Thin Mints vs. bitcoins

I wrote this in 2014 when I was living overseas where there were no Girl Scouts. Thin Mints, when we could somehow get them, were like money in the bank, unlike bitcoins.

cookie_tmLittle-known fact: Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies can be used as currency among American expatriates. Technically, these Thin Mints are a community currency, an alternative form of exchange among a group with a common bond: in this case, Americans without a Girl Scout troop nearby. Cookie sales begin every February — without us. Our hearts ache.

bitcoinContrast these cookies with bitcoins, a cryptocurrency, a peer-to-peer payment system using Bitcoin software exchanges on the internet. The facts demonstrate Thin Mints’ superior value:

Bitcoins are a form of public-key cryptography involving alphanumeric strings. Thin Mints are crispy chocolate wafers dipped in a mint chocolaty coating. Chocolate covered chocolate!

Bitcoins can be stolen. We have no Thin Mints, just sweet memories and sad longing, and they can’t take that away from us.

Bitcoins have been used on the black market for illegal drugs, tax evasion, and gambling. Thin Mint profits build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place.

Bitcoins suffer an extremely volatile exchange rate. Thin Mints, like all Girl Scout Cookies, continuously change and improve. In 2007, two 10-year-old Scouts, Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen, began a campaign to make sure that the cookies use only sustainably produced GreenPalm-certified palm oil, protecting both human rights and rain forest habitat for the endangered orangutan; the girls won the United Nations Forest Heroes Award in 2011.

Cookies sold by brave, confident girls, real-life heroes: that’s what we miss. Keep your cryto-cash. Give us minty chocolate wafers! Please.

A force field of goodness

RelicOfLoveHappy Valentine’s Day!

I took this photo of a relic of St. Valentine in Santa Maria en Cosmedin Church in Rome. I hadn’t expected such a find, and in fact there are many more similar wonders in Rome. This invites more thought about the purpose of relics, especially given my interest in the Middle Ages.

Goodness is transferable, according to the medieval theory of relics. And who doesn’t want to be good?

During the early years of Christianity, the remains of martyrs were frequently interred in church altars to lend their holiness and protection and to work miracles.

But in the Middle Ages, saintly remains, along with feathers from angel wings, griffin eggs, or slivers of the True Cross, acquired another power: they radiated a goodness force field that could forgive sins and improve souls. Everyone wanted to keep a relic near them to cut down their years in Purgatory, and collections grew in churches, monasteries, and royal chapel-museums. Frederick the Wise of Saxony, patron of Martin Luther, gathered 17,433 relics in a Wittenberg church housed in 12 galleries along the nave, where visitors could earn 128,000 years of indulgences simply by being piously present.

It seemed logical at the time. In those days, the world vibrated with spirits, magic, and divine intervention in a way that we in the 21st century may find beyond our understanding.

For example, the Black Death killed up to half the population of Europe between 1347 and 1351, a plague brought to Europe from the East by trade and spread by rats, fleas, and sneezes. At the time, some said it was punishment by God for sins, and prayer was the cure, but the College of Physicians in Paris said that the stars had battled the sun over India, drying out a great sea; the rotting fish had poisoned the air, and the poison had caused the plague. The College prescribed burning aromatic wood so its smoke would drive away the bad air.

Those were the days. The supernatural filled medieval life. Everyone knew that magical and divine signs and prophesies could come as dreams or natural phenomena, which were minutely analyzed. Statues wept and bled. A touch from a king or queen could cure diseases; so could the charm Abracadabra. A bit of blessed bread could keep away the devil and rabies. Those who couldn’t afford the rib of a saint or the horn of a unicorn could, at least, carry a rabbit’s foot.

Religious doctrines and medical science have moved far since those days.

Some churches still maintain relics because they believe them to be potential instruments for God’s miracles, but don’t expect automatic indulgences or magic just by being proximate to one. Modern science says that the bubonic plague is caused by a bacillus, and aromatherapy is not the preferred prescription.

But making fun of the past is not the point of this musing. History can teach us as much about ourselves as about others. The history of relics shows the extremes that people will go to and the things that they will believe in their search for goodness and health. And today, who doesn’t want to be healthy and good? What extremes do we take for it?

The Original Catholic Encyclopedia: Relics
Catholic Answers: Relics

P.S. It’s also possible that St. Valentine is in Madrid, Spain, as this article by Felicity Hughes explains.

“Semiosis” release: a few links

My novel Semiosis was released last week on February 6. Here are a few things I wrote about the novel and the ideas behind it. If you’re interested in reviews of the book, you can find them here at the Semiosis website.

I wrote a column about the novel for John Scalzi’s Big Idea series at his blog, Whatever, asking who is in charge of the plant where you live?

At the Tor/Forge blog, I answer the question of whether your neglected houseplants want revenge. Short answer: no. Consider the fate of the osage orange…

For Mary Robinette Kowal’s website, I share “My Favorite Bit” about Semiosis. I describe how to imagine a big scary monster.

At the Chicago Review of Books, I talk about where science fiction writers get their ideas, specifically how Semiosis started with an episode involving my houseplants, and how I developed that observation into a novel.

On an entirely different subject — that is, not the novel — at the That Was Awesome! Writers on Writing Tor blog, I discuss Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” and why, as a translator, I would utterly love to translate aliens, and why personal experience has made me believe in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

Book signing at Anderson’s on February 8, followed by a party with the “Human Survival” cocktail

I’ll be signing my novel Semiosis at 7 p.m. Thursday, February 8, at Anderson’s Bookshop La Grange, 26 S. La Grange Road in Chicago’s western suburbs.

More information about the event and bookshop is here.

If that were not enough, the restaurant around the corner, forteensixteen, has offered to host an after-signing party. It will feature a cocktail inspired by the book called “Human Survival,” and draft wines and beer for $5 all night — in addition to their regular food and drink menu.

If you’re in western Chicagoland, I hope you can come! I’m already thirsty.

“Semiosis” Book launch February 6

Cover_WebSizedVolumes Bookcafé will host a book launch party for my novel Semiosis at 7 p.m. Tuesday, February 6. Volumes is at 1474 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

While you’re there, you can browse their carefully curated books: great new books, classics, and local authors. And you can enjoy a tasty menu of baked goods, quality espresso drinks, and an array of local beer and wine. Try their special mixed drinks! I speak from experience. Or come early and check out their Sip and Stitch craft group.

You can get more information about the book launch and RSVP here.

By the way, you can pre-order a signed copy of Semiosis from Volumes’ website — and they ship anywhere.