Monday, November 23, 2009

Man sitting on a chair looks at a goat....

One can now easily find copies of Jon Ronson’s book The Men Who Stare At Goats in Canadian bookstores but that was not the case 4 years ago.  In 2005, there was no movie deal and the book was largely unknown in North America.  I had not heard of the book when I first came across it in a London bookstore.  I found the title amusing and picked up the book.  After reading a few pages, I was still not sure what to make of it but I decided to take a chance on it.  It turned out to be money well spent as Jon Ronson’s book was a quick and delightful read.  Ofcourse, the most surprizing aspect about the book was that it was supposed to be true.  The topic of psychic soldiers was something one would have found in The X-Files or things that one believed would take place in Area 51 but here was a book giving names and details. Hmmm.

Another jaw dropping aspect about the book were the segments which were tied to the Iraq war, such as using the "I love You" Barney song as a torture technique. As part of this method, the Iraqi prisoners were locked away in a shipping container and strobe lights were used in conjunction with the words of the purple dinosaur repeated over a period of 24 hours.   Jon Ronson’s book was the first account I had read about such a torture technique but in the last few years other sources (books, newspaper articles) have talked about this and other torture methods meant to break prisoners.

I still have to see the movie but going by the trailers it looks to have ensured maximum humour by incorporating some of these bizarre and strange aspects from the book.  Going back to the title, it is about a master sergeant who stopped a goat’s heart from beating just by concentrating.  When I mentioned this to a friend, he referred me to the following video about fainting goats.

Now, this video does raise an interesting question. Was the original goat in the book a fainting one? Did that goat fake death? Or maybe the goat dropped dead out of boredom?  Ofcourse, all it took was one dead goat for a legend to be born :)

Here are some quotes from the book:

Glenn leant forward in his chair. 'You've gone from the front door to the back door. How many chairs are in my house?'

There was a silence.

'You probably can't tell me how many chairs are in my house,' said Glenn.

I started to look around.

'A super soldier wouldn't need to look,' he said. 'He would just know.'

'A super soldier?' I asked.

'A super soldier,' said Glenn. 'A Jedi Warrior. He would know where all the lights are. He would know where all the power outlets are. Most people are poor observers. They haven't got a clue about what's really happening around them.'

'What's a Jedi Warrior?' I asked.

'You're looking at one,' said Glenn.

In the mid-1980s, he told me, Special Forces undertook a secret initiative, codenamed Project Jedi, to create super soldiers - soldiers with super powers. One such power was the ability to walk into a room and instantly be aware of every detail; that was level one.

'What was the level about that?' I asked.

'Level two,' he said. 'Intuition. Is there some way we can develop you so you make correct decisions? Somebody runs up to you and says, "There's a fork in the road. Do we turn left or do we turn right?" And you go' -Glenn snapped his fingers - 'We go right!"'

'What was the level about that?' I asked.

'Invisibility,' said Glenn.

'Actual invisibility', I asked.

'At first,' said Glenn. 'But after a while we adapted it to just finding a way of not being seen.'

'In what way?' I asked.

'By understanding the linkage between observation and reality, you learn to dance with invisibility,' said Glenn. 'If you're not observed, you are invisible. You only exist if someone sees you.'

'So, like camouflage?' I asked.

'No,' signed Glenn.

'How good are you at invisibility?' I asked.

'Well,' said Glenn, 'I've got red hair and blue eyes, so people tend to remember me. But I get by. I'm alive today.'

'What was the level about invisibility?' I asked.

'Uh,' said Glenn. He paused for a moment. Then he said, 'We had a master sergeant who could stop the heart of a goat.'

There was a silence. Glenn raised an eyebrow.

'Just by...'I said.

'Just by wanting the goat's heart to stop,' said Glenn.

Quotes from Pages 14-15, 2004 Picador edition.

'A Warrior Monk,' said Jim, 'is someone who has the presence of a monk, the service and the dedication of the monk and the absolute skill and precision of the warrior.'

Quote from Page 44, 2004 Picador edition.

"The Bucha Effect"

It all began in the 1950s, Sid told me, when helicopters started falling out of the sky, just crashing for no apparent reason, and the pilots who survived couldn't explain it. They had just been flying around as normal and then suddenly they felt nauseous and dizzy and debilitated and they lost control of their helicopters and they went down.

So a Dr Bucha was called in to solve the mystery.

'What Dr Bucha found,' said Sid, 'was that the rotor-blades were strobing the sunlight and when it reached the approximation of human brainwave frequence it was interfering with the brain's ability to send correct information to the rest of the body.'

As a result of Dr Bucha's findings, new safety measures were introduced, such as tinted glass and helmet visors and so on.

'Believe me,' said Sid Heal, 'there are easier ways of doing sleep deprivation than going to all those great lengths. Barney music? Flashing lights? Sleep deprivation may be a part of it, but it's got to have some deeper hidden effect. My guess is that this is the Bucha effect. My guess is that they're going for the amygdala.'

Quotes from Pages 157-158, 2004 Picador edition.

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