Monday, September 28, 2009

Character musing: Kaeso Caemilius Tetricus

Nobody will remember this post from a very long time ago. But I am thinking that if I go for NaNo this year, that this might be the route to take. I've only pondered a little bit more beyond this in specifics (including designing the heroic main character, Captain Brigand MacIntyre), so I think it might be a good idea to start fleshing out characters and ideas.

The concept for this vampire novel I want to write is to break away from the ridiculous notion of vampires I see taking over the world of fiction. I should make it known that I absolutely hate, completely despise the entire concept of vampires. Drinking the blood of a human being for sustenance is revolting, especially when most people make vampire-creation into a choice made by humans. It's the same choice made by cannibals. You wouldn't approve of Jeffery Dahlmer, would you?

That's how I came along my line of thought: vampires are monsters, pure and simple. They shouldn't be sexy. They shouldn't sparkle and be played by Robert Pattinson. They should be filthy, rotting, attempting against all hope to cling to the shreds of humanity left as they age and pass beyond their intended time, stealing life from humans for the purpose of greedily extending their faint clasp on what was once important to them. They should be despised.

So I came up with the concept of vampirism as some form of disease. Indeed, it lengthens the lifespan of a human, and makes them stronger, quicker, higher visual acuity and strengthened scent capacity. A lethal creature that needs to feed and eat human blood to survive and maintain the unnaturally lengthened lifespan. But then I asked myself the vital question: how would humans behave in this situation?

Vampire novels love to portray vampires as these gentlemen types who's unnaturally long lives has little to no effect on their psyche, other than making them exceptionally suave and attractive. My thought to this is...have you met someone who's 80 years old? Most of them are cranky and infirm. If you took an old person and shot them into a functioning body their personality traits would remain the same. Our psyche ages alongside our body, not as a function of it.

I admit that expanding the life of an individual dramatically would surely expand the limits of a person's mental capacity for existence, but the simple fact is that human society's dynamic nature would exceed the ability of the extended individual to encompass change. And I don't mean just in today's world. Imagine if you lived in Hamburg in 1100 AD and lived for 500 years. You'd live through the evolution of the Holy Roman Empire, the foundation of the Hanseatic League, a switch in religion, fires, executions, rebellions, and the like. That would be more exacerbated in recent years - a vampire born in 1850 but alive today would see a stunning period of change.

Language evolves and alters. Some areas of the world have seen several popular languages wash through over the years. Consider Malta, which since 300 AD has belonged to the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Aragonese, Knights of Malta, French, British, and themselves, each with their own culture and languages. How could an old mind keep up with those changes? No, I think that this would cause vampire-types to slowly creep into insanity.

Thus, vampires would become predatory creatures, marking out areas progressively further away from human civilization and preying on what poor souls tend to wander into their area of dominance. The unfortunate side-effect of occasionally creating another vampire would be often avoided by ensuring all victims were fully slain; only a vampire forced to flee from half-a-meal would create another vampire, simply because no creature wants to create a being that would compete for its feeding grounds.

As a result, the amount of vampires spawning would be relative - a single, youthful vampire would create companion creatures for a period of time up to a hundred, hundred and fifty years; beyond that period the sense of detachment would arrive, and the being would leave major city centres, heading away from the dangerous and changing population to the relative obscurity of the countryside. A removal from all human contact would accelerate the depths of insanity the vampire feels, and even if it has surviving companion vampires, after some decades or centuries it would turn on them, out of frustration and a desire to not share scarce food.

There would be exceptions to this rule, and they would be the most (or least) dangerous of vampires, and exceedingly rare. And that is where I came up with the idea for the bad guy in this vampire novel - one of the rare vampires capable of forcing his mind to work along with the varying changes in human society, capable of remaining blended with it.

Naturally, I decided to make him quite old, and those who know me will not be surprised when I chose to make him a Roman, originally. I prefer "C" names, so his common use name will start with that. Then we started to research Roman names. Wikipedia is a wonderful thing.

Starting with the praenomen, which would be the bad guy's personal name, whom only his closest associates would use. There are only a small handful of praenomina to choose from. I immediately ruled out Caius/Gaius, as they are basically the same and also I don't want this man to be related to other famous characters in history (one Gaius Julius Caesar, for instance). I like Kaeso, Tiberius, and Tullus, but I think I shall go with the first.

The nomen is the name of the gens, the political grouping and family alliance into which Kaeso was born. Usually people address someone by their nomen, or their nomen and cognomen if two of the same gens are in the same discussion or somehow relevant. This is an important decision for this character. I don't want him to be part of an overly famous family: IE, no Julii, Aemilii, Claudii, Cornelii, et al. A lesser-known gens is more appropriate. Since he will primarily be known by this name, I think this is the "C" name I'll choose. Caemilius has been rattling around in my head for months.

Next comes the cognomen, which is the sub-family within the gens. IE, Gaius Julius Caesar was of the Julii, of the Caesar sub-family within the Julii. I want a T for this, so we'll choose (without actually researching the Camelius gens) Tetricus.

I am of mixed thoughts on an agnomen. Agnomina are given to people well after their birth to describe some part of their life. For instance, Publius Cornelius Scipio was given the agnomen Africanus after conquering Carthage. I almost want *him* to choose his agnomen, or perhaps have an agnomen in mind to use eventually. Like morticus maximus. But I'll leave it open for now.

K. Caemilius Tetricus was born in 89 AD, and grew up during the first part of the Pax Romana - Roman Peace in Europe. Like most young men, he joined the Legions at the age of 16, as a regular soldier. By the age of 24, he was a tribune, having distinguished himself both as a combat soldier and a leader. At age 29, he became a legate, commanding a legion. At age 33, he was slain fighting the Picts north of Hadrian's Wall, or more accurately, where it was being built at the time.

Except that Caemilius was only wounded, and his body stolen from the battlefield by a group of three vampires, who drank from his broken body and left him to die. But he didn't die - he became one of them, he gained immortality and strength and all those amazing features of the vampire. Caemilius was struck by the ferocity of the beasts that had turned him, and how unhuman they had become. Upon realizing what had happened to him (not that the term vampire existed at the time), he realized that he was given a unique gift.

One of the particularly unique things about Caemilius that lent him to eternal life was the fact that he was mostly a sociopath, that years of a hard legionnaire's existence had pretty much stripped away his ability for empathy. At the time where he was turned, he had been quietly planning his next stage of ascent in the Roman hierarchy, with his ultimate goal to become Emperor. Now, that could never happen - he knew that if discovered, he would be hunted to the ends of the earth and destroyed. And when he was eventually assassinated by his soldiers, it would be discovered that he was actually immortal.

So he settled for learning. Caemilius infiltrated the banking families, posing as a cousin or a brother-in-law, and eventually held the pursestrings of the Empire in his hand. And when he tired of that, he slowly plucked the strings free, watching as the Western Empire was toppled by any number of external factors. He learned the ways of the Goths and Visigoths and lived among them; when he became bored, he moved to Constantinople and resumed a debauched, Roman way of life. But he always ensured that he was interested in what came next - he always pushed his mind to remain sharp.

His ability to sense others with the same affliction meant that he met many vampires in their various stages during his first half millennium of existence, and was able to plot out how they developed, and how sudden changes stymied them. He realized how vicious and dangerous they had become, and founded the secret Tetrican Society for the eradication of the "uncivilized beast" sometime around 350 AD, believing that only he had mastered this unique form and that all others were vicious, violent, and disturbed creatures that should be destroyed. Caemilius did most of the work for the Society, setting out the groundwork as to how a vampire's stages develops, and how its violence ebbs and wanes throughout its lifespan, as well as how its humanity falls away.

After watching hundreds of examples go from social beings blessed with eternity to insane monsters feeding on lost travellers, Caemilius's conviction that he was the only being capable of truly existing as an eternal human was shaken when he met another, very sane and even older vampire who had travelled to Europe from Asia with the caravan of Marco Polo. Both men seemed surprised that it could happen, and immediately became friends...for some years. The companionship turned to rivalry as both launched schemes to control the politics and finances of the day, and eventually Caemilius dealt with it in true Roman fashion - he staked his rival in his sleep, sometime in the 16th century. Discovery of the body, staked through the heart, led to the formation of many modern vampire myths.

The Tetrican Society and Caemilius broke paths around 1650, when Caemilius realized that without his partner, he was starting to detach from society. For the first time in hundreds of years he had found someone to relate to, and was suddenly unable to cope. If the Tetrican Society's official goal (destroying every vampire) was reached, he could never have another companion. Though the members of the Society had never known they were founded by the very thing they swore to destroy, Caemilius had always "rejoined" the Society every hundred years to help guide them. No more.

It was around this point that he began to develop his plan to find a new companion. Even working towards this goal seemed enough to keep him sane, to keep his mind attached to the increasingly delicate threads maintaining his cohesion on a daily basis. By the year 2010, he was ready to finally act on this plan.

You didn't think I'd put the plan here, did you?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

B&T: 2009-10 predictions.

Me and Tyler have decided to do our predictions.

Calder Trophy
T: Viktor Hedman (Tampa Bay)
B: John Tavares (NY Islanders)

Vezina Trophy
T: Evgeni Nabokov (San Jose)
B: Roberto Luongo (Vancouver)

Norris Trophy
T: Zdeno Chara (Boston)
B: Zdeno Chara (Boston)

Plus/Minus Leader
T: Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit)
B: Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit)

Rocket Richard Trophy
T: Alexander Ovechkin (Washington)
B: Alexander Ovechkin (Washington)

Art Ross Trophy
T: Joe Thornton (San Jose)
B: Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh)

Hart Trophy
T: Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit)
B: Alexander Ovechkin (Washington)

President's Cup:
T: San Jose Sharks
B: San Jose Sharks

Stanley Cup:
T: Detroit Red Wings
B: Chicago Blackhawks

Who makes it in the East?
T: Montreal, Boston, Philadelphia, NY Rangers, Carolina, Washington, New Jersey
B: Montreal, Boston, Philadelphia, NY Rangers, Carolina, Washington, New Jersey

Who makes it in the West?
T: Detroit, San Jose, Anaheim, Columbus, Chicago, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton/St.Louis
B: Calgary, Vancouver, San Jose, Anaheim, Detroit, Columbus, Chicago, St. Louis

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Robin Hood: Time Commando

"I need the Ultra-Septvember-G!" the man in the green timesuit called, spraying laser pulses from the high density flashrifle from his waist. "We need to hold back the Omega-Bots for forty seven hundred more microns!"

Explosive delta projectiles splattered on the invisible plasma shield the commando was projecting from his utility combat belt, and he returned fire as someone tossed him a large steel and very phallic-looking object. Immediately, he attached it to the quantum power port on the timesuit, and green ultrabolts lashed the enemy Omega-Bots with heady explosive power.

"Robin! The portal's closing! Let's get out of here!" Robin Hood leapt down from the outcropping he occupied, and the Ultra-Septvember-G spurted more death, doom, and dismemberment over the inanimate objects. Backing into the portal, the time commando grunted heavily as the last shot blew apart an Omega-Bot into a thousand sparks of delta-space sparks. The portal closed.

"Good to see you back!" Colonel-General Sir William of Normandy said, as he approached the team that had barely made it back from their near-suicidal mission. "Is the Omicron Particle Reactor destroyed?"

The team's explosives expert, Staff Sgt. Guy Fawkes, nodded. "Aye, sir, we neutralized it to the sub-atomic state in all seven split dimensions. I even focussed the Omicron Ultraradiation into the Trimirror Universe. We won't have to worry about any oversized SpudMechs for some time!" Everyone shared a laugh.

"Glad to hear it, son," General of Normandy said, smacking Fawkes heartily on the back. "Queen Arthur will be pleased as well." It had been King Arthur until about 2 years ago. Gender reassignment was much easier to obtain nowadays. The various members of the team dispersed after a few more pleasantries, toddling back to their individual rest and recovery designate zones for the next twelve thousand sixty microns.

Robin Hood - Major Robert Huntingdon of Loxley - was the leader of an elite squad of Time Commandos, who's job it was to travel the depths and waves of the historical time stream and revert alpha-strands to the prime timeline. His team consisted of the finest warriors throughout English history, who existed somewhere between fact and fiction, using their ambiguous nature to ensure their legend never dies - and so they stay alive. He rested until awoken by a sigma-four alarm code at 0711.

Bursting from his recovery zone, Robin Hood immediately turned to the maintenance quaddroid. "What's the meaning of distrubing my recharge megacycle!" he demanded. The bot couldn't answer, but a man approached quickly. Vice-Time Admiral Frances Drake approached.

"Hood!" he said. "there's been two alpha-strands converge into a betawave on the prime timeline in 1066!"

"Damn!" Robin said. He grabbed his combat utility ultrabelt and buckled it in, following Drake along the corridors of the Timebase. "How long until it resolves into the prime timestream?"

"Mr. Turing and Mr. Newton expect that the time re-alignment will be complete in forty-four hundred microns. Assemble your team, Major Hood. We're go in two hundred seven microns. This is an official sigma-four alarm code - you go in hot, find out who's caused the betawave, dispatch them, and timeport out."

"Yes sir." Hood turned from the Admiral, who strode off to the Command Deck, and grasped his interbase voxcom from his utility strap. "Commando Team Prime-Seven, assemble at the Embarkment Vandeck!"

Each Commando Team had five members. We've already been introduced to two. The third member of Hood's team was the Cultural Interoperative, who's job it was to reinterpret history for the Commando Team. Sub-Lieutenant Boudicca was also a fierce warrior queen in her own right, and made no bones about her desire to lead the Commando Team someday.

Occupying the post of heavy weapons expert was a tall and broadshouldered man named James Douglas, though everyone on the team called him "Corporal Black" after his historical nickname. An unabashed Scot, he had taken a long time to ease into knowing and trusting his English teammates. But there was no man better with a Mark Seven Blaster Destrocannon.

Rounding out the five man team was the team's mobile science expert. Another Scot, but a more trusting one, this fellow was able to adapt to any situation. He could use his enhanced neural delta-interface to make any computer respond in almost any situation. This guy was another James, but his name was James Watt - Lieutenant James Watt.

Fawkes entered as well, and Robin stood on the embarkment preplatform. "Folks, we have an official sigma-four alert. Someone has mixed two alpha-streams and caused a betawave in 1066. As you all know, that's where William the Conqueror..." a cough cut him off. "General The Conqueror became famous. If he dies in the battle, the betawave could alter all history, including our own. We have to succeed.

"We're going in hot and with full commando op-equip. That means we'll all carry standard gear - Mark Five-A unibolters and Type IV lanceguns, plus your special gear. Set your physio-containment shields to full, neutranize your anti-plasma and energy dispersal fields. We'll trust to speed and shock to keep our appearance and weapons from polluting the timeline further. We have...forty one fourteen microns, folks. Get in, locate the betawave origin point, call in the cavalry and we'll put things right. Any questions?"

The team shook their head. "Good. Sychronize your temporal chronometers on my mark....mark! Fire up the time portation exounit!" The portal unit burst into shimmering green and aquamarine, and the five Time Commandos leapt through.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dystopian Future Story, Random Chapter

Thought I'd post this. It's set in a dystopian future in which the US Constitution is overridden during a period of populace apathy by the Religious Right. And I think this bit is one of my favourite pieces of writing I've ever done.

The day of the vote was the quietest yet. Every now and then a truck passed the bar, but not one soul entered. I stood behind the wooden, polished bar for the entire day, watching the door anxiously, with an ear turned to the news. The danger of internal terrorism, it had been claimed, was why the roads to Washington DC were cordoned off. However, the government had promised the result of this vote would be revealed as soon as possible.

Some people surely had turned to CSPAN only to find the political channel had been deactivated. There was to be no live coverage of this debate, of this vote. It was a day of waiting for most. Some likely mourned, mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters of those whom the violence had already claimed.

But it was not television that broke the news to me. Rather, it was the noise of something in the back room breaking. I had already sent home my staff for the day – it was apparent that nobody was going to come in and need the kitchen working beyond what I could do myself – and so I was alone. I paused and turned, gazing towards the kitchen door. The things my brother had said to me resonated in my mind. Could he have voted no, and just maybe was a threat against me about to be carried out?

But then the door opened, and the man stepping into my bar wasn’t a soldier. He was disheveled, a finely cut suit torn to shreds, and blood soaking the shirt through in several places. His hair was askew and a little flap of skin was drooping sadly over his left eye. Blood from that cut, and possibly others, obscured his face, but even so, I knew Jonathan when I saw him.

“What?” I said. He looked at me and then laughed, just a little.

“Oh, I voted no,” he said. I moved over to him and slid an arm around his body, taking him quickly to sit.

“Jesus Christ, Jonathan,” I started, but he cut me off.

“That’s pretty much the half of it,” he replied. He was reaching into his coat for something as I pressed a wadded bar towel to his head. “Here,” he said, groaned, really. He pressed a blood-covered flash drive into my hand.

I raised an eyebrow and gazed down to it. “What’s this?”

“I recorded the proceedings today. Remember how we talked about proof? This is it.”

“Is this why they beat you?”

“Nobody beat me, Jake. I got this getting through the wire they put around the Capitol. We slipped out the back after the vote, and gave the Marines the slip for a minute. We cut the wire with some tin snips, but didn’t do a good enough job. I caught a strand of it in the face,” he said, indicating the tear along his forehead. “We were running down the street when they saw us. Sandy got shot. I don’t know if she’s alive or dead.” Sandy was a Congresswoman from California Jonathan had been seeing in the backrooms of the Capitol for a few months then. He hadn’t been sure if he loved her or not, but he was certainly fond of her.

I sighed softly, pressing the bit of skin into its proper place on my brother’s forehead. “Hold this. I’ll get the first aid kit.”

“First thing you do is hide that drive.”


“Do it!” he said. His voice was firm in a way I’d rarely ever heard. I raised an eyebrow, but I moved over to the bar with the flash drive. One of the taps was loose, and I tugged it free and slid the drive into a hollow there. Then I closed the tap back down, and found the first aid kid.

He was my little brother, a year and a half younger than me. Mom and dad never had much money, but Jonathan always managed. He had made his first dimes selling lemonade on the street corner, or something else equally clichéd, I’m sure. Regardless, he worked hard to get enough money to go to school. Only the best – Jonathan put himself through Harvard. I joined the Army.

I went to Iraq two days after he graduated from Harvard. I was 25, he was 23, and our lives were about to take two very separate turns. He moved to New York and made a killing on Wall Street. I went to Baghdad and killed people. His investments were getting bigger and bigger, and after my first tour I started giving half my pay to Jonathan to invest for me. Not much money, but he did more than enough with it to make it blossom.

It was my last tour that I won the Silver Star. As always, our convoy was minding its own business, when we hit an IED. I was ejected from the .50 caliber turret and hit the ground away from the Humvee. Didn’t break anything, but I was black and blue for two solid weeks. Managed to get my M-16 up and around.

It wasn’t a normal attack. This time the terrorists, or Sunni militia, or Shia militia, or Al Qaeda, or whoever they were, had stuck around. We heard the distinctive sound of AK 47s being fired at the column. My Humvee, the lead, was down and out. There were four more in the column. As I was getting my bearings someone smoked the last one with an RPG and blasted it up onto its side. I started shooting at random.

I knew that if I didn’t get back to the convoy, I was dead. Nothing seemed broken, so I got up and started running. I was shot in the back, right in the armour plate, and was back down on my face with a mouth of dust. We were stuck in some small fucking Iraqi town, buildings on either side alive with someone trying to kill us, and burning vehicles blocking our evac.

Next thing I heard was bullets zipping over my head. I looked to the side and there was some Iraqi shooting at me, or shooting in general. But he was sitting in the driver’s side of a big fucking truck, probably belonged to the coalition originally, with the top cut right off. That’s a weird sight, this big ol’ two ton truck with the cab cut right off. Anyway, I shot him. Two rounds, right in the chest. And I got up and ran to the truck.

The truck was running as I jumped in and tossed the dead Iraqi (he looked about sixty) out to the dirt road. I hit the gas. A couple of our boys thought I was going to ram them, but luckily their shots went wide, or snapped off the hood. I used the beat up old truck to smash my burning, shattered Humvee out of the road and off to the side. It got wedged right up against the building.

“Come on, dammit!” I yelled. “Move the fucking Hummers!” Next thing I knew, there were three or four men jumping onto the back of the truck, using it for cover, spraying fire at one of the buildings hemming us in where I guess a few Iraqi fighters must have been. A few bodies were tossed in the back by more soldiers, who were firing in the other direction. Then the living Humvees drove by, .50 cals thundering heavily. Through all the low noise of gun recoil, the revving of engines, screams of the dying and the wounded, I could hear those heavy shells tinkling down to the ground. A strange thing to remember, but it’s there.

Then I threw the truck into reverse and peeled out of the ambush after the Hummers. The guys in the back did a hell of a job putting out covering fire. They must have emptied five or six clips each as we peeled out. No careful shooting, we just wanted to get the fuck out of there.

Then I noticed there was a guy in the truck next to me. I don’t remember him getting in, but he was there. His helmet had been blown in half, probably by one of the first impacts, but later in the fight he had taken a bullet. It had skipped off his skull and left him bleeding and dazed. He died of brain damage later, I heard. But he was shooting too. It was that look in his eyes, that look that said he knew he was done for, that look of utter defiance and the damnable creed to die with his boots on getting his buddies out of a jam, that if he’s gotta go he’s going to make sure others get out, that I saw in Jonathan’s eyes as I patched up his wounds as best I could. It was chilling.

They gave me the Silver Star and they gave that man’s wife a folded flag, and we both did the same thing – the best we could. Fucking Army.

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's that time again.

8 years ago, New York City and Arlington, Virginia were attacked by terrorists of Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda Islamist Jihad group. Everybody in the world knows the story of this horrid day - certainly I remember it being seared into my mind when Jim Burns came on the PA at school and announced it to a shocked group of teens in smalltown Nova Scotia. So I shan't recant the moment for you.

Instead, I want to remind you of Jon Stewart's thoughts when the Daily Show came back a couple weeks later. Or of Keith Olbermann's thoughts three years ago. Or alternately, of the cartoons that ran in the local paper a few days after September 11th. I want to remind you, my devoted readers (lol) about the realities of the situation, and the differences of the horrors of today compared to the horrors of the past.

September 11th is a horrible day, a terrible time in human history. But the wholesale and brutal slaughter of 3017 people is but a drop of dead in the timeline of the United States, as an example. 19,246 soldiers were killed in the Battle of the Bulge. 3654 Americans, north and south, died at the Battle of Antietam. What sets 9/11 apart is the sheer number of American civilian casualties.

We must remind ourselves that the Americans have never seen such civilian casualties in their history from a foreign source. The Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 never truly damaged the civilian population - those weapons didn't yet exist to cause mass civilian casualties without long, protracted sieges of starvation. The Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II never came to US soil in any meaningful way. The Cold War never became hot.

Of course, America was very good at damaging civilian infrastructure, and still is. Just go ask the Afghans and the Iraqis. So what 9/11 was, was a shock that people could actually strike a city that hadn't seen war in hundreds of years: New York. That the heart of the US military was not immune: the Pentagon. It was a crack in the myth of American invulnerability, a myth that had faded following Vietnam but returned in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the one-sided Gulf War. And this crack went straight to the heart of both the economic and military spheres of American life.

This isn't a bad thing. Every great nation has moments that shake it to its very core. How those nations are defined is the mannerism in which they act following this. Afterwards, everyone expected the United States to perform exactly as it had the last two times there was such a moment. They expected the (glorified and near-mythological) reaction of the North following Fort Sumter; a great uprising of the massive Union to put down the evil of terrorism. They expected the (less glorified and only semi-mythological) awakening of the giant following the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor. In short, they expected the United States to act as the magnanimous but powerful superpower face it always put forward.

I remember the Bruce MacKinnon cartoons of Sept 12, 13, and 14, each detailing the image of Uncle Sam. The first had Uncle Sam on his knee, a thick knife titled terrorism stuck deep in his back. The second showed Uncle Sam struggling to his feet, reaching for the blade. The third showed the blade discarded, and Uncle Sam striding confidently, powerfully, towards the light. It was a powerful image of the way the United States has always, in the past, acted.

Five years later, Keith Olbermann gave a monologue from Ground Zero in New York City:

The world has changed, and the United States failed the challenge. They allowed themselves to be deluded by fuzzy photos and false reports on yellowcake and invaded Iraq for no good reason. Yes, they toppled an evil dictator, but they killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people in the process - and 4,334 US soldiers. The United States allowed itself to be manipulated by the government, who extended a hand saying patriotism whilst the other hand pushed the Constitution under the rug.

Yet a failure doesn't mean the dream is dead. One poor decision, or one poor government is not a permanent blemish on the Great American Experiment concocted by Jefferson, Madison, Adams, et al. After all, they lived through the Civil War; through the presidencies of Herbert Hoover and James Buchanan. George W. Bush could not be worse, could he? There's no way he's irrevocably damaged the there?

This is the question we hope will be answered by the Obama presidency, be it one term or two. I'm not saying that Obama is a saviour - I'm simply questioning whether or not the Union can work in the way it has for the past couple hundred years in the post Bush era. We're watching the health care bill right now, watching as people scream and deride and spit out the most vicious nonsense I've ever heard in political discourse - even the visceral hatred of Bush by the extreme left never hit this level of nastiness. Obama has 4 times more threats on his life in a day than Bush did.

If the government can still function in this morass, we just might be on the way forward. But I won't be happy until BOTH sides sit down and pass an important bill without the ideological discrimination that has dominated the Congress since, well, Gingrich. That's when we know the Union will be going forward, and not drowning out reason and sense in screams and spitting and angry rhetoric.

People have freedom of speech and can say what they want, but the same people should attempt to educate themselves as to what they're actually saying, instead of listening to the talking heads, who absolutely do not tell it how it is. The fear that came from 9/11 - that the United States is somehow vulnerable to evil forces like terrorism, or socialism, or illegal immigration, or you name it, is being exploited by the left and right instead of healed. It is not from without that the Union is vulnerable. It is from within - it is when Americans learn to hate other Americans that the real danger comes, and I think they are learning that right now.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Historical Event of the Week: End of the Marathon of Hope

Many of you non-Canadians out there probably haven't heard of a fellow named Terry Fox. Terry was a young Canadian doing what lots of young Canadians loved to do in the late 70s. He played basketball and was noted for his determination, and went off to university at Simon Fraser. The difference was that Terry had cancer, and he died very young of the disease in 1981.

Instead of being a pussy, Terry refused to give up. They took his leg, but that just gave him a greater balls-to-dude ratio. Terry decided to run across the fucking country, from Newfoundland to BC. He dipped his leg in the Atlantic Ocean and ran across the island of Newfoundland. Nobody gave a fuck.

He ran across Nova Scotia. People started to care, they lined the highways in some places. Quebec was pretty rough on Terry, but then he hit Ontario, and realized he was a celebrity, and beloved. Millions came in to help fight cancer. And Terry was given interviews and Darryl Sittler gave him his All-Star Jersey, and everything.

But this is about the end of the Marathon of Hope, because Terry Fox's cancer metastasized to his lungs. He couldn't run anymore, because he had trouble breathing. He stopped outside of Thunder Bay, and the place where he stopped has become a point of national pilgrimage.

Terry couldn't run anymore, but his Marathon never really stopped. The Marathon of Hope continued as fundraisers went across Canada, and massive telethons raised over $24 million in Terry's name. Every year, kids across Canada (and the world) take place in the Terry Fox Run, wherein they raise money for cancer research with pledges to engage in mini-marathons. Crossing Canada has become a thing to do for anyone with a cause, like Rick Hansen did in a wheelchair.

Terry Fox died on June 28, 1981, but he remains a hero to many Canadians and cancer patients. I always think of him as the guy who spat in Death's face and said, "Fuck you. I'm gonna run across Canada, leg or no leg. Take my life if you want - because it's worth it."

But maybe we should look at Terry's own words about doing this:

...everybody seems to have given up hope of trying. I haven't. It isn't easy and it isn't supposed to be, but I'm accomplishing something. How many people give up a lot to do something good. I'm sure we would have found a cure for cancer 20 years ago if we had really tried.

Hockey Player of the Week: Larry Robinson

Holy shit I'm behind. I'm gonna spend my shift working on my b-day to try and catch up on blogposts. Today's Hockey Player is one of the greatest defensemen of all time; if he's not mentioned in the first all-time defensive pair, he's definitely in the second. That's right, he's up there with Orr, Harvey, Lidström, and Bourque. He is the all-time leader in career plus/minus, and a two-time Norris winner. He is:

#19, Larry Robinson

Larry Robinson was best known as Big Bird to his contemporaries - probably because the hair created a fringe similar to the Muppet of the same name. But what is undeniable is that Robinson was one of the greatest hockey players of all time. He was #25 on the Hockey News's list of the top 100 players - but there has never been a better D on Le Club de Hockey Canadien - except for Doug Harvey, of course.

Robinson was also #2 for most of his early career to another very famous defenseman: Bobby Orr. He often finished second in Norris voting to the perennial defense champ (who was arguably the best hockey player of all time). Big Bird outlasted Orr, though. He played 20 seasons and made the playoffs each time - and won six cups as a player. He was also a Conn Smythe winner.

Big Bird was a massive figure on the Montreal blue line - 6'5", and a hugely intimidating physical figure. In the wunderkind Montreal team of the 70s, people knew that if they had to get to Ken Dryden, they had to go through Robinson, a task no hockey player looked forward to.

For his career, Larry was +730, a record that will probably never be broken, due to the sheer dominance of Montreal for those 10 years in the 70s. He was never a minus player, and owned every blue line he was on, no matter who was in front of him - be it Yvan Cournoyer, Jean Beliveau, Steve Shutt, Bob Gainey, Guy Carbonneau, or Wayne Gretzky.

But there's more. Larry has coached in the NHL as well, first for the Kings in the post-Wayne era (they didn't do so hot), and later for the Devils. Robinson coached the Devils to the 2000 Stanley Cup and the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals; he was fired the next year, but came back in time to be assistant to the famous Pat Burns in 2003. He's been a part of the Devils organization a few times since.

He joined the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995, and Larry's #19 was retired by the Habs for his service to the team. He was one of the greatest players we ever had, and we should be lucky to see another man of his stature and statesmanship on Montreal in the future.

Monday, September 7, 2009

From the mouths of undergrads...

I found this list of quotations from when I marked Religious Studies 100 papers for a prof back at my alma mater. Suffice to say, many of them are fucking hilarious. I'm going to give you an intro to hilarity.

As I marked these anonymously I have no way of knowing if they were written by idiots, people who slept through class, never went, or crazy fundamentalists of some type. They are, however, all worth a read.

Pagans are people who think Satan is God and God is Satan and are wrong.

Well, I wouldn't want to be wrong. Glad I'm not a pagan!

In order for a religion to be a religion it must have a God, a Son, and a Holy Ghost. These are the three basic requirements for religion.

Sorry, Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoites, Taoists, Jews, Wiccans, and those of any other faith. You're not actually religions.

If it wasn't for pagans we couldn't have neo-pagans.

I do remember the name on this one. C. Obvious.

I believe that Mormons might be a sect of Christianity. But maybe that's just their beliefs.

Actually, Mormons spawned from Viking myth. They just believe they're a Christian sect.

Christianity and Voodoo are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Voodoo is a religion that has deep roots in black magic and essentially are devil followers - they definately don't follow the Christian God. Anyway possession for them is something that should be embraced not eliminated. However, I suppose if Jesus reincarnated himself into my body I don't see my Parish Priest trying to perform an exorcism on me - it's all in perspective.

Well damn. Jesus himself possessing you would be OK? What about Moses? Job? Noah? How about Joe Stalin? Christ.

The three requirements for religion are life, death, and resurrection. Without resurrection you can't have religion. All religions have these things.


A pagan is a person who believes in feminism. Feminism is also called Wicca.

That's right. Wiccans all pray to their founder: Susan B. Anthony.

The Nation of Islam is different from mainstream Islam because it is not very nice to people.

This is actually really quite true. The Nation of Islam is not very nice to people. Islam is only not nice to women, infidels, and homosexuals. Who obviously aren't people at all.

The Nation of Islam believes that black people are the 'cream of the earth' which makes no sense because black people are not cream coloured.

Look for Hitchens to steal this one for his next book.

Moonies are like Mormons because both religions start with an M.

Ph.D candidate.

L. Ron Hubbard was an example of a magus figure because Tom Cruise likes his ideas.

I always thought this was a magus figure:

Liberals are a lot more conservative when it comes to displaying their beliefs.

This was written before Glenn Beck came on the national stage. In fact, one might say it was written in a better, happier time.

Liberals are individuals who aren't conservative.

C. Obvious again!

Zionism - a group of Jewish people that believe that Israel should be completely Jewish...they're sort of an activist group.

That's right. Zionism is one of the biggest activist groups in the world, up there with Greenpeace and, I don't know, the fuckin' WWF:

Since all the Jews have been dispersed so much over the years, they want, and so does everyone else, the Jews to all reassemble and move back to Israel.

That's right. That's why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is always offering to bomb the area - making it easier for all the Jews to just move on in!

The Jewish attitude towards the body is that when doing communion, for example, the bread is His body, and wine is His blood.

Is that during Hanukkah or Yom Kippur?

Zionism is the belief that there is one main god, but there are also others. If the others are on the same side as the main god, they are good, and if not, they are bad. At the end of time there will be a great battle between good and bad and the good will win.

That's from Zionism 2:14. "And there shall be a battle between the main god and the other gods - Zeus, Thor, and Bob. And good shall win. Oy vey!"

Orthodoxy refers to the rich and strict Jewish followers. Orthopraxis has something to do with dental work.

No, no, NO! Praxis is the moon of Qu'noS that blew up in Star Trek VI!

A golem is a Jewish article of clothing.

Guess where they wear it? Not there. Pervert.

Zionism can involve animals. In a religious way.

I hope they're wearing their golem.

Transubstantiation is having to do with travel, and Jesus did some travelling up until he died.

Jesus did some transubstantiatin' after he died too, according to the Mormons. And the Catholics. Who's right?

Apocrypha were the paintings done within the Eastern Orthodox Church, such as those of the Virgin Mary. This was in contrast to the statues of the West Roman Catholic Church.

Ah, yes. The famous Apocrypha of St. Basil's Cathedral.

Apocrypha is similar to the word apocalypse, and both involve the world coming to an end.

It is also similar to the word apostrophe, which (like apocrypha) has nothing to do with the world coming to an end.

...possession in Christianity belongs to God. Your body is a temple which holds the holy spirit and the soul. One has to act according to Christian morals and guidelines so the spirit can come alive and guide the body. In Voodoo, one person can act in a similar fashion to God by possessing the body of someone else and effecting them. They do not become part of this person like the holy spirit but can effect them externally without the use of their body...

I don't even know.

Calvinist believe that Original Sin is about Adam and Eve having sex, and not about the forbidden fruit at all.


Hermeneutics is a religion of witch craft which just started in the 1940s, although they claim it has been going on since the start of time. There is no historical proof of this.

Honestly, I don't know where to start with this. Pointing out that it would be impossible to prove something historically that started back at the Big Bang, or pointing out that hermeneutics is actually the study of the interpretation of historical texts.

Original Sin is the sin we are all born with, which really just gives us the authority to commit sin.

And you will respect mah authoritah!

One more, my favourite:
Taoism is a religion where you pick an animal or a rock to be your god.

I choose granite.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ship of the Week: USS Archerfish (SS-331)

Submarines are ships too. They are narrow, cramped, long, penis-shaped ships who's job is to shove similarly penis-shaped objects into other ships, exploding dramatically into a hole that then destroys the other ships.

I've been reading too much feminist literature. Everything is a penis now.

Anyway, this is about one of the most famous submarines in naval history. Like many other famous vessels, this ship had a long and distinguished career, but had one action that really made it stand out - one of the greatest submarine actions in American history. We're talking about:

USS Archerfish (SS-331)

Archerfish was one of 128 Balao-class submarines built by the United States Navy during World War II. The Balao-class vessels provided the bulk of the work done by the USN in the submarine war against Japan, and was very closely related to the preceding Gato-class ships. Like the rest of the ships in her class, Archerfish displaced around 1500 tons on the surface, was around 100 metres long, and could rip along at a stately 20 knots while surfaced. 10 torpedo tubes could deliver 24 torpedoes during one cruise.

Like many submarines, Archerfishstarted her war in 1943, and wasn't particularly notable right away. She had a few failed attacks and rescued the life of a downed naval aviator during air attacks on Iwo Jima. So, a fairly boring and basic life for a submarine.

That all changed on 28 November, 1944. Archerfish was stationed off Tokyo Bay as a recovery craft for B-29 crew from airplanes shot down or damaged over Japan. However, on that day, there were to be no B-29 raids. However, a large ship was spotted leaving Tokyo Bay - probably a tanker. Archerfish was given license to pursue the ship.

Upon reaching station, Commander Joe Enright, in charge of Archerfish, realized that the ship was not a tanker at all, but instead an aircraft carrier. He tracked the ship carefully, and the carrier turned into Archerfish's path. Enright prepared a spread of six torpedoes, to run shallow to hopefully capsize the top-heavy enemy ship.

Four of the torpedos hit, and Archerfish could hear the enemy vessel making breaking noises as she dove away from the scene of the attack. One of the enemy's escorts pursued the US sub, attacking it with depth charges. However, Archerfish survived, and was hailed as a hero. Enright won the Navy Cross - and Archerfish herself won the Presidential Unit Citation.

Turns out the ship the Archerfish sank was the Shinano, a Yamato-class battleship that had been converted into an aircraft carrier secretly by the Japanese, and was capable of carrying like 160 airplanes. She displaced 72,000 tons, and thus was the largest ship ever sunk by submarine.

Shinano was a rush conversion, and design flaws contributed greatly to Archerfish's ability to send her to the bottom. In addition, the damage was originally presumed to be minor; Shinano was able to continue steaming. But the ship's watertight doors weren't quite watertight - some theories have said that they failed to close due to incompleteness. In addition, the crew of Shinano was a skeleton crew, moving the ship to where her finishing touches would be added, and not very experienced in fighting floods.

She stayed up for 4 hours, then capsized and sank.

Archerfish served after the war, in the role of an attack submarine, and a research boat after the advent of the nuclear sub. She was finally retired in May of 1968 after 25 years of service in the United States Navy. She was then sunk as a target. In addition to her Presidential Unit Citation, Archerfish received seven battle stars - often as the role of lifeguard for US airplanes. But she will forever be remembered for her role in striking down desperate Japan's one last great weapon for making war.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

College Football doesn't leave players with a sense of entitlement at all!

So, because I am at work, bored, and have nothing better to do, I was reloading Twitter waiting for shitmydadsays to update, and I started reading the other recent feeds. I saw Jen's tweet about going to a college football game, and curiosity killed the proverbial cat. I opened up ESPN and took a look to see who Purdue was playing, and maybe see what else was going on in the strange and mystical world of college football.

And I found this: Oregon Ducks suspend LeGarrette Blount for remainder of season.

Basically, Blount suckerpunched a guy in the face because the Ducks lost a game they were expected to lose. Yeah, real sportsmanlike, Mr. Blunt. Oregon did the right thing and immediately suspended him. Except...

"He is taking this very hard," Kelly said, choking up. "He understands he made a mistake and he has to pay for the mistake. But we're not going to throw LeGarrette Blount out on the street."

Kelly said he hoped Blount's ultimate legacy "won't be a YouTube clip of what happened to him on September 3rd in Boise, Idaho."

Blount gets to keep his scholarship and he gets to keep practicing with the team. But his legacy shouldn't be "what happened to him"? What about what happened to Byron Hout? Byron Hout was punched in the head, and could have been seriously injured. Hout was apparently loudly celebrating his team's victory, and in Blount's face. But Blount still hauled off and cracked the other guy. This is his fault, and if it is his legacy? So be it.

Blount says he lost his head. But it sure took him awhile to find it, because:

Blount also had to be restrained by police from fans heckling him on the way to the locker room.

So, not only did he take on a football player, he was ready to go beat up those fans, who were heckling him (on home turf) because he punched a guy in the head. Wow, real brave man. A great idol for all prospective football players.

There was an upside, however:

"This case points out that we still need to have a commitment to sportsmanship and respect," [Geoff Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association] told ESPN's Joe Schad. "It was sad as I watched [the events in Boise], but the good news is nobody joined in. That would have been a brawl back in the day."

Oh, that is good news. Thanks, Geoff Teaff, for pointing that out!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Aircraft of the Week: Polikarpov I-16

This week's airplane is another monoplane fighter. This is from the 1930s and early 1940s, and was a pioneer in that it was the first cantilever monoplane with a fully retractable undercarriage and an enclosed cockpit (which most Red Army pilots ripped off). It served with distinction in the Spanish Civil War, and while outclassed by the Bf-109 and Fw-190 in 1941, was still pressed into service. It's a stubby little fighter:

The Polikarpov I-16

This tiny little fighter was a highly maneuverable and very quick plane for its time. An all-weather fighter (a must in Russia), the I-16 had a Wright Cyclone engine in a small body, giving it a very high power-to-weight ratio. A well-designed wing gave it a high lift - and the fighter could be quickly whipped off the ground on a short, undeveloped runway (again, a must in Russia). Combining these features created a world-beating fighter that the Russians mass-produced.

The I-16 (also known as the Rata or Mosca in Spain and the Siipiorava in Finland) had a heavy armament of two 7.92mm machine guns and two 20mm cannons, which brought more punch to the fight than its contemporaries in Spain. The He-51 and the Ar-68 only had two machine guns, and were biplanes. The I-16 was more than a match for them in the sky.

Unfortunately, the little Rata ended up battling the Messerschmitt Bf-109 in Spain as well, a plane which rather outclassed it. However, the I-16 remained a valuable plane in both Spanish and Soviet service, for the reasons previously mentioned. It was, numerically, the most important fighter in VVS service in 1939, 1940, and 1941, and it came up against the Bf-109 again during Operation Barbarossa.

The stubby little fighter showed its worth. The "Istak" (as it was fondly known to the Soviet pilots) could fight in all weather conditions and it whipped easily off the ground. However, it couldn't bring the same speed to higher-altitude combat that the Bf-109 could. The Fw-190 completely had its number. Regardless, the airplane inflicted many kills on the Luftwaffe, usually out of desperation and skill rather than luck and airplane superiority.

The little plane also served in Chinese service, giving the Japanese a good fight in the air, and served with Spain till the 1950s. By all accounts it was a very easy and pleasant plane to fly and fight, and it was chosen as a satellite test platform for dropping fighters from bombers for longer mission support. A handful of examples survive today, and the small fighter that could is still loved by airplane enthusiasts worldwide.

Dudette of the Week: Nichelle Nichols

It's really easy to forget that the 60s were only 40 years ago, but were a completely different time. A time where the world, especially in the USA, were divided on racial lines. So, perhaps it's hard to imagine that a simple TV starlet could make a huge difference in individual lives, not to mention the entire world. I'm talking about:

Nichelle Nichols

Star Trek was a big deal. Let's remember what it was all about. Back in the 60s, during the space race, before man had ever walked on the moon, a guy named Gene Roddenberry had an idea for a semi-utopian future, in which space exploration had united the planet Earth, along with some other friendly alien species. These friendly species worked together, spreading the Earth-like ideals throughout the galaxy.

The first idea that Roddenberry had was that the crew of the fictional Enterprise had to be of all races and types. You had the generic James Kirk (American - Iowa), Leonard McCoy (American - South), Hikaru Sulu (Japan), Montgomery Scott (Scotland), Pavel Chekov (Russian), and Uhura (African). The inclusion of four foreigners, and Spock, really set Star Trek aside from many of the series of the day.

Nichelle Nichols, as everyone knows, was cast as Uhura. What you didn't know about her is that, aside from William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, Nichols got the most fanmail by far at the NBC studios. It's just that she wasn't given it. It took a concerted effort from Nimoy to convince NBC to give her equal standing.

In addition, most of Roddenberry's attempts to include Uhura as a main cast member were rebuffed by the network. That's why she had the fucked up eye-makeup - so that in black and white TV, she looked more Asian than anything. But starting in the second season, she was given a serious role.

She persevered because she was convinced that she had suddenly become a role model in the black community, despite the ingrained racism at NBC. Apparently she was about to quit, and she was finally convinced of her role - by a man named Martin Luther King, Jr, who took the time to meet her when he heard she was about to quit. Nichols stuck with it, and she ended up, well...famous.

It's not just Star Trek. Those who know me will be shocked, but Nichelle has been fantastically influential in other fields. First of all, she was a recruiter for NASA, helping them get new astronaut candidates in the female and minority range. The first lady black astronaut, Mae Jemison, cited Nichols as a huge inspiration. She also recruited Guion Bluford, the first African-American astronaut, and by all accounts was terribly shaken after the Challenger disaster, when two astronauts she had recruited (Doctors Judy Resnik and Ron McNair) died in the explosion.

Nichelle has been part of Star Trek movies, of course, but also been in any number of roles, including in Heroes, recently. She played herself in Futurama a couple times. But she was a participant in one of the first cross-racial kisses, with Bill Shatner. This was a defining moment in her career.

But we should look back on this amazing woman's career, both as a black American icon, a lover of space exploration, and a great actress who has given so much back to Star Trek fans over the years, and realize perhaps a defining moment in our history was when Nichelle Nichols was cast as Uhura - and when she fully embraced the role, and all the responsibility it had unexpectedly brought.