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The Daily Inquisition / October 7, 2008

Today’s Defendant: Jellyfish

Statement of the Grand Inquisitor: God has a grand assortment of flails, whips, crops, knouts, taws, fouets and quirts. In His house are many mansions, and in those mansions are many walk-in closets to overawe the best-equipped Belgravia dominatrix. Let us give thanks that to scourge this numb and playful beach party phase of history, He has chosen the coelenterates to be his khlist.
All over the world’s shallow seas, where fun frolics, fish are vanishing, coral reefs are turning to dead patio sculpture, yet one fauna is flourishing: the jellyfish.

They are the perfect vector for His vengeance, without mind or volition. They are transparent, that the stung faithful may see through that wad of buoyant, nearly-invisible protoplasm that no ill intention inhabits the source of all that agony. The pulsing mound of window caulk has nothing up its no sleeve; one look reveals it has only four paired gonads and a confetti train of stinging cells.

They are growing in number at the very time the more beautiful sea creatures are vanishing because we make them. They love hot, shallow, dirty water, the very water we make. In this, they love us, though they do not love or hate. At the least, they suit us.
They come in every size, for every sin. The smallest organism on Earth capable of killing a human adult is the Irukandji, a thumbnail-sized thimble trailing dainty poison threads. It kills daintily too, modestly, after a polite 24-hour wait, so humble it was not even credited with its proper notches until recently.
For the gaudier class of sinner there are the sea wasps, the box jellyfish, electric whips that look oddly like poison wig strands dangling from the X-ray’d earholes of a skull. They are the hotheads, the militants; they kill loudly and quickly, with such pain that death is welcome.
For the rest of us marooned in the temperate zones there are the many lesser scourges: the fat, smug Man o’ War like a retired madam; the fierce lion’s mane like a brimstone cloud. One has been assigned to a beach near you, though by “one” we mean “several million.” They await your day at the beach. Between your screams, strive to appreciate the divine mirth and aptness of your precious hide.
To call them saints would miss the point. They are instruments, barely animate, quasi-living cats of many more than nine tails. But even mere instruments can be blessed, and thus we bless these humble scourges.

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