Please Exercise Your Right: A Rant

That being the right to privacy*. I don’t want to know!

Oversharing has become a national bad habit, or so it feels and sounds some days. Arrrrrrgh! I do not want to know. Please, don’t talk about that stuff in public. Your financial status, your romance status or lack thereof, the medical condition of friends/relatives/associates, please keep that to yourself.

Many years ago I was in Wichita, KS, at a hotel, eating breakfast. This was back when cell-phones with speakers had just become somewhat common. A group of businessmen sat at a table with the phone in the center. One man had a throat-mike and was the designated talker. They were discussing a major business agreement, one that really didn’t need to be broadcast because it involved acquisition of a publicly traded company. At the time I was much more aware of such things, and boggled a little. If I’d had stock in said firms, or had been a competitor of said firms, well, you can imagine. At the time, the agreement had not been officially announced. I shook my head and was strongly tempted (once I finished eating) to go by the table, smile, and thank them for the info so that my money market fund could dump their stock.

At the time, I thought what they were doing was nuts. Now? I don’t see why we have all these privacy laws imposed by the Feds, when people are telling everyone about everything, be it on the phone in public, in the classroom, on-line, on the bus . . . And younger people don’t seem to understand that my personal life is not their business. When I say private, I mean private. I didn’t want to know if a teacher was married or not, where he liked to eat, what she drove, his or her favorite sports team (OK, we usually figured that out based on the season and who was grinning or grumbling the day after a game), any of that sort of thing. Now young people seem shocked and even a little offended when they don’t find people on social media, or when older folks say, “I’m sorry, but that’s personal information.”

Every culture has things that are open to others, and things that are private. Guide books to working or visiting other countries used to have lists of “things you can ask about in conversation” and “things not to discuss/taboos.” In Germany, you do not ask about jobs. In many parts of the world, a man’s family is strictly his business, especially the women in his family. Religion is another good topic to avoid, unless you are, oh, on a tour and want to confirm what the dress code for a place is (shoulders covered? Head covered? Shorts below the knee? Skirts for women? All of the above?) Politics, although when there are political signs plastered all over, sometimes it becomes a hard topic to avoid.

In the US, right now, it feels some days as if there is nothing that is “not to be discussed.” Ick. Please, I do not want to hear all the details if your insurance company’s response to your medical procedure. Please exercise your right to privacy!

* For those who want to know more about the legal concept of the right to privacy, as opposed to the right not to overshare . . .

Leadership Post Deleted

The discussion on the post about leadership went in some directions that I prefer this blog stay away from. I apologize for not considering that the discussion might go that route. I thought the focus was clear enough, and I erred.

Comments on this post are closed. I appreciate that my readers have very strong opinions on a number of matters, and that differences in understanding about topics like foreign policy and leadership qualities are common. I’m glad I have such a range of readers and commenters, I truly am.

The fault is mine for touching on a current and sensitive topic that might veer into stormy waters. Mea culpa.

Random Topics Among Friends

So, I went south this past weekend, bearing a large ham and the need for some quiet time. Saturday evening is semi-regular gathering of the North Texas Troublemakers, a group of pilots and craftsmen with a serious writing problem. As usual, topics of discussion ranged from current events to exceedingly eclectic to “look at that! That’s why you never run from an ambush.”

Which fabrics are best for making miniature Hawaiian shirts? What’s wrong with modern choral music, or is it just me? Overly-tight jar lids – are they a threat to civilization or a menace to society, and why it is not cheating to have a passing tradesman open one, or to use a brad and tack-hammer to break the seal by puncturing the lid. What is good propaganda, in the sense of effective, memorable, and entertaining? Babushka with a jar of pickles vs a snooping drone won that one. How red can a redhead turn when she grabs a bottle of pepper sauce without looking at the label? (In my defense, there was a pepper sauce buffet, and I didn’t think Tabasco sauce was that hot. Smoked habanero sauce is hot, especially if you already put two shakes of pepper-vinegar on your greens.) The woes of pet digestion and indigestion. Why hiring someone to put in a new floor is worth the cost (both in dollars and in pain and materials saved). The problem of selling an over-long series. What ever became of good adventure sci-fi, and why someone’s romances keep turning into tactically-correct adventures with some romance in them.

Then there was the mock-argument that ended with the editor proclaiming in loud and indignant tones, “Excuse me, who are you calling a sapien?” *

And with this group, the question somehow always winds back to firearms. In this case 1) which caliber for house when you are house-hunting. At least an 88mm, although depending on the construction method and proximity of the hunter, a .50 or a Vulcan would probably work. [Or 10 ga. Haven’t you heard of a shotgun house?] and 2) What the [heck] are the Soviet, er, Russians teaching their people about ambushes and urban warfare? Even I, with 0 military experience, know that you break an ambush by charging into it. And that putting your tanks nose to tail on a street in an urban environment is very, very bad, because once someone gets the lead and tail vehicles, well, the rest are penned in, to put it mildly.

In other words, the usual range of topics for an eclectic, skilled, and well-rounded group gathered for food and conversation.

*It goes back to the days of Arthur C. Clark and Isaac Azimov.

Tuesday Tidbit: Ducal Duties

Mourning has ended, and Halwende must provide justice, low and (perhaps) high.

“I am not my father,” Halwende repeated for the fifth time at least. What of the late duke’s clothes could be re-made to fit, or used for other things, Halwende had already ordered sent to Mistress Kai for washing and then to be re-made to fit him. The others. . . The embroidery and colors didn’t suit him, and he wasn’t born to Marsdaam, so those certainly should go into storage or have the stitching undone and the fine threads put to other uses, or saved. Many of the ornate furnishings had also been removed from both the ducal chambers and the receiving rooms. Sturdier but still excellent tables, chairs, and lamp-stands, as well as banners, now resided in Halwende’s official spaces.

“No, your grace, you are not, but this,” Odo waved his hand at Halwende’s current clothing, “is not suitable for a duke’s court.” The material alone in the green-dyed leather jerkin and woolen trews, creamy shirt of finest schaef wool, and tan-embroidered dark brown boots cost the price of two very good ovsta ewes in lamb. The embroidery on shirt and jerkin added another un-bred ovsta to the bill. And they had been remade from Halwende’s older clothes, as well as from things found in storage. The servant wrung his hands. “You must show your strength and wealth, your grace!”

“To whom?” His voice sounded as sour as verjuice in his ears. “My court, my ways. I am not greeting or entertaining his majesty today, Odo.” Halwende slung the light brown, tooled leather belt around his waist. He settled the hilt of his long knife so that it would not stab his ribs when he sat, and stalked out of the ducal bed chamber. He hadn’t carried it when he led worship, but he needed it now. He also needed to pension off Odo and find someone who knew clothes but would not be such a sore-under-the-yoke. I am not Duke Hal.

For one thing, Duke Hal had been married when he came to the ducal honors. Halwende needed to do that, and sire an heir, as soon as possible. He and Malita of Kamsicht had exchanged letters and tokens of betrothal, but she lacked a year and three-quarters to being of marriage age. As he strode up the corridor, two passing maidservants stopped and curtsied as he passed. He waved an acknowledgement and continued on. There’s nothing stopping you from taking a leman a little voice in his head reminded him. The excessive amount of the taller maid’s charms revealed by her bodice had something to do with that idea.

Nothing stopped him except the problem of bastards, and the mess of servants competing to warm his bed, then acting superior and trying to order around the other women. He’d heard stories. No. Duke Hal had a point about finding a professional if I want that sort of company. Which was not what he needed to be thinking about right now! Now he had reports to read, news from the north and west to hear, and a property dispute to settle. Marsdaam’s Son settled trade disputes and confirmed that weights and measures met proper standards, but that didn’t help when the wool was still on the schaef.

The chamberlain met him at the door of the office. “Your Grace, the petitioners are here,” he said. He looked tired already. Halwende raised his eyebrows. “They are most enthusiastic in their desire for a solution.”

“Ah. Then I will see them first.” They were about to knife each other, or at the least get into a fight and cause further trouble, and Scaz wanted them out of the way before they got blood on his floors and walls. Or something similar. Halwende undid the peace-strap on his knife and went into the receiving chamber.

He sat in an older, plainer chair than Duke Hal had used. Unlike his father’s ornate seat, this one fit Halwende’s smaller frame. The darker wood with inlaid white-bark valke flying up the sides matched his personality as well. A scribe already waited in a corner, out of the way, pens and ink at the ready. The door opened and three men, escorted by as many men-at-arms, boiled into the room. The commotion flowed toward him and showed little sign of ceasing. He stood. “Enough!”

The roar, and the butt-ends of the arms-men’s spears, muted the argument. Halwende sat once more. He pointed to the sturdy, square faced man in a schaef-man’s smock and boots, and faded brown flat hat. “What is the dispute? You first, and only one at a time or I will claim the schaef and toss all of you out.”

All three glared at him, but quiet accompanied their glares. The schaef-man scuffed the floor with one boot, then said, “M’lor’, Henk claims three yearlin’ schaef what are mine. Says t’ ewe had triplets. I bargained for his ram t’ tupp t’ ewe, one lamb fer each of us.”

Halwende let his eyes close a little. The schaef-man had contracted for the ram to service his ewe, the price being one lamb of the two. The ram’s owner wanted three lambs, because the ewe had delivered three lambs? That made no sense. He opened his eyes. “And you, Henk, what say you?”

The skinny, thin-shanked man scowled from under a nose that couldn’t decide which direction it wished to go. “M’lor, we contracted for m’ ram t’ do his ewe. One lamb a piece, aye. But his man abused m’ram, an’ it could nae serve for three eight-days after. Th’ ewe had three, and I claim mine, plus two for th’ ram bein’ hurt.”

What would take an animal down for three eight-days but not kill it outright? Leg bruises from hitting the ram instead of using a leg-crook? He didn’t know much about schaef, but even he knew that a man used a crook to catch, not beat. He studied the man standing behind the other two. Something about him . . . Halwende caught the eye of the closest arms-man and moved the fingers of his left hand. The guard nodded and shifted a little closer to the shabby gent.

“And you, in the brown smock. What is your part in this?”

The other men stepped to the sides, both turning and glaring at the stoop-shouldered figure in the worn and patched brown smock and patched trews. The man gulped, glancing side to side, eyes never still. “Ah, m’lord, I help Mak w’ his schaef. I witnessed th’ bargain an th’ servicin’.”

Something in the witness’ voice caught Halwende’s attention. Something shifted, something that should not be here. He stayed relaxed, but drew a little magic from inside himself, battle magic. “What was the bargain?”

“A lamb for th’ service, m’lord.”

“And if the ram’s efforts failed?”

The witness gulped again. “Ah, m’lord, I don’t recall.” His voice wavered a little as he spoke. “May not have been part of th’ contract m’lord.”

He’s lying. That’s always part of the contract. I’ve seen it. He didn’t press. Instead he said, “What happened with the ram and the ewe?”

The witness shifted his feet, eyes on the floor, and wiped his palms on his smock. He looked up and Halwende caught his eyes. The man said, “M’lord, ah, nowt happened. Th’ ram serviced th’ ewe and went his way.”

Halwende didn’t look away. “The ram did his duty and left. Did he try to cover any other ewes?”

The man started to shake, eyes still locked on Halwende’s own. “Nae! Yoorst my witness, th’ ram left, went home on his own.”

Faint green settled over the scene like a thin veil. “A ram walked to his owner’s farm without guard or guide?” Halwende heard his voice, yet not his voice, asking.

All three men stared at him, then went to one knee. The witness dropped to both knees, then onto his belly. “Mercy, please, mercy! Th’ ram, while Master Henk was distracted, th’ ram snuffed at another ewe. I tried to help, chased th’ ram to th’ second ewe, tapped him wi’ my stick to speed him. Not so hard’s to hurt, I promise!”

“You have sworn falsely once,” Halwende said, vision now clear. “Why should I trust your word now?”

“He made me,” the witness yelped, pointing to Mak. “Wanted more than th’ bargain. I couldn’ disobey.”

Before Halwende could ask another question, Mak drew something from a pouch on his belt and tossed it toward Halwende. Halwende dodged and threw magic at it, smashed it to the floor, shattered the thing. A charred spot the size of his hand appeared on the reddish-brown wood. He sat again.

Pain spiked from temple to temple. Red filled his vision. The guards grabbed Mak and hauled him back, away from the others. Halwende rested his hands on the arms of the chair and breathed, calming himself and willing away the exhaustion and pain. They faded with his anger. “Who sold you the magic?” he demanded.

Mak babbled, almost soiled himself with fear. The guards shook him. “Man from Wilteer land, gave to me, said t’would bring justice, came from temple on Wilteer land. Gave me t’other charm to have ewes give triple.”

Red replaced green, and Halwende fought himself for control. “And did the ewes have triplets?”

“Two did. T’other one died in the borning, delivered a curse beast. Th’ priestess of Yoorst blessed all th’ beasts, just in case, said something seemed off.”

“Henk, take three lambs, and have the priestesses of Yoorst and the Scavenger both bless the animals. You,” Halwende pointed to the cowering witness. “Find a better master, and pay Yoorst’s temple the forfeit for swearing false oaths, in restitution for hurting one of His beasts.”

“Mak.” Halwende stood, now that he could do so without falling over. “Your flock is forfeit, as are half your land. Guards, take him to the courtyard and do as the law commands. Then you have four days to leave Valke lands. After that you are out-law. Your family may remain and farm on what remains of your property.”

The men dragged Mak away before he could protest. The others slunk out of the chamber. Halwende sat once more, then leaned forward, head in hands. He breathed through his nose and out through his mouth until the urge to be sick passed. Then he stood. The world remained steady, so he walked with slow steps to the scribe’s table. She gulped and offered him a pen. He dipped it in ink, signed the judgement, then waited as she dripped a bit of wax onto the page. He sealed it. “There will be no further cases today,” he told her.

“Ye-, ye-, yes, your grace. Thank you, your grace.” She snuffed the taper and lifted the page, tilting it a little to see if the ink had fully dried. He left her to her work.

He made it to the ducal chamber, then fell onto the bed, rolled onto his back, and covered his eyes with one arm. “I ha—” He caught himself. “I fail to see why anyone desired to have battle magic,” he whispered.

(C) 2022 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Truth vs What is True

Propaganda, tall-tales, legends, founding myths . . . In some cases they blur together in intriguing ways. There’s been some interesting discussion among writers about stories, which ones stick, why we believe certain ones (and not just legends about the “indie writer who worked hard and made six-figures a year and never had life interrupt his writing schedule and always had great cover art and is living happily ever after!”)

Stories have a power that facts don’t. Facts are crucial, don’t get me wrong. Facts explain how physical reality works, and help us from having to learn things the hard way. Often, stories do something similar. In aviation, there’s a generous helping of “No, you can’t do that with a Garret engine. Let me tell you about a guy I flew with, Joe Schmo, and what happened when he . . .” Fact transmitted in story form, because it is a lot easier to remember someone else’s bad experience than the performance figures for heat expansion of an impeller as compared to the case and stator.

Countries also have stories and Truths. The US used to have a number of agreed-upon stories that were not necessarily factually true, but that captured a truth that was important. George Washington as a semi-saint. Thomas Jefferson as a brilliant, if flawed, individual. Freedom of faith as one of the driving forces in people coming to the British colonies. Johnny Appleseed spreading civilization in the form of apple trees along the frontier. John Henry breaking his heart but proving that a man could outwork a machine. WWII as a good war, and WWI as a good if obscure war. Thanksgiving being about sharing the harvest and giving thanks for good things, no matter what you believed in (or didn’t believe in.) Truths and stories people could use as touchstones when asked “what is America?” The Alamo. Pearl Harbor, pioneers on the Oregon Trail, cowboys on the cattle trails . . .

When someone tears down a culture’s stories, what replaces them? Russia’s stories are about heroic defenses of faith and motherland, about waves of enemies successfully overcome, about the princes of Kiev converting to Christianity and civilization flowing from there. France has Charlemagne, and Jean de Arc, and being the starting place of Gothic cathedrals. Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians can look back to the Vikings, Alfred Nobel and other thinkers, artists, and composers, Gustavus Adolphus . . . If someone were to root those tales out, what comes in? At least in France, it seems to be a vacuum slowly being filled by Socialism, then Islamism. In the US, we get “culture wars,” and competing stories of history and “I’m more oppressed than you are! My ancestors suffered [terrible thing here] and justice has yet to be done.”

None of those are solid. None of those provide much stability when “the storms come and the wind blows,” to paraphrase a parable.

George Washington didn’t cut down his father’s cherry tree in quite the way that Parson Weems claimed, and he certainly never slept all the places that used to be labeled “Geo. Washington Slept Here.” Terrible things happened in the US Civil War. Certain Puritan Separatists were less than charitable to other denominations (ditto the Church of England). That’s not the point. The point is the power of Story, and the danger of denying Story in the name of facts-and-figures. Don’t knock other people’s survival stories. The grandmother offering sunflower seeds might not have been what she seemed. But little old ladies standing up to unhappy occupation forces can be True. Just like George Washington seeing angels during Valley Forge, and getting a glimpse of why the battles to come were worth the sacrifices to come. Is it necessarily true? No one knows. Is it True? Yes.

Sorry folks . . .

I managed to get the sinus crud. I’m mostly over it, aside from the stuffy ears and nose, but I’m having to dedicate the small, still-functional part of my brain to Day Job and writing.

Full posting will resume tomorrow.

Walking Dogs, Christmas Trees, and Spudding In

All of these terms are from the oil patch, although not all of them are used today. I grew up around family members who were in, or who had retired from, the blue-collar end of the oil business. One great uncle built and maintained derricks, one worked as the chief of a seismograph crew, one had been a roughneck before becoming a toolie . . . I learned about steel Christmas trees, walking dogs that didn’t go places, cat crackers, and other mysterious terms.

I was reminded of the jargon while perusing a local museum. It has a fantastic section about the oil and gas industry, with some updated exhibits about the technology of fracking and “directional drilling.” When I was younger, we called it slant-hole drilling, and it was as illegal as illegal could be. Oil leases were elongated cubes. You had a permit to drill straight down. You were not to wander into a neighbor’s lease, no matter how good his find might be. Today, drilling to a certain depth and then changing directions to make a horizontal hole is common. I suspect it made the lawyers handling the older leases rub their hands with glee, because each lease holder would have to be compensated if the horizontal hole produced. I also suspect that how oil leases and permits are written has changed to match the times and technology.

A “Christmas tree” is the cap put on a well once it is producing and the drilling equipment is no longer needed. When they top an producing well, lights and hoses and valves stick out of the heavy steel cap, which stands about 4-6 feet tall. From a distance they look a bit like trees, and since the royalty money buys stuff, Christmas tree it is, especially the ones with lights on them.

A walking dog is the other name for a pump jack, the large rocking pump that lifts oil up into the storage tank or collecting line.

Fair Use under Creative Commons. Original source here:

A cat cracker is a now out-dated term for the cracking towers, the long tubes in a refinery where fractional distillation takes place. This is the process of separating crude oil into all the various components, by weight, from gasses at the top to automotive fuel to naphtha to paraffins (kerosene) to diesel fuel and down to asphalt.

A toolie was someone in charge of the different tools, and sometimes other equipment, used on the rig and around the well. He made sure things were in good repair, and checked equipment in and out as needed. You don’t want to hear “has anyone seen [critical thing]?” at the wrong moment. Nor do you want to discover tools where they ought not to be.

A doodlebugger worked with the seismograph crew. He set out the dynamite used to make the thumps needed for the seismographs to do their magic and tell the geologist what hid below the surface. The little crater looked like the nest of an ant-lion, or doodlebug, thus the name. Today they use thumper trucks and other things, since toting around explosives is either illegal, bad for the environment, or seen as an invitation to “borrow” the dynamite for other purposes (like terrorism. Or at best, for fishing. Which is also illegal).

Book Review: Pearl of Fire

Chancy, C. Pearl of Fire (Kindle Edition).

Life inside the caldera of an active volcano is interesting. Life in an active volcano kept in check by magic, and threatened by followers of a fire-god, is a bit too interesting for Allen Helleson, police detective and elemental Spirit worker. And theologian, but that’s the family business and he tries to keep out of that. When blind fire-worker Shane Redstone stops a bomb from igniting a chain reaction that would wipe out part of the city, Halleson has to sort out what to do with her, and to find whoever set the bomb.

A fantasy police procedural, and the story of a woman still fighting a war she can no longer see, Pearl of Fire starts with a near-bang and wraps tighter and tighter. Caldera City is just that – a city in an active volcano, one tamed by magic and populated by dragons. The people fled war and an implacable foe, taking shelter in a place too dangerous for any others. However, their enemies will stop at nothing to eliminate the calderans. The calderans believe that the Lord of Light made five elements, all of which people might use, should they be so blessed. Shane Redstone was the army’s strongest fire worker until a curse blinded her. Allen Helleson has a weak spirit gift, but one that allows him to sense truth and falsehood. That is a valuable talent for a police officer, even one from outside Caldera City. Helleson left his family because he believes that the laws should be followed. Redstone too follows the law . . . in her own ways.

Chancy weaves a fast-paced tale in a rich, detailed world. She elides some things, leaving it to the reader to fill in what are sketched outlines. Helleson, Redstone, and the others are believable people, and Helleson’s struggle to balance his faith and his dawning understanding of outside evil unfolds well. As with her other books (Seeds of Blood and A Net of Dawn and Bones), religion plays a major role. Yes, the bad-guys’ faith resembles that in the non-fiction world, but humans have developed several ideologies that include “believe what I say or I will destroy you.” Some are called political systems, not religions, but the same mental pattern exists, alas. However, the book is far more about Redstone and Helleson as people, and about solving a mystery, than about religion. The tension between bureaucracies is, alas, a bit too realistic for my taste, but credit-claiming is also a human universal whenever two or more departments compete for budgets and praise.

There is room for a sequel, and I hope Chancy writes one. I agree with one on-line reviewer that the followers of Ba’al are a bit too close to an existing real-world faith, but they are more of the outside driver of the story. The characters of Redstone and Helleson are the core of the book, and both suffer and grow, coming from rather different places to work together and—perhaps—find peace and friendship. Or at least not kill each other before they get the problem solved!

FTC Notice: I purchased this book with my own funds for my own use, and received no remuneration or consideration from the author or publisher for this review.

An Entertaining Superpower?

What if you could grant people whatever they say that they want? Only for one day, 24 hours, but you could wave your hand and hey presto! The person getting what he/she wants would not know that there was a time limit.

The idea occurred to me after reading a climate activist talking about how terrible all fossil fuel things and petrochemical things are, and how much better society would be without all that icky oil, gas, and coal. But no nuclear, because Godzilla or something. The person was vague on that point. Wind, solar, tidal generators, geothermal where it wouldn’t interfere with the environment, no hydropower (aside from tidal generators). So my evil little mind said, “Hmm, what if this person got what he/she/whatever claims to want?” It would probably cure him/her/whatever, at least for a moment. I giggled at the thought of what the sudden disappearance of elastic and other synthetic fibers would lead to. (Not kind, I know.)

That might be true for a lot of wishes. “I want to win the super lottery!” And the taxes, and the threats, and the people pestering you for money?

“I want to be President of the US?” OK, what if war starts, or a hurricane is attacking the East Coast, or the Big One hits California or Hawaii, or. . .

“I want world peace!” What kind of peace? Graves are very peaceful. Might want to specify a little more on that one.

“I want my heart’s desire!” Are you certain that you want everyone to know what it is you truly long for with all of your being? Think hard on that one.

“I want a McClaren!” Based on what seems to happen with that kind of car and new owners, I hope your life insurance is up to date and you have really, really good medical insurance, too.

The more I thought about it, getting what you say you want, even for only one day, could well be one of the most terrifying curses in human existence.

Kipling and . . . Dante?

The textbook I use to teach history has a picture of Dante in the section about the Renaissance. This year (September 14 to be exact) is the 700th anniversary of his demise. He is most famous for a series of three epic poems detailing a soul’s journey through Hell and Purgatory into Paradise, and then back to the world.

The third chapter (Canto) of The Inferno describes souls and angels who are tormented, but are not in either Hell or Heaven, because the angels would not choose between G-d and Satan, and the people were neither good nor evil. They can’t go up because they lack virtue, but they will be lorded-over by the truly damned in Hell, which isn’t just (and would reward some of the damned, so that’s not acceptable, either.)

For some reason, this year I was skimming over bits of the Inferno to use in a lesson about education and the Renaissance, and thought of someone who was neither good enough for heaven or bad enough for the infernal realm.

Now Tomlinson gave up the ghost in his house in Berkeley Square,
And a Spirit came to his bedside and gripped him by the hair —
A Spirit gripped him by the hair and carried him far away,
Till he heard as the roar of a rain-fed ford the roar of the Milky Way:
Till he heard the roar of the Milky Way die down and drone and cease,
And they came to the Gate within the Wall where Peter holds the keys.
“Stand up, stand up now, Tomlinson, and answer loud and high
The good that ye did for the sake of men or ever ye came to die —
The good that ye did for the sake of men in little earth so lone!”
And the naked soul of Tomlinson grew white as a rain-washed bone.

“Tomlinson” by Rudyard Kipling.

The poem is much longer than the excerpt above, but Tomlinson, the newly dead, can’t get into heaven or you-know-where because he never did anything. Now, [spoiler] since Old Scratch is a lawyer at heart, he finds “the roots of sin” in the unhappy Tomlinson and sends him back to go, you know, actually commit a sin and earn his place among the damned.

Both Dante and Kipling are riffing off of Revelation 3: 14-22, the letter to the church in Laodicea. Because the Laodiceans were neither hot nor cold, they are rejected. “Go do something!” Preferably good, of course, but anything is better than nothing. Dante finds himself in trouble at the beginning of the Inferno because he is guilty of acedia (sloth). He knows what is good, what he ought to do, and . . . can’t be bothered. He’s spiritually lazy. He doesn’t do any good (” . . . those things which we have done and those which we have left undone,” as one confession puts it.) That’s Tomlinson’s sin as well. Acedia, “sloth,” not doing what should be done. In Tomlinson’s case, he hadn’t bothered to do anything but read about other people’s activities. Dante . . . spent a wee bit too much time on politics, but he claims sloth/acedia.

I’m sure that Kipling had read Dante. Everyone did, in those days. I know Kipling knew the Biblical reference. And he probably had met more than one Tomlinson, people who lived only in books, and never thought for themselves. “This I thought that another man thought of a Karl in Norway,” Tomlinson claims. But he, himself, never did.

Be either hot or cold, a saint or a sinner, choose G-d or Satan. But don’t just sit there!