Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: The year of the doldrums

This quiz is my traditional sign-off to a calendar year. 2011 was not a bad year, nor was it a great one. I didn't make any great strides, but nothing cataclysmic happened either. This isn't a complaint; I get the feeling that 2011 was a giant bowl of suck for a whole lot of people, and I am grateful that I wasn't one of them. I hope that this year was more of a "just keep stacking the bricks one by one" kind of year, and that when I'm finished with all that brick-stacking, hey look, I've built the Great Wall of China. (That metaphor worked a lot better in my head, it must be admitted.)

So anyway, here are the questions that run down the year!

Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

As always, some yes, some no. I haven't made any great professional strides, either writing or at The Store, but I've gotten better at each, and I have a project (Princesses in SPACE!!!, not the actual title) that's humming along nicely. And I did get healthier. So yay, me!

As for next year, the usual: write more, read more, exercise more, watch more movies. On the reading front, I'll be participating in a Classics Challenge in 2012. If anyone wants to join, info is there!

Did anyone close to you give birth?

My sister-in-law had Child Unit Number Two. Other than that...nope. Just a few online friends and acquaintances.

Did anyone close to you die?

No.

What countries did you visit?

Never left the USA. We hope to go to Canada again next year sometime, but we haven't left the USA in years. In my mind, though, I visited the Shire, Rohan, Gondor, and so on. As well as a whole bunch of planets. I spent a lot of time on a planet called Xonareth, but I can't say more about that just yet.

What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?

A book with my name on it. I don't know if that'll be feasible, though...I'm still working on the first draft and am maybe two-thirds of the way through it. Then it's time to edit it, generate the second draft, and proceed from there.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Moderate weight loss; getting started on Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title).

What was your biggest failure?

I'm not sure if I'm ever going to return to The Promised King. The story still stays in my head, though, so...maybe.

What was the best thing you bought?

The Wife's Kindle Fire; she is utterly entranced by the thing. Quite a few books. Two pairs of Carhartt overalls (a painter's pair and a black "duck" pair).

Whose behavior merited celebration?

The Wife and Daughter, as always!

The "Occupy" folks. I question the efficacy of continued camping out in city squares, but I do not question the ideals of the movement, and I deeply hope that our country may finally, at long long long long last, be turning away from its decades-long unquestioned commitment to allowing money to flow straight to the top of society in the hopes that, when they finally fall down to our level, those table scraps are just awesome, man.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

The Republican presidential candidates. Seriously, watching these people desperately try to outclaw each other in an effort to prove to the Tea Partiers which one is the stupidest is one of the most depressing things I've ever seen. Just watching all of these people deny evolution, global warming, and other things, all the while continuing to insist that if we just cut all the taxes on rich people prosperity will return and the streets will flow with milk and honey makes me sick to my stomach.

Where did most of your money go?

Food, bills, books.

What did you get really excited about?

We took a trip to Pittsburgh as a family in the spring, and a trip to the Jersey Shore in the summer. The Wife and I had our annual fall getaway. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 and The Muppets came out. I resumed exercise and weight training (fallen off the wagon a little bit during the holidays). I turned 40 (less excited about that one, maybe...although the pies were nice).

What song will always remind you of 2011?

In honor of the Occupy movement, the song that I believe should be our National Anthem (all due respect to "The Star Spangled Banner"):




(The fact that George Lucas shows up in the middle of the crowd in this video is just gravy.)

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

Happier. But it's touchy, so don't piss me off, people!

(I kid, folks. I kid because I love.)

Thinner or fatter?

Thinner! Not by a whole lot, but thinner. A little bit at a time, folks. If you're gonna build the Wall of China one brick at a time, you're gonna take it apart one brick at a time, too.

Richer or poorer?

About the same...but on better grounding.

What do you wish you'd done more of?

Writing! And reading. And listening to music. And watching movies.

What do you wish you'd done less of?

Eating, I suppose. And I should probably stop throwing rocks at libertarians, Ayn Rand ideologues, and Ron Paul supporters. I just can't help myself sometimes.

How did you spend Christmas?

Eating, opening gifts, going to church, driving around to look at lights, visiting Little Quinn at his grave, all the usual stuff.

Did you fall in love in 2010?

As always: I fall in love on a daily basis!

How many one-night stands?

Zero. I'm off the market, folks.

What was your favorite TV program?

Castle, The Big Bang Theory, Person of Interest (really liking this one so far), Pawn Stars (discovered on Netflix, post forthcoming), and all the old ones...Firefly, Star Trek, The X-Files. I want to watch Farscape and maybe Battlestar Galactica in the new year.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

I don't do hate. And Osama Bin Laden is dead as old Marley, which I think is a Good Thing.

What was the best book you read?

A Tale of Two Cities. That book just made me a-quiver.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

Not a major year for musical discoveries, I'm sorry to say. Maybe I should try and discover some more music one of these years.

What did you want and get?

Books, movies, pizza, trying the new Japanese steakhouse, larger pans for Chicago deep-dish pizza, tickets to Wicked, tickets to Les Miz (it plays here in March 2012, but I've got the tickets already), new hand tools, a laminate trimmer, a new (to me) car, time with The Wife, new overalls, and pies in my face.

What did you want and not get?

A Dewalt compact router; an oscillating tool; an impact driver. A new laptop (although the old one's not dead yet, and I'm loath to replace things like laptops before they die completely or become virtually unusable).

What were your favorite films of this year?

This is always tough, since I rarely see movies in the year they come out anymore. Harry Potter and The Muppets are probably tops. I haven't blogged them yet, but I loved Space Battleship Yamato and Inglourious Basterds.

What did you do on your birthday?

Our annual trip to Ithaca, NY for the Apple Harvest Festival, which is always a wonderful time. More on the birthday celebration here.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?

Huh...I haven't changed my personal fashion concept in years. Maybe I should...but nah. It's workwear-chic for the long haul!

What kept you sane?

Same reply as last year: Laughing; reading; writing; discovering that even though we've been together in one way or another for almost twenty twenty-one years, I still have ways of getting to know The Wife; singing loudly in the car when I'm by myself; torturing The Daughter with awful puns (something my father did to me, coincidentally enough!); geeking out to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. And take it from me: if you ever feel that maybe you're taking yourself too seriously, have your spouse or significant other hit you with a pie. It's awfully hard to take yourself seriously when your face is dripping whipped cream and coconut custard.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Stana Katic. Melissa Rauch. Lisa Edelstein. Hugh Laurie. Jeff Probst. Nathan Fillion. Barack Obama. Jon Stewart. And my newest love...Kat Dennings! Welcome aboard, Kat! (Hmmm...that sounded creepier than intended....)



What political issue stirred you the most?

The arrival on the scene of the Occupy movement thrilled me deeply. I hope now that it can move beyond protests and find a way to actually start to influence policy. This country needs to move to the left.

Who did you miss?

Most of the people who used to read this blog! Where'd you all go?

Who was the best new person you met?

The "Saturday Centus" folks are a wonderful bunch of eccentrics, weirdos, and scoundrels. I love 'em all, every one!

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010:

In a way it's deeply liberating to realize just how little people actually think of you. And not "how little they think" as in, they think poorly of you, but rather how little they think, as in, "Oh, I forgot all about that guy!"

And keeping the ones from years past: We learn by screwing up, so embrace your inner FAIL! The Internet is made of people. Punting is for losers. Democracy works, eventually. Not all tears are an evil. Whipped cream is a miracle substance. So is ice cream. Use your library; limiting your reading to only those books you can afford to buy is madness. OpenOffice rules. Buy good tools, take care of them, don't lend them out, and they'll last forever. Pie is wonderful stuff, whether on your plate or in your face. Screw fashion; if it's comfy, wear it. We're not meant to be alone. No object fits in your hand so perfectly as your wife's hand, and no object fits so perfectly on your shoulder as your child's head. Let it be, and all you need is love.

And keep smiling, because you never know what life will throw in your face next!

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

In a year which saw the pop-cultural return of the Muppets, and for a person like me who tries to spend as much time as possible in a dream state because the dreams are so much better than the reality, this song is the perfect summation of this year.




Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we've been told and some choose to believe it
I know they're wrong, wait and see.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me.

Who said that every wish would be heard and answered
when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that and someone believed it,
and look what it's done so far.
What's so amazing that keeps us stargazing?
And what do we think we might see?
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
the Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me.

All of us under its spell,
we know that it's probably magic....

Have you been half asleep, and have you heard voices?
I've heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same.
I've heard it too many times to ignore it.
It's something that I'm supposed to be.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
the Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me!


To all the Lover and Dreamers out there, may 2012 be well and truly blessed!


(Regular blogging will resume on Monday, January 2.)

Get thee behind me, 2011!

Well, we're about to file away 2011 in the books. What kind of year was it? For me and my family, it was a decent year. For the country, it was a pretty volatile year. Who knows where things go from here, huh?

In February of 2012, this blog will have been in existence for ten years. That kind of excites me and frightens me, at the same time. When I started this, I figured I'd have things to say for about a year. Maybe two, tops. And then I'd move on to something else. Instead, here we are. Wow.

So here's some of what transpired in my little corner of the Interweb in 2011! Links to individual posts that are favorites of mine are below, but I'd also call attention to several posting series: Page One, in which I used photos of the first pages of books to launch meditations; Saturday Centus, a weekly exercise in microfiction that also involves a wonderful group of talented folks; and my glacially-paced X-Files rewatch effort, X-Files Case Reports. I also continued to enjoy my Something for Thursday series of music posts, and my even more sporadic (and thus horribly inappropriately named) Beatles Song of the Week. Finally, I only managed to produce a single post in Fixing the Prequels: Revenge of the Sith, but I'm thinking I need to get that one done in 2012.

As far as other sites go, I still have my Flickr stream for photos (favorites below), in two mosaics, one for the first half the year and one for the second). I enjoy taking pictures, and sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't invest in a better camera and try taking a serious approach to it as a hobby. Maybe...but I'd also like to take up geocaching, and I can't get every gizmo I want! (And I suspect a new laptop will become necessary in 2012...this poor machine of mine dates from 2007, which makes it long-in-the-tooth for laptops). I also launched a Tumblr blog, Driftwood Upon the Bosporus, but I can't really claim to be particularly enthusiastic about it. Tumblr tends to be more pictorial than I generally favor -- although I like pictorial stuff just fine, I like words more -- and I'm pretty ingrained here. So my Tumblr efforts tend to be, well, of the non-exciting variety. I tend to post occasional bits of political snark there, as well as cool photos when I'm in the mood. And this generally boils down to people (mostly beautiful women) wearing overalls or getting hit with pies. Go figure.

Anyway, here we are: 2011 in review.

THE FIRST HALF OF 2011

Selected Photos

2011 Faves I

1. Overalls weather!, 2. Lester...., 3. Happiness is a Fountain Pen and some paper!, 4. Hooktail, 5. Wavy, 6. Crocheting, 7. The Central Terminal, 8. Two Headlines, 9. Oil lamp, close up, 10. Off to Arrakis!, 11. French chess!, 12. Nose to nose!, 13. Sea Dragon II, 14. You're lucky you're on the other side of the glass, Bub., 15. Lion fish, 16. Colors in the wild!, 17. Jellyfish I, 18. Gasp!, 19. Shark Porn, 20. Show me the tin can...., 21. Looking up the tracks, 22. A couple. In Pittsburgh., 23. She's hamming it up., 24. PPG Place, 25. Mellon!, 26. We've come a long way since "Pong", 27. Head to toe, 28. Athos, Porthos, Aramis, 29. Perusing a book, 30. Chopstick practice I, 31. Back to Blustery, 32. Moon over Orchard Park, 33. I heart Lee overalls!, 34. Double Denim, 35. Monte Cristo sandwich, 36. It's breathin' smoke!


Selected Blog Posts

January

On Shakespearean Doorstops
Whipped Cream Day
Odd stuff about President John Tyler
On snow and nomenclature
Music students: the next generation
Challenger, 25 years later
Memoriam: John Barry
My bookshelves

February

A Tale of Two Meals
Oh well, better luck next year, Steelers
Happy birthday, John Williams
How to Drain Your Flagon
Double denim: I like it
On to Middle Earth
A picture, in words
On The Wife's birthday
On On Her Majesty's Secret Service

March

Fun and games at the Antique Mall
Breakfast of Champions
On mnemonic devices
For Japan, after the quake
A Teevee Quiz

April

My greatest Sabres playoff memory
The people at the gym
Record Store Day
Thoughts on the teevee version of A Game of Thrones
Wrenches

May

Obama gets Osama
Long Live the Central Terminal!
100 Things I Love About Movies
Racehorse names I'd like to see
Buffalo: For Real? Fer Chrissakes!
I will always hate Boston Rob
And I'll always hate Tom Brady, but that photo cracks me up
On Wicked

June

100 Teevee Memories
Thoughts on a concluded teevee season
Lebron James: Loser!!!
All that tilting, and yet, the windmills endure
Oh, James Newton Howard, NO!
My Overalls Hero
Rainbow Over New York
As you wish, Peter Falk
Someone spoke ill of the Prequels? To the Geekmobile!

THE SECOND HALF

Selected Photos

2011 Faves II

1. The pizza of Emperors!, 2. HOT WOK, 3. International Overalls Day V, 4. Scarf and Overalls, 5. Library Cat, 6. Writing: lubricating the brain, 7. Western New York sunrise, 8. Taffy's after dark, 9. Pumpkinville 2011: From the hayride, 10. Pumpkinville 2011: Wife at the fence, 11. Ithaca: Hmmmm...., 12. Ithaca: shopping for yarn, 13. Ithaca: Waffles and Fried Chicken, 14. Distortion in progress, 15. Happy Birthday to Me! VII: Piefaced Me, 16. Happy Birthday to Me! VI: At last! The pies finally go in my face!, 17. Happy Birthday to Me! V: Double Denim, 18. Happy Birthday to Me! IV: Making a wish, 19. Happy Birthday to Me! The candles in the pies, 20. Sleepin' and Huggin', 21. Stretching!, 22. Stir-fried garlic chicken with noodles, 23. Basking in the Autumn!, 24. Pancetta Lettuce and Tomato, 25. Is it her? Is it? Is it her? Oooh I hope it is!, 26. Mixing Mythologies on the Midway, 27. Midway at Dusk, 28. The Lights, 29. 0813112132, 30. Flashlights IX: Stanley folding tripod light, 31. By the Shore II, 32. Lobster Loft I, 33. First step into the sea!, 34. TOB 2011: Waiting for the Kid to finish!, 35. TOB 2011: Eating!, 36. Chicks! I

Selected Blog Posts

July

On lighting
On the perils of public screenings
Cheez balls!!!
At the Taste of Buffalo
Octopus's Garden
The late, lamented CueCat
A dispatch from vacation at the Jersey Shore
A dispatch after vacation at the Jersey Shore
My marriage was destroyed by Gay People. Or not.
From the books: Mike Royko

August

Someone's notion of the top 100 F&SF books
Farewell, Harry Potter
The funniest picture I saw all year
A two-word food review
Admitting my flashlight fetish
Dispatches from the County Fair

September

Prognosticating the Bills
Charting the writing progress
Music for Talk Like a Pirate Day
On the break-up of REM
Bills 34, Patriots 31
On the occasion of turning 40
Obsolete Things
Nirvana? Never mind.

October

A right proper birthday celebration: a Bills win, a trip, good food, and pies in my face
4-year-old kid learns who Luke's father is
On the origin of Melba Toast
Tea party: good patriots; Occupy: dirty hippies
The NOOOOOOs of Star Wars
We pie-in-the-face fans have to stick together, you know.
The October storm, five years on
Memoriam: Kent Hull
Wow, that is one big star

November

More progress writing
Obama the Stoner
International Overalls Day
My 2012 Classics Challenge list
On That Day

December

Shiny in the Black: A "Firefly" Christmas, part one
Shiny in the Black: A "Firefly" Christmas, part two
Shiny in the Black: A "Firefly" Christmas, part three
Shiny in the Black: A "Firefly" Christmas, part four
Screw Red Letter Media!

Books blogged about in 2011

Iain M. Banks:
Consider Phlebas

Leigh Brackett:
The Starmen of Llyrdis

Lois Macmaster Bujold:
Young Miles

George Carlin:
The George Carlin Letters: The Permanent Courtship of Sally Wade

Ian Christe:
Everybody Wants Some

James S.A. Corey:
Leviathan Wakes

Richard Dawkins:
The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

Sammy Hagar:
Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock and Roll

Frank Herbert:
Dune

Jonathan Kay:
Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America's Growing Conspiracist Underground

Stephen King:
Lisey's Story

Demetri Martin:
This is a Book by Demetri Martin

Ben Mazerich:
Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History

Mike Resnick:
Legends of Santiago

Amy Krouse Rodenthal:
An Encyclopedia of Ordinary Life

Patrick Rothfuss:
The Name of the Wind

Courtney E. Smith:
Record Collecting for Girls

Ryk E. Spoor:
Grand Central Arena

Steve Turner:
The Band That PLayed On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down with the Titanic

SK Waller:
With a Dream

Sam Wasson:
Fifth Avenue, 5 AM

Movies blogged about in 2011

Armageddon

Beowulf

The Big Lebowski

The Blues Brothers

Die Hard
Die Hard 2: Die Harder
Die Hard With a Vengeance


Green Lantern

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2

How to Train Your Dragon

Iron Man

The Muppets

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Robocop

The Social Network

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader



Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Well, crap

Wouldn't you know it. I have to go back and do some revision work on Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title).

Why? Well, I just figured out that I need to make some changes to a pretty major plot point, in a way that will strengthen quite a bit of the character motivations and add some clarity to certain characters' actions. Unfortunately, this isn't the type of change where I can just posit it in my head and write from this point on, assuming that the changes are in place, and then fix it all at editing time. I'm going to have to backtrack and do some heavy lifting.

I don't think this will be quite like the last major revision I realized was necessary, where I had to scrap four completed chapters. But it'll still be a bit difficult. Ugh! It's a good thing I like these princesses, else I'd tell them to bugger off and write about that boy who quests for the stranger who coerced his father to commit an awful crime...but that's the next book....

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wow, I'm sure glad that I'm not a fanboy!

I see that the Red Letter Media guy has a new review up, this time of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I have to admit to being, well, kind of sick of this guy. Part of the problem I have with reading a lot of pop-culture, geek-stuff, and F&SF-related blogs and websites is that the RLM reviews tend to be extremely popular with this crowd, which means that every time a new one shows up, there will be links to in on most of the sites I frequent.

It also means that RLM's reviews are now taken as a kind of gospel. Ever since the RLM review of The Phantom Menace went live, nearly any time I see any discussion of the Prequel Trilogy anywhere online, sooner or later, someone will cite the RLM Prequel reviews as the end-all of any debate that occurs. It's an even greater certainty that RLM will be mentioned than Godwin's famous increasing likelihood of a mention of Hitler in any political discussion. The RLM reviews have become shorthand for "The Prequels suck and anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional". I've even seen many an assertion -- made with, I can only assume, complete sincerity -- that the RLM reviews should be required viewing in film schools.

Now, as I've written before, I haven't actually watched any of them, all the way through. I've sampled about five minutes of his TPM review, and a few minutes of Attack of the Clones. I haven't even bothered to look at the Revenge of the Sith one. First, I've found the speaking voice of the guy (who goes by the name "Mr. Plinkett" in the reviews) extremely unpleasant to listen to; second, I was turned off by the bizarre "serial killer" antics that punctuate the videos (I can't even describe this adequately, but the idea seems to be that Mr. Plinkett is a murderer who reviews movies, or something like that).

But most of all, just watching a few minutes of a couple of reviews made pretty clear to me that despite their exhaustive length (for some folks, the fact that the reviews are really, really long somehow makes them more correct or authoritative), there was unlikely to be much of anything new going on. After discussing TPM with people in person and online first in newsgroups, then in message boards, and finally in blogs, I've pretty much come to the conclusion that I've heard it all. Sure, maybe "Plinkett" has something new to add, but to be quite honest, I don't think I'm missing much by not checking out for myself.

Maybe, though, there's actually nothing new there, as I thought. The other day I found a link to a very long rebuttal of the "Plinkett" reviews, which I have now downloaded (oddly, it's a PDF) and skimmed through. Assuming that the writer is being accurate in his description of "Plinkett"'s claims, and I see no reason to suppose that he isn't (he provides citations of where in each video each claim comes), there is truly nothing new in the "Plinkett" reviews that I haven't heard before. Even though I didn't read the entirety of the rebuttal, I'm glad it exists, because it's nice to see someone actually say that no, "Plinkett" isn't the very final word in All Things Prequel, and because it's always nice to encounter a fellow traveler.

It's lonely out here, liking the Prequels....

Monday, December 26, 2011

Books with facts in them

Some nonfiction notes:

:: I've always had a soft spot for conspiracy theories. I've never actually believed in any of them, but I've always like them in a lot of ways. The best ones are wild and wooly and complex, demonstrating a lot of knowledge of history just to make them work. But I tended to like conspiracy theories more before 9-11-01 happened; since then, I find a great deal of conspiracy theory unconvincing and even depressing at times. Maybe it was because the prime conspiracist event of the late 20th century, the JFK assassination, happened before I was born; seeing conspiracy theories take root amidst the rubble of an event that I lived through (9-11, obviously) has a very different flavor. Plus, I always enjoyed the more wild-and-wooly conspiracy notions, the ones that had JFK being killed because he was somehow involved with the UFO crash in Roswell.

As much as I've always been generally entertained by conspiracy theories, I've never found them convincing. Not a one. Fun to think about, interesting as a 'what if' exercise, but ultimately unconvincing, because I find that there are almost never actual arguments made for a conspiracy theory. There is rarely any evidence cited in favor of a specific conspiracy theory; instead, 'arguments' are made, usually in the form of questions, that are designed to make the 'official' account seem questionable, or unbelievable, or ludicrous.

I had a friend on Facebook who, one day, posted a kind of cryptic message, something to the effect of "Like this post if you agree that 60 is less than 150", or something like that. The next day, he posted, "For those of you who agree that 60 is less than 150, you now admit that the Pentagon could not have been hit by a plane with a 150-foot wingspan, since the hole in the Pentagon was only 60 feet wide." That logic made perfect sense in his head, and no amount of argument otherwise – did he really think that a plane throttling full-speed into the side of a building would leave an airplane-shaped hole, Wile E. Coyote-like, in the wall? -- would budge him from his position. But never was there any sense of "This is who was really responsible for 9-11" in his arguments; it was all a mishmash of 'How could a plane leave THAT hole in the side of the building?' and 'How could there be that much dust from the collapse of the twin towers?' and a lot of other stuff that I suppose is convincing to some.

As time went on, this particular guy started embracing more and more conspiracy theories about recent historical events, right up to, and including, the JFK assassination. That's where I get off the bus. And that brings me to the book Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America's Growing Conspiracist Underground, by Jonathan Kay. This book is more of an exploration of the kinds of people who populate conspiracy-land, as opposed to blow-by-blow analyses of the conspiracy theories themselves. Most of the book seems to revolve around two distinct sets of conspiracy theories, the ones which happen to be the most prevalent today: 9-11-01 theories, and 'Obama birth' theories.

Kay seems to really want to go out of his way to point out just how reasonable all the various theorists are, and he strenuously avoids direct characterization of their views as, well, batshit crazy. But it's hard to escape the impression that he really does think they're batshit crazy, such as when he points out that one prominent figure in the 9-11 Truth community is treated as an authority on the 9-11 stuff, while his odd beliefs that the world is ruled by intergalactic lizards is mostly ignored by the Truthers. Kay also seems pretty convinced of the benevolent motivations of journalists, which in this day and age strikes me as fairly naïve.

Where the book is most effective is in the places where he traces the Truthers' beliefs backwards, showing how they very often cannot resist just stopping at 9-11 – the event that jolted them into conspiracy beliefs – but tend to use 9-11 as a jumping point into the very long history of conspiracy beliefs. This means that if you start following the 9-11 conspiracy trail – go down the rabbit hole, as it were – you soon find yourself discussing Bilderbergers, the Trilateral Commission, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and, of course, the assassination of President Kennedy. As Kay puts it:

I did drive away from the interview with one lesson solidly in hand: Scratch the surface of a middle-aged 9-11 Truther, and you are almost guaranteed to find a JFK conspiracist.

He might as well have omitted the 'middle-aged' proviso there; my afore-mentioned FB friend has gone on record as being a JFK conspiracist as well – and he's in his early 20s. More recent postings – and comments offered to him by fellow travelers – are full of the usual suspects. Bilderberg. Trilateral commission. Lather, rinse, repeat...until the next traumatic event that hits the American consciousness.

:: From 9-11 to a slightly less controversial topic: Evolution! I was motivated to read up on evolution after a fairly depressing, but really very predictable, recent discovery of mine that my church's pastor is a dyed-in-the-wool creationist. (I know, that's not really the shock of the century. But still....) So I read through Richard Dawkins's book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. I had never read any Dawkins before, and now that I have, well...let's just say that I continue to pine for the loss of Carl Sagan.

I have no problem at all with Dawkins's arguments or beliefs (although I am not convinced by what little I have read of his arguments against religion). The Greatest Show on Earth is full of appreciation for, and evidence of, the evolutionary view of biology. I've always found something deeply beautiful, satisfying, and just true about evolution. It's a theory that is so powerful, so persuasive, and so majestic in its revelation of what is possible in this universe of ours that I almost always find it terribly disappointing to encounter people who would rather believe that God just put all the various species here, fully formed. "There is grandeur in this view of life," Charles Darwin wrote (quoted by Dawkins). I just don't find any grandeur in a literal reading of Genesis.

What gets me about Dawkins, though, is his writing tone. I don't much care for smugness, even if it's coming from someone I agree with passionately, and there's just a smug tone that runs all through the book. There are even places where Dawkins dials this up to eleven, such as this, which precedes a discussion of a fairly technical experiment some scientists performed:

Lenski and his colleagues exploited that opportunity, in a controlled way, in the lab. Their work is extremely thorough and careful in every detail. The details really contribute to the impact of the evidence for evolution that these experiments provide, and I am therefore not going to stint in explaining them. This means that the next few pages are inevitably somewhat intricate – not difficult, just intricately detailed. It would probably be best not to read this section of the book when tired, at the end of a long day.

Ye Gods. I recommend this book if you're looking for a good summary of the evidence in favor of evolution (and that evidence is staggeringly one-sided). But if you're looking for a poetic treatment of science, well...Richard Dawkins is, sadly, no Sagan or Feynman in that respect.

:: Finally, just because the title caught my eye at the library, I checked out a book called Record Collecting for Girls by Courtney E. Smith (who, according to her bio blurb, spent time working for MTV amongst other musical pursuits). It's a pretty amusing book, which is as much a book of advice for woman music collectors as it is a collection of possibly helpful insights into women that men might find helpful. She has chapters on music for specific stages in relationships, her thoughts on the music media's constant quest for "the next Madonna", rules for maintaining a Top Five Artists list ("You must own all the full-length albums released by any artist in your Top Five", "Artists cannot be in your Top Five Artists of All Time if they only released one album", et cetera), and a lot more.

I always enjoy reading books like this. Smith's writing style is blunt and opinionated and fun; like the best music writing, it works even if one isn't all that familiar with the music being written about (I'm a good test case for this). My favorite chapter, which made me laugh a lot, was a chapter that explores in some depth Smith's unbreakable rule: Never date a guy who likes The Smiths too much.

I have more of a love/hate relationship with The Smiths. Sometimes their songs are just perfect for a foul mood or a clever moment. Sometimes they exasperate me to the point where I consider poking out my own eardrums with a Q-tip.

...

If you ask a man who his favorite musicians are and he starts naming people you don't know well, the first thing to do is check out their songs, right? I urge you to listen to the lyrics closely; they can be telling. Most guys I know claim to listen more for the music than the words, but if they really love an artists, you can bet they know the lyrics sheets up, down, backwards, and inside out. So, if you listen to someone's favorite music and hear references to gruesome murders, painful breakups, and intense feelings of isolation, then you would presume this man is a bit of a sad bastard, would you not?

Now, I have zero idea if this is accurate in any way, as I have, to my knowledge, never even heard a song by The Smiths. But then, I probably wouldn't be too successful dating a girl who was really into Black Sabbath.

(Hmmm...come to that, I have no idea if The Wife is into Black Sabbath at all....)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Shiny in the Black: A "Firefly" Christmas (conclusion)

Continuing my fanfic exercise in what a Christmas-themed episode of Firefly might have been like.
part one
part two
part three


"Those aren't toys," Kaylee said. "Those are agricultural supplies for a new colony. Did you change the job while you were out?"

"Seal it back up," Mal said. "That stuff is perishable, and by breaking the seal, we've started the decay process."

The crew stood around, staring at the crate that was supposed to contain toys for the children of the orphanage on Haven but really contained farming seed and fertilizer that had supposedly been destined for Whitefall. Jayne and Book lifted the facing of the crate back into place and restored the seals. When they were done, Jayne stepped back and looked at Mal.

"Well, Mal, guess we got ourselves another hiccup."

"Yeah, looks that way." Mal muttered another curse in Chinese and then he kicked the crate for good measure.

"That won't hurt the crate," River said.

"It will hurt your foot if you do that again, though," Simon said.

"So, what now?" Jayne said. "That's it then, isn't it?"

"I don't know," Mal said. "I'm thinkin'."

Zoe cleared her throat. "Captain, you know Jonas better than any of us. How likely is he to hold this against us?"

"Worried about us having another enemy?"

"I'm running out of space on the piece of paper where I keep their names written down, sir."

"Yeah. Preacher, how did this happen?"

"I have no idea, Captain," said Book. "I double-checked the numbers. We had the right slot number in the warehouse. The only way this happens is if the warehouse workers put the crates in the wrong slots themselves."

And with that, a silence settled over the crew as they realized what had happened.

"Well, this is new," said Jayne. "Never stolen the wrong goods before."

"Yeah, this is definitely a wrinkle we haven't tried before," said Mal. "All right, I'm open to suggestions."

"Suggestions for what?" It was Wash, who had just come down from the bridge. "Everyone's looking awfully glum here."

"We stole the wrong goods, honey," Zoe said.

"Now there's something we haven't done before!" Wash said. "Now what?"

"See?" Mal said. "Took him all of two sentences to get up to speed on this."

"What do we do?" Kaylee asked. "Captain?"

"Maybe the children want to play as farmers," River offered. "They can grow their own vegetables and work the soil."

"River," Book said, "the orphanage is in the middle of a city that's a hundred miles in diameter. There's no soil except what's in the decorative flower pots."

"That sounds depressing," River said. "Children need space."

"Well, we can't solve every problem at once," Zoe said. "Captain, Jonas is gonna know that he can't open the crate without breaching the shelf-life of the goods that he thinks are in there."

"I was thinking the same thing," Mal said. "If that's the case, then Jonas has no idea that he's got a crate full of toys on his ship. Which means that he's on his way to Whitefall. He won't know anything is wrong until Patience does. Of course, knowing Patience, she'll have already tried to shoot him."

"So that's it then," said Jayne. "We ain't gotta do a gorram thing. Let them shoot each other and then we can sell this stuff to whoever takes over for Patience. Make back our coin, and then some."

Mal considered this. After a moment, Shepherd Book stepped forward.

"Captain, I know that your ship is not a democracy, but I must voice my opposition to what Jayne has suggested."

"Yeah, I thought you might," Mal said. "Wash, go get us on a course for Whitefall. Get us there fast. We want to get there before the shooting starts."

"You got it," Wash said as he headed back up the stairs. "A pilot's job is never done! Until he lands, then he's done until the next job...."

"Zoe," Mal said, "I'm gonna need your help figurin' out how to approach this one. We've got to make a switch without both Jonas and Patience deciding that I'm cheating them."

"Sounds like a challenge," Zoe said.

"Why I'm givin' it to you."

"Wait a minute!" Jayne said. "We're gonna try to get the toys back? Anybody else think that's crazy?"

Simon shrugged. "I think it's kind of shiny," he said. Kaylee grinned at him.

"Doc, I'm gonna do somethin' hurtful to you someday soon," Jayne said. "Mal, how can you even consider this?"

Mal looked at Shepherd Book. "I took a job," he said. "And even though the job's starting to bring some trouble, truth is, that's what jobs do. And there ain't a job in the 'Verse that I'm like to walk away from once I take it."

Jayne shook his head. "I can't ruttin' believe this."

"Hey, look at the bright side," Mal said. "We're goin' to Whitefall to try and do business with Patience."

"Probably be some shooting," Zoe added.

Jayne laughed harshly. "Day's gonna come when you're not gonna be able to buy me off by lettin' me shoot some folk," he said.

Mal considered that. "Well, that's gonna be an interesting day. Come on, Zoe. We need to brainstorm."

***


It took them the better part of a day to get to Whitefall, which was a pretty miserable and dusty rock way out on the fringes. Malcolm Reynolds didn't much like this world; it was run by a crusty woman named Patience who didn't tend to practice any, and who had a nasty habit of trying to shoot him. She'd succeeded once, but the last time, Mal had got the better of her. He'd done the job, and despite some unkind words as regarding his character, he'd gotten paid. But this one was going to be tricky, no doubt about that.

"OK, Mal, we're here," Wash said as Whitefall loomed before the ship. "Now what?"

"Well, Patience is a woman of habit," Mal said. "So I'm thinkin' she'll want to meet with Jonas in that same spot she chose to meet us in last time we were here. Good spot for an ambush. So we'll go there and hope we're in time to avoid some fisticuffs and general tomfoolery."

Zoe looked at Mal. "'Tomfoolery', sir?"

"What? You know I like to dust off archaic words now and then."

"Part of what makes you charming, sir."

"Thanks for sayin'. Now, if I'm Patience, I'm puttin' two snipers in the hills around that meeting spot, after we took care of the one she ahd there last time. And Jonas is gonna have his own sniper up there somewhere too. So Jayne and the Shepherd will take care of the snipers for us, and then we walk in and make everybody happy."

"Aren't we doin' an awful lot of counting on the Shepherd to shoot people on this job?" Zoe asked.

"Probably, but that book of his is nonspecific as regards kneecaps and elbows, if I remember right. Wash, same landing spot as before."

"Sure thing, Mal," Wash said. "And I've got Jonas's ship on the scanner now. They're landing as we speak, two hilltops over. Looks like we got here in time."

"It's a Christmas miracle, Captain," Zoe said.

Mal rolled his eyes. "Now don't you start," he said. "Let's go get ready. Wash, put her down."

"Sure thing, Captain," Wash said.

Mal and Zoe walked down to the hold, where Jayne and Shepherd Book were waiting.

"Captain," Book began, "I feel I should apologize for having gotten you into this business."

"Did it with my eyes open," Mal said. "But if you're volunteering for a month of mess duty, I don't think I'll hear any objections from the rest of the crew." He glanced around at Kaylee, Simon, River, and Inara, who all just stood there placidly. "And a month it is! All right, Zoe and me have come up with what we think is a nicely nuanced plan."

Jayne grunted. "Book and I take out the snipers and cover you while you and Zoe try to talk some sense into Patience and Jonas?"

"Yeah, that's about it."

"We gotta start comin' up with plans that don't have quite as much 'if' in 'em," Jayne grumbled.

"Every time I ask you for input, your first words are 'I shoot them'."

"Yeah. Not a lot of 'if' when the other guy's got bullets in him."

"OK. Get that crate ready. And Kaylee, keep the engines warm. We may need to make a fast break for it."

"Be easier if you'd let me replace that drive inducer that I keep warning you about," Kaylee said.

"New year's comin'," said Mal.

***


The scene that confronted Mal and Zoe when they peered over the edge of the knoll above Patience's rendezvous spot was about what Mal expected: Patience sat atop her horse, while her men had Jonas at gunpoint, and Jonas's men had Patience's men at gunpoint. Everybody had everybody else at gunpoint.

"Whole lot of gunpoint," Mal muttered.

"Not too late to find a desk job, Captain," Zoe replied.

"More of us than there are of you, Jonas," Patience said. "And I've got a sniper aimin' at you right now. You're not walkin' away."

"I got a man took out your sniper," Jonas replied. "I'm not stupid, Patience. And my men are better shots than yours. Now how about you toss me the coin and we'll be on our way?"

"All I see here is a big crate," Patience said. "You might as well open her up and let us see the goods."

"Suits me fine," said Jonas. "Randy? Open it."

Keeping his hands visible at all times, Randy popped open the crate and swung it open. "Uh, Captain?" he said.

"This some kind of joke, Jonas?" Patience asked. "That don't look like seed and fertilizer to me."

"What?" Jonas turned to Randy. "What is she gorram talking about?"

"This crate, sir," Randy said. "It's full of...toys."

"Toys?"

"Toys, sir."

"Toys?!"

"This some kind of joke, Jonas?" Patience sounded annoyed. "So you're gonna dump fake goods on me after you have my money?"

Jonas looked uncomfortable.

"Do we go down now?" Zoe asked.

"Shhhh," Mal said. "Things haven't gone south enough yet."

"Patience," Jonas said. "Uhhhh...."

"I'd like to hear an explanation," Patience said. "Before I shoot you myself." She pulled out her pistol.

"Malcolm Reynolds cheated me!" Jonas said.

"Reynolds?" Patience's eyebrows went up. "What's he got to do with this?"

"Funny you should ask!" Mal called out as he rose up and sauntered over the knoll, his pistol in his hand but not aimed at anything. Zoe came behind him, her shotgun in her hand as well.

"Reynolds!" shouted both Patience and Jonas at the same time. Both also pointed their pistols at him, at the same time.

"Well there we go," Mal said. "Two criminals suddenly united in purpose. Warms the heart, eh, Zoe?"

"Sure does, sir."

"Mal, I'll shoot you where you stand," Patience said.

"And I'll shoot you again before you hit the ground," Jonas said.

"Sure," Mal said. "But then you wouldn't hear the explanation and my counter-proposal."

"Explanation?" Jonas roared. "You switched the crates and took the good stuff! What were you going to do, let me get shot and then sell Patience the real goods?"

Mal thought. "Huh. Zoe, that might have worked."

"Surprised you didn't think of it, sir."

"I gotta be goin' soft in my old age."

"Happens to the best of us, sir."

"Jonas, we didn't switch a gorram thing. The warehouse workers screwed up. Those crates were in the wrong spots. We took what we thought was our crate, but it was really yours. And you got ours, thinkin' it was really yours. Kind of an irony, ain't it?"

Patience rolled her eyes. "Right now I'm wondering which of you is the less competent one," she said.

"Well, that would be him," Mal said. "No offense, Jonas, but at least we discovered the problem and we're here to make it right. Now here's our proposal. We take our crate and go on our way. You get your crate, which we stashed about a mile away from here. Then you two finish your business and everybody goes away happy. Or we go away happy and you shoot each other. Whatever you prefer."

"Or I just take all the goods and keep my coin," Patience said. "Mal, you're still not very bright. Neither are you, Jonas. You may have taken out one of my snipers, but I put two up there."

"Yeah, Patience," Mal said. "As to that, we took out Jonas's sniper who took out your sniper. And then we took out your other sniper. So now the only two snipers up there are mine. And they're good, believe me. Aren't they, Zoe?"

"The best, sir."

"Yup. So, Jonas, we'll take this crate now. Yours is a mile that way." He pointed. "No reason for anybody to get shot."

"You takin' my hauler too, Mal?"

Mal shrugged. "I suppose we can leave it behind once we get our goods back on my ship. As a good-will gesture and all."

"Or we can come with you and make sure we get it back," Jonas said.

Mal shrugged. "Or that," he conceded. "We just want our goods."

"A bunch of toys?" Jonas shook his head. "What are you up to, Reynolds?"

"I'm doin' a job," Mal said. "Why does everybody keep asking me that?" He turned to Patience. "Give him the coin, Patience, and go get your box and keep running your little world. Nobody needs to get shot here. It's Christmas."

Patience blinked. "It's what?"

"Never mind. Just get out of here."

Patience sighed. "Every time you show up on this world I end up losing money," Patience said as she tossed a sack of coin to Jonas. "That crate ain't there and I'm puttin' a bounty on you, Mal."

"Yeah, well, I've got a track record here, Patience," Mal said. "I get you the goods and then I get paid. The way a transaction's supposed to be. You're the one likes shootin' people and tryin' to get out of paying, so I'd just as soon you rode off with your men and stopped disparaging me."

Patience laughed. "Fine, Mal, have it your way. But if you don't mind some advice, you need to stop expecting transactions to run the way they're supposed to. That's why you're still flying around in a rustbucket." She gestured to her men, who stood down, and then they rode off.

"She only says that because she can't fly in a ship for ten minutes without puking," Zoe said.

"Yeah, well, let's get this stuff back to Serenity. We've still got a job to do. Jonas, if you would?"

Jonas sighed. "You heard him, men. Let's go. Least we can with him saving our bacon on this one."

Jonas's men grumbled but obeyed. Mal spoke into the mouthpiece on the wire he wore under his coat. "Jayne? Preacher? You can come down now. We're all good here."

"How'd you know where to find us, anyway?" Jonas asked.

"Dealt with Patience before," Mal replied. "Let's move."

"Did you really leave her goods a mile away?"

"Yup."

Jonas shook his head. "You could've kept them, sold them someplace else. Made double profit."

"Thought of that," Mal said. "But I need to be able to do business. No need to make an enemy out of Patience until I have to."

They moved the crate of toys back to Serenity, whereupon Jonas ordered his men to start back to their own ship. Mal ordered his crew to get the ship ready for departure, and then he went outside with Jonas.

"Well, Mal," Jonas said, "it was a pleasure, as always. Now, if that's all--"

"Not quite," Mal said. "I'll be taking the coin that Patience gave you."

Jonas blinked. "What?"

"You heard me," Mal said. "You took coin from me that wasn't yours to take. And despite that, I still came here and saved your gorram hide. Way I see it, you owe me. Let's square up right now. Get it over with."

Jonas stared at him. Mal sighed.

"Jonas, you really want to see what a good draw I am? And what a good shot?"

Jonas sighed and pulled the bag of coin from his jacket pocket and flipped it to Mal. "Every time I wonder how it is you stay in business, you pull something like this out of your hat."

"Not much of a secret," Mal said. "I don't set my sights too high. I just keep flyin'."

"Yeah. Well, do me a favor and don't tell anyone you took my coin from me."

"As far as I'm concerned, it was a payment offered in good will."

Jonas nodded. "Yeah, call it that. But stay away from me for a while, would you?" He lit a cigar and went to join his men. Mal turned and went aboard the ship.

"OK, Wash, let's fly. We need to be in Haven's air within twelve hours."

"We can just make it," Wash replied over the loudspeaker.

Serenity lifted off.

***


Eleven and one half hours later, they were flying toward Haven. Mal came up to the bridge, where Wash was looking at a scanner.

"So?" Mal asked. "What's the new problem?"

Wash blinked. "I didn't call you!"

"I know, but we're due for the next problem with this job. What is it?"

Wash pointed to the scanner. "Alliance ship in orbit. They haven't scanned us yet, and maybe they won't, but if they do--"

"They might board us," Mal said. "Then again, they might not. They're in stationary orbit?"

"Uh-huh," Wash said. "Right above the part of town where our Shepherd's orphanage is."

Mal muttered several curses in Chinese.

"That's what I said," Wash replied.

"All right. Let me think." Mal thought. And then he pressed the intercom button. "Would everybody please report to the hold? You too, Inara. I need everybody."

***


The plan was this: Mal, Zoe, and Wash would stay aboard Serenity, in stationary orbit on the other side of the planet. They would load all of the toys onto Inara's shuttle – individually, because the shuttle wasn't big enough for something the size of that crate – and then Inara would fly down to the orphanage in the middle of the night, when Shepherd Book assured them no one would notice something like a shuttle landing on the roof. Then, Jayne, Book, Simon, Kaylee, and River would take each toy individually to a child.

It wasn't one of Mal's most thought-out plans, but it was the best he could come up with on fairly short notice. Mal thought it was a decent enough plan, until Zoe said "Nice plan, sir," which was what she usually said when she thought his plans were scenarios for utter disaster. But that was the plan, and so it was that on the night before Christmas, when all through the orphanage not a child was stirring, a shuttlecraft flown by a registered Companion came down to land on the roof.

"All right, we're here," Jayne said as he grabbed an armful of toys. "Let's get this ruttin' job over with."

"Said with the true spirit of the day," Shepherd Book said. "All right, everyone follow me. And keep quiet. The whole place is asleep."

"They always knew when I was sleeping," River said. "They knew when I was awake."

"She's gonna be all right, isn't she?" Jayne asked.

"Sure," Simon said. "Isn't she always?"

Jayne shook his head as Shepherd Book led them across the roof and into the orphanage via the roof access door, which Book lockpicked open in seconds.

"Real great security here," Jayne remarked.

"It's an orphanage," Book said. "One where everybody knows there's nothing worth stealing."

They went downstairs, where they found themselves in a very large room, with bunk beds running down each side, and a child sleeping in each bed.

"All right, there are four more rooms like this," Book whispered. "Every child gets a toy."

"Right," Jayne said, and he ran off and started randomly sticking a toy on each bed.

"Jayne!" Kaylee protested. "You can't do it like that! You can't give a boy a doll!"

"Why not?" Jayne asked. "They don't like it they can trade."

"Just do it right," Kaylee said.

"What kind of toys did he play with?" Simon muttered.

In this way they went through the room, distributing a toy to each child. Somehow, miraculously, they got through all of the rooms without waking a single child, giving a toy to each one, one toy to each of three hundred children.

Except the last bed, which, when Jayne approached it, he discovered was empty. No child here, just rumpled sheets. Kid probably got up to go to the bathroom, or get a drink of water. "Huh," Jayne thought. He looked at the toy in his hand – a teddy bear – and decided that he rather liked it. He'd always wanted one when he was a kid, and never got one. And this one was real nice, with a bow around its neck and everything. So there was a toy left over. So what? Kid shoulda been there in bed. Kid's loss. He turned and headed back for the ship.

Meanwhile, River was taking her time over each gift, gently laying it on each bed, and whispering a rhyme over each child. What made it take even longer was that she was inventing each rhyme off the top of her head. Simon wondered if he should intercede, but since she was speaking in verse about things that weren't somehow grimly dark or eerily foreboding, he thought it was best to just let her go.

Also meanwhile, Kaylee found herself wondering if it was really fair to try to pigeonhole these kids into girl toys and boy toys. After all, her toys had been wrenches and hammers and drivers and blast drills and parts from a hundred different ship engines, and look how she'd turned out! Nothin' to be ashamed of. It was a fine life, even if once in a while she wanted something a little more than engine parts and dirty overalls.

Also meanwhile, Inara saw that the orphanage's one lone security guard had had his curiosity piqued by some strange noises, and he came shuffling up the stairs to find a shuttle sitting on his roof. He was about to blow an alarm whistle when she came down and silenced him with a look and a flash of leg. It always worked, especially with young men like this. Barely old enough to grow a beard. Staring at her as though he'd just seen an angel. Sad world, Haven, she thought. No wonder Companions almost never come here.

"Is there a girl you like?" she asked him.

He managed to nod.

She removed a ruby brooch from her robe and handed it to him. He gulped.

"Give this to her," she said. "And say nothing of me tonight."

He managed to nod, again. A major accomplishment, that. And so she sent him on his way, knowing that this would be their little secret, forever. Inara could keep secrets, and what would he say? Would he talk of the beautiful woman in the spaceship on his roof? No. Of course not. She smiled.

Finally meanwhile, Shepherd Book went all the way to the lowest level of the orphanage, where the oldest kids were. These kids were in the worst shape, the ones most likely to end up in something a bit worst than Mal's line of work, the ones most likely to end up on the wrong end of someone's gun or floating dead through the Black. He had little hope that a toy, just one toy, would be enough to budge more than maybe one or two of them off the trajectory their lives had them on, but lots of miracles had started from smaller stuff than a single toy. He laid each one on a bed, and tried not to linger too much over the one particular bed, the one over there on the left. On his way back up to the roof, he paused at the door to the headmaster's apartment. He wondered if he might say hello, under other circumstances. Or if he might rather go in there with a gun instead of a bible. He lingered there only a moment and then returned to the roof.

"Are we all here?"

"We're just waiting on Jayne," said Simon.

"Where is he?!"

At that moment, Jayne was muttering, "Where's the gorram stairs around here?" He'd gotten lost. It was a bigger orphanage than he'd though, and now he had no idea how to get back up to the roof. But he had to get up there, fast; the night was getting old and people would be getting up soon. He rushed around, all over the place, looking behind every door, until he found the stairs up. "'Bout time," he said. And then he stopped, because there was an eight-year-old girl looking at him.

"Uhhh...hi there," he said. "You should be in bed, youngster."

"I couldn't sleep," said the girl. "I have bad dreams. I wanted a drink of water."

"Well, you got your drink, so back to bed."

"You're not from here," the girl said. "Are you here to steal things?"

"No," Jayne said. "Not this time, anyway. Maybe tomorrow, haven't figured out the next job yet. Don't know. Gotta keep moving." But he didn't move. That girl just stood there, looking at him. All big-eyed, with her tangled hair and bedrobe that wasn't filthy but had seen better days anyway.... "I think your eyes are stuck," he said. "I gotta go."

"Bye," she said. And she stood there watching as he went halfway up the stairs, where he stopped.

"Aww, gorram it," he said as he turned back and came back down. "This is for you." He handed her the teddy bear. "Hold onto it tight when you sleep. Might help with them dreams. I got a preacher friend who says this is Christmas, so...have a ruttin' happy Christmas." And then he went up the stairs, practically running up them, to get away from the girl with the big eyes.

"That all the toys?" he asked when he got on board the shuttle.

"There were about twenty or so left over," said Simon. "I left those in a playroom."

"We're all ready, right?" Inara called back.

"We're all here!" Book said. "Close her up and let's go home."

Inara guided the little shuttle back into the air, and up into the sky toward the planet's other side, where Serenity lay in orbit.

"What took you so long, Jayne?" Kaylee asked.

"Got lost," Jayne said. "And...there was a little girl. Don't worry, I gave her a toy."

River pointed at his shirt, his red shirt. "A man with a beard wearing red came in the night to give her a present," she said. "Just like the old stories!"

Jayne stared at her. "What is she ruttin' talkin' about?"

"Nothing," said Book.

When they arrived on Serenity, Mal was there, waiting.

"Nice work," he said.

"Thank you, Captain," said Shepherd Book. "I appreciate it."

"I did a job," Mal said. "Soon as that tree gets dry and starts dropping those sharp needles all over my mess--"

"I'll have it down, sir."

Mal nodded and headed for his bunk. "Nice work, everyone," he called out. "Zoe, wake me when we get to Persephone."

***


A few weeks later they'd done another job, and they all had a little extra money. Not a lot, but some. So they all decided to exchange gifts. Mal wasn't sure whose idea it was, or if it even was anyone's idea, but it seemed to happen anyway.

Zoe gave her dear husband Wash that stegosaurus figurine he'd wanted. Wash gave his beloved wife Zoe a brand new leather vest.

Shepherd Book gave Simon an old copy of a very old anatomy book, a 'classic text' on the subject, from Old Earth. Simon gave River a rose made out of glass, with gold leaf on the petals; she commented on the fact that it had thorns. River gave the Shepherd a new Bible, which she promised him she would leave 'uncorrected'.

Kaylee gave Jayne a new carrying case for Vera, his favorite gun; Jayne gave Inara a robe that she knew she would look stunning in but would never ever ever wear in front of Jayne. And Inara gave Kaylee a new engine stabilizer and one of her own robes.

And Mal? He got what he always wanted. He got to keep flying.

The End
Merry Ruttin' Christmas
and a Happy Gorram New Year!!!

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

I do not believe that any Bible verse has ever, or shall ever, be given a finer reading than this one, delivered by a child actor named Christopher Shea, who was only seven years old when he did the voice of Linus Van Pelt in A Charlie Brown Christmas.



I'm saddened to learn that Mr. Shea died in 2010, but I truly believe that his voice work as Linus in several of the earliest Peanuts specials is as iconic as anything any actor has ever done.

And with that, we arrive, at last, at Christmas itself. May all of you enjoy the most blessed of Christmases! (The final act of Shiny in the Black: A "Firefly" Christmas will appear sometime later today.)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

Walter Cronkite and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir tell the story of the 1914 impromptu Christmas truce between British and German troops on a cold battlefield in World War I. This is one of the saddest, most remarkable tales of our species.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Shiny in the Black: A "Firefly" Christmas (part three)

Continuing my fanfic exercise in what a Christmas-themed episode of Firefly might have been like.
part one
part two

"Weapons on the ground!" the voice shouted. "Now!"

"Do it," Mal said. He shot a look at Jayne, whose expression of disgust tended to be indistinguishable from his expression of being about to lose his temper. Slowly, Mal, Zoe and Jayne all laid their guns on the floor.

"Put that package on the floor too, preacher," said the voice.

Book put the crate down.

"All right, face the crates."

They complied.

"Put your hands on your head."

They complied.

"Stand on your left feet and recite the first stanza the Alliance anthem!"

Mal glanced at Zoe. "Uh, what?"

Now the voice burst out in laughter. "All right, turn 'em off," he said. The floodlights all shut off, and the light returned to the dim of the warehouse overhead lamps. Mal turned toward the source of the voice to see a stocky man dressed in old army fatigues approaching. The man was bald except for long, stringy hairs that hung from the back of his head; he had a thick mustache and three days' growth of beard. He gave Mal a gap-toothed grin as he put his hands on his hips.

"Ahh, Mal, what am I gonna do with you?"

Mal and the others glanced around at the 'lawmen', and saw that they weren't lawmen at all. They were a motley bunch of thieves. Not unlike themselves.

"Jonas," Mal said. "Fancy meeting you here. I never figured you to be on Ariel. Kind of a rich world for your tastes, isn't it?"

"Gotta go where the money is, my boy," the man named Jonas said as he lit a cigar and took a few puffs. "'Sides, ain't planning on being here long. I'm guessing you weren't either."

"Not really," Mal agreed. "Can we put our hands down? I don't tend to find this posture conducive to friendly chat."

"Ain't so sure we're being friendly," Jonas said. "But sure, let your hands down. Don't make a move toward those weapons, though."

"Of course not," said Mal. "After all, we're just bein' friendly."

"I suppose we are," Jonas replied as Mal and his people lowered their hands. "So, Mal, what are you doing here?"

"Same as you," Mal said. "Doin' a job."

"And what would be the nature of that job?"

"Well, we're purchasing the contents of this crate right here and going with them to a...client on Haven. Easy enough."

"Sounds easy. Haven's a piss-poor world...wait, did you say you were purchasing the goods?"

Mal shrugged. "Yeah, we're doin' it the honest way this time. Wanted to see what that was like."

"Really. Honest. Dumpin' a box of coin here and taking the box? That's a new version of honest. Sounds to me like you've found a way of stealin' that ends up costin' you money."

"Yeah," Mal said, shooting a look at Shepherd Book, "I guess we didn't really work all the kinks out."

"Well, Mal, I can't let you have this box. See, we need it, too. I'm doing a job, myself, and there's a cantankerous old woman out on Whitefall that could use some of what's in that box."

"Whitefall?" Mal laughed. "You're planning on doing business with Patience?"

"Sure. Why not?"

"Oh, no reason," Mal said. "Just make sure you plan for her to try to shoot you."

"Nah," Jonas said. "Patience and me go way back. I was the one who told her that she should shoot you if she got the chance."

"Well that was nice of you," Mal said. "She got the chance. Twice. I'm still here, still flyin'. Counts for somethin'."

"Yeah, I guess it does. But I can't let you take this box, coin or no. You see, Mal--"

"Hey, Captain!" It was one of Jonas's men. Jonas rolled his eyes.

"What is it, Randy? I'm trying to be threatening here, and you're interrupting."

"I know, Cap, but this ain't the box we're here for."

"What?"

"Look!" The wiry man named Randy held out a PDA for Jonas to look at. "See, that's the number of the box we want. It's the next one over. That one."

"Really?"

"Yeah. That one's got the farming seed and fertilizer in it. See, the one we want is in slot number 29-94-77. This slot is number 29-94-75."

"Oh," said Jonas.

"Well, this changes things a bit, doesn't it?" Mal said.

"I think it does, Captain," said Zoe.

"You see, Jonas, there's no need to make this deal confrontational. Instead of goin' that way, we can go another. We're not even here for the same crate. We'll take what we want, you'll take what you want, and everybody's happy."

"Seriously, Mal? You're after this crate? What's in it?"

"I don't think that really matters," said Mal. "Haven's not a big farming world, so you can bet I'm not looking for farming seed and fertilizer. Let's just take what we all want and be done with it."

Jonas kept his gun aimed at Mal as he considered things. Then he nodded at the Shepherd.

"Sure, Mal, we can do that. But I want the coin, too."

Mal shrugged. "Give it to him, Preacher," he said.

"Really?" asked Book.

"Yeah, really," Mal said. "Plan was to leave the coin here anyway. But if you're gonna take the coin, least you could do is have your boys load our crate onto our hauler for us."

"I suppose I could do that," Jonas said. His men grumbled, but he hissed them quiet. "A friendly gesture, right?"

"Yeah," Mal said. "If we promise not to shoot you, can we pick up our guns now?"

"Sure," Jonas said. "But we'll still be coverin' you until this is done."

"I figured," Mal replied as he picked up his pistol. The others followed suit.

"How'd you get in here, anyway?" Jonas asked.

"Door was open."

"Well, I suppose you can thank me for that," Jonas replied. "Paid the guards to leave it open and make themselves scarce. All right, boys, you heard the man. Let's get these boxes loaded! Remember, this one here goes with them, that one down there goes with us. With the Shepherd's coin."

Book handed the box of coin to one of Jonas's men, four of whom turned to the work of loading both crates while Jonas and Randy kept their pistols aimed at Mal and his people.

"Somethin' here ain't right," Jayne said. "We're gonna get screwed on this deal."

"Well, Jayne, the screwing was built into the deal, so at least we're not surprised by it." Mal shook his head. "This is a weird damn job, though."

"Nah," Jayne replied. "There's still some way this is gonna go south. You watch. Always happens to us."

Mal rolled his eyes. "Not all our jobs end in disaster," he said.

"Name one," Jayne said.

"Well, there was--"

"You ended up drunk and with a con-woman pretending to be your wife."

"Yeah, but it was good up to then."

After about ten minutes, they were all outside and both crates were loaded onto their respective haulers.

"Well, Mal," said Jonas, "I'd prefer if you'd drive off first. And try to stay out of my way in the future."

"Pleasure doin' business as always, Jonas," Mal said. "But I wouldn't mind pointin' out that just because we were in the same place, doesn't mean I was in your way."

"Even so. I don't want to get your luck on me, Reynolds. You have a history of taking on work that doesn't leave you much of a profit. One day you're gonna realize that 'Just keep flying' isn't a great strategy for life."

"Thanks for the wisdom, Jonas. Got some for you, too."

"Yeah? What's that?"

"Patience is gonna try to shoot you."

Jonas grinned. "Let her try." He gestured with his pistol, sending Mal and his people off.

"I'm tellin' you, this is gonna be a bad deal for everybody," Jayne said as they neared Serenity.

"Calm down, Jayne. Your opinion is noted."

Mal drove the hauler back onto the ship's cargo hold, and Kaylee closed the hatch behind them. Simon and River were there waiting; Wash was on the bridge, and he called down on the intercom.

"Captain?" Wash said. "I'm ready to lift."

"What are you waiting for!" Mal responded. The ship shifted beneath their feet as the engines roared and Serenity lifted off. Book and Jayne were offloading the crate from the hauler and securing it.

"You see, everybody?" Mal said as he took off his overcoat and tossed it at the foot of the stairs. "Nice, simple job. No big worries, no big fuss. We're out some coin, sure, but we've got a big crate full of nice, shiny toys that will make all the children in an orphanage on Haven happy."

"Everything went all right?" said Simon. "No hiccups?"

"One little hiccup," Mal said. "But it didn't amount to much."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that, Captain," said Shepherd Book.

"What?"

"Hey Mal," Jayne said. "We got a problem."

Mal glanced at Zoe. They walked aft, to where Book and Jayne were both staring at the crate, which Book had opened. Zoe took one look and let out a string of expletives in Chinese. Mal did the same, only with a string of completely different expletives in Chinese.

The crate was full of farm seed and fertilizer. They had the wrong crate.

End Part Three
Conclusion

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

No video this time, just the wonderful genius of Randall Munroe and xkcd.



Of course, with typical xkcd brilliance, you must click to the original and read the mouseover text. What made me happy about this comic is that, as a philosophy major in college, I got the joke!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

If you could pick a single person in the entire world to gift with one perfect present, who is the person and what is the present?

Shiny in the Black: A "Firefly" Christmas (part two)


Continuing my fanfic exercise in what a Christmas-themed episode of Firefly might have been like.
part one


Wash put Serenity down on the landing pad, nice and gentle. So nice and gentle that Zoe complimented him on it.

"You're getting' more gentle all the time, honey," Zoe said. "You have such a gift for handling sensitive equipment."

"Thanks for sayin' so, my love," Wash replied. "But I could always use more practice--"

"All right, enough of that, you two." Mal came up onto the bridge, fully dressed in his usual brown shirt, brown pants, brown belt, brown holster, brown boots, and probably brown socks too, if one could see them underneath all of that. "Wash, you keep the ship warmed and ready to lift if some part of this job goes south. Zoe, you're coming along."

"I figured, sir."

"Captain," Wash said, "is it really necessary to have contingency plans for this job? We're actually conducting an honest transaction for once."

"Yeah," Mal said. "For once. We don't get a whole lot of practice with this kind of thing, so who knows what might go wrong. You and Kaylee keep the ship ready. River and the Doc will keep you company. Zoe, you'll be with Jayne, the Shepherd, and me."

"What's Inara doing?"

"Well, I think she's still on her shuttle, writing long entries in her diary about how much she hates me right now."

Zoe knew what that meant. "You told her no clients."

"We ain't got time. Why am I always the bad guy on this?"

"Oh, I couldn't begin to venture a guess, Captain," Zoe said. "Let's go."

Mal and Zoe began to exit the bridge.

"Zoe?" Wash called out.

"Yes, love?"

"You're going to buy toys," Wash said. "I could use a new stegosaurus for the collection."

"I'll see what I can do."

The Captain and Zoe left then, and Wash reached into the small footlocker next to his seat and pulled out a handful of his dinosaur figurines.

In the cargo hold, Shepherd Book and Jayne had the cargo hauler ready to go.

"Jayne," Book said, "do you really need that many guns?"

"Preacher, are you carryin' that Bible of yours right now?"

"Good point."

They lifted a crate containing coin up onto the back of the hauler as Mal and Zoe arrived and descended the criss-crossing stairs down to their level.

"Awful lot of coin to be givin' up," Mal said.

"A purchase of good will is never a bad purchase," said Book.

"You get that from that Bible of yours?"

"No, it just came to me," Book replied. "A preacher can't live on the words of one book alone."

"All right," Mal said. "Let's go. Kaylee, open her up."

"Be careful, Captain," Kaylee said as she opened the ship's cargo door and lowered the ramp. Mal, Jayne, Zoe and Book drove off in the hauler. Then Kaylee closed the ship back up. She turned away from the control and nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw that River was standing there, unblinking, just inches away.

"River! You scared me!"

"Would you like me to teach you a song?" River asked.

Kaylee blinked. "Uhhh...sure, honey. I'd love to learn a song."

"It goes like this. 'On the first day of Christmas, the operatives brought to me....'"

"Uh, River?" Kaylee interrupted. "Is this one of those creepy songs you learned while you were captive at...that place?"

"Yes," River said. "I guess I should learn some new songs myself."

"Yeah," Kaylee said. "That would be great."

***


Mal drove the hauler through a warehouse district of Ariel's main city. Unlike the shiny, wealthy area they had visited a few months earlier – to steal some medicine – this area was much darker and dingier. Every planet, no matter how rich, had parts like this, Mal had long since learned. No one was rich enough to banish dirt and grime forever.

"You know where this warehouse is, right, Book?" Mal asked.

"I've got the address right here," Book said, holding up an electronic data organizer. "And the crate number of the merchandise we're getting. It'll be in and out."

Jayne growled. "Every time one of you people says we'll be in and out, I go through half my ammo. I haven't had an in and out job since--"

"Jayne, I'm sure that's fascinating," Mal cut in. "But just in case it ain't, why don't you hold it to yourself?"

"Sure, Mal," Jayne said. "I'll just sit here and be quiet as usual while you and Zoe tell each other the same stories over and over again. Hey, can I hear that one about that time you both got your asses kicked by the Alliance? I love that one."

"Captain," Mal said, pointing to himself. "First mate," he said, pointing to Zoe. "Gun for hire." He pointed to Jayne.

"Thank you for clearing us up on the chain of command, Captain," said Shepherd Book. "But we appear to have reached the warehouse."

"All right." Mal brought the hauler to a stop near an entrance. "Standard procedure. Zoe, you'll get us in. Then, Jayne, you're in first, followed by me, then the Shepherd, and Zoe, you bring up the rear. We're going to try and find this crate, get it, and be done with it before anyone knows were here."

"In and out, Captain?" Zoe said.

"In and out," Mal agreed.

"Not usually our thing," Zoe said as she walked to the door.

"See, Mal?" Jayne said. "This is what I'm talkin' about."

"Well Jayne, that's six hours since I last regretted hirin' you." Mal smiled. "I think that's a new record for you, ain't it? Hey Zoe, you got that door open yet?"

"Think so, sir," Zoe said as she pressed a button that made the large bay door swing open. "Pretty easy, too."

"Huh," said Mal.

"Anybody else thinkin' that was a little too easy?" Jayne put in.

Mal shrugged. "Well, we've got guns, so if we get into some local color, we can make our way out."

"There might be armed guards inside," Book pointed out.

"Cold feet, Shepherd?" Mal said. "This was your idea. But we're here, and I'm not in the habit of runnin' away at the first sign of something unexpected, especially if that unexpected thing is something that actually makes my life a little easier. Like an unlocked door. Shepherd, grab the coin. Jayne?"

Book picked up the crate of coin, and Jayne came forward and led them inside.

The warehouse was, pretty much, like every other warehouse in the 'Verse. There's only so much you can do, really, to dress up hundreds of stacks of thousands of cargo crates in an enormous, cavernous room.

"Well, would you look at that," Jayne said. "A warehouse. We don't see these too often."

"Sure, Jayne."

"I mean, yeah, we go into our share of storehouses, stockpiles, armories...there was that one depository we knocked over that one time...and before I joined you people, there was that distribution center job...but not a lot of warehouses."

"Jayne," Mal said, "are you trying to get on my gorram nerves?"

"Just commentin' on the unique nature of this job, Mal."

"Shut it, Jayne," Zoe said. "Preacher, you got the crate number?"

Book consulted a slip of paper. "It's 29-94-75."

Mal looked at the manifest markings emblazoned on the side of several nearby crates, and determined which way they needed to go. "This way," he said, and with Jayne in the lead and Zoe in the rear, they made their way down the corridor created by line upon line of stacked crates.

It didn't take long to find it. The crate was pretty large, taller than Mal by about two feet, and about eight feet long and six feet across. Mal shone his flashlight on the crate and read the number. "This is it," he said. "29-94-75. No other markings."

"There wouldn't be," Book said. "The number is all they need."

"Yeah, I know how shipping works," Mal said. "All right, here it is. Now we just gotta get it out of here."

"That crate's a little big for me to haul out on my back," Jayne said. "Of all the gorram--"

Zoe cleared her throat. "I think that's the solution to our problem, Captain," she said. She pointed to an open area about thirty feet away, where two forklifts stood silent.

"There it is, then," Mal said. "Easy. Jayne, you'll drive the lift. We'll get the goods back out to our hauler, get back to the ship, before anyone knows we were here. No problem. See, I told you! Easy job."

At that moment six floodlights turned on, three from each side, all trained on Mal and his crew.

"Malcolm Reynolds!" a voice boomed out from the darkness behind the floodlights. "Malcolm Reynolds, you are bound by law to stand down."

Jayne muttered something in Chinese.

"In and out, right, Captain?" Zoe said.

All Mal could do was raise his hands and nod for the others to do the same.

End Part Two
Part Three