Cryptic Post Is Cryptic

So, there is news, and it’s of the not-bad, even good, sort. I, however, am a cagey and slightly nervous person. Also vaguely superstitious. No, the possible cognitive dissonance of a superstitious agnostic is not lost on me.

In any case, there’ll be no further details until finalizing happens. But, since I’m having a fair amount of extraneous energy pertaining to it all, consider this your blind item in the meantime.

Pay No Attention to the Man Peeping Behind the Curtain

A little preamble: I’m a big fan of the Linoleum Knife podcast. I’ve been stalking following Dave White and Alonso Duralde off and on since they were djmrswhite and moroccomole over on Livejournal, for goodness’ sake. They’re insightful and funny and an adorable couple and you should just listen to them because I’m surely doing a poor job of pimping them.

Listening was exactly what I was doing today, to this week’s episode, when Duralde and this week’s guest, Sean Abley, came to a bit of an impasse on the question of Edward Snowden and NSA domestic espionage during a review of Citizenfour.

It started as a discussion of whether Snowden is a traitor. I have opinions on that score, but I recognize I’ve not done a lot of deep reading on the subject, so I’m willing to lay that one aside and let folks present arguments in either direction.

Then the discussion turned to questions of NSA spying, specifically, at which point … Abley’s exact words were “I have nothing to lose.” If I’m skewing Abley’s position too much, I’ll apologize right here. I mention it at all because his statement acted as the catalyst for my responding to something that’s rankled me for a while, as–to my mind–it fell right in the space of the “it doesn’t affect me / I have nothing to hide” mentality on these issues. About that, I have some much more deeply held beliefs:

It is not now, nor has it ever been (all the way back to before we even had a Fourth Amendment), about whether someone has something to hide. First, of course, is the implication that the only reason someone would want to keep something private is because it’s incriminating or evil in some way. Which is so much bullshit I can’t even see straight.

By this logic, it should be perfectly all right for the police to knock on my front door whenever they like, toss my apartment until it looks like a tornado came through, then be on their way. They should be able to stop me on the way to work and rifle through my car on a whim. Hell, my nosy neighbor who’s been dying to get a look at my apartment should be able to walk on in at 2 a.m. and have a look so long as he doesn’t steal anything. I mean, I don’t have anything to hide, right?

That the side effects of the virtual rifling of one’s life aren’t as physically apparent doesn’t mean they don’t exist. How many times have we been told not to share our passwords, because then we’ve lost our ability to control our accounts? Every time my information is collated and shunted around to somewhere I didn’t ask for it to go, the net effect is the same: it’s out of my control, and since I didn’t set the controls on the new access, I have no idea what may or may not happen.

But you have nothing to hide, right? So there’s no harm!

Think about that bit of gossip back in high school, where someone got hold of some half-truth left lying in the open (or nowhere near the open) and turned it into the scandal for the day. Write it larger by using the same model for any number of gossip mongering “news” sites.

No harm? Somebody tell that to Jennifer Lawrence. Or Felicia Day. Or Anita Sarkeesian.

Information is power. Power can be abused.

But this is the government, not some reprobate!

The government is full of people. People are flawed. They do things you don’t expect. Like, you know, Snowden. That I may be sympathetic to Snowden’s actions doesn’t change the fact that he’s a perfect example of the fact that the government’s desire to keep something secret and confidential is no guarantee that it stays that way.

Even if I somehow suffer head trauma that leads me to agree that there are no negative consequences to someone taking information that isn’t incriminating, at the end of the day, I still don’t agree this should grant the government carte blanche access.

I don’t keep my address book in a drawer instead of posting it on my front windows just because who I know is proof of a criminal conspiracy. If I knew any criminals, I’d be as shocked as anybody.

I don’t oppose random drug testing because I’m a junkie. I’ve never used any illicit substances in my entire life. I’ve never even had enough alcohol to get a buzz going.

I don’t even close my blinds when I’m dressing because there’s something criminal or shameful about my naked body. I could stand to lose a few pounds, but we aren’t anywhere yet where that gets me thrown in jail.

There are plenty of reasons why a person might choose not to broadcast one or more pieces of information, and a wide swath of those reasons have absolutely nothing to do with crime or any other “bad” motive. But I don’t even have to catalog those, because the only reason I need is this:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In other words, the relevant question isn’t “what do you have to hide?” It’s “what the hell business is it of theirs?”

How Long Until Blue Cross Becomes Blue Crucifix?

It looks like Arizona House Bill 2625 is getting some Tumblr attention, and while the sourcing that indicates this law just passed seems to be wrong (it was in fact enacted 2 years ago), the content of it remains disconcerting, perhaps not least of all because it was adopted two years ago without being caught up nationally by news agencies.

People are rightfully upset about the weird language which seems to indicate women of “religious objection” companies would have to submit proof from their doctors if they want to be covered for prescribed contraceptives being used for non-contraceptive reasons (acne and hormone control appear to be the common examples):


A health care services organization, employer or other entity offering the plan may state religious beliefs in its affidavit and may require the enrollee to first pay for the prescription and then submit a claim to the health care services organization along with evidence that the prescription is not for a purpose covered by the objection.

Things get jumbled up here, in that there’s a lot of weird language where “corporation” is being used. So far as I can tell, though, “corporation” is meant to be the insurance provider, not the company employing the women. The very next section makes it clear that an employer still doesn’t get to ask for your medical information.

Quick, knee jerk block: I still think this entire exemption on contraceptives is the stinkiest of cow dung. But before I get into the real nasty bits, I’m trying to get in a fact check on the “your employer can fire you for using contraceptives if he finds out you’re using them for birth control” stuff. So far as I can tell, this is between the employee, her doctor, and the insurance company (because the government shouldn’t interfere with a doctor and patient’s private health decisions; that’s the insurance industry’s racket). An employer insisting on medical records is still off the table, and violates all the same privacy laws it did before.

All that said, the thing I’m far more concerned about is this bit of the law:


Notwithstanding subsection Y of this section, a contract does not fail to meet the requirements of subsection Y of this section if the contract’s failure to provide coverage of specific items or services required under subsection Y of this section is because providing or paying for coverage of the specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs of the employer, hospital service corporation, medical service corporation, hospital, medical, dental and optometric service corporation or other entity offering the plan or is because the coverage is contrary to the religious beliefs of the purchaser of the coverage.

Emphasis mine, because folks, remember how I pointed out above that “corporation” was being used to mean the insurance companies? Given that, if I’m reading this right, two years ago, Arizona effectively declared that insurance providers themselves can claim a religious objection to providing contraceptive coverage.

Since the only requirement that needs to be met to get that exemption under this law is that “a written affidavit shall be filed with the corporation stating the objection,” all they have to do to get that objection is write a note.

To themselves.

And just in case we forgot, this law passed two years before the Hobby Lobby case. Who needs doors opened, when state legislators are willing to burn down the whole damn building for you?

Slut-Shamer Pride

So, in an op-ed for The Advocate, Levi Chambers — the editor in chief of Gay.com — has a few things to say about what he sees as inappropriate attire for Disney Gay Days. Me? I have a few things to say about what seems a fairly slipshod argument he’s making:

Halloween is the perfect time to be sexy. Adults can dress like sexy superheroes and go to their favorite bar or club. No problem. That said, dressing like a hustler for the Gay Days Anaheim events at Disneyland is wrong.

The majority of the LGBT people celebrating kept their behavior PG, but a few thirsty fellas must have thought they were at a Pride after-dark event. In line for the Matterhorn Bobsleds, I noticed beaus wearing T-shirts with identifiers like “Top” or “Bottom” scrolled across their backs in the Disney font. I even spotted a few stickers on chests that blatantly read “slut” or “DTF.”

The time when it’s traditionally appropriate to tramp it up, if our example is to be believed, is Halloween. You know, that time of year when the streets are traditionally filled with children of all ages running around asking for treats and being adorable. Which is totally different than visiting Disneyland.

So, yeah. The counter-example actually makes it explicitly clear that one group of people may feel that a given event (whether that’s Halloween or Gay Days) is for something different than another group, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Not the best way to shore up the argument. You want one thing; other people want another. Totally okay for some holidays, but not for others because reasons.

Never mind that, though, since this isn’t just a holiday: it’s Disney. And Disney is no place for the barest of innuendo. Because Disney would never, ever turn up sexy in their children’s properties. Disney treasures childhood and wants it to last as long as possible, which must be why their animation arm made its contemporary comeback by marrying off a 16 year old girl.

The six year olds may just think Tinkerbell is super cute and spritish, but I’m fairly certain there’s a contingent of parents who are getting something entirely different from the view at Pixie Hollow, folks. Which, honestly, brings me directly to the next point.

I’m having an incredibly difficult time drawing the correlation between a tarty word on a t-shirt or sticker and “dressing like a hustler.” Honestly, it smacks incredibly of the same kind of logic that suggests the mere presence of homosexual individuals sexualizes an event, a movie, or a book. It’s the kind of base over-reaction that claims King and King exposes little Timmy to the raunch of anal sex.

If the argument’s going to have legs, I think it needs far better examples than what we’re getting here. If little Timmy assumes sexual positions when he sees the words top and bottom, if he’s decoding acronyms like DTF, the cat’s out of the bag. If knowing about Dirty Gay Sex ruins childhood, Timmy’s was clearly destroyed a long time ago.

I’m not close to convinced that the kids at Gay Days are any more likely to catch the innuendo of most of the phrases Chambers mentions than they are to realize Dad might like face character Jasmine’s top for more than the fact that it’s shiny and brightly colored.

You might get me to agree “slut” is questionable, but even if I grant that all of the above are a step too far, are you honestly telling me that, on a full day at Disney, the only people you saw who were wearing shirts with messages you thought might be in poor taste, or who were wearing something a bit too revealing, or behaving in a way you felt might be more sexual than appropriate, were red-shirted LGBT attendees?

Even at Gay Days, I find that amazingly difficult to believe. That many people don’t get together without someone’s taste level going in a direction someone doesn’t like. If there wasn’t some straight guy running around with a tattoo or a t-shirt involving a pinup girl, you could knock me over with a feather.

But, you see, apparently signing on to attend an event which is meant to create a safe space for LGBT folks, which Chambers himself says “is meant to be a celebration of all things gay,” actually just obligates one to represent All LGBT Forever in a way that makes everyone else feel safe and un-threatened.

Remember: you’re LGBT first, and a person second. We need to hold you to an entirely different standard than everyone else. In the name of equality. Or something.

How to Get Away with Murder (and Gay Sex)

Now that Comcast has gotten their recent nonsense resolved and on demand shows are updating in my area again, I had a chance to try out How to Get Away with Murder, the new Viola Davis vehicle.

I could probably say a lot about different aspects of the show, but four episodes in, the thing that’s really struck a chord with me is the way the show has handled homosexuality, on a couple of different levels. Apparently, I’m far from the only person to take notice, though not all of those others have responded positively.

Here’s the thing: I feel like I’ve seen a fair amount of similarly-racy stuff in shows featuring heterosexual couplings, so if all that seemed to be happening was that How to Get Away with Murder added just as much of a gay variant, I’m not sure it would be nearly as worth commenting on.

That’s not what’s happened, however. Four episodes in, three of the four explicit (for network TV) sex scenes have featured series regular Connor Walsh’s (Jack Falahee) homosexual encounters (I’ll get to the fourth later). This is not to say that The Gay Guy is the only one having naughty time. It’s both obvious and explicit that the majority of the regular characters for this show have active libidos that they aren’t shy about satisfying. We just haven’t seen much of that onscreen.

You can see the contrast just from the pilot. Connor hooks up with a guy from a bar, and the show jumps straight to a mostly-naked, pumping-music-underscored, fully-lit sequence where there is no way not to see what’s going on. Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) is similarly in the middle of sexy time later in the episode, but this time we enter the scene in the dark, with barely lit silhouettes and low voices. It takes a second to realize that, yup, that sure is cunnilingus. And just when that’s totally clear, it’s also over.

I don’t think the Annalise scene is any less titillating insofar as these things go, mind you. It is, however, slightly less explicit. Watching the Connor scene goes something like Woah! Okay, that is sex. The Annalise scene is on the order of Wait, is she? Are they? Woah! Okay, that is sex. It gets to the same place; the latter just asks you to connect a few more dots.

Like I said, this level of in-your-face with gay sex isn’t entirely new, but it is one of the first times I can think of where the majority of steamy sex stuff originates in a gay cast member who isn’t (1) the central focus of the show or (2) part of a large ensemble primarily populated by other gay characters.

The show is a solid ensemble piece. But, like I said before, it’s built as a Viola Davis vehicle. The lead character by just about any measure is Davis’s Annalise Keating. Even among the law students she’s chosen to help her at her firm, Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch) has been positioned far more solidly as both the audience proxy and the person around whom the multi-episode murder subplot seems to pivot.

The sexually aggressive member of an ensemble drama isn’t really new. It’s a fairly stock element in this kind of story, really. That the writers chose to make that character someone with a sexuality different from the rest of the cast’s, though, is incredibly intriguing to me. Most of the time, when there’s a sole homosexual player in your main lineup, that’s the character whose sexuality happens to the side. Boyfriends and dates get mentioned, and maybe you catch a shaded view of something here or there, but when it comes time for the steamy show to go steamy, one of your straight characters takes up that challenge.

By and large, How to Get Away with Murder has gone the opposite direction. Annalise’s scene is one example. Laurel Castillo’s (Karla Souza) indiscretions have been alluded to but not yet shown. And thus far, the relationship building for Wes Gibbins is relatively chaste (if still slightly troubling).

Of the primary characters, in fact, the only other who has something approaching the kind of out-of-the-shadows sex Connor shows off for the camera is Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King). It takes until the third episode for that scene to happen. And even then, I suspect this has less to do with making Michaela competition for the Sexy Character as it does with yet another intriguing angle the show takes on sexuality.

While I’m talking around things with a lot of the stuff above, this next bit pretty definitely constitutes spoilers, so look away if you’ve not seen episode three. It was two weeks ago, but I hate to be That Guy.

All right, so the third episode of the show opens with Michaela having sexy time with her fiancée, Aiden Walker (Elliot Knight). While at first this seems like the show finally having some equal time, I suspect this scene, and others where it’s made clear Aiden and Michaela have an active sexual relationship, are there to help resolve the questions and tensions that arise when Connor reveals that he and Aiden fooled around back in boarding school.

I’m intrigued with what I hope the storyline with Michaela’s fiancée implies, since, like the inversion of sexual depiction I talked about before, I don’t remember seeing much of this: male sexual experimentation. The dominant narrative is that, while women may have lesbian dalliances as part of a sexually adventurous phase, they can still be essentially straight. Men, on the other hand, are told through just about every narrative channel that same-sex of any sort effectively makes them a closet case if they wind up deciding it’s just not for them afterwards.

While there’s a lot of yelling and crying, by the end of the episode, Aiden assures Michaela that he is not, in fact, gay. And unlike most stories of this stripe, I think the show is actually pushing viewers pretty heavily to believe him. In addition to the above-mentioned sex / groping scenes (which seem built to make it clear that Aiden is very much into Michaela), Connor himself tells Michaela that he “basically hooked up with all the hot guys at school.” He doesn’t say “all the hot gay guys,” or “all the hot guys were gay.” The implication is that Connor doesn’t even think Aiden’s gay, but that Connor himself is just especially skilled at convincing people to Give Gay a Try.

That Annalise seems to think an essential lawyer skill is the ability to convince people of what you want them to believe (even if it’s patently false) in order to forward your own agenda, this whole subplot seems like more of an extension of that particular theme than any kind of implication that Aiden is gay, or even a condemnation of Connor as predatory gay.

There’s a lot of stuff at play in the series four episodes in. Some of it certainly works better than others. I definitely have to say, though, that for a show with a straight lead character and a large heterosexual ensemble, I’ve been thus far really enthralled with how it’s positioned Connor1 and his sexual proclivities.

1. 1200 words on explicit sexual depictions. Surely you can forgive me one double entendre?

Nature vs Nurture vs Numbers

You may or may not have heard about the recent dust up involving Ben Affleck on Real Time with Bill Maher, where Affleck was less than pleased with the line of argument Maher and guest Sam Harris started engaging in with regard to Islam. The video below should be the bulk of the exchange, and you’re free to watch all of it, but I’ve cued it up to play the bit I’m most interested in, since it’s about the only bit with any actual data attached. It’s roughly 45 seconds, and mostly skips the uncomfortable argument:

“78% of British Muslims think that the Danish cartoonists should have been prosecuted.” It’s a big number, admittedly, but there are two issues I’m going to take with it.

First, the argument Harris is making is about the danger of jihadist dogma among less-than-militant Muslims. Most people remember the Jyllands-Posten scandal because of calls to put cartoonists and publishers to death over the cartoons’ publication. It seems clear to me Harris is using his statistic to try drawing a direct line between “prosecution” and “execution.” The attempt, though, smacks of people using the phrase “card-carrying member” in an attempt to evoke some non-existent connection between Red Scare Communists and the ACLU.

Still, in land-of-the-free world, 78% of folks just wanting fines or jail time for free expression is, understandably, still troubling. So I went looking for the poll. Harris doesn’t cite it on the show, but ye Google would suggest this article is referencing the same poll. It also provides what I think is some enlightening context:

Asked about attitudes towards free speech, there was little support for freedom of speech if it would offend religious sensibilities. 78% of Muslims thought that the publishers of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed should be prosecuted, 68% thought those who insulted Islam should be prosecuted and 62% of people disagree that freedom of speech should be allowed even if it insults and offends religious groups

So, from the poll sample, there’s only a 16% gap between British Muslims who want to prosecute for the Danish cartoons and those who think speech should be prosecuted when it’s insulting to any religious group, not just in the case of offenses to Islam. And here’s where I think something other than religious factors has to come into consideration. The fact of the matter is, UK laws on hate / offensive speech are not nearly as lenient as they are in the US.

In fact, it only took me Wikipedia plus a few clicks to find an example of British prosecution for “religiously offensive” cartoons, this one from five years after the Jyllands-Posten incident Sam Harris is talking about:

It took [the jury] just 15 minutes to find Mr Taylor guilt[y] of “religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress” after viewing the “grossly abusive and insulting” images in court. The cartoons — which had been cut from newspapers, magazines and other mainstream publications — included one showing a smiling Christ on the cross next to an advert for a brand of “no nails” glue. In another, the Pope is shown wearing a condom on his finger. Others featured Islamic suicide bombers at the gates of paradise who are told, “Stop, stop, we’ve run out of virgins.”

The conviction was made using a still-in-force piece of legislation called the Crime and Disorder Act, passed in 1998, which includes provisions against “racially or religiously aggravated harassment.” I’m not here arguing that the law is sound, or that it reflects the whole of society in the UK. Even at the time, people were trying to change it.

However, so far as I can tell, it’s still on the books.

Especially relevant here is that the “religiously offensive” cartoons in this case actually included one of the Danish cartoons (“Islamic suicide bombers at the gates of paradise are told: ‘ Stop, stop, we’ve run out of virgins.’”).

That a jury trial in 2010 actively convicted someone for displaying a cartoon set including at least one of the Danish samples points to at least a moderate social context in support of legal sanction against public religious mockery. Given that, it seems entirely possible that some portion of Muslims in the UK support prosecution not due to a specific religious belief, but because the UK in general is more inclined to prosecute for perceived religious insults by authors. Insisting that the sample is a significant indicator of Muslim thinking without once considering or acknowledging what impact thinking in the UK may play into the results seems irresponsible. Given that the same poll questions weren’t conducted outside Muslim citizens, it’s difficult to make any kind of assertions from a solid statistical base.

There was one other statistic which cropped up in the argument. At one point, Maher says he’s seen a Pew poll of Egyptions Muslims, in which “like 90% of them believe death is the appropriate response to leaving the religion.”

While the number I found–that 64% of Egyptian Muslims believe leaving Islam should result in death–is well south of Maher’s 90%, it’s still a unarguably disturbing statistic. That those numbers don’t play out across all Muslims, though, again suggests that the issue may be as much national-cultural and it is religious-cultural, or at least that perhaps that’s worth considering.

Does the view persist out to Ablanian Muslims? It does, though there the number is 1%. If I’m being honest, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover at least that many Christians hold similar views about people who perform abortions. I would never consider using that to characterize the core values of the majority of practitioners, though.

Maher regularly gives a kind of hand-wave to Christian extremism and terrorism as a response to his ideas re: Islam. Usually, he makes a crack about how long it’s been since The Crusades. I sort of think that that folks in Northern Ireland, or Utøya, or even Oklahoma City might have some stories to suggest that we aren’t nearly that far away from Judeo-Christians turning to terrorist acts.

But setting that aside, if we’re going to say that the core problem of religious terrorism is that religion over there with a document full of dicta supporting violence in support of faith, I think we have to admit that, short of Thomas Jefferson, there aren’t a whole lot of people excising the violent portions and decrees in The Bible. The core document of Christianity still calls for stoning, just for an easy example.

I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this, except to say that arguments which seem to take the religion of violent factions as the only influential element in said violence seem to be fairly narrow in their view. I don’t think it’s as simple as positing that religion there. That’s the troublemaker. Geopolitical conflict isn’t simple, and it isn’t getting any simpler. Attempts to boil it down into The One Root Cause unfortunately feel, to me, like their premise is just as fantastical as, say, a virgin birth.

When the Presents Are Packed

You can pretty much blame my evil twin Laura for this one…

“What was he thinking?” Father asked as Mother kept fiddling with the gravity net.

“He’s my brother,” Mother answered, as if that were all the more explanation a body needed. Given that Father rolled his eyes and nodded, it seemed this actually was sufficient explanation for the monstrous construct of yarn, popsicle sticks, and PseudoLife PuttyTM balanced precariously atop the family cruiser.

The control panel sparked again and Mother swallowed down another string of curses as her adjustments strained the net’s capacity.

“I just can’t fit the head in,” she groaned.

“I think that’s the tail,” little Marissa offered.

“But, look at that big bulbous bit at the end,” Father countered.

“How can that be a head with no eyes, silly?” Marissa said.

“Then what’s that opening for?” Mother piped in, her antennae quivering in challenge. Marissa blushed plaid.

“That’s for … making stinkies,” she whispered.

Father and Mother both looked back at this year’s Antimas gift from Uncle Mort, turning their heads sideways to give the moaning thing a different look. They both nodded, clicking their secondary tongues.

“You might have something there,” Mother said.

“And the moaning does just seem to echo out from all over, so that might not be a mouth, after all,” Father added.

“I think it might be sitting on its face,” Marissa offered.

“Well, I’m not wrestling with it again even if it is,” Mother said. Her primary tongue stuck out the side of her mouth as she worked the gravity net settings one last time. The head-or-tail shifted slightly closer to the cruiser’s roof with a nondescript grunt and Mother gave a gleeful cheer of success.

Everyone piled in. Marissa sandwiched between Aunt Geranium’s palladium pies and the stack of granite texts from Grandpa Sy. Mother popped them up over Geranium’s lunar camper while Father pulled up the navigation display, then Mother turned the velocity dial to high.

“All right, now there’s no need to fly recklessly, dear,” Father said, glancing back. “Marissa: inertial field on, young lady. Do not roll those eyes at me.”

“It was only three,” Marissa pouted.

Mother sighed.

“I’d say I’ll turn this cruiser around, but there is no way short of a pulsar explosion I’m spending one more minute in that house.”

“You aren’t helping,” Father muttered, though Mother caught the smile he was trying to hide.

Mother’s white dwarf fingers gained them a good lightyear back from the delay loading Uncle Mort’s present. Marissa fell asleep in the back, until an especially sudden jerk sent one of the granite texts into her lap.

She looked out the viewports and frowned.

“Where are we?”

“Well, we hit a radiation storm,” Mother said, “and somebody decided he had a shortcut.”

“I didn’t hear you objecting, dear,” Father countered. “And there isn’t much traffic here, is there?”

“Because this is the most backwater system I have ever seen,” Mother answered. “I mean, look out there! Unfinished rings on the outer orbits, no radiation management on the solar track, their only regular comet still runs on an outdated three-quarters century model, and … I mean, look at this one,” Mother pointed to the third planet from the central star, leaning to get a better view. “They’re evolving mammals down there, for goodness’ sake. Who does that any more?”

“Mother, look out!” Father called out suddenly.

This time Mother didn’t manage to contain the string of curses as she swerved to avoid the moon she hadn’t seen. Marissa shrieked and buried her face in her tail.

“It’s all right, honey,” Father called back, though he had a death grip on the stabilizer controls.

Mother struggled to course correct, but after a tense few moments, the cruiser was back on track.

“Okay. Okay, we’re all fine,” Mother called with a sigh.

“My present!” Marissa cried out in dismay.

Sure enough, when Father called up the rear display, Uncle Mort’s present was toppling down to the green planet. The gravity net had apparently faltered as they bounced through the rough and unpleasant-smelling thermosphere.

“We have to go back!” Marissa said with a quiver in her voice.

Mother and Father glanced to each other, then back to where Uncle Mort’s creation was splashing down on one of the tiny island land masses, and tried not to show their relief.

“Sweetie, I’m afraid it’s gone,” Father said, patting Marissa’s knee.

“She! She was a girl!” Marissa shot back.

“Of course she was,” Mother offered supportively. “But it really is for the best.”

“Is not,” Marissa pouted.

“Now, let’s think, dear. You know that if you don’t water PseudoLife PuttyTM  regularly, it stops moving and shrivels up,” Mother noted.

“And you have that hydrogen sensitivity, dear,” Father added. “but look–” here he pointed to the tracking display. “It’s already waddled its way into a natural body of water. Lots of room and everything it needs to keep, er, moaning and moving for centuries to come.”

“You think?” Marissa said with a sniff.

“Absolutely.”

Marissa looked to the viewfinder again, then wiped a few eyes dry.

“Okay.” She got up on her knees and turned backwards, waving as she called. “Good-bye, Nessie! Take care of yourself!”

“Young lady. Inertial field.”

“Yes, Father.”

Marissa took her seat again as Mother veered back onto Primary Interstellar 3875. Mother and Father gave each other silent glances and smiles knowing they’d not have to cart Uncle Mort’s alien craft all the way home.