To Microsoft Xbox Gold Live,

I’m dissatisfied as a customer with your service.

An Xbox Live Billing Team Lead, hard at work.

Recently, I had an interesting call regarding my Xbox Live Gold Membership with a pair of phone agents working in the Billing Department for Microsoft Live.  Probably most do not even know what I’m talking about.  Xbox 360 and the games they market have the capability to play over the internet with quite literally, the world.

Sure, this is great fun, but not free, though it should be.  Especially when rival company Sony, offer’s the same multiplayer experience for free with their Playstation 3 gaming console.   While I could rant on this point alone, for the time being I’m giving the people making  Xbox Live possible, the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe the service requires extensive maintenance to offer it to so many players.

On Sept. 22, I was distressed to find a strange debit of $7.99 taken from my account.  The descriptor was labeled Microsoft, Xbox Gold Membership.  Immediately I called Microsoft Billing, as it was still processing the debit.  I spoke to two different agents in there Billing Dept., both of which told me their was nothing they could do to refund the money.  All they could do for me was stop the automated billing for the next month, and asked me to enjoy another month of Xbox Gold.  After hearing this, I was upset with the “customer experience” I was receiving from Xbox Live.

You see, it was explained to me I had no right to my money, because I had agreed to the terms of use, one of which was an automated debit of 7.99 per month or until canceled – whether I knew that point or not.

I explained to them this policy was not made known or mentioned to me in any literature at any time before, during, or after my purchase of a single month of Gold Membership.  The agent explained me the policy could be found on the internet at the Xbox live website, to which I responded I hadn’t purchased the membership on the website, rather I had purchased the membership over xbox live.

The agent was quiet.  Why?  Because there is NO policy listed to subscribers when purchasing Gold Memberships over Xbox Live.  The agents rebuttal was, and I’ll paraphrase, “none-the-less, you signed the agreement and there are no refunds. We literally can’t do that.”

I asked them if they understood what a Catch-22 was.  They seemed vaguely familiar, but I explained to them I was living it currently and that I was unsatisfied with the lack of understanding in my position as a consumer.  I used one valid and logical argument after another to prove my case, and even the agent seemed to empathize with my plight.  In the end, I was told frankly, “we can not refund your money.”  And to talk to my bank about filing a fraudulent charge to recoup the debit.

I was winning though.  I know this because I could hear the Billing agents manager coaching him/her in the background, trying their hardest to get me off the line.

Microsoft, are you so bent on getting my 7.99 that you’re willing to lose a customer for life over a shitty contract which seems to vaguely make stealing from people legal, so long as I “agree” to it?  Apparently so.

I’ve decided to pursue a job with the Account and Billing Dept. for Xbox Live, as it is apparently the easiest job in the world.  It seems they only operate in two singular capacities.  1) Of giving the appropriate web address for Gold Membership billing policy, when customers complain of a surprise reaming.  2) Explaining to customers Microsoft is legally not required to offer lubricants.

P.S.  As a tip to your agents, tell them not to pitch a guy who’s making a complaint.

Life isn’t fair.

We’ve heard it before but never really given much thought to the cliché.  It seems straight forward, especially after living a life of my own a while now.  Life starts with our unprepared entry at birth, and ends most likely in much the same way with our death.  Add to this a series of disappointments, both unexpected and unwanted change, unrequited love, unanswered questions, and the ideological acceptance or denial of a God we may or may not know anything about.

Occasionally, life blesses us with pinnacle instances of whole hearted and genuinely joyous moments.  A favorite childhood Christmas at Grandma’s.  A first kiss.  Or maybe it was having children. Or, God help us, mistaking the sum of your college debt for the Economic Recovery Bill.

As humans we have made a habit of failure and mediocrity.  In all honesty, we do very few things right or to the best of our ability. Even hide the finest qualities of our being for fear of the realization of greatness within ourselves.  Give us any moral compass to guide us through our trials and we’ll turn it into a weapon, for flagellation against others and especially ourselves.  Stranger still is our belief we deserve to suffer the flogging.  For penance of our wrong doings.

Religions claim the truth, but it feels like really they are only attempting to monopolize it, even capitalizing on it.  How are we to sift though the pages, all the wisdom or science, the speakers of all the sliest shams, to differentiate what’s true about our existence in one life time, only to be threatened with the prospect of accountability for our progress.

Should we feel so bad for the mistakes we make in our lives?

We should take it easy on ourselves, because for all intents and purposes, we’ve never done this before.  We’ve never lived this life with the name we carry now.  Never experienced this day in September, during this year.  How is it we hold each other so accountable, in light of such utter credulity?

Super Why! is a TV show devoted to teaching kids 3 and up how to use words, spell them, say them, and recite the ABC’s.  My little one loves the show’s introduction song, “Super readers, to the rescue!”  It’s actually all we watch it for, the music in and around the show.  (She really likes music.)

"I've just come back from fixing a math problem. Now 2 + 2 = 5!"

After watching a particular show I realized I wasn’t watching Super Why!, I was actually watching a kid’s version of 1984.  Wyatt and the protagonist Winston Smith from 1984 share particular job interests– they rewrite things differently than the way they were.

Wyatt with his friends dive into classic stories like Three Little Pigs, and find error’s in the text.  Even better, they replace inconvenient words with opportune ones.  This allows the story to progress the way they require it, which always fixes their problem.  Interesting isn’t it.

While the “perpetual war” of 1984 isn’t reflected directly, Wyatt and his friends are routinely drafted to fix problems in Story Book Land — the problems never seem to go away.  If that’s reading too deeply, I suppose I could simply point out the plots of Super Why! occur during our own perpetual 9 year “War on Terror”.  I’m digressing, but didn’t even Sun Tzu understand a society cannot sustain an extended war and also maintain cultural dominance.  And here I though Art of War was required reading for heads of state.

During this day’s particularly interesting segment of Super Why!, Wyatt has come to the point where he must select a word in the sentence which messes up the story for him and his friends.  Wyatt finds the word “wrong”, which fouls up everything for the people inside the story. Wyatt takes his queue, and highlights the word “wrong” with his super writer, a pen he uses like a magic wand.

After he’s highlighted the word “wrong”, he looks to the children for help, asking them which of three word choices would be the best choice to replace the word “wrong” with… but this is how he asks it:

“Super readers, which word is the opposite of the word ‘wrong’?

Is it:

RIGHT

CORRECT

POTATO SALAD*”

He chooses, “Correct”.

(*I don’t actually remember what the third choice was, because by this time I was astounded.)

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Wyatt just played a game of semantics.  He’s suggesting the word “Right” is NOT an antonym to “Wrong”.  Instead, he opts for “Correct”.  Which  suggests“Correct” is not synonymous with “Right”.  If that’s the case, then Wyatt has just told your toddler “Right” is not always “correct”. Wow, I didn’t learn this stuff until College Intro to Ethics.

Granted, “Right” doesn’t necessarily mean “True”—I see that rebuttal.  Obviously my argument is very black and white.  Nonetheless, if you aren’t shocked by what 3-year-olds are learning on PBS in the mornings, maybe you should drink a second cup of coffee before Sesame Street tells them to stand in front of their TV’s to do exercises at brisk paces.

Oh wait, they do- go read 1984.

Have you ever done it? I hesitate to ask, it’s such a hideous title.  Besides in confessing you’re a you-know-what, you might be found out!  Don’t worry though. I won’t tell anyone you’re a… tattletale.

Snitch.  Stool Pigeon.  Stoolie.  Narc.  Rat.  Fink. Ratfink! Turncoat.  Informant.  Squealer.  Buzz-killer; there’s something like 20 or more synonyms for the word “Tattletale”, which I supposes speaks to the unpopularity of the attribute.  My personal favorite is “whistleblower”.

Probably at some point or another, most likely when we were younger and in grammar school, we tattled on a classmate.  It was because they kicked you and took your blocks.  Maybe then they called you a name? You were now a “poopie-head”, and they wouldn’t take it back.

What’s a 5 year old to do? It’s a universal experience, addressed collectively as shut your cake hole.

God knows “poopie-head” ranks up there in the upper echelons of verbal abuse as a toddler, but whatever the case, we ran to the teacher for rescue.  We didn’t understand it, but we wanted a nemesis to exact retributive and righteous justice.  Enough to wipe the grin off that smarmy kid’s face and “take it back”.

However after explaining yourself your ally tells you instead, “Now Tommy, no-one likes a tattletale.”  The blocks?  Lost.  The insulting name? Embossed.  Instead of idealistic justice you’ve inadvertently committed the social faux pas of being a fat mouth.

One Saturday morning I took notice to a strange puppet show called “Wimzie’s House”.  In between bites of strawberry Pop-tart and coffee, I realized the episode message was the old “no one likes a tattletale” aphorism.  In the episode Wimzie comes to the defense of her friend being aggravated by another playmate.  Later she petitions her grandma for help and explains the situation. The story falls on deaf ears, of course.  Wimzie is told by grandma she shouldn’t tattle and very quickly points toward vague social ramifications of narcing.

I was okay with the entire scenario until the grandma later rebukes the same antagonist Wimzie informed of earlier in the episode.  What the heck?  Why does Grandma care so much now?  This opened a flood gate of my own verbal attacks aimed at Grandma.  A beratement I knew I could get away with- given her stance on tattling, I was safe.


The whole thing quickened my thinking regarding what tattling is and why we hate them so much.  Is it such a bad thing to ask for help in overwhelming situations?  Should I judge them so harshly in their hopelessness?

It came to me, despite my own beliefs of the entire lot, though tattlers are socially unacceptable, they remain arguably in most circumstances completely and morally faultless, despite their irritation.

It’s a treacherously fine line tattler’s walk between friend and foe, but where would Police, FBI, and other law enforcement organization be without their dirty informants?  Government agencies like the CIA and NSA are nothing without their sneaky spies and filthy moles.  Can we still hold onto this age old precept regarding tattlers when it’s persons like Harry Markopolos, the whistleblower ratting out Berne Madoff, or Enron’s Sharron Watkins?  Are they heroes or just Stoolies?

Despite how we feel about canaries, it seems to me the irritation found in tattlers is inversely proportional to the real irritation of being caught.  If I download 10,000 movies to bootleg on eBay, and I was busted by a friend-turned-crybaby, morally I can’t be upset with him.  However socially I’m at least justified in I totally giving the guy a slug bug—and two for flinching.

For 6 months I decided to try vegetarianism with my wife.  The diet was fine.  It was my experience with people which was more memorable.

The Veggiesaurus lived roughly 150 million years ago during the Jurassic Period.

The rest of her family thought she and I were nuts.  They looked at us like we’d joined a cult and asked them to try the Kool-Aid.

This is pretty much the response from most people after hearing, “Oh, I don’t eat meat.”  After it’s uttered you’re quickly marginalized, an outsider turned do-gooder-hippie-type is what you’ve become, you self-righteous snob.  Well whatever the label, it’s a derivative of a movie stereotype, probably Fast Food Nation, you tree hugger.

Those open to vegetarianism and supportive of your life choices soon begin asking questions remarkably similar to queries one might have regarding a religion.  It’s incredible the amount of anguish found in deciding upon places to eat dinner with friends, who are clearly annoyed with your newly found convictions on food.  No longer is it a simple choice, thanks to you of course.  It may as well be a man on the moon during the 60’s – impossible.

If co-workers discover your new preferences, be ready when the boss overtly mentions during the morning meeting, no he didn’t forget to pre-order you a salad or veggie pizza for the after work office party at the steakhouse later tonight.

So foreign is the idea of a “diet” to people, it literally bewilders the hearers to the land of non-sense.  A “diet” isn’t what you eat nowadays, it’s what you don’t eat; or what pill you swallow after a protein shake.

After 6 months I broke down for a black and bleu burger, medium well, fries, and a dark beer.  It was heavenly.  My beef with vegetarians is minimal given the sympathy provided through my experiences.

My thoughts regarding a veggie diet are, one, if you’re going vegetarian, eat actual veggies.  A diet of potatoes and pasta just isn’t as respectable as you might think.  Two, if you’re a vegetarian over the morality involved with killing an animal for food, reconsider your position entirely.  The fact is life needs life in order to live.  Whether its veggies or meat, if a creature is alive it requires something else once living to sustain itself in the universe.

Scavengers eat the recently dead, which makes me question if vegetarians on this soap box still find it morally questionable to eat road kill or very elderly and recently deceased animals.  In the end for me, I find the only valid reason for being a vegetarian seem only to rest in one preference: a person actually enjoys eating vegetables over any other food.

**Spoiler alert for Lovely Bones.**

Recently I sat through two movies selected from a nearby Redbox.  For this weekends viewing pleasure it was Shutter Island and Lovely Bones. Both seemed to hit a reasonable amount of buzz at their release, and I tend to like movies Leonardo DiCaprio chooses to work in.

Both were alright, but I found it interesting both either questioned or suggested their own ideas on morality.

In Shutter Island, the most interesting dialogue of the entire movie was during a short conversation between the characters Federal Marshal Teddy, and the Asylum’s Warden, who offers Teddy a ride back to campus.  The Warden’s character only speaks during these scenes, but every word was weighty and suggests, in my opinion, he represents something far more powerful, if not a supernatural force within the universe.

Shutter Island

The short of it, which speaks to my point, is the Warden suggests to Teddy there is no morality in the universe.  Instead he suggests, in so many words, theirs only a kind of negative-morality, one that’s composed only of chaos and violence.  “There is no moral order,” the Warden says.  “There’s just this: can my violence conquer yours?”  Hold this idea for moment.

Now while in Lovely Bones, the character Susie wrestles with her death in what’s basically some form of purgatory.  She begins to cry, yelling at her companions how her life was unfulfilled and therefore meaningless.  At one point she bursts into anger, wishing her murderer killed, a notion picked up by her father who goes after his daughters killer with a baseball bat.

This issue within her festers all while throughout the movie, there’s a theme of death as the great equalizer, despite a person being good or evil, “everyone dies,” says Holly, her closest friend in the afterlife.

At the end of the film, the murderer seems to “get away” in my opinion, when all the sudden, he’s picked off by an icicle which sends him falling back and over a steep and treacherous cliff to his death.  And that’s the end of him, arms broken over his shoulder and everything.

Lovely Bones

But over all, my immediate response was, “That was it?  That’s the justice I waited over two hours for?  Susie, you should be pissed…”

Yes, I do have a very liberal understanding of the afterlife, but it also entails justices, if not revenge against pure evil.  What I don’t believe is in negative-morality which not only tells me to eat what bad people do to me and others, because don’t worry, they’ll die too.  And tells me I should or could do evil also, because hey, it just doesn’t matter.

Later I did some reading which lead to the icicle as the chosen weapon for Susie to commit her own murder.  Susie says, “How to commit the perfect murder was an old game in heaven. I always chose the icicle: the weapon melts away.” (p. 125) Yeah, that’s irony for you.  The murdered (the victim), murdered with chaos (a falling icicle).

What is the world coming to when justice is an old fashion idea?  How much has society degraded when morality is so inconvenient, that it’s just easier to work from a Nihilistic ideology which says nothing really matters, so you might as well screw people over.

And what gets me is how hypocritical these themes are.  I’d really like to know how the writers of these novels/movies would feel about morality when/if they’re the victims of crime or social injustice.  What do you bet it doesn’t entail abolishing the 2nd amendment and hugging the closes person who smells like patchouli.

We buy any old thing nowadays.  We can’t help it really; the marketing is just too damn good.

How many times have we stayed awake in the wee-hours of the night to watch our favorite infomercial? I know from my own odd experience during high school, I would stay awake to watch twice the pre-Bowser infomercial for Time Life Music’s  “Oldies But Goodies”.

I have no good answers for you, why as a teenager I could humor late summers nights watching 40 minutes of Time Life pushing 50’s pop music.   It was insomnia, sure, but more probably.

No, I never purchased the music set, but I definitely fantasized my phoning an operator named Janet to feverishly place my order in time for free Shipping and Handling.

It’s odd to think it now, but in my own vagary I was willing to sneak the ‘rents credit card to pay for what could only be simplified as an overwhelming need to “own it”.  Could have paid it back in 5 easy installments of $49.95.  Notice the word “installment” is easier to swallow than “payment”.

The desire to own something, is a drug.  “I just had to have it”, is a phrase I’m looking for. CEO’s and Marketing Exec ‘s of every business in the world know we must exert our Will to Power in the easiest possible way: consume.  It’s so strong we don’t even require the NEED of something to desire consuming it.

They also know we don’t pay attention to the five-dollar 50’s compilation discs sold in bargain bins in every discount store in the US.  They instead have brainstorming sessions over Starbucks and lemon pound cake to create “product lust”.

I can hear the marketing team now:

“Okay ladies and gentlemen.  Here’s the deal.  As you well know, Time Life Music has WAY too many flippin’ pop compilations CD’s to move this year.  In fact the super discount stores have stopped buying our repackaged crap to sell at discount.  But the real problem is a new projected surplus of over 1 billion more various pop compilation discs shipping to our warehouses within the year.  Over half of that is 50’s era pop music.  In short, we need a plan to move the product quickly.  Who’s got some Ideas?”

“Sir.  I have a great idea or two…”

“Ah, the Devil!  Hit me with what you go my man!”

“We could take the various CD’s and sell them as a set by decade.”

“I like it, but with respect, that sounds like weak-sauce.  What else you got?”

“Well, sir, we could call it a ‘collectors set.’   It gives any product a sought after quality consumers biologically look for in the crap they believe is important.”

“Alright, and what if I’m a serious collector?”

“Simple.  Issue the set a limited quantity number and ship the product in special commemorative boxes.  It’s the only way to create a sense of urgency in the consumer who takes their crap far too seriously.”

“Made up Numbers on cardboard really works?”

“Every time.”

“Fine.  As a consumer, how much does this cost me?”

“It’s 250.00 dollars…’

“TWO HUNDRED AND WHAT? Good lord son, you should take a look at the demo’s for this one.  I’m OLD, and  200 bucks was a fortune back in ’55.”

“I have.  The target market consists primarily of retiree’s aged 72-84.  Those in good health and an adequate retirement will have the expendable funds affording their need to feel nostalgic.  Even if they don’t, with the product marketed as a ‘limited collectible boxed set’, an infomercial religiously playing nightly at 130 AM, and compounded by societal educed insomnia,  it’s as they say, ‘Made in the shade. Dig?'”

“Ha! Funny!  Hey, we could use that!”

“Yes, I thought we could…”

“Hey, and if it doesn’t work?  We get Bowser…”



The Matrix films are some of my most favorite movies.  Easily the first two films make my top 10 all-time classics list.  My friends scoff, and a good sum of people would agree with their jeers.

Is that Agent Smith behind those Foster Grants?

People who didn’t like the series tend to say similar things about them.  They’ll say the first film was magnificent, groundbreaking special effects and a cool idea to boot.  But when it comes to the 2nd and 3rd films, they’ll reference their increasingly nebulous plots and over-the-top action scenes as reasons enough to balk.

Yeah, I can give it to you, the action scenes in Revolutions seem to wax Dragon Ball Z, but you simply can’t firebomb the Matrix due to a complex plot.  Being the case I thought I’d partially unwrap an obvious piece of brain candy, a concept which these films left me considering to this day:  Existentialism.

Some time ago I found myself in a group discussion debating the existence of a Christian God to a staunch Atheist.  The question of “How do you know God exists” was posed, and I’ll tell you I had no answer.

But if a Terminator from 1997 had come back to give me a copy of the Matrix, I could have retorted with my own question.  Something like:  Have you ever been to Italy?  Existentialism says you can only ever know what you’ve experienced; an idea which saturates The Matrix.  For arguments sake then, if he said no I could likewise make the case he didn’t actually have empirical proof Italy existed either, and therefore only believed in the idea of Italy.

Granted, the Italy argument could only work for so long.  After he booked first class to Rome, I’m sunk. But it doesn’t dismiss the point: ones personal experience subjectively supersedes any logical or theological argument. Revelation trumps all.

In the Matrix films, Neo knew no other existence than the one he believed was true.  It wasn’t until he questioned the established experience did he at last realize he was never actually breathing, blinking, or… living.  He thought he was an attractive man, but awoke actually looking more like the guy from Powder, soaking in a stew of wires and an industrial milkshake thickening agent.

It’s funny to think it; all of us only know what we’ve been told.  LITERALLY.  What’s chilling to think on is how fragile it makes us.

If information is power, then it can also be weaponized and used against us, as it was the matrix.  Like Neo we may need to consider our purpose as people in this universe may intentionally or unintentionally be shelved as a means of control.  The question is, by whom?

In much the same way the paparazzi follows a celebrity, analytical conversation seems to follow me everywhere I go.  It can be about politics, religion, sometimes evolution creeps in there, juxtaposed to creationism of course.  Sometimes it’s on the fun stuff like movies, comics, and games.

Long ago, in a faraway land called Greenville College, I luckily found 6 roommates able to stomach my random debates and arbitrary arguments.  As far as I’m concerned, the debate is still open on what qualities clearly necessitate a “sport.” A night I advocated both Cheerleading and Drum Corp, as well as cooking as sports in a room full of hardcore NBA and NFL fans.

A fun debate in these days started like this:

At the dining commons on campus, 6 o’clockish one could find sitting at a large dining table 12 friends eating bad buffet style cafeteria food.  Having done all the research a few days before, they would find themselves completely unprepared for my statement.  Timing was everything.

My favorite dessert, the plain and simple brownie.

My debate revolved around a favorite dessert, the brownie. So I would need to wait until after the meal was over to bring up the topic.  As soon as my roommate began stuffing the fudgy confection into his boisterous mouth I started in with my question, “So are the cookies good?”

The taste of the brownie would have spread over his mouth by now; further fueling the position I knew he would take.  He responded of course, “It’s a brownie, man.  Not a cookie.”  Game on.

When taking a stance on any issue in which the fallacy of public popularity is at play, remember to prepare yourself for the laughter people express in response to what they see as buffoonery.  Always willing to be the fool I take it in stride, but let me tell you they thought I had flipped my lid.  To convince them otherwise of my apparent faux pas I began explaining just why a brownie is a cookie.

If we investigate the make up of a brownie, we find it’s actually a sweetened batter or cake baked typically into squares or rectangles and containing additional traditional ingredients such as chocolate or nuts.  You might be saying right now, well, so a brownie isn’t really a cookie either smart guy.  But let’s look at what a cookie is also.

The word cookie is actually derived from a Dutch word koekje or koek, an old word for, and-the-trumpets-sound, CAKE.  A cookie as it turns out, is also a sweetened cake, usually small flat or slightly raised.  Further research lead me to discover classifications of cookie.  There were drop cookies, molded cookies, pressed cookies, and-the-trumpets-again-please, BAR COOKIES.  We were all eating bar cookies, and we didn’t even know it!  When discovering the answer myself, I was shocked; believing all this time my brownie was more refined than the commonplace cookie.

As seen, The Cookie Monster is thrilled in hearing the news.

After further considering the implications in discovering the truth behind the brownie conspiracy, and moreover, after the “A Brownie is a Cookie” debates which lasted a semester, I took away several serious life lessons.  Obviously I can’t go into all of them, but one gem is this:  One’s reality (no matter how deluded or absurd) is shaped by two things.  One is Truth.  The other is Perception.  One’s worth a damn.  The other, well, can damn you.  One cures ignorance.  The other, far too often, propagates it.

I leave you to your cookies.

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