A headless apparition in full plate armor—which Jennie recognized as a dullahan—waved politely and then signed something with mailed fingers.

“Dullahan bids you welcome, but warns that he knows little of use,” said the old man Nurarihyon. “His interactions with the material world largely consist of whipping people with their own spines and pouring blood on witnesses to mark them for future spine-whippings.” Jennie laughed at the presumed joke, only to realize too late that Nurarihyon had been deadly serious.

“Just like your interactions with the material world are mostly breaking into peoples’ houses so you can eat their food and drink their booze, Nurarihyon?” said another figure, this one resembling nothing so much as a flaming red lizard with a distinct Australian lilt.

“I am saving them from themselves, Adnoartina!” snapped Nurarihyon. “With the things they put in Guinness Stout or fish and chips these days, better for it to be eaten by something with no liver to cirrhose and no arteries to harden.”

“Will you all stop arguing for even a single second?” whined the final figure of the spectral group, who appeared to be a woman with long flowing hair, bells and lit candles studded randomly about her, and no legs but rather more mist like the Deogen.

“Oh, Iele, everyone knows you live to argue like the best of them,” replied Adnoartina. “Do you remember that corker of a row we had over the proper name of the big red monolith down under I came from, if it should be called Ayers Rock or Uluru? Or the one about whether you’re a jinn, djin, or genie?”

“Those are both extremely important issues, since Ayers Rock rolls of the tongue far more elegantly, and ‘genie’ is an extremely offensive ethnic slur to my people,” Iele replied haughtily.

“You’re Romanian,” Nurarihyon said, “and if there’s more than 1/64th of a genie in there somewhere I’ll eat my robe.”

“More than 1/64th djin,” Iele corrected.

The Dullahan energetically signed something to the others. “Yes, we have devolved somewhat,” agreed the Deogen in its legion of voices. “If you please, friends: you are all born incorporeal spirits like ourselves, with no mortal life to confuse or cloud your perceptions. How is it that Jennie was able only to move one thing in the wax museum, and that but a little?”

“It’s clearly the first stage of her evolution into another spirit form,” said Iele. “She’ll make a lovely noisy-ghost.”

“You mean a poltergeist?” drawled Adnoartina though slicking lizard lips.

“That’s an extremely offensive ethnic slur to their people.”

Adnoartina rolled its eyes—and impressive display, as they could roll in directions optometrists could only dream of. “I think it’s clear that you’re just too weak to affect it yet, love,” he continued. “Give it a year and you’ll be able to pitch a round of test cricket, assuming Ireland’s joke of a team ever qualifies for test status.”

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“Merry Christmas!”

“I don’t believe in Christmas.”

“Now that’s just silly.”

“What? Plenty of people don’t believe in Christmas.”

“No, plenty of people don’t celebrate Christmas. They still believe it exists. I acknowledge that the lunar new year exists even though I don’t celebrate it. Saying you don’t beleive in Christmas is like saying you don’t believe in Tuesday.”

“You’re just saying that because you celebrate it.”

“Listen, if every single Christian on Earth suddenly died tomorrow and there was no one left to celebrate, other people would still believe in Christmas, if only as a celebration no one observes anymore. Though it would probably be eclipsed by December 19, Christian Worldwide Genocide Day, pretty quickly.”

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You’s think that, given a title like the one above, that I’d be ranting against Hollywood’s lack of innovation, its crass celebrity culture, its smug sense of self-satisfaction, or any one of the numerous sins the industry has committed in the 100 years of its existence.

You’d be wrong. I come before you today to rant about something very different: Hollywood’s double standard when it comes to censorship and activism.

One of the major points that industry professionals have emphasized is the ability of their movies to make social points and advance worthy causes, addressing racism, classism, other -isms, and oppression at home and abroad. And it’s true that movies have done that…up to a point. But it’s only recently that the line in the sand has become clear.

Remember in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Soviets were the go-to bad guys? Films weren’t afraid to point out the brutal nature and horrific human rights abuses committed by the communists. And yet, in films today, you never see the few contemporary communist regimes–with one exception as we shall see–portrayed as the rights-abusing boogeymen that they often are. Why is that?

The answer is simple: money. The old Soviet bloc, and other states that espoused similar versions of nastiness in favor of a future utopia that would never be (as opposed to the fascists, who espoused similar versions of nastiness in favor of a past utopia that never was)…they never screened American films, or did so only rarely. There was no money to be lost by pointing out horrific crimes, because there was no chance of Hollywood movies unspooling officially behind the iron curtain.

That’s all changed. In a move that can only be described as Machiavellian brilliance, nasty regimes have opened up their markets to Hollywood films with strict central control. You can make your millions from a movie-hungry foreign audience…but only if the powers-that-be say so. This creates a powerful economic incentive not to piss off a given country, like China, by calling attention to any social points or worthy causes. Thus instead you have craven sucking up to the selfsame governments where once there might have been criticism, like the scenes added to Iron Man 3 or the evil, inept Americans as a contrast to the heroic, competent Chinese government in Transfourmers: The One With Swords and Dinosaurs.

Perhaps a worse example has just been dumped on our laps, though: The Interview. For a long time, North Korea has been one of the few acceptable movie bogeymen, with its abuses and excesses and brutality always on glittering display, because the Hermit Kingdom, like the Soviets of old, allowed no American movies outside of the Kim family’s private theater and there was therefore no chance of alienating a revenue-paying audience. Only the Nazis, discredited and repudiated and dead to history, were more reliable villains throughout the 2000s and 2010s–hell, several movies and video games (like the remake of Red Dawn and the first-person shooters Homefront) were reworked at a late date to swap out Chinese villains for North Korean ones in defiance of all logic. North Korea was “safe.”

But that’s all changed. The Interview apparently touched a deep nerve with the North Koreans, portraying as it does the attempted assassination of King Jong-Un. So the Koreans retained a group of hackers to sabotage Sony, the producer and distributor of the film. Releasing internal documents, emails, and even a few completed films…all this hurt the filmmakers where it hurt most, in the wallet. Realizing that they were in the same position to lose money through hackery, theater chains have begun pulling the movie entirely. They’re billing it a “safety” issue, but it’s really a monetary one–North Korea has proven, at least for now, its ability to cost Hollywood money, and no one wants to pay that price for their principles.

So, in an even more craven move than crudely editing Wang Xueqi and Fan Bingbing into Iron Man 3 to suck up to China, the fear of revenue loss has essentially allowed the world’s most brutal dictator veto power to censor media critical of him. People are dying under jackboots in the Hermit Kingdom as they have been since 1945, but rather than let even a relatively mild “Springtime for Kim Jong-Un” satire unspool safely, Hollywood would prefer to quietly go back to making money.

I’m sorry. That’s craven, it’s crass, and it sets a dreadful precedent for everyone who doesn’t like their portrayal in free media: if you cost people enough money either by denying them revenue or hacking it away, they’ll meekly let you go about your business. That, in my mind, is the biggest reason to seek out and see The Interview if you can find anyone brave enough to distribute it: to send the message to those selfsame craven, crass bean counters that there are bigger things at stake than their damn bottom line. A thousand reboots, a thousand thousand remakes, a thousand thousand thousand vanilla rom-coms before handing the veto stamp to those who deserve the harshest, glitziest spotlight the industry has shone upon them.

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“What is this thing the elders speak of?” asked Donald’s grandson, Malcolm. “The inter-net?”

Storyteller Donald, taken aback, paused for a moment to consider his reply. Trixie and Kayla each stifled a laugh, though quietly both were glad that they hadn’t been asked. Cooperston lay in the ashes of the old world, after all, but the old world it was not, and how does one explain something like that?

“You know of books, do you not, child?” Donald said at length.

“Oh yes! Mom reads to me often. I love the stories about the world before the sundering.”

“Well, the internet was like a book in which the whole world could write, and of which the whole world could read,” the Storyteller continued. “If you were to write something on a page of that book, anyone with a copy of that same book could read what you had written when they turned to that page.”

Malcolm took this in silently, then nodded. “So the elder elders would write stories in their books of the inter-net for others to read?”

“Some did, yes,” Storyteller Donald laughed. “Bloggers, we called them. But not just stories. People wrote down things they knew to be true, had arguments in writing, and sent messages to each other. It was a long book, you see, and unless you knew which page to turn to it could be very difficult to find what you were looking for by chance.”

“How did people find things?”

“Do you know the encyclopedia your mother has? Have you seen the book at the end that has a list of everything?”

“The in-ducks,” Malcolm said gravely.

“Yes, the index. There was an index to the internet, the Book of Googol, that the elder elders would consult to see which page they should turn to.” Trixie and Kayla snickered anew at this, but Storyteller Donald ignored them.

“That sounds wonderful, grandfather,” Malcolm continued. “May I read the book?”

“I’m afraid not,” said Donald. “For you see, ah, each internet book relied upon the others. What you wrote could be seen in other books but it was only really in yours, so if your book was lost your words would be lost too. When enough people lost their internet books in the sundering, that was that. The books are still around, such as they are, but blank.”

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A thousand years it grew, in the space betwixt the world of the body and the world of the mind. Fed by luminous streams of consciousness, a great uncut gem–the crystallized remains of a thousand unfinished dreams. It glistened in the depths, amid waters of tears never cried and canyon walls never eroded.

A thousand years to grow…and seconds to smash.

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Dear New Low-Card Santa,

Let me be the first to welcome you to the World Santa Federation! You’ve just joined a fraternity that’s dedicated to the performing art of Professional Clausing™, people that Claus for love of the game and for hardcore fans of Clausing everywhere. I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you a few pieces of information and advice:

1. “Kayfabe” is our term for maintaining a sense of reality and willing suspension of disbelief about our performances. We do not break kayfabe in the WSF. Let me say that again: WE DO NOT BREAK KAYFABE IN THE WSF. When in costume, you will be expected to hold to the notion that you are the one, the only, the indisputable Santa Claus. Where this is mot possible, as in the case of older children and multi-performer Clausing events, you will be expected to maintain that you are a magical helper fully bonded and licensed by the one, the only, the indisputable Santa Claus. Breaking kayfabe is grounds for immediate and irrevocable expulsion from the WSF. Keep in mind that you are also expected to maintain kayfabe if recognized when out of costume, so always be ready for some fun improvisational Clausing, even in June.

2. Breaking kayfabe is allowable in the WSF under the following circumstances only:
– Legitimate injury requiring medical treatment.
– Physical violence or threats of violence by non-WSF individuals.
– Other circumstances authorized in writing by the WSF.

3. Let me be clear about one thing: nobody goes straight from amateur Clausing to the 34th Street Macy’s right away. WSF membership offers you the benefits of our promotional network and negotiated pay scale, but make no mistake: you will be starting as a low-card, the bottom rung of the ladder, and will be expected to work your way up. Expect to Claus in small-town stores, Wal-Marts, and private functions. If you do well at these, more opportunities like small shopping centers and suburban mall anchor stores will open up. Eventually, you might work your way up to the level of Gilner “Krampusbane” Kirks or Lian “Zwarte Klaüs” Atchisson–but don’t count on it. And hey, if low-card or mid-card Clausing is all you want to do, great! The WCF is nothing without talented people Clausing at all levels.

4. You may choose your own team of elves and a Mrs. Claus, but keep in mind that they must be members of our affiliates WEF and WMCF respectively, and offered WEF/WMCF scale pay and benefits as appropriate. Refer to your handbook for the formula on which events and venues the WCF will compensate you for elf/Mrs. Claus use and which we will not. Remember that WEF/WMCF members are strictly prohibited from Clausing themselves; they are not substitutes. Similarly, appearing as an elf or Mrs. Claus yourself will be considered a break of kayfabe and grounds for immediate dismissal.

5. Costume rental or purchase are at your discretion; WCF members qualify for discounts from most major suppliers. If you choose to go off-brand, keep in mind that costuming of you, your elves, and your Mrs. Claus must meet WCF standards or you risk WCF sanctions for breaking kayfabe. The same goes for set dressing and props.

Again, let me renew my welcome. You’ve made the right decision by going pro with the WCF and we’re here to help you with your Clausing experience at every step of the way. Wherever your Professional Clausing™ journey begins and ends, the WCF is right behind you.

Sincerely,
Atlas Cunas
Founder and CEO, World Santa Federation

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“You have my report,” said Noat.

“I want to hear it from your own lips,” replied Izaah. “Reports lack so much of the immediacy of face-to-face interaction.”

“Very well,” Noat said. “Government troops have been routed from Maharbal and its approaches by a combined force of our troops and local militias.”

“Excellent,” said Izaah. “Those were State Guard units defending it, weren’t they?”

“Yes, elements of the 31st State Guards,” Noat said. “Supported by artillery from the Marhabal Heights, which we have also taken.”

“Did the Guards retire in good order?”

“Not at all. About half of them were killed or deserted, and those that maintained cohesion abandoned their weapons and heavy equipment. The exact numbers are in my report, but our troops and the militia more or less evenly divided a large cache of small arms, artillery, and armored fighting vehicles.”

“Excellent!” crowed Izaah. “That will be all.”

Noat hesitated. “There was more in my report,” he said. “The militia has failed to preserve public order in Marhabal, and there has been widespread looting and sectarian killing. We also have reports that the militia we left in charge of Ecnav have declared for their commander as a warlord and have begun extorting their citizens and those passing through the area for tolls.”

“But they haven’t gone over to the Government?” Izaah asked.

“No, and Government forces have made no attempt to enter those areas. But the breakdown of order reflects poorly on us, and the collapse of any interim administration risks making the area ungovernable when the State Guard is no longer present as a unifying force.”

“They are still rebels in good standing,” Izaah said dismissively. “That will be all, Noat.”

“Sir, we absolutely must commit regular forces to the liberated areas, give them administrators, and disarm the militias if we are to-“

“That will be all, Noat.” Izaah said again, harshly.

Noat saluted and left the command bunker. “Vincere scis, Hannibal; victoria uti nescis,” he muttered. “Hannibal, you know how to gain a victory, but not how to use one.”

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