The Ogre’s Den image
Piers with late lamented papaya tree top.
Piers with late lamented papaya tree top.

NoRemember 2022

HI-

I believe I have mentioned how justifiably proud ogres are of their stupidity. That goes for their memory too. Even when they succeed in counting all their clumsy toes, they can’t figure out what the eleventh month is. That’s one reason it is No Remember. It’s just too late in the year to track. Their memory balked, they just have to let it go and do nothing. Time to snooze. That’s a great relief to all the other creatures in the vicinity, except for the buzz saw snoring, because an active ogre is a menace to the whole caboodle & kit. A month of dullness allows folk to recover somewhat.

MaryLee and I had our two and a half year anniversary. As I think I have mentioned, my first marriage to Carol lasted over 63 years, but my second might not endure as long. We'll see. As I may also have mentioned – it’s so hard to be sure of anything in the month of No Remember – when I married at age 85 I promised to try to give her ten years. Now she wants fifteen. It’s so hard to please a woman. Again, we'll see. She continues to suffer long covid, with devious symptoms taking turns to mess her up, mainly brain fog and smelling random sewage. I don’t seem to have that; I think my body made like an ogre and smashed the Covid invaders to terrified flying smithereens. Some things just have to learn about ogres the hard way.

Ends & odds: Last month’s HiPiers column was 9,700 words and ran half a month late. This one will be only about 4,300 words, but on time. Summer is our monsoon season. Here on the tree farm we got 15.5 inches rain in Jewel-Lye, 9.9 in AwGhost, and 7.15 in SapTimber. But the moment the fall months came, it quit, and we got one tenth in OctOgre. Sad news in the Sunken Garden: our little papaya tree started upright, then slowly tilted, maybe an inch a day, until it leaned at about a 45 degree angle to the ground. Then it snapped off about halfway up. So it fell in fall, ha ha. Why am I not laughing? The poor thing committed suicide, and we didn’t even know it was unhappy. I continue my exercises. I bought new walking shoes, and my exercise walks immediately gained velocity, and I made my fastest walks in over a year and a half. Of course the point is not speed, but health. I still draw my 55 pound draw weight bow for arm strength. I can no longer do it straight, but when I prop it against the door sill I can, both right and left side. Apparently the difference in stance enables it. But obviously age is taking its toll. Sigh. Meanwhile our rogue email computer program continues its mischief. It is now sending out fake “fatal error” messages to folk who write me, while sending their messages on to me. Our geek will replace it in due course, as I don’t like liars, even electronic ones.

The Equedia Letter for 10-9-22 says that rightism may be returning to Europe. We had a bad example of that with Adolf Hitler plunging us into World War Two. Now Russia seeks to bully Europe into doing its bidding by limiting the flow of gas it sells there. Russia's invasion of Ukraine was an act of outrage, but a nation that stands to suffer the loss of it’s main energy supply is unlikely to oppose that too strongly. Economics can trump right vs. wrong, in international commerce, and it is showing. Rightism in Italy jumped sixfold in a year and it is gaining in Hungary, Poland, Sweden, and maybe elsewhere. The EU – European Union – is facing increasing objections. It may be in trouble.

The Equedia Letter for October 30, 2022 addresses war on another front: computer microchips. On October 7 Washington banned the US and its allies from exporting microchips and their technology to China. That in effect paralyzes all of China’s chip sector and potentially slows its development by a decade. A sharp punch in the gut. I mention below how America has weapons to make even an aggressive globally ambitious China pause. It seems they are starting to be deployed. The microchip situation is complicated, and China can fight back, but will be scored on.

But the 10-16-22 issue, and followed up in the 10-23-22 issue, Equedia says “Someone just blew up the world’s most significant gas pipeline and Europe’s key energy source: the Nord Stream.” They don’t know who did it, and there are suspects galore, but this changes things phenomenally. It destroys Russia’s energy hold over Europe, and puts its present government in an awkward state. Without the Nord Stream it has precious little leverage. Russia also stands to lose important income, too; it’s an economic blow. Okay, my take on this is wider. When Russia invaded Ukraine China was watching, because if Russia got away with it the way might be clear for China to invade Taiwan. Well, what was supposed to be an easy one month takeover continues over half a year later, with strong covert military support enabling Ukraine to fight back effectively. The toll on Ukraine is devastating, but there’s a toll on Russia too, as it wastes its resources in what seems to be becoming an unwinnable war. Now with the threat of limited pipeline gas destroyed, that toll is worse. Russia is really going to feel that loss of gas money. So what’s really going on? I suspect somebody is warning China: “If you invade Taiwan, this is what will happen to you. You will suffer similar losses. Remember Korea. So back off, poophead. If you think this is a bluff, make my day.” My reference to Korea, for those not historically inclined, is that in 1950 Communist North Korea invaded capitalist South Korea. America stepped in and drove the invaders out, then invaded North Korea. Then China stepped in, and drove the Americans back to the present line of demarcation. So China won, in a manner, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. That is, one that wasn’t worth it. China’s military losses were so severe that it took years for it to recover, and they never challenged American troops on the ground again, remembering that meat-grinder “victory.” They know better than to threaten nuclear engagement; if it came to nuclear war, America could destroy the whole of Asia. I suspect China won’t call that anonymous bluff. Politics ain’t tiddlywinks.

And my one minute reads. This time it’s a book my late wife Carol gave me for my birthday, in 2014. How to Build an Android. The True Story of Philip K Dick’s Robotic Resurrection, by David F. Dufty. The cover is a printed circuit board in the shape of his face, marvelously realistic. A spot review for those unfamiliar with Phil Dick’s clout as a science fiction writer: he was one of those whose genius may have verged into insanity, a line I don’t want to cross. Yes I know, critics find it laughable for the word genius to come within light years of my name, so I'm in no danger. But Dick was in danger. It was his fate to be only marginally successful during his lifetime, but after his death the movies made him a towering figure. The movie Total Recall was based on one of his stories, and I novelized the movie. I love it when readers tell me the book is better than the movie. But that’s beside the point. Dick wrote about robots who could not be distinguished from living folk, as I do, something that contemporary robotics has not yet achieved. The Turing Test, devised by Alan Turing, circa World War Two, a gay early computer expert, is supposed to test whether a robot can fake it well enough to fool regular folk. He asked “Can a machine think?” and did crucial early work to make it so. The book starts with the way they designed a robot that imitated Philip Dick, but it got accidentally left on an airplane and was never recovered. It's tempting to think that it came to life and escaped and hid, but I doubt it. The book clarifies the distinction between robots and androids: “An android is a robot whose specific purpose is to look and behave like a human being.” Isaac Asimov was one of those who wrote about androids; he promoted the three laws of robots, which essentially forbade them from injuring a human being, required them to obey a human, and to protect their own existence as long as that did not conflict with the first two laws. Those are good rules, but can be finessed, as Asimov showed. In my fiction, there are lady androids who can please a man better than the real thing, regardless how that may infuriate living women; I believe we'll see it happen, in due course. Yes, male androids too, treating women better than living men do. In my novella To Be A Woman, part of my Metal Maiden series, a call-girl robot achieves consciousness, and sues to be recognized as a person. That, too, may come. Anyway, they lost Android Dick, but still had Android Eva, who had to carry on. The living Dick had to do a lot of writing to make a living, because rates of payment were low, and he did. Only those of us lucky enough to become bestsellers, and I think it is mostly luck, can make a good living from writing. A common fate of his characters was to discover that their own identity, or their entire universe, was illusion. They might even turn out to be android. He had a series of strokes, and died in 1982, age 54. The drugs he had taken to maintain his productivity probably contributed to his early death. Too bad he could not have become an android and lived on indefinitely. Dick believed that future robots would easily pass the Turing Test. I'm inclined to agree with him. He believed that Turing placed too much emphasis on intelligence, when empathy was more important. Again, I agree. My robots have feelings. Referring again to my metal maiden, the opposition lawyer at the trial says “You will never conceive by your lover. You will never be pregnant. You will never birth a baby. You will never be a mother. You're a machine!” She gazes at him, and loses it. She puts her face in her hands and sobs “It’s true! I'll never be a mother!” She thinks she has lost her case, but actually she has won it, because obviously she is a feeling person. A cartoonist there sums it up with two pictures. One is labeled PERSON. It is a parody of the lawyer like a Frankenstein monster representing the corporation, and a corporation is a legal person. The other is labeled MACHINE. That’s a comely young woman sobbing into her hands. That shows the irony. It is a breakthrough for the rights of conscious robots. They, like other minorities, will have to win recognition the hard way. Regardless, it shows the kind of thing Phil Dick was into, and so am I. He got famous after his death; what a figure he might be, had he lived another twenty years. I am hoping to do it before I die. Your support helps.

Now the magazines. I have been sorting through piles of older magazines as I try to clean up my study, a challenging chore, saving some and tossing others. FREE INQUIRY October/November 2016 has an article “Jesus Probably Did Not Exist” by Raphael Lataster. This has been a subject of controversy for two thousand years, and hasn’t let up. As an agnostic who neither supports nor denies the validity of religious sects, I am interested; I just want to know the truth. From the article I gather that numerous secular scholars present countless different portrayals of the theoretic historical Jesus. They can't all be correct, and the only thing they agree on is that he did exist. There are no contemporary-with-Jesus accounts, only later religious ones trying to make the case. The original belief seems to concern not a living man but a celestial being who sent revelations to figures like Paul and Peter. The celestial messiah was killed by demons in an upper realm. Later accounts convert him to an Earthly Jesus. “No wonder we have failed to find the historical Jesus. He never existed.” “In other words, it is more likely that Jesus was an entirely 'mythical' figure that was later historicized and not a mundane historical figure who was later mythicized.” As a novelist I like to think I can recognize a fictional narrative when I encounter it. Jesus aligns. I think he was intended to personify ideals that were largely lacking in the real world, then and now. As I have said before, if Jesus were real and came in spirit to our present world, and saw the distortions preached in his name, his tears would flow.

THE HUMANIST Mar / Apr 2017. Another old one. Article by Brian Bolton titled “Fundamentalism On Trial,” subtitled “How Twelve Claims of the Christian Right fail under Strict Secular Scrutiny.” ABORTION. “There is no biblical justification for the fundamentalists' relentless assault on women’s reproductive rights. Furthermore, Americans support legal abortion by a 70 percent to 25 percent margin.” “VERDICT: Biblically dishonest—because scripture refutes anti-abortion zealotry.” CAPITAL PUNISMENT. Fundamentalists are strong proponents. “However, God’s word expands the application of the death penalty to cover a total of sixty violations. Criminals deserving execution include: adulterers, astrologers, blasphemers, false prophets, homosexuals, idolaters, mediums, parent cursers, perjurers, rebellious sons, Sabbath breakers, sorceresses, unbelievers, and unchaste daughters. CHRISTIAN NATION. America is not; it is secular. CREATIONISM IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Americans oppose it in public schools by a 60 to 35 percent margin. DEATH WITH DIGNITY. Seven of ten Americans think the law should allow for end-of-life decisions to be made by individuals and their families, not by theocratic officials. I agree. I don’t want to die of a terminal condition that bankrupts my estate in a fruitless cause. I have better uses for that money, alive and later dead. DECALOGUE DISPLAYS. Unconstitutional because the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of a religion. FREE ENTERPRISE. Jesus said that an absolute requirement for salvation is to give up all earthly attachments. Fundamentalists pushing free enterprise are ignoring Jesus' teachings. MARRIAGE EQUALITY. Fundamentalists hate same-sex marriage, but the Bible does not prohibit it and Americans support it, 60 to 35 percent. PUBLIC PRAYER. Jesus' vetoed it. SCHOOL CHOICE. Fundamentalists want to funnel money from public schools via vouchers. This is unconstitutional, violating the principle of separation of church and state. SEXUAL ORIENTATION. “Jesus said his adherents should love neighbors and enemies alike and he never denounced homosexuality.” SWORN OATHS. Jesus said “But I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne.” The article concludes “The fact is that Christian fundamentalism is a continuing threat to the civil liberties of all Americans.” Amen!

THE WEEK for October 7, 2022, asks “Trump: Are the walls closing in?” Maybe, as he clearly is guilty of crimes against democracy. But Republicans remain pretty solidly behind him, like sheep who can't leave the corral, so any conviction may take years, if it occurs. Meanwhile Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis is breathing down his neck. This contest could get interestingly ugly, and wipe out Republican chances to regain control of the nation. Many Americans are choosing to believe that the Covid pandemic is over, going without masks, skipping shots, gathering in crowds. But every day there are tens of thousands of new cases. Virologists estimate that Covid will continue to kill 100,000 Americans annually in the coming years, three times the average number of flu deaths. It might infect half the population every year. Yes, I was deeply disappointed when President Biden said the pandemic was over. I thought he had more sense or integrity than that. College students live in fear of saying something careless and being branded as racist, bigoted, or transphobic. Even the term “picnic” is now deemed racist. Oh? Does it no longer mean an enjoyable outing with shared food? I think the thought police are cruising for a bruising. The Little Mermaid – can she now be portrayed as black? I wonder, as to me her proper color might be sea green. Why can’t she be any color she wants to be? Chinese scientists have developed a face mask that can detect the presence of Covid-19 in the air and alert the wearer. I'm for that. I always wear a mask in public, bit I still got Covid. The freaks who proudly wear no masks must have polluted the air beyond its capacity to sift. The James Webb Space Telescope is getting the clearest visuals of Neptune yet. I like Neptune; it’s in my novel Macroscope. Much more is known about it today.

THE WEEK for October 14 asks “Could Putin face a coup?” I wonder; he seems almost as dangerous to Russia as to Ukraine. But it points out that any replacement would be no friendlier to the West than he is. Meanwhile in the USA football legend Brett Favre is being sued by Mississippi for the return of about $20 million that had been intended to help the needy. So it seems that football does not necessarily build character. Herschel Walker, a former football great who turned politician has been vehemently anti-abortion. But it seems he paid for an abortion by a woman he got pregnant. Of course he says she’s lying, but there is documentation. Remember those Venezuelan migrants Florida Governor DeSantis got flown to Martha’s Vineyard? It turns out that they were lied to, to persuade them to go. A man routinely visits the grave of a woman he divorced 48 years ago to pee on it. That’s what I call a grudge. Since Donald Trump was elected, threats against members of congress have risen more than ten fold. I remember when President Barack Obama took office, racist threats rose similarly. Politics doesn’t build character either. House Republicans have introduced nine impeachment resolutions against President Biden. Both men and women weigh an average of 30 pounds more than they did in the 1990s, and it’s getting worse.

THE WEEK for October 21. The Editor’s letter by Susan Caskie remarks that most Americans don’t think much about where their food was grown. “Each animal we eat, though, had a life before it became our meal, and most of that life was unpleasant.” Pigs, for example, are raised on factory farms, “and the sows spend nearly their whole life confined in narrow wooden crates where they are artificially inseminated and then give birth, over and over and over again. These pigs never breathe outdoor air or stand on grass, or even on the ground at all, except when they are taken to the slaughterhouse.” Other animals are treated similarly. My story “In the Barn” describes a typical day for cows, only one detail is changed: the milkers are big breasted human women. That makes it a shocker? Where is our humanity, that we treat animals this way? California is trying to change that, somewhat. I, as a vegetarian, now eat Impossible Whoppers. I'd like to see similar products replace cruelty burgers. Article titled “Election denial: Can democracy survive?” More than half of Republicans running for congressional for key statewide offices this fall are on record supporting Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent. Is this the kind of person we want to wield future power? Some say that the mind-boggling reality is that our democracy is actively being sabotaged. The scale of attempted book banning has increased horrifically recently. Most deal with racial issues, homosexuality, and gender. “Some of the most frequently targeted books have no sexual content but draw fire for their discussions of racism.” Librarians are increasingly targeted for harassment. Again, is this really what we want in America, forced conformity to the ideas of the narrow minded? Republicans are more likely to die because of Covid. Their resistance to the truth is costing them.

THE WEEK for October 28, 2022, features defiance in Iran. Mahsa Amini, age 22 was arrested by Iran’s morality police for improperly wearing the compulsory headscarf, the hijab, and died in police custody. I don’t know the details, but it smells of rape and beating to death, a message to any dangerously independent minded women. But some messages generate return messages. That outraged women there, and they have taken to the streets in 105 cities across Iran, performing astonishing acts of defiance like cutting their hair off, burning hijabs, and chanting “Death to the dictator!” Some men have joined protests and are also demanding “complete overhaul” of the oppressive government. There have been protests before, but this one is stronger. Could it actually overthrow the government? Possibly. I hope it does. Women should not be brutalized or die for clothing protests. Republicans have made crime a central issue, blaming the Democrats. Oh? Violent crime soared during the pandemic, when Donald Trump was president, but later leveled off. Of the ten states with the highest homicide rates, eight are deep red states, because of guns. This year’s high school graduates scored a thirty year low. I was once a high school teacher, and it bothered me how many students seemed to be dedicated to learning absolutely nothing at all. Evidently without the stern gaze of teachers, that’s their ambition being realized. AI is making homework too easy to ace, as students use it to do their homework papers for them. Extreme heat waves could make parts of Asia and India uninhabitable by 2100, displacing up to 600 million people. Scandal in Los Angeles as continuing racial hatred is exposed. “The Democrats who rule Los Angeles fly the woke flag of social justice proudly (but in private they speak) like Jim Crow racists.” From their Wit & Wisdom” column: “If you don’t know where you're going, you'll end up someplace else.” Yogi Berra. “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” Gloria Steinem. Long Covid is common among the unvaccinated and can last over 18 months. Scientists are trying to create an unhackable internet. More power to them! They are transplanting human neurons into rat brains, hoping to study ailments like schizophrenia, epilepsy, autism, function/malfunction, and the effect of drugs and treatments. As I observe what’s going on in the contemporary world, locally and globally, I almost wonder whether rat neurons aren’t in some human brains. Human breast milk now contains microplastics in 75 percent of samples analyzed. There may have been life on Mars four billion years ago, until it polluted the environment and wiped it out. Life might commonly cause its own demise. Yes, we are working on that today. Credit card debt is rising at its fastest clip in more than twenty years. The core consumer price index rose 6.6 percent in September, the fastest rate in forty years. Netflix now has 233 million worldwide subscribers. Airbnb is setting up to have rental houses in the shape of a boot, rubber tires, or a giant avocado. Why not have some novelty when you travel?Tipping is getting higher. Now they want 25, 30, or 35 percent. I think companies should instead pay their employees a living wage, so customers don’t have to bribe them for decent service. Brain fog is one of the most disabling and hard to treat symptoms of long Covid. It can make sufferers feel unmoored. Don’t we know it! MaryLee just wishes it would pass, but it lingers.

Stray items: Andy Lewis sent me a link to his guide to Virtual Gardens in England, 11 Must-See Virtual Gardens in the UK. Newspaper for October 23, 2022 “GOP campaigns against the IRS, vowing to slash its funding.” The Internal Revenue System collects taxes, and wealthy Republicans don’t like paying taxes, and I suspect the biggest tax cheaters are among them. I understand that increased funding for IRS repays itself about ten fold as they go where the hidden money is. Book review in THE HUMANIST for February 2017 titled His Porn, Her Pain: Confronting America’s PornPanic with Honest Talk About Sex, by Marty Klein, PhD. It seems porn is primarily a heterosexual concern; gay or lesbian couples don’t worry about it. It says sex is for people while porn is for paid professionals. Porn is for watching while sex is for real people. “Make love, not porn.” It mentions Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth which deals with masturbation, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, his science fiction break-out novel, and Fear of Flying by Erika Jong that challenged sexual norms and taboos. In short, folk who don't like open sex call it porn. “God and Rape” by Gary Whittenberger in the December 2015 / January 2016 FREE INQUIRY says that the rape of girls and women by boys and men is a serious problem. If God were to exist, then men wouldn’t rape women. But men do rape women. Therefor God does not exist. I'm not sure that reasoning is sound. Maybe God wants some rape to occur. We don’t know the true mind of God. A solicitation from AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE says the Constitution contains no references to God, Jesus Christ, Christianity or any other religion. Article VI says in part “[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public Trust under the United States.” So why does the Supreme Court now seem intent on erasing that separation? These are perilous times indeed.

PIERS

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