Thursday, December 25, 2014

Elf on the Shelf

It's Christmas, so many thousands of parents are packing away their Elf on a Shelf until next year.  Not familiar with Elf on a Shelf?  It's a Christmas tradition where parents put a little elf doll in their homes.  Then (according to Wikipedia):
Once everyone goes to bed, the scout elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa the activities, good and bad, that have taken place throughout the day.
In addition to ratting your kids out to St. Nick, the elf also appears around the home being naughty (breaking things, making a mess, etc.) and providing your children with an excellent definition of "hypocrisy."

No matter what the elf reports, Christmas comes and the kids get their presents.  Rich kids are obviously less naughty than poor kids, because they get more and better gifts.  The elf gets stuck in a closet and spends the next year plotting horrible revenge.

It's such a popular tradition, that they've introduced girl elves and elves of color,

and even "The Mensch on the Bench" for Jewish families.

Many parents are sad to see the little guy go.  He's an excellent reminder that someone is always watching and judging you, preparing to punish you for any disobedience or failure to bow to authority.  Therefore, I have created a new product:

The NSA Surveillance Operator in the Nook

The NSA Surveillance Operator in the Nook sits around your house all year round watching your children for potential un-American activities.

  • Are your kids sharing toys?  That's socialism!  
  • Are they reluctant to say the Pledge of Allegiance?  That's betraying our troops!  
  • Express a desire to separate church and state!  Uh oh, someone might be spying for North Korea or one of them atheist terrorist nations (I forget who they are)!

Every night, the NSA Surveillance Operator flies back to a secret, CIA black site to report to his superiors.  At the end of the year, your children will be evaluated without a trial for enhanced interrogation or just left naked and drenched in freezing water after a rectal feeding in a cell overnight until they die of hypothermia.

The Elf on the Shelf didn't get your kids to behave?  Try the NSA Surveillance Operator in the Nook!  Only $29.95.  Void in countries that respect constitutional freedoms and human dignity.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Even with his iced tea, his air conditioner turned up to full blast, and two fans blowing on him, it was too hot.  Sweat dripped down from his bangs and clouded his eyes.  A headache had started behind his left eye, where it always started.  He knew as the heat (and the screaming) grew in intensity, it would move around to his other eyes, then his temples.  Before long, he'd have a full-on, raging migraine.

He wiped his face with his handkerchief, a gift from the wardens of the third ring, shook his head and tried to concentrate on his paperwork.  He was always amazed at how much there was for him to sign.  His resources were theoretically infinite, but what with the squabbles between administrators, the guards and wardens constantly requesting transfers to other rings, and the requests for vacation time, he barely had time to himself.

He looked down on a report from the second ring and tried to understand it.  Somehow, two inmates had conceived and birthed a child.  It was theoretically impossible, but it had happened nonetheless, and now the wardens were requesting instructions on what to do with the damned kid.

His head throbbed and he reached for his tea but found it was now as warm as blood.  He put it down and pressed a button on his desk.

"Miss Screwtape," he said.  "Bring me another mint tea.  Extra ice."

In the fifteen minutes it took her to make the tea and bring it to him, his head felt like it was splitting open.  He took the drink, gratefully, but when he lifted it to his lips, he saw the ice had already melted, and the glass was steaming hot.

He cursed and threw the glass at her.  It gave him no small amount of satisfaction when she yelped and sprang from the room.  He immediately regretted it, partly because she was beautiful and he didn't like seeing the hurt look in her lovely eyes, but mostly because he wanted a letter typed up and would now have to do it himself.

As the screams increased in his pounding ears, he pulled out his old, manual typewriter and rolled a sheet of paper into it.  His damp fingers stuck to the dry paper.  One letter at a time, he hunted and pecked through the memo, muttering the words to himself as he went.

"In reference...  To my request... From... June... 1780...  I wish again... To ask..." he said, then paused.  Gritting his teeth he typed the next word. "Humbly.  For the heating... Elements... To be reduced to... Half power...  With all speed."

He typed a quick, formal closing and signed his name.  Then he put it in his outbox for Miss Screwtape to send up the tube.  Well, she'd send it up when he forgave him.  That could be a while.  When she eventually did send it, there wouldn't be an answer.  He hadn't received any since... Well, forever.

Meanwhile, the pounding in his head grew and grew.  The screaming rang in his ears.  Sweat drenched his clothes and dripped onto his work.  He couldn't take it anymore.

Grabbing his jacket and hat off his coat hook, he stalked out into the lobby.  He turned quickly to Miss Screwtape, who impertinently avoided his eyes.

"I'm going to do something about the heat," he said, and walked into his private elevator.

As soon as the doors closed, the heat and the screaming faded.  Relishing in the quiet stillness, he pushed the "up" button.

* * * * *

Isabelle looked down at the grizzled old man, her hands clumsily working a knife over the onion.  She knew there was a proper way to cut an onion, had even tried to do it right a few times, but eventually gave up.  Soon, she had reduced it to a tear-inducing mess on the cutting board.

"I'm sorry, Mr....?"

"Scratch.  Melvin Scratch."

"Mr. Scratch.  It's just...  Well, I think I'd remember hiring a detective."

He smiled and lifted a red, leather briefcase onto the counter next to the box of frozen pierogies.  She didn't think he was carrying a briefcase when she let him in, but maybe she simply hadn't noticed.  She was always so flustered at mealtimes.

He snapped the case open with two clicks and slid a pink piece of paper in front of her.  It was an invoice (she knew because the word INVOICE was printed in big, block letters at the top) for "investigative services."  Her signature was at the bottom.

Now that she thought about it, she did kind of remember.  She pictured herself sitting in his office.  Looking at him from across his wooden desk.  The venetian blinds casting thin strips of light across his face.  She cried while describing her husband's strange behavior, and he offered her a white handkerchief to wipe her tears.

Or was that a movie she saw when she was a child?

"You were right to be concerned about your husband, Ms. Penske," he said, taking a stack of photographs out of the briefcase.

She didn't want to see them.  She didn't want to know.  Why had she hired a detective when it was so much better to be ignorant?

There was a hiss on the stove, and she was relieved to see the pot was boiling over, the water splashing on the hot burner.  She started to turn the heat down, but changed her mind.   Instead, she quickly broke the box of frozen pierogies open with her thumbnail. The dumplings splashed into the foaming water and calmed it.  Cooled it.  She watched them settle on the bottom and wondered what would happen if she put her hand in and touched them.

Not her husband.  Not Carl.  He knew how much she loved him, how much she had given up to make him a happy home to come to every night.  She thought for a moment about those nights he came home late.  It didn't happen very often, and he said he'd been out drinking with coworkers.  Still...

"Ms. Penske," the detective said.  She jumped in surprise.  Somehow she thought she imagined him. "You don't have to look at the pictures if you don't want to.  However, you paid me a considerable amount of money to find out if your husband is cheating on you.  Don't you want to see?"

She tightened her fingers around the handle of the oven door, fought the urge to turn and look, but couldn't help herself.

There was a photo of Carl.  Her Carl.  The man she had pledged to love, honor, and obey.  Her soulmate.  The man she had given up her career for, given the best years of her life to.  The father of the baby growing inside her, making her fat, ugly.  There was Carl on top of her baby sister Tricia. 

Her only sister.  Her only husband.  Naked.

Mr. Scratch flipped to the next picture. 

Tricia and Carl in Isabelle's bed.  Her marriage bed.

Another picture.  This time Carl was with another woman.  An older woman.  Isabelle gasped with shock.

"My mother?" she said.  "But... But she's forty two!"

And the picture seemed to move, like a movie.  No, it couldn't be moving.  Mr. Scratch had just flipped to a new picture too fast for her eyes to see.  But the pictures still moved in his hands; she could hear them.  Carl was jerked over Isabelle's mother with joyous grunts, then he stopped and slid his face down between her legs.

"That can't be Carl," she said. "He never...  Does that."

And a strange, gnawing hatred sprang up into her gut.  Mr. Scratch's voice cut into her, making her eyes leap away from the image.

"I also have photographs of your husband in sexual liaisons with coworkers.  Men."

"Men?" she whispered.

"Yes, he seems to like it when other men penetrate him from-"

And Isabelle realized she was about to become ill.  No, she thought, not in front of him.  She turned away to face the stove, trying to control her breathing.  The pot was boiling again, the steam washed over her face.

She threw up right into it.  Her stomach contorted into knots again and again until there was nothing left.

There was a cool hand on her back.  Someone was holding her hair away from her face.

"There, there," said Scratch from behind her.  "Let it all out."

He handed her a dish towel, and she wiped her mouth.  Her breathing calmed.  She sucked in the warm air.  A cold determination crept into her heart.

"Get out," she said.  "Get out!"

She spun around, ready to yell at him, incoherent with rage, but he wasn't there.  The door was still open, but everything else was gone.  The pictures, the briefcase, even Scratch himself had disappeared.

"It wasn't real," she said, her voice trembling with relief.  "I'm just going crazy.  It wasn't real."

She glanced down and saw the small slip of pink paper still resting on the counter, the invoice with her name signed at the bottom.  Tears welled up in her eyes as she crumpled it up and threw it at the stove, where it touched a burner and disappeared in a flash of flame and ash.

There was a sound of gravel being crushed outside the open front door.  The wheels of a car were coming up her driveway.  Carl had come home from work.

She looked down at the stove again.  Next to the bits of pink and grey ash was the pot, splashed with her vomit.  It was starting to boil again.  She turned off the stove and looked to the side where a block of knives stood.  Carl had insisted on good iron knives, not the stainless steel ones that became dull so easily.  She hand-washed and sharpened them all, every night after dinner.

She slid the largest knife out of the block.

* * * * *

The elevator reached his floor and dinged as the doors open.  He felt the heat wash over him like a wave and he quickly removed his hat and coat.  The screaming had grown so loud, Miss Screwtape was wearing a pair of fuzzy pink earmuffs to block it out, the strap sitting just behind her horns.

She looked up at him, and he saw she was still annoyed.  He was about to motion to her to remove her earmuff so she could apologize when he heard a sound from above.  It was a scream like all the others pounding at his ears, but this one was different.  It was fresh.  It didn't have the mundane, agonized quality of those whose screams came to him day after day.  It was filled with shock and horror, with the realization of where she was.

The scream grew fainter as it fell below to join the others.  Then, as quickly as ice thrown into hot water, the heat diminished.  The screaming dropped to nearly inaudible levels.  And a sigh of relief went up from the pits of Hell.

Miss Screwtape smiled at him and took off her earmuffs.

"Productive day, sir?"

He nodded and watched as she rolled up the letter he had typed and fed it into the pneumatic tube that went "upstairs."

"I don't know why you bother; he never answers." she said, then shot him a questioning look.  "You think He's still up there?"

He tried to think back thousands of years to when he last saw Him.  He couldn't remember what God looked like, wasn't even sure those memories were even real.  Could he have imagined Heaven?  Could he have imagined his fall from grace?

He shrugged and walked past her into his office where the piles of paperwork were waiting for him.  He sighed. It never ended.

As he sat down to deal with his work, he felt the slightest trickle of sweat drip down the back of his neck.  It was already getting warmer.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Roddenberry's Discarded Star Trek Pilot Part 2 (3?)

I was just going to forget the whole Star Trek script thing, when I realized I was out of ideas.

If you didn't get what I posted with Part 1, here it is.  Quick precis: I met with someone (who wants to be called Hells_Housemaid) that had sent me material in the past.  She showed me a script she claims she took from Majel Barrett's trash.  I took a few pictures to transcribe and put here, but lost some (thanks Google!).  She's just sent me a note asking me to post what I have.  HH is short on cash and really wants someone to buy it from her soon.

So, what happens in the script?  I was a little surprised at the plot; it's almost exactly like Where No Man Has Gone Before.  The Enterprise encounters an ion cloud.  Two members of the crew (a man and a woman) manifest psychic powers.  The man, a long-time friend of Kirk's and the ship's chief surgeon, goes bad.  Eventually the woman kills him with her powers and dies.

The only real difference in the story is the beginning.  The episode starts with Kirk walking aboard the Enterprise for the first time.  Commodore Barron officially gives him the ship.  He meets Spock and Scotty.  McCoy is transferred in at the end of the episode after Mitchell dies.

The biggest surprise for me was how funny the script was.  The Enterprise is a new vessel in this version.  Getting it started and out into space comes fraught with problems the crew has to sort out.  Much of the humor comes from Scotty and Spock trying to solve the problems as they keep cropping up.

After some negotiation, HH let me take four pictures of the document plus one for the cover page.  I eventually decided to take shots of the most interesting parts.  Namely, the problems with getting the Enterprise out into space and some of the places where Roddenberry was prescient about our technology.

iPads, teleconferencing, and even digital cameras are in this draft.  Much of it was cut for the final version "Where No Man Has Gone Before."  My guess is the studio execs thought Roddenberry's vision of the future a bit too strange and he cut it back.

From about four pages in after being briefed on his mission and taking official control of the Enterprise:

              INT. BRIDGE

               SULU, UHURA, SPOCK are at their duty stations.  KIRK enters
               through the TURBOLIFT and sits on his seat.

                         Secure all quarters.

                             (into her earpiece)
                         All decks, secure stations.  All
                         decks, secure stations.

                         Release magnetic moorings.

                             (pressing buttons)
                         Moorings away.

               Kirk presses a button on the arm of his chair (right side)
               and holds it down.

                         Mr. Scott, are you ready to try out
                         these new engines?

                         Aye, sir!  Ready and willing.

               Kirk releases the button.

                         Mr. Sulu, ahead time warp factor 1.

                         Warp 1, sir.

               Suddenly, the viewscreen goes dark.  The words "ERROR 1132"

Turns out there's some kind of software malfunction.  They get it fixed and are underway.  Five pages later we get the first appearance of Yeoman Rand:

               INT. BRIDGE 

               YEOMAN RAND (pretty, blonde, demure) hands him an ELECTRONIC

               The elctronic [sic] clipboard is a small, flat computer capable of
               holding dozens of pages of important information.  In
               addition, it can perform simple calculations like a
               calculator, be written on with a pen, has a small light (for
               when the Enterprise's main lighting is down), and can take
               pictures like a camera.

                         Fuel consumption reports for your
                         signature, sir.

               Kirk signs and hands the clipboard back.

                             (hands back)
                         Thank you, yeoman.

                The Yeoman turns a dial on the side to flip to a new page.

                         Departmental transfers.

               Signs and hands it back, but she's turning the page again.

                                   YEOMAN (CONT'D)
                         Just a moment.  You need to sign
                         off on all the promotions.

               Kirk takes the clipboard and flips through several pages
               himself and stops.  He finds several pictures of the Yeoman
               posing seductively.

                                   YEOMAN (CONT'D)
                             (snatching the clipboard
                         Uh... Sorry.  Just testing out the

Kirk calls them "self pictures."  He and Mitchell talk about how he's not allowed to be near her.  Then he gets a call from the Commodore:

INT. PICTUREPHONE ROOM The CONFERENCE ROOM is built with three television sets in the middle of the talbe [sic] positioned in a triangle so everyone can see. These televisions are picturephones and everyone in the room can see and talk to anyone on the other end of the call. The sets are currently showing static. KIRK, SCOTTY, MITCHELL, and SPOCK assemble. Scotty turns a dial and the static slowly clears to reveal COMMODORE BARRON sitting at a room in Starfleet HQ. SCOTTY Can you hear us, Commodore? COMMODORE Hello? KIRK We can hear you, sir. COMMODORE Hello? Can you hear me? KIRK AND MITCHELL We can hear you! COMMODORE I can see you, but I can't hear you. Can you see me? SCOTTY Is your volume down too low, sir? There's a knob at the bottom of the screen! COMMODORE (to someone offscreen) Why isn't this thing working? Did you put this together wrong? MITCHELL This is why technology will never replace humans. . Eventually, there Commodore gives them an assignment to scan a nearby ion cloud.  It changes course and envelops them.  Nothing seems to happen, but fights break out on the ship:

INT. HOLODECK ROOM Three CREWMEN are sitting on chairs, wearing special goggles with earphones, and gloves, staring off into space, seeing things only they can see. The HOLODECK is a fake environment used by the crew for relaxation during the long, space voyages. By wearing special glasses, gloves and earphones, the users can pretend to be in any environment programmed into the Enterprise's computer. The ship's chief surgeon often orders the rest of the crew to periods of "holo time." Two strong ENSIGNS are fighting in the corner. Kirk jumps between them. KIRK Break it up right now, or I'm going to throw you both in the brig! Both ensigns stand up straight. KIRK (CONT'D) Now what's going on? ENSIGN 1 He started it, sir! ENSIGN 2 It was an accident! KIRK What did he do? ENSIGN 1 He erased all my data tapes and filled them with pictures of kittens! . From there, the script is pretty much exactly as the second pilot.

I have to say, ignoring all the technological prescience, Roddenberry's biggest accomplishment here seems to have been in creating an origin story.  If given free rein, would he have invented the multi-episode story arc decades before Babylon 5 did it?

I guess we'll never know.

And if anyone wants the email address of Hells_Housemaid to make her an offer, let me know.

Monday, December 1, 2014

My Week of Not Blogging About Star Trek

For all both of you who regularly read my blog (Hi Mom!), last week was a big disappointment for you.  I'm talking, of course, about my failure to post the content of the unpublished Star Trek script from Roddenberry.  There were several good reasons for this:
  •  Nobody expressed an interest.
    Seriously, not a single email or comment.  Not even a cease and desist letter.  Of course, I have a pretty small readership and at least half of you (Hi Mom!) thought it was a hoax, but come on!  Nobody?
  • I was on vacation.
    Three days in southern California waiting in lines at Disneyland.  Kinda hard to blog.
Note to self: get correct size rain poncho before going to Splash Mountain
  • My camera takes pretty crummy pictures.
    I didn't realize until later that three of the six shots I was allowed to take of the script were too blurry to read.  I've asked Hell's_Housekeeper if she'd send me new copies, and she said she would.  I'm still waiting.  When they arrive I'll transcribe them and put them up here.
In the meantime, allow me to regale you with...

Pictures of dumb stuff I saw this weekend!
(The crowd cheers.  Women throw their bras on the stage.  The King of Sweden hands me a Nobel.)

I went to a Christmas in the Park thingy in San Jose with friends and family.  Mostly, it was a bunch of trees decorated by various groups.  Here's a few I found amusing:

This tree is kind of crummily decorated, unlrdd you take into account it was done by dogs.
This tree was created by a division of the Centers for Disease Control.  Note the use of sterile gloves as tree ornaments.  I'm still confused what early discoveries the CDC made, but I'm guessing anthrax.
Obscure geek joke of the day: this tree was decorated with magic items conjured before a player's spell points ran out.
Every angel in Heaven contributed a decoration to this tree.  Maybe all the ornaments fit on the head of a pin...
If you could see this picture (did I mention my camera isn't working right?) you'd see that Senator Jim Beall decorated his tree with descriptions of all the bills he's passed.  Sounds like a really fun guy to hang out with at Christmas.
They also had a beautifully painted Nativity Scene:
But if you look carefully, you will find that the baby Jesus is a cheap doll from Wal-Mart wrapped in lavender clothes.  No wonder he became a hippie liberal.

I later went across the street to the Tech Museum of Innovation.  I found these in the gift shop:
This is a Himalayan salt lamp.  If you look at the tiny print at the bottom of the health benefits of the lamp are the tiny words "There is no scientific evidence to support this claim."  What's with the shops of science museums selling unscientific crap?  I caught the gift shop of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago selling Chakra kits, once.  I complained and they took them away then, a few months later, put them back.

These are tiny models of the planets in our solar system.  At the bottom of the package is a warning not to give them to small children as they're a choking hazard.  You really don't want a baby to choke on Uranus.

And, yes, I'm ending on a butt joke.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Roddenberry's Discarded Star Trek Pilot

I was only writing this blog to try and learn humor writing.  Humor's hard for me as I'm cranky while writing.  Blogs are passé, so I never gathered a huge following.  I did, however, gather a few seriously avid fans.

Seriously avid.  I had no idea.

A few months ago, I posted a piece I received from an anonymous whose email is "Hellz_Housekeeper." It was a synopsis of a proposed sequel to Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible Sing-Along Blog.  The email said I could do whatever I wanted with it.  That's all it said.  I tried emailing back, but heard nothing.

I was going to toss it (I had figured it was fake) but it's hard to come up with new material every week, so I threw it up here.  I'd kinda hoped I'd get a cease and desist letter from Mutant Enemy; it'd certainly boost my readership.  Sadly, I got no response.  Either what I got from Hell's Housekeeper was just fan fiction, or I didn't rate a response from Whedon.

I had forgotten about the incident until I was contacted by H_H again.  If met her at the Gilroy Starbucks, she'd give me something she'd taken from the Barrett house.  It took me a while to figure out what she meant by "Barrett house" (also which Starbucks, there are three near Gilroy).

Barrett meant Majel Barrett.  Majel Barrett was married to Gene Roddenberry.  Star Trek's Gene Roddenberry.
She also got to flirt with Spock
My reaction was immediate: I refused to post anything stolen.  Well, actually, my first reaction was to ask if we could meet somewhere closer.  Then I asked why she contacted me and not a news organization.  But then I told her I refused to post anything stolen.

She told me she didn't have a car, so had to meet in Gilroy, that she read my blog religiously (because she has good taste), and that she'd taken the script from Ms. Barrett's trash (so it wasn't technically stealing).

So I met her.  I've agreed not to mention her appearance or any other personal information that might lead the Bavarian Illuminati back to her.  Yes, you read that right, she's suffering a bit from clinical paranoia, or maybe she spends too much time online.  Anyway, for the price of a nonfat vanilla latte, she let me read this:

"Into the Beyond."  Oddly, he didn't hole punch or bind it.

It's a hand-typed manuscript from Roddenberry himself.  Look at the date.  February, 1965.  If you're not familiar with the original Star Trek, Roddenberry made two pilots.  The first one was filmed in late 1964 (called "The Cage") and was rejected.  They retooled the series with a new captain and created a second pilot in June of 1965 called "Where No Man Has Gone Before," which more people are familiar with.
Not so familiar with the original velour shirts.
This draft comes between those two pilots and varies significantly from the final pilot script.  Roddenberry was trying to be more advanced in his portrayals of technology, and Lucille Ball asked him to scale them back for the final draft.

H_H let me take a few pictures of script pages.  I think her hope is to generate enough interest to get a buyer for the whole script.  I'd like to post what I have, but I'm conflicted.  Is it unethical?  What do you think?  I'll go with the majority of what people think and post it next week if people want me to.

Note: I just realized this week is the 50th anniversary of the shooting of the first Star Trek pilot.  Now I'm more inclined to post it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Virgin Galactic and the 2014 Election

Virgin Galactic is a company dedicated to taking people into space.

Amidst all the furor of the last election, I went to see a movie called Nightcrawler.  It's a rough, thrilling, depressing-as-hell movie about a psychopath who films accidents and crimes for local television news.  

While he's trying to choose what to shoot, he gets this advice from Nina (Rene Russo):
We find our viewers are more interested in urban crime creeping into the suburbs.  What that means is a victim, or victims, preferably well off and white, injured at the hands of the poor or minority.
Because, of course, we only care when someone rich is harmed by the poor.

Virgin Galactic is a company dedicated to taking rich people into space.

Amidst all the furor of the last election, I read an article about the SS Eastland.  After the Titanic disaster, ships were required to have life rafts for all passengers.  Unfortunately the Eastland was already top heavy.  One day, as the passengers were boarding, it tipped over.  844 people drowned in minutes.

Why do we hear about the Titanic and not the Eastland?  The Eastland passengers were entirely poor, working-class families.

Virgin Galactic is a company dedicated to taking rich people into space for six minutes.

Amidst all the furor of the last election, Virgin Galactic's space ship crashed.  One pilot was killed, another seriously injured.

Virgin Galactic has a brilliant business plan.  For a quarter of a million dollars, you can fly into space.  For about six minutes, you're weightless.  Then, you come back down again.  Think about that for a moment.  Virgin Galactic believes they can make money selling six minutes of weightlessness for a quarter of a million dollars.

And they're right.  Even with a recent test disaster, even without flights currently ongoing, over 700 people have signed up to go.  700.  Do the math.

Virgin Galactic is symptomatic of what's wrong with the world.

In the aftermath of the last election, I sit at a Starbucks, drink my overpriced "coffee" and try to work out what happened.  Four billion dollars were spent and the senate changed hands.  We were all expecting it, of course.  It happens to every modern president in their second term.  However, it makes me wonder why people voted that way when, as I see things, the country was doing so well.

Why would we elect "the party of the rich?"

The best answer I can come up with is we worship the rich. 

The rich are rich because they deserve it.
The rich are rich because God loves them more.
The rich are kind.  The rich deserve tax breaks.  The rich deserve the best healthcare.  The rich deserve the best toys and food.
When the rich die, the nation grieves. 

When the poor die, they are mourned by their families.  Some die alone, piled into unmarked graves, their lives unwritten, not even a footnote in history to mark their passing.

And that is a problem I don't know how to fix.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Common Parlance: Nightmare Trailer Syndrome

I haven't defined a new term in a long time.
The Pumpkin King is insane.  For years, he's been making Halloween truly scary.  Gone are the costumes, the candy, the parties.  Halloween is now a festival of death, darkness, and fear.  Parents and children cower in their homes as monsters roam the streets at night. 
But it's not enough.  The King wants more.  He's going to destroy the other holidays, starting with Christmas.  With the help of Evil Scientist, he creates skeletal reindeer and goes out to impersonate Santa Claus.  Jack, the sole voice of reason and most hated man in Halloweentown, protests, but is ignored. 
Jack eventually reveals to his undead girlfriend that he is the rightful Pumpkin King.  Evil Scientist created the fake King and usurped his power.  Together they attack the usurper and save Halloween. 
This is the story of A Nightmare Before Christmas I expected when I saw the trailer as a young man. 

Note: Not the trailer I originally saw, but I can't seem to find it online.

It's the story I expected when I went to the film.  What did I get?

Nice songs.  Pretty animations.  A story about some weirdo who hates his job and, inexplicably, decides he likes it again.  A fight against a bag of bugs monster that was tacked on in the end to add dramatic tension.
"You're joking!  I can't believe my script."
I know Nightmare is a "beloved family classic," but bleah.  The film worked great as a poem, but without the songs and animation, it falls down as a story.

This is Nightmare Trailer Syndrome: a movie where the trailer is better than the movie.  Sadly, that's most movies these days.  We need a "Great Trailer/Bad Movie Film Festival."  Any suggestions of what trailers we would show?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sex = Fun 2?

I love Facebook.  Being on Facebook is like being a politician.  If you collect enough Friends, you don't have to pay attention to any of them.

I came across a thread about teens having sex.  One participant was dismayed teenagers were having babies.  Oh, you silly teens.  Having sex is for grown-ups!  Don't you know that?

Someone posted: "It's not just for making babies.  Sex is fun, too!"

Ah, we're back to that, are we?  I thought I took care of this in 2009.  Let's try it another way.  Sit down.  I'll tell you a story:

Imagine you meet and marry the greatest person in the world.  Your spouse is perfect: brilliant, funny, caring, gorgeous, sexy.  You have a family, and when you both decide there's enough kids in your life, your spouse sits down with you.

"You're awhat?" you say.

"I don't enjoy sex.  Not even a little.  I never have.  It's just the way I was born.  I only had sex to please you so we could have a family.  I can't do it anymore.  I love you.  I love our family.  I'll do anything else, but no more sex of any kind."

Shouldn't be a problem, right?  After all, you have the family you want.  There are other kinds of fun you can have with your spouse: bar-hopping, fine dining, movies, camping, etc.  Worse comes to worst, you can masturbate, or hire a prostitute, or have an affair.

(Amusing side note.  Only 10% of men who had affairs report that their mistresses were prettier than their wives.  Take away: if you're going to sleep around, you have to lower your standards.)
There's a reason we don't see their faces.

If sex is just for entertainment and procreation, it shouldn't matter.  If you'd be fine giving up going to sports or movies or concerts with your perfect spouse, you'd be fine giving up having a sex life.

However, if sex is also about self-esteem, about your identity, about intimacy and bonding with another person, you'd be fine shutting up about sex being about fun and babies.

Please don't make me have to write another post about this in five years.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Trainer to English Dictionary

I've been seeing a personal trainer for many years.

My adventure in exercise started in the late 90s.  I'd been working for software companies for several years.  Not being even slightly interested in sports or exercise and working in front of computers (and enjoying a sedentary lifestyle), I atrophied at an alarming rate.  I've always had back pain , but it wasn't until I turned my head one day and threw out my back that I realized I needed help.

"I'm fine.  I always walk like this."
Then I changed my mind.  I wasn't thrilled with the idea of going to the gym.  The kids who worked out were the same ones who picked on me in high school, and old resentments die hard.  After I threw my back out two more times and spent weeks walking like Quasimodo, I agreed to a session with a trainer.  We'll call him "Daniel"* to protect my ego.

Training started from the most embarrassing possible place.  Standing in a corner of the gym's free weight room, surrounded by men and women trying out for roles in a Schwarzenegger biopic, Daniel gave me a beach ball.
Even she made me look bad.
"Hold this at arm's length and twist from side to side," he said.

"That's it?" I said, affronted. "Twist?"

After twenty twists, I was lying on the floor, covered in sweat, panting, seized up in agony.  My triceps had cramped so badly, Daniel had to help me into a stretch to make the pain stop.

I kept seeing Daniel, and working on building my strength.  It's taken me years to become the giant, gorgeous mass of muscle I am today.  And...  Hm...

Oh, right, there was a point to all this.  After many years and thousands of dollars spent on training, I've learned a few things that will help you, should you choose to visit a trainer.  The most important lesson I can impart is this: trainers don't speak English.

Well, it's a special version of English that uses words differently than we normal humans (or "flabby, girly men") do.  Here's a quick chart to help you translate:

Trainer says
Trainer means
Five more.
How many more push-ups can I make you do?
Three more.
I bet I can make you have a heart attack!
One more.
You're still breathing.
I'll call 911
How are you feeling?
Do you have a will?
Try it more like this.
I think I heard a bone snap.
Good work today.
I thought you were going to die.
You need to work out at home.
You get bigger every week.
Looking good!
Wow, you're fat.
See you next week.
I look forward to hurting you.
Any sentence with nouns.
You're too fat.
Any sentence with verbs.
This is going to hurt.

Hope that helps.  See you at the gym!  I'll be the guy in the corner with the beach ball, looking sexy.

*His real name.

Friday, October 17, 2014

My Dr. Who Spec Script (Part 1)

I was always a Dr. Who geek.  As a kid, I would watch Tom Baker (and the "other" Doctors) regularly defeat horrible monsters with great enjoyment.
  • When the show was cancelled, I was dismayed.  
  • When they tried to make an American version, I was dismayed.  
  • When they made the new version, I was dismayed.
A year ago, I tried watching the new version of Dr. Who again, and I liked it.  I watched all the way to the Peter Capaldi season (which isn't on Netflix yet).

If any both of you read the title of this post, you know I'm going.  I decided to write an episode.  The script below comprises the first quarter of it.  I've outlined the rest, but haven't finished.

My question to you: What do you think?  Should I finish it?  Will the BBC answer my emails?

               EXT. SPACE

               A giant SPACE BATTLESHIP with GLOWING ENGINES tears through
               space.  It rushes towards a small, blue world, bent on
               horrible destruction.  Dark, terrifying music plays.

               The engines flicker and with a sad BEEE-WOOP, go dark.  The
               battleship slows and the nose goes down as it loses attitude

               After a beat, the engines light up again with an ominous hum. 
               It rights itself and rushes forward towards the planet again.

               BEEE-WOOP.  The engines fail another time.  

               The TARDIS appears.  It's spinning in circles around the
               battleship's engines.  The engines re-ignite but are struck
               by a beam from the TARDIS and go out again.  The battleship
               and the TARDIS are stuck in a stalemate: technology vs.

               INT. BRIDGE

               CAPTAIN MALANTHE, a sleek, angry woman sits in the center
               chair surrounded by lights and screens.  The bridge rocks
               around her, equipment sparks, but she ignores it all to stare
               furiously at her VIEWSCREEN, where THE DOCTOR stares back at
               her, leaning against the center console.  CLARA stands in the
               background, clutching a railing.

               Melanthe presses a button on the arm of her chair.

                         Re-ingite the primary engines.

                                   MECHANICAL VOICE
                         Main engines online.

               The lights on the bridge brighten.

                             (to Clara)
                         Press the button again.

               Clara jumps forward and presses a single button.  The
               battleship bridge shakes and sparks fly from consoles again. 
               The muffled BEEE-WOOP can be heard as the engines shut down.

                         You can't win, Doctor!  That planet
                         will die, sooner or later.

                         It's going to be later.  Much, much
                         later.  Without your light drives,
                         it will take you about...  Hm.  

               Does math on his fingers.

                                   DOCTOR (CONT'D)
                         Carry the two... Fifty years to
                         reach Thalossa 3.  You'll be old
                         and grey by then.

                         So will you.

               The Doctor glances at his reflection on the console and
               subconsciously fixes his hair.

                         Some of us wear it well.  Who would
                         hire you to eradicate the
                         Thalossans?  They don't harm
                         anyone.  They're sympaths.  It
                         literally hurts them more than it
                         hurts you.

                         I don't ask why.  It's just my job.

                         Get a new job.  I hear accounting
                         is nice.

                         You can't stop me.

                         I am stopping you.  Didn't...
                         Didn't you just see that?  With
                         your engines going "beeeeeeoop" and
                         all?  You want me to do it again? 
                         Clara!  Button.

               Click.  Beeeeeoop.

                         Oh, you can slow me down, but
                         sooner or later that ugly,
                         crumbling, wreck of yours is going
                         to fail and I will win.

               INT. TARDIS

               The Doctor and Clara are watching Melanthe on a holographic
               screen near the central console.  He sputters with anger.

                         Did you just call...?  The TARDIS
                         is not a..!  How dare..!  It's not
                         crumbling!  Clara!

                         Push the button again?

                         No, pull the lever!

               She looks over the console for a beat.

                         Which one?

                         The BIG one.  The Big Red Lever.

               Clara pulls the lever.  A deep hum builds up.

                                   DOCTOR (CONT'D)
                         I was going to let you go.  I was
                         going to let you start over.  I
                         even signed you up for an
                         accounting class.  But nobody
                         insults the TARDIS.  Now you pay
                         the price.

               The hum reaches its crescendo.

                                                                CUT TO:

               EXT. SPACE

               The TARDIS unleashes a piercing beam of energy at the
               battleship.  Lightning rips across the surface of the ship
               and explosions blossom on the engines.

               INT. BRIDGE

               Melanthe is still smiling.

                         Thank you doctor.

               She reaches down and picks up a metal ball the size of a shot
               put with a small, paper note taped to it.  The Doctor puts on
               his glasses and leans forward.

                         What's that?

                         A gift from an old enemy of yours.

                         Who?  The Daleks?




                         The Master?  The Silence?  The
                         Centaurans?  Animus?  Slitheen? 
                         Sil?  Megron?  The Faceless Ooze? 
                         Nomatron Seven?

               Melanthe continues to shake her head.

                         Now you're just making them up.

               Melanthe takes the note off the ball and reads it.

                         When The Doctor arrives, insult his
                         TARDIS.  When he gets mad enough to
                         expose the TARDIS's power core,


               Melanthe blows gently on the sphere.  It flashes brightly,
               transforming into a BALL OF LIGHT which whizzes forward
               through the screen.

               EXT. SPACE

               The ball of light shoots out of the front of the battleship
               and flies straight for the TARDIS.

               INT. TARDIS

               The Doctor jumps to work the controls.

                         Hang on!

               Clara braces for impact.

               EXT. SPACE

               The TARDIS neatly avoids the ball of light.

               INT. TARDIS

               Crisis averted, the Doctor turns from the console and smiles
               at the image of Melanthe.

                         Crumbling?  Ha!  Wreck?  Ha!


                         Not now, Clara.  I'm gloating.


               He turns just in time to see the ball of light, now expanded
               to giant size, engulf the TARDIS main console.

               Sparks fly.  The lights go out.  The glowing ball of energy
               casts an eerie glow over everything.  The Doctor reaches out
               to it but, it's solid.

                         That's not good.


                         It's a force field keeping me from
                         the controls.  I can't vent the
                         core pressure.  I can't even see
                         where we are.  Clara, be a dear and
                         open the door.

               Clara runs over to the door and opens it.  Wind blows in at
               her.  She gasps.  Outside, the PLANET looms large. 

               They're falling towards it.  The TARDIS is starting to heat
               up in the atmosphere.

               The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver on the force field.

                         What do we do?

                             (pointing at a hallway)
                         Go up there and open the third
                         closet from the left.

               Clara rushes off.  The Doctor keeps working while talking to
               her.  The hum of the TARDIS grows increasingly louder as if
               it's going to explode.

                                   DOCTOR (CONT'D)
                         You'll find a small metal chest at
                         the bottom.

               Clara drags out a small trunk for possessions like a soldier
               in WWII might have had.   

                                   DOCTOR (CONT'D)
                         Open it!  There's two metal
                         cannisters at the bottom marked
                         EVAC 1 and 2.

               She rummages through a pile of old socks before finding the
               cannisters.  They have high tech, weather-beaten look to
               them.  She runs back.  

               The Doctor gives up on the screwdriver and punches the force
               field with frustration.  The hum is dangerously loud.

                         I've got them!  What do I do?

               The Doctor takes one and twists it open.  A fish pops out,
               with tiny fins and eyestalks.

               Clara jumps back in surprise, dropping the second cannister,
               as the fish flops to the floor.  It swells, monstrously,
               until it's twice as big as Clara.

                                   CLARA (CONT'D)
                             (backing away as the fish
                              faces her)
                         Doctor!  What-

               With a giant gulp, it swallows her whole.  The Doctor isn't
               paying attention, he's on all fours chasing the other
               cannister as it rolls away over the deck.

               The fish pivots its eyestalks at the door and sees the blue
               world below.  It hops on its fins and tumbles, happily out
               into space.  The cannister rolls after it as the TARDIS is
               rocked by explosions.

               The Doctor watches from the console.

                         Good luck, Clara.

               There's another explosion.  Lights around the console flash
               and a sad noise plays.  The Doctor smiles makes a hushing

                                   DOCTOR (CONT'D)
                         Hush.  I'm not leaving you.  I'd
                         never leave you. The Doctor is
                         nothing without his TARDIS.

               EXT. SPACE

               The TARDIS, spinning out of control, is close enough to the
               planet that its features are clear.  It's covered with giant,
               blue oceans and dotted with a few, green islands.  The TARDIS
               flies out into space as the giant fish floats by.  It "swims"
               as best it can towards the planet, a look of intense
               eagerness on its face.

               After a beat, the TARDIS explodes spectacularly into tiny

               OPENING CREDITS

               EXT. BEACH - DAY

               Clara's POV.  

               Darkness.  The sound of waves crashing on the beach.  The
               darkness clears to a fuzzy view of the sky.  A fireball is
               fading out.  The fuzziness clears.  Waves lap against the
               shore.  The giant fish, sitting in the sand, smiles, turns
               clumsily, and flops into the water. 

               The sound of footsteps.  Clara turns to see a man squatting
               before her.

               It's The Doctor.  

                         Are you all right, Clara?

               But it's not the Doctor.  It changes and now the man is an
               alien with a bluish cast to his skin and a fin on his domed
               head.  He wears primitive,  dark brown clothes and has a net
               in his belt.  He squats down near her.

                         Are you all right, Clara?

               Her vision blurs again and all goes black.

                                                                CUT TO:

               INT. BRIDGE

               Melanthe smiles at the viewscreen.  The dust of the TARDIS is
               slowly pulled down to the planet.

                         Well, that was fun.

               She presses a button on her chair.

                                   MELANTHE (CONT'D)
                         Damage report.  How long until we
                         can be underway again?

                                   MECHANICAL VOICE
                         Five weeks.

                         Take your time.  There's no hurry

               She turns back to the viewscreen, which shows a pristine blue
               world, now undefended.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Relationship Wishes

I created a hypothetical question, I want you to think about.

The Setup
Imagine your spouse, or your partner, or whomever you've loved the most.  You've been married for a while.  Maybe you've just been in a relationship for a long time.  Don't imagine some perfect partner who looks into your eyes with fawning affection.  Imagine your real partner.  If you aren't with anyone right now, imagine you're with the partner you loved the most.

After years together, you truly appreciate your partner's flaws.  Maybe he's lazy.  Maybe she's always sad.  He's gotten old and fat.  She snores like a volcano.  You know what drives you crazy; pick that.

The Inciting Incident
You buy something at a store, or maybe a garage sale.  It's an antique lamp just like in the old Aladdin cartoons.  Maybe it's a piece of antique jewelry you got for almost nothing.  An old record, a gold box, a rare coin, it doesn't matter.

Point is, your partner finds it, you pay, and you take it home together. Your partner holds it up and blows off a little dust.

That's when the genie pops out.

The Genie
Yeah, it's a genie.  Just like in the cartoons.  It looks like smoke and has no legs.  It's blue (or red, or whatever you want to imagine); it speaks with a middle-eastern accent and makes jokes like Robin Williams.

The problem is, it has been waiting around for so long, its powers have weakened.  It only has one wish left, and it goes to your partner who blew off the dust.  Also, since you bought it together, your partner can only make a wish about you.  In short, your partner can make one of two wishes:
  1. Change you into the person your partner dreams of.
  2. Replace you with someone perfect for them.
Remember all those flaws your partner had?  You have flaws, too, and they bother your partner as much as his or hers bother you.  Think about that for a moment.

Your Flaws
What does your partner hate the most about you? Are you too obsessed with work?  Are you having trouble losing weight?  Are you short?  Old?  Slow?  Dumb?  Poor?  Too liberal?  Too conservative?  Do you drink too much?  Does your partner hate your friends?

What would your partner change about you?  More important (really the point of all this), do you consider that flaw a fundamental part of who you are?  Would you still be you if you'd had different parents or didn't care about the state of the country?

Your partner glances at you out of the corner of an eye, and you realize what the wish is going to be.  It makes you uncomfortable.

The Catch
At this point, the genie leans over and whispers into your ear.

"There's one more catch," it says.  "Since you share the wish, you get to choose which kind of wish it will be.  You choose if you get changed or if your partner gets someone else."

The Choice
It's down to two choices for you:

Choice #1
You let your partner change you into someone diferent.  Maybe it's something small, like being younger, or taller, or richer, or healthier.  Maybe it's something that would turn you into a different person: more devout, less political, more devoted to your relationship, less interested in your hobby.

You get to be with your love, but it's not exactly you anymore.

Choice #2
You leave, and watch your beloved, flawed partner fall in love with someone else.  Someone perfect in a way you can't ever be.  Your partner is happy.  You're alone.

But you're still you.

The Question
Well?  What do you pick?  Why?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

I Hate BLANKing. I Love Having BLANKed.

Dorothy Parker is famous for...  Er.  Something about a table?  I dunno.  Has anyone really read anything she ever wrote?  Whoever she was, she once said:
I hate writing.  I love having written.
Which is a very true statement for many writers.  Writing is deeply painful.  Here's a picture of a writer, working on a novel:

And here he is again, after finishing:

I was thinking how Dorothy's phrase was useful for other things than writing. For example:
I hate working out.  I love having worked out.
Because working out feels like this:

And afterwards, you get an endorphin rush and big muscles and feel like this:

Or, how about:
I hate having children.  I loved having children.
Okay, doesn't make a lot of sense until you consider the two senses of the phrase "having children."

Dorothy's expression works for so many different situations I wonder if  ghosts say it to each other.
I hated living.  I love having lived.
Yeah, don't live like that.  Enjoy the moment.