An Open Letter To The Manufacturers of the Spice Melange

Dear CHOAM Company,

I would like to take the time to complain about your spice “MELANGE (a genuine Arrakis product!) It is my opinion that not only is your overhyped and overpriced, but is deceptive and dangerous as well. My own family’s case will prove illustrative.

My wife came home with a jar of melange about six months ago, for which she paid the exorbitant price of $575. While the jar was approximately the size of the other jars in our spice rack, we were surprised and dismayed to discover that within the jar stood barely enough melange to be visible, and no, I am afraid that thoughtful as it was, the microtweezers and hufuf oil magnifying lens included was not enough to significantly improve the inconvenience of digging out enough to use in cooking. Which brings me to my second point. Regardless of your advertising copy that promises “a flavor unmatchable in the known Universe,” the overwhelming impression I got from the scent of melange is cinnamon, the best grade of which is easily purchased at about $10 for a full ounce. As to the claim that melange is “never the same taste twice,” it’s rather ridiculous to make the claim when there is not more than one taste in the jar, even for the most artful of cooks.

Finally, I must question the wisdom of allowing — let alone advertising — the fact that melange is an indispensable part of foldspace drives. I can’t think of any other machine additive I would be well-advised to put on my food and consume. Besides the which, ever since we did use melange on our Thanksgiving apple pie, our familial harmony has been shattered. Not only did no one in the family notice the expense and trouble to which we went, but my wife has been going abut murmuring that she thinks I will divorce her when I discover what she really paid for the jar of spice. My high-school age son has decided it is impossible to pass calculus no matter what he does, and the younger children are all complaining about what they are getting for Christmas, and I haven’t even finished my shopping yet. Plus ever since that meal they youngest one has seemed to be in several places at once.  If the doctor says that’s more than the fact that he’s seven years old, you may advise your legal department that they will be hearing from my lawyers.

Sincerely,

Malcolm Idaho
Duchy of Grumman

memo: write the Ix division about eye treatments, re: younger brother DI

 

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Random Stupid Ideas: Rejectomancy Magazine!

Okay, I completely missed yesterday’s blog, because the muse still had not let go of my hair and I was trying to slam out the last 3000 words of an 8000 word story. I finished it this morning, and am now in recovery mode. So here’s Monday’s blog. On Tuesday.

So, have you ever eaten at Ed Debevics? Yeah, it’s that restaurant chain that looks and feels like a fifties diner, only the waitstaff is paid to abuse you by making commentary on your clothes, your face, and your non-participation in singing “YMCA” by the Village People?*

So, I was thinking of this amazing concept, that people would actually pay to be insulted, and how writers are used to being ignored and also see rejection letters — especially personal rejection letters — as good things, and suddenly, an idea was conceived. You ready?

REJECTOMANCY MAGAZINE! The only online magazine in the world where you will submit absolutely knowing that you will be rejected! Takes the guesswork out of it entirely! You send us a story and we GUARANTEE that you will not only GET a rejection, but that it will be a personal and entertaining rejection that WE WILL PUBLISH, telling EVERYONE why we rejected your story!

So not only do we guarantee you a personal response, but WE PUBLISH YOU AS WELL! NOW how does it sound?

All right, so now it’s time for us to answer some questions form our hypothetical audience:

Hypothetical Questioner #1: What, you’re going to reject us, AND publish our story?

A: Hah-hah. No. What are you, stupid? But we will publish the response, maybe with a sentence or two of excerpts designed to highlight your atrocious grammar and impenetrable “style” for the express purposes of a) telling you why we’re not the only people rejecting you and b) making fun of youTechnically, that means that you will have “been published. Sort of.

HQ#2: And you think people will pay for this?

A: Of course not. That would be even harder than getting people to pay money to enter writing contests, which is already stupid and unethical.

HQ#3: But you think people will participate?

A: I don’t know. Possibly. It amounts to offering an honest, albeit tongue-in-cheek and insulting, microcritique. And that’s something a lot of people really do need and want. And the ones who need it most are the least likely to get it. They get form letters.

HQ#4: Well, how do we know you won’t just read the first page and reject us based on that?

A: Um, we absolutely will do that. Do you think pro magazines do differently? The difference is that instead of publishing stories we like, we’ll shred the whole manuscript of those.

HQ#5: What if I send you a story that is so good you just HAVE to publish it?

A: You are EXACTLY the kind of person who needs to submit here, you poor sap.

HQ#6: This is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of.

A: Maybe. Who wants in?

*Okay, maybe that one was just me.

 

Dear Stabby: The Unthinking Thinking Of Thinking

My patient is intelligent (for a human, anyways) and, on the advice of my brother, I attempted to develop him into an arrogant, spiteful intellectual. The patient is now a middle-aged scientist, and the results so far have been mixed. On the one hand, I have taught him to feel and express a biting contempt for anyone that he determines to be less intelligent, less learned, or have less sophisticated hobbies than him, with the result that he has alienated himself from countless friends and family. I have even gotten him to the point where, when the Enemy suggests that his actions are cruel and petty, he justifies his vicious insults on the grounds that it would ‘violate his integrity’ to let an error pass uncorrected or a foolish comment unanswered. But on the other hand, when he does think of religion and I try to divert him, he directs that same hostility-towards-stupidity at any diversion or irrational argument I offer. As such I find it is nearly impossible for me to forestall his trains of thought, even when they draw him nearer the Enemy. Is there any way for me to stop him from thinking while also maintaining his contempt for the thoughtless?
Best,
Asmodeus in Academia
Dear Asmodeus (incidentally, you’d better not hope Asmodeus finds out you’re using his name as a pseudonym),
Good Lord Below, you’re not trying to use irrational arguments against a proud intellectual, are you? You’re practically shoving your patient into the arms of the Enemy. The longer you try that tactic, the more you run the risk that he will catalogue all the irrationalities, add them up and find that the balance favors the Enemy. But this is basic, and was handled far better by Screwtape in his unfortunately published correspondence that the humans got hold of. If you haven’t read it, you’d better do so immediately.
Diverting him is by far the safer course, but you say that doesn’t work either. Well, then the best course would be that which works on that mindtrap humans call the Internet. Use his pride to draw him down the same, trammeled arguments that have always worked in the past. Show him that he has already disproven all the wild claims about the Enemy. Draw him into admiring his own clarity of thought, his brilliance. Let him come to believe that he alone sees the elegance of these arguments, when they are in fact the same arguments that he absorbed in his college days, in the first flowering of rebellion against any form of authority. In this way, he will no longer be thinking: he will merely be thinking he is thinking, when instead he will be mired in self-congratulation.
In this, you will find that you have the assistance of his ego. Very few humans have the will or the confidence to truly take a fresh look at old problems when new evidence arises.  The consistency of their outlook is a great comfort to them, as it reassures them that they saw early a truth that their fellows come to late, or not at all. This sets them firmly, in their minds, among the ranks of the elite of their wretched race. Therefore, the opposite view, that they have come late to an old truth acknowledged even by the common folk, is almost insupportable. They will grasp at almost anything to avoid that humiliation.
Stabby

The Lord Of The Rings, Forgotten Conversations

Sometime around Bilbo’s fiftieth birthday.
Gandalf: “Hey, can you save me and a dozen idiot dwarves and a hobbit from wolves and orcs?”
Gwaihir: “Sure.”

A few months later.
Gandalf: “Hey, can you save a dozen idiot dwarves and a hobbit from wolves and orcs despite the fact that the morons wouldn’t be in this situation if they’d just split off some treasure for some folks who frankly earned it by slaying the dragon they stirred up?”
Gwaihir: “Sure.”

About eighty years later
Gandalf: “Hey, can you save me from the tower of an evil wizard powerful enough to lock me up in it?”
Gwaihir: “No problem.”
Gandalf: “Hey, while we’re on the subject, can you save the entire continent from literally the most evil being on the planet? The only thing he has that can fly are on horses hundreds of leagues west of here. You just have to drop us off at the big mountain.”
Gwaihir: “Fuck, dude, we’re not your taxi service.”
Gandalf: “Okay. If I call you in about a year, can you pick up a couple of hobbits for me out of Mordor?”
Gwaihir: “Sure.”

White Supremacist Milk (A Fisking)

Gosh, I haven’t used the “politics” category in some time. But then PETA. So here goes. Original article in italics, my responses in bold.

Why Cow’s Milk Is the Perfect Drink for Supremacists

As when Christoph Waltz’s character in Inglorious Bastards drinks a glass of milk and a character in a pivotal scene of Get Out sips the cow secretion, dairy milk has long been embraced as a symbol of white supremacy.

If by “long” you mean “since the ancient days of 2017,” then okay.

Geneticists are alarmed that white nationalists—who are now using milk emojis and sharing photos of themselves chugging milk to celebrate their “whiteness”—are contorting science and using it as an excuse to hate.

“Contorting,” says the person trying to make the argument that if white supremacists like something, then you liking that thing makes you a white supremacist. And who is blissfully unaware that 4chan and reddit do this regularly just to screw with people: “Let’s all say we like this so people have to think it’s racist!”

In a recent article in The New York Times, evolutionary biologists state that because of a genetic mutation among Europeans, white people are more likely to be able to digest lactose. White nationalists are arguing that being able to drink another animal’s breast milk somehow indicates that they’re of the “master race”—good grief!

Well, any group of people who can use a food source another group can’t will certainly have an evolutionary advantage. But master race status seems a stretch. But they’re not so much arguing as trolling.

Of course, it was found that the genetic mutation that allows some humans to digest milk also occurs in black African cattle farmers. That should make racists think twice.

Thinking twice would make them not racist. But, then, thinking twice would have averted this article, for those very reasons, so you can’t exactly point fingers, can you?

All we can say is this: Human supremacists need to start thinking about other species’ interests in not being exploited.

Exploited: you mean like by people who kill animals so they can feel morally superior? Yeah, PETA: that would suck.

Aside from “lactose-tolerant” white supremacists, cow’s milk really is the perfect drink of choice for all (even unwitting) supremacists, since the dairy industry inflicts extreme violence on other living beings. PETA is trying to wake people up to the implications of choosing this white beverage and suggesting that they choose something else pronto.

Control Over Their Bodies

Rape is perhaps the single most heinous crime involving both power and violence.

Not murder. Murder is less heinous than rape. Just want to make sure I understand that. Gotcha.

But it’s standard procedure in the dairy industry. Like all mammals, cows produce milk only during and after pregnancy, so roughly every nine months, cows on dairy farms are forcibly impregnated so that their milk production will continue. They’re restrained on what the farmers themselves call “rape racks” while insemination instruments are shoved into their vaginas.

As opposed to in the wild, where bulls always ask consent before copulating with cows. Yes. I believe that.

Their babies are taken away immediately after birth, and the mothers are re-impregnated as soon as possible. Male calves typically end up chained inside crates so that their flesh becomes diseased for the veal industry, while female calves will eventually end up trapped in the same cycle of abuse as their mothers were.

These cows have no choice about what’s done to them.

They never did. They’re cows. In the wild, they’d have no choice about getting parasites and being eaten by mountain lions and wolves.

Their horns are burned or gouged out of their heads,

By veterinarians so they won’t gouge other cows with them. 

part of their tails may be cut off, and holes are punched through their ears.

Said the member of the species who does this for aesthetic reasons.

Suffering inside cramped, filthy enclosures, they’re forced to produce nearly 10 times as much milk as they would naturally.

Some people might be surprised to learn that cows used by the dairy industry are slaughtered after about five years because their bodies are so spent from being kept constantly pregnant.

I would be surprised. Because the dairy industry knows that cows are at their most productive after their sixth year of life and take pains to keep them that way. Actually, “surprised” is just a cool way of saying, “that’s bullshit.”

At the slaughterhouse, their throats are slit while they’re still conscious and some are skinned or dismembered while still alive.

Control Over Your Mind

It’s not “natural” for people to drink cow’s milk, which is meant for newborn calves. Humans are the only animals who drink the milk of another species and who drink milk beyond infancy.

Also the only species to build and use the internet to post bullshit. Thanks, cow’s milk!

The dairy industry spends millions funding misleading ad campaigns that urge people to drink cow’s milk, when medical studies show that dairy products are a health hazard. Unlike soy or almond milk, for instance, cow’s milk contains no fiber or complex carbohydrates and is full of saturated animal fat and cholesterol.

Also unlike almond milk, it doesn’t contain trace amounts of cyanide. But thanks for playing.

Consuming dairy products is also linked to developing heart disease as well as prostate, breast, and ovarian cancer.

Not consuming them is liked to malnutrition. Because also unlike almond and soy milk, dairy milk doesn’t cost $8.00 a gallon. You know how many gallons of almond milk it takes to kill a child in poverty?

None.

Might Doesn’t Make Right

Before you pour a glass of the “white stuff,” please remember that it isn’t the “right stuff,” unless it’s almond, soy, oat, coconut, or another vegan milk option.

You actually think you made a point by rhyming, don’t you?

If you feel that all life should be free of violent control, choose soy, almond, rice, cashew, or coconut milk the next time that you go shopping or order coffee.

Nope, in fact, I’m 100% in favor of certain life being subject to violent control. Some criminal is breaking into my house? They’re alive, and I’d prefer they not be. Large animal charges at me? Same thing. The animals are pretty much cool with this, too. That’s why cows have horns. In fact, even YOU, PETA, are completely okay with life being subject to violent control, when you think it best.

With so many different types of cruelty-free, delicious milks on the market, opposing supremacists has never been easier.

Or more hypocritical!

 

The Myth Of The Myth Of Religion: A Fisking

There are many good and intelligent atheists, among whom I count many friends. Some have attacked my religion with skillful arguments. This is not one of them. Rules for the fisking: Just to switch it up (and because I forgot my own conventions) the fisked article is in bold, and my responses are in italics.

There are at least 4,200 religions in the world today, and countless more have been lost to history.

Yeah, especially since to get that count you have to count every single different denomination of, e.g. Christianity as a “different religion,” even though the vast majority of their adherents would consider the vast majority of them to be variants of the same religion. I’m going to guess that’s true for a lot of the non-Christian religions as well, because you’ve already demonstrated that neither intellectual rigor nor honesty are features of your position. Most people don’t manage that by their first sentence.  

It’s obvious there’s a 0% chance all of them are the true word of God. Some thinkers have speculated that each religion is at least a little divinely inspired and holds a piece of the puzzle left to us by God to put together. But the only way to come to that conclusion is to ignore huge tracts of doctrine in each religion.

Hey, that’s one of three things in this drivel that actually makes sense.

Ultimately, none of them are compatible. If any religion is true, there’s only one.

What, NONE of them? Swiss Reformed Christianity can’t be the true religion if Dutch Reformed Christianity is? Wow, I was never told that. Filthy Genevan heretics!

This means at least over 6 billion people alive today believe in a religion that was written 100% by human beings and 0% dictated by the creator of the universe.

Wait, what? How did we get to this place? Why isn’t it theoretically possible that one religion IS, in part or in whole, dictated by the creator of the universe, and there’s some variants that are kinda distorted, and then there’s some others that are just made up? I mean, seriously, you just went from an actually accurate summation, to an indefensible particular, to something that in no way follows from what you said. Do you seriously not understand that? Or do you just trust that no one will notice?

A belief system written by human beings that has no bearing on the factual nature of reality is mythology.

And for a definition of mythology, we have: Wikipedia!! The final source for all your theological/philosophical needs. Not only that, but your definition doesn’t even match with theirs! Which is a lot more complex and includes: “the collected myths of a group of people, but may also mean the study of such myths,” with cited folklorists describing myth as “a sacred narrative that explains how the world and humanity evolved into their present form,” and “ideology in narrative form.” Notice how none of them render judgment on the truth or falsehood of the narrative?
So, basically, the way you go about “showing” that religion is a collection of lies is to lie about lies? Are you under the impression that a lie about a lie constitutes truth?

The cold, hard truth of reality is that the vast majority of the people alive today believe in mythology and dogmatically refuse to even consider the possibility that’s true.

Yes, you’ve definitely established your credentials as someone who can be trusted to determine “the cold, hard truth of reality.”

So if you believe in religion, there’s automatically a 99% chance you believe in mythology.

Wait, what?? You said only one could be true. 1% of about 4200 is about 42.

HOLY SHIT!! DOUGLAS ADAMS WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG!!!

If you refuse to question your beliefs, there’s no way for you to know if they’re true, which increases the chance that you believe in mythology to 99.9%.

Whoa, hold on. This mathematics is really blowing my mind. So, back when I believed in one religion out of (according to you) over 4200, there was a 1% chance I’d hit on the right religion, and didn’t believe in mythology. Despite the fact that (you said) only one could be true. But NOW, if I refuse to examine those beliefs, there are only about 4. Or do you mean that if I DO question my beliefs, I increase my chances of hitting one of those 42 by a factor of 10?
Or are you just making up numbers in nice round factors of ten because it’s easier than math?

This number is increased to 99.99%

So now we’re close to “one.” Which is what you said would be the only possible number of “true” religions. Oh, I get it! This is what the true religion will look like! Pencils everyone! Write this down! I’ll test Christianity!

if your religion contains any of the following:

1: Human sacrifices

Well, it was only the one time. Not like it was a habit or anything. And it was a volunteer. Who was also God. Otherwise, it’s specifically forbidden. Do any religions really still have this as a feature? Because I’d think people would comment on that more.

2: Moral values that reflect the needs and wants of a specific primitive culture

Nope, pretty much all primitive cultures. And sophisticated modern ones. So, are you saying that specific primitive cultures can’t have true religions? Or that sophisticated modern cultures automatically have better moral values? Wow, that’s awfully insulting to a whole lot of people in the world.

3: Instructions to hurt, kill or look down on other people

No, all that’s pretty specifically forbidden, too. I guess Christianity can’t be the One True Religion. Or, wait, does that mean it still can? I’m sorry, I’m still pretty hung up on 42 = 4 = 1.

4: Reasons to look down on yourself

Well, on the one hand, I’m a sinner, and on the other, I was important enough for God to die for. So, not really.

5: A pyramid-shaped authority structure

A really flat pyramid: on one level, me and all the other Christians. Infinitely far above us, Christ. I guess it depends on whether your grasp of solid geometry is as shaky as your grasp of basic arithmetic?

6: Scientifically inaccurate statements

Well, how accurate do they have to be to count? Technically Newton’s Law of Gravity is “scientifically inaccurate” since Einstein came along, but we still teach it in schools, for the very good reason that it’s close enough to accurate to be useful to the people it’s being taught to. I’ll be very surprised if you see where I’m going with this.

7: Magical beings, powers or events that no longer exist

No, all the magical beings and powers described in the Bible still exist. Somewhere. As far as “events” go, are you aware that an “event” is something that happens for a finite amount of time, having a beginning and an end? (Merriam-Webster def. 4) Every scientific experiment consists of “events that no longer exist.”

Some people have speculated that it doesn’t matter what religion you believe in as long as you believe in something that gives you meaning, instructions and peace. But believing in something that isn’t real is the definition of insanity.

It really isn’t, according to Merriam-Webster. Definition 3b might stretch that way. Oh, I forgot! Our source for the truth of all assertions is Wikipedia! But wait:

“[a term] that describe[s] a spectrum of individual and group behaviors that are characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns.”

So I guess not.

It’s not okay to be insane just because you like it because it holds you and society back.

From what?

Believing in mythology is counterproductive if for no other reason than it’s a waste of time. It keeps you busy going through meaningless motions while ignoring real world issues that have real consequences to you and the rest of mankind. Your life and everyone else’s would be improved by you focusing on real problems.

According to you. But since that whole 42 = 4 = 1 issue, I don’t really want you prioritizing my issues, much less the world’s

To this, you might reply, “But how can we know how to live without religion?” Remember that most of the world doesn’t believe in religion; they believe in mythology. 

Except for the 42 real ones. Or the four real ones. Or the one real one. Whichever.

So the real question is, “How can we know how to live without mythology?” If mythology is just a belief system made up by humans, and you’ve spent your whole life living according to those rules, you already know the answer. We can make up our own ethics, and in fact, that’s what we’ve been doing all along.

We sure can. And some people’s ethics have been very good, and some of them have been very bad. 

We just haven’t been honest with ourselves about it.

As honest as someone who pretends that Swiss Reformed and Dutch Reformed Christianity are as different as Shinto and Orthodox Judaism, for example?

If taking personal responsibility for your own ethics sounds scary or haphazard, consider that mythologies can contain horrible rules that can lead you to hurt yourself or others, which makes it all the more imperative you question your beliefs.

In which case they are no more or less likely to contain “horrible rules that can lead you to hurt yourself or others” than a religion or a mythology is… except that you don’t have the benefit of having had those rules reviewed and interpreted by possibly millions of people over hundreds of years. So your quality control sucks.

This is especially true if you absolutely insist on believing one of our religions is the divine truth. Everyone wants to believe that their religion is the right one, but at least 6 billion people are dead wrong in their faith.

Only if you insist on dividing religion into 4200 parts because Wikipedia says so.

Statistically, you’re probably one of them.

Yeah, you lost the right to the use of the word “statistically” back up there where you were randomly assigning powers of ten to things because reasons.

The only way you or anyone else can find the right religion is to scrutinize yours objectively.

And it’s the second thing that actually makes sense, assuming we allow the caveat that humans are famously not good at doing that. But it’s a useful discipline to attempt, that’s for sure. Of course, you also have to scrutinize a LACK of religion objectively, or as close to that as you can. Will you? Or do you just assume that you’ve done it by virtue of being an atheist?

This may sound like heresy, but it’s probably not a coincidence that you were created with the capacity for reason, skepticism, doubt, and logic. For the billions of people who believe in mythology, it’s a necessity. If your religion can stand the test of truth, there’s no danger in putting yours to it. If your religion can’t stand the test of truth, objectivity is the only way you’ll ever free yourself.

Well, a lot of heretics have agreed with that. Real challengers of orthodoxy, like, you know, St. Thomas Aquinas.

Your quest for truth isn’t just about you. Most religions encourage you to convert nonbelievers,

Most actually different religions, or most of the 4200 you got from Wikipedia?

and even without actively proselytizing on the street corner, you passively send out the message that people should join your faith just by living according to it.

Okay. But by that argument, you’re actively leading people away from eternal life, or nirvana, or inner peace by living as an atheist, not to mention that you’re proselytizing that right here, so I’ll expect you to objectively own that.

If you believe in one of the religions that are mythology, you’re leading unwitting victims into a trap.

And if you don’t believe in the true religion, you’re leading people to Hell. Or at least back to samsara.

If enough people in one area buy into mythology, one way or another, their beliefs are going to determine social norms and even laws. This has a harsh real-world impact on people who don’t believe in that particular brand of mythology.

Oh, noes! The brave tough-minded atheists might get their feelings hurt! Or do you mean that you might be marginalized and persecuted by the bad, bad theists? Because that never happens to religious people in officially atheist regimes like the Soviet Union or Communist China. Oh, wait.

Another danger of spreading mythology is that some people will inevitably latch onto the most violent, oppressive, absurd rules within that belief system and use them to justifying hurting other people.

You mean like atheist communists did in the Soviet Union, China and Cambodia? Yes, that would be bad.

So before you go spreading the good word, it’s imperative that you make sure it passes the most rigorous test of truth, not just for your sake but for all of ours.

And to your credit, you make sense for the last time in the essay. But you really should start with applying that principle to the basics of arithmetic. Here’s your starting point: 42 ≠ 1.

Dear Stabby: Addicted To Good

Dear Stabby,

No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get my patient to stop practicing virtue! She’s just obsessed with doing good! As a child, she was nauseatingly obedient to her parents.  After tireless work, in her teen years I got her to rebel against her parents and teachers, but then she began standing up for students who were bullied. I got her to stop THAT because I convinced her she was burnt-out, and NOW she’s telling people about the importance of self-care. Every time I squash a new virtue, another one springs up in its place. What do I do?

Tired in Tartarus

Dear Spent,

Although it goes against my principles to comfort such a whiner as you self-evidently are, I’m going to have to reassure you. By happy accident, this young lady seems to be merely a tiresome little social activist, and no true threat.

The truth is, that while it should always be our goal, it is VERY difficult to get any human to completely leave the path of virtue. They’re addicted to the disgusting stuff, and for the same reason they are addicted to such material goods as food and oxygen: it is how the Enemy designed them. Furthermore, even those who HAVE been adduced to throw virtue away entirely and come over to our side must almost always be made to believe that they have not done so. Oh they SAY they have rebelled against the Enemy and His bourgeois virtues, but the second you try to get them to overtly indulge and worship themselves, they start justifying their lust and will to power with talk of  “the greater good.”

We do not – and unfortunately cannot – force Humans away from doing good. And even if we could, it would likely turn out to be a bad idea. What do instead is to turn those virtues that they insist on practicing into sins, which then become weapons in our hands. In your patient you have already noticed these things, but you have been trying to counteract her virtues by attacking them. I can even tell you how you did it. You awoke rebellion by fostering her resentment at her parents’ demands (helped, no doubt, by the teenage hormones that were driving her in that direction anyway). After that, you awoke sloth by fostering her resentment at the ingratitude and cowardice of the spineless victims that needed her help to fight the battles that should have been their own.

Instead of all that work, it would have been much easier and more effective to foster the sins she already had, entrenching them in her character. If you look closely at the soul of any Human you will see that much of what they think of as “virtue” is merely their own fear of punishment. You say she was obedient as a child? Probably that was because she was afraid to rebel. You should have fed that fear until it dominated her and became despair. If in spite of that she rebelled? It was because of resentment at having been dominated for so long. You should have fed that wrath until it became indiscriminate anger at any who opposed her and turned to violence. But as things stand you have taught her the deadly lesson that she can change. You had better hope that this does not lead her to true repentance!

But there seems to be still time to correct your blunders. She is preaching self-care, now? It is still because of resentment at her own exhaustion. Let her apply her own “virtue” to herself until it is all she thinks of. If you do it properly, you will find that she can be induced to turn her proper regard for herself as a person (which the Enemy frankly encourages) into mere indulgence of her ego. All gluttony can be excused, all requests for help (however reasonable) can be denied in the name of “caring for the self.” Done properly, you will even be able to make her resent the normal obligation of every human and turn her into a self-centered parasite who — and this is the wonderful bit — actually believes she is still practicing virtue! This really is the end goal of the competent tempter: to raise up humans who will defend their own sins to the death in the belief that they are really virtues.

If you doubt this just look at their social media, the greatest garden for sins since Hollywood. There you will find the legions of the envious proclaiming their fight for justice, the wrathful trumpeting their compassion, and the nakedly lustful shouting of their love. And should any truly virtuous person dare to question their devotion, they are savaged with the cold fanaticism of the worst of the Crusaders. It is an easy enough state of affairs to bring about with any sin. Just look at the wonderful job we have done with the word empathy. This word, which is at the center of the Enemy’s injunction to the Humans about the danger of judging one another’s hearts and motivations, has been turned into one of the most useful weapons in our arsenal. It is now a shield against any form of criticism. In the name of empathy, the Humans are made to deny plain facts, the confrontation of which would make others feel bad. In the name of empathy self-destructive habits are defended and indulgence is excused.  Have you impressed upon your patient how wonderful she is simply for following her natural inclinations? Fasten her attention upon it, and let her regard any request for aid, and especially any criticism, as a personal attack upon her. Soon you will have a patient who imagines herself virtuous, and who fights for her own corruption with the ferocity of an animal. Which is, after all, fitting.

Stabby.

A Modest Proposal: The Bombadil Scale of Sidequests

A friend recently asked in a open forum what the proper size of a sidequest in a novel should be. We all know sidequests: those are the moments in which the characters pause in the middle of their Main Quest to do Something Else. What the Something Else may be has a huge (but not the only) effect on its proper size. This got me thinking, and I would like to propose the following system of measurement:

The SI unit of measure for a sidequest is the bombadil. One bombadil is the amount of gratuitous sidequest necessary to make 50% of readers give up on their first readthrough. No sidequest should ever measure more than 0.05 bombadils, though famous authors may push it to 0.1 bombadil.

The amount of prose necessary to comprise a bombadil is variable, and depends on the general tediousness of the sidequest, the characters involved in the sidequest, how much they grow in the sidequest, and how it affects the progress of the Main Quest. Of course, it also depends on the raw length of the sidequest, but that is not as important as you might think. A truly gifted writer can make the sidequest just as important as the Main Quest.

So let’s look at the archetypal case. In The Fellowship Of The Ring, our heroes, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, all get ensorcelled by an evil tree and freed by Tom Bombadil, a mysterious humanoid who takes them home to his just-as-strange wife for dinner. Bombadil later frees them from an evil barrow-wight and arms them with the treasure it was guarding. Breaking it down we have:

T = general Tediousness: Very High. The characters eat and sleep and listen to childish lyric poetry (10), slightly offset by them getting into two spots of serious and interesting trouble (-2): 8
S = characters exclusive to the Sidequest: 2 (lowest value for this variable is 1)
M = characters on the Main Quest: 4
g = growth of the characters because of the sidequest: Significant, but small. Frodo shows that he is capable of thinking, fighting and securing a temporary victory at need: 4
D = What it Diverts from: Walking to the nearest town. This is difficult, because on the one hand, diverting us from something that should be skipped right over adds tedium, but diverting us in the middle of something absolutely critical to the main plotline is worse, so this defies an easy, linear scale. Allow negative numbers on this one, with zero being the value at which the plot is progressing at a steady, unhurried, pace: Just walking along: -2
Finally, we introduce 4 as a constant, because all great equations have constants, and because a sidequest is only about a quarter as interesting as the main quest at best, a fact writers should ALWAYS remember, regardless of how clever they find themselves.

This gives us the following equation:

TSD²/4Mg = Qs (Sidequest value in bombadils)

And plugging in our values, we get:

8*2*2²/4*4*4 = 1 bombadil.

Initially, I had been going to factor in the sidequest’s ultimate importance to the story, whch would have made the score lower because one of the hobbit’s weapons, acquired on this sidequest, ultimately helps to destroy the Lord of the Nazgul. But the point is that we do not know that, and therefore it has no effect on whether or not the reader gets bored to death and puts the book down.

So, for some examples:

The Empire Strikes Back: Luke’s training sequence on Dagobah: Qs = 0.05 bombadil
T = 5 (cool Jedi powers and a fight with ghost-Vader, offset by boring platitudes on Planet Swamp).
S = 1
D = 0.5 (an increasingly-tense hunt for the Falcon, but Luke has to have a storyline of his own)
M = 1 (no, Artoo doesn’t count)
g = 6 (Luke becomes at least half a Jedi, but undisciplined.

The Eye Of The World: Perrin and Egwene’s sojourn with Elyas: Qs = 0.25 bombadils
T = 4 (It’s Jordan’s incredibly-detailed prose, but the whole thing with the wolves is awesome)
S = 1 (Elyas)
D = 1 (It’s about on pace with everything else)
M = 2 (Perrin and Egwene)
g = 8 (This sidequest basically starts Perrin’s character arc as a badass)

Moby Dick: The chapter on whales: Qs = 36 bombadils 
T = 9. A lecture on whales. In the middle of a novel. Only not a 10 because whales are inherently cool.
S = 1
D = -2 (for being Moby Dick. They’re sailing.)
M = 1 (Ishmael)
g = 1 (he learns about whales)

It: That one scene near the end as the kids escape the recently-defeated It. Yeah. THAT one: Qs = 96 bombadils
T = (the exact number defies description, but the Ick factor makes me conservatively estimate it, on a scale of 1 to 10 at) 27.
S = 1
D = 5 (seriously, the book was OVER).
M = 7
g = 1 (in a really disgusting way)

Note that when main characters are uninvolved in the sidequest, you are approaching infinite bombadils, and should just stop.

So, there you have it, a completely objective and indisputable method for solving the worth of various sidequests. You’re welcome.

 

NOT QUITE FREE FANTASY STORY!

So, I’m excited to report that with the contract novel delivered to Digital Fiction Publishing League, I’m back on track working on the continuing adventures of James and Harriet, the daring veterinarian (and his lovely assistant witch) of the Evil Dark Lord who rules the world.

Superversive Press, my publisher for this series, has agreed to allow me to post chapters as they are completed, and this will continue until the work is done. And as an incentive to back me on Patreon, I am offering to my patrons the next chapter in James and Harriet’s saga: “The Exanimation Room.”

Now, go patronize me!

The Adopt A Bottle Of Scotch Charity Birthday Drive.

Dear friends. I am writing to inform you that thousands of bottles of scotch languish daily on liquor store shelves waiting to be adopted. To address this issue, I am selflessly dedicating my birthday to their cause. Won’t you please follow the link and donate to this noble goal? Should I gather sufficient funds, a picture and review will be posted of the “rescued” bottle.

Perhaps you feel that buying writers scotch is not really “supporting” them, because they might end up “drunk.” Well, you are right! In that case, you could buy one of my fine books on my Amazon Page.

Or, perhaps you do not feel like contributing money. Excellent! You could spare a moment to write a quick review of one of the fine books on my Amazon Page!

We’re just grateful for whatever you can do.