Posts by Dr. Boli

PARODY OR NOT?

It’s time to play everybody’s favorite game, “Parody or Not?”—a spinoff of the game that is inexplicably also everybody’s favorite, “Let’s Mock a Wikipedia Article Without Bothering to Improve It.” In today’s round, we quote a section from the Wikipedia article “Carthago delenda est” (quoted here under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License), and you, our readers, decide: Parody or not?

Grammatical Analysis

The phrase employs delenda, the feminine singular gerundive form of the verb dēlēre (“to destroy”).[1] The gerundive (or future passive participle) delenda is a verbal adjective that may be translated as “to be destroyed”. When combined with a form of the verb esse (“to be”), it adds an element of compulsion or necessity, yielding “is to be destroyed”, or, as it is more commonly rendered, “must be destroyed”. The gerundive delenda functions as a predicative adjective in this construction,[2] which is known as the passive periphrastic.

The short form of the phrase, Carthago delenda est, is an independent clause. Consequently, the feminine singular subject noun Carthago appears in the nominative case.[3] The verb est[i] functions as a copula—linking the subject noun Carthago to the predicative verbal adjective delenda—and further imports a deontic modality to the clause as a whole.[4] Because delenda is a predicative adjective in relation to the subject noun Carthago, it takes the same number (singular), gender (feminine) and case (nominative) as Carthago.[5]

The fuller forms Ceterum censeo delendam esse Carthaginem and Ceterum autem censeo delendam esse Carthaginem use the so-called accusative and infinitive construction for the indirect statement. In each of these forms, the verb censeo (“I opine”) sets up the indirect statement delendam esse Carthaginem (“[that] Carthage is to be destroyed”).[6] Carthaginem, the subject of the indirect statement, is in the accusative case; while the verb esse is in its present infinitive form. Delendam is a predicate adjective in relation to the subject noun Carthaginem and thus takes the same number (singular); gender (feminine); and case (accusative) as Carthaginem.[7]

Now you decide. Did someone think this was a necessary and useful addition to the article? Or did it occur to some Wikipedia editor that it would be an amusing jab at Wikipedians’ notorious pedantry to spin three fairly long paragraphs of “grammatical analysis” out of three words in Latin? Parody or not?

THE GODPROOF ROOM.

A TALE OF THE FAR FUTURE.

Part Two.

Continuing the story that began here.

I was walking through a leafy forest with Rahab on my arm, and I was just explaining to her that the crocodiles along the path were tame ones and nothing to worry about when one of the crocodiles jumped up and said, “I’ve got it!”

“What have you got?” I asked the crocodile, but suddenly the forest was filled with blinding light, and Rahab and the crocodile vanished.

“I’ve got the answer,” Wright said. He had turned on the overhead light. “They can think it, but they can’t say it.”

“Who can… What?” I was angry now, because I had been having a good time with Rahab in the crocodile forest.

“ ‘Not the thought but the word condemns the speaker.’ That’s in Wit & Wisdom 12:9. And ‘Who can stop a passing thought? But God takes account of deeds.’ Book of Jane 5:14. It’s all through the Primary Testament. Their God can hear what you say, but he can’t monitor thoughts. See, they could think what they wanted, but they couldn’t tell me, or God would hold them accountable. That’s the answer.”

“I think that’s the question,” I grumbled.

“It’s the answer,” he repeated. “All they need is some way to communicate and make decisions without God finding out about it.”

“So you woke me up to tell me you’re going to pull the wool over God’s eyes? And how do you propose to do that?”

“Oh, that’s simple. It’s all in here.” He waved the Primary Testament under my nose. “We can get started right away.”

“No we can’t,” I said.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s the middle of the night!” I yanked the blanket over my head and turned away. “And I want to get back to my dream about Rahab.”

“You mean the deaconess?” There was a pause, during which I could hear the heavy machinery in Wright’s brain changing subjects. “You don’t mean that you’re—”

I sat up and tore the blanket off my face. “I very much am,” I said.

“But you won’t get anywhere with her.”

“Now look here.” I leaned toward him and punched a finger right into his chest. “You’re not going to keep me from the love of my life. Not this time. You got away with it with Rebecca and that woman on Pevunghia whose name escapes me at the moment, but you’re not going to get away with it now. Do you understand me? You will not interfere this time!”

“I just thought—”

“Listen!” If my finger could have drilled straight through to his heart, it would have. “You will promise not to say another word to me about Rahab, do you hear me? Not one more word. You will not interfere this time. If you can’t agree to that, then I resign effective now. Do you understand me?”

“Perfectly,” he replied.

I expected him to put up more of a fight. I expected to have to repeat my threat more than once. But I was glad I’d stuck up for myself. I was not about to lose another love of my life to Wright’s machinations.

He continued: “I suppose I’ll go back and make some sketches. You can sleep, and we’ll get started when you’re ready.”

He left, and I lay back down.

“Lights out,” I said.

But of course there was no voice control in that primitive Bethelite hovel, so I had to get out of bed and push the button.

I woke up the next morning quite late. It was about ten local time, and Wright never lets me sleep in past seven when we’re on a job. I had, for just a moment, an irrational fear that something might have happened to him, and simultaneously an irrational hope that something might have happened to him. But since he was nowhere to be found in the guest house, and I didn’t know my way around the settlement well enough to go looking for him, I decided that I wouldn’t worry too much about him. So I went into the tiny kitchen for a hot breakfast, which I didn’t have because the oven didn’t work.

Wright came in about an hour later, and he walked right past me without saying a word. That’s not unusual, but the fact that it was normal didn’t mean I wasn’t annoyed by it. He sat in the wicker chair, picked up his sketch pad, and started drawing some doodle with his finger (he lost the stylus years ago). And of course I waited till he was really concentrating on something or other before I decided to interrupt him. I never said I wasn’t petty.

“Been busy?” I asked in an unnecessarily loud voice.

“Oh, you’re here,” he replied with such apparently genuine surprise that I wondered whether he had actually forgotten he had brought me with him. “What do you know about architecture? You’re not an architect, are you?”

“No,” I answered quite truthfully.

“Didn’t think you’d be any use. I need to bring in an architect, too, then.”

“What do you want with an architect?”

“We need to build a Godproof room for the council and the treasury. God doesn’t like it if you get too rich, either, so they need a Godproof treasury.”

Now, I’m used to hearing Wright spout utter nonsense like that, so I have a standard default response prepared, which is sarcasm. “So you think you can just call up an architect and say, ‘I need one of your Godproof rooms, please, the standard model will be fine, and could you have that ready by Tuesday?’ I don’t think you’ll find many architects who can design one for you.”

“I don’t expect the architect to design it. I’m going to design it. I just need the architect to make sure the structure doesn’t fall down. —Here, this is something you can take care of. Get me an architect and a bunch of builders and equipment to make a building roughly like this. Send this sketch and tell them the details aren’t negotiable. Get them on a fast cruiser and have them here in two days standard.”

I stared at him for a long moment. “And who’s paying for all this?” I asked at last.

“Oh, the Council will pay. It’s all worked out. I met with the special committee this morning and told them I could solve their problem if I could build something like this.”

I looked down at his sketch pad. “They’ll think you’re mad, you know. The architect and builders. They’ll think you’ve lost your mind.”

“Why would they think that?” he asked. And it was a sincere question.

•  •  •

“Your employer is mad, you know,” the first architect I got in touch with told me.

“I don’t doubt it,” I replied. “Can you do it?”

“I’d rather clean toilets than have my name attached to this,” she said.

“We could let you do both,” I suggested, and she broke the connection.

The sixth architect I tried was down on her luck and agreed to take on the project as long as I promised to keep her involvement a secret. “He’s mad, you know,” she said, “but I need the money.”

“Glad to hear it. An architect who needs money is just what we want.” And that was it: we agreed to the arrangements, and she was on her way with as many construction workers as she could round up in a few hours.

Meanwhile, there was the lovely Rahab to cultivate.

“They certainly know their baskets,” I told her as we watched the thrilling action in the basket-weaving shop. Wright had refused all sightseeing tours (“Why would I want to do that?” he demanded, which I interpreted for Rahab as “He’s very busy”), and that left me free to spend as much time with Rahab as I liked, at least until the workers arrived and we could start building Wright’s folly. The trouble was that she insisted on showing me the sights when we went sightseeing, whereas the only sight worth seeing in the whole place was Rahab. I didn’t want a tour of the basket shop or the agricultural research center (where they were experimenting with three different kinds of dirt) or the sewage treatment plant or the chapels or even Founder’s Hill, a high rock from which we had an excellent view of the lower rocks. The only tour I wanted was a tour of Rahab, every hill and valley and all the secret places. But to get to that point I would have to show an interest in whatever she thought I should be interested in, which is why I ended up holding up a basket and saying, with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, “Now that’s a basket.”

“We had to create an artificial marsh to grow reeds,” Rahab explained with obvious civic pride. “There’s no native growth that’s suitable for weaving.”

“Rahab, what do people do for fun around here?”

“We have games,” she said a bit tentatively. “It’s Tertiary Testament Trivia night at the South Chapel.”

“That might be a little too exciting for me. I mean, what do people do when they want to, you know, get to know each other?”

“I guess they go somewhere and talk.”

“Rahab,” I said in a lower voice, “would you like to go somewhere and talk?”

She looked into my eyes, and it seemed to me that she saw my desire there. “All right,” she said after a moment.

Things were definitely heading in the right direction.

It was late afternoon, and the orange sun was low in the violet sky as we left the streets of dumpy buildings and walked out into the desert, past a few irrigated fields and into the endless rocks. With the long shadows and orange light, even the lumpish beige rocks of Bethel could be almost picturesque. It was as close to a romantic setting as we could get, so I started to turn up the romance.

“You look beautiful with the sun in your hair.”

“ ‘God sees the beauty of a faithful soul,’ ” she replied almost automat­ically. “Aphorisms 26:39.”

“And I see the beauty of the body that carries the soul. God created you very beautiful, Rahab. He must be very proud of his work.”

“ ‘The beauty of the eye passes away like the dew.’ Wit & Wisdom 3:7.”

“But surely that’s all the more reason to enjoy it while we have it. A drop of dew may be gone in an hour, but what a world of sparkling loveliness God gives us in that drop! Should we not enjoy it just because it will be gone soon?”

“But certain kinds of beauty, like— like the beauty of a strong young man, can lead us to… immoral behavior.”

“Surely God made that beauty to be enjoyed.” I could see the longing in her eyes, and I decided then and there that this prize was worth the ultimate sacrifice. “Rahab, I can’t help it if I look at you with desire. But I’m willing to play by the rules and devote my life to you.” I fell on my knees in front of her, badly bruising one knee on a rock I hadn’t noticed. “Rahab, my beautiful, incomparable Rahab, will you be my wife?”

•  •  •

I stormed into the guest house, slammed the door, and stopped in front of Wright in the wicker chair.

“You knew!” I bellowed at him.

“What did I know?” he asked with exaggerated innocence and an unforgivably smug expression.

“You know perfectly well what you knew! Deaconesses are celibate! It’s in that Primary Testament thing!”

“Rules & Regulations 9:16: ‘For the deaconess is—’ ”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You told me not to,” he said very calmly.

“What gave you an idiot idea like that?”

“ ‘You will promise not to say another word to me about Rahab, do you hear me? Not one more word!’ ”

I stared at him, boiling with rage and incapable of any reply, because he had given me not only a verbatim recitation of what I had said, but also a very good imitation of my tone of voice.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get anywhere with her,” he continued quite calmly, “but I did tell you that would happen.”

He had told me, hadn’t he? For some reason that made me even more furious. “This is not a defeat,” I said, setting my jaw in the steely-determination position. “This is a challenge. And I accept the challenge.”

“Good. It will give you something to occupy your mind while we work on the construction tomorrow.”

I stormed off to my bedroom, where I sat on the bed in the dark for a while, fuming. I refused to give Wright this victory. I knew a thing or two about women, and I could tell Rahab was susceptible. I would just have to keep pushing, that was all. Religion is all very well, but I relied on her deepest human urges. She might be a deaconess, but she was a woman first. And a woman was something I knew how to work with. I sat and rubbed my bruised knee and schemed.

•  •  •

The architect and builders arrived in the middle of the next morning, and of course I had to sit in on the architect’s first meeting with Wright, if only to keep her from murdering him. I wanted that pleasure for myself.

“You have columns here,” she said, pointing to Wright’s enlarged drawing on the wall of the guest house.

“Yes,” he agreed.

“And you have a wall outside them.”

“Yes.”

“And a wall inside them.”

“Yes.”

“So you have columns that no one will ever see.”

“That is correct.”

“Then why do you have columns? It’s perfectly easy to hold up the roof with the wall. Why columns?”

“They’re a fence to keep God out.”

She looked at him blankly for a moment, and then asked, “Can I get my whole fee in advance?”

“No,” Wright answered.

There was a brief pause, and then she continued.

“Now, you’ve specified concrete, but it would be much more economical to use native stone, don’t you think? There’s an infinite supply of it, and we’ve brought the cutters for it, and I—”

“It’s got to be concrete,” Wright told her, “because of the sand bugs.”

“Ah, yes, the sand bugs. What exactly are sand bugs? Is that some sort of reinforcement system?”

Wright turned to me. “Hey, um…”

“Pulaski,” I filled in for him.

“Right. Go out and get me a couple of sand bugs.”

I was about to argue with him, but I realized no good would come of that. So I went over to the little kitchen and found a heavy cup and saucer (all the pottery the Bethelites made was crude heavy stoneware) and took it out past Wright and the architect, who were arguing over the interior color scheme of the treasury section, and out into the warm midday sun. Sand bugs, huh? They were everywhere, except when you were looking for them. I was so engrossed in looking for sand bugs that I was quite surprised when I found Rahab instead.

“Oh—hello,” I said, standing up (I had been kneeling and staring very intently at the sand). “I’m looking for sand bugs.” I realized immediately that there was no way to say that and sound sane.

“Sand bugs?” The doubt of my sanity was unambiguously expressed in her tone of voice.

“Mr. Wright needs a couple of them.”

“Oh,” she said, and it was clear that the reputation of the great genius Wright answered all questions. “If he wants to start a colony, he’ll need all three sexes.”

“I don’t think he wants a colony.”

“Look in the shade next to the house,” she suggested. “They look for somewhere cool this time of day.”

Rahab was right. It took me a moment to see them, because they’re the same color as the sand, but the shady spot on the southwest side of the house was crawling with sand bugs. They’re little five-legged things, radially symmetrical, about the size of my thumbnail, and they can move pretty fast when they’re motivated. But after a few tries I had two of them in the cup, with the saucer as a lid to keep them in.

“Thank you for the help,” I told her, with my patented eye contact-and-light-smile combination that was meant to suggest much more than I actually said.

It seemed to be working. She looked a bit flustered.

“I— I came to ask you if you’d like, if you’re not busy I mean, if you’d like a tour of the pumping station after evening prayer.”

“I’d—” I stopped. She could do things with her eyes, too, and they were sending a clear message. “I’d love a tour of the pumping station,” I said. It was a close thing: I’d been about to tell her, although probably in politer terms, that I’d rather eat live sand bugs. But I could see in her eyes that she was much more interested in being somewhere with me than in playing tour guide.

“Um,” she began hesitantly, and then got up the courage for her question. “Is it true that you and Mr. Wright are building a room to keep God out?”

“I’m not supposed to answer that question,” I told her. “The special committee told Mr. Wright that he wasn’t supposed to tell anybody about it.”

“Oh,” she said. But she had got the answer clearly enough. “Well, then…I’ll see you after evening prayer. I’ll stop by here.”

As she left, I thought how relieved I was that she didn’t expect me to do any actual praying.

When I brought the sand bugs back in, I set them in their cup in front of the architect, the saucer still on top. “Sand bugs,” I announced.

She lifted the saucer and immediately dropped it again. “Ew!” was her only remark.

“What we need to know,” Wright explained, “is how many of those we can embed per cubic meter without seriously weakening the concrete.”

“These things?” she asked. “In the concrete?”

At this point I stopped paying attention to the conversation and daydreamed about Rahab instead.

She met me as scheduled, and we took our tour of the pumping station, which certainly looked like a pumping station to me. And it was delightful, because the machinery was entirely automatic, which meant that no one worked there, which meant that we were alone. And after she had explained to me how the pumps worked (they worked like pumps), Rahab asked me,

“John, why did you ask me to marry you?”

“Because I loved you,” I answered simply.

“But of course now that you know that deaconesses—”

“I still love you,” I told her, and I gave her the eye contact.

She smiled briefly. “Of course it’s impossible. But…”

I waited, still focusing on her eyes.

“But,” she continued at last, “no one has ever looked at me the way you do.”

“Rahab, I could spend my life looking at you.”

She stared into my eyes with a hint of moisture in her own. At last she turned away.

“These are… These are valves,” she said, pointing to some valves.


Concludes in Part Three.

THE GODPROOF ROOM.

A TALE OF THE FAR FUTURE.

Part One.

Oh, sit back down. We have time for one more, don’t we? And while we finish it off, I can tell you the story of how Wright took on God and beat him. Or maybe he didn’t. To tell you the truth, I’m still not sure who won this round. But I can tell you the story, and you can judge for yourselves.

This one started with a message from the Council of Elders of the Theocratic Republic of Bethel, which I’d never heard of before, and I’ll bet you haven’t either. They offered quite a lot of money if Wright would solve their problem. But they wouldn’t say what the problem was. In fact, their message said quite specifically that they refused to tell us what the problem was.

So I was ready to file the message under “cranks” and send the standard rejection letter. But I wasn’t quick enough, or careful enough, or sneaky enough—however you want to look at it. Wright had seen the message over my shoulder, and he was intrigued for some reason.

“You don’t even know what the problem is,” I protested.

“Look—they addressed me as ‘Senator,’ ” he said, pointing out the word. “I like that. It shows proper respect.”

“That title’s only worth anything on Pevunghia,” I reminded him, “and you’ll probably never go back there. And don’t forget, I’m a Pevunghian senator, too.”

“Yes, but I’m the genius.”

“If you were smart enough to say more than ‘Problems Solved’ in your advertisements, you wouldn’t get messages from cranks like these.” I had looked them up while we were talking. “Look at this. The Theocratic Republic of Bethel is a haven for fanatics. It sounds like these Bethelites believe that pretty much everyone else in the universe is going to hell.”

“But they seem to have money.”

“Maybe they’re industrious. I’ll give them that. They probably think anyone who doesn’t work sixteen hours a day is going to hell on the express liner. Oh, look here—it says ‘large mineral reserves.’ That has to help. But look—they’re a hundred light years from anywhere. Why would you want to go to such a backwater?”

“It’s an interesting problem.”

“You don’t even know what the problem is!”

“That’s what makes it interesting.”

He was wearing that smugly blank expression of his, and suddenly it occurred to me that I must be wrong. “You do know what it is, don’t you?”

“Oh, not precisely,” he said. “But it’s perfectly obvious what kind of problem it must be.”

And that was all I could get out of him. So in two days we were off to the stickiest part of the sticks.

•  •  •

There are no regular liners to Bethel. The Council of Elders hired a grubby old charter for us, a tub that was built for commuter routes and had been very inexpertly converted for long-distance travel. I won’t catalogue the indignities we suffered. You can just add it to the long list of unpleasant voyages Wright has dragged me into. Just once I’d like somebody to have an insoluble problem at some five-star resort on the trunk line.

Wright spent the whole trip immersed in the Primary Testament, the Bethelite scriptures. It seems these Bethelites believe that there have been three great revelations in history. The first was to Moses et al. in what they call the Tertiary Testament, the second to Jesus Christ as described in the Secondary Testament, and the third to Wilbur C. McClusky. The three revelations ascend in importance, and the one to the prophet McClusky, being primary, includes the other two, or at least the greatest hits from the other two.

This was as much as I could be bothered to learn about Bethelite theology, and believe me even that was a slog. Wright kept trying to persuade me to read the Primary Testament, but I told him I’d rather stare straight ahead and pick at the peeling paint in the so-called stateroom if it was all the same to him.

“Did you know that God loathes a pillar?” Wright said, à propos of nothing.

“A pillar?”

“Column, pillar, whatever. God hates them. Domestics 3:14: ‘God loathes a pillar, and into a house with columns he will not enter.’ It’s in the Tertiary Testament, too. Deuteronomy 16:22: ‘Neither shalt thou set thee up a pillar, which the Lord thy God hateth.’ ”

“What good is a God with a pillar phobia?”

“He also hates sand bugs,” Wright added.

“I imagine I would, too. I don’t know what a sand bug is, but I already hate them just from the name.”

“There’s quite a list of things God hates in here. God seems to have strong opinions on architecture and interior design. Get them wrong, and God won’t have anything to do with you.”

“What’s got into you?” I asked him. “You don’t even believe in God.”

“Well, of course I do,” he replied.

This came as a complete surprise to me. “What? I’ve never seen you give any indication of it.”

“I believe in God as the most reasonable and parsimonious explanation of the phenomenon of existence. What else do you expect me to do? I leave God alone, and God leaves me alone, and I think we’re both perfectly happy with that arrangement.”

That, I suppose, is a complete statement of Wright’s theology.

I wasn’t in the best mood by the time we reached Bethel, which by the way has no station at all, so that the rusty old shuttle they sent up had to dock with us directly. That’s never a good sign. And the shuttle pilot was a taciturn half-deaf fellow who muttered to himself but would hardly say two words to us the whole way down. Perhaps he thought we were irredeemable heathens. He was probably right, but at least he could have been polite about it.

As we came down to the surface, my mood did not improve. The landscape was rocky—not colorful, picturesque rocks, but dull beige rocks, rocks that looked like they came in bulk from a discount rock outlet. A few scrubby patches of ill-tended earth vegetation only emphasized the ugly barrenness of the rest of the landscape. Obviously the Bethelites had got this section of the planet cheap because nobody else wanted it.

So I was all ready to make a miserable grump of myself as soon as Wright and I got to whatever grubby hovel the Bethelites had set aside for guests. I would wait that long because I’m always polite in public. One of us has to be polite, and from long experience I know it’s not going to be Wright.

But then the shuttle door opened, and there she was.

For a moment, I thought the Bethelites must have captured an angel. The late-day sun was behind her, and her golden hair glowed like a halo. Her blue-trimmed white robe billowed in the warm breeze, successively outlining different parts of her anatomy, each more delightfully perfect than the last. She smiled at us as if she were genuinely pleased to be here of all places, and I began to think that there might be something to this McCluskyism after all. I knew that I had come face to face with the love of my life.

“Grace be to you and peace from God and his servant Wilbur C. McClusky,” the radiant vision said. “Welcome to Bethel, the house of God.”

Privately I thought that God could afford to live in a better neighborhood. But I am a professional, after all. “Thank you,” I said. “I’m John Pulaski, Mr. Wright’s assistant, and this is Thomas Aquinas Wright.”

“Very pleased to meet you both. I’m Rahab the deaconess, and I have been called to be your guide.”

Our guide! How absolutely delightful. I was going to need constant guidance—I could tell that already. “That’s very kind of you,” I said. “After Mr. Wright and I have had a chance to settle in and wash up, you can show me the sights. I mean us. Show us the sights.”

“Of course,” my delightful Rahab responded. “We get so few visitors that I’m sure everyone will be happy to see you. Oh! The youth division is weaving mats today! That’s always very exciting to watch.”

“When can I get to work?” Wright demanded, making no attempt to conceal his grumpiness. Small talk and sightseeing both annoy him, and small talk about sightseeing must have been excruciating for him. So I was prepared to keep it up indefinitely, but Rahab answered Wright before I could prevent her.

“Oh, I’m sure the special committee could meet with you right after evening prayer. Until then, I can show you to your rooms, and then we can see the sights.”

Wright made a “piff” sound that I chose to interpret as acquiescence.

“We’d be delighted,” I told Rahab. And I certainly meant it, for myself anyway. I was already seeing the best sights, so I was already delighted. I was delighted to walk behind her and watch the way the robe outlined some of her best features. I was delighted to listen to her musical voice as she apologized for our having to walk because “the cart needs work.” I was delighted to see the golden sunlight playing through her even more golden hair. I was delighted by pretty much everything, right up to the moment we reached the appalling dump that Rahab identified as the guesthouse.

“I’m sorry,” Rahab said, and to give her credit she was clearly embarrassed. “I thought the place had been cleaned, and—I, uh, I’ll get someone right away, and I’ll…”

I could actually see tears of frustration and embarrassment welling up in those perfect blue eyes, and nothing should make my beautiful Rahab weep. “Please don’t worry about it,” I said. “I’m sure we can make—”

“It’s a dump,” Wright said. “I’m not staying here.” He ran a finger over the top of a small table near the door, revealing quite a different color under the uniform layer of sandy dust.

Of course Rahab was crushed. I think she wanted to dissolve into dust herself. And of course I couldn’t let her be crushed. So I did something very much against my principles: I volunteered.

“We’ll be fine,” I insisted. “I’ll get started cleaning up, and I’m sure it will take no time at all if you send someone over and we work together.”

Rahab looked so wonderfully grateful that I was sure I’d said the right thing. She promised again to send someone right over, and she smiled at me, and one of those smiles was worth any amount of labor.

And that was how I ended up spending the whole first evening of our stay in Bethel dusting and scrubbing and chasing out sand bugs, which are harmless but not exactly welcome in the well-ordered home. Apparently they’re about the highest form of animal life in Bethel, apart from the humans, and after three hours of cleaning and still no sign of the promised help, I was making some comparisons between the humans and the sand bugs that were not entirely to the advantage of the humans.

Meanwhile, Wright had gone out with Rahab for evening prayer (the idea of Wright praying amused me for a moment before I went back to my default state of quiet fury) and his meeting with the special committee, which apparently was a subset of the Council of Elders formed to deal with the problem they refused to tell us about.

The help finally arrived about three hours after I’d started, by which time I’d done nearly everything myself. I sent the snotty teenager off to find some clean linens, which was the single useful thing he managed to accomplish before Wright returned with the glorious Rahab.

“Much better,” Wright declared, glancing around the little parlor of the guesthouse. Then he turned to the useless teenager. “It’s very good work. Can you accept a gratuity?”

And the little twit did, if you can imagine that.

I didn’t say anything at the time, because I couldn’t afford to make a bad impression on the divine Rahab. But as soon as she left me alone with Wright, I admit I relaxed my politeness a little. Not that it did me any good. Wright wasn’t interested in my complaints, and what he’s not interested in he doesn’t hear.

So eventually, out of boredom, I decided to ask him how his evening had gone. “Did they tell you the thing they wouldn’t tell you? Or are you as much in the dark as ever?”

“They told me nothing,” Wright replied. “But they made it perfectly obvious what they want.”

“How?” I demanded. “Did they point and make faces?”

“They apologized.”

“You mean they apologized for bringing us to this ugly hole in the galaxy without telling us what they want?”

“No.” Wright was almost smiling, which is very rare. “They apologized for our having to walk everywhere, because all the carts are broken and the mechanics promised they’d be fixed by now but haven’t got around to them yet. They apologized for the broken window in the common room, because young hooligans smashed it and the glazier said he’d be there last week, but you know how it is. They apologized for the shuttle pilot, although I’m not sure what was wrong with him. They apologized for our having to double-lock the doors at night, but there have been several burglaries lately, and they know perfectly well who’s responsible, but what can you do?”

“What can you do?” I snorted. “You can lock the burglars away somewhere, that’s what you can do. Or you can give them a good thrashing if you’re the old-fashioned sort. I don’t see how any of these are your sort of problem. You could solve them all with a little bit of discipline.”

“Yes, you could,” Wright agreed. “But they couldn’t. God wouldn’t like it.”

“Who c——” and then I stopped, because it occurred to me that “Who cares what God likes?” might sound like a stupid question to religious people. So I contented myself with asking, “What do you mean, ‘God wouldn’t like it’?”

“You didn’t read the Primary Testament. Aphorisms chapter eight, verse thirty-two: ‘Not seven times shall you forgive, and not seventy times seven, but seventy times seven times seventy times seven.’ ”

I tried to do the math in my head, and the result I came up with was, “That’s a lot of forgiving.”

“Also,” Wright continued, beginning to pace as he always does when he’s in the grip of an enthusiasm, “Aphorisms 15:12: ‘If you forgive not, neither shall you be forgiven.’ And Wit & Wisdom 2:27: ‘Forgiveness at a price is not forgiveness.’ And a number of other passages to that effect. The Bethelites believe that their eternal salvation depends on their offering absolute and unconditional forgiveness. No repentance or promise of amendment required. There are a lot of other things their salvation depends on, too, but that’s one of the big ones.”

“So if you don’t forgive people, God sends you to hell?”

“It’s one of the many offenses that incur eternal damnation,” Wright said.

“Well, that doesn’t seem fair. God should have to play by his own rules.”

“God plays by the rules revealed to Wilbur C. McClusky. That’s the root of the problem.” He was pacing back and forth so quickly it was like watching a tennis match. “The constitution of the Republic says that the Council of Elders must be made up entirely of Bethelites. So it is. And that’s the only government they’ve got. There’s no other executive, no separate judiciary. And every good Bethelite on the council believes that he’ll go to hell if he doesn’t forgive unconditionally. Now, that probably worked when the Republic was a hundred people or so. But now they’ve got about forty thousand in various settlements, and the Council can’t manage them anymore.”

“So what do they want you to do? Thrash some malefactors? That doesn’t sound like your sort of thing.”

“Only Bethelites can govern. What they need is some way to govern effectively without God sending them to hell.”

“And how are you going to give them that?”

He stopped in front of one of the rickety wicker chairs. “I have absolutely no idea.” He flopped down in the chair—by some miracle it didn’t collapse—and his face lit up with just about the brightest smile I’ve ever seen on it. “I have no idea at all. Isn’t that wonderful?’’

Well, I knew that meant he’d be up all night having fun with his little problem. And that meant he didn’t need me, so I went to bed.

Continues in Part Two.

FUN WORDPRESS FACT.

There is now an easy way for any WordPress site to give visitors the ability to discover whether they are living on land that was never ceded by its original inhabitants. This is a remarkable demonstration of the power the block editor can put in the hands of an ordinary writer with no coding skills.

There is still no easy way to format small capitals.

KNOW YOUR ROAD SIGNS.

Introducing for the First Time on Any Highway

Your Highway Department is very proud of the upcoming engineering feature. Please take a moment to appreciate the hard work that went into conceiving and executing the stretch of road beginning at the designated distance.

MASK EXEMPTIONS.

Wherever face masks are required, don’t forget to take advantage of these mask exemptions.

1. The Cell-Phone Exemption. When I’m talking on the cell phone, I have to lower the mask so that the recipient of my call can hear me shouting.

2. The I’m-Talking-to-You Exemption. When I’m talking to you, it’s necessary for me to lower my mask so you can read my lips. It’s also necessary for me to lean close to you so you can hear me.

3. The Nose Exemption. It’s all right to cover my mouth, but I breathe through my nose.

4. The Pro-Forma Chin-Mask Exemption. As long as I have the mask on my chin, I’m technically “wearing” a mask.

5. The Belligerent-Jackass Exemption. I don’t have to wear a mask in your establishment unless you can demonstrate that you can be more of a jerk about it than I can be.

6. The Bad-Cough Exemption. I have a bad cough for some reason, and I can’t cough right with the mask on.

COMMUNITY BULLETIN BOARD.

The Grant Borough Pride Parade was such a success that the Burgess and council have decided the borough could use more events of the same type. Join us at the Borough Building Saturday, October 9, for the first annual Grant Borough Envy Parade. We have at least five other parades in mind if this one is a success.