There we were, going about routine business, which in my case was catching up on letters, when a red fire engine rolled up to the front door. I went out to ask "Where's the fire?" South of us, it seemed, though we smelled no smoke. "You can't get there from here," I told them. But they had to see for themselves, so I showed them through the barnyard into the forest. Well, it turned out there was a fire, and it was on the edge of our property. Our tree farm is roughly the shape of Florida, a sort of peninsula with access via the panhandle; our house is in the Tampa Bay region, and the fire was south of Miami, blowing westward across the Everglades. Seems lightning struck a big oak tree--I saw the one it must have been, with its trunk split open about head height, the living top crashed on the ground, and the base scorched--and it smoldered for several days until any rain was gone, then expanded into about five acres. The first time I looked, there were open flames throughout, with gusts of wind that made me distinctly nervous; had that wind been blowing toward our house, we could have been wiped out with scarcely any warning. There were at one point seven assorted vehicles crowded along our narrow forest drive, from all over the county, destroying a small holly tree, flattening a small red cedar tree, cracking our pavement, knocking down our rain gauge, and knocking out one of our fences. Our locale was made for our small cars, not for heavy equipment. A little airplane circled overhead, and then a "bucket" helicopter came, dangling its big bucket. The motors ran continuously, stirring up wife and dog and scaring off the forest birds who patronize our bird baths. But we were glad to have them there, considering the alternative. They cut a road through to the lake, long since dried out in the drought, and around to the fire. They ditched it, surrounding the flames, then ferried in water by using sort of 500 gallon tractor tankers that refilled from a big tanker on the drive. There was even a Salvation Army truck serving food and water to the workers. They labored for three days, and got the fire out; the problem was that it was also burning the muck of the dry lakebed, which is like peat, and was hard to extinguish. So our tree farm and house were saved. But this was a small fire, as these things go, and never made even the local newspaper. It amazes me how much force and expertise can be brought to bear without making the news. When I checked it the first day, it reminded me of the time I took my young daughters to the site of a controlled burn, with scorched landscape interspersed by occasional sputtering fires; I told them that was what Hell looked like, so that they would recognize it as such time as they got there. I'm not sure they believed me.
Now on to some & sundry notes in no particular order or significance. I was expecting to receive the galley proofs of Xanth #26 Up In A Heaval to read, but they were late, so I started this column early, figuring that the galleys would come right when I had scheduled the column writing. They did; I'm editing this after a three day break for that. So if I seem even less coherent than usual, it's because it's the wrong time of the month. I received a couple more queries about my life. Seems the rumor is going around, as it does every so often, that I died. No, I'm in my usual foul fettle; it must be the fond dream of my critics. As with Mark Twain some time back, the reports of my death have been exaggerated. The other rumor that goes around is that I'm a woman. I'm not, my reference to "time of the month" notwithstanding.
We saw some movies; our movie/video freak daughter makes sure of that. Otherwise we'd just vegetate forever in our house, never getting out at all. Remember, we're of retirement age, on Social Security and Medicare; why should we do anything? The Scorpion King, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, plus some sexy almost bare women: my kind of junk. Then Spiderman, which was pretty good, suggesting some of the reality teens face in and beyond school. Then Star Wars #2, Attack of the Clones. I was surprised by its focus on personal dialogues; it was actually possible to follow the story line between the special effects. Maybe the usual director was ill that day, and the substitute didn't realize that coherence is to be avoided like the Dark Side. I liked the originality of having boy and girl trapped on a huge assembly line, avoiding stamping machines and pots of molten metal. But I thought the girl's love for the boy was a bit sudden; after all, he was younger than she, and had been goofing up. Still, young love can be like that. So it was fun, and we'll watch the next. This looks to be a phenomenal season coming up for blockbuster movies; we'll surely watch a number. I also watched a video that Dan Reitz gave me last year for my birthday; I had seen the movie before, at the theater, so didn't hurry. Well, I was impressed; this is the original uncut version, and it is way superior. I hate it when things get cut, because cutters are like critics: they don't know what they're doing and take out more good than bad Or maybe they do know, and the degradation is deliberate, to spoil an otherwise superior production. The theater version ended with the splendid view of the thing rising from the depths; our local critic said that too should have been cut out. The video shows how the aliens came to tell Earth to mend its ways lest it destroy itself. They formed a tsunami that towered over New York--then reversed itself harmlessly. What a demonstration! It's a sorely needed message. So naturally it was cut. There is surely a chamber in Hell for cutters, and I don't mean for wrist-slicing girls.
Meanwhile I'm trying to do the Internet Publishing survey update too--my present policy is to do a 6th of it every two months, so I'm currently reviewing E through M--and in mid session it started giving me blank screens for each publisher. No error messages, just blankness. They took all their time to load, 43% of a quarter squintillion K at 93 bytes per second, you know the route, but the result was invariably a blank screen. So I stopped, tried it again, finally reset my system. Then HiPiers.com itself was a blank screen. Evidently Netscrape had gotten itself into a tizzy. Next day it was working again, but pooped out similarly in about 45 minutes. This annoys me something awful; I'm doing this on my Linux system, and I don't want to have to flee to Macrohard Doors, converting my file, to complete the job. Why are computers so damned perverse? That's a rhetorical question; please don't flood me with lengthy complicated technical reasons why. What I want is for them to become user friendly. I can't be the only one wanting that.
There's another thing about computers: the US government now has a program called Magic Lantern or "sniffer keystroke logger" that can get into your computer, uninvited and unknown, and record all your keystrokes. You are supposed to be notified when your government is spying on you--90 days or more after the event. That's scary. Isn't that unreasonable search of your homesite? There was a time when that was unconstitutional. Now it seems the Constitution is considered unAmerican.
Remember those three implants I got--you know, the ones those busty young women giggled at? Dental implants, where they set titanium teeth in place of the lost ones. Six months on the soft diet caused me to lose weight, but now I'm back on real food and have gained it back. Those titanium posts had to have full gold crowns set on them, and because the implants weren't quite in line, it was a struggle. But now they are complete, and working well. At first I couldn't chew because the upper teeth hurt, but as they gradually squish back into place that is abating. Now I have the rest of my life to decide whether it was worth the total of over $7,000 it cost me. I'll be annoyed if I die before I get my money's worth.
Damon Knight died at age 79. I suspect most of my readers never heard of him. He was an award-winning writer turned critic, and actually he could write well, and his brief comments on the novels of the genre were sharp. He also founded the National Fantasy Fan Federation (NFFF or N3F), and the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA or SFFWA if you add Fantasy). He also established the Milford Writer's Conference, popularly known as the Milford Mafia; the name derives from the town he lived in when he started it, and the name traveled with him when he moved from Pennsylvania to Florida and then to Oregon. So the man has plenty of credits, and was written up well in the fan press. Naturally my take on him differs. I was a fan of his writing and his reviews, and I joined N3F and SFWA and attended a Milford Conference in 1966, where I met many leading figures of the genre; you can read all about that in my sequel autobiography, How Precious Was That While, now appearing in paperback publication. So this is just a capsule note. When a publisher cheated me, I wrote to Damon as chairman of the SFWA Contracts Committee to see what I could do about their violation of my contract. He passed my detailed letter on to the former president of SFWA, Robert Silverberg, who took it to the publisher. Silverberg then wrote me that I had acted hastily and rashly and maligned the finest publisher in the world. I got a lawyer and got some of my money; I did have the right of the case throughout. And the publisher blacklisted me for six years until its proprietors did it to one too many folk and got boosted out of their position. Thereafter I returned to the new regime with the Xanth fantasy series and became a bestseller. But it was Damon Knight who violated my privacy. None of the wrongdoers ever apologized; it was their misfortune that I became successful enough to be immune from further commercial blacklisting and to spread the word about what had happened. Had they had their way, I would be the one you never heard of. No, Damon wasn't a bad man; he was merely one whose ethics and interest in reform, in the crunch, fell short of his rhetoric. He is far from alone. This is the sort of thing the fan press somehow overlooks; there is an ugly underside to professional and amateur writing, and my case is atypical mainly in my ability and willingness to publicize it. It seems it is one of the reasons I am something of a pariah in science fiction / fantasy fandom: I told. The experience gave me a score to settle with Parnassus and fandom, and an abiding sympathy for whistleblowers, as is evident throughout my writings and this site. Ogres don't forget. Now you know.
Stephen Jay Gould died, age 60, of cancer. He was a paleontologist and science popularizer, author of the punctuated equilibrium theory of evolution which I believe is correct. That is, that evolution is not a steady thing, but occurs rapidly when conditions change, then slows while they are stable. He wrote Wonderful Life, about the re-assessment of the Burgess Shale that so impressed me I based a character on it in the third Mode novel, Chaos Mode. I understand he had a debate with another fine science writer, Richard Dawkins, about the theory. Thus punctuated equilibrium was referred to as evolution by jerks, while Gould referred to the alternative as evolution by creeps. I'm sorry to see him go. I'd rather read a book by him than a fantasy novel, if you want the secret truth. Don't tell anyone.
In 1998 my wife gave me the 2,360 page BOOK-OF-THE-MONTH CLUB edition of My Secret Life by an anonymous Victorian age gentleman, and every couple of years I read another volume. It's sexy as hell. His whole life was devoted to sex, and he detailed as much of it as he could. He had at servant girls, ladies, prostitutes, women he passed on the street, single, married, widowed, betrothed, even a cousin--an endless sequence. He wasn't a rapist; he persuaded, seduced, or paid for the trysts, and he cared about those he was with. Between times he used peepholes to watch what those in neighboring hotel rooms were doing; he loved to see women strip, wash, use the chamber pot, and rest. Once he rode in a dark carriage and got his hands up under the skirts of the women on either side of him; both subsequently met him for full affairs. He was a crotch man, shoving little interest in breasts, but delighting in peering into wide open clefts. He uses the common terms: fuck, arse, cock, cunt, and so on, meaning no disrespect; I suspect these words have become less socially approved in modern times. Some I don't recognize; he refers to "minette" in a context suggesting oral sex, but none of my big dictionaries list it, not even the OED, Oxford English Dictionary, the ultimate authority. On occasion he philosophizes. "Why, for instance, is it permissible for a man and woman to enjoy themselves lasciviously, but improper for two men and two women to do the same things all together in the same room? Why is it abominable for any one to look at man and woman fucking, when every man, woman, and child would do so if they had the opportunity? Is copulation an improper thing to do, and if not, why is it disgraceful to look at its being done?" He concludes that it is the prejudice of education alone that makes it so. He may have a point. Here's an example of his ongoing narrative: "I have now great knowledge of the full grown, full cunted, thoroughly developed woman, my taste has run mainly in their direction, but recently I thought of the younger ones, and that I should like to try those less practiced in the art of love, those with forms immature, with smaller and unfledged cunts, and with less cunning and experience in the ways of men, and with a curiosity to satisfy about the male." So he accosted a 15 year old girl on the street and talked her into it; she turned out to have been fucked two months before, but still found it a novelty, and they had great pleasure in each other. Then he went after her virginal friend, with similarly satisfactory effect. He also liked, as he put it, to have women piddle over his fingers. Once a housemaid was afraid her employer would catch her dallying, so she leaned on the windowsill looking out to verify who was where, and he lifted her skirt and addressed her from behind, she reluctantly amenable. In those days most women did not wear underclothing, so a hand under a skirt soon got into home territory; I'm not sure they make feels like that in this century. Sometimes a woman changed her mind and "uncunted" him. And you thought Victorians were prudish?
Not that we're sexual slouches today. Article in the May 27, 2002 US NEWS & WORLD REPORT--note that I stifled my naughty urge to refer to US Nudes and Girl Rapport--says that American teens are having more sex earlier and getting more diseases. Some of the specifics are eye-opening, not that that's all that evidently gets opened. A fifth grade girl speaks of the oral sex she had when she was younger; everyone was doing it. Now she has graduated to the morning after pill, twice. One in ten kids now lose virginity before age 13 (a different source says as early as age 11), and one in four sexually active teens will get a sexually transmitted disease, or STD. 15 to 19 per cent of sexually active girls get pregnant each year--and that's a decrease from before. Girls that age have higher rates of gonorrhea than any other age group. One quarter of all new HIV cases occur in those under age 21. "Just Say No" has had no discernible effect, partly because it doesn't educate about sexuality. Kids are getting gonorrhea of the throat, not having known that such things existed. Several surveys indicate that as many as half of all teens have oral sex. And more: a mother was concerned about her twelve year old son after a sleep-away camp, questioned him persistently, and learned that he had had anal sex with a girl at camp. Here's the rub: told that they must avoid sex, the kids interpret it to mean only penis/vagina. So penis/anus or penis/mouth or vagina/mouth isn't sex; they have technically abstained and remain virginal. So while sexual intercourse is diminishing to "only" 50% of all high schoolers, the other kinds of sexual interplay are compensating without making the statistics. Is abortion a sin? Not for the boy, only for the girl, the boyfriend concludes; he's clean. As long as schools can't educate children on what sex is, and on what venereal disease is and how to prevent it and pregnancy and emotional damage, this is the way it will be. I'm disgusted. In that connection, I read a review of a significant new book: Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex by Judith Levine, published by the University of Minnesota Press and perceptively reviewed by Susan Fernandez. University presses greatly extend the scope of publishing, as they aren't locked into money. A spokesman for the Christian right called the book "very evil" before it was published, and other critics demanded that those responsible for its publication be punished. Punishment for free expression? These are Americans? The author believes that sex is not in and of itself harmful to minors, but our zeal to protect them from it is doing them real harm. Sex can be a positive and pleasurable part of teen life, as it is for adults. Internet porn should not be a danger to children who know what's what. I agree. I think the folk who need re-education are those who evidently fear and hate sex and want to keep children--and, I suspect, everyone else--ignorant of it. They are trying to foist an unreal world off on the rest of us. They are doing real mischief and facilitating much unnecessary grief. Ignorance is clearly not bliss. One of the stock questions I'd like to ask a religious conservative is "Do you believe that the human body as God made it is obscene? That the consensual act of regenerating our kind is a sin?" But I suspect I'd just get a run-around, if not punishment. Meanwhile, according to THE ECONOMIST, the Catholic Church is not the only one facing embarrassing problems. Pedophiles teach in schools, coach sports, run scout troops and day care centers. A study indicates that 15% of pupils are sexually abused by teachers or staff members between kindergarten and high school graduation. A rabbi is going on trial in New Jersey for sexually abusing more than 20 teen girls. American youth sports represent a pool for pedophiles. Children are taught to be wary of strangers, but most of the abuse is from family members or acquaintances. The authorities, when they are aware of it, "pass the trash" to other districts, doing nothing to stop it. This should be changed. But first, children should be educated to know abuse when they encounter it, and to know how to report and stop it. I'm one who has written on this matter, notably in the Author's note in Firefly--and so I have been accused by those with their heads in the sand of doing it. One woman wrote that she hoped someone had protected my daughters from me. While the real culprits are protected by ignorant silence.
A reader challenged me: would I give credit to Rush Limbaugh for Demon Professor Grossclout's frequent remarks about heads full of mush in Xanth? My answer: the hell I would. That's a deliberate parody inspired by the terrifying professor in the 1973 movie Paper Chase. I find it interesting that fans of the man who has been called the incorrigible dirigible think that he originates all his references. They are fondly known as ditto-heads, perhaps for reason. I myself remember a nice sequence when Limbaugh got in trouble for asking whether women should fard while driving. Oh, the outrage! Fard means to apply makeup, as he knew. In a similar vein I mention how some teen girls show me their snaddies (snail mail addresses). So the man is not all bad, just mostly wrongheaded.
I've been on Linux over a year now, using KDE 1, and StarOffice 5.2 as my word processor, and though making the change from Macrohard Doors has been a headache, I am comfortable and like it here. But the things of Linux are still new and evolving, and I believe I can get a system that will be better for me. I don't want to try to upgrade this one, lest it lose what it has; I prefer to start from scratch, as I did when I moved to Windows 95. I'm in dialogue with Griz Inabnit of Outcast Computer Consultants of Central Oregon email@example.com who will assemble what he calls a MoNsTeR system with KDE 3, OpenOffice, which is the successor to StarOffice, said to be like a race car instead of a sedan, and software to facilitate my activities. It's all open source, meaning mostly free and constantly updated and malleable, but it's not price that interests me. I want to be all the way independent of Macrohard, so that no more Doors slam on my tender fingers. We'll see; stay tuned for future reports. Linux is spreading internationally and through US government agencies, who like its stability and versatility; a new business version is being developed. Linux is now the world's #2 server operating system, with about 27% of the market, behind 40% for Windows. It remains far behind on personal systems, but at such time as the Linux nerds catch on to the importance of user friendliness, that should change. Before too long I hope to get the ear of some of them, even if they don't necessarily like what I say.
We watched the TV Survivor series, but it palled for me when they eliminated the nice Florida girl. Niceness doesn't cut it in such competition. Yes, it's a reflection of real life, but it still gripes me to see conspiring and cheating rewarded, whether in a presidential election, the writing business, or on an isolated island. It's as if the human species has been crafted for some residence other than Heaven.
Some time back I read and commented on the nice historical romance Push Not the River by James Martin. He published it at Xlibris and was indefatigable in its promotion. Well, effort has finally been rewarded, and now he has an agent and a traditional publisher, and I'm sure many readers will enjoy the novel when it appears in bookstores. But what about the other worthwhile writers still being shut out? Last time I mentioned Everything in its Path by Steve Alcorn. Now the same author's A Matter of Justice is a nice mainstream young adult mystery featuring a pre teen girl, in my judgment fully publishable, but Steve has been unable to get an agent or publisher. An example of his text: "'There's more to life than just mysteries, you know,' Mrs. Peck called gently over to me. Her orange flower print dress clashed monumentally with her curly red hair. She looked like a burning bush." Further along another spot description: "The woman was wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt that made her look like an accident victim." The protagonist fairly jumps off the page in her juvenile realism. How many more years will it take Steve Alcorn to achieve the traditional print he deserves?
Meanwhile I read a novel for blurbing--that is, a favorable quotable comment by a known writer to help a good new writer--Pendragon--The Merchant of Death by D J MacHale. It's for young readers, ages 10 and up. They'll like it; it starts fast and just keeps going, like an accelerating rocket. A young man's uncle hauls him off to a mysterious interplanetary tunnel where dangers abound and aren't shy about closing in. He gets separated from the uncle, has no idea what to do, but better do it before he gets killed. When he gets things figured out, it turns out that the situation is much worse than that. The story is told in a series of letters magically delivered to his best friend. And--his family and house disappear, and all records of them disappear too, as though they never existed. What in the parallel universe is going on? This is one compelling story.
Then there's Married Women Are Easy by Howard Schlossberg, an Xlibris book. What more do you need to know than the title? And the author told me of her book The Composting Toilet System Book, published by the Center for Ecological Pollution Prevention, CEPP. We tried to get a composting toilet when we moved to backwoods Florida 25 years ago, but state law prevented it. So Florida goes right on with a worsening water crisis, maybe half of household use water being mixed with shit and fed into the water table or sea. But it's nice to know that some folk are exploring sensible alternatives. One other note about publishing: did you see the "Marvin" comic strip, where Marvin's mother Jenny (no known relation to Jenny Elf) has an offer for her book from a publisher? But it wants a few changes, totally changing the nature of the book to make it unoriginal. Now she has a choice: whether to go along with it, or lose the sale. "Umm, let's see," she says. "A rich, published author, or a never published, poor artist with integrity?" Supposedly that's a joke. As a rich published author, I find my laughter rather forced; I have been the route.
In the past two months we have gotten half a slew of computer viruses. Norton anti-virus stops them, but the downloading and extermination take time. One day we got 21 Klez Gen and H virii. This one uses a fake return address so you can't inform the sender. We have even received it from our own return address. So if any of you out there think HiPiers.com has sent you a virus, it's a lie told by the virus. But here is my question: how come the servers don't stop these nuisances at the outset, rather than dutifully sending them along to their clients? It is evidently easy enough for the anti virus program to spot them, and nobody wants them; it would save the whole Internet a pain if they were stifled the moment first identified. Will someone who gets his system trashed have to sue a server before some minimal responsibility is exercised? Perhaps related: when a local seven year old boy's mother dialed the promotional phone number in his Scooby-Doo book, she got a phone sex service. Yep--and when they dial my old 800 HiPiers number they get a sex outfit too. This, too, is something that needs to be dealt with, but I guess it will have to get worse before any action is taken. As I have said before, my objection is not to Internet sex, it's to the inherent misrepresentation by substituting graphic sex for supposedly family sites. If a sex site has to cheat to get clients, it's not worth much.
I'm not a coffee drinker, but here's an environmental message for those of you who are: change from "sun" to "shade" coffee and you'll do the tropical vegetation a great favor. Sun coffee is grown in the sun, and they hack out the jungle or rain forest to make way for it; shade coffee is grown under the canopy, so does far less harm.
Two interesting Supreme Court decisions: virtual pornography is okay, and so is assisted dying. The rationale for abolishing porn and making all adults hew to a fare suitable for children is that the making of child porn has to hurt a child; now that there's no real child, it can't be banned. I believe porn comes under the protection of the First Amendment, which conservatives seem to hate as un-American; I haven't seen child porn but admit it would bother me even if I knew it wasn't real, but it should be allowed for those who find it to their taste. Assisted dying, as legalized in Oregon--it's amazing how much is happening in Oregon since my hyperactive daughter went there--I am squarely in favor of. Some folk's lives deteriorate with age or illness or accident, and when it becomes too burdensome, they should have an expedient, comfortable way to end it, girt about by safeguards. Have you noticed how states-rights advocates abruptly try to overrule state decisions when the states deviate from the conservative agenda?
Snails are pretty dull creatures, and a snail race isn't calculated to excite much human interest. But I saw a public TV program that changed my mind. It showed snails and starfish speeded up, the way photography can speed up clouds to show them violently boiling, and then they are just like other animals. There was this multi-tentacled predator variant of a starfish that spied two snails and came after them. The snails fled, speeding along at a dangerous clip, but slowly the thing overhauled them. It caught one and swallowed it entire; its shell would be expelled after the tender innards had been digested. But that enabled the other snail to escape, barely. You could practically see its quivering relief.
I mentioned finding the card game Accordion at last. A reader told me where to find my other lost game, Crazy Quilt, as shareware. But when I tried to download it, it didn't work. Others have told me of games for Linux. Eventually I should have ones that do work.
I had a visit from a German reader, Stephanie Peters, who gave me a copy of the 100 card Animation Tarot deck she had made. It's lovely, and does follow the description I specified in my novel Tarot; at such time as I want to use a deck, for divination, psychology, or whatever, this will be the one. Understand, I don't believe in anything supernatural, but the Animation Tarot coupled with the Satellite spread works.
Some time back I commented on the Tampa Bay singing group PYT--Pretty Young things. Four thirteen year old girls formed a group and were making it on the national scene. I wondered how long it would last. Well, now they have run afoul of the usual impersonal corporate foul-ups, have lost their market, and are disbanding. They pay the price of the ineptitude of the faceless decision makers. I know that route. Let's face it, now they are sixteen, no longer barely-legal young flesh, thus over the hill.
News flash: the Age of Dinosaurs ended with an asteroid--and started with one too. They weren't dominant until the dominant creatures before them were blasted to extinction. Then they got blasted, and now it's our turn. But maybe we won't wait for the meteor; we'll destroy ourselves first, going the way we're going.
The Far Side cartoon for my daily calendar for Friday May 10, 2002, shows a winged, haloed man sitting alone on a cloud. "...wish I'd brought a magazine." Right; why do people think that eternity in such a sterile Heaven would be any joy? I can think of a place that would be a hell of a lot more interesting. Maybe I'll see you there. I just had a letter from a reader whose parents destroyed his collection of 60 Piers Anthony novels and the letter I had written him years ago, because they said he would go to Hell for reading such stuff. If those parents are going to Heaven, I don't want to be there.
Interesting paper on the internet at www.woofs.org/psychology/etiology/malecki.html, "From Tabby to Tommy: the Link Between Violence and Animal Abuse." I'm a vegetarian because I don't like hurting animals, so this has more than average interest for me. It seems that a high proportion of multiple murderers started as children who tortured animals. Makes sense to me; if they get away with it with animals, they graduate to humans. Animal abuse is a symptom rather than a cause, but a pretty clear alert. I think childhood bullies also relate; a bully, it has been said elsewhere, is a baby criminal. He's practicing on other children rather than animals, but its the same sort of thing. Here's another take: US NEWS had a report on a terrorist organization, the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign in Princeton New Jersey. They raid the compound and take away animals awaiting experiments. They intimidate company officials. They are driving the company to the brink of bankruptcy. This puts me on the horns of a dilemma: I approve their objective but not their methods. Yet it seems that the company paid no attention to polite requests to improve the condition of animals. It's hard to get the attention of profit-minded corporations. Except, it seems, by kicking them in the head. So the bullies learn to respond the hard way, by getting bullied. Is there such a thing as good terrorism?
I've been discussing guns here this year. I notified Oleg Volk that I had reference to his site www.a-human-right.com/ and had an interesting dialogue with him. Understand, I'm agnostic on this, as I am on religion and politics; I just want to know whether a gun in the house would make me safer. So far I don't have an answer. There are points on each side, and the balance has not yet been established to my satisfaction. Oleg made the point that enforcement of gun control tends to be more effective against law-abiding people; criminals won't obey such laws. So such laws may make honest folk less safe. Also, the enforcing agency may be well meaning, but is corruptible; better that no one have a monopoly on arms. Also, that possessing a gun does not cause a person to be unsafe to others; responsible guns don't cause crime. I agree on all of this, seeing it as an analogy of freedom of expression: those who try to stifle it (such as the current US administration) are dangerous. But it still doesn't tell me whether my household would be safer if I carried a gun. Here's an anecdote from current Tampa Bay Florida news: High school sweethearts were living together and were expecting a baby in two weeks. He thought he saw an intruder, and fired a single shot. Turned out it was his pregnant girlfriend, shot through the chest, and she was dead. He sure didn't mean to do it; he loved her; it was an accident. But had he not had that gun, she'd be alive today and he'd be a father. The thing is, when guns are freely available to all, the fools get them too, and they are a danger to others. So maybe of 100 gun owners, only one is a fool; he's the one who will kill an innocent person. How can my family be safe from fools?
Solicitation from Edward M Kennedy says we must close the gun show loophole. At present guns are so freely available with so little constraint that criminals and terrorists have no real problem getting what they want. The Brady Campaign wants to require purchasers at gun shows to pass the same background check as they would at licensed firearms dealers. That seems reasonable to me. But it seems that the National Rifle Association (NRA) opposes that. The NRA even made the comics: "Mother Goose & Grimm" for May 24, 2002 says "Life on the Ark took an ugly turn when Noah joined the NRA." The picture shows the heads of assorted animals, mounted on the wall, two by two, as Noah reads his newspaper, gun at his side.
Statistics have been hard to come by, because neither the pro nor anti gun nuts seem to want a fair comparison. But I'm keeping alert, and nabbed one from a column by Nicholas D Kristof: Japan has tight gun control. In 1999 (most recent year with available figures) there were 28 gun deaths from murders and suicides combined. In the US there were 26,874 gun deaths. That's reaching for a thousand times as many. But what is the overall murder/suicide death rate for Japan vs. USA? We don't know whether the overall rate is similar, with Japan having a higher samurai sword death rate. England has higher rates of assault and theft than the US, but has tight handgun controls; its murder rate is one sixth that of the US. This is persuasive: there is a link between more handguns and increased murder and suicide. I prefer to separate murder and suicide, because I think a person who really wants to die should be allowed to; it's mostly his business. Funny that Attorney General Ashcroft supports guns but not assisted suicide, when the gun is the readiest way to commit suicide. He unilaterally reversed 60 years of federal policy about individual ownership of guns. The TV program 60 Minutes for May 12, 2002 had a discussion: if there is a gun in the house, the risk of suicide quintuples and the risk of death triples. So evidently a gun is a risk to a household. But does it repel more criminals than otherwise? The gunnies have a point: if all you count is how many folk get shot or killed, that's only part of the story. A criminal may be coming to commit mayhem, but the resident shows a gun and the criminal changes his mind and departs, no shot fired. That gun has protected that household, but is not reflected in the statistics. We still don't have an answer.
Okay, so how about doing a comprehensive study of all cases? Make a database to determine gun safety. I'm for it, because I want to know the truth. But the NRA opposes it. I wonder why? Are they not interested in the truth? Well, then, how about a database on all causes of death or injury, guns, knives, clubs, fists, knitting needles, falls, snake bites, bee stings, lightning, everything. But the NRA opposes that too. That suggests to me that they have a fair notion what such a study would reveal, and don't want it revealed. That damns their case. I think I'd want to include a reasonable fair-minded estimate of the number of crimes stopped by guns, since pure injury and death statistics may be flawed, as indicated above. Would the NRA approve that?
There's more; I had some good discussions with the gun folk. But let's conclude for now with a quote from a reader I once exchanged letters with (I mean, if you can't trust one of my responsive readers, what hope is there for the world?), Elizabeth Soutter: "In the end, it isn't the gun that protects or harms, it is the training, experience and knowledge of the person handling it. The fanciest, most expensive gun in the world won't do me a damn bit of good if I don't know anything about good firing stance, where to find the best cover in my home, and how to keep my weapon in my own hands and not the intruder's....If I own a gun without this most basic knowledge and responsibility, then by definition, I have not secured my weapon properly in my home. I am protecting no one; I am endangering myself, my neighbors, and those under my roof. No one should own a gun who doesn't spend time on the range and who isn't trained by well-trained people." She feels that gun laws should be enforced--and they are not being. I agree. My time with guns was in the US Army, and I believe that if gun discipline as practiced there was required of all gun owners, there would be far less trouble. But most of what I see are the pro-gunners saying in effect that no limits are acceptable, and the anti gunners saying that no guns are acceptable. Neither seems much concerned about actual gun safety or responsible gun possession as endorsed by my reader. And my question remains unanswered.
I'm still receiving three fifths of a slew of Nigerian solicitations: give someone my bank account information so he can transfer thirty million dollars to my account, getting it out of his country, and I can have thirty percent. Guaranteed risk free. Ha ha. Don't fall for this scam. 47 more of them received in these two months, added to the similar piles arriving before. Each slightly different, but of the same type. The British magazine THE ECONOMIST had a note that there has been an out of court settlement between Sani Abacha and Nigeria's government to return one billion dollars that the military ruler looted and stashed in banks worldwide. So why would anyone need you for this? There's even a column in TECHNOLOGY REVIEW for June 2002 by Simpson Garfinkel discussing it. It says last year this made #3 on the list of Internet scams. They send them through snail mail too--but most get stopped because they are using counterfeit stamps. Enough; I'll stop keeping count, as this is endless.
Harlan Ellison's war to stop piracy continues; SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE for May, 2002 has a long article. I hope he wins; virtually all of my books have been pirated too, on the Internet, even my self published ones at Xlibris. I had a fan letter from a reader who collects them and loves them and was apologetic about not paying for them, but couldn't otherwise afford them. I feel for him, but if all my readers did the same, I would go out of business, having no income. That's true for all writers and publishers. I'm not sure why folk think that it's a crime to cheat the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker, but it's okay to cheat writers. How would you survive if you couldn't get paid for your work because someone found a way to get the benefit of it free? Some say "Information wants to be free," and writing is information, so they take it. Harlan says they don't differentiate between information and creative property. He's right. If you want to read free, use the public library. If you want your own personal copy, pay for it. Meanwhile, despite contributions from organizations and from writers like me, Harlan is $260,000 in debt because of this fight. He's never going to break even and knows it; this is for principle, and it benefits all writers and publishers. Here's the info again: the KICK Internet Piracy site is at http://harlanellison.com/kick, and donations can be mailed to "Trust of Kulik, Gottesman & Mouton" at KICK Internet Piracy, PO Box 55935, Sherman Oaks, CA 91413. This problem isn't limited to writing; a column by John Balzar goes into what some call "information sharing," and he calls it stealing. As he puts it: "If technology bestows a new right on its users to 'share' music, movies and stories without payment, what will be the incentive to make music, produce movies and write stories? Aren't we rushing toward a vastly diminished future in which Internet technology coldly devours those things that provide us diversion and pleasure and stimulation?" He says that at Tower records customers bought, copied, and returned 50,000 CDs a month, until the chain tightened its return policy. Perhaps a million people saw the Star Wars installment online before the movie opened in theaters, because of piracy. What will happen to DVD sales? I wonder about those who express outrage about copy-protection devices; they are angry because it stops them from stealing? Since when did theft become the American Way?
I average over 100 snail letters a month to readers, and 400 emails. Sometimes I say something worthwhile. Here is an example, rendered anonymous:
"Your father told me about you. He said you're such a handful he'll have to send you to reform school--no, of course I'm joking. What he said, in the dull language parents use, is that you have had some adversity. Okay, I know about that. Back when I was your age, I did some serious thinking, took stock of myself, and concluded that if some power could give me the choice of living my life over, exactly the way it had been the first time, or of never existing at all, I would prefer not to exist. This wasn't a moment of depression, this was a rational realization, and now, over fifty years later, I still think it was valid.
"So what happened? Several things, including growing up, marrying the right girl, and getting a nice career as a writer. Today if I had that same decision to make, I would choose to live it over, because now the balance is positive. But what happened earliest was reading. It wasn't easy to start; in fact it took me three years to make it through first grade because I couldn't learn to read. Years later when my daughter had some similar problems and was diagnosed dyslexic and hyperactive--they call it ADD--I got a clue what might have been my own problem. But in my day there were no such diagnoses, there were just stupid students, so I was good and stupid. You may have noticed how I'm called the Ogre, and how ogres are justifiably proud of their stupidity.
"But when I finally did figure out how to read, I read a lot, albeit it slowly. The worlds in books were wonderful escapes from a reality that wasn't worth living. I needed that escape. And really, I never left those alternate realms; I became a writer so I could make my own.
"So stay with it, Xxxxx. I have a notion where you're coming from and maybe where you're going to, because I've been the route myself."
Now back to live text: DISCOVER magazine for June 2002 has an article on consciousness--one of my pet interests--which includes a reference to Schrodinger's Cat. This always struck me as nonsense. The idea is that since quantum theory suggests that some states are not only random, they are superimposed, and only the act of looking at them determines their nature. So you put the cat in a closed box with a vial of poison gas, a piece of uranium, and a Geiger counter hooked up to a hammer suspended above the gas vial. If the uranium emits a particle, the counter detects it and signals a mechanism to break the vial, releasing the gas, killing the cat. So when you open the box, is the cat alive or dead? Quantum theory (simplified) says it isn't decided until you look; the cat is in superimposition, with all things possible until then. Okay, I said it's nonsense to me; you'd smell the cat corpse soon enough unless the box is tight enough to suffocate it. Yet I have a crude analogy that makes me doubt. Suppose you flip a coin: is it heads or tails? You can't know until it lands; until then it's inderminate. If you can't wait to know, and take a flash photo of it in the air, that will show one side up or down or sidewise. The act of looking determines the answer, because it fixes a precise time--and you can't then knew the velocity of the coin's motion. If you want the speed of spin, you can't determine heads or tails. Is quantum physics like that? I think it may be. Because you can't define something analog in a digital frame--and fundamental particle physics is, I suspect, analog. That is, continuous rather than a series of spot states. I'm a fan of analog. Consider: the impossible to determine precise digital value of pi is no problem in analog. Maybe many of the intractable mysterious of physics are because we're trying to define them wrong. Like assigning a chemical value to Love.
Circa 1975 I heard on the radio, on the military station AFRTS--I used to tease my daughters by spelling it FARTS--no, I don't know why one daughter moved 3,000 miles away and the other stays busy at her newspaper rather than socializing with her dad--an expose about the reason for the then-long-term decline in SAT scores: it was because of the children of the folk who lived downwind of the nuclear tests of the 1950's. The residual radiation fried their brains to a degree, and their lowered scores drew down the national average. Then suddenly that expose was gone; I never saw it in print. The nefarious government must have sent its black helicopters and squelched the story. Until now: a small buried May 30 newspaper note refers to the "downwinders," those folk who lived and worked downwind of the atmospheric tests. Now they can get compensation of fifty to a hundred thousand dollars to individuals who come down with certain cancers or diseases. Interesting; so the government is admitting there was something to it. No, it doesn't explain what's wrong with my mind; I was in Oklahoma during the key period, and that was outside the deadly swath. I think.
Stray notes: NEW SCIENTIST says that irradiation can reduce the gas propensity of beans by 70%. But there's a caution: flatulence is an important indicator of a healthy system; you need to expel gas to ensure that your gut is functioning properly. So fire away in good health, as long as I'm not downwind. The hits on this HiPiers site were averaging about 11,000 a day. Then they changed the system, giving a new address. But when they stopped giving the information at the old address, and I went to the new one, the query bounced. So I no longer know how many hits we get. I suppose at some point I'll have to Make an Issue, or live in ignorance. I continue with my exercises, such as archery, and yes, arrows still have the ability to fly toward the target and abruptly disappear, forcing me to search by eye, weed hook, and metal detector. Growr! Our little Garbage Garden continues; we've harvested about 60 tomatoes, and lost about 10 to bugs and animals. Now three squash have formed on the squash plants. Odd thing: the plants that got tagged by the freeze early in March survived, but now their leaves are maybe a quarter the size they used to be. Other squash plants that were further under cover have full size leaves. Newspaper item: most US people are born in August. Damn it, that's my month; I didn't realize I was following the crowd. Possible salvation: maybe it's different in England, where I was born. The fewest are in April. Local crime: here in backwoods Citrus County, Florida, we don't have high profile crime. Here's an example of what we do have: A 79 year old widower picked up a young woman he planned to pay for sex. He parked and they went into the woods for it, but he couldn't get it up, as it were, so he refused to pay. Outraged, she hit him over the head, stole his wallet, and drove away in his van, leaving him in the woods in more than one sense. Moral: impotence is no excuse; pay the bitch. National news item: since 1990 inflation has risen 32%, worker pay has risen 37%, corporate profits have risen 114%, and CEO pay has risen 571%. What's wrong with this picture? Now you can fold a $20 bill to form a picture of the burning World Trade Center towers. Yes, I tried it, and they're there. So did the designer of that bill know the then-future? Paranoia is so much fun! Item in US NEWS by John Leo on bloggers: Web loggers who write online diaries and commentaries. It seems some develop respectable numbers of readers. No, they're not all teen girl sex diaries or boring minutiae; I've been told that this bimonthly column of mine is a blog. Wow! Have I been defined at last? Okay, I have more notes, but this is long enough for now. More anon, in AwGhost 2002.
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