Saturday, October 31, 2015

Reading as an Addiction

            Hi, I’m Rex and I’m a bookaholic… Screw you! It is a real thing. Take your chemical dependence nonsense and stuff it up your leaky anus. If a person can be addicted to gambling, they can be addicted to books…. What’s that? You still think a person has to be downing massive quantities of booze, or narcotics, or chocolate to actually be a real addiction? You’re wrong and I’ll prove it.
            First a little personal background. I own around 300 books. This is down from 500, as I did a cull recently, ruthlessly tossing out any books I realized that I would never read again. The mere presence of a book to me has a soothing effect, I enjoy the knowledge that if there is nothing else to do, I can escape into the text. When there isn’t one about, I become irritated and will scan about for anything that I could possibly read if necessary. In addition, I’ve downloaded several novels onto my phone (I’m still amazed that the damn thing can hold Moby Dick, The Prince, and The Three Musketeers and still have tons of storage left over). I keep an extra book stashed away in my car (The Collected Works of O’Henry- a tome you could use to beat a whale to death with) in case it breaks down and I won’t be bored beyond measure while waiting for the tow truck. And instead of the radio I often listen to an audiobook.
            You may believe that reading books doesn’t stand much chance being recognized as a pathology, however there was push to have “internet addiction disorder” included in the DSM-V in 2013. It wasn't incorporated into the new guidelines, but a subset for the proposed mental issue, "internet gaming disorder", was listed in Section III of the manual - Conditions for Further Study. Despite this, there are treatment centers in Europe and the United States which will help you manage this unofficial dependence. Both South Korea and China take the disorder seriously. South Korea reckoning its addiction total at 210,000 people, and China estimating it at 10 million.
            The characteristics of the disorder are listed by Jerald Block (“Issues for DSM-V: Internet Addiction”, 2008),  as “1) excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives, 2) withdrawal, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible, 3) tolerance, including the need for better computer equipment, more software, or more hours of use, and 4) negative repercussions, including arguments, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue.”
            In short, internet addiction is a constant need for mental stimulation and when it isn’t provided a person becomes dissatisfied with life, bored, and irritable; unable to figure out how to manage the large void in their life where once their computer lay. It is an addiction without chemical substance.
            Let’s now take a step back. My supposition is that the real “internet addiction” actually predates the computer and that medium was made from pulp, rather than silicon. This is not as tenuous as it may appear. Apart from various streaming and image sites, most people in the internet are reading something. Even computer games have text flashing on screen. It’s in bite sized chunks, but it’s still there mixed in with the noise and bright colors.
            I think that I might have easily become an internet addict, if I had been born later. But being a Gen-Xer and growing up on the cusp of the “silicon revolution” with personal computers in their relative infancy and no internet, I had no chance to . Video games were crude and many of them were completely text based (Leather Goddesses of Phobos anyone?), so my indulgent escapist vice manifested in books.
I stole this one from a Catholic Rectory in Poland.
            I have enacted some of the detrimental behaviors that a person with a compulsion will do: Calling in sick to work, so you can stay home and read all day; Driving down the road bored and picking up the book next to me, almost as an unconscious act to chug down a few lines, before realizing how insane I was behaving; Swiping books I like out of libraries (surprising easy to do).  The need for stimulus overrides common sense.
            Very often I feel like Burgess Meredith’s character in that Twilght Zone Episode- “Time Enough at Last”, where he’s the obsessive reader who is overjoyed at a nuclear war because he can now spend the rest of his life reading without interruption. But then…

            The cliché goes “recognizing a problem is the first step”, but what’s the second? I sure as hell am not going to give up reading. Granted, I have managed to curb the most self- destructive of my behaviors which put my life and freedom in jeopardy, but along with that comes the knowledge that I will have to spend the rest of my days with the literary monkey on my back.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ancestral Visitors

            Several creatures of ill-fortune prowl around the bloodlines of the more noble families of old Tsarist Russia. Three of the noble lineages have had such creatures attach themselves to their households:

          The Zubov family of Strelna and Moscow has a reoccurring specter, which appears on the death of the current Count. The specter has only briefly been glimpsed by a scullery maid in 1636, and a half asleep footman in 1699. The specter has been described by both as a floating bald woman, wearing silken clothes, stained in some manner (whether it was by blood or mud is unclear). The specter howls out the name, ”Zubov! Zubov!” repeatedly. The Count is said to die within 48 hours of the specter’s appearance. It is unknown whether the visitation is the cause of the death, or simply reacts to the imminent demise of the current patriarch. Many believe that it is the cause, as evidenced in the memoirs of Sir David Luminsta, who was guest at the household of Stephan Zubov, then Count. The apparition was heard, but not seen, and within 12 hours the baron was dead.
As Sir Luminsta writes, “Count Stephan’s footman has just gone by in great haste, and he has told me that the Baron, after coming from the Castle, had gone to bed in perfect health, but that about half past two this morning, his own man hearing a noise in his master’s room went to him, and found him in the agonies of death, and before he could alarm the servants, his lordship was dead. The specter strikes again.”

          A further household with ghostly visitors is the Demidov family of Mayvin. There the spectral visitor is seen but does not speak. This creature is further different in that it appears to warn of the death of any member of the family, be they blood or married in. The visitor first appeared two days before the death of Nikita Demidov, second patriarch after the establishment of nobility. The specter is a small man, wrapped in a death shroud; hair is attached to the head in thin irregular wisps. Across the face and scalp and hands foul open sores are displayed, some apparently oozing pus. All who have looked upon this creature have described being overcome by a wave of nausea (vomiting is not unheard of here). A member of the family is said to die within a week when this specter visits.

          Additionally an identity has been placed to this visitor. Many who see it swear that it resembles a painting prominently displayed in the Family Manse, that of Demid Antufiev, establisher of the line. If it is indeed this old noble, the sores on the ghost give credence to the rumor that he had died of an aggressive and persistent case of syphilis, and not of a heart seizure as the family maintains. If it is indeed Demid Antufiev, then perhaps the addled ghost does not realize that his reign has long been over.

          The third family, the Panin, ennobled in 1767, the case seems to be that the visitor appears only after the head of the family has died. To them a strange entity, known as the Grey Piper, comes. He walks the hills by the family manner playing a sad melancholy song on bagpipes. The song is taken to be a song of lament for the Count’s passing, but its true purpose is unknown. The entity does not appear to be malevolent and does not approach anyone, but he is clearly heard and seen in the hills. This entity is said to have appeared for over 300 years.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sid Davis Productions- Exploitative Educational Scare Films

       Sid Davis Productions created perhaps the greatest collection of short films aimed at the educational market which dealt almost exclusively in taboo or social engineering topics. In face some of his methods for dealing with his topics are, by today’s standards, so heavy handed that there is a case for labeling them as exploitation films- since a person can watch them (as I’m sure most people who view them nowadays do) with a sadistic glee as what will befall the protagonist, or to just laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
      Sid Davis productions got its foundation due to the infamous case of Linda Joyce Glucoft, a 6 year old girl who was raped and murdered in 1949. Davis often stated that the case bothered him so much because his own daughter was 6 at the time. What further concerned him was that, despite his warnings, the girl still did not seem to pay attention watching out for perverts. Davis often worked as a stand-in for John Wayne and was discussing his worries to him when Wayne suggested that Davis make a film about it and offered him $1,000 startup fund (roughly 10,000 in today’s economy).
      With this he produced The Dangerous Stranger- which coined the term “stranger danger” still in use today. It was a tremendous hit in police and educational circles and earned him enough to start his company, which eventually sported a catalogue of between 150-200 titles. The Dangerous Stranger was remade twice, once in 1963 and again in 1972.
     And while nominally many of the subjects of these film are important social matters and he took them seriously, his approach has always been criticized for being over the top, and employing scare tactics and misinformation to attempt to drive his point home emotionally. As can be seen in the a clip from Live and Learn, a short on home safety, where a little girl is making paper dolls with scissors when her father comes home, she leaps up to greet him, trips on the carpet and impales herself on the scissors.
      Now to be fair, Sid Davis was one of the foremost active vocalists against child abuse of his time, something that no one wanted to discuss then, and campaigned for tougher laws for child predators. I have already covered Sid Davis most notorious film "Boys Beware" (which confuses the idea of pederasty and homosexuality), so below I offer several more selections of the more outrageous Sid Davis “social guidance” films. Enjoy.

The Dangerous Stranger (1949)- Teaching kids to be fearful of the world

 Girls Beware (1951)- Teaching girls not to get into compromising situations. Nowadays feminists call this victim blaming.

The Bottle and the Throttle (1961). Film on drinking and driving. Fun fact one beer can cause you to drive out of control.

Marijuana and Heroin- The Terrible Truth (1961). The "gateway drug" myth is older than you think. Slurping on a J, will cause you to shoot up.

Live and Learn (1951). The first in a long line of trying to scare kids into being safe... without much success.

Gossip (1953). Look at the damage you girls can do with your incessant chattering!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Surviving a Flood- What Not to Do.

     For those who’ve head their heads fully buried in the sand, a massive storm hit the Columbia are of South Carolina this week turning it into a bonafide disaster area.  I am currently living in this area and unfortunately did not handle the situation as well as I should have. Basically I ignored every warning sign and did not prepare in any way. So here are my tips on how not to handle yourself during a natural disaster.
1. Don’t Ignore All of the Warnings
      Yes we had plenty of warnings that a huge storm was headed our way. Everyone from the Governor to the National Weather Bureau blathered on about it. I received regular blaring reports over my cell phone, advising on emergency flash flood warnings and to beware. But it wasn’t until a lake of water was lapping at my front door that I paid  any attention.
     In my defense this has been a year of heavy rainfall with many premature warnings from the weather services. I must have gotten close to twenty five emergency squawks on my cell phone about possible flooding, none of which has panned out. So I figured that this one would follow suit. In addition, over my years in the South, I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the city shut down over a light dusting of snow. A sprinkling, not even a quarter of an inch, will the send the city into panic mode with spree shopping for essentials and people bunkering down like it’s the apocalypse. So at the time, I felt justified in assuming it was just another storm in a teacup.

Later on I felt less so.
2. Make Sure that You Have Food That Doesn’t Require Much Prep Work
       After I became stranded in my house, first the power went out, then a boil water caution went out over the emergency services, indicating that the municipal supply had been contaminated by the flood water. Meaning don’t drink or wash with the stuff unless you wanted to play fun new games with hepatitis. But, no power meant that I had no way to boil water.
     In addition I had no food that could be eaten without some form of cooking, apart from an old box of crackers and a few tangerines. That was barely adequate for one day, let alone two. All of the rest of my food quickly spoiled in any case and had to be tossed. I actually unsure how long it would take for the food to go bad, but I decided to err on the side of caution and cast it into the flood waters. I ended up supplementing the crackers by munching on uncooked blocks of ramen noodles.
     All I had to drink was a little juice and a lot of beer, so I was somewhat crocked the entire time. The first night I woke up dehydrated, so I kept taking showers, which I have recently learned is the wrong thing to do.
A whole lot of beer
3. Don’t Put Off Buying All of that Emergency Crap
     I had no gear to deal with a lack of electricity. No candles, no matches or a lighter, no bottled water, no rain gear except a lopsided umbrella. I had a flashlight, but the battery died after 20 minutes and, of course, I had no backup batteries. It was grey and cloudy all of the time and when the sun went down it was pitch black out, so I wandered about in darkness most of the time. It was not fun.
But later on I did find an old half eaten bag of boiled peanuts!
4. Don’t let Boredom Drive You to Do Something Stupid
      My greatest weakness, besides indolence, is an inability to be bored for any extended length of time, and those days were tedious beyond belief. I know, poor me, my life is truly a Greek tragedy. But being a natural night owl, darkness is my playground and I spent many many hours during that time staring at the black of my house, until hallucinatory lights flashed across my vision.
     So when I shook myself awake one morning, I decided to try and make it to a friend’s house. I put on my worst clothes, shrouded myself in garbage bags as makeshift rain gear, and wandered out into the water. In ten minutes I was up to my chest and was knocked over by a passing stop sign. I was pulled this way and that, headed in an entirely different direction than I wanted to go and eventually floundered my way back to my place (located near the top of a hill), battered and wet. After that I decided being bored wasn’t too bad. Better the devil I knew.
I'm just glad that I decided not to take my car

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"Boys Beware" Anti-Homosexual Propaganda from the 1950s.

     This was a short film produced by Sid Davis productions in 1959 on the suggestion of the Inglewood Police Department in Southern California. Shot on a shoestring budget, it was ostensibly was made to warn young boys of the danger of predatory men, but does not differentiate between homosexuals and pedophiles. 
Rakph, 1950's homosexual
      Actual quote from the film, “What Jimmy didn’t know was the Ralph was sick. A sickness not visible like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious- a sickness of the mind. You see Ralph was a homosexual, a person who demands an intimate relationship with members of their own sex.”
     As you can see, it minces no words and certainly reflects the prevailing attitudes of the authorities of that time which believed that all gay men were child predators. One that still is pushed forward today by certain religious and conservative groups. At one point in time Boys Beware was required viewing for males in many school districts across the country.
Ralph and Jimmy
    The plot follows four different scenarios of young boys being preyed upon by older men. The first one is the tale of Jimmy who is befriended by Ralph a pedophile (again the word used here is homosexual). Ralph buys Jimmy things and eventually lures the boy back to his apartment for sex. Ralph is ultimately arrested and Jimmy is placed on probation. It’s unsure why this is done to Jimmy, speculation runs from the idea that the sex is consensual to a form of victim blaming. The second scenario deals with Mike a young boy who accepts a ride home from a stranger and ends up (as the narrator puts it) “trading his life for a newspaper headline.” A third boy is tricked into a stranger’s car by the man asking the boy for help to track down some stolen bicycles. The man is arrested after the boy’s friend writes down the man’s license plate number. The final boy is Bobby who is stalked by a man after Bobby makes the mistake of using a public restroom, which is a “known predatory spot for the homosexual.” Bobby almost compounds the error by taking a shortcut under a boardwalk, but he notices the man following him and takes another route, thus narrowly escaping death.
     The film was remade twice by the studio. The first time in 1973, under the title Boys Aware and a third edition being produced in 1979. Each of these was made using the exact same script and even the same voice-over narration as the original.
Sid Davis
     Sid Davis Productions created short pieces directed at the educational market and gained an edge by covering topics most other educational studios wouldn’t. Besides Boys Beware, the studio had a catalog of over 150 titles- all shot cheaply with little to no input from experts who had studied the subjects in question. He often relied on purely on anecdotal evidence from police officers and detectives The topics varied from driver safety, the dangers of marijuana (an early example of the “gateway drug” myth), gang violence, juvenile delinquency, rape prevention, heroin addiction, anti-smoking, and household safety. All done in a grim exploitative manner.
     Ostensibly Boys Beware sports some good safety tips. Don’t get into strangers cars. Hitchhiking is dangerous. Let your parents know where you are going. Let you parents know if a strange man approaches you. Writing down the license numbers of cars. Etc. But the heavy handed narration and its refusal to see homosexuality as anything other than a mental illness that drives a man to lust after young boys, destroys all credibility that it may have had.

Boys Beware 1959

                                                                 Boys Aware 1973