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Piers Anthony, April, 2022

Mayhem 2022

HI-

The ogres really go wild this month, their happiest state. Other creatures may not be as thrilled, as trees crash and splinter, saplings are tied into knots, ponds are splashed out of existence, houses are bashed into matchsticks, stray young dragons are taught the meaning of fear, and other aspects of the scenery suffer more serious damage. But nobody says anything, because they remember when a goblin band foolishly attacked a wandering ogre, thinking to chop him up and cook him for dinner. Some of them got their heads jammed through knotholes, which wasn’t too healthy for the holes, some wound up in orbit around the moon, and the rest were less fortunate. So if you encounter an ogre having a little innocent fun with the landscape, cower down in your hurricane shelter until he moves on. That’s the polite response.

MaryLee and I had a quiet and nice celebration of our two year wedding anniversary by watching the movie sequel to Wonder Woman. It started slow and-seemingly not too relevant, but about halfway through picked up velocity and was fun watching. Maybe it got a new director. MaryLee noticed the action, while I noticed WW’s exposed legs as she walked, and her deep cleavage as she flew. A good movie appeals to both the male and female audience, no?

I wrote two more chapters of Three Novel Nymphs, bringing the novel to about 60,000 words, and made notes for the remainder. The nymphs have recruited the five Elements, and have as powerful a group as has ever been assembled, but now they face an opposing Demon. It is said that the ratio of a capital D Demon to an ordinary person is that of a galaxy to a grain of sand, but that understates the case. This seems likely to be a challenge, especially for nymphs whose prior experience consists of Only One Thing, all that nymphs are supposed to be good for. That rankles them, and they are out to prove otherwise. Can they possibly succeed, incidentally saving Xanth from destruction? Stay tuned; I'm still figuring it out.

Continuing my policy of glancing through stray books on my library shelves as I impatiently wait the one minute intervals for my email jet-pack to connect to the internet, I tried The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, which we bought in 1997. They are arranged alphabetically by subject. The great majority are unfamiliar to me, and some I knew were not there, but it’s an interesting compendium. For example there’s the poem the poet Pope put on the tag on a royal dog: “I am his Highness’s dog at Kew; / Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?” There’s one tongue twister my British mother remembered from her childhood, which starts “Betty Botter bought some butter, / But, she said, this butter’s bitter” and concludes “So t'was better Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter.” Some of the other rhymes have racist references, showing how times have changed, at least in overt expression. More is needed.

Then there’s Desmond Morris Body Watching, which we bought in 1988. My books, like me, tend to come from another century, and may not be familiar to 21st century natives. This is a fascinating book, and not just because of the occasional nude pictures. It goes through the human body from head to foot, copiously illustrated. I made check marks in the margins, but there are so many that I will have to be selective, again. It remarks on the human division of labor, with males specializing in hunting and females in food gathering and child rearing. So the males became more muscular, and the females developed layers of insulating fat, making their limbs smoother, while their hips widened. Because parental duties are too heavy for the female to handle alone, the species developed pair bonding known as love. The chances of a woman bearing twins is about one in a hundred, triplets one in ten thousand, quadruplets one in a million. She has, after all, only two breasts to suckle them, unlike more practical animals like the pig. Then on to the details, starting with the hair. It is the longest and most luxuriant of any primate species. It says it is of equal length, both sexes, if left uncut, but I wonder. My first wife Carol had hair down past her butt, and both daughters had hair down to their knees, but mine, uncut for a score of years, is hardly eighteen inches. Don’t get me wrong; I love the long tresses of women. Male sex hormones thin the hair, eventually causing baldness. Yes, mine is thinning. We seem to be the only animal lacking tactile hairs, like cat’s whiskers, and we can't make our hair stand on end when we are angry. A punishment for women can be shaving their heads bald. Sexually repressive societies like the Puritans oppose the erotic texture of a woman’s hair, so she had to stuff it under a cap or wear it in a bob. The thing I remember about the Puritans is that they left England so they would not suffer repression, but then in America they repressed others. So it wasn't freedom they sought, but power. Which reminds me in turn of someone who told me I'd never make it in the US Army as a vegetarian. Well I made it just fine. He said he had had an awful time as an enlisted man, but later he returned as an officer and found out how great the Army could be. Yes, it must seem much better when you're the boss instead of the servant.

But I drift. It’s one penalty of having an independent mind. Next is the brow, which it seems can be marvelously expressive, accenting facial movements. The eyes, which are estimated to bring in eighty per cent of our information about the outside world. Their tears are not only lubricants, but bactericidal. It seems there is no blue pigment in blue eyes or green in green eyes. As a blue-eyed man whose eyes are now fading to gray I find that interesting. Imaginary color? The nose acts as an air conditioning unit. I remember that people in regions where the air is fouler have bigger noses, in time. So if you want a pretty little nose, live in pure air, if you can find it. There is a question whether a man’s nose emulates his penis. I remember a joke wherein a woman asked an authority whether it was true that the size and shape of a man’s nose indicated the size and shape of his penis. He replied that that was as true as that the size and shape of a woman’s mouth reflected that of her vagina. She said “Oh,” with extremely tight pursed lips. The ears are shaped to deliver undistorted sound. Sexual arousal makes the lobes swell. Symbolically the ear has been viewed as like the female genitals. Thus mythologically, certain folk were born through the ear. Pulling on a male lobe was thought to extend the length of his penis. Because evil spirits try constantly to get into a person via any available aperture, earrings were employed to scare them off. The cheek is considered the gentlest part of the human body. Blushing starts at the cheeks. Mark Twain said “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.” It has also been taken as a signal of virginity. Girls in ancient slave markets fetched much higher prices if they blushed. The mouth has been described as the battleground of the face, being the most expressive. Human lips are unlike those of other primates in that they are everted, rolled outwards to expose parts of the mucous membrane. During sexual arousal they swell, mimicking a woman’s other labia, the genitals; that’s why women paint their lips red, making them sexually more exciting. The tongue too has been likened to the penis, so sticking it out is saying “Fuck you!” The mouth kisses, echoing the contact of the genitals in a socially approved manner. The mouth also yawns. Why? Nobody knows. Except, it seems, me. I like to make sense of things, so I try to think them through. This is an example of the vital interaction between the parts of our body. The ears have an ear drum to reverberate to sound. It has air on either side of it that needs to be kept clear. If it filled with fluid or got coated in dirt or even stale air our hearing would suffer. So there is the Eustachian tube extending from the inner ear to the back of the mouth. Normally our activity keeps a flow of air going through the tube, and the pressure equalized, but when we get sleepy our activity diminishes and the flow stops. So we have the reflex of the yawn to open the tube back up and restore freshness to the inner ear. Now you know. Explain it to your doctor, who will be surprised how the obvious could have been such a mystery for so long. Then there’s the beard. The world record length is 17½ feet. It seems to be a display of masculinity, the way the developed breasts display femininity for women. Shaving the beard off is to make a man appear less threatening to others. I remember my father wondering why men would want to be “woman faced.” But sometimes society required it. In Massachusetts in 1830 a bearded man had his windows broken, stones thrown at him by children, and communion refused by the local church. He was attacked by four men who tried to shave him by force. When he fought back, he was arrested and jailed for a year for assault. So shaving became a worldwide appeasement display. And I am only halfway through the book. I now regard it as one of the more significant books I have encountered. I will cover the other half next column.

The Equedia Letter keeps coming. The April 3, 2022 edition discusses the economy. It starts with the advice “Forget the CPI.” In my day journalists knew not to use initials without first spelling out the words, so as not to confuse the reader. But this is a different and in some ways inferior time. So I will spell them out: CPI stands for Consumer Price Index. That’s the calculated average prices of things, so you know how much your money is worth now, compared to what it was last year, last decade, or whenever. It constantly rises, except in really challenging times, so that money is worth less and less. This is largely because the government practices inflation, which essentially is spending money it doesn't have, printing more of it to cover expenses without directly taxing the populace. That keeps the sheep from catching on too quickly and making trouble, such as voting the spendthrifts out. Okay, that’s my explanatory commentary. Now back to the Letter. “You don't need a politically-manipulated index to confirm that prices are getting out of hand.” For sure. It says that home prices are hitting new records month after month; in metro Miami the average rent jumped over fifty per cent in the past year. Here in Citrus County it’s similarly bad. The Republicans want to blame it on the Democrats, but I suspect it is the fallout from the Trump administration, as there is normally about a two year lag between printing press money and its apparent devaluation. Politicians count on that. It’s like stealing, knowing that by the time the theft is discovered, the thief will be out of the country, safe from retribution. But that’s my comment, not the Letter. It asks what stoked the highest post-war inflation? It says that President Nixon ended the Bretton Woods agreement and took the dollar off gold backing. That opened the gates wide to irresponsible inflation. Second, OPEC (that’s the foreign oil cartel) declared economic war with the West and sent oil prices soaring. They were using oil as a weapon to get back at the Western support for Israel. In sum, it was taking the dollar off the gold standard, and theSoil and commodities crunch. So what about today? Because of Covid, the Fed printed trillions of dollars to shore up the economy, splashing it across the economy like gasoline on a fire. Then the Democrats passed the trillion dollar infrastructure bill and other measures for a $7.5 trillion stimulus. All that money is mischief. This pumped up demand, while supply remained limited. Then came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which holds a quarter of the world’s oil reserves and a good deal of things like sunflower seed oil, wheat, rape (that’s a grain), barley, and corn. So supplies are getting squeezed. No wonder prices are racing upward.

The April 10, 2022 Edition concerns the global monetary order. Back when the dollar was backed by gold, it was relatively stable. Today we are trying to get a new backing, based on commodity-based currencies. Not just gold, but things of lasting value. It’s too early to see how that will work out. Meanwhile inflation rages. The April 17 Edition discusses how the government controls inflation and the economy. To match the wealth of a millionaire fifty years ago you would have to have $6.5 million today. So much of wealth at present is illusory, but the common man falls for it. The Consumer Price Index masks inflation; it’s worse than the statistics indicate. Inflation provides the illusion of wealth. The government plays the average voter for a sucker. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Indeed.

I am trying to keep up with my magazine subscriptions, having caught up on the backlog at the turn of the year. I tend to have more things to do than I have time to do them, a chronic condition for a workaholic. Here are a few more. IG LIVING – the letters stand for Immune Globulin, which my first wife Carol needed for the last fifteen years of her life, hence its interest to me – has a page titled “Pandemic, Epidemic and Endemic: What Do These Terms Mean?” And it answers. An epidemic is a widespread disease in a certain region at a particular time, like the annual flu in America. A pandemic is worldwide. An endemic disease occurs regularly, the number of victims relatively constant. Such as malaria. An article addresses the distinction between viruses and bacteria. Bacteria are living organisms which can reproduce, grow, and move in a variety of settings. Examples are tuberculosis, whooping cough, and leprosy. Viruses are smaller and need to occupy living cells. Examples are the common cold, rabies, and HIV. And an article on how stress impacts your immune system. Chronic stress weakens it, so you then fall victim to, well, arterial or viral illnesses. You need to learn to cope with stress, by watching what you eat, getting moving, sleeping, and maintaining a positive mindset. Yes I know; this is hard to do in today’s world. I am reminded yet again of the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” We do live in interesting times.

FREE INQUIRY, the Secular Humanist magazine, has in the February | March 2022 issue an Op-Ed piece by Gregory S Paul titled “The Religious Right Death Cult.” That’s putting it bluntly. The illustration has a picture of a campaign sign saying MY GUNS! MY BIBLE! MY PRESIDENT! Trump 2020. it says that Trump was behind the development of vaccines and urged their use at a summer rally until his audience booed him down. So no more shots and masks. Few evangelical children are being vaccinated. “Saving lives is obviously not their priority, which helps explain why killing off Americans is the conservative tradition. All other developed democracies enjoy universal health care that costs a lot less while delivering low rates of prenatal, juvenile, and adult mortality. The religious Right has ensured that America alone is afflicted by the most expensive and deadly health-care system in the Western world in the name of the liberty they imagine their creator savors.” Then there is God, the gun, and the Bible. Conservative Christians say that Jesus came to Earth not to bring peace but to bring the sword and turn people against one another. With more guns in the nation than there are people, the United States suffers from by far the highest homicide rates in the first world. “So if antiabortionists tell you they are pro-life, ask if they are pro-vaccines and masks. If they are not, feel free to inform them they are actually part of the Christian death cult that is doing real harm to these United States.” Um, I would qualify that to first make sure you can defend yourself when they try to kill you, in the name of pro-life. In another op-ed by S.T. Josh theoretically on pronouns, he gives some definitions. “Fascists are those who are not content to do or not do something; they want everyone to do or not do it. An anti-abortionist is a fascist because she not only doesn’t wish to have an abortion herself, she wants no one to have an abortion. A religious bigot is not satisfied with worshiping the god of his choice; he wants everyone to worship that god.” It also mentions “...the brazen actions of the GOP in laying the groundwork for stealing the 2024 presidential election...” This magazine must be high on the hit list of the book burners! Then an article by Karen I Shragg titled “What gives overpopulation its legs?” It says that overpopulation exists because there are more successful births than deaths, in a landscape of limited resources. Overpopulation is perhaps the salient issue of the day, yet is largely ignored by climate activists. Much more needs to be done, and soon. And one by Patrick Gannon titled “Abortion: What Happens to the Souls?” It says, in part “If abortion is bad because it kills a human, and if it’s human because it has a soul, then they must tell us what happens to the soul and understand the ramifications abortion has for the disposition of those souls.” I don’t like abortions myself, for personal reasons, and don’t believe in the soul as a tangible entity, but these are good questions. The antiabortionists seem to do everything to keep the baby alive until birth, but then don’t seem to care whether it lives or dies. If it dies, the soul is lost anyway, so why not let it be lost earlier? My answer I have given before: the real agenda is to punish the woman for the sin of having careless sex. Incest or rape or a husband who refuses to allow contraception are all part of that carelessness. She must be punished. It’s a religious thing they won’t admit. Another article addresses that religion. “What Is the Likelihood That the Bible Is True?” by Andy Rhodes asks, in part, “What is the likelihood that an all-powerful god that knows far more about science, psychology, and morality than humans could ever know would set up a universe that is full of ambiguity, pain, confusion, and suffering for sentient creatures — and then blame the system upon the most sentient of those creatures?” Why would such a god promote the ideas of autocracy and theocracy in the sacred texts instead of democracy and republicanism? Including such barbarisms as permanent slavery and colonial warfare as part of its chosen people’s divinely sanctioned behavior? The article goes on to quote from the Bible, documenting the case. Do the believers ever answer this? Do they actually read the Bible?

The Progressive for February/March 2022 is similarly savage on its own topics. The editor, Bill Lueders, tells how his mother was evicted from her senior living facility at age ninety-seven. Apparently they found her too complicated to maintain, so they kicked her out. Similarly 13,000 others were booted in 2019. Isn’t that against the law? Yes, but the average family lacks the resources to sue, so the law is not enforced. This makes me extremely cautious about ever retiring to such a facility. Then there is “The Fight for Democracy” by Matthew Rothschild, which addresses the matter of the Republican’s effort to subvert democracy. “This movement consists of a toxic combination of white nationalism, the Trump cult, irrationalism (e.g., Covid deniers and Q Anon followers). And the right wing media ecosystem that fuels it all. It is a formidable threat that we underestimate at our peril.” He documents the case in Wisconsin, but it is far wider than that. Further along is a page of quotes. The intro says “The Republican Party’s contempt for democracy could not be more obvious.” The quotes from politicians document the case. Yes, I am liberal, but I belong to no political party, and no religion. I don’t much like rightist attitudes, and my selections reflect it.

the humanist (they have it uncapped) for Spring 2022 has an article “Why Every Parent should be a Gay-Friendly Parent,” by Dennis Cresswell. “Out of fear that their parents won’t accept them as they are, many gay kids hide their feelings for a long time. If open discussions don’t happen until puberty, that’s about 10 years too late.” Gay kids often suffer emotionally, do poorly in school, get into alcohol or drugs. They may be bullied. “They are three times more likely to attempt suicide.” I repeat my attitude toward gays: I am thoroughly heterosexual. I love the look and feel of women, and no I'm not about to try any part of the gay life, and I don’t want anyone trying to persuade me otherwise. Having said that, I assume the gays, male and female, are as firm in their orientation as I am in mine, and I won’t try to change them or condemn them. It's the Golden Rule. We can get along well; there just won’t be any romance between us. And yes, I support gay rights; they are people too. They should be free to participate openly in school, work, politics, or whatever, without any snubbing. And an article “Where Did Bible Stories Come From?” by Herb Silverman. It says the Flood story was not original; it seems to have been plagiarized from the older Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, written about 1800 BCE. The story of Lot also predates the Bible, including how his daughters, lacking men, took turns getting him drunk and having incestuous sex with him so they could get pregnant. God blessed those unions. Lot’s wife, remember, was turned into a pillar of salt. The Garden of Eden seems to derive from Sumerian myth, forbidden fruit and all. Only there Adam’s rib was sore, so the first woman was created to heal it. Apparently it got garbled in the Bible. And an article titled “Book Banners and the Growing War on the Freedom to Think” by Rob Boston. The banners don’t like LGBTQ themed books, or Harry Potter novels, or recognized classics, or occult texts. But they have a problem: the internet. The classics like Of Mice and Men and 1984 are there, beyond the torches. I guess they have a problem. My sympathy is slight; I think book burners are the real un-Americans.

And the clippings. THE WEEK has a discussion about how Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is an unhinged conspiracy theorist. She called for a coup, to overturn the last election, saying “release the kraken!” The kraken is a fabled sea monster probably inspired by sightings of the deep sea giant squid. She gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by conservative activist groups. She influences her husband, who refuses to recuse himself from key votes. There’s a stench, echoed by a court that seems increasingly hostile to American values. Russia’s Putin is widely rumored to be the richest man on Earth, but it doesn’t show on paper. He seems to have garnered it via shady dealings. The hearings for Judge Ketangi Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to make it to the Supreme Court, seem to show the Republican agenda. They attacked “LGBTQ rights, marriage equality, contraception, and abortion.” They pandered to QAnon followers, who believe that Democrats are running a secret child sex trafficking ring. But Judge Jackson handled it all with equanimity. Russian precision-guided missiles aimed at Ukraine are failing at a rate as high as 50 to 60 percent. That suggests that the invasion is not just an international crime, but also rather clumsy. Meanwhile Covid-19 deaths were 415,000 in 2021, and drug overdose deaths look to be 105,000 for 2021. So the U.S. has the highest death total ever, and calculated life expectancy has dropped a year and a half, to 77 years. The Ask Marilyn column for April 24, 2022, addresses the question of why about 40% of college students don’t make it to graduation. “Students must study subjects in which they have no interest and will never put to use.” Yes, wouldn’t it be great if modern education addressed the needs of society? As it is, many students go deeply into debt studying irrelevance. I discovered a misfiled Ann Landers column for September 19, 1998, that remains relevant today. It’s a poem about when you just want someone to listen. Don’t try to fix it or argue, just listen. I, as a man, tend to want to fix things. I will try to reform. THE WEEK for April 29th mentions the GOP’s abuse of state power, warning that “woke” companies like Disney could be in trouble if the Republicans get back in power. Well, it's already happening; Florida Governor DeSantis and the Republicans are passing laws targeting Disney World. Why? Because Disney supports rights for gays. In the news, Russia’s Putin seems isolated, paranoid, and possibly unwell. He might be more comfortable in American politics. NEW SCIENTIST for 2 April, 2022, has an article titled “Consciousness in the Cosmos” by Thomas Lewton. Physicists are rethinking the relationship between matter and mind. Consciousness, as you know, is one of my buttons. We constantly relate to the outer world, the universe and its contents, but what about our inner world? The “hard problem” of consciousness is the seemingly insoluble question of why matter inside our skull gives rise to a personal subjective experience. Some dismiss it as a useful illusion. Some illusion! I can doubt just about anything, but can't doubt my consciousness. Physics was transformed by quantum mechanics and general relativity. But our interpretation of the universe is our reality. Do we have a way to explain it all? That seems to be a question without an answer. Yet. THE WEEK for April 22, 2022, has a page discussing how while gun violence is soaring, many states are making it far easier to carry concealed weapons. The two do go together. One problem is Ghost Guns, such as those made by 3D printers that have no serial numbers and can’t be identified. This is mischief. Ghost guns now account for 25 to 50 percent of firearms found at crime scenes. Naturally Republicans oppose any regulation as unconstitutional. Maybe that will change when some of them get shot by such guns. Article on hummingbirds says that their brightest colors come from tiny layers of feather cells that break the light into brilliant colors, just as water breaks light into a rainbow. They beat their wings up to 80 times a second. Their flight muscles make up about a third of their weight. They are the only birds that can fly backward, upside down, or sideways for more than a few seconds. They need to eat twice their body weight in nectar every day, feeding on hundreds of flowers. NEW SCIENTIST for 9 April article “Lost footprints of our ancestors” by Colin Barras. It turns out that there is a lot of information to be had from fossilized footprints. A young woman struggles across a muddy plain with a three year old child on her left hip. She puts the youngster down to catch her breath. But she is too afraid to pause for long. They are alone, easy prey for lurking Sabre-toothed cats. She picks up the child and hurries on, vanishing into the distance. For a time all is quiet. Then a giant ground sloth plods across the path she took. The animal catches the woman’s scent and is instantly on guard, rearing up and turning to scan the landscape for human hunters. Then the footprints return, apparently without the child. Did she deliver it to the father? Who was she, and why was she traveling alone? We don’t know, but it’s a lot more than we knew before. Other footprints tell other stories, with similar mysterious. Were they our ancestors? Damn, I wish we knew more.

I have more clippings, but less time. Two matters to mention passingly because they are in process without any settlement yet. One is that there is current movie/TV interest in several of my series. If it follows the usual pattern, it will all come to nothing, but there is always hope. Fans often ask why there has never been a Xanth movie. Plain bad luck, as movie options have crashed when new personnel came into play in the studios. The other is that though I have worked for scores of years to live the healthiest feasible lifestyle, a routine visit to my doctor turned up an accelerated pulse and a heart flutter. Not serious, I really hope, but they are running tests and have me on $500 a month medication. It seems to be effective, so far. But I am 87 years old, and my body may be running down. Also, I have a toothache, which is odd even for me because I have no teeth. Something must be happening in the implant that supports the stub that holds the denture in place. Bleep! More anon, when.

PIERS

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