The Battle of Fort Vaux

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Over the last few weeks, I have been enjoying the new maps in Battlefield 1. These maps featured some key French battlefields during World War I. One such map sets you in the interior of Fort Vaux and after researching about the actual battle, I was shocked to learn that it was one of the war’s bloodiest battles. On June 1, 1916, the Germans set out to conquer the fort by commencing Operation May Cup. This operation’s goal was to take lands surrounding Verdun. Fort de Vaux was the first obstacle in the way.

The fort had barely any artillery so it was only protected by a French garrison and their machine guns. The Germans surely had enough artillery and constantly bombarded the area which created multiple breaches. This allowed their troops to begin overwhelming the French positions. A French officer recalled the madness by stating, “These explosions stupefy the brain; you feel as if your entrails were being torn out, your heart twisted and wrenched; the shock seems to dismember your whole body. And then the wounded, the corpses! Never had I seen such horror, such hell.  I felt that I would give everything if only this would stop long enough to clear my brain.  Twelve hours alone, motionless, exposed, and no chance to risk a leap to another place, so closely did the fragments of shell and rock fall in hail all day long.”

The bombardments surely had a psychological effect on the French soldiers specifically. Yet I’m sure the Germans felt apprehensive approaching the entrenched machine guns defending the fort. Despite their heavy casualties, they managed to fit grenades and flamethrowers into the machine gun slits. That seemed to turn the tide of the battle and allowed the Germans to enter the interior of the fort. This was where the fighting turned hellish due to the tight passageways. According to Erik Sass, “The conditions were beyond imagination, even by the horrifying standards of the First World War: in addition to machine guns and rifles, both sides made liberal use of grenades in the narrow corridors, blowing out men’s eardrums and often killing them through shockwaves alone, and the Germans employed flamethrowers to send fire down vents and through doorways, burning French (and occasionally by accident German soldiers) alive and filling enclosed spaces with toxic smoke.” (mentalfloss.com)

The fighting continued for a few days and the Germans only gained a few feet at a time with heavy casualties. Victory for the Germans seemed imminent especially when the French began running out of water and hails for relief and reinforcements went unanswered. The French garrison surrendered and a day later, they sent a final attack on the fort but the troops were rebuffed by German artillery. This battle was very interesting to me because it showed the true horrors of World War I. I find it crazy that so many soldiers were basically thrown into slaughter and only gained little ground. This battle has certainly peaked my interest in the war and I hope to learn more about battles such as Fort Vaux. Also I cannot wait for the new maps featured on Battlefield 1.

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Black Sails and Blackbeard’s Downfall

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I have been watching Black Sails on Starz movie channel since 2014. As its title implies, this show is about pirates and their endless struggle to control Nassau. Every episode was like a high budget movie but I am saddened to hear that this series is wrapping up. I should have realized that it was ending because some major characters were getting killed off the show.

Even though Blackbeard was only in a few episodes, he was finally killed off in the most gruesome way. As Blackbeard was chasing down the fleeing governor of Nassau, known as Woods Rodgers, his crew was captured. Rodgers forced them to surrender. To frighten the pirates, Rodgers used the practice of keelhauling to punish Blackbeard. In this torture method, one is tied to a rope that is looped under the ship and then one is pulled under the ship and dragged out the other side. Every pass severely scratches up one’s body until they bleed out. In this show, Blackbeard was sent under the ship about four times. Each time, he received deeper wounds but was still breathing. He was shot after the last time because he simply was not succumbing to his injuries. Below is the making of this particular scene:

This episode had me wondering what actually happened to Blackbeard, AKA Edward Teach. His downfall was in the battle at Ocracoke Island off of North Carolina. Lieutenant Robert Maynard was sent by the governor to track down Blackbeard and his men. Blackbeard seemed to be at the end of his rope for he lost the Queen Anne’s Revenge and was now using a meager 10-gun sloop. Blackbeard, with only 25 men to spare, was now under attack by Maynard’s forces. This naval battle was in shallow waters and ships on both sides ran aground. That delayed the battle but as Blackbeard’s ship got free, he got some good shots on his pursuers. Counting on Blackbeard’s aggressive tendencies, Maynard ordered his men below deck to entice Blackbeard to board. As he boarded, his men were ambushed by the hidden crew. A fierce hand to hand skirmish occurred which resulted in Blackboard’s death. His head was then removed and became a temporary ornament on Maynard’s ship.

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SNL Presidential Impersonations

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Over the past few decades, Saturday Night Live has poked fun at various politicians and Presidents. Sometimes the President would even host the show and leave themselves open to jokes. When any president has been on the show, they were able to play along and respect the show’s first amendment rights. Donald Trump, on the other hand, cannot seem to play along and take a joke. We all have heard him complaining about the show’s portrayal of him as President. He continually calls the show overrated and unmatchable. Yet it is funny to note that when he hosted the show in late 2015, he was boasting how wonderful Saturday Night Live really is. He is so hypocritical that it is out of control.

In the episode that he hosted, the cast went soft on him. It was irritating when they seemed to be letting him boost his ego in his monologue. The only jab at him was when they had Larry David yell out into the crowd, “Trump’s a racist!” Trump seemed perturbed for a moment but laughed it off when Larry said he was paid to say it. Most recent episodes, however, are making fun of him constantly. But he really is asking for it because his tirades and inflammatory comments feed all the jokes. It is simply too easy; the jokes write themselves.

Even his staff is open to poke fun at. Melissa McCarthy had done an amazing job of embodying Sean Spicer, Trump’s Press Secretary. It is funny because he has got to deal with the media backlash of Trump’s comments so he appears constantly annoyed. In Melissa’s impersonation, she picked up on that and in a skit she is yelling at the media, chasing them around with the podium, and squirting water at them.

Overall it seems that the only thing Trump and his administration is accomplishing so far, is making Saturday Night Live great again.

Other Presidents and Presidential candidates have been able to take jokes in stride. Hilary Clinton has been portrayed various times on SNL, namely by Amy Poehler and Kate MacKinnon. In an episode almost a decade ago, Clinton meets her counterpart (Amy) who laughs maniacally for a few seconds. Clinton certainly took it in stride and said, “Do I really sound like that?” Even though SNL did poke fun at her, Hilary always had respect for her impersonators as shown in this video.

In a recent skit, Hilary and her counterpart (Kate) are at a bar. As Kate portrays Hilary, Clinton acts as a bartender. There were some mild jokes about Hilary being a grandmother and they both laughed about destroying Trump in the Presidential race. The SNL writers did take a jab at Clinton by noting her delayed acceptance of gay marriage officially. However, Clinton played along and didn’t complain or anything after the show.

Here are examples of other Presidential impersonations, namely Will Ferrell as George W. Bush and Jay Pharaoh as Obama.

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“Arena Mode” Review

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I recently finished reading “Arena Mode,” which was written by Blake Northcott. It is rare that I read fiction stories but this book sounded sort of similar to The Hunger Games so it got me curious. The story revolves around Matthew Moxon, who is an intelligent comic book enthusiast in 2041 America. He has a massive collection and his friend Gavin actually owns a comic book store. They hang out all day there and it is revealed that Matt has a crush on Gavin’s sister, Peyton. Yet he refuses to admit it for fear of ruining the relationship with Gavin. The beginning dialogue was very amusing for it included conversations about great comic books and the strongest superheroes.

As the story develops, we learn that Matt lives off the grid in a small New York apartment. We also learn that America’s middle class has disappeared and the rich have gotten richer and the poor struggle to survive. It is sort of a dystopian world and crime is rampant. In this society, however, it was discovered that superheroes actually do exist and live among us. There is some distrust for them and many that were athletes were cut from teams and tournaments. So even superheroes were having trouble to survive. Yet there was a new opportunity for these individuals to compete in a televised fight to the death. This new tournament was created by a former swordsman and powerful billionaire. The top three survivors of this tournament receive prize money and first place gets you a billion.

To enter into the tournament, one has to perform an amazing feat of their superhero strength. As Matt watches these videos online, he is amazed at these superheroes flying around with laser vision and super strong abilities. Matt is considering to enter the tournament despite not really having any abilities. He is motivated to try because he wants the money to pay for surgery to remove a large brain tumor. This is a risky undertaking because the possibility of defeating a superhuman with just your wits and brainpower seems impossible. His friends were supportive enough, however, that they begin to strategize ways to make it appear that he had a great superpower. But first, they sought funds from a local gang to purchase a state of the art superhero suit. Then, Gavin, unbeknownst to Matt, set up an armed robbery at a local store in which Matt would personally prevent. At the time of the robbery, Matt approached the gunmen and as he got closer, Gavin set off a charge on the getaway car. The gunmen scattered and all of it was captured on video.

That was enough for Matt to gain acceptance into the tournament. On the eve of the tournament, there was an opening ceremony of the 13 competitors, where they show their abilities. Some refused to, others showed off and some even got all political. The strongest competitor was called “Russia’s Son” and he could fly as well as shoot laser beams. He saw himself as Russia’s savior and was very cocky. Matt found an ally in Kenneth, who had the ability to conjure up any living form in which he could control. Before appearing on stage, Matt passed out from his tumor. He wasn’t disqualified but the media did not consider him as a strong competitor. After an intimate conversation with Peyton, he was inspired to compete for her and received an amulet to place under his suit.

Once the tournament began on the island of Manhattan, Matt was nervous and got off to a bad start when he busted his knee. His plan was to lay low but his location would be broadcast if he stays still too long. He witnessed an epic battle in which “Russia’s Son” lifted a competitor, who could increase his size, and dropped him into the river from the stratosphere. Yet Matt realized that Russia’s Son had a vulnerability in which he needed to rest in order to regain energy. He begins noticing weaknesses of other competitors. The super-fast sprinter had bad eyesight while others were easily manipulated. Matt eventually runs into his ally, who was quickly taken out.by a superhero in a robot suit. Without me spoiling too much of the tournament, Matt encounters some competitors and outsmarts them completely. He could defeat enemies with his wit and a little help from another ally. While fighting, he realizes that cheating was rampant for some seemed to be given the perfect weapon or received prior information. Once he figures out what is going on, he faces his final foe who isn’t what he appears. If you want to know what happened next you will need to pick up this intriguing book.

This book seemed like a healthy mix of The Hunger Games and X-Men. It makes you realize, however, that these supposed “Gods” are still quite human. They are not immortal and some of their weaknesses are rooted in human nature. Some are cocky and others react on impulse, which were qualities that led to their downfall. One thing that is important to gather from this story is to never underestimate the power of the human mind. Despite Matthew not having any abilities, he survived through most of the tournament because he had a plan, paid careful attention to the competition and could easily talk himself out of tough situations. His wit and brain power proved to be the most powerful ability in the entire tournament.

My Rating: 10/10

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Reflections From My Chair #8

2016 was surely a nightmare of a year for many, especially my family. My family was getting chemo treatments, surgeries and taking trips to the hospital. It’s been a crazy year and despite 2017 starting off weird, I am looking forward to some things in the future. In a few months, my dad’s chemo treatment will end and the leftover cancer cells from his surgery will be obliterated. Also in a few months, I will be receiving treatment for my disability. I will be taking a breakthrough drug that is for those like me with a specific mutation of Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy. It basically halts the progression of my muscle wasting disorder and there is a possibility that I could regain a small percentage of muscle strength. This treatment is a weekly infusion and it is very expensive yet the company manufacturing the drug is seeking ways to help patients fund the treatments through charities. At the moment, I am waiting for the hospital to set up the treatment but there is a long process for new medications.

I am not working at the moment but since the summer, I have been finishing up my autobiography and searching for a publisher. I may have exceeded in sending over 30 query letters to these publishers but they all declined to work with my book. I am sort of annoyed because my manuscript is ready to go for the editing/publishing stage. I would like to have my work professionally done but I am considering the self-publishing route. I have discovered a self-publishing website called Lulu Press, which allows me to create my book, print it, and sell it all for free. Apparently, the company only receives 20% of my book sales. I will utilize this website soon. However, I am still waiting for a response on a query letter I sent recently to a normal publisher.

I am giving them another week, then I am taking action and self-publishing my book. I am nervous about it, however, since nobody edited my work. Yet I am thinking, editing or not, on the self-publishing route, the outcome would be the same. I am mostly doing this for myself and others with my disorder and not solely for profits. Before I publish, I still need to insert pictures from my life into my manuscript. Also, my Grandmother is designing my cover by hand so I will need to wait and convert it digitally. (AKA take a picture and format it) So I would say everything will be ready to go by the end of the month.

Look out for my book soon online. My title is, “My Wheels Keep Rolling” and my name is Michael McDonnell. In this autobiography, I aim to showcase the positive as well as the negative experiences during my life with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy. Throughout my life, I have experienced many personal battles that have tested my strength and in the end I have come out accomplishing more than I ever imagined. My mission thus far, has been to be considered a normal human being. I believe that I accomplished just that through my arduous journey through school and college. The stories and messages that I shared within these pages hopefully will inspire disabled individuals that the path to a normal life can be possible despite the challenges. Also, I would like anyone else to understand that the disabled life is worth living and all that disabled want is to be treated as normal human beings.

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American Intelligence Before Attack On Pearl Harbor

December 7, 1941 was truly a date that will forever live in infamy but could the attack have been prevented? Some argue that if Japanese ambassadors met with Americans in Alaska to resolve diplomatic issues in November 1941 that war could have totally been prevented. During that time, relations were strained since the United States placed an embargo on Japan for their attacks on China. The U.S had significant interests there and as a result, Japan no longer received oil and iron from us. For that reason, I believe war was definitely imminent; it was just a matter of when and where it would begin. Japan, according to intelligence, was certainly building up a navy which was probably why we docked a significant portion of our navy at Pearl Harbor. The American government knew that Japan was a threat but radio codebreakers did not see a connection corresponding with an attack on Pearl Harbor specifically.

There was a specific message decoded from Japanese radio chatter on November 19th about the weather which would warn Japanese posts that relations were to be cut off. According to Historynet, “If Japanese-American relations were in danger, the forecast would predict ‘east wind rain.’ American code-breakers solved this message on November 28. Immediately, a frantic effort was made to pick up this broadcast.” Officials believe that “wind” meant that relations were cut which would suggest possible Japanese aggression. But no mention of an attack on Pearl Harbor.

Some intercepted radio traffic was alluding to movements of American ships, which is suspect in itself. But as mentioned by Historynet, “from August 1 to December 6, 59 such intercepts dealt with the Philippines and only 20 with Hawaii.” So it seemed more likely that our ships in the Philippines were in more danger. These movement details were thorough and one intercept shows that the Japanese consulate in Hawaii was gathering Intel on ships in Pearl Harbor. But again nothing implied an attack that the US saw possible on Pearl Harbor. Also even if the evidence was deemed credible that an attack was possible there was the matter of when it would occur.

Another intercept was decoded as “Climb Mt. Niitaka 1208.” “The 1208 in the message meant December 8, the attack date on the Tokyo side of the international date line. Mount Niitaka (Hsin-kao in Taiwan) was the highest peak in what was then the Japanese empire.” (Historynet) However, this specific message was not decoded until later. But it probably would have warned that a large scale attack was coming. Also other materials were later discovered that showed a Japanese oiler ship was ready to refuel ships on their way homeward after the attack on Pearl Harbor. If intelligence officers and codebreakers would have received these bits of information sooner, maybe the attack wouldn’t have been a surprise.

The Japanese seemed adept in hiding their intentions. As stated by Roberta Wohlstetter in her book Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, “‘We failed to anticipate Pearl Harbor not for want of the relevant materials, but because of a plethora of irrelevant ones.” The Japanese were never specific about their intentions and seemed to have our intelligence looking elsewhere for probable threats. The Japanese also never mentioned Pearl Harbor in their messages and their attack force maintained complete radio silence on their journey. It seems we didn’t know and couldn’t have known where Japan’s ships were located.

I have heard of theories that Roosevelt and officials in fact knew about the attack hours before it occurred. I am not sure of the truth of that theory but it makes one wonder. If he withheld information was it because it was in fact too late or was it for alterior motives? America was an isolationist nation, a “Sleeping Giant” so to speak but is it possible Roosevelt realized that a surprise attack would galvanize citizens to war to finally support our allies? I think it is a possibility because if Pearl Harbor was warned, the severity of the attack would probably have been lessened and not as shocking. Would a simple Japanese attack with no surprise have been enough to convince Americans to go to war? It’s all speculation about what could have happened but either way, war with Japan and the Axis powers seemed imminent regardless. Maybe the question is why we waited so long to join the war effort.

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The Scary Future of Trump’s America

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For the first time in my life, I am afraid for the future of America. This was not a typical election between a simple Republican candidate and a simple Democratic candidate. Trump was clearly not qualified to be the leader of this great nation and lacks the proper temperament. Many disliked Clinton but she was obviously the lesser of two evils. We knew what we would get with her but Trump is a wild card and there is no telling how he will lead. I’m not scared of that uncertainty because I know how terrible that he will be.

Trump’s foreign policy will be a total disaster. Putin is most excited to have a puppet that will do what he wants. Trump has stated that he will not assist NATO (especially Estonia, a NATO ally) if they were threatened by Russia. NATO has kept Europe safe for years because of unity among allies especially the United States. Trump will play right into Putin’s hands. If our nation leaves NATO, Russia will be emboldened to make more land grabs into Ukraine and other buffer states. Putin wants to bring back the old empire and regain the territory that Russia lost in the Cold War. The world would turn chaotic if that happens.

Our relations with Mexico will certainly be strained. If Trump has a Republican Congress, he may just get his wall. Then getting Mexico to pay will be an outright fiasco and may push our countries close to war. Also destroying NAFTA may just disrupt the Mexican economy enough that they cannot even afford the wall. This plan seems counter-productive. Even if they do provide some funds for the wall and he uses income from American taxpayers for the rest; that money will be taken away from schools, welfare, Social Security, transportation and roads. Above all, the wall is a complete waste because illegal immigrants will just tunnel under, go around by boat or smuggle in another way. This is the 21st century not medieval times, walls are completely useless.

Another problem I see is an increase in terrorism. If Trump is truly serious about a ban on Muslims, we are in trouble. Terrorists will see this as a direct assault on Islam and prove to possible recruits that America is at war with Islam. Trump’ attitude will not scare these terrorists, it will only strengthen them. Also banning Muslims or Syrian refugees is completely against our American values. Our nation has and always has been a safe haven for those fleeing war or religious persecution. Even Lady Liberty has a plaque that states, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Should we just close the door because we are afraid? No, because there is already a system in place to vet immigrants coming into the country. It’s not like they are coming in, no questions asked.

Also Trump’s plan to locate and deport illegal immigrants is unfeasible. It seems like he wants to go door to door to crack down on them. That is totally insane and reminds me of Nazis searching for Jewish families. If his policy is to round them all up, how will he deport all of them? They will need transportation and food and it could get expensive. I’m imagining that there will be a camp of illegals locked up awaiting clearance to return to where they came from. I’m sure in this situation, these illegal immigrants will not be treated fairly and some may even die. Our nation may start to resemble Nazi Germany if we don’t pay attention. Also many illegal immigrants take jobs that nobody else wants. Who will replace them?

Many people are concerned about their rights as well. The LGBT community has achieved marriage equality and are afraid that will be taken away. Trump wants to let the states decide about marriage equality, which would devastate many who planned to marry. People should have the right to live how they please. Also I’m concerned about my rights as a disabled individual. It seems that Trump has no respect for the disabled and he won’t make life any easier. I’m somewhat worried that he may crack down on Social Security and limit benefits. Even though I try hard to find work, I sort of rely on these payments for income and health insurance.

I see that much of this could happen but I do hope that I am wrong. Even though Republicans seem to have control of Congress, it appears that not all Republicans are in full support of Trump. Trump does not fit the typical Republican mold, which may be enough to halt his crazy policies. Our representatives in Congress will need to step up and speak up, for they are our only hope. We as citizens need to be watchdogs and speak up when something is not right and not be intimidated in the media by Trump.

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