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Piers and daughter unload boxes July 2014
AwGhost 2014

I finished writing the novel Xanth #40 Isis Orb by the end of JeJune, and Jewel-Lye was catch-up month for videos, books, and chores. That makes for a long dull column of reviews, but I do have some serious discussion toward the end. I may hereafter elect to cut short the old movie reviews, being uncertain whether anyone cares.

I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, based on the famous story of that title, wherein this obscure nobody tends to zone out in dreams of grandeur. We're all a bit like that, inside, and this is an effective animation. It's also an adventure and a romance. Walter, trying to recover a key photo for LIFE magazine, winds up in Greenland, Iceland, and Afghanistan, suffering real adventures for a change. It turns out that one thing he does know is how to skateboard, and that becomes a key element. This is a fun movie.

I watched Titus, which I understand is based on a Shakespeare play. This is one weird brutal tale of deception, betrayal, viciousness, and revenge in a kind of Roman Empire setting with modern embellishments. Titus Andronicus, cruelly wronged, proves in the end to be more vicious in his vengeance than even the villains. His lovely daughter was raped, her hands cut off, her tongue cut out, so he publicly kills her to put her out of her misery, before killing the perpetrators. Not the sort of thing I care for.

I watched Beautiful Creatures, the story of a young man who falls in love with a young witch, and she with him. But her family is cursed, and also, no witch can love a mortal; that's how the curse started, generations ago. So their love is doomed. It gets complicated, but she finds a way: that he not die, but only his love for her. That saves him, and she becomes a supremely powerful witch. But she still loves him. That's a curse of another nature. Until at the end, he may be remembering. That could be mischief. I found this an interesting and moving story.

I watched Flyboys, which it says is based on an actual French fighter pilot outfit in World War One. This movie has everything, including romance, heroism, and death. The aerial dogfights are splendid. An American goes to France to join up, and disparate individuals form a remarkable group. The French had double winged biplanes, while the Germans and three winged triplanes, and these were highly maneuverable. They had to fire machine-guns by hand while guiding the planes. Overall, impressive. I was disappointed only when it said at the end that our protagonist in real life never found his lady love in Paris after the war. What happened? They had agreed to meet.

I Know What You Did Last Summer. Horror genre. Two young couples are out on the beach at night when their car hits a man. Rather than risk reporting themselves to the police, they dump the body into the sea. Then a year later comes the grim message: “I know what you did last summer” and they are being stalked by a man with a hook. Only Julie and Ray survive. Then another year later it starts again. It's a good, taut scary mystery, the first of a trilogy. The sequel, I Still know What You Did Last Summer, has Julie's friend win a prize from a radio station: trip for four to the Bahamas. Only it's a setup by the hook man, who turns out to be still not dead. More mayhem. In I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer there's a new cast, with Amber the main character, very similar story, only the fisherman with the hook seems supernatural this time.

I watched the Discover video How the Earth was Made: Everest. What is now the top of Everest was at the bottom of a sea 400 million years ago; there are ammonite fossils in it. Then came the breakup of the super-continent. 80 million years ago a fragment broke off from the southern super-continent, now Africa, and zipped across the sea to crash into Asia about 50 million years ago, forming India, and buckling the crust and pushing up what became the Himalayas. This changed the climate, making monsoons in India and cooling the earth until the ice age two and a half million years ago. Everest is still rising a quarter inch a year. This makes the Himalayas the most geologically active mountain range of Earth.

I read The Fluoride Deception by Christopher Bryson. This is a thorough exposure of one of the greatest scandals of the past century: the claim that water fluoridation is good for you. It was sold to the public on the basis of systematic lies of omission, commission, and interpretation. Why? Because fluoride is one of the most reactive substances known, and is invaluable to industry and to the government's development of the atomic bomb. But it has serious health consequences for anyone exposed to it, as well as livestock and crops. Companies knew they'd get sued and have to pay huge damages if their workers knew about the toxic environment they worked in, with its disastrous consequences for health, so that was covered up in the interest of secrecy about the atomic bomb development, not to mention profits. They needed to find a cheap way to dispose of fluoride residues, so they came up with the idea of selling it as a health supplement: water fluoridation to prevent tooth decay. The fact is that it hurts the teeth at least as much as it helps them, and it hurts the rest of the body worse. There's really no tooth decay difference between water fluoridated communities and those without it, but there is a difference in overall health. Bone cancer, Alzheimer's, brain development, arthritis-like musculoskeletal problems, central nervous system disorders, breathing problems—the list of complaints reads like a plague. What about safety studies? Here's where the scandal comes. Studies that showed the deleterious effects of fluorine were buried and their authors fired. False statistics were promoted to suggest that this poison was healthy, somewhat the way cigarettes were first promoted as healthy. On the basis of such lies fluoridation of water supplies were promoted, and those who tried to present the facts were denigrated as anti-science nuts. Don't blame your dentist; he believes what he was taught, and there are few things harder to do than admit that you have been promoting a lie. Only now, sixty years later, is the truth starting to leak out despite the concerted efforts of industry titans and their minions. I know that many of my readers will prefer to dismiss me as a nut rather than recognize the folly of fluoridation, but those who are open minded should read this book and judge for themselves. Their health depends on it. The simple message is STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM FLUORIDE.

Case Against Fluoride—How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinking Water and The Bad Science and Powerful Politics That Keep It There, by Paul Connett, James Beck, and H S Micklem. The title pretty well sums it up: fluoridation is pretty much a scam foisted on us since about 1950. This book is dense with detail and completely persuasive. The essence is that powerful commercial interests and the US government wanted a dumping place for toxic waste, and found it by selling it as a medication for the masses, claiming that fluoridation would greatly reduce tooth decay. But comparing fluoridated areas with non-fluoridated areas shows that there's hardly any difference in tooth decay, but there is a significant deterioration in general health in the fluoridated areas. A few examples, of many: when growing up in fluoridation girls have menarche five months earlier, IQ may be five to ten points lower, and bone brittleness resulting in hip fractures rise. There are no valid studies exploring these effects in detail, apparently because the authorities know what they would show, and fluoridation would have to stop. So the innocent public continues to suffer, encouraged by dentists who either don't know the truth or can't admit to being so wrong for so long. They call fluoridation the greatest health breakthrough of the century; the truth is it's the greatest health scandal. If you are moving, don't move to a fluoridated area; if you're stuck in one, go to bottled water. Again, your health depends on it. If you want to use fluoride for your teeth, its only real effect is topical: toothpaste, and don't swallow it.

I watched Hardware, wherein a post-apocalyptic scavenger finds a cyborg skull and gives it to his girlfriend. Then it reanimates, leading to psychedelic special effects and I think not a lot of sense as it mindlessly kills people. And the military will now mass produce this model. I think this one had potential, but that was lost in the mayhem.

I read The Lineage of Tellus Book 1 Memories & Murder, by L J Hasbrouck. This is the first novel of at least four, nicely illustrated by the author. She says she was influenced by my Xanth novels and the way I translated Florida into a magic land, so she crafted her own magic land and characters. However, this is not Xanth; it is not pun-filled, and there is considerable sexual suggestion, male/female and male/male. Ashei is a young woman living with her mother, whose placid life is shattered when her mother is magically murdered. Ashei recruits a voluptuous girlfriend and a former boyfriend to help her on her quest to avenge her mother, and it proceeds from there into a series of adventures that become more remarkable as they go. They don't really believe in dragons; that changes. Ashei is not exactly what she thought she was, and her fate is more complicated than she ever anticipated. It's a solid adventure interspersed by intimate interpersonal exploration, slow moving at times, gruesomely violent at times, but generally interesting.

I watched the first season of Gavin & Stacey. This is a British sit-com. The funny thing about British humor is that though I was born in England and was a British subject the first 24 years of my life, until naturalized in the US Army, I can hardly understand the dialect and don't have much interest in things British. I left England when I was four and have never been back. I got this because it promised to be fun, and it is, but I had to put on the subtitles to follow the dialog. Gavin is from England, Stacey from Wales; they have spoken often on the phone, having a business connection. Then they meet, and it's love at first sight. But their best friends can't stand each other. They proceed to marriage in short order, almost interrupted when he learns that she's been engaged five times before. So it's interesting, and fun, but not what turns me on.

I read Hologram—A Haunting by James Conroyd Martin. He is the author of Push Not the River, which I reviewed here in 2000. As with that one, this builds slowly as a pregnant woman falls in love with a wonderful old house, but gradually discovers that it is dangerously haunted. Is it her imagination? By the end we know it is not, as the haunts can be lethal. But this is not an ordinary haunt story. There are nice bits of original thinking along the way, especially in the relevance of the title, and the denouement left me with mixed feelings, identifying as much with the haunts as with the protagonist. I saw the terminal fillip coming, and it gratified me.

I watched the first season of LEXX, which was four ninety-minute Features. This is one weird, fantastic, sexy, often disgusting series. Four unlikely characters by a fluke of luck take possession of LEXX, the devastating weapon/ship that looks like a Manhattan sized insect, and search for a suitable new home. They are a man thousands of years dead, but temporarily animated; a bitchy ugly woman rendered into a short-skirted Marilyn Monroe clone physically, but not mentally; a living man who was formerly a lowly security guard; and the separated head of a robot. Part of the cargo is a battery of preserved living talking brains, and sometimes a naughty antagonist grabs and eats a brain. This is hi-tech science fantasy with rusty hand cranks.

I watched The Witches of OZ. I got it because I was once involved in an Oz sequel movie project, which finally came to nothing, from which I concluded that Hollywood types really are pretty crazy; it was a lesson in caution. So how was this one that actually made it to the screen? Not the shadow of the one we would have made, and really not much overall. For one thing it's all witches and no Oz; it never makes it to the Land of Oz, only to New York, where assorted spooks threaten the modern Dorothy. She finally remembers who she is and fights them off. What else?

I watched Yellow. This is a standard story of girl aspiring to stardom, and getting sidetracked by love. She's Puerto Rican, comes to New York to try to be a ballet dancer, but has to take a job as a stripper to make ends meet. It turns out she is really good as a stripper, and the folk of that establishment are decent; it's not a bad life. One of the customers is a doctor who falls in love with her; he gets a job in Australia and wants to take her with him. Then she gets a key dancing role, what she has dreamed of. Career or love: Which to choose. She chooses career, and I think that's justified; there are more men in the world than star ballet roles. It makes me glad that I never had to make that choice between writing and love; my wife always supported my career. This is a decent and feeling movie, with some nice dancing.

I read And Death Will Seize the Doctor, Too, by Jeremiah H Swanson. This is an odd one. There may be more violence and death in it than in any other I've read in the past few years, as well as extreme cruelty and outright ugliness, but that's not really the point. The first sentence defines it: “Christian Thompson has the power to heal with a touch of his hand, but in order to cure one person he first has to kill someone else.” So he's really transferring one life to another. How would you like to have that power? So he gets into the business of taking the lives of criminals sentenced to die, and restoring the lives of people who deserve to live. Life is often unfair, and this helps make some of it fairer. It's a compromise that makes it all right, no? But of course there are others who want to use his power for their own purposes, never mind what Christian wants or what is fair or decent, and they are unscrupulous about getting their way. That's what makes this such an ugly story. Then when Christian's beloved wife is dying, he is desperate, and takes the life of an innocent young woman to save his wife's life. Then he wants to restore the life of the other woman, but it's complicated. Where, ultimately, are right and wrong? This is not a horror story; it's almost a treatise on human motivation and justice, couched in repeated brutality. I can't say I enjoyed this novel, but I did appreciate its thoughtfulness; key issues are not avoided. And no, I wouldn't want to have such power myself.

I watched Aeon Flux, which is the name of the protagonist, a shapely athletic girl in a tight outfit, sort of like Catwoman in the Batman movies. It is set 400 years hence, when a plague has wiped out 99% of mankind and the survivors now live in an idealized city of five million. But all is not well in paradise; it is in fact a totalitarian state whose critics are promptly disappeared. The citizens get along fine as long as they support the regime. Aeon is a member of the resistance movement, assigned to kill the leader and provoke the new order. But when she sees him, she can't do it, and he can't kill her either. It turns out that before the plague they were married, and have been reincarnated since. So then his people want to take him out as a traitor, and her people want to take her out similarly. It's SF adventure, my kind of junk.

I watched Despicable Me 2, a cartoon movie. I hadn't seen the first movie, but this one stands well enough by itself. Bad guy Gru, having adopted three little daughters, is now a good guy. He makes jellies with the help of the minions, little sort of one eyed and two eyed capsule men who have their own weird ways of doing things. A secret outfit sends a lovely female spy, Lucy, to kidnap him and recruit him to do undercover work for them. He turns them down, but later changes his mind and helps them, in the process coming to know Lucy and being intrigued by her. She's a pretty sexy figure, for a cartoon, though she never actually shows much flesh. It is wild adventure with many laughs along the way, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to. In the end he marries Lucy, to the delight of the children, who want a mother.

I read Ot's Ordeal by Brian Clopper. This is the third Graham the Gargoyle novel in a continuing series. The first was a simple children's story set in the Magical Realm of Cascade. The stories have gotten more complicated as the series progresses. They remain for children, with no sex or gruesome killing, but in other respects are hard hitting. This time it's Graham's friend Ot the Troll, though Graham is active in it also. They are in school, and mischief is afoot that involves the teachers and principal too, with formidable magic. All manner of creatures are classmates, including a gorgon girl, though at this age she doesn't turn folk to stone. Ot and Graham barely pull through, though they do suffer serious loss of memory from memory erasing magic after harrowing experiences. So it's another wild adventure.

I read Life in the Manor by Christopher Hannah. This is a collection of stories all set in the realm of a medieval style manor and its associated village. It verges on the supernatural without ever actually crossing the line; things turn out to have natural causes, though some are unusual. Each story features a different character, who sort of stumbles his/her way through to a conclusion of sorts, some good, some ill. A troll turns out to be an overgrown man who comes to a bad end. A hag turns out to be an old isolated grandmother. A dragon is simply a man who likes to set fires. Overall this is a view of ordinary life in such a community, where superstition is rampant and existence is not really much fun, especially for abused children. It does put the reader in the scene; unfortunately, I can't say that this is very exciting.

I watched G.I. Joe—The Rise of Cobra. This is near-future action, wherein a top secret strike force goes after the bad guys who steal the latest weaponry to wreak havoc on the world. The action is pretty much continuous, and that's the problem; I found myself nodding off as personal combat continued seemingly indefinitely. In real life, if such a thing could be said of such fantasy, combat would be concluded in seconds, not minutes. Too much action without conclusion, like too much sex, becomes tiresome. There are special effects galore, and some pretty women, and constant death and destruction, so I recommend it for those who have more of a taste for such things.

Announcement for readers: Mundania Press is reissuing the sexy ChroMagic series, five quarter-million word novels starting with Key to Havoc. They've had trouble getting it on at Amazon, but that should be straightened out in AwGhost. I regard this as my best fantasy, and I feel that the big traditional publishers were idiots to pass it up; it could have been a major bestseller, properly promoted. But decisions like this, across the genre, shutting out other writers too, may be a significant reason why traditional publishing is fading. The background is the planet of Charm, whose pretty volcanoes issue magic in assorted colors, and residents of a particular color, or chroma, become that color and learn to do magic of that color, and are magically helpless when they travel to other colors. Havoc is a strong, smart young barbarian martial artist—that is, from an outlying village rather than the big city—living in a nonChroma zone, so there's not much magic, about to marry his lovely girlfriend Gale, when he is arrested by the king's men and taken to the city where he has to compete to become the next king. He's not pleased, even when he wins the contest. He would turn it down, except that then he'll be executed for treason. It's not smart to annoy Havoc, as he lives up to his name. So we have a smart angry barbarian king learning the ropes. It goes on from there, as the scope expands in subsequent novels beyond the planet to Earth and then to the galaxy, where a machine culture is systematically exterminating all the life forms it encounters. But the machines have not before encountered a foe like Havoc. For example, they send him a gift: a lovely female humanoid robot who puts ordinary women to shame, and he not only accepts her, he makes her part of his harem and teaches her magic that can demolish a sapient machine. Now she serves him, not the machines. It's like chess, with moves and counter-moves. Havoc’s phenomenally talented daughter Voila becomes the #1 target for recruitment by the machines; with her help they can greatly facilitate their dire program. They want her so much that they offer to spare all mankind from their slaughter, a deal that can be trusted, in exchange for her. But Voila is something else, and will not betray the other sapient cultures of the galaxy. Obviously I love this series, including the inset stories, such as “Dancer” wherein a grandfather and a girl child adopt each other and compete in a drum-and-dance contest against his son and her mother, both highly talented, and “The Option,” wherein a teen girl receives a lot of money when she is optioned for a year to marry a rich older man. By the time the option expires, she has fallen in love with him, but there are other women optioned and her chances seem dim. It's presented as a play, where the audience can see what she does not—it's known as dramatic irony—that the man has after all chosen her and is standing behind her as she burns the money and sinks into passionately expressed grief for loss of him. This series has some of everything, including, yes, science, which is one of the many colors of magic, operating near its white volcano. Earth is actually a white magic zone; now you know. Definitely not Xanth, and not for the prudish, but as I said, my favorite fantasy. Not my most significant writing; the historical GEODYSSEY is that. Not my most successful; Xanth is that. Not my most provocative; singletons like Volk or Eroma or The Sopaths are that. I do different things, and try to do them well.

Things come from left field to take my time and mess up whatever incidental plans I have. I have literally hundreds of DVD videos to watch, gorging on movies now that the sale prices have come down to the range of a dollar a movie; might as well enjoy them before senescence overtakes me. A fair number of folk enter their 80s in fair shape; not many get into their 90s with intact bodies or minds, so I'm not waiting. This time we got word from the warehouse where we store thousands of copies of my books left over from when HiPiers was a bookseller: they are closing and we have about two weeks to get our stuff out. So we're scrambling, struggling with complication because the old warehouse has inconvenient open hours and the new self-storage facility has limited hours and they don't match well. It's a strain on my wife, trying to coordinate things. So I'm not watching videos, I'm toting boxes of books. Too bad I can't use magic to get it done. Sigh. We may post a picture here on HiPiers.

Buncha clipping and articles requiring my two or three cents. Letter in the newspaper by the Reverend Michael MacMillan remarks on the Hobby Lobby court decision to not cover some contraceptive devices because they offend the proprietor's religious sensitivities. Most of their products are made in Chinese sweatshops, and Jesus would not approve of that; neither did he say anything about female contraception. So this is political rather than religious. To which I say, Amen. Actually there is a distinction in contraceptive measures. Barriers like condoms prevent conception from taking place, so no human life is taken, but the wire in the womb prevents fertilized embryos from implanting. That may be a delay of only a few hours, but it is significant; fertilization makes all the difference. Still, what about the hypocrisy of picking and choosing in a manner that Jesus did not do, in Jesus' name, yet? Columnist Gene Weingarten remarks on another aspect of the Hobby Lobby decision: it solidifies the court's contention that corporations are people. Okay, corporations are owned by people. But for the past century and a half, since slavery was abolished, it has been illegal in America for one person to own another. Also, when corporations merge, that's like people marrying. Since most corporations are run by men, they must be male, which means same-gender marriage. So suppose they are based in states that don't allow gay marriage? And if its a hostile takeover, isn't that like rape? So come on, are corporations really people? How about applying people rules to them, then? And a column by John Romano says that wealth is a yardstick for school grades: the richer the families, the higher the grades. So why punish schools with predominantly poor students? It's really not their fault. As a former teacher, I find this most interesting. And letters about the basis of marriage: to produce children? In that case, why ban just gay marriages? Ban marriages of folk beyond child producing age too; that makes as much sense. What about trade balances? Germany comes in first of 193 countries in 2013; the USA is last. So what is Germany's secret? They have a higher level of unionization and regulation, and national wealth is distributed more evenly. That makes for a better worker base, and better national prosperity. Article by Harold Meyorson tells how the New England supermarket chain Market Basket delivered good food at low princes to the public while paying its employees well and making a profit. So the greedy owners fired the CEO and eight senior managers who protested; it seems they want to make more money instead, and screw public and employees. Now there are demonstrations and a boycott in support of the prior CEO, and business is tanking. With luck he'll regain power and show that there's still a bit of Germany in America. As I see it, America is succumbing to a kind of cancer. The tumor grabs everything it can for itself, at the expense of the host, until at last the host dies. The tumor needs to be cut out; that may be the only way to stop it. But America may already be too far gone. There is also evidence that Christians are seceding from the US, objecting to the wave of liberalism that gives gays the right to marry, the poor the right to contraception, and similar. The very idea that peons should be allowed to make their own choices! But Hemant Mehta suggests that this is “Holding irrational views justified by nothing but their own bigotry (or selective Bible verses).” Amen, again.

Article on an end-of-life option. The medical establishment labors to preserve life as far as a person's wallet will go, but what about those with terminal conditions, who face nothing but increasing pain and impoverishment for their families and who rationally want to opt out? They actually imprisoned one doctor who tried to promote a painless death option. Well, it seems there is an option, apart from eating rat poison or buying a gun: refuse sustenance. VSED: Voluntarily Stop Eating and Drinking. In a couple of weeks you'll be dead. VSED is legal everywhere, because rational folk can't be force fed. It seems it is not actually all that painful. Just initial hunger pangs and a very dry mouth. The first will pass, and the second can be abated with a mouthwash. In some areas a doctor is allowed to prescribe morphine. Just make sure your family is on board. I knew Scott Nearing, the political radical, personally; he was a neighbor and a nice guy. When I was I think eight years old I went to buy maple sugar from him—he made it on his Vermont Green Mountains farm—explaining that it was my birthday. “Mine too,” he said, and so it was, over half a century apart. I think I got that maple sugar free. He lived to 100, then stopped eating, then stopped drinking, and died. He went out with class.

Assorted notes: Article suggesting that your birth year may be your political destiny. Those born in 1954 are evenly divided between Republican and Democrat. 1964 tend Republican. 1974, Republican. 1984, Democrat. Interesting. I was born in 1934, so am off that scale. Maybe that explains why I am politically independent, and have been all my life. An openly gay police chief in South Carolina was fired for it. But she was popular, truly dedicated to her job, and the townsfolk rebelled. They stripped the mayor of most of his power, and rehired the police chief. Well, good for them. I tackle the newspaper daily chess puzzles, but sometimes they annoy me. Such as the one for 7-15-2014, where the challenge was for White to force mate. But it was impossible for White to have the move, because Black was already in check. They had to have the position wrong. But even when corrected, their answer doesn't work. Am I the only reader to actually look at these puzzles? A study shows that taking too much niacin, a B-complex vitamin, may be risky, and it doesn't seem to help prevent heart problems. About six of every thousand people have heterochromia, or eyes of two different colors, such as one blue, one brown. And a letter in the local newspaper by Bud Tritschler suggests that there is a better mode than the income tax: the automatic transaction tax. Every money transaction transfers a very small portion to the US Treasury. This eliminates the need for tax form, deadlines, penalties, tax records, loopholes, exemptions and all the other IRS stuff. In short, a painless way to run the government. Looks good to me; I wonder where's the catch?

NEW SCIENTIST has articles on friendship. It seems that only the smartest creatures have what it takes to make friends, but there are real benefits. People with weak social relationships are 50% more likely to die in a given period than those with strong ties. Folk with quality friendships are also happier. The six most important criteria are language, profession, world view (political, moral, religious), sense of humor, local identity, and education. Some have more friends than others; it is uncertain whether this is because of culture or biology. Can straight men and women be just friends? Yes, but attraction is a frequent component. Young men tend to be attracted to women, while women are more interested in protection. So they can be friends, but sex/romance are likely to be part of it. Do male and female friendships differ? Yes; women are more likely to have a best friend, while men hang out with a group. Are all friendships good for you? No; some are “frenemies” such as family members or work associates you can't eliminate, and they aren't good. Does friendship change as we age? Yes; children really need only one close friend; teens need more. Adult friendships change as adult tastes change. How do Facebook friends compare to real life ones? There can be more of them; otherwise they're similar. Is there a formula for maintaining a friendship? The closer the friend, the more often the contact. I find this interesting, because as a writer I am mostly alone; company interferes with writing. So am I damaging my satisfaction of life, or shortening it? Or are my friends like Facebook friends (I'm not on Facebook), being my email correspondents? I am constantly interacting with my fans. Speaking of which, item in THE WEEK indicates that more and more retirees are embracing the “Golden Girls” life, finding compatible roommates to live with. It's not just to split expenses; it shares the work and has “built-in companionship.” Makes sense to me.

WEEK a page on vitamins: Are they good for you? Of course, but what about supplements? The conclusion is that they have no clear benefit. Well, now; I take half a slew of supplements. As with my seat belt analogy: I always use the seat belt in the car, not because I expect an accident (I was once in a rollover) but because I want to survive if there is one. So for a typical drive, the seat belt does me no good, but that does not invalidate its use, any more than health insurance when you don't have a health crisis. I eat a healthy vegetarian diet, and hope that suffices to keep me healthy, but if anything is missing, I trust the supplements will make up the difference. Specifically, I take kelp, for the iodine, because I use sea salt and that is not iodized and I have a thyroid condition; regular food does not provide enough. I take calcium and magnesium and Vitamin K2 to shore up my bones, as I suffered bone thinning on the regular diet. I take zinc for prostate health; my prostate enlarged and I had to have a biopsy just in case it was cancer (it wasn't), but when I got on the zinc that abated and my prostate is fine. I use Vitamin C to deal with the common cold, and it has pretty much abolished it. I take probiotics to restore the beneficial bacteria that antibiotics eliminate. And so on; I believe that supplements do safeguard my health. So for me, articles that claim my supplements are wasted are wrong, and I suspect I am one of the healthier men of my age, which is about to be 80. I don't depend on supplements alone, of course. I exercise seriously, I get enough sleep (I don' use an alarm clock), I take precautions such as the seat belt in the car and helmet on bike or scooter, I never smoked, I try to avoid drugs, alcohol, sugar, fats, I keep salt low, and I try to minimize stress. But as I type this, I am feeling a tooth that I fear means more mischief; my teeth laugh at my health efforts. A recent news item suggests that the real cause of obesity is too little physical activity. Folk are becoming less active, and obesity is rising proportionately. That can shorten life expectancy by 6½ to 14 years. I don't have that problem.

A recent poll claims that Obama is the worst president of the modern era. But it seems that the man on the street always names the incumbent as the worst. Bush was hated, Clinton was low, and of course Nixon was lucky to stay out of prison. Few folk today remember how unpopular Reagan was, until the Fed started pumping money into the system for his re-election. There's also a question how many of the poll-ees are exercising their bigotry; racism has been rampant since a black man took the office. I suspect history will have another verdict.

Article by Ryan Pandya in NEW SCIENTIST asks “What if we could make real milk from scratch without the use of a cow?” This intrigues me, because milk is one of the few animal products I use. I worry about how they treat the cows. Mr. Pandya is working on developing animal-free milk, which would be real milk assembled directly from plant ingredients, not soy or nuts. I would gladly buy and use it, if the price were equivalent. I'd like to see meats similarly developed, to eliminate the dreadful slaughter industry, and others are working on that. There may yet come a new and better day.

A fan called my attention to a commentary on Xanth #1 A Spell for Chameleon. First a bit of background: I had been blacklisted six years by a publisher because I had the temerity to object to being cheated; in those days authors did not have the right to question publishers. Then a new administration whose editor had been similarly cheated invited me back; he knew the truth. I struggled with the decision, and decided to do it, and that in long retrospect turned out to be perhaps the best decision of my writing career, because that same publisher put me on the national best seller lists and made me a millionaire. It started with Spell, which I thought would be a singleton novel. So I used a standard medieval background for Xanth, the name adapted from the female name I liked, Xanthe, meaning blond, the central Castle Roogna adapted from the name of a fan in Estonia, Martin Roogna, the land being the state of Florida made magic, and the gimmick being that every citizen had a magic talent of some sort, even if only to make a spot on a wall. Suppose one man didn't have a demonstrable talent? I found I couldn't take fantasy seriously, so it became humorous and often a parody of conventional attitudes. That commenced a series that now numbers 40 novels (the last two are still in the pipeline), the first of which won the British Fantasy Award and has sold—I haven't counted recently—somewhere over a million copies, with I think many more readers; folk tend to keep and share my books. As the series progressed the milieu took more specific form. At the editor's request I upgraded the language of the first so it wouldn't be mistaken as juvenile; Xanth from the outset has been an adult series. But children loved it anyway, though many may miss the snide references to the dread Adult Conspiracy that makes even panties suspect. As I said, parody of contemporary attitudes I find foolish. As a grandma reader remarked: panties aren't the best thing in life, just next to it. Later there came the simplified language version that is now the electronic edition, doing well. So Xanth was a pastiche of what was convenient, but it put me on the map and remains in vigorous print.

So what of the critics? Their general consensus seems to be that well, Spell is okay, but the others are derivative lesser efforts best ignored. Now, 37 years later, comes a novelette length commentary by Ana Mardoll, posted Sunday, July 27, 2014: “Xanth: We Need To Talk About Piers Anthony.” Read it at www.anamardoll.com/2014/07/xanth-we-need-to-talk-about-piers.html. She says that much of male-authored fantasy is rapey, which is, as I interpret it, encouraging rape, and Spell is an example. I suspect she is of that school of feminism that regards sex as a conspiracy to degrade women. She quotes pages-long passages and delivers her interpretations, applying her particular perspective and almost completely tone deaf to the parody, which she takes as the author's view. Two examples should suffice; go to the original commentary for plenty more. She remarks how Chameleon cycles from lovely but stupid to smart but ugly—she wanted a spell to change that, per the title—and how men prefer the former. (Bink himself actually preferred the mid point: an ordinary woman with ordinary intelligence, but never mind that here.) “Really, this book is all about how women are basically shit.” Come again, Ana? Then at the end when the new King Trent marries the Sorceress Iris it was a union of convenience, rather than love, as we know. Trent tells her “Now put on your pretty face; we have company,” and the middle aged woman is replaced by a stunning young lady in a low-cut dress. Remember, her talent is illusion. Mardoll says “The dripping hatred here is just so visceral. Iris in her natural 40-year-old form, no matter how neatly groomed and lovely she is, is still unacceptable to be seen in public. Instead she has to be YOUNGER and show CLEAVAGE because that's what we want in women and queens...which means whipping your hot tits out any time the King says so.” Yes, exactly as in Mundania and the entire Romance genre of literature that this fantasy echoes. Got it straight now? You thought Xanth was fun? To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It's a good thing Mardoll didn't tackle ChroMagic, where women are sexual playthings and proud of it; she'd have suffered a heartless attack.

I watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and was moved. What's curious is that he is born something like 87 years old but lives backwards, getting younger, until at last he expires as a baby. So we see this small child with an old man's face and spectacles, using crutches to get around, but getting stronger as he youthens. Apart from that it's a nice if slow-moving romance and life adventure. He meets the girl he loves when she is about five years old, and sees her every few years until they marry and have a child. Then he is getting too young, and leaves her rather than force her to raise both him and their daughter. This might have been played for laughs, but it's serious, and painful in places. She locates him toward his end, when he no longer remembers her, and becomes like a mother to him, finally holding his baby form in her arms as he closes his eyes for the last time. I'd call this true love.

I didn't watch Snowpiercer, a movie one reviewer called the best film of the year, maybe the best ever, because it didn't come to Citrus County and was completely unmentioned in the local newspapers. What did they have against it, to freeze it out like that? You know something's fishy when a top prospect is not even listed, so as to keep viewers ignorant; I get that sort of treatment in some circles with some of my novels. I had to go to my movie-freak daughter to even verify its existence. This is set in a post-apocalyptic future with an ice-locked Earth. The last survivors are on a perpetually moving train, and it seems that all the action occurs on that train as rebels try to topple the existing regime wherein the accommodations are much nicer up front than at the rear of the bus, so to speak. I hope to catch it eventually on DVD.

My spot research project for the month was Fluoridation: good or bad? The indication is that it is bad. Folk who doubt this are welcome to go to the same references I did, and refute them if they can. I have seen how the cigarette industry held off the truth for decades, to protect their profits; and how the powers that be won't give Vitamin C a fair test against the common cold—that is, take one gram per waking hour until symptoms abate, usually three days for me, less for others—because effective elimination of the common cold would vitiate the profitable fake nostrums industry. Corporations are not in business for our health. But involuntarily dosing entire populations with dilute poison that doesn't help the teeth but does do other damage is an outrage, regardless which corporations profit. If you value your health as I do, check this out.

Next month I, as a lifelong agnostic, tackle Jesus: did he exist? Was he divine? Initial indications are mixed. Stay tuned.

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