Friday, June 29, 2007

dark dreamers.

Forgive me for doing yet more recycling of yesterday's news, but; I think this guy sounds pretty normal. No, really. He would've fit in with my social circle just fine. Just look at the social violations he's accused of there;

-CSI and TV crime dramas - doesn't everyone love those? (Well, except me, I don't watch TV, but that's by the by - everyone else likes them...)

-Violent computer games - I've written about that one already.

-No, really, why the hell is it even mentioning he kept condoms in his room? That's just sensible. (I use the IUS, but I tend to pick up free condoms from sexual health dropins and pass them on to my teenage brother, so often have them around - I seriously can't imagine why the article bothers mentioning this, and furthermore, I'm disturbed as to what message they're trying to send out by doing so).

-reading Wiki pages on serial killers? I did that not long ago - got linked to it from something else. I'm sad, I read about a lot of things on Wikipedia - it's great for getting a general idea of what interested people think about a subject.

-planning massacres, coups, and other atrocities? Check. It's an impulse - whenever I'm made subject to any security procedure, I think about how I'd go about getting around it. I know lots of people do this. I've even done it with friends in airports and railway stations - spoken in detail about how we'd go about sneaking bombs or weapons through scanners or physical searches - which probably constitutes conspiracy, but what the hell. Apart from being a world champion at sneaking water bottles into nightclubs, I've never acted on any of these plots and likely never will. The specific example - planning a coup led by a small number of people in Equatorial Guinea - pinged two parts of my geek radar; there's a Leslie Charteris short story about three people staging a coup in a small South American country; and the flag of Equatorial Guinea is flown by Hagbard Celine, the iconic anarchist and drug dealer who ILLUMINATUS! centres on.

-sword with a 39-inch blade? Check. Hella check. Mine's a WW2 ceremonial army thingy, recently restored to shiny beauty as part of a scurrilous insurance claim, and it's sexy as hell. It's propped up against the dead piano in my bedroom. I use it for killing wasps, mostly, but it makes a great dream-prop too. My partner has a replica broadsword too, and seriously, once you've got metalwork why the heck shouldn't it be a feature of your sexual landscape? (A very small feature, in our case, but like the whole girls-with-guns kink, it's a great arena for playing with power and agency.)

-books about crime and weapons? It's not clear whether this means fiction or nonfiction, but either way you'll find a large section devoted to it at your local bookshop. You'll also find zillions of people glued to Crimewatch etc. The world we live in is obsessed with crime, with media coverage of it only rising as actual instances are falling. Being obsessed with lurking villains is not at all unusual. Honestly, I'm far more creeped out by weirdo SAS obsessives, and I've known several of those.

-then there's this oft-used phrase 'he lived in a fantasy world'; check, but, do you know what? So do you. Everyone sees the world through a filter of dreams and expectations, and these can be wildly divergent even between people who live in close physical proximity; many people see God behind every feature of the world; others have ridiculous, fantastical fears about being targeted by criminals or paedophiles; even the mildest of us sees the world in a way heavily influenced by our habits and memories. We accept the dictates of unseeable forces like money, the law, our perceived society. I keep a ceremonial sword around for handling my near-phobia of wasps, and I barely take care when crossing the road; that's life in a fantasy world. In a more purely geeky sense, I know a lot of people who pay more attention to their fantasy lives than to the day-to-day world around them; sometimes because that day-to-day world is nonexistent, like mine, or mediocre, or fails to satisfy someone's dreams and expectations, or because they simply find more joy in their life as a reader, writer, or gamer than in their life as a worker, student or parent. I think the general cause is that the real world sucks, and a large number of people get through it on a sort of spiritual autopilot while their soul is really dwelling elsewhere.

So, yeah, I find this shock-horror-profile-of-killer not horribly far from home. I'm trying to figure out what that's meant to say about me, or anyone else, and coming up blank. Dissecting the habits and possessions of a killer, trying to discern the shape of his dreamworld and classify it as intrinsically harmful, is a futile exercise. I don't think there's such a thing as an incorrect thought, dream or emotion - even the darkest of such things are true, genuine, and in and of themselves do no harm. What I think is really revealed here is that the line between dark dreamings and evil doings is - while not a fine one, not in the least, it's a very clear and wide stripe in the sand there - alarmingly easy to cross if you want to. This, dadada, is also not news.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

alkomahol, yes, that stuff

The smoking ban is soon upon us; this will be to my benefit, and will make many places I like to go seem more pleasant, but I was ambivalent to it in a sledgehammer-nut/civil liberties kinda way and now I read this; the ban includes shisha. This makes me sad, and I suspect that some small parts of the world as I know it may be at an end. I've never used shisha - I've never been part of a gathering that was collectively up for it - but I spent a lot of my student days lurking in shisha cafes with newspapers, for all the reasons the article mentions, plus I've found them to be sources of very tasty, very cheap food. The cultural mingling got to me in the usual petty ways; it was shisha cafes that got me hooked on mint tea, though I more often make it at home now; aubergines also, which I could never abide before; the odd bit of cheesy Algerian pop music has made its way to my hard drive. If there's no last-minute fix, then - well, the world will move on and I will feel a little eroded.

I never used shisha, but I never minded being around it; it smells pleasant, and doesn't change how people treat each other. It's also minor and innocuous enough that it can be banned. These things are generally not true of alcohol.

That alcohol dominates communal life in the UK isn't exactly news. Though it was in the news not long ago. Older non-news has it that a third of A&E admissions have been drinking, though that could, rather than being causal, simply indicate that a huge proportion of the population is drinking at any given time.

Quite apart from cycles of harm and violence, alcohol is a filter that excludes a lot of people from the rest of their communities; the young; those who fear violence; those who can't drink for medical reasons (including addiction); Mormons, Muslims and others who abstain for religious reasons; those who can't get to their homes without a car; those who really can't afford it. I guess the whole thing chugs on because, durhur, of the economy; substance use is a capitalist's dream, a self-reinforcing social habit that gets people spending, spending, spending; places that provide alcohol will always outcompete those that do not.

I'm not particularly anti-drinking, just anti-cultural-obsessions, and this one is a cultural obsession. Drifting off at a slight tangent here, I love this table;

It represents a study commissioned by the Science Select Committee; I'm not sure how the heck they worked out the numerical harm scale, but you get the general idea. Contributing experts included senior policemen as well as doctors and scientists. (Here is where I stole it from). Both the laws governing substance use, and the practise of substance use, has nothing to do with rationality; we're in something driven by economics and acquired habit (social behaviour and foreign policies both), and no one's holding the reins.

My aunt, a dear gentle Christian lady roughly three times my age, told me yesterday that cannabis should be legalised and heroin should be prescribed because so much progress has been made in fighting tobacco smoking while keeping it legal. I think it's a pretty good approach, if misplaced; alcohol users likely do far more harm to non-users than smokers do. Would health warnings and billboards change drug use, or drinking habits? And if they did, what would become of the economic machinery behind those substances? Hmm.

Friday, June 22, 2007

more about dead people

I wrote this in my Deadjournal a few days ago, locked it, and felt it would go nicely here too, because I don't want to lock all the stuff I want to say about dead people. ho di hum.

-have been talking to my aunt (she's not really my aunt) about my mother. She says she feels guilty about drifting out of touch with us in the few years immediately after my mother died. I didn't know til now that Kathie had cancer at that point; she says it was but a scratch (?, if she says so) and shouldn't've been a reason not to call. I told her it didn't matter, because it doesn't; we're all still alive and more or less dealing with shit, and I don't believe she has anything to reproach herself for. But. Life could have been a lot different.

I love knowing Kathie. She's a different corner of the world, a reminder that I won't always mean what I mean now. Like all people three times my age, she knows a lot, and she shares it softly and wisely. (She talks like she writes.) She's my
only connection to my mother, and reveals as many mysteries as truths - neither of us even know why she died, how it started, if it's hereditary, anything. She blames the Pill, in its high-dose 1970s incarnation; I'm pretty sure that's not possible, but it's still weird that neither of us have any real clue. I'd ask my father but I don't want him to know that I want to know. I may ask my brother to snoop for me - I know where her death certificate is.

-writing things like this does give me a distinct tremor. I do
not think of it often; usually my brain kinda skips over the whole thing, pretends that I'm like everyone else (unlike these poor kids, who I always felt pretty sorry for in that respect), but lately it's been on my mind a lot - even before I started seeing Kath again. Part of me thinks it's a stupid defensive thing - hey, here's something that's not my fault, let's pretend this is why I can't do anything, mm - but mostly I think it's just one of those things. It is death; never far away, always worth a moment of your time, always bleak and impossible, able to raise a shiver of hurt.

I think I haunt Kath a little; she says I look like my mother - and beyond that, she's kept in touch with us for a reason, waited for us to be adults, then spoken, shared. I remember the letter she wrote to us just after my mother died; it was a (retrospectively, predictable) attempt to grasp meaning in our disaster, but she said then that she intended to stay close to us (you may add the words 'meant' and 'wanted' as you choose), and one way or another, it's happened. (In my case, I went several years without seeing her then dropped by her flat unannounced one Friday afternoon and wound up staying almost all night.) Mostly it's because she's a damn fantastic person, and knew exactly how to bribe us as children and seemingly still does. But I imagine we're all still in touch because she needs us as much as we (I) need her. There's something about the way she looks at me sometimes;
[here followed an aside about some of the imaginary friends I write stories about]. Damnit, I think I'm dreaming far from home but I'm not, I'm just not looking at it straight.

Throat getting distinctly tight and cloudy now. I'm not in an emotional place right now, I'm just adrift on thoughts and these occasional intruding physical sensations (teeth tickling, ribs the wrong shape); this is physical, a literal heartbreak. It doesn't hurt, not in the sense of doing harm to anyone - it's just there, telling me it's there, that I've lost someone, that I'm still here.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sony vs Jesus

Yeah, I am going to indulge myself by writing a list of reasons why this is hilarious.

It was the TV news version that was particularly hilarious; my sister and I both laughed aloud at the soft-voiced bishops and the obligatory 'zomgz, you's offending meee!' wheelout - a woman whose son had been murdered in Manchester eight years ago. Yes, eight years ago. Sad, yes, but can you name a place where there hasn't been a murder in the last eight years? There have been more recent gun killings in Manchester, but their choice of coverage reeked of emotional manipulation.

That's just superficial, really. The whole damn thing is hilarious. Hilarious because of the claim that a religious building is not an appropriate setting for violence. Hilarious because it's an old world colliding with a new one, and asking all sorts of crazy questions; do you need permission to animate a nameless replica of an eight hundred year old building? Is fiction still just fiction if you're directing the actions of the protagonist? Does the passive-aggressive bleat of 'zomgz, they's only getting away with it because we're christians!!1' have any connection to reality? And is it appropriate to whine about 'copyright infringement' when you openly admit that you watched the game on YouTube?

One two-headed thing that keeps being alluded to; apparently a) our collective fantasy life is becoming more violent, and b) our society is becoming more violent. Um, whatnow? I'm not sure it's possible to quantify such things, but if you compare animated aliens in an animated cathedral to, say, public hangings, I know which one is outside my comfort zone. Crime is falling, and violence and oppression are far less acceptable than ever they were. War makes us more uncomfortable than it used to. There are places, cultures, where violence is raging out of control - Rio, Iraq - but to say that we live in one of them is untrue and perhaps unhelpful to those places that really do suffer so. Fiction has always featured violence - now, there are many things which have consistently occurred throughout human history that are presently seen as unenlightened or misguided, but I think I've never even heard an argument against all fictional violence. People pick at the edges a lot, saying 'this one is gratuitous', 'this one is glamorised', 'this one is not for kids', but for all the railing against specific articles, I've never heard it said that it is wrong in all circumstances to tell stories about violence.

I feel crusades against fictional violence are generational in nature, seemingly more suspicious of the medium than the message; no one is worried about Shakespeare or Agatha Christie (no, seriously, I've been wondering about this one for a while now; why is fictional murder so much less taboo than fictional rape?); the war on the TV news is censored, but not utterly so, and no one argues that nightly reports of how much money our government is spending on killing people constitute glorification or incitement. Black-and-white war films fondly escape censure; concerns about fictional violence all centre on new media, or on trends that exist below the notice of our governing elite. The Anglicans are mad at the game makers because they don't know why so many people are doing this shared cultural thing of shooting up aliens in an imaginary version of their property. I think they've not twigged that it's all just a story, a new story that they're not part of.

Perhaps violence in gaming is just laziness - violence is an easy way to create a game story, and gamers are accustomed to it and enjoy its intricacies (lol 2nd ed). I get bored of violent stories if they don't give me something else for my head, or my heart, to chew on. Many years ago - I think it may have been 1999, just after the Columbine massacre - I read a newspaper article about these oh so nasty videogames that had chosen a still from Final Fantasy VII as illustration; now, quite apart from the tame nature of that pick, it's one of the relatively few games I can think of in which the characters vocally question whether their violent actions are justifiable. I think that, as with sex, it's easier to have a dialogue about violence if you don't censor its portrayal.

One article about this round of batshit insanity states; When asked if the church was opposed to violent video games, [David Marshall, a spokesman for the Diocese of Manchester] said: "One of the important things parents of victims of gun crime have said to us is that they understand the link. After the shootings at Virginia Tech there was massive discussion about the fact that the person who committed the crimes was a very keen player of these games."

...except, of course, that he didn't play videogames at all. The 'massive discussion' was just empty speculation of the same variety that's playing out here. No, Cho himself claimed his killing spree was inspired by...Jesus. Whaddyaknow?

Friday, June 01, 2007

small outbreaks of sanity

[I am sleep-deprived and waffling]

Related to the whole Livejournal malarkey; The New Witch Hunt. My sister and I wound up talking about this while watching the news earlier; we suspected the negative tone of said news was fuelled by pure DailyMaleitis. (Oh, and this is months old, but god, PA, +PA news). I can't help but wonder who benefits from the witch-hunt, and who suffers. It seems like another of those attempts to divide the entire world into 'trusted friends' and 'monstrous strangers'. Most child molesters are in the former group, so why pretend that crazy freaks on Livejournal are that scary? (There's no line there, just many overlapping waves; I first heard about the whole Strikethrough mess from a friend who's both an abuse survivor and a cheerful shipper of incest, twincest and jailbait-slash.)

On women-only spaces; I blogged about this on Deadjournal in relation to Ladyfest. My personal inclination is generally that there are good ethoses of communication and bad ethoses of communication, rather than good or bad gendered spaces. I loved this line and may come back to it later; "Important point to note, that one - feeling aggravated, annoyed, pissed off etc is not the same as feeling physically threatened."

Whole other questions about family structures. This is a family issue I have verry little experience of, as my relatives have this habit of dying young, but I think I feel its currents; vicious cycles of noncommunication, generations sitting in separate rooms, unsure how to interact. (I'm sure it's just me who's altogether confused about what blood ties mean anyway, so I'll avoid projecting that onto the world at large.)

Reading this was a great saving in time and effort, because if I hadn't, I would have had to write it myself. Like anorexia, it's a subject that warrants consideration in a way that doesn't assume all the victims are female.