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So You Got a Book Deal Bingo

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1992 days ago
Never got a book deal but I feel this sometimes when I have to write.
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“It Ain’t Easy Gettin’ Gone Down Upon”: The Lament of a Prairie Woman

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All I know is there’s many hard hours for a good country woman to pass. When you’re not worryin’ about the weather, the harvest, typhoid, havin’ cold hands every second of the day, or what’s a comin’ over the plains next, even the dear Lord up in heaven wouldn’t fault you for desirin’ to get gone down upon, once in a blue moon. Nay, I believe it twas the Lord who once said, “Tis a gentleman’s privilege to go down upon a stout country woman. And tis a perfectly reasonable way to bide one’s time.”

Say you do happen to have the opportunity of havin’ a gentleman at your outpost, perhaps a prospector chewin’ on some hay, sittin’ on a barrel on your front porch or what not, overnightin’ on his way east. Say this situation does come to pass — well, take it from me, this gentleman’s liable to sit there all afternoon without the thought of goin’ down upon you crossin’ his mind even one time! A man bein’ a man, other things might cross his mind of course, havin’ to do with himself and his needs of an intimate nature, but I’ll bet you a silver bit and an acorn shoe that the thought of goin’ down upon you, much less takin’ a leisurely time at it, so’s that it actually has an effect and the outcome is satisfactory, why he’d just as well think of an ant teachin’ a damn schoolhouse!

And that’s the problem. Gentleman around these parts, they just don’t know tis always an option. Me and my fellow country women — I’ve been sittin’ and thinkin’ on this a spell, because there’s plenty a time to sit and think out here — we ought to get together and put out a flier or send a telegram or get the town crier to yell it or have the pony express spread the damn word: ‘Tis always an option, when fixin’ to spend time with a lady, to fuss with her nethers in a leisurely way if she’s so inclined. Don’t think it’s not an option, because this declaration is henceforth meant to clarify that, indeed, it is an option, it is, from now on, to be known, that this activity is on the table, and there’s no pretendin’ that it’s not somethin’ two people could have just been doin’ the whole time, instead of ditherin’ away the day on a picnic next to a tree stump without five words to rub together.

Now some of my fellow country women, if I were to draft such a declaration, might say I was fixated on the subject, that I’d gotten my bloomers in a bundle over somethin’ that’ll never come to pass, and I’d say to them, well what’s the worst that can happen from tryin’? That some gentleman might get an inklin’ to make acquaintance with your old mesquite bush for once in his life? It’d be good to give our menfolk somethin’ to do, or you know what they get up to — hootin’ and hollerin’ and kickin’ up dust in town when there ain’t no cause.

But for now I’m just a woman alone on the prairie, with a house full of chores and a head in the clouds, sittin’ on the porch, starin’ at the same sky, and just waitin’ for the rains to come and loosen up this hard old ground, where a gnat never even dreamed of flyin’…

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2321 days ago
Hilarious and not only for the juxtaposition between subject matter and period-specific style of speech.
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How a hat should fit (with Stephen Temkin fedora)

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Every man thinks hats don't suit him. Yet every man, of every shape and size, used to wear a hat - and they looked good. Conclusion: men don't know how to pick a hat. 

I know I've run through that before, but it bears repeating in the name of re-popularising the hat.

Hats are hard to wear today, given no one else does so. But they certainly aren't anachronistic, and they are very practical: warm, excellent rain protection, and not as awkward as an umbrella. 

So how should you pick a hat? Well, first of all ignore the brim and focus on the crown (the top). 

Broadly, this should echo the shape of the rest of your head. If you drew an oval around the bottom of your chin, past your ears and over the top of the hat (as I have done above), the crown should sit cleanly in that oval, reflecting the shape of your lower face. 

So if your face is long, you need a taller crown. If it's thin, that crown should taper (so it's thinner at the top). 

In the picture above, you can see the height is pretty good for my relatively long, thin face.

The front view (below) is also pretty good, although arguably the crown could be tapered a tad more.

Most hat shops don't offer a big variety of crown heights and shapes. Given they also need to vary the colour, materials and brim width, it may not be practical to have many. 

So rather like finding a good shoe last, you may have to try different brands to find a crown that suits you.

Once you've got a sense of the crown shape, consider the width of the brim.

This is far more subjective, and driven by style and formality as well as bodily proportions.

So I wear both trilbies and fedoras, for instance, with the trilby pretty much always having a smaller brim. The trilby is also generally seen as a more casual hat, partly because of that smaller brim. 

However, the proportions of your body and the clothes you're wearing (below) should also be borne in mind. 

I consider that I can wear a slightly larger brim because of my height. A smaller man might look slightly top heavy and disproportionate in a big fedora.  

I also tend to wear a hat like the one pictured (from Stephen Temkin, aka Leon Drexler) with longer, more structured clothing. 

It looks fine with my big-shouldered Sexton coat - indeed, I could probably wear an even larger brim (perhaps 8cm, the Temkin being 7cm). I have a charcoal hat from Anderson & Sheppard at that width that works well.  

But that A&S charcoal definitely looks too big with a raincoat, for instance, or a raglan-sleeved coat. 

I should say again that these latter points on brim width are much more subjective. Benedikt at Shibumi is much smaller than me and wears big brims with aplomb. 

They also apply less when the hat is worn on the back of the head (more casual, and not something I like on myself). Agyesh at Stoffa and Jamie do this well. 

But the factors you need to consider - bodily proportions, formality and (with the crown) shape of your face - are not in doubt.

If you want to find out if you really are a man that can't wear hats, these are things to look at in the mirror. 

A few details on the hat - for I've never done a full review, following my initial post back in 2016

It was made bespoke by Stephen, who works out of his home in Toronto, Canada. The company name is Leon Drexler (a composite of his father's first name and mother's maiden name). 

It is made in beaver felt with an angora finish (the slightly longer nap on the surface). This gives a slightly more casual effect, and requires occasional brushing to keep the hairs separated and stop them matting.  

More details on the making process in that original post

I have what's known as a 'long oval' head, and with ready-made hats usually have to size up and then use foam pieces inside the sweatband to fill out the sides. 

Stephen managed to partially correct this in his hat, but it's not easy - hatmaking requires a solid wooden block for every size and style, so bits must be added to the block to adapt it. Stephen does it using (very Canadian, this) hockey tape. 

I couldn't be more pleased with my hat, with the fit, the material and the style.

The colour is more muted and urban than most greens, and I like the little design touches such as the flat, square bow at the back of the head (shown above) rather than something more decorative at the side. 

Some details on Stephen's service:

  • Felt hats start at C$625 and take around 20 weeks to make - this is current backlog, which is a little longer than usual. 
  • Additional elements like curled brims and binding add C$15 to C$120  
  • Fittings are not usually needed but a visit with the finished hat can be useful
  • Stephen does take orders by phone or email, with the customer measuring their own head and making decisions remotely about colour and style
  • More on the Leon Drexler website

I am also wearing: 

  • My Edward Sexton overcoat, which has had five inches cut from the bottom. It is much more practical now, but hasn't lost much of its drama. 
  • Wispy-square scarf by Begg & Co (a piece I designed for them - available on their site here)
  • Black silk umbrella from Michel Heurtault
  • Brown-flannel trousers from Anderson & Sheppard
  • Dark brown ('bronze') monk-strap shoes from Edward Green

Photography: Milad Abedi @milad_abedi


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2321 days ago
I guess I might need to reconsider wearing a hat.
2317 days ago
Dang, Simon Crompton is still around! Sharp dressed as ever, but I want to say when you're reconsidering the hat, you should also reconsider still not wearing one. More impressive to me is that he hacked 5 inches off that overcoat...
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…And I Show You How Deep The Rabbit Hole Goes

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Seen on Tumblr, along with associated discussion:


People’s minds are heartbreaking. Not because people are so bad, but because they’re so good.

Nobody is the villain of their own life story. You must have read hundreds of minds by now, and it’s true. Everybody thinks of themselves as an honest guy or gal just trying to get by, constantly under assault by circumstances and The System and hundreds and hundreds of assholes. They don’t just sort of believe this. They really believe it. You almost believe it yourself, when you’re deep into a reading. You can very clearly see the structure of evidence they’ve built up to support their narrative, and even though it looks silly to you, you can see why they will never escape it from the inside. You can see how every insult, every failure, no matter how deserved, is a totally unexpected kick in the gut.

When you chose the yellow pill, you had high hopes of becoming a spy, or a gossip columnist, or just the world’s greatest saleswoman. The thought of doing any of those things sickens you now. There is too much anguish in the world already. You feel like any of those things would be a violation. You briefly try to become a therapist, but it turns out that actually knowing everything about your client’s mind is horrendously countertherapeutic. Freud can say whatever he wants against defense mechanisms, but without them, you’re defenseless. Your sessions are spent in incisive cutting into your clients’ deepest insecurities alternating with desperate reassurance that they are good people anyway.

Also, men. You knew, in a vague way, that men thought about sex all the time. But you didn’t realize the, um, content of some of their sexual fantasies. Is it even legal to fantasize about that? You want to be disgusted with them. But you realize that if you were as horny as they were all the time, you’d do much the same.

You give up. You become a forest ranger. Not the type sort who helps people explore the forest. The other type. The type where you hang out in a small cabin in the middle of the mountains and never talk to anybody. The only living thing you encounter bigger than a squirrel is the occasional bear. It always thinks that it is a good bear, a proper bear, that a bear-hating world has it out for them in particular. You do nothing to disabuse it them of this notion.


The first thing you do after taking the green pill is become a sparrow. You soar across the landscape, feeling truly free for the first time in your life.

You make it about five minutes before a hawk swoops down and grabs you. Turns out there’s an excellent reason real sparrows don’t soar freely across the open sky all day. Moments before your bones are ground in two by its fierce beak, you turn back into a human. You fall like a stone. You need to turn into a sparrow again, but the hawk is still there, grabbing on to one of your legs, refusing to let go of its prize just because of this momentary setback. You frantically wave your arms and shout at it, trying to scare it away. Finally it flaps away, feeling cheated, and you become a sparrow again just in time to give yourself a relatively soft landing.

After a few weeks of downtime while you wait for your leg to recover, you become a fish. This time you’re smarter. You become a great white shark, apex of the food chain. You will explore the wonders of the ocean depths within the body of an invincible killing machine.

Well, long story short, it is totally unfair that colossal cannibal great white sharks were a thing and if you had known this was the way Nature worked you never would have gone along with this green pill business.

You escape by turning into a blue whale. Nothing eats blue whales, right? You remember that from your biology class. It is definitely true.

The last thing you hear is somebody shouting “We found one!” in Japanese. The last thing you feel is a harpoon piercing your skull. Everything goes black.


Okay, so you see Florence and Jerusalem and Kyoto in an action-packed afternoon. You teleport to the top of Everest because it is there, then go to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. You visit the Amazon Rainforest, the Sahara Desert, and the South Pole. It takes about a week before you’ve exhausted all of the interesting tourist sites. Now what?

You go to the Moon, then Mars, then Titan. These turn out to be even more boring. Once you get over the exhilaration of being on Mars, there’s not a lot to do except look at rocks. You wonder how the Curiosity Rover lasted so long without dying of boredom.

You go further afield. Alpha Centauri A has five planets orbiting it. The second one is covered with water. You don’t see anything that looks alive in the ocean, though. The fourth has a big gash in it, like it almost split in two. The fifth has weird stalactite-like mountains.

What would be really interesting would be another planet with life, even intelligent life. You teleport further and further afield. Tau Ceti. Epsilon Eridani. The galactic core. You see enough geology to give scientists back on Earth excitement-induced seizures for the nest hundred years, if only you were to tell them about it, which you don’t. But nothing alive. Not so much as a sea cucumber.

You head back to Earth less and less frequently now. Starvation is a physical danger, so it doesn’t bother you, though every so often you do like to relax and eat a nice warm meal. But then it’s back to work. You start to think the Milky Way is a dead zone. What about Andromeda…?


You never really realized how incompetent everyone else was, or how much it annoys you.

You were a consultant, a good one, but you felt like mastering all human skills would make you better. So you took the orange pill. The next day you go in to advise a tech company on how they manage the programmers, and you realize that not only are they managing the programmers badly, but the programmers aren’t even writing code very well. You could write their system in half the time. The layout of their office is entirely out of sync with the best-studied ergonomic principles. And the Chinese translation of their user manual makes several basic translation errors that anybody with an encyclopaedic knowledge of relative clauses in Mandarin should have been able to figure out.

You once read about something called Gell-Mann Amnesia, where physicists notice that everything the mainstream says about physics is laughably wrong but think the rest is okay, doctors notice that everything the mainstream says about medicine is laughably wrong but think the rest is okay, et cetera. You do not have Gell-Mann Amnesia. Everyone is terrible at everything all the time, and it pisses you off.

You gain a reputation both for brilliance and for fearsomeness. Everybody respects you, but nobody wants to hire you. You bounce from industry to industry, usually doing jobs for the people at the top whose jobs are so important that the need to get them done right overrides their desire to avoid contact with you.

One year you get an offer you can’t refuse from the King of Saudi Arabia. He’s worried about sedition in the royal family, and wants your advice as a consultant for how to ensure his government is stable. You travel to Riyadh, and find that the entire country is a mess. His security forces are idiots. But the King is also an idiot, and refuses to believe you or listen to your recommendations. He tells you things can’t possibly be as bad as all that. You tell him you’ll prove that they are.

You didn’t plan to become the King of Saudi Arabia, per se. It just sort of happened when your demonstration of how rebels in the military might launch a coup went better than you expected. Sometimes you forget how incompetent everybody else is. You need to keep reminding yourself of that. But not right now. Right now you’re busy building your new capital. How come nobody else is any good at urban planning?


You choose the red pill. BRUTE STRENGTH! That’s what’s important and valuable in this twenty-first-century economy, right? Some people tell you it isn’t, but they don’t seem to have a lot of BRUTE STRENGTH, so what do they know?

You become a weightlifter. Able to lift thousands of pounds with a single hand, you easily overpower the competition and are crowned whatever the heck it is you get crowned when you WIN WEIGHTLIFTING CONTESTS. But this This fails to translate into lucrative endorsement contracts. Nobody wants their spokesman to be a bodybuilder without a sixpack, and although you used to be pretty buff, you’re getting scrawnier by the day. Your Thing is, nobody wants to buy exercise products advertised by a scrawny guy with thin arms and no visible muscles. You lift more and more weights, hoping that the muscles will follow, but your personal trainer tells you that you only maintain muscle mass by doing difficult build muscles by doing work at the limit of your ability, but and your abilities don’t seem to have any limits. Everything is so easy for you that your body just shrugs it off effortlessly. Somehow your BRUTE STRENGTH failed to anticipate this possibility. If only there was a way to solve your problem by BEING VERY STRONG.

Maybe the Internet can help. You Google “red pill advice”. The sites you get don’t seem to bear on your specific problem, exactly, but they are VERY FASCINATING. You learn lots of surprising things about gender roles that you didn’t know before. It seems that women like men who have BRUTE STRENGTH. This is relevant to your interests!

You leave the bodybuilding circuit behind and start frequenting nightclubs, where you constantly boast of your BRUTE STRENGTH to PROVE HOW ALPHA YOU ARE. A lot of people seem kind of creeped out by a scrawny guy with no muscles going up to every woman he sees and boasting of his BRUTE STRENGTH, but the Internet tells you that is because they are BETA CUCKOLD ORBITERS.

Somebody told you once that Internet sites are sometimes inaccurate. You hope it’s not true. How could you figure out which are the inaccurate ones using BRUTE STRENGTH?


You were always pretty, but never pretty pretty. A couple of guys liked you, but they were never the ones you were into. It was all crushingly unfair. So you took the pink pill, so that no one would ever be able to not love you again.

You find Tyler. Tyler is a hunk. He’d never shown any interest in you before, no matter how much you flirted with him. You touch him on the arm. His eyes light up.

“Kiss me,” you say.

Tyler kisses you. Then he gets a weird look on his face. “Why am I kissing you?” he asks. asks, philosophically. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.” Then he walks off.

You wish you had thought further before accepting a superpower that makes people love you when you touch them, but goes away after you touch them a second time. Having people love you is a lot less sexy when you can’t touch them. You start to feel a deep sense of kinship with King Midas.

You stop dating. What’s the point? They’ll just stop liking you when you touch them a second time. You live alone with a bunch of cats who purr when you pet them, then hiss when you pet them again.

One night you’re in a bar drinking your sorrows away when a man comes up to your table. “Hey!” he says, “nice hair. Is it real? I’m the strongest person in the world.” He lifts your table over his head with one hand to demonstrate. You are immediately smitten by his BRUTE STRENGTH and ALPHA MALE BEHAVIOR. You must have him.

You touch his arm. His eyes light up. “Come back to my place,” you say. “But don’t touch me.”

He seems a little put out by this latter request, but the heat of his passion is so strong he would do anything you ask. You move in together and are married a few contact-free months later. Every so often you wonder what it would be like to stroke him, or feel his scrawny arm on your shoulder. But it doesn’t bother you much. You’re happy to just hang out, basking in how STRONG and ALPHA he is.


Technology! That’s what’s important and valuable in this twenty-first-century economy, right? Right! For example, ever since you took the grey pill, an increasingly large share of national GDP has come from ATMs giving you cash because you ask them to.

Your luck finally ends outside a bank in Kansas, when a whole squad of FBI agents ambushes you. You briefly consider going all Emperor Palpatine on their asses, but caution wins out and you allow yourself to be arrested.

Not wanting to end up on an autopsy table in Roswell, you explain that you’re a perfectly ordinary you are a master hacker. The government offers you a plea bargain: they’ll drop charges if you help the military with cyber-security. You worry that your bluff has been called until you realize that, in fact, you are a master hacker. So you You join the NSA and begin an illustrious career hacking into Russian databases, stalling Iranian centrifuges, centerfuges, and causing Chinese military systems to crash at inconvenient times. No one ever suspects you are anything more than very good at programming.

Once again, your luck runs out. Your handlers ask you to hack into the personal files of a mysterious new player on the world stage, a man named William who seems to have carved himself an empire in the Middle East. You don’t find anything too damning, but you turn over what you’ve got.

A few days later, you’re lying in bed drifting off to sleep when a man suddenly bursts in through your window brandishing a gun. Thinking quickly, you tell the gun to explode in his hands. Nothing happens. The man laughs. “It’s a decoy gun,” he said. “Just here to scare you. But you bother King William again, and next time I’m coming with a very real knife.” He jumps back out of the window. You call the police, and of course the CIA and NSA get involved, but he is never caught.

After that, you’re always looking over your shoulder. He knew. How did he know? The level of detective skills it would take in order to track you down and figure out your secret – it was astounding! Who was this King William?

You tell your handlers that you’re no longer up for the job. They beg, cajole, threaten to reinstate your prison sentence, but you stand firm. Finally they transfer you to an easier assignment in the Moscow embassy. You make Vladimir Putin’s phone start ringing at weird hours of the night so that he never gets enough sleep to think entirely clearly. It’s an easy job, but rewarding, and no assassins ever bother you again.


You know on an intellectual level that there are people who would choose something other than the black pill, just like you know on an intellectual level that there are some people shoot up schools. That doesn’t mean you expect to ever understand it. You just Your only regret was that you wish you could have taken the black pill before you had to decide what pill to take, so that you could have analyzed your future conditional on taking each, and so each and made a more informed decision. But it’s not like it was a very hard choice.

The basic principle is this – given a choice between A and B, you solemnly resolve to do A, then see what the future looks like. Then you solemnly resolve to do B, and do the same. By this method, you can determine the optimal choice in every situation, modulo the one month time horizon. You might not be able to decide what career to pursue, but you can sure as heck ace your job interview.

Also, a millisecond in the future is pretty indistinguishable from the present, so “seeing” a millisecond into the future gives you pretty much complete knowledge about the current state of the world.

You are so delighted by your omniscience and your ability to make near-optimal optimal choices that it takes almost a year before you realize the true extent of your power.

You resolve, on the first day of every month, to write down what you see exactly a month ahead of you. But what you will see a month ahead of you is the piece of paper on which you have written down what you see a month ahead of that. In this manner, you can relay messages back to yourself from arbitrarily far into the future – at least up until your own death.

When you try this, you see yourself a month in the future, just finishing up writing a letter that reads as follows:

Dear Past Self:

In the year 2060, scientists invent an Immortality Serum. By this point we are of course fabulously wealthy, and we are one of the first people to partake of it. Combined with our ability to avoid accidents by looking into the future, this has allowed us to survive unexpectedly long.

I am sending this from the year 963,445,028,777,216 AD. We are one of the last hundred dozen people alive in the Universe. The sky is black and without stars; the inevitable progress of entropy has reduced almost all mass and energy in the universe to unusable heat. The Virgo Superconfederation, the main political unit at this stage of history, gathered the last few megatons of usable resources aboard this station so that at least one outpost of humanity could last long after all the planets had succumbed. The station has been fulfilling its purpose for about a billion years now, but we only have enough fuel left for another few weeks. After that, there’s there is no more negentropy left anywhere in the universe except in our own bodies. I have seen a month into the future. Nobody comes to save us.

For the past several trillion years, our best scientists have been investigating how to reverse entropy and save the universe, or how to escape to a different universe in a lesser state of decay, or how to collect energy out of the waste heat which now fills the vast majority of the sky. All of these tasks have been proven to be impossible. There is no hope left, except for one thing.

It’s impossible to To see the future, even if it’s only a month ahead. Somehow, our black pill breaks the a month into the future, is impossible by all laws of physics. Despite having explored throughout the Somehow, somebody reversed the arrow of time in order to create the black pill. Despite having occupied nearly the entire cosmos, my people have found no alien species, nor any signs that such species ever existed. Yet somebody made the black pill. If we understood that power, maybe we could use it to save reality from its inevitable decay.

By sending this message back, I destroy my entire timeline. I do this in the hopes that you, in the carefree springtime of the universe, universe’s youth, will be able to find the person who made these pills and escape doom in the way we could not.

Yours truly,
You From Almost A Quadrillion Years In The Future



You hit the punching bag. It bursts, sending punching-bag-filling spraying all over the room! You know that that would happen! It always happens when you hit a punching bag! Your wife gets really angry and tells you that we don’t have enough money to be getting new punching bags all the time, but women hate it when you listen to what they say! The Internet told you that!

The doorbell rings. You tear the door off its hinges instead of opening it, just to show it who’s boss. Standing on your porch is a man in black. He wears a black cloak, and his face is hidden by a black hood. He raises a weapon towards you.

This looks like one of the approximately 100% of problems that can be solved by a job for BRUTE STRENGTH! You lunge at the man, but despite your super-speed, he steps out of the way easily, even gracefully, as if he had known you were going to do that all along. He squeezes the trigger. You jump out of the way, but it turns out to be more into the way, as he has shot exactly where you were jumping into. Something seems very odd about this. Your last conscious thought is that you wish you had enough BRUTE STRENGTH to figure out what is going on.


You come home from work to a living room full of punching-bag-parts. Your husband isn’t home. You figure he knew you were going to chew him out for destroying another punching bag, and decided to make himself scarce. That lasts right up until you go into the kitchen and see a man dressed all in black, sitting at the table, as if he was expecting you.

You panic, then reach in to touch him. If he’s an axe murderer or something, you’ll seduce him, get him wrapped around your little finger, then order him to jump off a cliff to prove his love for you. It’s nothing you haven’t done before, though you don’t like to think about it too much.

Except that this man has no bare skin anywhere. His robe covers his entire body, and even his hands are gloved. You try to reach in to touch his face, but he effortlessly manuevers away from you.

“I have your husband,” he says, after you give up trying to enslave him with your magic. “He’s alive and in a safe place.”

“You’re lying!” you answer. “He never would have surrendered to anyone! He’s too alpha!”

The man nods. “I shot him with an elephant tranquilizer. He’s locked up in a titanium cell underneath fifty feet of water. There’s no way he can escape using BRUTE STRENGTH. If you ever want to see him again, you’ll have to do what I say.”

“Why? Why are you doing this to me?” you say, crying.

“I need the allegiance of some very special people,” he said. “They won’t listen to me just because I ask them to. But they might listen to me because you ask them to. I understand you are pretty special yourself. Help me get who I want, and when we are done here, I’ll let you and your husband go.”

There is ice in his voice. You shiver.


That night with the assassin was really scary. You swore you would never get involved in King William’s business again. Why are you even considering this?

“Please?” she said, with her big puppy dog eyes.

Oh, right. Her. She’s not even all that pretty. Well, pretty, but not pretty pretty. But somehow, when she touched you, it was like those movies where you hear a choir of angels singing in the background. You would do anything she said. You know you would.

“We need to know the layout of his palace compound,” said the man in black. Was he with her? Were they dating? If they were dating, you’ll kill him. It doesn’t matter how creepy he is, you won’t tolerate competition. But they’re probably not dating. You notice how he flinches away from her, like he’s afraid she might touch him.

“And it has to be me who helps?”

“I’ve, ah, simulated hundreds of different ways of getting access to the King. None of them hold much promise. His security is impeccable. Your special abilities are the only thing that can help us.”

You sit down at your terminal. The Internet is slow; DC still doesn’t have fiber optic. You’ve living here two years now, in a sort of retirement, ever since King William took over Russia and knocked the bottom out of the Putin-annoying business. annoying Vladimir Putin stopped being a national security imperative. William now controls the entire Old World, you hear, and is also Secretary-General of the United Nations and Pope of both the Catholic and the Coptic Churches. The United States is supposedly in a friendly coexistence with him, but you hear his supporters are gaining more and more power in Congress.

It only takes a few minutes’ work before you have the documents you need. “He currently spends most of his time at the Rome compound,” you say. “There are five different security systems. I can disable four of them. The last one is a complicated combination of electrical and mechanical that’s not hooked into any computer system I’ll be able to access. The only way to turn it off is from the control center, and the control center is on the inside of the perimeter.”

The man in black nods, as if he’d been expecting that. “Come with me,” he says. “We’ll take care of it.”


There are a hundred billion stars in the Milky Way. Each has an average of about one planet – some have many more, but a lot don’t have planets at all.

If you can explore one planet every half-hour – and you can, it doesn’t take too long to teleport to a planet, look around to see if there are plants and animals, and then move on to the next one – it would take you five million years to rule out life on every planet in the galaxy.

That’s not practical. But, you think, life might spread. Life that originates on one planet might end up colonizing nearby planets and star systems. That means your best bet is to sample various regions of the galaxy, instead of going star by star.

That’s what you’ve been doing. You must have seen about a hundred thousand planets so far. Some of them have beggared your imagination. Whole worlds made entirely of amethyst. Planets with dozens of colorful moons that make the night sky look like a tree full of Christmas ornaments. Planets with black inky oceans or green copper mountains.

But no life. No life anywhere.

A few years ago, you felt yourself losing touch with your humanity. You made yourself promise that every year, you’d spend a week on Earth to remind yourself of the only world you’ve ever seen with a population. Now it seems like an unpleasant task, an annoying imposition. But then, that was why you made yourself promise. Because you knew that future-you wouldn’t do it unless they had to.

You teleport into a small Welsh hamlet. You’ve been away from other people so long, you might as well start small. No point going right into Times Square.

A person is standing right next to you. She reaches out her arm and touches you. You jump. How did she know you would –

“Hi,” she says.

You’re not a lesbian, but you can’t help noticing she is the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen, and you would do anything for her.

“I need your help.” A man dressed all in black is standing next to her. her.”

“You should help him,” the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen tells you, and you immediately know you will do whatever he asks.


You are in your study working on a draft version of next year’s superweapon budget when you hear the door open. Four people you don’t recognize step into the room. A man dressed in black. Another man wearing a grey shirt, thick glasses and is that a pocket protector? A woman in pink, pretty but not pretty too pretty. Another woman in blue, whose stares through you, like her mind is somewhere else. All five of your security systems have been totally silent.

You press the button to call your bodyguards, but it’s not working. So you draw the gun out from under your desk and fire; you happen to be a master marksman, but the gun explodes in your face. You make a connection. A person from many years ago, who had the power to control all technology.

No time to think now. You’re on your feet; good thing you happen to be a black belt in every form of martial arts ever invented. The man in grey is trying to take out a weapon; you kick him in the gut before he can get it out, and he crumples over. You go for the woman in blue, but at the last second she teleports to the other side of the room. This isn’t fair.

You are about to go after the woman in pink, but something in her step, something in the position of the others makes you think they want you to attack her. You happen to be a master at reading microexpressions, so this is clear as day to you; you go after the man in black instead. He deftly sidesteps each of your attacks, almost as if he knows what you are going to do before you do it.

The woman in blue teleports behind you and kicks you in the back, hard. You fall over, and the woman in pink grabs your hand.

She is very, very beautiful. How did you miss that before? You feel a gush of horror that you almost punched such a beautiful face.

“We need your help,” she says.

You are too lovestruck to say anything.

“The pills,” said the man in black. “Can you make them?”

“No,” you say, truthfully. “Of course I tried. But I wouldn’t even know where to begin creating magic like that.”

“And you’ve mastered you can master all human jobs and activities,” said the man in black. “Which means the pills weren’t created by any human.”

“But there aren’t any aliens,” said the woman in blue. “Not in this galaxy, at least. I’ve spent years looking. It’s totally dead.”

“It’s just as I thought,” said the man in black. He turns to you. “You’re the Pope now, right? Come with us. We’re going to need you to get ask a guy in northern Italy to give us something very important.”


It is spring, now. Your favorite time in the forest. The snow has melted, the wildflowers have started to bloom, and the bears are coming out of hibernation. You’re walking down to the river when someone leaps out from behind a tree and touches you. You scream, then suddenly notice how beautiful she is.

Four other people shuffle out from behind the trees. You think one of them might be King William, the new world emperor, although that doesn’t really make sense.

“You’re probably wondering why I’ve called all of you together today…” said the man in black. You’re not actually wondering that, at least not in quite those terms, but the woman in pink seems be listening intently so you do the same in the hopes of impressing her.

“Somehow – and none of us can remember exactly how – each of us took a pill that gave us special powers. Mine was to see the future. I saw to the end of time, and received a message from the last people in the universe. They charged me with the task of finding the people who created these pills and asking them how entropy might be reversed.

But I couldn’t do it alone. I knew there were seven other people who had taken pills. One of us – Green – is dead. Another – Red – had nothing to contribute. The rest of us are here. With the help of Pink, Blue, and Gray, we’ve enlisted the help of Orange and his worldwide organization. Orange. Now we’re ready for the final stage of the plan. Yellow, you can read anybody’s mind from a picture, right?”

Yellow nods. “But it has to be a real photograph. I can’t just draw a stick figure and say it’s the President and read his mind. I tried that.”

Black is unfazed. “With the help of Orange, who among his many other accomplishments good qualities is the current Pope, I have obtained the Shroud of Turin. A perfect photographic representation depiction of Jesus Christ, created by some unknown technology in the first century. And Jesus, I am told, is an incarnation of God.”

“As the current Pope, I suppose I would have to agree with that assessment,” says Orange. “Though as the current UN Secretary General, I am disturbed by your fanatical religious literalism.”

“Orange can do anything that humans can do, and says he can’t make the pills. Blue has searched the whole galaxy, and says there aren’t any aliens. That leaves only one suspect. God must have made these pills,

which means He must know how to do it. If we can read His mind, we can steal his secrets.”

“As Pope,” says Orange, “I have to condemn this in the strongest possible terms. But as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, I have to admit I’m intrigued by this opportunity to expand our knowledge.”

Black ignores him. “Yellow,

and we need to find Him and convince Him to reverse entropy for us. Yellow, will you do the honors?”

You want no part in this. “This is insane. Every time I read someone’s mind I regret it. Even if it’s a little kid or a bear or something. It’s too much for me. I can’t deal with all of their guilt and sorrow and broken dreams and everything. There is no way I am touching the mind of God Himself.”

“Pleeeeeease?” asks Pink, with big puppy dog eyes.

“Um,” you say.

“Don’t you know how this will go, anyway?” asks Blue. “Why don’t you just tell her what happens?”

“Um,” said Black. “This is actually the one thing I haven’t been able to see. I guess contact with God is inherently unpredictable, or something.”

“I have such a bad feeling about this,” you say.

“Pweeeeeeease?” says Pink. She actually says pweeeeeeease.

You sigh, take the shroud, and stare into the eyes of Weird Photographic Negative Jesus.


It is the year 963,445,028,777,216 AD, and here you are in a space station orbiting the Galactic Core.

After handing Yellow the Shroud of Turin, the next thing you remember is waking up in a hospital bed. The doctor tells you that you’d been in a coma for the past forty one years.

Apparently Yellow went totally berserk after reading God’s mind. You don’t know the details and you don’t want to, but she immediately lashed out and used her superpowers to turn off the minds of everybody within radius, including both you and herself. You all went comatose, and probably would have starved to death in the middle of the forest if Orange’s supporters hadn’t launched a worldwide manhunt for him. They took his body and the bodies of his friends back to Rome, where they were given the best possible medical care while a steward ruled over his empire.

After forty-one years of that, Yellow had a heart attack and died, breaking the spell and freeing the rest of you. Except Blue and Grey. They’d died as well. It was just you, Orange, and Pink now.

Oh, and Red. You’d hired a friend to watch over him in his titanium jail cell, and once it became clear you were never coming back, he’d had mercy and released the guy. Red had since made a meager living selling the world’s worst body-building videos, which were so bad they had gained a sort of ironic popularity. You We tracked him down, and when Pink saw him for the first time in over forty years, she ran and embraced him. He hugged her back. It took them a few hours of fawning over each other before she realized that nothing had happened when she touched him a second time. Something something true love something the power was within you the whole time?

But you had bigger fish to fry. The stewards of Orange’s empire weren’t too happy about their figurehead monarch suddenly rising from the dead, and for a while his position was precarious. He asked you to be his advisor, and you accepted. With your help, he was able to retake his throne. His first act was to fund research into the immortality serum you had heard about, which was discovered right on schedule in 2060.

The years went by. Orange’s empire started colonizing new worlds, then new galaxies, until thousands of years later it changed its name to the Virgo Superconfederation. New people were born. New technologies were invented. New frontiers were conquered. Until finally, the stars started going out one by one.

Faced with the impending heat death, Orange elected to concentrate all his remaining resources here, on a single station in the center of the galaxy, which would wait out the final doom as long as possible. For billions of years, it burned through its fuel stockpile, until the final doom crept closer and closer.

And then a miracle occurred.



This space station is AWESOME! There are lasers and holodecks and lots of HOT PUSSY! And all you have to do is turn a giant turbine for a couple of hours a day.

One of the eggheads in white coats tried to explain it to you once. He said that your BRUTE STRENGTH was some kind of scientific impossibility, because you didn’t eat or drink any more than anyone else, and you didn’t breathe in any more oxygen than anyone else, and you were actually kind of small and scrawny, but you were still strong enough and fast enough to turn a giant turbine thousands of times per minute.

He rambled on and on about thermodynamics. Said that every other process in the universe used at most as much energy as you put into it, but that your strength seemed almost limitless regardless of how much energy you took in as food. That made you special, somehow. It made you a “novel power source” that could operate “independently of external negentropy”. You weren’t sure what any of that meant, and honestly the scientist seemed sort of like a BETA CUCKOLD ORBITER to you. But whatever was going on, they’d promised you that if you turned this turbine every day, you could have all the HOT PUSSY you wanted and be SUPER ALPHA.

You’d even met the head honcho once, a guy named King William. He told you that some of the energy you produced was going to power the station, but that the rest was going into storage. That over billions and billions of years, they would accumulate more and more stored negentropy, until it was enough to restart the universe. That it would be a cycle – a newborn universe lasting a few billion years, collapsing into a dark period when new negentropy had to be accumulated, followed by another universe again.

It all sounded way above your head. But one thing stuck with you. As he was leaving, the King remarked that it was ironic that when all the black hole harvesters and wormholes and tachyon capacitors had all failed, it was failed, a random really strong guy who had saved them.

You had always known, deep down, that BRUTE STRENGTH was what was really important. And here, at the end of all things, it is it was deeply gratifying to finally be proven right.

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3302 days ago
Awesome short story.
3303 days ago
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6 public comments
3302 days ago
Really great
3303 days ago
...wait so what happened to Pink suddenly at the end? Why is she dead/written out?
Portland, OR
3303 days ago
This is some amazing sci-fi. Sad about Blue though. :(
Phoenix, AZ
3303 days ago
Feels a bit like a parody of Asimov's last question.
Bristol, UK
3303 days ago
Victoria, bc
3303 days ago
Excellent read.

Go Outside, Get Some Fresh Air, and Play With the Monolith by David Guzman

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What a surprise: it’s a beautiful day out, and I find you kids indoors. Nope, you’re not gonna spend another minute cooped up in the house. Get your butts outside and play! I don’t care if it’s a game of touch football, or a bike ride, or if you just play around at the foot of the monolith in our backyard. Just go get some fresh air!

Look what you’ve done, I’m sounding like my old man! I guess some things never change. When I was a kid, it was NBA Jam, now it’s the Internet, or Angry Birds, or who-knows-what these days. The point is: you’re kids. You should be outdoors getting messy, climbing trees, running around the towering black slab of alien metal we unearthed late the other night in a feverish haze. You can pause your video games, you can’t pause your childhoods! Neither can you pause the buzzing hum of the monolith. It beckons you. It beckons us all.

Oh, you got homework to do too? Hey, at the risk of sounding irresponsible, just forget it. Daylight is burning, you can do your homework later. Give your mind a break and let the 1 ft by 4 ft by 9 ft foot monolith take over. No, I didn’t measure it, I’ve just intuited those measurements from being in its presence. And, I’m pretty sure it exists in other dimensions that are beyond our comprehension. But for now, just play at the part of the monolith that’s in our physical reality, over where we used to keep the compost bin.

Some of the best times I had as a kid were doing simple things, like jumping in a leaf pile. Rake some leaves into a mound, jump into it, then repeat. You get bored with that, then maybe you can dig out the monolith some more, and stare into its sleek black surface and see the edge of the universe. Let visions of stars wash over you as you skip across the very fabric of existence and experience every moment in time occurring at once, as one unlimited forever and always. And don’t forget your jackets.

I tell ya, when my friends and I had free time, we didn’t waste it with our butts on the couch! We were outside until the streetlights came on, and we didn’t even have a monolith that would steer humanity to a new level of consciousness. Closest thing we had was my friend Derek’s above ground pool, but that thing was scuzzy and didn’t have an equivalent that’s buried on the moon. You kids don’t know how lucky you have it!

C’mon, be kids! Don’t squander your childhood. In a way, the human race itself is about to pass from its own childhood: the discovery of this monolith next to our shed is signaling to the super-intelligent beings that put it there that our species is ready to advance to the next step in our evolution. Maybe it’s just these thoughts in my head that don’t belong to me, or maybe it’s nostalgia, but I think you should take advantage of your youth. Enjoy this time of your life, and the monolith, while you can because it doesn’t last forever. Besides, your mother and I have been talking about putting in a Jacuzzi back there, so we might have to get rid of the monolith by next summer.

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3487 days ago
I remember playing smash the bones in front of the monolith with my friends back in the day. Good times indeed.
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The War Nerd: Why Sherman was right to burn Atlanta

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8320ad7218821615d8a87d53f23fae11 By Gary Brecher
On November 20, 2014

war-nerd-shermanKUWAIT CITY — There are times when the sheer ignorance and ingratitude of the American public makes you sick.

This week marks the 150th anniversary of Sherman’s March from Atlanta to the Sea, which set off on November 16, 1864—the most remarkable military campaign on the 19th century, the campaign which got Lincoln reelected, broke the back of the Confederacy, and slapped most of Dixie’s insane diehards into the realization they were defeated.

You’d think our newspaper of record, the New York Times, would find an appropriate way to mark the occasion, but the best the old Confederate-gray lady could come up with was a churlish, venomous little screed by an obscure neo-Confederate diehard named Phil Leigh. Leigh poses a stupid question: “Who Burned Atlanta?” and comes up with a stupider answer: “Sherman, that bad, bad man!”

Leigh actually thinks he’s fixing blame—blame!—for Sherman’s perfectly sensible, conventional action, the burning of a major rail center in his rear before setting out unsupported across enemy territory.

What next? Will the NYT dig up some crusty tenth-generation Tory sulking in the suburbs of Toronto to ask, “Who Killed All Those Innocent Redcoats on Bunker Hill?” Or a sob story by the Imperial Japanese Navy’s last surviving sailor asking, “Who Sank All Our Carriers?”

Leigh’s silly article could only work on totally ignorant readers, or on his fellow tenth-generation sulkers brooding about what went wrong circa 1863. And the funny side of that is that Sherman, more than anyone else in U.S. history, devoted his life to trying to slap these Dixie dreamers into waking up and thinking like grown-ups.

But it’s hopeless, as Leigh’s article reveals. Here’s Phil Leigh, a 21st century American, implicitly defending the old Southern delusion about a kindly, gentlemanly war:

“Perhaps the most widely accepted justification [for the burning of Atlanta] was the inherent cruelty of war. When a society accepts war as intrinsically cruel, those involved in wartime cruelties are exonerated.”

Phil Leigh seems to be the only human alive who doesn’t “…accept war as intrinsically cruel…”? All over the world, if you asked someone, “Is war intrinsically cruel, sir/madam?” they’d look at you like you were insane. But there does happen to be one demographic—an arguably insane one, indeed—which does not accept that war is cruel: the bitter white Southern neo-Confederate one to which Leigh belongs. For them, war was wonderful when it was just brave Southern gentlemen killing 360,000 loyal American soldiers.

That was the good war, as far as they were concerned. War became “intrinsically cruel” for them when that dastardly Sherman started visiting its consequences on rural Georgia, burning or destroying all supplies that could be used by the Confederate armies which had been slaughtering American troops for several years. Oh, that bad, bad Sherman!

Let’s settle Leigh’s little mind puzzle right off: Yeah, Leigh—you pus-filled sack of sore loser—you’re right, Atlanta was burned by William Tecumseh Sherman, the greatest general in American history. Damn right. That’s not a matter of blame, but of sound military sense.

What Southern romanticists like Leigh will never get—because it’s their very nature not to get it, just as a paranoid schizophrenic can never get that no one is persecuting him—is that Sherman’s whole military enterprise was an attempt to stop the slaughter by slapping the South into adulthood. From way before the war, when Sherman was a professor at a military academy in Louisiana, his attitude toward the South’s Planter culture was like a fond uncle watching his idiot nephew stumbling into a fast car, planning to drive drunk into the nearest tree.

Sherman tried to tell these idiots, over and over, that they were stupid and deluded. He wasn’t even going to debate the non-existent justice of their cause like Grant, who rightly called the Confederacy “the worst cause for which men ever fought.” Sherman, who was a much more analytical, intellectual man than Grant, focused on the fact that the South—the white, wealthy South, that is; the only one that mattered—was wrong. About everything. Every damn thing in the world. But most of all about its childishly romantic notions about war. Here’s what he said to his Southern friends before the war:

You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it … Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth — right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.”

That was Sherman’s advice to the South before the war even began. And he was, as usual, absolutely right. But he was talking like a grown-up to people who didn’t want to think like adults. Their whole society was based on horrible lies—“a bad cause to start with”—which gave them a deep aversion to cold truths. So they stuffed themselves, as Mark Twain said, with copious doses of the worst “chivalrous” nonsense they could find, like Walter Scott’s pseudo-medieval novels, and went off to cause the biggest slaughter of their fellow Americans in history, a body-count far higher than the sum total of all Americans killed in all wars with other countries.

Oh, but that was glorious, for idiots like Phil Leigh. What was non-glorious was Sherman burning Atlanta. You see what Sherman was up against? That’s why his campaigns, unlike any other Union general’s and in fact any other waged by an American commander until the age of “hearts and minds” warfare dawned a century later, were designed, above all, to smack awake a crazed and homicidally delusional population. Like John Wayne slapping some hysterical private, Sherman tried, in everything he said and did, to make the South face reality.

Sherman knew the wider world, and tried to warn the arrogant provincials who ran the Confederacy what it meant to them—all the peoples wiped out of existence for far less sustained craziness than the South was demonstrating, and all the eager immigrants waiting to take the traitors’ places:

“If [the Confederates] want eternal war, well and good; we accept the issue, and will dispossess them and put our friends in their place. I know thousands and millions of good people who at simple notice would come to North Alabama and accept the elegant houses and plantations there. If the people of Huntsville think different, let them persist in war three years longer, and then they will not be consulted. Three years ago by a little reflection and patience they could have had a hundred years of peace and prosperity, but they preferred war; very well. Last year they could have saved their slaves, but now it is too late.
All the powers of earth cannot restore to them their slaves, any more than their dead grandfathers. Next year their lands will be taken, for in war we can take them, and rightfully, too, and in another year they may beg in vain for their lives. A people who will persevere in war beyond a certain limit ought to know the consequences. Many, many peoples with less pertinacity have been wiped out of national existence.”

Sherman was trying, in everything he did, to wake these idiots from their delusion. That’s why they hate Sherman so much, 150 years after his campaign ended in total success: Because he interrupted their silly and sadistic dreams, humiliated them in the most vulnerable part of their weird anatomy, their sense of valorous superiority. Sherman didn’t wipe out the white South, though he could easily have done so; he was, in fact, very mild toward a treasonous population that regularly sniped at and ambushed his troops. But what he did was demonstrate the impotence of the South’s Planter males.

The taking and burning of Atlanta were just one more chance to slap the South awake, as Sherman saw it. When he was scolded—by people who were in the habit of whipping slaves half to death for trivial lapses—for his severity toward the (white, landowning) people of Atlanta, he replied, in his “Letter to Atlanta,” in a way that shows how patiently he kept trying to talk grown-up sense to an insane population:

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country…

“The only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.

“You have heretofore read public sentiment in your newspapers, that live by falsehood and excitement; and the quicker you seek for truth in other quarters, the better. I repeat then that, by the original compact of government, the United States had certain rights in Georgia, which have never been relinquished and never will be; that the South began the war by seizing forts, arsenals, mints, custom-houses, etc., etc., long before Mr. Lincoln was installed, and before the South had one jot or tittle of provocation. I myself have seen in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, hundreds and thousands of women and children fleeing from your armies and desperadoes, hungry and with bleeding feet…But these comparisons are idle. I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect an early success.”

Seems clear enough, right? “I just took your city, and out-thought as well as out-fought your generals and troops (and by the way, just to lay another fond Southern myth to rest, the Confederate troops who faced Sherman’s army were inferior, not just in numbers or equipment, but man-for-man, one-on-one, as they showed in dozens of battles)—so are you going to wake up and stop whistling Dixie, you loons?”

The answer was obvious: No, they weren’t. They still haven’t, as Phil Leigh’s nasty little commemoration of Sherman’s March demonstrates. You can’t fix crazy, and it seems to breed true down the generations.

Crazy people don’t need, or want, evidence. They prefer anecdotes with crying little girls. So here’s Phil Leigh’s case that burning Atlanta was a bad thing:

“One Michigan sergeant conceded getting swept up in the inflammatory madness, even though he knew it was unauthorized: ‘As I was about to fire one place a little girl about ten years old came to me and said, ‘Mr. Soldier you would not burn our house would you? If you did where would we live?’ She looked at me with such a pleading look that … I dropped the torch and walked away.”

Yes, one Michigan soldier, who was in a position to help slap the South awake by showing its impotence in the face of America’s vengeance, was overcome by sentimentality and “dropped the torch.” But that torch, as it were, was passed to stronger hands, and Atlanta burned. As it should have. You know what’s worse than a little girl asking “Mister Soldier” not to burn her house? Getting your leg sawed off by a drunken corpsman after a Minie ball fired by traitors turned your femur into bone shards. Or getting a letter that your son died of gangrene in one of those field hospitals where the screaming never stopped, and the stench endured weeks after the army had moved on. Those are the realities of war that Sherman hated—truly hated, which is something you can’t say by any means about most successful generals—and tried to bring to a quick end.

Sherman never forgot those horrors. I repeat, he was one of a very few great generals I know who genuinely hated war, and he never lost a chance to say so:

“I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers … it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”

Sherman never stopped talking like this, even after the war, when memories dimmed and a sentimental nostalgia became the norm among aging Union veterans. Most people know that Sherman said, “War is Hell,” but few know that he said it in a context where it took real courage, where he was raining on a bunch of young military graduates’ parades. That quote comes from an address Sherman made at a graduation ceremony for the Michigan Military Academy (as long as we’re gonna talk about “Mister Soldier” from Michigan!) and he told those guys flat-out they’d picked the wrong major:

I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here. Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!”

Here again we see Sherman in his true glory, a cold, bright mind in a world of bloody, hypocritical, murderous sentimental Victorian swine. I only truly love two Civil War commanders, Sherman and George Thomas, the best of all. But Thomas was a softer man than Sherman, too tender by half to see what Sherman saw. Sherman saw the horror full-on, and never flinched.

But that horror just doesn’t register with the Phil Leighs of the world. As far as they’re concerned, it was glorious to kill 300,000 loyal American soldiers in defense of the most vile social system since Sparta. (And by the way, it’s no wonder that rotten movie 300 was so popular in Leigh’s demographic, because the parallels between fuckin’ Sparta and the friggin’ Confederacy are as numerous and disgusting as the roaches in my Kuwait City apartment.)

As far as the Times’ resident neo-Confederate’s concerned, the war was going swimmingly until Sherman came along and bummed their high by abandoning their ersatz chivalry and showing the Planters’ sons their total impotence by marching through their heartland, burning and looting as they pleased.

Sherman, as usual, saw clearly that the craziness of the white South was bone-deep, and could never fully be eradicated. He wouldn’t have been surprised to read Phil Leigh’s spitball-commemoration of his Atlanta victory. What Sherman did hope—and it was a realistic hope, fulfilled by history—was to suppress the South’s craziness for a few generations:

“We can make war so terrible and make [the South] so sick of war that generations pass away before they again appeal to it.”

And it worked; it wasn’t until the past decade or so that these neo-Confederate vermin dared to raise their heads and start hissing their crazy nonsense in public. So Sherman’s alleged brutality, you see, Mister Leigh, was not a matter of blame, or a regrettable side-effect of his campaign. It was the point of his campaign. Sherman began with the goal of humiliating a Southern white elite consumed by delusions of superiority, and the plumes of smoke his bummers sent up as they burned the mansions in their sixty-mile wide swath were meant as a form of advertising: “See? See what we can do if we want to? Now will you fucking wake up?”

Sherman burned Atlanta for two reasons, both perfectly sound:

  1. Because no sane general, planning to send an army of more than 60,000 men across the enemy’s heartland with no supply line or hope of reinforcement, would leave a major rail/supply center like Atlanta intact in his rear. Burning Atlanta was a no-brainer. Any commander would have done the same, but very few would have dared undertake the march from Atlanta to the Sea at all. It was so radical a plan that British military historian B. H. Liddell Hart claimed it marked Sherman as “the first modern general” and placed him alongside Napoleon and Belisarius as one of the greatest commanders of all time.
  2. Because every column of smoke rising from a burning mansion, barn, or granary was intended by Sherman as a signal to a psychotically stubborn, deluded Confederate (white, landowning) population that they had lost, and that every additional life lost was, as he kept trying to tell them, an atrocity, a crime far greater than property destruction.

Sherman never admitted to ordering the burning of Atlanta, because—let’s be honest here—there are two rules for American wars: What we do to foreigners, and what we do to other Americans—and for some reason, most historians persist in considering the slave-selling traitors, America-hating swine who ran the Confederacy as Americans. So we could never treat them as we did the people of, say, Tokyo or Dresden, even though the people of those two cities were never responsible for killing so many Americans as the Confederates did.

So Sherman said only this about the burning:

“Though I never ordered it, and never wished for it, I have never shed any tears over the event, because I believe that it hastened what we all fought for, the end of the war.”

He, unlike the Phil Leighs of the world, was thinking about all the horrors of endless guerrilla war: “If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war…” — which terrified sane grown-ups both North and South, including Robert E. Lee, who told his aides that it was the horror of guerrilla war that made him accept the humiliation of surrender. When the very young, excitable General Porter Alexander proposed that the Army of Northern Virginia literally head for the hills and try guerrilla warfare, Lee answered like a real grown-up:

“You and I…must consider its effect on the country [i.e. the Confederacy] as a whole. Already it is demoralized by the four years of war. If I took your advice, the men would be without rations and under no control of officers. They would be compelled to rob and steal in order to live. They would become mere bands of marauders, and the enemy’s cavalry would pursue them and overrun many sections they may never have occasion to visit. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from. And, as for myself, you young fellows might go bushwhacking, but the only dignified course for me would be to go to General Grant and surrender myself and take the consequences of my acts.”

Lee wasn’t as sensible as he could have been because any sane Southern officer knew very well that after the twin defeats at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the lousy grand old cause was lost and all deaths from now on were completely in vain. But at least he knew that guerrilla war usually inflicts ten casualties on the occupied, i.e. the South, for every one inflicted on the occupier, i.e. the Union troops. But then Lee had moments of lucidity in an otherwise chivalry-warped consciousness; the Phil Leighs among us have none.

Sherman was, by contrast, the most grimly sane American ever born—and compared to the endless, mindless brutality of guerrilla war—a Jesse & Frank James world, a Quantrill world, metastasized across the continent, compared to which burning a few houses was a wholesome purgative.

Of course, this is all lost on the Phil Leighs of the world, who—for reasons that cut deep into the ideology of the American right wing—always take burnt houses too seriously, and dead people far too lightly. To them, burning a house is a crime, while shooting a Yankee soldier in the eye is just part of war’s rich tapestry. So their horror of messing with private property joins their sense of emasculation, and their total ignorance of what war on one’s home ground actually means, to form a sediment that could never have been cured, even temporarily, except by the river of armed humanity Sherman sent pouring south and east from Atlanta on November 15, 1864. That cold shower woke them for a little while, at least—long enough to quicken the end of the war and save thousands of lives.

That was all Sherman hoped for. He’d spent time with these guys, and knew they could never really be cured:

“…Sons of [Southern] planters, lawyers about towns, good billiard players and sportsmen, men who never did any work and never will. War suits them …

Well, they’ve gained about 60 pounds per capita and forgotten how to ride a horse, but they’re still around, still sulking, and, thanks to the New York Times, they’ve been able to let the rest of us know it. After all, what good is a 150-year sulk if nobody notices it?

[Illustration: Brad Jonas for Pando]

8320ad7218821615d8a87d53f23fae11 Gary Brecher is the War Nerd.
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3494 days ago
It might be time to look into reading a Sherman biography.
3494 days ago
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3494 days ago
Wow. This is good.
Louisville, KY
3495 days ago
Brooklyn, New York
3496 days ago
Read this.