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TFNIWLNW: 14

February 11th, 2016
In the military, one comes to realize that every plan is opposed by an unknowable force. Nature, when it comes right down to it, is an asshole. If one were inclined to believe in gods, it is inescapable that one of the most powerful is the one that makes sure any plan you make will be broken on the rocks of cruel reality.

Even a simple plan — say, perhaps, “reach the outpost by nightfall” — is subject to the whims of cruel and capricious deities whose stature is raised when a working man curses.

The captain of the squad of soldiers who were our captors was building those gods a citadel with his angry words with every step we took. Brewer’s Ford was not far, a reasonable goal even though one of the party on foot had recently been beaten badly. Yet, as the day progressed we seemed to draw no closer.

First there were the signs of a poacher’s camp. We stopped, and the men around me prepared to approach the camp. But on this day one rider, a gruff man named Smalls who seemed to be part bear, tumbled from his horse and broke his arm. While some went to his aid the rest found that that camp was long cold. The sun was sinking toward the horizon by the time Smalls was back on his horse, and soon after that another horse threw a shoe and then it was a farmer’s cart broken down blocking a bridge. We could have forded the stream, but the captain was responsible for safe commerce. So we stopped and helped the old man get rolling again.

There may have been other delays I have failed to catalog; it was a slow and frustrating day. Frustrating for the captain because had an important job to do, and for me because I wanted to see little Elena protected from the Soul Thieves. But, despite our best wishes, when night stole over the land there were still many miles to traverse. The captain wanted to push into the night, but heavy clouds rolled in, until I could see no farther than I could spit. We had no choice; we made camp.

Another fireside knife lesson for Elena. She followed my instruction with uncanny focus, eager to move from stick to sharpened blade. At the end of an hour, I relented. I asked Wingles to give her my fish knife, a slender blade sharp only on one side, delicate in the same way Elena was delicate. Deadly delicate. After the lesson Wingles took the knife and we curled up together near the dying fire. We had no tent, but the soldiers had given us a heavy tarp we could pull over ourselves if the clouds turned to rain. She snuggled in next to me to share warmth, and for a moment I felt at peace.

The air was heavy and still, and carried sound well. Around the camp I heard the three sentries move, and breathe, and snuffle. Between the spits and cracks of the dying fire I heard the creatures of the forest as they moved around us in the night, some curious, some wary. The fire’s smoke hugged the ground and I heard some of the company snort and sneeze in their bedrolls. A perfectly ordinary night.

“Do you think I can be as good as you, someday?” Elena whispered.

“Better, I hope.” I think she understood because she didn’t ask any more questions.

The next morning, the clouds were a distant memory as the sun sparkled the morning dew. We ate a swift, unsatisfying breakfast of hard bread and cured meat, the soldiers decided who was to have the honor of carrying Elena for the next hour, and we set out, covering ground much more quickly than we had the day before. It was just before noon when we broke from the forest on a ridge over the flood plain and saw the outpost ahead.

What the captain called “the outpost” turned out to be a rather large military installation. I hadn’t been to Brower’s Ford in several years, and in that time the fortress had been expanded and the garrison greatly increased. It seemed that the King had decided to be more than just the titular lord of the north. The lands of the north were not as empty as they first appeared, and either the king or someone who whispers in his ear had decided that it was time for those folks to start paying taxes.

The fortress itself squatted on the banks of the Artles river, just north of the town, where the lazy water made a gentle turn in its easterly journey, dodging an outcrop of black rock that served as the foundation for the fortress. Some time in the distant past a channel had been dug to divert part of the river around the other side of the rock, giving the fortress a moat. While the outcrop was too small to support a castle of any real significance, the modest structure was impressive in its own way. Three stubby towers anchored a wall that followed the contours of the native stone, broken only by a stout gate wide enough for two horsemen. The bridge across the moat was wooden, and no doubt could be demolished in moments should the need arise.

The plain at the foot of the fortress was busy with human activity. I could recognize the stables even from a mile away, as well as other stone and wood buildings that appeared to be barracks, a smithy, and livestock pens. The fortress had outgrown its perch, it seemed.

Surrounding fortress and town were fields green with grain blowing in waves with the gentle breeze, fed by the rich soil of the river valley. Hedgerows separated the fields, the boundaries following a logic that I could not decipher.

When we came into sight of the fort, Katherine stopped. Bags pulled up his horse as well, and the rest of the party eventually followed suit. The captain turned back on his horse to see what the problem was.

“I’m not going in there,” Katherine said.

“You are my prisoner, your grace,” The captain said.

“I surrendered on the condition that you take me directly to the King. Is the king in there?”

“No, your grace.”

“Then I will not go there, either.”

“I must report to my commander, your grace. It is he who will see to your escort down to Langifer.”

“Langifer? What the hell is the King doing there?” Katherine asked. I was curious as well. Langifer was a capable military fortress, but away from any large city it lacked the amenities the king was rumored to enjoy.

“When last I heard, the king was en route to Langifer to confer with his liege lords in the south.” The captain shrugged. “Of course that news is weeks old now. Commander Harrick will know more, and will see to your escort.”

“Harrick. He’s in charge here?”

“Yes, your grace.”

Katherine considered a moment before speaking. “He hated my husband, and respected my father. I almost trust him.”

The captain looked relieved. “Then —”

“Almost. Once we’re inside those walls, it becomes much easier to forget promises made by underlings out in the woods somewhere.”

“I assure you, you grace, that the commander is a man of honor, as am I.”

They continued to argue, but I stopped listening. Something was happening to the sun. I looked around as it began to feel like twilight, though it was midday. The sun was just… dimmer. Down on the plain, a horse cried out. It was dimmer yet where I stood, but the castle on the rock below was lit so brightly I could barely look at it. As the world got darker, the fortress began to shine so brightly it seemed to be lit from within.

The commander and Katherine stopped their argument. A shout floated up to our position, then another. Suddenly, the air was filled with shouts and screams and smoke began to rise from behind the stone walls. On the plain at the base of the castle walls, buildings, crops, animals, and people all caught fire. Some rushed for the river, few made it.

Nearby an evening bird chirped as the day dimmed into night and the temperature dropped. I had to turn my eyes from the blinding furnace on the plain, and trails streaked across my vision as the image of the burning castle was seared into my eyes. More shouts, more screams, the animals and the humans no longer distinguishable.

A roar, and a blast of hot air on my face forced me to turn my gaze back toward the fortress, to try to peer between my fingers as I hid my eyes behind raised hands. In my distorted vision it was as if the stone itself was burning. I turned away again. In the town, a bell began to toll, calling men to action. But what could anyone possible do?

Elena found me and latched onto my hand. “What’s happening?” she asked. “What the fuck is happening?”

I shook my head, but it took me several moments to find a word. “War,” I said.

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TFNIWLNW Reality check

February 9th, 2016

While I remind myself that I am writing for myself and no one else, it’s been a while since the sweet-o-meter has been clicked for an episode of TFNIWLNW, and the comments have dried up, and as far as I can tell no one has shared links to the episodes with anyone else. So at this point I suspect that I’m writing for only me.

Through other channels a couple of folks have said they’re enjoying it, and I am Really Stoked about the upcoming episode (we get to see what the Soul Thieves are capable of), and overall that’s what matters.

But, if you like it, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if you were to let me know. You’d even make my day if you mentioned what parts you like, and even what you don’t. And if someone else says something you don’t agree with, a little brush fire can be fun, too. Doesn’t mean I’ll change (that would imply a better plan than I have anyway), but I’d still like to hear from y’all.

And I’m not going to get that movie deal if people never see it. So pass it around. I’ll be adding previous/next links to the episodes to make the story easier to follow, and I think I’ll be adding more about the process in comments from here out to provide another layer of entertainment. But I’d really like it to be a discussion, rather than me going blah, blah, blah.

I think I may have discouraged discussion with my rather absolute pronouncements about back story and exposition in previous comments. Um… sorry? To make up for it, I think I’ll sneak in a backstory episode for Katherine and another for Martin — or maybe for his dark-bladed knife. That little piece of cutlery has a story to tell for sure.

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TFNIWLNW: 13

February 6th, 2016
“Your grace, I accept your surrender. Please remove all your weapons.” The captain turned to Bags. “You, too. Tidwell, Mallory, search our prisoners. Thoroughly.”

Kat looked shocked. “I shall submit to no such abuse!”

The captain did not rise to her ire. “You have surrendered, your grace.”

“What about him?” She jabbed an angry finger my direction. “You have no idea how much cutlery he’s hiding.”

The captain looked pained and turned to me, shaking his head slowly. “You heard her,” he said to one of his men. “Apparently this gentleman has some other weapons. Make sure the only one here who can kill a soul thief is unarmed.”

Katherine stood, white-lipped, as she was relieved of her weaponry, and I of mine. Bags gave up his glittery sword and his hunting knife, but no one present considered him defanged.

I cooperated, giving up one blade after another, until I was naked for the second time in as many days. The soldier handled the blades with respect, pausing over the black blade. Traces of wizard blood clung to the base of the blade. “Beautiful,” he said. “Where’d you get it?”

“Old friend. There’s another out there somewhere.”

“Hopefully she’ll find her sister someday.” He was a big kid, angular, with a sideways smile and a crooked nose. I had been planning to kill him hours before.

“What’s your name, kid?”

“Wingles, sir.”

“I like you, Wingles.”

He gave a half-shrug, not sure how to take that.

“Take good care of these,” I said. “And if the world goes sideways, maybe you can help them back into my hands.”

“I can’t do that, sir,” he said as he nodded yes.

I smiled, but already that naked feeling was growing in my gut. “Well, I had to try.”

“All right, then,” the captain said. “Let’s move.”

And so I walked, the mounted patrol matching their pace to mine. Elena was on a horse always, riding behind the soldiers each in turn, entertaining them and worming her way deeper under their skins. They had already faced death for her once, and they would welcome the opportunity do it again.

The Captain’s plan was simple: travel some fifty miles to the outpost the soldiers called home, deposit the corpse of the man I had most recently killed, get more horses and men, and proceed on to Sky City to allow Katherine to face the King’s justice. I was confident that none of the prisoners in the group, myself included, had any intent to meet the king, but I was willing to follow long enough to see Elena under the King’s protection.

We covered about half the distance to the outpost on the first day, and once more I sat by the fire as the soldiers made camp with unthinking efficiency. I found myself next to the captain.

“I wonder,” I said.

He smiled. “This should be good.”

“I was thinking that I should teach Elena the basics of the knife.”

He thought for a moment. “I can’t let you have a blade.”

“But she can have one. She needs to be able to defend herself.”

“I’m not so sure about that. I think half my men would follow her orders instead of mine right now.”

I smiled. “She does have a way about her. Still, I’d feel better if she knew how to use a blade without hurting herself.”

The captain mulled for a moment and nodded. “All right. But you don’t touch the knife. Ever. You’ll be strictly supervised.”

“I want to use the black knife,” Elena said. Of course she had been listening in.

“We will start,” I said, “With a stick. Tomorrow, if you do well, we will use a simpler knife. The dark one…” I took a breath as I allowed that it might even be possible. “You will have to earn that.”

I expected protest, but she was watching me carefully. I wondered what she saw. “I will earn it,” she said. “Let’s find some fucking sticks.”

When Kat finally cornered me after the lesson she didn’t seem concerned that anyone in the camp could hear us. “That wasn’t the first soul thief you killed,” she said. She’d been waiting a long time for this conversation, and I have to admit that after avoiding it for so long I was hooked by her opener.

“No shit?” I asked. I hope historians see fit to make my words more clever.

Kat rolled here eyes “No shit, Martin. If you spent a little more time with your eyes open, you’d know that.”

A petty jibe. An attempt for high ground in the coming debate. But false. My eyes are always open when I kill someone. “You husband, then?” I asked. After all, he was the only other one I’d killed that she had known.

I couldn’t remember her ever smiling before. “Don’t make me laugh. The baron was a boy playing in the games of men.”

“And women,” I said.

She paused, and her smile came back, a little different. “And women. But no, my dearly departed husband was not a Soul Thief. It was Bags who figured out who you are.”

Who I was, to the best of my knowledge, was a smaller-than-average man who was physically and emotionally well-equipped to solve my problems by cutting people open. When I had money I was rather unpleasant to be around. None of those characteristics is terribly unique. Nothing that makes “who I am” terribly interesting.

“You are known to the Shadow Thieves,” Katherine said.

“And how do you come to know this?” I asked.

“Bags has done some work for them in the past. So have you.”

Many of my employers over the years had gone to lengths to preserve their anonymity, so now that the existence of the Soul Thieves was incontrovertible, it was certainly possible that they had hired me before. But I don’t as a rule kill my employers. Bad for business.

“They called you the Gray Man,” Bags said, sitting on my other side. “I wouldn’t have heard about you, but your last job for them caused a shit-storm.”

“What’d he do?” Elena asked, injecting herself in the conversation.

“There was a power struggle going on. The wizard I took my orders from hired the gray man to eliminate one of his rivals,” Bags said. He turned to me with his gap-tooth smile. “I was unemployed soon thereafter. At least for the moment, all the other Soul Thieves agreed on something. My master had crossed a line.”

“And you think I’m the gray man?”

Bags nodded slowly. “I do.”

“I don’t remember killing any wizards.”

“You took something from him. The stiletto you keep strapped to your wrist. I didn’t see it until we were in Mountain Forge. That’s when I knew.”

Unconsciously I rubbed my forearm where the knife should have been. It was true that I had relieved it from a man who would not be needing it any longer. He’d been a big man, well-muscled, with hair cut to a rough stubble, sleeping in a run-down hostel surrounded by others down on their luck. He hadn’t seemed very wizardly, whatever that meant. It was entirely possible that the man I’d killed had been the gray man, but there didn’t seem much point chasing that idea any further. My comrades had made up their minds. “And that’s when Kat started trying to get me to join you.”

Kat snorted. “That’s when I knew I’d succeed.”

Elena jumped forward and sat on my knee and put one arm around my neck. “He’s with me,” she said. “You two can fuck yourselves.”

Bags laughed and tousled her hair. “Things like this don’t happen by chance,” he said. “Someone wants us together. Someone whose wishes come true.”

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John Scott, NHL All-Star

January 29th, 2016
a.k.a. The people vs. the NHL

John Scott plays hockey. He’s a lunch-pail, blue-collar player who works hard to stay in the league. He’s been called a dying breed, or an old-schooler, but those are just soft words to disguise what he does so well. He’s an enforcer. He’s a peacekeeper. He keeps the peace by making it absolutely clear that he will destroy anyone who violates the peace. He was on the team I support last year, and it’s funny how many fights didn’t happen when John Scott came on the ice.

But if it’s fisticuffs you want, John Scott is your bloke.

CZ6qWnSXEAAOYnsThere are thugs around the league that everyone hates. Raffi Torres, technically a member of my favorite team, comes to mind. People hate Raffi, and for good reason. But people don’t hate John Scott. He’s a bruiser, a puncher, but not a dirty player. If you don’t violate John Scott’s peace, you need not fear.

Not only do hockey fans not hate John Scott, they like him so much that this year they elected him to the all-star game. Part of it is a joke, of course, the fans punking the league. But they’d never punk the league with Raffi Torres. He’s an asshole. They punked the league with someone they liked. I’m sure many people in San Jose hopped on the John Scott bandwagon, even though he doesn’t play here anymore.

The NHL did not handle the situation gracefully. They tried to bury him, to shuffle him out of the lineup, and to apply personal pressure to get him to step down. Scott readily acknowledges that he is not the most skilled player in the NHL, but when the league began dicking him over to knock him out of the game, he pushed back, in a low-key, John Scott sort of way. Because that’s who he is; that’s always been his game. Play by the rules, there’s no problem. Step over the line, and he will guide you back, gently, at first.

Fans howled. Whether they were his supporters before or not, the NHL brass was trying to nullify their vote. He will be playing in the all-star game.

Then the other all-star players voted, and he has a C on his sweater. Team captain. John Fuckin’ Scott, team captain in the all-star game. The players, at least, remembered who really pays their checks, and they don’t mind punking their employers now and then to boot. You can read a feel-good piece about it (twins any minute now!) over at espn (also the source of the above image).

And now I’ll probably watch at least some of that horrible game, just to hear the arena get loud when Scott steps onto the ice. The game is suddenly interesting, at least for a few minutes. Final victory: NHL.

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Language and Perception

January 22nd, 2016
You know the old joke about how things were black-and-white in the old days? Not so crazy after all.

blueRecently I came across an article with what I thought was a ridiculous title: No one could see the color blue until modern times. What what what? Color perception is a function of physiology, right?

Or maybe not. Training may play a larger role than we (or at least I) thought. If you don’t have a word for a color, maybe you don’t learn to see it.

If the above article is not bullshit, it would seem that ancient languages are unified in their lack of a word for the color blue. If you trace the introduction of color in ancient literature, it follows a general pattern with blue coming last. Interesting enough, but a study (you know how I love those studies) of tribesmen in Namibia, whose language still does not include “blue”, found that those who could not say blue could also not see blue.

Crazy, right?

Way back in college I participated in a classroom experiment to show the every-psych-major-knows fact that people respond to red lights faster than they react to green. I asked the professor (one of my favorite teachers ever) if the experiment had ever been conducted on people who had never seen a traffic signal or a brake light. I got the eyebrow-raised “good question” response, but not an actual answer.

And then there’s the widely-accepted fact that women perceive colors differently than men do. I have always assumed that there is something intrinsic to the Y-chromosome that allows men to see true color the way God intended, but maybe it’s just that ‘mauve’ is not part of the standard male vocabulary until it’s too late. Lacking training in mauve perception, we just never get it.

In another thousand years, what colors might people see? I’m not sure, but I suspect women will see them first.

The image above was hoisted from the referenced article. I hope they don’t mind.

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TFNIWLNW: 12

January 18th, 2016
Sometimes even the least of us do something grand. Sometimes we stand before a force that will surely destroy us, simply because we have spoken certain words some time in the past. At a moment like that there is no time for thought, no time for doubt, no time even to relish the idea that you might be more than you thought you were. There is only time to fight, and to die knowing that you changed nothing. It is fortunate, perhaps, that those times do not announce themselves ahead of time, and leave us to plot our petty murders.

I looked up at the stars, hard and unblinking in the cold mountain air. “They’ll kill him,” I said, softly.

Elena whispered, “Mrkl? The blacksmith?”

I nodded in the darkness.

“You’d slice open all these soldiers, even after they gave us food, to protect him?”

I nodded again, after a short pause. “He’s my friend.”

“Maybe he can get away,” she said.

“Traveling with an anvil is slow.”

Silence for a few moments. “You’re in no fuckin’ shape to take on nine of them.”

“I have to try.”

“Please,” she said. “There has to be another way. What fucking happens to me when they fucking kill you?”

If it was anyone besides Mrkl I might have listened. “They won’t kill me,” I said, and sat up to look around.

The camp lay in stillness. I could see seven forms wrapped in their bedrolls, leaving two others. A simple plan is the best kind. Find the two on watch, kill them silently, then cut seven throats. I inhaled to test my ribs. Adequate.

I almost cut myself when Elena screamed. “In the woods! In the woods! They’re out there!”

Well-trained men rose from their beds with weapons in hand. Elena continued to scream, her voice high and cracking with panic, which added to the confusion in the campsite. The captain’s words finally cut through Elena’s piercing cries, and the camp was mustered and ready.

“Where?” asked the captain.

“Out there,” Elena said, pointing into the darkness. “They’re coming!”

I put my arm around her, acting the way I imagined a father might. “It’s all right,” I said, and things like that, hoping my anger was not visible to the soldiers around us. I would have done the same thing in her shoes, I knew, but she was going to cost my friend his life.

As the soldiers mustered, three people stepped out of the forest.

“Oh,” Elena said. “Oh.” Her grip on my sleeve tightened.

I had not heard them approaching, and I hear everything. The red glow of the embers in the fire ring painted their white robes the color of blood. The one in front, apparently the leader, was an older man, his gray beard long and tangled. On his left a woman watched us with hard eyes, her mouth set in a permanent frown. Her hair was pulled back so tightly I thought it must hurt. On the old man’s right a younger man stood, clean-shaven and fair-haired, perhaps my age if years meant the same to them as they do to us. He, at least, seemed to find some humor in the situation.

“State your business,” the captain of the soldiers said.

The woman spoke. “We are here for the girl,” she said.

The soldiers shifted, tense and ready to defend their foul-mouthed little mascot. “She is under out protection,” the captain said.

The younger man chuckled while the woman said, “Recent events suggest the reverse is true.”

I stood, slowly, prying Elena’s fingers off my arm. “She is under my protection also,” I said.

The old man spoke for the first time. “She is in no need of protection.”

There was no answer for that. I stood before the Soul Thieves, a tiny piece of metal in each hand, aware that I was probably going to die, for a promise I had made only hours before.

“Stand down, sir,” the captain said to me. His sword was in his hand. “No one will take your girl while I have anything to say about it.” He stepped between us and the visitors, and his men fell in with him. “You are trespassing on the holdings of Lord Fairmont,” he announced. “Surrender yourselves and we will escort you to Mountain Forge. If you cooperate there will be no further proceedings.”

“I am afraid, then,” the old man said, “that there must be further proceedings.” He stepped back as the other two stepped forward. The woman gestured, and with a cry that came from deep in her gut she sent a shock through the camp that slammed into my body with the force of a tornado. For a moment there was nothing but thunder — no sight, no smell, no touch of the ground through my boots, just a sound that filled me and broke me and the taste of metal in my mouth. Then it was over and I was lying on my back, blood streaming from my nose, my ribs on fire once again. And I was angry. I stood, cleared my vision, remembered how to breathe, and looked at the Soul Thieves.

The old man was talking again, but my ears weren’t working. I discovered I still had my knives. The woman gestured again but I shouted right back, leaning into the shock until I was almost parallel with the ground, my feet dug in against the log that had once been my seat. The shock passed over me — through me — and I regained my feet. I stepped over the prone form of a soldier and was peripherally aware that the captain was moving, but only slowly.

I am, I like to believe, an even-tempered fellow, not ruled by my emotions. I have been in love two times and shall not be again. In my life, I have been angry four times. The first was when I was very young, before my mother trusted me with even the most mundane of blades, and resulted only in a small fire. The second time I was angry marked the end of my second love. That night, at the campfire, being pummeled by wizards who wanted to take my friend, was the third.

The fourth — well, if you haven’t heard the legends already you will just have to wait for me to get to it. The stories aren’t terribly accurate anyway. But now let us return to the night the Soul Thieves came for Elena. The third time I was angry.

As I staggered forward the shaft of an arrow appeared in the older man’s chest. He looked at it in surprise as another arrived from somewhere out in the darkness. Kat had found us as well, it seemed. He staggered, steadied himself, and knocked the third shaft away with a gesture, smiling with teeth stained red by his own blood.

Another shock slammed into me but I was having no more of that. I was having no more of any of this. I set my teeth and pushed forward, aware of pain but only as a curiosity. This is the power of the white rage that consumed me. I was not immortal, but I was the next best thing: my own mortality meant nothing to me. I smiled to answer the old man, and I saw him falter. As I lunged forward the younger wizard put himself between me and my prey and I put one blade in his gut and the other in his throat and wandered though his life with both. His blood splashed over me and it was glorious.

The woman said something in a language I didn’t know and light hit me, so bright it threatened to blind me through my closed eyelids. But anger ruled me and I didn’t care if I never saw again; I rose and rushed toward the source, swinging my blades in front of me wildly, unconcerned with whose flesh they found as long as they cut someone. I heard a cry and darkness returned and I shouted in triumph. At that moment I was little more than a knife with a human body attached — sharp, unbreakable, eternal, a simple object created only to kill.

But force of will can only carry one so far. While my eyes were still nearly useless they hit me, the force of the impact doubling me over, and in my own tiny world I flung my blades about with a prayer to gods I knew didn’t exist that I might draw blood. And they hit me again, from the inside, and I felt my guts getting mixed up and if I wasn’t helpless before I certainly was then. As vision returned I found myself on the forest floor, unable to close my eyes as mud packed into my left eye, while my right struggled to focus on a frond of moss clinging to a rock red with blood. My whole world at that moment. The anger slipped away from me, back into the dark place where it lurked.

Eventually I realized that no one was trying to kill me anymore. Good thing, because I was pretty close to dead already. A hand touched my shoulder. A big hand. Bags.

“You all right?”

I wasn’t ready to speak but I managed to cough. A feeble cough.

He lifted me into a sitting position and next thing I knew water was splashing into my eye, clearing out the mud, leaving only enough grit to be irritating. I managed to blink, managed to croak, and finally managed to speak.

“Elena?”

“I’m here.” Her small hands wrapped around one of mine. “I’m here.”

“Good.” I tried to put together my surroundings. “Did we… win?”

“You killed a soul thief.” That was Kat’s voice, a safe distance away.

“Huh,” I said.

“They’re not going to like that,” Bags said.

“We won,” Kat said. “You won. But it’s only the beginning.”

I opened my sore and scratchy eyes. The sun was dragging its sorry ass up over the eastern horizon, turning the sky pink. Bags and Elena watched me carefully, and I made a wish of my own that someday Elena could go a day in my presence without crying.

Beyond them, a shambles of a camp. The soldiers of the patrol, the five standing anyway, formed a rough ring around us. Their armor was dented and stained with blood, their faces bore the signs of abuse, but if anything they were more dangerous than they had been before. When you are given a chance to be a coward and you decline, you become a different person.

The captain crouched next to me. “Glad to see you moving.”

“Thanks.”

“Is anything you told me true at all?”

I pulled myself into a sitting position and Elena rushed to help, latching on to my upper arm. “The part about the berries,” I said. “That was true.”

“And the Soul Thieves want her?” He glanced at Elena.

“That was unexpected,” I said.

“I told you we had to go farther,” she said.

“Fuck me,” the captain said. “Soul Thieves. Never thought I’d actually see one. Didn’t really think they existed at all. Then the king puts out a bounty on the bastards and not a week later I’ve got three of them in my camp.”

“There’s a bounty?”

“Yeah. But good luck collecting it.” He sighed heavily and put his hand on my shoulder. “I’m in an awkward position here. Your friends are fugitives. You knew that.”

“Yes.”

“Then there’s the girl. If the Soul Thieves want her, then the King will very much want them to not have her. I don’t think I can protect her. And you saw what those arrows did to the old man. Right in his heart and he barely noticed. But you killed one. Which puts you in a position to be a very good friend of the king, were it not for the company you keep. Tell me the truth. Are you the third one we’re looking for?”

“He’s not,” Elena said.

I liked the captain. He seemed bound by honor, which is an annoying trait in any man, but he was straightforward and at least somewhat pragmatic. “I’m the only one you’re looking for,” I said. “I killed the baron. You can let the others go.”

“The baroness must answer to charges of treason.”

Elena whipped her head around to stare at Kat. “She’s a fuckin’ baroness? I just thought she was a bitch.”

Katherine frosted. “‘Hostage’ would have been a more accurate title,” she said. “And I am not a traitor.”

The captain shook his head and stood. “That’s not for me to decide, your grace.”

I managed to pull myself to my feet. The world spun a time or two before coming to rest; I was leaning heavily on Elena. My tunic was caked with deep red mud. “You’re in no shape to fight those two,” I said, gesturing to Bags and Kat. “Not after the beating you all took last night. Take the victory you can. You’ve got the man who cut the baron’s throat, the body of a Soul Thief, and Elena, whom the King will want protected.”

The captain considered, and nodded. “I place you under arrest in the name of the King,” he said. “Please surrender your weapon.” He was very careful to emphasize the singular.

“We surrender also,” Kat said. “On the condition that we are taken directly to the capital.”

I looked at Katherine in dismay. She smiled. “You didn’t think you could get rid of me that easily, did you?”

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Stupid Friday

January 15th, 2016
Those were the days!

When I moved out to California to leverage my Physics degree into a career in fast food, I lamented with my roommates that we just weren’t as stupid as we had been in our carefree college days. Back in the good ol’ days, we had thought nothing of the consequences of staying up all night, our eyeballs exploding from the mixture of caffeine and alcohol we ingested, peeing off sheer cliffs of crumbling rock, numbering the stars and toooooasting life, wearing 12-pack cartons as hats.

Now we were living in a city, and many nights we had to keep in mind the r-r-responsibilities of the coming day. Still, reluctant to let go of the golden days of youth, we came up with a plan. A simple, elegant plan called Stupid Friday.

It was a Friday, for instance, when I shaved the top of my head to go with the monk costume I wore to a Halloween party. On another Friday we got several liters of Mountain Dew, went to a local park, and played chip-chip hula hoop tennis ball golf long into the night. (One of our number was a master at building a fun game out of a pile of toys. A recreational MacGyver.)

Stupid Fridays were a resounding success, so it was not long before we expanded the franchise. Dumb Wednesday became a feature of our calendar, and then things really took off:

  • Moronic Monday
  • Futile Tuesday
  • Dumb Wednesday
  • ??? Thursday
  • Stupid Friday

I can’t for the life of me remember what we named Thursday, but it was one of the earlier additions to our calendar, as it was only slightly more stupid than Friday. Dumb Wednesday’s name was inspired at least in part by the movie Big Wednesday, which I remember fondly and wonder now how I’d like it. Futile Tuesday has a nice ring to it, and Moronic Monday is what it is. Maybe another alumnus of the EmmaDome can remember Thursday’s moniker.

I still invoke Stupid Friday now and again, and even Dumb Wednesday. Life is too short to be r-r-responsible all the time.

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Observations Observations

Bowie Thoughts

January 14th, 2016
Rambling reflections on the death of an artist.

Ziggy-Stardust-ziggy-stardust-8526918-497-584By now pretty much everything there is to be said about David Bowie has been, but sometimes sorrow, like wine, needs a little time to mature. David Bowie was never my favorite musician, and some of his songs don’t appeal to me much at all. Others, well…

I got Ziggy Stardust on cassette in the Safeway in Socorro, New Mexico, and while I’d heard plenty of Bowie before, and I’d even heard some of the songs on that album, I’d never immersed myself in his music the way I did as I played that tape at high volume while I drove across the desert. Big, buzzy guitars, lyrics that didn’t quite make sense in a poetic sort of way, all wrapped up in showmanship.

Many years later, I wrote a story that opens with a man in a spaceship, floating far above the world, a story I called “Tin Can.” Was I thinking of “Space Oddity” as I wrote it? Not really. But the song was there, part of my science fiction education, a story about loneliness as much as anything else. It’s a vibe that you can find in most of my favorite stories. There’s a little bit of Major Tom in all my favorite heroes.

My guilty pleasure: “China Girl”. I don’t hear that one mentioned in the eulogies that have sprouted up everywhere. Perhaps it just landed at the right time in my life, or perhaps I’m the only one on Earth with the taste and sophistication to appreciate it. That song’s kissin’ cousin, “Let’s Dance,” really doesn’t do much for me.

Recently, semi-accidentally, my sweetie and I watched Labyrinth. It’s… not very good. It sounds like all the dialog was re-recorded in the studio and without any regard for the environment the action was taking place in. Mr. Bowie, well, he does not succeed in rescuing the show. But I’m glad I watched. It was the last time I will experience David Bowie without the knowledge that he is gone, without wondering what he might do next.

And so we move on, flying through space, looking for something, not sure what, that was here a minute ago but doesn’t seem to be where we left it. That’s the hole we didn’t even know David Bowie was filling. He’s still here, of course, but everything he did is now tinged a little blue.

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Pretty Badass…

January 13th, 2016

I just put the following comment in my code:

// now SHIT GETS REAL

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The Great Adventure The Great Adventure

Road Trip Coming!

January 11th, 2016
We're loading up and heading out!

Draw a rough rectangle anchored in California, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Washington, and you have an idea the route we’ll be taking sometime early next Summer. Sound vague? It is! (Though I prefer the term “flexible”.)

There will be three of us in the vehicle — pilot, navigator, and small dog. I want to keep the miles on any given day reasonably short, stopping at many rest areas to let the small dog sniff things and for photo opportunities I’ve driven through in the past. Unfortunately that means we won’t be able so stay in any one place terribly long.

That rectangle intersects many old friends, and some of the best sights the western United States has to offer. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this trip. Those in the path of our march will be hearing from us as plans solidify.

Road Trip! Wooooo!

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Rumblings from the Secret Labs Rumblings from the Secret Labs

Back to 28: A Heck of a Security Hole in Linux

January 8th, 2016
Whoops! A seemingly-minor oversight leads to some serious trouble.

In December of 2008, some guy made a change to a program used by almost every flavor of Linux, and he (probably he, anyway), made a simple mistake. The program is called Grub2, and it’s the part that manages the user password business. For seven years it was broken.

It turns out that due to careless programming, hitting the backspace key could cause Grub2 to clear a very important chunk of memory. Normally this would cause the machine to reboot, but if you hit the backspace key exactly 28 times, it will reboot in the rescue shell, a special feature to allow admins access to the computer when things are fairly badly broken.

In the rescue shell, one can perform all sorts of mischief on a machine, including installing spyware or just deleting everything. Yep, walk up to (almost) any Linux box, hit the backspace key 28 times, press return, and blammo. Its undies are around its ankles.

Worse, a long sequence of backspaces and characters can write all kinds of stuff into this critical memory area. Pretty much anything an attacker wants to write. Like, a little program.

Since, (as far as I know) the attacker has to have physical access to the machine to press the keys or attach a device that can send a more complex key sequence automatically, most of the world’s Linux-based infrastructure is not directly at risk — as long as the Linux machines people use to control the vast network are well-protected.

The emergency patches have been out for a couple of weeks now, so if you use Linux please make sure you apply it. The change comes down to this: If there’s nothing typed, ignore the backspace key. Magical!

You can read more about it from the guys who found it: Back to 28: Grub2 Authentication 0-Day. It’s pretty interesting reading. The article gets steadily more technical, but you can see how a seemingly-trivial oversight can escalate to dire consequences.

The lesson isn’t that Linux sucks and we should all use OpenBSD (which is all about security), but it’s important to understand that we rely on millions and millions of lines of code to keep us safe and secure. Millions and millions of lines of code, often contributed for the greater good without compensation by coders we hope are competent, and not always reviewed with the skeptical eye they deserve. Nobody ever asked “what if cur_len is less than zero?”

The infamous Heartbleed was similar. Nobody asked the critical questions.

Millions and millions of lines of code. There are more problems out there, you can bank on that.

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Get-Poor-Quick Schemes Get-Poor-Quick Schemes

The Class Action Channel

January 8th, 2016
Filed under get-poor-quick, but...

Sometime back in the dark ages a friend came back from Japan and said, “They have a TV channel there that is only advertising! People tune in just to watch ads!”

I was befuddled. In the United States, that tradition was, back then, reserved for the Super Bowl. (Hm… maybe not even then. This was before 1984.)

Now of course we have QVC, an enormously successful company that has television channels devoted simply to advertising. And people watch.

But that’s product advertising. Unscientifically, I thing half the ads I blip past fall into two categories: new medical therapies (mostly drugs), and law firms suing companies for the side effects of the new medical therapies.

With all those dollars being spent, and the country getting older and frankly more cranky, doesn’t it make sense to have the Class Action Channel? “Call in the next fifteen minutes to get in on the ground floor of this major lawsuit! Lyon and Lyin’ have a proven history of corporate blackmail, but you only benefit if you sign up before the settlement. And for the next five minutes we’ll add a bonus Lyon and Lyin’ mouse pad, even if you’re not qualified for the settlement!”

It’s gonna happen.

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Stories Stories

TFNIWLNW: 11

January 7th, 2016
As we staggered out of Mountain Forge the sun came out for the first time since I had arrived. Each step that separated us from that weeping sore of a town was easier than the one that came before, as if I had somehow been steadily getting heavier there and hadn’t realized it.

I took a long breath. The air was sweeter than it had been since I killed the baron. The road wound down and down beneath our feet for several miles before disappearing into the tree line. We had no food, no shelter, no money. The problems I fled would catch me soon enough. But for the moment, the illusion of freedom lifted my step and eased the ache of my cracked ribs.

Elena’s face was etched with fatigue, but her spirits were high. And why wouldn’t they be? She was leaving something bad behind, and ahead lay the unknown. I wish, sometimes, that I could remember what it was like when I was young and the unknown was exciting.

We were not moving quickly. However remarkable my recovery had been, I was still far from well, and Elena’s long night had taken its toll on her stamina. “She’s going to catch up to us,” I said to Elena.

“The fucking princess?”

“Katherine. Yes.”

Elena scowled. “Maybe the bitch’ll follow the wrong fucking trail,” she said.

“Not Katherine.” I looked up at the sky. “There’s some thrice-damned, ill-begot plan she wants me to be part of.”

“Why you?”

“It’s either my sunny disposition or the fact that I’m pretty good at killing people.”

“Is it true what Mrkl told those sorry-ass motherfuckers? That you could have killed them all?”

I didn’t answer right away, just concentrated on my footing over a stretch of road with loose rock. “It’s happened before. Mrkl was there once.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” she said after a few more careful steps. “A couple of the motherfuckers weren’t so bad.” I wondered if she included her uncle in that list.

The sun had passed overhead and was descending behind us when we reached the trees. Just inside the tree line I sat on a stone to rest. My ribs were aching and breathing was getting difficult. I leaned back against a tree, trying to find a position where inhaling didn’t hurt so much. Unsuccessful, I looked back up the mountain. No sign of pursuit. I allowed myself a moment of hope that the woman had given up on me.

After a quiet moment Elena said, “We should keep going.”

I looked over at her and I wasn’t sure she’d be able to stand. She sat with her back against a tree, eyes closed, one slender arm across her knees and the other forgotten at her side. “You think your Uncle is coming after you?” I asked. I looked back up the road and wondered if I was well enough to kill the man.

She looked down at the ground, then back up at me, her eyes round, tears collecting at the edges. “Please can we go? Just a little farther?”

I pulled myself carefully to my feet; she found a burst of energy and rushed to my side to steady me. I put my hand on her shoulder and gave it a squeeze, and tried for a reassuring smile. “The farther we get from that piss hole, the happier I am,” I said.

That night we ate berries. A handful each. Delicious, bitter and sweet that turned our tongues blue, but not enough. The cloudless sky meant the night would be cold. I sent Elena to gather wood and prepared my tinder. A fire would be a beacon for those looking for us, but I was under no illusion that we had done anything to hinder a competent tracker. The only mystery was why we hadn’t been caught already.

We pulled close to the fire, and to each other, and as we sat in that glow I felt stronger. When Elena’s uncle found us, I was sure I’d be able to handle him.

“How are you feeling?” Elena asked. In the firelight her eyes were vast and dark, and hard to read.

“Better,” I said.

She nodded and turned to stare fixedly at the fire. The joy of freedom had already given way to a new fear I couldn’t put my finger on.

“We’ll be all right,” I said. “Those sons of four-legged mothers back there won’t be hurting you any more.”

“They’re not the ones who frighten me,” she said.

“You mean Katherine? She probably wants to spill my steaming entrails out onto the virgin forest floor, but she won’t do anything to you.”

Elena just stared into the fire. I thought the conversation was finished when she asked, “Do you think you could kill a Soul Thief?”

Three consecutive sentences without profanity. This was not the time to take her question lightly. “I don’t know,” I said. “They have to bleed, though.”

She nodded. “The day you came in, and you said you admired my fucking use of the fucking language. I fucking made a wish.” A tear caught the light of the fire as it rolled down her cheek. “I wished for this. For you to take me away from there.”

“And your wish came true.”

She nodded, crying steadily now. “I didn’t mean for you to get fucking hurt, though.”

I put my hand on her shoulder in a way I hoped would be comforting. At some time in every child’s life they are certain they have performed some feat of magic and are about to be taken by the Soul Thieves. Of course, they are wrong, but there’s no sense fighting the certainty; time will take care of that. “I don’t think what happened back there was magic,” I said. “It sure didn’t feel that way to me, anyhow.” She started to speak but I held up a finger. “But if it was magic, and they come for you, I’ll stand between them and you as long as I am able.” It was an easy promise to make, but I meant it absolutely.

“Tomorrow we have to go a long way,” she said. “So they can’t find us. After tonight I’ll stop wishing you better.”

I paused before replying. Say what you want about my mother’s people, we are one and all very difficult to kill. Pain does not slow us as much as it does others, and the injuries we suffer heal quickly. But I had plenty of reasons to put more distance between us and Mountain Forge as well. I smiled into her worried eyes. The discoloration from her most recent injuries was fading, but her lip was still swollen and angry. “Tomorrow the miles will fly beneath our feet, and when next we rest not even the eagles will know where we are.”

In that silence I glanced sideways at Elena and saw that she was asleep where she sat. I put another branch into our campfire and it flared up, snapping and sparking. Elena slept right through it. I sat next to her and wrapped my cloak around both of us, wondering when Katherine would finally catch up to us and bring us some godfucked soup. She was probably leaving us out here to freeze our asses off to teach me some sort of lesson.

I was starting to nod off when the sound of hoofbeats snapped me back awake. Several horses, heavy, mounted, no wagons. Military, but no foot soldiers. Most likely a routine visit to Mountain Forge, but they would bring word of a murder that had happened far to the south, along with a description of Bags and likely Katherine as well. Having that bunch between Katherine and me was almost too good to hope for.

The horses were moving slowly, guided only by moonlight. I sat as still as possible and pushed dirt over the glowing embers of the fire, but it was the wind that shifted and betrayed us, carrying the scent of burning pine back to the road. Someone issued a terse command and the riders came to a halt.

“Remain where you are,” a voice called out. “Identify yourselves.”

Elena started awake. “Oh!” she cried out, startled.

“We are just weary travelers,” I said. I stood and added a branch to what was left of the campfire. I heard the captain deploy his men, reminding them that we might be a decoy so poachers could ambush them or escape. Thus cautioned, it took a few minutes for the captain and two of his men to reach us, and the fire was lively once more. He looked at the two of us and took in the lack of shelter or evidence of food.

“You are trespassing,” he said. “This wood belongs to our Lord Fairmont. Taking game here is forbidden.”

“We are guilty of taking some of his Lordship’s berries,” I said. “Nothing else.”

“How come ye to be here?”

“The filthy buggers stole me,” Elena said. “Right from my father’s stoop. It was…” Elena looked away and took a breath. “They took me to Mountain Forge to work as a fuckin’ whore. Fuckin’ slave. They throw the dead ones out behind the fucking brothel for the fucking animals to eat. My father came and saved me.” She took my hand.

“Looks like you paid the price,” the captain said to me. I imagine my face was not looking its finest. “Jonesey, let’s camp here. I don’t want to take the road up to the Forge in the dark. And get these folks some supper.”

While we sat still, a small camp sprung up around us. Our meal was welcome but not without a price, as the captain asked us more questions about how Elena had been kidnapped how I had managed to secure her freedom again. I let her answer. The names she gave I had no doubt were worthy of the soldiers’ attention. Yet it wasn’t long before he got to the question he really wanted to ask, and her other answers were forgotten. “Did you good people happen to notice a big man, probably twenty-five years old, blonde hair, with his front teeth knocked out?”

“There was one sack of sorrow with boils on his pecker that had these two teeth missing.” She pointed to the side of her mouth, on top. “And another guy whose teeth were black and smelled like vulture cum. His breath was fucking so bad it made me puke.” Some of the soldiers chuckled at her choice of words.

“The one we’re looking for had all his front teeth missing. He was traveling with a woman, and probably another man as well.”

Elena shrugged. “Don’t think so. But I only saw the pig-fuckers that came to the brothel.” A few more laughs.

“And you, sir?” the captain asked me. I shook my head.

“What’d he do?” Elena asked.

“He killed a very important man. He is very dangerous. If you do see him, be sure to tell someone right away. There is a substantial reward, offered by the King himself.”

Elena’s eyes lit up. “I hope we do see the piece of shit fuckbag.”

“I don’t,” I said. “I’ve had enough trouble for one lifetime.”

The captain laughed. “Your father is a wise man, young lady.” By then he knew just how much of a lady she was.

The interview was over, but the soldiers lingered around Elena, asking questions that invited colorful responses. “That son of a whore fucked by three bulls while the cows watched can suck my big toe,” was my personal favorite. Complex, but worth parsing.

I felt the mood of the camp shift as the hardened men of the patrol adopted Elena as one of their own. She enjoyed it also; it was a sort of respect she had never known in Mountain Forge.

Eventually we were laying wrapped in blankets that belonged to us now, apparently, on a bed of pine needles. Elena dropped back to sleep again, and slowly the camp quieted. I was exhausted, but I forced myself to stay awake, though perfectly still, looking up at the stars between the treetops. Up here, they seemed closer, and numerous beyond counting.

The next day the soldiers would arrive in Mountain Forge. It would not be long before they learned about Bags and Kat, and not long after that before they heard about me, and they would hear that Mrkl was my friend. If they stopped to torture Mrkl before coming after us it would buy us a little time, but they would probably save that for later.

In the end, there was only one thing for me to do. I took a breath, put the best blades for the job in each hand, and started to rise.

Her tiny hand rested on my forearm. “Please don’t,” she said.

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

The Internet of Shit

January 5th, 2016

Maybe you’ve heard about this whole “Internet of Things” thing. It is ultimately a pretty cool idea, where all the gadgets in your life talk to each other and just work better.

Exhibit A in the IoT revolution is your thermostat. You can now have a device in your house that learns from your behavior, and (maybe in a couple of years) only heats the rooms your family is using. Sweet!

But… if the internet goes down, you freeze to death. Or bake. And the kid next door with the gadget that breaks your thermostat protocol can really mess with your quality of life. Unlikely? Just ask owners of Samsung smart refrigerators. Goddam fridges have been hacked.

Brief aside: Apple’s home automation system, HomeKit, has been slow to catch on because the strict security and privacy requirements are a burden for your local fridge manufacturer.

So, the burning question is, “why do those gadgets need to be connected to the Internet to be smart?”

Does my thermostat need to be connected to the Internet (and therefore be vulnerable to mischief) to adapt to my habits? The answer is a resounding no. It will be cool when my home control systems talk to each other, but the Internet is completely unnecessary.

The Internet of Things is a sham to rip you off, and will disable your home whenever Comcast has another outage. What those guys promise can be better, and more privately, accomplished with a little local network of things. You might call it an Intranet of Things. That’s actually pretty exciting. A home network, controlled by the homeowner, entirely self-contained, that adapts to the residents’ habits. It would have happened already if Google didn’t want data on your behavior.

All the players, Apple, Google, Amazon, and the *ahem* even less credible players are trying to create the protocols that will run your home. Nest is now owned by Google, which means that a company whose entire revenue stream is based on knowing all about you now knows when you’re home, what rooms you’re in when you’re home, and can choose at any time to turn on a camera to see what you’re doing. Yikes.

Amazon recently came out with a Siri alternative, a piece of hardware that sits in your home and listens to everything you say and based on Amazon’s software chooses what to send to the mother ship for analysis.

Once upon a time, Science Fiction was filled with helper intelligences. In those stories folks could ask questions into the air and the house intelligence would answer. Now we’re close to having those intelligences in real life, but with a critical difference: In SiFi there were as many helpers as there were people; your AI pal was yours and yours alone. In the immediate future there will be AI helpers, but there will only be four of them and they will serve their corporate masters first. Every question you ask will be duly recorded and used to profit from you.

Back to the microphone in your house. Even if Amazon’s intentions are pure, what happens when a federal agent with a dubious writ shows up on their doorstep and says, “we want to hear everything spoken in that house.” The microphone is there. The connection is there. The constitution has already been buggered to allow it.

That’s not limited to Amazon, and not limited to audio. Siri, Cortana, Xbox. Some are, perhaps, more trustworthy than others. Google makes money selling information about you. Apple makes money selling you stuff. Amazon makes money selling you information. All have to live under the laws of the United States.

Shortly I will share with you just how much of your personal information has already been stolen. In the meantime, please don’t make it easy for the assholes. Don’t buy a thermostat that for some reason needs the Internet to operate.

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Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

The One Thing that will Make You Healthy

January 4th, 2016
A hundred new diets, a hundred ONE THINGs to unlock health and happiness.

There’s a guy out there right now flogging a diet book, who, along with a few poignant anecdotes, points to scientific studies which show that foods that cause your blood sugar to spike lead to more organ fat. The one and only thing you need to do to be healthy is eat more veggies and nuts, and avoid sugar and white flour.

Another diet says (pretty much) if you eat a lot of fat, your body will learn to burn fat.

There are plenty of other diets that show that fewer carbs, or less fat, or whatever, will lead you to the better life you’ve been craving. Each of those diets will claim to be based on science, and delve into insulin, glucose, neurotransmitters, and so on.

Each diet says there’s ONE THING you have to do to be healthy. Well, mainly one thing, but it doesn’t hurt to adopt other healthy habits as well.

Some of the diets are downright contradictory, but they all claim to have science on their side. How can this be?

There’s something remarkably cool going on, right now: In the last fifteen years we’ve learned a lot of really interesting stuff about how the body responds to the food we eat and even the mechanisms that make us feel hungry in the first place. If nutrition and health is a puzzle, we are finally getting to understand what shape the pieces are. It is conceivable that in a couple more decades we’ll have a pretty good look at what the puzzle actually looks like.

In the meantime, folks with medical degrees are choosing individual pieces of that puzzle and they are selling them as a complete answer. They’re not wrong, really, but they are absolutely overselling the facts. Activity X leads to hormone Y and therefore you get fat.

A scientific survey of the experiments testing the diets, which, alas, I can no longer find the link to, discovered an interesting thread: All the diets, when carefully followed, were beneficial, and none of the diets was clearly better than any of the others.

In the end, it came down to the same thing your mother told you when you were a kid: eat more veggies, and get more exercise. You just didn’t know at the time that you mother was that far ahead of science.

The one thing you can do to be healthier? Listen to your mother.