Letters Column for January, Take 2

Thank you for your kind words,

Everyone!!

Also,

Archangel Beth
Ben
BrandonQ
DSPaul
Dsz01
edomaur
Egarwaen
Eric
GoldenH
Gruntle
HedgeMouse
Insanitykun
Jason
Jennifer
mackatlaw
Metal Fatigue
Mithrandir
mneme
Pierre
Ravious
Requiem
ryan
S
Solarbird
Ununnilium

**

This brings to mind the question: if evil is nourished by altruism, is altruism also nourished by evil? How many people decided to do good simply could not bear to see evil flourish unchecked?
— novalis

According to Dr. Lancor’s theory, although I specifically chose to have him not mention this, altruism is indeed nourished by atrocity. The two exist in a natural equilibrium, and increasing the ambient atrocity level would dredge new reservoirs of altruism from the human heart. In fact, in Lancor’s world, evil cannot prosper without this response: if people remain apathetic, then evil exhausts the available resources and becomes self-defeating. For this reason, I think his philosophy allows for edge cases—by being incredibly stupid, evil can upset the balance and bring the world into darkness, and by being incredibly smart, good can lift the level of the whole.

In terms of my philosophy, I wrestle with this a lot. It seems like confronting monsters and enduring suffering is necessary for the fullest development of virtue, but something seems subtly wrong about it. People shouldn’t have to see evil to be good; rather, they should be able to look within themselves and find the good. It might be a symptom of an overall societal sickness, endemic, admittedly, to all the societies I can think of, that compassion comes from the observance of pain. One of the classic cases is the case of the Buddha, who only learned the importance of his nature by seeing a sick man, an old man, a monk, and a corpse. (I think that’s right.) Why was this? Why did he have to have such things in his life to understand? Why wouldn’t he just know that freeing people from attachment and suffering was good? The answer is that his parents kept it from him—that, in fact, in the classic story, Suddhodana his father did not really want a Buddha. He wanted a King.

If we strove more to teach people to be themselves, then maybe we wouldn’t need evil and disaster to bring out the finest in humanity.

**

Mea maxima culpa!
— S

No one ever remembers this but me, but Mea Maxima Culpa was also a heroine in a short-lived Silver Age comic. When she shouted, “Mea Maxima Culpa!” the two cups of her bra flew off and enlarged, becoming culpas, deadly fighting fans. She used these to defeat villains named after other Latin phrases, such as the red-faced Vinnie Veritas and the nefarious Tourist Conqueror. Everybody blamed her racy superpowers for the institution of the Comics Code, but she didn’t really have anything to apologize for, because she did wear a shirt, and going without a bra in a superhero fight was a lot harder on her than it was on the censors. She died in World War II, bravely doing her part to keep the Spear of Longinus out of Nazi hands.

**

This is the only place in the world where one might conceivably find a story about Gandhi eating people’s brains nonviolently. (Other authors would miss the “nonviolently” part.)
— Metal Fatigue

Eating brains is really pretty nonviolent. It’s extracting them that normally requires violence, and that’s where the difficulty for a brain-eating Gandhi would lie.

Now, simply eating pre-extracted brains would not suffice. The person who eats meat is on the same moral level as the butcher. Meat may or may not be murder, but I think Gandhi would probably take the conservative vegetarian approach here. However, I also think Gandhi would recognize that no amount of force is sufficient to allow a brain to occupy a body that refuses it. So if someone’s body decided to use passive resistance to eject the occupying brain and revert to the natural kidney-driven intellect humans used before the space brains came, then I don’t think Gandhi would feel a moral qualm about eating the expelled brainmeat. That would be nonviolence.

There are other occasions that would probably justify it. I’m not sure if Gandhi would agree, though, because they all embody various forms of slippery slope. For example, if Gandhi was in the subway, and someone’s brain just, you know, fell out, and in the press of people there was really no way to retrieve it, so the person just got out at the next stop and went on their way, and Gandhi took the brain to Lost & Found, but nobody retrieved it before it was going to go bad anyway, then I don’t see any real moral issue in eating it. I mean, otherwise, it would just go to waste. But that kind of thing opens the temptation to eat the brain before the last possible moment, or just eat it as soon as no one shows up to claim it, and I think Gandhi was more careful than I am about that sort of moral abyss.

There could also be cases where brain extraction was actually a kindness. Like, for example, there could be a guy who worries way too much. Worrying is bad for you. Taking out the brain removes the worry. So if the guy consents, and if he doesn’t need his brain for anything (like, say, he has really smart genitalia that can get him by in typical life circumstances), then removing it isn’t really an act of violence at all.

Some people have two brains: a left brain and a right brain. They fight! But that’s another issue.

If anyone wants to try this at home, perhaps because you know someone who does not have a peaceful relationship with their brain and might be coaxed into a diplomatic body/brain conflict, note that most of the brain is actually inedible. Most chefs only use about 10% of their brains, and even an Iron Chef—able to easily make forebrain ice cream and corpus callosum pasta—would only use about 15%.

**

I fear to ask which MMOGs (are fetus-enabled)
— Archangel Beth

World of Warcraft. They don’t talk about it much to the regular players, but most of the monsters are played by a special fetus-only faction. In addition to normal sales to pre-born gamers, they have a parallel pregnancy array they use where the fetuses cooperate with Blizzard GMs to provide certain monsters with an uncannily dangerous intellect.

Note, for religious purposes, that I consider logging on to a WoW server for the first time to be the de theo equivalent of a first breath, and that my use of the term ‘pre-born gamer’ is therefore irrelevant to the overall abortion debate. I know that in the specific subfield of MMORPG abortion-related debate, there are some people who think that the soul enters the fetus around 20th level. I know that those people will probably post here flaming about it all, but I’m comfortable with the statement that it’s rude to abort someone just for being a noob. Unless they’re a gilseller or shout a lot or something.

**

Someone’s been listening to King Missile.
— Anthea

My housemate played King Missile’s Jesus song for me after I first had the idea for “The Alien.”

I originally was going to speculate about the moral implications of a future utopia built on technology—love technology, you understand, technology fundamentally built on Jesus’ precepts and honoring God—developed after dissecting the messiah. It would have been really neat, because the moral issues involved would be insanely complex, . . . but it would have implied directly that you could capture and dissect Him, and I decided in the end that that was too blasphemous.

Trying to write about religion as a comedy writer while keeping a fundamental respect in place is interesting. I think it has a lot in common with Fair Use—the principles, not the law—including the implicit obligation to either represent the original work fairly or veer so far into parody that no one could be confused.

**

If mathematicians are like vampires (which I wholeheartedly agree with) what does that make Statisticians? Ghouls?
— Dzo01

They’re really their own kind of thing that goes bump in the night.

When you’re young, you know, and you realize there’s something . . . near . . . that might eat you, or might not, and it’s dark, and there’s not enough light, and suddenly you understand something in the hunger of the thing, suddenly you realize that there’s only a 20% chance that it’ll take even one bite, but once it’s bitten there’s still a 20% chance that it’ll take a second bite, and so forth, and you hear a distant muttering of Poisson, Poisson, that’s not actually a traditional night fear at all—that’s a statistician.

Just ask your kids! They’ll tell you all about it!

**

Best three Jane and Martin lines EVER.
— Ben

Thank you for your kind words. ^_^

**

Things have been delightfully odd in recent days. I hope everything’s OK, but regardless, I appreciate the output.
— S

Change in tone means change in circumstances, but really the only reliable thing is that I have to be alert to write in the intellectual styles. There doesn’t seem to be a quality differential between fevered writing when I actually have a fever and when I don’t, for instance, just a few telltales. ^_^

The Cautionary Tale of Edmund Zombie, for example, was “exhaustion plus happiness,” with exhaustion increasing over the next few days.

On an unrelated note, I wonder if Batman could be kept at bay with a Bat-Signal in a circle with a red line through it.

**

I guess the moral of the story is to watch where you jaywalk :)
— Mithrandir

There are places in France where, if you jaywalk, you are attacked by trained blocks of cheese.

It may not sound so bad, but when the limburgerslide hits, you start thinking twice about brazenly defying French traffic regulations.

**

My daughter just got a Glow Worm for Christmas. Think I’m gonna get some more batteries for it…
— JoeCrow

You fool! You’ll only increase its power!

Don’t you understand! They say they’re only here to help, that they’re “companions” and “nightlights,” but they rule us!

They made me write that story, you know. They glowed at me. They glowed at me until I broke.

**

Hmm. How old is Liril? I mean, rather, how many years has she been in existence? Based on this, it seems that she’s talked about events from what should be before her time as if they happened to her personally. Has she been “regressed” in some sense vaguely similar to Jane/Jenna? Is something else involved? Or is this sun trouble in ’81 unrelated to what Liril talked about?
— Eric

Spoiler ahead!

Liril has trouble with aging for a very different, and far more technically correct, reason than Jane.

You might find it interesting to read “Monsters,” back in January 2004. It talks about what Jane thinks Liril thinks the sun means.

**

…And now I just realized why you gave (Iphigenia) that name. Interesting.
— DSPaul

Technically, it was a muse-driven choice, but after finding out from a backtrack to Aslan Shrugged that 2/2 was Ayn Rand’s 100th birthday, I no longer question the muse. ^_^

**

When’s the collection coming out, again?

Will there be an index?
— Jason

I am in poor health, and may remain that way for some time, but am currently free of hard-deadline everything-eating RPG projects. The first three monthbooks, some data references for this site, A Society of Flowers, a soft-deadline RPG project to be announced soon, and a children’s book are under active development, albeit somewhat in competition with one another.

**

As to the question to how cat tastes: I could ask my mother, she ate one during the last war, many decades ago, but I don’t want to bring back bad memories.
— alex899

I remember the first time I ate miso soup—

Light, perfect, beautiful, like drinking a gentle warmth—

Cats don’t taste like that. Plus, when you bite them, they get all offended and don’t hang out with you for like two hours, and you find yourself coughing up hairballs late in the night and never really knowing why.

**

Is there a tune to go along with this post (Cats are Made of Cat), I wonder?
— tispity

Hm!

I don’t have a piano handy.

So re / re so-fa
So re / re so fa
Mi… la-fa
Re… so-mi
Do so re
Re so-fa!

I think.

I’m not trained enough to work out the notes for the rest without a piano; that took 15 minutes, and is probably wrong. ^_^

**

Awesome awesome story. I also liked the last run of stories or whatever, I just sucked at posting. Razz
— Ravious

It’s okay. S claimed fault earlier, so you can just blame S!

**

(The line regarding why ninjas run quietly) makes the entry, in my ever so humble opinion.
— BrandonQ

Ninjas are really polite.

There’s a story I heard in a movie, about a little girl who found a bunch of shuriken that had washed up on a beach in the storm. She was running around throwing them back into the sea. And Eddie Murphy’s character asked her, “Why are you doing this? What difference can it possibly make? You cannot save them all in time.”

And she said, “It makes a difference to this shuriken. And this one. And this one.”

Anyway, she wound up killing an entire clan of ocean samurai, but she saved a lot of shuriken, and that’s what’s heart-warming.

Or maybe they were starfish. You know, I think they might have been. If so, I blush, but it’s S’s fault!

**

For some reason, this (the weather channel entry) fills me with hope.
— Gruntle

I’m glad. Hope is important.

**

I can’t bring myself to believe in a mythical time when everything was better, except in dreams.
— mackatlaw

For all the current difficulties, the mythical time when everything is better really seems more likely to be located in the future than the past. ^_^

We live in an age of miracles and fuckheads, and the secret truth is, the fuckheads have always been there, and the miracles haven’t.

**

Maybe I think that being finished is a bad thing, a big death.
— GoldenH

Some programs produce results when they’re done, possibly with intermediate results on the way, and “finished” means that they’ve served their dharma. If you hit ^C first, they’re unfinished, and that’s bad.

Some programs produce results continuously. “Finished” means that their dharma is no longer meaningful, and that’s bad.

Hitherby is a lot more about the first kind of program, although I should try to remember that the other kind exists. ^_^

**

Brilliant work, Rebecca. Certainly one of your best, at least in recent memory.
— jasonk

Thank you for your kind words! The secret ingredient is trains. Anything’s better with trains, even colonies of guppies. Just imagine:

“I think I can,” chugs the train. “I think I can. I think I can.”
“Oh God,” whimper the guppies. “We’re drowning.”
“I think I can,” chugs the train. “I think I can.”
“Tell my mother . . . or father . . . whichever one was the frog,” say the guppies, “I loved her.”
The train engineer pulls cheerfully on the whistle. Toot! Toot!
The train could!
The train could, after all!

**

Does this mean Tina is even closer to the Monster than we think, since she made Iphigenia? Or can you make Gods from Heroes without being a Monster?
— insanitykun

Technically, since the people of salt can make gods on their own, anyone can make gods from them by providing sufficient pressure.

Even Richard Simmons.

Of course, there’s a reason that Tina doesn’t just give Jane a jazzy inspirational speech, so maybe it’s more complicated than that. Or maybe Tina just likes hurting people. Or both!

**

The way that the huge movements can be felt in such small and simple actions is what I love most about these stories; even more than the brilliant surrealism, I think.
— HedgeMouse

Thank you for your kind words!

I love Rebecca’s choice of pictures so much; they always feel like stories to me, the kind that hit you without needing to engage any language to suggest their meaning.
— HedgeMouse

Pictures are provided by Hitherby_Admin.

However, she knows me very well, and gets either instructions or an early peek at relevant entries, so, yes, it is content—when I say, “Hey, can you do a picture?” it’s relevant to the story that I do so. ^_^

**
Kirby can respond to his letters in a reply to here, or not!

**
That’s all for now! Thanks for reading, thanks for looking meaningfully at the donate button, thanks for commenting—even if you didn’t get thanked for a compliment or picked for a specific response—and see you again in the rest of this month!

**
I’m posting this as an actual entry, even though it’s technically backfill, because it took a long time to write and has several good ideas I can’t use for other stuff now (for at least two months, anyway). So there!

Rebecca

17 thoughts on “Letters Column for January, Take 2

  1. We live in an age of miracles and fuckheads, and the secret truth is, the fuckheads have always been there, and the miracles haven’t.

    That’s one of the most true and optimistic things I’ve ever read. Before I went through the archives here, I’d have said “the most true and optimistic,” but if I’ve learned one thing from it, it’s that absolutes don’t apply here.

    If I’ve learned two, it’s the literary importance of exclamation points.

  2. Concur with Joejay re: miracles and fuckheads. Have added the relevant quote to my Permanent Aphorism Library.

  3. On an unrelated note, I wonder if Batman could be kept at bay with a Bat-Signal in a circle with a red line through it.

    Only if your heart is pure and your faith is strong, o my sister. Sometimes not even then.

    Mea Maxima Culpa…died in World War II, bravely doing her part to keep the Spear of Longinus out of Nazi hands.

    There is some irony but much to admire in the self-sacrifice of an unsupported woman to keep evil men from getting hold of an immensely powerful phallic object. She has been, and will be, sorely missed. (You would think, though, that DC might have resurrected her in the mid-90s for a dark yet witty, highly self-referential miniseries, or even a new book, much as they did Animal Man.)

    It’s okay. S claimed fault earlier, so you can just blame S!
    If so, I blush, but it’s S’s fault!

    If, in the final analysis, I determine that sufficient blame may reasonably be considered to have accumulated based on my action or inaction, I will give full consideration to some sort of apology, strictly appropriate in relative degree to the allegedly offensive behavior. Of course, all are welcome to impute blame to me as they find useful in their circumstances; however, I will accept no censure, responsibility or liability therefor. In no case will I even entertain the possibility of contrition.

    S

  4. Interesting note, I recently heard of Bible Literalists who believe Jesus is both the strong and weak nuclear force. Jesus holds everything together!

  5. Can broken things be remade?
    Can destinies change?
    Is it worth the risk of hope?

    Important questions, but one can only shrug, you see.

    Here, there be dragons.

  6. Maybe I think that being finished is a bad thing, a big death.
    — GoldenH

    Some programs produce results when they’re done, possibly with intermediate results on the way, and “finished” means that they’ve served their dharma. If you hit ^C first, they’re unfinished, and that’s bad.

    Some programs produce results continuously. “Finished” means that their dharma is no longer meaningful, and that’s bad.

    Hitherby is a lot more about the first kind of program, although I should try to remember that the other kind exists. ^_^

    This is probably the most thought-provoking thing you’ve written, as evidenced by the fact that I am replying to this several days later.

    At first I didn’t understand what this meant – then I saw the word “continuously”, and was vaugely insulted, until I realized that its only passive-agressive truth.

    Today I was still thinking about it, and it illustrated a extrodinary fault between eastern-western thinking. I asked myself, “how do I reconcile Dharma with the existance of an immortal soul? While a soul can exhibit Dharma in life, it can have none outside of it.”

    This is IMPORTANT! I can no longer reconcile my buddhist and christian beliefs. How can I have a destiny, a purpose, if I am to continue forever? do I have an infinite purpose, beyond to contribute to humanity? And in eastern thought, how does Karma equate to anything beyond the very “program that produces results continuously” that I find so insulting? It is to achieve Nirvana, yes, but not all things will achieve Nirvana and that cannot be their purpose because one’s Dharma is not to end, but to serve a purpose, and then end – unless your ending has a purpose in itself.

    are immortality and destiny a paradox that cannot be resolved? I will think upon this more and reply later. Though if anyone has any thoughts I’d be really very interested in hearing about it!

  7. I ride dragons for breakfast (or, in this case, dinner) 8)

    but, this one is going to take some thought. hmmm.
    very important

  8. I fear to ask which MMOGs (are fetus-enabled)
    — Archangel Beth

    World of Warcraft. They don’t talk about it much to the regular players, but most of the monsters are played by a special fetus-only faction. In addition to normal sales to pre-born gamers, they have a parallel pregnancy array they use where the fetuses cooperate with Blizzard GMs to provide certain monsters with an uncannily dangerous intellect.

    I die here. I totally die. Especially since our minx loves WoW so much.

    (And all told, so far, EQ has the more-dangerous critters; the WoW ones tend to be stationed far enough apart that everything can be solo’ed if you go slow and don’t run out of ammo.)

    there are some people who think that the soul enters the fetus around 20th level. I know that those people will probably post here flaming about it all, but I’m comfortable with the statement that it’s rude to abort someone just for being a noob. Unless they’re a gilseller or shout a lot or something.

    I die. I die laughing. I’m so going to have to pay for my equipment to be fixed here. So dead. And it’s such a long float back to my corpse. All your fault!!! :lol:

  9. For GoldenH

    On Buddhist and Christian beliefs:

    If Heaven consists of eternal joyous contemplation of and unity with God, how can that be operationally distinguished from Nirvana?

    Just because you have an immortal soul doesn’t mean that your individuality is likewise immortal.

    Or maybe I’m not understanding your problem. I’m a pagan, so reconciling Buddhist and Christian doctrine is of purely academic interest to me.

  10. Well, if our individually isn’t immortal, than we don’t (conceptually) exist in the first place in any way that matters, so there wouldn’t be any problem.

    But I think that we should be immortal and individual in Heaven.

  11. Well, if our individually isn’t immortal, than we don’t (conceptually) exist in the first place in any way that matters, so there wouldn’t be any problem.

    Does not follow.

    Look at this pebble, here. Does it exist in any way that matters?

    If you say “no,” what the heck do you need my advice for? You’re a lot closer to enlightenment than I am.

    If you say “yes,” does your answer change when you reflect that, over geologic time (and what other timescale matters for pebbles?), it will certainly cease to exist in its present form, being ground down or incorporated into a conglomerate, or both?

    Souls are pebbles. Soul-stuff (atman) is conserved; individuality (jiva) is not.

  12. it may be there, but it doesn’t exist in any way that matters. This is why it’s okay to kill a dog, but not a human being. The soul. Now, if dogs have souls, and rocks have souls, then I am in trouble, but I am assured by many theologians that they, in fact, do not. In any case it’s wise to assume they do and be respectful of everything you can percieve.

    I believe that what we are may be only a fascet of our individualities (for truly our spiritual forms are far greater than these weak bags of flesh!). But attaining Nirvana cannot equal becoming God. It may be roughly equivalent to being in the grace of the lord once the world comes to an end, but that isn’t the problem.

    The problem is, destiny and immortality seem to be antithesis of each other. And for now reason I can percieve. I can either believe that I have a destiny, or that I have an immortal soul. I suppose some compromise can be reached, but then angels and God can’t have a destiny, which seems kinda off, and I suppose it also settles the question of free will – only immortal beings can have free will, and since we are a immortal soul in a fleshy flesh bag, our free will is at times hindered by our mortal natures.

  13. it may be there, but it doesn’t exist in any way that matters. This is why it’s okay to kill a dog, but not a human being. The soul. Now, if dogs have souls, and rocks have souls, then I am in trouble, but I am assured by many theologians that they, in fact, do not. In any case it’s wise to assume they do and be respectful of everything you can percieve.

    I believe that what we are may be only a fascet of our individualities (for truly our spiritual forms are far greater than these weak bags of flesh!). But attaining Nirvana cannot equal becoming God. It may be roughly equivalent to being in the grace of the lord once the world comes to an end, but that isn’t the problem.

    The problem is, destiny and immortality seem to be antithesis of each other. And for no reason I can percieve. I can either believe that I have a destiny, or that I have an immortal soul. I suppose some compromise can be reached, but then angels and God can’t have a destiny, which seems kinda off, and I suppose it also settles the question of free will – only immortal beings can have free will, and since we are a immortal soul in a fleshy flesh bag, our free will is at times hindered by our mortal natures.

  14. Well, if that’s what you believe, you sure are going to have a hard time reconciling Christianity and Buddhism, since every attempt I’ve ever seen at doing so starts by positing that with which you disagree. Good luck to you, though!

  15. I am reluctant to post a reply because, in good measure, Hitherby Dragons *is* my reply.

    That said, I think dharma is a more important concept than destiny. Not “what thing are you supposed to do?”

    but

    “what are you supposed to bring to the table?”

    A hammer is always a hammer. You take it out, you have specific things to nail, and then its destiny is complete, and you put it away; but you’ll take it out with some new destiny when you need a hammer again.

    You can also think of instanced programs. You open an instance of your browser, and you do stuff, and then close it. It’s done. It’s finished. But there’s a browser-nature that is not finished, that allows you to open a new browser instance later.

    Rebecca

  16. That’s really interesting. I don’t think I appreciated the difference between dharma and destiny before.

    now that I see it though, I must say that it is very awsome.

    thanks, rebecca!

    sorry for drawing you out :) now that the difference is clear, I see how you could consider todays hitherby a “reply”, though i doubt it was directed at me.

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