEST. And AT LEAST THE WAR ON THE ENVIRONMENT IS GOING WELL. And CLONES ARE PEOPLE TOO. And I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH EUTHANASIA. THE YOUTH IN ASIA MADE MY TENNIS SHOES. And IF A MAN SPEAKS IN THE FOREST AND THERE'S NO WOMAN THERE TO HEAR HIM, IS HE STILL WRONG? And HELP STAMP OUT BUMPER STICKERS. And ALL EXTREMISTS SHOULD BE SHOT. And ALL GENERALIZATIONS ARE FALSE, INCLUDING THIS ONE. And ALWAYS REMEMBER YOU'RE UNIQUE, JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. And VISUALIZE WHIRLED PEAS. And I BELIEVE IN LIFE BEFORE DEATH. Then the text: the author uses the bumper stickers to set off deeper commentaries about life and meaning, which can be pretty sharp. Such as how a study shows that the drivers of cars displaying bumper stickers exhibit more Road Rage than those without. And if you can't get something from nothing, then how could God come to exist? And the statistics: over a third of people believe in astrology, over half in ghosts, 75% in angels, and over 89% in miracles. One third of Americans believe that aliens have already visited earth. He defines the different kinds of love, some of which go beyond my dictionary: Eros is passionate, Agape is pure love, Philia is non-passionate love such as that of friends, Storge is natural affection such as parents for children, and Xenia is common love and hospitality. And the riddle of Theseus's ship: over the course of time so many parts were replaced that in the end none of the original parts were there. Is it the same ship? If you answer no, you have a problem, because the water in a river constantly changes, and your own body does too. And the problem of quality: Van Gogh didn't sell a single one of his 900 paintings in his life, but later they became phenomenally valuable. Was he a better painter in death? And on feminism gone extreme. One feminist argues that Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica is a rape manual, as science is a male rape of female nature. Another says that Beethoven's Ninth is one of the most horrifying moments in music because it depicts the throttling rage of a rapist incapable of obtaining release. And what about the mathematical symbol “i”? Isn't it phallic? And the question that if it were proven that no God exists, would people start stealing, murdering, raping and so on? He mentions secular humanism as sort of a code name for atheism. I find that interesting, being an agnostic humanist myself; I don't think atheism needs any code, as it is a legitimate belief in itself. He remarks how no one shows up for anarchy meetings. And how Scientology threatens to sue anyone who calls it a cult. He says that one characteristic of cults is their willingness to abuse members, especially sexually. There was Raelism; the wife of the founder said that her husband had sex with hundreds of his young cult members. “I begin to think that the whole Raelian movement was a trick to have more sex.” The Branch Davidian leader married girls as young as twelve. But the Catholic Church's record of priests having sex with young children hardly diminishes that opinion. He wonders about the Flying Spaghetti Monster religion, though my impression is that they are mainly into pasta. On the efficacy of prayer: the knowingly prayed for patients suffered more complications than the un-prayed-for ones. And virtual reality: if a married man makes out with a virtual partner, has he cheated? And Pascal's Wager, that it is safer to bet on God and the Afterlife, because if you are wrong you might spend eternity in Hell. But there are hundreds of religions, each of which claims to be the only right one; your odds of choosing the right God are decidedly against you. And on; this book is a remarkable stretch of the imagination, apart from the fun of the bumper stickers. I recommend it to anyone with a mind.

I read A Spell For Chameleon by Piers Anthony. Yes the first Xanth novel, first published in 1977, with I think over a million copies sold. Why now? Because they are publishing a trade paperback edition. So I proofread the galleys, to catch the errors introduced by the scanning. Last month I read Xanth #45, A Tryst of Fate, so it's a nice contrast to see how my current writing compares to that of over forty years ago. I find the two equivalent, allowing for a complete change of characters and largely complete shift of background. I did know how to write then. Today I would make only a few changes, nuances of style that no one else would notice. It remains a powerful novel, winner of the August Derleth Fantasy Award, and the introduction to the Xanth fantasy series. I wrote it because I wanted to work with editor Lester del Rey, and he then edited fantasy, so I wrote a fantasy novel, sort of converting Florida into the Xanth peninsula only with magic added. I had not been much impressed with the usual type of fantasy in that day, which was typically a mundane novel with just a suggestion at the end that maybe there was magic in the conclusion. So I made the magic obvious and plentiful from the beginning. But I couldn't at that time take fantasy really seriously, so in came the humor, the puns and such. And lo, it turned out that other readers liked it. I had thought it would be a singleton, then a trilogy. Then the readers weighed in. I was on my way to bestsellerdom and wealth as a writer, with repeated if jinxed movie prospects. It really did change my life. My wife refers to our place on our little tree farm as the House that Xanth Built. The essence of the story is that the protagonist with the stupid name, Bink, is the one person in the Land of Xanth with no demonstrable magic, so he is ridiculed and faces the threat of exile. So he travels to see the Good Magician to learn whether he does after all have any magic. Along the way, at different times, he meets three young women: one beautiful but stupid, one average, one ugly but genius smart. They turn out to be the same girl, Chameleon, who changes a little each day, in the course of month. That's her curse, and she wants a spell of make her average all the time. Some folk seem to think it is sexist to have a woman like that; maybe some day one of them will explain why, as I find Chameleon intriguing, sort of all things to all men, in due course, and that's how Bink feels about her. Bink does get exiled, gets captured by the Evil Magician Trent, and the two of them plus Chameleon wind up back in Xanth. They rediscover Castle Roogna, named after a correspondent of mine, Martin Roogna, in Lithuania. It was once the capital of Xanth, but 800 years have lost it in history. In the end all is well, with Castle Roogna restored to prominence and Bink marrying Chameleon. Rereading this novel over forty years later was a profound experience for me, like a visit to past history, Xanth's and mine. Xanth lifted me forever out of the rat race of survival that is the fate of maybe 99% of free lance writers. As literature it may be a joke, but financially it is a heavyweight. Without it, I would be just another genre writer you might once have heard of and forgotten.

I watched Dragon Day. Duke Evans is on vacation with his wife Leslie and young daughter. They discover a Mexican living there, who speaks Spanish, not English, and says he has a deal with Dale's grandfather to rent it. The police agree. Then planes crash, all around. The TV says there's has been an attack on America like none other. All the planes in the air have crashed. Cars stop running. Dale drives out to find his sister Rachel with their other daughter Emma. But his car stops also, and he is stranded. They finally do make it back, but the country is in chaos. China has attacked, because America reneged on a trillion dollar debt. Every microchip made in China has been infected by a virus that shuts down all modern technology. They are soon out of food, water, and power. He makes a battery out of potatoes for an old transmitter. A band of men raid the neighbor's house, killing the neighbor. The sheriff takes over, killing the raiders and anyone else who resists. They must join the People's Republic of China, wearing red bands, or die of thirst and hunger. But the bands compel compliance to the conqueror's will. Rachel tries to violate the curfew, to get food, and her band kills her. The resistance needs Duke; when he refuses to go without his wife and child, they abduct him. His friend Phil saves him, but in effect holds the lives of his wife and daughter hostage against his using his expertise to fix a problem they have in a key program. So he cooperates, perforce, and they free him and give him water and food for his family. The sheriff then tries to take it away, and means to shoot the Mexican. So Duke shoots the sheriff. Then they and the Mexican go to Mexico. They sneak through the wall on the border. Then his red band starts killing him, and he has the Mexican cut off his hand to free him from it. They meet the Mexican's wife and children. This will be their new home. I also watched their bonus featurette about the making of the movie. Instead of bombs and soldiers they have this cyber attack, just as effective.

I watched the Discover video, How the Earth was Made: Asteroids. It starts by discussing Meteor Crater in Arizona. Was it volcanic, or a strike by an asteroid? The issue wasn't decided until the nuclear tests, which left some similar craters. It is an impact crater. What about others? One clue is iridium, far more common in space than on Earth. There are shattercones, formed only by such impacts. Also giant rings on the surface of the earth. Could there be another? Did such a strike eliminate the Clovis culture, along with the mastodons? Observing a meteor impact on Jupiter, they conclude that a similar blast on Earth would eliminate all life here. It just might happen someday. Stay tuned.

I watched White Bird in a Blizzard. In 1988 Kat is seventeen, with hormones. She comes home and her mother Eve is gone. Her father is distraught. Kat visualizes Eve lying nude in the snow. They talk to the police, but there's no sign. Dad and Kate seemed like the perfect couple, but she never loved him. The women at his office were all into him, but not Eve. Meanwhile Kat is dating the boy next door, Phil, and Eve did not seem to approve. It is almost as though Eve was coming on to Phil. Then Kat comes on to the cop who is working on the case, and seduces him. Memories of her mother's increasingly odd behavior before she left continue. Kat goes off to college, and catches up with her friends, including the cop, when she returns for a week between semesters. Her father has a new girlfriend, May. Kat dreams that
Eve returns without her hands; they just disappeared when she put them in the water in the sink. Two years pass. The cop thinks Kat's father killed Eve. Kat doesn't want to believe it, but it seems her friends do. Their cellar freezer is padlocked, and there's an awful smell. But the body is not in the freezer. It had been there, but then he buried it. He got drunk, confessed, and killed himself. Eve had caught him in bed with Phil, and laughed uncontrollably, and he choked her to stop it, and killed her without meaning to. Wow! I admit I had suspected things, like Eve maybe having an affair with Phil, but that variant caught me by surprise. It does make a weird sense of things.

I watched Desiree. Eric wakes in police custody, with amnesia, and a painful burn on his left arm, accused of things. He has three days to find Desiree, but he's not sure what she looks like or even whether she's a person. He tries, but he doesn't remember the people or the situation. But others remember him, and want information or they'll beat him up or worse. A doctor tells him he OD'd on a dangerous drug. There are women, one of them his lawyer. He gets some disconnected flashes of memory. Then he remembers more, and starts fighting back. Now he's pushing around folk who were pushing him around. Finally he remembers it all. He had panicked and swallowed a handful of the dangerous drug he had developed as a chemist. That wiped out his recent memory. Desiree is the drug, maybe named after his girlfriend. This is a confusing story and I may not have the details right.

I watched Thale, a Norwegian film, in English, with English subtitles. Two crime scene cleaners, Elvis and Leo, come upon stair leading down to a closed cellar door. Inside is a tub containing a live naked young woman. A recording says she was found eleven years before. She doesn't talk, but does sing. She had a tail, but her rescuer cut it off so she could hide from her kind. She is desperately hungry. It seems she is a faun. She can heal heal plants. Then armed, cloaked, men take our two cleaners captive and evidently mean to execute them. But female fauns kill the captors instead. Elvis and Leo are rescued, and Thale escapes. There is a hint that she may remain in contact with them, secretly. It seems today's “normal” humans are determined to extirpate this surviving offshoot; that's why the fauns hide. An unusual movie, which I like not just because of Thale's beautiful bare body.

I watched Playing for Time. This is Paris during the Nazi invasion. Fania is a Jewish musician, sent to the Auschwitz death camp along with thousands of political prisoners. They are stripped and their hair is shaved off. Their numbers are tattooed on their arms. She remarks that her boyfriend wouldn't let her join the resistance he was in because it was too dangerous. They laugh, tearfully. The ovens are in sight and burning. Then a question: who knows Madame Butterfly? Fania does; she can sing. There are tryouts, and a group is assembled. They are bald, bruised, and largely shapeless in their prisoner rags, and they can no longer menstruate, being too lean from hunger, but they are an orchestra of a sort. Food is at a premium, and of course they are hungry. Some seem to be losing their minds. They must perform or die. But it is hard to strive to improve, to please the Nazis. They see children taken from their mothers. Hangings. The notorious Dr. Mengale takes some. 12,000 people are gassed every day. But the music continues. News of the allied advance circulates. Airplanes pass overhead. Their conductor is reassigned, and dies; I'm not clear whether her reassignment was a euphemism for her execution. Things fall apart as the bombing comes near. Tanks roll in. Their guards are arrested, and mobbed. The women are finally rescued, for what it's worth at this point. This is not the kind of movie I enjoy, but I appreciate its validity. History can be brutal, and the Nazis were among the worst.

I watched Black Beauty, the famous story of a horse, narrated by him in a human voice. It begins with him being born, black with a white spot on his forehead. learning to stand on four feet, frolicking in the pasture, meeting other colts, learning the distasteful bit in mouth, learning to carry his master. Then he goes to a new master, and there is an ill-tempered brown filly, Ginger, in the next stall, but he likes her. He tries to win her interest, but she rejects him. There is also a white pony, Merrylegs, in the opposite stall. Their master's boy is Joe, who really likes BB. Then, hitched to a wagon, he balks at a flooded bridge. The humans don't understand, until a plank gives way and one falls into the rushing river. BB stands firm so that the man can cling to the rein and not be washed away. Then they understand, but now BB is ill. He recovers, and Ginger now accepts him. Then a pipe starts a fire in the barn, but the humans are oblivious. The barn burns down, but the horses are saved. Then BB and Ginger are moved to another owner. They put a harness on Ginger that she can't stand; she bolts. A drunk man rides BB, falls off, and BB's front knees are badly scraped. Others use Ginger in a race before she is mature enough, and that ruins her. BB is rented out to strangers. It's a bad life. He is put up for sale. His next master, Jerry, is a kind man, but drawing a cab on cobblestones is hard on the feet. Then he meets Ginger again, but her spark of vitality is gone. She dies. Then Jerry sickens, and BB has to move on. He pulls heavy carts for two years, until he gives out. Then he encounters Joe, and at last it is good again.

I read Chaos, Making a New Science, by James Gleick. This tells me more about chaos that I really care to know, tracking many people who contributed to the burgeoning new science. One of them is Mandelbrot, of the famous Mandelbrot set, something that has fascinated me for decades. I contacted him when I was writing my novel Fractal Mode, as he coined the term Fractal, seeking permission to use it. “Why not?” he asked. “Everyone else does.” I appreciate his frustration. But he was just one of many. It turns out that what folk used to think was sheer chance may not be at all; rather it is finely developed effects stemming from sometimes simple initial conditions. For example, the smoke rising from a cigarette: it flows smoothly upward, then bursts into turbulence. Why? Is there a transition that can be analyzed? Maybe, but they are still working on it. Simple things can become suddenly complicated. I am increasingly suspecting that true chaos does not really exist; instead merely complicated effects that we don't properly understand. The science of that understanding is parallel to Einstein's Relativity, and to Quantum Mechanics, really a third branch of science. There will be a lot more about this in the news as that science is slowly worked out. Maybe the formation of the universe relates, a complicated cosmos stemming from supposedly simple nothing.

I watched Red Dragon, a Hannibal Lecter film with Anthony Hopkins. (Something about that actor's first name intrigues me. Maybe some day I'll figure out what it is.) A detective, Will Graham, visits Hannibal to consult, as he has a disturbing insight into recent killings: the killer is eating parts of the victims. Hannibal tries to kill Will; he fights back. Hannibal is captured, and imprisoned in a facility (I think) for the criminally insane, but killings resume. They call the murderer the Tooth Fairy. Will is called out of retirement to help on the case. He investigates the last murder scene. Children were killed, and pieces of a broken mirror put in their eyes to make them seem to be watching the proceedings. He goes to see Hannibal for his input. Hannibal says the two of them are much alike. Then a young man who calls himself D--for Dragon?--picks up a pretty blind woman, Reba, and takes her to her home. She senses something different about him. Is he the killer? Lecter receives a fan letter, probably from the killer. Hannibal sends him Graham's home address. That's mischief; they have to evacuate. But Hannibal helps the investigation, because he doesn't like a lowlife like the Tooth Fairly thinking he is in the same league as Hannibal. The Tooth Fairy kidnaps a reporter, Lounds, and shows him his tattooed back, giant horns: the Red Dragon. There's a 200 year old picture of the Red Dragon he emulates. Then bites off Lounds' tongue. Then D man takes the blind woman to pet a sedated tiger. He takes her home and has sex with her, and sleeps. He likes her and doesn't want to hurt her, but the compulsion is growing. He takes her safely home, this time. Then he tears up and eats the Red Dragon painting. His real name is Dolarhyde and he works for a company where he has access to key information. He kidnaps Reba, sets fire to the house, and is about to kill her, but can't do it, and shoots himself. The police rescue her. They read his journal; he was an abused child. But the bones in the fire are not Dolarhyde's. Then D comes after Will's family and there is a bloody showdown.

I watched Hannibal. I watched it in 2001 but it is possible I have forgotten some details in the interim. The package says it has subtitles, but it does not. That's a nuisance, as in my senescence I have trouble hearing some movies, not to mention a weakening memory. Indeed, I have no memory of the opening sequence. Special Agent Clarice Starling, a thoroughly assertive, competent and nervy woman who is directing a dangerous mission, sees it is too risky and calls it off, but gets overruled, with the result that five people die. Naturally she gets the blame. She gets assigned to an ugly case involving Hannibal Lecter, who has escaped incarceration. He is tracking her, and even writes her a friendly letter. It is a battle of wits from the start. Meanwhile Commander Torre is also on the case, for the reward. Hannibal catches on and kills him, after taking his phone and talking briefly with Clarice. There is also one of Hannibal's former victims, surviving cruelly maimed, determined to get revenge. He has a pig farm, with the pigs trained to eat men. Clarice's boss learns of a letter to her from Hannibal, concludes that Hannibal has a crush on her, and takes her off the case. Hannibal visits her as she sleeps, then calls her. He is watching her as she searches for him. She is being followed, the authorities hoping she will lead them to Hannibal. He starts taking them out. Somehow the pig farmer captures Hannibal (maybe dialogue I didn't catch?), and means to feet him to the pigs. Clarice also goes there. She frees Hannibal, but gets shot herself. He picks her up and carries her out while the pigs eat the pig farmer. Three quarters through the movie I finally encounter familiar scenes. Clarice wakes with her wound repaired and she is in an evening gown, looking sexy. She joins Hannibal, who is serving a captive some of his own brain to eat. Then Hannibal kisses her—and she claps the handcuffs on his and her wrists, locking the two of them together. But he cuts off his own hand to escape without hurting her. He does like her. Thus he escapes, again. So I really remembered only the last quarter of the movie, and that imperfectly. But it's one powerful film, worth watching again.

I watched Final Girl. This one, too, says on the package it has subtitles, but doesn't. Why the misrepresentation? Should there be penalties, so folk like me don't get had? It starts with Veronica as a child, as her father teaches her how to protect herself. That training continues into her maturity. Because four young men like to trick young blondes into the forest so they can hunt and kill them. Veronica will be prepared for that encounter. She befriends the brunette girlfriend of one boy, then sets herself up to get picked up by another of the boys. She gets a date for Saturday. It is on. Her date picks her up, and the four boys drive her to the forest. There they play a game of Truth or Dare, telling the worst thing they have done, or a penalty of eating a live worm, or kissing someone. They also drink, not knowing the she has spiked the flask. Then they tell her she will die in five minutes. She screams persuasively and flees. They don't wait five minutes before pursuing her. Then, one by one, she takes their weapons and kills them as they hallucinate from the drink. We see their visions, adding to the interest. She uses ax, bat, rock, strangulation, whatever. She sets the last one up to be hanged, and he sees the ghost girls from the prior victims coming for him as he dies. Dad joins her. It is done. Ultimately nonsensical, but compelling.

I watched 2021, a romance. John Cooper is a computer programming genius trying to reverse-engineer intelligence based on the human genome. To design a program that can pass the Turing Test, fooling folk into thinking it is a living person. That's one of my buttons; I expect there to come humanoid robots with consciousness, in due course, and they populate my fiction. But he is frustrated, not getting anywhere, and feels as if he is imploding. His therapist simply prescribes more anxiety drugs. Then he meets Emily Christiansen, a shy English teacher. It is awkward, but they seem to be two of a kind. That relationship changes his life. He breaks with the therapist, stops his medication, and pursues the relationship. In his imagination it proceeds to marriage. Her life was disturbed so she started writing, and has written eight and a half novels so far. Another of my buttons; I at one point had seven unpublished novels, thanks to being blacklisted for protesting getting cheated by a publisher. They wind up in bed, but they both have emotional hangups that interfere. She breaks off their relationship because she is unable to carry it through. That leaves him in limbo. He sets up to commit suicide, but changes his mind. He sends Emily a poem he researched. It moves her, as it is one of her favorites. She sends him a message that she would after all like to keep seeing him. He sets up to kill his boss, but changes his mind. Then he gets her message. Movie ends; we know it will work out. Trite, maybe, but I remember experiencing similar, if less extreme, reactions when the girl I loved broke it off. Then she changed her mind, and it became a lifetime together. It does happen. Nevertheless the movie, after setting them up as genius programmer interacting with a novelist, does no more with that; it's just background. It's too bad, as it could have been so much more than it is.

I watched Dragon Hunters, an animated movie. It even comes with a glossy little 48 page color comic book. The setting is a mass of floating debris; they jump from piece to piece. some pieces contain sheep; others bats. And of course the dragon. Zoe is a little girl who believes in fairy tales. A dragon is ravishing the land, and there's no hero to stop it. So plucky little Zoe decides to do it herself. She meets Lian-Chu and Gwizdo, who consider themselves wandering knights and dragon hunters, who are pretty good with magic knitting needles. But Zoe believes in them, and the king is blind so doesn't see how inconsequential they are. Lian-Chu has enormous arms and tiny stick-figure legs; the others have more ordinary proportions. The three of them and a blue dog set out to stop the dragon. They have various wild adventures along the way. The dragon turns out to be a huge dinosaur skeleton with wings, rather like a building-sized bat. It has suction breath that hauls them all in, but Lian-Chu takes it out with his knitting needles. They return victorious to the castle, but Zoe's father the king rejects her as a runaway. So she goes to join the others on the little farm they will buy with the gold she filched from the treasury. Cute girl, cute story, happy ending.

I watched Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold. A famous magazine has a contest for Centerfold of the Year. Angel Grace is desperate to win it. She is one of three candidates. It starts with them at a photo shoot, stripping to their underwear, then going topless as they pose. She gets into a program to enhance her body, though the medication is risky. They try it on a rat, and it grows overnight to dog size. Angel, Betty, and Linda go the publisher's estate for a weekend. The publisher's shapely girlfriend, being used as a servant, is jealous. The photographer Mark gets Angel drunk and seduces her; she oversleeps for the next beach shoot. So she takes several doses of the medication, hoping to compensate. She starts growing. She joins the shoot half a head taller than the other two. Then she grows to about twelve feet tall, nude because no clothing fits her. And sixty feet, though she doesn't look it. She's not eating, just growing, magically. No problem of mass or balance or proportions; she's the same as ever, only about eleven times as tall. Mark's main interest is in exploiting her. The assistant loves her, but she refuses to believe the truth about Mark. Meanwhile they develop a spray that makes the rat small again, but then it collapses. Then the redhead Betty, jealous, discovers the medication and takes it. Now 60 feet tall herself, she attacks Angel. The struggle takes them into the city so everyone sees the two giant girls fighting. So they blast them with the reduction vapor and they shrink back to normal size. Then Betty bursts into fire. It is not clear why the same doesn't happen to Angel. She realizes that the assistant is the only one who has been true to her, and kisses him. All is well again, maybe.

I watched The Adventures of Mark Twain, an animation film, clay-mation I think. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are in a raft. They go to see Mark Twain as he takes off in a balloon. He associates with Halley's Comet, as it passed by the year he was born, and came again the year he died. Then they get caught on the balloon as it takes off, along with Becky Thatcher. The balloon is like a river boat with a paddle-wheel propelling it through the sky. Twain tells of the celebrated jumping frog. Then of Adam and Eve. She eats the apple and God is wroth. Other Twain notions pass through. They sail to the moon, then on to different alien Heavens. Adam and Eve have a baby, but Adam doesn't know exactly what it is. Then another baby; soon they have a big family. Our folk chase and catch the comet. Then Twain merges with his darker self and they vanish into the comet. The balloon sails home with the three children and the green frog. This is a cute adventure. I was surprised by how well the animation via clay works.

I watched Earthsea, based on the work of Ursula LeQuin. A blacksmith's son Ged and neophyte wizard girl Tenar are wrestling in the meadow, but they are also in love. He has visions of disaster, as invaders come. Meanwhile King Tygath is bent on conquest. He craves the help of the Nameless Ones, but the high priestess refuses to set them free of their imprisonment, as they are dangerous. A wizard tells Ged that his secret name is Sparrowhawk. Tenar says she hopes Ged finds the girl he has been dreaming about. Not her? Ged trains with the wizard, slowly learning his powers. He can summon mist. Then he goes to study at a school of magic. He learns to change into a hawk and flies away. The teacher warns about the dangers of toying with irresponsible shape-shifting. Then, challenged by a rival, he summons the dead. It goes wrong, but the wizard manages to stop the specter in time. Ged is sent away from the school, as he has misused his formidable power. A seeming friend becomes an enemy monster, but Ged escapes by becoming the hawk. The wizard tells him that he must reverse course and face the monster pursuing him, so as not to be driven into doom. Meanwhile the conquest proceeds. Tenar becomes the new high priestess, to the dismay of the one who wanted it. Ged faces his nemesis and they fight. End of Part I.

Part II. This picks up where Part 1 left off. Ged survives the fight, but the battle is not over. He and his friend encounter a fire breathing dragon, which then answered three of their questions. Murders continue. So does the invasion. But all is not as it seems. The evil conqueror thinks he has won, but the Nameless Ones destroy him. They find the pieces of the Amulet of Peace, put them back together, and peace is restored to Earthsea. There were details I couldn't follow, because the movie lacked subtitles and I had trouble understanding the dialogue, but I think I have the simplified essence. I understand that Ursula LeGuin was severely disappointed in the movie made from her series; I have not read the original material, but suspect it is a good deal more sophisticated than this rather standard sword and sorcery rendition. Movie makers tend to follow their preconceived notions of fantasy, missing the nuances and degrading the narrative; I have had some limited experience with them. Don't get me started.

I watched Patlabor 2, Japanese animation. A well coordinated terrorist attack occurs in Tokyo of 2006, this being the future when the movie was made in 1993. Secret surveillance reveals that an American airplane was involved. America is not attacking Japan; the terrorists have managed to co-opt American equipment. There is a question: is a just war better than an unjust peace? Each seems to give rise to the other. There is a question of infiltration of the defense command, though it is possible they are merely incompetent. While they dither, the attacks continue. Three mysterious airships float over the city. A secret mission takes out the conspirators. The cover blurb claims this is one of the very finest anime films ever made. I doubt it, but there are thoughtful aspects. What about the ultimate nature of war? I have read elsewhere that war is really a racket to enrich the big corporations, and that may be so.

I watched Melancholia. Part One is “Justine.” Justine and Michael go to Justine's sister Claire's home to marry. Things start going wrong. First they are delayed two hours arriving; the guests are not pleased. There is a banquet, with the toasts and speeches. Justine's cynical mother says she hates marriages and says to enjoy it while it lasts. Family tensions mount. Brother in law John resents the amount the wedding costs. Justine feels the tensions, which make her tense. Meanwhile the planet Melancholia is heading toward Earth; if they collide, mankind could be wiped out. The experts say they won't collide, but experts do make mistakes. Relationships continue to fray. The forms are there, but it's really not a happy occasion. Part Two is titled “Claire.” Michael is not in evidence. Justine is ill or perhaps severely depressed, and Claire is taking care of her. She mends. The planet looms closer. Justine lies naked on a hill slope and watches it. Closer yet. A child makes a wire loop to tell how close it is: if it expands beyond the loop, it is closer. Clever. Then it seems to get smaller; it is moving away! Claire sleeps, then wakes, and John is gone. She finds him in the horse stall, dead, overdosed on pills. Why? Is the planet still approaching after all? Maybe he enlarged the wire loop to hide the truth from her? She, Justine, and her son make a tent frame of poles and wait in it, holding hands as the vision and sound of the planet grows. Then explosive oblivion.

I read Classic Playground Games from Hopscotch to Simon Says, by Susan Brewer. This is a compendium of mostly British girls' diversions, but I remember a number from America. On occasion she misses one, such as the second verse to “Michael Finnegan”: “He had a wife called Mrs. Finnegan/ She grew fat and then grew thinagain/ Wished she had her double chinagain/ Poor old Mrs. Finnegan.” But it's a pretty thorough survey. One girl's chant startled me: “I lost my bra, left my knickers in my boyfriend's car.” Maybe it's a tease by pre-bra, pre-boyfriend girls, because when they come of dating age they lose interest in playground games. There are many pictures. She even covers paper folding, such as making airplanes, water bombs, and a variant of what we called cooti-catchers, but seems to miss one of the most popular of my day, the popper, which you could snap through the air to make a pop! Overall, this is a nostalgic reminder of a bygone day. Today children are more into electronic devices.

In A-Pull I wrote two stories. “Walk the Walk” is a 2,300 one about a lonely little girl who sees a lost little walking skeleton, so befriends him and helps him find his daddy skeleton. That not only wins her a friend, it pays off significantly in her life at a new school. I wrote it for a thirteen story anthology Little Girl Lost, which I expect to review here in due course. “Crossing the Line” is 6,400 words about a man who applies for a job and finds himself in a weird interview. If he can figure it out, he gets the job. It is with a young woman who is oddly evasive on certain questions, and who never asks him a question herself. He finally realizes that she is an android, and his new job is to train her to pass the Turing test so that no one else will know her nature. He takes her as his girlfriend, immersing her in the tricks of human semblance. She is an extremely apt student, becoming more human by the hour. He succeeds perhaps too well: he falls in love with her. That is of course folly, as she is a machine. Then comes the test. If she passes, she may not need him any more. Then she surprises him as she achieves consciousness. I wrote this one to start off my next volume of stories, Relationships 8. These days I write because I want to, not necessarily for a market.

My hearing is slowly fading. I have resisted getting a hearing aid, in part because they cost something like four thousand dollars per ear and it seems to me that money like that can be better spent trying to address the problems of the world. Beep beep beep, and I pushed a button when I heard it, but the repetitions got fainter. The chart shows that I still have fair hearing in the normal human voice range, but not in the upper ranges, and I may be missing nuances. That's probably why I have trouble following movies unless there are subtitles, and many don't. One with subtitles, ironically, was absolutely clear on the the voices. But most are not. I worry about my daily life. Suppose I am walking the street and someone calls, “There's a safe falling on you, run!” and I don't hear it? Or a BEM (Bug Eyed Monster) is about to grab me from behind, maybe mistaking me for a woman because of my long hair, and I am unaware? Or a pretty girl screams “Eeek! My clothing has turned transparent!” and I don't hear her in time to look? You can see that the world is fraught with dangers. So I will check out what's available, at what price. I can get amplifiers at a tenth the cost of regular hearing aids, but my doctor pointed out that they may simply amplify the frequencies I can already hear, when what I need is balanced amplification of the ones I don't hear. Sigh; age is a lady dog.

Cases of measles have reached numbers not seen in decades, because folk aren't getting inoculated. Measles is a serious disease. I had it in high school, circa 1951, the second worst case there, with a peak fever as I recall of 105½ degrees. They had to give me intravenous feeding. I had a cough, but I didn't cough, because I lacked the strength to take a deep enough breath. It was like a descent into Hell. Every hour I would wake with ravenous thirst, and a nurse would be there with water, expecting it. Those nurses must have been run ragged. Another boy needed to go to the bathroom, so he got up, took maybe ten steps, then carefully lay down on the floor for a few minutes to recover strength, then got up and resumed his trip. It was no joke. I survived, thanks to round the clock care, and slowly recovered. It was like emerging from Hell. Yes, measles can kill. Folk who object to vaccination are putting not only themselves and their children at risk, but others in their neighborhood. Freedom of choice is fine, but what about when it endangers others? It may be akin to the gun debate: do you make guns so freely available that any nut can get them and mow down a school or religious service?

I remarked last month about learning how badly the cows are treated, so that now I question whether I should continued using milk or milk products like cheese. I am an ovo-lacto vegetarian, and have been for over 65 years. Well, Daughter Cheryl did some spot research and discovered a Vegan newsletter. Veganism is the next step up from vegetarianism, not using milk, eggs or other animal products. They are really into it, all over the world, developing viable substitutes for milk, cheese, eggs, leather and all. I suspect it will not be long before I join them.

I remain concerned about the state of the world, and what our human species is doing to it. Meat is one problem, part of ranching, hunting, fishing and such, wiping out animals by eating them. Agriculture is another, as it destroys the habitat of the creatures who live on the land. Waste is another, as garbage piles up on the land and plastics pollute the sea. Energy is another, as its generation pollutes the air and warms the world. But mainly, there are simply too many of us, so that other species are being driven to extinction to make room for us. I think it would be a good start to cut the human population to a tenth what it is now. But I don't want to hurt people any more than I want to hurt animals. How can our burgeoning population be reduced nicely? If there were neighboring planets to colonize, so that nine tenths of the people emigrated to them, that might help. But maybe not. I explored that in my novel But What of Earth? where civilization declined along with the population. Regardless, we have found no suitable other planets to go to, or economic means to get them there. So we are stuck with Earth. I fear it is doomed, because there are too many Joe Blows who fight for their right to maintain a globally destructive lifestyle because they don't want to make any personal sacrifices at all. I've seen it in meat eaters: why do they do it, knowing the horrors of damage to the environment, wholesale slaughter of helpless animals, and destruction of the prospects of their own descendants? They like the taste. They really will let the world go to hell, almost literally, to please their taste buds.

THE PROGRESSIVE is a radical magazine. “The Progressive tackles the forces distorting our economy, corrupting our democracy, and imperiling our planet, and champions peace, civil liberties, equality, and justice.” See what I mean? Joe Blow doesn't buy that crap. Their April/May 2019 issue is dedicated to Dump Trump Now! Because waiting even two more years to get him voted out means that much further destruction of the environment, and America. “If we want to save the planet, Trump needs to go. Fast.” Because the United States government is not going to act on climate change while Trump remains in office. I appreciate their concern, but there will be no removal via impeachment as long as Republicans control the Senate, so that effort is pointless. Better to wait until 2020 and vote him and the Republicans out, then set about halting the damage they have been doing and see about repairs. Because Trump is not just a madman; he heads a mad party. They all have to go if the world is to be saved.

Some folk suffer incapacitating pain and seizures, but tests indicate no problem in the body. What gives? The conclusion is that it is all in the mind. It is nevertheless real. They figure that if a person can think himself into pain, he can think himself out of it. I am wary of that. Back in 1962 I came down with depression and chronic fatigue. The worst day of my life was when I lost my job, my wife lost our third baby, and my doctor told me that my concerns were imaginary. He called it neurasthenia, and my health insurance then ridered (excluded) me for “all mental diseases” apparently on the theory that I must be crazy. Obviously my concerns about my job and my wife's pregnancy were real despite the doctor's denial. But that dark day marked a change, the passing of the nadir, and subsequently my wife carried our first surviving child and I became a best selling novelist. We had a family and were free from financial stress. Everything had changed—except my fatigue and depression. I stayed alert, got a new doctor, and finally got a new diagnoses: hypothyroidism. A simple daily levothyroxin pill abolished both fatigue and depression. The fact was that the original doctors had missed the proper diagnosis, so figured it was imaginary, and I was considered crazy for not just wishing it away. So I distrust this imaginary illness business; I suspect that there are other conditions that are being missed, also.

FREE INQUIRY the other Humanist magazine, for April/May 2019 has a shocker of an article. St. John's School for the Deaf, a Catholic institution in St. Francis, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee, had a scandal that finally closed it down. Priests and nuns had been abusing their charges. One example: a girl in a dormitory was pretending to be asleep when a nun entered, walked to one of the sleeping young boys, pulled down his pants, and kissed and licked his penis. The boy lay still, staring blankly at the ceiling. When the nun finished, she pulled his pants back up and he rolled over on his cot and fell back to sleep. Apparently the children were used to this sort of thing, and knew better than to protest. Two days later this girl and another boy were yanked from the playground and taken to the bathroom. There four nuns stripped them from the waist down and gave them cold water enemas. It was a warning punishment; obviously there would be worse if they talked. Another time this girl peeked through a crack in the bathroom and saw two nuns kiss each other on the lips, then, naked, kiss each other's genitals. The nuns evidently suspected she had seen, because the girl later got paddled on her bottom. Nothing was said to the parents, of course. What I get from this is that it was not just the priests who sexually abused children; the nuns did it too. I remember things from my childhood that I did not tell my parents, because I knew they would not believe them. Nothing on this order, fortunately. At least today nanny-cams are exposing some of what happens.

The Hightower Lowdown is a radical newsletter by Jim Hightower. I'm using “radical” again in the sense that truth is being told here. The March/April issue is titled “The People are revolting! (in the best sense of the word).” It tell how in 1999 more that 50,000 democracy rebels of all kinds came to Seattle to confront a secretive group of corporate and governmental elites who had gathered behind closed doors to consolidate provisions of corporate global governance implemented by the World Trade Organization. Neither the public nor most Congress members knew much of it, but a coalition of activists was alert. They physically took control of Seattle's streets for the entire week, managing to shut down the meeting. They knew that global corporate power is out of control, and is attempting to enthrone itself as the world's supreme decision maker. You think elections decide who governs? That it is the people's choice? You are naive. “Too few people control too much of the money and power, and they use that control in a relentless effort to grab more for themselves at the expense of the rest of us.” Now you know, if you care to.

Shorter notes: Trump averaged 5.9 false or misleading statements per day during his first year in office. He averaged 16.5 per day in his second year. So far in 2019 he is averaging nearly 22 a day. Evidently practice is making perfect. The stretchy, formfitting tights women wear these days are stirring controversy as mothers of sons object. Others respond that women are entitled to display their buttocks if they want to, but if they don't want to be sexualized, they need to stop sexualizing themselves. Yes, as a man I feel that I am entitled to look at anything a woman cares to put on public display. Do the critics really believe that a woman's body, as God made it, is obscene? I regard that as twisted. Do we have free will? There are those who believe that we don't, but an article in NEW SCIENTIST suggests that the human brain is complex and does have free will. I am in between. Cause and effect suggests that we are ultimately programmed, so that true free will is an illusion. But if my illusion of free will allows me to improve my life, more power to me. Another NEW SCIENTIST article asks whether religion has been good or bad for humanity. I as an agnostic atheist have wondered about that for most of my life, being uncertain of the answer. Religions have sponsored bigotry and human sacrifice, but also sponsored the rule of law and led to larger and better societies that enabled mankind to take over the world. I suspect the balance is positive, though maybe not by much. And another NEW SCIENTIST article, this one on a project to send a spacecraft to Proxima Centauri, working up to a fifth of light speed, using light itself as the propulsion. It's like sailing a ship in the wind, only the wind is light. So it will take more than twenty years to get there, but let's do it anyway. A recent study indicates than poor diets kill more people than smoking does. Too much salt, not enough whole grains, fruits, and vegetables may be shaving years off lives. This is true across the world. They estimate that eight million deaths a year result. In terms of the least number of diet related deaths Israel is #1. France #2, Spain #3, and the United States #43. Of course that may not be deaths per capita of population, so small countries do better. Still, it is suggestive. I, as a vegetarian sharing my wife's low salt diet, seem to be surviving nicely. Counties that hosted campaign rallies for President Trump in 2016 experienced a 226 percent increase in reported hate crimes compared with counties that did not. When a California man was forced by neighbors to lower his six foot fence to three feet, he got even by posing naked mannequins having a lewd party in his back yard. They wanted to see inside his fence, so they got to. I think I like him. The annoyance of robo-calls continues. Theoretically Congress is finally taking aim at robocallers, but not making much progress. A letter in the local newspaper by Tom Yacko says that if the phone companies reduced the monthly charge and charged a modest amount for each outgoing call it wouldn't hurt the average consumer but would financially cripple the telemarketers. Exactly; I have said before that they can stop those calls if they want to. This is one way. Why don't they want to? Here in Florida the voters passed a constitutional amendment that gives felons back the right to vote once their debt to society is paid. So what are the legislators doing? Trying to make it harder for citizens to get constitutional amendments on the ballot. It seems they are not only largely indifferent to the popular will, they are actively subverting it. It seems that the supposed representatives of the people really don't believe in democracy. Spot news: veggie burgers are starting to displace real meat burgers in sales. Not a lot, yet, but the tide may be turning. A new cache of fossils has been discovered in China that shows the sheer diversity of life 500 million years ago. Many of the species there are new to science. Republicans claim to have a spectacular plan to provide better, cheaper health care for everyone, to replace Obamacare. But they aren't saying what it is. Yeah? If it really is that good, why are they hiding it? I won't believe it until I see it. Local news: three naked women ages 18, 19 and 19 were spotted at a rest stop on I-175. When police challenged them they got in their car and led a wild chase. One of them jumped out and tussled with an officer, hitting, kicking, and scratching him, while another tried to drive the car over him. They were finally corralled and arrested. If I were a policeman on a case like that I'd be wary of struggling with a naked nineteen year old girl; suppose she played dirty, such as by kissing? Florida's concealed weapon permits are increasing; 12% of adults have them and 17,500 are being added every month. King Charter School in Pinellas County wants to become the first vegan public school in the nation, if they can get past regulations that require cow's milk. A new study indicates that the universe is expanding faster than they thought, and is younger than they thought, maybe by a billion years, unless the rate of expansion is accelerating. What would explain that? CENSORSHIP NEWS reports that LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual Queer) books remain among the most censured in US schools and libraries. The First Amendment, the newsletter reminds us, guarantees the right of all young people to read and learn, absent bias or viewpoint restriction. Yet challenges to such literature are constant. “If speech is to be free, it must be guilty,” columnist Vanessa Place says. “Guilty of its freedom, its anarchism, which is less a matter of being dead-set against and more a matter of being against being dead-set.” Nicely put. The Mafia still exists in America, merely operating less obviously, governed by five families. Mainly in New York, cargo theft, extortion of port workers, and drug smuggling. Are video games a dangerous addiction? There is evidence that they can be. US households are taking on record levels of debt. At the end of 2018 it was $13.54 trillion. This could be mischief. The gender pay gap for UK scientists or engineers is widening. Is it any better in America? A bill introduced to the Georgia state legislature would require men over 55 to report to the nearest authorities every time they ejaculate, bans vasectomies, requires men to obtain permission from their partners before getting prescriptions for erectile dysfunction, introduces a 24 hour waiting period for men wanting to buy pornography, and makes sex without a condom punishable as aggravated assault. One co-author posted a “testicular bill of rights” on Twitter. “You want some regulation of bodies and choice? Done!” I suspect this is in part a reaction to similar restrictions placed on the sexuality of women. I could be wrong. Back in the old days, circa 4,500 years ago, neolithic Europe was subjected to a devastating conquest. Men were slaughtered and women taken for sex, so that now 60 to 90 percent of men now living in the area can trace their paternal lines to the Yamnaya immigrants. They originated north of the Black Sea. How did they do it? I suspect they were the first to tame horses for steeds, and it was a telling advantage.

I was eating an egg salad sandwich I had made for lunch on Tuesday, the last day of the month, when I crunched on something hard. Uh-oh. Sure enough, I had lost a tooth from the center of my upper denture. Sigh. I thought that problem had been fixed. I had to get it repaired, at a cost of $412. Dentures aren't free to maintain. I think my problem is that I actually use my dentures to chew, and they wear down and break down. Natural teeth are better, if you can keep them.

PIERS
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