fiction, personal, ruminations

On Slaying Dragons

Green dragon For a while, I was obsessed with the idea of slaying dragons. Perhaps it started when I read Tolkien’s immortal tale of The Hobbit, but it didn’t end there. Whenever low clouds would obscure the tops of the nearby foothills, I’d dream about venturing up there to slay the dragon that surely existed within the fog, in some hard-to-find cave.

But I never did it. I’d do what I needed to do that day in town. I’d work, I’d shop, I’d eat, I’d sleep. By the time I did these things, the dragon seemed an impossible chore.

I wondered if I’d really have my fight-to-the-death with a 30 meter long dragon. A dragon who was mostly green, could obviously fly, and had a small but valuable collection of precious metals and gems. Money is not something dragons care about.

Why I didn’t go off to fight my dragon was always a vexing question for me. After all, he was always there when the clouds came low. I could find him if I but looked.

Perhaps I was rightly afraid that I would lose. That he would overpower me. After all, all I had was a sword; he could breathe fire and fly. And I’d certainly been in better shape at other times in my life.

Perhaps I was sure that he wasn’t really worth fighting. After all, I’d heard no recent reports that my dragon had been doing any great damage. He seemed to have grown somewhat complacent in his old age, or perhaps he was merely becoming soft.

Then, one day, I came upon a bronze placard. It had these words by the famous Brian Andreas:

Anyone can slay a dragon, he told me, but try waking up every morning & loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.

At first, I thought that Mr. Andreas what quite a joker. What could be more important than slaying an immortal beast? Then bringing back his treasure and sharing it with the people, now safe from his tyranny.

With time, Mr. Andreas’s words would come to my mind again and again. It didn’t seem like this man could have meant it as a joke. I began to think more and more of all that was good in the world. Less and less about my dragon. He wasn’t terrorizing the villagers after all.

Today, my dragon and I are old friends who’ve never met. I don’t worry about him much, and I’m glad of that. I’m happy to know that he’s there when I need him. But mostly, I’m happy just to be alive. Harrowing stories of great victories cannot make a man happier if he isn’t glad for all he has. Mr. Andreas taught me that.

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Dispatches, fiction

Dispatches: Coalition Against Animal Racism

This week, our intrepid reporter Steve Finch brings us news of a rather novel animal rights group. Steve asked that we file this story in the “wouldn’t it be interesting if…” category.

PENSACOLA, FL — The Coalition Against Animal Racism (CAAR, pronounced “care”) held their first public meeting today. The group was formed earlier this year when Donna DeMarco couldn’t get attention for her concerns from established groups like the Humane Societies or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Ms. DeMarco’s primary concern is that questions about an animal’s breed, especially in dogs, are essentially the same thing as racism in humans. As she explained, “Dog breeds and human races are effectively the same thing. They’re not like species, and if we truly want to live in a colorblind society we must include our pets as well.”
Fluffy (CAAR)

From her explanation, it appears that Ms. DeMarco formed the group after growing tired of hearing question about her dog’s breeding. “Fluffy, that’s my dog (pictured at right), doesn’t know her heritage and neither do I. And for people to keep asking about it is both insulting and demeaning.”

CAAR’s campaign has found both fans and detractors. The group’s nearly 200 members are a testament to the cause’s ability to attract supporters.

Interestingly, CAAR’s own figures show that the vast majority of members are owners of mixed-breed dogs, though there are also a few owners of mixed-breed cats. There appears to have been no interest in this cause from kennel clubs and dog breeders.

Ms. DeMarco elaborated on this fact, saying, “We’ve approached those who take pride in purity of a dog’s breeding, but they’ve all turned down our offer of membership. And though I really hate to say this, they appear like the white supremacists or Nazis before them. They’re holding to an old concept of race that isn’t fair.”

When reached for comment, the American Kennel Club said that they were aware of CAAR’s campaign, but felt that Ms. DeMarco’s claims were completely without merit. “After all,” their spokesman said, “we’re not disenfranchising or specifically harming mutts. They’re still able to find good homes.”

Despite the Kennel Club’s claim that CAAR’s mission is irrelevant and unneeded, Ms. DeMarco promises to press on, continuing to pressure animal sellers and the populous to remember that a dog’s breed is none of their business.

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american society, Dispatches, fiction

Celebrity Culture is Pure Subterfuge

Our intrepid reporter Steve Finch bring us a story to be filed under “conspiracy theories you only wish were true.”

HOLLYWOOD – It was announced today by a conglomerate of media moguls, industry fat-cats, and corrupt politicians that for the last hundred years they have been developing and refining America’s celebrity culture. From humble beginnings, around the time of the advent of motion pictures, they gave the public a feast of useless information about a class of people that deserves less attention than it gets.

This admission came after this determined reporter came too close to the truth; the group decided it was in their best interest to admit their work upfront rather than have it exposed and potentially vilified.

When asked why they had created the celebrity press and it’s blood-thirsty followers, they admitted that it was intended as a device to hide important issues from the general public, like effective governance, ethical business practices, and the creation of a just society.

They also claimed that they were impressed by the program’s effectiveness. Said one, “we had no idea people would be so willing to buy the junk we set out to sell them.”

They were also particularly satisfied with the new air of respectability that had come to the field in recent times. “We had no idea we’d get big enough that the dirt we churn out would be thought of as genuine news. Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton really took us up a notch in the eyes of opinion makers. I don’t understand why.”

They further argued that they had done no harm that the people weren’t willing to inflict upon themselves. As their chief spokesman said “after all, you’re the idiots who ate the stuff up, we just gave it to you.” On that point, this reporter can’t help but agree. Too many worthy publications have come and gone because people were more concerned about Madonna and Paris Hilton.

When asked if they would abandon the machine that has wrecked lives and marriages, and killed more than a few, the group gave no explicit comment. They later iterated that they had some confidence that by now, the machine would sustain itself almost indefinitely if people didn’t make a concerted effort to dedicate themselves to more important news.

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fiction, politics, world

‘China executes ex-food and drug chief’

Zheng Xiaoyu was killed today for accepting bribes to certify fraudulent and dangerous drugs while head of China’s State Food and Drug Administration. The Chinese government hopes that this execution will showcase their commitment to food safety.

A fuller version of this story can be found here. But I found this story so interesting, and odd, that I gave it some thought. It struck me that there are two rather disparate possible realities on this issue, neither of which is likely the exact truth. Neither of these versions are completely factual, but both are possible ways to read the reported facts.

These two different versions of the story follow, retold in short form with help of the original article (which has since changed a bit). My fictional addition to the article are italicized, I didn’t track what I cut out of it.

Zheng Xiaoyu responsible for at least a dozen death’s, state takes necessary action

BEIJING – China executed the former head of its food and drug watchdog on Tuesday for approving untested medicine in exchange for cash. During Zheng Xiaoyu’s tenure from 1998 to 2005, the State Food and Drug Administration approved six medicines that turned out to be fake. One such antibiotic, approved by Zheng, caused the deaths of at least 10 people.

“The few corrupt officials of the SFDA are the shame of the whole system and their scandals have revealed some very serious problem at the head of the old SFDA,” agency spokeswoman Yan Jiangying said at a news conference held to highlight efforts to improve China’s fight against its few corrupt officials.

Yan was asked to comment on Zheng’s sentence and that of his subordinate, Cao Wenzhuang, a former director of SFDA’s drug registration department who was last week sentenced to death for accepting bribes and dereliction of duty.

Yan told reporters that the men had failed to do their civic duties as SFDA heads, and hence have deserved the punishments to which they had been sentenced.

Zheng, 63, was convicted of taking cash and gifts worth $832,000 when he was in charge of the State Food and Drug Administration.

Last year, dozens of people died in Panama after taking medicine contaminated with diethylene glycol imported from China. It was passed off as harmless glycerin, showing Zheng’s failing as SFDA head.

Scandals over contaminated Chinese food exports have underscored isolated problems with adulterated ingredients and fake products in the domestic supply, raising questions of how well China could have guaranteed the purity of food for the Olympics without this execution.

The other story is behind the break. Continue reading

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fiction

iPhones, etc.

“Hello,” I say to the 21 year old stranger waiting in line.

“Hello,” says the stranger.

“What’s the game?” I ask.

“To make manifest the insane desires of materialism run amuck,” he says.

“You don’t want the phone?” I ask.

“No,” he says, “this is a protest.”

“Oh really?” I ask.

“Indeed,” he says.

“Can I have the phone?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says, asking 1000 dollars.

“That’s preposterous,” I say.

“That’s the game,” he says.

“Wasn’t it a protest?” I ask.

“You’re a protest,” says the 21 year old idealist.

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Dispatches, fiction

Dispatches from the Field: The Lost City

Dispatches is our ongoing series from our intrepid traveling reporter Steve Finch. This week, Steve comes face to face with… well, we’ll let him explain.

A large team of historians, geographers, archaeologists, seismologists, cosmologists, astrologers, zoologists, and I believe a cardiologist as well, recently announced a truly startling discovery.

That discovery, made by the team’s interim committee on impossibilities, was that they had discovered the location of the lost city of Atlantis.

They made another announcement as well. Care of the select committee on efficiency, it was announced that they would have made this discovery years ago if they hadn’t been such a large team. Because, they announced, when you have a group as large as this, you have to form committees. And, they said, quoting Jon Corlan, “committees suck.”

As to the discovery of the lost city, they announced that contrary to the conventional wisdom used by 2000 years of seekers, Plato’s directions to the city were not actually incorrect, just remarkably poor.

This came as no surprise to our reporter, who discovered Plato’s poor sense of space when he unnecessarily visited Greenland while following the ancient philosopher’s directions to a cocktail party in his hometown of Aegina.

So, this reporter wanted to know, how badly did Plato misdirect this time?

After a two hour recess for a meeting of the committee to explain profound truths to laymen, the scientist returned to explain.

As Dr. Ulrich told it:

From Athens, Atlantis is indeed beyond the gates of Hercules, just as Plato described. But, he left off the rest of the directions. To reach Atlantis you must leave Athens in the direction of the gates. But once you pass through the gate, you must immediately turn right 360 degrees. Then you must walk back exactly as far as you have come.

“But wouldn’t that bring you back to Athens?” this reporter queried.

After some consideration in the subcommittee on cardinal directions the reply came.

“Yes, indeed, it would.”

The scientists immediately reconvened the committee of the whole to discuss the possible problems of their organizational structure. Four hours later, no markable progress had been made.

Until next time, this is Steve Finch signing off.

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big ideas, fiction

Fiction: Conversations I Don’t Have with my Dog

Lucky (that’s his name) stands there staring at me.

“What?” I ask. “I just fed you.”

He keeps staring at me. Not blinking (do dogs blink?) not looking away.

Again, “What?” Nothing. “You’re thinking about something. Wait, let me guess. You’re wondering about the purpose of existence. Whether there’s a reason we’re here. You’re thinking that maybe there is a purpose. Maybe God created us. That maybe this is an immense test of our wills and our hearts. And that how we perform determines how God will treat us when we go back to him.”

He hasn’t moved a hair.

“Or maybe you’re thinking that we’re here for no reason. That we’re just the result of millions of years of genetic variation. We’re the best of all there ever was. We were the fittest and so we’re still here. We’re better than the dinosaurs, after all.”

He looks down at the floor.

“You would think that, you Godless heathen.”

He whines softly.

“You’re not as hopeless as that?”

He looks up again.

“You think we should make the most of this. Whatever it is. That we should improve ourselves. Help others. Improve the condition of our fellow man to the greatest extent we can. And when we can’t, we should at least strive to do them no harm.”

He gives a little yip.

“Yeah,” I say, “me too.”

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Dispatches, fiction

Dispatches from the Field: Land Speed Record

Dispatches from the Field is our ongoing series of reports from our intrepid traveling reporter Steve Finch. This week, some insight on the most famously reclusive animals on the planet.

In the history of the world, there has only been one land mammal faster than the cheetah. What creature is so incredibly fast and nonchalant that it hasn’t made it’s amazing speed well known?

Unicorns have long scoffed at the frequent boasting of cheetahs and their adoring human fans. Papa Unicorn, who became their leader after the death of the great mother, made his disdain for cheetahs clear to this reporter by stating that their official comment on the situation was “no comment.” For these proud animals, that can only mean that they feel themselves above the cheetahs and the need to comment on such a story.

One unicorn, however, was both more forward and less dignified than Papa Unicorn, proudly boasting of his personal speed. Black Sheep, so-named because he is largely disliked and distrusted by the others, offered to give this reporter a ride. He promised that he would easily double the cheetah’s highest recorded speed of 70 miles an hour.

This reporter, having heard all too frequently from the group of Black Sheep’s questionable reputation, kindly declined. Black Sheep than galloped away, at a rate this reporter can only call “fast,” to display his disgust.

This reporter would clarify that Black Sheep’s attitude at this slight was uncommon. Though the unicorns are uniformly proud animals, they are also very polite. This reporter, for one, has never felt more slovenly than when in the presence of these noble and magical creatures.

Perhaps John the Unicorn said it best. When this reported pressed him about the speed record, he said only that the cheetahs could continue their boasting. The unicorns, for their part, will continue to avoid record of their speed because, he said, “We don’t go in for that type of thing.”

Until next time, this is Steve Finch signing off.

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