Tina K. Russell

October 13, 2008

Tina dreams with pride

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:46 pm

Reality Sandwich | Meditations in an Emergency
Over the last few days, I have received several warnings from people that I consider more knowledgeable than most about the potential for a severe socio-economic disruption within the next week. The Arlington Institute, a future trends think tank, has been doing a study of precognitive dreams. Of course, dreams are imprecise yardsticks, but based on past patterns, they do seem to reveal aspects of what may take place. John Peterson, the director of TAI, believes that this data, along with other indicators he tracks, reveals the potential for a severe crisis that could unfold this weekend or early next week. Possibilities include a “terrorist” event such as an electro-magnetic pulse weapon, detonated on the East Coast of the US. Such an explosion could lead to a temporary wipeout of electronic equipment and hard drives, forcing the financial system itself to “reset.” Another option may be some development connected with Iran or Russia.

Friends from within the financial world have contacted me to note that the panicked sell-off of stocks may indicate foreknowledge, on the part of some insiders, of an imminent announcement of even worse news than we have heard so far. This could be related to the banking system, or a military maneuver. One option that has been raised is that the banking system will be shut down next week. The officials may be waiting until after banks close on Friday to release this information, in order to limit panic, giving time for the information to be absorbed (Monday is a bank holiday).

I am suggesting to friends that it may be prudent to have some cash and basic provisions on hand, as the next few weeks may see some disruptions in basic services. Of course, this is still highly speculative and unlikely. However, it seems prudent to make some preparations, however modest.

This was linked to by Bodil, whom I love dearly. Anyway, Ms. Bodil, and the rest of you: please, please do not take this seriously! We are pack animals. When we see other people panic, we panic. There’s no precognition at work here, any more than someone yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater is “predicting” a stampede for the exit.

And, I should say this: I love dreams. I love dreams very, very much. I am a dream enthusiast, and I consider dreams to be valuable windows into our souls. That said: do not attempt to use them to predict the future! Certainly, dreams can be looks into subconscious processes that we are far to distracted when awake to recognize. Dreams can hone your intuition to see something right in front of you that you’ve been missing all along. Dreams can probably predict the future more accurately than some TV finance pundit pulling stocks from his nether regions, but in general, dreams cannot predict the future (unless you mean by the fact that they are so damned cryptic they can be interpreted, after the fact, to have meant just about anything).

For instance, I once had a dream that I was aboard the Battlestar Galactica, and Cmdr. Adama saw fit to have us land on a planet with hot springs for some relaxation (before, presumably, resuming our regular duties of running from Cylons). I dearly wanted to take a rest in the springs myself, but some bureaucratic screw-up resulted in my colonial ID card being withheld, without which I could not gain access to the springs. I had to speak with the Commander personally, which made me shiver as he was far above me in the chain of command. None of this has since occured.

I remember a dream where I was battling zombies in a large house. I fought zombies for so long, as part of a team, that I became thoroughly exhausted. I fought zombies until we were finally able to procure a cause and a cure for the zombification, a cure I was so confident in that I kissed one of the zombies, a zombie I had fallen in love with. None of this has since occured.

I remember other dreams. I dreamt that I became part of a secret paranormal society upon arriving at my brother’s alma mater (which I recently transferred to), hoping it was all meant to be an amusing joke and a fun hobby (like a “vampire hunting” club or somesuch), but beginning to worry it was more. I remember a dream where I fought in an insurgency to save “George Lucas’s” people, an ethnicity whose name as such was never defined, who lived in a large jungle gym beseiged by colonists. I remember eating Sonic canned pasta (with meatballs!) while sitting in a bathtub, until I realized that the bathtub had filth in it. I’ve been stalked by Number Six, witnessed the resurrection of Martin Luther King, Jr., been irritated at length by an automated, talking advertisement at a fare box, flown over a Barack Obama street march (one that included the man himself) by holding tightly onto my flying pillow, and been ordered, in no uncertain terms, to fill a bucket with jelly while at Trader Joe’s. (I mean, I had to use a knife to scoop jelly from the jars that were on the shelf. I did not purchase these jars. It was an order!) I’ve even been sent to Hell, noting that it was more boring than agonizing, and realizing that my great regrets in life were more simple sloth (why didn’t I do more things? Why didn’t I call more people back? Why didn’t I stick up for myself?) than outright immorality. In fact, I guessed that’s why I had gone to Hell; I’d let myself become my own worst enemy. (I did get to bring along a few possessions, including a Sonic action figure.) I did have one chance to redeem myself: a trial of my peers, or rather, a trial whose judging panel consisted of household appliances, such as a broom, a vacuum cleaner, and an Atari 2600. (I may have made this up later, but I think the 2600 was struck by lightning and became a beautiful, naked woman.)

None of these have since occured.

I’ve had a thousand variations on the “naked dream.” I’ve lived in a thousand permutations of every home I’ve ever lived in, and visited a thousand permutations of every school I’ve ever been to, including ones I barely remember. (Last night, I returned to my middle school to find that I was so popular, people deferred to my judgment when I changed clothes in the middle of the classroom.) I’ve met famous people, I’ve met dead people, I’ve seen loved ones go insane, I’ve seen people I thought were awful turn out to be all right. Once, in elementary school, I dreamt that my school could secretly turn into a giant robot, though the long hallway to the art room made for a single, awkward arm.

None of these have since occured!

I know that divining the future from dreams is meant to be something allegorical and imprecise, but that’s exactly the problem: they are so allegorical and imprecise, you can divine absolutely anything, especially when fitting them after the fact as allegories to what actually happened. Rather, I think dreams are wonderful and valuable because you get a look at how you think of the world, what goes on in your mind when your brain is so bored, it makes up a fully interactive world around you. (I once had a dream that ended when I exited my bedroom into a vast, white abyss; the dream didn’t go that far!) I’ve learned a technique—one that I haven’t been able to use very often, sadly, since I seem to be the only person for kilometers around who doesn’t think the recitation of dreams is boring—of analyzing dreams that goes to their heart by asking the dreamer himself or herself to define the dream’s various elements, because dreams are about the meanings you attach to things, not what some buck-fifty “dream dictionary” from the impulse aisle says they mean.

But also… I have such trouble tapping my creativity when sitting at a desk or at my computer (partly due to my over-analytical and overly critical mind, the enemy of any writer on a first draft, and the writer’s best friend on a second), that the fact that my mind turns off for eight hours a night and passes off things that are completely absurd as fact is downright beautiful. In fact, that’s what really gives me a problem with ascribing the paranormal to our everyday night stories… you don’t need to “make” dreams beautiful. They are beautiful. They are wondrous and sensuous, they come from the innermost recesses of our creativity and how you see the world. Social rules, laws of physics, laws of sheer causality are suspended for an obnoxious, nightly romp through the ephemeral. That’s lovable. That’s glorious. That’s spectacular on its own. I don’t need to dilute its beauty through supernatural explanations; its beautiful because it comes from us, and we, ourselves, are beautiful.

(And God made us in God’s own image, endowing us with awesomeness, etc.)

In fact, I’d really extend this to why I dislike “the paranormal” in general (besides the fact that, were “the paranormal” proven true, and thus scientifically relevant, it would be, well, normal and thus defeating its own definition). You don’t need to make the world beautiful. It is beautiful, and looking for supernatural explanations distracts you from the real explanations that are themselves beautiful. The paranormal is junk food for the brain; the paranormal is a trick that makes you see the world in simple terms rather than one given glorious complexity (I would say, by the Creator). The paranormal is a distraction from what’s really fun and exciting, but requires commitment and skepticism: cold, hard science.

That’s what I don’t like about peddlers of the paranormal who say they are somehow bestowing some essential mystery upon the world: the world is essentially mysterious, and if you want to be on the forefront of that mystery, join the ranks of scientists (and the armchair enthusiasts like me) who are constantly speculating, hypothesizing, forming great theories and knocking them down, all in pursuit of knowledge at the very edge of human comprehension. Don’t boil it down to “negative energy” and psychic predictions and enneagrams and all-seeing gurus. Go for the good stuff, the hard stuff, the rewarding stuff. Go for science.

(I will also say that this is why I don’t like pop psychology dividing us into the “left-” and “right-brained”; the good Lord gave you two lobes, dammit! Science is a wonderful art, and art, an exacting science. Do both with a spirit of purpose, and a childlike enchantment with the unknown!)

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Shooting from the Tip

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:40 pm

The Food Issue – Why Tip? – NYTimes.com
Tipping, its defenders say, improves service by rewarding good waiters and punishing bad ones. But that’s not what Porter saw when he looked out on his dining floor. In his brief experience, working for tips encouraged selfishness rather than teamwork. Moreover, good service was not always rewarded with a big tip, nor bad service with a poor one. “No other profession works like this,” Porter told me, “and I don’t see why the restaurant business should either.” At his restaurant, Porter and his staff agreed, it no longer would. The Linkery would be more than just a restaurant; it would become perhaps the nation’s only anti-tipping laboratory.

I’ve mentioned before that I hate tipping with a fierce passion; if you’re going to judge me by some unwritten social rule that changes from place to place and that I can never reliably determine, then screw you and the apron you rode in on. (Obviously, my opposition to this unwritten practice doesn’t extend to politeness in general, which I feel is critical to society; but, unlike with other unwritten social rules, not tipping extends you scorn rather than a warm benefit of the doubt. Oh, and tipping is an excuse to pay service workers jack-shit and leaves their income at the arbitrary whims and moods of customers, pass it on.) So, here’s an article on a restaurant that has a fixed service charge, and forbids tipping outright. When you’re done, you’ll learn about how tipping began as a way for English aristocrats to feign pity towards social inferiors, and wish all restaurants had this new diner’s policy.

(More on why I don’t like tipping: it encourages servers to be peppy and annoying. It denies the kitchen staff their due for their hard work. It creates enmity among employees who recieve different levels of tips for factors completely outside their control. It combines awkward social pressures with math at the end of the meal. And… I’d just prefer a fixed charge rather than awkwardly nudging to me to think of every single person involved in making this meal and how much teeters on the amount of my clumsily-arrived-at final figure.)

(And, the diner has a “charity of the month” for people who still want to give extra, which is great.)

July 5, 2008

Suicide

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 6:35 pm

The Urge to End It – Understanding Suicide – NYTimes.com

Here, the NYT magazine talks about suicide.

I’ve thought about suicide, before. I still do; the transsexual suicide rate is estimated to be something abysmal. I won’t go into all the motivations, as they are too numerous.

I will admit, though, that a large motivating factor is the “cry for help,” wanting to tell my friends that I’m serious, I’m trouble, I need help, the idea that if they find me passed out in my bed next to an empty bottle of pills (and a note apologizing for being a coward), they might stick with me in treatment, watch over me, check up on me, tell me they love me. As it happens, I tend to lean far too much on the friends I have, sometimes to a breaking point (see an earlier post).

In California, I met with Ken Baldwin, a schoolteacher who, in the grips of a deep depression 22 years ago, leapt from the Golden Gate Bridge.

“I’ve had two lives,” Baldwin said. “That’s the only way I’ve ever been able to describe it. Up to the day I jumped, that was one life, and now this is another. I’m not so much a changed man as a completely different one, and that’s why it’s so hard to even recollect what I was like back then, what I was thinking.”

One aspect of the survivors’ personalities that appears to have been left behind is whatever mind-tumble caused them to try to kill themselves in the first place. Since their attempts, none of the survivors I spoke with had experienced another impulse toward suicide. Nor had they spent much time seeing psychologists or hanging out in support groups. In Baldwin’s case, he attended just five therapy sessions after his jump from the Golden Gate.

“And after that fifth session,” he recalled, “the therapist said: ‘You know, I really don’t think you need to do this anymore. You seem to have it all put back together.’ And he was right.”

I really wish I could figure out a way to do that, you know, without trying to kill myself. I wish I could wake up one morning and forget whatever it is that made me want to do it, say goodbye to that part of myself.

Most of the article is spent on a cruel counterintuition: people who premeditate, think long and hard about suicide and travel all the way down that dark path, tend to do something like overdose on pills or slit their wrists, the least effective means of suicide. (They’re still dangerous, so don’t do them!) In contrast, bridge-jumpers and people who shoot themselves have little to no premeditation, are caught in moments of existential weakness, of overwhelming dispair, and if they survive, they wonder why they ever attempted it. The article’s main point is that, yes, suicide barriers on bridges work, as does keeping your gun unloaded and the ammunition someplace else, because all it takes for real suicide prevention is often just giving the victim a few minutes to come to his or her senses and stop.

I found it a bit reassuring that even if I try to kill myself, being someone who has thought about it long and hard, I probably won’t succeed. (The world needs me, yo. I still need to leave behind my legacy!) That said, I’m still at a loss for what I should do, better ways to cry for help, to leave that part of myself behind. I’m worried that I’ve tapped out my friends… what should I do?

With that, I should note… if you think your friend might be suicidal, don’t be afraid to ask. You aren’t giving them ideas, because everyone’s heard of suicide and considered it at least once, I would imagine. Rather, anyone who is suicidal has a piece of themselves begging for help, trying to get out, and that manifests itself in many ways. You need to grab onto that and bring it out.

Listen to your friend right now. Talk with them. More accurately, let them talk, and listen. Don’t make plans to do it. Do it right now. Don’t judge or criticize, and try not to give advice. Listen. That’s all you can do, right now.

You also might want to take your friend out to do something fun, basically anything that counteracts the harsh and false instincts of suicide. You could take them somewhere they like, to show you care. You can’t force your friend to come, but don’t take it too seriously if they say they never want to go anywhere, ever, or whatever. As long as you extend the offer, unconditionally, you’re stroking that one, precious part that tells your friend “stop,” the little spark of hope in them that you can help make into a roaring fire. Even if they turn you down, they’ll remember the offer; trust me.

Yes, look out for your friends. Care for them, love them. That’s important. When you think about it, you often have no one you can count on but your friends.

July 2, 2008

Violence voyeurism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 4:05 pm

The Anatomy of Violence | Newsweek National News | Newsweek.com
Pathological genes, a disturbed mind, social isolation and a gun culture are not enough. Mass murderers also need the individual will to pull the trigger.

When I was in high school, I wrote a brief essay on how I felt about the Columbine killings. (Those had taken place years earlier, when I was in middle school.) Essentially, my feelings were that, while the two gunmen were solely responsible for their detestable deed, they had been failed by the society around them, a society that did not recognize their considerable intelligence and skill (instead, condemning them for being reserved or different), a society that did not venture to teach them how to use that skill for means other than senseless brutality. A plot like that, a massacre in your own school, causing thirteen deaths before you’re finished, sounded like it would take a lot of skill, anyway. I was also going from this:

Prognosis: Good. Eric is a very bright young man who is likely to succeed in life. He is intelligent enough to achieve lofty goals as long as he stays on task and remains motivated.

That’s from the police report explaining why Columbine killer Eric Harris was released early from juvenile detention (found here). I figured that adults had failed to engage with the killers’ creativity and ingenuity, failing to give them outlets other than violent aggression. (I noted that Doom did not have to be a culprit, here; it could be part of that outlet, with its level editor encouraging players’ creativity.) I asked about the abusive jock culture that the kids were raised in and were clearly rebelling against. I also used, as a framing device, an old Superman story where the hero laments the wasted talent of the young hooligans who attack him, and the slum environment that he was convinced contributed to their poor development. I thought that worked well.

The trouble is, I went to research my story to see if it held up, and it didn’t. (Well, one part did: the killers’ Doom levels were pretty ordinary, and nothing to write home about.) The kids had comfortable, upper-class lives. The shootings were random, senseless, with no clear target; they chose, when their plans went awry, to make their last stand in the library, when surely the gym or locker room would have been a better place to target football players or other high-school social elites. The killers’ diaries did include hateful diatribes against various religious and ethnic minorities–the killers were, after all, full of hate–but also against white people, against wrestling, against country music, against the WB television network. The killers never said “all jocks stand up,” nor did they ever slay a woman for affirming her faith in God (both are apocryphal and discredited). The killers were not social outcasts; they weren’t the most popular kids in school, but they were well-known and had many friends. Most of all, the rampage was not an ingenious plot; it was actually an abysmal failure, as pipe bombs around the school failed to go off, and the killers were forced to scale back their massacre to a “mere” thirteen murders, ending at the school’s library. There was no clear motive, no rhyme or reason, no sign of intelligence or ingenuity. The killers merely had many screws loose. They were insane, an unsatisfyingly arbitrary conclusion.

This disturbed me deeply, when I got to unraveling the problem. The legend has it that the killers were abused and bullied until they snapped, that the school’s jocks and preps had pushed them to the breaking point by not accepting them in the school’s social fabric. The legend was untrue, and I had grown accustomed to believing it. What I was realizing was that, in developing the legend, people–including me–were projecting onto the Columbine killers. (In my case, this was helped along by the witchhunt that followed, where teachers, now wary of “edge” cases, proceeded to isolate students who seemed “different”–students, possibly, like me–though isolation sounds as though it would exacerbate the problem of actual high-risk cases.)

What does this mean for us? What pieces of our identity are we mapping onto high-school mass murderers? What pieces of us–including me–admired these lowlifes? What made us think of them, privately, as antiheroes, bad-boy Guy Fawkeses standing up for what we believe in using methods we don’t, while publicly condemning them as rank thugs and cowards?

You may say I am merely projecting my own feelings, presuming that, because I was horrified to find I was contributing to a legend of projecting ourselves onto the Columbine killers, others must have been doing the same. That is possible. Discuss.

I will admit that, in middle school, I did have violent fantasies. They scared me, as I am not a violent person (I’m a Quaker!) and strongly believe that violence in such situations fails to solve anything, that violence is, in almost every instance, merely an excuse for one to feel powerful. I would never want to be in that situation or deal with the consequences of killing my friends, teachers, classmates, people I love and care about even if they treat me poorly; this dislike is probably related to why these murder sprees typically end with suicides. Twisting your mind into believing that your tormentors deserve death is difficult. Twisting your mind into believing that you can then stand by that decision and face the consequences is downright impossible. (Willingness to stand by your decision and accept the consequences, incidentally, is a good test for whether or not you’re sincere about breaking what you consider to be an unjust rule or law. Something inherently immoral, like murder, is something nobody wants to accept the consequences for.)

Middle school was a fairly special situation for me, and you might read about it, someday, perhaps in my memoirs. But over time, the violent thoughts, the fantasies, subsided, and to this day if I’m ever upset over bad treatment over a long period of time, I tend to fantasize more about cussing someone out or finally saying how I really feel (I imagine this is common), something else that is difficult to accept the consequences for. Shooting someone with a gun seems innately distasteful to me, and the main reason that I stay away from hyper-violent games is not because I think they will somehow “make” me a killer (give human beings credit: we’re not nearly that malleable), but because I do not want to become desensitized to violence, the way most of the world seems to be. I’m not offended by the oft-repeated fact that, in Grand Theft Auto, you can kill prostitutes; the game allows you to kill anyone, and the open world is the game’s trademark. I’m more offended by the fact that, the one time I played Grand Theft Auto III (determined to be a “good” mobster–I enjoy power fantasies where I get to be good–and vowing only to kill those whose deaths are required for the mission), it is downright impossible to drive down the street without running people over and hearing their spines crunch beneath your tires. Why isn’t that brought up as a social failing of the game? How is it an “open world” when I can’t not kill people?

I digress. Newsweek is running a feature (which I found through GamePolitics) on the “anatomy of violence,” focusing on a psychoanalysis of Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer. The old drumbeat starts up again, as social isolation, American opportunism, and abuse growing up are trotted out as ingredients in the making of a mass murderer. I would presume that these killers serve as a sort of mirror, ways for us to talk about the demons inside of us while exculpating ourselves by projecting them onto murderers. It’s a useful technique, to be sure, but it needs to end. We should confront our inner romanticization of young killers (at least, if I’m right about all this), because a front like that covers deep-seated issues underneath, human issues that we all have, issues that keep us from connecting with each other and living full lives.

Back when I was in middle school, and Columbine had led to an increase in reporting on school violence (and to a myth that youth crime was on the rise), I remember when I learned of a new school shooter. This one was different… she was a girl, she was quiet, she was well-spoken, she idolized people like Martin Luther King, Jr. She didn’t fit anyone’s profile of a shooter, someone keeping the anger bottled up until she blows. (I can’t find this story on a Google News archive search, so I may have remembered it wrong.)

I remember reading that and thinking, finally, a school shooter that I can identify with! That stopped me cold. What was I thinking? Do I really think school shooters can represent me, that I can be his or her constituent? That chilled me for a long time, and led to a lot of this later introspection.

One last thing. While looking up the links for this post, I found this, explaining why the juvenile-detention authorities didn’t consider the Columbine killers to be a recidivism risk:

NMU (11/6/02): District attorney releases Columbine gunman’s juvenile records
According to district attorney spokesperson Pamela Russel, the diversion program did everything it was supposed to. Diversion officers met with Harris and Klebold twice a month, for about 15 minutes each session. Each session was documented with notes made by diversion officers.

The situation with Harris and Klebold was an anomaly, Russel said. “These kids didn’t meet the criteria for troubled teens. They came from affluent neighborhoods, two-parent households, jobs, and no serious drug or alcohol problems. They were able to conceal what was going on inside them.”

Huh.

June 2, 2008

On framing, understanding

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 6:37 pm

Op-Ed Contributors – What Do You Call a Terror(Jihad)ist? – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
The word “jihad” means to “strive” or “struggle,” and in the Muslim world it has traditionally been used in tandem with “fi sabilillah” (“in the path of God”). The term has long been taken to mean either a quest to find one’s faith or an external fight for justice. It makes sense, then, for terrorists to associate themselves with a term that has positive connotations. For the United States to support them in that effort, however, is a fundamental strategic mistake.

This op-ed combines two interests of mine: a) the importance of framing the issue properly, and b) the need for us in the West to understand and respect the Islamic world.

To call our fight against terrorists a “war on terror” was an enormous strategic and psychological blunder for the United States. Criminals have no honor, but warriors do. To call our fight a “war” gave terrorists dignity they do not deserve, and saying they are fighting a “jihad”–a holy struggle–even more so.

It’s sad that we were woken out of our slumber by pseudo-Islamic terrorists with no respect for the message of the Koran. Now we know that we need to do more to understand the Muslim world, but our impressions of it have been shaped by those terrorists and by bigots nudging us to bomb Mecca for the hell of it. So, “jihad”–a sacred struggle, internal or external–and “intifada”–a shaking off–have been defined in our minds by people who do nothing but vandalism to the words of Prophet Muhammad. Michelle Malkin even went nuts over a traditional Arab scarf. Clearly, something has to give.

We cannot let a billion people be defined by the people least qualified to represent them: Islamic terrorists and Western racists. Make some effort to learn about Islam. I listened to Muhammad: Prophet for Our Time, by Karen Alexander, on audiobook. I recommend that, but you can find your own way. It’s all part of being a good citizen.

April 30, 2008

Gatekeepers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Tina Russell @ 10:44 am

Edge discusses boss battles. Good stuff.

Anyone who’s ever played a videogame has experienced this:

FEATURE: The State and Future of Boss Battles : Next Generation – Interactive Entertainment Today, Video Game and Industry News – Home of Edge Online

A boss defeat is trophy-style proof of your potency. We like to be pushed – paying a certain price is an important aspect of feeling worthy – but not pushed away. You want to be David slaying Goliath, but you don’t want to have to dumbly run in circles while Goliath spins around with his fists outstretched for a minute, waiting for him to dizzy so that you can get some feeble, opportunistic hits in, before retreating to a safe distance and repeating. That’s not empowering. It’s glorified, choreographed powerlessness.

I wish that, just once, one of those giant mega-bosses would turn out to be more than merely a heavily armored piñata with a loudly advertised weak point. You’re supposed to be winning against all odds, not performing in a duet.

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