Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Musical Interlude: Siouxsie & the Banshees

This weekend I downloaded the remastered version of the classic Siouxsie & the Banshees live album 'Nocturne.' It's fantastic, and I've listened to it daily for the last four days.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Single-Serve Never, Pour-Over Forever!

Like so many modern trends, K-Cups and their ilk strike me as insanely expensive, and unnecessary.

How expensive? According to the New York Times, most single-serve coffee costs at least $50 per pound. That's about double the price of a really good whole bean coffee.
Throw in the price of the single-serve coffee maker itself, and you are spending some serious money. Why would someone opt to pay these crazy prices? From the Times article“Americans under the age of 40 are thinking about coffee pricing in cups,” said Ric Rhinehart, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. “If you asked my mother how much coffee cost, she would have told you that the red can was $5.25 a pound and the blue can was $4.25. If you ask people in their 20s and 30s, they’ll say coffee is $1.75 to $3.75 a cup.”
I find it a bit disturbing that people now think of coffee as something that is prepared by others and served to them at an enormous mark-up. Don't misunderstand me: I love a good coffee shop. But I know that coffee shop coffee is a luxury. Plus, I actually do know how to make a decent cup of joe.

As you can guess, I do not use a single-serve coffee maker. I use the classic, tried-and-true pour-over or manual drip method.

Musical Interlude: Massive Attack

One of the first songs I heard today. I never get tired of it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Goths, Violence, and the Group Monkey Dance

This is my third Goth-related post (see my earlier posts on the Cure and the Crow) and it's about a serious topic applicable to many people, Goth or not.

I was inspired to write this by something shared on Facebook by the good folks at Gothic Volunteer Alliance (GVA)* of San Diego. The GVA is "an action league of individual volunteers who conduct humanitarian acts for the betterment of the local and global community." The organization has a sad origin:
The Gothic Volunteer Alliance (formerly Goth Help Us – San Diego; a part of the now defunct Goth Help Us International organization), was founded in October 2006 after the unfortunate, and unprovoked, brutal verbal and physical assault upon four Goths in a busy San Diego tourist area. The horrifying encounter left two of the four Goths with bruising and one requiring reconstructive surgery for orbital rim and socket fractures, a broken nose and dislocated jaw. What could have manifested as anger and hatred was instead channeled into the desire to undo the negative image that society and the media cast on the Gothic Subculture over the last several decades. From that, the San Diego Gothic volunteer base was formed.
Sophie Lancaster, killed for being Goth.
Recently, GVA brought a 
news story to my attention. It was about efforts by U.K. police to "note offences against Goths, emos and other groups as hate crimes, as they do already with crimes aimed at race, disability or sexual orientation. One report against Goths and others has been received every week since the recording began in April."

These efforts are part of a campaign launched by Sylvia Lancaster. Her daughter Sophie died after she was brutally attacked alongside her boyfriend simply because they were Goths. Sylvia Lancaster set up the Sophie Lancaster Foundation in her daughter's memory.

Sophie's story highlights a sad but true fact about the world: Those who are different, who are considered on the margins of society, are often victims of especially brutal violence. 

Rory Miller, in his excellent book Meditations on Violence and elsewhere, describes the many forms of violent behavior. Miller is 17-year law enforcement veteran with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology.

Rory Miller.
Miller writes that one of the worst is the Group Monkey Dance. The Group Monkey Dance (GMD) is "a show of group solidarity." 

According to Miller,

Most GMDs occur when an outsider is within the threat-group’s territory. There is an exception. You may remember the wildings in Central Park or the roving band of young men randomly beating people in Seattle. This pack behavior follows a similar dynamic and serves the same purpose as any other GMD—it strengthens bonds within the group. Causing fear in others (and fear is power) is just a by-product.
Outsiders—Goths, hippies, punks, skaters, nerds, the LGBT community, etc.—make ripe targets for the GMD. Their essential "otherness" offends those perpetrating the GMD. The violence directed at outsiders isn't merely a way to strengthen bonds among the attacking group. It serves to punish the victim for daring to exist in the first place. Because of this, the level of brutality is often far higher than in other violent encounters. "If you become the center of a Group Monkey Dance (GMD) it is hard to overstate the level of danger," writes Miller.What do you do if you find yourself the target of the GMD? Miller states that he knows of four tactics that can prevent a Group Monkey Dance:
The most obvious and the easiest was an act of such overwhelming violence that it shocks and scares the group…. The second is to make the threats laugh…. The third tactic is to increase either the doubt or the danger level…. The fourth and most effective tactic is to get the hell out of there. Run.
Miller notes that three of these options require special skills. For more details, please read the original article.

I  cannot stress the importance of running as an option. If you can escape, do so. If you never sprint, start. "Run Fu" is one of the most effective martial arts when it comes to staying safe.

Of course, running is not always an option, especially if you have someone with you who needs to be protected. What then?

To prepare for this sort of worst case scenario, be aware of this: You cannot truly prepare for violence of this sort. That being said, inadequately prepared is better than not prepared at all.

Get into better shape. I don't mean just body building. I mean functional strength and power training combined with the aforementioned sprinting. 

As for self-defense... Sadly, there's an awful lot of nonsense in the martial arts and self-defense community. Every instructor is different, so I won't make specific recommendations except for one: If you never spar, if you never have to deal with a resisting opponent, if all you ever do are "flow drill" or "forms" or "kata," then you are not learning to defend yourself. As my own instructor, Burton Richardson, says, "If you want to learn how to fight, you have to practice fighting against someone who is fighting back."

(Incidentally, Burton offers great books and DVDs that make excellent tools.)

My sensitive Goth days.
I should also mention that I am an instructor in both JKDU/MMA for Street Self Defense as well as Battlefield Kali and hold a Purple Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I'm also a Certified Natural Trainer II, trained by Jon Hinds at Monkey Bar Gym. If you live on Oahu and are interested in training with me, or live elsewhere and just want some advice, please visit Black Cat Kali and drop me a note. I would love to hear from and help out those from the sorts of outsider, marginalized groups I consider prime targets for violence.

All of this has special personal relevance for me. I've always been an outsider, and was both a Goth and a gamer through my late teens and early twenties. And while I'm straight, I was once nearly the victim of gay bashing. (I ran faster than my would-be bashers.) I am still not exactly the model of an average American, nor do I especially want to be. I remain a "let your freak flag sly" sort of guy, and it infuriates me when innocent people are punished by thugs merely for being who they are.

*: Sadly, as of August 24, 2016, it seems as if the Gothic Volunteer Alliance is no longer in existence.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Finding Real Life Inspiration from Fictional Heroes: The Crow

Since I'm still in a post-Cure concert euphoria, I figure it's the perfect time to take a look at
the Crow, both the film and the comic.

Lots of people love this movie. So do I, though with a bit of ambivalence. While it has some great scenes, a fantastic soundtrack, and a classic performance by the late Brandon Lee, I just felt the overall movie had some flaws in terms of the screenplay, and some of the departures from the source comic were ill-advised.

So why do I still  have a fondness for the film? Simple: As slender, sensitive guy with Goth tendencies, I loved seeing another slender, sensitive guy with Goth tendencies kick some serious butt.

And to this day I find Stone Temple Pilot's "Big Empty" a great song to listen to on a rainy night, driving home from a hard evening of training.

While I may be ambivalent about the cinematic interpretation of the Crow, I  am not at all conflicted about my feelings for Jay O'Barr's original comic. I love it, and probably reread it at least once a year.

The comic is full of cultural touchstones that have a great deal of significance for me: the music of Joy Division and the Cure, French decadent poetry of Rimbaud, the general tone of a dark horror story. I love the fact that the Crow is modelled on Iggy Pop and Peter Murphy. And of course, there's swordplay and cats.

But what really makes the Crow's story so powerful are the twin themes of loss and rage.

I have dealt with a fair amount of loss in my 40-plus years on this planet: two pairs of grandparents, one pair of greatgrandparents, my mother, my best friend, numerous beloved pets... I realize that this pales in comparison to those in other parts of the world who've lost countless more loved ones than I have through war, famine, or disasters, but it does not change the fact that loss is hard and doesn't get easier.

In the Crow's story, his loss leads to his rage. The woman he loves is brutally raped and murdered. (In the comic, this crime is totally random and senseless. In the film, she is targeted by thugs because she's involved in some sort of vague community activism. This was a poor dramatic change, in my opinion. The randomness of her victimization is part of what makes the comic so powerful: Bad things happen to innocent people for no reason.) The Crow's desire for revenge stems from his sadness. I believe real, true, intense rage only comes from loss and sorrow. Other types of anger are superficial by comparison.

One aspect of the Crow's quest for vengeance that I really like is how he goes back and forth between being a sadistic killing machine and a reluctant avenger. He is essentially a sensitive soul, and is not necessarily comfortable with the violent acts he is committing. At one point he specifically says he is growing wearing of revenge and simply wants it all to end. But he is driven to complete his tasks and bring justice to those who must pay for their evil crimes.

According to my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am an INFJ (Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging). According to one website, “INFJs are champions of the oppressed and downtrodden…. INFJs may fantasize about getting revenge on those who victimize the defenseless. The concept of 'poetic justice' is appealing to the INFJ.”

Hmmm…. That description fits me pretty accurately. I think it applies to the  character of the Crow as well, which is no doubt why I so strongly identify with him.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Revisiting My Goth Days with the Cure

This post may seem a bit off topic, but hey, it's my blog! Plus, this will in a way lead to another post I'm working on about violence comitted against those on the margins of society.

I discovered the Cure around 1986, largely through the classic compilation "Standing on a Beach." It was revelatory. I had never really been into most of the standard Top 40 stuff played on American radio. Here was music that was exciting and alive and different. It was music a sensitive young man like myself could relate to. How could I not love a band that introduced me to Albert Camus?

The Cure served as a gateway to other bands: Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, etc. By the time I graduated high school, I had joined the ranks of the perpetually black clad, where I would remain for several years.

Both my musical and sartorial tastes would eventually expand, but my love for Goth music has never gone away, and it is still the musical subculture I most relate to.

This was reinforced on July 27, when the Cure played their first ever show in my hometown of Honolulu. It goes without saying that I was there in the audience.

I had seen the Cure previously in San Diego in 1992 during their "Wish" tour. It was the best concert I had ever been to, bar none. (Incidentally, I saw Peter Murphy around the same time. It was like Goth sensory overload!) 

The Cure, Honolulu 2013, may have been even better than the Cure, San Diego 1992.

Some thoughts on the Honolulu concert…