Ashoka

Ashoka was an Indian emperor known for embracing Buddhism and non-violence, eventually.  Born in 304 BC, he was called “He Who Regards Everyone Amiably” due to his expansionist military campaigns.  After regarding 100 000 civilians to death in the Battle of Kalinga, Ashoka found some personal time to execute his brother.  Maharani, his brother’s wife and a Buddhist, was upset by this.  She gave Ashoka an earful about the morality of killing living beings, particularly when those beings included her husband.  And wouldn’t you know it, Ashoka started to feel guilty about all the things he’d done.  He felt so sorry that he insisted Maharani move in with him.  Isn’t that nice?

With the help of his new lady-friend, Ashoka became the first Buddhist ruler and instituted a strict policy of non-violence.  He didn’t return any of the lands he’d conquered in his less non-violent days, though.  That wouldn’t bring anyone back.  You may ask how Ashoka solved the problem of maintaining an empire without the use of force.  Well, wherever it looked like there might be trouble, Ashoka moved his army.  He didn’t tell them to hurt anybody, but he didn’t tell them not to, either.  If somebody provoked a band of bored soldiers, the blame could hardly be put on poor Ashoka.

Ashoka had many monuments built to tell passers-by how nice he was.   On them he boasted that no animals were killed for his kitchen except deer and two kinds of peacock.  He said was going to get rid of those, too, as soon as they stopped being delicious.  He was so dedicated to protecting animals (except the deer and peacocks) that he banned Hindu sacrifices in the capital.  He is praised for promoting religious tolerance because the Hindus didn’t overthrow his Buddhist dynasty until after he’d died in 232 BC.  They didn’t want an army relaxing on their doorsteps.

Ashoka’s life is an example of how great it is to renounce violence, as long as you’ve already got everything you want and aren’t hungry.

The Great Cheese Squeeze

Author: Ayn Rand
Date: 1960
Publisher: Random House
Length: 64 pages (24 without BDSM scenes)
Size: 8”x6”

A story about socialist politics gone mad in a rodent kingdom, this instructional book for young objectivists was largely panned due to its 40 pages of sadomasochistic mouse sex.  A sample?

“Is a mouse not entitled to the sweat of his brow?” asked Fievel Galt.

“What about girl-mice?” asked Mousey Taggart.

I’ll show you what girl-mice are for,” said Fievel Galt as he unbuckled his—

Well, I wouldn’t want to spoil too much of it for you. Suffice it to say, Ayn Rand lets all little objectivists know that capitalism is good, socialism is bad, and girl-mice should never ever say no.

Where Are You? Where Did You Go? I Am Here

Author: A Beached Whale (trans. Dave Lenski)
Date: 1994
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Length: 113 pages / 124 minutes
Size: 12”x6”

This book is actually the interpretation of a whale’s dying calls as it lay on a Long Island beach with an obstructed blowhole.  Incorporated into the book’s spine is an audio recording of the actual whale-song, while the text of the book itself is the exhaustive, heart-wrenching, largely repetitive interpretation into English.

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was born in Italy in 1452. Many people think “da Vinci” it is his last name but it only refers to the home of Leonardo’s father, Piero. Leonardo was born out of wedlock after Piero’s tryst with a peasant girl, and this information is valuable in such cases. Piero was supportive of young Leonardo’s talent, taking only the money from his son’s efforts and none of the credit.

Leonardo began his first unfinished commission in 1478. While he is most famous for his paintings, we only have fifteen of them. This is because he was a Renaissance Man, which means that if you asked him to paint more masterpieces, he would just laugh at you and go back to drawing helicopters that wouldn’t work. His sketch of “The Vitruvian Man” demonstrates that the proportions of a human being follow certain mathematical principles if you squish him out a bit. People wonder why he did odd things like write his notes backwards. It was to avoid real work. The Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile probably had a hydraulic pump somewhere behind it.

Much fuss has been made about Leonardo having no close relationships with women. This is wrong. He had one. And why should he, anyway? He seemed to have all he needed in his pupils Salai and Melzi, and we should keep in mind that the three of them were acquitted of all charges, eventually. (Salai, or “the Little Devil,” would later go on to paint a nude version of the Mona Lisa. Such was Leonardo’s legacy.)

Leonardo was passed around between Medicis, Borgias, and the like, beginning many projects for all of them, before settling down in his old age in the care of François I.  The King of France is said to have held Leonardo in his arms as Leonardo died in 1519.  This may seem unusual, but anyone who has lost a pet will understand.  It never gets easier.
The life of Leonardo ad Vinci shows how far you can get on a little talent and less effort.

Religions of Medieval South India: A Summary

Interactions between religious traditions in South India may have been less acrimonious than scholarship has previously assumed. Historical evidence indicates that worshippers of the Hindu god Shiva, for instance, probably did not actually impale scores of Jain monks on stakes, and instead merely talked about it as often as possible. This indicates that “a positive and productive encounter” was occurring in this region during the medieval period.

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus is famous for not discovering the New World.  He was trying to find a new route to the Indies but he didn’t discover that either.  This is not unexpected for a cheesemonger, but for Columbus there was a world of money to be made out of more than just cheese.

From how some people talk, he was the last to know about America.  The Vikings might have been there already, yes, and maybe the Celts, and even the Chinese if you can believe that.  And there is the small issue of some squatters who had been hanging around for some time beforehand.  But it was Columbus who brought widespread attention and exploitation of the Americas and their peoples, which should count for something.
It’s untrue that people before Columbus thought the Earth was flat.  Since the days of the early Greeks, mathematics had proven otherwise.  Columbus had been taught math, too, he just hadn’t understood it, underestimating the size of the Earth by almost a half.

Columbus’ plan to sail across the Atlantic to Asia was duly rejected by all kings having competent scientific advisors.  This continued until Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.  Realizing that the plan nonetheless risked the lives of neither monarch, they freed up the cash for Columbus’ expected suicide.

So in 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed west with his ships the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.  On October 12th, Columbus sighted the island of Guanahani, which he named San Salvador instead.  He marvelled at the peaceful natives, whom he was, to his credit, the first to mistake for Indians.  Columbus packed a great deal of these into the boats for the return voyage, due to the high rate of spoilage overseas.

Transporting a diminished number of natives to Spain would be the high point of Columbus’ career.  His forts wouldn’t stay put, his colonists complained of the lack of promised wealth, and there was the little matter of denying the conversion of the natives due to a rule against enslaving Christians. His governorship was so well received that he was placed in chains (and his brothers too, for good measure).  Up to his death, the Spanish monarchs debated granting Columbus their agreed terms fro the voyage on the grounds of his unexpected survival.

Some people say that we shouldn’t hold up Christopher Columbus as a hero, as he only shows that you can get as far on dumb luck as you can on genuine skill and intelligence.  I don’t know.  Amerigo Vespucchi got two continents named after him for doing absolutely nothing, so there may be something to it.

Walk the Dinosaur

The velociraptor had come to Ottawa to be with his fiancé, Maria, for the summer. This would be the first time living in an apartment, their own place, instead of at home or the university dorm. It would also be the first time living in a place where human-dinosaur relationships were open. At least, more open. Her parents didn’t bat an eye, but instead threw an engagement party for them. Even her uncle, the Anglican priest, gave them his blessing.

Now that the hoopla had settled down, however, there were practical matters at hand. Maria’s parents had recently sold their home for a smaller, retirement property, and couldn’t fit two more people in, but her father had found them a decent city apartment. They were also willing to put some of their own money into it. The velociraptor knew that if his parents heard of this, they would do so as well, but it would hurt them. They were not as well-off. Work was needed.

First, Maria had pulled some strings with one of her cousins who did landscaping, and the velociraptor had tried his best. The combination of the sleepless night he had spent worrying about the prospect and the fumbling nature of his stunted forearms meant the job was short-lived.

Now it was a group interview at the Chapters bookstore. The velociraptor had library experience, which he thought would give him a leg-up. When the questions came to “workplace conflicts”, however, he could tell by the interviewer’s reaction that he came off as confrontational.

“I wouldn’t let my first impression of… things… colour my professionalism, of course,” he said lamely.

The interviewer said only that they would contact the applicants who were being considered further within a few days.

A few days, then several, passed. He wasn’t getting the job.

“They’re probably just prejudiced against dinosaurs,” Maria said helpfully. She wrapped her arms around him. Maria had fallen in love with his reds and blues, or so she said. The colours had served their purpose. She stroked the sensitive feathers along his neck.

“It’s all right,” she cooed. “You’ll find something. Be more assertive.”

Part of him ruffled at this. It never came up that she didn’t have a job and wasn’t looking.

But Maria was stroking down his chest now, and he shivered.

“I’ll make it better, love. Why don’t we go to bed, and I’ll show you.”

He acquiesced.

And couldn’t perform.

The jobs, the fucking jobs. They’d neutered him, broken him. He had to find one, reclaim his raptorhood.

The next morning he showered, scrubbing his scales shiny and new. He told Maria he was going out. She grunted from the bedroom. The velociraptor shrugged to himself, and went job-hunting.

There was a prep cook opening nearby, but that entailed the same arm problem as the landscaping. Restaurants found excuses not to hire him as a server, but he knew it was because some people found his species’ comportment unnerving.
Finally he found a place desperate enough to take him on.

“We’re the second-worst ranked outlet in the Ottawa area,” the boss said almost proudly.

“We’re low on staff–one of our guys phoned in with a broken arm–so we need to put your on the fast track, training-wise.”

The velociraptor tried not to show his desperate glee. The New York Fries was kind of lonely, in what was technically a food court on the second storey of a third-rate mall, but it was a job. The boss showed him through the employee entrance, gave him an employee shirt, which the velociraptor awkwardly donned. He was directed to the first section.
There was a vat of potatoes, and a lever-powered french fry cutter. The pimply boy using it looked up and gave an awkward wave.

“Rob,” was all he said.

“I think how the cutter works is self-evident,” said the boss. “Easy, repetitive. Now these are the beauties of the operation.”

The boss gestured to three deep fryers, currently being tended to by a middle-aged woman whose name tag read “Elaine.” She smiled shyly at him.

“You’re going to have to familiarize yourself with the three big parts of this job,” the boss continued, not stopping to introduce the woman. “The cutter back there, the till up there, and the fryers. The last one’s the trickiest. We’ll show you how to fry the suckers in the right order, pluck out any strays, and, the trickiest, drain the whole system when we close up. You’re going to have to do all this by yourself, soon, so pay attention.”

The boss must have seen the slight whitening of the velociraptor’s skin, because he said,

“Don’t worry, there’s only a minor chance of major burns.”

This didn’t help. Was the boss joking? The velociraptor couldn’t tell. If it was, it was a bad one. But the man was already gesturing towards the till, the heated chili and cheese sauces. (Mostly flour, and often left overnight. He wouldn’t be ordering those again.)

The boss slowed down. “We’ll just wait for some customers and you can see it all in action.”

The action was slow, unsurprisingly, but still a little befuddling. The till was the most complex, and he worried more about that than the fryers, oddly enough. Burns he could understand, but the arcane operation of the cash? In the downtime he got to know the others a little. Rob was working this job outside of high school, so he was only part-time.

Elaine had this job on top of another one because she supported two kids, alone.

The velociraptor was observing the till again when Elaine squawked. Metal rattled. The velociraptor looked back and saw Elaine prying her fingers from the rear fryer. The boss glanced back as well.

“You all right?” he asked.

“I… I don’t think so,” Elaine mumbled, holding her right hand. “It really hurts.”

“That’s okay,” said the boss, apropos of nothing. “You can take a five minute break. Velociraptor, man that fryer until she gets back.”

“I mean it really hurts. I think my fingers might be broken,” said Elaine, voice wavering.

“Can I go? I think I might need a hospital.”

The boss paused a second, then replied with a false smile: “I can’t operate here if you’re gone, Elaine. I’ve got no one to call in on such short notice. No. Velociraptor, man that fryer.”

“It hurts,” Elaine muttered weakly while the velociraptor simultaneously spoke a determined “No.”

The boss furrowed his brow. Rob had stopped cutting fries and was leaning out to get a better view of the situation.

“You’ll both do as I say or you won’t work here anymore,” the boss rumbled.

“I can’t lose this job!” cried Elaine.

“I don’t give a shit about this job,” said the velociraptor, “but Elaine’s keeping hers. Let her go.”

“You gonna make me?” said the boss menacingly, and he stood up to the velociraptor, chest out.

“I’ve hunted game four times your size,” the velociraptor warned. “I can track you by scent. Let her go.”

The boss blinked, then his face reddened. “Don’t threaten me, you little fag!” he roared, then charged forward, hands out in a strangling grip.

The velociraptor reacted instantly, whipping its leg out, its large, hook-like claw tearing into the boss’s prodigious belly. The boss halted, grunted only slightly, and looked down. His intestines were falling from the gash and coiling at his feet. The smell of blood, interstitial fluid, and putrid feces filled the room.

The faces of Rob and Elaine (her hand forgotten for now) gaped. The boss sank to the floor on his knees, then curled into a fetal position. His mouth opened and closed silently. The velociraptor took pity on the man and tore his throat out.

There was silence, then Rob and Elaine came and pulled the boss to the back. A trail of blood followed the dead man.

“I think this is my last day here,” the velociraptor said, half to them and half to himself.

“Go get that hand taken care of, Elaine. I don’t think it’ll matter if we shut down early, Rob.”

They mumbled their agreement, probably in shock. The velociraptor went home, a growl in the back of his throat, longing to pounce on Maria, ravish her.

He found her packing her things. The velociraptor stared, still caked in the boss’s blood. She looked at him and sighed.

“Typical. Can’t keep another job, huh? And probably killed someone, too, from the look of it.”

“You’re leaving?” he asked. This time he was in shock. “Why? What did I do?”

“I’ve been talking to my friends, and they’ve convinced me that I’m only with you because it feels transgressive being with a dinosaur. The danger.”

“And I’m not dangerous enough for you, is that it? I just killed my boss.”

“Exactly the problem. You act so civilized most of the time, then you lash out.” Maria waved her hand dismissively. “Why do you have to be so… messy?”

“You’re bored with me,” the velociraptor said. “I thought we were serious, Maria. We’re engaged, for God’s sake!”

“You can take the ring back,” she said, working it off her finger and handing it to him.

“And man-up. You’re such a limp-dick sometimes.”

The velociraptor sat down. “I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to. That’s not my responsibility,” she said. “My parents are coming for my stuff. They can fit me in for a while. My dad’s willing to help you move back.”

Then she left, the screen door swinging shut behind her.

A few days later, Maria’s father, embarrassed, came to move the boxes she had packed. The velociraptor helped him. After they were done, the velociraptor returned to find the phone in the middle of a ring. It was Rob, from New York Fries.

“I’m sorry man, but it’s management,” said Rob. “They want their shirt back.”