Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Top Ten: Science Fair Topics for Christians

10. The effect of Noah’s Ark on ants (pouring water on an ant farm)
9. Measuring the effects of prayer on sporting events
8. How to identify and categorize demons
7. Which dinosaur saddle design works best?
6. A study of Cathedral and megachurch architecture
5. Working volcano that obliterates model Sodom and Gomorrah
4. How many angels are in any given cubic mile of sky?
3. Can you catch Gay from a toilet seat?
2. Measuring the concentration of virtue in Roman Catholics
1. At what speed are heathens going to hell?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

My Serious Opinion of Atheism+

I don’t understand how anyone can have strong feelings one way or another for the so-called “Atheism+” label. Maybe because of the circles I associate with, I see far more hostility than I see support, but there’s clearly broad-sweeping approval of it out there.

I don’t think this is the time to judge it, because what will ultimately decide whether Atheism+ is a fleeting fad or a meaningful movement won’t be determined by the opinions of early critics or the ideals of hopeful pioneers. Time is the true judge, and time does not care about petty squabbling or lofty dreams. Time cares about results.

I think we can all agree Atheism+ will need to actually accomplish something at some point in order for it to be taken seriously. I certainly wouldn’t put a time limit on success, either, because it’s irrelevant whether it works quickly or slowly. As long as there are individuals laboring under the A+ banner, even if it is fruitless for decades, the movement will remain open to the possibility of achieving what it sets out to do.

What I fear is that Atheism+ will go the same path as that of the Occupy Movement. I can’t imagine atheists being pepper sprayed in the streets, but I can picture atheists not being able to focus enough to really do anything. Atheism+ needs tangible goals.

That has been a big problem in the atheist community in general, because a group as small and disunited as ours needs basically every disparate member to be on board in order to make even the slightest impact. A splinter group within atheism, then, needs some very dedicated, charismatic, and damn near heroic figures at its forefront in order to make a dent in this big, crazy world.

It’s not outside the realm of possibility. The founder of American Atheists, Madalyn Murray O’Hare, helped organize one of the first major political pushes for atheists by fighting school prayer and compulsory Bible education in public schools. It may just be a matter of picking an issue that is winnable for Atheism+, and just going for it.

But if Atheism+ is just a reaction to atheism itself, I can predict with near certainty that it will fail. Unless Atheism+ formulates goals for achievement within the broader world, any efforts to simply function as a critique on other atheists will only serve to poison the well and divide an already weak and under-represented group.

Atheism+ was formed consciously with the idea of “waves” of feminism in mind. What many feminists don’t realize, to their own peril, is that the wave-model of ideological development effectively split feminists by the start of the third wave in the 80s, resulting in stunted success for feminists in the last 30 years. It is only now, with the clear and common enemy of the Republican War on Women, that feminists are poised to make a major leap forward in legislative progress.

I don’t think atheists have 30 years of stagnation and in-fighting to look forward to, though who knows? I’m more optimistic, and I think that after the dust clears that most atheists will remember: we’re all on the same team.

Why Religious People Do What They Do

Years of talking to so many different kinds of people over the years has taught me something simple: people do things for the same reason, no matter what their background, personal affiliations, or personal choices.

The only thing open for debate is what “right” is.

Sometimes, what we choose to do is “right” at the moment we make the choice, but we regret it later. Hopefully, we learn from that and we don’t repeat that mistake. Often, we make the same mistake over and over. But the fact remains, we either do it because we believe it’s right, because it feels right… or because we want it right now.

Even with all the Bible quoting, the majority of religious people do what they do regardless of what the Bible says. You find in the Bible what you are looking for, so if you go in looking to hate a particular group, you’ll either find that exact group or some analogous one. If you go in looking for reasons to love others, even when they hurt us, you won’t have much trouble finding that, either.

People don’t read the Bible to learn what it says about how to live, they learn how to live with what the Bible says. The decisions someone makes are weighed in a much more complex manner than simply, “What would Jesus do?” There are circumstances, and sometimes people make decisions you wouldn’t expect, even decisions they themselves wouldn’t expect.

Everyone is a moral person before the shit hits the fan. All the religion, ethics, morality, politics, and introspection in the world is insufficient for preparing anyone for being able to predict how they will act in many situations, particularly in the most dire or extreme circumstances.

The choices anyone makes are bound to haunt a person. Maybe this is why forgiveness and atonement rituals are so common in religions, to help people relieve themselves of crushing guilt and embarrassment, from life’s little foibles to deadly errors.

How do I know religious people are using their own judgment, not following some sort of elaborate mental programming regimen? Well, for one thing, religious people within the same religion exhibit a broad range of stated views and visible actions. Then you have the fact that most religious people aren’t very good at interpreting their own religion, let alone following a religion’s impossible and often contradictory standards.

There is no religious person who only acts according to their religion because there is no perfect follower. Maybe this bothers some religious people, but I doubt it. Most believers don’t think of themselves as perfect, but as flawed people little different from others. And it should be easy for most non-believers to see, because we can spot religious hypocrisy like sharks can detect a drop of blood in the water from miles away.

I say this, then, not for the benefit of religious people. I doubt I’ve said anything they haven’t known already. Rather, I say this to atheists who may find it useful to keep this in mind when making broad, sweeping generalizations that don’t apply – or help.

Religious people have done some amazing things that had nothing to do with, or even went against, their religion. As we move into the future, it’s inevitable that some believers will continue to help in the effort for progress, so there’s no sense in alienating any religious allies in the context of larger issues.

There are theists on board with many important issues for atheists. Gay rights, racial equality, economic opportunity, access to healthcare, closing the gender gap, even fighting religious extremism.

It’s inevitable that atheists will say things that ruffle the feathers of theists, because atheists are rejecting and often ridiculing that which is seen as sacred by theists. But, as a minority group, non-believers must learn to work with believers, because we cannot accomplish anything alone. Thankfully, we don’t have to.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Several Adventures of Hugh, Part 20

The dwarf was sent off to the market to get something to eat while the giant worked the bellows and Hugh tried to work the Vulcan steel. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but after Hugh was positive that he had heated it up as much as he possibly could, it was still as solid as cold steel. He hammered it harder and harder, until he split the handle of the hammer.

He held it up before a shocked looking giant, wiggling it about on the last wood fibers still holding it together broke and the head clanked on the ground. The giant started laughing.

“What’s unfortune,” said Hugh, “Is that I might have the strength to work it… if I had a set of tools already made of the same material.” He pointed to a small dent he made.

“I wonder how they got this stuff in the first place,” said the giant.

“Generally, you get iron by heating soil that is rich in iron, then you usually have to work it a bit to get it to the point where it’s steel. Or, it can be mined from rock… but not in a huge slag like this.”

“Can we get the furnace any hotter?”

Hugh looked at it. “I can modify the forge to make it more efficient, and we would get a lot more heat if we had additional or bigger bellows… I guess that’s what we need to do, is have both you and your brother on the bellows.” Hugh shook his head. “I don’t even know if this will make a good weapon. It’s so hard, I bet when I hammer it out, it will be brittle and have no bend.”

“So make it thick,” said the giant. “He said don’t make only one weapon with this. You could make two big weapons from this.”

Hugh shook his head. “Three, at least, probably with a bit left over, maybe enough for a dagger… I’m thinking a sword, a mace and an axe. Then I guess the dagger, if we have enough left after the axe.”

“You have it all planned out,” said the giant, “Except for the part where we actually work the metal.”

“I have that figured out, too,” Hugh said. “If we have to, we’ll just keep adding people on additional bellows.”

“At some point,” said the giant, “There won’t be any room for more, and what then?”

“We’ll have to build a bigger furnace,” Hugh said, smiling.

“You’ve got it all figured out,” she said, grinning as she shook her head.

The dwarf came back with several small fish, as well as three star shaped fruits. After they were done eating, they set about making two large bellows. They finished around sundown, and decided to give it a try in the workshop’s furnace before retiring for the night.

Even with both the giant and dwarf, it was not enough. Everyone got sweaty, and the fire got white hot, but still the Vulcan steel remained unworkable. Before Hugh could break another hammer, he decided to call it a day.

The next morning they went about creating a furnace over twice as large. The first step was securing a space. They had Henry send a request to Walker, who immediately granted them a small tract along the Lys river on the outskirts of the city. When they got there, Hugh noted a strange contraption attached to the side of the building across from their lot. It was a large, wooden wheel that spun with the current.

They decided the best thing to do was just build the forge out in the open. It had seemed silly to Hugh that the other workshop was indoors. They went back to the barracks and began firing bricks. They loaded a wheelbarrow, and then the dwarf slowly brought it to the site. When he returned, he loaded the newly completed bricks and made another trip. This continued until the dwarf said they had enough.

They then brought shovels and plenty of wood with them to the new site, and when they arrived they began building the furnace. It would be only slightly larger than the one they had built at home on their island. When it was complete, they began to stoke a massive fire with fresh wood to coat the inside of the furnace with ash and tar, helping to seal it. By the time they began digging a pit to make charcoal, the sun was starting to go down. They abandoned work on it, deciding they didn’t have enough wood anyway.

The next morning they returned, dug a shallow but large pit, and filled it with all the wood they had. They went to get more, and ended up making two more trips. They covered it with the dirt they had excavated and sod they cut from the ground, creating a large mound of dirt-covered wood. They left a hole in the middle open, where they poured lantern fuel, then lit it. Once they knew it was burning, they covered the hole with a large piece of sod.

The dwarf was on mound watch first, as any breaks in the dirt that showed fire had to be quickly covered with dirt again. The giant prepared the forge while Hugh went to fetch an anvil, tools, and some iron and steel. He decided he would make a set of tools in the new forge while he waited for the charcoal.

Hugh crafted several hammers, swages, fullers, a few different sized punches, a couple broaches, some chisels, a handful of auger bits, and a chopping axe for felling trees, as he could see woods off in the distance that were actually closer than the walk back to the workshop.

As the axe head was cooling, the sun began to go down. The giant and dwarf brought the axe head to the workshop to affix a haft, while Hugh stayed to watch the clamp. The giant promised to come relieve him later that night.

Hugh sat in the grass watching the sun setting over the city. The moon was barely a sliver in the sky. The rushing sound of the river was enough to make Hugh want to close his eyes and fall asleep… so he got up and walked around the clamp, looking for any spots where the dirt had fallen through or rolled away.

“Hey!” someone shouted. It was distant, from across the river. Hugh squinted in the twilight and saw a woman waving at him. “How are you?” she yelled.

“I’m fine, how are you?” replied Hugh.

“What?” she yelled.

“I’m fine, how are you?” hollered Hugh.

“Great, now that I have a new neighbor!” she said. She went inside her house, the one with the strange wheel in the water, and came back with a bow and arrow. “Here, take hold on this,” she shouted, then shot an arrow across the river some ways away from Hugh. It landed with a thud. The arrow had a metal weight on the end of it, and was trailed by a rope. “Tie it off on that tree stump, I want to cross over.”

Hugh tied the rope to the stump while the women dragged a small boat into the shore, which she carefully set in the rushing waters. Using the rope, she pulled herself and the boat across, debarking and pulling the boat up onto shore when she got to Hugh’s side. “Sorry,” she said, “All the bridges have been knocked out for miles.” She pointed to a stone structure further up stream, and Hugh saw another just like it on the other shore.

“I’m Hugh.”

“My name’s Theora,” she said. “What are you building over here?”

“A forge,” said Hugh. “And over there we’re making charcoal.”

“What’s charcoal?”

“It’s wood that has been burned in the absence of air,” said Hugh. “When it’s ready, it will burn much hotter than a wood furnace.”

Theora nodded. “Interesting. So you’re a blacksmith?”

Hugh nodded.

“What do you make?”

“Pretty much anything,” said Hugh.

“I’m glad you’re here, then,” she said. “I have all sorts of things that could use forging. I’m sick of changing the shaft on my water wheel, which is wood and breaks every few weeks or so.”

“Is that what that is?” Hugh asked, pointing to the large wheel.

Theora nodded. “I use it to turn a few large vats which I put gemstones into. The vats spin as the wheel spins, which causes the stones to rub against each other. I also pour in some abrasive materials like sand or little bits of marble. The constant rubbing causes the gems to become smooth, like river rocks. I call it ‘an infinite stream,’ and I end up with several pounds of shiny, lustrous gems every month or so.”

Hugh nodded. “Clever. I’m sure I could forge an iron axle for that. Just give me a length and diameter measurement.”

“How much will it cost?” asked Theora.

“Don’t worry about it. I can get the iron I need from Walker and have it forged tomorrow. The charcoal will take a few more days, anyway, so I have nothing to do while we just wait.”

Theora’s eyes went wide. “Thank you! That’s very generous of you… though if you know Chancellor Edward enough to still call him ‘Walker,’ I guess that’s hardly much of an imposition.”

“You don’t know me?” asked Hugh. He had gotten used to people staring at him and whispering knowingly as he passed.

“Sorry, I don’t get out much,” she said. “I’m what you might call a bit bookish. Should I know you?”

“No,” said Hugh. “I would prefer this was how you first heard of me.” He smiled.

“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you Hugh,” she said, walking back to her boat. “Would you like to come over for some tea?”

“I would love to,” said Hugh, “But I can’t. I’m watching the charcoal to make sure it stays covered in dirt. I will be relieved of my watch later tonight, but I fear you might well be asleep by then.”

“No need to worry there,” said Theora. “I don’t sleep well. Just come on over whenever you can, day or night. Odds are good I’ll be awake, probably reading. Just give one single knock at the door and I’ll know it’s you.” With that, she boarded her boat and pulled herself back across the river. On the other side, she shouted, “Better untie the rope so any ships that pass by don’t snap it.”

Hugh untied it and she pulled it back over to her side.

Hugh inspected the clamp again, adding more dirt to some areas that seemed thin to him. Late in the night, the giant came to relieve him. He walked into the waters of the river.

“Where are you going?” asked the giant.

“The woman across the river invited me over tonight,” Hugh said.

The giant shook her head. “Scandalous, Hugh, scandalous.”

“Just watch the clamp,” said Hugh, before diving beneath the water. He swam effortlessly to the other side through the current. When he got to the far shore, he removed him cloak and wrung it as dry as he could. He came to the door, knocked, and heard rustling inside.

“Hugh!” she said, looking him up and down. “You’re soaked to the bone! Come in, sit by the fire.”

They stayed up talking in front of the hearth. Theora had inherited the house from her father, who was a foreman for a company of lumberjacks. He had built the home himself. Theora’s mom died in child birth, and she was raised mostly by her uncle, who was a retired magician. She never took to magic, but she did see the value in harness nature without spooky words, fancy hand gestures, or sacred runes.

“Yet, it’s all I know,” she said. “These gems I make will be inscribed with spells and curses, or made into charms. I also make lead tablets, which people inscribe with the name of the one they hope will fall in love with them, or else the name of a charioteer they hope will win… or lose.”

“Do you think they work?” asked Hugh.

“I find that magic tends to favor the faster horse,” said Theora.

Hugh smiled and nodded.

“What about you?” asked Theora. “Who were your parents?”

“My mother was a water nymph, and my father was a cyclops. People say I look like my father but act like my mother, which I suppose makes sense, since she stuck around to raise me.”

“What brings you to Polity?”

“It’s a long story,” said Hugh. “Suffice to say, I didn’t really intend to be here. It just sort of happened.”

“You don’t miss your home?”

“Sometimes,” said Hugh. “But me, the giant and the dwarf are the only ones living on our island. I imagine some traders might wonder where we are, but they’ll just pass on through.”

“I wish I could do that,” said Theora, “But I’m not suited for independent living.”

“You seem to take care of yourself,” Hugh said, looking around her house, which had strange objects strewn across every surface, including on top of piles of books and tablets.

“I rely on the city,” said Theora. “If I went off to live by myself, even if I found a place safe enough, I wouldn’t be able to make my own food, let alone build a home.”

“It’s not that hard,” said Hugh. “You learn quickly when you’re forced to do something.”

“I hope I’m never forced to give up this life,” she said. “I make a very comfortable living doing very little work, and I get to spend my time on my own projects, like this.” She stood and picked up a strange looking object that looked like a bow with a large box running across the middle. “I made this to shoot the arrow across the river, though I’m still working on getting it to work well. I bet metal parts would help.”

She handed it to Hugh and he looked at it a bit. He noticed a little peg, which moved.

“Come on,” she said, going outside. Hugh followed her. She took the contraption, pushed something, stuck her foot in a loop at the end, and pulled up. She handed it to Hugh. He gripped it in his hand awkwardly, and she pointed to the movable peg. He fidgeted with it, and when he moved it, the string on the cocked bow released. It shocked Hugh a bit.

“That’s nothing.” Theora went back inside, brought back an arrow attached to a long length of looped rope. The arrow was very short and appeared to be made of metal. She took the contraption, loaded the ammunition, and aimed it over the giant. “Incoming!”

In just a few moments, the whole length of rope was out and pulled taut, the other end held tightly in her hand. The giant looked at the rope as it hit the ground near her.

“It can go twice this far, probably farther,” she said.

“You’ll have to show me how this works,” said Hugh. “I could definitely make you metal parts for this.”

They went back inside and Hugh looked at all her things, as she explained them. He learned about wooden puzzle boxes, which have a trick to opening them. He saw dozens of wooden, bone, horn, clay, and reed instruments. She played a few to show how each sounded, and Hugh took a crack at using a bamboo flute, to squeaky results. He inspected piles of glistening gems. In the candle light, their surfaces glimmered.

“I need to get going,” said Hugh. “I need some sleep. I’m sure I’ll be back tomorrow.”

As Hugh lay in bed that night, he had trouble falling asleep. His mind was racing.

To be continued…

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A+? What Next? Oh, I Know...

Since we atheists are apparently adding symbols to the end of the letter “A” to signify what kind of atheist we are now, here are some suggestions:

A$$: for those who see the profit potential in Atheism; it’s atheism dollar dollar bills, y’all. In gold we trust.

AK: for those atheists who like to not only pack heat, but also demand the sort of firepower usually reserved for frontline soldiers


A*: for atheists who aren’t really atheists; perfect for those who believe in “spirituality” or just love going to church, even though they know there’s no god

A&W: for atheists who like their root beer in a frosty mug

A++: for people who want to be even snootier than those at FTB

Am: for young atheists (get it… it’s a music pun on “A minor”)

AP: for young atheists who are taking college classes in high school

Ah-ha: for atheists who just realized that they don’t believe in gods

A-: for atheists who don’t think things are going to get any better

A™: a wholly owned subsidiary of Godless Inc.

A?: for people somewhere between atheism and agnosticism

A∑: for talking about all atheists as a whole, added together

A1: for atheists who enjoy steak

A. : for those who are just an atheist, period

Specious Etymology: Douche

Calling someone a “douche” derives from the term “deus,” which is a Zoroastrian term for “god.” Because Zoroastrianism has two gods, the name “deuce” was given to the “two” in a deck of playing cards by the Romans, who actually named all of the cards (the Jack, for example, retained his name). Roman soldiers in the field loved to play cards to pass the time, but they had to stay quiet so as not to alert the enemy to their presence. So, when one of them had to go off and relieve themselves, they couldn’t just announce it, so they would raise one finger as they left to indicate they were just going to urinate, while they would raise two fingers if they were going to defecate (thus giving rise to the terminology for “going #1/#2”).

So, in essence, calling someone a douche is calling them a shit. And that’s completely not true.

Wednesday Word: Rape-publicans

Rape-publicans: members of the “legitimate” right

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Top Ten: Things I Don’t Like Mentioning In My Blog

10. My mother’s terminal illness (amyloidosis)
9. My father’s lung and brain cancer
8. Being unemployed (though not on unemployment)
7. That fact that I live in the south
6. How many magic mushrooms I’ve done
5. How much acid I’ve done
4. How much heroin, cocaine, meth, nitrous, ketamine, ecstasy, and cough syrup I’ve done
3. My addiction to predilection for soda
2. My sexual history
1. My Prius (even I groan sometimes when I think about it)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Feminism, and Why It’s Not That Popular

In my lifetime, there may be no ideology more misunderstood than feminism. It has some stiff competition from the likes of socialism, environmentalism, and even atheism, but I think feminism is arguably high in the running.

It’s particularly strange when you consider the demographics involved. The civil rights movement is easily more respected, as is perhaps the gay rights movement, and this is despite the comparatively smaller populations which benefit. How does a movement like feminism become so maligned when half (actually slightly more than half) of the population is female?

There’s quite a few factors. For one thing, there aren’t any feminist leaders. I mean… there are feminist leaders, but no one knows who they are, except those who go looking for them. I can name a handful of black leaders off the top of my head… Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton… but when it comes to feminist leaders, those I know of are not very well known by others.

I guess Susan B. Anthony comes to mind first, but she’s been dead for over a hundred years. I’m personally fond of Gloria Steinem and Camille Paglia, but most people aren’t familiar with either. I know it may seem strange, but I think this is a very important factor. This lack of charismatic public figures makes it hard for the average person to relate favorably to feminism. People relate to other people, not cold ideologies.

Feminism also has gone through many distinct phases, or “waves.” Sadly, I am afraid some of the later waves of feminism have been fundamentally ineffective in their aim and methods. I think most people can say that the Suffragette movement, which empowered women with the vote, was important. However, most feminism since the 80s seems to have been vague and easily distracted by nitpicking language, not actual policy, and this has not helped the reputation of feminism.

If feminists want to be taken seriously, we need to focus our efforts on tangible problems which can be legislated. Pay discrepancy, workplace discrimination, maternity (and paternity) benefits, birth control access, reform of rape laws… there’s no shortage of problems facing women today, and many of these can be solved in our lifetime. These are not lofty goals, but realistic and simple ones which can make a serious difference.

But it’s clearly not just a failing of feminism itself which has resulted in the poor public opinion of the movement. There has been a very vocal and concerted effort among conservatives to demonize feminism. While the civil and gay rights movements have received quite a bit of criticism, I don’t think it has risen to the same level as faced by feminists.

Part of this may be due to the fact that feminism is seen as being more intrusive. Once white people got (mostly) used to sitting near black people in restaurants, there wasn’t much that changed for white people. Gay marriage, when it is legalized, won’t affects straight people. But feminism may be seen to invade every family.

For whatever reason, a lot of people cling to traditional gender roles. Never mind that some of these roles are 20th century fabrications (like the myth of the “stay at home mom,” which has never been the true normal for anyone but upper-middle and upper class families after WWII). There are, for some reason, still plenty of people who think women shouldn’t get an education or have a career.

Perhaps because feminism has such far-reaching implications (as there are very few family units that have no women), feminism might be seen as threatening.

Not even all women are on board with feminism. It still pains me when I see women who have allowed themselves to be duped into hating feminists, as if feminism is telling women they need to have a career, rather than simply wanting to ensure that women have a choice. I’ve seen a startling number also be thankful for what feminism did, but feel its usefulness has run out, as if everything now is perfect – or not worth fixing.

At this point, then, the first thing feminism may need to do is to justify itself, which is sad. This may be easy now, however, thanks to the actions of Republicans. “The war on women” may be the best marketing campaign for feminism since the 1960s, and to anyone paying attention, it really rings as true. Ironically, it may be the actions of Republicans that ultimately galvanizes feminism for its next push for equality.

If anything, as feminism makes these next leaps towards complete equality, the harsh vitriol of critics may be vital for creating a narrative. Opposition to feminism only feeds it, because such opposition only further justifies the existence of feminism.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saturday Reflection August 18th, 2012

Sometimes, the only way to show you how much you love doing something is to stop doing it and see how much you miss it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Snippet: Not Taxing the Wealthy

In 2010 -- the only year we have seen a full return from him -- Romney would have paid an effective tax rate of around 0.82 percent under the Ryan plan, rather than the 13.9 percent he actually did. How would someone with more than $21 million in taxable income pay so little? Well, the vast majority of Romney’s income came from capital gains, interest, and dividends. And Ryan wants to eliminate all taxes on capital gains, interest and dividends.

Romney, of course, criticized this idea when Newt Gingrich proposed it back in January by pointing out that zeroing out taxes on savings and investment would mean zeroing out his own taxes.

Almost. Romney did earn $593,996 in author and speaking fees in 2010 that would still be taxed under the Ryan plan. Just not much. Ryan would cut the top marginal tax rate from 35 to 25 percent and get rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax -- saving Romney another $292,389 or so on his 2010 tax bill. Now, Romney would still owe self-employment taxes on his author and speaking fees, but that only amounts to $29,151. Add it all up, and Romney would have paid $177,650 out of a taxable income of $21,661,344, for a cool effective rate of 0.82 percent.

- Matthew O’Brien, The Atlantic

Selfless Politics

I had a strange realization today. While I’m sure there have to be some people out there, I can’t think of one person I ever met who, once I got to know their political leanings and motivations, turned out to vote selfishly. By this, I mean that I have never met someone (or done extensive research on someone) who votes a certain way because it benefits them.

I really stopped and thought about it for a while. I mean, I’ve met poor Republicans who think the rich shouldn’t be taxed… basically at all, I guess, since Romney is still complaining and he only pays 13%. I’ve met even more wealthy Democrats (due to my background) who feel there should be more opportunities for the poor.

I’ve met men who are Democrats because they support a woman’s right to choose, and women who are Republicans because they oppose abortion. I know Democrats who want to end US involvement in Afghanistan, even though they aren’t related or close to anyone who is a soldier. I’ve talked with many Republicans who have loved ones in the military, or even serve themselves, who think we should expand the conflict into Iran.

I once got to know a black, gay Republican who believed the most important thing for our country was to end immigration by Latinos. I’m still friends with several fat, rich, white Midwestern guys who drink beer, watch football, tell misogynistic jokes, and vote Democrat.

Even famous people I know much about have different motivations than you might expect. Sheldon Adelson comes to mind. I imagine most liberals think he’s donating millions to get Romney elected… why? I’m not sure, exactly what liberals think he expects Romney to do, but Adelson is already rich, and Obama isn’t going to make him poor (or even poorer).

No, the more I looked into it, the more I read what he has written and what matters to him, the more I see that Sheldon Adelson wants Romney in the White House not because of economics, but because he’s a hawk. Adelson is convinced Romney would be better in the White House, not for America, but for Israel. If the shit hits the fan with Iran, Adelson wants a Republican in office, not some pussy Democrat who might waffle.

I think he’s wrong about how Obama would react, but that is what he believes and why he believes Romney is a better president.

And the examples just keep piling up: the more you look at why a person says they vote a certain way, the more you see that seemingly no one is voting selfishly. I thought long and hard about why this might be. Why are so many (if not most) people so concerned about the needs of others over themselves?

I don’t have a single theory as to why this is. I think that perhaps one must look at Republicans and Democrats separately. It’s possible that Republicans don’t vote selfishly because they live by the mantra that they don’t want a hand-out, and perhaps Democrats don’t vote selfishly because… well… they’re bleeding heart liberals who just care too damn much.

I don’t know. Maybe people will just publicly say whatever they think will make them sound noble,

The Several Adventures of Hugh, Part 19

Hugh forged a sword that looked like a question mark, with a sharpened edge on the outside of the curve, while the reverse side was to be left dull to be used in parrying. He also forged a very thin but long bladed axe, the head of which looked like the sun just peaking over the horizon, the point of which extended out several inches beyond the haft and could be used for stabbing.

Since Hugh gave Verne the day off, Hugh had the dwarf and giant working with him. He worked much faster with the two of them, as he had worked with them for years and the dwarf in particular had become skilled enough that he could hammer the same blade as Hugh, each striking while the other was lifting their hammer, while the giant would hold the piece in place with tongs.

After most of the work was finished, the giant sought out a haft for the axe and leather for wrapping. She began by fashioning the handle, pressing raised dimples to form grooves for the hand. By the time she was finished with this, the axe head was finished. The axe attached at two points, once at the top of the haft, where the wood had to be whittled down a bit to fit into eye.

It attached a second time at the bottom of the blade, where Hugh fashioned a flat peg at the bottom of the axe blade. This was wrapped tightly to the haft with leather to add stability during hard impacts, especially those made near the tip. They sent the sword off to have a hilt made after Hugh made a few more corrections.

“It’s nice not having to fashion a hilt,” said the dwarf.

“That was sort of one of my favorite parts,” said the giant.

“I can fashion you some carpentry tools,” said Hugh.

The giant smiled at Hugh. “Nah, it takes so long… it’d be nice to just have a break.”

The dwarf handled the new axe a bit. “I dunno… the one thing it’s really missing is a guard for the hand,” he said.

“Here,” said Hugh, pulling a short handled axe off the wall. “This is one of the axes carried by all the soldiers.” It had a small double sided blade that formed a wide U on top and an even wider U at the bottom. “It can be used for parrying or entrapping, and it’s weighted to throw.” Hugh wound up and hurled it at a large wooden support on the other side of the workshop, where it stuck with a dull thud.

“Nice,” said the dwarf. “Still, I’d rather have a shield than an axe.”

“Why?” asked a voice outside. The three of them turned to look at a man as he entered. He had a rough beard, lots of scars, a crooked nose, and close cropped brown hair.

“How can I help you?” asked Hugh.

“Well, I thought I’d come down and see the mythical monster who will be forging my weapons,” he said.

“My name’s Hugh.”

“It’s nice to see you have respect for our traditions,” said the man, walking up to the axe and pulling it out of the wall. “The polyaxe is a symbol of freedom. It’s kept us independent for centuries.”

“You shouldn’t stop using it,” said the dwarf. “You should just add a shield. If anything, you should have two of those polyaxes, since apparently you’re throwing them all over the place.”

“You think this city is just made of money?” the man asked.

“Um, yeah,” said the dwarf.

“Maybe it is, in the privileged corners you’ve been through,” said the man. “But most of the city goes hungry while a few grow fat.”

“If the rich want to keep what they have,” said Hugh, “They ought to be willing to protect the city to the best of their ability.”

“How much bronze or iron do you think we have?” asked the man.

“I’d prefer steel,” said Hugh.

The man stared at Hugh for a bit. “So would I,” he said.

“Who are you, by the way?” Hugh asked.

“Zador, master-at-arms of the Politian Navy. And whether you know it or not, the city’s naval forces are more than twice that of our land forces, so when the city changes its armed tactics, I’m responsible for explaining to over thirty thousand men why we are no longer using the weapons that have served them well for their whole lives, for their fathers’ whole lives, and for their grandfathers’ whole lives… you see where I’m going with this, I’m sure.”

Hugh nodded.

Zador walked over to Hugh and looked down at the axe he had just forged. “Now this I can use,” he said. “Did you harden the tip?”

“Yes,” said Hugh.

“This would made a perfect boarding axe,” said Zador, waving it about. “I bet you could even make these from bronze to save money.”

“Definitely,” said Hugh. “You might want to shorten the length of the toe, maybe to no more than a finger length.”

“What’s in it for you?” asked Zador.

“What do you mean?” asked Hugh.

“Why do you care what happens to the city? How do I know you weren’t sent here by the Otros to sabotage our defenses?”

“This city has treated me well since I arrived, I wouldn’t hurt anyone here,” Hugh said. “I just like helping people.”

“Is that what you did in the market?” asked Zador.

Hugh looked down.

“You think people will mistake you for some other cyclops?” Zador asked, craning his neck down to look into Hugh’s eye.

“What’s he talking about?” asked the giant.

“I had no idea what was happening until it was over,” said Hugh.

“Until what was over?” asked the dwarf.

Zador set the axe down. “He dumped coins in the market to distract people while an army of street urchins stole everything they could carry away.”

“What law does that break?” asked the giant.

“Disorderly conduct, for one,” said Zador. “Aiding and abetting theft, for another. Conspiracy to defraud market vendors… oh, and trespassing, since you walked through someone’s home.”

Hugh looked up, “I’m sorry.”

“Save it,” said Zador. “The Chancellor already took care of everything. He actually seemed all too happy to do it. He laughed when he heard what you did. I can’t say I reacted quite the same.”

Zador walked out of the workshop and turned back. “I don’t think you’re here to destroy us,” he said. “But it’s still my job to make sure you don’t do it accidentally.”

“I’ll make sure you have an easy job,” said Hugh.

Zador nodded and left.

“What was that about the market?” asked the dwarf.

Hugh told them about Theoson, from when he saw him begging at the statue until that morning when he had thrown coins into the market.

“It sounds like he’s mad,” said the dwarf.

“He’s too calculating to be crazy,” Hugh said.

“He’s just angsty,” said the giant.

“He’s too motivated to be miserable,” Hugh said.

The twins both shrugged and went back to work. Hugh stood there for a moment, thinking, then he smiled. “You can sit this one out,” Hugh said the dwarf. “I want to try something different.”

He chose a relatively small piece of steel, and hammered it into a very long blade, except Hugh fashioned the blade to be round in the middle.

“Is that a double ended sword?” asked the dwarf.

“No,” said Hugh.

Hugh tempered it for a long time, much longer than normal, giving it a more ductile, bendy quality.

“It must be some sort of mechanism or tool,” said the giant.

“Nope,” said Hugh.

After some more hammering, Hugh pinched notches at each end, and the twins both got it.

After it was cooled and strung, Hugh and the twins went to go find an arrow. There was a fletcher located kitty-corner to the workshop, and they bought five blunted arrows to test out the bow. When they got to the archery range within the barracks, the giant shot first. She thought it had a difficult draw and much less power than most bows. The dwarf and Hugh both agreed after they had taken a few shots.

“Still,” said Hugh, “If you keep it oiled, it’s far more durable than a wooden or horn bow, and it’s definitely not going to be damaged by the moist shore air like layered composite bows.”

“Why is it so long?” asked the dwarf.

“I am fairly sure a shortbow made of steel would be little more than a dangerous toy,” Hugh said. “It’s more of a curiosity than anything else, a bow that can be repaired and used again and again. It should resist most wear and tear, plus I made it completely reversible, so if it starts to lose its integrity in one direction, you can flip the string.”

“Maybe for an army that is marching into a desert,” said the giant. “But I could make a bow better than this with just a few tools. And you still need to make string, so it’s not completely replacement-free. ”

Hugh nodded. “Well, like I said, it’s a curiosity.”

When he got back, Walker was in the workshop with a small group of people, including Brad.

“Ah, Hugh, so glad I found you,” said Walker. “What’s that you got there? A new creation, I hope.”

“Steel bow,” said Hugh. “I was testing the tensile strength. I think I’d need it thicker for it to be viable”

Walker shook his head. “I need to teach you the golden rule. Find a way to do it cheaper. What I ultimately need is to figure out how to make everything you’re done in wrought iron or bronze, maybe even impurity ridden copper if you can manage it. I like this,” he walked up and lifted the thrusting axe. “Not much metal, wooden handle. We have unlimited wood, but we don’t have any mines of our own, let alone miners to work them.”

“So where do you get it?” asked Hugh.

“We trade for it,” Walker said. “With spices, salt, pottery, glass… maybe even some of your weapons. Your talents far exceed that of designing weapons for the everyday soldier, you know.”

Walker took something with both hands from someone with him. He set it down on the anvil with a clunk and motioned for Hugh to come over. Hugh pulled back two layers of sack cloth to find a thick, irregular hunk of metal, pitted but mostly smooth, with a sheen like that of silver, only less white and more blue.

“This is Vulcan steel,” said Walker. “If you can figure out a way to work with it, each weapon you make could be sold for the price of a large ship or a flock of livestock or… dozens of slags of steel.”

Walker left with his entourage. He turned back as he got to the street. “Don’t use it all in one weapon,” he shouted.

Hugh was about to set to work when he remembered something and ran after Walker.

“Walker, I mean… Chancellor Edward,” Hugh shouted down the street. He jogged to catch up.

“Yes?” he asked.

“I forgot to… well, I’m sorry about the market, but Theoson wanted me to tell you that ‘your old teacher wonders if you are living well.’”

Brad chuckled and shook his head.

“Tell my old teacher…” Walker began, trailing off and thinking for a bit. “Tell my old teacher that I am living as well as a rich man can.”

“Again, I’m sorry about the whole –”

“Don’t mention it,” said Walker. “When I heard what had happened, I knew you were an unwitting pawn. Just see to it that you don’t facilitate his antics anymore… and try not to involve me next time.” Walker winked. “I did get a kick out of hearing about it, but it wouldn’t look good if people knew that money came from my own coffers.”

The group walked away, except for Brad. “If you want to learn,” said Brad, “Come to the Scholia. Henry can give you directions, or you can ask around. It’s a well known building. It’s where we hold public discussions that are open to all. We don’t think knowledge comes from mischief or madness, but from thoughtful debate. Consider this my personal invitation.” He bowed a bit and walked off.

To be continued…

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Top Ten: Ideas I Briefly Thought I Came Up With First

10. Titties, a restaurant with big-breasted… chicken sandwiches

9. “Have It My Way,” a movie where I eat only Burger King for 30 days

8. Massage oils laced with powerful drugs

7. Bret & Obesity, ice cream aimed at yuppies, including a flavor inspired by a Latin rock legend, “Santana Banana”

6. Masturbation

5. TheHateBook, a website for posting about all the things you can’t stand

4. Turning wolves into pets

3. What if our Solar System is an atom in someone’s fingernail?

2. A cartoon show with a dumb father

1. Some sort of new American government that takes power out of the hands of a few wealthy families and gives a voice to the people

Monday, August 13, 2012

On Mitt Picking Paul Ryan for VP

I sat back, read what people were writing, listened to what people were saying, and I largely reserved judgment until today. Until this moment, my general response has been, “Yeah, Paul Ryan is a douchebag, but we all know Mitt Romney was going to pick a douchebag… he was limited to picking a Republican.”

But then it hit me… no, he didn’t have to pick a douchebag.

Say what you want about Republicans, I think they roundly rejected the Tea Party in this presidential campaign. Romney is many things, but he’s no hardline conservative. I wonder if Republicans picked him because he is so moderate, after what many moderate Republicans must see as having been an era of extremes with Bush and Obama (though any moderate Republican who hates Obama is only fooling themselves).

The Paul Ryan pick has been… strangely unpopular. I had expected the left to go apeshit, and they haven’t disappointed me. But what has shocked me is how little enthusiasm I see out of Republicans for this pick. Even Tea Partiers aren’t as excited as I thought they would be, and those people are as excitable as meth addicts (granted, there is probably some overlap there…).

I am left wondering if perhaps Republicans are let down by this pick. It seems like Romney is trying to shore up his base by picking Ryan, and perhaps he has done this, but polls are showing that Ryan is the least popular VP pick since Dan Quayle. Less popular than Sarah Palin, less popular than Dick Cheney, even less popular than Joe Lieberman. Less popular (though not less forgettable) than Jack Kemp, Dole’s running mate in 1996.

Why is this? Isn’t this what Republicans wanted?

I don’t think so. From a vast field of many ultra-conservative Evangelicals, Republicans picked… the second most moderate Mormon in the race, behind Jon Huntsman. This sort of leads me to wonder if perhaps the best pick for Mitt would have been Huntsman, since this would be giving voters what they were looking for in Romney, only twice.

In any case, this pick has set the stage for what will be the 2012 presidential campaign. Thanks to Ryan, Medicare is suddenly a big issue. We’re also hearing a sickening amount of the name “Ayn Rand” now, and by now we’ve probably all watched Ryan crack a joke while one of his constituents was wrestled to the ground.

I will end by pointing out an amusing comment I see repeated over and over among moderate Republicans right now: “The VP doesn’t really do much.” How optimistic of them…

How Do You Judge a Religion?

If I think about it for a while, I can imagine a complex portrait of a religion. I can see it as a changing ideology defined by time and place, spanning a varyingly broad and evolving range of regional sects that are influenced by economics, literature, politics, technology, interaction with other religions, and even seemingly insignificant things like climate, natural disasters, and celestial events.

But if someone says, “Christianity,” the first thing that comes to my mind isn’t so nuanced. Unfortunately, neither is it so tangible.

Here, terms like “fundamentalism” come up. Typically, a “fundamentalist” is someone who is more religious than you. For the atheist, then, there is quite a bit of leeway here. Many atheists even engage in the practice of comforting themselves with the knowledge that others who disbelieve as they do are more extreme. Almost every atheist wants you to know they aren’t like those “other” atheists. You know, the mean, rude, horrible, nasty, vile, angry, militant, “fundamentalist” atheists.

One problem that seems to be unique to atheists is that they are familiar with several religions. Most Christians don’t know very much about other religions. Perhaps they have a passing understanding of Judaism, maybe they know Jews can’t eat pork, but they don’t know about how they can’t eat shellfish, or that some of the more observant Jews don’t use electricity on Saturday. Islam probably stirs some unsavory images, coupled with equally confusing attempts by some to rebrand Islam as a vague “religion of peace.”

While I know more about Christianity, I am always learning more about other religions, even those which have few or no living followers. The snapshot of how I see a religion, then, could potentially be informed by a broad range of factors. However, I’ve come to largely see religions in one way.

I don’t rely upon followers or their actions. Judging a religion by its followers is like judging a book by who likes it. I don’t care about shortcomings of clergy, or the crimes of the organization, nor even the unjust laws imposed in the name of the faith. I don’t put much stock in the accomplishments of adherents, the success of cultures who adopt the ideology, or the acts of charity carried out by believers.

No, the first and most significant thing that comes to my mind when I think about a religion is its mythology. Stories truly define a religion, which is why religions are so difficult to define. Just as a room full of a hundred people can read a poem and interpret it a hundred different ways, so it is with religion.

Even the more legalistic religions, which spell out specific and often intricate rules, still delve into the realm of narrative moral instruction, resulting in what is an often inherently ambiguous ideology. Contradictions arise, and a straight-forward literary approach to religion seemingly always results in a critical analysis of the work as deeply flawed, and unmistakably human.

I don’t recommend one goes into reading mythology with an eye for criticism, though. If you try to read something to prove it wrong, you won’t get anything from it. Mythology is powerful literature, and if you go in knowing that it can enrich your understanding of humanity, you can learn a lot.

Mythology has inspired many great thinkers, as evidenced by how much in science is named for mythological figures. From the periodic table to celestial bodies, the world of science is a modern re-acquisition of mythical vocabulary.

In this respect, every religion may be judged to have some value. I have not come across a religion yet which offered me nothing in the way of new information.

Even Scientology taught me something, namely: you can make a fortune selling people their salvation. Before Scientology, one might not be able to say religion was truly commercialized, but Scientology has successfully blurred the line between church and business, between religion and economics (and that’s if the New York Stock Exchange hadn’t illustrated this plainly enough). That, and Scientology is also full of great tips on how to be a sociopath.

That’s how I judge religions, and I feel I have every right to judge a religion, since they’re always judging me.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Killing in the Name of…?

There may be no touchier subject when discussing religion than the idea of death. It gets even more personal when discussing not what happens after we die, but what actually killed people.

Technically, religion hasn’t killed anyone. Religion is just a set of stories, after all. Unless you believe God struck someone dead, you can’t really blame religion. Even if a crate of Bibles fell on someone, crushing them to death, I’m still more inclined to blame the publishing industry than religion. What critics of religion really mean when they discuss this matter is that religious people have killed in the name of religion.

But how many?

Well, let’s back up a bit. Most atheists get bombarded with claims that all sorts of Communist leaders have killed people, primarily Stalin and Mao. Atheists for some reason have no problem writing this off as “political,” even given very little research into the matter. Even though Red Army forces in many countries have marched clergy out of their churches and summarily executed them… it was all political, clearly, because atheism could never be blamed.

Atheism is sacred to some atheists… but the problem is, if you use this same method of interpretation, very few people have died due to religion.

I’ll buy into the idea that Communists had political reasons for killing all those religious people. That’s fine, I can understand and accept that as a valid argument, though I disagree. By this logic, the Crusades were a series of land grabs by powerful European monarchs, the Spanish Inquisition was a racist purge of North Africans and Middle Easterners who had conquered the Iberian peninsula in previous centuries, and the Salem witch trials were just good old-fashioned misogyny.

See what I did there? I took some other factor and decided to showcase it as the primary reason. In fact, there are no large-scale acts of religious violence which cannot be explained in secular terms borrowed from sociology and economics. And it’s no surprise why this is.

Let’s get real. Religion was a means of motivating some people to act a certain way, but the real reason for leaders conducting large-scale atrocities have always been and probably will always be the same: power, wealth, fame, and insanity. Religion only plays a part in the last one.

The best I can tell, the only people who died because of religion are counted as individual victims, not as vast statistics. If two people are arguing over religion and one kills the other, it might be fair to claim that the deceased was a victim of religious violence. I stress “might,” because I bet if you look into it, the killer was probably nuts independent of religion. Still, it’s bound to happen from time to time.

On the other hand, if you look at a guy like Hitler, it’s hard to actually argue that religion had much to do with anything. “But he killed all those Jews!” Okay, but he also killed gypsies. Why? Hitler wasn’t killing Jews because it says to do that in the Bible, he did it because scapegoating is a very successful tactic for rallying a people. He chose minority groups that people already suspected or hated.

Saying Hitler perpetrated the Holocaust because he was Christian makes about as much sense to me as saying he did it because he was a vegetarian.

I don’t see this so much as “defending religion,” either. Rather, I find the hyperbolic charges leveled against religion by some dramatic atheists to be rather embarrassing, and I thought I might point out that if someone makes emotionally charged and baseless accusations (like insinuating that religion somehow has anything to do with mass-murder), that person does a great disservice to skepticism.

Saturday Reflection August 11th, 2012

I don’t believe in hating broad groups of people. I believe you should hate someone as an individual, for unique and personal reasons. You should really get to know a person before you hate them.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Paradox [or Oxymoron] of “Religious Freedom”

I don’t believe people have a right to freedom of religion. Talk about a great opportunity for someone who doesn’t like me to quote mine… I imagine reading only that sentence, I must sound like some kind of fascist. I don’t like saying it, because it seems anti-American and against the very principles of liberty that I stand for. However, it’s actually my belief in liberty that causes me to see “freedom of religion” as silly and pointless.

Don’t misunderstand me: I have no interest in rooting out religion. I’m no iconoclast. I’m not interested in shuttering churches, much less burning them down. If anything, I would like churches to be turned into museums or libraries. It would be a shame to waste all that stained glass.

I think nearly every aspect of religion is redundantly protected by other, more basic rights, and a specific freedom to practice one’s religion is merely an invitation to circumvent the law.

We already acknowledge this tacitly. We don’t allow cult leaders to sleep with underage children, even if it’s part of their religion. And it’s not just because it’s a cult, either. Pedophilia has a rich religious history, dating back to prehistoric times, up through Greece and Rome, and even today in the Catholic Church… but we still see it as wrong.

Then you have the Westboro Baptist Church, which recently went before the Supreme Court. In my view, their actions are protected free speech. Religion has nothing to do with it. If they were advocating on behalf of a political ideology, I think they would be equally protected. Religion simply doesn’t have anything to do with a person’s right to say what they want.

If anything, religion is more apt to try to prevent people from saying something. In fact, “religion” and “freedom” have no business ever being used together.

True freedom isn’t just the ability to do whatever you want. There is an important aspect of having freedom from others, not just freedom to do whatever you please. We should have freedom from being harmed by others, be they private citizens or government officials. It’s wrong to prey on people, even if it’s part of your religion.

We as a culture wouldn’t stand for someone being stoned to death in a public square for infidelity, yet this is what is mandated in the Old Testament and the Quran. Let’s be honest: we don’t let everyone practice their religion any way they want.

There is one freedom of religion I support, one which is not protected even now. Each individual should be free to practice (or not practice( any religion they want, without threat of retribution from religious followers, including within one’s own family. I don’t think it’s right that parents can “disown” their kids, as if a) they ever owned their children or b) they could be excused of their responsibilities as a parent simply because of what their children believe – or don’t.

There’s simply no reason to give religion special deference when it comes to rights, liberty, or freedom, especially while religious people continue to reject the rights, liberty, and freedom of non-believers.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Snippet: Slavery, Eugenics, and the Olympics

It’s a pretty commonly heard idea – even if it is usually whispered – that black people (especially in the Americas and Caribbean) were bred by slave owners to be superior physical specimens. I don’t think this is the case. If this were true, black people from these regions would be winning events where strength was important, but black people seem to dominate in speed events. I ask you: what plantation owner in their right mind would breed slaves who were faster and harder to chase down?

The Several Adventures of Hugh, Part 18

Hugh woke up early and brought the bags of coins to the fountain across from Theoson’s tree.

“I’m here,” said Hugh. “I have the coins.”

Theoson grumbled something unintelligible, and after a minute or so he climbed down the tree.

“That was quick,” he said. “Well, hold onto them for today, I need to talk to some people. Come back tomorrow and I’ll be ready.”

Hugh went back to his room, stowed the bags under his bed, then made his way to the workshop in the barracks. Verne was smelting ingots when he arrived. Hugh talked with him as he worked regarding what needed to be done. Verne said he needed to design a sword that was heavy at the end but which could also be used to stab. It would not be used by cavalry, and would need to be used in close quarters.

Hugh thought for a bit as Verne finished, then proceeded to spend the day forging a sword no longer than from fingertip to elbow on most adult men. The back edge was straight, but the sharp edge was like a rounded L with an angle greater than 90 degrees. The thickest part of the sword was slightly over half as thick at where the sword would meet the hilt.

“Nice blood groove,” Verne said, pointing to a long, deep indent that ran straight up the length of the back edge.

“Actually, it’s a fuller,” said Hugh. “It’s not for allowing blood to flow out, it’s for shaving off some weight and for tweaking the balance. I want as much weight in the front of the blade as I can get.”

Verne nodded. “Can you stab with that blade?”

“You can,” said Hugh, “Though the point is probably not capable of cutting thick armor. It’s more of a slashing weapon, and even stab wounds will have a tendency to leave large, long wounds rather than facilitate deep penetration.”

Verne chuckled. “Penetration,” he repeated.

“Anyway,” said Hugh, “I will make another where the angle is even more extreme, so it will still be tip-heavy, but it can be used more for stabbing. I just figured I would try something new for the first attempt.”

Hugh began work on the second blade, and worked well into the night, much to Verne’s dismay. “I promise you can have the whole day off tomorrow,” said Hugh.

“That’s not how it works,” said Verne. “I still have to be here in the morning to smelt.”

“I’ll try to be back in the afternoon,” said Hugh. “I’ll say I need your help, and you can go someplace where you can take a nap.”

Verne just kept working the bellows.

Not long after, Hugh took the hint and decided to call it quits for the night. Hugh left the partially forged blade hanging by a strap from the rafters.

The next morning, Hugh skipped eating and went to see Theoson. He stood facing the direction Hugh usually came from, smiling with one side of his mouth.

“Bring those and follow me,” Theoson said, pointing to the bags.

They walked towards the market and turned into an alcove with stairs. At the top, they crossed a roof and came to a parapet overlooking the market. Theoson took one of the bags from Hugh’s hand and shouted down below.

“A gift to the city’s merchants!”

He then buried his hand into the bag and threw a handful of coins down below. He did this a few times, then moved further down the roof and threw more. He climbed and jumped along closely set rooftops and continued tossing coins down on the market. Vendors and customers scurried on hands and knees for the coins in the street.

Theoson looked back to Hugh, who hadn’t moved, and waved him over. Hugh caught up to him and Theoson asked, “Why don’t you join me?”

Hugh began tossing coins down as well. They slowly made their way along a good length of the market, until they got to a point where the rooftops were separated by a wide ally, with no way to cross. Theoson began chucking coins as hard as he could, as far as he could. Hugh joined in.

Before too long, both of them were turning their bags upside down over the street below. Theoson began laughing. Within seconds, there were angry shouts form the market.

“Come on,” said Theoson, turning and heading down a set of stairs. This led through someone’s home, and the two of them quickly walked past a women making bread, trying not to make eye contact. Hugh couldn’t avoid glancing at her. She just looked nervous.

“Sorry,” Hugh said, passing through.

Once in the street again, Theoson began walking away from the market, while Hugh turned back to look. There was loud shouting coming from the market. When Hugh caught up with Theoson, he was laughing.

“There couldn’t have been more than a handful of silver pieces worth of coin in those bags,” he said. “We’ve fed all the poor in the city for a few days with it.”

“What?” asked Hugh.

“Look.” Theoson pointed to two young boys carrying cherry-apples in their shirt, which they held like a small basket. He pointed again to an old woman with two big loaves of bread tucked under her arm.

“You made that possible,” said Theoson, smiling.

“I don’t get it,” said Hugh.

“They stole it while we distracted the merchants.”


“Yes,” said Theoson. “But don’t feel bad. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made more money from what we threw than what was taken, since so much of their food goes bad before they can even sell it. Can you fathom that, Hugh? They let perfectly good food spoil right before their eyes while thousands of people around them starve.”

“I don’t feel right about this,” said Hugh.

“Of course not,” said Theoson, “You’re a good person. You think about what you do, and you want to do the right thing. So think about this: a rich man is like a berry vine that grows over the edge of a cliff. It grows well, has the privilege of unobstructed sunlight, and produces fine fruit, but it does no one any good… because no one can get to it over the edge of the cliff.”

Hugh just remained quiet.

“When wealth moves into a city,” said Theoson, “Virtue is evicted. And yet, frugality is a virtue that can be practiced by anyone, even in the presence of such decadence. Ultimately, one must realize that there is only one kind of happiness, and it cannot be bought. True happiness can only come from your ability to live properly, for this is the only happiness that does not rely on the fickle nature of the Fates and Graces. If your happiness is derived from your own actions and attitudes, then you have a happiness that is completely under your own control.”

“What does that have to do with facilitating a mass theft?” asked Hugh.

“Laws and conventions are mortal, ethics are eternal,” Theoson said. “What we did was feed the hungry. If we had physically hurt someone, or perhaps even threatened to hurt someone, I might see how horrible our actions were. What we did was play on the insatiability of greed, the obsession for more, and the inherent inclination for this weakness to allow people to drop their guard.”

Hugh remained quiet for the rest of their walk back to the tree. Once they were there, Theoson turned to him. “What is wisdom?”

“Knowing what is right,” said Hugh.

“That’s not enough,” said Theoson. “Wisdom isn’t only knowing what is right, wisdom is the ability to figure out how to actually do the right thing. If wisdom results from just knowing what was right, then everyone who knows what the right thing to do is would be wise. True wisdom is in the doing, not the knowing.”

“That sounds more like ethics to me,” Hugh said.

“There is hardly any difference between the wise man and the ethical man,” said Theoson. “The one possible exception is that the ethical man who has no idea what he’s doing is right is little more than a moral fool. If a fool does something without understanding why it is right – say, if he were merely told to do it, and he obeyed – it’s not as though he really made an ethical decision.”

“If what you say is true,” said Hugh. “Then I am a fool, for if what we did was right, I had no idea.”

“Good,” said Theoson. “That’s the first step: admitting that you are a fool. The next step is to abandon all that you care for. We must demolish what has already been built, and lay a new foundation, upon which you will a build stronghold of wisdom to defend a happiness which will always be safe.”

Hugh just stood quietly.

“You have made a good first step,” said Theoson. “Now, we need to get you to give up the last of what you own.”

“I don’t own much,” said Hugh.

“I used to own only my cloak, my staff, and a bowl,” said Theoson. “Then, the other day, I saw a child cupping her hands and taking a drink from the fountain. It angered me greatly, because a young girl was able to beat me in simplicity. I stomped my bowl to splinters right then and there. I am still lobbying to have the public nudity laws abolished so that I may abandon even my cloak.”

“And your stick?” asked Hugh.

“That’s where you come in,” said Theoson. “I imagine as long as I have you around, I won’t need this.”

“You expect me to carry you?” asked Hugh.

Theoson laughed. “No, I walk just fine. I sometimes limp to give the appearance of weakness.” He tossed his staff to the ground, walked into the grass under his tree, crouched, then did a backflip. Hugh chuckled despite himself.

“I won many Triumphants in my time,” said Theoson.

“I don’t know what that means,” said Hugh.

“They’re the triennial pan-Kolic games.”

Hugh just stared at him.

Theoson sighed. “They’re a set of sporting events that happen every three years that are open to all cities and towns within the Kole Empire, which includes the city you are now standing.”

“Oh,” Hugh said.

“You’d probably throw a mean hammer, and I bet you’d easily win boxing, wrestling and all-in fighting. I wouldn’t be surprised if you get recruited. Where did you say you were from again?”

“A small island in a pond,” said Hugh.

“I should like to see it one day,” said Theoson. “Your dazzling description makes it sound so idyllic…”

Hugh smiled.

“You like sarcasm, do you?”

“I do,” said Hugh. “I rarely use it myself, but it reminds me of two people I know very well.”

“Are they alive?”

Hugh nodded. “They’re staying with me in the city.”

“If you must love someone,” Theoson said, “Love someone who is dead.”


“You cannot lose a dead person again.”

“I don’t want to think about that,” Hugh said.

“Of course not, and yet everyone will die.”

Hugh sighed. “Yes, I suppose everyone will die.”

“That should comfort you,” said Theoson.


“True wisdom is to despise wealth, pleasure, education, and even life itself. One should embrace the inevitable. Just a bit of wealth and pleasure results in poverty and hardship for many. Education is pointless, because for every man who attains wisdom, a thousand fools are born, and there is no use anyway, because that wisdom will soon be extinguished when the inevitability of death comes to the wise man. But… death also comes to the fools, and to the liars, and to the thieves, and to the murderers… no one can escape their mortality. Death keeps us free from the wretchedness of our ancestors.”

Theoson walked up to Hugh and leaned in close. “Do not fear death, for it is the only thing in life that is fair. Everyone will only get one.”

He went and sat down under his tree. He yelled to Hugh as he was turning to leave, “If you see the Chancellor, tell him his former teacher wonders if he is living well.”

Hugh went off to the workshop to work on a new sword idea he had.

To be continued…

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wednesday Word: Olympicks

Olympicks: the people you root for, then forget about for 4 years

The Several Adventures of Hugh, Part 17

Back at the docks, Hugh told the twins he would meet up with them later at Walker’s estate.

“Disappearing again? Gee, Hugh… should I be asking what her name is?” the dwarf joked.

Hugh tussled the dwarf’s hair. Hugh walked back to the market, where he knew how to get to the fountain across from Theoson’s tree. When he got there, Theoson was walking around the courtyard carrying a lit lantern in broad daylight. Hugh came up to him.

Without looking him in the eye, Theoson said, “I am looking for someone.”

“Are you looking for me?” Hugh asked.

“I don’t know. Are you the one I’ve been looking for?”

Hugh took the lantern from his hand, blew out the flame, and handed it back to him. Theoson looked up at Hugh and grinned, a crazed look in his eyes.

“I’m glad you’re on board,” Theoson said. “Your next lesson: procure two large bags of coins.”

Hugh stared at him.

“I don’t have any coins for you, what are you looking at me for?” asked Theoson.

“You want to use me to acquire wealth?” asked Hugh.

“It’s not for me,” Theoson replied. “It’s for the wealthy.”

“For the –”

Theoson shushed him and pointed off towards Walker’s estate.

Hugh walked off as Theoson leaned against his staff and relit his lantern.

Hugh found the twins inside Walker’s home talking to Henry.

“I need to make some money,” said Hugh.

“Ha, it is a woman!” said the dwarf.

“No, there’s just something I want to buy.” Hugh stared at Henry.

After a few seconds, Henry said, “I’m not a bank, Hugh.”

“Maybe there’s something I could do that I could be paid for?” Hugh asked.

“I’m also not a recruiter.”

“Henry, please,” said Hugh. “I don’t know anyone else in the city who can help me.”

Henry sighed, closed his eyes, and rubbed his temples with his fingers. After a few seconds of this, he said, “You know what? We need a stableboy at the moment. You can do that for now. If anything comes up, I’ll be sure to keep you… and your unique talents… in mind.”

“Okay,” said Hugh. “What’s a stableboy?”

Two hours later, Hugh had shoveled thirteen horses worth of shit from their stalls. When Henry came in to check on his progress, Hugh was brushing a small bay.

“As it turns out,” said Henry, “The Chancellor has need of your services.”

“Does it involve killing anyone…” Hugh looked at the horse he was brushing, “Or anything?”

“No,” said Henry, “He wants to discuss a project of vast importance to the city.”

Hugh met with Walker in the chancellery. As Hugh entered, Walker was talking with several people he didn’t recognize. Walker motioned Hugh to come over, saying, “Hugh! We’ve been awaiting your arrival. What do you know about walls?”

“I know you build them if you want to keep someone out, or if you want to keep someone in.”

The group laughed. When he was done chuckling, Walker asked, “We were thinking more along the lines of… do you know how to build them?”

“What’s there to know? You stack something up high in a long line,” said Hugh.

This time, there was nervous laughter. “There’s more to it than that,” said a man sitting on a couch. “There are calculations, material concerns, issues with topography and foundation integrity…”

Another man added, “There are questions of specifics, like how tall and how wide…”

“I’m sorry,” said Hugh. “I’m no architect.”

“Here’s the situation,” said Walker. “I’ve ordered our fleet to begin pillaging the outlying villages of Otros. If their invading forces turn back, we can harass them until winter, which will buy us time until spring. We’ve decided to begin production of poleaxes, complete with the hook for dragging cavalry off their horses. We’re also going to work on making those portable walls you mentioned.

“If this delays the invasion, we’re also going to begin construction of a fortified wall on just the south side of the city, as this is where they will be coming from, and it will extend along the Lys river, which runs northwest out of the city. That wall will extend as long as we can make it, and it’s necessary for protecting our source of water in the event of a siege. We don’t have to worry about them sailing around it, as they have no navy to speak of.”

Hugh nodded.

Walker cast his hand over the room. “These are the city’s best architects and stone masons.”

“I’m afraid I’m out of my league in this group,” Hugh said. “You won’t need me.”

“Don’t you want to learn?” Walker asked. “You strike me as a curious person, and these are the best instructors you’ll ever find.”

“Not to diminish their talents,” Hugh said, “But I haven’t noticed many military walls around here. I wonder how much more experience they have in the matter than I do.”

There was grumbling, except from one of them. That one said, “He’s right, you know. We’re not qualified to do this, that’s why we were waiting for him and hoping he could guide us. We’re trying to do something we’ve never done before, and we face an enemy that is capable of crushing us with little effort. We know they have engineers who are capable of building siege weapons that can bypass every defense they have faced so far. We need to come up with something new, something we and no one else has thought of, and that’s why I think you should stay, Hugh. You’re just as likely to hold the answer as we are. You might even have the advantage of being an outsider, with strange, foreign ideas.”

Everyone was quiet, and Hugh slowly moved over to a chair and took a seat, leaning in like he was listening to someone who wasn’t speaking.

It was Walker who broke the silence. “Someone surprise me.”

“The basic principle behind a defensive wall,” said Hugh, “Is that it provides both a barrier of advancement for the attacker, and a height advantage for the defender. If you expect them to sustain a long siege, you need a wall wide enough that your troops can move easily atop it. You also want the wall to be slightly curved outward, never straight, so that impact on the wall will be better distributed, like in an arch. It’s also a good idea to dig a depression in front of the wall along the entire length.”

Everyone nodded. “What do we build the wall out of?” someone asked.

“What do you have?” asked Hugh.

“We have vast sandstone quarries.”

“That’s too soft,” Hugh said. “You want something hard, heavy… like granite.”

“We have granite,” Walker said, “But nowhere near enough of it to construct a wall of this size.”

“Enough to do the front side of the wall, up to about a man’s height?” Hugh asked.

Walker thought for a bit. “Possibly… we’d need a surveyor to make estimates.”

“That’s a good idea,” said someone said. “Granite on the bottom will form a sturdy foundation, and that is probably the part of the wall that will take the most punishment.”

“How tall do we ultimately make the wall?” asked someone else.

“As tall as you can,” said Hugh.

“We already need to make it as long as we can,” someone said. “It’s not a good idea to build endlessly upwards and longwise.”

“We’ll have estimates made once we know the materials,” said Walker. “What I need is to know what we’re using, and how long it will take to construct. We won’t have longer than a year.”

There was more discussion on types of stone, brick making, use of mortar, the dimensions of the battlements, and even the possibility of constructing a mud wall in front of the wall of stone. At one point, servants came in with large platters of sliced cheeses, fruits, and bread. By the time the meeting was finished, it had been dark for a while. The architects and masons left, while Hugh lingered.

“I hear you want money,” Walker said once they were alone.

“I need two big bags of coins,” said Hugh.

Walker got a confused look on his face. “That seems vaguely specific…”

“Tell me about it.”

“Do you care if they’re copper coins?” asked Walker.

“I guess not,” Hugh said.

Walker got up, went over to a small chest and pulled out two bags. “For all you’ve done for me, this is a pittance: two bags of copper petties,” he said. “I don’t think you could feed yourself for a week with this, but it is, indeed, two big bags of coins.”

“Does this mean I’ll need to start paying for my food?” asked Hugh.

Walker laughed. “As long as you’re my guest, I assure you: you’ll never go hungry.”

Hugh put his hands on the bags, but Walker did not let go.

“Keep smithing for me,” said Walker. “Herbert likes your designs, but he has some alterations he wants to make.”

Hugh nodded and tried to take the bags again, but Walker still held them firmly.

“And I want your help building the wall for as long as you’re here,” Walker said. “If you want to leave, you’re can do so, but I need every free hand in the city committed to building the wall. We can’t begin until we get a wall license from the new King, but until then we can still begin surveying and preparing the labor teams. Can I count on your participation?”

Hugh nodded again, and this time Walker let go.

“Why do you need a license to build a wall?” asked Hugh.

“We’re actually a vassal city of the kingdom of Kole. The only reason I think we might get permission is because the wall will only be along the southern side, while the seat of the kingdom and their armies are to the north. If the wall we proposed completely encircled the city, they might see it as a threat to their ability to control us.”

“How do you know the invaders won’t go around the wall?”

“They have no means of crossing a vast waterway like the Lys with all their troops and horses,” said Walker. “We will dismantle all of the bridges upstream, and we can even sail our warships up the river to repel any of their attempts to make crossing. They won’t be able to build any bridges or ships as long as we maintain our naval advantage.

“Besides, any attempt to cross would cause their forces to bottleneck, which would benefit us greatly. Herbert even thinks we ought to leave a bridge open for them to attempt a crossing, and then ambush them, maybe even rig the bridge to be easily demolished, thereby killing those on it and isolating any troops we allow to cross.”

“War is such a horrible thing,” said Hugh.

“Yes it is,” Walker said before turning to walk off. He looked back at Hugh and said, “So let’s work to end it.” Walker went upstairs and Hugh left.

When Hugh got back to Walker’s home, he put the bags of money under his pillow and fell asleep.

To be continued…

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Top Ten: Things I Don’t Like About the Olympics

10. Excessive coverage of water polo
9. Commercials
8. The announcers (especially for the opening ceremony)
7. Romney/Obama Commercials
6. Winter Olympics athletes showed up for some reason
5. Local political commercials
4. That “racewalking” and “trampoline” are Olympic events
3. Insurance, medication, car, and credit card commercials
2. Lack of live coverage
1. How commercials interrupt everything

The Several Adventures of Hugh, Part 16

Hugh woke up starving, his mouth dry, and sore everywhere. He just lay there on his back for a while, staring at the ceiling, thinking. Slowly, he sat up, letting out an inadvertent groan. He rubbed both his knees a bit, took a deep breath, and stood up. He slowly took a few steps forward, rolling his neck around, rubbing his shoulder, and basically just tried to ready himself just to leave his room.

After a minute, he walked outside, and he felt like he was hiding his discomfort well. He walked to the entryway and saw no one he recognized. He asked a woman passing by if she knew where the twins were.

“Kane and Lang are playing with the tibear in the yard.”

Hugh went outside, looked around, and saw the twins brushing the large beast.

“Hugh, you missed dinner, and breakfast. You’re just in time for lunch, though,” the dwarf said upon seeing Hugh approach.

“I guess now that you’re awake,” the giant said, “We’ll eat and then go out in the boat.”

Hugh nodded. He put his hand on the tibear, which was lying on its back, arms and legs splayed out, like a huge, furry starfish. Hugh rubbed its belly and smiled as it moaned.

“We have to get one of these, maybe two,” said the dwarf.

“We’ll see,” said Hugh. “I’m starving, when do we eat?”

“Now we’re talking,” the dwarf said.

They left the grounds and went to the market. They got a large smoked fish and a head of lettuce, which the twins paid for out of new purses tied to their belts. Hugh suggested they eat by the fountain. They sat on the edge, tearing off pieces of fish and wrapping it in lettuce. Hugh kept his eyes peeled for Theoson, but he didn’t see him at all by the time they finished. Hugh also noticed the body was gone.

They found Henry back at Walker’s home, who had arranged for the old man’s body to be wrapped in silk and given a funeral procession through the town. They walked alongside the donkey-driven cart on the way to the docks. People they passed turned to watch them pass by and they offered their condolences for the deceased.

When they reached the boat, the old man’s body was carried on a large stretcher by Hugh and the twins on board. It was a relatively small ship, with two masts, two triangular sails and a handful of crew members. Henry accompanied them, as well as another man who had followed them in the procession who the three of them didn’t know, and before long the ship was out of sight from the land.

“Is this far enough, do you suppose?” asked Henry.

“This is fine, I guess,” said the giant.

The dwarf went over to the body and began lifting the stretcher.

“Um, are you going to say anything before you just throw him over?” Henry asked.

“Oh, I guess,” said the dwarf. “Like what?”

“Usually, people talk about the person a bit before they are laid to rest,” said Henry.

“Okay,” the dwarf said. “He was an old man when we met him, blind, maybe a little nuts, but always interesting to be around. I remember he was always eating things he shouldn’t have… uncooked beefnuts, grass, dirt, animal dung… and of course that poisonous mushroom that killed him. He died before his time… which is an odd thing to say about someone so old, but really, he was so spry that I bet he’d still be here today, standing with us on this boat, had he not eaten that mushroom… although, I don’t know why we would be here, on this boat now, if he hadn’t died. I guess you might say that we’re all here today because of you, old man. You, who wouldn’t tell us his name, and who might actually be a crazy, murderous king or something. We travelled all this way just to make sure you got your mansion under the sea, to fulfill what may very well have been your dying wish. May the Eagle guide you now, in death, as it did while you were alive. Good bye, dear friend.”

Everyone stood there for a bit, and the giant shook her head. “I’ve never heard a eulogy in my life,” said the giant, “But I’m pretty sure that was the worst one every given.”

“Shove it, you overgrown sack of piss.”

Hugh put his hand on their shoulders. “Guys, it’s time.”

The three of them lifted the stretcher, brought it to the edge, and the dumped his body in. It hit the side of the boat before splashing into the water. They all watched and it floated in the surface further and further away from the boat.

“Uhh… I don’t think it’s sinking,” said the dwarf.

“Bodies don’t sink immediately,” said one of the ship’s crew members. “If you wanted it to sink, you should have added some sort of weight to it.”

“Well, thanks for the advice,” the dwarf said.

“No one asked me for any advice,” the crew member replied. “I didn’t want to ruin your… solemn ceremony here. I figured you knew what you were doing.”

“We don’t,” said the giant. “We have no clue, really.”

“What do we do now?” asked the dwarf, as he watched the old man’s wrapped body bobbing with the waves.

“Well, the easiest thing would be for us to bring the body back on, then we can weight it down with something. We have rope, canvas bags and some ballast rocks under the deck. We can probably get it to sink that way. Or, you can just let it drift. It will sink eventually, and we’re far enough out that it probably won’t wash ashore.”

“Probably?” the giant asked.

“Well,” the crew member said, scratching the back of his neck. “I guess a storm could easily wash him in. He might float for a few more hours, but after that he’ll sink.”

“Can we stay with the body and make sure it goes down?” asked the giant.

The crew member slowly blew out a long breath, puffing out his cheeks. “I guess, it’s just… we’ll have to maneuver quite a bit to keep it in sight, and like I said, it could be hours.”

“But what if we – ” the giant stopped midsentence when she saw a shadow cross over the boat. She looked up, and everyone’s gaze followed hers. They watched as a giant bird swooped down and grabbed the old man’s wrapped corpse, then took off and flew away. Everyone just watched as the bird grew smaller and smaller in the distance.

“I wonder if that was the Eagle,” Hugh said. Everyone turned to look at him. “I mean, he was always talking about a great Eagle, and that sure looked like one.”

“Did that just happen?” the dwarf asked.

“Follow that bird!” the giant screamed.

“Follow that bird?” the crew member asked with a strained look on his face. “Lady, you better start flapping.”

Hugh tried to stop himself, but he started laughing. The more he tried to stop, the harder he laughed, until he was literally straining to breathe.

The giant looked at Hugh, then the dwarf, who was smiling. “It is pretty funny,” said the dwarf. “In a dark sort of way.”

“Well…” said the giant, “I guess… I guess there’s nothing left to do except go back to shore.”

As the ship was turned around, the giant continued staring off into the distance where the enormous bird had flown. She leaned on the ship’s railing and squinted, then walked over to one of the crew who was sitting down in the back, controlling the rudder.

“What’s off in that direction?” asked the giant.

“More sea,” said the sailor.

“So, it’s just sea forever?”

“No,” he said, “There’s land. That’s… south, south-east, so if you kept going in that direction, you’d probably see the Ruby Isles, and beyond that are the lands of the Silver Coast, which is a whole different continent, and you’d land in one of a few possible countries, depending on the precise bearing.”

The giant walked over to Henry, who was conversing with the man who had accompanied them from the estate to the docks. Hugh walked over as well.

“I need a ship to the Ruby Isles and the Silver Coast,” said the giant.

“That won’t be cheap,” said Henry.

“Henry,” said the man, “Think about what the girl just saw. She’s not asking to commission a ship. You know you could find her a merchant vessel already going there. She could get passage within a week for the cost of her labor. Just look at her,” he said, eying her up and down, “She could pull her own weight on a ship.”

Henry sighed. “Hugh, Lang, this is Brad. He is the… what is it you actually do, again?”

“Oh, I’m just a humble educator,” said Brad, bowing deeply. “I am but a quiet thinker, an instrument of the Divas, and a lover of discussion.”

“The Chancellor was one of his students,” said Henry. “And now you have hitched your wagon to your star pupil.”

“My star pupil is right now on Mount Ippa collecting plant and insect specimens. My most rich and powerful student… he is in the Chancellery.”

“Only you would think Wencelas greater than Chancellor Edward.”

“While Walker will one day be a footnote in history, the whole world will remember Wencelas long after the city of Polity sinks beneath the waves.”

Henry chuckled. “Like I said, only you, a teacher, would think a teacher would one day be more important than Chancellor Edward.”

Brad turned to Hugh. “I saw your performance in the arena last night. You were like an artist who painted with blood.”

Hugh looked away.

“Ah,” said Brad, smiling. “While I say that I’m humble, you truly are.”

“I’m more ashamed than humble,” Hugh said.

The giant touched Hugh’s arm.

“There’s no dishonor for you in being stabbed in the back,” said Brad.

“The dishonor was in killing twenty unarmed men.”

“Technically,” said Brad. “You only killed nineteen unarmed men. One was armed. In fact, at one point he was literally armed with an arm.”

Hugh shuddered.

“I must say,” Brad said, taking a step closer to Hugh, “And I mean no insult… but I would not expect this from the fearless warrior I saw slaughtering men just a day ago.”

“I’m not insulted,” said Hugh. “I…have you ever been good at something you didn’t like doing?”

Brad nodded, “Say no more. I understand perfectly. And such a messy business your unwanted talent is. It is actually inspirational that a seemingly monstrous murderer actually has a conscience.”

“Usually, I don’t do anything I would regret,” said Hugh.

“Let me guess,” Brad said, stepping even closer Hugh, and leaning in near to him. “Walker talked you into it.”

Hugh nodded.

Brad clapped his hands and stepped back, chuckling. “That rascal! It’s nice to see my rhetoric lessons didn’t go to waste.”

Hugh frowned and looked at the giant.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said Brad. “If it’s any consolation, he didn’t talk you into doing a bad thing. Those men were criminals, and not just petty thieves stealing a loaf of bread for their starving family. Their actions caused others to die. They forfeited their lives.”

“He’s right,” said Henry. “You’re not a murderer, you’re an executioner.”

“Yes,” Brad chimed in. “The ethical executioner is always plagued with guilt, as anyone who takes a life ought to deeply question such a grave act.”

“Right,” Hugh said.

Hugh walked to the front of the ship and watched as the port came back into view.

To be continued…
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