Archive for December, 2012

Hercules in a Yugo! Part 2: Hercules and the Crabs

Posted in Balkans pop, Cars, Mythology, one-shot with tags , , , , , on December 28, 2012 by David N. Brown

After posting the opening chapter here, I decided that the best place for “Hercules in a Yugo!” was at a fan fiction site.  The adventure so far can be read here.  However, I think I will probably continue to post about the project here, including more self-contained “episodes”.  Here’s something I consider especially fitting for the purpose:

it came to pass that the Mighty Hercules drove his Jugo 45 past a cave by the sea. As they passed the cave, a large crab darted out of the cave and halted in their path. Before the hero could think to swerve, a rear wheel went over the crab, and the the tire burst. Hercules hit the brakes, and without turning off his engine he jumped out to change the tire. The spare was under the hood behind the grill, and the heat and fumes from the engine scalded the hero’s hands and reddened his eyes. Cursing, he set down the spare and started to lift the car, but lost his grip and dropped the car on his own toes. Theseus stepped in and used the jack. Hercules popped off the hubcap with his storied Crowbar, and when several lugs were stubborn against his wrench and tire iron, he generously applied his own teeth.

Hercules looked back at the cave. The sound of the tide could be heard from somewhere in the depths. But over it, and growing nearer and louder, could be heard a strange clicking. Seeing the king’s unease, armorbearer Iolaus climbed out of the back seat and picked up the Crowbar. Then Theseus pointed. From out of the cave came another great crab, or else the same one somehow survived, advancing with the sound of like metal castanets. Its carapace was as wide as a man’s breast and covered with sharp spines as big as nails, and its whole shell was made of gleaming steel. While Hercules fumbled with the tire with ever-mounting curses, the armor bearer strode forward to meet the crab. But the creature dodged a blow and darted past, and then Hercules gave a fouler curse than usual. Iolaus whirled to see the crab gripping the hero’s already-injured toes.

Iolaus ran to help his uncle with the crowbar raised, but Theseus halted him with a raised hand. “For now, the creature only grips,” he warned. “If you attack it, it may rend and crush, even in death.”

“Give me the crowbar,” Hercules said, glaring into the crab’s glowing eyes, “and I will kill it if it takes my whole foot off.”

“Go ahead, smash me to pieces if you can,” said the crab. “Your doom is sealed.”

“It speaks!” Theseus exclaimed.

The lamps of the crab’s eyes shifted toward him, their beams narrowing and brightening. “I am Cancer, Lord of the Crabs. I grip the wounded foot, and my people follow me. That cave is our home, whose walls no creature may climb, but we use it as shelter from our enemies, and when the rising tides threaten to drown us, we ascend together, every crab helping his brothers. Then we lay ourselves under foot, and when one of us wounds the heel of a passerby, he takes hold, to slow the prey till others arrive and add their weight, more and more until the prey is overcome and dragged to the cave, and then we all of us feed. Do you hear the sound from the cave? Do you see the lights in the deep? It is my people coming to the feast!” Indeed, as he spoke, another crab skittered from the mouth of the cave, and another, and another, while scores and hundred of pairs of glowing eyes rose like a great swarm of fireflies from the darkness behind them.

“So,” Hercules said, “you hunt the weak and the crippled? Then I shall give you sport!” He snatched the crowbar from Iolaus and struck, not at the carapace of Cancer but the legs, and three feet were crushed by the mighty blow.

Cancer, unfazed, turned his eyes to the first two of his fellows. “Come my brothers,” he declared with a wave of one of his claws, “and take hold of this man who thinks he can turn crabs against their king! Wait! Halt! I am your king!” The nearest crab snapped a pincer at King Cancer, who had to parry with his free claw. Then a second crab seized him from behind and started to drag him back, and the King of Crabs let go of the hero to fight off his subjects. A stab of his claw severed a leg from the crab that held him, but a slash of the other could not stop the other crab from taking hold of him. Then two more crabs grabbed hold of the one the king had maimed, only adding to the strength that pulled upon the King.

Then with a sweep of the crowbar, the mighty Hercules sent the lot of them tumbling into the cave, to crash into their fellows with more crunching of shells, and the rest withdrew back into the cave as the mass of wounded and entrapped tumbled down and down. Whether the crabs killed Cancer their king, or held him in the depths until they drowned together, no tales tell. But it was said that ever after, a curse of the gods was placed upon the kin of the treacherous crabs, so that whenever two or more crabs fell into a trap, they would never again join their strength to gain their freedom, but only grip each other in enmity until they perished together.

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Christmas with EXOTROOPERS!

Posted in Balkans pop, films, Mythology, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on December 24, 2012 by David N. Brown

EXOangel

Hello everyone!  Welcome to the Christmas edition of Exotroopers!  I’ll be covering some odds and ends from my Exotroopers Christmas story.  The first exhibit, above, is what happens when a ridiculously high-resolution scanner meets a low-resolution concept sketch.  Still, I think it turned out okay.  If it’s not clear (and believe me you do NOT want to try viewing this thing at “original” size), that’s an angel, based on a description from Isaiah 6:1-3 and a marine creature called a sea butterfly.  I first thought of and sketched this concept way back in high school, worked it into “Christmas With Exotroopers” as part of Zed’s visionary experience, and finally did a new sketch this morning.  I scanned it at maximum resolution (after all the things I have seen go wrong scanning pencil drawings, I’m inclined not to take chances), cropped it and did a black-white reverse which is “standard” for me.

Here’s some of the other things that found their way into my very surreal Christmas story:

Ded Moroz, the evil Slavic Santa.

A news story on protests over the cancellation of Bosnian Christmas celebrations, which I used as a basis for a more dramatic scenario.

The “Christmas tank” photo used for the ebook cover image.  I located several images of decorated tanks.  This was the only one featuring a modern-looking tank (a modified M60 is my best guess), and the decidedly somber background settled it for me.  Here’s another image of a tank that looks even better for the presumed late-Cold War junkyard environment of the exotroopers.

An upload of the Czeckoslavakian film “Alice”, a very strong contender for creepiest film ever supposedly based on a supposed children’s book.   The stop-motion White Rabbit was used as a model for the rats in Zed’s ultra-twisted envisioning of “Nutcracker”.  I saw bits of the film, including the permanently traumatizing opening, ten years ago on a college “channel”, and tracked it down later.  I seriously considered covering this film in an installment of “Revenant Review”.  After all, how is a taxidermied rabbit that climbs out of its display case NOT “undead”?

A British visual history of nutcrackers, some of which get more than moderately weird.  Then there’s a positively disturbing specimen featured here from an American collection, which just might tie into the mythos of the “Nutcracker”.  Also, here’s a painting I used as a model for Zed’s nutcrackers.  In learning about the background of the original story of the Nutcracker, I concluded that an “authentic” Nutcracker would look like a German soldier from the mid- to late 1700s.  On researching uniforms from the period, I found documentation of a variety of uniforms, including types which would be reasonably familiar to Americans from Revolutionary War counterparts.  The soldiers in “pope hats”, however, were too good to pass up!

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

Responding to ANYtown

Posted in Disabilities with tags , , , , on December 17, 2012 by David N. Brown

So, I’ve let this go again for a while, and just when I’m ready to come back, I find a major intrusion from reality, and this time I do believe I have something to say about it that will fit here.

 

I am sure it would be redundant to do more than briefly recap recent events, and I would prefer to keep it briefer than usual: Once again, someone has committed what is known as a “spree shooting”. As is usually the case, it is reasonably clear that the offender is mentally ill. This time, not for the first time, the possibility has been raised that had an Autism Spectrum Disorder. For the last few days, autism activists have been pushing back against these reports by emphasizing that autistic disorders are not associated with violence, up to and including repeating the long-standing axiom that people who are mentally ill are more likely to be victims of crimes than to commit them. I must say, I disagree with this response. For one thing, I think if the goal is simply to downplay speculations about crime and disability, then the activists might be better off not commenting. Historical precedent would suggest that such comments are most likely to appear early and then quickly fade, especially under low-key communication by concerned parties with the media. For another, I believe that there are real and very fundamental problems here that are overdue for discussion.

 

While I see no cause to doubt the above-mentioned statistical talisman about mentally ill victims vs offenders, I have always had a feeling that this is missing the obvious, and probably more besides. The most “obvious” problem is that making a talking point out of this comes close to pummeling a man of straw. Given the dissimilar nature of mental disorders, nobody is ever going to claim that all the mentally ill are equally likely to commit a crime: Obviously, individuals as different as an agoraphobic and a clinical pedophile are not going to pose the same (if any) level of threat to others. Nor is anyone likely to make any serious claim that those with any particular disorder are more likely to be violent than not: Even in the prison population, the large majority are considered “non-violent”! The point we are really making the closest approach to is simply that the mentally ill population, and any subset thereof, can and should be approached like any other people group. All of which takes us precisely nowhere in applying what we know or can reasonably deduce about the demographics of crime.

 

One of the less obvious issues in the equation is what could be termed disproportionate threat. This can be seen at play on two levels. First, even “violent” offenders are not equally prone to violence: Of the subset of “violent” crime, a large majority the offenses are attributed to a minority of offenders (I distinctly recall seeing the very persistent 80%-20% ratio come up). Then there is another consideration, entirely “obvious” but difficult to quantify: Quite simply, some people, even if they are no more likely to offend, are capable of far more damage if/when they do. Spree shooters themselves are among the most obvious examples, and historically they overlap massively with the even more quintessential case and point, ex-military offenders. One of the earliest documented spree shooters and my personal pick for the single most dangerous individual to come to my attention was a decorated World War 2 veteran who committed a rare building-to-building rampage in 1949. (I don’t care to repeat any names in discussing this sort of thing if I can avoid it, but here’s “his” website.)

 

The same kind of issues can be seen at play for mental illness. Many conditions offer nothing but obvious “outgroups”, as in the already-mentioned example of agoraphobia: People who by definition avoid going out in public are by definition unlikely to harm members of the general public! Other conditions may be said to put the individual “at risk” to offend, but make for a liability in actually carrying out the deed. Schizophrenia is the quintessential case and point: Schizophrenics are characteristically delusional, not only seeing and hearing what isn’t there, but believing it. However, the “classic” schizophrenic is also characteristically disorganized. He might rob a bank because his cat told him to, but even if the cat also dictated one hell of a plan, there’s not much chance he would carry it out successfully. The presumable principle is that this kind of “crazy” is predictably self-limiting, and there’s no shortage of real-life cases to support the point. My favorite is a famous would-be assassin who was still pulling the trigger when his empty revolver was taken from him. The ability to keep track one’s bullets is a key test of the organized criminal, and entirely failing to notice when one is out is a strong indicator that one is not suited for the “job”.

 

But then, there are offenders who defy these “rules”. The WW2 veteran I mentioned was declared schizophrenic and institutionalized for the remainder of his life. (Reading between the lines, it seems likely that there were people in the right places who wanted to spare him, and/or simply avoid embarrassing questions, on account of his war record.) It’s very unlikely that such a diagnosis would be accepted today, and any appeal for clemency would be denied. While he was by all indications delusional in some sense, his actions showed far too much planning and self-control for the schizophrenia diagnosis (which, significantly, was “tightened” in the early 1970s) to fit at all comfortably. Even more importantly, there was no question that he deliberately targeted at least some of his victims, which under the modern requirements for an insanity plea would be entirely sufficient to establish that he knew what he was doing and therefore could be held legally accountable for it. What is ultimately most significant about this individual is that similar “profiles” can be seen to pop up again with other exceptionally destructive offenders, including the subject in the present incident. Even subtle details, particularly a reported lack of vocalization, can be seen to match up closely.

 

So, exactly what are we dealing with? It’s my long-standing pet theory (developed with a little help from a couple fictional characters) that there is a significant subset of autistic people who have a combination of “high-functioning” traits and schizophrenia-like symptoms, which I have termed “delusional aspie”. (See “Autism and Overlapping Disorders” and “Conversations with O’Cleary”.) At least some “spree” offenders do seem to fit this description. This could be considered nothing more or less than an example of a “comorbid” disorder, which for schizophrenia in particular has been documented for about as long as both conditions have been known. (In fact, historic controversies occurred over telling them apart!) But then there is another way of looking at it. A psychiatric diagnosis is, first and foremost, a description of a pattern of thought and behavior. If an “overlap” of characteristics from two or more “established” diagnoses is sufficient to produce an entirely novel “pattern”, then at some point one has to consider whether it is, for all practical purposes, a completely different animal. Unfortunately, in the time it takes for the “pros” to sort out this sort of thing, it’s quite easy for whole generations to slip through the proverbial cracks, particularly by a) being “shoehorned” into a clearly imperfect diagnosis and treatment simply because nobody has anything better to do with them or b) simply receiving no diagnosis or treatment at all because nobody will venture to put a “name” to what is wrong with them.

 

Then there is another, very fundamental issue of criminal demographics. One of the most pervasive problems demonstrated by application of proper statistical analysis to crime is that popular anxieties tend to direct community attention away from serious “inward” problems. 1980’s-era “stranger danger” and its stranger cousin the “satanic panic” flew directly in the face of hard data on parental abductions and homicides (read Coulrophobia– it’s about time someone did). White Americans perenially anxious about blacks have long since been shown that about 80% of murdered whites are murdered by other whites, and even more strikingly, about 90% of people actually murdered by blacks are other black people. Such results of hard data can also be extended to murkier areas of folklore. For example, there can be no serious doubt that any factual nucleus of Medieval and Renaissance “blood libel” legends of Christian children supposedly murdered in Jewish rituals were simply prosaic homicides, and most likely perpetrated by family members of the victims. (Ironically, that very opinion is expressed frequently and vocally in contemporary sources, obviously to no avail against the prejudices of their peers.) It even seems possible that evidently high numbers of Jewish victims in “routine” homicides (ie beyond overtly anti-Semitic mass violence in the “pogroms”), which could be an indication of religiously-motivated or simply opportunistic attacks by (self-described!) Christian offenders, were in fact mainly killed by other Jews.

 

I believe it shall be “obvious” where this is going. If one accepts the proposition that one can at least attempt to treat crime among the mentally ill like that of any other people group, then the most intuitive conclusion one can make is that the greatest threat to someone with a mental illness should be another mentally ill person! Such a dramatic proposition should by all means be tested. But so far, I have yet to see it even mentioned, and I felt that it was long past time long ago.

 

Now I invite further consideration for just how this would affect someone’s mental condition, and indeed their entire perception of the wider world. If someone with obviously limited ability to function in society is approached by someone with ill intentions and a condition that is far less obvious, then the former party is the least likely of all people to recognize the latter as anything but a “normal” member of the public. If the more “functional” party then abuses the other, the less functional party has no way to recognize what is truly wrong with the abuser. Instead, the abused party might very well develop the notion that the abusive behavior is nothing more or less than what any “normal” person can and will do given the opportunity. Then the only “reasonable” defense is to withdraw further from “normal” human contact, which will carry with it predictable deterioration in condition and “functioning” and may all too easily make the subject an even more convenient target for the truly predatory abnormal. Sooner of later, the victim might even start to develop a plan for revenge, retaliation or merely self-defense… and we all know where that road goes to.

 

I don’t think I want to write any more about this now, if ever. I would like to think I have said enough. Call it what life, and my idea of a good story, is like: No answers, jut trying to ask the right questions.

 

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona