Posts filed under “General Knowledge”

MEMORANDUM.

To: All Employees

From: The President

Re: Thank You to Essential Workers


All of us here at the Schenectady Small Arms & Biscuit Co. are aware of how deeply the pandemic has affected our lives. Sales of our cookies and artificially cheez-flavored crackers rose to unprecedented levels, as Americans sought comfort and consolation in packaged snack foods. Our stock value rose by 152%, making my own stock options, which were fortunately backdated to 1843, extraordinarily valuable. Your executives and board members have prospered as never before, and of course we have done our duty as Americans by pouring that money back into the economy, causing a significant uptick in orders for the gilded-lawn-statuary industry.

All this is possible through the heroic efforts of our valuable essential workers. Even in the worst of the pandemic, you kept at your jobs, or were brought back to them by the local police under certain emergency powers which my wife’s nephew the sheriff assures me were totally constitutional. Many of you paid a high price for your loyalty. At one point in the middle of last year, our factory boasted the highest infection rate in North America, an accomplishment we bested only a month later when we beat out our own Brazilian division for the highest infection rate in the Western Hemisphere. It must be candidly admitted that our workplace-safety team dropped the ball here, owing to a trivial misreading of CDC guidelines on workstation separation. Who knew that a single tick mark could make the difference between feet and inches?

Yet in spite of the high infection rate, you all worked long hours, loyally remaining at your stations, and once again I should like to thank my wife’s nephew Bud for that.

Now that we have come through the worst of it, the economy is booming, and our market position is more secure than ever. It seems to me, therefore, that it is high time we rewarded the essential workers whose labor made all this prosperity possible. Accordingly, you will be happy to know that I have directed our graphic-design department to produce a 16-by-20-inch poster with the slogan “HEROES WORK HERE” in Helvetica Light type on a white background. (We chose Helvetica Light because it makes a more efficient use of limited ink resources.) A copy of this poster will be displayed on the wall opposite every single production line to show our brave essential workers how much their contributions are valued. After all your hard work and dedication, it’s the least your management team can do.

With warmest regards,
J. Rutherford Pinckney,
President

START PAGE.

All our modern Web browsers are provided to us free of charge by companies that make their money not by selling things to us, but by selling us to other people. They have, therefore, a strong incentive to send us to the corners of the Web that will make money for them.

The start page is one of the most obvious places where they can do that. When you open a new tab, most browsers have a default start page, and what is on that page may depend on where the money is to be made. Google Chrome, of course, will give you a search box for Google. Microsoft Edge will try to plaster your start page with news feeds and other things Microsoft is sure you are interested in; you can pare down those extraneous details in the settings, but you can never get rid of the centrally located search box for Bing, the Edsel of search engines.

Dr. Boli, who is older than many people, remembers primitive days when it was possible to set the new-tab page to utter restful blankness, but that does not seem to be possible anymore. Fortunately Firefox will allow you to replace your new-tab page with any arbitrary page on the Web, and for Chromium-based browsers like Chrome and Edge there are extensions that will accomplish the same thing. But what page will it be? Most of the pages on the Web are also filled with distracting things you want to avoid.

As a public service, therefore, Dr. Boli has provided a start page for your new tabs, a page that does absolutely nothing. It is possible that the picture will change once every few weeks (it is also possible that it will not), but there will be nothing to interact with, nothing to distract you from the business at hand. You can find it here:

Boli’s Patent Start Page

Set your new-tab redirect to that address, and get back to getting work done when you open a new tab.

ASK DR. BOLI.

Diner, by August Neven du Mont.


Dear Dr. Boli: I’m taking French in high school, and I’m supposed to be learning French culture and stuff. But I’m having trouble figuring out the French names for meals, and the textbook is, like, written by monkeys. Can you sort out the meals for me? —Sincerely, A Student in Miss Marcellini’s Third-Period French Class, Blandville Area High School.

Dear Sir or Madam: Dr. Boli is always glad to assist young persons in their quest for knowledge. Let us follow a typical French citizen through the meals of a typical French day.

It begins with the petit déjeuner, or breakfast, which usually consists of bits of hard dry bread left over from last night’s souper. The French are not a notoriously thrifty people, but they do not spend too much on their petit déjeuner.

This is followed not long after by the déjeuner, a more substantial meal usually taken at a sidewalk café, which is why French people have to do their actual walking in the street. This is the meal at which wine is introduced for the first time in the day, usually a Sancerre.

The déjeuner is followed by a trip to the pâtisserie for the meal known as le madeleinier, which consists of madeleines, a kind of pastry known for its psychedelic effect on the hippocampus.

After the madeleinier, it is time for the grand déjeuner, which consists of two of everything from the déjeuner. The wine at this meal is usually a young red burgundy, though the lower classes will drink whatever comes out of the cardboard box at the local convenience store.

When the grand déjeuner is over, it is time for le thé, literally “tea,” although the beverage served is usually Pouilly-Fuissé.

Once le thé is over, our French citizen begins to think of le diner, the main meal of the day. Le diner usually consists of six or seven courses accompanied by a substantial claret, and is traditionally eaten at the home of a friend or acquaintance—another unexpected hint of thrift in French habits.

Once le diner is finished, it is already quite late, and our French citizen hurries home for le souper, a light meal of bread and soup accompanied by champagne. At this point our citizen is quite tired (“ivre mort”), and falls asleep with his head on the table. When he awakes in the morning, the bread has dried out and become tough and crusty, and thus he begins his petit déjeuner.

Dr. Boli hopes he has been of some assistance. He would add that there is no substitute for a personal visit to France, and he notes that there is a service on the Web offering “Wine Immersion Study Tours” in France, although now that he thinks of it he realizes that could be taken more than one way.

KNOW YOUR ROAD SIGNS.

Left turn, maybe. Sometimes it’s okay to make a left turn here, sometimes not. What, you expect us to make all your decisions for you?

FOR FOOD SAFETY AND QUALITY.

Thank you for choosing frozen French fries from Frank’s Frugal Frozen Froods. For food safety and quality, keep frozen. Do not thaw, ever. But if in spite of our most sincere warnings you decide to consume this product, food must be cooked thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165°F as measured by a food thermometer in several places. Our legal department required that we print this notice on the bag. They did not give us directions for inserting a food thermometer several places in a French fry, so you’re on your own, people.

The Frank’s Frugal Frozen Froods Story.

While working as a chef at several noted five-star restaurants, Frank realized that, if he used ingredients of the highest quality and took the time to prepare them with individual care, he could make ordinary foods that rivaled the finest gourmet meals. But he couldn’t meet this price point, so you get this stuff instead.

ASK DR. BOLI.

Dear Dr. Boli: I am a ruined man. For as long as I can remember, which stretches far back into last week at the very least, I have ordered my life by the wise sayings of the wise. I know they are wise sayings because they appear on signs with interchangeable letters outside churches and businesses all over the tri-borough area—or at least I thought I knew they were wise, but alas! the order of the universe has been called into doubt, and I feel chaos’ winged chariot (“winged” being pronounced as two syllables) overtaking me.

Last week I passed a sign that was particularly encouraging to me. I remember that it was in front of the Fifteenth Presbyterian Church in Turtle Creek, and I can quote the exact words from memory: “A river doesn’t stop after a fall.”

How true! I thought. And how applicable to the human condition! When a river “falls”—that is, when the water plunges over a precipice, forming a “cataract” or “cascade,” or, in the delightfully evocative colloquial term, a “waterfall”—it does not give up and consider its mission aborted. It simply continues on its way, regardless of the plummet it has just suffered. Should we not all take inspiration from the persistence of the river? If the inanimate river can do it, surely we who are gifted with understanding should be able to recover from our mishaps and our personal tragedies and continue on our way.

Perhaps I ought to have kept this insight to myself, but it seemed too good not to share. And indeed the first seven people I shared it with seemed as pleased with it as I was. But the eighth—oh, I wish I had never spoken to her! She immediately pointed out that it is impossible for water, unlike human beings, to be injured in any way by a fall; that, furthermore, the water in the river exhibits no agency at all, but is acted upon by physical forces entirely beyond its control; in short, she said, if we are to follow the example of the river, then the only thing to do is to give up all pretense of independent action and allow ourselves to be buffeted and directed by every random force that stands in our way, and the only infallible rule for our pilgrimage here on earth is that our movement must ever be downwards.

And she was right! There was no arguing with her, because her objections were insuperable! But if that was true of this wise saying, might it not be true of others? I began to investigate on my own, and I discovered that it was! “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ ” they say—but there is a “me” if you rearrange the letters! (There is also a “meat,” and I shudder to think what that portends.) The squeaky wheel gets the grease—but such grease is not fit for human consumption!

I will not draw out the tale of my investigations. I have lost faith in all the wisdom of the world, as represented in the changeable slogan boards in front of churches, synagogues, businesses, and so forth. But what am I to do without wisdom to guide me? I no longer trust metaphors drawn from inanimate objects as guides to ethical decisions, but I have never learned any other way to make an ethical decision. I am thinking I might rob a bank. What shall I do? —Sincerely, Athenagoras McWarble, East Pittsburgh.

Dear Sir: When the metaphorical fails us, we must rely on the literal. Have you considered beginning by reading the criminal code of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania? If you have no ethical rudder, so to speak, you might at least benefit from a clear and precise description of what the General Assembly has determined ought not to be done. After all, we know that state legislatures are formed only from the citizens of the highest ethical principles, chosen by their fellow citizens for their wisdom and disinterested philanthropy. If you need ethical guidance, turn to the Pennsylvania General Assembly: that is Dr. Boli’s best suggestion.

KNOW YOUR ROAD SIGNS.

Wait for the beat. Traffic will move more smoothly if we all move in rhythm. Check local listings for designated radio broadcast.

THE GODPROOF ROOM.

A TALE OF THE FAR FUTURE.

Part Three.

Concluding the story that began here.

I spent most of the next day chasing down sand bugs—I and every one of the workers who could be spared from the main job of getting the equipment down from orbit and setting it up where it was needed. You might think that collecting sand bugs would be fun. You would be wrong.

Every so often one of the locals would stop by to watch and give us some helpful hints (“That one’s getting away”). And most of them would ask the question eventually: “Is it true that you’re building a room to keep God out?”

“I can’t tell you that,’’ I always said. But they naturally took my reply as confirmation.

That evening Rahab gave me a tour of the reed marshes. I told her now thrillingly beautiful she was, and she smiled and looked even more beautiful.

The next day we started forming concrete blocks with dead sand bugs in them, and that evening Rahab and I toured the wood shop—after hours, of course, when no one was there. I told her I loved her desperately, and she confessed to me that she sometimes wished she hadn’t taken her vows. I considered that big progress.

The next day we cast the columns, with an appreciative audience of locals who lost no opportunity to ask me, “Is it true…”

“I can neither confirm nor deny the rumors,” I would answer, usually before the question was finished. It was a useless answer, because obviously just about everyone in Bethel had heard about the Godproof room, but it was the answer I had.

That evening Rahab and I saw the canning plant. “Rahab,” I asked her, “do you find me attractive at all?

“Oh, of course I do. I confess it. ‘Confession is the detergent of the spirit’—Wit & Wisdom 14:5. It is the act, not the thought, that makes the sin, and it’s cleansing to have the thought in the open.”

“But you have no desire to act on that attraction?”

She looked down with a shy smile. “What I desire doesn’t have to make me sin against my vows.”

In my mind I was already picturing the victory dance I was going to do in front of Wright.

The next few days went the same way: hard work all day, followed by a delightful hour or two with Rahab in the evening. We toured the upholstery shop, the power-broadcasting station, the central laundry, the junior-high-school biology department, the sign-painting shop, the communications office, and the herb garden. Each time Rahab seemed just a little more susceptible, but she never did quite suscept.

At last—and it was really only a few days, because Wright had spared no expense on the equipment—the new council chamber and treasury was finished and completely Godproofed six different ways. Wright had even supervised the movement of the Bethelites’ treasury himself (they liked to keep their money in the form of good old-fashioned shiny metal, which was more abundant than usual in their otherwise bleak territory). The official opening would be the next day. And that meant that Wright and I would be leaving soon, which meant that I had to complete my conquest now or admit defeat. And I was not going to admit defeat.

I asked Rahab if she would like to take a walk out in the desert and look at—I couldn’t come up with anything else—the rocks. She thought that would be splendid.

The last rays of evening sun were falling sideways across the rocks, and after a bit of a walk we sat together on an invitingly flat rock, still warm from the afternoon sun. And I was about to mount my most vigorous attack when Rahab surprised me by mounting her own.

“John, is it true that… Do you really look on me to lust after me?”

She was looking straight ahead, not at me, and I realized the question had cost her some considerable courage. And courage should be rewarded.

“Of course I do. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. It wouldn’t be natural for me not to.”

‘’Do you imagine… doing things with me?”

I moved just a little closer, so that our hips were touching. “Wonderful things.”

Her eyes half-closed, she said, “It’s good to confess our sinful thoughts, one to another, before they become deeds.”

“I think those thoughts about you every night.”

“Tell me what you think,” she said breathily. “It’s good to confess your immoral thoughts.”

“I imagine our lips pressed together,” I said, trying to match her breathy tone. “I imagine your arms around me, and mine around you, and your tongue slipping between my lips and meeting mine.”

“Oh, yes!” she puffed. “Go on.”

“I imagine your robe failing away, and my hands slowly passing down the soft skin of your back.”

“I imagine it too!” she half-whispered, with her eyes fully closed now. “I confess it! I confess to wishing I could feel your warm, strong hands on my skin…”

This was not a chance to be missed. I took her hand and murmured (keeping my voice in the low and seductive register), “You could, Rahab. We could find a place right now, and you could feel all the most wonderful things a woman is capable of feeling.”

“But I can’t,” she whispered, gripping my hand, her breathing shallow and fast.

“You can,” I insisted, calmly and forcefully. “You can. Oh, my lovely Rahab, you were created for those pleasures.”

“But I’m a deaconess—”

“No one needs to know. It could be tonight. It could be now. A private spot—”

“It would be known. It would.”

“No one would know, Rahab! What you do is your affair! No one would know!”

God would know! God would——”

She stopped suddenly. Her eyes shot open.

A moment later, I was seized by the same idea.

“Rahab,” I said carefully, “do you think you’d like to see the inside of the new council chamber? It’s a very interesting construction.”

“Yes,” she said just as carefully, choosing each word as if she were crafting a legal document. “Yes, I would like to see the new council chamber, which after all is where important decisions affecting everyone in Bethel will be made.”

“I think you’ll find it very educational,” I said, pushing my luck a bit.

We stood up together (and I noticed she didn’t relinquish my hand) and started off at a fast walk that became a trot as we came nearer the settlement. We didn’t say another word as we jogged through the dusty streets between the ugly low buildings—by this time I knew them all by name, though I won’t burden you with that information—and around the corner to the new building Wright and I had just supervised——

Where we stopped dead, because there was already a crowd in front of it.

They were standing around awkwardly, and it was very quickly obvious that they were standing around in pairs. I saw a number of young women in blue-trimmed white robes.

Rahab withdrew her hand.

“What’s going on here?” I asked the nearest young couple.

“You’re number thirty-eight,” the female half of the couple answered.

“Thirty-eight?”

“We’ve been taking numbers,” her companion explained. “Each couple gets a quarter-hour in the council chamber, except for couples fifteen and sixteen, who wanted to go in together for some reason, so they get half an hour. So you should be going in at about half past two, because we’re already up to number seven.”

Rahab was shrinking away from me.

I was about to pursue her without being too obvious about it when suddenly a voice of obvious authority boomed out with the same question I had asked:

“What’s going on here?”

• • •

Well, that was the end of the party. It broke up immediately. I didn’t stay around to see whose booming voice it was, and neither did Rahab. In fact, I couldn’t find her anywhere. She had slipped away silently and successfully. I hate to think what happened to couple seven, who were in the Godproof room at the time, but that’s not my concern.

I stomped back to the guest house, where I didn’t speak to Wright all night. And he didn’t say anything to me either, which suggested to me that he knew. I don’t know how he knew, but I’m positive he knew. He always knows.

The next morning there was a gala dedication ceremony, and by “gala” the Bethelites apparently meant “with potato salad.” Rahab was there, and she spoke to me with scrupulously distant politeness. I had lost. Wright had won.

There were speeches for hours, and somehow they all avoided saying anything about the real purpose of the new council chamber and treasury. What God didn’t know wouldn’t hurt the Bethelites, apparently. And then the boring speeches were finished and the boring prayer service took over. And then at last the new council chamber was declared open, and the Council of Elders moved in for its first official meeting.

Wright had had enough of it all. Normally we might have stayed around for a while to see whether the Bethelites planned to give us a testimonial dinner or something, but Wright was exceptionally eager to get away. He had even, without telling me, chartered some crate to take us back, which I thought the Bethelites were supposed to take care of. It was waiting for us, he said. So we hurriedly packed, and I loaded our luggage on the shuttle. Just to make my state of annoyance absolutely perfect, Wright’s luggage seemed to be about three times as heavy as I remembered it being.

It was while I was loading my own luggage that we learned that we weren’t going to be paid.

“What?” I bellowed at the poor sap who brought us the news.

“Um,” he said, apparently gauging my ability to break his neck, “it was the council’s decision. They have a lot of spending to do, and, uh, it was decided that your fee didn’t fit in the budget.”

“Well, they can just go back and shove it in there,” I said. Actually, I think I was shouting. “They can kick something else out. They can starve the widows and orphans for all I care. So this is what comes of not being accountable to God, is it? Well, you may not be accountable to God, but let me tell you you’re still accountable to me. I’m going to take this to—”

“Let it go,” Wright said.

“What?”

“ ‘Win some, lose some.’ Aphorisms 12:6. We’ll just be on our way.”

My jaw was hanging down to about waist level. Of all the times for Wright to get philosophical! I was so shocked that I mutely followed Wright into the shuttle, without even thinking of saying goodbye to the love of my life.

We were almost in orbit by the time I found my voice.

“Well, this trip was a disaster. I mean, you’ve done up some pretty good disasters before, but this one just about takes the prize. I lost the love of my life, and as if that weren’t bad enough, we spent two and a half weeks down there in that dump and didn’t get a penny out of it.”

“But we solved a couple of interesting problems.”

“Maybe all you care about is the problem, but I had plans for my third of that fee.” I sagged in my seat. “I was going to buy a nice little cottage somewhere for Rahab and me. But now we come away with nothing, and all you got out of it was the joy of building a council chamber where these Bethelites can meet and think of new ways to stiff us.”

“And a treasury. Don’t forget I supervised the new Godproof treasury, too.”

“Oh, yes, so they can——”

Here I stopped, because I had just glanced out the window and seen the ship Wright had chartered. It was not an old crate at all. It was a shiny new luxury cruiser with all the trimmings.

I looked up at the half-deaf pilot and judged that he couldn’t hear us from up there. “Your luggage was awfully heavy,” I said to Wright in a much lower voice.

“I anticipated some trouble with the fee,” Wright explained. “Considering the difficulty of collecting it, I increased the fee somewhat and added a substantial collection charge. I also took into account the fact that Bethel has no extradition treaties with anywhere else.”

From little incidents like this I have learned never to underestimate Wright.

I heard recently that our trip to Bethel made the career of that down-on-her-luck architect we hired. She stayed on to design the vast prison complex there (that, apparently, was where our fee was budgeted to go instead of to us), which has given Bethel the highest incarceration rate in the civilized galaxy, along with (I just looked it up) a reputation for rather old-fashioned corporal punishments; and from that experience she built up a flourishing practice designing prisons and torture camps for other oppressive authoritarian regimes.

So we solved the Bethelites’ discipline problem, gave a decent architect a prosperous new career, and made dictators and tyrants across the galaxy happy.

I suppose you could call it a job well done. I’m still not sure how God feels about it, but I’ve decided to take Wright’s advice and not worry about that.

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.