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Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011 Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.
A-Pull 2019
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I read Chasing Freedom by Kambry Ellis. This is a sequel to Escaping Paradise, which I reviewed last year. In that one Alyssa falls for handsome Jon, but he turns out to be trapped in a cult, and also has an alter-ego Jonah who is sadistic and beats her up. They manage to escape the supposed paradise, and Alyssa is now trying to heal from her physical and emotional wounds. But there are complications. One is that the bad guys put out a contract on the life of one of her friends; another is that she finds herself slowly falling for Jonah, whose idea of love is a kind of sadism. She may be softening him, while he is hardening her. The details become complicated, and lives are lost. Now she loves both Jon and Jonah, and they love her. I haven't seen that romantic twist before. The story will be concluded in the third novel, Claiming Salvation, next year. Hard hitting, and perhaps not for every reader's taste; it's no gentle romance.

I read The Hole In The Universe, How Scientists Peered Over the Edge of Emptiness and Found Everything, by K C Cole. I read it as research for my novel A Tryst in Time, which is ado about Nothing, but it is fascinating in its own right. The essence is that nothingness is the perfect original state, and imperfections in it account for the universe as we know it. Empty space, of course, is not really empty; it has dimension and forces traversing it, and from it are constantly popping up pairs of electrons and positrons that normally dissipate immediately, but not always. You might think of space as a giant rug, and where there is a kink in it, that's what we perceive as matter. There was once a bigger kink that we call the Big Bang, the origin of the universe we see around us. Along the way this book discusses everything from phantom limbs on people to Einstein's Theory of Relativity, seen from the perspective of nothingness. Relativity has been amply verified, and so has Quantum Mechanics, yet the two are incompatible where they overlap, so String Theory labors to meld them. The main String is M, for Magic, among other things; I like that, considering my reason for reading it. There's so much in K C Cole's book that I can't cover it in any detail, but I heartily recommend it to anyone with any intellectual curiosity about the ultimate nature of reality.

I watched 45 Years. Kate and Geoff Mercer are getting ready to celebrate their 45th anniversary. A woman's body is found in Switzerland, Katya, frozen in a glacier, and fifty years later Geoff is notified as the next of kin. Why? Because way back when, they were dating, and pretended they were married so that they could share accommodations. She even had a wooden ring on her finger. Then Katya died, maybe slipping off the path, and fell in the glacier, and was gone, until now. Then he met Kate. He would have married Katya, had she lived. That upsets Kate, all these decades later. She checks his old papers, trying to learn more about Katya. But in the end they are glad to be married to each other. As a long married man I relate.

I watched the Discover video, Mount Saint Helens. In 1980 the volcano developed a bulge, some 400 feet. Then it subsided somewhat. Then on May 18th let fly. 57 people were killed, and 230 square miles of forest were destroyed. Nearby observation stations disappeared as the north flank became a giant landslide. It was a rare sideways eruption. It tore a gap in the mountain two miles wide and two thousand feet deep, leaving a horseshoe shaped crater. The magma beneath expanded outward. Then it was quiet for half an hour. Then the eruption resumed, forming an immense mushroom cloud. The snow on the mountain was melted and became a torrent of water and mud. It dumped more that 65 cubic miles of mud. Then it was quiescent for twenty years, then formed a new dome inside the empty cone. Three and a half thousand years ago the mountain erupted with four times the mass of magma. There have been different types of eruptions in the course of its history. Scientists learned a lot from Mount St. Helens that enabled them to save many lives when similar patterns occurred later elsewhere.

I watched From Time to Time. In 1944 Tolly is thirteen. He is sent to spend Christmas with his grandmother. Tolly's father is missing in the war; he clings to the belief that dad survives. He is intrigued by the old house. At night he sees the ghost of Susan. Grandma doesn't doubt it. Her father gives Susan a companion, Jacob, a runaway black slave boy, for Susan is blind. Then Tolly encounters Susan by day. Her brother makes Jacob clean the chimney, then lights the fire under him. A cruel joke, while their father is away. Now Jacob can see Tolly, and Susan can hear him. One servant girl can see him; she helps him and covers for him. He takes food to a fugitive. But then when the house is burning, Jacob knows a route through the chimney to reach and rescue Susan. Then they appreciate Jacob. Back in the present, Tolly's mother comes to visit. It seems that Grandma, father, and Tolly are all alienated from her, but she knows something. As does Tolly, from the visions of the past; Susan tells him. He finds the lost treasure. This saves the estate. But Tolly's father is dead. That tragically unites him with his brother. But they see the ghost of his father, who tells him he will be all right. Also the ghosts of Susan and Jacob, who died of an illness while still young.

I watched Aftermath, a Schwarzenegger movie. Roman goes to meet his wife and daughter at the airport. Instead he receives the news that the plane crashed, no survivors. Jake, the air traffic controller inadvertently caused the accident because of a phone malfunction, is obsessed by guilt. Roman goes to help at the cleanup site. He finds daughter Nadiya literally in a tree. Jake's house gets painted with the words MURDERER and KILLER. He separates from his family and buys a gun. The airline offers Roman $160,000 reparations for his wife and daughter. If he doesn't sign the deal, he probably gets nothing. He just wants someone from the airline to say they're sorry. They don't. Jake tries to suicide with pills. One year later is the anniversary of the event. Jake is now Pat, in another city with another job. Roman wants to find him, to look him in the eye. He hires an investigator to get the name and address. He goes and stabs Jake to death, when Jake's wife and son are there. He serves prison time. Ten years later Jake's son is about to shoot him in revenge, but changes his mind. So the cycle ends. I think I like Schwarzenegger better in a role like this, though this is not my kind of movie.

I watched The Greatest Showman. It's a musical. As a child, P T Barnum makes a girl laugh, and her father smacks him on the face and tells him to stay away. But she sneaks out the window at night to join him. She gets sent away to finishing school. They correspond. When they are grown they marry and go together. They have two daughters. Then he gets fired because the company is abruptly bankrupt. He puts together his show of wonders using a bank loan for which his collateral is invented. He recruits “freaks,” a dwarf, a bearded woman, a really fat man, a really tall man, Siamese twins, and so on. It's a success. Then his family lives in a mansion. But critics object to the supposed indecency of the show. Then he gets an invitation from the Queen of England. They take the whole cast along. Then he imports Jenny Lind, a Swedish singer, who really can sing, and she wows them. Then he walks with his trapeze girl, and other condemn him for fraternizing with the help. He goes on a tour with the singer Jenny. She evidently wants more of him, and when she doesn't get it, she publicly kisses him and quits. It's a scandal headlined across the world. His wife goes home. The theater burns down. But the members of the circus act say this is their home; they were freaks, but here they are players. He and his partner try again, but can't afford to rebuild the building, so they go for a tent. The greatest show is back.

I watched Patterns of Evidence Exodus. This is an exploration of the Israelite captivity in Egypt: did it actually happen? For centuries no one questioned it, but now they do. It was supposed to be in the time of Pharaoh Ramses, but there is no archaeological evidence of Israelite presence there then. Could it have been at another time? What about the earlier Middle Kingdom, 400 years before that? What about the names of the dead? There they found Israelite names. So maybe there were Israelites in Egypt, then. But what about the rest of the story? Does the biblical narration have to be literally true? Or can it be approximately true? Some experts dismissed it because they were fixed on Rameses. I think experts can be idiots; I have seen it elsewhere. There was a report of a series of calamities, as described in the Bible, but this may be a fake, as there was only one, when real plagues should have been widely noted. Yet if it referred to the time of the Middle Kingdom, it could be accurate. Then there was the invasion of Egypt by the Hyksos. What about the conquest of Canaan? There was no evidence of the destruction of the city of Jericho. It was destroyed, but centuries earlier. Adjust the chronology—and the story matches that of the Bible. The conclusion: the Bible may be essentially correct, only some details misplaced, and the close minded historians wrong. Fascinating.

I read Xanth #45 A Tryst of Fate, by Piers Anthony. Yes, my own novel; when I do the editing reading I count it as a read book. The prior three novels have been placed and should start appearing soon. This one picks up immediately after Skeleton Key and has the same protagonist, twelve year old Squid. She is outraged, figuring she has done her time and it is the turn of somebody else. For one thing, the protagonist has no privacy; every obscure reader knows her most intimate secrets. She'd like to do some naughty things with her boyfriend, but not when the world is watching; she'd quickly get in trouble with the dread Adult Conspiracy. But there is a reason: she has to go solve a nasty murder mystery. Why her? Because she is the one murdered, seven years in the future. Uh-oh. So she and her boyfriend cross reality tracks to get to the scene; it's not time travel, which is dangerous because of the risk of paradox, but an alternate reality that runs a few years ahead of her own reality. She finds the murderer, Goar Golem—and requires him to become the new protagonist so she can retire. He must stay with it until she forgives him for killing her, which she won't lightly do. Then it gets interesting. There's a lot in this story, and it is no retread of old ideas. There's an exploration of the real mechanism of the spread of cancer, a little known carnivorous dinosaur called Spinosaurus, a BEM invasion, and the threat of a New Clear blast wiping out a hundred thousand Mundanians. I believe this novel is up to the Xanthly standard, and should satisfy readers while making humorless cri-ticks wince at the puns. What more can you ask?

I watched Memory Hackers, a Nova presentation. Without memory we would be prisoners of the present; it largely defines who we are. Jake has HSAM, Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. Maybe 55 people in the world have it. They can instantly remember every detail of every day of their lives. What exactly is a memory? That has flummoxed researches for decades. They have discovered that there are different kinds of memories. Sometimes skills can be remembered, but not events. The hippocampus is crucial for forming new memories. They experimented with sea slugs, because they are one of the simplest of creatures. Find out how a sea slug remembers, and that should suggest how more complicated creatures do. There are physical changes in the brain as memories are formed; new neurons grow. Consider the first kiss: where is that memory stored? We don't know. Is it like a book in a library, stored away unchanged? What happens when we evoke that memory? It seems that memories are constantly being rephrased. It is not a book; the act of remembering changes it. This means that memories of fear can be retrained and eliminated. Fear of spiders can be eliminated. It is called reconsolidation. Because of this, memory can become unreliable. Imagination can create a false memory. This can really mess up eye-witness testimony. DNA testing has shown this. Experimenting with mice, they can use laser light to turn memories on and off. The special ones who can remember everything can't turn off the bad memories. Why did evolution give us changeable memory? It allows us to select the memories we really need.

I watched Android Cop. Two cops chasing the bad guys run into a trap and one gets killed. Raids in the Zone, the forbidden section of the city, can wind up disastrous. They request backup and a robot comes. Both the bad guys and the police don't know what to make of it. Then the robot is assigned to partner with our main cop, Hammond. They have to locate the android aspect of the mayor's daughter, Helen, whose living body is unconscious but whose android body is not aware it isn't real. They must find her before the bad guys do. What they don't know is they are set up to fail, so the police can retaliate. They find her, but are not allowed to tell her her nature. She knows this area. She says people are not getting sick because of radiation, but from something else. They are attacked from different directions, unaware that the police are tracking them and betraying them to the enemy. But they make a .pretty good fighting team, the girl included. She gets injured, and sees that her hand is not flesh. “I'm like him,” she says, indicating the robot. And it seems that so is Hammond; he was badly injured in the prior trap that killed his partner. Now they are attacked by an armored helicopter. They are finally killed, in their fashion. But at the hospital Helen wakes when they thought she wouldn't. The bad plot is revealed. At the end Hammond and the android are still partnering, only now both are androids, one controlled by a human mind. Presumably Helen is around also. This is not exactly a conventional humanoid robot story.

I watched In Defentse of Food. Some children try to eat right, but still get fat. Childhood obesity and diabetes are increasing. Diet connects four of the top things that will kill you. Potato sticks and fruit loops may taste great, but. High fructose corn syrup. Highly processed white flour. So we get hooked on tasty food, salt, sugar, and fat. The vitamins have been processed out. So companies started selling vitamins separately. Omega 3 fatty oil used to be in the food, but now has been replaced by omega 6, which has a longer shelf life but nullifies Omega 3 when out of proportion. And sugar—we consume ten times as much as we used to. Soft drinks are saturated with it. Carbohydrates convert to sugars too. The modern diet generates a lot of misery. Milk is an ideal food for babies, but not every mother can breast feed. Then came the formula. But much of it is indigestible. Why? Because one indigestible bacterium fills the baby's digestive system and prevents other bacteria from attacking it. Checking a primitive African tribe that is generally healthy, we find that they eat healthy. So what can we do? Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants. So go to the produce section of the supermarket; the healthiest foods are there. Beware of “nutritionism.” Beware of the priesthood of nutrition. Original good ideas tend to get hijacked by commercial interests. Such as reducing saturated fat in the diet, leading to consuming more sugar. Moving from butter to margarine. Uh-oh. So how do you know what is really healthy? Eat food cooked by humans. Avoid foods you see advertised on television. Red meats lead to TMAO and generate plaque leading to heart attacks. So eat less meat. Seventh Day Adventists lead healthy lives, and the vegetarians live longer. Fiber is good, as it feeds beneficial microbes. Different kinds of gut bacteria can make a profound difference in health even with a similar diet. Use smaller plates and glasses. Eat the healthier food first. Attempts to reform food marketing result in law suits by the food industry. In America we eat fast; in France they eat slowly. Thus the French Paradox: they are healthier on similar foods, because they actually eat less. All things in moderation—including moderation. As a lifelong vegetarian who is a health nut, I appreciate this confirmation of my lifestyle. I seem to be doing things right.

I watched MILF, billed as a new sexy comedy classic. Four young men want to get laid, but are clumsy with girls. One is named Anthony, and he accidentally walks in on his newly divorced sexy mother in a lesbian bondage tryst. He is horribly embarrassed. His friend Brandon dreams of an encounter with Anthony's mother, who is also intrigued by him. The girls their own age are not so much interested in boys their age. Then Anthony's mom visits Brandon with seduction in mind. She of course succeeds. Then Anthony returns. She hides, then departs quietly, complimenting him on his performance. And visits him again for more, in bed, in the pool, anywhere. It becomes an ongoing affair, as she really likes him and craves the sex. Hormones, she explains. Then Anthony's father is in town and they have a meal together. Dad is friendly to Brandon and snide to his ex wife. And Dad catches on. He says he's gay, not stupid. But how will this affair affect Brandon's closest friend Anthony? Meanwhile the others have found MILF partners too. But they start feeling hemmed in; the MILFs are too possessive. Then Anthony finds mom and Brandon together and is furious. But Anthony has been screwing Brandon's mom. They fight. Anthony's mom breaks it off, not liking the consequences, and Brandon gets together with a nice girl his own age. So all ends well. It's a hell of a sexy movie, with many flashes of full bare breasts, pantied bottoms, and much simulated sex. But unlike the porno movies, it does have a story line and some human emotion.

I watched The Killing of America, a 1981 film that was suppressed for decodes. America is the only major nation with a higher murder rate than countries in civil war. More fatalities than in all her wars. Even presidents got shot, like Reagan and Kennedy. I remember. Martin Luther King. Kent State, 1970. George Wallace crippled. Robert Kennedy 1968. After the Jack Kennedy assassination the murder rate tripled. A new kind: random strangers being killed. Sniping became a fixture of American life. But the sale of rifles increased, averaging two guns per family. Why do snipers kill random folk? Out of boredom, bigotry, the colors of their clothing. Charles Manson. God tells them to do it. Reverend Jim Jones, with Jonestown in Guyana. He killed more than 900 Americans. A man enraged because his loan application was turned down, so he abducts the banker and holds a news conference to state his grievances. There are so many that killers are allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges and eventually be released. Most mass killers have an IQ over 125. They just keep killing. Ted Bundy was maybe America's worst sex killer, killing more than 40 women and girls. A public vigil for John Lennon, people crying as one of his songs is played. And two people were shot during the vigil. The killing continues. And of course it has continued since the movie, to this day. I am bemused that the authorities, instead of heeding its warning, suppressed it. Which side are they on? Ah, but those killings are good for gun sales.

I watched Bad Girls at Play. Featuring Stormy Daniels, the porn star President Trump had a fling with and paid off for silence. Slow simulated sex, simulated ecstasy, ballooning breasts double the mass of natural ones. Music plays during the prolonged sex sequences. Male-female, then two girls make out. Standard diluted softcore porn with almost full female nudity but not for male. Barely any plot. Indifferent acting.

I read The Domain of Sagas, by Brian Clopper. This is the fourth novel in the Irving Wishbutton series. The dean of the characters school, Harmstrike, has nasty plans for everyone else, and it seems to be up to Irving to stop him. Then it gets complicated, as Harmstrike magically sends Irving into an alternate story, evidently hoping he will get hopelessly lost in it. But Irving sees parallels between this story and his own, and starts identifying equivalent characters, though they don't know it. He has to follow their story line while retaining his own identity; it's a challenge. Then he gets thrown into a third story. Bit by bit he does handle their situations while orienting on the larger picture, and slowly making them understand that all the stories are by one writer. The action is continuous, with threats galore. I have to say that there is more sheer imagination here than I have seen in some time, with every kind of creature and person. It's a wild ride.

Our dull lives were interrupted in Marsh as we saw to house repairs. Our original kitchen sink was replaced maybe twenty years ago, but the new one had a tap that leaked a bit when used, and that drip had made a nice damp cabinet below that fostered black mold and even mushrooms. So this time we replaced the whole sink and cabinet, done mainly by a handyman with Daughter Cheryl supervising. My wife and I, octogenarians, are trying to go gently toward that good night, and don't tackle the big stuff on our own. One day with the kitchen sink gone I had to take leaves of lettuce to the bathroom to rinse as I made supper, and wash the dishes in the bathroom sink. We are getting through, but will be glad when things are back to normal.

I remarked in the Marsh column how the comic Non Sequitur sneaked in a derogatory reference to President Trump, and got banned from the local newspaper. So then they held a referendum among readers to choose which other comic to replace it: Sherman's Lagoon, Nancy, Candorville, or Rubes, the new strip to start Monday, April 1. Indeed, it turned out to be Sherman's Lagoon. All nicely democratic, no? No. I remember the political adage, to install your man, don't rig the vote where folk are watching, rig the ballot. Here is how this is rigged: they did not solicit nominees from the readership, they proffered ones they selected. Thus they excluded my choices, to restore the better ones they deleted in a prior purge, or to restore Non Sequitur itself after this warning. No, that might open the door to the embarrassment of the readers concluding that the editorial overreaction was wrong. They made damn sure that couldn't happen. Now we have seen this process in action. The newspaper, like the nation, is not a democracy, whatever they might prefer you to believe. Now you know.

The March/April 2019 issue of THE HUMANIST has a couple of intriguing articles. One is titled “Lots of Love: Exploring Polyamory in Portland.” Polyamory means many loves, or having more than one romantic relationship at a time, with the knowledge and consent of all partners. Just as friendship is not exclusive, here romance is open. It has been estimated that almost ten million adults practice it in the USA. Because it is not listed as an option in the census or similar surveys, and there may be some stigma attached, this is hard to verify. So would polyamory alleviate problemn in conventional two party marriages? The article indicates no; if you have social or sexual hangups, this might merely complicate them. “Relating well with just one person is a serious challenge—relating well to many takes for more skill, yet can be far more rewarding.” So a person should consider carefully before getting into something like this, not because of morality but because it may be more of a challenge than he can handle. Religious rules can be forbidding. Which is why this article appears here: humanists are not as hung up about conventional morality, and may be in a better position to explore it.

The other item is a book review of 21 Lessens for the 21st Century, by Yuval Noah Harari. This has some intriguing thoughts. One is that as AI—that's Artificial Intelligence—comes to the fore it may dominate our decisions on what to study, where to work, and whom to marry. We may come to “see organisms as little more than biochemical algorithms, and believe that humanity's cosmic vocation is to create an all-encompassing data-processing system—and then merge into it.” That is, to stop thinking and deciding for ourselves. Ouch! Another relates to God, secularism, and free will. “From an ethical perspectives, monotheism was arguably one of the worst ideas in human history.” So if you don't go to God for your ethics—let me pause here to recall how Theodore Sturgeon remarked that morality is what society dictates for the individual, while ethics is what the individual decides for himself—where do you go? Harari suggests that the most important virtues of a secular person are commitments to truth, compassion, equality, freedom, responsibility, and courage. That makes sense to me. The author also remarks on free will. “If by 'free will' you mean the freedom to do what you desire, then yes, humans have free will. But if by 'free will' you mean the freedom to choose what to desire, then no, humans have no free will.” Oh, my; that will keep me pondering for some time.

Article in NEW SCIENTIST Titled “Let the Sun Shine.” For years we have been told to slather on sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. This interests me because I don't use sunscreen, and did have a pie shaped wedge cut out of my right ear to remove basil cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, and for the past quarter century have worn a hat to keep the sun off that ear. My elder daughter died of melanoma, a more dangerous skin cancer. You bet I am aware. But I do try to get a daily brief dose of sunlight on my arms and legs. So am I being hopelessly confused? Not according to this article. It turns out that direct sunlight does cause skin cancer, but those who get more sun live longer on average than those who don't. Sunlight overall does more good than harm for the human body. Sunlight helps the immune system, lowers blood pressure, aids wound healing, and produces Vitamin D. So what about sunscreen? It's not really healthy. Your best protection against burning is sunglasses and clothing, apart from staying mostly in the shade. Which is what I do. Sunlight in moderation.

Another NEW SCIENTIST article is titled “Welcome to the Age of Wood.” It starts off with a joke: Did you hear about the wooden car, with wooden wheels, a wooden chassis and a wooden engine? It wooden go. But future wooden cars are no joke. They have developed a wood based material called cross-laminated timber (CLT), densified wood which can replace both steel and concrete. Sounds like plywood to me, but it has steely strength, lasts long, weighs less, and is surprisingly fire resistant. They plan to start building skyscrapers out of it, and yes, cars. They can even make it transparent so that it can be used like glass, but with better insulating properties. I am looking forward to the age of wood.

Cheese: as an ovo-lacto vegetarian, meaning I don't eat meat but do eat eggs and milk products, my rational being that those products don't hurt the animals, I eat a lot of cheese. An article in NEW SCIENTIST by Graham Lawtotn, dated 16 February 2019, shakes me up. It indicates that cheese is not the kind-to-animals product I had assumed. They drive dairy cows hard. The natural lifespan of a cow is about 20 years, but most dairy cows are slaughtered at age 5. That is, when they can no longer produce milk at a super-cow rate. So the dairy industry is intimately connected to the meat industry. This business of milk from contented cows is hogwash. A cow must birth a calf in order to freshen, that is, start producing milk. The male calf is killed immediately, or raised for six months and slaughtered for meat. The female calf is separated from her right after birth, de-horned and ear-tagged usually without anesthetic, raised until 18 months old, then artificially inseminated. Nine months later she births her own calf, which she can't keep, and is milked several time a day, until her production declines and she is slaughtered. Cheese is essentially concentrated milk. Because of that, it requires a lot of milk to make a pound of Cheddar cheese, putting more cows at risk. This is not at all what I support. So what can I do, after a lifetime of innocently eating cheese? Well, I think I need to support alternative milk that doesn't come from cows, goats, or whatever. The article has a subsection devoted to cheese alternatives. There is ethical cheese, where cows and calves are more humanely treated. But that addresses only part of the problem. What happens to the male calves, and to the cows when their production declines? Then there is vegan cheese, using no animal product. NEW SCIENTIST convened a panel of staff to sample five brands for taste, texture, etc. Prosociano Wedge is not great but might do grated into a pasta dish. Original Flavor Slices, not great but inoffensive. Mediterranean Style Block. Some rated it the best, others the worst. Mozzarella Flavors was nothing like real mozzarella. Those four were by Violife. Smoked Gouda Style Slices, by Follow Your Heart. This was rated the best of a bad bunch, quite like real gouda, but not gourmet. So at least an alternative exists. But I think what is needed is a way to grow milk without the cow, that looks, feels, and tastes like milk, and has the same nutritive value, at a cheaper price. That could be made into the same kinds of cheeses, butter, or yogurt. Then it could start replacing milk so that the dairy industry could fade out of business. Of course I'd like to see artificial meat also, that could do the same to the meat industry. Get the semblance right, the nutrition, at a cheaper price, and economics will do the rest. It could be a giant step in the salvation of the world, because of the horrendous damage the meat and dairy industries are doing to the global environment.

Shorter notes: you know about medical surveys, where individuals are anonymous? Don't believe it; your DVD identifies you regardless. You think the internet is anonymous and free? Not any more. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the scientist who created the technical standards that made the web possible, is distressed by the uses to which it has been put. Now he is working on a new platform called Solid,whose goal is to re-decentralize the web, returning ownership of data to the users who generate it. But it is doubtful that he will succeed,in the face of the dystopia generated by a few big companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon. Women have younger brains than men by an average of 3.8 years. But long working hours stress women more than men. The cultural police are now trying to decide what novelists can write about, according to an editorial by Theunis Bates in THE WEEK, for March 22, 2019. It concludes “Readers should be the ones with the power to decide whether a novel fails or succeeds, not cultural police who punish writers for using their imagination.” Amen. Experts say the current US economy is booming, but the truth seems to be that there is no boom. Sometimes it seems that if you want a wrong answer, go to an expert. Children who grow up with greener surroundings have a significantly lower risk of developing mental disease later in life. Yes, I grew up in a forest, and saw that my own children did too. Book: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming, by David Wallace-Wells. It starts “It is worse,much worse, than you think.” I believe it. Everything alive today can be traced back to the Last Universal Common Ancestor, LUCA about four billion years ago. Then it split into bacteria and archaea, which today make up the majority of all living species. LUCA may have lived in an alkaline vent on the sea floor. Fossil evidence suggests that our species arose in east Africa, and it is suspected that it is the changeability of conditions that drove the evolution of our big brains. Yes, that was my assumption for my GEODYSSEY series. I think mankind was prodded by living in the highly volcanic Rift Valley there; volcanic lava can provide rich soil, but volcanoes are dangerous. It helps to be smart to live there. Binge drinking changes DNA, as do cocaine, cannabis, and methamphetamine. I suspect the mechanism is epigenetic, but it is scary anyway. Letter in the TAMPA BAY TIMES March 14, 2019, by Richard Golden, remarks how legislators want to fine people $500 for using uncertified emotional support animals, and maybe even throw them in jail for two months. “How about going after businesses that ignore the do not call list, or drug companies that sell us prescription medications containing known carcinogens? Which do you think would be more useful?” I suspect he will wait a long time for the answer. But I can offer one: people in need of support animals generally don't have large resources to pay off legislators, but those errant companies do. March 16 column by Graham Brink says that our Florida partisans are among the most politically prejudiced in the country. That an analysis in the ATLANTIC magazine ranked each county in the nation for political tolerance, shading the least prejudiced in white, the most prejudiced in dark green. The whole state of Florida is dark green. No other state matches that. Meanwhile the conservative Florida Citizens Alliance wants to ban books they object to in public schools. This of course is mischief, as what a liberal sees as lovely a conservative may see as obscene. It reminds me of a passage in what I remember as an L Sprague de Camp historical novel where a time traveler got arrested in the Roman Empire. “Why send him to Rome for interrogation?” an official demanded. “We have a perfectly good torture chamber right here.” And I received an email from one Benji Stein telling me he's a hacker who has cracked my device and set up a malware on an adult porno site where he intercepted my passwords, uploaded all my data, and will send out an obscene message in my name to all my contacts if I do not pay him $650 within 48 hours. Sigh. I fear he will be disappointed. I work offline, have never been to a porno site, and do not have a Facebook account to be hacked. So if you receive an obscene video purportedly from me, it really is fake news.

PIERS




Animated Star Trek



#17 “The Pirates of Orion” Spock keels over. He has an illness that causes the blood to stop processing oxygen. They must find a planet where a treatment drug, Strobolin, is available, or rendezvous with a ship that has it. A weird Orion (which they pronounce with the accent on the O; in real life it is o-RI-on) ship intercepts the Huron that is bringing the drug. The Huron seems dead; its cargo has been taken. Kirk, Scotty, Nurse Chapel and Uhura beam over and find it empty. They arrange with the Orion captain to get the drug, but he doesn't want the incident reported lest it compromise Orion's official neutrality, and tries to wipe them all out, but they manage to defuse that and get the drug, saving Spock.

#18 “BEM” The green alien Ari ben Bem from Planet Pandro is traveling with them as an observer as they explore a planet. Bem is actually a colony creature, capable of separating into parts. He messes with their communicators and phasers, substituting fakes. He, Kirk, and Spock get captured by natives, thanks to Bem's mischief. A planetary intelligence informs them that it does not want them there. It regards the natives as its children. They agree to depart and quarantine this planet.

#19 “The Practical Joker” They are cataloging asteroids. Romulans attack, claiming they trespassed into Romulan territory. They escape through an energy field, but then suffer a plague of practical jokes, like dribble glasses or bending forks, flying pie in the face. McCoy, Uhura, and Sulu visit the holodeck, walk in a somber deep forest, and can't be reached by others. The main computer is the jokester, evidently infected by a virus. The air has nitrous oxide or laughing gas. They pass through the energy field that started it, and this time it reverses it. But now the Romulans are caught in the practical joker syndrome. Kirk plans to wait a bit before informing them how to get out of it. Why spoil their fun?

#20 “Albatross” They help Planet Dramia, but then Dr. McCoy is arrested for slaughtering hundreds of people on Dramia 2 nineteen years ago. They investigate. They get the plague; crew members change colors. Spock takes over, as he is immune. They need to get McCoy so he can discover a cure, but the Dramians refuse. Spock stages a jailbreak to get McCoy. The plague is caused by an aurora; McCoy didn't do it. McCoy finds the antidote in one man who survived the prior plague. He saves the ship and the Dramians, who duly honer him. All is well again, and they agree to forget prior infractions.

#21 “How Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth” An alien space probe scanned Earth, sent out a signal, then self destructed. Now an alien spacecraft appears. It encloses the Enterprise, then beams it. It looks like a flying dragon. It is a Mayan god Kukulkan, a flying serpent. Kirk, Scotty, McCoy and crewman Walking Bear are beamed to the alien ship, where they face a kind of animation test to see whether they can figure out a riddle. If they fail, all mankind will be destroyed. But they free a vicious creature, who disrupts the museum, and satisfy Kulculkan that they deserve to go their own way and find their own destiny. He departs.

#22 “The Counter Clock Incident” they will honor commodore April, the enterprise's first captain, now 75 years old. They encounter another ship whose captain speaks backwards. They increase speed to impossible levels, like warp 20. They find themselves in an alien universe with black stars against white space. Things run backwards here. Two novas overlapped and created a connection between the opposite universes. But they have become younger, in fact children. April takes over and gets them out. The children age back into their original roles. All is well again.


The Orville season one


Episode #1. “Old Wounds” Ed Mercer discovers his wife in bed with a blue man. So much for that marriage. One year later he is promoted to captain of the exploratory ship the Orville. He takes his friend Gordon as his helmsman. They set course for Epsilon. Then he learns that his ex-wife Kelly has been assigned as his first officer. She promises to depart at the first opportunity. At the station they learn that a fabulous new aging device has been invented, and the enemy Krill want it. The Krill attack, demanding the device. Gordon uses the “hugging the donkey” technique to balk it, zooming around and around it close up so that it can't fire at them. They give the device to the Krill, but set it off so that in minutes it grows a giant redwood tree on the Krill ship, destroying it. Mission successful. Then Kelly arranges to get replaced as first officer, but Ed reconsiders, as she has performed really well and saved the ship, and asks her to stay. Then at the end she talks with the Admiral, and we learn that she was the one that arranged for Ed's promotion. She is really trying to make it up to him, but kept that secret. I haven't yet gotten all the characters straight, but already I love this series.

O#2 “Command Performance” Bortus has laid an egg, and requests a 21 day leave of absence to hatch it. His species is all male; this is how they reproduce. Then Ed and Kelly visit his parents on another ship, leaving Alara in charge. She is cute and possesses inhuman strength, but deeply uncertain and wants to quit, but can't. Meanwhile Ed and Kelly find themselves seeing New York City, in their old apartment, two years before. It is as if the last year never happened. He sleeps and wakes in a Calivon zoo. They are in one cell, seeing the others; the specimens can see and talk with each other but can't leave their cells. Alara decides to disobey orders and try to rescue Ed and Kelly, to the delight of the crew. They borrow Calivon illusion technology to masquerade as a Calivon ship so they won't be attacked. They rescue Ed and Kelly by trading crappy old TV series for them, which are great exhibits. And Bortus' egg hatches a female, which is impossible in their society. Another wild adventure.

O#3 “About a Girl” Everyone is admiring the new baby girl. But her father wants to make a her a male. They refuse. A Moclan ship comes to take the baby, to perform the procedure. Burtus changes his mind and decides to raise her as a female Moclan. But his partner and the Moclans are determined to take the baby. Kelly will be his advocate as she had a year of legal training. The planet is a weapons manufacture industry, horribly polluted. Ed scans the planet and locates a female—they do exist--and brings one to the hearing, Haveena. She turns out to be the planet's greatest writer. But the panel decides to do the procedure. So the baby becomes Toap, male. Damn; I was hoping otherwise.

O#4 “If the Stars Should Appear” They encounter a monstrous city ship in space, 2,000 years old, drifting, 780 kilometers across. They board it. It is huge inside. They find a living landscape, with hills and trees. The find a cabin in the forest. The family there does not know it is aboard a spacecraft. Kelly and Alana walk in the field and are accosted by two men who demand their identification, and shoot them when they don't understand. The Orville gets called away on an emergency. Meanwhile Kelly gets tortured and interrogated before the others rescue her. They access the control room. It is a generation ship, but got messed up on the way and now is drifting, its people no longer knowing. But they will be able to fix it in a day.

O#5 “Pria” A comet is heading into a star. But there's a mining ship crashed on it whose female captain says she's in trouble. You bet! They send the shuttle to rescue her. But the star's gravity draws the shuttle in. They catch it with the tractor beam. She is captain Pria Lavesque, from a town near Ed's home town. She kisses him on the cheek. Kelly does a search and fails to verify Pria. She may be an impostor. Kelly and Alana search her room and find an odd device. Then the ship encounters a dark matter storm, big globs of darkness. Pria guides them out of it. Ed and Pria visit a holo scene. They kiss, then make out. Then they learn Pria is from 400 years in their future. The dark matter storm was supposed to kill them, historically. She's a dealer in rare antiques, saving this ship from destruction without changing history. She takes them to her own time. Then Kelly tackles her, they fight while the ship returns via the wormhole to the present. Then they destroy the wormhole. Pria is captive here, assuming she will continue to exist, as it seems that history has been changed.

O#6 “Krill” they learn that Bortus can eat just about anything. They they receive a distress call. A Krill ship is attacking a mining colony. They challenge it, and it orients on them. They fight. They manage to null the Krill ship; it is dead in space. To handle the Krill they need to find a copy of the Krill bible, the Anhkara. They have a holo device that can make them look like Krill. They visit the Krill ship and photograph pages of the text of the Anhkara. They manage to wipe out the entire Krill crew, but save a female and several Krill children. This may not be over.

O#7 “Majority Rule” Girl waking up to TV, phone. Prisoner trying to escape, gets shot, then executed as the vote goes against him. They visit a 21st century Earth-like planet where a research group stopped communicating a month before. They have to don contemporary clothing. Alara, medical officer Clair, Kelly, and navigator Lamarr go there. Everyone there has two badges, green and red. Push the red one, negative. Push the green one, positive. Over 500,000 negatives may lead to execution. Lamarr dances with a statue and gets in trouble for obscenity. They find the surviving researcher, who has been “corrected,” and he is almost a zombie. They bring Lysella aboard and she helps them promote Lamarr to survival. An interesting warning against absolute popular democracy.

O#8 “Into the Fold” Clair Finn and her two sons go for a spot vacation. But Isaac comes along, to her dismay. The two boys Ty and Marcus, are constant disruption. They fall into a gravitational fold, nicknamed a glory hole, and are suddenly a million light years away from where they were. They land on a planet. They crash. They are in a rocky forest. Clair is knocked out. Something drags her away. Robotic Isaac looks for her but doesn't find her. She is captive of a local man, Drogon, who says she is safe here. Isaac leads the children. They are attacked by three men. Isaac shoots and stuns the men. We learn that there was a war, and the enemy put a drug in the water, and few survive, turning to cannibalism for food. Clair escapes, recovers her communicator, get in touch. But is pursued by hungry natives. Ty is sick, having drunk the water. She reaches the boys and Isaac. Two dozen natives attack, and are fended off with lasers. Another shuttle arrives. They are rescued. Isaac appreciates learning so much about the dynamics of family life.

O#9 “Cupid's Dagger” Two cultures are chronically at war over who first colonized a planet. Now an ancient artifact has been found that may settle it. The Orville will host the parties as the decision is made. The forensic archaeologist is Darulio—the blue man Kelly cheated with. And she winds up doing it again. There's just something about him. Then Clair comes on to Yaphit, the intelligent green blob, who always liked her. They make out by his enclosing her bare body like a green mud plaster. And Ed gets romantically interested in Darulio. It is because Darulian's annual hormones cause folk to become sexually obsessed. Meanwhile the two cultures are starting to war. But Darulian's touch makes the two leaders fall for each other, defusing the war. Now Ed begins to understand about Kelly's cheating: the hormones made her do it. A wild episode.

O#10 “Firestorm” They are caught in a space plasma storm. Their chief engineer gets hit by debris and dies. Alara blames herself, because she was afraid of the fire; there was an episode when she was eight months old. Then she sees a clown, and thinks she's losing her mind. But security cameras verify that the was a clown. Then it appears again and attacks her. Then Kelly almost falls into a gulf. Then Claire tries to operate brutally on Alara. Claire now is the crazy one. Then a swarm of tarantulas attack. And vanish. Maybe the plasma storm did it. A giant insectoid kills Gordon. Only Alara is left as the ship reenters the plasma storm. Isaac shows up; they are the only two. Then she catches on that he is an impostor, the enemy. They fight. But this turns out to be a program Alara is in. A simulation, where they collected fears from the other officers to throw at her, and she survived them. So she is capable of doing her job.

O#11 “New Dimensions” As a joke, Gordon and Lamar hide a piece of the green alien blob Yaphit in some cake, and Bortus ate it. Both report to sick bay, the one for missing a piece of himself, the other for indigestion. Yaphit extends a tentacle into Bortus and recovers the lost piece. Problems solved, except for the question of officer judgment. The ship runs afoul of a space anomaly. It leaves a quantum wake that kills plants. They try to warn another ship that is heading for it, but its captain tells them to shove it up theirs. Then passes through the anomaly. Its captain winds up aboard the Orville, and its cargo turns out be be stolen rifles. Yaphit and Lamarr have to work together to investigate, and they have trouble getting along; for one thing, both are in line for the same promotion. But they gradually learn respect for each other. The anomaly turns out to be a two dimensional doorway. They shield themselves in a quantum bubble and enter, and the other side is a phenomenal array of colored lines and shapes. A two dimensional civilization. They make it through, thanks to Lamarr's insights. He is promoted. My favorite episode so far.

O#12 “Mad Idolatry” the ship encounters a space anomaly and suddenly is coming to a planet. Kelly, Gordon, and Isaac take a shuttle to investigate, and crash. Kelly helps a child heal. Then the planet disappears. Isaac thinks it is orbiting between realities. So they wait for it to return in 11 days. Meanwhile Ed and Kelly get back together romantically. The planet returns, now far more advanced. 700 years have passed there. They visit and don native clothing. They discover that Kelly has become a goddess. There's a statue of her. But people are being executed in her name. She tells them to stop. Isaac takes her place for the next cycle. Now the planet is highly advanced. They send up a ship to return Isaac to them. And Ed and Kelly have to break off their romance lest it jeopardize the mission. They both hate doing it, but see the necessity.

Doctor Who


Episode #1 “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” Ryan Sinclair in Scotland is trying to learn to ride a bicycle, but can't keep his balance. He throws it over a cliff, then has to go try to recover it. And something flashes. A giant blue freezing cold teardrop. He calls the police. They send Yasmine Khan, “Yaz,” a lady cop who wants to do more than fender benders. They know each other. Then on a train a weird mass of wires descends, chasing a woman. She is Dr. Who, who fell from the Tardis as it exploded. They take her to see the cold blue teardrop. They give Dr. Who shelter. She says they have all been infected with a genetic bomb, including Ryan's step-grandfather Graham; they have glowing spots on their collar bones. A big robot attacks and kills a man. Then another. They have to stop it. The robot is collecting teeth from trophies. Dr. Who finally manages to nullify it and sends it away. But Ryan's grandmother Grace is killed in the course of the struggle. Then Dr. Who manages to summon the Tardis, bids farewell to the three—but somehow they get picked up too.

DW#2 “The Ghost Monument” Ryan, Yaz, and Graham find themselves on a spaceship with Doctor Who. Then they are on an alien planet, with alien folk: two ordinary people, a man and a woman, trying to escape the ruined planet. They can talk with them because universal translators have been implanted in them. They meet a hologram man, apparent but not really there. Now they must race across the surface to the Ghost Monument, which looks like the Tardis. The four of them plus the local couple set out. Thy trek across a virtual desert. They come across stone ruins and robot guards attack. This is a shooting range; everything is a target. Doctor Who manages to null their power source and they all go inactive. For a while. Things like flying blankets attack. They make it, and declare the two natives as joint winners. All disappear, leaving the original four back in the desert. But the Tardis comes. It has been reorganized inside, which is of course much larger than it is outside. They are on their way.

DW#3 “Rosa” the seamstress Rosa Parks, a black woman boards a bus, but is kicked off for not properly honoring the racist seating. Historically she's the one who got arrested for sitting in the white section of a bus. They meet her. Ryan is black, and Yaz is taken for Mexican (she's actually Pakistani), so Mongomery, Alabama in 1955 is awkward. There are Artron signals whose source Doctor Who has to locate. She discovers a case of future hi-tech instruments; that's the source. A young bearded man owns them and is hostile. Why is he messing with time? He is Krasko, a former prisoner. They meet Martin Luther King. Krasko is trying to nudge history in little ways to change it so that the great revolution doesn't happen. So they start nudging it back in place. Krasko damages the key bus to it can't be there, but they find another bus to replace it. There aren't enough passengers to make seating an issue. The four of them ride it to fill it up. So Rosa's demonstration goes as history dictates, and the revolution is on. In a year segregation is ended. Rosa changed the world. A painful but excellent episode.

DW#4 “Arachnids in the UK” This opens with a man telling his niece's wife that he wants to make this all go away. Then in England the Doctor is ready to separate from her three new companions, having brought them home, and it is evident that none of them are keen on doing that. Yaz checks on a friend—who turns out to be encased in spider silk. There's a giant spider, dog size. It's happening all around England. A horse-sized man-eating spider appears. So they lure the lesser spiders into the hotel panic room by playing modern music, the facet the mother spider—who is dying for lack of oxygen, her breathing system being ill adapted for this size. Problem solved. The three decide to stay with the Doctor.

DW#5 “The Tsuranga Conundrum” They are searching through a giant dump. But what they find is a sonic mine. It detonates and they wake in a hospital. Only it is actually a ship, the Tsuranga. She works with Aston, the doctor in charge, but he gets caught in an escape pod and jettisoned. Then they encounter a little sort of demon that eats anything. A pting. It will destroy the ship if they don't get rid of it. In fact the ship will destroy itself. The pting feeds on energy, so they feed it the detonating bomb. Meanwhile a pregnant man births his baby.

DW#6 “Demons of the Punjab” in Pakistan, Grandma gives Yaz her late grandfather's watch. Now the Doctor uses that watch to take them to Pakistan in the time of her grandfather, 1947, the time of its partitioning from India. They get a ride on a horse-drawn cart. The line between Pakistan and India is separating the couple about to marry. The idea of a Muslim marrying a Hindu is anathema, and people are getting killed for such. They learn that her grandfather Prem must die the day he marries; Jasmine's existence depends on this. And so it plays out, tragically.

DW#7 “Kerblam!” the Doctor gets a special delivery of a box. It's a fez type hat. Also an invitation to visit Kerblam. They go there. 90% of the workers are perpetually smiling robots, so they join the 10%, and are handling the boxes being shipped. They meet Kira, another living worker. They have to toe the line, or there is trouble. But there are frequent power outages, and not all the robots are powered by the main system. Something is going on. Then Kerblam itself asks for help. They discover that the bubble wrap around packages consists of tiny bombs. The Doctor manages to prevent all those packages from being teleported out, saving things. Overall, this seems to be a parody of Amazon.

DW#8 “The Witchfinders” The witch trials. Becka Savage at Pendle Hill supervises as they dunk the accused witch under water. If she drowns, she's innocent. If she survives, she's a witch, and will be hanged. There is no record of this town; it seems it was saved from Satan by killing all residents. Then the Doctor's party sees figures rising from the muddy gravesite. They are alien spirits using the recently dead bodies. And the Doctor gets arrested for witchcraft. King James (the role a witch hunter is playing) sets up to have her dunked. But when they lift up up again the chains are empty. She held her breath and escaped the chains. The witch-killing Becka becomes the alien Morax. The aliens plan to take over and occupy the bodies of all the people. The Doctor manages to stop them, and all is well again.

DW#9 “It Takes You away” The Tardis parks in Norway. They take a walk in the woods and find what looks like a deserted house, but someone is in there. They find the child Hanne, who is blind. Her father departed four days ago. Something took him away. They check around. Something roars. They go inside. In the attic is a mirror that doesn't reflect. It is a portal to elsewhere. Doctor, Graham, and Yaz go through it into a nebulous realm. They meet a sort of man creatures they call Ribbons, and make a deal to trade the sonic screwdriver for his lamp, once he shows them where Hannah's father is. They encounter flesh eating moths. They find Erik. And Trine, his wife. She had died, but here she is alive. Then Graham encounters his own dead wife, Grace, Ryan's grandmother. They think they're real, but they aren't. This is the Solitract plane, an alternate reality. A conscious universe. In the form of a frog. The Doctor persuades it to let her go. It's a wonderful, friendly universe, but not reality.

DW#10 “The Battle of Ranskoor av Kalos” I had a bit of trouble following all the details of this one. Brief sequence from 3,400 years ago. Now they encounter Paltraki, who is told to return what he took. the Doctor meets Ux, one of only two in the universe. The Doctor knows the Creator, Tim Shaw from 3,400 years ago. Stenza technology can create anything. They have to stop the takeover of the universe. They do, and depart in the Tardis.


PIERS
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