Monday, December 29, 2008

Purolator fucking sucks.

Many of you know I bought a new power computer recently through Dell. I know Christmas is a shitty time of year to ship things, but I don't mind waiting. However, Purolator fucked up and told me that I could have had the package delivered to work. This was apparently impossible, and so I went to work while nobody was home. Had I been told the truth, Jason would have been able to camp at my place and wait. I have not had anyone from Purolator attempt to fix my problem. Never use them.

Here's a copy of the letter I sent to Purolator:
"This is not about a great idea I have had, but I feel I have to log my complaint again. The experience I have had shipping with Purolator has been the worst I have ever experienced. I understand that shipping in the winter weather around Christmas is sketchy. However, my experience has been detracted more by the ineptitude of Purolator customer service than the weather ever could.

Dell shipped me a computer and a display through your service. The expectation set to me by Dell was delivery by the 24th of December. I understand that the weather was not cooperative but I did receive my display on the 24th. Unfortunately, my computer itself was delayed until the 29th.

When I first called Purolator regarding my shipments I was informed they would arrive on the 23rd. They did not, and it appeared my two packages were split in transit. The display, according to the Purolator website, was placed on a truck for delivery on the 23rd. When I contacted Purolator support they informed me that the display would arrive by 5pm. At 6pm, I was informed the display would arrive by 8. It eventually arrived appx. 11 AM on the 24th.

My computer was placed on a truck for delivery around noon on the 24th, and Purolator support again promised delivery by 5pm. I called at 6pm and spoke to a guy named Kevin. He informed me that the package had been returned to the depot by the local courier and would not be delivered until the 29th. I explained to Kevin that I would be at work on the 29th and asked if the shipping address could be changed to my office. He informed me this was possible and that it would be delivered to my office.

However, when I called Purolator on the 29th to confirm, I was informed that this was not possible unless I contacted Dell first, but that the package could be delivered on the 30th. For me, this has presented an unacceptable situation, as the 30th is my last day before the holiday on the 1st. I am going on vacation after work and unlike the 29th, I am unable to make arrangements to have someone at my home to sign.

If I had been given the correct information on the 24th, I would have had someone at my house to sign for the package. However, because of the agent's incompetence, I am now stuck between having a very expensive computer returned to the USA, losing several hundred dollars worth of pay for missing time to receive the parcel, or skipping out on my planned and expensive vacation.

I eventually spoke to a manager named Diamenti who took ownership of the issue. Unfortunately, she was unable to get the driver to return to my location. Regardless, this experience has cost me hundreds of dollars of my time at work as well as days of my personal time. Aside from Diamenti's attempts to get things taken care of, not one person at Purolator went out of their way to make me feel like a valued customer or to convince me that they actually cared about my issue. I work in a telephone-based customer service industry and I understand the importance of providing excellent service. Certainly, having been on the receiving end of Purolator's support ineptitude will remind me of why it's important to be accurate every time.

If the reason for the failure to deliver was weather, mechanical, or even time-of-year related, I would not be so upset. I am a patient person, and I don't mind waiting. What I do mind is having my life inconvenienced by an error on Purolator's behalf. Except for when I spoke to a manager, there has been no attempt by Purolator to try and make things right for me, either with the time of mine that has been wasted waiting for a package or the money I have lost because one of Purolator's agents was wrong.

I can assure you I will never ship with Purolator again, nor will I recommend this company to my friends, family, acquaintances, or business associates. I also intend to post a copy of this correspondence online.

I would rather use Canada Post than risk my package based on the service I have received with this experience.

Thank you for your time today."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fact: Why Christianity Clings to St. Nick

It's a question I have been wondering about for some time - why does Christianity with its prohibitions against the worship of false idols cling to the concept of Santa Claus? The capitalistic nature of St. Nick and the fat man's demand on our children to worship in his manner in order to receive rewards seems to be contrary to the demands and needs of the Christian religion. However, Christianity is not only content but compliant in the materialistic nature of one of their more holy days.

The original Santa Claus was St. Nicholas of Myra, a Greek figure who was famous for his gifts to the poor. This concept is in line with the way Christianity attempts to portray its religion. However, over time, Santa Claus has had dozens of influences, including Odin. The concept of flying horses (and then reindeer) came from Odin's eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. Sleipnir bore Odin about during Yule-time, and if children left food for Sleipnir, the horse would replace the food with candy and toys. Sounds familiar, yes?

The paganization of Christianity should come as no surprise to the educated. But Santa Claus, technically, is not Christianity. He is a canonized mortal combined with pagan deistic influences. Over the last 100 years he has become more and more linked to the increasingly materialistic nature of the Christmas holiday. But young Christian children are immersed in the myth of the magic Santa Claus more and more.


Because Santa Claus is a magical figure that provides tangible rewards for living a certain lifestyle. If you are a good boy or girl, you will get gifts from the old fat man. Believing in one magic man makes you more likely to believe in Jesus Christ and the entire concept of religion. When you accept Santa Claus at a young age and are duped into that child-like fantasy (as well as other such concepts as the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny), it makes the concept of an invisible man who will let you into a place of ultimate good upon death that much easier to accept.

Santa Claus should be taught as a concept or as a tradition. My parents weren't quite open about the legend with me as I would have liked, and I don't know if I want to do Santa with my children. I think it's dishonest and the last thing I want is for my children to believe that magical rewards for an obscure code of behaviour is the right way for someone to live their life.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fiction: The Rise of the Lone Ranger, Chapter 1

"General Grant, General Grant has engaged at Chattanooga!" the messenger said as he rode along the line. The Union cavalry raised up their carbines and gave a shout as the man passed.
"Huzzah!" they called as one. The party of about sixty troopers watched the messenger continue to gallop. This group of cavalrymen weren't here to act as relief messengers. Instead, they were a patrol-in-force, covering the supply lines that were so vital to the Military Division of the Mississippi. It sounded now as if the long-awaited battle against Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee had finally been joined.
Sergeant Dan Reid was a section leader in the detached unit, which rode slowly towards the encampments at Chattanooga. They rode up and down the same five miles of road, four, five, six times a day, making sure none of the Rebel cavalry struck at the passing supply trains. The Confederate commander of cavalry in these regions was Nathan Bedford Forrest, and he was a wily son of a bitch.
Reid thought the same about his commander. Major Bartholomew Cavendish, from Bloody Kansas, led the unit. Reid himself was from Texas, originally, but his family was loyal to the Union in the mannerisms of Sam Houston. They had relocated to Detroit late in 1860, and when the war broke out, Dan needed little encouragement to join. His skills from the Texas frontier gave him the skills needed to make the Union Cavalry, and before long he found himself in the midst of General Ulysses S. Grant's armies marching down the Mississippi River.
Major Cavendish was a new addition to the troop. Their old commander had been promoted out of the unit and Cavendish had been brought over to lead. So far, Dan hadn't been impressed. Cavendish wasn't an educated man, and seemed to have obtained rank by ferocity and seemingly limitless courage. He'd gone on many Stuart-esque raids behind Rebel lines, raising Hell and fire wheresoever he'd ridden. Now he was Reid's commander.
Cavendish had that look in his eyes every time they passed the small village along the five mile-long patrol route. The village was a sleepy Tennessee one, a hundred people at the most. When the Union forces had ridden through, the major had noticed a young blonde woman with a waspish waistline. She must have seen the glint in his eyes as he took too long noticing her, and in the past two days they hadn't seen her. Reid, who always rode close to the major, was sure she was hiding. He didn't blame her.
Now that General Grant had started the battle, though, Reid had a feeling something ominous was going to happen. Forrest and his men were supposed to be gone, but that wasn't something Grant was prepared to take for granted. Somehow, though, Reid thought the trouble wouldn't come from Forrest's cavalry.
Cavendish was a handsome, smooth-shaven man of about twenty five. He had meticulously-kept, straight white teeth and eyes of an interesting light brown. However, those eyes contained maliciousness, and the hint of cruelty. Reid often felt they were the eyes of someone who bought expensive makeup for his wife to hide the bruises he left on her when he took her out to public events. The major never spoke of his home life, however, and Reid hadn't seen a wedding ring. But the thought fit.
Today, those eyes weren't roving about, like the eyes of the other veteran cavalrymen in the unit. Bartholomew Cavendish was a veteran, and had seen his share and probably more of shot and shell. Nobody doubted his courage. But today, his eyes were fixed on some far-off object, as if he had found a goal to strive for, and was visualizing it. His lips curled lightly from time to time, Dan noticed, in a grin that wasn't nearly as handsome as the face that bore it.
The second time the troop passed the village, Cavendish ordered a stop. "Hold up here, men. We'd best search the village. One can't tell where Johnny Reb might be hiding. If you see 'em, out 'em with your irons, and don't be afraid to shoot to kill."
Reid dismounted, and watched as most of the men fanned out into the village. The routine must have been familiar for the various people living here, Cavendish had given a similar order twice before. However, this time, Reid noticed as he looked into a barn, the major hung back, keeping a dozen or so of his closest soldiers around him. Some men had been drawn to Major Cavendish, the men Rein had already marked as petty and cruel. They had formed an informal inner circle of officer and enlisted.
Holding his Colt 1860 in one hand, Reid was searching a closet in a small house by the blacksmith's when the shots rang out. The small pops of a pistol firing were suddenly punctuated by the heavy slams from a rifle of some form. As he stepped out of the house, he could see those dozen or so men pointing their Sharps carbines at another home, further down the street. Cavendish was bleeding from the arm.
"Fire!" he called. The Sharps let go, and the wall around a window was filled with holes. The men reloaded the breech-loading weapons quickly, and fired another volley. After a few moments, the men broke down the door. Before long the sounds of pistols were again heard, then three dead civilians were drug out of the front door by Cavendish's men.
"Good job, Collins," Dan heard the major saying as he drew near. Other men were milling about in confusion, and Reid heard his own voice raising.
"Form ranks, form ranks dammit! You hold still 'til the Major gives orders! Fall in Simpson, fall in!" he bellowed. With the horses held outside of town, the hundred and twenty five men, or so, of the search party quickly formed into sections. During this time, Cavendish fished a field bandage out a pocket and wrapped it tightly about the slowly spreading dark spot on his arm. It was hard to tell when juxtaposed against the dark blue uniform tunic, but it was obvious by the red stain on the clean white cloth that the man had been shot.
Major Cavendish turned to look towards his men. "Collins, Jackson, Smith," he ordered. "Put these sorry bastards up by their necks on the nearest tree. Nobody shoots at a Union Major."
"Ol' Pa ain't shot at you!" one person called from a nearby home. Indeed, one of the men was old enough to be Dan Reid's grandfather. He looked about ninety, with a long, curled beard stained yellow by pipe smoke and red by blood. "He ain't able to even pick a gun up!"
Some civilians started moving back towards the road. Reid could feel a sense of urgency arising in the moment, as the three men moved to grab rope and make hasty nooses. Cavendish was grinning. "Get back in your homes, you Rebel bastards, or I'll hang you all up besides them. Rebellion against this army is not tolerated!"
"You're the bastard," called one voice, a much deeper voice. Reid watched as a few shutters were opened. People were leaning out, and even though all guns had been confiscated, he caught a glimpse of what looked like one or two old hunting rifles being held near open doors or windows.
Reid didn't know what the man's title was, but he was dressed in some form of suit, and he felt he was important enough to approach Cavendish. He moved slowly, aware of the predator's eyes upon him. "My son," he began. "Surely there is no need for further violence. The eyes of God are upon us all here, and you and I know that this small town has given no opposition prior to today to your army."
Aha, thought Reid. He's the town preacher.
"Surely you are a man of God, just as you are a man of the North, major?" the priest asked, after observing the gold oak leaf on Cavendish's shoulder. "Surely these men paid for their sins? Please, let us bury our friends, our family, and we will ensure such things never happen again."
Cavendish paused, looking at the men. Then, without responding, he shot the priest in the left eye, causing the left side of his head to blow out. The man crumpled without a sound, and a thousand things happened at once. Cavendish dove for cover behind a stout water trough as ten or fifteen hunting rifles or muskets shot from the surrounding buildings. Men in the cavalry troop cried out as they were hit. One or two crumpled, dead.
Reid moved fast, pulling his pistol again from its holster as he moved for cover. The sound of Sharps carbines rose as the cavalrymen shot back. Used to hitting small targets from horseback, the older men and young boys determined to fight for the town provided little sport for the experienced troopers, and the upstart villagers with guns fell quickly, toppling out of doors and falling through windows as they were picked off.
It didn't stop, however. Cavendish got up and started shooting at random, bullets smacking into whatever flesh it could find. Collins grabbed a lantern and smashed it into a house, a fire leaping over the spilt kerosene quicker than Reid could imagine.
"Kill them! Kill all of them!" someone shouted. Reid was horrified.
"No!" he yelled, as he slid his carbine over his shoulder. A few men hung back, five or six, and could only watch as the wooden buildings were set fire to. Some ran out before the flames got too bad, only to be shot down by the troopers. Others found themselves being gutted by knives or beaten by rifle butts. When people came out on fire, the troopers got out of the way, watching them scream and cry before falling in crumpled burnt heaps.
The few times an attractive, or mostly attractive woman, emerged, though, she was grabbed and forced into the muddy ground, held down by three or four men as others took their turns between her thighs. That was the worst, and Reid clutched the grip of his pistol. The third time it happened, he resolved to break it up, but found he had emptied his gun in the shootout earlier, and that his hands were shaking too much to put ball and cap together in the chamber.
Then the blonde came out of one of the burning homes. The men grabbed at her eagerly, but Cavendish's voice rose over the din. "This one's mine, boys!" And, to the horror of Dan Reid, the men cheered as the tall, handsome officer from Kansas grabbed a handful of hair from a girl no more than seventeen, dragging her away from the flames and towards the woods.
Some of the men who had hung back were gone. Dan never saw two of them again, and he can only assume they wandered off, deserting. The other three decided that it'd be best to check on the horses, leaving Reid to watch the carnage for a few more minutes. After it was over, after there were no more bodies to watch burn and no more men left to take their turn with the half-dozen or so women, Reid watched as the nude, raped, battered and bloody women were rounded up by the troopers.
The trooper named Jackson appeared. "Can't let 'em squeal, boys." He tossed some rope around to some of the men. "String the bitches up." The women didn't cry. They didn't protest. They simply watched with deadened eyes, and Reid forced himself to watch too as the troopers hastily hanged all six women, before lighting the tree on fire as well.
Cavendish was still gone. His minions began to round up the soldiers, making sure everything that could be fired was fired, but the major didn't return yet. Reid shifted lightly and then moved away from the burning village. The smoke had made his face black, a black that was punctuated by tears that had dripped down over his face from the acrid air. His crisp uniform was muddy and soaked in sweat and, certainly, other things. Not quite sure where Cavendish had gone, Reid moved into the woods, having decided that the major ought not to come out alive, at least.
As he was moving through the trees, holding his cavalryman's sword since he was still unable to load his pistol with his treacherous, trembling hands, he heard from ahead the sound of someone clumsily pushing through the brush. It was Smith, another of Cavendish's collaborators. He seemed to know where he was going, and so Reid followed, moving carefully and silently.
The man lead Reid to a clearing, and indeed, here the poor blonde was. She had been thoroughly raped, blood trickling down over her thighs, and was tied to a tree. The sadistic Cavendish was in the middle of buttoning up his uniform tunic. With widened eyes, Reid realized that the woman had been cut several times, bitten brutally, and savagely beaten and choked as well.
"'ad your fun, Major?" Smith asked, as he gave a single contemptuous glance to the bound woman, before looking back to Cavendish.
The major smirked. "Why, so I have. Bitch tried to bite me, too, so now she won't bite a thing again," he said. "Are the men done with the village?"
"Yessir," Smith replied.
"Any problems from the men?"
"A few hung back, but I reckon they can be dealt with."
"Which ones?"
"Uhrm..." Smith said. "There was Prenell, Tom O'Reilly, Wilkson, and Reid what I saw."
"Good enough. Find out if they intend to say anything. If they do, they'll have to have an unfortunate accident."
"'course, Major. Accidents happen all the time, what it being war an' all."
"Was it the fun worth all the trouble, then, sir?" Smith asked.
Major Cavendish grinned. "Absolutely, Smith. It'll even be worth the scar on the arm. Good work, there, by the way. You hit it just enough to make it bleed bad, but I expect it'll work fine to get along with. Now, get back to the horses. I'll be along shortly. I've some things to finish here."
Smith didn't move, though, as Cavendish turned. He swung out his pistol, the same one that had killed the preacher, and shot the girl in the belly. Then he moved and patted her cheek lightly. "Good night, sweetheart," he said, before vanishing into the woods, Smith following at the man's spurs.
Reid had been frozen, but once Cavendish's footfalls vanished, he moved from the clearing. The woman hung, limply, but raised her head. Blood spilled from her mouth as she tried to talk. Reid moved fast, cutting the ropes that bound her. She collapsed to the foot of the tree, and he knelt.
"Shh," he said. "I'm going to get you out of here." She tried to curl up, but he grasped her, as he fumbled with a bandage. She didn't move after his grip tightened, and he found himself looking into strangely hollow eyes.
"Y'all a Union butcher too," she said, ever so softly. Reid froze, watching as the beaten and mortally wounded girl suddenly and silently died. For a moment, the Union sergeant was quiet and still. He pondered a prayer for the girl, but decided that it was already too late for such niceties. He also pondered a burial. But in the end, the poor nameless victim of Bartholomew Cavendish had another job to do. She was the only victim who's beaten body had survived untouched by fire.
Cavendish had placed a kit of tools in the clearing some time before, clearly as he planned the whole assault for the purpose of finding the young girl and doing as he pleased. In there, Reid found a blanket. He wrapped the corpse up in the blanket.
"I'm sorry I couldn't stop him. I'm not a butcher," he murmured. "But he is." Reid left the body there, wrapped up, and stepped out of the woods. Sliding away his sword, he eventually found the men mounting up. Some were quiet, others were jubilant. Most had a thoughtful look in their eyes. Regardless, they rode away from the smouldering buildings, leaving the dead to burn.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fact: Remembrance Day

Canada is a nation that has not fought so it may be free. The Kaiser would never have taken Montreal; Hitler's SS never would have reached Ottawa. Canada is a nation that has fought so others may be free. Our democracy was not at risk, but others were, and that's what 100,000 Canadians fell for - for the Belgians, the Dutch, the French, the Danes. The English and the Italians and indeed the Germans. For the Koreans and the Bosnians and Serbs and Croats, for the many Afghani men and especially women who were oppressed.

That is what we fought for, so that all the world might have the same freedoms we enjoy.

We will remember them.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fact: Do not buy an HP computer.

I realize that the concept of blogging about disapproving phone support or tech support is rather cliché and probably shouldn't be done, but hey. Who gives a flying fuck. I sure don't.

Against my advice, my parents bought an HP Pavillion Notebook for my younger sister to take to university with her. I had recommended a Mac, as she is going into music and quite frankly, Macs are infinitely better than PCs are for music work. But, my advice was disregarded.

So, about 2 weeks ago, I get a call from her in absolute tears. Lauren's computer won't turn on. I check and see if it's plugged in, battery's in, etc. It all is. So, I tell her I'll come take a look at it. I get there and promptly remove the battery, drain excess charge, that sort of thing. No dice. I check the hard-drive. It's connected. I check the RAM. I reseed and swap slots. No change. I pull a RAM chip - nothing. I pull the other, putting the first in the same slot. Magic, it boots.

Okay, no problem. All I need is a piece of 1gb SO-DIMM PC2-5300. HP'll prolly just send one out, charge and refund a credit card. We can do that! So I call up HP. I'm a techy guy, I know what's going on. The conversation goes something like this.

Me: Hey HP. I need a new gig of RAM for my sister's computer. It won't boot unless the RAM chip is pulled. Okay?
HP: Sure thing. Got a credit card?
Me: Nah, I'll have her call with mom's. I'm broke as fuck.
HP: Cool.

Okay. That's interaction one.

Lauren gets mom's CC info and calls up to set up the repair. The agent speaks to her for ONE AND A HALF HOURS, having her remove the hard drive, reseed the RAM, do the hokey-pokey, who the fuck knows. Suffice to say, she had a very inexperienced 18 year old girl pulling her computer apart. Adding on to this, the agent didn't have Lauren take the basic steps. For instance, when I was working on her computer, I made sure to ground myself every minute or so. The agent didn't inform Lauren of the dangers of static discharge inside a computer.

Then, the agent told Lauren that she'd have to send the whole computer in. Of course, we had already been told we could be sent the RAM we needed in the mail. Lauren asked to speak to a supervisor. The agent then put Lauren on hold for TWO MORE HOURS, listening to HP's atrocious hold "music" (see below), without coming back to check on her or let her know what the wait will be.

She messages me from her currently-working computer in tears (again), because basically this agent has fucked off and taken a 2 hour lunch at her expense. I agree to go ahead and get in touch with HP. I start by calling up and using their chat option. The chat option took about 10 minutes to get through. The agent was unsure of her English, and took an extremely long time (about 6-7 minutes) to respond to my basic questions, like, "So, can you send me this part or not?". I wasn't pleased.

Then, there was waiting on the goddamn phone.

I waited for about 45 minutes to get through. Okay. I'm patient, I can wait as needed. But the hold "music"...oh boy. I have never heard anything so annoying in my goddamn life. It had these soft, supposedly smoothing tones playing in the background, all very digital, like a hippie playing a keyboard. Then there was a woman speaking over it. Constantly, advertising various HP products, explaining the website option (which I was doing simultaneously), directing me to online search, all while I slowly seeth and grow more angry.

Now, to add onto this, the piece was cut by a retard. The various segments the woman was speaking through were chopped together at random. It looped, so after the third loop I got to notice the points. Generally, the music stopped for a second too, giving you that hope that someone was picking up. Now, get this, the woman misspoke in the middle of the recording. But instead of just doing another take, they kept her error, her cough, AND the part where she said "excuse me". WHY THE FUCK WOULDN'T YOU JUST DO ANOTHER GODDAMN TAKE! IS HP THAT FUCKING IDIODIC?!

Well, they sure are. I spoke to a fellow named Vincent, who was actually quite nice. He tried everything he could to get this taken care of. I explained the troubleshooting steps I had taken. He agreed that it was probably the RAM chip. He looked into it and told me what Lauren had been told - HP does not ship out RAM chips for this model. I politely asked if he could look into another option, which he did. This guy was great, he kept updating me as to what was going on. He escalated the case to a case manager, who called Lauren back and apologized and explained that HP does not send out parts for the model. He promised her the turnaround time for a mail-in repair was 3-4 days.

Okay. So I'm still upset, because there's no damn reason to go through all this for a three inch long chip. Hell, the fucking shipping alone is worth more than the damn RAM. But, she sent it in. Lo-and-behold, HP calls her back, saying they can't find anything wrong with it. Why? They said the RAM looked fine. Lauren asked if it would boot, and they said, "Well, no. The cause hasn't been determined." She asked if they had swapped out the RAM. They said no. Sounded like a load of BS to her.

Then - get this - afterwards, they said that, "Even if it is RAM, we can't replace it here. We'll ship the model back to you with a note for HP. Then HP can send you the part."

..., they will send us the part, which is what we wanted in the first place, only after their random repair "experts" can determine that it's a part needed? Why can't they get the part in? Why doesn't a computer repair depot have the most common RAM in the world lying around? WHY DIDN'T THEY JUST SEND US THE RAM IN THE FIRST PLACE?!

This whole process is retarded, and the run-around has totally lost HP both myself and my sister as customers. I really recommend to you that you avoid HP like the plague. I am not telling you to buy a Mac, but look into Dell, or Toshiba, or Compaq, or someone other than Hewlett-Packard.

HP blows goats.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Fact: I agree with Colin Powell

It might be a little too late to say this, but I want to just talk about what General Colin Powell said on Meet the Press a few days ago. General Powell expressed the thought that judging someone by their religion was bad. Fareed Zakaria replayed the General's comments on GPS today. And it was poignant:

I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way.

I think we can all learn something from these words.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Fiction: As yet untitled vampire novel, Prologue

She ran as hard as she could, hunched over, cool water splattering down onto the back of her neck from the stone of the ceiling. Cursing, she twisted around the next corner, her boots splashing in the fouled waters swirling around her ankles. She refused to look down, but instead pressed her shoulder in tight on the close-fit stone of the sewer wall. Taking slower breaths, she forced her body to reduce the panting from the sudden flight. She did her absolute best to ignore the pounding of her heart, and listen for sounds that stood out from the sewer ambiance.

Her right hand remained curled around the grip of her rifle, as she lifted up her left hand, pressing the hidden microphone in the cuff against her lips. Softly, she murmured into it. “Tom?” she softly said. The earpiece was in her right ear, and she could hear it crackle, ever so faintly.

“I'm okay,” the soft voice said, reasurring her lightly.

“Bill?” she asked next.

“Here,” came a third voice.

“Sergei?” she asked third. This time there was no response. “Sergei?” she inquired again, with a hint more urgency. The earpiece stuttured out a small groan. She reached into her pocket and tugged out a GPS.

“Bill, move north forty or fifty meters. I can see Sergei's signal is coming from there. Everyone else, sit tight,” she ordered. She peered down the sewer tunnel from whence she had came, her high-tech night vision catching glimpses of several sources of heat – a rat, one seemed, as well as several flittering bugs – but none of the tell-tale signs of the creature she was stalking. Or, she feared, that was stalking her team.

A gloved hand ran through her hair, pushing the grey-accented strands back into the hood from whence they had escaped. She could feel the faint tremble of fear running through them. That tremble was a recent development, of the past few months. Ever since she'd adopted Juliet. Ever since she'd fallen for her Romeo. All of a sudden, she was afraid of her mortality.

“I've found Sergei...well. I've found half of him. He's dead,” Bill's voice came. “Adelle, what are your orders?”

“Damn,” she cursed, before lifting up her mouthpiece again. “Let's converge on Bill's location. Tom, are you good with that?”

“Yes ma'am.”

“Bill, take cover, and everyone be careful,” she murmured. Adelle hoisted the slightly modified AK-47 and then moved forward, glancing once at the GPS before she started to slowly move through the muck at the bottom of the sewer. She'd mostly committed the sewer plans to memory. It wasn't too hard. Sixty or seventy metres south, and then up one ladder, and she'd be almost there.

After only a few minutes of careful, quiet sneaking, moving in the necessary crouch, she reached the ladder. It was rusted by years of disuse, and the carefully fitted stone that lined these old sewers had been haphazardly hacked away some decades ago for its access. She cursed softly, and slung her rifle over her shoulder.

The faintest sound of splashing could be heard coming from above. Must be Bill and Tom linking up, she thought. Her goggles weren't detecting much, the standard flicker of yellow and orange in a sea of green and blue. The leather gloves she wore were soaked through, and her fingers had gotten somewhat numb, and she reached up through the hole, grasping at the stone atop her.

The stone was slick, and she staggered, having put too much weight on her hand. With her free hand she grasped the rusting ladder, and the chamber of her rifle collided with the iron. A heavy clank burst forth, echoing up and down the various connected sewer halls. Adelle grew still.

Minutes seemed to pass, and she could feel the dampness seeping more into her. The faintest crackle in her earpiece told her that her team was still alive. Occasionally she could hear Bill turn in the water, or Tom curse as he stubbed his toe. But she didn't move, fear that she might have given away her position awash. It was best to stay still, of course. In the sewers, these things can hardly smell you. They only go there because they can't be found so easily, not because it gives you an advantage.

The ladder was hard to hold onto. It was slimy with years of mucky overflow clinging to the corroded rungs. More of the human offal was dripping onto her hood and her face. She could feel it slowly sinking under the places where her mask, her goggles pressed against her face. The stench of the sewers had long since faded into the background, but she imagined a growing scent of feces and urine stuck inside of her rebreather. It was not terribly pleasant. She pressed her lips tightly closed.

“Adelle?” her earpiece crackled, causing her to stiffen in fright. For a second, her heartbeat sped forward, then she slowly relaxed.

Raising up her glove, she murmured into the microphone, “I'm here. I'm coming.” Only then did she realize the faint glow on her glove, like something was on it, warm, lighting up the receptors in the night vision goggles. She gazed up, and slowly slid a hand down, unhooking the pistol in its holster. She took the next rung, and then the next. Something suddenly dripped down from above, splashing over one of the eyeholes on her goggles. Adelle cursed and tilted her head down, wiping at the glass surface frantically.

The place was getting to her. The taste of something was sliding into her mouth and the scent was filling her nose. Her stomach was tossing. To hell with this hunt. We're getting out of here. I just have to get up this ladder. She grasped the stone of the hole again. It felt more slippery this time. She tightened her grip and prepared to launch herself up into the hole. She rocked her weight down and then tried to leap up out of the break in the stone.

Adelle's hand slipped on the extra liquid on the stone's surface, and her fingers lost their grip. She bit back a small shriek and prepared to fall the ten or so feet to the stone and sewage beneath her. That's why she was even more shocked when something like a vise grasped her wrist, and viciously yanked her up, as if she was as light as a rag-doll.

She twisted with a noise as she shot up several feet, her arm violently wrenched, pain flaring from the surely dislocated shoulder. She wasn't sure what she was seeing – tiny lines of bright red flared in the night vision goggle's view, but then her face was smacked against the stone. Small spots of bright, multicoloured lights splashed before her eyes, failing to illuminate the darkness. She fired the Desert Eagle, and the bullet smacked into flesh, though what she'd shot hadn't made a sound.

There was a small bit of light coming from a sewer grate far above, and her soft, blue eyes struggled to see what was going on. Whatever had her by the hand suddenly jerked, and her body slammed down hard into the flat stone. The gun fell out of her hand and splashed deep into the waste water rushing past in the sewer canal. The grip released her.

She could hear a hiss, and something uttered in German. She rolled to her back and reached for her AK-47. It was gone. In the moonlight streaming in from the too-far-away grate in the Vienna side-street, her eyes finally caught a glimpse of the half-rotten skin of the beast that had caught her. She had interrupted it as it squeezed what sustenance remained from one of Sergei's kidneys into its mouth, and she finally had a name for what she had smelled, and tasted, and what had been dripping into her face on the ladder – blood.

She screamed.

Fiction: The Rise of the Lone Ranger, Prologue

The horses moved in a single file along the track, heading deeper into the Texas wilderness. Each man was watching the track, the brush to the side, and the jagged rocks slowly rearing over the horizon. There were seven horses, the first belonging to a man who was dressed significantly different to the rest. Mike Collins, a known outlaw, was attached by rope to the man directly behind him, Captain Dan Reid of the Texas Rangers.
Dan Reid was holding a Sharps carbine and watching the brown-coated back of Collins carefully. The outlaw was riding slumped over, the tanned back of his neck visible before his broad-brimmed hat covered the rest of his head. He was unwashed, like many bandits, and burn marks from hand-rolled cigarettes covered his hat and jacket.
By comparison, Captain Reid and his troop of Rangers were crisp and clean. Each of them rode along, watching carefully for signs of approach by another group of men. Captain Reid's eyes, however, were only for his captive. They were a unique set of light blue eyes, and they were filled with hatred.
Mike Collins had worked for the notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish, and now, in return for a promise not to be swung from the nearest yardarm or sturdy tree limb, he'd agreed to show the Rangers where Cavendish made his lair. The seven men, thus, were carefully approaching rough, broken ground, where twenty-foot jagged rocks seemed to be common.
Five troopers followed Dan Reid and Mike Collins along the faintly visible path. Taking up the rear was a Ranger by the name of John Reid. He was Dan Reid's younger brother, and shared the same light blue eyes as the older man. Twelve years younger, John hadn't fought in the Civil War like Dan had, and most of the other men in the squad. He was a more innocent sort of fellow, who had always sympathized with the various plights in the wild western outreaches of Texas.
The horses trod forward still, and Dan Reid and John Reid rode deeper and deeper into a slowly developing maze of outcropped rocks and small wadi-like depressions. It was still early in the day - and early in the year - and most of the men were hung over from the New Year's Eve celebrations the night previous. But not Captain Reid, who seemed sharp as a tack as he held his reigns and the noose about Mike Collins's neck in his left hand, and steadily held the Sharps carbine, pointing at Collins's back.
It was another half-hour, at the least, before Collins finally moved to stop. He shifted, gazing over his shoulder at the six Rangers behind him, all of whom drew up into a wedge-like formation. Their white caps caught the bright, crisp January sun and reflected it sharply, though enough of a glint remained to shimmer off the badges all six men wore.
John Reid caught a sly look on Collins's face as the outlaw's bloodshot eyes gazed back to his, for a brief second. The man was unshaven and his upper lip showed signs of having been recently busted open. His lower jaw hung loosely revealing a handful of yellow, broken teeth. He smirked a bit.
"Here y'all go, lawmen," he said. "Butch Cavendish's own hidey-hole."
John Reid was nervous. He had a sense that something wasn't right - that feeling that he was being watched. But he wasn't yellow. If Dan sensed it, he'd say. But would he? Dan had an illogical hatred of Butch Cavendish. Enough that he might throw away his own safety.
A passing cloud obscured the sun, and John realized that the small clearing into which Collins had led the Rangers was surrounded on all sides by steep rocks. There was scarcely a place one could even climb, except for near-to where the Rangers had entered the little cul-de-sac. The younger, less experienced Ranger could smell an ambush.
"Cavendish!" Dan Reid called. "Get out here!" There was no tent, no cave, nowhere where the outlaw could be hiding. John's left hand crossed to his right hip, reaching for the pistol sat. He never finished drawing it.
Dan was the first to be shot, and in the confusion, John was sure Butch took the shot himself. "Here I am, lawman!" he bellowed, and the heavy belch of a long-barrelled rifle. Cavendish was an accurate snap-shot, and Dan's hat was blackened as the back of his head blew out. The little canyon filled with the sound of pistol and rifle shot.
John Reid hit the ground hard as his stricken horse bucked him. Blood splattered over his chest suddenly, and after a second he felt the searing pain of someone's bullet stabbing through his body. Two or three more pistol shots rang out, followed by another loud burst from a rifle. One of John's companions had lived long enough to shoot back.
Lying there, trying not to breathe, John Reid felt warmth spreading over his chest and over his stomach. He shifted, pressing a hand over his guts, feeling moist blood there. He didn't hurt, but clearly he'd been shot in the belly too. The worst way to die, he thought. His ears somehow detected the crunch of boots on sand, accompanied by the occasional clink of a spur hitting rock.
"One survivor, Butch," said a high-pitched male voice. John tried to turn his head, but everything swam when he did. He coughed, and red smeared his lips, splattering over his cheek.
John didn't need to move. The clean-shaven, surprisingly handsome face of Butch Cavendish loomed over his black-rimmed vision. "Why, if it ain't John Reid. Yer brother's got a big mouth...he ain't got no mouth now, but he had a big mouth. Belly wound, hmm?" A sudden pain flared as something pressed deeper into his stomach than he ever thought it could. The blood-coated barrel of a Union Army-issue Colt 1860 appeared in Cavendish's hands. "Bad way to die. Maybe I ought to end it right here for you, lawman," he said.
Someone pushed the white hat down over Reid's eyes, and he felt pressure against the hat, a short, sharp pressure. He closed his eyes, not that it made a difference. Reid'd never been one for prayers, but he prepared to murmur one as he heard a hammer being cocked.
It fell, and he heard a light click. After the firefight, Cavendish's gun was empty. He laughed and John could hear the man's boots moving away. "Lucky man, ain't ya, John Reid? But you're good as dead, anyway. Ain't worth the time for me to fill my shootin' iron. See you in hell, lawman." The boots continued to crunch away, all the pairs of them. After a few minutes, there was only silence.
Slowly bleeding, John Reid wept, feeling far too weak to move. He strained to hear anything, and made soft noises, the best he could do with his strength sapped from the multiple wounds he'd taken. He realized, at the edge of consciousness, that there was a pain in his thigh, meaning he'd likely broken his leg when he'd been tossed from the horse. He wondered what good the knowledge would bring him.
He didn't know how long he lay there, waiting to die, but eventually he could hear something. Not footprints, but the sound of someone rustling through clothing. After a moment, an ever-so-quiet, so hushed murmur in a language he didn't understand.
Reid summoned all his effort, and parted cracked lips. Dried blood made it so difficult. "Help," he groaned. "Help."
He let out a long breath, tinged with pain. He only heard the last two, so light footprints, and then he was blinded as the hat was lifted away. He squinted, surprised he had that much energy left in his depleted body. He heard two voices, arguing in a hushed voice. Eventually he realized two men were standing over him, both with dark skin and long, braided hair. Indians, he thought, despondently. The Rangers had fought their share with the Indians, and the Rangers tended to come off on the better side with the savages in the bloody confrontations.
One native was holding a long knife in his right hand. It had a wicked hook to it, and he made several motions with it, long slashes. Reid looked to the other native, who had a higher, prouder face. He crouched down and slowly, the man's face filled Reid's vision.
"White man, you look familiar to me," he said. "What is your name?"
John's lips moved a few times, before he finally whispered. "Reid."
"Reid." He straightened up and looked to the other brave, before giving an order. The tone was the same that Dan used - had used - when giving his orders. The second brave paused for a moment, but then he moved away. Before long, the two men were tearing open the uniform tunic and binding the wounds as best they could. The pain flared once, twice, and on the third time, when the Indian who was clearly in charge set his leg, John passed out.
When he came to, he'd been placed on the front of a horse, and arms were holding him carefully. Bareback, the beast walked slowly from the concealed place it had been hidden. The brave who had chosen to spare him sat behind him, holding him upright.
"We be careful, white man," the voice said in stilted English.
"My...are they? My brother..."
"They all dead. You lone ranger now," the Indian said. "I am Tonto, white man. Now rest, because you in my hands, and I will do what I can to bring life back to you." The horse rode through the canyon, and John Reid slowly slumped, passing into a form of unconsciousness perilously perched somewhere on the line between sleep and death.

Fact: Edward R. Murrow isn't dead.

So, I fucked off work last Sunday and did what I normally do: sat around watching TV. I turned on the end of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN, and caught Mr. Zakaria speaking about the current financial troubles in the United States. In a speech that would have been at home on See It Now, Zakaria reminded his viewers about the Suez Canal Crisis, and how then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower influenced Anthony Eden, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, to end the Crisis. To summate, Eisenhower threatened to dump the US reserve of British Pounds on the international currency market, which would have precipitated a financial crisis and likely destroyed the value of the Pound Sterling. Zakaria rapidly summated his point, and then reminded the viewer that China now controls enough US Dollars to do the same if they felt necessary.

It was a performance not given to honour the great Edward R. Murrow, but a performance given to educate the American people, and indeed, the world, to the dangers of the current path of the United States. And that is what makes Fareed Zakaria stand beside Murrow in my humble opinion.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Fact: Blog Creation

Today, I started a blog. This blog will track my fiction attempts, as well as whatsoever facts I feel necessary to include. Yeargh.