Thursday, November 27, 2008

Let Us Give Thanks

Holiday time again! I've got another gaming-related entry in the pipeline (Just what you were all waiting for, no doubt), but for now? You're getting another terrible holiday-themed short story - my first Thanksgiving story. That sound of silence? That's a million people entering cardiac arrest at the thought of such a story from an individual like myself - it's just that exciting a prospect.

There's a lot of important themes in this one - family, kung fu - actually, that's about it. But do enjoy nonetheless. It's my job to help you lose a few braincells while I in turn exercise my brain before turning it to soup on holiday events in Kingdom of Loathing, Guild Wars, and Animal Crossing: City Folk.


Let Us Give Thanks

"Good evening, Yorkies and filthy humans alike," announced the Grand Yorkie over the Johnson family's transistor radio. It was Thanksgiving here in New Yorkshire City, where the Yorkshire Terriers were king, and a breed quite nostalgic by nature. (Nikola Tesla might've owned a Yorkie at some point. Or maybe he crossed paths with one. Nobody knows for sure.)

"The pre-Christmas season is upon us already, so I just thought I'd remind you this year - as I do every year - to take a few minutes out to buy something once you've finished your dinners. Any citizen who fails to do so within 12 hours of the designated dinner hour will be punished by stoning." They called it stoning, but what the Grand Yorkie referred to was actually an established practice of bombarding offending members of society with little hollow plastic toy bones - a sight far more common in NYC than any actual stones. It was almost never fatal - so long as you kept your mouth closed and lacked particularly oversized nostrils - but it was quite an annoyance, and physically unpleasant enough to serve as an effective criminal deterrent.

"And remember to save a doggie bag for your household Yorkie! If you don't, it's punishable by death, but of course I don't need to remind you people of that! Yes I do." With that, the radio cut off, the Grand Yorkie's annual Thanksgiving address complete. He was one of the more loving and appreciative grand tyrants over the city's human populace - he even allowed the humans to speak of themselves as though they were still in control of society without punishment. "Even the smallest of creatures deserve some sense of pride," he'd said on the matter. The Grand Yorkie was a truly noble fellow.

"He's done, George," said Agnes Johnson, nudging her dozing husband with her elbow.

"What?" the aging military man snorted, awaking with a start. "Oh, right." George Johnson had done twelve tours on the moon, fighting for human control over the moon secessionists - like many of his fellow veterans, he referred to them as "moonies," a very politically incorrect term that none of you should ever make use of in your daily lives unless you're sincerely committed to offending your colleagues of moon descent - and spent the past six years in a moon prison camp. Most of these years were spent subsisting on government moon cheese and playing mini-golf - a pastime most frustrating in moon gravity. Some have even been known to call it a form of torture.

"Time for the holiday prayer, I guess," George grunted, pushing himself to his feet. Only Agnes held him in her gaze, the rest of his family a thousand miles away - mostly metaphorically. His twenty year old deadbeat son, Billy, was more concerned with the latest bootleg moon music and beating his heroin addiction than giving his dominating father the respect he felt he was entitled to. His twenty-seven year old daughter, Ana, was off in orbital graduate school, present only in hologram form - her holographic image hadn't refreshed in a full half hour. And George's mother - his poor, sweet old mother - was over 600 years old and not particularly concerned with anything going on around her anymore.

"Ahem," George cleared his throat dramatically. No response. Gritting his teeth, he placed his hands firmly on the table in a futile effort to draw the others' attention, and began to speak. "On this day, let us give thanks. Let us thank the original pilgrim family - the Thankertons, for whom the term is named - who first came to this great nation centuries ago bearing the gift of disease, which they spread across the land. From this bountiful disease we sprang, laying waste to the heathens who had yet to discover Jesus-in-a-bun. Jesus-in-a-bun! You eat it for breakfast and lunch, and if you even consider not eating it, you deserve to die. Jesus-in-a-bun! From Christco. Though we even now suffer at the hand of the Yorkies - er, kindly as they can be, it's really more our fault that we suffer - let us continue to curse the name of the swamp people who rose from the marshes of south Florida. Nobody likes those boggarts. Amen."

"Yeah, yeah, real touching," groaned Howell, the household Yorkie, who'd chosen the name for himself in developing a fondness for the human television relic known as Gilligan's Island. "Now how about horking some-a that turkey my way?"

"Now Thurston, you know that's not how we use that word," Agnes corrected the dog with a kindly smile.

"It's Howell! HOW-WELL! How many times are you going to get this wrong?" the dog bellowed, standing up and attempting to put his paws on his hips in emulating a human stance of indignation. Of course, being a dog, he just ended up flopping over.

George did his best to ignore the dog's usual antics. Under New Yorkshire City law, there had to be at least one Yorkshire Terrier in every home. The Grand Yorkie had to keep the humans in line somehow. And though humanity had lost its grip on society in that city long ago - turned out their grip was much more slippery than they'd thought - life hadn't changed all that much. Sure, the talking dogs took a little getting used to, but it's not as though the humans had been smart enough to figure out their language to begin with. While frequently not the most adaptable of creatures, humans do occasionally show a tremendous talent for being too lazy to care about things - the day the Yorkies began to speak is simply another example of this. Countless terrible children's movies may have made most people completely numb to the concept.

"So," George said upon once again clearing his throat. "Who wants the first cut? Billy?"

Billy wasn't listening. He was too busy rotting his brain with that hyper-techno music - the kind that just amounts to a bunch of random noise and screaming. He was also shooting a little heroin at the dinner table, but that just happened to be the way he rolled, to stick to archaic turns of phrase. (Family dinners made him shoot up. That was his reasoning, anyway.) Billy resented his father, falling into one of the two standard military brat archetypes as he had - the resentful and rebellious variety, as opposed to the aggressively pro-military, anti-thinking type. Both archetypes naturally serving as examples of humanity at its more annoying.

"Billy!" George shouted, losing his patience.

"Answer your father, Billy," Agnes smiled to him. Living with a husband suffering from not only post traumatic stress disorder, but future post traumatic stress disorder, was a trying ordeal for the aging woman. She placed her hopes in her children, and the idea that George might someday learn to keep his temper more in check, and maybe stop beating up people in the supermarket. But with the Earth government having cut funding for counseling and psychiatric help for soldiers to a mere micro-penny - quite literally, just to emphasize how little the regressionists cared for the notion of mental health - her hopes had faded considerably over the years.

"Whatevsers, old peoples," Billy grunted. "How 'bout you gimme some-a that breast meat and one-a them drumsticks?"

"The drumsticks are mine," George hissed, cutting into the side of the turkey.

"Ow!" The room fell silent as the turkey shuddered, having cried out in pain. Talking dogs, and even canine rule were one thing - talking turkeys were another.

"What was that?" George asked aloud, unsure just who he was asking.

"Geez, that stings," the turkey muttered, standing upright on its drumsticks. "Yowch. Seriously, man, watch it with that thing."

"Hey, you're Thanksgiving dinner - dinner doesn't talk to me like that," George said through clenched teeth.

"I think it just did!" Billy laughed. "Man, that was some good heroin."

"We already know you like heroin! Stop reminding us every five minutes!" George snarled, then turning his attention back to the turkey. "And you! Shut up and let us eat you!"

"How would you like it if I ate YOU?!" the turkey posited, shaking a wing in George's direction.

"What?! You can't eat me! You lack mandibles!" George said, waving a two-pronged fork at the turkey menacingly.

"You're talkin' like a moonie again, dad!" Billy called out. (For those wondering about Billy's uncharacteristically energetic behavior for a heroin addict, it all comes down to that they cut the drug differently in the future. Future-heroin's not the same. That's all you need to know.)

"I was a prisoner of war for six years!" George bellowed, stabbing at the turkey.

In a moment of inexplicable dexterity - especially considering that the turkey lacked any sort of digits with which to grasp objects - the turkey sidestepped George's lunge, pulling the fork away and stabbing it into the back of Grandma Johnson's hand, pinning it to the table. She didn't seem to notice. In fact, she didn't react at all - nor did she bleed. Another perk of aging: the gradual transformation of blood to sawdust.

"Who's to say I lack mandibles!?" the turkey defiantly asked. "I'm made of tofu!! I never had a head to begin with!"

"We're health-conscious in the future!" George shouted in a moment of angry unnecessary exposition to nobody. "If you're looking for a fight, turkey, you've found one!"

By this point, Agnes had left the apartment to get medical help, seeing as neither of the Johnson men were in any way useful when a crisis arose - as much of a crisis as you could really consider a grandma-stabbing, anyway. Ana had undoubtedly ditched the family dinner as soon as she felt she could fake technical problems, herself - a regular practice of hers during any family event at which she was expected to appear. One could hardly blame her.

"What, so I'm a turkey now?" The tofurkey probably would have had an indignant look on its face, had it actually had a face.

"Well, it is what you are."


"Hey, I may be a -" Billy's attention span failed him, as it frequently did. "Let's just kick this guy's ass."

"Watch it," the tofurkey warned the remaining Johnsons. "I'm a one-turkey army."

As the tofurkey spoke, Billy ran over to the stereo and put on The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army."

"So now you're a turkey, are you!?" George demanded, pointing his knife at the aggressive tofurkey. "Turn that shit off, Billy! This is no time for classical music!"

"It's okay when I say it," the tofurkey said, just as Howell leapt up onto the table.

"Turkey time!" shouted the dog, plunging through the stuffing, his mouth gaping - only to bite down on air.

"Not this time, rover!" the tofurkey riposted, sending the dog flying through the window across the room with a solid tofu-drumstick roundhouse kick.

Taking the opening he'd been given, George followed the tofurkey's lead and sent him out the window after the dog with a slow-motion roundhouse kick of his own. (Because everything's cooler in slow motion.) This attack sent Grandma Johnson to the floor, taking the entire table with her. Predictably, the Johnson men didn't even notice.

"Looks like Thanksgiving dinner's ruined again," George mused. "Of course, we didn't get Thanksgiving back in the prison camp."

"Shut up, dad -" Billy's attention span gave way again. "We're in trouble anyway. The dog, y'know." Any failure to properly pamper one's household Yorkie was a punishable crime - any abuse of said Yorkie would be blamed on its owners, and regarded even more harshly.

"Yes, it looks like we'll be spending this Christmas working in the nog mines again," George said, resignedly. "This is what I spent those six years working for."

Billy walked over to the window, an almost-thoughtful look creasing his face. "Say, if we can't eat tofu now either, what are we supposed to eat?"

"I don't know, son," George said, placing a hand on his son's shoulder. "I just don't know."

"Don't touch me."

"Don't you tell me what to do."


So, as you saw, our dysfunctional family didn't pull together and learn to work together as a team because they secretly love each other and just wanted to pretend to be dysfunctional when they only were at a shallow level at best to simply make a one-dimensional narrative work - this isn't a movie. And now there's holiday-themed punishment looming overhead. Basically, the moral of this story is, whatever you do, stay on Yorkshire Terriers' good side. And also tofu might rise up and start wrecking cities someday - I'm not saying that it will, just that it might. (Note: This idea also applies to anything and everything else conceivable in our world.)

Being that it's Thanksgiving now, dinner likely some number of hours off for most of you - at least, speaking to the American readers (As for the rest of you, I guess you can take this entry as an admission that Horace Engdahl was right - American writers are too isolated and insular to be Nobel prize worthy. In fact, you can take every bit of this entry as evidence to that fact and treat it as though every writer in American history was involved. I insist.) - so go take it easy for a while. It's been a long year, and we have a rough holiday season ahead. Put your feet up, and gorge yourself on whatever you like to on this foodiest of holidays, whatever your personal dietary preferences may be.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Election 2008 Wrapup: Two Weeks Later, A Vote Barack'd

Hey now, brown cow - er, denizens of the Internets!

Election season's finally over here in the USA, and no doubt most of you joined the rest of the globe in breathing a collective sigh of relief. And then proceeded to spend these past two weeks partying like it was 1399, in which case there was no dancing allowed since that'd just be asking to be accused of witchcraft. (Unless you're a remotely "normal" person, per se, in which case you've just spent these past couple of weeks going about your life as usual, looking forward to the retirement of George W. Bush and his cronies from the highest offices in the nation.)

Together, the American people headed out to the polls on November 4th and decidedly renounced the policies of George W. Bush and neo-conservativism that John McCain ran on, and the hate and fear that the dangerously unqualified Sarah Palin espoused. Since then, we've seen McCain give a graceful concession speech - to which his crowd did not react well, sadly - and Sarah Palin go on to be less than a class act, not taking the loss well and trying to convince us that we somehow missed out on something big, when, as would be good for America, her political career is pretty likely over. (All the angry conservatives trying to make her out to be a viable 2012 candidate aside.) President-elect Obama himself gave a powerful, uplifting, and honest speech - continuing his trend of treating the American people like intelligent adults capable of critical thinking, a nice break from the treatment prominent Republicans have given us - talking about what we've been through, and the difficulties we have lying ahead. Though there has been a bit of a sense of a "personality cult of hope" around Obama - which the Republicans harped on throughout the campaign - the man in no way pretends he can just snap his fingers and undo everything the Bush administration did, nor simply swoop into power and fix all the problems we're facing without plenty of difficulty in the face of reality. Obama's speech was no doubt sobering for those pulled into the candidate hype - though their excitement was understandable, he's one of the closest candidates to a strong progressive we've seen running for a long time (Though he's still certainly a moderate overall.), and now soon to be sworn in as our nation's first African American president. An absolutely historic night, and a beacon of hope for both America and the world, with a leader interested in the needs of the average citizen and the rest of the world again at last. And since the election? Obama's even begun doing his own version of FDR's historic fireside chats, in addressing the nation in Youtube videos.

Even after such a great, historic event, there are many in this nation dead set on reminding us how much ugliness still exists under the surface here. This is no nation to regard with blind patriotism, as many conservatives - including Republicans, even their less conservatively inclined ilk, the masqueraders - espouse. I've read more than enough local editorial letters about how we shouldn't just be proud of our nation because of Obama's victory, but that we should be blindly proud of it and implicitly stop criticizing it regardless of who's in power. These past eight years are shameful for many reasons - nothing to take pride in, whether through blind patriotism or stalwart belief in the terrible things we spent the George W. Bush years standing for, and would have continued to under a McCain administration. Sarah Palin herself cast those who would look at America as an "imperfect" place as somehow being "untrue" Americans. If we should stand for anything, it's the ideals this nation has upheld at its best - the importance of individuals' rights and freedoms, human rights themselves, the pursuit of happiness, and efforts to uplift our society, rather than gleefully kicking those lower than us in socioeconomic status as we've done for so long.

America is still a bubbling cauldron of hate of all kinds, even on the most depressingly basic level of hatred based on skin color and ethnicity. Obama's election is historic - one of the most important election results in many, many years - and represents America taking a step forward, actively rejecting the rhetoric of racists. But in reaction to this, America's racists have only grown more raucous - something to condemn, and also something to learn from as an awful relic of one of the worst elements of American history. We've come far, but we're still a young nation, and our stability - like our future - is in no way guaranteed. Racism - though I've heard it claimed otherwise (Mostly by Libertarians, but not to say that all branches of that party's political thought - which trends towards ridiculousness as much as any other - actually believe that.) - is not simply an "opinion" to demand respect for from others. There's a world of difference between opinions and blind hatred - between "I don't like the taste of asparagus" and "Those people are inferior to me because they look different, and didn't descend from the same people I did." And this month, Americans as a whole took a step forward in rejecting that depressing viewpoint by electing our first African American president. The less experienced candidate, sure - but still the candidate with ideas this country has needed to take it someplace better again. Politically, he's not as radically different as this country is in sore need of - a general break from Republicans and Democrats and a move in a direction both more stable and progressive - but he's far better than the alternative, and far better at selling Americans on the right ideas. (Ideas most Americans agree with when presented with the facts and reality - things the right has been viciously combating through the tactics of fear for decades now.) And as such, he overcame one of the lowest, dirtiest campaigns this nation has seen in some time. (And these past two weren't exactly clean by any measure of imagination.)

Barack Obama has a very long, difficult first term ahead, facing some of the biggest challenges a president of this nation has in a long time. Many of them are the result of awful, failed politics on the part of the neo-conservatives and their past eight years in power (With even the Democratic congress the past two not doing nearly enough to defy them and check their power.), but many of them are the result of other factors. Obama doesn't have all the answers, nor can he just flick the switch on some hope machine and fix everything wrong with our broken nation, as said before. He can't simply undo the economic crisis, he can't bring the countless dead as a result of our invasions and occupations in the Middle East - American, Afghan, and Iraqi alike - back to life, he can't stop Bush's rather awful Supreme Court additions, and he can't simply go back in time and erase any of what we're facing now. There's no guarantee we'll see everything drastically improve and radically change in the next four years - and we're practically guaranteed that that's what the Republicans will run on in 2012, that Obama failed to deliver on radical change that he never promised (The focus being on a change of direction, away from the neo-conservatives' failed politics and rhetoric, and an honest effort to improve things for the majority of us who suffered under their reign.), in giving the honest speech he did on election night in speaking to America as our new president-elect. But only people who didn't listen to Obama, who believed he'd accomplish things he never promised (Or were already Republicans who simply didn't take the time to understand what he was actually promising), will fall for these tactics. (And if America's any smarter - this is something much harder to measure - if the Republicans end up trying to push Sarah Palin as their candidate in 2012, they should effectively be guaranteeing a second term for Obama.)

The best attitude to adopt now is one of cautious optimism - to keep our expectations realistic and to think rationally in screening the years of angry right-wing partisan spin we'll be seeing on everything Obama does, both important and insignificant. With the almost absurd amount of damage the George W. Bush presidency dealt to both this nation and the world, it's unrealistic to expect Obama to fix things with ease - and there are many who'll continue to fight him along the way. So we can't rationally get angry at someone not being able to fix everything when faced with such daunting odds, who never promised to "wave a magic wand" (As is the popular metaphor these days) and make all our troubles disappear. What we can look forward to is a start in a better direction, which we just have to hope the right-wing doesn't successfully trip up somewhere along the way.

This month, the American people achieved a major milestone in triumphing over the racism still ingrained in much of the populace. And we chose the politics of hope and change over fear and continuing down an inherently destructive path. These achievements cannot be discounted, though the election results weren't all sunshine and rainbows, with gay marriage bans passed in Florida and Arizona, and the recent legalization of same sex marriage overturned in California, a horrible blow to all the couples who just married in these past few weeks. (A narrow overturning on the part of elderly voters, as opposed to African Americans, who Bill O'Reilly has openly attempted to pin the blame on in hopes of pushing for this mythical Republican culture/race war in which they're dying to see minority groups who don't support them turn against each other.)

The violent and disruptive acts of racism in the wake of Obama's election remind us loud and clear that much of this country is still depressingly behind the times in regards to accepting African Americans as being no less as people than anyone else. And over the George W. Bush years, we saw numerous racist flareups, targeting Islamic people (As a result of the September 11th attacks and the resulting invasions, and more of the hateful sentiment we've seen in those treating the Islamic/Judaic cultural conflict in the Middle East as a matter of picking sides. It's also funny how so many of the conservative-minded people who aggressively side with Israel - sometimes including its more violent radicals - seem to be among the same conservatives who hold prejudice against Jewish people here in America.) and Mexicans (Hate was frequently indirectly espoused towards them, as well as fear of their culture, all throughout the immigration debate. Not unlike the frequent use of "Hussein" - Obama's middle name - as a surrogate epithet by hateful McCain supporters throughout the election.) in particular.

This election also reminds us that much of this country - the older generations in particular - have a ways to go in accepting that same sex marriage isn't that different an idea from the marriage of two individuals of the opposite sex - that people in same sex relationships, bisexual or homosexual, are still the same species as the rest of us. A matter of insecure people feeling threatened by those who look differently, who come from different places, and people of a different sexual orientation. But many people - Americans certainly included - are not inclined to open-mindedness. And thus, their hatred remains rooted in fear, rather than uprooted through recognition of and acceptance that despite our differences, we're all still human, with all the frailties and flaws that entails.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Do it. Do it NOW.

Just a friendly reminder from your (less than) favorite writer to all my American readers - today is November 4th. An absolutely critical, historic Election Day. Democracy in this country may be broken on many levels, but after eight years of George W. Bush and neo-conservative dominance, it's time we do our part to take back our nation from the regressives and start getting back on the right track.

Whatever your political beliefs, get out and vote.

(Then, however things turn out, at least you'll be able to have a valid political opinion on what happens, in having participated in our little democracy game. Let's all hope for the best, and for a day, do our duty as American adults.)

As for the rest of you? Well, I'm still trying to come up with some more good material to post about, but I'm sure we'll see at least a little election aftermath blurb like this sometime this month. And as I finish that novel and work on grad school applications, hopefully I'll find time to write some humor here and there as well - a little bit of some sort of brain food or another. (With any luck, the Raleigh Quarterly guys'll get that next issue up sometime this month so I'll have an excuse to point you over there to read my short story with an entry here.)