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Since I Never Get the Last Word

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Good ole Robert Heinlein, in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, presented a basic law of engineering: there ainít no such thing as a free lunch, that I have quoted more times than I could possibly count. I have been continuously amazed over the years to see how many situations to which that law applies. The TANSTAAFL law is now apparently associated with a Newsweek magazine columnist named Milton Friedman who wrote a book by that name in 1975. I havenít read the book so I donít know if he credited earlier sources, e.g., RAH. Iím not certain that RAH credited any source either but I know that Burton Friedman employed the term in his 1959 book, The Sophisticated Investor.

The term may well have originated in 19th century New York city bars where sandwiches were free to paying customers. Buy a beer, get a sandwich. Donít buy a beer; get a boot.

But, thatís not the point I wish to make today. After careful observation of television ads over the last bunch of years, The Lady Who Share Her Life With Me and I have determined that anything advertised on television that does not cost $19.95US is probably not worth purchasing. All the really good stuff is $19.95. Well, plus shipping and handling, but, hey, thatís just the cost of doing mail order business.

We have observed things priced at $29.95 and $14.95 but the inferiority of those products to the $19.95 products is blatant. Makes you wonder how they get away with advertising such tripe. We are therefore proposing a new law: If it ain't priced at $19.95US; it ain't worth buying which will go by the simple name of $19.95US.

Which leadsto our latest get rich-quick-scheme. Weíre going to patronize the on-line matchmaking services and, when we are not in love within the first two weeks, weíre going to sue for false advertising. Itís sure fire because those flim flam artistsÖer, servicesÖ.charge way more than $19.95US.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-09-19 09:10:38

Sunday, September 17, 2006
Joe Versus the Universe

Many people think of the retired life as one of leisurely enjoyment. I admit I was hoping for some such as, after making the trip to the top of the mountain to discover my inner me, I confirmed what I always suspected: I am, basically, a lazy bastard. Ergo, swoyi, and therefore, retirement should suit me just fine.

Unfortunately, the universe seems intent on inserting stuff into my daily schedule. This is curious since I have made a real effort to leave the universe alone, sort of a live and let live philosophy.

The universe seems to have been taking lessons from Sun Tzu. How more sneaky can you get than to add pounds to my frame when I wasnít paying attention with full knowledge that mandatory visits to the MHPs will result in sorrowful looks, pre-event sympathetic sighs, and lowered-voice admonitions that exercise will help me live longer. They donít say that Iím going to die tomorrow if I donít exercise but their theatrics certainly go a long way towards implying that.

I'm certain you know what the problem with exercise is: it takes time. The universe only allots 24 hours to a day and now the MHPs Ė that could be construed as a four letter word - are advising that I devote a noticeable fraction thereof to my body. How much strength do my fingers need to depress the keys on a key board? How much longer do I want to live anyway?

Ooops! Letís not go into that one; I believe itís a lot longer than the universe suspects.

Anyway, back to time. First, there is the trip to and fro the exercise place. Thatís not too bad because I can devote that time to listening to Professor Ken Hammond discourse on 5,000 years of Chinese history. That gets me through one lecture per day so, for 36 days, Iíll be investing time in learning more about the more interesting events between Yao and Mao.

But then there is the strength and stretching class that takes an hour. Sure, youíll point out that I can now turn my head through its normal range of motion, that I can manage almost-basic exercises without thorough embarrassment, and that I am doing at least a well as the rest of the +50 years olds in the class. But, damn it all to hell!, thatís an hour out of my day three days a week.

And then thereís the cardiovascular stuff five times a week. Almost another hour Monday through Friday working out on exercise machines just to get the blood pumping. Why, I think if I spent an hour a day looking at photos of Sandra Bullock Iíd get just as much cardiovascular stimulation but who asks me?

So, a minimum of two hours five days a week and a maximum of three hours five days a week devoted to exercising my body. Does it appreciate this effort? Hell, no! It lays there on the bed at night Ė at a time when I should be plotting my next story - reminding me of this muscle here and that one over there and how long itís been since I knew they existed.

I believe itís time to go back to the mountain to discuss with the universe certain quality of life issues.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-09-17 11:08:58

Friday, September 15, 2006
Grand Finales

Random sampling of the last lines of some of my favorite books:

ďI am complete again.Ē Ivory, Mike Resnick. 1988

"What if someday we are the masters and they are the underdogs?í White Lotus, John Hersey, 1964

"But the boy, Theremís son, said stammering, ďWill you tell us how he died?---Will you tell us about the other worlds out among the stars---the other kinds of men, the other lives?Ē The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin, 1969

"I havenít seen her again, but I know I will. Soon. Soon enough.Ē Old Manís War, John Scalzi, 2005

Was consideringwhether the last sentence is more important than the first. Then, wondering whether there ought to be a relationship of the last sentence to the first sentence.

"I had many names." Ivory

"I must compose my face and push the fear and doubt beneath the skin."White Lotus

"Iíll make my report as if I told a story, for I was aught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination." The Left Hand of Darkness.

"I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday." Old Manís War

Of the four, Resnickís lines seem most integrated, connected although Herseyís have a neat correlation. LeGuin and Scalzi are harder to see the relationship. Maybe, Iím just spitting in the wind but Iíll try oen more, a prize winner, Annie Proulxís The Shipping News.

First: Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns.

Last: And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain and misery.

There is a tie, for certain, but very tenuous. So, I go to my last story and see:

First: The hustle and bustle of the hallways finally ebbed.

Last: ďNuts!Ē he thought, ďI wonder what I grew up to be.Ē

I know I wasnít thinking about it when I wrote the story. But, dang if there isnít a connection between those two lines.

Sort of like one of those British "ah ha" gardens: probably not significant but interesting when you discover it.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-09-15 09:37:27

Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Where Was I In the 70s?

How much does knowing something about an author affect your appreciation of that author? Am currently reading a collection of James Tiptree, Jr.ís short stories, this one by SFBC titled Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. About halfway through, having completed the following stories, I am surprised at what I see.

And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hillís Side, 1972

And I Have Come Upon This Place by Lost Ways, 1972

The Girl Who Was Plugged In, 1973

Houston, Houston, Do You Read?, 1976

The Last Flight of Doctor Ain, 1969

The Man Who Walked Home. 1972

The Screwfly Solution, 1977

With Delicate Mad Hands. 1981

The Women Men Donít See, 1973

Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light, 1976

I am surprised that men read these stories and determined they must have been written by a man. Okay, Awoke, Man Who Walked, and Last Flight could have been, but all the others present a view of men that only women see. So, now I wonder whether that I can see this now because I know James Tiptree, Jr. was really Alice Sheldon or because it is so damned obvious when you read the stories? Have we Ė I Ė become that much more aware of womenís issues or were there actually men writing in the 70s who understood them as well as this writing indicates? If there were, I donít remember them.

But, hey, Iím old and memory is the second thing to go.

So, they say.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-09-12 08:42:06

Saturday, September 9, 2006
A Primary Myth

There is a continuing debate occurring over in the Sci Fi thread that caused to me to reflect on the idea of myth in our culture. Almost immediately I came to the thought that the primary myth of the United States is:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,Ö

As an aspiration for political balance, the statement may well be the finest Iíve ever encountered. As a belief outside the political arena; it is patently false.

Men are created equal but women are not? Pleading the collective nature of the word ďmenĒ does not remove the notion nor the continuing history that women are somehow less than men and their fates Ė in an orderly society Ė must be determined by men. Men should decide what is best for womenís bodies, womenís aspirations, womenís dreams. A blatant example of this notion at work is the continuing argument over the idea of women in combat. If all men are created equal and ďmenĒ is meant to be read in the collective sense, than why should anyone other than the woman concerned decide whether she should volunteer and be accepted for combat?

Everyday life demonstrates men are born with different characteristics and different talents that interact with their environments to produce different results. Men- in-the-collective-sense achieve different grades in school, excel or do not excel in different sporting events, read and enjoy different books, work their way up the economic ladder with differing degrees of success. A society might attempt to create an equal playing field, but the game will determine the winners.

We might consider that all men-in-the-collective sense are equal before the law but then we would be ignoring the fact we create new classes of being all the time. We recently created one called ďterroristĒ who is not men-in-the-collective-sense and therefore not equal before the law or any other way with all other men-in-the-collective-sense And we recently created one called illegal immigrant to treat them differently from all other men-in-the-collective-sense.

Yet, our politicians and our media remind us day in and day out that, in this country, all men are created equal. They do not remind us all people are created equal or all human beings are created equal. When questioned, they will respond that everyone knows thatís what they mean, but what they say is ďall men are created equalĒ and that is what they mean.

As far as I am able, and I have varying degrees of success on any given day, I try to live the myth, I try to believe that all men-in-the-collective-sense are created equal.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-09-09 09:59:04

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