Sunday, June 22, 2014

[SATIRE] Credentials Can Now be Won or Forfeited through Debate

A drunk Department of Education official enacted new regulations late Saturday night, requiring anyone who loses an argument while appealing to their credentials to forfeit those credentials to their opponent.

Department of Education Undersecretary Melinda Waltz entitled the new rule, which was hastily scrawled onto the back of a TGI Fridays napkin, the “My Husband Dr. Carl Waltz is a Cheating Man Whore” rule, shortened Tuesday by the Washington Post to the Right of Amitto Nomen.

“I’m just sick and tired of him telling me that I’m ‘withholding’ and ‘emotionally withdrawn’ and ‘cheating with my job.’ He apparently thinks it’s his job to put his dick in a bunch of coeds. Maybe I don’t have a Ph.D in psychology, but to me, that’s why we have that goddamn word—‘cheating,’” said Dr. Waltz, who by law took possession of her husband’s Ph.D early Sunday morning.

The rule was disorienting at first and caused considerable blow-back from doctors, lawyers, professors, scientists, and philosophers.

“This is simply unacceptable, and the latest instance of the toxic anti-intellectualism plaguing America,” said ex-Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman.

“Lol,” responded current Nobel-Prize winner SuckMyWingNutz17.

Documents for credential transfers flooded in to the Department of Education last week, with reports indicating several thousand college graduates have already lost their degrees. Those holding Bachelors in English or computer science were hardest hit.

However, up to two thirds of the applications filed against alleged “scientists” and “engineers” are null, owing to the fact that real scientists and engineers have better things to do than get into internet arguments.

Universities around the country moved quickly to protect their alumni. What remained of their philosophy departments worked rapidly to assemble tip-sheets on how to avoid appeals to authority and disseminated them widely through social media.

Congress called an emergency session early Monday to pass a law that shielded political offices from the new rules, but not before ex-Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy lost his seat on the nation’s highest court to cab driver Estevan Loor.

“So, he says to me, ‘I’m a Supreme Court justice, I think I know the best way across town this time of day,’” said Loor. “I tried to warn him.”

Loor was sworn in Wednesday morning and, at the age of 43, will likely remain the swing vote on the Court for some time.

Rules for challenging people to public debate for their titles are still being formulated, but the process is being referred to by reporters as “Agni Kai.”

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Misfit Ensemble – On Why Agents of SHIELD Let Us Down [SPOILERS]

If you’re anything like me, you want to love Agents of SHIELD. You want it to sweep you off your feet like Captain Malcolm Reynolds in a scruffy, brown duster. And it’s true, the series picked up at the end of its season, but it doesn’t feel like dating Firefly. It feels like dating Firefly’s less interesting cousin, who keeps insisting she’s fascinating because she kayaks and because Fitz and Simmons kissed.

Quick question: what are your top five favorite lines from Agents of SHIELD? Can you even remember five? How about compared to a show that’s really good, like Firefly? Or Community?

I thought so.

Most of us don’t love Agents of SHIELD or hate it. It’s just there, like that friend from high school who filled a chair next to us at lunch. I think his name was Keith.

All I’ve done is demonstrated that Agents of SHIELD is mediocre television. And that’s all I care to do, because at the end of the day, I like to like things. The show’s not bad, but it disappoints us because we all felt it could be more. Why? Part of it is that it’s Marvel and I would like to bear Stan Lee’s children, but the bigger part is that it has Joss Whedon’s name attached to it, and that name has a Pavlovian impact on the nerd brain.

Whedon is good at a very particular type of fiction, and that’s the misfit ensemble. And Agents of SHIELD has failed to do the core thing you need to in any misfit ensemble: characterization, and more explicitly, characterization that leads to conflict and fluid relationships among the protagonists.

Put simply: they don’t fight enough.

Not a fake fight, like when the one guy is secretly a Nazi for specious reasons that we all agree are ridiculous. The sort of fight you have with your coworkers about immigration, income taxes, or whether it’s okay to masturbate in the restroom stalls (yes, but don’t take up the handicapped stall, that’s for emergencies).

Agents of SHIELD disappoints us by spoiling the formula, and it lies to us, because the misfit ensemble has Important Things to Say to us in a pluralist society. Let’s take these two problems in order.


Let me remind you of one of the greatest sequences in television history. Episode 4 of Firefly, “Shindig,” features Captain Malcolm Reynolds and Kaylee—a pair of coarse spacers—at a fancy planetary party. It’s a fantastic fish-out-of-water moment, which we only get because Mal and Kaylee have relatively immutable characters. Their personalities, their dysfunctions, they drive the humor and the tension.

Agents of SHIELD operates on a reverse principle. The characters do not drive the plot and conflict, the plot and conflict drive the characters.

Agent Ward is introduced as a “loner” and Skye as a “rebel.” These are great archetypes, but we soon discover that Ward is only a loner because he is aces good at hitting people and sometimes hitting the room with the people he is hitting (plus, as a Nazi ploy, I guess); Skye because blah-blah-blah secret documents and parents. Underwhelming stuff, and they both toss those archetypes out the window after a few episodes. Those aspects of their personalities are treated as a disease for Agent Coulson to heal, not as a dysfunction for him to manage, and for the audience to enjoy.

The story is reduced to forcing our misfits to change in order to fit into the group, when a misfit ensemble is usually about learning to get along in spite of our differences, or even about leveraging our dysfunctions for the weird strength they bring (see: every underdog sports movie ever, which might be where the misfit ensemble was born).

The characters are weak in Agents of SHIELD precisely because they won’t cling to their dysfunctions when they are inconvenient. Skye isn’t a misfit, she’s just an awkward fit. Compare her to a staunch, well-rendered television rebel—Britta Perry, from Community—and it’s obvious how much less character drives the story in Agents of SHIELD. The reason Ward isn’t a loner after episode three is that he’s not selfish, like Jayne or Jeff Winger.

As a writer, you need dysfunction in your characters, you need immutable values and interests that don’t quite line up with those of others. That’s how you get insubordination, fluid alliances, back-biting, friendly teasing, unfriendly teasing, sexual tension, meaningful sacrifice, and those strange moments when the character you usually hate becomes the character you adore.

We might hate Jayne Cobb for how he treats River, how he betrays the Tams, but on Unification Day when those Alliance pricks start (“start” being loosely defined as a term) a bar fight, we want Jayne at our side. That’s the power of the misfit ensemble, and that’s what Agents of SHIELD is sorely lacking.

Instead of a cast who have diverse values and interests, Agents of SHIELD gives us characters with diverse accents.


At its heart, Agents of SHIELD is less interesting because it tells us a lie that Americans don’t usually believe: that you’re with us or against us. That your dysfunctions have to be erased in order to participate in the world. But most of us feel—deeply—our own dysfunctions and differences, the places where our broken edges don’t line up with everyone else’s. We all feel like misfits, and misfit ensembles teach us that we’re allowed to be weird, that we’re allowed to disagree, that if we can do the job, our colleagues will tolerate us.

When your team looks like a diversity poster, but everyone gets along, that’s shallow. Jonah Goldberg – a conservative columnist – made famous the gripe that Clinton hired a rainbow coalition to his cabinet, but they were almost all liberal lawyers from the same top schools. In other words, Clinton had a lot of diversity but not much pluralism. It was supposed to be a big deal, for instance, when Obama tried to nominate some Republicans.

Pluralism, here, is defined as “kind of like diversity, except with lots of screaming.” You know, the interesting kind. People have disparate views and values, so they clash.

In the series, there aren’t any real assholes or rogues who we’re meant to like. Ward goes Full-Blown Nazi, and this is increasingly how our politics work. Those who aren’t with us are … Nazis. But that’s not the real world. The real world is full of rogues, rivals, misinformed saints, and self-interested sinners who just so happen to be on our team. They have no Pierce Hawthorne, and if they did, they’d spend three episodes fixing him with Coulson acting like a superhuman HR guy (“if we just did enough trust falls, surely Pierce would stop being so racist…”).

This cleaned-up version of reality where everyone holds hands and sings is a problem, because it teaches us to expect people to agree with us eventually. Otherwise, they must not have been good guys. But misfit ensembles teach us the reverse—how to get along with (and sometimes like) useful assholes. How maybe sometimes, we’re the assholes.

A journalist colleague of mine was notoriously flaky if he was your backup on a long-term feature, never producing on time. He never ran a comb through his hair, something alive in the heap on his desk may have been stealing my lunch, and he was tackled by the Secret Service (“When they say stand inside the ropes, they really do mean it”). He used to take photos of congressmen at the exact moment they looked down at my crotch, then blow them up and tape them to my computer monitor. But he was a hell of a Gonzo journalist and had the best prose on staff. He had a bulletproof vest on the back of his chair, because he would beat the cops to a shots-fired call, and the DA was afraid he’d get killed. I hated that guy.

But I wish they’d hire him on the cast of Agents of SHIELD.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

[SATIRE] Secret Service counter-offer to crowd-funded assassination: "We shoot for free"

In response to a new, anarchist-driven “dark web” site that offers bounties on the heads of various government officials ranging from President Barack Obama to Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, the Secret Service released a statement Friday offering to shoot any would-be assassins in the head “totally for free.”

“We believe in the free market,” said Secret Service chief Julia Pierson, “and our services are being offered at a much leaner, competitive price. We offer to shoot would-be assassins in the head for no bounty at all. In fact, we kind of like it.”

Pierson said the Secret Service is also more reliable than competitors, assuring would-be killers a “bullet through the brainstem” at high velocity and surprising distances for only a modest government stipend already paid to all Secret Service employees.

“I mean, we already have them on the payroll standing around the president,” Pierson said, “In today’s competitive market you really do have to offer a full range of products. Shooting anarchist assassins through the face is just one of the many services we provide.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

[SATIRE] Major Retailers Let You Hunt Employees for Sport, Set Deadly Snares This Thanksgiving

In the arms race of holiday shopping, several major retailers will permit you to hunt their employees for sport and discounts this Thanksgiving Day.

Realizing well-off people who have never had family or friends in retail just don’t give a damn about who has to work on Thanksgiving, the retailers decided, why not? Just hunt them for sport this year.

“We’re already open 24-hours on Thanksgiving Day,” said Mike Duke, Wal-Mart’s CEO, “so we have to offer something competitive to get our dick head customers to choose us over K-Mart. We’re offering an additional 15 percent discount to anyone who can bag at least 150 pounds of Wal-Mart employee in the first four hours.”

Asked whether he thought that letting people hunt his employees for sport was bad for public relations, Duke said, “Yeah, we really don’t think anyone will care. We’re not sure society even recognizes our employees as fully human.”

Other major retailers are mimicking the bold move and employees of Sears were asked to bring in their children to bolster the store’s perishables, although children will offer lower discounts since they are slower and not very clever.

In a push back against economic pressures to open their stores on Thanksgiving Day, an unknown number of major retailers will transform one or more of their bricks and mortar locations into human death traps to deter shoppers from all stores equally.

One store, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed they have transformed 21 locations into a more humane safe-release trap made from plexiglass. Their employees will then drive to the residences of the shoppers trapped therein and eat all of their Thanksgiving leftovers while leaving the shoppers locked in the store all night, hungry and separated from their families.

Added the anonymous store owner, “Holy shit, we really don’t want to be open on Thanksgiving – I know you guys don’t believe us, but we’d really rather not. It’s just that we’re worried all those middle-class, aggressive shoppers will go to some other retailer first. I don’t say this often, but could, like, the government pass a law or something? This is getting ridiculous.”

Other retailers, including Costco, Apple, Home Depot, and Nordstrom, simply won’t be opening this Thanksgiving. Costco CEO W. Craig Jelinek said, “All the cool people shop here anyway, and none of the cool people will be out on Thanksgiving.”

Also, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island will not let any major retailers open on Thanksgiving because they were founded by Puritans and apparently our society is so far gone that the Puritans are starting to make sense again.

Edited Dec. 1, 2013 to note that the story is satire. In case you could not tell.

Monday, November 25, 2013

[SATIRE] GOP Plan: Escape Big Government through Space Launch of Firstborn

Republicans on Thursday unveiled their fix to Obamacare, a plan to launch their offspring into outer space. The party hopes their children will carry their ideas to another, distant planet more inclined to laissez-faire economics.

The $1.2 trillion effort would see the firstborn of every Republican loaded onto a rocket and fired across the solar system with only a swaddling cloth and their choice of a selected work of Ayn Rand to keep them company across the vast emptiness of the interstellar abyss.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, who has called Obamacare “a devouring flame” and has twice warned the Obama administration that the planet’s fate has been sealed, hailed the plan.

“With the disastrous rollout of the website, the cancellation of individual policies, and the flawed economics of this law, it is clear that there will be no escape from a fiery chain reaction that will consume our world,” said Boehner, before holding his wife in a final embrace.

Asked whether the Republicans could attempt more modest fixes to the law, Boehner laughed without interruption for three minutes and then declared the tides of the apocalypse unstoppable. “We warned you,” added Majority Leader Eric Cantor while tucking his child into a rocket. “We warned you all and you didn’t listen!”

The newly-unveiled space program is slated to roll out across a period of four weeks, but rocket production has already been delayed by miscommunications between NASA and numerous defense contractors.

Edited Dec. 1, 2013 to note that the story is satire. In case you could not tell.