The Fantastic Adventures of Allen Ruskin in the 25th Century

"Egads, what the Devil are you?" asked Ruskin, his devilish desire device deflating down drastically.

"Whatever do you mean?" asked Princess BigLots. Alcoa and Trout looked equally nonplussed, all three with their space pants down around their ankles.

"They're not human!" squeaked Pip.

"Of course we're not human," said Trout. "Humans died out long ago."

Pip squeaked "But you're ...."

"Yes?" asked Princess BigLots.

"But you're ...."

"Yes?" asked Alcoa.

"But you're ..."

"Oh dammit, Pip. Anyone can see they're castrati. Come on, give us an aria," said Ruskin, looking around for pants with which to cover his seriously shrunken shock stick.

"We're not castrati," Trout said saidedly.

Ruskin picked a rag off the floor and started wrapping it around his legs like a diaper. "Then what the hell are you? And are there no pants in the future? Honestly, if I knew the future was going to be like this, I would haven't even have bothered."

"But you're ..."

"Blast your eyes, Pip. You say 'but' one more time ..." threatened Ruskin threateningly.

"But ..."

"O.K., that's it!" shouted Ruskin, leaping at his young charge like a jungle jaguar juiced on java.

"But they have no butts!" said Pip, fleeing.

"They also lack other things, which make them completely useless to me. Do you still have sheep or cattle or something in the future? I'd take house cat, if you have one," said Ruskin with annoyance. He took a swing at Pip. "Can you pull other people out of the box?"

"We're robots," said Princess BigLots, the space where her nether regions should have been nethering reflecting back Ruskin's disgusted visage. He had often dreamed of seeing his own face staring out at him from a woman's unmentionables, but not like this.

"Great! Just great! Why did you even bother then? What use am I?"

Princess BigLots blushed, "I, I, I wanted ..."

"Dammit! You're worse than Pip there, and even he can spit it out on occassion!"

"I, I ..."


"I wanted to learn about 'sex.'"

Ruskin stammered, "Well, that completely strains credulity. You'd have more luck learning how to fly!"

"We can fly," said Alcoa, rising a foot off the floor.

"You are no relation of mine!" screamed Ruskin. "And, my lady, if I can even call such a devilish creature like you a lady, considering you are no different than the other two standing next to you, why would you want to learn about sex?"

"Actually, Princess BigLots stumbling across your box was my doing," said Trout cautiously.


"We've cloned humans ... all the important ones. The first black United States president. The first woman United States president. The first highly intelligent beaver United States president," explained Trout in explanation.

"'Highly intelligent beaver,' I like the sound of that," said Pip.

"You, put a garter in it!" yelled Ruskin. "So? What do you need me for?"

"I want your pillar to be the foundation of the new world," said Trout.

"Come on, just say it," spit Ruskin.

"I want your moans to be the clarion call of the future!"

"Come on, be plain."

"I want your genetic code to be the spiral ladder to the heavens!"

"Out with it!"

"I want you to put your third leg in whatever the applicable orifice is and make us more humans."

"What! No more newspeak from you!"

"I want you to have sex with anyone you can get your hands on."

"What? Don't toy with me!"

Trout made several hand gestures.

"Oh, that. Well, of course! Anything I can do to help futurity!"

"With the emphasis on 'do!'" laughed Pip, happily.

"Indeed. Come, to the cloning room!" ordered Trout.

"Where we will certainly come!" giggled Pip.

"Indeed," answered Trout.

"The deed! Yes!" guffawed Pip.

"O.K., let's get moving."

"We'll be doing some moving!"

"Are you going to stop?"

"I won't stop til I get enough!"

"Please, let me take you."

"Let me take you!"

"Will you shut up and come on?"

"I'll up come on you!"

"O.K. I've had it."

"Have you had it?"

There was a crack and a fizzle of ozone. Pip lay flat on his back, a burning mark the size of a halfpenny smoking in the middle of his forehead. Trout pocketed his laser gun.

"Well, I hope that didn't hurt too much," said Trout.

"Do ... you ... like ... the ... hurt?" croaked Pip, before Trout blasted him several more times.

"Honestly, he'd be a good boy toy if there was someone around to shoot him in the head every day of his life," said Ruskin, shaking his head.

What's next for our intrepid infidels? Stay tuned.


The Final Days

I was at the Hamburg Inn this morning, and I noticed two signs: (1) CNN's American Morning will be broadcasting there on Wednesday from 5-8am and (2) Mitt Romney would be stopping there this very afternoon. So I returned this afternoon to see what sort of turnout the Mittster would get. You can see that here.

I definitely could have met him if I had wanted, but I and several other Democrats respectfully stood off to the side and let the diehards shake his hand. But I was close enough to watch his interactions, and let me tell you a couple of things: (1) his wife wears heavy, heavy makeup, and (2) he seems totally fake and unable to connect with the common man. Obviously, I am not inclined to think highly of him, so take that for what it's worth.

I'm hoping to make it to events for Clinton, Obama, Biden, and Dodd later this week. Will provide photographic evidence if I execute on this plan.


Season's Greetings 2007

Well, they nearly didn't make it, but The Mad Little Elves have finally released their 2007 single, coming in just under the wire on Christmas Eve Eve. Without further ado, their latest hit:

White Christmas

Relive last year, when they danced with the Sugar Plum Fairy. And Santa Baby, perhaps the essential track from 2005's album, featuring Traca de Broon on kazoo.

Happy Holidays from G & TdB!


IC applies for UNESCO "City of Literature" designation

The Press-Citizen has the scoop. If successful, the IC would be only the second city in the world with such an appellation. Smart thinking, IWP. Note that it was Hugh Ferrer's brilliant idea -- well played, Hugh!

Press-Citizen endorses Obama and Huckabee

The Iowa City paper's editorial board thinks Obama and Huckabee are the two best candidates -- Huckabee seemingly because he was one of only two Repubs to visit the paper's offices. Given that Iowa City is overwhelmingly Democratic, and that Huckabee is, though affable, manifestly a soft-headed boob who is unqualified to lead the free world, you have to wonder if the Huckabee endorsement is meant to encourage the best possible outcome for the primaries.

In any case, this would be like backing both _________ and _________ for a writing prize. (Fill in the blanks.)


Anyone going to MLA next week?

Because it's going to be really cold and really boring, and I'd rather not drink alone. Alternatively, any Goats from Iowa past residing in Chicago, please feel free to give me a ring or electronic missive.

While we're at it, anyone going to AWP in New York?

Carry on with yuletide cheer, etc.


From Your Good Friends At EarthGoat Legal -- Where Happiness is But a Lawsuit Away

Holiday Party Release Form

"By signing this form, I understand that I have been invited to attend a Holiday Party by the Host. By choosing to attend this event, I recognize that I'm doing so at my own peril, and that the premises may contain many hazards both known and unknown to the Host of the Holiday Party, including, but not limited to: icy sidewalk, icy steps, peanuts, Burl Ives recordings, "John Denver's Christmas with the Muppets," ginger bread, dog hair, Host hair, children of the Host, relatives of the Host, friends of the Host, pets of the Host, wife or husband of the Host, open flames, pointy Holiday tree branches, pointy Holiday tree ornaments, insufficiently stirred egg nog, electric wires, bright lights, flashing lights, ugly lights, jingle bells, fake snow, glitter, fruit cake, and/or pine needles.

By attending, I agree to indemnify and hold harmless the Host from any liability, including but not limited to, that caused by the drinking or serving of alcohol, the possibility of the Host getting drunk and telling everyone what he or she "really" thinks about them, inappropriate dance moves, my own dance moves that may cause injury to myself, unfunny jokes, funny jokes, unflattering Holiday sweaters, disappointing gifts, or "regifting." I recognize that by hosting the Holiday Party, the Host is in no way expressing or endorsing any religion or point of view, including, but not limited to, the existence of Santa, the ability of Elves (herinafter referred to as Vertically Challenged Magical People) to build a Playstation 3, or the consumerism of the Holiday. The Host recognizes that "Santa" is an anagram for "Satan," but assumes no liability for this fact, despite Santa's recorded interest in red clothes and chimney soot. I also recognize that the Host has provided healthy snacks (including, but not limited to, carrot sticks, celery sticks, and cucumbers), and despite the proximity of said healthy snacks to the spinach dip, I indemnify and hold harmless Host for any weight I may gain during the Holiday.

While Holiday Party may or may not include a Yankee Gift Swap (where Party Guests exchange gifts, see attached Rules and Liability of the Yankee Gift Swap), I agree that this term is non-derogatory, holds no allusion or reference to this country's Civil War of 1860-1865, and that "The Yankees" is a registered trademark of the New York Yankees Major League Baseball Team, Inc. If I, at any time, or under any circumstances, find myself under any mistletoe, I agree to indemnify and hold harmless Host for any smooching dangers including, but not limited to, bad breath, chapped lips, too much lip balm, spinach dip lip blobs, any style propogated by the French, or peanuts. Finally, I agree to indemnify and
hold harmless Host for any fun or non-fun I may have."

N.B. Article from law.com:

Hosting a party at home involves more than planning a menu. A survey released today reveals that parties in homes and offices may result in trips to the courtroom for some.

Commissioned by LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell's lawyers.com and conducted by Harris Interactive(r), the survey assessed U.S. adults'
vulnerability to common legal pitfalls during the holiday season.

Nearly one in four (24%) adults do not know that a party host who serves alcohol to a clearly drunk guest may be legally responsible if that person goes on to hurt or kill someone in a car accident. Yet one in five (20%) adults will host or co-host a holiday party this year at which alcohol will be served.

"Most states have 'social host' laws, which hold party hosts liable in certain situations if their guests who drink cause serious car crashes,"
said Alan Kopit, legal editor of lawyers.com.

"Such hosts may unwittingly put themselves in legal hot water by not carefully monitoring their guests' intoxication levels, particularly when they get in their cars. A few precautionary minutes when planning parties can save the time, money and the heartache of the legal ramifications of a guest's crash." Kopit added.

Check Your Coat, But Not Your Professionalism, at This Year's Office Party

Holiday office parties pose additional legal risks, the survey also uncovered. Twenty-nine percent of adults have experienced or observed sexual advances between people who work together at such gatherings, more than at any other work event during the rest of the year, including those that occur after-hours or on weekends or at the office during the work day.

"An office party can be the site of a sexual harassment situation just as much as the office," said Kopit. "Many people view an office holiday party as a fun, carefree gathering of colleagues, during which normal professional expectations are relaxed. In fact, from a legal perspective, just the opposite is true."

According to Kopit, the responsibility to ensure legal safety at holiday parties falls under the purview of business owners. According to the survey, however, many businesses regularly fail to take necessary precautions. Just 16 percent of Americans surveyed say that policy and behavior expectations, including those involving sexual overtures among colleagues, have ever been distributed prior to any holiday office party they attended.

Moreover, only 12 percent have been at a holiday office party at which car keys were collected and returned only to sober drivers. Less than one in three (30 percent) have gone to a holiday office party at which taxi or designated driver service was provided to any employee who needed it.

"There's no reason a business shouldn't celebrate with its employees at the end of the year," said Kopit. "But anyone responsible for such an event should make sure the business, and those attending, are legally safe. Letting everyone attending explicitly know what behavior is prohibited - including that which is flirtatious or sexual - can help remove sexual harassment problems."

"Keeping employees from driving after drinking at the party reduces potential liability of the business, and helps ensure guests stay safe and healthy to enjoy the New Year," Kopit added. "If a business owner is in doubt about the proper procedures to put in place at their office party, he or she should discuss their options with an attorney."

Why donkey burger ends up tasting so bad

I just read a calm, devastating critique of the role and behavior of the Democratic Party, by a blogger named Chlamor. Especially as we are about to pick our leaders once again, I don't want to accept this argument, would like to ignore this blogger's points, but really, it's hard for me to refute. Seeing so much that I suspect and fear put so blatantly, reasonably, succinctly, non-hysterically -- is fairly chilling. The stinging Harlem Globetrotters comparison is particularly wicked.

Yet how can I be of two minds about this? One version of me is grimly convinced Chlamor is correct. Another version is somehow able to simply set that conviction aside when he wants to and follow politics like a normal person. As I've said before, I would caucus for Obama were I still in Iowa. I'm curious what others think about this piece.


Holiday Gift List

What books are y'all ordering for your loved ones this holiday season? In addition to those mentioned in this post, I will be buying Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, which I thought was quite well done. Anyone who worked in an office during the dot-com era will be particularly impressed, in my opinion. (Side note: wow, they're really pushing Kindle on the Amazon homepage, eh?)


The Continuing Amorous Adventures of Alcoa Ruskin, Headmaster

Princess BigLots Krispy Kreme and Alcoa Ruskin took the whoosh tube down to the Roomba's Closet, where the Miniaturized Library was kept behind a few cans of Tribble-B-Gone. The Roomba looked up at them in evident annoyance, then skittered away down the hall.

"What's gotten into that Roomba?" asked Alcoa.

Princess BigLots smiled a smile that seemed mysteriously mysterious. "Well, I was interested in trying out this 'sex' thing, and he does have a good sucker."

Alcoa blushed, deciding it was much more prudent not to ask what she was refering to. "So, here is the library, and now where is your box?"

"It's here," said Princess BigLots, aiming her Pocket Deminiaturizer.

Suddenly, a grizzled head poked into the closet. "Where's the Roomba?" It was Kilgore Trout, one of Tampax/MillerHighLife/WeightWatchers/Redbull/Stridex University's first students. In 25 years, he had neither graduated nor left the campus.

"What do you want, Trout?" asked Alcoa.

"I just was looking for the Roomba. I was working on my thesis and some Morlocks came up through the sewers again and just made a mess of things. What's with the box?"

"It's something Princess BigLots found."

"It has to do with sex!" exclaimed Princess BigLots. "I wonder if the Roomba will come back?"

"What's sex?" asked Trout, his fishy face fishily fissuring folicles from his forehead.

"We don't know -- that's why we're poking into this box," said Alcoa.

"It has your name on it."

"It is of a long-dead relation, I think."

Princess BigLots opened the lid. "I'm afraid to put my hand in it."

"Stop being so timid -- with boxes, it is sometimes easier to use your finger first and work up to your whole hand," said Trout. "You know, ease into things."

"Great Mobo, it smells like a Karfaluian Krepple Flume in here! There's journals, strange tubes, oils, sketches I can't begin to understand," said Princess BigLots, growing bolder and bolder as if she were a brave explorer diving down into the deepest black hole, the two men at her side gaping open-mouthed at the strange objects inside. "What do you think these plastic tubes are for?"

"They look like Space Worms," said Alcoa, waving a floppy purple one around his head. It had a top like a mushroom and a decidedly veiny appearance.

"I don't think they're food," said Trout, gnawing on the end of one. "But I do taste something -- bitter, oceany maybe. Maybe there from the Great Flood of 2050."

"No, they're older than that," said Alcoa, licking one experimentally. "They do taste weird though."

Princess BigLots took a yellow worm out of the box and wrapped her lips around it, blowing as hard as she could until her eyes bugged out and her cheeks broke into a sweaty sweat. "Well, they don't seem to be musical instruments."

Trout took out his key chain and flipped through the devices hanging from it until he found his electron microsope. He peered at the worms. "There's human DNA on these."

"Really?" asked Princess BigLots, running her tongue across her teeth. "I don't taste any."

Trout fumbled through his keychain again until he found his Little Tykes Clone and Cell Genome Growth Device. "I took this from John Carter, my nephew, who kept reanimating his grandmother through the cells he found on her doilies. I can't tell you how depressing it is when you have to kill your own mother for the 30th time. And she was tired of it, let me tell you. O.K. Stand back. Let's see what we can grow here."

Trout pointed the device. There was a bang. A flash. And then a smell of cordite and electrons. Suddenly, the closet was jammed with two more naked bodies, who appeared strange in every appearance. One was older, on the rotund size, with three legs, one shrunken shorter than the others, and great big bushy hairs growing out of his jowls. The other was a scrawny boy, with the same mishapen leg situation, who looked around with wide, frightened eyes. "Where are we?" he asked in a tremulous voice.

"I don't know, but I like it," said the older man, his middle leg raising up and forcing Princess BigLots against a stack of buckets and Anti-Matter Wipes.

"Are these false legs?" asked Princess BigLots, staring down at the impertinent beast that was jabbing her in the stomach.

"No, they are not. I, madam, am Allen Ruskin, and this young whelp next to me is my valet, Pip. While we are not in need of clothes just yet, I would like to know where we are."

"I think the operative question is 'when,'" said Trout, jumping backward into the closet door as the strange man's leg swung to face him.

"So, I'm to take it this is the future?" asked the man.

"It is."

"Hmm, in my time it was customary for hosts and guests to exchange physical pleasantries upon meeting."

"Like what?" asked Princess BigLots.

"Well," said Ruskin slapping his palms together, "Let me demonstrate. Who wants to go first?"

What trickery and laciviousness can Ruskin get up to in this new innocent era? Find out in our next exciting installment!


NaBloPoMo stats

Number of posts in November: 42
Number of non-Grendel posts: 31
Number of SER posts: 21
Number of comments: 103

Sinterklaas is coming to town

Santa Claus is just one incarnation of a complex, shape-shifting mythical figure whose origins are as hard to pin down as a bowlful of jelly: Odin, St. Nicholas (the Bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey), and a Siberian shaman on mushrooms, to name only three.

Other countries have their own Man in Red. Today is St. Nicholas Eve here in Holland, and tonight millions of children will put out their shoes in hopes that Sinterklaas will leave presents and a poem in them. Sinterklaas was a main ingredient of Santa, brought to U.S. shores by Dutch immigrants. He is such a good guy he rides a white horse. Dresses like a bishop, is the Patron Saint of Amsterdam.

In an eagerly anticipated event broadcast live every year -- my Dutch class tonight was canceled because of this -- Sinterklaas arrives in Amsterdam on a steamboat from Spain. Instead of elves, though, his "helpers" are a colorful group of bracingly un-P.C. characters in blackface, each of whom is called Zwarte Piet (Black Pete).

Zwarte Piet is basically Sinterklaas's Moorish slave who punishes bad kids by thrashing them with a birch scourge, leaving them rocks instead of treats, and even going so far as kidnapping the worst brats and hauling them back to Spain to labor in the workshop.

If you're good, Zwarte Piet is cool with you. He helps Sinterklaas bring the presents. In fact, he seems to be more popular than Sinterklaas. And at the moment he is everywhere and has been for weeks and weeks, despite the fact that he doesn't technically arrive until tonight. You can hardly go outside without being accosted by outlandishly clad white people prancing around in blackface. He is all over the streets, the shops, the malls, television, ads, and so on. Sure he's controversial, and they debate his propriety every year, but as a cultural meme he's way too firmly entrenched. Piet's not going anywhere.

Zwarte Piet, in turn, sadly enough, appears to be connected to a tradition that Saint Nicholas was assisted by a devil, whom the Saint had defeated and made his helper/slave. And if you go a little farther east, Jack Frost starts nipping at your nose with sharper teeth. In particular, the Austrian version of the devil who helps St. Nicholas makes Zwarte Piet look like a Teletubby. I give you ... the ... freaking ... Krampus. The Krampus roams the streets in the dead of night looking for victims to beat with his switch -- something that actually happened to traca de broon's father.

From the Wiki page: "...over 1200 'Krampus' gather from all over Austria wearing goat-hair costumes and carved masks, carrying bundles of sticks used as switches, and swinging cowbells to warn of their approach. They are typically young men in their teens and early twenties and are generally intoxicated. They roam the streets of this typically quiet town and hit people with their switches. It is not considered wise for young women to go out on this night, as they are popular targets."

Happy holidays!

Longish interview with/article on Philip Pullman

about his books, and now the movie, is here. A taste: "It's a foolish thing for the teller of a story to answer critics. If you're putting forward an argument, you can argue back and demonstrate why your argument is better than theirs. But if someone doesn't like a story you've written, what are you going to say? ‘Well, you should'?"


We can dream, can't we?

Today, NPR and Iowa Public Radio are co-hosting a debate in Des Moines among the Democratic candidates (2-4pm EST today!). T-bone was wondering why Ben Kieffer doesn't get to ask any questions, which then led her to wonder why J. Englander doesn't get to ask any questions.

How amazing would that be? I think we'd really get to see what the candidates were made of if they were forced to answer Englander-esque questions:

- You talked about corruption as an issue, was that autobiographical, so?
- You often mention the war on the campaign trail, was your father in the war, did you kill anyone, you must have killed someone, so?
- Healthcare factors into the economy and consumer confidence and healthiness, do you want to address that?

Add your own!


I love a good management-consulting joke

As you are probably aware, Mike Huckabee is in a statistical dead heat with Mitt Romney in Iowa. Romney had long been pumping money into Iowa and NH to ensure decisive victories that would, in turn, presumably create momentum to win the GOP nomination. And for a long time, Romney had a huge lead in Iowa, but that has recently been erased because of the sudden rise of Huckabee.

So, anyway, that's the background that makes the following pretty awesome. From the NYTimes's political blog:

A reporter asked Mr. Romney a pointed question about what he would say
as a management consultant if one enterprise “spent about $7 million and one
spent about $300,000 and they got the exact same results in market share.”
He was alluding to the approximate amounts Mr. Romney and Mr. Huckabee
have spent respectively in the state so far.

Mr. Romney bristled and said: “Sorry, I don’t have a particular comment on that.”

(Edited to add: I don't know why that block quote is showing up with such weird line breaks - it doesn't look that way on the preview. Blogger! Fist in the air!)