Initiation to Horror

I have been drawn to horror films (and later on horror stories and novels) since my earliest memories. When I was a small child, I have trace recollections of spying a horror film advertisement on the television or sneaking a peak at a scary film playing on my parent’s television and experiencing the strange rush of adrenaline and repulsion that terror brought to bear on my tiny frame. The earliest memories of terrifying visions on film for me are the helicopter seen from Jaws 2 and the hospital nightmare sequences from An American Werewolf in London.

While I was allowed to watch Jaws 2 and likely Jaws at a very early age (Kindergarten) and for the first years of elementary school enjoyed watching Universal classics like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolfman. I had attempted to read classic horror literature like Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at some point during first or second grade. In third grade, I eagerly purchased a copy of the novel Jaws and hoped to read it aloud to my classmates during story time. Oddly enough my teacher at the time agreed to this idea, and I was allowed to read a chapter or two to the class on a few occasions. I knew enough of the ways of the world that I censored myself while reading. When encountering curse words during these readings, I would substitue an alternative that was “safe” for my audience. I don’t recall the exact circumstances, but another student in my class whose first name was also John also had a copy of the book and wanted to rotate the readings with me. He wasn’t as cautious as me. During his first reading session, he read aloud the word damn and the teacher allowed the reading session to continue noting that it was all in the context of reading a story, but coincidentally enough we never had time to allow another reading, and I was annoyed that my classmate had not shared my good sense.

Although I was well along my way into exploring horror, I was not allowed to watch an R-rated film until Aliens first aired on HBO in 1986 or 1987 when I was 10 or 11. Years before then, many of my friends had seen early eighties slashers such as Friday the 13thA Nightmare on Elm Street, and Psycho II, but I had never been allowed to watch these films although their eerie VHS cassette cases at the local video store had always called to me with their soft siren sound when I visited with my parents. The video cover for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre although seemed to the creepiest to me. But it was Aliens that first broke the R-rating barrier for me. I have no idea what particular appeal convinced my parents, but somehow I managed to get there permission one night to watch Aliens all by myself in my bedroom.

I still remember both loving my first experiences of the film, how my pulse raced, the mounting tension as the film relentlessly moved towards to its harrowing climax, how I pulled my limbs in close so as not to leave an inch of exposed flesh to dangle off my bed for fear of the slightest possibility that one of the terrifying xenomorphs may have been lurking under my bed. This last fear was similar to the one that I experienced every time I watched Jaws or Jaws 2 when they aired on TV as happened every so often in those days. I never missed an opportunity to catch one of these films, but I always feared during and afterwards when going to sleep that a giant great white shark may have been lurking beneath the bed waiting to pounce and pull me under the imaginary waves surrounding my lonely bed. It is strange as an adult thinking about these fears when I consider that surely I had to know that these fears simply weren’t possible. I suppose it must  be like an amplified version of the irrational fears that even now can grip me as an adult: when sitting up all by myself late at night with all the lights turned out in complete eerie silence, I have on more than one occasion found myself run up the stairs with an irrational jolt of fear that something might be lurking around the corner even though my reason tells me otherwise and some piece of me giggles inwardly at the silliness of the reaction while also savoring the taste of my own fear.

I love the visceral nature of fear. It is like a fine wine meant to be savored slowly and in careful phases. When you fear, you are alive. I love horror. I love the increasingly rare film that can truly terrify me and the almost non-existent book that can do the same.

There are only 289 more days until Halloween…

Shooting Down Straw Men

In the wake of the terrible string of shooting sprees that made their way into the public conscious through focused media coverage in 2012, there has been an upsurge in the debate over gun ownership:

Shortly after the Connecticut shootings, I began observing cheeky memes that attacked advocates of stronger gun control laws by humorously implying that since criminals don’t obey the law, then gun control laws won’t be effective. A similar kind of attack is to point out that laws against drug usage don’t prevent people from using drugs. Beginning with the first point, we can agree that, of course, criminals don’t obey laws – by definition a criminal is someone who breaks the law. It does not follow that laws are therefore useless. Indeed, I’d wager the vast majority of the people putting forth this “clever” argument are far from advocates of abolishing all laws. That’s because laws do accomplish things for good and ill. Breaking a law is risky and in most cases, fear of punishment for breaking a law is a deterrent. Thus, laws reduce behavior even if they do not eliminate it. The fact is that the criminals-don’t-obey laws attack is setting up a straw man by subtly slipping in the idea that supporters of gun control seek to eliminate mass shootings when in fact they merely seek to make them less likely. By holding up an impossible standard, the arguers give the false impression of absurdity to the political view that they oppose.

The related meme concerning drug laws has the same implied false standard of effectiveness, but also falsely equates drug usage and gun usage when they are very different behaviors. Drugs directly stimulate pleasure zones in the body and are addictive. Thus, people are more likely to take risks such as breaking the law to acquire them as the short term pleasure reward overrides their ability to reason correctly about the dangers of the long term health risks or the possibility of getting imprisoned. In contrast, gun ownership doesn’t directly tap into the body’s pleasure system and so most gun owners aren’t going to find continued gun ownership worth the risk of imprisonment or the risk of dealing with the black market. Therefore, while guns would continue to exist and criminals would find ways to still acquire them, if guns laws were strengthened or if guns were banned, overall ownership would be reduced significantly and the chances of someone who is likely to go on a shooting spree having access to a gun would also be reduced.

It is not gun enthusiasts nor even professional or semi-professional criminals who are the ones using guns to commit mass murder. Gun enthusiasts just want to collect guns and use them for hunting and marvel over their crafting. Criminals just want to use them to help conduct their “business” – not to kill random members of the general public. It’s the mentally disturbed or those who pick up a gun impulsively in the heat of emotion or distress who are using them to slaughter people. The logic behind tighter gun regulation then is to make it harder for these people to get their hands on guns.

Personally, I find guns repugnant as agents of death. Politically, however, I support a regulated right to bear arms, especially when exercised collectively in the context of collective defense. What this means for me varies depending upon the culture in question. In our society and culture, I support strengthening our gun regulation laws to include aspects of Japan’s gun control laws such as restrictions on what kind of weapons can be owned, successful completion of safety courses for gun owners, periodic mental health evaluation for gun owners and those with whom they live, and verification that guns are stored securely and safely.

Yet Another Day and Another Post

This morning I got up and within no time had a topic for blogging in mind. I set to work writing my brief introduction to the material that I wished to covered when I realized that it would be nice to embed a Google Trends graph into my WordPress Post. It seemed like so trivial to do. After all, Google nicely provided the javascript code to neatly embed it, but it  turned out to be quite a bit of work to discover how to apply it in the context of a WordPress blog.

It wasn’t nearly as easy or convenient as it should be. The WordPress editor appears to not give one the ability to insert just any old HTML and JavaScript into your post – which is inconvenient when one wants to stretch beyond the capabilities of its Visual Editor, but one doesn’t want to fully roll up one’s sleeves and get down to messing directly with the PHP code under the hood.

My first thought was naturally that some plugin had been written that would make this task easy. A customized bit of WordPress shortcode perhaps? Or maybe an editor extension with a popup field editor for receiving JavaScript to embed. But alas I searched through several plugin candidates and didn’t find any of them at all suitable other than one that was a “Lite” version supported for advertising, and I didn’t really wish to embed ads into my post.

By this point, I’d lost the opportunity to get an early start on my blog post, and it was time to get the day going with breakfast for Melinda and me. I made us some oatmeal with cinnamon and brown sugar (for me) and walnuts (for her) with our usual coffee. We then had a short while to get ready for the rest of the day before heading out to have lunch with my mother-in-law and her husband. Then, we returned home and spent over an hour gathering old clothing and unused kitchen appliances for Good Will. Finally, we also cleaned out a ghastly amount of junk and clutter that had been lurking underneath our master bathroom sinks – mostly under mine. It felt good to clear out all the space and put useful things back inside in a nice and organized manner.

Next, we headed out to Good Will, followed by a stop by Whole Foods where we picked up groceries for the week including the stuff necessary to prepare one of our favorite dishes from Alicia Silverstone’s Kind Diet receipe book – Rustic Pasta.

Rustic Pasta!

While Melinda was getting the pasta together, I played DJ via Spotify and Airplay and also tried to find some way around my problem of embedding JavaScript inside a WordPress post. I found some code examples for Google Maps and after several false starts through testing out plugins, I decided to get down in the dirt and write a tiny plugin of my own to accomplish exactly what I needed. In the end, writing a plugin to do it was quite, quite simple. I should have done it from the start, but really it shouldn’t have required me to write any code. Just because I can write code, doesn’t mean I should have to when using blog software.

Although my obstacle was now removed, I didn’t have time to write the post as dinner was about ready. We enjoyed our last bottle of wine that we brought back from our trip to France late last year. It was a 2008 Gevrey-Chambertin, and we both found it quite good – especially with our meal. Afterwards, we decided to get ourselves caught up with Downton Abbey.

We watched the Christmas Episode of Downton Abbey that capped season two and then watched the first episode of season three which aired on PBS just last week. I am pleased to say that we found that the writing has improved immensely and returned to its excellent from from season one. The Christmas Episode was quite wonderful in every way and the season three premier left us eagerly waiting for the new season to unfold.

However, we didn’t realize what we getting ourselves into and found ourselves staring at half past midnight when we finished up! Melinda was rather tired and I found myself once again trying to quickly pound out 500 words on this blog. I decided to hold off on what I had intended to write about because I felt that I could more quickly write something more descriptive and stream of thought than trying to write something more thoughtful as I had originally intended.

Fortunately, it will keep for another day!