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Piers with daughters
Piers Anthony with daughters, early 1980s. Penny is on the right (Piers' left).

OctOgre 2009

This is not a normal HiPiers column.  It is devoted in large part to my daughter Penny, who died September 3, 2009, age 41.  Those who read these columns for my cynical or humorous remarks on this & that may prefer to skip down a couple of asterisks, because what follows is mostly pained nostalgia.  I have not normally mentioned my daughters here with much detail, because they prefer their privacy, but this is different.

Penny was born October 12, 1967, and we named her Penelope Carolyn Jacob, Penny for short, though in adult life she returned to Penelope.  She will always be Penny to me.  I wrote a bit of a poem to celebrate the event, concluding “We thought our child was Heaven-Cent, and so we called her Penny.”  Part of that later became the title for a Xanth novel.  My wife Carol (Cam) and I married June 23, 1956, but our first three babies died at birth, the last one living only an hour.  The first miscarriage in 1957 catapulted me into the US Army, as I was abruptly eligible for the draft.  The second, in 1958, was a painful drawn-out process.  It turned out that Cam's uterus had a septum that divided it, so that not all of it was available for a fetus.  We got that fixed after the third, in 1962.  The worst day of my life was as I recall May 5, 1962, when I lost my job, my wife lost our baby, and a doctor told me that my fatigue and depression were all in my head and would pass when I realized that my fears were groundless.  And my insurance tried to rider (exclude) me for all mental disease, because of my groundless concerns; obviously I was crazy.  Decades later it turned out to be undiagnosed hypothyroidism, largely fixed by Synthroid pills or the generic equivalent, Levothyroxin.  Is it any wonder I have been cynical about modern medicine?   Ironically, the lack of children freed Cam to go to work so that I could stay home and try to fulfill my dream of being a writer.  In November of that year I made my first story sale, and in 1966 my first novel sale.  I was on my way.  I would not have been able to take that gamble, had any of our first three children survived.  I called it success via the money's paw.  That is, I got what I wanted, but at a price I would never have paid, had I had a choice.  Thus the background for Penny's arrival; it wasn't any casual thing.  My wife and I agreed that the birth of our first surviving baby changed our lives more than our marriage itself had.  That may have been an exaggeration, but certainly Penny's birth was more significant for us than first births are for normal couples.  We had feared we would never be able to have children of our own, and we doubted we could adopt, as adoption agencies were notoriously choosy.  I was an agnostic, politically independent (when it wasn't fashionable), vegetarian science fiction writer, and we existed on the verge of poverty.  Obviously no fit parent.

Because I was the one at home, I took care of Penny when Cam went back to work.  She was my little girl, the foremost female in my life.  Again, perhaps an exaggeration, but my wife did not object.  I fed her, I changed her diapers, I held her on my shoulder while she slept.  She was hyperactive and would not sleep alone.  Oh, yes, Penny was an education in what Dr. Spock didn't know about babies.  Just put them down, he said; they'll cry a while, then sleep.  Well, I tried that one night.  As I recall, I stayed awake on edge for close to two hours, listening to her cry in the next room.  Then I heard a choking sound and had to check.  She had vomited what looked like blood.  After a moment I remembered I had fed her some cherry pudding.  But that was the first and last time I tried that.  Any mother, and a fair number of fathers, will understand.  They do not necessarily settle down when left.  We did not use baby sitters, highly conscious of the fragility of life.

Penny changed my manner of writing.  It dropped to 50% of what it had been, because of the time taken caring for her.  At first I put her bassinet on my lap and typed, but that continued only as long as she was small enough for that.  She liked sleeping to the sound of typing.  When I paused to think of my next paragraph, she would wake and fuss, and I had to type something, anything, to calm her.  This was not the best way to write a novel.  So I learned to write in pencil, on a clipboard, literally dropping it when I had to grab for Penny.  Because I had to watch her constantly.  Once I focused on the radio, to change the station, only a few seconds.  When I returned my gaze to Penny, she opened her mouth and blood came out.  She had fallen against the couch and cut her lip.  Lessons like this honed my skill.  At any rate, Penny and I got along well.  Cam, in due course, was bothered when Penny seemed not really to know who she was.  When we had our second baby, Cheryl, Cam quit work and took care of her herself.  Thus Penny was “my” daughter, and Cheryl was “her” daughter.  Once when they were misbehaving we threatened to exchange daughters, and both of them, appalled, behaved.  But ultimately they did understand that both of them were both of our children.

We never cut Penny's hair, and it finally grew to be a yard long, beautiful blond tresses.  I used to braid it for her, sometimes with a single braid, sometimes with two, sometimes with three or five.  If you want to be conventional, don't choose a creative father.  Her mother did her little sister Cheryl's hair, and tended to keep it short, but when eventually Cheryl took control and grew hers, it was was also a yard long, brown.  I called them our vanilla and chocolate haired girls.  I love long hair on a woman, and I think my daughters picked up on that.  I used to say that Penny owed her energy to her long hair, like the Biblical Samson.

All was not always happy.  With the best of intentions we enrolled Penny in a community swimming class.  We had encouraged her to like the water, but once when she was about two when I had her in the sea I got stung by a jellyfish, jumped, and accidentally dunked her.  I apologized and explained, but thereafter she was politely distant.  Well, it turned out that the swimming class was a variant of sink or swim; they took the children out, then dunked them in deep water, forcing them to scramble to get out.  We didn't know.  We didn't understand why Penny came to dislike classes, so we attended one and watched.  They reassured Penny, took her out, and dunked her.  She was so upset she vomited in the water.  I was appalled, but an instructor reassured me: “Don't worry; she's been dunked before.”  As if that barbarity made it all right.  Well, we took her home, bought a plastic pool 12 feet wide and 18 inches deep, and encouraged Penny to play there, one of us always watching.  And there she learned to like the water, and to swim.  We had undone the damage done by the swimming school, we hoped.  What the hell did they think they were doing?  How many other children have been traumatized by this atrocity?  It's not exactly water-boarding, but there's an affiliation.

With children came pets.  We got a Dalmatian dog we named Canute, but he got kidney stones and had to be put down.  Unable to force the concept of death on her, I told Penny were were leaving him at the vet.  I regarded it as lying to my child, and hated the need.  A year later a pet cat, Pandora Two, got run over.  I buried her and said nothing.  But three days later Penny asked, and I had to tell her, and it devastated her, and me.  Truth can be awful.

Penny learned to walk at nine and a half months, and started talking around a year.  My wife told me she had a large vocabulary, but I didn't credit it.  The average child is said to have a vocabulary of about ten words at age eighteen months.  So I checked Penny at fifteen months, and was astonished to discover she knew over 200 words.  I checked again at age eighteen months, and it was over 500 words.  We still have the list of them.  No, she wasn't a genius, though she was bright enough to make the high IQ class in school despite being learning disabled, as it turned out.  So was her sister.  I think the ten words at 18 months folk don't know what they're talking about; children are smarter than that.

All went reasonably well until Penny started school.  She did well enough in preschool, but in first grade the teacher was yelling at her from the first day.  What did they think this was, a swimming class?  Okay, we got on it, and got her tested, and she was diagnosed dyslexic.  She was also hyperactive, and extremely sensitive; an unkind word could throw her into tears.  Her early reading problems echoed mine.  In my day dyslexia did not exist, only stupid or willful students, and it took me three years and five schools to make it through first grade.  I was determined that the school system would not do to my daughter what it had done to me.  We got the school system to move her to a school that had a program for learning disabled children.  That got her out of that class.  Throughout her education, into college, I was there for her; teachers learned not to abuse my child.  I made an impression, as readers of these columns might imagine.  I retained my own teaching certificate for years, just in case.  One example: we did not require vegetarianism of our children, or any other social convention, like religion, so they could choose for themselves.  However, the home environment was vegetarian, and they did become vegetarians.  But her college used a food  service that laced meat products into practically everything.  So we helped Penny apply for an exemption, so she could buy her own food instead of paying for the food service she did not use.  This was supposed to be reviewed by three professors.  They didn't bother; they simply turned her down.  That annoyed me.  I told her “I'm going to show you how the real world works.”  I wrote a careful letter to the head man, enclosing a copy of our correspondence so he could see for himself how Penny's student rights had been violated.  Then I said “I will consider our payment for the food service to be an involuntary contribution to the college.  You may sure we will not make a voluntary one.”  That crossed with a solicitation from the college.  We were at that time coincidentally financing a $75,000 excavation of Tatham Mound for the University of Florida.  News like that surely travels in academic circles.  And just like that, the decision was reversed.  It was a useful lesson for Penny:  you don't always have to sit still for abuse.  In later years she did assert her rights.

There was another college-related matter.  In high school Penny discovered that it was difficult to live her own life when she was a bestselling writer's child.  One boy asked her “Are you Piers Anthony's daughter?”  When she said yes, he said “Then I love you!”  He wasn't fooling.  That was not the type of love she wanted.  So when she went to college, she swore all her friends to secrecy, so that she could become known for herself.  So did her little sister, in due course.  Eventually the news did get out, but by that time Penny had established her own identity.  I understand completely.  I did tease her that I was satisfied to live a thousand miles from my dysfunctional family, and then Penny was satisfied to live three thousand miles from me.

Children tend to be impatient with the restrictions adults place on them.  Penny referred to being on a short leash when we took them to a convention.  Once she demanded of me, challengingly, “Daddy, when will I stop being a child?”  I answered “When you are no longer afraid of the dark.”  She never brought it up again.

When she was a baby, I wrote my first draft in pencil, as mentioned above, and typed that when Penny slept.  It was viable.  I could travel and write that way.  Time passed, and one day I realized that Penny was preparing for college and I no longer needed to be constantly at hand.  They stopped making good manual typewriters, so I jumped in 1984 from pencil to the computer.  It is almost as versatile as pencil.  Penny completed college, and later took over and ran our book-selling endeavor, HiPiers.  She was the one who set up the HiPiers.com web site.  She called herself Peacy, from her initials, P C.  Eventually we had to shut it down, but the site remained.  Today our younger daughter Cheryl transcribes my column and Survey updates, while Cam prints out email for me to answer in pencil, and transcribes that for the answers.  It remains very much a family operation.  My records on over a hundred novels retain Penny's impact: she made up most of those folders.

She had impact on my writing, too.  When she was ten she was horse crazy, and we did get her a horse, Sky Blue, a hackney mare, a former harness racer, fourteen hands tall.  That's small for a horse, but Blue was the perfect horse and I really liked her.  She was the model for Night Mare Imbri in Xanth, and Neysa Unicorn in the Adept series.  Penny was the model for Princess Ivy, whose age roughly paralleled Penny's age as she grew up.  Ivy found her Man from Mundania, but I waited for Penny to romance and marry, and she took her time.  After eight years I finally divorced Ivy from Penny, and Ivy immediately married Grey Murphy.  Whereupon Penny married, having evidently been shown the way.  Ivy had triplet daughters; Penny confined herself to a single daughter.  When I was fashioning the Ogre Calendar I stalled on the second month, until Penny suggested FeBlueberry.  That was it, when the redberries are blue with cold.  She suggested that when the barbarian got dirt in his head in Crewel Lye—his horse had had to scrape up his brains with a hoof when they got scattered on the ground—that he would thereafter have a dirty mind that got stirred up when he saw a pretty woman.  I made it a recurring pun, but the bleeping editor cut out most of the repetitions.  In time such censoring caused me to leave that publisher.

Penny became a doula, which is a person who assists pregnant women, supporting them through the births of their babies.  It can really help.  Later she had her own baby, and surely knew what to expect.  She married in 1995, and they moved to Oregon, not liking the Florida heat.  Our association became mainly by phone, and I think she became more like Cam's daughter than mine.  But I still had some influence.  I used to remark in Family letters that I regarded myself as the most liberal member of my family, BP: Before Penny.  She was so liberal even I could not always fathom it.  Sometimes this led to family quarrels, and for a time she was hardly speaking to her sister, her mother, or me.  But such things pass in time.  Our family life was not idyllic; it was real.  I learned of the handsome Jacob Sheep, with four horns, told Penny, and soon she was keeping Jacob Sheep on her farm, along with emu and other animals.  She liked animals, as I do.  Once they caught a snake going after their chicks.  They let the snake have an egg instead, and gave it a private place to rest while it digested the egg. 

Originally they had cable TV, but it seems Penny lost interest in that when they moved to a non-reception area, and they simply did not watch regular television, just occasional videos.  Their lives seemed to be full without it.  Penny was in touch by phone, email, and her Dreams and Bones blog site.

But about four years ago Penny had melanoma, skin cancer.  They thought they got it all, and she had about three years without concern, but last year it metastasized to her brain.  This, as we learn, is an all-too-familiar history.  Cancer does not die or give up, it lurks and strikes again.  She had Gamma Knife surgery, which is a non-invasive kind of focused radiation treatment, to kill the two tumors, an easy fix.  But she had a problem using her right side.  The tumors, and later their scar tissue, pressed on key nerves.  They were not, as it eventually turned out, quite dead.  Then tumors appeared in her lungs.  Surgery took those out.  But related steroid treatment, to control the inflammation, caused a horrendous weight gain because of edema.  As I understand it, edema is not the same as fat; it is the retention of water or other fluid in the cells and tissues of the body, making them swell.  She must have weighed 350 pounds, and could no longer walk.  She and her family visited us in July, two months before her death, and when I saw her I feared for her life. 

And more tumors came back to her brain.  This time she had to have brain surgery of the open-the-head kind.  They had to cut her hair short, for the first time in her life.  That seemed to be successful, though it bruised her brain, and she was beginning to recover use of her right arm and leg.  Some fragments of scar tissue remained, “dirt,” and some air when they closed her up.  She said that now she was a confirmed airhead with a dirty mind.  Her progress was not rapid, and the insurance company said it would stop paying.  This of course is the nature of insurance companies.  Penny had some problems with the rehab center; I suspect they had not heard of vegetarianism, and sick or well, Penny asserted her rights.  She called her mother and suggested that I write a Parent-to-Teacher type letter to the rehab facility.  She may have been thinking of that college food service matter.  Meanwhile her husband was changing jobs, so as to be closer, and they were preparing to move, to be closer to their daughter Logan's school.  Logan was eight, pushing nine, an innovative girl.  Everything to facilitate Penny's limited condition.  We supported them financially, of course.  Even with insurance, this type of illness gets expensive.

Her sister Cheryl made arrangements for a month off from work, and flew out to help Penny's family cope for September.  We are boarding Cheryl's Cat Stagecoach (named after the road where he was found and rescued as a kitten a decade ago) for the month, doing our part.  Cheryl spent three days seeing to Logan and coordinating things.  She and Logan were visiting Penny in the rehab facility, arriving as Penny was being returned from a shower.  “Hi, Logan!” Penny said.  Then she had trouble breathing, so the visitors were ushered out while the personnel attended to that.  But it was more serious.  Penny had apparent respiratory paralysis, maybe from pressure on that nerve, and she died.  On the morning of September 3, 2009.  We were in shock.

Now Penny is a memory.  I keep encountering evidences of her presence in our lives, and choke up again.  I have a closet where I keep important papers, and mounted on the door is a wooden woodpecker who pecks the door when you pull the chain; Penny gave me that.  I was checking back correspondence and on the back of one of my penciled letters to a reader was a page of Penny's blog, because I tend to write on used paper.  I was putting away the week's laundry, and there was one of the Jacob Sheep T-shirts Penny had given me.  Choke.  I step outside our house, and there by the corner is the juniper tree she used as a living Christmas tree, then passed along to us, and we planted it; we all prefer not to kill trees for holidays.  And of course our lives were affected daily for a dozen years when Penny saved a puppy from being sent to SPCA and she became ours, the late Obsidian Dog.  Her room remains, unused, with her old dolls, toys, and dresses.  We donned the cancer wrist bands she sent us several years ago after her first siege: black, for melanoma.  We will wear them till we die.  It just goes on, sweet pain.  Yes, I know, other families have suffered similar losses, and I feel for them.  Now it is our turn.  What did Penny ever do to deserve this awful death?  Nothing.  I am not religious, but I can see how some can turn to religion if it offers comfort in such situations.  I will not; I prefer to suffer as I have lived, facing reality.

Penny's blog site, which may in due course be shut down, is http://dreamsandbones.net/blog.  She and I were visiting my father, her grandfather, a decade or so back, and in the car she played a Pete Seeger tape, and we were both enchanted by the line “We are made of dreams and bones.”  I had reference to it in a GEODYSSEY novel, and she made it her web site.  I teased her endlessly about it, referring to it as Beans & Drones, Screams and Cones, whatever.  I did not mention it here on my site, because she valued her privacy.  That privacy is largely meaningless now.  She kept things positive there; we did not realize the extent of the physical and emotional pain she was in, because she did not want us to know.  Now we are learning, too late.

Oh Penny, you were my precious little girl.  I held you as a baby, I read to you as a child, I taught you to drive as a teen, I walked you down the aisle when you married.  I told you that if you had a problem you couldn't handle, come to me, because my resources were greater than yours and I could handle it.  But I couldn't handle this.

Oh, Penny!  We love you and grieve for you.  We always will.


The rest of this entry will be somewhat abbreviated, because I lack the heart for more.  Thursday, September 3, 2009 was for us a routine day.  Well, my scooter rear tire popped as I was fetching the newspapers, and I had to walk the last third of a mile home.  Then I discovered that my wife's bike had a flat front tire, when it had been fine the day before.  Two in one day; was it an omen?  I had my usual archery session, I think scoring 2-5 right side, 1-8 left side, and spent time searching for lost arrows.  We drove to town for grocery shopping and such, and I picked up a copy of my recent bone density test, which showed improvement this past year; it's no longer osteoporosis, but osteopenia, a lesser condition.  We returned an hour later.  We had lunch.  I tackled scooter and bike, but found that neither tire could be patched, so they were out of service.  Then I planned to read the first ten pages of a novel sent to me for comment, and after that to start writing Xanth #35, Well Tempered Clavicle.  The phone rang.  It was our younger daughter Cheryl, in Oregon for the month of September to help out while our elder Penelope got through rehabilitation after brain surgery.  And our world was abruptly preempted. Penny had just died.

It was as if there were two channels active in our minds, both constantly on.  One was Penny.  The other was everything else.  I had been taking Vitamin C to abate a toothache—yes, it worked, or seemed to, that time—and was about to ease up on it; I decided to continue, because now I was in constant stress.  I wrote an emergency supplement to my monthly Family letter, telling the wider family about Penny, and my wife emailed it out to them all.  And that day I started writing this Column entry.  What else could I do?

Life continues.  We bought puncture-proof inner tubes, tire linings to prevent punctures, and a new tire for the scooter, and I got the cycles back in working order.  I continued my exercise program, though the first time after Penny's death, my right-bow bowstring snapped.  If that was another omen, it was too late.  I kept working on the Column, while my wife handled the myriad phone calls and emails.  We are functioning, not happily, but sufficiently.  So are John and Logan, and Cheryl is helping twice as much as she anticipated.  All we can do is carry on.

There were aftershocks that caught us imperfectly prepared.  John sent us a package with pictures they had taken, and something else: an embossing tool that we must have given to Penny before she went to college, that would imprint LIBRARY OF PENNY JACOB on a page.  She won't be using it any more.  That broke us up.  When I was writing Xanth #35, slowly, escaping half a step from my grief, I needed a simple musical instrument for Princess Dawn to play.  I have an ocarina, so I decided on that.  And my wife reminded me that Penny had given me that ocarina.  Another aftershock.  When I use the bathroom, there on the counter is a 5.5 by 8 inch mirror with the word PENNY on it, dating from the days we labeled things so the children wouldn't have to fight over them.  It had been left behind when Penny moved on out into college and adult life, and turned up maybe two decades later; I told her of it, but somehow the time was never right to return it, because it's heavy and travel is better light.  Now it will never be returned, and each time I see it, comes another aftershock of remembrance.  The intricately carved-out gold plated British coin that John gave me when they married, hanging on my desk ever since: ONE PENNY.  For several days I had a mild burning in my chest, something I hadn't felt since suffering romantic heartbreak in college.  This wasn't romantic, but it was heartbreak.

We have had many letters from those who had known Penny, and some who planted trees in her memory, and we really appreciated their kind words.  Also many nice consolation notes from readers, each a mild aftershock, yet also much appreciated .  We also learned of her fear and depression in that last year as she fought the implacable foe.  As her husband put it, her grim dance with melanoma; move and counter-move, until at last it got her.  She had always been bright and cheerful with us, probably not wanting to burden us with her true desolation.  We were positive with her, not wanting to burden her with our misgivings.  I'm not sure how any of us could have done otherwise, yet it is a painful irony.

On September 20 was the Memorial Service, in Eugene, Oregon.  We were unable to attend; travel that far would be dangerous for my wife.  But we recorded our messages, which were played there.  We understand about 75 people attended, including many relatives and friends, and it lasted two hours, a tremendous outpouring of feeling.  They recorded it, and we will in due course listen to the whole of it.  I don't feel free to quote other Memorial messages here, but here is mine:


Ah, Penny—you were supposed to grieve for us, not we for you.  You were our bright blond hyperactive little girl, our first surviving child after a decade of losses, so full of curiosity and mischief! In time you grew up and disappeared into an adult, becoming Penelope, but you will always be Penny to us.  We tracked you with our minds and hearts, through college, career, and marriage.  You became a parent in your own right, with a child of your own to dominate your attention, as you dominated ours. 

Now you are gone and we are desolate.  All we can say is thank you, Penny, for being in our lives, for the time you had.  We will never stop loving you.


Back to this HiPiers column, concluding this unhappy presentation.  We lost our first three children, as noted above.  Make that four.

Oh, Penny!  Oh, Penny!


I did the usual things in the month of SapTimber, but slower because of my distraction, and they will get less play here than normal.  I wrote the first 30,000 words of Well-Tempered Clavicle.  I did some reading.  One I finished last month, but it missed the review because my column had to go to press early.  It was Under the Blue Sun, by W R Hagen, a self published science fiction novel that deserves traditional publication.  People are disappearing on a colony planet, but there is no alarm; the authorities seem not even to be aware of it.  What's going on?  The natives seem small and harmless, but our protagonist suspects they are not.  He's right, with a vengeance.  It's a good adventure.

And I read a children's novel, Felix and the Sword of Sefu, by Catherine Mesick.  I have done a few children's novels, and appreciate the challenge of telling an interesting story when there's no romance, certainly no sex, and limited violence.  This one succeeds; it is well written, interesting and compelling throughout.  There are intriguing details, such as rain falling upward from the ground, frogs that breathe fire, and small clouds that float at ground level, spying on people.  Also interesting twists; I kept being surprised.  Also a dramatic story, as our twelve year old protagonist struggles to figure things out and stop a malign wizard from getting the powerful sword.  That makes it seem more standard than it is.  I was entertained, and I'm sure children would like it just as much.  I am encouraging the author to seek publication.

Will Hamlin died, age 91.  He was my guiding professor at Goddard College the last two years, 1954-56, as I labored to become a writer.  I know he did not think much of my efforts, and I don't fault him for that; I was not close to the writer I was eventually to become.  But it was a necessary stage, and he was patient throughout.  He was also there for me when I got suspended for a week for being in the lounge with my fiancée, an issue wherein I maintain to this day I was in the right (and no one argues the case today); he was I think the only faculty member to stand openly in my corner, along with virtually all the students.  He was there for me when I needed a reference to get my American Citizenship, two years later in the US Army.  So I owe Will.  I heard later of him hitting on a coed—it seems to be the kind of thing college professors do—and I was sorry to learn of that.  So he wasn't perfect, but a significant part of what I am today I believe I owe to him.

Mary Travers died.  She was the female singer in Peter, Paul, and Mary, with socially aware songs like “Blowing in the Wind.”  She was my wife's age, with a truly evocative voice.  I hardly notice popular singers, but I noticed her.

William Safire died.  As a general rule I have little use for conservatives, because of the essential selfishness and dishonesty of their philosophy as it has become today, but I liked his column “On Language” when our local newspaper carried it, and leaned some things from it.  I wrote him once, and got a card response, saying in effect every person must do his part.  So I consider him a conservative who was in the process of rising above his nature.


The current political crisis is the push for health care insurance reform.  Count me among those who believe that if there is not a public option, it's not worth having; that's what will break the grasping companies' hold on the system so that it's no longer your money or your life.  Naturally the insurance industry is fighting to retain the old system and its profits, while people go bankrupt and die because of the expense of health care.  Other developed countries cover all their people better at half the cost.  However, there's a quiet light shining.  It seems that there is a national system of Federally Qualified Health Centers that serve about 20 million people, and may soon expand to serve triple that number.  It's not insurance, but direct health care, including dental, transportation to the centers, counseling, health care classes, and related, serving primarily low income folk in rural areas.  They charge what folk can afford, and no one is turned away.  Rich and poor, all can come and receive competent treatment.  They have essentially solved the problem of primary care for local residents in their vicinity.  So maybe if the insurance greedheads succeed in stifling the public insurance option, this endeavor will expand and skip the insurance entirely, simply providing direct medical care.  What a shining vision!


I signed up for a clinical research study.  This one is to evaluate a new investigational influenza vaccine for adults 65 and older, who normally don't get as much protection from flu shots as younger folk do.  They actually will pay participants, but I'm doing it because flu is a serious killer, however many folk may survive it unscathed, and I'd like to see it conquered.  (And I'd really like to see cancer conquered, but that's not in this study.)  So I hope my participation helps save thousands of old fogies like me.


Several months ago Yitz Aaronson sent me a link to an outfit selling “Tuffy Liners” that you put in your bicycle tires to stop punctures and flats.  I bought the same thing locally, but appreciate his reminding me.  I used similar liners decades ago, and they do work.  So now I hope to have no further flats on my scooter or recumbent bike.


Column by Walter Brasch points out what became obvious the moment he said it: the folk who scream “Socialist!!” at anything they don't approve, such as aid for the most needy (do they have any notion what socialism is?  Here is a brief on that: it is government control of manufacture and distribution, as in England) and abhor the government's involvement in anything—okay, they should, to be consistent, refuse to accept Social Security checks or Medicare.  When the swine flu vaccine is available, they should refuse to take it.  Thus they will remain true to their principles as they starve and expire.  I'll be interested to see whether any actually do that.  A column by E J Dionne Jr suggests similar for the gun nuts: if they want guns to be freely available everywhere, why not let them into the court houses, Congress, the White House?  Let every legislator carry a gun, and all his constituents, mixing freely.  Guns make everyone safer, so they should not be excluded from any venue, should they?  Make the whole world absolutely safe.  Again, I'll be interested to see if any legislators approve such freedom.  Actually, I believe there is a case to be made for arming everyone everywhere; I just don't like the hypocrisy of advocating it while refusing to practice it.


As regular readers of this blog-column know, I am a vegetarian, because I don't like hurting animals.  But suppose there were another source for meat, that did not involve killing or abusing animals?  Well, there may be.  They can theoretically take as little as a single cell and grow it in a laboratory into enough meat to feed the global population.  So how would I feel about eating such a steak?  This could be a test of my own principles.  I think I would worry about them sneaking in slaughtered animals under the guise of lab-grown meat.  So I would really rather have plant-grown pseudo meat.  And I think I'd be happier if it did not look or taste like killed cows or chickens.


I don't watch a lot of sports on TV, but my wife does, and I pick it up peripherally.  There was a hard-fought match where Serena Williams was playing Kim Clijsters.  Two things about that: Clijsters was unranked and unseeded, yet she defeated both Williams sisters and all others to win the tournament.  How is it that the authorities apparently had no inkling the woman knew how to play tennis?  I thought seeding is supposed to suggest who they think is most likely to win.  Otherwise what's the point in ranking or seeding?  I saw some of her play, and I would have known in one minute that she was one tough player.  Maybe we need new authorities who can see the obvious.  The other thing is the manner Serena lost.  It was close, and she served, and the linesman called a foot fault.  That cost her one point.  She protested, and they penalized her another point.  That cost her the match.  As far as I know they never ran that one through a replay slow-motion to see whether she was actually guilty of the foot fault.  Suppose she was not, and protested, understandably, and they were so jealous of their prerogatives that rather than admit error they washed her out of the match?  Thus matches may be decided not on the basis of the best play, but on who chooses to defend a bad call, or on the manners of those who get screwed.  Maybe I'm sensitive because I was once washed out of a Ping Pong tournament by a bad call.  In my case, I was ahead 17-14 with a likely win, when the scorekeeper got it reversed and called it 14-17, a six point difference.  That close to the end of the game I was unable to make it up, and lost.  I kept my mouth shut, a good sport, but it rankled.  If you don't protest error, you lose.  (That relates to my attitude about publishers wronging authors.)  So I see a possible need for reforms in tennis—not just the manner it is played, but the manner it is ranked and scored.  Because I'd rather see the best player win.  Surely I'm not alone in this, authorities to the contrary notwithstanding.


Quote form a liberal column by Donald Kaul: “Maybe it is time to stop calling this collection of yahoos, mountebanks, ribbon clerks, faith healers and tinfoil collectors conservatives.  What, after all, are they trying to conserve?  Not the environment, certainly.  Not one of them sees global warming as a problem.  They have yet to see a clear-cut forest or strip mine or an oil well in the wilderness that they don't like.  And the only endangered species they're interested in protecting is lobbyists.”


In NEW SCIENTIST, a review of The Age of Empathy by Frans de Waal, makes the point that empathy is found in a number of animals besides humans.  It seems that cooperation, rather than nature red in tooth and claw, is far more common than we have thought.  That makes me pause, because I thought empathy was a defining characteristic of humanity.  A characteristic, certainly, but it seems not one that distinguishes us from other animals.


I surely would have had more comments on my reading.  But Penny took up much of my attention, and my reading has fallen behind.  Maybe some other month.  A recurring toothache is messing me up as I complete this, coloring my physical being somewhat as the loss of Penny colors my emotional being; I'll be going to partial dentures in the near future, hoping that helps with that part of it.

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