New Debate Format Can Accommodate Unlimited Republican Candidates for President

At least seventeen notable figures in the Republican Party have listened to that little voice inside that whispers, “You’re really the genius of this age,” and declared themselves candidates for the presidency. This raises the problem for the rest of us of how to sort through this batch of aspirants—like pawing through a pile of figs to find the edible and discard the intolerably rotten.

jebjerkThe thought of so many suited men (and one woman!) on stage at once for a debate is literally sickening. If each one gets a two-minute introduction, that’s more than a half hour of your life gone. Imagine how, while one talks, the other sixteen will squirm—wanting to stick an elbow into someone or poke a rival in the eye but forced to pretend to decorum. Or, even worse, picture their painted grins, as they try to appear “likeable” for the cameras.

No one can stomach that. Fox announced plans to limit its debate to ten contestants, but no one likes this idea. The elite candidates don’t want to spend an evening dodging Chris Christie’s spittle, while the minor candidates threaten to stage alternate debates at the same time—in their living rooms with their families, assuming it’s not sewing club night.

We at Stoneslide have devised a program that can accommodate all Republican candidates—without causing widespread nausea among American voters—and is sure to help viewers quickly evaluate which of these men (and one woman!) is the truest Republican.

The evening begins with candidates entering through a cutout modeled on a life-sized tracing of Ronald Reagan. Anyone who can’t make himself or herself fit through this image, no matter what contortions it takes, will be disqualified.

In the first round of competition, pallets holding printouts of the complete United States Code are wheeled out in front of each candidate. They are given axes and told to hack away at regulation and red tape for two minutes. Viewers can judge the candidates based on effectiveness, fervency, or just the resemblance of their strokes to those of Abe Lincoln in his days as a railroad worker.

The candidates may be tired at this point, but this is what real conservatives live for, so they should be pumped up, too. The rhythmic beat of a dance song fills the hall. A twenty-foot high effigy is wheeled onto the stage. It has the face of Jesus, with a clean haircut reminiscent of Reagan’s. Its broad and muscular shoulders should remind you of George Washington, and it wears one of Alexander Hamilton’s dinner jackets. It has cufflinks that were a gift from David Koch. The candidates must dance and genuflect themselves to demonstrate their fealty to this image, which represents the very foundation of American greatness. One can mouth fake words of piety, but you can’t fake a groove.

Next comes an important discussion of immigration policy. The candidates will be presented with a colored gradient representing the range of human skin colors, from white through beige, café au lait, brown, and ebony. Each candidate will place a marker demonstrating at which tint he (or she) would no longer allow people to enter the country.

The segue to foreign policy will feel entirely natural at this point. Candidates are shown unlabeled maps of six strategically important countries—China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Nigeria, and Brazil. Instead of being asked to name the countries or who happens to lead each one, the candidates will be presented with a choice of a pistol, shotgun, or flamethrower. Their decisions about which countries to attack, as well as which weapons to use, will be telling.

Next is the Cold Cash Clean and Jerk. Candidates squat and then lift large bundles of hundred-dollar bills over their heads to display their ability to transfer wealth upward to the job creators who need it.

The final event is intended to show what the candidates will do in their first day in office. Each selects a small token representing a problem facing the nation—sluggish economic growth, federal debt, terrorism, etc. The candidate is then blindfolded and must attempt to place the token on a large photograph of President Obama. It’s called Pin the Blame on Obama. (But, don’t worry, the tokens are actually affixed using magnets, minimizing the chances a candidate will injure himself [or herself].)

We believe sometimes actions do speak louder than words, and viewers will leave this competition with a much better understanding of the candidates than could be achieved through any verbal debate.

Advantages Poets Have over Dominatrices

The Society for the Advancement of Poetry and Poetry Scholarship (SAPPS) continues its initiative to educate young people about the benefits of a life of verse-making. In their latest release, they compare the poetry lifestyle with the newly popular and glamorized career of being a dominatrix.

•When a poet does the job well she can initiate real dialogue, rather than hearing “Yes, mistress,” all day.

•When people tell poets they love their work it comes from the heart instead of a place of fetishistic worship—provided the people aren’t networking.

•Although at $2,000 an hour dominatrices make tons more money than poets, poets suffer fewer repetitive motion injuries.

•A poet’s poverty bespeaks nobility; a dominatrix’ bespeaks failure.

•A poet can say or write “dominatrices” instead of “dominatrixes” without coming off as a know-it-all.

•Poets don’t have dress codes.

•Poets don’t need to remember their customers’ safe words.

•Not only that, poets don’t even have to be in the same room with their customers.

•Poets don’t have to make capital outlays on Berkley horses, pillories, or similar equipment.

poetdom

•Squares hold poets in even lower regard than they hold dominatrices.

•For dominatrices, alcohol and other drugs can cloud judgment; for poets, they’re performance enhancers.

•Poets are allowed to sometimes praise their subjects should they get tired of demeaning, demeaning, demeaning.

•Poets never face intrusive paparazzi after it’s revealed that a prominent politician has been utilizing their services.

•When ensnared in a professional rivalry, poets risk being flayed with barbed words, not barbed whips.

•Poetry clubs don’t generally have moist and slippery floors.

 

More on the writing life:

Advantages Poets Have over Football Players

An Aid to Our Readers and All Writers

America’s Heroes All Start with an Idea and a Good Pitch

Venture Capitalist: Okay, you’ve got my attention. What’s your idea?

Hero: Hi! Thanks so much. I’m really excited about this.

I’m Brandon James from Brooklyn, and I have an opportunity for you to back what’s sure to be the next big thing.

Imagine a young woman out walking at night, maybe just a few blocks from here. She notices how empty the streets are and she thinks she probably should have used Uber or walked with a friend, but she’s almost home, she’ll just hurry on. Then a guy steps out of a doorway. He yanks at her purse, and he gets ahold of her arm, maybe looking to take more than just money from her. She’s too scared to scream.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a powerful whip-like cord wraps around the criminal’s arms and yanks them back. He’s slammed to the sidewalk. He’s almost instantly tied in unbreakable wire.

By the time our young woman looks up to say thanks, our hero has slipped back into the shadows.

Or say a gang of ingenious thugs has just blasted through the exterior wall of a bank vault to loot the contents, and they’re escaping, each on a mini rotocopter, rising above the helpless police cars. A new shape slithers and swings through the urban jungle. It can climb any wall, launch itself over gaps, and sprint across narrow ledges as sleek as a panther. It sails off of a 40-story roof, hits one of the criminals and twines itself around him. Gaining control of that rotocopter, it steers after the others to take down the whole gang.

thewhipThis is the Whip. This is me.

I am only three months away from launching this revolutionary hero brand. I have the training. I have a unique bone and muscle physiognomy, created when I was a subject in illegal experiments conducted by Hella Corp. I have a partner and chief technical officer named Jerald who devised much of the technology behind those experiments before realizing the true aims of his employers. I just need a small investment to acquire supplies of titanium alloy and nanotube-based microprocessors.

We can make a difference together. We’ll whip this city into shape.

VC: It’s a cute idea you have. I can see how you could get to stopping two, three muggings or rapes a week, and that’s great. But I’m not sure I see the potential for the hero meme to really scale.

H: The Whip is a new kind of hero. People today are turned off by brute strength. They’ve seen how the cynical powers use it for their own purposes. The Whip is subtler and can fight against the monolithic forces of oppression we all face.

VC: Sure, sure, that’s the theme, but you need a hook. Maybe if you had a tortured background.

H: I do! When I was 17, I was living on the streets after being thrown out of the house by my mother, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. The Hella people tricked me into their experiments by making me think they would be able to cure me of the same disease. Instead, they subjected me to an incredibly painful, years-long process that re-constituted the structure of my skeleton and reworked my muscles. They would strap me to a table and make thousands of micro-injections every day. Every night they left me alone in a cell, where I screamed alone and heard only the echoes of my own despair.

VC: Is that consistent with your brand story?

H: Absolutely. The Whip is about empowering people to overcome pain and challenges they face.

VC: You know, every new hero who has some success plateaus after a few months. How can you break through that?

H: I’ve got an awesome costume change planned. I can show you the sketches. It’s all in the business plan.

VC: That might buy you a few weeks. How do you make it last?

H: I’ve got a ready-made nemesis. Dirk Wilcx. He’s the CEO and founder of Hella Corp—not only does he represent the kind of blunt misuse of power that the Whip will always stand against, but he personally observed some of the experiments they did on me. I’ll always remember his pale face with the glinting sunglasses watching as my body was wrenched and violated.

One twist that will come out once I finally stand against him face to face is that I will be overcome with memory of all the trauma he inflicted on me and will fall into despondency for a time.

Then I have to come back from that failure. It’s a classic hero’s storyline.

VC: There are lots of cheaper options out there. I’ve got “ratmen” and “energygirls” coming up to me every day who just need a little neoprene or a burrow under the streets and they’re up and running. Lean start-up style.

H: None of them gets you the connection to Hella. People use Hella’s wearable computing devices and communications networks every day without realizing the nefarious plans Wilcx has for their lives. My battle with Wilcx is guaranteed to capture their interest. You already have hundreds of trade media outlets focused on Hella, and then think of the thousands of fan blogs, and the regular coverage by the major outlets. It’s an earned media bonanza.

VC: You know, back when I first met Batman, he threw himself into promotional events. He’d do tricks at a five-year-old’s birthday party if that would boost his name recognition. Do you have that work ethic?

H: I’ve already invested years of my life in this. I won’t let anything stop me.

VC: As an investor, there’s one thing that worries me. I don’t see an exit strategy. I’m looking for an exit inside five years. Can you provide that?

H: Apparent death. It’s in the business plan if you want to look at that. Page 27. But the basic idea is that I’ll recover from my psychological failure on facing Wilcx the first time, meanwhile he will complete work on his Project X. His goal all along was to find a way to give himself super-human powers, and now he’s more than a match for me physically. But Jerald has also added new shielding capabilities to my suit that no one knows about. After I stop Hella goons from planting tracking devices on all communications in and out of New York, Wilcx and I face off. In our climactic hand-to-hand battle, we end up under the Chrysler Building. Jerald desperately tries to get the authorities to evacuate the area, as our battle shakes the foundations of the building. Wilcx is stronger than me, but he doesn’t have my shielding ability. I lure him on, and the old building collapses, crushing anything under it.

I’ll unexpectedly survive due to my shields and Jerald will manage to dig me out just before I lose power. I’ll spend a few months recovering. When I come back, I’ll raise a new round of funding to build my national profile.

VC: Okay, leave me the business plan and I’ll call you if I’m interested.

Make Education Work by Denying It to Most People, Says New Report

A team of researchers has found that public education is a waste for up to 90% of the American population. Their solution: Provide direct cash payments rather than schooling for most Americans.

The findings are contained in a blockbuster report called “Vast Satanic Mills: Seeing Public Education for What It Is” that was released today by the Tohd Family Foundation’s Institute for Good Government. To reach their conclusion, the researchers added up the amount of money spent on the average child passing from elementary through high school in an average public school district. They then calculated what the same amount of money would come to if invested in an index fund until the child turned 65. The total of the “cash investment option” came to $1.77 million. By comparison, the median American household has just $12,000 saved for retirement by age 65. The researchers called this the “education investment option.”

“The gap is breathtaking,” says Jenny Gutters, a professor of economics at Upland Downs University and a lead author of the report. “People claim there are other benefits to education, but you talk to someone who’s 65 and ask them if they’d rather have $12,000 to eke through the next few decades, or a couple mil. It’s not hard to figure out what’s better for people here.”

fixeducationThe researchers also found that, while poor and middle class Americans clearly fell into the “investment gap,” the opposite was true for the rich. “A person coming from the top 5% of households who takes the school route can expect to have more than $3.5 million saved by retirement, meaning education really pays off for the rich.”

This observation informed the report’s most controversial recommendation. The authors say that public schools should be closed to the bottom 90% of the population based on wealth. The public school system could then better focus on maximizing the returns for the remaining wealthy students. Those excluded from education would receive a $250,000 payment on reaching age 67 (or whatever the retirement age is at that point), putting them “well ahead of their condition if forced to attend public school,” according to the report.

Gutters says, “The data is in, and universal education is a massive, failed experiment. This should have been obvious to anyone who has ever tried to have a conversation with a waiter or a tradesman. But now at long last we have a real solution.”

One critic of Gutters’ report is Dick Hallifa, a researcher in the Teaching Institute at Wye Sprite University. He argues that education is essential to building a productive workforce. “We need skilled workers now more than ever,” he says. “The Japanese, the Koreans, the Finns, they’re building the labor force of the future.”

But Gutters points to the work of Harvard professor Ricardo Hausmann, who has argued: “Most of the skills that a labor force possesses were acquired on the job. What a society knows how to do is known mainly in its firms, not in its schools.”

She suggests that poor children who start working earlier because they’re freed from the instructional iron pyrite of school will likely develop more skills than they would have otherwise. “It’s likely they will earn more in their lives and then receive the $250k payout at retirement. My God, what kind of idiot would not support that?”

Some critics have also suggested that education enriches a person’s experience of all facets of life, not just monetary production. They paint images of enlightened proletarians reading old copies of Thoreau while reclining in scenic meadows. “How can you put a price on the life of informed contemplation?” asks Hallifa.

“That’s what the teachers’ union people always say,” says Gutters. “We already know they don’t understand capitalism.” Gutters cites the work of another Harvard professor, Lant Pritchett, who has shown that there is no connection between increased education and economic growth.

Gutters won’t comment on rumors that one of the Republican presidential candidates is likely to adopt the report’s recommendations as a major part of his platform. But bloggers and unemployed political analysts are already speculating that such a move could upend the crowded field and shoot the courageous candidate to the top. At a minimum, other Republicans would have to counter with their own proposals that would also curtail spending on the poor and enhance economic growth.

But for Gutters, it’s all about the value of education. “Tell me, what would you pay to never to have to hear about our ‘failing schools’ again? We’ll only have good schools and successful students, and we’ll have a smaller and more efficient government to boot.”

More on Wealth and Education

The Sadness of Seeing Corruption Punished
Movement for Money Rights May Reshape Elections
University Purchases City for Economics Experiments

Stories of Theft and Loss

In The Stoneslide Corrective No. 1, we included a number of short narratives that all revolved around acts of theft. They were adapted from the records of the Old Bailey, a criminal court in London.

The way we came to this may seem obscure. It started with the idea of collection. The magazine itself was a collection of stories, humor, and images. While assembling it, we found ourselves busy and avid collectors gathering our material from all corners of the globe. Then we started thinking about this desire to collect and how it had a dark side—the desire to possess. And this led us to think of the opposite of collection, which is loss, and so on to theft in which one side loses while the other collects.

Reading these accounts of crimes centuries old, perpetrated by and victimizing people who have long since turned to dust, we were still drawn in by powerful feelings. In many ways, the characters in these dramas are anonymous—or rather generic. They may have names, but they have no physical descriptions and little or no history beyond the deed that we hear about in the court records. Their words have been recorded by transcriptionists, twisted by the logic of the legal system, frozen on the page, and further adapted and compressed by us. And yet, we believe you will hear their voices.

Once we’d published our collection of theft stories, we found we had a few nice examples still lying around in the bottom of the drawer, and we include those here.

Kindness Repaid*

MARSHALL HALL HIGGINBOTTOM I am a surgeon, staying at the Midland Hotel. About 12:30 on the sixth of March, I was returning to the hotel. I passed a coffee stall at King’s Cross and a man spoke to me. The man said, “I am in a very destitute condition. I have had nothing to eat for a great many hours. Will you give me a cup of coffee?” I felt sorry for him and said, “You shall not only have a cup of coffee, but some eggs and bread and butter,” and I paid for some. Another man immediately afterwards came up and said, “I am in just the same fix.” I said, “Well, you shall have the same.” I started then for the Midland Hotel. When near the hotel, I noticed the man who had told me he was hard up following me—I turned round. He said, “You are late, the front door of the hotel is closed; you can get in by the side door. I will show you the way.” I followed a short distance down the street. I said, “I do not see any side door,” and was going to retrace my steps, when I was seized forcibly by the throat. First the hand seized me, and then the arm went round my neck, and the man in front of me struck me a violent blow with his fist on the chest and knocked me down. He took my pin and then put his arm round me—I believe I was kicked on the head. I held my watch firmly in my hand and called, “Police!” Others came up and I took them to be thieves. One said, “I am a detective.” I said, “What proof have I of that? You may be one of these fellows.” He took out a pocketbook to show me his card, when one of the men struck him a violent blow, and he fell alongside of me. I lost my diamond pin, worth 3 pounds, 15 shillings, a pencil case, my surgical instruments, and a good many other articles. I have been 10 days under my doctor. I could not swallow for two or three days, my neck was quite black, my tongue was swollen and a little cut on one side. Paroxysms of difficulty in breathing came on two or three times. I have scarcely slept.

*Adapted from the trial of John Clutton, Frederick Freeman, Joshua Smith, John Green, and John Ready for robbery with violence, March 28, 1881, ref. # t18810328-396. No part of this statement has been endorsed or approved by Gorgons Bluff Ltd.

Indifference*

CHARLES WANDSFORD I am a Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards stationed at the Tower. This is my pin. It is worth 25 pounds. I have not seen it since I left the Tower on 16th January. I missed it about the beginning of March. The prisoner was a private in the guards and acted as my servant—he had access to the pin. I don’t know exactly when the pin was lost—it was fixed in a cravat like this which I have on, not tied but made up. I do not put it in night and morning, I leave it there. I have not the least idea how I lost it—I am not very careful in taking off my cravat at night, and very often put it on the mantel-piece—it may have fallen from the mantel-piece into the grate.

*Adapted from the trial of Edward Richard for simple larceny, April 7, 1874, ref. # t18740407-292. No part of this statement has been endorsed or approved by Gorgons Bluff Ltd.

Pickpocketing*

ELIZA MULLETT I am single, and was residing at 9 Arlington Street. On February 6th, about half-past 4 o’clock, I entered an omnibus at Camberwell-gate to go to the Monument. There was nobody in the omnibus when I entered it. After a while the two prisoners came in—one sat opposite me, and the other on the same side as myself. When close to the Monument, the omnibus stopped for me to get out. I had some difficulty in passing the prisoners; one of them put an umbrella across the bus, and that detained me. The conductor said, “You will keep me here all night.” Before I got out, I saw a notice atop of the bus, “Beware of pick-pockets, both male and female.” I went to feel in my pocket as I got out, and I found my purse was gone. Seeing the notice induced me to feel in my pocket.

*Adapted from the trial of Caroline Burton and Martha Smith for stealing a purse, February 25, 1861, ref. # t18610225-251. No part of this statement has been endorsed or approved by Gorgons Bluff Ltd.

Read more in The Stoneslide Corrective No. 1.

The Sadness of Seeing Corruption Punished

by Wilford Eksale, Professor of Economics, Wye Sprite University

This commentary originally appeared in the Journal of Implied Outcomes Online Edition and is reprinted with permission.

When you see a man like Sepp Blatter, or any of his fellow grandees in the international soccer regulatory body FIFA, laid low by corruption charges, it is not shameful to shed a tear or two. The spectacle of incrimination and accusation currently underway in our courts and our news media is, in many senses, an attack on human genius, and thus an attack on what is best in all of us.

prometheblatterI am aware that these events are not generally understood in this light. The gut reaction of the masses of humanity is to join the phalanx of finger-pointers. But recent research is showing that self-interested and exploitative behavior by elites, like the actions of the FIFA boys, is value-creating and in some cases even heroic.

I have been studying perceptions of corruption for more than 15 years now. And in a series of studies conducted with my co-author Wapp Wattersnek, I have uncovered a startling fact about corruption and its role in our society—which can in certain cases be salutary.

Our study, originally published in this journal two years ago [ed. note: The Journal of Implied Outcomes] found that instances of corruption among high-status individuals can help advance their organizations—whether businesses, NGOs, or government agencies—and create benefits for many people.

In one set of experiments we showed research subjects a short film in which the CEO of a major retail chain called “Luxomax” solicited a kickback from one of his company’s suppliers. In the film, the CEO receives $2 million in a briefcase. A control group saw a film in which the CEO and the other executive merely discuss the weather and its impact on their respective golf handicaps. We then surveyed all participants about their impressions of Luxomax as a company. Unsurprisingly, those who saw the “corruption” film rated the company lower on measures of integrity. However, they also rated the company’s products as more desirable, and when asked to guess the company’s annual profits came up with answers, on average, $50 million higher than those of the control group.

What’s happening here? Shouldn’t we all be suspicious of an organization led by an evident crook? Well, it turns out that the bribes paid to the CEO are seen as a measure of that CEO’s genius and ability. Anyone who can turn a situation to his or her advantage to the tune of $2 million, the thinking goes, must have great abilities. We are awed by the audacity and acumen required for this accomplishment, and we assume the same abilities will steer and benefit the CEO’s company.

One follow-on experiment helped us further explore the topic. In this case we showed participants a film of a low-income shopkeeper seeking a kickback of a pack of Camels from the driver of a supply truck. In the survey, respondents took a dim view of the shopkeeper’s morality, and also gave his shop poor marks for quality of goods and profitability. Why the difference from the wealthy corrupt CEO? The size of the bribe. We are not impressed by the acquisition of a pack of Camels, and so are not impressed with the corrupt leader or his or her organization.

Let’s think more about how this dynamic plays out in organizations. The brazenly and successfully corrupt leader will transmits a message of capability and vision. This is what the literature calls “inspiring leadership.” His or her employees will be more motivated and will work at higher levels of productivity and creativity. The organization led by the corrupt CEO will in turn create more value for society. (It is no coincidence that soccer is the world’s most popular sport.) The small-dollar cheat, on the other hand, will drag his organization down, prompt distrust and caution in his dealings with other actors, and generally produce that bane of economic health—stagnation.

The lesson is clear—corruption practiced by elites is not only acceptable, it is a boon to society. While laws should target small-time graft, extortion, and skimming, we need to ensure that the super-rich be free from the threat of punishment for actions that, yes, enrich themselves but also enrich us all. Look at the genius of American campaign finance laws by which a billionaire can buy influence over a politician free and clear but any schmoe offering free cigars can get locked up. Or think over the inimitable “corporate governance” system by which CEOs appoint boards who then award the CEO pay packages of hundreds of millions of dollars and call that oversight. These are acknowledged forms of corruption glossed over with technical legality and they are an inseparable part of what makes the American politico-economic system great.

So, yes, I say weep for Sepp Blatter, as you would weep for the blunting of your own genius. That a tragedy is little understood does not make it less of a tragedy.

Pastor Uses Tools of Wall Street to Get People into Heaven

Evangelical preacher Johnny Gawn says his life’s work is to usher as many souls as possible through the Pearly Gates. And now he’s devised a way to guarantee success, at a very reasonable cost.

CAOThrough his Everlasting Love and Compassion of Christ Ministry, Gawn is selling shares in what he calls “collateralized afterlife obligations.” These “Heaven bonds” are modeled on the mortgage-backed securities and other sophisticated financial inventions that were devised in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis. Participants in Gawn’s CAO sign a contract agreeing to pool their sins and the resultant punishment in the afterlife. Like with financial securitization, CAO participants buy into the agreement at different levels of risk exposure, called tranches. As years in Purgatory or Hell accumulate in the shared pool, the first 90 years of torment go to the lowest tranche. The next nine years of lying in carnal filth while their hides are scourged and genitals seared with red hot iron go to those who’ve bought into the mezzanine tranche. The safest tranche gets only one year of punishment. Of course, the safer tranches are more expensive.

But no matter the risk level, Gawn guarantees that anyone who buys into one of his CAOs will eventually make it to the ultimate heights. The contract that forms the basis of the “Heaven bond” transmits both the moral culpability and credit of each person in the pool to every other bondholder. To ensure adequate righteousness in the pool, Gawn builds each new vehicle around an especially virtuous individual, usually a member of his church, called a tentpole. “The tentpole holds up the shelter for the good of all,” says Gawn.

Each participant in the CAO is evaluated for moral risk, and the cost of entry in the pool will vary based on the outcome of credit and reference checks. Gawn wouldn’t provide specific cost information, but he gave the example of a serial check kiter and reformed bigamist who bought into the mezzanine tranche of a recent offering for “a modest five figures.”

“That sort of expenditure is absolutely inconsequential—inconsequential, I say—compared to the ultimate guaranteed return. Going to Heaven, I mean,” says Gawn. “Our lord Jesus said, ‘where your treasure is, there will your heart be, too.’ By buying a share in a CAO, you put your treasure and your heart where they belong.”

Gawn says the idea for the CAO came to him when a penitent investment banker told him his story. “This poor brother fell down on his knees, because although he had a Bugatti and a Cessna Citation, he realized that he had lost God and that his works were the works of the Devil.” The man explained how he had built sophisticated pools of mortgage debt that had later lost all their value and left investors destitute. “I saw what God wanted from me in a flash,” says Gawn. “I’ve always been blessed with a talent for turning the tools of the Devil to the glory of the Almighty.” Gawn first achieved notoriety when he trademarked the word “fornicate” in an effort, he says, to suppress the unfortunate act referred to by that term.

Gawn wasn’t initially sure that he could draw up a contract that would carry authority into the afterlife, but he found a raft of precedents in Church history.

“It turns out there used to be objections to the idea of selling indulgences,” Gawn says, referring to the practice of selling admittance to Heaven for large sums of money. Distaste for the practice was a key cause of the Protestant Reformation. “But this is not corrupt like that. We are sharing among a group of people, and in that sense, we are like the first Christians, when brothers and sisters had to stand together against persecution.”

Mary Allyn is a member of Gawn’s flock who has bought into a CAO. “Am I happy with it? You bet your hindparts I’m happy with it,” she says. “I feel so much more relaxed about things.” Allyn is in the safest tranche of her CAO, and says she paid for it with a second mortgage on her home and by dipping into the fund she had set up for her daughter’s college education. “I used to beat myself up if I felt like a glass of rosé while I watched Dancing with the Stars. I could hear my mother’s voice, ‘You’ll go to Hell! You’ll go to Hell, you horrid little slut, just like your whore sister with her lipstick!’ Now I don’t worry.”

That’s what financial engineers call moral hazard. “Anytime people don’t bear the downside consequences of their behavior, they will tend to take more risks,” says Lon Wilton, a hedge fund manager and former risk analyst at Lehman Brothers. “You want to avoid creating that situation in any new product.” Does that mean Reverend Gawn might be unintentionally incentivizing people like Mary Allyn to sin more? “I can’t comment on questions of right or wrong,” says Wilton. “But from what you tell me, it sounds like this might be good for alcohol distributors in the Southeast.”

We raised the idea of moral hazard and unintended consequences with Gawn. “Shmoral hazard. Shmumintended shmonsequences,” he said. “I’ve prayed on this. I don’t know why God chose me, but He did. He chose me to open the way to Heaven for everyone. There’s no risk when God is your guarantor.”

See more articles on religious developments:

Minister Trademarks “Fornicate”

Pope Francis’ Twitter Account Hacked

The Devil Reads the Hobby Lobby Decision and Has Some Questions

An Interview with Jude Polotan, First Prize Winner of the 2014 Stoneslide Story Contest

What prompted you to write “Dog People”?

Long ago I discovered that my particular writing strengths were best suited to long-form fiction and I have concentrated on novels ever since. Novels take years to write, however, and I felt I wanted to get something “out there” while I worked on the latest novel. Despite my conviction that I had never been able to make a short story quite work, I had a multitude of ideas for stories and decided to tackle the one that turned into “Dog People.”

 

What inspired “Dog People”?

I’ve been known to talk in my sleep on occasion, though apparently I mumble too much for anyone to make out what I say. I find the idea of people talking in their sleep interesting and, like my narrator, I wonder what it means. Do the words sleeping people say make sense, or are they simply a dream spoken aloud? Is talking in your sleep some sort of complaint or plea or articulated fear? Anyway, one day I thought how strange it would be if someone growled or barked in his sleep—which begged the question: what would that mean, if anything?

 

At 10,000 words, this is a long short story. You normally write novels. In fact, this is your first published short story. Were there things you found constricting in keeping this a story? Things you found freeing?

Short stories—even when they’re as long as mine—are extremely constricting to me. I thrive on the space a novel gives me to develop “gray” characters through more developed exposition, back story and interior thought. And I like the space a novel gives to have more of those characters. The pressure in a short story to hold back on telling the reader everything I know about my characters, the limited room I have to present them in all their glorious contradictions and reveal why they are who they are, is hell to me. “Dog People” was probably about 15,000 words at one point and it could easily have been 20,000. The problem with even a 10,000-word short story, of course, is that the avenues for publication are extremely limited. How fortunate for me this story just made it within Stoneslide’s contest guidelines!

 

Can you tell us about the composition of the rough draft? One or several long sessions? Months? Was the rough draft easy or difficult to write?

Yikes, I was afraid you’d ask. Out of curiosity, I looked on my computer for the original draft and was shocked to find it was dated May 2011. It wasn’t even a full draft (only 9,000 words—ha!). There were lots of flashbacks to the couple’s relationship (Tess was named Poppy then) and an appearance by Matt’s mother, and Poppy bought a dog midway through the story that she named Charles Dickens. In others words, very little of the original appears in the final story.

There was always a barking husband and there was always the idea that the two were or would be a childless couple with a dog (I had the title almost from the beginning), but I wrote and wrote and could never figure out how all my various (and many) story lines hung together. And I definitely couldn’t see how it ended. So the story got filed away and, every few months, I would reread it. Even though it didn’t all come together in any way that made sense, I felt the writing wasn’t too bad and that there was something there—if only I could figure out what it was! At some point, I forced myself to sit at my desk and tear it apart to put it back together again. I probably did three or four major rewrites in total. When I won Stoneslide’s contest, I still wasn’t pleased with it and did some more rewriting, particularly with regard to the ending.

 

The narrator and her husband are the emotional center of the story. And although they and their trouble are the focus, the story is very rich, with depth and breadth in terms of character and event. Did you find it easy or difficult to weave in such layered, nuanced material?

It’s flattering to hear you found the story to be so rich and nuanced. It may sound odd, but I think that kind of layering and nuancing in terms of character development is something that does come fairly easily to me. Not necessarily in the first draft, of course—we’re still getting acquainted, after all. It takes quite a bit of rewriting and finessing to get it exactly right, but my characters are usually very alive to me from the beginning. I aim always for subtlety and that requires a skillful balancing act: how much explicit information do I need to provide to let the reader figure it out for herself? Too much and I’m insulting her; too little and I’m frustrating her.

“Event” is another matter entirely. When I think event, I think of that dreaded word: plot. I revel in character development; I wage war with plot and structure. What a pain that something has to happen in our stories. The events in this story were constantly changing from draft to draft and the scissors got a good workout figuring out what would happen when, or if it should happen at all.

 

Not only do you have an MFA, you graduated from the prestigious program at Emerson College, Boston. There seems to be a near-constant discussion of whether or not there’s value to getting an MFA. Was it worthwhile to you to spend your time and money that way? Why or why not?

Ah, the MFA debate. It’s such an individual decision and I can only speak to my own experience. I’m a late bloomer. I started college at 26 and earned my degree while working full-time. Encouraged by an undergraduate professor, I then went to Emerson. Since I was 30 years old when I began the program, I was one of the oldest and one of the few with a full-time job. I feel I missed out on the camaraderie aspects, but it was the first time I’d had “permission” to write. Not only did I have permission, I was being forced to! That was the silver lining, as far as I’m concerned, not to mention I had the opportunity to work closely with Andre Dubus III, a talented writer and generous mentor.

That said, in some ways I feel I gained more insight into both the craft and the writer’s life from the conferences I’ve attended in more recent years; namely, the Sewanee Writers Conference and the Sirenland Writers Conference. (Sirenland is held in Positano, Italy—a terrible sacrifice to make for your art, but if it must be done….) I was thrilled to attend Sirenland for a second time in 2014, where I was reunited with Andre after so many years. These highly competitive conferences offer high quality instruction and workshopping, craft talks and insights on writing from well respected writers, but more than that, they offer real bonding experiences with fellow writers. The friendships forged at those conferences become valuable support in this lonely occupation of ours.

 

What are you working on now?

I’ve been working on and off on a novel about the way physical abuse is handed down in a family and the ripple effect it has across the generations. As of now, it’s told from dual points-of-view—from the mother who abused her young son and from the now-grown son who abuses his wife. It’s not light stuff, but having grown up in an abusive home myself, it resonates for me and it’s a story I need to tell. Of course, my last novel, also about abuse (a wife who abuses her husband), failed to find a home because while editors were highly complimentary about the writing, they found it too dark/sad/depressing to market. We can’t worry about the market, though, or even about being published. It has to come from the heart or what’s the point?

Read an excerpt from “Dog People,” the first-prize-winning story from our 2014 contest.

See the guidelines to the 2015 Stoneslide Story contest.

 

Chance to Get a Free Copy of Our Print Issue, The Stoneslide Corrective No. 1

Dear Writers and Friends,

You already know that the Stoneslide Story Contest is currently open to submissions. You also know that first prize in the contest is $3,000 and undying glory. But there are some poor souls out there who don’t know any of this.

We worry about those people living in the damp caves of ignorance. Will you help us help them?

We will send a free copy of The Stoneslide Corrective No. 1, our new print issue, to the first 20 people who share this notice with at least five friends. Just email this page to other writers you know, then drop us a line letting us know you’ve done so at editors@stoneslidecorrective.com. Then we’ll put a gleaming copy of the magazine in the mail to you.

Regards,

The Editors

 

funnelwinnerStoneslide Story Contest, The Basics

Open to any story up to 10,000 words in length

First prize: $3,000

Second prize: $500

and so on

Entry fee: $10

Deadline: June 21, 2015

All the details.

 

Here’s a look at some of the work that was honored in 2014:

And here is the announcement of the 2014 winners and all the honorees.

Never Go on a Bad Date with Paper Bag 2.0

Another ho-hum date; a date that makes you think perhaps your ex wasn’t so bad after all. Here you are feeling the same way about this person and the one you went to dinner with last week and the one you sat next to in the movies the week before as you did about your ex when you threw that piece of Arizona flagstone through her car windshield.

paperbag2But what if the man or woman sitting across from you was the absolute person of your dreams: blonde, bosomy, blue-eyed, 29, with an irrepressible, adoring smile on her face the entire evening? Or ladies, what if the man you were sitting across from was wearing a clean, collared shirt, brushed his hair before the date, and talked about something other than himself, then actually waited for your answers?

Well, now you can go on that Xanadu dream date using Paper Bag 2.0.

Paper Bag 2.0 is a downloadable app for your phone or tablet. When you’re on a date with a physically or mentally unattractive subject, you simply call up the app and place it in front or to the side of the person. Paper Bag 2.0 uses facial recognition software to scan your date, notes anything pleasing about them, and banks it. Then it combines the appealing aspect of the subject—there has to be something, right?—with preferences you preload. Paper Bag 2.0 then creates an avatar of your date that you can talk to and interact with in lieu of the person in front of you.

You can talk directly to your date, to the Paper Bag 2.0 avatar, or both, depending on how long you can stand to look directly into the eyes of the person sitting across from you. When your date answers you or says something independently, voice recognition software picks up your date’s utterance and instantaneously moves the lips of the avatar to mimic the articulations of your date. If it’s your date’s voice you can’t stand, you can change the pitch, timbre, and resonance.

Paper Bag 2.0 has something for everyone!

Since most men are blind to non-verbal communication, men are sure to like its activity-tracking capabilities. Paper Bag 2.0 monitors bpm and blood pressure to give information on how a date is responding and reacting to your knock-knock jokes, unnecessary chest and bicep flexing, and stale sexual innuendo when ordering dessert. Paper Bag 2.0 automatically detects when your date falls asleep so you can course-correct.

Women will thrill over Paper Bag 2.0’s artificial intelligence capabilities to morph men’s answers into appropriate and sensitive responses.

Early testing shows that Paper Bag 2.0 raises the subjective experience of dating by 53% for the average user. When both participants in a date are using the app, meaning they don’t even have to look at each other through the whole evening, the experience improves by 182%!

While Paper Bag 2.0. is great for the dating scene, it’s a powerful marital aid, too. All relationships, even the fairy tale kind, get stale. You’re sitting at the dinner table. The kids are at gymnastics and lacrosse. There’s no one to model behavior for with a well-balanced meal, so you’ve cobbled together a dinner of Fiber One, pre-sliced and packaged apples, and microwaved leftovers from Tuesday. He’s complaining about the budget cuts his department was just handed. She’s had it with her co-workers stealing her Stouffers stuffed green peppers from the lunchroom freezer. Each of you puts Paper Bag 2.0 on the table, and the conversation starts to twinkle. He’s talking to a redhead about how sexy vaping makes her look. She’s staring at a young, shirtless John Stamos. Suddenly you cannot control the raw energy between you, and you take each other on the mahogany sideboard.

Note: Due to privacy concerns that led to the abrupt failure of Google Glass, Paper Bag 2.0 requires permission from your subject to be used in conjunction with him or her. Permission is granted in the form of a sustained, three-second wink picked up by eye-scan software. Subject must also give a voice sample. Full disclosure and use information can be found online @ stoneworksgifts.com/usermanuals/paperbag.

An Adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses by a Middle Manager, Chapter Two

To start at the beginning, go back and read Chapter One.

Chapter Two

There is a 6,345-square-foot home, with marble-tiled bathrooms, fully integrated home entertainment technology, and a professional-level gas grill, among many other amenities, that sits in a grove-like subdivision a comfortable 15-minute commute from the headquarters of Sterling Performance Limited. Tax registers and other official documents will show that this is the residence of Mr. Anthony J. Sun, the chief financial officer of Sterling.

calculatoreyesOne afternoon in a second-floor bedroom, Mr. Sun’s 11-year-old son, Frederick, was engaged in one of the noble pursuits by which youth are shaped into full men. He and three friends were testing their strength and skill by utilizing the multi-player feature on Frederick’s PlayStation 4 edition of Mortal Kombat X.

Frederick’s hands and fingers moved quickly and surely. He sat straight and stared at the screen. Anyone who saw him would say he looked like a young version of his father. Indeed, his eyes, which were lit and striated with reflections from the glowing screen, were the exact same green as his father’s. But the edged shard of grief in young Frederick’s heart was that, despite their resemblance, he could so seldom catch his father’s eye. Mr. Sun was at that moment in his office, as he was at most waking moments, staring at his spreadsheets, projections, lists of receivables, and reports on productivity.

Frederick grappled with young Sam, throwing tight punches and wild kicks. He called out a boast: “Did you know that my father handles all of the money for Sterling? Every last cent goes through his hands, he says.”

Given the convenient location of this Arcadia of a subdivision, it will not surprise you to know that several employees of Sterling lived there, and their sons were Frederick’s playmates.

“No way,” said Sam.

“No one could handle that much money,” said another of the young man’s companions.

They tussled and kicked on the 70-inch plasma screen, but though each showed determined skill, each also had the endurance and toughness to remain standing.

“It’s true!” Frederick cried. He was wounded by his friends’ doubt. Perhaps because he also doubted his father—not his father’s power but his father’s love.

“Yeah, right,” returned another.

“He’s the CFO, C. F. O. Don’t you know what that means?” Frederick maneuvered and kicked at one of his tormentors. This fight suddenly felt like a fight against the unacknowledged fear in his breast—the fear that his father didn’t truly care for him.

“You’re making it up.”

“Am not!”

The other three joined together and pummeled Frederick until he lay prostrate on the ground. “We’ll believe it when we see it,” one said.

“I’ll show you, then!” Frederick panted back at them. His heart was grievously wounded. He loved his father. He admired his father. But he wasn’t sure he really knew his father. Now he feared all the other boys saw this weakness in him.

Mr. Sun had tremendous responsibilities, as you and I can well understand, and these kept him at the office through long hours and many weekends. Holidays, vacations, school activities, all were subordinated to his duty at Sterling. After all, some whispered that Mr. Sun was the very right hand of Mr. Jove, and on the short list of potential successors. But this eminence had a cost for the great man’s son who yearned for just a look of esteem and love.

Frederick tried to act like he didn’t care what the other boys said for the hour that remained until they had to leave for a Debate Club meeting, but as soon as they were gone he rushed to find his mother.

She was in her expansive and immaculate kitchen, where she was heating a small container of gourmet, vegan soup in the microwave. Frederick stopped before her, with hands clasped in front of his chest and eyes burning with eager need.

“Where’s Dad?” said the young Frederick. “I have to ask him something.”

“He’s at work,” said the helpmeet of Mr. Sun. She glanced from her distressed son to the declining digits on the LED display of the microwave. “Really, Freddy, what is this about?”

“I need to talk to Dad,” he said. “When will he be home?”

Mrs. Sun raised her hands and shook her head, indicating that the answer to such a question was beyond her power to descry.

“I’ll go see him,” Frederick said.

“You can’t do that!” Mrs. Sun was so shocked she dropped the spoon she’d been tapping against her lower lip in anticipation of her mulligatawny. “He’s busy, you know. The things he does every day—managing all that money, finding the funds to get the company through each day, keeping all the accounts in line—it takes a lot of concentration.”

“Mom, I think I’m going to die. The guys don’t think he’s the CFO. They laughed at me. I’m going to die if I can’t see him and get him to help me show them it’s true.”

“You’ve never asked to go there before,” gasped Mrs. Sun. She herself had never been to the actual headquarters of Sterling Performance Limited, though she’d been to every holiday party for the last decade, all held at the lovely Lawndale Golf & Country Club.

“I’m his son. Don’t deny me this,” said Frederick. “I have to be worth that much.”

The microwave dinged. Mrs. Sun picked up the spoon from the floor and wiped it on the hem of her dress. “Okay. After my soup,” she said.

 

####

 

A silver Mercedes S-Class sedan pulled into the turnaround in front of the world headquarters of Sterling Performance Limited. A door opened, allowing observers a glimpse of the rich comforts inside, and Frederick stepped out onto the sidewalk. He, naturally, first gawked up at the 13-story edifice. The sun reflected off of hundreds of panes of glass, making the whole building seem to be a source of light itself. He headed toward the front door, among a small crowd wearing suits and ties.

“I’ll pick you up after my shopping,” his mother called after him, but he may not have heard, his mind was so taken up with the wonders around him.

He passed through a revolving door into a three-story atrium, with a mural depicting some of the company’s many useful prodcuts on one side, and a security desk on the other. Two palm trees with their roots in pots stood on either side of a passageway leading to the elevator bank.

Frederick headed this way, knowing that his father’s office was on the topmost floor, at the apex of power and influence. He longed to see his father in this place, imagining him somehow brighter, as if garbed in prestige, as if he would find a different man in his place of power, one who would recognize and welcome Frederick.

But a strong hand on his shoulder stopped him. A security guard with the company’s logo on his badge asked, “Where are you going young man?”

“Thirteenth floor,” replied Frederick.

The guard kept his powerful hand on Frederick’s shoulder and was using it to first turn him and then sweep him back toward the entrance. Frederick wasn’t strong enough to resist.

“You need an ID in here,” said the guard whose mighty hand had defeated Frederick.

“I need to see Mr. Sun. It’s important!”

“You need an ID, or you need to be on the visitor list,” said the guard. They were almost back to the security desk. The palm trees and the elevator bank looked so far away to Frederick. “Are you on the list?”

“But he’s my father,” Frederick cried. “He’s expecting me!”

The security guard’s eyes widened at this. He pulled his hand back quickly. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry,” he said, his voice transformed as if he’d been given the throat of a young girl. “Please don’t say anything about this, okay? I’m just trying to do my job.”

Frederick was inundated with joy—less because of his unlikely victory over the titan of a guard than because he suddenly felt like he truly was his father’s son. His suspicion grew that here in this place he would find his real father and he would be taken up by that long-sought man. He ran to the elevator.

If the turnaround and the atrium were not wonder enough for a mortal’s heart, Frederick emerged from the elevator into the C-suite lobby. Couches and low tables positioned for the convenience of important and busy visitors. Works of art on the walls with unrecognizable subject matter but very recognizable signatures in their corners. Against a row of windows at the far end were the desks of eight administrative assistants. They moved in front of the light, slim, erect silhouettes, as vague and beautiful as the sylphs one glimpses between the trees in an Arcadian grove.

One of them came toward Frederick. She was holding a leather-bound notebook against her chest, and her nails were bright red. Her eyes were pure and bright, and she smiled at Frederick. He fell in love with her, as all visitors to Sterling’s C-suite were meant to fall in love.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“I’m here to see Mr. Sun. He’s my father.”

She leaned down a little to look at him more closely, and the young man felt her gaze like heat on his cheeks. “Oh, yes,” she said and smiled at him with her beautiful lips. “I’ve seen your picture. Come with me.”

Mr. Sun’s office had a wall of trophies from his many professional exploits around the globe. Picture after picture arrayed in a grid: Mr. Sun shaking the hand of Clement Ellis, the U.S. representative for the 11th district, Sterling’s home district; Mr. Sun at a podium, speaking to an audience at a factory; Mr. Sun in a row of dignitaries, fellow finance chiefs attending a conference; Mr. Sun standing stiffly beside the CEO and the governor of their state; and so on. Young Frederick saw this wall on first entering—so many images of the man he wanted to know—and still it didn’t prepare him for the sight of glory itself: Mr. Sun at his desk, three different computer terminals within reach, all the capital of the company reined and quivering at his command, like great steeds, strong enough to carry away and trample any man, but obedient to the masterly hand.

Mr. Sun looked at Frederick, giving no hint of emotion, not even surprise, until the sylph had left them alone. Then he said, “What are you doing here?”

The question was not mean, but it was cruel in its coldness.

Frederick realized he would have to battle for his patrimony.

“I wanted to see you, Dad.”

The father gave no response.

“Mom said I could come. I want to know you. I want to see what you do. Some of the guys have been making fun of me, and they say you’re not really the CFO. I want to see what you do. I want to show them you are my real father.”

At this plaint, the father’s reserve broke. He was used to dealing in the world of business, not the world of family, so it was hard for him to acknowledge another’s feelings. But he loved his son. If nothing else, his son was a proper emanation of his own position in the world, and he wanted the boy to feel that. He wanted to do something for the boy.

Mr. Sun pushed back in his chair and held out a hand. “Come around here, Freddy,” he said. The boy did, and Mr. Sun wrapped his arm around his son’s waist and squeezed. “You’re my boy,” he said. Mr. Sun didn’t remember it, but this was exactly what he’d said to his son when the boy was too little understand language, before he and Mary had been able to afford help, when he sometimes had to watch Freddy while she had an appointment or something like that. And though neither Frederick nor Mr. Sun knew why, this concordance awakened powerful love and attachment in both of them.

“Thanks, Dad,” Frederick said. The words felt so small next to the relief and excitement he felt.

“Let me do something for you,” Mr. Sun said. “Name something you want and I’ll give it to you.” He expected the boy to claim a new computer or a promise of a car in a few years—boons Mr. Sun could easily grant.

Frederick only wanted to know his father better. “Let me sit in your chair,” he said.

“Oh,” Mr. Sun voiced without thinking. “Are you sure? Wouldn’t you rather have some new games or something?”

“I have them all. I want to be like you. I want to tell the guys that I sat here. You take a picture with my phone, and I can prove it to them.”

“I could get you an iPad or a new lacrosse stick,” said Mr. Sun. He could sense peril in the boy’s request. But to refuse him now would leave them both hurt and feeling more distant than when the boy first walked in.

“No. That’s all I want. It’s simple enough, isn’t it?”

“Okay.” Mr. Sun stood up. The resemblance between him and his son was especially strong as they stood beside each other for a moment. Then he moved away from his chair and made room for Frederick to sit down.

The seat was still warm with his father’s presence. Frederick pulled himself up to the edge of the desk, as if working, and wiggled to make himself comfortable. He smiled and said, “How do I look?”

“Like a real professional,” said Mr. Sun.

“Yeah.”

“Hey, do you know what a discounted cash flow is?” grilled Mr. Sun in a faux-drill sergeant voice.

“No.”

They both laughed.

“What are the tax advantages to setting up a shell company to lease your factory equipment?”

“Dad,” Frederick said the word with a laugh in his voice. “Hey get the picture.” He handed his father the phone, and Mr. Sun backed across the office to get the right angle. Frederick smiled and pretended to put his hands on the keyboard.

Just then, Mr. Sun’s own phone buzzed with a new message—a bolt from Mr. Jove, in fact. Mr. Sun was startled enough to drop his son’s phone onto the carpet. He took out his own and read this message from his superior:

 

WHER R U?? BEEN EMAILING FIVE MINUTES. I NEED SOMETHING.

 

“Shit!” yelled Mr. Sun. He ran to the back of his desk and pulled the chair away. “Get out! Get out!” he yelled while pushing Frederick away.

Mr. Sun got into place at his workstation, hands again on the reins, and sure enough, there were eight messages from Mr. Jove in his Outlook inbox, each with a red exclamation mark of importance next to it.

Frederick crumpled at the side of Mr. Sun’s desk. He could have stood, but the fall from the chair, and more importantly from his father’s grace, had felt as if he’d been hurled down from the sky. He now felt broken on the ground. He sobbed, but his father didn’t hear. He rolled onto his side and curled into a ball, wanting to disappear now that he again meant nothing to his father.

There is a power of mercy in the world, and it spotted this noble young man. He shrank until his sides, his top, and his bottom were rectilinear. He grew on his abdomen rubberized buttons with numbers and mathematical symbols printed on them. And while Mr. Sun did not see this happen, later that night a janitor carefully cleaning the office would find the calculator on the floor and put it up on the great man’s desk. The next morning Mr. Sun would find it there and frequently use it for little calculations, especially when daydreaming about new product lines or ways of accounting for long-term pension obligations. He would always have unusual affection for that little instrument.

But now we turn our attention to the janitor working his way diligently through the C-suite, for he is the subject of our next story of a remarkable transformation.

END OF CHAPTER TWO

Future installments will be published soon.

Advice on Writing as a Craft and an Art

One attends a huge conference like the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) with hope of gleaning powerful insight into the the craft and art of writing. Yes, there are people to meet and substances to ingest, but mostly the goal is to deepen one’s understanding and perhaps learn new ways of doing things, right?

This year, at the Minneapolis manifestation of AWP, we paid close attention to the speakers and wrote down all the wisdom we received.

We share with you now those speakers’ advice.

  1. Make yourself stay in your chair until you’ve written 2,000 words. Put broken glass on the seat to make yourself write faster.
  2. Instead of gazing at navel, try gazing at nipple or that place where your hip bone juts out for fresh ideas.
  3. Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. Eating is overrated.
  4. A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk. To a bar.
  5. Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue. Preferably after one or two sentences.
  6. Protect the time and space in which you write. Use razor wire if needed.
  7. Protect the time and space in which you write. Use internet-blocking software if needed.
  8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Have office door locked from the outside if needed.
  9. Listen to the criticisms of your trusted first readers. Then explain to them why they’re wrong.
  10. Don’t remove thumb from butt. Instead, write one-handed to build up forearm endurance.
  11. To overcome writer’s block, just… well… umm… forget it, you’re screwed.
  12. Outlines are very helpful, especially if you like tearing up paper and throwing it away.
  13. Write what you know, particularly if you know salacious secrets about famous people. Otherwise make up salacious secrets about famous people.
  14. Always be an observer. Go out and meet people and study human nature. It gives you an excuse to not write.

Reading Is Good for Your Soul: An Invitation

PLEASE NOTE NEW LOCATION

On April 9, 2015, join us during the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) 2015 conference in Minneapolis for an evening of moving fiction and satire. Authors Douglas W. Milliken, Libby Cudmore, Joe Ponepinto and Mark Wisniewski will read from their work, and we’ll have other special guests, too. The reading is being organized by Publication Studio Hudson and The Stoneslide Corrective, and will be held at local literary landmark, the South Minneapolis Society Library:

When: Thursday, April 9, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Eastlake Craft Brewery, 920 E. Lake Street #123

What: Readings by Douglas W. Milliken, Libby Cudmore, Joe Ponepinto, Mark Wisniewski, & special guests

Food & drink served

Publication Studio prints and binds books one at a time on-demand, creating original work with artists and writers we admire. We use any means possible to help writers and artists reach a public: physical books; a digital commons; eBooks; and unique social events with our writers and artists in many cities. We attend to the social life of the book. Publication Studio is a laboratory for publication in its fullest sense – not just the production of books, but the production of a public. This public, which is more than a market, is created through physical production, digital circulation, and social gathering. Together these construct a space of conversation which beckons a public into being.

The Stoneslide Corrective publishes fiction and nonfiction with strong narrative movement, along with satire and humor. Stoneslide has published accomplished writers – including a Pushcart Prize winner and a Faulkner Award winner – as well as new and rising writers. Fresh online content appears every Monday. Stoneslide’s first print edition, The Stoneslide Corrective No. 1, will launch in April 2015.

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The Venn Diagram to Explain All Venn Diagrams

We recently attended a lecture on the history of propaganda. In fact, the point of the lecture was that history is propaganda—from Alexander the Great’s scribes through Julius Caesar and Napoleon, we can not assuredly separate fact from interpretation from self-generated myth.

But things have changed, you might think. We live in an era of reporting, and impartial fact-finding commissions, and data. All that is just so much persuasion, this speaker argued. Perhaps her most convincing riff was about Venn diagrams and how they appear to present clearly defined, even indisputable information, while actually being arbitrary circles drawn by self-interested PowerPoint users.

We found the following chart from her presentation to be the strongest demonstration of this point.
venn2

The Stoneslide Story Contest

Submit to the 2015 Stoneslide Story Contest.

Open to any kind of story up to 10,000 words in length.

We’re looking for previously unpublished stories that exemplify the power of narrative to make one think and feel. Ideal stories will use character, plot, description, humor, pathos, and concept to open new emotional and cognitive territory for readers. The contest is judged by the editors.

PRIZES

1st $3,000 + publication

2nd $500 + possible publication*

3rd $250 + possible publication*

Four stories will also be recognized for:
-striking use of wit: $100*
-beguiling character: $100*
-description that makes us think we were really there: $100*
-propulsive plot line and/or scene $100*

*All honorees will be considered for publication in our second print volume, and/or in The Stoneslide Corrective website

DATES

Contest opens Friday, March 20 (first day of spring)
Entries due by Sunday, June 21 (first day of summer)
Notification made on Wednesday, September 23 (first day of fall)

HOW TO ENTER

What do you have to do? Write a kick-ass story. Pay a $10 entry fee.
Wait for an answer…
Wait…
Get more and more anxious.
Yell at your kids and the dog.
Imagine how good it would feel to win.
Try using the Rejection Generator to calm your nerves.
Rabidly check your email on September 23.

Submit to the 2015 Stoneslide Story Contest.


More Details

  • All work submitted must be original and never published before.
  • All submissions will be read blind, meaning that the readers and judges will only see the title and body of the story before making a judgment.
  • Simultaneous submissions are permitted, but you must withdraw a work immediately if it is accepted for publication elsewhere, with no refund of the entry fee.
  • The contest will be judged by the editors of The Stoneslide Corrective.
  • Family members of the editors and editorial staff are ineligible to enter.
  • Up to ten stories may also be designated “honorable mentions.”

See the results of the 2014 Stoneslide Story Contest.

An Adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses by a Middle Manager

Chapter One

Sing, muse of the middle reach, goddess who wisely keeps her head down, cringer before the throne of the mighty. Like you, I sit high enough to witness the deeds of the illustrious, and yet I would never try to climb to their heights. Watching is enough for me. Help me tell their stories, and what happens when those who dwell in empyrean splendor touch lives of ordinary plane.

coffeenarcissusThe world where my tale is set is the 13-story company headquarters of Sterling Performance Limited, a rectangular box tied around with ribbons of highway, exit ramp, driveway, and capacious parking lots. The headquarters may appear as small as a box when seen from a heavenly angle, but, remember, it can also loom tall as a mountain to those who only walk its sidewalks or look up from the asphalt square that is the designated smoking area, with its one, long-necked receptacle that is intended only for butts and not food wrappers. You have to carry those back to the bin near the main entrance if you happen to eat Sun Chips while keeping company with the one smoker left in the entire production supervision group, as has happened to me more than once.

This entire edifice, which today contains the energy of more than 700 employees, was once non-existent. Before the company, was a void and an empty field. Our founder, Mr. T. Satern, reached into the great expanses of the banking system and, pulling on the strings of family connections, drew forth capital. But in the beginning, this capital was formless and indistinct. He could make nothing with it. So, he purchased vacuum cleaners, and automobile deodorants, and carpet samples, and office furniture. And this was inventory. And with inventory he could create more business. A sales department begot accounting and after accounting was created facilities and purchasing and production and marketing and human resources and finally corporate strategy. In less than a decade, Mr. Satern caused steel I-beams and sheet rock to be erected. He pointed and sent electricians to string wire through conduit and glaziers to frame and place their fine portals. This building, which contains all my world, was constructed and completed and stood as a solid testament to Sterling Performance Limited.

Sadly, Mr. Satern only occupied his boardroom on the thirteenth floor for a few years before his children consigned him to the darkness of an assisted living facility with the weapon of an involuntary commitment and power of attorney. But they squabbled amongst themselves and the company suffered until shareholders rose up and installed a true CEO.

Today, Mr. Satern’s successor, Mr. Jove, sits in the corner office on the thirteenth floor, where he looks out on his domain and wears the garland of power, which is also the crown of care, and wields his mighty memos and directives, like lightning bolts flying down from his right hand.

But even one as exalted as Mr. Jove must use the elevator to enter and exit the building. One day about eight years ago, as the story is told, he was riding up at 9:30 in the morning. Beside him was an assistant director of compensation, who naturally trembled in silence beside his god, until the door opened on the fourth floor to let him out. The assistant director was fully out of the elevator and two steps into the rotunda, when Mr. Jove saw a nymph-like form in a blue dress swish past. He stopped the closing elevator doors and leaned out to look. Powerful as he was, his heart was tender and easily pierced by Cupid’s arrows. He’d seen the girl’s face for only an instant, but the sleek outline of her back and bare calf was the weapon that had truly smitten him.

“Who was that?” he called to the assistant director.

“Sara. She started yesterday,” said the cowed man, as if thunderbolt-struck.

“Good,” said the CEO and he rode higher again, though his thoughts stayed with Sara on the fourth floor, this woman whose existence he somehow hadn’t been aware of until now but who made his world richer.

Mr. Jove had meetings in the morning and a factory tour scheduled for later, so he needed a good excuse to revisit the fourth floor. He spoke to his secretary, a woman named Beatrice, who had immaculate hair and always wore a black skirt suit, and told her that he had left a pair of reading glasses on the fourth floor. She flew off to retrieve them, but he, crafty Mr. Jove, followed a minute after her to tell her he’d just realized they were in his car. So, she flew off again, and he stood on the fourth floor. He peeked over cubicle walls and peered through office doors, looking for that face that drove him mad with love.

Finally, he came to a quiet grotto, a storeroom with rows of metal shelving, and in it toiled a lone figure. It was his nymph, Sara. She kneeled on the floor, arranging books on a low shelf, and her dress pooled around her feet. She bit her lip while she concentrated, and her body swayed while she tugged at heavy volumes; her breasts pressed against the fabric of her dress.

“You’re a hard worker,” Mr. Jove said, as he closed the door behind him.

“Who are you? Do you work here?” the nymph replied. She stood and held onto the shelving with one hand.

“I can understand why you wouldn’t recognize me when I come down here. Who would expect to see me on the fourth floor? But look at that book right there beside your lovely hand.”

He pointed, and she saw a shelf full of a volume with a red cover. The title was Winning the Game.

“Go on, look,” Mr. Jove encouraged.

Sara tilted out a volume and turned it to the back cover. There was a photo of Mr. Jove smiling, with the description, “As CEO of Sterling Performance Limited, Mr. Jove has improved shareholder results every year.”

He stood revealed in his glory, and the nymph gasped.

“Now come with me,” said Mr. Jove. “I want to show you my love.”

He held her and urged her over toward a utility table in the corner. She didn’t resist. He bent her until she put her hands on the table, and he slid his hands under her skirt.

“I have thought of this for so long,” he whispered. “You don’t know what you do to me. You are so beautiful.”

But before Mr. Jove could enjoy his love to the fullest, he heard a voice calling his name. It was out in the hall, and it came closer and closer. He knew who it was immediately—the general counsel, June Wilton. June was always telling him they couldn’t afford another lawsuit. June had access to the board if she wanted.

The wishes of CEOs have a way of becoming reality. And so, Mr. Jove’s urgent need to hide his new lover had power and quickly changed Sara into an innocuous fax machine. Her hands and legs pulled into her torso, which hardened into squared-off polymer sides. Her mouth became the tray that holds the waiting paper, and all through her body little gears and rollers started turning.

Mr. Jove quickly zipped.

“Why are you here?” June queried when she opened the grotto door.

“I just needed one of these,” said Mr. Jove, picking up the copy of Winning the Game that Sara had dropped. After a sad look at the beeping fax machine, he let June lead him back to the thirteenth floor.

A new girl was brought in to replace Sara. Her name was Ella, and she was so shy she could only speak when spoken to first. For some reason, the thought of going up to someone and making even the simplest overture froze her throat. So she would wait. She would place a folder on a colleague’s desk and walk away, unless that colleague asked, “Is this for the outbound files?” She wasn’t without a heart. She longed for companionship and the sort of easy back and forth she saw others engaging in, but it felt impossible to her. She moved silently through the halls, waited silently in the conference room, and went out at the end of the day to her car without saying a word.

One day she traveled up to the eighth floor to drop off an expense report for her supervisor. She passed their break room, which was shaped and appointed just the same as the one on the fourth floor where she worked. But standing in the corner was a man who was staring into a mug he held. He wore a shirt and tie and a company ID on a string around his neck. He had blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. Ella thought she’d never seen a man as beautiful, in part because of the way his whole being was consumed in what he was doing—she couldn’t really understand what that was, but she could see the commitment with which he did it.

At first, she was afraid even to move, thinking she might disturb him. But then she saw other eighth-floor workers pass in and out of the break room without disturbing his transfixed stare. One came in to use the coffee maker and called, “Nicholas, Nicholas,” in front of her man’s face, and still he didn’t flinch.

Ella walked bravely into the break room after seeing this. She knew his name now, though she still didn’t dare speak it. But she got close to him. She looked over his beautiful face, admiring the clean line of his jaw, the even yellowish tan, the mark on his nose where he must have worn reading glasses. She felt so close to him, and yet so infinitely distant. The feeling was a pleasure and a torment, and she settled herself in the corner of the break room to go on watching, hoping more than anything that he would look up at her eventually and know how devotedly she’d stood by him and that he would then speak and ask her her name so she could reply.

Nicholas had been standing as Ella found him for over 24 hours at this point. He’d always loved coffee. His cup of Joe was the one thing that made him feel like he might be something more than a corporate drone. It illuminated a shard of divinity in his heart for a few minutes each time. He’d always lingered in the break room, to the point that his coworkers often came in to prod him and remind him to get back to his reports and file another account before lunch. Then, during the morning break one day earlier, he’d stopped thinking of the coffee as something separate from himself. He’d looked inside the brim of his mug and saw his own face reflected back, and this prompted the thought that he could be the coffee, he could be the feeling of warmth, and quickening, and release—and not only be a man drinking the brew.

And so he’d been captivated and he’d stood there using all the effort of his mind to become the coffee. None of his coworkers realized he hadn’t moved, since they were used to seeing him standing there for long stretches as they moved in and out of the break room. Surely, one of them would have told a responsible supervisor if they’d realized.

So, the sun went down, and Nicholas went on gazing at himself in the coffee mug, and Ella stood in the corner of the room, leaning as close as she dared, longing to speak his name but then choked with fear.

Perhaps because it was a full moon, someone somewhere took mercy on the two in this predicament, and Nicholas suddenly felt the heat of liquid boiling inside him. Before he could look up, his head became the top of a coffeemaker, with its filter and wet coffee grounds. His eyes would always look down at what he loved. His belly bulged to become the pot, his arms forever wrapping around the blessed liquid.

As she saw this transformation happening, Ella first grieved and wanted to call out, but then she thought, “I want to watch him forever, even now.” And she felt herself lifted up until her head and back brushed the ceiling. She contracted down, her whole self wrapped in a tight band, and she hung there, directly over Nicholas. She had become a smoke detector.

When they came in the next morning, Nicholas’ coworkers gave thanks for the new coffeemaker they’d received overnight. It made the best coffee they’d ever had. They also noted an intermittent, plaintive cheeping noise. After searching all through the adjacent hallway and several nearby offices, they localized the noise to the smoke detector that was Ella. Someone changed the battery. But this didn’t stop the noise from erupting every hour or two. Calls to facilities, more new batteries—nothing stopped the slow complaint from Ella. But eventually they learned to live with it.

This is the end of Chapter One. We will have future installments available soon.

An Email Home to the Parents of Divine Mercy’s Youth Ministers

We recently received this note,  forwarded from a concerned community member, who says, “Doesn’t this tell it all about the times we live in?”

Hi Parents:

I’m sure you’re wondering what happened last night at Youth Ministry that prompted me to have the children call home and get picked up immediately. So here’s the explanation. Never in 15 years of leading Youth Ministry at Divine Mercy have I had to deal with such raucous and disorderly behavior—behavior so unruly and unprincipled as to be un-Christian.

During dinner, several children were playing bloody, gory shooting games on their phones; filming each other oozing food through their retainers; blaring explicit, rowdy music; and watching a video of a girl moving her rear end very briskly in front of a camera. I know this is the culture we live in, and I don’t begrudge anyone the use of their phones (I’m totally attached to mine!), however, I feel these activities conflicted with Youth Ministry’s mission of building a parish community, honoring God’s gifts, and putting Jesus Christ at the center of our lives. They also seemed entirely inappropriate for this age group.

After dinner, I invited the children to the lounge to begin our activities. We were to start with a scripture reading, Matthew 25:31-40. (“When the Son of Man comes in glory… He will divide His sheep from His goats… And He shall say to those on His right hand…”) Many of the children didn’t know how to find a passage in the Bible, which was disappointing, but as I was coaching them, others began playing bleating-goat sounds on their cell phones. An oblique but still unfit discussion broke out about masturbation, apparently triggered by the words right hand in the Bible passage. I separated some of the boys from each other, refocused the group and continued helping those having trouble finding the passage.

The outbursts however continued, demonstrating an astonishing lack of respect for our Savior and the Holy Scripture. Each time a young person would ask a question, three others would respond with bodily noises, wild gesticulations, muffled insults, flying objects, or off-topic comments. My corrections hindered the lesson, so some students decided to take correcting into their own hands and hit fellow students in the face with their Bibles! So discomfiting to see an instrument of peace and instruction used as a bludgeon. At one point I stopped to clarify a passage saying, “Jesus promised He would come back and judge the righteous from the unrighteous.” To this, someone made the outburst, “Well, what if Jesus had His fingers crossed?”

The hitting started again when a girl took a boy’s shoe and threw it across the room. After I told her to pick it up, she refused. The shoeless boy then jammed his toes into the girl’s nostrils causing a profuse nosebleed. Then he taunted her to sniff. The girl jumped on the boy and began punching him—her nose bleeding a wide shot pattern all over him and the sofa. The boy defended himself by flailing his arms and legs and eventually tossed the girl to the carpeting. The girl then slapped the boy across the face, called him a disparaging term often directed at homosexual males, and ran crying to the bathroom for tissues and self-consolation. Again, behavior entirely inappropriate for this setting and age group.

At this point, I figured the children had been sitting too long and needed a break. I was trying to prepare them for our Townsend Street Shelter Dinner, but we couldn’t get through the Scripture reading on good deeds much less discuss Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy or reflect on homelessness. So, I took the children downstairs to play some games I’d set up.

At the game stations, the children could create Happy Saints tokens; play the M&M ice-breaker game; or do “Hail Mary” word-search puzzles. In another part of the room, I had materials set out to compile “blessing bags” for the residents of Townsend Street Shelter (deodorant, toothpaste, snacks, socks, hand warmers, Tylenol, etc.). Unfortunately, the horseplay continued. Children disregarded my directions to the point of cheating to win games. At the word-search table, a boy wrote a curse word on a piece of paper and gave it to a girl, then snatched the paper from her and tore it savagely inches from her face so he “wouldn’t get caught.” When I asked him about it, he said in response, “I don’t need this sh*t!” and sat on a folding chair with his hood up, texting.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when several students opened packages meant for the blessing bags. They were batting mints against the walls of the Church Hall with Slim Jims and beaning each other with the rolled-up crew socks. To me, this was blatant disrespect for the parish community, God, our property, and me. This was the point at which I told the children to call home and get picked up promptly. I was spent.

I was and am saddened by this behavior, and I let the children know I was deeply disappointed. I would ask that you have a candid conversation with your son or daughter. If you find that they don’t enjoy Youth Ministry, please don’t send them. I hate to say this, as I NEVER wish to exclude anyone, but I also don’t want to ruin the experience for those who truly choose it.

I went home last night and reflected and prayed on all that happened and have decided the following:

  1. Children from now on will be required to leave their cell phones in a designated basket at the door when they arrive.
  2. Two volunteer parents will be required to attend all sessions going forward to help control behavior so I can lead the activities I work so hard to design.

Please speak to your children and remind them that when we gather in Church, God is in our midst. We therefore must treat each other, ourselves and our Holy space accordingly.

On a more positive note(!)… All the children were issued permission slips to participate in the Townsend Street Shelter Dinner. The first 15 who complete and turn in their forms will be able to join us!

I wish you and your families a blessed Lenten season.

In Christ’s Peace,

— Melinda

More from Stoneslide on family life:

The Pony Parenting System

Advice to Expectant Mothers

Parents Use Big Data to Engage More Meaningfully with Children

Top Ten Lowbrow Indulgences for Snobs

  1. Memorizing the conversations other people have about television programs, so you can later construct a decent narrative in your mind using the same names and locations.
  2. Walking into a J. Crew store and then turning around as soon as you smell the acrylic fabrics.
  3. Trailing your finger along the spines of the books in the Mystery section while thinking “The only mystery is why anyone reads this pap.”
  4. Buying brie and feeding it to your cat.
  5. Bringing a $50 bottle of wine to a dinner party and presenting it to the host; then after a short pause, saying, “Of course, that’s just for the kitchen!” and showing them the decent wine you brought.
  6. While in line at the grocer’s, converting the headlines on the tabloids into story lines for operas.
  7. Asking your maid’s opinion of one of the paintings on your walls, and later making fun of the cautiously fawning response with your spouse.
  8. Checking the score of the latest basketball game, so that you have something to say to the doorman.
  9. Watching the Super Bowl with the sound on mute, so that you can read from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton between plays.
  10. Hiring assistants to make Facebook updates.

snobs

Update on Our Kickstarter Campaign: One Week to Go!

We met our initial goal. Awesome! This magazine is happening. We can’t wait to send out the first copies.

We’d love to reach more readers and to raise the funds through Kickstarter to both pay our contributors more and improve the quality of printing. If we can raise just a few hundred dollars more, we can improve the paper quality, which will make the magazine that much more enticing to hold—and caress, and cuddle—while you imbibe the revelatory fiction and satire within its covers.

Read more about our stretch goals on our Kickstarter page.

If you’ve already backed us, thank you so much. We’re overwhelmed by receiving so much good will. But we’re not so overwhelmed that we can’t ask for more. Please consider sharing this project with other friends and associates.

If you haven’t backed us yet, well, we’re not judging you. Really. You’re missing out on an opportunity to get an awesome reading experience and take pride in helping launch this new magazine. Hey, if you don’t want that, we won’t judge.

If you do want that joy and satisfaction, head over to Kickstarter.

Thank you, again, to all our friends, readers, and supporters.

As I Lay Dying Because You Useless Jerks Wouldn’t Let Me Be Vaccinated

Thanks. This is awesome. Didn’t you get the memo that parents are supposed to protect their kids, not endanger them? No, you probably didn’t. There’s a lot of stuff in this world you don’t get, isn’t there? You arrogant—for no good reason, by the way—you arrogant pair of douches. I’m here fighting for my life and I’m thirteen years old. Again, thanks.

This preventable disease that’s killing me pisses me off, of course. But it’s a disease; it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. Too bad you couldn’t do what you’re supposed to.

I hope you’re proud. It looks like my friend Timmy (you know, my best friend?) might have been infected, even though he was vaccinated, because apparently I’m host to a particularly virulent strain, so thanks for that, too. Yay! Timmy will survive, I’m told, but I’m sure he and his parents would like to share their sentiments with you as well. Look at you! So popular!

I get to cut all this school but won’t enjoy even a second of it. I can eat whatever, but have no appetite.

I do have an awesome fever, however. So I can lie here with ten blankets and still feel freezing cold. Oh, and I learned a new word, “febrile.” Way cool. That will come in handy on the SATs, if I ever get to take them. You guys are the best!

If I survive, I’m certain to take a year or two to recover. I’m so stoked about all the soccer goals I won’t have to score, all the basketball shots I won’t have to make, and all the other things you’re providing me relief from. Also, I will likely get to maintain my virginity much longer than I would have otherwise—maybe I’ll even get to die a virgin! I can’t thank you enough!

Sometimes, as I’m writhing in bed, I try to understand your thinking back when I was a toddler and someone asked you if you wanted to have me vaccinated. As the “bonebreaking” pains set in, I think illness must have seemed like just a possibility, and a distant one at that. What are the odds? you probably thought. You were concerned with more immediate problems, like where you’d left the fifth of whiskey. Now a normal life is just a distant possibility for me, so you really did a great job working the odds!viraltshirt2

But should I die from this entirely avoidable malady, I hope you can ease your pain by producing another child. I hope you’ll allow this one to be vaccinated. That way, he or she can grow up to reach the age of majority, unlike me, and never attend a Thanksgiving or any other family get-together again.

More on Contemporary Family Life:
A Present for Parents of Young Children
Parents Use Big Data to Engage More Meaningfully with Children
Take Your Lazy-Ass Son to Work Day

New App Protects Families from Harmful Lawsuits

A rash of intellectual property lawsuits has made news lately. Whether it’s Tom Petty suing Sam Smith over two songs that happen to sound eerily similar or the NFL attacking inappropriate use of the term “Super Bowl,” the message is clear: stealing someone else’s ideas can come back to bite you in the wallet.

A new app was released today in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store that can help parents of young children ensure they won’t accidentally wander into a minefield of lawsuits when they proudly display their kids’ artworks on social media.

The app, called SafeDraw, quickly scans drawings and three-dimensional creations, like popsicle sculptures and bottle cap collages, to check for possible copyright or trademark violations before allowing them to be displayed publicly. This new parenting aid was developed jointly by the Motion Picture Association of America and the nonprofit Council for Right Families. The groups have negotiated deals with most major movie studios, as well as toy makers and book and comics publishers, and the app enables parents to immediately make a payment to secure appropriate rights to their children’s drawings. SafeDraw then easily posts cleared image to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Former Republican Congressman Mark Lynch is now the head of CRF, and he says, “Millions of families are at grave risk, and many don’t even know it. I have personally heard of many terrible cases. There’s a plumber in Indiana who called us because his daughters made a chalk drawing outside his house that was clearly derivative of The Little Mermaid, a Disney product. Well, that drawing was captured when a Google Street View car went by, and he ended up in court. He lost his business and descended into drink, drug abuse, and eventually homelessness.” Lynch says his organization is focused on helping parents adjust to the new world, in which nearly every idea or expression is owned by someone. “We think it’s our duty to give parents the means to defend themselves against this modern threat, just like they should keep guns in the house to defend against other threats.”

mpaaapp2.2The MPAA did not respond to requests for an interview, but the press kit accompanying the launch of SafeDraw quoted MPAA CEO Christopher J. Dodd as saying, “All of the businesses we work with bent over backward to offer reasonable rates for use of their intellectual property. Big business would hate to see anything bad happen to average Americans. But intellectual property is property, and society depends on a vigorous defense of property rights. This industry won’t fall down in its duty to make that defense.”

Leftist critics have attacked the app as one more attempt by businesses to use the law to their advantage. But Heath Snillfit, the Bertelsmann Professor of Legal Studies at the Wye Sprite University School of Law, argues that this app will help the common person. “I’ve been in this IP thing for 25 years,” says Snillfit, “and this is the best tool I’ve ever seen to help non-lawyers stay within the bounds of the law. Remember, law is meant to protect the weak from the powerful and to avert injustice and tyranny, and who would be weaker than those children who might be thrown into a lifetime of debt by one errant stroke of a marker? This is about the children.” Snillfit points to a yellowed sheet of paper taped to his wall. It has a large heart drawn on it, and the words, “Happy Fathers Day!” He explains, “My daughter did that about 15 years ago. She was really into Care Bears at the time. I wish I’d had an app like this to check her drawings. It would have given me peace of mind.”

Media analyst Eliza Halson hails SafeDraw as a step toward the future of culture. “We don’t have myths and folktales anymore to shape our worldview and help us cope with our greatest fears and challenges. We have TV series and other studio products. What would happen if this essential nutrient for our culture were to disappear one day? We would all starve culturally. We should be glad to pay a royalty or two to keep that from happening.”

Halson continues, “There is no personal anymore. We have to let go of quaint notions like individuality. With the everyone on social media, we’re all media companies now, promoting our individual brands, producing content. We need to take on the responsibilities of being businesses, not just people.”

Stoneslide Media Releases Second Super Bowl Ad, aka Ad II

Stoneslide Media will again inject a moment of reflection into the great American ritual of hedonism called the Super Bowl by airing an ad touting the virtues of the written word.

Stoneslide’s Sylvester Stonesman said, “We hope to spread appreciation for the written word at a moment when people aren’t thinking about reading much, other than, say, reading the names on various chip bags. And even then you recognize them more by the logos and the colors, don’t you? It’s true NBC claims they lost our check, and so the ad won’t be on the main broadcast, but I’m going to a Super Bowl party, and I’m going to bring my iPad and show it to everyone there, at least.”

If you believe in the written word, consider backing our Kickstarter campaign and getting a copy of our new print magazine, which happens to include many lovely words.

Stoneslide Corrective Launches Kickstarter Campaign by Thanking People before They Contribute

Online literary magazine The Stoneslide Corrective has again turned things upside down. First, we created The Rejection Generator, a tool to help writers build rejection immunity by experiencing soul-lashing rejection without ever submitting work. Now, we’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to help print a new paper-based magazine. But instead of waiting for people to back the effort, we are preemptively thanking anyone who even thinks about doing so.

This “Kickstarter Thank You Generator” is believed to be the first mechanism for rewarding good intentions alone, or even the mere consideration of maybe having good intentions at some point conveniently in the future. As such, it is a rebuke to the cold, quid pro quo logic of gratitude.

The new print magazine motivating all this thanking is called The Stoneslide Corrective No. 1, and will include moving fiction, refreshing satire, and spots of pure zaniness. It will reach high enough to tickle the winged thoughts of a philosopher and low enough to stroke the feet of a giggly toddler. It will include contributions from great writers, like Mark Wisniewski, Douglas W. Milliken, Jude Polotan, Sati Melendez, Libby Cudmore, Will Mayer, Ellen Larson, and Kiik A.K.

Now, our Kickstarter campaign is already backed to the tune of $6,300 (as of 10 a.m. Pacific, Tuesday, January 27), but we’d like your help, too, if you haven’t pitched in yet. If you donate, you’re in line to receive a selection of thank you gifts. To learn more, and to be able to make a donation, simply go to our Kickstarter Page.

We hope you can help.

Oh, and here’s where you can find the Thank You Generator.

Facebook Posts We’ll Never See, Because People Aren’t Honest Enough

realfbposts21) I’m very emotionally needy. Like, very, very. And as with so many emotionally needy people, I’m secretly an emotional bully. (I’m not a physical bully, because I’m such a twerp, but wow, emotionally I’m a big strapping he-man/warrior princess bully. Big time.) Share if you’re basically a piece of shit emotional bully who needs constant affirmation and coddling, too!

2) I’m clinging desperately to the image of myself that I had in my twenties. I’m so worried people who see me don’t think I’m sexy anymore that I spend hours every day trying to take selfies where I look young and hot. I’ve found I need just the right light and angle. And if I hold my shoulders back as far as they go and jut my head forward, the skin under my neck doesn’t look wrinkled. I order fancy cocktails just to hold them up to the camera; I can’t really tolerate much alcohol anymore. But I’m worried. I’m living a Dorian Gray thing where my pictures on Facebook are staying young, and I’m afraid to see what’s really happening to my body. Share if you’re a total fake, too!

3) I love the environment. I really, really love the environment. You know this from all the heartbreaking pictures and articles I post about how our wretched species is about to kill its own mother, Mother Earth. It makes me so furious. We have to do something! But I’m paralyzed with fear when I think about walking out my door. I find getting really upset and angry at the polluters and the people who don’t care helps me forget how I nearly wet myself when I imagine setting foot on a Greenpeace cutter. Who else is terrified of doing what they know is right?

4) I only post to Facebook when I’m drunk. I post a lot.

5) I post so many pictures of cute kittens because my ex-girlfriend Amy loves kittens. Every now and then, maybe one time in 20, she’ll like one of the pictures, and I feel like maybe I have a chance of winning her back. It lasts a second, but that’s the best I ever feel.

6) When I was a junior in college I got knocked out of bounds into the water coolers and up over into the stands and somehow I got spooked. After 15 more downs, I never played another snap of Division II football, or any kind of football, again. I think deep inside I’m still trying to deny that that ever happened. Think of that when you see all my posts about little Gunnar and Megan killing it at soccer.

7) People used to tell me I was smart. Teachers praised me and gave me good grades. The people at my first job all acted so impressed when they heard where I went to college. But being smart is hard work, and I’ve gotten too tired to go on doing it. Fortunately, people are always posting clever things here on Facebook, like this placard that says, “OUR DAUGHTERS MAKE THE FUTURE POSSIBLE. SHARE IF YOU HAVE A DAUGHTER YOU LOVE.” This is so much easier than thinking.

8) I’ve given up on getting people to like ME. All I want is for you to like this post. Please. Can’t you even do that for me?

9) I’m sitting here waiting, waiting. I have 463 friends. One of you must be doing something interesting right now. Come on, people! How can 463 of you not have any new anecdotes or pictures or check-ins? I’m waiting. If something doesn’t come up soon, I might have to turn around and look at the disaster of my own life or read the newspaper and have my mind slashed by all the disasters there. I’m still waiting.

Political Innumeracy Compromises Voting Decisions

by Sam Holloway

The bipartisan hold on the overwhelming majority of our nation’s elected offices may be linked to a previously unrecognized cognitive disorder, according to results of a recent university study.

Sociology doctoral candidate Karl Müdjen of Gulf Isthmus University announced the findings at a press conference yesterday in front of the university’s crumbling Social Sciences Hall.

Through a series of controlled studies, Müdjen and colleagues established that in a voting context, many Americans lose the ability to count past three. The findings may help explain features of American politics that scholars have long found puzzling. Müdjen explained, “It’s not only the dominance of the two parties, despite their logical inconsistencies and moral bankruptcy, it’s why policy discussion is so limited and alternatives are shot down so quickly.

“We have Democratic voters who claim to want peace, and then elect—and re-elect—a president who regularly slaughters civilians with drone strikes,” added Müdjen. “We have Republican voters who say it’s all about individual freedoms, but vote for politicians who attack the freedoms of large numbers of their fellow citizens. Yet, we see very little challenge to the two parties.” The research originated when Müdjen noticed that online commenters who raise these kinds of inconsistencies or point to possible policies outside the platforms of the two major parties are quickly dismissed as “promoting a third party.” The use of this term intrigued him.

Müdjen and his team staged a mock election, complete with mock exit poll, using a representative sample of moderate to left-leaning voters, monitoring each participant with an electroencephalograph (EEG).

Of the 113 subjects involved, 110 were registered Democrats, two were Greens, and one was an unaligned Marxist-Leninist. The ballots listed only the presidential candidates from the 2012 national general election. Predictably, the Democrats and Greens voted along party lines, while the Marxist-Leninist crumpled the ballot and walked out, saying “[Expletive] this [expletive].” What intrigued the study team, however, was the results from the EEG.

Junior psychology major Albert Loft handled polling and the EEG monitoring. “Like, 88% of the Dems had like close to zero activity in their, you know, parietal and frontal lobes. In every one of them, though, the cerebellum—especially, like, the amygdala and the hippocampus—was lit up like a Burning Man.”

“You should’ve seen the liberals’ amygdalas explode when I asked them about Nader in 2000,” said Loft, with a laugh. “But that was Karl’s idea. I have no idea what the question meant, but it was cool.”

The other exit poll question got to the point of what had initially piqued Müdjen’s interest.

“We asked all of them if they had ever voted ‘third party,’” he said.

All but three of the Democrats said ‘no,’ and both Greens disputed the question. “One of the Greens, she goes, ‘that doesn’t make sense. There are more than three parties out there,’” reported Loft, with a low chuckle.

During that portion of the questioning, the brain readings of nearly all the Democrats decreased significantly. “It was like everything but the reptile brain shut down,” said Loft.

Once Müdjen noticed this trend, he added another element to the study. He called back the participants the next week, and had them step into the mock voting booth again.

“I put in a different ballot, one with a Democrat and a Republican at the top, and then a Green, a Libertarian, and two other parties,” he said. “Instead of voting, I asked each subject to count the parties out loud using ordinal numbers.”

Every Democratic voter began by identifying the Democrat as ‘first’ and the Republican as ‘second.’ Starting with the Green candidate, however, every other candidate was announced as ‘third.’ Müdjen repeated the entire process twice, and the results were identical.

“After the elections I had each one of them count ten marbles the same way, and they had no problem naming ‘first, second, third, fourth, fifth,’ and so on,” he added.

There was enough left in the budget to repeat the counting experiment with a control group made up of eighty different Democrats and two Greens, and the results were the same.

“It seems that when their minds are fixated on voting, self-identified Democrats have trouble processing ordinal numbers. Everything after ‘second’ becomes fused into a single entity, without significant differentiation,” said Müdjen. “Given the data we’ve accumulated, I think it’s safe to call this pathological.”

Müdjen speculates that this inability to count is caused by a wider shutdown of critical reasoning functions when otherwise thoughtful and intelligent Americans think about electoral politics. “The shutdown of broader analytical thinking is necessary for the individual to associate with such a fundamentally rancid thing, in this case the Democratic Party, without suffering horrific shame and guilt,” explained Müdjen. He plans future research to explore how this phenomenon affects policy preferences.

 

Read Sam Holloway’s bio.

More on governance and politics:

Producers of Summer Blockbusters to Sell Ideology Placements

White House Hires Facebook Programmer to Write Algorithm Improving President’s National Security Feed

Investigation Reveals Chicago Mayor May Be Kleptomaniac

More Sayings of Joanna M., a Kept Woman

-Good god, they walk their own dog.

-Good god, they do their own yard work.

-Good god, they installed a TV themselves.

-Good god, they cleaned their own gutters.

-Good god, they pruned that tree themselves.

-Good god, he changes the oil in their cars himself.

-Good god, they clean house themselves.

More Sayings of Joanna M., a Kept Woman

-I think he continues to take delivery of a physical newspaper  only so he doesn’t have to talk to me during meals.

-If it doesn’t have a helipad, is it really a yacht?

-If the pebbles up the drive aren’t rounded river rock, is it really someplace you’d want to party?

-If you have to fly first class instead of a private charter, why not just stay home?

-If you can’t get to Milan once or twice a year to buy decent shoes, why bother wearing any?

Most Read Stories of 2014—Fiction

We’re deeply proud of every work we published in the last year.

Don’t Ball the Boss
By Sara Dobie Bauer
A friend called a week ago and asked if I was looking for work. In Hollywood, we’re always looking for work. I’m a personal assistant to the stars, and I’m real good—like Meryl Streep at Oscar time good. They say I’m discreet and subservient; stars like that.

So my pal calls up and tells me there’s this up and coming British star on his way over for a movie premiere. The film is huge, the kind that makes back its budget in a night, and this Brit plays the bad guy. He’s never been to Hollywood. He needs someone who knows the right barbers, tailors, call girls …

That’s where I come in: David Baron, assistant to the stars.

The First to Cross the Bridge
By Chloe N. Clark
One morning I’m sitting in the booth at my favorite café; it’s my favorite because no one ever notices me there and I can sip my coffee for hours and hours. There is a woman at the counter; she’s talking to the waiter about a dream she had. I usually hate to hear people’s dreams because they aren’t meant for me, but this woman has a beautiful voice. It is how a bell ringing in some temple on a mountain would sound, if you were climbing toward the temple and knew it was still a long way off. In the dream she was a shark in the ocean. She was always swimming to stay alive; swimming just to keep breathing. One day she comes across a shipwreck, there is a man tied to the mast of the ship and he is drowning. So, the shark woman swims up to him and bites the ropes. His body spins up to the surface and he gasps for air. He makes it back to land and tells everyone that a shark saved him. She just keeps swimming.

How to Murder Your Friends
By Libby Cudmore
Smother me with a pillow in my sleep, Reese says.

Reese’s blinds are broken and his apartment is too cold. We’re out of beer and it’s twenty past midnight and we’re trying to figure out how we’d kill each other if such an occasion arose. It’s not a suicide pact, just a way to determine the depth of our friendship. Murder is so personal; you don’t know how much someone really loves you until they’ve admitted how they would end your life.

Murdering Reese would involve something sweet, something more gentle than leaving him flailing for his last breaths. Antifreeze, I say. In your Diet Coke. You’ll hardly notice the taste.

Iceman
By Neil Mathison
My son plans a violent act. My girlfriend says she’s thinking of moving out, at least until my son’s attitude improves, and if Heidi suspects violence, something more than a fifteen-year-old’s petulance, I know she’ll leave.

Last August, when Jacob’s mother sent him here, to this Idaho ski town where she birthed him, she declared he needed a change of scene. In new snow, Rachel said, a sapling breathes. Such koan-like utterances pepper Rachel’s speech, leftovers from when she studied to become a Buddhist nun, although in this, as in motherhood, Rachel only half-completed the job. Though what Rachel half-completed, I never began. I intend to make amends.

Plunge
By Joe Ponepinto
Lydia saw the man crouched on the parapet first, and despite being nearly passed out drunk, she shrieked, “That guy! Is he gonna jump?”

Then I saw him outside, perched on the balls of his feet, arms out for balance, butt hanging back into the bar’s third floor patio, gazing down at the street despite the crush of flesh sweating and gyrating behind him in the night air, despite the thumping bass coming through the speakers. The crowd didn’t see. They kept their eyes where they always do, on tanned and glistening midriffs, cleavage, muscled shoulders, fertile regions.

Whose Life Is It, Anyway?
By Christopher Wachlin
Beneath a moon sliced cleanly in half, Jason reread the note—his suicide note—and then crumpled it up. He stepped off the sidewalk into the gutter and squatted on his haunches. He pushed the note through a sewer grate. The note fell, but got caught in the spiky branches of a seedling growing sideways out of a crack. He found a stick and knocked the note free and it fell again, all the way. Now it would end up in San Francisco Bay, where he hoped to end up. He stood. He pushed his shoulder-length hair behind his ears. He looked skyward, at the halved moon, at the stars, and, across the bay from where he stood in Berkeley, the twinkly San Francisco skyline.

Recipe for Fidelity
By Tracy Elin
Tanya met the hussy when she picked up Gary for Thursday choir rehearsal. But she came up with her plot a few hours later, as she snapped long strands of spaghetti to fit in their little pot, crumbled ground turkey into bits, and chopped through a fleshy green pepper.

Needy People
By Amitabha
The samosa wallah at the street corner is back. His stall now has a blue tarp roof held up on bamboos. When he sees me, he shouts in Hindi, “And, sahab, everything alright?”

“Everything’s great. With you?”

“All fine. Just back from village. Brother’s sons.” He points at the two boys in stained tees hunkered in the small enclosure. With delicate twists of their fingers, they are sealing samosas for frying. The place hums with the scent of salted dough and nigella seeds.

Our Father
By Chelsea Clammer
He’s not the TV character Jim Bob on The Waltons.

He’s not the musician Jim Bob Morrison.

He’s not Jim Bob Cooter—the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos.

No, this Jim Bob is a family man—a (good) husband, father, servant of God. This Jim Bob’s specialty is not in entertainment or professional sports, though he is a coordinator. He has to be. Jim Bob’s the father of nineteen children. Nineteen. As of October 2013, he’s aiming for twenty. That’s a lot of coordinating. CEO of the family. Nineteen names to remember.

Poptimistic
By Douglas W. Milliken
It took less than six months for my luck to run out and like a worm under a rock, I was found. Joel. That big brutal fuck. Quite likely the last person I wanted to see. With his fallen prince face and mouth like an open sewer. A smoldering ghost of ruin and violence. Joel and I’d had good times and bad times but our friendship kind of petered off when he went to jail for hassling some young girls, an event that I’d heard he blamed me for on account of I was there when it started and was in a unique position to stop it or join in and instead chose to walk away. Apparently he thought I ought to’ve gone to jail, too. He’s probably right.