News Flash: Count of Monte Cristo Hospitalized; Sandwich Blamed

July 18, 2017

Marseilles, France–Sources close to the household of the Count of Monte Cristo report that the Count was taken to the Marseilles hospital late last night with symptoms resembling either severe gastric distress or a heart attack.

The Count, whose opulent lifestyle caused a splash in Paris society six years ago, recently returned to his native Marseilles for an extended visit following a world tour, ostensibly to pursue his researches into haute cuisine, specifically the croque-monsieur sandwich.

Authorities are exploring the possibility that the Count’s research into the sandwich, a deep-fried ham-and-cheese sandwich with jam and powdered sugar, may have been the cause of this week’s hospital visit.  The Count is said to have been on a regular diet of the confection since before his return to France.

“The Count once spoke of having fulfilled his lifelong mission when he left Paris six years ago,” said Dr. Avrigny (retired), a friend of the Morrel family, who are said to be close associates of the Count.  “It’s not unusual that a person in such conditions would experience a bit of ennui before finding a new interest in life.  And while culinary pursuits can certainly be worthwhile, we seem to have reached the point of obsession–consuming three of these sandwiches a day seems excessive.”

Rumors of the Count’s illness elicited a variety of responses.

Health Minister Lucien Dubray issued a statement warning against over-indulgence in rich foods.  “It’s all very well to try to achieve the perfect croque-monsieur,” the statement said, “but one should try to ensure that Monsieur doesn’t croak in the process.”

“To me a heart attack seems unlikely,” said Mme. Danglars, a nurse at the Marseilles hospital and the former wife of one of the Count’s business associates. “You have to have a heart first.  Still, it’s hardly a surprise that he’s in ill health; when you eat that kind of food, it’s bound to wreak some kind of vengeance; it’s just a question of when.  It would serve him right if he died of it and ended up getting the sandwich named after him.”

Neither the hospital nor the Countess of Monte Cristo has released an official statement on the Count’s prognosis.

Copyright 2017

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The Time-Value of Tom Bombadil

March 15, 2017

Of all the second-tier characters in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy–and there are many–few perhaps raise as much discussion or garner as much criticism as Tom Bombadil, the mysterious figure whom the hobbits encounter in their first adventures outside the Shire.  Here is a short synopsis of his role in the book, hopefully without too many spoilers:

  • The hobbits leave the Shire and get into trouble.
  • Tom Bombadil bails them out.
  • The hobbits leave Tom Bombadil and get into trouble.
  • Tom Bombadil bails them out and escorts them to the next town.

Bombadil then disappears entirely from the story, having dragged the reader through two and a half chapters punctuated by childish poetry and nonsense words, in which nothing particularly momentous happens and the menace of the Black Riders is completely absent.  At least that’s the criticism.

Some might even go so far as to refer to Bombadil as the Jar Jar Binks of Middle-Earth:  annoying, hard to understand, and mostly pointless (though at least no one would label Bombadil as incompetent).

It is true that there are faster-moving portions of the story, and indeed for those very sensitive to time this episode may seem like a needless extravagance:  witness that the incidents are completely glossed over in the 1981 radio series, as well as the Peter Jackson movies.  (Interestingly, Bombadil was included in the now-lost 1955-6 radio series; but as that production was thoroughly panned by no less a critic than Prof. Tolkien himself, perhaps among producers Bombadil suffers from guilt by association.)  But to say that Bombadil contributes nothing positive to the story is unfair.  At any rate, one could make the argument that, if the Bombadil segment is redundant, so too is the interlude in Lothlorien… in which, again, nothing happens (nothing action-y, anyway) and the inhabitants don’t appear again until after the climax.

At the highest level, of course, one could suggest that the entire epic is unnecessary.  Countless lives were lived before the publication of The Lord of the Rings, and countless lives continue to be lived with little or no exposure to the books, or even the movies.  So perhaps necessity isn’t the best measure to use in this debate.

So what does the Bombadil section contribute to the story?

Even from the narrative perspective, there are contributions.  First, Bombadil fills the narrative space between the Shire and Bree.  While in the Peter Jackson movies it is apparently possible to make the trip from the Shire to Bree is a single evening marathon, the distance in the book is a little longer.  Gandalf is absent and they have yet to meet Strider, so Bombadil acts as a sort of temporary chaperone through the hobbits’ first foray into the wild.  Not wholly unrelated to that point, the adventure allows the hobbits to grow.  There is a distinct difference between the blind panic in their first Bombadil-bailout compared to Frodo’s more hands-on role (so to speak) in the Barrow-wight adventure.  He still needs rescuing, but at least he’s able to grapple with the problem and hold the fort until help arrives.  The hobbits’ growth is perhaps symbolized by the fact that, when they leave Bombadil, they are for the first time armed.  Third, the pause in the action allows time for introspection and a bit of foreshadowing (another similarity to the Lothlorien visit).

But perhaps the most significant contribution–and maybe the one that Bombadil’s critics fail to see as a contribution–is to what we might call “local color.”  Bombadil gives us a look at the sorts of characters that inhabit Tolkien’s world.  True, we’ve already met hobbits, elves, and a wizard; and other creatures are hinted at (did you notice the (presumed) Ent in the Shire in chapter 2 of Book I?).  But here’s a couple of people who are completely different.  In fact Bombadil is never completely explained, even by his (also-enigmatic) spouse Goldberry.  (Readers of The Silmarillion may reasonably peg them as Maiar, but that’s never explicitly stated).  We do learn that Bombadil is a great storyteller; unfortunately we aren’t given the stories themselves, which is a shame:  new material concerning what’s hinted at in the book might do better in the shops than trotting out the The Silmarillion’s grimmer bits in new packaging.

To be fair, I’m not a great fan of Tom Bombadil.  There are other characters who contribute more to the story, but it seems unfair to make him out as pure dead-weight.  After all, if nutrition were the only measure by which we judged our food supply, there are a lot of people in the spice-and-flavorings industry who might suddenly find themselves out of work.

News Flash: Hacker Killed by Self-Driving Car

December 28, 2016

La Satira News Service

Police in Manhattan have identified the victim of an accident involving a self-driving car as Lars Gynt, 34, of Oslo, Norway.  Mr. Gynt, a computer systems integration consultant, was attempting to cross a street outside a crosswalk when he was struck by the vehicle, which apparently failed to register the presence of a pedestrian.

The human occupant of the vehicle, Nadia Driver of Lower Muttering, Vt., was not injured.  Ms. Driver reported that Mr. Gynt had stepped out in front of the car without looking.  The car, an electric-powered model, would have been inaudible in the busy street.

Some witnesses have suggested that the car, rather than braking, accelerated slightly as it hurtled toward Mr. Gynt.

The company responsible for developing the car, GGM, has declined to comment pending an investigation into the car’s control software, sensors, and telemetry.

The accident highlights continued concerns over the safety and reliability of self-driving cars in the chaotic road environment.  While proponents continue to point out the advantages of computer drivers–faster reaction time, the ability to “see” in multiple directions simultaneously–skeptics often counter with doubts about the computer’s ability to distinguish what it sees or make moral judgments about how to react, as well as the potential for the computer to fall under the malicious control of computer hackers.

In an ironic twist, the hacker category is one that includes Mr. Gynt himself.  Records indicate Mr. Gynt, operating under the handle 1G0Tch@10101010, had worked with a number of hacker organizations over the past decade.  He was also under investigation by the FBI for his suspected involvement in a previous cyber-attack on control systems developed by GGM.

Rumors that the police are considering the case as one of justifiable homicide by the computer on grounds of self-defense have been flatly denied by police spokespersons.

Copyright 2016

Nutcrackers vs Elf on the Shelf

December 24, 2016

 

Merry Christmas from Punnery Productions and La Satira News Service!

News Flash: Aegean Maritime Board to Reverse Course, Allow Sirens

December 15, 2016

ITHACA–In a startling change of course, the Aegean Maritime Safety Board has voted not to pursue efforts to close down operations on the Island of the Sirens.

The island had been under investigation in the course of a larger study of potential hazards to navigation conducted by Odysseus Transport, Inc., along with other features such as the whirlpool Charybdis and Cyclops Island.  Previous studies had highlighted the Sirens as an attractive nuisance, potentially luring sailors to the island and causing them to wreck on the shallow reefs in the area.

“The island has produced a startling number of shipwrecks over the years,” said Lyabilites, the chief author of the report.  “However, we have demonstrated that the idea of the Sirens drawing all sailors to their doom is pure myth.

“Our research shows that the Sirens are only attractive to accident and personal injury attorneys.  Everyone else seems to find the Sirens to have a repelling effect; thus, they instinctively avoid the reefs and stay out of trouble.”

The report goes on to suggest that, while accident and personal injury attorneys play an important role in society, the Sirens provide a net service by weeding out the more aggressive and annoying ones.

The Board’s decision goes against the recommendations of the Aegean Association of Accident Attorneys (AAAA), who have threatened to sue the Board for negligence if the Sirens are permitted to continue operating.

In other action, the Board endorsed a recommendation to establish a coffee plantation on the Island of the Lotus-Eaters and approved the establishment of a meteorological forecasting office on the floating island of Aeolia.

Copyright 2016

 

 

News Flash: Mickey Mouse Elected As US President

October 2, 2016

La Satira News Service

NOVEMBER 8, 2016–Come January, Michael K. “Mickey” Mouse (pronounced “MOWZ”) will have a new job:  President of the United States of America.

It’s not a job he campaigned or even asked for.  Instead, the 53-year-old plumber from Punxsutawney Springs rode a tidal wave of political discontent and name recognition to rise to the highest office in the land, winning on the strength of millions of voters who, dissatisfied with the choices offered by the major parties, chose to write in the name of Disney’s famous cartoon creation…a name which Mr. Mouse happens to share.

While Mr. Mouse is not the only real person to have a such a name, he is the only one whose practical-joking friends went so far as to submit paperwork at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to make him a bona fide candidate and therefore eligible to receive credit for any write-in votes with his name on them.

“Any big election will have a few ‘Mickey Mouse’ ballots cast by snarky voters,” said Dr. Adam Jefferson of the University of Punxsutawney’s College of Political Science and Herpetology.  “It’s just that this time around, there were so many people fed up with the major candidates–and, for once, there was a candidate legally qualified to receive these particular votes.  In terms of the sheer improbability of his manner of arriving at the Presidency, John Tyler and Gerald Ford have nothing on this guy.”

If Mr. Mouse himself is pleased by the prospect of his new career, he is so far being modest about it.

“What do I know about politics?” he wailed upon being informed of his successful candidacy.  “I’m a plumber, for crying out loud.”

So far, Mr. Mouse has been assigned a Secret Service detail.  He has also been deluged with phone calls and e-mail from well-wishers and others in search of one of the hundreds of diplomatic assignments or other political jobs at his disposal.  Almost lost in the shuffle have been several bitter tirades from a few minor party candidates and a series of increasingly desperate call-me-back messages from White House staffers trying to set up situation briefings.

Mr. Mouse’s friends, who filed the initial paperwork on his behalf, were not available for comment, having fled to Canada for reasons of personal safety.

Public opinion about Mr. Mouse’s sudden election has been decidedly mixed.  Some members of the public express nervousness about his lack of political experience and potentially insular worldview.  Others have expressed enthusiasm for Mr. Mouse based on those same attributes, some adding that his background as a plumber may make him uniquely qualified to drain the cesspool of Washington corruption.

Meanwhile, political analysts and governments around the world are combing through Mr. Mouse’s statements and other records, searching for clues about the direction his presidency is likely to take.  The best guess at this point is that Mr. Mouse will push to lower middle-class taxes while increasing spending on urban infrastructure such as water and sewer lines.  While Mr. Mouse is a member of a local union–a virtual job requirement in Pennsylvania–he has not been a particularly active one, and his presidency is likely to hold to a middle ground on labor issues.  His widely-quoted statement on foreign policy (“How should I know?  Let them sort it out by themselves”)  suggests a trend toward isolationism.

Still, there may be a broad difference between his stated policy goals (if any) and the actual direction taken by his administration (if any).  “In a curious irony, Mr. Mouse in many respects is the ideal candidate for the voter who detests the political insider-ism of one candidate and the wealthy chauvinism of the other,” said the University of Punxsutawney’s Dr. Jefferson.  “However, when he gets in office, he may suffer from Ventura’s Syndrome:  being elected on his own, without a party to back him up and introduce his legislation, he may have a difficult job actually doing anything.”

The election, of course, is not official until the Electoral College meets and the electoral votes are counted in Congress, but a drastic change is unexpected, thanks to state laws requiring members of the electoral college to vote according to the results of the election.

However, the Electoral College does have one degree of freedom that it can exercise:  selecting a Vice President, since Mr. Mouse’s campaign–what there was of it–did not propose a candidate for that office.  Some pundits are said to be pushing for the job to be given to one Donald L. Duck, a media research specialist at the University of Pomme de Terre in Idaho, presumably on the basis that his background in the media will help give depth to Mr. Mouse’s policy team.

“I understand both parties are appealing to the FEC to try to get the results overturned,” said Dr. Washington.  “It’s a pity–if the parties had done a better job appealing to the electorate as a whole, rather than individual constituencies, maybe we wouldn’t be in this pickle.”

Copyright 2016

Thoughts from an Introvert

August 3, 2016

Criticism of the person who stops listening to the other person in order to formulate a response fails to account for the other people who won’t stop talking long enough for a thoughtful response to be formulated.

News Flash: Increase in Alien Abduction Reports Tied to Video Game Fad

July 24, 2016

Game May Be Prelude to Invasion, Officials Fear

La Satira News Service

Astatine, NV–Officials at the Center for the Avoidance of Extra-Terestrial Intelligence (CAETI) are mulling the possible connection between the most recent video-game craze and a significant uptick in the number of reported alien abductions.

“In the four or five weeks since this game was released, we’ve seen a thousand percent increase in the number of people coming forward,” said Dr. Elliot Spielberg, director of statistical analysis at CAETI.  “Granted, the original numbers were pretty low, so a thousand percent increase doesn’t mean we’re talking about huge numbers yet, but the trend is frankly alarming.”

According to Dr. Spielberg, the abduction reports cover a variety of experiences, ranging from a simple close encounter to vivisection.  The alleged victims are returned in generally good health, apart from a tendency toward short-temper, neglect of responsibilities, and obsession with the game.  “Of course it’s difficult to tell whether these symptoms are indicative of an actual abduction experience, or merely video game addiction,” Dr. Spielberg admitted.

The game in question, Pachymen Grow, requires players to use their smartphones to travel to different locations in the physical world in search of Pachymen, cartoon-like creatures that can be collected and “grown” to compete in so-called Pachymen Jams.  Some areas turn into Pachymen hot-spots, areas were large numbers of Pachymen “hang out” and can be collected by players.  The peripatetic nature of the game, while supposedly promoting exercise and social interaction, can also lead players to explore in relative isolation, leaving them vulnerable.

One hot-spot was reported at a former storage facility for Caterpillar heavy equipment.  The isolated location continues to be a hot-spot but has waned in popularity since reports surfaced of the temporary abduction of Pachyman players from the site on three occasions.  The affected players did not respond to requests for interviews.

Meanwhile, many are left wondering, if a connection does exist, whether the abductions might be a prelude to a more serious action.  “Whoever they are, they’re taking a lot of effort to train people to move in the direction of the nearest Pachymen activity,” says Dr. Spielberg.  “At some point, all they’ll need to do to harvest a sizeable portion of humanity is to set up massive hot-spots near major population centers and pick ’em off as they come.  And we’re still no nearer to knowing who or why.”

CAETI investigators will continue to monitor the situation.  The organization recently received a government grant to cover the costs of a number of smartphones which Dr. Spielberg claims will be used by staff for “field research” on the subject.

Copyright 2016

News Flash: Acting Troupe Banned from Retirement Home After ‘King Lear’ Fracas

May 9, 2016

La Satira News Service

Authorities tonight say they are considering whether they will file charges against several senior citizens who allegedly assaulted participants in a performance of King Lear at the West Punxsutawney Retirement Home.

“Every actor wants their performance to resonate with their audience,” said Margaret de Vere, the artistic director for the Punxsutawney Players, an acting troupe based at the nearby University of Punxsutawney that specializes in bringing theatrical performances to unconventional venues.  “Evidently we stumbled onto an undamped sinusoid.”

According to witnesses, the trouble started during the second act, when a small number of audience members began to heckle the actresses playing the parts of Goneril and Regan, the title character’s daughters.  As the behavior of Lear’s “daughters” deteriorated, so did the behavior of the crowd, which started throwing bits of food, pill bottles, reading glasses, and even a couple of partials.  The unrest continued to spread, and the actors were obliged to exit as the crowd threatened to rush the stage.

“I have no idea what they were thinking, bringing in this sort of subject matter,” said Dr. Elizabeth Woodville, the director of the facility.  “While most of our residents are on quite good terms with their families, we’ll thank our visitors for not stoking any embers of inter-generational angst that might be lying around.”

“Somebody really should have seen this coming,” said Richard Gloucester, the local constable who was called in to deal with the situation.  “This may not be on par with shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater, but it’s up there.”  Constable Gloucester said that the circumstances of the aggressors were being taken into consideration.

The cost of the performance was covered by Shoddi, Smarmy, Rude and Associates, a nearby law firm that specializes in estate management.  A spokesman for the firm refused to comment, apart from insisting that the firm’s only interest in underwriting the event was the desire to provide a service to the residents.

Dr. Woodville indicated that the Players will not be invited back for future performances at the home.  Any future touring performers will be subject to vetting for suitability by the staff before they are allowed to perform at the home.

“I don’t think they’ll have to worry on our account any further,” said Ms. de Vere, the Punxsutawney Players representative.  “I think after this we’ll stick to doing less controversial stuff, like Julius Caesar or Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Even Titus Andronicus might be less traumatizing than this has been,” she added.

The un-invitation from the West Punxsutawney Retirement Home is a second set-back for the Punxsutawney Players, after the cancellation of an engagement with the Bandwagon Society‘s annual charity fundraiser event.  At last year’s event, the Players presented Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, in which a wealthy man ruins himself through unwise generosity.  The Players were asked not to return after the performance was linked to an 85% drop in pledges and donations.

Copyright 2016

News Flash: CDC to Join Fight Against ‘Iowacoccus’ Outbreak

January 28, 2016

La Satira News Service

Sources at the Centers for Disease Control have indicated that, contrary to normal practice, resources will be deployed in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the ongoing Iowacoccus plague that has been affecting 10-20 people across the country.

“Normally this wouldn’t be a problem,” said Dr. Germaine Flew of the Office of High-Consequence Pathogens.  “Every few years we have a small outbreak, and apart from a few weird symptoms, the cases typically resolve themselves in a few months.  However, over the past decade the trend is for the outbreaks to start sooner and resolve later.  This is of course worrisome, and we feel it needs further investigation.”

The current outbreak has been active for most of the last two years, though Dr. Flew suggests the contagion may have been active much earlier.

Fortunately, the indications of the disease are not especially severe.  The main symptom is usually an irresistible urge to wander around the countryside shaking hands, kissing babies, eating terrible food in a terrible hurry, and making outlandish promises that the victim has no credible means of fulfilling.  The disease may also manifest itself as an incipient or fully-developed narcissism.

The Iowacoccus disease has only been observed to be fatal to presidential aspirations.

While many people see CDC involvement as a welcome intervention, questions remain about what can actually be done to help the sufferers.  “That’s part of what we need to find out to combat the disease,” admitted Dr. Flew.  “There’s some reason to think that a series of lectures on basic economic principles might be helpful, along with a course of demotivational therapy.  Until we identify the primary source of the infection, this may be the best we can do for now.”

Copyright 2016