Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tax Theft 13: Imaginary Boundaries

Continued from Tax Theft 12.

There's plenty of Stupid out there in the U.S. of A., but check this out:
"Taxpayers rely on IRS guidance at their own peril."
-Federal Tax Judge
It's not actually stupid, of course; it's another one of the clever-stupids, where elites maintain an administration office for their money, which office decrees what rules must be followed during the extraction process--but which rules are wholly arbitrary, and may be ignored at any point in time when it becomes convenient to do so.

(If you don't follow this crap, good for you; the I.R.S. has had, since inception, the power to make rules, then break them later on, sort of like playing "Blackjack" with someone who can decide, each and every turn, based on their current hand, whether the winning number is 9 or 17 or 25, and then take your house and car if you "lost." Benchmarks are set only to produce the right winner in one year, one situation, through "Private Letter Rulings" [the wealthy buying a ruling to their advantage, which the I.R.S. occasionally publishes to mislead other people, establishing a one-time rule applicable only to that situation, as well as any other situation they choose later to make it applicable to, subject to any changes or stipulations they choose later to permute the applicability of the potential application].)

This isn't anything new, of course. I mean, the "Constitution," habeas discorpus, the enaction of an income tax, whatever. Is it even funny? The head of the executive branch gets to proclaim that he's not bound by law except when he decides to be or to not be; that he can kill whoever he wants wherever he wants whenever he wants for any reason he wants using any technique he wants. There's a certain dark humor in that, certainly, as we all see the black satin with purple stripes, smell the camphor and the elephants and the rotten hot dogs, and realize we're at the wrong circus with the wrong ringmaster. But the raw atrociousness seems even larger when confronted by the same illogic--the same cheating; the same filthy, capricious, petty cruelty--over something as mundane as a tax agency's revenue rulings for how many of which kind of percentage points will be subject to billions of dollars of wasteful scrutiny, but only that one time, unless it later becomes more than one time without any guarantee of being either multiple times or zero times.

Doop-doop ditty ditty doop-doop doo-dee...

* * *

The potential criticism for this one is that the person on whom the hammer fell this time was a tax lawyer with plenty of money, playing a game he knew was dangerous. What we need to remember here is that, like high-profile assassinations, this kind of treatment falls far more heavily, and far more often, on little people. Screwing this one semi-elite guy over in one game of ridiculously expensive national tax poker is a model for several thousand acts of Internal Malfeasance--telling some poor waitress to go to the office in their locality, she misses a shift she desperately needs, then the I.R.S. changes the rules, says the local office can't handle it, sends her to capital city on a different date, whereupon the right kind of supervisor isn't there to make the decision, and didn't she know she was supposed to call the Frisco office for this, and what did her CPA say, and oh, she doesn't have one, here's a list of local help centers who can help her, can she return next Tuesday, and if she makes a prepayment now the interest won't accrue as fast, and no, she can't give them that for her mother, her mother has to come in, yes, we're sensitive to your mother's condition but maybe she needs to get a power of attorney and have a representative authorized to represent her at the hearing in a different capital city, by the way, we towed your car on account of that thing with the tips six years ago that you failed to address, on account of the military protection you were receiving while receiving those tips.

Yes, do remember that the hammer falls more often, and more quietly, on people that Forbes doesn't want to write about. We tend to dismiss those stories as unverifiable, anecdotal whining from poor losers who just don't understand the system, which is why looking at a high-class screwjob is so useful: it reminds us that screwing--e.g. heartless, rapacious, vile cheating--is in every way the game. Not even the "name" of the game, but the game itself. Cheat. Establish rules and break them. Demand that the rules be followed except when they not be. Establish a separate set of "tax courts" to suck more billions of dollars from the people, hire a bunch of tax lawyers and former I.R.S. Agents to administer and judge these courts, and then declare that their rulings will only bind the I.R.S. when it wants to be bound, depending on who is being judged and to what degree and at what time. How much more literally can you express tyranny? How much more open and forthright can it be that the executive branch can kill and extract anything, at any time, in any way?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What I'd like

What I'd like to do today is to talk about how using first person pronouns in exploratory, argumentative prose can create the false impression of a lack of distance between author and reader. See, when I verbally fret about what I'm "trying" to do, it can make it appear that there's a different kind of communication occurring than there really is, while simultaneously making me appear humble. When talking about divisive topics, there's often a modern expectation that this be done--that the author express humility by breaking the fourth wall and making it easier for her audience to digest something.

This is falseness; it's lying; it's marketing; it's an attempt to soften a blow, like a white lie. It's redundant, and unnecessary, because everyone sitting at their computer reading a blog--or sitting in a lecture hall, or eavesdropping on the bus--is aware that they are listening to, or reading, someone else's thoughts, and aware that other people have opinions about reality that may be incorrect. There is no fourth wall in this kind of communication, which is why breaking it is so disingenuous. We all know that other people have opinions, so the whiny little precursors offered by others just get in the way, sort of like a DJ saying, "Now I'd like to slow things down a bit." The DJ should probably be shutting up and moving his vinyl a little faster, rather than interjecting commentary into the transition between hard house and Kenny G, but at certain social events, where the music's switching quickly, maybe it's appropriate to pay someone for filler.

Not so blogs, newscasts, or news articles, where the habit developed as a way to create false intimacy and cause ideas to be swallowed on feelings of connection with the speaker, rather than the substance of the idea--or product. That's right, it's a marketing technique; it's consumerism; it's bullshit greased with snake oil, sort of like a literary version of Karl Rove. Sadly, we've so many of us become infected by it: we speak and write this way, now, because we're parroting the pseudo-news advertisements we were raised on. We think that breaking the fourth wall (e.g., wasting space with banal tripe) is the soul of humility and honesty, when really, it just shows how hard we fell for the marketing line of the twentieth century. We shame ourselves when we try to write--lie--that way.

The evil counterpart to all of this pronounical hemming and hawing is that, if you don't say, "I've been trying to unpack the issue of ___ today," you seem unduly arrogant and "in your face." Because, after all, everyone's supposed to spend at least 10% of their lives downplaying what they're doing, so if you go right to the subject, you appear rushed, pushy, et cetera. A climate of indecisive fear surrounds writing, now, which is why, when your friends react to that latest media tragedy on Facebook, they sound like news reporters--even though they're not being paid to do so. We're out there "feeling pain" and shredding our T-shirts in anguish like so many Bill Clinton cum Hulk Hogans, speaking empty words to "connect" with an audience that's only using us to pass the time until the next show.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Dungeons & Dumber: Our Crushing Fantasies, Part 2

After all those years of frustration--all those fruitless arguments and baffled realizations at the inhumanity of others--you come here to talk about movies and board games. Everyone knows there's an eerie little connection between military chauvinism and popular entertainment. Mission-accomplished banners and truck commercials, right? We're working in a more powerful, subtle realm here than that of speeches and votes. The nexus of self, perspective, allowable action, and bounds of reality is situated far closer to the show we watch to unwind than the rhetoric with which we flatter ourselves when we think we're making an important decision. The chemicals in the amygdala, and the memories of childhood, all have something to do with this; however, in a higher and more profound place, the reasons that we accept some things, reject others, and move our mouths and limbs as we do, have more to do with how we pretend than how we would like others to believe we reason. You can beat someone up, or kill someone, without changing their mind, just as you can coerce them socially or economically to take an action without making them like it. All the answers to "Why are people so stupid?" are in make-believe, which is why the U.S. is the comptroller for the world's bad entertainment.

Political ranting, recitation of facts, woo, go for it. But you're in the wrong meeting. All the real stuff is happening a floor above, where things are even worse and more wonderful. So yes, we turn there again, to the seemingly un-serious place where elites have laid the groundwork that ensures everything else stays so stupid and violent.

Death by Tabletop

Continued from Part 1. The modern medieval fantasy game is sourced, like so many modern-day evils--school; state; company; propaganda adherence--in the Prussian Empire's rituals of court. The Prussian kriegsspiel (sorta "wargame") was a method of training officers (sorta "head butchers") to command battles. Prussian officers would play a large board game, using tokens to represent different troop positions--foot; cavalry; heavy armor--and geographical features, and practice battling their tokens against an opponent.

You know those moments in comedies, where an evil overlord in puffy riding pants is pushing toy battleships around an elaborate playset, berating his underlings in high-pitched German, then stopping to affectionately stroke one of his favorite toys? That's kriegsspiel; that's real-world D&D. It actually happened, in very serious ways, and was how the various Prussian conquerors trained their generals to plan for butchery. By building scale models of unwanted villages, the Prussians could determine the defensive positions that villagers might take up, and the escape routes that fleeing civilians might use when approached by an armored column. They could then situate themselves so as to block escape routes, kill to set examples, and entrap the remaining population for use.

Playing with toys this way got officers to think about what they might do during the battle, so kriegsspiel proved indirectly useful in making officers better on the field. They got to practice giving commands, looking leaderly, and thinking about what they might do next--all valuable skills, even though the tabletop gaming didn't actually translate into the chaos-theory-affected reality of how troops, and their millions of associated variables, moved over rough terrain.

Perhaps more importantly, like modern wargaming, kriegsspiel helped desensitize young officers to the idea of giving commands; it made it seem impartial to order, "Fourth Armored to Wooded Hill," when the reality of the command meant iron horses drumming out the brains of begging peasant women. When played against an opponent of skill, the whole move/countermove thing began to affect the games, so that officers could learn to predict one another's actions on the field. They learned how to "hold in reserve," and "flank," and became familiar with the same predictable, rather ossified patterns of deployment that everyone else in Europe eventually did. This kind of mechanistic stupidity, and the ritualized form it gave to warfare, was why everyone was so surprised, decades later, that Hitler broke all the rules with his blitzkrieg. Remember how everyone in grade school was so amazed by the "blitzkrieg" when discussing World War "II"? That's why--because, at the time, it really did flummox all of the roleplaying idiot generals who had spent the 19-teens turning Europe into a turn-based charnel yard.

Power to the People, Weakness to the People

Wargaming, like all other aspects of military culture, spilled over into "civilian" life in the post-total-war states. The world's intelligence agencies had a problem during and after World War I: they realized that their peasants were too hesitant when it came to shooting other peasants. If you're unfamiliar with that, it sounds like a fairy tale, but there was actually a time, as modern as World War I, when a lot of American boys were too sensitive too shoot foreigners at the proper rate. All the "desensitizing" video games find their modern source in kriegsspiel and D&D. The current Tom Clancy video games, where American kids practice murdering civilians covertly through FPS engines, are a grandchild of all the little Kaisers playing with wooden soldiers.

Just before the Great Chemical War, while modern superstates ramped up their plans for endless, totalitarian warfare states, H.G. Wells wrote a book called "Little Wars," in which he tried to introduce kriegsspiel to America's future leaders. His book laid out "rules" for tabletop gaming, describing how players could build the right kind of armies and play the right kind of battles.

Like the Prussian tabletop wargaming that had come before, what Wells had done was beg the question. He had said, "Use your imagination, but do so this way." There's certainly a place for such things; if we play chess, for example, the game ceases to have any meaning if we don't agree upon rules governing the movement of the various pieces, along with rules about the size of the board, the starting arrangement of the pieces, and the checking of the king. Many people need such rules to go through their day-to-day lives, because they've lacked for enough stimulation and/or raw intelligence to come up with games on their own. Absent the guidelines to, say, "chess," these people might never play a game. Discussing one set of rules with them actually encourages imaginative acts, because the first exposures to new rules can spur mental development, akin to tossing someone into a lake to learn how to swim.

This is the positive side of games, game-boards, and rules: modeling imaginative play within a structured environment, in order to encourage people to imagine. Like getting Candyland down from the attic, it familiarizes people with an example of "living under pretend rules," increasing their exposure to worldviews inside the larger set of pretend rules that is living out one human life. "Games," or "games within games," are, usually, intrinsically good because they exponentially increase the learning value of hanging out here. Moreover, if you're not yet bright enough to fabricate your own rule-sets, following the rules in someone else's pretend-game can help you begin to learn how rules might be created.

The other way rules can be used is a negative one--to stifle, rather than foster, exploration and learning. Any bounded system teaches you, by that feeling of constriction, how to delight in being outside of the system; teaches you how wonderful it would be if the Bishop could jump a piece. For some people, though, the bounded system offers a shelter that they desperately need. Those who fear the openness outside the rules learn to revere the rules, worship the rules, control the rules, and use them, ultimately, to bind others within the system. If you're a coward, you're terrified that you might have to leave the system, so you turn your efforts toward maintaining the rules. Suddenly, "chess" becomes more than a game and a learning device: it becomes a test of intelligence; a proof of inner merit; a cold, serious endeavor.

Not just "chess," of course. All rule systems can get used this way, because of the natural appeal they offer to people who fear rule-less existence. There is no rule-less existence, though; what these people fear is their own inability to make up new rules to play under. And so, by building on old rules, they try to bound and measure--enclose the commons, if you will--little verses for everyone else to stay inside.

Bounds of Acceptable Imagination

This is where we come to the way that kriegsspiel has so affected us. Unfortunately, what H.G. Wells' "Little Wars" did, along with other guidebooks like it, set a trend of increasing boundaries to imagination itself. The idea became not, "Here's a fun way to play," but "Here's the fun way to play." The rules for American gaming, in eerie conjunction with the propaganda state and the corporate marketing apparatus, began to standardize themselves such to ostracize imagination as "rule-breaking." At the same time, those who preferred to play by different or varying rules became heathen witches.

"Physical" sports saw this happen, too. The "national leagues" endured bitter battles across America (and other nations that succumbed to overarching sports associations) in order to crush alternative rule systems and consolidate themselves. Businessmen came in, standardized rules, made games less interesting, made a lot of money off them, disparaged those who didn't join the association, and gained control of the very definition of sport. With enough money, businesses could use their associations with schools, town councils, and state legislatures to standardize what the rules of basketball were for elementary school play, college play, and the kind of professional play that occurred at tax-subsidized stadiums. Sure, anyone could go play "basketball" now, but as generations of children got taught one set of rules, and as you could only play at a "real" college or a "real" arena following those rules (and obeying the team owners who hired the refs who enforced them), all other kinds of basketball disappeared.

There were a lot of positives to this, as there always are when businessmen standardize rules. People now had an easier time playing with people from a different town, right? Wrong. Those "positives" were lies, because those who remember playing before the big leagues move in know that, far from being ignorant of or angry about other regions' rules, most players viewed it as a funny quirk and a delight to try out different systems. The odd argument about who would've won if we'd been playing a certain way was not such a terrible thing that it justified shutting down so many community clubs.

Bye bye, baseball. Bye bye, basketball. Bye bye, football. One by one, the kingdoms of the free fell to the businessmen.

Obstetrics

Medicine, too. Same pattern: businessmen moved in, and used money and scare tactics to crush midwives and take control of human birth through drug companies and hospitals (sic). Police power, followed by mass consensus, decreed where and how safe births took place. Blah blah, and mammals nursing replaced by expensive formula, and toilet training replaced by expensive diapers, and elder care replaced by ungodly-expensive and abusive nursing homes, and dying replaced by the DEA/hospice duo--same game (if you've suffered through Robert Jordan, look into the history of the first Amyrlin Seat crushing independent village Aes Sedai; he really kicked ass on that one).

So yeah, you can find this anywhere. The 20th century saw elites using this technique to take over entire nations, and every aspect of culture within them. Now, we're seeing them buy out the resistance to those things (that's why so many producers are spending millions on "independent" films, those rebels they). If you're into military history, you can see this same pattern with "the United States Army," though it happened there before the NBA told all the kids what basketball was, and before the NFL introduced so many "time outs" into the perversion they now call "football." George Washington's "continental army" tried to fuck up forever all local control of defense forces and weaponry; Washington failed, but the Civil War did the job, turning all armies into The army, and thereby centralizing control of weapons in the hands of those nasty bastards in the swamp.

Back to Dungeons and Dragons

Dungeons and Dragons ("D&D") came into play in the 1970s, the brainchild of people who wanted to (1) make money, of course, and (2) control future imagination. D&D was a set of kriegsspiel rules for role-playing games, where players would each pretend to be a character, then communally agree what their character would do when faced by variables another player would present. In order to be playing real D&D, naturally, you would buy various rulebooks, trinkets, and other crap to tell you how to play. This was a smaller-scale version of kriegsspiel, where a rulebook would tell you not how fast a pretend-armored-column was permitted to move across a table, but how fast your pretend-elf-character was permitted to move across a map. D&D was alarmingly comprehensive, at times, providing players with thousands of pages of instructions about the characteristics and abilities of their characters.

D&D metastasized similarly to the AMA and the NBA: backed by big money, it swept across America, using pretty pictures and fine hardback binding to make itself appear instantly more "formal" and "proper" than what came before. Once D&D guidebooks appeared in every bookstore and hobby shop nationwide, it became the standard way to communicate with other people. Write an adventure novel together? Play an imaginary game? Why do those things, when D&D was available to answer so many of your questions? Adopting a rule system other than D&D became (with tragically hilarious irony, considering the customer base) un-cool.

(Friends, relatives, librarians, and comic-book-shop owners would once host communal storytelling and play-acting; D&D bought that out, teaching patrons that you needed to use (and have bought, obviously) official "source material" to be gaming the right way. There are thousands of tiny little tragedies that D&D left behind, in ways seemingly unimportant when considered alongside politics--until you consider how many kids learned to drop their sense of community, and replace it with the centralized authority of D&D's paid scenario-writers.)

Why the hell do we care about this stupid game? Because of its impact: D&D was like an atom bomb into the minds of a generation of kiddies, sending them out into the world pre-loaded with perspectives. It also had a staggering impact on movies and books--while D&D struggled to copy Tolkien and the Bible in every way it could, once it had been published, it became the standard. Almost every major "fantasy" work produced in western culture since the 1970s has been incestuously D&D-derived. Books, movies, comics, video games--D&D branded examples of all of these came out, and still do, but even more so, so many kiddies were pre-loaded with D&D desires that all other "fantasy" companies had to issue a D&D-like product in order to be marketable. And D&D was just as whorish, plagiaristic, and god-awful as George Lucas. Every adventure became an action figure, a collectible coin, a trading card game, a candy bar, a rubber figurine, a VCR game, a board game, a T-shirt, a convention at your local civic center...D&D was product placement and modern marketing for something that had, once, been real faces, real places.

In the course of its business model, D&D stifled the collective imagination of a generation (and again, still does, since it's still thoroughly in existence). D&D, and its successor corporate holder, flooded the art market with cash, buying out authors, illustrators, programmers, model-builders, and game designers, and putting the lion's share of their work under the D&D brand. The standard version of "elf" that we all think of, now, is the D&D elf--so strongly done that it even effects modern Tolkien rewrites. There are plenty of varieties of "elf" within the D&D universe, but the slender, arch, vaguely mystical, hoity-toity, essentially-British high elf (and the thieving, rambunctious, drunkard Irish wood elf) is the D&D elf.

Plot Specifics of D&D

The standard "fantasy scenario," too, is D&D. D&D was created by rich, corporate, militaristic assholes in the wake of Vietnam, so it's not surprising that almost all D&D "plots," and those of the thousands of imitative fantasy stories that came thereafter, have the following basic plotline:

1) In a sheltered land of hard-working farmers or craftsmen...

2) An attractive, virginal young person learns of a threat from lands distant...

3) Possibly through a sudden attack on the sheltered land, which attack had absolutely no motivation behind it except for greed or religious fanaticism...

4) And possibly through a warning from a wise and respected intelligence oracle, which stupid antagonists try to disregard, but which turns out to be essentially accurate in the end...

5) And so sets out on an adventure...

6) First encountering traitorous locals who serve dark powers far away in hopes of a reward they couldn't earn on their own...

7) And then finally crossing the giant geographical wall to the lands of the enemy, where things are ravaged and dirty and dirty, ugly people run things...

8) Before meeting the adversary, who is often a fallen member of one of the noble races, because the ugly goblins aren't smart enough to administer something on such a grand scale themselves...

9) And having a philosophical discussion about why he or she hates freedom, before killing him or her...

See? That's why this stupid juvenile crap is so important. This is the history of the past few decades in America. It was pre-written in fantasy scenarios, and when you try to explain to people that the whole Afghanistan rationale just doesn't work, they don't care, because they're not actually thinking about Afghanistan. They are living vicariously through the story they've been pre-loaded with. Untangling the outright bad, internally inconsistent, non-creative dross that these things produce is how to address the real problem; how to save the real lives. Those black and white propaganda videos from before World War II were a prototype of today's swords n' sorcery stories, and the very same families are producing them: big money leveraging itself to control and standardize entertainment, to control and standardize the way people think about the world.

It's not just D&D, of course--this kind of half-assedly contrived plotline is everywhere, from mystery to romance to sports to literary to juvenile. The exact occupation of the antagonist, and the humor or lament of the side characters (for however many hundreds of pages is necessary), can change in as many ways as you prefer, but the underlying suckage of the plot is underlying suckage not just because, sadly, these people never learned how to write--it sucks because of the jealous little agenda it's working.

See? Pat Tillman, yeah, but also so many of the other people that decide to be "shocked" by something, then set out with a special destiny to save the world. D&D is for nerds, God knows, which means it has informed a lot of future engineers, physicists, bureaucrats, and middle managers. All those kids who couldn't cope very well with the real world during high school, and who turned to fantasy? Those smarter ones, who could add and subtract and read a little better? They're very contentedly building bombs right now because they think of themselves as happy little elves in a forge somewhere, forging swords of enchanted steel so that braver knights can smite the infidels. They don't even have to grapple with the moral issues of their handiwork killing a bunch of three-year-olds because they already learned, in imaginative exploration as a child, that what they were doing was right. The NFL and its macho truck commercials might be a recruitment video for the actually-brave soldiers who risk getting shot at by enemies, and D&D is the same for those who would prefer to stay in air-conditioned offices far away, building their retirement portfolios while someone else runs through all the goblin spawn.

Even Just Inside The Thing

To ensure standardization, D&D has to set limits. D&D controls what the races are, what the characteristics of players are, and uses dice to define outcomes. Using dice seems fair, because it's random--but the numbers any given die turns up are the only random part about it. What those numbers mean in the world of the game are already controlled by the scenario writers, fixed in stone by the D&D guidebook--actions outside of it go beyond. I mean, sure, there's a little wiggle room, there, but D&D's purpose as an imagination-crusher is more profound, in terms of a strike on humans, than how it encourages warfare over these few centuries. D&D goes way beyond chess and Candyland, setting boundaries so comprehensive as to shut out other imagination. Hackneyed plotlines didn't originate in D&D, but D&D was the most powerful modern administrator of them, leaking hundreds of paperbacks and dozens of movies, all with the same essential plot.

Like those drug-peddling obstetricians of 20th century yore, D&D crushed the opposition, too. The fantasy industry set its standard by D&D, and spent the next several decades grooming D&D-like plots. All the loser screenwriters out there, who are boggled by why Kull the Conqueror gets made, but why their own tale of forbidden druid/ogre love gets rejected because it didn't have good "character development" (hey, a form plot is a form letter), are facing the same struggle as no-timeout hoops players from a century ago, or 99.9%-survival-rate midwives getting sneered at for their "lack of medical knowledge." Right now, it's painful watching people structure their cosmic outlook based on a story of organic elves against dirty forge goblins; as the banality of evil continues, though, the boundaries of the acceptable gaming board get even smaller, and imagination dwindles further.

Irony is absent from public debate because irony is absent from entertainment. True horror is absent from politics because it's not written into what we read. Trite scares, and brief flashbacks of whips and chain-gangs, are all that audiences can take--they never had to listen to a storyteller's six-day memorized ballad of a suffering that ended sadly, from times before printing stole organic memories. Hell, they think Schindler's List is a tragedy.

Enough of that, though; back to the modern. The battle we see right now in entertainment is about who sets the rules--a battle that is, already, mostly lost. People have learned, over this past century, not to look to each other for entertainment, but instead, to corporations. Those who can produce produce when they're paid to, and those who cannot (an increasing percentage) learn to believe that, if something were good, it would be corporate. We watch Waiting for Guffman to remind ourselves that Rand and LaVey were right, and skill is always recognized and rewarded; we put up hit counters and advertisements because, if you're any good, you have a sponsor. Kiddies who played pretend once played pretend. For decades, now, they've had rules for how to pretend--rules so pervasive that, unlike putting away the chessboard, they follow them everywhere, even into games that only, in theory, depend on imagination.

The clever rationale of the Dungeonmasters is that D&D encourages creativity, because it gets people to play a game that involves at least an aspect of imagination. And that's a tough rationale to bring to the fight. That argument is great; it's like having a black guy in charge of your HR department, so that when an employee makes a discrimination complaint, he feels stupid as soon as he walks into the office. Yeah, and Twilight encouraged a generation of young people to read, too--but what would they have looked to, for entertainment, if Sponge Bob and Edward Cullen hadn't been in their faces all day? Similarly, the military provides jobs, and providing jobs is positive, therefore the military must be positive, right?

~Lightspring embrace

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Vaguely Upon Disability Benefits

Just chronicling another minor variation on the higher levels of the scheme. Just whining about something far less important than flying murder robots.

We deliberately keep people poor. Yes, I know--that. But we do it in lots of other ways more variegated and subtle, too.

What happens if you can't work in America? Correct: you starve outside. America does, though, have a rudimentary social welfare system that provides for monthly payments, and occasionally housing or medical assistance, to disabled people. So let's go inside that part of the system, and consider someone who gets hurt on the job--someone who fights through 30 months of pain, surgery, therapy, supervised home visits, bodily cavity inspections, anti-faking checkups, and is finally deemed eligible to receive a government pittance for a long time (maybe life). Let's say this lucky soul then gets, oh, $800 a month.

Now, here's a foreshadowing of the future economic controls waiting for the rest of the populace: you are not allowed to save money. That's right; the High Caucasian Masters of the Fed are disinclined to allow the disabled to save their money. $800 a month, and that's it.

Why and how would these disabled people want to save? Well, let's say that their benefit is $800 a month, they're disabled for life, and they're 20, or 30. Maybe they know that their cost of living will go up when they hit 50, or 60. Maybe they don't trust the paying government agency's promise to offer "cost of living increases" over the next few decades (a wise choice--trusting to that is asking to starve).

No problem, right? This is a free market, and all that good stuff. So they start setting aside a little bit of that $800 a month. Maybe just $10, maybe just $50, or maybe a couple hundred. Whatever. And they have a little savings account, thinking, "When I hit 63, and need some kind of medicine to survive old age, I won't need to bother the government to increase my benefits--I'll just live off my savings."

Nope. Hard no. As soon as their savings account hits a certain amount, whammo, the benefits stop coming. No more $800 a month.

Free Rider

Fine, fine. We don't want to have to take money from the hard working Norms to pay the Crips $800 a month if the Crips are already independently wealthy. If Bill Gates falls off a ladder, we don't want to have to start sending him SSDI checks, considering that he doesn't need the money. It wouldn't be fair.

So, what does the intelligent disabled person do with that $800? Simple--they spend it. Spending every penny ensures that they will remain poor on paper, justifying future income. As a result, when they hit 63 or whatever, and the cost of their care goes up, that burden falls back on the taxpayers (or they just stop paying the heating bill and freeze to death, or stop paying rent and die of "old age" behind some theater downtown after not eating for a week). But the important point is, they didn't "steal" anything from the taxpayers by trying to save any of that money ahead of time. Yet again, the attempt to make things "fair" and prevent "abuse of the system" causes increased costs to everyone, even as it stymies only a handful of actual plots to cheat.

Literal Mechanics of "Can't Save"

What does this one mean when I say, "Can't save"? Okay, example: let's say Sheila got a filing cabinet dropped on her at the office, and hurt her back. After her 30 months of TSA-style groping, she gets approved, and gets her $800 a month. For the first year, she spends $400/month on her rent at a group home, eats meals with the other home residents, but occasionally goes out to a movie or grabs a bite to eat, spending another $100. So, she spends $500 a month, leaving the extra $300 in her checking account. What does that add up to over 12 months, for the first year of her experience as a benefits-recipient? Why, $3,600, of course.

As soon as the government notices that, they send Sheila a letter saying, "You have $3,600 in the bank. Therefore, you are wealthy. No more benefits." Sheila's group home stops approving her residency, she moves into a normal apartment, and frantically tries to re-apply for benefits. After a couple months, she's out of money, and still 3 or 4 months away from getting her $800 payments resumed. She starves a little, camps out at local homeless shelters, and finally gets benefits resumed. $800/month. This time, no fucking around. Every month, once the money comes in, she buys some DVDs on amazon, an iced tea and an extra Snickers from the C-store, and eventually, a few dozen lottery tickets. Zero it out. Zero it out to be safe.

You can't blame the disabled, of course. Who's to say that their benefits will continue under a new presidential administration, a new state administration, a new set of focused CNN ads? Who's to say that medical science will alter, and deem their missing legs no longer an impediment to work as a nature guide? It's not like they're trying to save because they're plying their sustenance checks into penthouse apartments; they're just all too desperately aware of the struggle to survive, and saving a few dollars for when President Jeb slashes food stamps is a wise move.

Encouraging Irresponsibility

Encouraging irresponsibility--what does that sound like? Economics, of course. The whole thing is already too stupenderifously expensive anyway. How many dozens of millions of dollars are wasted fostering full-time benefits specialists to do home visits, file reviews, update meetings, check-in calls, department accountings, et cetera to determine that the $800 a month is getting spent properly? Easy--more than it would cost to just abolish the whole thing and give Bill Gates his $800 welfare check to spend on dandruff shampoo and foot deodorizers. (Yes, that $800 is over and above pumping Microsoft full of DoD and DoE cash, but put that aside for now.) The point here is future plans. We test upon the battlefield police techniques that will come home to the citizenry, and we test upon the disabled the economic techniques that will come home to the abled.

"Saving money" is 50% of the bane of the mangled little goblin goldtraders who run this awful county fair, because accounting for peon savings puts a wrinkle into their playing with fluctuating currency valuations, otherwise known as, "How to give the peasants just enough to eat and watch football, and not a farthing more." The vise that they clamp onto the allowable private net assets of the disabled is a prototype for the future economic regulation of everyone. Living from pittance to pittance, rather than setting aside money like your betters, keeps you thoroughly reliant on that pittance. Every time they find out that the personal savings rate in Japan has gone up, they try to blow the hell out of the yen; just wait until some twisted regulation begins to justify preventing large swathes of the western population from storing nuts for the winter, too.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Dungeons & Dumb: Our Crushing Fantasies, Part 1

Okay, you asked; what's wrong with Game of Thrones?

Many of the whitest world's future engineers, lawyers, and research postdocs learned an important lesson in high school: playing Dungeons and Dragons didn't just foster creativity, it also brought people together, fostered creativity, and brought people together. Or so its proponents would say, years later, echoing the commercials of their eerily, simultaneously militaristic, chauvinistic, anarchistically rebellious 1970s youths.

The Understood Fantasy: The Story of Us

We all sort of get the medieval fantasy genre. For hundreds of years, elite scribes have plagiarized popular stories in order to get a cheap bang they could repackage and sell for a buck. The Bible, the Greek myths, and eventually, Shakespeare, Austen, and various period pieces were able to give birth to millions of heartless, copyrighted ripoffs. Sunday schools, then public schools and universities, invested so heavily in "the classics" for purposes of cultural mesh. The stories we all know frame our understanding of who we are, and all that shit.

What does this have to do with Game of Thrones? Consider the history of the world.

The History of the World

Approximately thirteen billion years ago, the universe was created from an infinitesimal speck. It exploded outward, maintaining background radiation, then gradually cooled and condensed into giant clouds of matter that compressed, via an enigmatic, un-understood, yet roughly predictable force known as "gravity," into stars, which began burning hydrogen. Stars' large size caused clouds of dust to form around them in roughly circular patterns; in time, the dust pinched itself into planets. One of these planets, known as Earth, endured a lot of volcanic activity before some complex protein chains began to develop unicellular structures, which coincidentally managed to persist longer than other matter arrangements, then began to mechanically reproduce themselves. At some point in the process, certain of the end results of said process produced an occurrence known as life, thereafter which developed into multicellular organisms, began to arrange itself along vertebrae, moved onto land, developed pervasive nervous systems, and began walking and talking.

Nothing much happened until a certain great ape began using tools to kill other great apes, after which it got the idea of enslaving plants and animals to make the acquisition of resources easier. Ergo humans. For thousands of years humans killed each other for random fun, but they were scared of dying, so they began to pretend that after they died, they flew away to magical places to live forever. Some evil swarthy people were lucky and had a pretty big river, making survival easy, but they were still swarthy, so they fell to their dark religions and built a culture based upon enslaving everyone to build impressive houses for use in an afterlife. Because they were so hypocritical and misguided, no one ever noticed that their big, pyramid-shaped tombs were not actually being used by the spirits of the returned dead, and they actually believed that their pyramid-shaped tombs were filled by spirits flitting around eating real-world food.

Once the stupid Egyptians fell to sloth or something, more advanced cultures put aside Egyptian architecture, astronomy, writing and mathematics to focus on living in cooler climates and trading olives to each other. Then they eventually found their way to western Europe, where they perfected a civilization of living in thatch-roofed huts, combing their auburn tresses, and developing codes of honor. Everyone was horny, smelly, and stupid, but very strong, and this animalistic civilization would have continued forever if not for a few brilliant, self-sacrificing men (and also women too).

These men (and also women too) decided to serve their societies and their species instead of themselves. Dedicating their lives to public service, they practiced speaking in arch accents, holding court dances, preserving knowledge, and teaching people not to belch so often and fight so frequently. Calling themselves "nobles," these epochal heroes put themselves at great personal risk, generation after generation, to improve the human condition. These "noblemen" (and also women too) discovered that life wasn't tough in Europe only because everyone else was so stupid, oh no. They also discovered that life was tough in Europe because Europe was a small sea of relative purity and goodness surrounded by half-animal monsters that clung to the old ways, the ways of dark Egypt and dark Africa, full of wasteful pyramids and excessively horny dark peoples.

These noble men (and also women too) sometimes did scheme to their own advantage, and sometimes, they even got horny. In fact, they had hornier, sexier adventures than everyone else, although in respectable ways completely different from the African mess. Modern sexual adventurism owes everything to these boundary-crossing white rogues, who developed "the position," thousands of variants upon "the position," and who encouraged the promulgation of free love, family planning, and more over the objections of a clannish, superstitious, idiotic peasantry.

Eventually, these brilliant souls developed the steam engine and the galleon, and they traveled abroad, only to discover "closed societies," like India and China. These societies had interesting art, valued cuisines, and had contributed a great deal to the lesser avenues of the culture of humanity, however, their backward despotism stood in stark contrast to the genteel administrations of the European noblemen (and also women too). A few greedy, improperly-acting noblemen (and also women too) tried to take advantage of these "closed societies," resulting in a tiny number of regrettable bad things happening, but in the meantime, most of these horny, overpopulated dark peoples came to realize that they needed to partner in free trade with the children of the nobles. Their art screens and cuisine and cultures would always play a valuable part in the development of this planet, and also, they had lots of cool sayings, too.

The Problem With Game of Thrones

However silly the latter section seems, that's essentially the history of the western world as remembered by most Americans. There was a great war there, too, where heroes from Broadway shot a bunch of stupid racists and saved the black people, and there was another great war where heroes from the penultimate farm short a bunch of stupid racist Nazis and saved all the world's people, but mostly, civilization is as written above, in the minds of "the public." What our medieval fantasy stories teach us is that stories like the above are true: they reinforce a conception of European history based upon noblesse oblige, telling us that our history is one where rich, powerful, hereditary rulers are mostly benevolent, caring, and thoughtful in their actions.

Game of Thrones plays into all of the amazingly ignorant, narcissistic, bloody-dangerous western notions about "our past" and "our history." In the drama (and many others like it, which elite entertainment is more than happy to produce every few years), the real players are primarily nobles, of course--and the nobles actually do things. Kings govern on-the-ground strategy, lords deflect the enemy's swords in war, and a frightened, ignorant mass of subjects can only make things worse by stubbornly refusing to play along with elite agendas. The stupid, laboring peasantry is always a part of the background, except for a token scene where some NAFTA protester in farmhand clothing fumes into his cups in a muddy little watering hole. Fantasy stories like Game of Thrones are, so often, everything that's a problem with how elite publishers have printed (at least) four generations of history books: in these fantasies, lords are the innovators; the workers; the thinkers; the wise counsel; the cooler headers; and, the hotheads. Without a bloodborne title (or a circumstance-borne one), you're trash, unless you're carrying a trinket that's important to those with titles, or being pursued for sex or vengeance by someone with a title.

The stupid Brit-blend accents are par for the course in stuff like Game of Thrones. All Americans know that stuffy, traditional British accents are their "history," with the occasional Irish brogue reserved for a character who is a coward, who gets drunk too often, or who is spying for the Dark Lord (but who gives himself away ahead of time with his accent in council chambers).

The Dumbass Accents, and It's Not Fantasy, People

Why always the stupid accents? When you're spending dozens of millions of dollars on set design and dialogue coaching, why always use British accents? If people want to pay money for escapist fantasy, shouldn't you use newly made accents, to really allow them to immerse themselves in a different world? In Lord of the Rings, fans went crazy over the spoken Elvish, which Tolkien (the real stuff) took the care to fashion into his worlds.

Why not? Easy--because people seeing this stuff don't actually want fantasy. They want vindication. People look to "medieval fantasy" tales hoping to see a more exciting version of the history of premodern Europe. They want to see a stilted, blurry version of "codes of chivalry" and "feudal economy" and "serf labor." They want to see swords, armor, and the dashing lords and ladies they've fancied--that they've fancied have been watching over them for 800 years. The adulation modern audiences show Game of Thrones is the adulation they are showing what they think of as their own genuine history. That's why vivid details, like CG blood splatters and real live horses, are so important: they lend realism. We all know that dragons and goblins are fake (>.>), but when we see an English king holding a war council about how to throw back the invasion of the little dark-skins, we know in our hearts that the king is protecting us, by his own blood, from the dark forces that lie outside western Europe. The Slavs, the Musselmans, the savages, the Han--all those little fuckers, constantly trying to steal across our borders and mess stuff up.

The racism is pretty bland, though; it's obvious if you look for it, and it's not really the most important part of the show that's being put on. The lords' characters bear the biggest shine of spit polish in this PR job: most of the characters in Game of Thrones and its ilk are, although suffering from human faults, genuinely motivated toward their officially-stated class goals. Huh? Well, that means that, in these major-studio medieval fantasies, the lords want personal gain, sex, and power, but they're also, mostly, genuinely looking out for the well-being of their own people. They "preserve the realm," they risk their own necks, and they fight hard. Compare this image to, oh, the House of Lords, or the American Congress. Is Dianne Feinstein riding patrols in Iraq? How many tours did Dubya do in the Vietnamese jungles? Prince Harry got to play well-protected soldier with his own staff and bodyguards surrounded by HMS Marines surrounded by U.S. Marines surrounded by Iraqi Security Forces, but he wasn't exactly crawling into Saddam's bunker on Day 3 with a knife between his teeth, if you know what I mean. And yet, this is the province of lords in our medieval fantasies: they are the riot police, the stormers of the beach, and the drivers of all bravery. The soft, stooped old parasites hovering around D.C. and London dearly love it that the world believes that their grandparents, and they themselves, risked their lives to defeat the ogre armies just a few years back.

(And of course, in Game of Thrones, lords all have the sexiest sex. Medieval fantasies are so often like People magazine for recorded history, contending that the deepest loves, the greatest risks, and the most stunning orgasms are experienced by a 0.1% subset of an inbred celebrity populace.)

Beyond butt-kicking, neck-risking, and sexiness, Game of Thrones tells us the story of western history as a lord-driven enterprise. Louis XIV invented the printing press, King Edward punched out Kaiser Wilhelm and saved democracy, and, if it weren't for Bloody Mary, the commoners would've never developed central irrigation or farming cooperatives. Every morning, Barack Obama spends several hours training in kickboxing, marksmanship, and wilderness survival, to ensure that he is the man most equipped to defend the nation. Medieval video games suffer this affliction also--the king, somehow, frequently has more "hit points" and a higher "strength" rating than a common foot soldier. In reality, of course, pit your average Congressman in a boxing match against the single worst amateur boxer in the single worst amateur boxing league in the entire western world--and the Congressman would, shall we say, not emerge the victor in that match.

The Conflict With Reality

Yeah, it's "just a story," but we're all watching it, right? And if realism of detail is so important, why not original accents? We're not supposed to stray too far from the "history" that we're playing at, with our fantasies. We don't want fantasies. Real fantasies, about real people, would be painful for us to watch--as painful as it would be for us to have to go back and take a look at the private lives of real medieval lords. The conflict these medieval fantasies have with reality is among the more profound parts of their nature. Let's make a new fantasy tale where every single lord and lady spends all day, all year, in their bedrooms, drinking wine, growing morbidly obese, and getting wanked and massaged by a series of underage slaves of mixed sexes. Occasionally, they'll emerge to order someone burned to death for trying to develop a satanic new plow, or to watch a hermaphrodite dissected alive in the Tower.

Real lords, we know, are lazy. Real lords are fat pieces of shit who spend their days trying to use their wealth to avoid the afflictions of living, such as weather, travel, and wiping one's own ass. Real lords stay far, far away from battles unless they have a vast numerical advantage calculated well ahead of time, and they stay in their silken tents until the battles are over, then come out with a chilled wine only to have their pick of rapine from any captured camp girls the other army had on hand.

Real ladies are monstrous fat strawberry-munchers who lie about their buodoirs, stabbing servant girls with letter openers and screeching protest whenever they have to appear somewhere. They read old poetry, are disclined to leave bed, and when forced to have a child for political purposes, demand extra pampering for the rest of their lives. You're 100% more likely to find an intelligent, attractive girl mucking stalls in the meanest local inn than farting into silken sheets in the palace bedroom. The "beauty" and "kindness" of ladies that we read about in elite histories--not in standard textbooks, because that's too much reading for most people, but in the second layer of secondary sources--is stuff inserted into the historical record by the attendants of noble families, who wanted to keep their jobs.

Real Conflicts

Real nobles, we know, did not fight wars to save their kingdoms from subhuman enemies abroad. Instead, real nobles were selfish, inbred cheaters who swapped rulerships between themselves, taking control of Prussia one generation, Denmark another, Scotland another, and Norway after that. The bastards had no particular loyalty to any country, though they were the loudest of mouths when it came to talking about nationality, pride, and honor. They went to war not when forced to the last extreme of defending their nations from a mystical menace, but because they were using thousands of human lives as pawns to address endless, inconclusive personal disagreements with their third cousin the Lord of Alsace-Lorraine. They put entire towns of people to the sword only to make themselves look tough, and they killed witches and fags and Jews until blood ran "knee high" in the street, even when not forced to by a pending invasion of dragons.

Game of Thrones is all that: a paean to the greatness of the stagnant blood that wrote western civilization, and an apologia for war, 800 years later. The Crusades happened because the Palestinians were evil Satan-spawn hell-bent on taking over the world, just like the 2003 Iraq invasion happened for essentially the same reason. We like watching English nobles gravely discuss the requirement of colonial war because it convinces us that that's what really happened. Medieval fantasies hold such an eldritch appeal for us, over all other types of make-believe fiction, because our history--our history of ourselves, our families, our countries, and our entire world--is still based around that image we all have in the backs of our heads, of a handsome, noble lord and lady fretting about how to save their ignorant peasants from an outside menace. Even if we think we hate modern governments, many of us still have this idea of, this lust for, some kind of old-timey British noble men (and also women too) who somehow took care of us because their blood made it right (and they really cared also). Hey, go read about some ignorant Muggles being protected by a secret caste of bloodborne mages--same accents, same inbred island, and same faceless security threat justifying leadership under various heirs.

Continued in Part 2 with a look at D&D.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Better Ticket Price. And Scores Also.

So, we're buying tickets. Which is the better deal? One hour of access for five, all-day access for ten, or all-week access for twenty-five?

Even an American post-public kid can figure that out with a minimum of puzzling, right? The middle class ones blow that kind of problem out of the water, being all over "twenty-five." The correct answer, though, is "neither," but it's always fun to watch a bunch of consumers think that, by arriving at the correct answer to an irrelevant question, they've "saved" something--or succeeded, or become liberated, or any of the other wonderful products for sale this week.

You wanna know why the Gates Foundation, Obama, and Dubya love multiple-choice tests so much? In one case, because of garden-variety dumb; in the other two, because crafty, evil bastards love using artificial boundaries to steer people into making "choices" that aren't really their own. Kids (and adults, umkay?) who learn about multiple-choice tests don't learn to think outside the tests, because the correct response to a multiple-choice test is to immediately leave the room and find something worthwhile to do. You're already in the store, so despite how clever you feel, it doesn't matter whether you're buying from the clearance rack or pulling stuff off the eerily sexy mannequin next to this year's flatware.

What is multiple-choice? It's the definitive answer to thousands of years of humankind grappling with the question of free will--and that answer is, "No, robot."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

You Ess Hay? Not really.

And we're walking again, up, up the stairs, to a place shy of tomorrow because the steps never go quite that far. We're trapped on that floor again, that same floor with creaking hallways leading in twelve directions, but only ever right and left, like right and left got folded into too many shapes to retain their old identities. Seven shadowed doorways, eight fetching lasses, all running away, always running away, in ruffled skirts like Little Miss Muffet, begging you to help before six spiders with six webs trap them and wrap them, trap them and wrap them into pincushions of dwindling nothingness that fade out, leaving nothing but the hallway behind.

We open a door, and there's the first time you were in a classroom, a board at the front and a woman with piled hair frowning shrewdly at you. Two errors become four, and you remember why you weren't so fond of it, so you bite your nails to the nub and bleed on your fingers to get a pass to leave. The second door, dark and lonely, and bigger than it should be, so big it swallows the rest of the hallway. There's Vladimir Putin, playing a violin beneath a spotlight on stage, stopping every so often to eat a piece of the Mona Lisa with a knife and fork. The violin keeps playing even when Putin puts it down, and then you realize the Mona Lisa is real, a real person; some jaundiced chick wearing a bad dress and a weathered frame, slung across Putin's lap with a fork stuck into her loins like she doesn't even mind. He chews a bite as he eyes you, cold blue eyes like a pureblood, and won't you come join me? We're having the Mona Fucking Lisa. You throw down your fork and run. Seven doors for eight lasses and six spiders.

In another, the perfect club, cool and sleek, hot and wet, just enough of everything to make you feel like you don't belong and like you wish you could but are also glad you don't. Music that comes in red planes and black planes, strobing realities, so brief, where everyone else has great sex except you, and you're too prudish and naive and weak to live life the way it's really meant to be lived, so you hang against the wall. Fat waitresses in bondage suits deliver glowing viridian drinks to everybody but you, swollen bodies and strained leather moving easily through the dance. Masks come off and they're ashen witches, bone thin after all and darkly pretty in fact, gobbling infected applesauce off needful collarbones. Strobe in red, strobe in black, eyebrows like stitches and gazes like stab wounds, a room so loud it's not anymore. Pretty witches slurping rotted applesauce and biting fingertips. Gorgeous shattered boys sticking needles and tongues into each other. Minutes before everybody dies, minutes before everyone is forced to come face to face with the consequences of their actions, but so much more alive than you ever were, for just that moment, don't you feel bad you missed it all?

Back in the hall. The lights are on, coming from nowhere, and everything bisects at impossible angles, like a mathematician's brain. Someone painted the walls, burnt orange nightmares, cloudy and smokey and vaguely earthen. Pictures of Putin hanging everywhere, some small and some as big as the moon, not the moon from far away, but the real moon, so swallowing big he's inside your head and down your pants. But it's not really him anymore, since his eyes are brown and he's got a giant mustache, a thick mustache, a mustache that belongs on a train conductor in an old western, in technicolor, Putin's giant brown mustache so high up against his nostrils. And he's got glasses, too, sunglasses as big as his mustache, is it really still Putin?

A grandfather clock hanging from a fishing line, hundreds of feet in the blackness, shifting in a breeze that doesn't touch you. A talking mongoose, someone has a talking mongoose, and it's making the rounds with a foxfur hat and a thick winter coat, kitsch and rude and flagrantly verbose, spending at least two minutes on everyone's shoulder, telling them about the picture of a violin propped against an empty chair, how genius it was, how damnably sad it is that they don't make art like that anymore, and hold my hat, I have to take a piss. No more guests, but the grandfather clock catches a little bit more of the breeze, and the fishing line snaps--inevitable, but no less frightening, when you're riding it down through the open air.

Some treatments aren't meant to cure.

Some roads aren't meant to lead anywhere.

Some lights are too dazzling to see.

Some intelligence isn't.

Six score and seven, five score and eight, it's time to lay this motherfucker straight, the clock hands spin so fast they make that sound like they're being wound up, down through impossible darkness, past framed pictures of Putin shaking hands with an unidentifiable marsupial in a thick winter coat. A high-pitched jingle, a high-pitched scream, rolls upward, and there goes a boy in a blue dress and polished alice shoes, promising to be a good berliner, to eat his spaghetti-N's, to dot his eyes and finish the diorama before nightfall. The clock falls, falls through a large, symbolic vagina, only to crash to the floor of the hottest rave ever, where a mysteriously white man, whiter than white, whiter than chalk, whiter than the very definition of white, explains to you that the meaning of life is to be found in whatever you want it to be. It's wisdom, and it didn't come cheaply; you ride away on the back of an exceptionally well-rendered unicorn, only to discover that the clock was a mistake, and the dancers had all been paid to be there. Fortunately one brought his lawnmower and offers to save you from the unicorn, so you help him push the silver beast into the blades. Silver poster paint splatters your dynamic black boots with the unnecessarily large metal clips that mean you mean business, a testament to your work on the grass. You climb on the lawnmower and drive off, alone now, past a painting of Putin shaking hands with all the employees of Google, one after the other, seeming awfully hot in his fur coat in Silicon Valley, while his servant the mongoose, the otter, with the face of Mona Lisa taped over his whiskers, sneaks in the back to subvert the free flow of information.

Toy airplanes fall from the sky, each one attached to a raspberry muffin bearing a personalized message in frosting that tastes like hardened Pepsi, like engine degreaser tastes after a weekend in the fridge. And each one comes with a code, a prize, a discount, a special, for only one raspberry muffin you can have this message emblazoned across your vision for one week's duration, making you bilingual in just two days, but you never left the hallway and some rationalizations aren't worth it.