Torture

The Senate report on CIA torture has been a part of the nation’s conversation. I expected people to take the position that the acts complained of in the report took place soon after 9/11 and were brought on by fear. I expected people to take the position that these acts of torture would never take place to prisoners in American custody by Americans again. I expected people to claim that this was after a terrorist attack, and as such was an unusual circumstance, unlikely to reoccur.

Yet, my expectations were wrong. Shockingly I have heard two arguments both made by former vice president Dick Cheney but repeated by others. Both arguments are morally reprehensible. The first was that these acts did not amount to torture. This is truly a bizarre statement. Anally inserting food, water boarding, forcing people to remain in a coffin size box or in one position for hours or days at time can only be described as torture.

The Humane Society has fought against such inhuman tortures for years. They have stood against force feeding geese to fatten up their livers. They have stood against gestation pens for pigs and battery cages for chickens. Animals should have enough space to turn around. My position is that any conditions the Humane Society considers too inhumane for animals if applied to a humans is torture. I guess I am a radical.

The argument that this is not torture is simply ridiculous. The argument that they didn’t know at the time it was torture is equally without merit. There was a reason this torture was done outside of the United States and in secret. There is a reason the Commander and Chief was not fully informed about what was happening. That reason is that CIA Officials knew it was torture.

The real issue is when if ever is torture acceptable. I understand that people act out of fear with presumably good motives. Placing Japanese citizens in internment camps during World War II was morally wrong but I presume the motivation of the government was not evil. They acted out of fear and to the detriment of the nation but not for the purpose of being evil. I could make a similar statement about Joseph R. McCarthy and the red scare of the 1950’s. I believe the CIA acted with the desire to save lives. Their actions not their motivation was bad.

If you have seen enough action movies you might ask, “If your child was being held in a giant fish tank, with one hour’s worth of air, and you had the perpetrator in front of you wouldn’t you do whatever it takes to get the information to free your child?”. The answer to this silly question is, of course. The question is silly for a number of reasons. Number one, as an individual of course I would do anything to save my child. Yet, there is a difference between the actions of an individual and that of the government.  Number two, the question presupposes that I know this is the perpetrator, the CIA had no such knowledge admitting that some of the people subject to this treatment were innocent. Number three the question describes an urgent and immediate necessity not a circumstance where people are held for years. Finally there is a fundamental flaw in the thinking of anyone who supports torture. Torture does not work. When subjected to torture people will say what the interrogator wants them to say not the truth.

The United State’s is a civilized country. We don’t target civilians and we don’t cut innocent people’s throats and video record it. Like all civilized countries confessions based on torture are not admissible in court. Such actions would violate the rights of due process guaranteed in the United State’s Constitution. The Geneva Conventions signed by the United States tried to end the use of torture of prisoners of war that we saw in WWII. We know as individuals not just as a nation that  torture is wrong.

Torture not only harms the victims of the torture but the perpetrators. How can a person torture another without loosing a part of their humanity. Often in abuse and neglect cases children are taken away from both parents because they witness violence between their parents. Even though that violence does not extend to the children. Children who observe such violence grow up to be victims or abusers. Witnessing abuse is damaging by itself. Participating in violence is worse. You can’t torture a person without thinking of them as less than human. Once a person believes that others are less than human than they are surrendering their own humanity.

How do you get people willing to blow up the Twin Towers, a bus or a restaurant? How did Hitler get people to murder millions of innocent men, woman and children? You convince people that the victims are less than human. You work to dehumanize people through education, propaganda and hate. You support acts of torture because the people we are harming aren’t worthy of the basic dignity provided to the animals we intend to eat.

How does this type of behavior reflect on the United States? I am not talking about our reputation before the United Nations. The U.N. is an organization that has shown itself to be of little value. I am talking about our reputation with individual nations. We need moral standing when we come into a country and try to help them form a democracy. We need moral standing to act as peace keepers and policeman. We need to lead through example.

I am not so naive as to believe any example we set will have any influence on terrorists. Yet, it might have an impact on nations that allow terrorists within their borders. It might encourage other nations to take their own stand for what is right. It might convince them to join us in coalitions to spread and encourage justice.

This is not an issue that demands debate. It is common sense. There is a simple and obvious line that divides right and wrong. I am also not trying to convince people that my argument is the right one. I have no magic wand that will change a person’s fundamental nature. I am writing this simply to vent and to show my disappointment that there are intelligent people willing to sacrifice their humanity for little or no benefit.

Coal in our stockings and hate in our hearts, is no way to go through the Holidays.

‘Tis the season to find reasons to look for differences between people. We are clearly and significantly divided as a nation. This is evidenced by the racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri and in New York. We are not just divided by race but by sex, religion and class. We look for reasons and excuses to hate one another.

One reason maybe to protect our psyche. If people were of equal value how could we justify allowing so many people to be poor. How could we justify spending ten bucks for a movie when a child doesn’t have enough to eat.

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater talks about DNA and genetics. There are few differences between us. We share 50% of our genetic make-up with a banana. We share well in excess of 90% of our genes with a chimpanzee and well over 99% with each other. At a cellular level we are not that different.

We look for differences between us. We intentionally seek evidence to support the position that we are special. Is the color of our skin significant? What about religion? Christianity incorporates Judaism.  Islam incorporates Jesus and Moses within the construct of their religion. Is it all that different? Are we special because of who our parents are or what country we live in.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be special. In fact we are all individuals and we are all special. It is alright  to celebrate individuality and acknowledge differences between us. Yet, not at the expense of others. Being special does not make someone else less special.

It is alright to hate an individual. If a person is awful no matter the season feel free to hate them. It is not alright to extrapolate based on an individual’s behavior hatred of a group. Perhaps the need to judge a person quickly is instinctual. Our ancestors would need to determine if a person or animal was dangerous in a split second. When safety and life and death are on the line you didn’t have the luxury of giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Yet, the times have changed. We are no longer cavemen living in groups and tribes.Today we can take the time to get to know one another.

So this holiday season why not aim for peace on earth and goodwill to everyone. Let’s put our differences aside. After all we are a lot more alike than different. Also, a book by Scott A. Lerner makes a great holiday gift.

D.C. vs. Marvel

When I was a kid people actually read comic books. They were not so much collected as enjoined. They did not cost $3.99 a piece either. That is an amount equal to the cost of downloading a novel on kindle. There was no Comic Con and most of the movies were not expensively produced. All in all the movies were not much better than a television show in production quality.

The big debate at the time was D.C. vs. Marvel. Mind you a marvel comic was twenty-five cents when a Detective Comics (That is what DC stands for) were only twenty. I was one of those people willing to pay an extra nickle for Marvel. D.C. was more my father’s comic book.

Now with zillions of dollars invested in superhero movies the debate continues, Marvel or D.C., who is better? Marvel was bought out by Disney. Thus, Marvel has an endless supply of money for movie production. That being said D.C. has not produced cheap movies either.

The two best comic movies from recent times have been Iron Man (Marvel) and Batman Begins (D.C.). Both dark, well acted and well directed. Both companies have made some dreadful decisions as well, Green Lantern (D.C.) and the Fantastic Four (Marvel) are both awful movies. Both companies have the potential to make good and bad movies.

Who will win the war of the movies? The answer is Marvel. They will make more movies overall and as a result will wind up with some bad flicks. Yet, they have more to work with overall.

The principal horse in the D.C. stable is Superman. Superman is great, he saved America from the Japanese, the Nazi’s and Lex Luther. Yet, his time has come and gone. He is simply too powerful. I never fear for his safety no matter what the circumstance. I cant’t empathize with perfection. He is too clean cut too all American. Not to mention his America is not my America. I world of newspaper reporters

In addition what kind of Superhero fights Lex Luther? A villain with no super powers? Not to mention Superman III was painful to watch. The idea of going back in time to undo any problems made me wonder why I watched the beginning of the movie (although time travel worked in X-men -Days of Future Past).

Superman just does not work as a central character. He is simply too perfect. Thus I am not very hopeful for Batman v.s. Superman. Wonder Woman also suffers from the same flaws as Superman. She is from another time. Her powers are too “super”.

Marvel on the other hand has a larger stable with more interesting characters because they are flawed. After all, Iron Man is just a man with a heart condition. His moral character is not perfect. Dr. Strange has some potential. There was a Dr. Strange movie in 1978 that was actually interesting if not poorly made (It was the 70’s before CGI). Marvel has also done well without their biggest characters. Sure X-men and the Avengers are big but they have also succeeded with Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Thor.

Daredevil, is another great flawed character. Sure the 2003 movie wasn’t good. Perhaps
Ben Affleck was not the best choice. The movie was missing something. Yet, the idea should work. Daredevil has his own vendetta. His father, a boxer, was killed by a mobster for not taking a dive. He is a blind lawyer. Hell that alone would make you bitter.

Spider-man also is a good character. It is great to see a teenager as a hero and not a side kick. Yes, they have made some bad spider-man movies. I wonder why we need to reload his origin every few years when there are plenty of comic plots to choose from. If I was Marvel I would put Peter Parker on the back burner for at least ten years. He will come back stronger.

D.C. has made some gritty movies. Batman was great. Green Arrow’s ward Speedy was addicted to heroin (in the comic not the movie) that is gritty. The Watchman is very dark and their 2009 movie was interesting. Yet, overall Marvel has more of the feel of desperation and darkness that fits with our modern society. Marvel is a better match for today.

That being said there is room in this world for both. It is my hope that D.C. will produce some great movies in the future. Yet, looking at some of the D.C. movies scheduled for the future is disappointing: Aqua-man, Wonder Woman, The Justice League, Shazam and another Green Lantern. Yet, I disagree with SNL that Marvel can do no wrong. We will have to see.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/29/snl-marvel-trailer-chris-pratt_n_5900650.html

Tusk (Movie Review)

This is a movie with the unlikely premise that an insane killer is trying to turn a man into a Walrus. The main character, Wallace Bryton, is an obnoxious co-host of a blog radio program. The program is referred to as the “Not-See” show (to sound like Nazi) since you can “not see” a radio show. The title should give you an idea of how low the humor is for this fictional blog radio show. The show is intended to be shocking and filled with adolescent humor.

The main character is a flawed man. He cheats on his girlfriend and makes fun of people for entertainment. He is indeed obnoxious. Although, not nearly hate-able enough to go through what he has to in this movie. He is childish and immature but not evil.

He meets an old man in Northern Canada, Mr. Howe, who claims to have interesting stories to tell. The best part of this movie are the interesting tales he tells. It would have been a better movie if he spent more time telling these stories. One story he tells is about being rescued by a walrus.

Wallace is drugged by Mr. Howe and his body is mutilated to closer resemble that of a walrus. Yes, I would normally say,”spoiler alert” but this movie is not one for surprises. This portion of the movie is disturbing but not overly graphic.

At one point Mr. Howe lies and tells Wallace that he removed one of his legs because of a spider bite. He also claims a doctor came to visit. These lies makes the viewer question if he had lied about other things. Did he lie about being abused as a child or being rescued by a walrus to begin with?

I didn’t realize until after the film that Johnny Depp played the out of work detective,Guy Lapointe. He was unrecognizable in the roll. This character was almost as mentally disturbed as, Howard Howe, the madman who tried to turn Wallace into a Walrus.

This movie is a mix between, Fargo, Misery, and  Freaks. Yet, it does not rise to that level of excellence. Well, maybe it was on par with Freaks. It was disturbing and funny at times. It had good moments but was not great.

The acting as a whole was generally compelling and the premise was somewhat funny and scary at the same time. If you have seen the trailer then this movie does not provided a lot of surprises. All in all it was not a terrible flick. The Halloween movie season is slow in getting started so it might not be a bad bet.

Conflict and Hate

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater concerns the concept of the rebirth of an Ancient Egyptian society within America. What led to the fall of the great Ancient Egyptian society? There are some who attribute the fall to changing climate conditions that caused droughts in much of the area. War ultimately caused the fall of Ancient Egypt.

Certainly global warming is likely to impact weather conditions throughout the world. There are plenty of wars in the world. The turmoil in Africa and the Middle East as well as drug wars within North America war. Russian is no longer a sleeping giant but is awake and willing to have an impact on world politics even if the result is war in Eastern Europe. On top of that given that Israel is a nuclear power and Iran is actively arming Hamas it is conceivable that World War III could start in our lifetime.

When we add to that Ebola and bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics it is conceivable that the world could end without the help of war. I am further disturbed by mutations within nature. The unexpected increase in populations of some creatures and the disappearance of others. It seems every few weeks a strange colored mutant lobster is pulled from the sea.

There are other signs of course, “Pulp Fiction” did not win  an Oscar for best picture. They make cappuccino flavored potato chips and chocolate flavored toothpaste. Bob Dylan’s music has been used to sell soft drinks, cars and lingerie.

Yes, the idea of a New Dynasty does not seem so far fetched. I don’t think it will be like Ancient Egypt as envisioned in the Fraternity of the Soul Eater. Yet, I don’t think it will look the same as it does today or did after the second world war. Certainly China and India will have a bigger role to play. I would suspect things in the Middle East will get worse before they get better.

Will the changes be a result of fighting over limited resources or fighting over nothing in the form of some type of modern holy war? I don’t know what is next but I suspect there will be more turmoil in the next twenty years than in the last twenty years.

I have always assumed people are people and want the same things. That all people want their children to live in a safe place and have the resources they need to meet their potential. If this proposition is not true than the prospects for the future are bleak.

When I see people filming a man being beheaded on the internet it does make me questions that theory. It is possible I don’t understand people at all. That people who have any love for humanity can’t commit such an atrocity and fit under my general belief that people are essentially the same. If some people are evil than the likelihood of a world at peace is greatly diminished.

It is hard to write fiction because sometimes the truth of the world around me slips into my pages. The world needs healing but it wont come from governments. It must come from individuals. Until we love our children more than we hate our enemies the world will never know peace.

That being said as long as we have good books, decent movies and plenty of snacks in the pantry our lives wont be a total loss. We may not be able to stop global warming or end war but we can be kind to one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Horror Flicks 2014

In the winter we have the movies trying to appeal to the award shows. We have the summer superhero and action star blockbusters. It seems like a long wait for the  horror movies of the fall. So lets look at some of the summer horror movies with some potential.

The first is a movie called “Squirrels”.  The teaser trailer (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7U2aVUAqPI&feature=kp) looks great. The concept of killer squirrels certainly has my attention. The warning on the poster, “Hold on to your nuts” seems ominous. It is certainly on my list of movies I want to see.

The Purge 2 is also on my list. The concept of twelve hours of lawlessness seemed interesting and caused me to see the original movie. The Purge was good but not great. To expand the idea beyond a single house and family has real potential. It is a good concept. I would like to see where it goes. This is another movie for my list (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yaoh3PqHG7Ie:)

“Deliver Us From Evil” looks like another potential must see. It centers around a big city cop investigating, demon possession and the occult. As you can tell if you read “Cocaine Zombies” voodoo and the occult are fun for big cites as well as small towns. I like the almost claustrophobic feel of a big city like New York hiding the intimate danger of the supernatural. I have high hopes. It sounds like it might be similar to “The Believers”.

“The Green Inferno” is also on my list. It is directed by Eli Roth who brought us “Hostel” and is apparently loosely based on an Italian film called “Cannibal Holocaust” (I never saw it). The Amazon seems like a great backdrop for horror.The idea is that a group of Americans go to the Amazon to save the rain forests and are captured by a dangerous and sadistic tribe. The tag line, “No good deed goes unpunished” is also compelling.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6fyb8vW6Y8

The final movie is “The Sacrament”. It appears there is some type of religious cult with something to hide. A news team goes to visit the cult and discovers there is more than it would at first appear. I am on the fence with this one but it does have some potential.

I have not seen any of these movies yet. If they are awful please don’t blame me. That being said I have high hopes at least one of them will be great. I must admit the squirrel movie has me the most intrigued. I did not see a release date posted on line so I hope it really does come out this summer. I have spent enough time watching the bird feeder to be afraid. I decided to forgo the spinning squirrel proof feeders just in-case they are plotting vengeance. Based on numbers I believe we are more likely to see squirrels take over the world than apes. That being said the new Planet of the Apes movie looks good as well. I believe if you tap on the word teaser trailer it should give you the trailer for Squirrels if not google it, you wont be disapointed.  Teaser Trailer

 

 

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John James Audubon – Naturalist, Murder or Both

I knew who Audubon was. He lived from 1785-1851 and wrote the definitive book on American Birds, The Birds of America (Published in 1827). First editions often sell in the millions of dollars. What I did not know was that he killed the birds he painted. He would go bird watching with a shotgun by his side.

This absolutely fascinates me because it fits in so well with the themes of death and Ancient Egypt in my newest book, Fraternity of the Soul Eater. It is the idea that destroying something beautiful to create a more lasting beauty is alright. It is the idea that death can trump life.

This is an idea that I am struggling with. In the middle ages people were starving. Yet, the church spent money creating art rather then using the money to feed people. Was that the right thing to do? The paintings and sculptures exist to this day. Is that not choosing art over life? Is that a reasonable trade off?

If the answer is “no” then take a look at your life. When was the last time you bought a car? You could have bought a less expensive one or kept the old one longer. Instead of buying a car you could have provided money to a charity to feed the poor. You could have saved lives. Every day we spend money that could be donated. If you went to McDonald’s instead of out for Sushi you could have used the money you saved to feed the poor. Is that being overly harsh? Should we live in poverty for the sake of others?

How do we value life? If someone dies in a third world country does their life have less value than someone in Europe or America. Is there a greater or lessor potential for their life to make a difference.

I am not a philosopher. I don’t have the answers. Yet, either directly or indirectly we are making life or death decisions by our action or our inaction. We do so on a daily basis.

Audubon preserved the image of a number of birds that are extinct at this time. There is lasting value to doing so. I should note one of the birds was the passenger pigeon. I mentioned in an earlier blog that they are trying to bring back the passenger pigeon from extinction using old DNA see http://longnow.org/revive/passenger-pigeon-workshop/. I know nothing about the charity. Yet the idea seems cool.

I am not trying to bring people down or take away from their enjoyment. I am only pointing out that everything we do or don’t do could have an impact on others. I have little doubt Audubon’s efforts have saved far more birds than the number he shot to make his book. It is just food for thought. Speaking of food I wouldn’t mind some fried chicken.

FREE COCAINE ZOMBIES!

What can be more exciting than a book about drugs, black magic and murder? The same book for free. You can get Cocaine Zombies free on Kindle March 17-19. Yes, you can enjoy all the same blood , humor and dismemberment others paid for but only for a few days.

This seems like an offer that is too good to be true. Yet, it is true. I can’t image the lines if McDonald’s gave away Big Macs for free. You can get food for the mind for nothing.

Ok, I am done channeling Billy Mays or that Australian dude. Yet, if you were considering reading Cocaine Zombies but just were not sure if you should, this is a risk free opportunity. Also, if you are reading Ruler of Demons why not take a look at where the whole thing began.

 

 

Immortality

I spoke about the world’s fascination with Ancient Egypt in my last blog. I did not talk about why we are so fascinated with a culture from so long ago. Why are these myths and images so enduring? Stephen Gardiner a famous architect said, “In Egypt the living were subordinate to the dead.” Perhaps this obsession with death and immortality is the answer.

There are certain people whose names remain a part of our culture and group conversation long after their death. In England kings and queens are remembered by citizens as well as historians. The period of their reign is referred to by name. A piece of furniture may have been made in the  “Victorian” period or the “Georgian” period. Elvis was remembered well after his death as “the King of Rock and Roll”. George Washington is remembered as “the father of our country”.

We remember the names of of famous people for their accomplishments. The accomplishments may be minor or major. Arnold Palmer mixed lemonade and tea (although, I doubt he was the first to do so). Edison invented…well a lot of stuff. Tesla also did a lot with electricity but did not have the fame of Edison. Although the car brand is certainly bringing his name back into the vernacular.

Who is remembered sometimes has less to do with their accomplishments than the perception of those accomplishments. I have little doubt more people are familiar with Brittany Spears than Julies Oppenheimer. Also, the first to do something is more memorable than the second. I am sure more people can identify Neil Armstrong than Buzz Aldrin.

Does it matter if your name is remembered?  It is more important that something you did  is remembered? Not, anything about you but something important. I know Elvis liked peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I know nothing of his character or his essential nature. I know Arnold Palmer liked lemonade and tea and played golf. Again, that tells me little about him as a person. I know even less about kings and queens. Their images were crafted by the people of the time for purposes often unrelated to reality. Politics rather than truth framed the understanding of who they were.

We remember the names of plenty of people for negative reasons. I can remember the names of Charles Manson and Jeffery Dahmer. Have they succeeded in some form of immortality? To become infamous is hardly a legacy worth preserving.

When I die I suspect my family will  be impacted. They will know to some degree who I am and what I believed in. They can read my books and go through my possessions and talk to people I have known. Yet, like a game of telephone with each generation the image of who I was will be less accurate. In truth it is unlikely anyone will care about who I am past my children or if I am lucky my grandchildren.

That is part of our obsession with the Ancient Egyptians. They believed in immortality, a world beyond death. Perhaps, this is the appeal of all religions, the promise of things to come after we are dead. Yet, in Ancient Egypt it was not “ashes to ashes and dust to dust”. In fact you could take it with you.

In many ways we know more about King Tutankhamun’s life than we know about Elvis’s or Edison’s. Yet, King Tut died well over a thousand years before Jesus was born. We have a golden mask of his face so we can see what he looked like. We can look at his mummy and know his height and have a general idea of the condition of his health. We know about his family and advisers. By examining the writings and contents of his tomb we know about his way of life.

I don’t claim to have the answers about what will come of us when we die. Yet, King Tut has come as close to immortality as there is within the the collective conscious. The fascination with Ancient Egypt does not seem to have slowed down. When I look at movies like, Stargate or videos like Katy Perry’s Darkhorse or books like The Fraternity of the Soul Eater it is hard to believe we will ever forget this ancient civilization.

 

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater

I have completed the first draft of The Fraternity of the Soul Eater. Yes, I bring back some familiar and hopefully likeable friends. Sam, Bob and Susan will all be in attendance. Yet, Sam in some ways has changed. The question is if that change is for the better? He must do some soul searching he must wrestle with his destiny. Sam has faced the forces of evil in the past but had little choice but to engage them. This book explores his mental state. For the first time Sam has a choice. Will Sam fight the forces of darkness or run from danger in order to return to his old life?

Susan has also changed. She has to decide if she can live with a man who is surrounded by dark forces. Is her desire for a normal life greater than her love for Sam. She must also grapple with her own feelings about engaging in a battle against evil.

Bob is Bob, and is in some ways more stable than any of the other characters. The events in recent years have shaped him and changed him in some ways. Yet, he is  not changed at the same fundamental level as Sam. Bob is willing to believe in the unbelievable. He remains by Sam’s side despite the danger and horror. It seems as though he will for the rest of his life. Bob is defined by his loyalty. Bob is in some ways more mentally stable than Sam or Susan because he can accept things that they still struggle with.

In The Fraternity of the Soul Eater the story goes back to the times of Ancient Egypt. Yet, it has a modern and scientific aspects as well. It takes place mainly on the campus of the University of Illinois.

Is it possible a fraternity created in the 1920’s has been sacrificing innocent people to feed ancient deities. Is it possible that there is power hidden in the hieroglyphs of ancient tombs and temples? The book digs into these questions like an archeologist digs through the earth.

I am fascinated by Ancient Egypt. Looking at the Museums and the number of tourists who visit Egypt each year so are a lot of other people. Ancient Egypt is a subject that feeds the imagination.

America and Europe had a couple of periods of style known as  the “Egyptian Revival” period. If you look at some of the Victorian silver it is not uncommon to see scarabs and ankhs. This was a time where English Archeologists were discovering tombs in Egypt.

In the 1920’s there was another “Egyptian Revival”  (sometimes the term “Egyptian Deco” is used) when the tomb of King Tutankhamun was discovered in 1922.  Again in the 1920’s and 1930’s it is not uncommon to see Egyptian designs in furniture and silver.

The fascination with Egyptology seems to reawaken each time King Tut visits America and I hope this book also helps reawakens that fascination. Mummies and ancient curses are only a small part of this book. It also concerns the mythology of an ancient people.

I don’t want to say much more for fear of giving too much away. I will say the first draft is done. I hope to finish soon. It may take longer than I would like because I wrote the first draft by hand on a huge sheet of papyrus. I am just kidding.