Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Disturbing Research For My Novel In The Making, Shell Shock

My upcoming book, Shell Shock, involves World War I, and I have been doing rather a lot of research on the war in order to make sure I produce a work that is factually accurate. Well, as factually accurate as a work of fiction involving supernatural aspects can be, I suppose. Like a video game developer, I feel the need to build a world with depth, therefore I have had to cover a lot of ground in my research in order to make sure my story has a wide open environment in which to play itself out. And when it comes to research, I always tend to overdo it. Part of it is a desire to create the best possible final product. Part of it, too, is a way of procrastinating doing the actual work of writing. Whatever the explanation, there will be a lot of notes I end up taking that will never make it into the book. Therefore I share with you now some facts which I have noted that I found to be interesting to myself. And when I say interesting, I mean deeply disturbing. Anything in quotations was quoted by those who actually experienced it.

In World War I, shovels were nearly as important as guns. They were used to dig trenches, in which the soldiers could hide from the near-constant bombardment of artillery, and they were used to dig graves for the millions who died in the trenches and in the area between the trenches, No Man’s Land. So many died in offensives that were nothing more than thousands running out into open territory to be mowed down by machine guns, that they often sat in No Man’s Land until the opportunity to retrieve them arose, which was sometimes a month or more. The dead were buried in shallow graves behind the trenches. As artillery was constantly blowing up both trenches and graveyards, digging new trenches would often mean digging through the corpses of the fallen.

The smell of the front lines “assailed you well before you could see it—a noxious compound of excrement, urine, smoke, cordite, lime, creosol, putrification.”

Rats, when corpses were scarce, would attack sleeping soldiers. When corpses were plentiful, they became gourmands, selecting only the finest bits of the corpses, which were for them the eyeballs and livers.

Factories in the towns behind the front lines ran saws day and night in order to build crosses for the graves of soldiers.

There were “Many on both sides who took a malicious pleasure in sniping at burial parties.”

When charging the enemy trenches, stopping to aid a fallen soldier was considered cowardice in the face of the enemy.

It was not the experienced troops who were better able to weather the storm of a sustained attack but the newcomers. "Rookies expect to become hardened by battle when in fact they are eroded by it."

After an attack, the cries and pleas of the wounded could be heard in no man’s land, but there was nothing their fellow soldiers could do to help them. To stick one’s head above the trenches would be as much as committing suicide, so one would have to not only endure the constant barrages, but when the artillery finally ceased, the cries of the dying would replace the sound of shells.

When possible, stretcher crews would go out into no man’s land and retrieve the wounded. It was not uncommon for a crew to pick up a wounded soldier but if another soldier was found who seemed more likely to survive, they would set the first one down in order to take the second.

Troops were given canvas bags in which to gather what they could and “often have I picked up the remains of a fine, brave man on a shovel, just a little heap of bones and maggots to be carried to the common burial place.”

“Limbs of the dead fell off as you lifted them. Bodies covered with a coat of flies that flew into your face, eyes, mouth as you approached.”

“Human flesh, rotting and stinking, mere pulp, was pasted into the mud-banks. If they dug to get deeper cover their shovels went into the softness of dead bodies who had been their comrades. Scraps of flesh, booted legs, blackened hands, eyeless heads, came falling over them when the enemy trench-mortared their position or blew up a new mine-shaft.”
Gibbs, Philip. Now It Can Be Told (p. 50).  . Kindle Edition.

“Nobody could stand more than three hours of heavy shelling before they started feeling sleepy and numb, like being under anesthesia.” By the time the bombardment stopped and the ground attack began, they were “ripe for the picking”. When in the midst of an artillery attack, it was too loud to talk, so that every soldiers was cut off from the other, each of them entirely alone with their thoughts. At the battle of Verdun, the French endured nine days of bombing. “By the ninth day, almost every soldier was crying.”

“Lulls in shelling brought the sound of millions of flies disturbed from feasting on the dead and the high-pitched screaming of rats.

“Shimmering cloud of flies smelling of corpses…choking the combatants with its fetid odor.”

“Bodies crawled with maggots, making a noise like rustling silk as they gnawed their way through some dead man’s guts.”

In the first day of fighting in the Somme, 57,000 British and British Empire troops were killed, wounded, or missing in action. “One could walk across no man’s land on British bodies without setting foot on the ground.” The 1st Newfoundland Battalion lost 91% of its men in the first 40 minutes of the Battle of the Somme.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Random Thoughts Part 20

All novels and schools of thought begin with a single small seed of an idea. Here are some seeds from which someday mighty books might spring. Or not.

The pain of existence is the pain of a piece of a puzzle that does not know where it fits.

Inside every cynical person there is a weakling who was looking for an opportunity to quit believing.

We have stopped using the word citizen and replaced it with consumer, and I find that very sad.

We see not only with our eyes but also with our heart, so all that we perceive is colored by our hatred and our love.

No matter how we try, we can never return to the past. But the irony of it is that if we try and run away from the past, it always catches up to us.

If someone exposes himself to your child, that person is arrested. If a person exposes himself to your child through the media, that is called freedom of speech and we blame the parents for not being responsible.

Belief means holding on to an idea, faith means letting go.

There are in hell pits so deep that no matter what you throw into them, they shall never be filled. They are not there as instruments of torture for the wicked, they are those who suffer in hell of their own free will. They are called cynics.

When you are witness to genius, it is not your job to accept or reject what is stated but to incorporate it into your own philosophy.

Intelligence is overrated. Two dogs who sniff each others’ butts learn more about each other in a moment than many humans understand about those they’ve known for a lifetime.

If we do not realize the spirituality that underlies politics we will never find political solutions. All answers we come up with will be simplistic, incomplete, and eventually harmful.

If The Bible was meant to be taken literally, there would only be one Gospel, not four, would only be one creation story, not two. Jesus lived and people wrote stories about him. The Bible is a collection of stories. Letting go of simplistic answers might just plunge you into a realm of belief and faith far beyond anything you believed was possible. But first you must let go. That, my friend, is the first step, it is perhaps the single greatest act of faith you’ll ever take.

The fact that we as humans do not have eyes in the back of our heads goes to show that we as a species were designed to look after each other.

The fool attempts to predict the next big wave while ignoring the tide.

If you get your news, movies, and music for free, what you will get is merely propaganda and advertising.

You cannot use vulgarity without turning thought from the abstract to the concrete, from the sublime to the mundane, from the intelligent to the silly. Vulgar words cheapen. Sometimes the words can communicate intense passion, but it is not the enduring kind of passion but that which passes in the use of the word. Dropping of such words are akin to having a bowel movement. Once released one has no desire to stay in the same room as it.

KFC took the fried and Super Sugar Crisps took the sugar not out of their product but out of their marketing. That is how a consumer society deals with dangers to your health.

Humans are happiest with a simple life and advertisers are happiest when they are able to make you buy more by making you insecure and unhappy.

The more you shape the world the more you become responsible for it.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Let's Build A Wall

Things were different in my grandfather’s day. Back then, when someone wanted to employ immigrants to drive down wages for American workers, they did it the legal way, by getting politicians elected who would increase the immigration quotas. It’s not fair that we punish those who buy politicians the old-fashioned way by allowing people to hire illegal immigrants.

And so I make what may sound like an unkind suggestion, but one I feel is necessary. I believe anyone found employing illegal aliens should be rounded up and immediately deported to Panama, The Cayman Islands, or whatever country they claim as their corporation’s nation of origin in order to avoid paying income taxes. For simplicity sake, let’s just send them all to the Cayman Islands. That way we can build a 50 foot wall around it. And make them pay for it! And we’ll make them pay living wages to those who build it too, not the $3 an hour under the table they were paying their illegal employees who were too afraid to speak out.

After all, it’s not right that those who hire illegal aliens are being treated better than our veterans. After fighting wars overseas that make for even more people fleeing their countries in hopes of finding a better life in the U.S of A., our soldiers come home to find their jobs are taken by those same refugees. Meanwhile, our government is paying those same companies who hire illegal immigrants here at home to rebuild the countries we blew up at their behest. And like as not they’re not using American labor to rebuild Saddam’s prisons.

Don’t tell me Americans won’t do the jobs immigrants do, it’s just a matter of how much money they want in return for their work. Let me explain the law of supply and demand to those who don’t get it: the less supply, the greater the demand. The less workers available, the greater the wages those workers are able to demand. Of course, those who hire illegals know it, that’s why they’re willing to open the immigration floodgates in order to reduce wages.

They say they can’t find anyone here that is willing to pick fruit or clean their pools for them, but guess what? If they paid enough, I’d gladly do it. Raise the wages enough and there will be people willing to do any job. Just look at how many attractive young women are willing to marry wrinkly old billionaires. It’s the magic of the market place. Of course, if they pay the pool boy too much they might not be able to afford more than one swimming pool per mansion, but nobody’s promised anything in this life.

It hurts me to see people tampering with the magic of the market place. After all, the market is only able to work its magic when it is allowed to act freely. The market is sacred. It is the source of all that is pure and good in the world. Flooding a nation with excess labor is equivalent to the Federal Reserve flooding the market with un-backed currency: it is destined to crash the system eventually.

So what do you think, Donald? Isn’t that a better idea than trying to trace every Western Union payment sent by all the less-than-minimum-wage workers in the country? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to build a wall around the Caymans than the entire Mexican border? Wouldn’t the Cayman Islands be a nice place to vacation after a tiring presidential campaign?

Because you know Donald Trump has made some serious money hiring illegal immigrants rather than the American workers whose vote he’s got wrapped around his little finger. Construction and hotels? Nah, no illegals involved in those trades.

I’d be interested to know how much money Trump puts in his pocket for every illegal worker he got to replace an American one. I’m guessing the average would be around twenty grand each per year, which doesn’t include the overall dampening of wages for everyone else. And I’m guessing we’re looking at thousands of workers, because Donald Trump has his fingers in a lot of pies. We’re talking tens of millions of dollars. That may not be a lot of money to Trump, but I’ll bet it’s plenty to a veteran who’s looking for work.

Come to think of it, if those who hire illegal immigrants are so concerned about saving money, I’m sure it would be cheaper to deport them somewhere like Siberia or Somalia. With the money we’d save, we could make that fence 100 feet tall!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Monkey In The Mirror

In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation And Empire, a genetic freak known only as The Mule seems to arise from out of nowhere and manages to take control over the better part of the galaxy. Similarly, a man who I’ll refer to as The Monkey has managed in the last year to capture the Republican nomination for President despite having been dismissed by the prognosticators of the media. Whether he too is a genetic freak is an issue I shall leave to others to decide.

But like The Mule, no one seems to be able to account for the trajectory of The Monkey, nobody can explain how someone so seemingly lacking in positive human attributes has been able to have the success he has enjoyed. Everyone has their pet theories as to how The Monkey has managed to achieve the nearly impossible while breaking all the rules, but none of the explanations seem convincing. More often when people attempt to exposit a theory it is merely a matter of finger pointing.

In Foundation And Empire, it turns out The Mule has the ability to control the minds of others, and perhaps that might help explain The Monkey. Somehow when The Monkey’s minions look at him they don’t see the obnoxious, hateful, bloviating simian, they see what The Monkey wants them to see. Well, actually, even his minions have to admit that he’s an unlikeable character, and yet they are able to see past the gruff exterior to the warm, caring individual that the rest of society does not see. Like a lonely woman who wants to feel loved, the supporters of The Monkey ignore all the warnings their friends raise and prefer instead to see the knight in shining armor their hearts cry out for. True love, after all, is a matter of the heart, not the head.

What then accounts for the unprecedented success had by The Monkey? The truth might be quite obvious and yet so unpleasant that we would rather not admit to it. The liberals want to blame the conservatives and the conservatives want to blame the liberals. Indeed, everyone’s pointing their fingers at someone else. But nobody seems to want to take a hard look in the mirror. Maybe The Monkey isn’t some random occurrence or the cause of some other party. Perhaps we, individually and collectively, are to blame for the ascendance of The Monkey. Perhaps we have somehow allowed ourselves to slide down somewhat on the evolutionary family tree.

What would make a narcissistic capitalist monkey popular? Perhaps it is due to the fact that we have been permitting narcissistic capitalist monkeys to tell our stories for us for the last thirty years, beginning around the time of Alex P. Keaton. Perhaps it is because we have been told over and over again if you are good you will become rich and if you are rich you must be smart. Perhaps the values of free market media have finally overtaken the values humanity has lived with up until the time television took over as the voice of authority in every home.

Maybe we have become a nation of narcissistic monkeys ourselves, whose only purpose in life is to get more for ourselves and not worry about the results of our actions. After all, are we not always being urged to satisfy our gluttonous cravings for anything advertisers are selling? Isn’t it our patriotic duty to be selfish and arrogant?

Perhaps the Republican Party is the natural home to the narcissistic capitalist, but the opposition is merely a kinder, gentler, more hypocritical breed of monkey. Those who claim they have been the alternative to the narcissistic capitalists have not been averse to eating from their hands whenever it is outstretched to them. We are all of us living in our own little jungle, not willing to contemplate the larger world outside.

For a couple of generations now, we’ve been living a sort of delusion, a mindset sold to us by advertising executives. It’s a delusion that tells us we don’t have to think hard or grow old. We try to live this lie by doing the only thing that is in our control, refusing to grow up. Growing up means accepting that we as adults have certain societal norms we should live up to and sometimes apologizing for our behavior when we have failed. It means taking responsibility for our own actions. Growing up means grappling with difficult questions and finding solutions. But we have become a society that will no longer admit that we are ever wrong or responsible for anything we’ve done.

The Monkey will never admit wrongdoing. That’s part of the narcissistic package. Or perhaps that’s sociopathy, I don’t know, I’m not a psychologist. The point is, we live in a world nowadays where nobody feels responsible for anything and nobody feels like they have to set the good example. Everybody is worried about their rights and nobody about their responsibilities. It’s no wonder why we can convince ourselves that a monkey is worthy of leading our country nowadays. It’s no wonder we can overlook his many and pronounced flaws.

A society of monkeys doesn’t have to worry about the long-term implications of their behavior, after all, we’re just monkeys. To monkeys, the Middle East exists for no other reason than to be a holding tank for the oil that will eventually be consumed by our vehicles. Central America is there as a place for us to vacation or as factory labor to make our clothing.

If we’re monkeys, all we have to do is select an alpha-monkey to subject our will and our decision-making abilities to. Of course, if you know anything about primate behavior, you’ll know there are some rather unpleasant aspects to subjecting yourself to a dominate ape, but being monkeys we really don’t care to speculate on such matters. Monkeys aren’t known for their dignity or self-respect.

We can pretend if we like that The Monkey is an aberration, sprung upon us by random chance. We can believe that we only have to defeat The Monkey in his attempt to win the presidency and disaster will be averted, that we will have confronted and won the important battle of our age. But if The Monkey is not some fluke, if The Monkey is merely a symptom of the monkey within all of us, a symptom of a monkey virus that has been spreading in our society for thirty or more years, then the defeat of one monkey, even if he be the alpha monkey, will do little to change the path we are on.

There is a voice inside us that says we merely have to turn out in November and cast our vote for the lesser of two evils, that everything else we attempt to do is not merely wrong but will end up helping The Monkey. It is a tempting voice, a voice for the status quo. It tells us that we are basically fine and all we have to do is overcome the enemy that sprang from nowhere and can be cast back into the abyss by following the accepted wisdom. This voice speaks to our laziness of thought, our unwillingness to take a hard look at ourselves or the position we now find ourselves in. It speaks to the monkey within us all. But before you decide, take a look at The Monkey, and ask yourself if that is really what you want to be.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Monkey In The Race

Any relation to actual people or events is purely coincidental:

Like a lot of people, I was amused when the monkey got up on stage at the first Republican Debate and started flinging his own filth at the other candidates. Sure, it was a guilty pleasure, like watching Jerry Springer, but it was hard not to enjoy watching the way the other candidates reacted. You couldn’t help enjoy seeing Jeb Bush covered in the bloody stool of his brother’s ill-advised war. And to see Marco Rubio climbing his podium in imitation of the monkey and getting filth on his own paws was priceless.

You see, politicians always try to act like they’re in charge, like they are above any kind of criticism. But put a monkey in the room and it’s hard for anyone to seem dignified, especially when the monkey hits you where it hurts. And the monkey was not afraid to hit anyone where it hurt, even women and old prisoners of war. The monkey wasn’t playing the game usual politicians play. Most politicians like to play up the differences between each other, as if there was real consequences whether you voted for Coke instead of Pepsi, when neither one of them is good for you. So politicians play up the little differences, what Sigmund Freud referred to as der Narzissmus der kleinen Differenzen, in order to pretend like the voter has a choice. In truth, the politicians are all working for a few special interests. Those differences that do exist, they’re just there to distract you.

Politicians don’t talk about the big issues, which they mostly agree on, issues like shipping your job oversees or voting for disastrous wars. But the monkey has no such scruples. The monkey will do anything to get a rise out of others. The monkey will poop onstage if it gets everyone’s attention. He was willing to poke his Republican rivals in areas even the Democrats would not poke, because after all, the Democrats also have very vulnerable areas, many of the same ones as the Republicans.

So the monkey made the politicians look ridiculous, and rightly so. And a lot of us cheered the monkey for exposing them for what they were, just like the little child who pointed out that the emperor had no clothes.

But nobody thought the little boy who pointed out the emperor’s nakedness should take his place; after all, he was just a child. And yet somehow we think that the monkey who pointed out the flaws in all the presidential hopefuls should now be elected to the highest position on the planet. But he’s just a monkey! No matter how hard he bangs on his chest it doesn’t make him a gorilla. In fact, once he gets done throwing his poop and poking people in the privates, he really doesn’t have that much left in his box of tricks.

But, you say, he is an incredibly wealthy businessmonkey. Surely that qualifies him to be president of the United States. Yes, I would say, but he acts like a monkey. To which you would reply, that’s just an act he puts on in order to advance his agenda. Well, I would ask, don’t you think if he had some genuine talent beyond the ability to poop tremendous quantities and fling it all around that we would have seen some of it first-hand by now? For all the time he’s been on television wouldn’t we have caught a glimmer of the intelligence behind the monkey façade, if a façade it is? And even if there was an intelligent man hiding within the monkey costume, doesn’t it make you wonder what kind of person would dress up in a monkey costume and fling poop at others?

We’re all hopeful when it comes to voting. We couldn’t do it otherwise. They say no one is so foolishly optimistic as they are when buying a lottery ticket or voting for a political candidate. But there have to be limits to the lies we tell ourselves even though there are none on what politicians are willing to tell us. We never got a kinder and gentler nation, we never got a thousand points of light, and we never got hope or change. And whatever you are willing to believe, sometimes a monkey is just a monkey. Look at the matted hair and the OOH OOH expression on his face if there’s any question.

Caligula has been known through history as an example of an insane emperor. He had incestuous relationships with his sisters, forced parents to witness the execution of their sons, and conversed with the moon. So insane was he, according to Suetonius, that he attempted to make his horse a senator. But we the American electorate are about to do him one better, by attempting to elect a monkey to the office of President of the United States. If we do so, we are destined to go down in history along with the maddest of the mad. And that’s something only a monkey could be amused at.